Gendered Reading: Why Do We Still Insist on Gendering Books?

Over the past few months and years, I have been following online discussions about the way people gender reading – not only the act of reading, as a pursuit that girls are said to prefer, but the books we give younger children and what we expect of them as they grow and how they develop their reading tastes. Trends in publishing for children and young adults, but especially children, at that age of discovering independent reading and what they enjoy for themselves, can be gendered – targeted stories about princesses being saved for girls, and boys playing sports for boys, for example, are the two extremes. Girls are frilly and passive, boys are dirty and active. It sometimes seems that there is no in between, and children are often presented with books chosen by adults, the ones who buy the books – which, when you only know a few brief facts about a child, can be hard, because what if you buy the wrong book? Understandably, people like to play it safe, and that is where gendered reading can come in.

 

AWW-2018-badge-roseYesterday, I followed Word of Mouth TV and Jacqueline Harvey on Twitter as they tweeted and chatted about and at the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture, with the Australian Society of Authors and the Children’s Book Council of Australia, on the issue of gendered books and reading, and how adults in the lives of children – whether implicitly or explicitly, in schools and libraries, guide children towards books “for girls” or “for boys”. Which brings me to the question – just what are boy books versus girl books? Well, apparently, if you’ve been following the discussions, a few things boys won’t read, or are said to be discouraged from reading:

 

– a book with love in the title

– a book with a girl on the cover

– a novel (boys apparently prefer comic books)

– a girl in the title

– a female author.

 

However, as adults, parents, teachers, booksellers and librarians, we encourage girls to read widely, but still within what is seen as “acceptable” for girls: no crime, no violence, passive princesses! LOVE! As a girl reader who has read widely since the age of six, war and crime have never been a deterrent. Spies? GREAT, I love Kensy and Max, and so do many other boys and girls when I read the reviews – and adults. Yet, Jacqueline Harvey has only had the chance to present to one or two groups of just boys – rather than mixed groups or just girls, and George Ivanoff pointed out that he saw that the boys in the mixed group were just as enthralled as the girls – excellent news for Kensy and Max, Alice- Miranda and Clementine-Rose. In my view, anyone can read anything they desire, and that they feel ready for – readers should be free to explore the world around them, so whenever I see people asking for “boy books” or “girl books”, I often feel the desire to point out that books do not have a gender, they are just books. Kensy is exactly the kind of girl character I would have enjoyed as a kid – because she was so different and refused to be overly girly.

 

So why do we encourage these reading habits? Is it because we associate reading with characters in popular culture like Hermione Granger and Rory Gilmore (By the way, two of my favourite characters), or even Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds? The lack of male characters who enjoy reading, and who aren’t broody and sullen like Jess Mariano, also of Gilmore Girls? Girls as readers seem to have a few role models to look up to when it comes to reading and seeing themselves as readers but also as people who have interests beyond reading. Boys, it seems, are always shown as the hero, or the nerd (Spencer, but he’s an adorable nerd, and a positive reading role model), or Jess, who often faced unfair comparisons with certain literary men, like Holden Caulfield, whilst Rory, and indeed girls, have many to be compared to. Supporting characters can be readers if they are boys – Percy Weasley, but often, they fade into the background, and so, it feels, does reading as a pleasurable activity for our boys.

 

Of these characters I know of, Spencer, Rory and Hermione are the three whose reading is prominently and positively portrayed – to the point where other characters don’t blink. And when the other male characters in these books and shows – Derek Morgan, Harry and Ron, Dean or Logan – are shown as sporty and brave, or disinterested in reading (Ron), or a someone who would rather disrupt learning than learn (Logan), we don’t blink either. My point is these, whilst exceptionally well written characters, and ones I can either love or hate in varying degrees, are characteristic of how we portray what it means to be a boy or a girl, and therefore, what activities and indeed, books we desire them to read. And perhaps this is why we are seeing a trend in books aimed at both boys and girls by authors like Kate Forsyth and Jacqueline Harvey, and George Ivanoff, and a trend in reimagined fairy tales for girls who dare to not be a passive princess – gone are the days of the prince saving the day, Rapunzel can save herself now!

