HomeIDIOM #52. n1 reviews

Prayers of a Secular World

Prayers coverEditors: Jordie Albiston and Kevin Brophy
Publisher: Inkerman & Blunt, 2015, 150 pages
RRP: $24.99

Prayers of a Secular World is a compilation of poems edited by Melbourne poets Jordie Albiston and Kevin Brophy. The anthology contains roughly one hundred poems, selected via an online submission process which called for “poems like prayers that resonate and are relevant to our secular society” (Australian Poetry, 2014). Many of the poets whose work is represented here will be familiar to readers of modern Australian poetry: Judith Beveridge, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Cate Kennedy, Andy Jackson and Lisa Jacobson to name a few. This compendium is like most others published in the last five years, as it mostly contains work from award-winning poets.

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Teaching Indigenous Students: Cultural awareness and classroom strategies for improving learning outcomes

IndigeneousAuthor: Thelma Perso and Colleen Hayward
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2015, 275 pages
RRP: $65

Thelma Perso and Colleen Hayword’s book is an essential companion for all teachers teaching Indigenous students in Australian contexts. It gives teachers practical and versatile strategies for teaching indigenous students which if used properly, can make a visible difference in the learning outcomes and opportunities of these students. It is a seminal piece of work because it focuses on strategies for developing empathy, sensitivity and understanding of Indigenous students’ cultural backgrounds, building strong teacher-student relationships and effectively managing student behaviour. These are three crucial tenants that I believe are the keys to successfully teaching indigenous students in the classroom. Thus, any teacher that uses this reference book properly will inevitably find success in their classroom in teaching Indigenous students.

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English Toolkit: The nuts and bolts of English grammar

English Toolkit coverAuthor: Malcolm Garrett
Edition: 2nd edition
Publisher: Macmillan Education, 2015, 204 pages
RRP: $29.99

Grammar is a beguiling beast. For those so inclined (and I include myself in this group), grammar is an exponentially entrancing journey into meaning and possibility. For those not so inclined, grammar is a maze of exclusivity, confusion and contradiction.

I deliberately requested this textbook to review. My (self-) interest came from my newly appointed status as an English Language teacher and my need to add to my arsenal of reference materials. And English Toolkit: The nuts and bolts of English grammar, delivers with expertise, accessibility and specificity.

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Creative Writing Workbook

Creative workbook coverAuthor: Anna McHugh
Publisher: Macmillan Education, 2015, 133 pages
RRP: $19.99

There are so many creative writing texts available but for some reason I always crave more, what else is out there that I can use to help my students improve this aspect of their writing? The advantage of the Creative Writing Workbook is that it is written as a series of workshops each designed to address different aspects of creative writing. Worked examples throughout the text allow students to clearly see how a completed task should look. However, I was less impressed with the examples available online via the website as a support to the text. The idea is great, the reality though is that the examples are so very obviously ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that I don’t feel it is very helpful for students. The fact that the first example is always the ‘best’ and the second the ‘weakest’ also means this support is less helpful.

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The Stars at Oktober Bend

Oktober bendAuthor: Glenda Millard
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, 2016, 266 pages
RRP: $19.99

Glenda Millard is a prolific and well-known Australian author. But, as luck would have it, I had not read her before this but, now, I would consider myself a convert. The Stars at Oktober Bend is a beautifully written, first person narrative. The main protagonist, Alice Nightingale, is a fifteen-year old girl who is unable to speak clearly. She lives in a country town with her younger brother and dying grandmother. The other protagonist, Manny James, is a young refugee living with a local family.

The Stars at Oktober Bend is a compilation of Alice’s diary and Manny’s thoughts. In the diary Alice writes of her dreams, her daily life and the nightmare that follows her. The writing is lyrical and well crafted; it is like reading poetry. Millard utilises an interesting first person authentication technique of no capitals at the beginning of sentences, but there are enough grammatical clues and punctuation to allow for fluid reading.

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The River and the Book

River and BookAuthor: Alison Croggon
Publisher: Walker Books, 2015, 135 pages
RRP: $16.99

Croggon’s The River and the Book is a gentle allegory. It is endorsed by Amnesty International as a means of focussing on human rights and how easily those rights can be violated.

The story begins somewhere in a village by a river. The area surrounding the village is being developed and the river, the life-blood of the community, is impacted by the changes. The villagers rely on the river for their crops, for bartering and links with the outside world. The change in their environment is gradual and the villagers manage the vagaries of the river with equanimity. They are empowered and guided by a sacred book. One of the village families is entrusted with its safe-keeping.

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Freedom Ride

Freedom Ride cover1Authors: Sue Lawson
Publisher: Black Dog Books, 2015, 367 pages
RRP: $17.99

Robbie’s summer holiday job becomes much more than just a way to escape the stifling environment of his Nan’s house. A coming of age tale that explores hidden family secrets against a backdrop of simmering racial tensions.

Set in a fictional small New South Wales outback town, Freedom Ride offers a chance for students to explore a range of ‘issues’ in a very accessible form. Robbie Bower and his father have moved back to live in Walgaree after the death of his mother. A chance meeting with the local caravan park owner leads to an offer of a summer job. This begins well, but then Micky comes to work there too. Robbie has to rethink everything he has been told about the aboriginal population on the edge of town. This affects his relationships with his peer group and his perceptions of the adults in his life. With echoes of A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, revelations about the fate of his mother, and some questionable actions by his father, further compound Robbie’s dilemma.

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Zeroes

Zeroes cover1Authors: Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, 2015, 485 pages
RRP: $16.95

Having really enjoyed writing by Westerfield and Lanagan, I was really looking forward to Zeroes. While I eventually found it quite gripping, I struggled to be engaged in the early section. It took a while for the ‘voice’ to settle, perhaps a result of three authors also trying to find the level that worked best in a co-operative setting.

Once into the story, and with the characters established, the narrative races along. A group of older teenagers with special powers, and an obvious history together, come together for a rescue mission. These ‘powers’ are not the usual suspects, but rather abilities that set them apart – the blind girl who ‘sees’ through others' eyes, the young man no-one can remember - powers that don’t make them heroes, instead they choose to call themselves Zeroes.

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Alex Rider: Scorpia: The Graphic Novel

Alex Rider cover1Authors: Antony Johnston, Emma Vieceli, Kate Brown
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd., 2016, (based on the original novel by Anthony Horowtiz, 2004), 134 pages
RRP: $19.99

Award-winning graphic novelist Antony Johnston, New York Times bestselling illustrator Emma Vieceli, and renowned comics artist Kate Brown bring Anthony Horowitz’s dark and captivating story Scorpia to life. The central character is Alex Rider. Alex Rider is an ethically torn (but morally worthy) undercover teenage special agent who has to encounter international espionage, double crossing, greed, vengeance, triple deceptions, cold war political repercussions, and the potential death of thousands of children. It’s a gripping read, raising some rich contemporary socio-political and philosophical conundrums, and is entirely worthy of the teenage audience to which it is targeted (a pun ‘worthy’ of the text). For those of you who already know Alex Rider and his exploits (either through novel or film), you will not be surprised or disappointed. This graphic novel delivers. It took me an interrupted two hours to read it.

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We are the Rebels: The Women and Men who Made Eureka

RebelsAuthor: Clare Wright
Publisher: The Text Publishing Company, 2015, 256 pages
RRP: $19.99

Clare Wright’s book is non-fiction, historical text that documents the untold story of the women who were part of the Eureka Stockade. Wright’s writing is eloquent and engaging which makes this text easy, accessible and enjoyable. It is a concise version of Wright’s original Stella Prize winner book The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, originally published in 2013. Wright’s text allows the women’s voices to be heard which they have previously been ‘invisible’ in previous historical writings on the Eureka Stockade. Wright’s book provides an interesting overall narrative that is interwoven with the stories of the women and men who made Eureka, not dissimilar to how the Eureka Stockade flag was stitched together with many different pieces of fabric to become whole. Wright's chapter titles are clever, witty and make many classical and contemporary allusions such as “Great Expectations’ and ‘All the Single Ladies’ which will further add to the students’ engagement with this text.

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