Rusty by Chrissy McYoung

Published: March 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Hairy Phish Publications
Illustrator: Chrissy McYoung
Pages: 56
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Rusty is a dog that is going through the foster care system. Rusty is struggling to cope with all the rules and controls in his life and as such – keeps behaving in ways which cause his carers to leave. Rusty wants to give up and disappear, until things change. Rusty meets Rose.

I had the chance to hear McYoung talk at the Write Here! Festival a few weeks ago and hearing her talk about this book was fantastic and getting to chat with her a little bit afterwards as I bought her book was a delightful experience.Rusty’s story is about fostering and McYoung uses Rusty’s story to talk about how he can’t live with his mum and dad, and the troubles he has as he moves from home to home. This is such a powerful story because McYoung doesn’t hide from harsh truths, and she doesn’t sugar coat the experience of being cared for by multiple strangers and how scary that can be.

Through Rusty’s experience we see him go to multiple homes and be looked after by lots of people. Rusty’s feelings and thoughts are told and we see how he feels confused and unsure about his situation. There’s also a wonderful exploration about how when Rusty feels scared and trapped he will lash out. As a metaphor for a struggling foster child, as well as for an actual dog, this is a powerful message. Making people understand that there are real feelings and thoughts for those in Rusty’s situation and that everything feels too big, and out of control.

Even though Rusty is portrayed as a dog, his actions fit those of a child. He attends school, wants to phone his parents, and wants to play with friends but he’s confined by strict rules he doesn’t understand.

Through amazing illustrations we see Rusty’s thoughts and confusion about why people go away and not understanding why his carers act the way they act. So much is said in them and the way McYoung conveys Rusty’s feelings are impactful. There is humour as well, McYoung adds funny scenes and moments in pictures to bring up the mood like Rusty living under the sea or in a castle guarded by a knight, but the heart of the story and the emotional impact remains true.

What makes this story wonderful is that while there isn’t a perfect ending – there is hope. And hope and imperfection is important especially for children who see their own lives reflected in Rusty’s story.

There are eight additional pages of amazing facts and helpful resources at the back of the book to explain that Rusty’s story is based on real people McYoung has worked with (with some creative licence). She provides information about the various out of home care that kids are placed into in Australia as well as the variety of guides in how to help people who experience some of the intense emotions and reactions that Rusty experiences

This is an important story about an important subject and one that is explored well through this medium. Rusty’s story is one that needs to be told not only because it educates everyone but it might help someone find comfort in a similar situation.

You can purchase Rusty via the following

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Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham (#8) by M. C. Beaton

Published: 15th December 1999 (print)/ 1st July 2012 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Minotaur Books/Bolinda Audio
Pages: 196/5 hrs and 37 mins
Narrator: Penelope Keith
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Cosy Mystery
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

The local ladies all deem Mr John a wizard, so when Agatha finds a few grey hairs on her head, she makes a beeline for the handsome Evesham hairdresser. As well as sorting out her hair it soon becomes clear the charming man also has designs on her heart – but their future together is cut short when Mr John is fatally poisoned in his salon.

It’s hard to pick up an Agatha Raisin book randomly in the middle of a series because they so often follow immediately on from one another you feel like you’re coming in the middle of a scene. Even when Beaton recaps about who everyone is and how Agatha ended up in Carsley the stories still open following on from the last chapter of the previous book most of the time. This is one of those times where the events of the previous book are still playing out.

I really enjoyed this story, probably in part because there was a good murder to focus on, and because James was not in the story so there was less pining and whining going on about him. Agatha’s vanity is out in force and so are her judgements. For someone so scared of being judged by others, she does a fair amount of judging of her own.

The murder is intriguing, a lot of misdirection but it ends up being relatively obvious. But it’s easy to get caught up in the characters and their misadventures while they try and solve the mystery so it is quite enjoyable. Agatha pushes boundaries and breaks so many laws while she inserts herself into this investigation but that’s part of her charm and Beaton does show there are often consequences for doing so, this is no exception.

I loved how we saw more of Charles, he is a fun character who flits in and out of Agatha’s life as he pleases. He is also a good friend to her and they have a better relationship than Agatha does with most people. She frustrates him and he can be flippant and self-centred but at this point I think every character except Mrs Bloxby and Bill Wong are self-centred in some way. His inclusion added some fun and humour into the books which had been missing for a while and it gives readers a break from all the bland or horrible characters we’ve seen so far.

After a few dodgy storylines I’m glad that the stories are seemingly back on track. I know when all the characters are back in the picture it will probably revert back to despair and lovesick Agatha but Beaton can often write an interesting murder mystery so hopefully that outweighs the rest.

You can purchase Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham via the following

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Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Published: 30 May 2017 (print)/7 May 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Greenwillow Books /Harper Audio
Pages: 385/8 hrs and 51 minutes
Narrator: Caitlin Kelly and Kate Rudd
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

I really enjoyed this book, it was wonderful and a little heartbreaking and surprising but there was also a great familiarity too. The characters and their relationships felt real and each character was fleshed out, even if they were only minor characters I still got a sense of who they were. There are strong friendships that are established but also fresh new ones that grow and seeing Eliza work through these with her own anxieties and coping mechanisms was extremely validating.

Online communities and forums get great representation and reading a book that celebrates loving something enough to create art and fanfiction in a normal, non-judgemental way is great. Zappia captures the relationships and friendships of online interaction really well and I loved how she makes a point of explaining how these connections are just as meaningful as in person friendships.