 

And books aimed at both boys and girls that tell stories of men and women, across a diverse group of people, who have dared to be different to what their respective societies, cultures, nations and times in history expected of them, and why Disney movies are starting to pull back on ending it with the marriage of the main male and female characters. There are quite a few to name that have done this over the years, but the three recent ones that stand out to me are Frozen, Brave and Moana, where it was love of family that saved the day. Sure, Anna might have ended up with Kristoff (I had Hans picked as the villain from the start – if they look too good to be true, they probably are), but it was the love she had for Elsa, and Elsa’s love for her – their acts of true love, that drove the movie and the idea that love does not have to be romantic to be powerful. It is the same love we see in Kensy and Max, and in the Other Worlds series, especially in book two, Beast World, narrated by a girl, Xandra, who is also disabled. George Ivanoff wrote her really well and made sure she was represented as a disabled girl in a way that wasn’t demeaning. In our Twitter conversation, he said he had written books one and three with a male protagonist, and two and four with a female protagonist, and hoped boys reading them would continue with the female characters.

 

Unpacking gendered reading and representation of this in film and other media is not going to be resolved in this one post. It requires self-reflection, and asking ourselves why do we hope boys will begin a series with a boy and continue reading the books narrated by a girl? Why do we assume boys are naturally more interested in comics, sports and certain male-coded things rather than fairy tales or girl spies, or anything that girls are supposed to inherently be drawn to? We assume, we don’t ask, unless we think the child is old enough to decide for themselves – and at what age do we start this? Before they start school? When they’re learning to read? Somewhere in between, or only once they hit age ten? My own reading experiences are varied. I read Narnia at age nine, and books like The Wind in the Willows, The Neverending Story and a few others that might have been deemed “boy books”. I also read what are likely deemed “girl books”: The Babysitters Club, Seven Little Australians, Little Women (many, many times), and The Secret Garden, amongst many others. These days, I read whatever I can, and whenever I can. I read books by women, by men, by both, by people with various identities, and books aimed at boy, girls and everyone in between. I laugh with Bridget, I spy with Kensy and Max, I paint with Rowly, and explore all avenues of history with Kate Forsyth. I traverse London with Charles Dickens, and solve crimes with Phryne, and so many others that I cannot list, otherwise this will become an exegesis rather than a blog post.

 

 

During this blog post, I have worked in the binary because many discussions I read do. This is a whole other level that needs unpacking, the inclusion of all genders, and perhaps a really good reason why we should refrain from using the terms “boy books” and “girl books” – and just go with books so we can all feel included, and all find our way to characters we identify with. This layer is something I do not have enough of an understanding about yet, and will leave to those who do to comment on and write about – and leave it at we need to stop gendering our books and reading habits. Just Read.

 

A list of books that we can all enjoy, whatever our gender:

Kate Forsyth

Chain of Charms series

The Gypsy Crown

The Silver Horse

The Herb of Grace

The Cat’s Eye Shell

The Lightning Bolt

The Butterfly in Amber

Jacqueline Harvey:

Kensy and Max series

Kensy and Max: Breaking News

Kensy and Max: Disappearing Act

George Ivanoff

Other Worlds series

Other Worlds: Perfect World

Other Worlds: Beast World

Other Worlds: Game World

Other Worlds: Dark World

frogkisser

 

Garth Nix

Frogkisser!

Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Have Sword, Will Travel series

Have Sword, Will Travel

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

Jessica Townsend

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Comment with your books that you’d recommend to anyone regardless of gender – I have based this on what I have read!

 

Book Bingo Twenty-two – a prize winning book, a book by someone over sixty, and a book with a yellow cover.

Book bingo take 2

With 2018 rushing towards its busy, and warm conclusion, and in consultation with my fellow book bingo players, I have assigned some previously read books to the following categories, and have assigned my prize-winning category is taken up this time by 2007 Aurealis Best Children’s Book winning series, The Chain of Charms by Kate Forsyth, and have utilised other books in different squares from last time for others this time.

Book bingo take 2 .jpg

Rows Across – update:

Row #2 –

A book with a yellow cover: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng – AWW2018

A book by an author you’ve never read before: If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken

A non-fiction book:

 A collection of short stories: Fairy Tales for Feisty Girls by Susannah McFarlane – AWW2018

A book with themes of culture: Relic of the Blue Dragon (Children of the Dragon #1) by Rebecca Lim – AWW2018

 

Row #3:  – BINGO

A book written by an Australian woman:Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max #2) – AWW2018, The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian man: Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill

A prize-winning book: Chain of Charms series by Kate Forsyth – 2007 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Fiction – AWW2018

A book that scares you: What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra – AWW2018

