Dear Santasaurus by Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Jef Kaminsky
Boyds Mills Press 2013
Ernest B Spinosaurus isn’t wasting any time telling Santasaurus what he wants for Christmas: he writes his first letter to Santasaurus on the first of January and continues to write throughout the year. And he’s determined to stay on Santasaurus’ Nice List! Through Ernest’s letters, at once hopeful and cheeky, we get to know this young dinosaur, about his friend Ty, his little sister Amber, and his desire for a Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9. He wants to stay on Santasaurus’ “nice” list, and keeps up a steady stream of letters partly to explain away his naughtiness.
Ernest may be a dinosaur, but really he’s a typical young boy that children (and their parents) will be able to relate to easily. Coupled with Jef Kaminsky’s cartoon-like illustrations, this book reminded me a lot of children’s television shows. Granted, the ones I’ve started letting my two-year-old watch (yes, it’s come to that, there’s only so long you can hold out!) are predominately British and a mix of fancy 3D CGI and old-style animation a la Peppa Pig, but they all tend to have one thing in common: using animals (like pigs or bees) or mythological creatures (like fairies or elves) or fictional characters (like robots or aliens) to make everyday stories more interesting, as well as to show a universality to human stories. Children’s books are, likewise, often used to help dispel the classic “us vs. them” dichotomy that seems to rise in children instinctually, and I do find the books to be less obvious than the TV shows (and I have zero guilt in letting my child read books!).
Dear Santasaurus is a sweet, funny and very entertaining book, a picture book for older children. It was too long and too advanced for my boy, who doesn’t really remember his first two Christmas’ and is only just getting his head around the typical Christmas symbols: Santa etc. The concept of naughty and nice, or of writing to Santa, these are a bit too abstract for him yet. The story itself has lovely context jokes where the illustrations play off the text – and vice versa – in really fun ways, but likewise my boy is too young yet to get any of the humour, or even really understand the situations or what Ernest is really saying in his letters. It’s one I will have to wait a couple more years before getting out again to read to him, which isn’t a bad thing. If your child is five or older, they will get a lot out of this.
Here’s a taste:
For Christmas, I want rainbow underwear with white polka dots. Seven hundred pairs of underwear. And Ty wants a thousand pairs of socks. That’s it. No toys. No scooter.
Ernest B Spinosaurus
PS: Just kidding. APRIL FOOL’S DAY!! Ha ha ha.
Yesterday’s letter was a joke. You knew that, right? I do NOT want seven hundred pairs of underwear for Christmas. I don’t want any underwear. I want the Jurassic Turbo Scooter X(.
Please, please, please do not bring me any underwear.
Ernest B Spinosaurus
PS: Ty doesn’t want socks, either.
Today, I scored two soccer goals (one for my team, one for the other team). I ate all my dinner (except for what dropped on the floor). I even helped Amber take her first steps. So let’s forget about yesterday’s mess with the glitter glue, paint, and Dad’s toothbrush. Besides, Mom sure did like the Mother’s Day card I made with my own claws.
I’ve been thinking about my Christmas list. I want the Sea Serpent Blue Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9. I also want a Raging Raptor action figure.
Ernest B Spinosaurus
The illustrations are bold, colourful and lively, and don’t simply echo the text but rather show another side to the story, a kind of “what really happened” side to it. They’re fresh and fun and really help with the whole book’s festive, exciting, cheerful vibe. And what was really nice, especially for a Christmas picture book, was the fact that there was no in-your-face, saccharine moral at the end. Ernest got the Christmas present he wanted, and was really really happy. The point of the story isn’t about good deeds and impressing on kids any kind of pressure to be something they’re not; it’s about kids being kids, and enjoying their childhood, and striving and trying without weighty repercussions or negative consequences. You could read this as “Santasaurus” standing in for God, but not being religious I didn’t read it that way (but you could). Children reading this will be able to enjoy it for the entertaining story it is, while also seeing a bigger picture. It’s a story that makes an impression, but isn’t heavy-handed or lecturing or do-goody. Know what I mean? Kids don’t respond well to that anyway.
Children will connect well with Ernest, who is proud of himself for taking a bath without being told, and who does harmless pranks. They will enjoy reading about a year in Ernest’s life, and getting to know him. And if anything, it will teach kids that it’s okay to play, that you should try to be good and helpful and considerate, but if you mess up nothing bad’s going to happen. Your life won’t be – shouldn’t be, if you have decent parents – ruined. (Sadly, not every child has the freedom to be a child that Ernest does.) Being a child is about learning, in more ways than one, and I’ve never thought that placing adult responsibilities – with adult repercussions and punishments – on children is at all useful, or teaches them anything but to be scared and anxious or that they’re bad and that’s that. At first glance, Dear Santasaurus is pure silly fun, but at its heart it’s good, solid storytelling that, if nothing else, will secretly reassure kids that there’s nothing wrong with being a kid.
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book.
Stacy McAnulty is mum to three kids and two dogs. She loves to write letters, especially to Santa, and always tries to stay on the Nice List. Dear Santasaurus is her first picture book. She lives with her husband and children in Kernersville, North Carolina, and I’d like to welcome her to my blog: Welcome Stacy!
To celebrate the release of Stacy’s new book, Dear Santasaurus, she’s organised a blog tour which I’m very excited to be a part of. Each day of the tour includes a different cookie recipe on her blog; see below for the link.
12 Days of Christmas with Books
By Guest Blogger Stacy McAnulty
This year my family is celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas with books. We have lots of books and surprisingly few partridges (but we do have 3 Bradford pear trees in the backyard). So I’ve decided to take my 12 favorite Christmas books and wrap them up. Each night, my family will open a story treasure and read. Maybe next year my hubby will wrap the twelve books. And maybe the year after that, my eldest daughter will be in charge of selecting and wrapping our books. I see a great new family tradition developing.
Here are the books I’ve selected for my inaugural year of The 12 Books of Christmas.
(Shannon’s note: click on the covers to visit their Goodreads’ pages)
On the first day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
Dear Santasaurus by Stacy McAnulty (me!), Illustrated by Jef Kaminisky
This is my debut picture book and I had to include it. I’m done with the shameless self-promotion. On with the other Christmas books.
On the second day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, Illustrated by Susan Jeffers
My daughter had to memorize this poem in 5th grade so when I saw this beautiful book I had to have it. Such a beautiful, powerful poem from a man who has been gone for 50 years.
On the third day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
Santa Duck by David Milgrim
This book is so silly, and I just think ducks are fun. But my favorite part is Cat’s Christmas list… a mouse, a canary, a trout, and maybe a couple of nice, plump hamsters.
On the fourth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
You Are my Miracle by Mayann Cusimano Love, Illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
I absolutely love their other book, You Are My I Love You, so this one gets to be on my Christmas list.
On the fifth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson, Illustrated by Jane Chapman
A great story about friendship.
On the sixth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
A classic sprinkled among the mix. Definitely must be read while wearing PJs.
On the seventh day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
The Fourteen Bears Summer and Winter by Evelyn Scott, Illustrated by Virginia Parsons
Only half of this book is a Christmas book, but that’s OK. This is the only picture book I remember LOVING as a child. (My brothers and sister loved it too. The spine was held together with tape.) I bought a re-released version in May 2005. Glad I did. This book is out-of-print again and is now going for $92 (USD) and up.
On the eighth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman
Nancy’s message in all her books is “You are loved.” It’s a message I want to share with my children over and over.
On the ninth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
The Small One by Alex Walsh, Illustrated by Jesse Clay
Another out-of-print book but I ordered this one for a penny. I have to admit, I haven’t read it yet. (It’s in route from the online seller.) But I adore the video — it makes me cry — and I want the book. And when has a movie ever been better than the book?
On the tenth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini, Illustrated by Henry Cole
Mustaches seem to be everywhere now. From T-shirts to wrapping paper to wall art. Maybe this was the character that started it all.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Love, love, love! If I had to crown an all-time favorite Christmas book, I’d have to go with the Grinch. I especially adore his dog, Max.
And now for the daily cookie (my brother’s favorite)…
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore
We’ve turned this story/poem into a competition in my house. We try to see who can recite the most verses accurately. No one has made it to the end, but every year we’re getting better and better. We have several copies of this book in our house. The one I choose to add to our 12 Books of Christmas is from 1975. It’s illustrated by Tasha Tudor and smells like a musty library. Perfect!
Peanut Butter Kissed Cookies
(visit http://stacymcanulty.blogspot.com/ for the recipe)
Thank you, Stacy, for the wonderful list of Christmas-themed picture books – not to mention the recipes! This is a great way to build up anticipation for what is one of my favourite festive holidays.
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Fire & Thorns #3
Green Willow Books 2013
After spending so long trying to stay out of – or escape – the Inviernos and their blood sorcerers, Queen Lucero-Elisa né Riqueza de Vega, only living bearer of a Godstone, finds herself journeying across the desert sands and into the heart of Invierno country, to their capital city, Umbra de Deus. Betrayed by a man in her own court, her personal guard and the leader of the Royal Guards, Hector, has been taken prisoner and carried off to Invierne for the sole purpose of making Elisa follow. And she does, she must, for he is not only one of her most loyal supporters, he is also the man she loves.
Hector’s a clever man, and being taken captive, trussed up and beaten doesn’t stop him from finding ways to incite resentment among his Joyan captors, or from reducing their number or slowing them down. He knows Elisa so well, he knows she’s close behind, and he’s ready for her when she catches up along with her lady-in-waiting, Mara, the assassin Belén, and the failed Invierno sorcerer, Storm.
Freeing Hector is only the beginning, though. Elisa intends to resolve the ongoing conflict with Invierne one way or another, so that she can then turn her attention to solving the treachery in Joya d’Arena, where members of her own ruling council have taken over the capital city and the castle. Storm’s oblique comments over the past months have raised questions for her, especially concerning the truth of her people’s own history and arrival on this planet.
More pressing still: Why does Invierne want her so badly? Why must she come willingly? And what is the truth behind the Godstones? Only in the heart of enemy country can Elisa discover the truth, but can she escape with her life – and still be queen to her own people?
The third and final book in the Fire and Thorns trilogy is just as strong as its predecessors, just as exciting and gripping, just as infused with gentle humour and vigorous plotting, and just as well developed. And even better: this one comes with a map! Ah it makes all the difference, really, not to mention the plain fact that I love maps in books.
While Elisa’s personal growth isn’t as noticeable in this outing, seeing as she’s already achieved so much and matured so much previously, but it does build upon it. I mentioned briefly in my review of the second book, The Crown of Embers, that there was a curious colonial, superior attitude shown by Elisa towards Invierne and its people, and this still remains a niggling issue for me. Mainly, I’m not sure how deliberate it is. Certainly, throughout all three books, the sense of superiority among the Joyans is always present, and the more we learn about the Invierne’s and what happened to them when Elisa’s people arrived, the clearer the distinction becomes, the more solid the coloniser-colonised parallel is. I guess I was expecting something to come out of it, because it was the most interesting part of the whole plot for me. It’s a story line I’ve always been interested in, and this Fantasy trilogy was such a good vehicle for exploring it. It’s just that it didn’t go anywhere, it wasn’t grabbed hold of and it didn’t change anything.
Which makes me wonder whether a second series will come out of this one, a new story set in the same world which will dig into it more. Elisa’s story merely establishes a truth, but goes nowhere with it. The focus remains on Elisa in a more personal, immediate way, and her immediate problems. Or is this the difference between Young Adult and Adult Fantasy? I definitely do not want to hear that you can only explore complex themes like this in adult fantasy. To merely touch upon it like this, is not good enough. Because surely the whole plot, all that world-building, was leading to this, this truth beneath the propaganda? I was disappointed that it was revealed and then…nothing. It didn’t make Elisa see things differently, or even feel sympathetic (as I did). In that moment, she felt more a product of Earth than of her own place. It affected my admiration of her.
Yet it didn’t really change my enjoyment of the story as a whole. It’s exciting, adventurous, intriguing fantasy, and aside from the fact that it’s written in ineffective present tense instead of past tense, which would have suited it much better, it’s well-written and well-developed. There are a few minor surprises, plot-wise, along the way, but it does in general follow a fairly well laid-out and predictable path. But Elisa is such a strong character, and the story and its characters overall are nicely filled out with shades of grey, that they easily make up for any other flaws. The romance is handled nicely: it feels genuine, between Elisa and Hector, but it doesn’t take over the story. Everything about the book, and the trilogy as a whole, is just so bloody enjoyable. It just makes such good reading that I was disappointed when it ended and it was all over. For now. I truly hope Carson writes more set in this world, because it’s clear we’ve only just scratched the surface and there’s so much going on here than we’ve yet learned about – we don’t yet know the real truth behind the Godstones, for instance.
If I could wish for one thing, though, one thing, it would be the scrapping of present tense. Yes, it is that ineffective here, and just not used properly, or correctly, so that it ends up holding the story back rather than propelling it forward. It would be so much stronger if written in simple past tense. So much. You know that expression, Why reinvent the wheel? That’s what I’d like to say to all these writers – especially YA – who are dabbling with present tense these days. It’s turning into a real pet peeve of mine. It’s just, it’s such a restrictive tense, it really confines your writing and doesn’t allow for any flexibility or artistry or flair. It’s an exceptionally difficult tense to write in, and if it’s not done well – or correctly – it just spoils things. I keep going on about it in discussing the Fire and Thorns trilogy because I loved this story so much, and it would have been almost perfect if it had just been written in past tense. There, rant done, I’ll say no more.
“This series has bumped Rae Carson onto my must-read authors list. … I really can’t praise this series enough. It’s a must-read for fantasy fans.” Coffee & Wizards
“If you’ve been bemoaning the lack of strong female role models in YA, this is absolutely a book you should seek out. … One of the most interesting aspects of The Bitter Kingdom is Elisa’s realization that she can’t save everyone and, sometimes, she has to make hard decisions.” S Krishna’s Books
“This is an awesome high fantasy series that I started out sort of shaky but ended up completely loving. The romance is amazing, but the politics and other plots of this story is what made it truly unique.” The Eater of Books
“The one question you want answered is: is this a satisfying conclusion to an amazing series? Right off the bat, I’m pleased to tell you that yes, yes it does. On more levels than I may be capable of describing.” My Life is a Notebook
Missed yours? Leave me a link and I’ll add it.
The Anatomy of Wings by Karen Foxlee – Fiction.
“This is a powerful and touching coming-of-age story set in the Australian outback. In a dusty Queensland town, something terrible has happened. Amongst broken bottles and cigarette butts at the foot of a water tower, a girl with blonde hair lies as if sleeping. Jennifer Day has lost her sister and her singing voice, and doesn’t know how to find either of them. Her father and mother move under a spell, and a dark silence lives in the space that fiery, rebellious Beth has left behind her. To recover her voice, Jennifer must retrace her sister’s last steps, weeding out childish mementoes from disturbingly adult memories. As she learns about the last year of her sister’s short but eventful life, she slowly begins to cross the threshold from childhood into adolescence – taking flight even as her family slowly falls apart.”
The Harp in the South by Ruth Park – Classics.
“Amid the brothels, grog shops and run-down boarding houses of inner-city Surry Hills, money is scarce and life is not easy. Crammed together within the thin walls of Twelve-and-a-Half Plymouth Street are the Darcy family: Mumma, loving and soft-hearted; Hughie, her drunken husband; pipe-smoking Grandma; Roie, suffering torments over her bitter-sweet first love; while her younger sister Dolour learns about life the hard way.”
Poet’s Cottage by Josephine Pennicott – Fiction.
I won this book from a giveaway hosted by Shelleyrae at Book’d Out. So excited to read this! “Poets had always lived there, the locals claimed. When Sadie inherits Poet’s Cottage in the Tasmanian fishing town of Pencubitt, she sets out to discover all she can about her notorious grandmother, Pearl Tatlow. Pearl was a children’s writer who scandalised 1930s Tasmania with her behaviour. She was also violently murdered in the cellar of Poet’s Cottage and her murderer never found. Sadie grew up with a loving version of Pearl through her mother, but her aunt Thomasina tells a different story, one of a self-obsessed, abusive and licentious woman. And Pearl’s biographer, Birdie Pinkerton, has more than enough reason to discredit her. As Sadie and her daughter Betty work to uncover the truth, strange events begin to occur in the cottage. And as the terrible secret in the cellar threads its way into the present day, it reveals a truth more shocking than the decades-long rumours. Poet’s Cottage is a beautiful and haunting mystery of families, bohemia, truth, creativity, lies, memory and murder.”
