Friday, 21 November 2014

The Christmas Stick - a review

One Christmas Eve in a faraway kingdom...

The Royal family are opening their Christmas presents. The young prince has received all sorts of wonderful gifts but nothing satisfies the spoiled child. Then his grandmother limps into the room and hands him a long, slender box. He unwraps the gift and finds a stick. He is not impressed but before he could utter a word, his grandmother, after wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, leaves the room.
It doesn't take long for the prince to grow bored with his expensive presents but it isn't until his cousin comes to visit and begins to play with the stick that he recognises its value and his imagination is kindled. 

And as his imagination is warmed he becomes aware of the needs of others.
This is a very simple well-illustrated story which would suit children around the ages of five to seven years.
I gave it to Moozle, who is nine, to read and she wrote this 'review.'

"If I got a stick like the one in the story, I'd do the same thing with it that the prince did. He made it into a broad sword, a lance, a flag, a lute, a shepherds's crook, an oar, a club, a bow, a trumpet, and a SNAKE!
He thrashed rugs with it. 
I think the age group that would like it would be about 3-7."

I received a free copy of The Christmas Stick by Tim J. Myers; illustrated by Necdet Yilmaz from Paraclete Press for the purpose of this review.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Australian Children's Literature: To the Wild Sky by Ivan Southall (1921-2008)

It was the strangest feeling, as though they had climbed into this aeroplane ages ago and had been in it ever since. As though, in some way, there had been a trick of time and they were its captives...

Six children, two girls and four boys, from four different families, board the Hennessey family's small private plane one afternoon to make the journey to a homestead in New South Wales for a weekend to celebrate Gerald Hennessy's fourteenth birthday.
Shortly into the trip, the pilot suffers a heart attack and Gerald has to take over the controls. With only minimal experience and knowledge and no one to turn to for guidance, Gerald keeps the plane in the air while desperately trying to figure out where they are. With dust and cloud obscuring his vision, he wonders how he is ever going to get the plane to land safely.

What course was he to fly? If the winds were set in such a way that he was actually tracking over ground on 315 he might end up over the deserts, the real deserts of rock and salt and sand, and if he landed there no one would ever find them.

He had to fly north.

He had to fly away into heaven alone knew what, because he dared not to anything else. Dared not even go down, groping for the ground, hoping for a miracle, hoping for the homestead, any homestead to appear like a harbour bar after a rough crossing.

After flying for as long as long as the fuel supply allows him, Gerald crash lands the plane in the water close to a beach. They are all able to get to shore but lose everything that could be useful to them including food and drinking water.

The first few chapters of To the Wild Sky introduces the various characters and focuses on the individual children: how they perceive themselves and their companions. Gerald is the boy who has everything - charm, good looks, popularity and rich parents. At the first he is regarded as the hero but as the story continues other characters take the lead and the strengths and abilities that had previously been overshadowed by Gerald's are revealed.
The story gains momentum in chapter five and becomes more of a suspenseful adventure as it continues.

Someone once said that 'crisis reveals character,' and as the author probes into the behaviour displayed by the six children he reveals aspects of each of their personalities that might otherwise have remained hidden.

The desperate situation the children are thrown into calls for different strengths and abilities and highlights the fact that they need each other. No one person is the hero. Gerald had flown and landed the plane but he would have drowned if one of his friends hadn't helped him out of the wreckage.
The children's responses are realistic and they each display both altruistic and selfish behaviour at different times.

The book is recommended for ages 11 and up but the descriptive insights into the thoughts and internal processing of the characters and their individual struggles in the face of danger (which the author dwells upon) might be more appreciated by older children. Apart from that, the story is suspenseful enough to keep you reading.

A City Out of Sight is a little known sequel to this book and was published in 1985.
Ivan Southall served during World War 2 as an RAAF pilot and his war experiences are reflected in his writing. In 1971 he was the first non-British medalist to win the Carnegie Medal.

You can read about the author in these news articles here and here.

'Southall was determined to present life honestly, without sentimentality or intentional bias, without denying man's humanity, or glorifying it. 
His personal integrity as much as his writing skill won him numerous literary honours.'
Dr. Maurice Saxby

Friday, 14 November 2014

AusReading Month: The Rainbow and the Rose by Nevil Shute

Pilot Ronnie Clarke learns that Johnnie Pascoe, the man who had taught him to fly many years before, has crashed his plane while attempting to rescue a sick child from her isolated home on the rugged west coast of Tasmania. Pascoe is lying badly injured with only the child's mother to nurse him. The child's condition begins to improves but unless Pacoe receives medical attention for his fractured skull he will die.

Clarke is the narrator of the story and as he reminisces over the past and his association with the injured pilot, he makes the decision to go to the small town in Tasmania where Pascoe is based and endeavour to fly a doctor in to the area.

Clarke persuades the reluctant young local doctor to go with him and later finds out that he has never flown before. The first attempt to assist the injured man allows the doctor to drop a suitcase of medical equipment out of the plane onto the tiny airstrip next to the homestead but the doctor himself is unable to get out of the plane. Clarke returns to town as the weather conditions begin to deteriorate.
He spends the night at Pascoe's home waiting for a chance to try again the next day and learns about the older man's past, his secret history and painful memories.

As with all the books I've read by this author, I found the story simple but compelling. Nevil Shute has an easy style but he develops his characters so well. He has the ability to take a very ordinary sort of person, unwrap them and reveal their value and worth in the midst of their weaknesses and foibles. In doing this he helps the reader to empathise with his characters and I always come away from his books with a sense that he must have been a man who understood human nature but his response to that knowledge was not cynicism but kindness.

Throughout this book, Shute uses an interesting flashback technique which confused me at first and I wondered a few times what was going on. After a while I began to enjoy the way he used the technique even though it felt clunky at times. It was an interesting way to divulge information that the narrator would not have known.

This isn't one of his more well known books. Certainly, A Town Like Alice would be his best known book here in Australia and there was a TV mini-series of the story plus an earlier movie version. This is one version I've seen:

Other Nevil Shute books I've read and would recommend are:

Pied Piper  - set in WW2 in England and France.
On the Beach  - (near bottom of post) a novel dealing with a post nuclear catastrophe; set in Southern  Australian.

Nevil Shute Norway was born in England in 1899. He studied Engineering Science and worked as an aeronautical engineer. During World War 2 he worked on the development of secret weapons and after the war he settled in Australia where he lived until his death in 1960.

 Linking to Brona's Books: