I love reading, and have loved being taken into the worlds and ideas of writers ever since I could hold a torch under the blankets at home and read through the night. Daylight was my friend, and long car trips with the family too when I could squeeze into a corner and read my way across the countryside. You might think I missed out on a lot of life and I probably did, but I lived a lot of lives as well. So maybe there is more than one way not to miss out on life. I don’t know. Reading is my habit now and I get twitchy if there isn’t something terrific going on on a page sometime during my day.
So, for 2019 there are some definite favourites.
Pierre-Jacques Ober’s handsome illustrated epic, The Good Son: A story from the First World War Told in Miniature (Candlewick Studio ISBN 9781536204827) is a book that has stayed with me. It’s an historical account of a court martial during World War One; and an account of the life of a man not made in the mould of a warrior, but a trusting and loving soul who finds himself in conflict with military rules at a time when leaders considered the survival of decent values depended upon an iron enforcement of battlefield rules. The book is gentle but the story behind it is distressing and violent. I guess I believe that children can cope with realism about the world, its history and human dilemmas to which there are no clear answers if we give them a chance. This is a book worth giving a chance, and besides it is a beautiful book too, respectful of the history of children’s illustrated books, a history that brings such books close to being artists’ books at times.
Another favourite has been James O’Loghlin’s The New Kid: Very Popular Me (Pan Macmillan Australia ISBN 9781760554835) for being seriously funny. There are a lot of humorous books for children (with a nod to adults) that make us smile or lift us a little but this one is a laugh out loud, chuckle, shake your head and nod your head kind of funny book. It seems that James O’Loghlin’s special talent is to write about his own family with just enough panache and exaggeration to bring us to our knees with laughter. The plot revolves around young adolescent Sam trying to un-pet himself from his teacher and find his first girlfriend without his family hovering. I loved it.
My final book is Justin DAth’s 47 Degrees (Penguin Puffin Books Australia ISBN 9780143789079), a novelised account of the 2009 bushfires around Melbourne based on his own experiences. It is a book that gives some sense of what it means to be caught in such a catastrophe, one that will I fear recur in many places over the next decades as our summers become more and more dangerous. This book opens our hearts to what happens when these fires destroy communities. A book perhaps that participates in setting out on that process of storytelling that has attached itself to human crises throughout time.