Sugar Spun Sister by Anna Garner – Chick-lit.
Received for review from the author. The first book in a new series about three women who start an ice cream shop. Mmmm ice cream…! “Life isn’t exactly sweet for Cricket Whittier. Her boss hates her, her work is soul-destroying, and the sexy guy she’s hooking up with doesn’t want to date her. But this girl is far from hopeless. When Cricket’s in the kitchen with her ice cream maker and a few choice ingredients, her troubles slip away as she becomes a delectable dessert-designing powerhouse. She loves it so much, she dreams of opening her own ice cream shop one day. As it turns out, ‘one day’ just might be closer than she thinks. Propelled by the help and encouragement of her best friends, Lindsay and Nora, Cricket starts making plans to set up shop. Which is easier said than done what with the internal squabbling, the sky-high costs, her parents forecasting failure and her increasingly complicated love life. Despite all these hurdles, will Cricket be able to make her sweet dreams come true?”
His Convict Wife by Lena Dowling – Historical Romance.
E-book from Netgalley. “For Irish convict Colleen Malone, being framed, transported to Australia and forced into prostitution seemed like the worst that life could throw at her. Then she fell pregnant to a client and was sent back to prison by her cruel owner. Now, her only hope of a decent life for her and her baby is to find someone to marry. Widower and former London businessman Samuel Biggs arrived in Australia hoping to put his grief behind him. When James Hunter offers him a job on his Parramatta farm, he accepts eagerly. He’ll put his back into his new work, and bury any thoughts of new love and marriage in the rich earth of his new home. However, all plans are compromised when Samuel is manipulated into visiting a workhouse to choose a new housekeeper, and Colleen seizes her chance — literally grabbing Samuel and begging for her life. The only way Samuel can oblige is by marrying her, but on one thing he stands firm — there is no way he will fall in love…”
Stones by Polly Johnson – YA Fiction.
E-book from Netgalley. “Coo is trying to cope with the hand that life has dealt her. At sixteen, she feels she’s too young to have lost her older brother, Sam, to alcoholism. She’s skipping school to avoid the sympathy and questions of her friends and teachers, and shunning her parents, angry that they failed to protect her, and desperate to avoid having to face the fact that, towards the end, she began to wish Sam would leave forever – even die. Then, one day, truanting by the Brighton seafront, Coo meets Banks, a homeless alcoholic and she’s surprised to discover that it is possible for her life to get more complicated. Despite warnings from her friends and family, Coo and Banks develop an unlikely friendship. Brought together through a series of unexpected events, strange midnight feasts, a near drowning and the unravelling of secrets, together they seek their chance for redemption. That is, until Coo’s feelings start getting dangerously out of hand.”
House for All Seasons by Jenn J McLeod – Fiction.
Also got this from Shelleyrae of Book’d Out. “Bequeathed a century-old house, four estranged friends return to their home town, Calingarry Crossing, where each must stay for a season at The Dandelion House to fulfil the wishes of their benefactor, Gypsy. But coming home to the country stirs shameful memories of the past, including the tragic end-of-school muck up day accident twenty years earlier. Sara, a breast cancer survivor afraid to fall in love; Poppy, a tough, ambitious journo still craving her father’s approval; Amber, a spoilt socialite addicted to painkillers and cosmetic procedures; and Caitlin, a doctor frustrated by her controlling family. At The Dandelion House, the women will discover something about themselves and a secret that ties all four to each other and to the house – forever.”
just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth – Fiction.
Received for review from the publisher. “just_a_girl tears into the fabric of contemporary culture. A Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam, it’s what happens when young girls are forced to grow up too fast. Or never get the chance to grow up at all. Layla is only 14. She cruises online. She catches trains to meet strangers. Her mother, Margot, never suspects. Even when Layla brings a man into their home. Margot’s caught in her own web: an evangelical church and a charismatic pastor. Meanwhile, downtown, a man opens a suitcase and tenderly places his young lover inside. just_a_girl is a novel about being isolated and searching for a sense of connection, faith, friendship and healing, and explores what it’s like to grow up negotiating the digital world of facebook, webcams, internet porn, mobile phones and cyberbullying – a world where the line between public and private is increasingly being eroded.”
Children of the Uprising by Trevor Shane – Fiction; Speculative Fiction; Suspense.
The third and final book in the series. “What side do you choose when you don’t even know what War you’re fighting? Over generations, the War has grown. It has become bloodier. Both sides will do anything to win. But with the involvement of a third faction – one that wants to put an end to the violence finally – even more enemies lurk around every corner. Strangers have been watching Christopher for his entire life. He doesn’t know why, but he knows that he has paranoia in his blood. He has prepared since he was young for the day that they would stop watching and come for him. On his eighteenth birthday, Christopher is attacked. Though he escapes with his life, he finds himself thrust into a War he never knew existed. To the people of the War, Christopher is a legend, the hero or the villain who may one day bring an end to the conflict. But Christopher knows only that he isn’t willing to become anyone’s pawn…”
The Road to Gundagai by Jackie French – YA Historical Fiction.