A book with a mystery: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes (Mitford Murders #1)

 

Row #5

A book that became a movie:

A book based on a true story:

A book everyone is talking about:

A book written by someone under thirty: The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady – AWW2018

A book written by someone over sixty: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French – AWW2018

 Rows Down update:

Row #1 –

A book set more than 100 years ago: The Gypsy Crown by Kate Forsyth (Chain of Charms #1) – AWW2018

A book with a yellow cover: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian woman: Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max #2) – AWW2018

A forgotten classic:

A book that became a movie:

Row #3: –

 A memoir: No Country Woman by Zoya Patel – AWW2018

A non-fiction book:

A prize-winning book: Chain of Charms series by Kate Forsyth – 2007 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Fiction – AWW2018

A book with non-human characters: A Home for Molly by Holly Webb, Beast World by George Ivanoff

A book everyone is talking about:

Row #5 – BINGO

 A Foreign Translated Novel: The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti

A book with themes of culture: Relic of the Blue Dragon (Children of the Dragon #1) by Rebecca Lim – AWW2018

A book with a mystery: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes (Mitford Murders #1)

A book with a number in the title:

A book written by someone over sixty: Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French – AWW2018

AWW-2018-badge-rose

Row three across and row five down are my bingo rows this time around!

Australia DayLast time, Australia Day by Melanie Cheng slotted into the short story square, and yet this time, it fits into the yellow cover category this time. A series of short stories about life in Australia, and the varying experiences within society, aiming to capture the breadth of society and the different ways people react to, and deal with how they are perceived, and what is expected from the Australian experience, or perhaps in some cases, Melanie plays on the conflict between what is expected and who her characters are – varying between race, gender, class and sexuality to try and give a well-thought look at how Australia and Australia Day, isn’t the same for everyone, whatever their identity, and that it never will be. By revealing uncomfortable truths about Australian society in a way many people can relate to and understand.

Miss Lily 1Another book I recycled this time was Miss Lily’s Lovely Ladies by Jackie French – which fitted into the over 500-page square last time. This time, it fits into a book by someone over sixty – I did this again to make it easier filling the remaining categories with books I am in the middle of, and some I am yet to find. A historical fiction novel set during World War One, Sophie is sent to London to a school to learn how to be a lady – yet it is much more than that – she learns the ways of spying and using her feminine ways to find out about the war, and eventually, play a part in the war on the front line, in a time when the world is in tatters, and where men and women are dying everyday as battles rage across Europe, leaving Sophie’s home relatively untouched by the guns of war. Jackie French has been writing for all age groups for many years, and has been a favourite of mine since I was thirteen, and read Somewhere Around the Corner, which I still have my shelf. Another good book that fit more than one square.

My final square is the prize-winning book square. Ordinarily, this would go to a single book, however, with the flexibility we have given ourselves in this challenge, I have assigned it to a series I read this year within two weeks (had I not been so sick, it would have been a week). The Chain of Charms series by Kate Forsyth won the Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Fiction in 2007, for the whole series, comprised of six books, and won for books 2-6, i the long fiction category:

Kate Forsyth, The Silver Horse, The Chain of Charms 2, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Herb of Grace, The Chain of Charms 3, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Cat’s Eye Shell, The Chain of Charms 4, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Lightning Bolt, The Chain of Charms 5, Pan Macmillan
Kate Forsyth, The Butterfly in Amber, The Chain of Charms 6, Pan Macmillan

The series follows Luka and Emilia during the final days of a tyrannical reign during the time of Oliver Cromwell, trying to track down charms from each Roma family in the south regions of England, to reunite them and their families to bring back their good luck and fortune, and also, help stop the violence growing around them, and release their families from prison. It is a charming tail about friendship, and family, tying in historical fact and belief to create a world that children and any other readers can escape to.

Again, all my books are by Australian Women Writers. My aim was for each to be a unique book, but as I am cutting it fine, I’m not sure that will happen, so recycling will happen at times. Onto my next Book Bingo in two weeks time!

Booktopia

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Nevermoor #2)

Wundersmith.jpgTitle: Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow

Author: Jessica Townsend

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Lothian

Published: 30th October 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 475

Price: $16.99 (PB), $24.99 (HB)

Synopsis: Wunder is gathering in Nevermoor … 

Morrigan Crow may have defeated her deadly curse, passed the dangerous trials and joined the mystical Wundrous Society, but her journey into Nevermoor and all its secrets has only just begun. And she is fast learning that not all magic is used for good.

