Today sees the conclusion of our reviewer’s top picks for 2021. We would like to take this opportunity to wish our readers a happy and safe holiday season. May your 2022 be filled with many opportunities to read and share a love of reading.
How to narrow it down to three! It has been a challenge which I haven’t managed to achieve.
How to Repaint a Life by Steven Herrick
Though there are flaws in this book for me, this is the story of Isaac after he leaves his abusive father and unexpectedly establishes himself in a small town, helped by café-owner Joan and friendship with Sophie. There are some challenging themes tackled in the way that we have begun to expect from Herrick, that is with overall positivity.
Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Tom de Freston
Beautiful to touch and look at (enhanced by Tom de Freston illustrations), this is the powerful story of Julia and her parents travelling to a remote lighthouse so her father can convert it to an automated light and her mother grabs the chance to search for the elusive Greenland shark. Themes of friendship, isolation and the awe produced by nature counter Julia’s mother’s underlying mental health battle. Julia’s voice seems so accurate.
We Were Wolves by Jason Cockcroft
The boy tells the story of life with his father in the woods, continually choosing his father rather than the dark forces prompted by his father’s life of theft and corruption, compounded by father’s PTSD. The boy is often neglected, rejected by his mother because of her own issues, but constantly loved by man and adopted dog. Cockcroft’s illustrations add a haunting, mythological and personal element.
The Inheritance by Armin Greder
Greder has produced another of his recognisable picture books: dark and brooding illustrations and sparse text. On the death of their father, the sons are determined to continue the expansion of the business, and to let nothing stand in the way. Their sister challenges the view and points out how much they are destroying the world, presenting a bleak outlook. Not a book for the very young, despite its format.
Walking Your Human by Liz Ledden and Gabriella Petruso
Going for a walk with your dog? This fun picture books now gives the reader the dog’s perspective, such as the need to slow down to appreciate the little things, suddenly pulling to give a surprise, protection from approaching pigeons. It’s full of humour, engagement and diversity in both people and dogs and there are many discussion points for younger readers.
Henry Hamlet’s Heart by Rhiannon Wilde
Henry Hamlet’s Heart is a love story. It’s about discovering how to be honest with yourself, and in turn being honest with others about how you feel. Set in Brisbane in 2008, Henry and his friends are navigating their last year of high-school. It’s a moving and honest novel.
The Lanternist by Stephen Orr and Timothy Ide
The Lanternist is a fast-paced adventure set in Adelaide and Sydney at the turn of last century. The hero, Tom, is resourceful, honest and kind, and readers will find him easy to relate to. I loved this book!
Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter
This graphic novel is semi-autobiographical and Maggie is very relatable. Her worries and concerns are the typical worries and concerns of a ten-year-old and her feelings of disappointment, isolation and rejection are very real; the reader cannot help but feel empathy. Explanations of allergies in all their different manifestations are cleverly woven into the story, so that readers will easily absorb the information without even knowing it! A great graphic novel suitable for readers 8+ years.
Off the Map by Scot Gardner
I loved the breadth of issues in this collection of short stories about life’s challenges, everything from family, friends and relationships to masculinity, identity and the future. The snippets of life are both funny and poignant, narrated by a range of distinct voices. Gardner understands the turbulence of adolescence, crafting authentic characters (especially boys) who at times seem to be imploding under the weight of their inner turmoil. And we’re with them every step of the way.
All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue
Magic’s not usually my thing but this enchanting tale set in Ireland had me hooked, ticking all my YA boxes: great prose, well-drawn characters, toxic friendships, emotional resonance, satisfying ending. Young adult fiction runs the danger of being formulaic so this highly imaginative tarot-inspired mystery, the first book in a series, was a breath of fresh air.
Olive by Edwina Wyatt and Lucia Masciullo
A beloved pet, a tree and a grief-stricken girl. These three simple elements tugged at my hardened heart, squeezing until it nearly swelled out of my ribcage. A special book with a beautiful message to ponder, one that offers an ideal jumping off point for conversations about grief, loss and healing.
Exit Through the Gift Shop by Maryam Master and Astred Hicks
Exit Through the Gift Shop achieves a playful, humorous and hopeful tone in telling a quite tragic story with sensitivity. I was impressed that even though the story is quick and easy to read, it develops several multi-dimensional, believable characters and covers many complex and serious themes – bullying, family relationships, ethnic stereotyping, managing difficult emotions and more.
Today’s Sun by Gregg Dreise
My two-month-old grandchild loves Today’s Sun as much as I thought she would. The images depict Australian animals and outback setting with appealing Aboriginal patterns of bold black and white lines, dots and swirls, which she looks at attentively. (Babies find it easier to see images in black and white). The text is graceful and poetic with evocative imagery and a repeated refrain, that is soothing and pleasant.
The Bark Book by Victoria Mackinlay and Beth Harvey
Of the several fabulous picture books that I reviewed this year, The Bark Book is special for its brevity of text and repeated short phrases, that help with phonics learning and support independent reading. The experiences of the main character – a dog – are told mostly through the images of a gorgeous dog who exudes energy with authentic dog body language. And there are interactive elements too with hidden objects and hidden words in the illustrations.
Oi Aardvark! by Kes Gray and Jim Field
This picture book was more than just a fun alphabet book, each characters’ portrayal was individualistic in their own ways.
Anything But Fine by Tobias Madden
This novel was raw and real. Tobias Madden left me with warmth and excitement after each chapter.
Twitch by M.G. Leonard
Through humour and the lens of Twitch’s binoculars, the author has written a candid novel, sending an important message to readers, “everything living deserves respect.”