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Checkout the latest recommended resources from the SLANSW Review Team

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  • 28 Jan 2023 8:06 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: The Edge of Limits

    Author: Susanne Gervay

    Reviewer: Tom H (Year 11)

    Confronting, empowering, and insightful. Susanne Gervay's novel, The Edge of Limits, is an emotional rollercoaster exploring the search for identity and finding one’s self in a confusing world riddled with expectations, unwritten rules, and unfamiliar experiences. Pulling from her own teenage children's experiences, Gervay artfully constructs an authentic story of a gruelling school camp through the lens of 17-year-old protagonist, Sam Knox.

    The reader gets to follow not only the physical journey of teenage boys on a school camp–trekking through the bush, climbing sickening slopes, swimming in icy cold water and exploring a confronting cave–but also the heartfelt emotional journey that sees the characters grow and develop. The Edge of Limits is a coming-of-age story highlighting hidden qualities in people and the importance of talking about your feelings to better yourself and learn about others. It wholeheartedly grapples with pertinent issues relevant to both boys and girls, including consent, mateship, acceptance, and masculinity, making it an insightful and valuable read. However, what truly brings this book to life is the authentic voice of Sam, which is clear, strong, realistic, and nuanced, allowing it to make deep connections with young men. It's a book that keeps you turning the pages.

    The Edge of Limits’ story is also blasted forward by the antagonist, Watts, the school bully who strikes fear and frustration into all who cross him. His character is scheming, power-seeking, evil, and has a twitching personality born from peer pressure, locked-up feelings, a lack of good role models, and not understanding healthy masculinity. These traits cast Watts as a core agent in driving home many morals, including the dangers of drugs, suicide rates, violence, and abuse.

    While the reader builds an increasingly unpleasant image of Watts, we follow Sam's journey from a lost and confused teen into a more confident young man with a greater understanding of himself and his place in the world. He learns to stand up for what is right and surprises the reader by facing his fears and crushing what is wrong. This heroic character allows readers to form their own opinions of whether they want to be the bully or the hero. The book doesn't force anything; it presents good and bad values in action and guides the reader to choose wisely.

    In terms of the beautiful imagery and plot, there were some minor things I noticed. Firstly, this is quite an intense book and generally suited to readers aged 15 and above. This is because the story has scenes and characters that are so disturbing or frustrating that it might trigger powerful emotions and leave unforgettable memories. And although this is where much of the book's value lies, younger readers should proceed with care.

    The book also employs small flashbacks that dive into Sam's past and give more depth and clarity into his thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. These flashbacks are insightful, and I wish the book used this technique more often and in more depth.

    So, will younger readers take the time and effort to commit to a book like this? Gervay sure thinks so, and after reading it, I agree. It's short enough to be approachable and long enough to engage the teenage brain and invoke actual, lasting change for the betterment of humankind.

    The Edge of Limits helps boys find themselves. It shows them that  there's value in their hearts and shatters many stereotypes constraining men and women, allowing people to live happier, fuller, and freer lives.

    It was a pleasure reading this book and a joy to rate it 9/10. Happy reading!

    Interested to learn more about Susanne Gervay and her work? Then you may like to consider attending our next Professional Learning Summit: The Strength of Story (4 March 2023) where Susanne is presenting the opening keynote address "The Search for Identity is the Journey"

  • 28 Jan 2023 8:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: The Sugarcane Kids and the Red-Bottomed Boat

    Author: Charlie Archbold

    Reviewer: Donna Dobson

    A simple and fun read that children will enjoy as it does not take too long to read, and when getting kids into reading that is important. You want children to finish a book, feel a sense of accomplishment, and leaves them ready to devour another… and then repeat.

    The Sugarcane kids are four young children who live in far North Queensland, so they know to keep an eye out for crocodiles, particularly a large saltwater crocodile called Sebastian.

    Andy shares his time between his mum and his dad; each parent having a new partner, but they generally get along.

    Andy enjoys the time with his mum, as his best friend Eli lives nearby.

    The crux of the story is that Eli’s older brother Jacob is arrested for jewellery theft and his court case is looming. Whilst Jacob is in custody, Andy and Eli decide to investigate because they are certain that Jacob is innocent.

    With the help of two other friends, and Andy’s sausage dog Washington, the foursome starts an investigation that takes them into the mangroves and into the territory of the legendary Sebastian.