“Blue Laurence has escaped the prison of her aunt’s mansion to join The Magnifico Family Circus, a travelling troupe that brings glamour and laughter to country towns gripped by the Depression. Blue hides her crippled legs and scars behind the sparkle of a mermaid’s costume; but she’s not the only member of the circus hiding a dark secret. The unquenchable Madame Zlosky creates as well as foresees futures. The bearded lady is a young man with laughing eyes. A headless skeleton dangles in the House of Horrors. And somewhere a murderer is waiting … to strike again. This third book in the Waltz for Matilda saga is set in 1932, at the height of the Depression. Miss Matilda is still running Drinkwater Station, but has put aside her own tragedy to help those suffering in tough economic times and Joey, from The Girl from Snowy River, uses his new medical skills to solve a mystery.”
Fracture Me by Tahereh Mafi – YA Science Fiction Romance; Novella.
Technically, I don’t have this yet as it’s on pre-order, but there’s something about electronic books that feels so instant, isn’t there. This e-novella follows on from book 2, Unravel Me, and needs to be read before the third book, Ignite Me, comes out next year. “In this electrifying sixty-page companion novella to the New York Times bestselling Shatter Me series, discover the fate of the Omega Point rebels as they go up against The Reestablishment. Set during and soon after the final moments of Unravel Me, Fracture Me is told from Adam’s perspective. As Omega Point prepares to launch an all-out assault on The Reestablishment soldiers stationed in Sector 45, Adam’s focus couldn’t be further from the upcoming battle. He’s reeling from his breakup with Juliette, scared for his best friend’s life, and as concerned as ever for his brother James’s safety. And just as Adam begins to wonder if this life is really for him, the alarms sound. It’s time for war. On the battlefield, it seems like the odds are in their favor — but taking down Warner, Adam’s newly discovered half brother, won’t be that easy. The Reestablishment can’t tolerate a rebellion, and they’ll do anything to crush the resistance … including killing everyone Adam has ever cared about.”
Dear Santasaurus by Stacy McAnulty – Picture Book.
Received for review from the author. “It’s January 1, but Ernest B. Spinosaurus is already dreaming of the present Santasaurus will bring him next Christmas. This means that Ernest will have to stay on Santasaurus’ ‘nice’ list all year long. But how will Santasaurus know? This hilarious countdown to Christmas is told through Ernest’s 17 letters to Santasaurus.”
Love to Cook by Valli Little – Cookbook.
Adam got me a year’s subscription to the ABC’s delicious. magazine, and it came with this: the brand new cookbook by the magazine’s editor Valli Little. You remember that a couple of months ago, my mum got me More Please. This one, dare I say it, is even better! Can’t wait to dig into this and try some of the recipes, it’s got me drooling already. (And can’t wait for the magazines to start arriving – it is, seriously, the best food magazine in the world, though you have to get the original ABC one, not the UK version which really isn’t as good.)
Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros – Cookbook.
I got this luscious, chunky and beautifully packaged cookbook for my birthday from two of my sisters. “The New York Times calls Tessa Kiros’s work ‘exuberant and colorful.’ And that is just what her gem, Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes, is. The book is full of personal touches and stories. It is a beautiful collection of family anecdotes, history, and traditions all documented with stunning photography, unique illustrations, and a warm dialogue that will simply pull you in. You’ll find Falling Cloudberries in the Cookbook section, but it could also easily be found in the World Cultures or Travel sections because the recipe collections give a unique taste of Finland, Greece, Cyprus, South Africa, and Italy all in one. This is possible because of Kiros’s life. She takes us on a global journey of taste and experience with her eclectic compilation of 170 simple and delicious recipes that reflect her world travels, multicultural heritage, family traditions, and amazing cooking combinations. Taste the world without leaving your kitchen. * Destination: delicious. Kiros inspires home cooks with a broad offering of dishes from Finland, Greece, Cyprus, South Africa, and Italy.”
Cooking in 10, 20, 30 Minutes by The Australian Women’s Weekly – Cookbook.
Picked this up from the local newsagency. Another instalment in the AWW’s cooking series, these slim cookbooks are full of great meal ideas. “Cooking in 10, 20, 30 Minutes is all about beating the clock to produce a delicious meal for family and friends. Starters, main courses and desserts are included – all achievable in under half an hour. There’s no skimping on flavour or nutrition, just a clever use of time and ingredients. The ultimate collection for busy cooks, it’s filled with healthy and appetizing meals for those nights when you don’t have time to spend ages in the kitchen. There are three sections – 10, 20 and 30 minutes. Each chapter includes recipes for delicious, inventive main courses and side dishes that can be whipped up in a flash. With time-saving tips for planning and shopping, Cooking in 10, 20, 30 Minutes delivers taste-packed meals in a twinkle.”
November was a very productive month for me, especially in comparison to measly October! I got some good solid reading done and a lot of reviewing – I’m almost caught up, have one from November and some picture books left to do, which is much better than my usual standing!
I hosted a few giveaways in November too, for book tours and to celebrate 1000 reviews on my blog.
And the intro post to the 2014 Around the World in 12 Books Challenge is up, with details of the changed format which is more flexible and, I think, fun because of it – I’ve been struggling with the challenge myself, and I think it was too daunting as it was. So I’m aiming for 6 countries in 12 months for next year, myself.
Now, Monthly Recap time! This list doesn’t include any of the picture books we got out from the library, which were many, and which I’ve read too many times to count already! (If I were going to review those as well, it’d never end! So I restrict my reviewing of picture books to the ones we own.)
Books Read This Year (by End of Month): 173
Books Read in November: 17 (or 16 1/2)
Adult Novels: 10
Children’s/YA Novels: 2
Picture Books (new): 4
Total Books Added to My Library in November: 27
Review Copies Received (print): 4
Kindle E-books: 2
E-books From Netgalley: 4
Favourite Book Read in November: The Sky So Heavy; Welcome Home; Barracuda
Most Disappointing Book: Cries in the Drizzle
Currently Reading: Captive by Vanessa Garden
Books Read for Book Tours: 2 (Unravelled and Adé: A Love Story)
Books Read for Challenges:
Mount TBR Challenge – 0 (I don’t have access to books bought before this year, at the moment)
Around the World in 12 Books Challenge – 0 (I don’t have access to the books set in Egypt that I bought for this challenge, whoops!)