Return to the magical world of Nevermoor! Morrigan Crow’s perilous adventures continue in the most anticipated sequel of the year, a treat for all fans of magic and Wunder. 

Morrigan Crow has escaped her deadly fate and found a new home in the fantastical city of Nevermoor. She has also discovered that she has a strange and magical ability. But will her unique talent be a blessing or another curse?

Now that Morrigan and her best friend Hawthorne are proud scholars in the elite Wundrous Society, she is sure that she’s found a place to belong at last, but life is far from perfect. Can Morrigan prove that she deserves to be in the Society – or will an unexpected new enemy ruin her new life?

Praise for Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow:

Winner 
Dymocks Book of the Year 2018
Winner Book of the Year, Australian Book Industry Awards 2018
Winner Book of the Year for Younger Children, Australian Book Industry
Awards 2018
Winner The Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, Australian
Book Industry Awards 2018
Winner Book of the Year, Indie Book Awards 2018
Winner Children’s Category, Indie Book Awards 2018
Winner Nielsen Booksellers’ Choice Award, Australian Booksellers Association Awards 2018
Winner Best Children’s Fiction, Aurealis Awards 2017
Winner Younger Fiction, Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (UK) 2018
Shortlisted The Readings Children’s Book Prize 2018
A CBCA Notable book
Voted #1 in the Dymocks Kids’ Top 51


‘Unexpected, exciting and funny. Like Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and Doctor Who swirled up together.’ – Judith Rossell, ABIA Award-winning author of Withering-by-Sea

‘Exciting, charming, and wonderfully imagined, it’s the sort of delightful, grand adventure destined to be many a reader’s favourite book.’ – Trenton Lee Stewart, New York Times bestselling author of The Mysterious Benedict Society series and The Secret Keepers

‘It really is brilliant, with an engaging plot, plenty of twists, memorable characters and a marvellous sense of humour. Pick it up and the hours disappear, just like magic.’ – Daily Telegraph

‘An exciting and charming middle-grade read that will hook readers aged 10 and up with intricate imaginative detail and its sheer energy … a compulsively readable romp that fans of ‘Harry Potter’, Terry Pratchett or Studio Ghibli will gobble up.’ – Books and Publishing

~*~

Morrigan Crow’s journey began in Nevermoor, where she was whisked away from the Wintersea Republic on Eventide, the day she was destined to die, by Captain Jupiter North, whose red hair and flashy clothes were, and still are, in stark contrast to the black clothing donned by our heroine. Released exactly twelve months and twenty days after Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow picks up shortly after the first book, with Morrigan (Mog to Jupiter North), living at the Hotel Deucalion with its rooms that change depending on what you need at that moment, and the vampire dwarf, Frank, causing mischief and planning epic parties – this time to compete with a new hotel nearby, which is all in good fun amidst Morrigan’s acceptance into WunSoc, and her unit, Unit 919. Accepted by Hawthorne and Miss Cheery, Mog must work to earn the trust of the rest of her unit, as she grapples with her newfound identity as a Wundersmith, and she must fight all the prejudice flung at her because of it, and show everyone that there are good Wundersmiths, that they’re not all like Ezra Squall, who is trying to get back into Nevermoor.

As Morrigan starts her classes – at first, dully with only one class, referring to an abridged edition of the history of Wundersmiths, with a wuntortoise as her teacher – Professor Onstald – and gradually gaining a second class where she discovers the world of Nevermoor and all the sneaky, secret streets that lead to dangerous places like the Ghastly Market, or have rather unpleasant results, like vomiting everywhere. Despite this Tricksy Lanes, and their more nefarious relations, Morrigan finds herself in all sorts of trouble with Ezra Squall as Jupiter is called away more often, to the point where she fears she will have to leave WunSoc and Proudfoot House, but Morrigan will come to learn that loyalty and choice are what will make her the Wundersmith she is, and it is her loyalty to those who are around her in Nevermoor that make her a wunderful character. As she ventures into the world of WunSoc, along with readers, things are  not always as they seem, and there are threads and hints at certain things that are so subtle, the impact their reveal is given is magical and powerful.

I’ve been with this series since the first book came out last year, and it is absolutely delightful. Filled with everything from snarky cats to best friends, magical doors and rooms that change the type of bed you have based on what you need, I enjoyed my latest stay at the Hotel Deucalion, and spending time with Fen and Jupiter again. Fen is a character who doesn’t hold back, she tells it like it is. She is one of those characters who you really want to get behind and cheer on because, well, she’s magnificent and even though she’s full of snark and sarcasm, she truly cares for Mog and Jupiter.

