Summer is Here!

We are now well and truly in the midst of summer! In Sydney it’s very warm and humid, and while I don’t necessarily love a humid summer, it is a relief to have the weather return to something closer to “normal”. Hopefully you’ve managed to find yourself an air-conditioned classroom or library (something I was rarely lucky enough to experience), or at least one that is very well ventilated. On the blog this month we have the next picture book in the Food Group series; a fantastic middle-grade graphic novel; and a thought-provoking YA novel.

The Food Group series from Jory John and Pete Oswald continues with The Sour Grape. In this instalment we meet a grape who’s turned sour; until, that is, he experiences his own treatment of others from someone he considers a friend. When he starts to think about how he turned from a sweet grape into a sour one, he begins to understand how easy it is to be caught up in negative emotions and miss the beauty of the world around him, and the kindness of friends. This is a great way to spark discussion on how negative emotions can get the better of us, and how talking about our feelings can help us to resolve them in a constructive way – all while being entertained by cheesy puns and cute fruit friends.

Making friends and growing up can be hard, but what if you have a game like Dungeons & Dragons to help? This is the premise behind middle-grade graphic novel, D&D Dungeon Club: Roll Call. Jess and Olivia are best friends, and one of their favourite ways to spend time together is by playing Dungeons & Dragons, with Olivia as Dungeon Master and Jess as the sole player. When Year 8 begins, Olivia is keen to meet new friends and thinks starting a D&D club could be the perfect way, but Jess is less sure; what if the wrong kind of people want to play, and what if Olivia likes them more than her? As the year goes on, both girls have a lot to learn about being and making friends, and D&D gives them a way to figure it all out.

Ro Devereux’s mother may not be around, but she’s definitely inherited her love for computers. When Ro develops an app, MASH, which predicts a person’s future for her Senior Project, one thing leads to another and soon she has a million downloads, an investment offer and starts to see how her dreams of a future in Silicon Valley could come true. But while human behaviour might be 93% predictable, that seven percent still leaves a lot of room for things to go wrong in ways no one could predict. From being matched through MASH to her former friend and now enemy, to losing control of the science behind the app, right through to the unintended consequences of predicting where someone’s life is going, can Ro live with the decisions she’s made and the impact they’ve had on other people? Seven Percent of Ro Devereux is an interesting look at both the extent to which social media and technology can impact our lives and the implications of that impact; it’s also a well-written novel about an uncertain time in many people’s lives with interesting and authentic characters.

Read of the Month – Don’t Look Away

Despite having grown up in Adelaide, I can’t say that I’d usually read the autobiography of a former AFL player, but then so much about Danielle Laidley’s story is unusual. While having been a player for the West Coast Eagles at their inception and going on to play for and coach other AFL teams might be what she is most famous for, it’s her journey of self-acceptance that’s the most compelling part of her life.

As the title suggests, there is much in Don’t Look Away that is confronting and, at times, difficult to read. From when she was a little boy with a secret passion for sparkly dresses, Danielle knew that there was a part of her that was different, and which she knew she had to hide away. As she’s building a life for herself as an Aussie Rules player, getting married and having children, Danielle struggles with who she truly is and the consequences of choosing to live as her authentic self.

On the outside Danielle is living an amazing life: successful AFL career; beautiful wife and children; luxurious lifestyle. Yet the turmoil she’s in breaks through in ugly on-field violence, substance abuse and the breakdown of her relationships. Eventually the choice to live one way or another is taken away from her.

I found Don’t Look Away an incredibly compelling read; while I didn’t always like Danielle, I did feel great empathy for her and admired the enormous courage she had to keep on going, despite the pain and the fear. It was not an easy read, but Don’t Look Away gave me enormous insight into both one woman’s life, and the obstacles – both internal and external – that many trans people encounter in revealing their true selves to the world.

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