Canadian Book Challenge – 1 (Unravelled)
Australian Women Writers Challenge – 9 (but I reviewed 4 from October as well)
AusReading Month – 13 (plus those other 4)
Read-alongs – 0
Books Read in November
157. Cries in the Drizzle by Yu Hua (DNF)
158. Unravelled by MK Tod
159. Harry and the Dinosaurs Make a Splash by Ian Whybrow
160. Deadly Unna? by Phillip Gwynne
161. The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn
162. The Great Tasmanian Tiger Hunt by Michael Salmon
163. Hattie and the Fox by Mem Fox
164. The Bark Cutters by Nicole Alexander
165. Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee
166. Awakening the Warriors by SE Gilchrist
167. Adé: A Love Story by Rebecca Walker
168. The Australian Women Weekly’s Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits edited by Pamela Clark
169. Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
170. Outback Dreams by Rachael Johns
171. A Fortune for the Brave by Nan Chauncy
172. Welcome Home by Christina Booth
173. Staunch: Ward of the State by Ginger Briggs
Staunch: Ward of the State by Ginger Briggs
Affirm Press 2012
In 1984, when he was twelve years old, Andy was sent to Wakma Reception Centre in Ballarat because Wakma Reception Centre was the type of place kids like Andy got sent. It was the place you went if your dad left your mum high and dry, or put her in hospital for a spell, or they just couldn’t afford you. Or if they hated you. You ended up there if the department deemed you ‘at risk’, or if you’d already risked everything and lost. Nobody stayed there long; it was like a vestibule, a doctor’s waiting room. A place you fetched up in until something else came along.
It isn’t the first place Andy has been sent to. When he was only ten, his weak-willed mother, Dahlia, allowed her new husband, pony-tailed Victor, to divorce him. He was only adopted, anyway. Unwanted, unloved, isolated, Andy ends up in a place where the young, slightly effeminate social worker, Nigel, took him under his wing. What began as fun weekends trail biking turned into weekends at Nigel’s place where the young boys were introduced to cigarettes, drugs and booze – and where Andy was introduced to Nigel’s sexual appetites.
Broken, haunted and completely alone, Andy washes up at Wakma after a foster family situation goes badly, and it’s there he meets the first person to show him unconditional love. Mary, or “Mez” as she’s called, is only twenty-two; a small woman who’s endured her own awful experiences at the hands of selfish, entitled men. She is Andy’s first real friend, and he easily slips into the practice of thinking of her as his mother. When she leaves for a year of travelling the world, like so many Australians, Andy is taken in by a new foster family, one with a son about his own age. Unfortunately, without explanation (though the truth was that the couple’s marriage broke up), Andy is suddenly removed from the home and sent to Ironside in Melbourne. He’s only fourteen, and Ironside is not just a “youth training centre”, a place where unwanted boys wash up; it’s also a remand centre. There are real criminals at Ironside, rapists and murderers, grown men with violent pasts.
At Ironside, the boys live in cells with barred windows, are locked in at night, served bad food and rub shoulders with criminals. It is at Ironside that Andy makes his first friend his own age. Clunky, as he’s called, has only a grandfather left, and they’re fighting the system to be allowed to live together – something made difficult by his grandfather’s history of alcoholism. Later they’re joined by a boy nicknamed Spinner, a charismatic but ugly youth who leads Andy astray but teaches him staunchness, and honesty and dignity. It is at Ironside that Andy endures the kind of psychological trauma no child should ever have to experience: watching a cellmate hang himself. It’s clear that, while no one knows about the sexual abuse he experienced with Nigel, this faked suicide gone wrong never leads to any kind of therapy or counselling for Andy.
Andy’s path begins its new downward trajectory when Spinner, after a Sunday let out of Ironside, convinces Andy and Clunky to abscond, just for the day he says. But several drug deals, drinks and stolen wallets later, Andy doesn’t know where he is until he wakes up in a Ballarat police station, strung out and washed up, with Mez there to greet him.
Over the following years, the path repeats itself many times. Absconding, drugs, stolen cars, bad crowd, back in jail again. Every time, Mez is there to catch him and hold him up, but even she starts to despair that the cycle can ever be broken, that Andy could ever have the chance to be the man he could be.
I knew this would be heavy, going in, and I knew it would be heartbreaking. I expected I’d cry quite a lot, but actually it didn’t turn me into an emotional mess. Mostly I felt anger, and despair, and empathy. It was a forging kind of read, a story that hardens the heart rather than makes it a soppy mess, and that’s just what you need, because it leaves you with a clearer head. I have to warn you, though: this review gets a bit ranty, a bit soap-boxy – sure sign of exactly the kind of emotional and intellectual response Staunch generates in readers.
