I hope this blog finds you rested, perhaps even reclining next to a pool/beach/air conditioner (whichever you prefer) with a good book and cool drink in hand. As we ease into a new year, I am excited to bring you new books to help you meet the needs of your students and colleagues.
There are some words that are just pure delight to say, words like ‘flibbertigibbet’, ‘persnickety’ and ‘skedaddle’. And why is it that so many of these words seem to be almost onomatopoeic, they don’t really need explaining? The joy of wonderful sounding words is at that very heart of Poo and Other Words That Make Me Laugh. There is so much in this wonderful picture book to engage children of all ages; ‘naughty’ words like ‘poo’ and ‘bottom’ for younger children, and glorious multi-syllabic words like ’squeegee’ and ‘flapdoodle’ for older children. All of this accompanied by bold and bright illustrations which will have them turning the book this way and that, and upside-down. As well as a lot of fun, this book introduces children to the ever-changing nature of language; why have so many of these words fallen out of common usage? So much fun, with the opportunity to dig deeper.
Evey and Dill watch men their mother has given help to kill her for being a witch. In that moment, Evey curses them, and swears that she will not rest until they dead. However, she has also promised her mother that she will look after her little sister, a promise that becomes more and more difficult to keep. Not just because realising her full potential as a witch is not easy with a child in tow, but because Dill was their mother’s favourite, and Evey’s resentment clouds their relationship. However, Witch is much more than a quest for revenge. Beautiful, haunting, painfully vivid writing conveys complex, believable characters who find their own strength, and strength in the power of women. Told in Evey’s unique and compelling voice, Witch is a consuming read, that your students (and you!) will find difficult to put down.
Over the summer of 2019–20, the summer that became known as the Black Summer, we came to understand the true value of our national broadcaster. On the radio, the television, online or via an app, we were kept up to date with fires that raged across the country. Those in rural areas, and those of us in big cities, sat glued to their media of choice as people in front of and behind cameras and screens told us about the unfolding catastrophe. Many of these people were members of the communities they were reporting on; as well as doing their jobs for the ABC, they also had friends and family in harm’s way, sometimes they were in danger themselves. Black Summer tells their stories; stories of hope and courage, of fear and despair, of the importance of allowing their community’s voices to be heard. While not always an easy read, it is an important one that remembers a defining moment in Australia’s history.
Read of the Month – People of Abandoned Character
Sometimes you read a book, and although you want to tell everyone about it, it’s difficult to say very much because the plot is so twisty you’re in danger of giving too much away. Clare Whitfield’s People of Abandoned Character is one such book. Set in London during the time of Jack the Ripper, it makes use of real events to tell a story that will have you reading well into the night.
Susannah Chapman is a young (-ish) woman of not many means. After caring for her grandmother until her death, she goes to London to train in the new profession of nursing. It is here she meets Thomas Lancaster, a young surgeon, who pursues her, much to her considerable surprise. Susannah is under no illusions about her looks or her age but, ever pragmatic, she knows that marriage to a wealthy man is her best chance at a comfortable life. After a delightful honeymoon by the sea, she and Thomas return to his house in Chelsea, and it is here she begins to see that she may not have made such a wise decision after all. Thomas’ behaviour becomes increasingly cruel, and his frequent absences at night, along with a collection of concerning injuries, all coincide with the grisly murders of Jack the Ripper.
This is very much a book of secrets; each of the characters has secrets that they are desperately trying to keep, and it is as these unravel that we get some insight into what is – possibly? probably? – going on. It’s difficult to tell you much more than this without revealing spoilers! The best I can think to do is to offer you this; People of Abandoned Character combines the suspense, tension and uncertainty of Rebecca (there’s even a Mrs Danvers), Jane Eyre and Agatha Christie, all mixed in with the unflinching grisliness of Game of Thrones. I can honestly say that I have never read anything like it!
Clare Whitfield’s research into the London of 1888, and the crimes of Jack Ripper (it is still astounding to me that you can find photos of his victims on the internet – be warned, they are incredibly gruesome) shines through to create a time and place that is full of threat and menace. Her writing, despite this being a debut novel, is masterful; those secrets are slowly unravelled precisely as she wants them to be. Not always a comfortable read, but a wholly engrossing one nonetheless.