Jackie French, recently announced as Australia’s new Children’s Laureate for 2014-2015, has just released the third novel in “The Matilda Saga”. The newest — entitled The Road to Gundagai – follows A Waltz for Matilda and The Girl from Snowy River. It is set during the Depression in rural Australia and traces Blue Laurence’s escape from her aunts’ mansion to become a mermaid in the Magnifico Family Circus. But somewhere there is a murderer, waiting to strike again…
We have all three books in the Saga in store, best for readers aged 11 and up, as well as numerous other books French has written for all ages.
The Road to Gundagai – Jackie French – PB – HarperCollins – $20.00
On Friday 29th November I attended a function at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne to help say farewell to the inaugural Australian Children’s Laureates, Alison Lester and Boori Monty Pryor and to also welcome the new Laureate Jackie French. It was a terrific evening, where both Alison & Boori talked about their time as a Laureate and Alison showed slides of some of the schools she visited and the art work produced during the visits. Between them, they talked to 10,000 children in the two years, an astonishing feat.
A silent auction was part of the proceedings with many artworks donated by illustrators available to bid on. I am still bitterly disappointed that I was outbid in my quest to have my tabby cat Evie feature in the next book by Nick Bland, but I guess I’ll get over it! Bidding for a Shaun Tan painting went live with a telephone bidder and the selling price for that work was over two thousand dollars. The funds are much needed by the programme to ensure it’s future.
When Jackie French took to the stage to give her speech, everyone was struck, though not surprised, at her passion for the subject of reading and literacy for children. She also spoke a little of the difference a compassionate teacher had made in her life, when Jackie was young and vulnerable. Jackie talked not only about the importance of books in a child’s life, but also of the need for a secure and safe bed in which to read it, something most of us take for granted. She emphasized that the needier the child, the more valuable a book could be. She has loads of ideas for her time as Laureate and if you don’t all hear about her in the next two years, I’ll be very surprised. I think we all left the room feeling that the new Laureate was a firebrand who would get a lot of Australian’s talking about reading and books and them being necessities, not luxuries in a child’s life. Go Jackie!!!
We now have in store the fourth and newest in the “Grimstones” series: Music School. Martha Grimstone heads off to the famous Queen’s Music Academy to study the Epithium. Asphyxia uses her standard format of drawing and puppetry to give us a story of new friends, wrong names, uncooperative bats and a Grimstone in a traditional school.
The Grimstones: Music School — Asphyxia — PB — Allen & Unwin — $15
See the glittery gold cover? And the classy hot-pink font? They’re a fair representation of the glitz, glamour and trash of the super-uber-rich upper-classes of Singapore and South-East Asia. They’d have no qualms in wearing this colour combination to set foot on their private jet for another drab weekend on a private island — as long as it was in a couture item by this season’s hottest label, and cost upward of $250K. As other reviewers have said, this novel is a modern Dynasty set in the tropics, and it’s one hell of a romp.
The pretext for the expose is that two up-and-coming NYU professors, Nick and Rachel, decide to take a 10-week summer holiday and meet Nick’s family in Singapore. What Nick fails to mention is that he is the heir to Singapore’s greatest fortune, channelled through three proud dynasties into his humble person. With untold billions at stake, the super-rich bring out their diamonds and claws to meet Nick’s new girlfriend…
This book was absolutely gripping, mostly because it was impossible to believe how ludicrous these rich types could be with their bottomless bank accounts. Monthly trips to Paris for wardrobe refreshing, a million dollars in jewellery in 10 minutes to make yourself feel better after a bad day, the gymnasium on board the private jet used for those weekends away in mainland Chinese shopping malls… Just fascinating, like an amazing sociological exploration of a different species. A perfect holiday read, with enough substance to make it worthwhile.
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan – TP – Allen & Unwin – $25.00
Wombat Divine by Mem Fox is one of Australia’s most popular picture books about Christmas, by one of Australia’s leading children’s authors. Wombat is finally old enough to be part of the Nativity Play (his favourite part of Christmas), and he excitedly goes to auditions to try out for any part he can. Despite his enthusiasm Wombat just can’t find the role for him, but before he can get too downhearted Bilby comes up with the perfect idea: Wombat would be a divine Baby Jesus.
Kerry Argent’s bright and detailed illustrations of the scenery and the Australian bush animals are rich in colour and life, and truly impart the excitement of Christmas.
Wombat Divine comes in regular paperback at $16 and mini hardback at $17.
Readers of ghost stories, gothic novels and general eerieness will be delighted to get their hands on Diane Setterfield’s new novel, Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story. In this, Setterfield’s first since the fabulous The Thirteenth Tale (2006), the tale opens with young Will Bellman slaying a rook with his catapult. As William grows into a charming young man, successful in the wool-milling business and in living a good life with his attractive family, he seems the epitome of the golden child. But then comes the trickle, then the flood, of funerals… and the strange man who appears at each of them, but only to William… and the near-wordless deal they make one bleak night in the cemetery…
The novel is well written, and explores thought, memory, joy and the darkness of the soul. It is convincing without being overdone, detailed while remaining subtle, and makes sure that it doesn’t leave the reader in a quagmire of gloom come the end of the book. Perfect for those who like the odd swirl of ectoplasm in their daily lives.
Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story – Diane Setterfield – PB – Orion Publishing – $30