    Woven into the plot, are subplots of a schoolyard bully, diverse family situations, Aussie/Indonesian culture, and push-bike riding fun. This book engages the reader as it is simple, interesting, subtly funny, and contains enough suspense to hold the reader captive.

  • 28 Jan 2023 7:58 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: Grandma Mary’s Factory

    Author: Elizabeth O’Brien

    Reviewer: Vicki Bennett

    An informative story that explores the simplicity, yet complexities, of growing up in a multicultural community in Australia. The book explores the history of a family to keep this alive.

    The descriptive language used creates a clear representation of Grandma’s Factory. The story explores the community and how they all support each other.

    Each page has text highlighted to enhance the meaning of the work using Kerning–the visual representation enhances and highlights the importance of these words to explain what is happening in the factory.

    Family and community is the most important message that I took from this book. The author is sharing her and her children’s memories of their grandma and mother.

    It is a historical fictional picture book that is keeping the stories of the past alive.

  • 28 Jan 2023 7:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: Ice

    Author: Susan Brocker

    Reviewer: Donna Dobson

    If you are a boy who likes gaming, and your parents give you a hard time about the amount of time spend indoors on games, then this might well be a book for you.

    The book starts with a helicopter crash into a snowy and mountainous part of New Zealand and the only survivor is a tracking dog.

    The book then jumps to Zac, a young boy who is now living in Wanaka with his father, a hard man, and a kind step-mother, thoughtful step-sister, and a step-brother.

    Zac feels out of place and prefers to spend time in his room gaming.

    His step-mother takes him to a dog-shelter to choose a dog. This is where the tracking dog from the beginning of the story comes into it. A bond forms through the cage between boy and dog, and even though his step-mother has misgivings, this is the dog Zac takes home and names her Ice, because of the colour of her eyes.

    Zak’s father is not impressed by Zac’s choice of dog and grumbles about his ability to handle a strong husky, so he sets Zac up with a job at a private wild life sanctuary, collecting animal dung. But things are not what they seem on the surface at the sanctuary.

    Zac meets several characters, both good and not so good. Ice appears to be a good judge of character and either accepts a person or gets her hackles up with others. Unbeknown to Zac, Ice is recognised by the wealthy sanctuary owner and his henchmen as she is the dog they had secretly organised to come out from South Africa with her tracker.

    This sets off a chain of events that sees Zac grow in confidence and determination to find out what is really going on. Why is a lion tormented, why are the elephants mistreated, what is underneath the sanctuary, and who is following Zac and trying to steal Ice?

    Zac ventures into the wilderness with Ice, where Ice leads him to the site of the crashed helicopter and its deceased passengers, but they also discover a wrecked van filled with a cachet of exotic animal pelts and tusks.

    Zac, who has limited experience in the wilderness and in dealing with ruthless henchmen, finds himself battling for survival. This is where his gaming skills and knowledge come in handy. In games, Zac is a hero, but in real life, his father thinks he is useless. But Zac uses survival techniques he has learned from playing games to outwit criminals, scale up out of a cave, and save his dad and step-family.

    This is an adventure story that holds one’s attention from start to finish, and whilst far-fetched, kids, particularly gamers, will enjoy this book (and maybe feel that it authenticates their time gaming). And we all fall in love with the husky, Ice, and feel the loss of her handler as much as this sensitive tracking dog.

  • 28 Jan 2023 7:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: Denizen

    Author: James McKenzie Watson

    Reviewer: Kellie Nash

    Audience: Mature readers

    James McKenzie Watson’s beautiful dedication to his mother at the start of this novel and the paragraph to her which ends the acknowledgements helps contain the brutality of this gothic novel within the pages of the book.

    The story is told by Parker, a twenty-four-year-old music student living in Sydney. Parker travels home to the far west of New South Wales with his infant son to camp with friends. He has been troubled by a violent incident in which he was involved as a boy that left him believing something is wrong with his brain. The story switches between the present and the past as Parker recounts episodes in his young life that help inform the reader about events happening in the novel’s present. Parker and his mother are cruel to each other, while Parker’s father works long hours on their farm to avoid interaction with him. 

    The characters are well written, and the plot is compelling, keeping the reader turning the pages even when you know it is better not to. The writing of Parker’s love for his son is exquisite. The country in the story will be familiar to many readers, with James drawing on his own memories of growing up and being educated in rural and remote New South Wales. 