Oh Andy, poor Andy. Truly – and he is just one boy of hundreds – what he went through, what he experienced, how he ended up, all of it is preventable. This story is a true story, Andy was a real person as are all the other characters, and it is in part inspired by the Forgotten Australians Senate Report, which looked at the fate and experiences of wards between 1930 and 1970. In her afterword, Briggs puts her story into this broader context:
When you read Forgotten Australians, when you read the testimonies, a whole lot of it sounds awfully like the experiences of Andy and other later state wards. Sexual abuse at the hands of a carer; the absence of a proper education; lack of belief, or succour, or affection. Dealing and coping with the horror of childhood. Andy, like so many state wards before his time and after, languished in jail…
When I started this book … I thought I’d come up with answers to these questions. I haven’t. All I have is this: kids need love and family – of whatever stripe – to thrive and grow. Only adults can parent, and many aren’t very good at it. But one thing is certain – the state can never parent. When all the kids are waiting at the school gates, no one wants to acknowledge the mother who is cumbersome, impersonal, bureaucratic, twelve storeys high and has a letterhead. [pp. 292-3]
From the very beginning, with the ease with which Victor got rid of him – and for no other reason than that he didn’t like him, but bullied and tormented him while Dahlia simply fluttered her hand uselessly – to the sad fact that he never had a social worker, never had anyone talk to him, listen to him, find out anything about him (until Mez, who stepped out of her official role to do so); his file contained short reports on him, terse descriptions of his movements between centres, but nothing about working with him, no attempts were ever made to set him on a healthy, safe path toward adulthood. “No help.” [p.160] The state failed him even worse than his adoptive parents did, than his horrible stepfather even.
The letter [Mez] hated most confirmed the end of his wardship. Andy had been done with the government since his fifteenth birthday.
Andrew is still adamant that he wants to be able to go his own way and is confident in being able to do so. Given the firmness and thought put into Andrew’s comments, his request for Discharge of Wardship is supported.
Everything possible would seem to have been tried to assist and direct Andrew in the past five years, it is therefore time to try it his own way and allow him the opportunity to make his own plans and carry them through, with voluntary assistance if he chooses to seek it from the networks he knows so well.
It sounds like a shitty ex-girlfriend, thought Mez. Fine. Try it your way. No one had invited Mez to this meeting because she had no official role in Andy’s life, despite the fact that she had supported him emotionally and sometimes financially for the past three years. They dumped him. As if he would have said anything else but that he wanted to try it his way. What good had their way done? Andrew had a Grade Six education because they hadn’t helped him at school, and no family home because their placement families never stayed around. No family, because they adopted him out to a nutter; and no job, because they didn’t give him an education. And no love.
The state was a shithouse parent. And then, she thought, some bastard will have the gall to blame him when he breaks into their bloody car. [pp.160-1]
Aside from the blatantly obvious fact that clearly no one actually cares about these kids – else they would watch over them better, make sure they didn’t get taken advantage of by pedophiles like Nigel, or end up in what was essentially a jail when they’d done nothing wrong – the system seems set up to ensure these boys end up exactly where they end up. And then we, us “nice ordinary people” with loving families, an education, a roof over our heads and jobs, we look askance at these kids, these young men. We blame them, and then we dismiss them. All the stupid things they do, the mistakes they make: it’s all their fault, we think, because we assume they have the same understanding of life that we do, have had the same childhood experiences and that it’s merely a question of “turning their life around”.
What gets me is that we know that children need safe, loving, supportive environments in which to thrive (and for sure, going in the extreme opposite direction doesn’t help them much either), so who in their right mind thinks that the system set up for these defenceless, unwanted, vulnerable and often abused kids is a good idea? I would never ever want my own son to go anywhere near the places Andy was sent to live in, because I know how bad that would be for him. Briggs mentions that some changes have been made since Andy’s time, and there’s more of a focus on prevention – keeping them out of the ward system and with their families – but that, when that fails, once they’re in the system nothing’s changed.
Everything about Andy’s story hurts. The picture of a little ten-year-old boy being taken away with no explanation, being divorced from his family, as shitty a family as it is, while his mother tells him he was “too naughty” and must seek forgiveness from God, oh that makes me so mad! And then, when I thought things couldn’t get any worse after Nigel’s predatory abuse of him – and young boys like Andy are prime targets, so desperate are they for a father figure, a role model, a friend – to see him end up in Ironside! What bloody stupid idiot thought putting young wards into the same place as criminals was a good idea?! These are kids with no role models of their own, no positive father figures, which makes them hugely susceptible not just to abuses but also to learning the “wrong”, or destructive, kind of normalcy, the wrong kind of being. And if I can just point out the obvious: make these boys’ “home” a jail, with its cement walls, barred windows, locked doors, regimented structure and strip-searches and rules, and it’s not surprisingly that it becomes a kind of comfort zone for them. Getting sent to prison when they actually do something wrong isn’t much of a punishment: it’s their life story. It becomes normalised.
It is, of course, more than just the environment and lack of nurturing that shapes Andy and his friends. It’s also the ready access to drugs, the lack of an education (he never finished grade 7), and the comradely community of cons and druggies and shifty types. It’s the perfect combination for the creation of a shiftless young criminal stuck in a cycle of drugs, poor decisions, and incarceration.
‘You’d hate me if you knew. You’d hate me if you knew what I have to do to survive in here.’ He seemed to nod off for a bit. ‘Victor was a cunt to me, wasn’t he, Mez? I should go get him. When I get out. Need to get it out of my system. Beat the fuck out of him. How come Mum never came for me? No family for me. Feelin’ sorry for meself, Mez,’ he said decisively. ‘I’m letting it get to me, in’I?’ He started crying. ‘Wasted time. All of me youth. Now I’m old and I’m all screwed-up. Don’t want to be in here anymore, Mez.’
‘I know, I know.’ She’d never heard him talk so much.