Like many fantasy series before it, this series begins with an orphaned, or unwanted child, living a rather mundane experience until someone – in this case the enigmatic Jupiter North, arrives to whisk Morrigan away to a new, colourful world of magic and wonder, where good and evil fight each other and dastardly people lurk in the shadows, trying to disrupt the lives of those wanting to get by in Nevermoor peacefully. And, like in similar series, the threat of Squall will grow until a face-off – but the execution of Morrigan’s journey is as unique as every other story in the same genre. What Morrigan has to do is and will be unique, she is unique, and she shows people that they can overcome the bad things and shows that just because a certain fate is ascribed arbitrarily to you, it doesn’t mean you have to fulfil this fate. You can change it, and with Jupiter and Hawthorne’s help, that is just what Morrigan does.

Morrigan and Hawthorne are the heroes and friends we need – loyal, not perfect, and willing to learn from mistakes. Hawthorne’s loyalty to Morrigan, following certain events that turn the rest of their unit against her, and his willingness to do anything he can to help his friend, are what make him one of my favourite characters. There is nothing Hawthorne wouldn’t do for his friend, and I absolutely loved that.

The entire book from beginning to end is amazing, and fits in so well with the previous book, naturally, and gives a deeper look into the characters, but still with enough mystery to ensure there are secrets to come out in later books. I look forward to the continuation of this series, and where Mog goes from here.

Booktopia

The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars by Jaclyn Moriarty (Kingdoms and Empires #2)

whispering wars.jpgTitle: The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars

Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th October 2018

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 528

Price: $22.99

Synopsis:An enchanting and whimsical spell-filled fantasy novel from Jaclyn Moriarty, the highly-acclaimed author of The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone and the award-winning author of Feeling Sorry for Celia and A Corner of White, suitable for readers who loved A Most Magical Girl

I was taken by Whisperers at 2pm, so I never pulled the lever for the laundry chute.
That’s what bothered me most. 
This is way ahead in the story, though. A lot happened before that.

The town of Spindrift is frequented by pirates, Shadow Mages and charlatans. It’s also home to the Orphanage School, where Finlay lives with Glim, Taya and Eli. Just outside town is the painfully posh Brathelthwaite Boarding School, home to Honey Bee, Hamish and Victor, Duke of Ainsley. When the two schools compete at the Spindrift Tournament, stakes are high, tensions are higher, and some people are out to win at any cost. Before long, the orphans and the boarding school are in an all-out war.

And then Whispering Wars break out, and Spindrift is thrust onto the front lines. Children are being stolen, Witches, Sirens and a deadly magical flu invade the town, and all attempts to fight back are met with defeat.

Finlay, Honey Bee and their friends must join forces to outwit the encroaching forces of darkness, rescue the stolen children, and turn the tide of the war. But how can one bickering troupe outwit the insidious power of the Whisperers? And who are the two mysterious figures watching them from the shadows?

From the award-winning Jaclyn Moriarty comes a spellbinding tale of unlikely friendship, unexpected magic and competitive athletics.

~*~

The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars is the next in the Kingdoms and Empires series, that began with Bronte Mettlestone and her rather inconvenient adventures to visit aunts and hand out gifts to them, where she meets up with Alejandro and other friends – that is her story, and in the second book, we have two delightful and enthusiastic narrators – Finlay, from the Orphanage School, and Honey Bee, from the Brathelwaite Boarding School, a rather painfully posh school on the edge of town, and when the book opens, Finlay and Honey Bee are at each other’s throats, and their schools are neck and neck in a local sports competition – a competition that the Brathelwaite students desperately have to win if they do not want to incur the wrath of their headmaster – who is rather questionable and I sincerely didn’t trust him from the get-go. As time goes on though, both Finlay and Honey Bee – who alternate chapters and actually get to know each other – relate to the reader the rivalry between their schools, and the strange goings on in spindrift – children are disappearing, and each school thinks two mysterious children who keep popping in and out of Spindrift are from the respective schools, spying on the opposing school – but is this the case, or are they another entity entirely?