    This is a book that shines a spotlight on the devastating reality for many people in need of mental health care living in a small town in remote Australia.  While James has drawn on his own experience, this novel is not autobiographical.

    Denizen is confronting. You would have to read this book before putting it on the shelf in your library. It is suitable only for your most mature readers. I would certainly talk with any potential readers to help them make an informed choice about what they were taking home with them. The writing is so good, an alternative to student borrowing would be to use extracts for students to study different writing styles.

  • 7 Oct 2022 9:22 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe

    Author: Ashleigh Barton

    Reviewer: Natalie Lincoln

    Solomon Macaroni must cope with being left with his uncle and prank playing cousins when his parents go away for a holiday. A challenge for any kid, it is especially difficult for Solomon. His uncle is Dracula and his cheeky cousins play endless tricks on him that are far from amusing to the ‘young’ 552 year old vampire. A serious and studious child, he must navigate his way through his time with his extended family. The novel touches on themes of friendship, loyalty, family and letting go and having fun.

    A sweet protagonist, fastidious Solomon is most concerned with the state of his cape, from its cleanliness, to how wrinkled it is and the pride he takes in ironing it. Amusingly (for a vampire), he is vegetarian – taking immense pride in cooking tofu bolognese. I absolutely adored Fred, his spider, who has packed his suitcase to join him on the journey, proving to be a trusty sidekick in moments of need. As a meticulous child, it is no wonder Solomon is challenged by his inventive Uncle Dracula and his Transylvanian mansion, fashioned as it is, on the inside, as a beach house. The five raucous cousins, themselves grieving the loss of their mother, add to the chaotic surrounds and Solomon’s discomfort.

    There are some great moments of humour involving allusions to the storylines of Harry Potter and Twilight, alongside an intertextual nod to some classics, which could be teaching moments if used in a classroom. What I liked most about this novel, possibly from seeing a whole lot of myself in Solomon, was his learning that “sometimes, things were about creating a little bit of joy.” Solomon Macaroni and the Cousin Catastrophe, which would be enjoyed by primary school students, is an excellent reminder to have a little bit more fun. As for Solomon, I’m proud of his fortitude and bravery.

    Teachers’ notes available for UQP titles via:

  • 7 Oct 2022 9:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow

    Author: Kate Gordon

    Reviewer: Donna Dobson

    I knew upon reading, that I would most likely recommend this book to the reader who likes a touch of melancholy, a bit of history, ghosts, death, and is a short read.

    Kate Gordon has delivered a fine easy read on the surface, but there are complex themes that run deep if the reader should decide further contemplation.

    Jackdaw was so named, as his mother had noticed a bird peeping through the window the morning of Jackdaw’s arrival, and she had noted that both baby and bird had a similar searching look. Jackdaw was an unsettled baby, and in desperation seeking to divert their squalling child, his parents take him outdoors into the night, to view a thunderstorm. However, his parents were killed by a lightning strike, and Jackdaw survived.

    Orphaned, Jackdaw is taken in by the headmistress of Direleafe Hall, a girl’s school, and raised as her son. Yet Jackdaw feels as if his life has no meaning, and he decides he needs to find his calling so that he can make his one chance at life grand.

    Jackdaw searches for his ‘calling’, and meets several people in his quest, many who try to help him. Three ghost girls befriend him and try to help, Angharad, the school’s apprentice cook is a patient friend, but it is a wild girl called Angeline, who dreams of joining the circus and escaping a brutal employer, that Jackdaw decides needs saving, thus giving meaning to his life. We observe Jackdaw being drawn too far into the wildness of Angeline’s life, and not always finding the answers he seeks. But all ends well, with Jackdaw realising that he already had a worthy life, a mother who loved him, girls at school who liked him, and Angharad, who loved him.

    This book is a gentle ghost story, slightly gothic and eerie, yet a story that we can all relate to in our own search for destiny and meaning.

    Teachers’ notes available for UQP titles via:

  • 7 Oct 2022 9:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: Where you left us

    Author: Rhiannon Wilde

    Reviewer: Lori Korodaj

    Audience: Young Adult

    Continuing the narrative style of her debut novel, Rhiannon Wilde tells the story of sisters Cinnamon and Scarlett Prince, and the complexity of the world they find themselves in one hot summer, in the novel Where You Left Us.  