‘I’m just saying, Mez. I’ve been trying to stop it in my head. I don’t have any blood, don’t feel like there’s blood in my body. Maybe that’s why the drugs. That’s why they don’t even work no more. They work but… Hard to explain… That’s why I get so out of it. Need drugs, sometimes, to stop thinking. I remember Victor beating me up all the time. I think about it all the time. Why didn’t Mum stop him?’ [p.185]
Brigg’s novelisation of Andy’s life is highly readable, nicely structured and well plotted. It’s not told in straight chronological form, which would lack tension and drama, but organised in such a way that the story builds on our curiosity and empathy and creates more just when you think you know it all. It’s not just Andy’s story, it’s Mez’s story too, and it’s the story of all those kids – not all of them wards of the state, some just made bad decisions or had bad relationships with their parents or just didn’t care – who become druggies and lost causes. Through Andy’s story, all of us who’ve never experienced what they had, who probably just think it’s a matter of will power to not do drugs, or stop taking them, who can’t understand why they keep making such stupid, stupid mistakes when following the rules of society and law seems so easy for us – all of us gain a clear understanding and an empathetic perspective of those like Andy. Not all of them are as sympathetic as Andy is, but then we don’t learn the full stories of many of them.
Overall, it’s simply tragic. It doesn’t end well. It doesn’t make you feel very positive about the situation. What this novel does do, very successfully, is give voice to these “forgotten Australians”, these kids who never really had the quality of life that we consider every child to have the right to in our cosy, affluent country. Staunch humanises these wards of the state, sheds a light on their life and opens it up for understanding. And the importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated: this book, books like Staunch, this is our education, this is our chance to gain some insight, because without it nothing will ever change, we will never demand change, and we will simply go on creating more juvenile criminals and druggies and “hooligans” that we can dismiss and blame and castigate without guilt or remorse or the slightest smidge of empathy. Staunch is a memorial to kids like Andy, and it is a very powerful, emotionally-intense, moving, thought-provoking one. It taught me plenty, and it should be required reading if we ever want to really consider ourselves to be enlightened thinkers and compassionate civilians. It would be a start, anyway.
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Welcome Home by Christina Booth
Ford Street Publishing 2013
During the early years of colonisation in Australia, the captains of convict ships as well as whaling boats were encouraged to kill whales – especially the “right whale”, so called because they were considered the “right” whale to hunt. The Southern right whale – or baleen whale – have been a protected species since 1935, but before then over 26,000 of them were killed by European settlers. They are playful mammals who have young only once every three years, and their carcasses were used to make everything from oil to umbrellas, weaving looms to fabrics.
All this I learned from the last pages of Christina Booth‘s beautiful new picture book, Welcome Home. I had never heard of the right whale before – sadly, a whale is a whale to me, for while I admire and respect them, I’ve never spent any time looking them up and learning about the different species and their attributes. Booth’s story was inspired, she says, by an article she read “about a southern right whale that swam into Hobart’s Derwent River and gave birth. This was the first birth there in over 190 years.” Once a safe – and mostly deserted – place for these whales to have their calves, it became a busy port full of whaling ships.
Welcome Home is about a boy living in Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, who hears the whale’s call “echoing off the mountain like a whisper while the moon danced on the waves.” No one else hears it, but he does – and in her call he learns sad truths, the history of whale hunting and her yearning for a safe harbour.
I hear her story.
She is telling of her fear and darkness.
Her story turns inside my head,
and twists around my heart
and I don’t want to listen anymore.
I want to run away and hide but I stay,
looking for her in the cold winter dawn.
Then, as dark shifts to grey, I see her.
She looks for me and comes in closer to the shore.
‘We wanted to come home
but we did not feel safe,’ she says.
‘Why did they hurt us?
Why did they send us away?’
I hang my head.
It wasn’t me, but I know what she means.
I do not know what to say.
I have no words to tell her.
‘Sorry,’ I whisper.
Accompanied by truly beautiful illustrations that flow through water and time and dreams and one boy’s sadness, the story works on more than one level. For children, it both educates and engages the imagination, drawing connections between past and present as well as the future. It navigates that grey area between past wrongs and present responsibilities, and shows deep empathy for these magnificent ocean mammals.
More than that, even, it uses the story of the right whale to help children work through those feelings of responsibility, and blame. In Australia’s past history and present affairs, there are many examples of wrongs being committed against certain peoples – the Aborigines, and boat people, for example, not to mention the environment. And there are issues that we care about and want to do something about but feel useless, hopeless. Young children are just starting on this very human journey of trying to understand the complex nuances of human cruelty: why people do bad things, what role we can play in correcting injustices, and that the majority isn’t always right. It’s a long journey and it doesn’t always end well, but Booth’s Welcome Home does an admirable job of opening that conversation, of starting the wheels turning and of doing it in a way that children of various ages would respond well to. In many ways, it’s easier – simpler – for children to connect with animals and animal stories, than human ones.
This is ideal for slightly older children, ones who haven’t grown out of picture books but are old enough to understand the stories in the pictures. I got this for my two-year-old son, Hugh; haven’t read it to him yet as it’s for Christmas, and while he’s old enough to follow and enjoy the story on some levels, he’ll be too young yet for the deeper meanings. Still, that’s no reason not to read it to him, and over the years his understanding of the story will deepen and in turn enrich his own learning of the world. This is why I love picture books, and as an adult still love them.
I am in awe of authors like Christina Booth, not just for the beautiful artwork or for being able to tell a powerful, rich story in just a few pages and several lines of text, but for using the picture book medium not to tell a silly, fun story but to teach, and broaden kids’ understanding, and open their eyes and minds to the wider world and the stories it contains. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for the fun stories, or that I don’t enjoy them, but it’s a great idea to balance them with really meaningful works like Welcome Home.