AWW-2018-badge-rose

Eventually, Finlay and Honey Bee realise that they must work together 0 and their friends must work with them and each other to uncover the truth about what has been happening with the help of two mysterious visitors who know more than they are letting on – visitors that readers of the previous book will recognise and enjoy seeing again. The Whisperers are back, as are the tales of Spellbinders and Witches and faery magic – and a set of twins – intelligent, smart and cheeky – to rival Fred and George Weasley – the latter of which would probably take Eli and Taya under their wing should the worlds meet, and the mischief caused would be wonderfully catastrophic, as well as dragons – my favourite final chapter line is “And that’s when the first dragon landed.” What a way to end a chapter! Alone, all these elements are effective – but together, they create an atmosphere of humour and mystery that is delightful and exquisite in its execution, and is an exciting plot, driven by magic of all kinds that weaves its way around the words and spellbinds the reader. As I read in, the surprises kept coming, and I was cheering for Finlay and Honey Bee, glad that they finally managed to get along, though their arguing made the story extremely amusing and brought a lovely sense of humour to the book, as did the way they broke the fourth wall, and spoke directly to the reader, and admonished each other for misleading or not telling the reader something – an excellent addition!

This series is shaping up to be spectacular one, and is yet another example of the fine, well-honed talent we have coming out of Australia, especially with our women writers, whose stories are often diverse, and cross a myriad of experiences and genres in both fiction and non-fiction, and this is only growing each year as we have more and more enthusiastic and wonderful talent entering the scene. A wonderful follow up, and hopefully, with many more to come.

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

Lennys book of everythingTitle: Lenny’s Book of Everything

Author: Karen Foxlee

Genre: Literary Fiction, Young Adult

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th October 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: 19.99

Synopsis: Our mother had a dark heart feeling. Lenny’s younger brother has a rare form of gigantism and while Lenny’s fiercely protective, it isn’t always easy being the sister of ‘the giant’. A book about finding good in the bad that will break your heart while raising your spirits in the way that only a classic novel can.

Lenny, small and sharp, has a younger brother Davey who won’t stop growing – and at seven is as tall as a man. Raised by their mother, they have food and a roof over their heads, but not much else.

The bright spot every week is the arrival of the latest issue of the Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia. Through the encyclopedia, Lenny and Davey experience the wonders of the world – beetles, birds, quasars, quartz – and dream about a life of freedom and adventure. But as Davey’s health deteriorates, Lenny realises that some wonders can’t be named.

A big-hearted novel about loving and letting go by an award-winning author.

Such a big heart and not a beat out of place.‘ – MELINA MARCHETTA

Tough, tender and beautiful.’ – GLENDA MILLARD

Unforgettable.’ – ANNA FIENBERG

Karen Foxlee, you’re a genius.‘ – WENDY ORR

~*~

Lenore Spink, known as Lenny, has a younger brother called Davey who won’t stop growing – by the age of seven, he is as tall as a man, and Lenny is often mistaken as his younger sister. They live with their mother, Cynthia, and Lenny dreams of her father, Peter Lenard Spink, returning one day. In all the years Davey has been alive, he hasn’t. When Davey has to go away for tests to see why he keeps growing, Lenny’s mother enters a competition to win a complete build it yourself encyclopaedia set from a company called Burrell’s – and so, Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia becomes a crucial part in the way Lenny and Davey cope with life before, during and after Davey’s diagnosis, as they get each new set of entries for the alphabet and the covers to bind them together, creating a set on the shelf that they dip into, and re-read their favourite bits. Along for the ride with them is Davey’s imaginary pet golden eagle, Timothy, who goes everywhere with them, and will go with them when they run away to Canada to find Peter Lenard Spink. But when they find out how sick Davey is, all dreams of heading up north are quashed, and Lenny uses the Build-It-Yourself Encyclopaedia, and her attempts to find her father, and any other Spinks, to cope with what is happening, and find a way to understand it. With a touching, bittersweet ending, this book is filled with love, family and friendship.

AWW-2018-badge-rose

This was a surprise arrival with my last Allen and Unwin package, and I immediately felt it was going to be good – the cover alone is charming and exquisite – originally die-cut to create the image that overlays the title, I found it inviting and intriguing – what could these mysterious maps mean? Each section is sign posted by a year, a growth spurt in Davey, and a letter entry for the encyclopaedia, connecting each event to a specific letter, and what that meant to Lenny and Davey over the years that spread across the book. This is a book that is not aimed at any one age group – it is universal in its scope and story – with aspects that we can all relate to and recognise in our own lives. We’ve all known the joy of knowledge, of receiving something in the post that we have either been waiting for or that comes as a pleasant surprise. The act of learning something new is an experience we have all had – and encountering our favourite books or topics.