    Cinnamon is home with her father, famous singer Ian Prince, as he battles depression and hides away in the family home, Halycon.  She feels trapped by circumstance in their coastal town, watching as others move on to university and other opportunities. Her sister Scarlett returns after finishing Year 12 and their relationship, already rocky, continues to deteriorate as Scarlett fights against the anxiety that threatens to overwhelm her. 

    Matters are complicated for both of them when an old family mystery reveals itself again after a violent summer storm. It seems Great-Aunt Sadie isn’t in the old family graveyard as previously thought…

    Both Cinnamon and Scarlett must learn to navigate the rocky waters of relationships turned on their head, a family member who returns unasked, and new romantic encounters that are both exciting and frightening.

    The author has crafted situations that are accessible and relatable for young adults. Sibling relationships, complex family dynamics, life after school, friendships – this and more is sensitively examined against the background of a Gothic mystery that brings everything to a climax by the end of the book.

    Themes covered in this story include mystery, mystery, romance, mental health issues (including depression, anxiety, and OCD), loss and sexual orientation.   Sex and sexuality are explored in a manner that is age appropriate. 

    The author ends the story with a note sharing her own journey with mental ill- health issues, and an encouragement to all readers to seek help and support if they don’t feel ‘OK’.  KidsHelpline, Lifeline, and BeyondBlue contact details are listed, and a link to information about Mental Health Treatment Plans further supports those who may be triggered by content within the book.

    Teachers’ notes available for UQP titles via:

  • 7 Oct 2022 9:04 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: The Wintrish Girl – Talismans of Fate

    Author: Melanie La’Brooy

    Reviewer: Natalie Lincoln

    If you want to enjoy reading, then read this. Melanie La’Brooy’s The Wintrish Girl -Talismans of Fate is fun. Penn, outcast as a Wintrish girl, must overcome many an obstacle to save not only herself but those that become her friends. Sweet, clever and humorous, a reader bounces from page to page on a fast-paced journey to outwit evil forces. From time to time malevolent undertones remind us of the possibility of darkness but before you know it, you are whisked away and continuing to enjoy the ride.

    It would be fair to say there is A LOT of world building here – keeping pace with the many capitalised fantastical elements is a little overwhelming but they add to the charm, making observations about fate, friendship, bullying and the impact of colonial possession. The librarian and English teacher in me adored the awe in which the library is held and the Libraryinth, the maze of books, is brilliant. Call me biased but the acknowledgement that it is a “huge responsibility to be a librarian” made me smile, and as a (much) younger reader, I would have loved this too. In a story where books, even with a subject matter as unlikely as cucumbers, are used as weapons, there is also a recognition that language, specifically titles, are given too much credence, “labels can get mixed up. And they rarely give an accurate description of all the potential contained within.”

    My favourite aspect of this novel is most definitely the quirky characters. Dislikeable Gertrude with her head of Ousting Keys is marvellous and while Penn, our protagonist, is a smart, resilient character, it is Arthur that steals the show. Goofy, affable and funny, he is delightful. In a world where people can be cast as broody and unhappy, these characters present a positivity and zest that allow space for hope.

    Readers of upper primary and lower secondary years would appreciate this highly imaginative novel and though it does capture shadowy realms, it doesn’t dwell there, maintaining an innocence and optimism. It really doesn’t take itself too seriously and this lightness is refreshing.

    Teachers’ notes available for UQP titles via:

  • 7 Oct 2022 9:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    TitleYarn Circles - Wellbeing Cards and Teacher’s Resource book.

    Author: Sharlene G Coombs & Randall Krystal

    Reviewer: Karen Seeneevassen

    The Wellbeing Cards pack contains 30 cards designed as discussion starters for yarn circles. Teachers of Early Stage 1, Stage 1 and Stage 2 might find the cards helpful as discussion prompts. Students in Stage 3 could use the cards as prompts for student lead discussions or yarn circles. Themes of the cards include; Belong, Sharing, Friendship and Connection.  The cards are respectfully and attractively presented, being illustrated Krystal Randall, a proud Yaegl and Bundjalung woman. The cards include First Nations’ words, along with the Nation of origin of these words. The cards also include suggestions for activities to extend and further develop understanding of themes and ideas.

    The teacher resource book includes activities that relate to the themes of the Wellbeing cards. Stages are not identified. The purpose of the teacher’s resource is to further develop literacy skills and oral language within the context of Indigenous perspectives. These activities are not linked to the NESA Curriculum and do not identify a stage or year group that the activity is designed for.

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