However, for a story about online communities and finding friends across the country bonding over common interests I will admit I hated that Zappia uses the worn out irksome trope of the “40 year old dude in a basement” which alone is annoying but Zappia goes a little bit further adding insult to injury with descriptions of having Cheeto dust on his fingers and “a Star Wars shirt that doesn’t fit his growing girth.” Look, I get it, it’s a well- known trope but it is a cheap joke and one that I am really tired of seeing dragged out, especially in this kind of book. There could easily have been a better line for Eliza’s apprehension, even just the age would have sufficed, we didn’t need the extra judgement and mocking, no matter the context. Just because it isn’t your fandom, doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

On the plus side, many other stereotypes are broken with the demographic and age of fans for Eliza’s work. I liked that popular internet content is showcased as being for all ages and can hold such important meaning in people’s lives, it isn’t only teenagers but adults too who enjoy the content and consume it and engage regularly as fans online.

It isn’t only the online experience represented well, Zappia also handles issues like depression and anxiety in realistic and believable ways. Eliza’s experience and her fears are conveyed through the narrative naturally and through Eliza’s eyes we see how her mind works to build up these feelings and what triggers them.

Overall I enjoyed this book for giving a space to celebrate the internet culture and the fandom experience. I love that it came from original content and wasn’t based on established media and at times I really wished I could read more of Eliza’s web comic.

You can purchase Eliza and Her Monsters via the following

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Romeosaurus and Juliet Rex by Mo O’Hara

Published: 11th December 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins
Illustrator: Andrew Joyner
Pages: 34
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

In this hilarious take on Shakespeare for children—with dinosaurs instead of people—Romeosaurus and Juliet Rex get along perfectly well until they realize that their families should be mortal enemies!

“Your family would eat mine,” says Romeosaurus, who comes from a family of herbivores. Yes, it’s true—Juliet Rex’s family are carnivores, and Romeosaurus’s family are plant-loving herbivores.

With two families up in arms (very short ones for Juliet Rex) the two friends run away, determined not to let family baggage determine who their friends should be.

It’s Shakespeare Day and what better way to celebrate that than with a Shakespeare adaptation in the form of a picture book! This is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet told through dinosaurs which is a brilliant concept and should start a whole series of Shakespeare told through dinosaurs.

Romeosaurus and his friends do all the normal things we’ve come to see from a Romeo and Juliet story: there is a masked ball, Romeosaurus sneaks in with his friends and causes chaos but not before he and Juliet spot each other and become friends. All the main plot points from the original are covered, all our favourite characters (with a slight variation on the details and circumstances as you’d expect). I love that this book doesn’t make Juliet the plant-loving herbivore – instead she is the large, carnivorous T-Rex in a smashing dress; I also love that there is a Shakespeare cameo in his dinosaur alternate form that introduces the story much like is done in the original play.

The illustrations are fantastic, it’s dinosaurs but they’re in period clothing, but also in the wild 150 million years ago. The myriad of anachronistic elements can be ignored but also cherished because this is such a cute story and the little jokes about logistics and dinosaur anatomy bring in a different type of humour with issues such a stegosauruses inability to climb due to their lack of claws, and jokes about tiny T-Rex arms.

O’Hara keeps the two as friends, and through the story we also learn friends are important and can come in any form, even the carnivorous kind. It has a wonderful mix of happily ever after that picture books can bring, but there’s also a touch of the original Shakespeare tragedy which is absolutely fantastic.

You can purchase Romeosaurus and Juliet Rex via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

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 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Dear Grandpa by Kate Simpson

Published: August 2019 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Allen & Unwin
Illustrator: Ronojoy Ghosh
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

A picture book about the special relationship between a boy and his grandfather, who stay close even when they are separated by distance.

Grandpa, did you know that if you rub a needle with a magnet, one end will point to the north and the other end to the south? In the south there’s an apartment building 160 metres tall. From the balcony, you can see the entire city. There are cinemas and ice cream shops … and me!

As Henry measures the distance between his new apartment and Grandpa’s wooden house under the mango tree, Grandpa works out how close they really are. A moving story that celebrates the bond between a boy and his grandfather.

This is a great story about families who live far apart but can still have meaningful and connected lives. We learn about Grandpa and Henry through their letters to one another – the content of which explores facts Henry’s learning and we learn about where he lives and what he has been doing as he recounts it to his grandpa.

Simpson shows us that Henry is loving and likes to share fun facts with his grandpa while Grandpa is supportive of his affection and adds his own fun to the letters as well. Telling these things in a letter to his grandpa is sweet and it shows the fun whimsical relationship the pair have.

Ghosh’s illustrations are a beautiful addition. The letters between Grandpa and Henry take centre stage but around them Ghosh has created stunning illustrations about their content with everything from a picture of Henry’s new neighbourhood to a beautiful two page spread of blue whales and Grandpa floating through the milky way. What I love about these illustrations is Ghosh alternates between Henry’s life and the real world and Grandpa’s exaggerations.

The symmetry between the start and end of the narrative is clever and I loved how it created a nice frame not only story wise, but by creating similar emotions that we experienced at the start but which have evolved as we’ve read the story.

This is a beautiful story about missing family but still being able to connect with them and share your lives with them. The relationship comes across the page as you go back and forth between the pair, Simpson capturing the light but deep connection between grandfather and grandson remarkably well. There is a lot said in these pages and even through the most innocent and whimsical interactions it tells so much.

You can purchase Dear Grandpa via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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