We also, most of us, know the love of family and friends, the comings and goings of people in our lives, and the fragility of life and death, and the challenges that come with caring for someone with an illness or disability and how it impacts everyone in their lives – the challenges and sacrifices, that are made, as well as the love that is shared, and the sense of community that can come about, as they do for Lenny and her family.

This is a novel with a big heart, about a different kind of love than many novels explore – family love – a love that is just as important as romantic love and deserves more focus in the stories we consume. Lenny’s journey also involves accepting what is happening to her brother and is a catalyst for how she comes to understand the world around her.

This is a book with a big heart, that teaches us about love and letting go of those we love, and the strength it can take for this to happen, and the places we can draw it from. I enjoyed this book, it was one of those rare books that refuses to leave you long after closing the last page. It is one that can be enjoyed by many, and I hope it is, and I hope it is as powerful for other readers as it was for me,

Booktopia

Book Bingo Twenty-one – A funny book, A book that scares you and a book of short stories

Book bingo take 2

This week marks my twenty-first post for the year of my Bok Bingo challenge, which has been chugging along well. So well in fact, I’m whipping through my second card quite rapidly, with a few squares to be decided and written up. For this post, all three books are by Australian women, scoring a hattrick for the post and overall Australian women writers challenge. In fact, many of the books for this year could have ticked off the book by an Australian woman over sixty times. At this stage, I have read and reviewed sixty-four books by Australian women, with more to come.

Book bingo take 2

Rows Across:

Row #2

 A book with a yellow cover:

A book by an author you’ve never read before: If Kisses Cured Cancer by T.S. Hawken

A non-fiction book:

 A collection of short stories: Fairy Tales for Feisty Girls by Susannah McFarlane – AWW2018

A book with themes of culture: Relic of the Blue Dragon (Children of the Dragon #1) by Rebecca Lim – AWW2018

 Row #3:  –

 A book written by an Australian woman: Disappearing Act by Jacqueline Harvey (Kensy and Max #2) – AWW2018, The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018

A book written by an Australian man: Captain Cook’s Apprentice by Anthony Hill

A prize-winning book:

A book that scares you: What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra – AWW2018

A book with a mystery: The Mitford Murders by Jessica Fellowes (Mitford Murders #1

Row #4

 A forgotten classic:

A book with a one-word title:

A book with non-human characters: A Home for Molly by Holly Webb, Beast World by George Ivanoff

A funny book: Archibald, the Naughtiest Elf in the World Goes to the Zoo by Skye Davidson, Illustrated by Ágnes Rokiczky – AWW2018

A book with a number in the title:

Rows Down:

Row #4 –BINGO

A book more than 500 pages: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton – AWW2018

A collection of short stories: Fairy Tales for Feisty Girls by Susannah McFarlane – AWW2018

A book that scares you: What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra – AWW2018

A funny book: Archibald, the Naughtiest Elf in the World Goes to the Zoo by Skye Davidson, Illustrated by Ágnes Rokiczky -AWW2018

A book written by someone under thirty: The Yellow House by Emily O’Grady – AWW2018

NJ1802-ETP-Archibald-book-1-pdf-1030x824

First off, is a picture book, and this fills in the square for a funny book. Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Goes to the Zoo by Skye Davidson, published by Elephant Tree Publishing, slots into this category nicely. When Archibald decides to go to the local zoo, he is quickly spotted by the zoo keeper selling tickets and is told to behave himself – poor Archibald tries to be good, but he always seems to be getting into trouble – whatever he tries. At the zoo, all he wants is for the animals to be able to play with each other. What happens next is charming, hilarious and so magical, children will delight in reading this with someone or on their own as they learn to read independently. A story well worth trying to get your hands on.

what the woods keep

Second up is a book that scares me. This one is a debut novel by Katya de Becerra – What the Woods Keep, and for those who embrace the macabre, it is perfect. Filled with hints of science fiction, mythology and dark fantasy, it compels you to read on, lulling you into a false sense of safety until you hit Promise, and quite literally, all hell breaks loose. The woods are a terrifying place, where big bad things happen. People go missing or die. They are swallowed up whole by the environment and never heard from again. It is a chilling, intriguing book that will keep you awake at night, wondering what to expect next. Though you’ll want to set it aside to recover from what has just happened, you will also want to continue reading to see how it plays out for Hayden and to finally feel your heart start beating at a normal rate again. Horrifying and intriguing, this is a great book for those in search of a spooky tale.

