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Checkout the latest recommended resources from the SLANSW Review Team

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  • 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.

  • 7 Oct 2022 8:58 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade 5

    Author: Carla Fitzgerald.

    Reviewer: Donna Dobson

    When I read a children’s novel, I do so with the thought ‘what would a child think of this book?’ … And that is how I approached the read of ‘How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade 5’ by Carla Fitzgerald.

    Within the first few pages it is revealed that 11-year-old Harper intercepts her dad, the new Prime Minister of Australia, haphazardly heading off to a suspicious conference, which may be not a conference at all, and he leaves his mobile phone behind. As the phone pings with messages, Harper finds herself pretending to be her dad, as she juggles protecting his reputation and that of her family. She lets her younger sister in on the predicament, and the two girls find themselves covering for their father, and under pressure to come up with a new policy. But there are benefits- red frogs and Maccas delivered to the front door of Kirribilli House!

    This book is a humorous read, and encourages the reader to believe that we can all be strong when the going gets tough.

    It is a book that children would enjoy hearing being read aloud, and to be a successful middle school novel that is read by its targeted audience, it would probably need to be recommended by a teacher librarian, and placed in the hands of the right child.

    Teachers’ notes available for UQP titles via:

  • 7 Oct 2022 8:50 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: School Libraries Supporting Literacy and Wellbeing

    Author: Dr Margaret K. Merga

    Reviewer: Vicki Bennett

    The importance of school libraries and how they support student wellbeing and develop essential literacy skills is a relevant and complex topic that Margaret Merga explores comparing school libraries in the U.K., Australia, and USA. Her book also offers extensive evidence and data about how school libraries support student wellbeing and literacy skills.

    As a teacher librarian in two small Primary Schools in NSW, I found this book thought-provoking, fascinating, relevant, factual, and an essential read for all teacher librarians AND school leaders. Merga understands teacher librarians, their struggles, goals, and hopes for the future, and articulates them perfectly.

    The importance of how “Reading for Pleasure” (RfP) improves students’ educational outcomes is something all school leaders should be interested in. Student wellbeing has always been a concern in schools but has increased over the last two years of COVID. In each chapter, Merga provides evidence on how school libraries support student wellbeing and literacy development, and fuels ideas on how important it is to increase support of students and teacher librarians. There is so much room for further research and Merga provides many starting points for this.

    Chapter 1: Explores the links and evidence between school libraries and students’ performance. Comparisons between school library systems in the UK and Australia are explored and prompt the question: What is the difference between a school librarian and a teacher librarian? The UK has school librarians (generally, without teaching degrees) and Australia has teacher librarians. The name itself is the ultimate clue. This chapter also breaks down each role and discusses “job creep.”

    Chapter 2: Focuses on literacy and the ways in which school libraries can, and do, support a love of “Reading for Pleasure” (RfP) are integral to this chapter.

    Chapter 3: Discusses how school/teacher librarians and school library professionals have an integral role in supporting “Struggling Literacy Learners” (SLL) beyond the early years. Merga also discusses how the term “struggle” should not be avoided to describe students, because if we don’t call it a struggle, we are diminishing their difficulties and their need for support. Who these struggling students are and how they can be supported by school libraries is also explored in this chapter.

    Chapter 4: Reading engagement and reading for pleasure develop more than literacy; they contribute to social and emotional intelligence. Merga notes that the ability to lose oneself within a book is an escape for many, while relating to characters, reading about similar life situations, learning empathy, not feeling isolated by one’s beliefs, and finding a connection somewhere often creates a sense of belonging. Therefore, it is important to ensure the availability of diverse literature in school libraries.

    Chapter 5: The provision of appropriate and factual texts and information to support students’ health, wellbeing and information literacy is explored in this chapter. Merga’s discussion also explores the importance of resourcing for caregivers. The importance of a qualified teacher librarian to teach students how to discern and identify information is also highlighted, as is the need for future research in this area.

    Chapter 6: Explores the importance of the design, accessibility, and availability of library spaces for students’ wellbeing. As a student who used the school library as their safe haven and the space where I felt I belonged, this chapter reinforced for me the importance of school libraries and highlights how they support the wellbeing for many students with diverse needs.

    Chapter 7: Why do we need qualified teacher librarians and school libraries? While I found all the chapters important and relevant, this chapter was my favourite. Teacher librarians need to advocate for their role, work within their role, maintain their libraries, and not burn out; this is a very real and difficult struggle. Merga poses the question: Why does the teacher librarian need to advocate for a role that is undoubtably essential for students’ literacy and wellbeing? The role is misunderstood by many and there is an obvious need for more research in this area. Merga also suggests that it stems from the deprofessionalisation of the role and the lack of clarity about what the role entails. The importance of a physical library space and physical books is also explored. The discussion about how well readers comprehend when reading from a screen in comparison to a physical book is also an area that is highlighted. Merga’s discussion about these topics is valid and important. 

    In conclusion, this book is an essential read for all educators as it highlights the importance of well-designed and well-resourced school libraries lead by qualified school/teacher librarians to support wellbeing and literacy for all students. It also highlights, however, the very real struggle of qualified teacher librarians and school libraries. When the evidence indicates that it is detrimental for our students to not have access to a qualified teacher librarian and a school library, the question is, why is it such a struggle? Merga highlights all these issues and offers ideas on how we can address this for the future.

  • 7 Oct 2022 8:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: The way of Dog

    Author: Zana Fraillon

    Reviewer: Amber Sorensen

    Zana Fraillon’s The Way of Dog is such a delightful read. A verse novel that captures the essence of what it means to be Dog, full of love, a sense of adventure, and exuberance.

    Told from the perspective of Scruffity, one cannot help but feel as he feels. The author has done a superb job of weaving delightful verse into a story that tugs at the heart. My absolute favourite word from this book is the evocative ‘schnuffles’. Suitable for all ages.

    Teachers’ notes available for UQP titles via:

  • 7 Oct 2022 8:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Title: What Snail Knows

    Author: Kathryn Apel

    Illustrator: Mandy Foot

    Reviewer: Natalie Lincoln

    Admittedly, and perhaps ashamedly, it was new to me to read a lyric novel – but what a fabulous introduction! This gentle story unfolds through verse to express the beautiful connection between a dad and daughter (and a snail), who both must decide if it is safe to come out of their shells.

    Both simple and complicated, the tale is very human and very real. Simple, in the use of a child narrator, but complex in its interwoven themes: notions of home and family, pride, and accepting help. A sense of the father’s loss and fear is exposed to be as strong as that of the daughter. As a teacher, I super enjoyed the wisdom of the teacher, who seamlessly included Lucy and gave tasks which made her feel not so different to everyone else. I appreciated the lack of an expected “bully,” instead focusing on the kindness and acceptance of the class. The inclusion of environment and respectful treatment of animals (even pests!) was wonderful.

    While the story tells of a Year 2 student, it is a lovely read, regardless of age. Though most certainly suited to primary school, as a high school teacher, the poetic elements would work beautifully with our Year 7 poetry unit where they create an anthology of assorted poetic forms. To be fair, with its use of a variety of text types (shape and acrostic poems, tables, recipes, and procedures) I will also be using it to demonstrate experimentation of language with my Year 12 Extension English class! Artful pencil illustrations interspersed throughout correspond with the tender nature of the storytelling.

    Poignant and heart-warming, What Snail Knows left me with a sense that Lucy and her dad, while not having much, really have the most important things – love for each other, and appreciation for others. Snail would approve.

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