crepp

fairytales for feisty girls

Finally, we get to what has to be one of my favourite books of the year, because it combines feisty girls and fairy tales, and my little nerd heart couldn’t have been happier, having studied fairy tales at university, and developing a love for them in their raw, unabridged forms, with the lopping off of limbs, dancing in red hot shoes and thorny punishments, to the various retellings that have sanitised them or taken them to the absolute extremes, to the fairy tale retellings that are coming out in abundance these days in various genres, in particular the fairy tale infused historical fiction written by Kate Forsyth. So for the short story square, Susannah McFarlane’s book, Fairytales for Feisty Girls captures this spot. Susannah has taken well known tales – Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Thumbelina – fairy tale girls who have previously been acted upon, and passive in the original oral tales and Brothers Grimm versions – and allows them to act for themselves. Rapunzel is an inventor, using the things Mother Gothel brings her to create things to help around the house, much to Gothel’s horror. Red Riding Hood and her grandmother outwit a wolf, Thumbelina finds her way home and Cinderella makes her own fortunes with the glass slipper. Each girl does something using the key aspects and symbols of the original tales to save herself, showing girls of all ages that they can be who they want, do what they want and that they don’t need to wait for the prince or woodsman (who, funnily enough in this story, has lost his axe), to save them.

 

Wrapping book bingo 21, and moving onto book bingo 22 in a couple weeks.

Booktopia

Total Quack Up by Sally Rippin, Deborah Abela, Jacqueline Harvey, Oliver Phommavanh, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Adrian Beck, Tristan  Bancks and Matt Stanton

total quack up.jpgTitle: Total Quack Up

Author: Sally Rippin, Deborah Abela, Jacqueline Harvey, Oliver Phommavanh, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Adrian Beck, Tristan  Bancks and Matt Stanton

Genre: Children’s fiction/humour

Publisher:  Penguin Random House/Puffin

Published: 15th October, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: 14.99

Synopsis: Authors Sally Rippin and Adrian Beck have gathered together an awesome line-up of writers and their funniest stories. Not only will the stories make you laugh out loud and feel good, royalties from sales of the book go to Dymocks Children’s Charities – so you can feel extra good!

Total Quack Up! features stories from Deborah Abela, Tristan Bancks, Adrian Beck, Jacqueline Harvey, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, Oliver Phommavanh, Sally Rippin, R.A. Spratt and Matt Stanton, plus a prize-winning story from a child!

~*~

Total Quack Up is a new anthology of short stories aimed at children, and published by Puffin for the Dymocks Children’s Charities, with royalties going towards these charities to help children learn to read and engage with reading. In these stories, there are superheroes, animals and magic, as well as robots and siblings, and practical jokes – all the things that kids find enjoyable and funny, in stories that they will enjoy and engage with, at all levels.

Each story is a quick read, starting with How to Be A Superhero by Deborah Abela – and ending with a story from a schoolkid, Ella Wallace, who won a competition to be included in the anthology. Each story stars a child as the protagonist, navigating life at school, at sport, or as a superhero, and with family, friends and siblings. Written by some of Australia’s most popular male and female authors, this makes my count for the Australian Women Writers Challenge seventy – with another review to write for a quiz book, and many more reviews to come – I hope. This will be included in my next challenge catch up post.

AWW-2018-badge-roseWith a uniqueness to each story, every reader who picks up this book will find a story and character they will enjoy, love and laugh with. From Arabella von Champion, a superhero who sees herself as extraordinary and is quite daring, to the little brother at the end who blocks up the dunny with everything imaginable, and the soccer team with the pig as a mascot – all other animals are banned from the sports field, to everything in between from some of the best-loved Australian authors, and some new voices to discover between these red covers, all aimed at raising money to help with children’s charities in Australia.

The variety of stories shows just how diverse and eclectic Australian authors are, and how different stories and characters will appeal to different children, and what will hook them into reading. This book offers bite-sized pieces of Australian talent for new readers to discover, and for old readers of these authors who have enjoyed their previous works and books over the years, and for the adults who would have read some as children, now able to pass these authors down.

Another great book aimed at kids, and with stories to enjoy and laugh with, I hope all those who get to read this enjoy it.

booktopia