It is the year 21,043 AD. Pya, Zumie, Jafet and Trist – known as the Hatchlings-live in tiny Cells, are cared for by their tutor-holos, and can only communicate via their avatars. Pya narrates how the giant computer ComCen sends their real bodies back to the mid 21st (2043 AD) Century where they meet the twins, Rio and Charlie. But even if these six very quarrelsome youngsters manage to survive in a very dangerous world, they must also achieve Independence and Co-operation.
From Chapter 1.
… Our avatars stroll along a riverbank lined with weeping willows until we come to a village. We head into a park lined by shady maple trees. The path leads us to a pool where huge goldfish swim from side to side, their plump bodies courting the afternoon sun. The scent of jonquils, narcissi and jasmine mingle. Bee-buzz fills the air. Birds and butterflies colour it. From here we look down on a main street straddled by a mossy stone bridge and see thatched roofs just beyond.
But soon the village starts to grow. Time speeds up. The goldfish and pool vanish. The park gradually shrinks. Tall buildings rise. Chimneys belch out fossil fuels. Trains reduce the countryside to shreds. Cars, planes and copters foul the air. Cranes and skyscrapers block out the sun. Throngs fill the streets. Some wave banners. Soon we hear machine guns rattle. Bombs explode. Lethal chemicals fill the air. We move inland to where smoke from burning forests pollutes the atmosphere. Landslides engulf whole towns. Surf pounds the coasts. Whole islands disappear. Most fauna and flora vanish. The ground lies parched and eroded. Those few survivors are hungry and sick. They die in droves. Mushroom clouds fill the skies. Cities glow in a nuclear nightmare.
We know this as the coming of the “Great Disaster”.
Review from Reading Time, the Australian Book Council Magazine
In the year 20,043, Planet Terra is on the cusp of The Great Disaster – fossil fuels are being wantonly consumed, flora and fauna are vanishing, war is erupting. Four ‘hatchlings’ – human life forms from the year 20,043 who have previously known only isolation within the metal walls of their individual cells – enter this 21st-century world. The hatchlings are a contrary bunch comprising two ‘fems’ (Pya and Zumi) and two ‘mascs’ (Trist and Jafet). They are tasked with learning about cooperation, and their arrival on Terra sees them joined on their quest by two Terran children, twins Rio and Charlie. In the face of societal breakdown, these six 13-year-olds join forces in a bid to survive.
The six adolescents encounter humans living in widely differing circumstances: some live in violent gangs, some form quasi-religious communities under the rigid control of a dominant male, some return to a sustainable agrarian life. As the hatchlings and the young Terrans respond to these groups (and to an array of terrifying non-human creatures), they gradually learn the benefits of working together.
Author Goldie Alexander is particularly adept at conveying the sensory experiences of the hatchlings in the natural world. (They have previously grappled with life outside their sparse cells only via ‘endgames’ completed by their avatars.) Tactile engagement with a non-sterile world is quite startling.
Cybertricks is narrated through Pya’s first person voice. Alexander provides her character with opportunities to wrestle with new concepts like rebellion and submission, free will and personal responsibility, and attachment and empathy. The storyline also includes hints of John Marsden’s Tomorrow series (the group has to resolve internal conflicts in order to survive) and Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games (the hatchlings and Terrans are pitted against a shape-shifting beast for the entertainment of a vast, unseen audience).
The full extent of the hatchlings’ mission is revealed in Cybertricks’ final pages. It is encapsulated in the hope that humans may yet create ‘a place where justice and harmony will always prevail’.
Cybertricks offers a fast-paced action adventure that cleverly combines science fiction motifs and philosophical musings in a novel suitable for an upper primary–lower secondary readership.
For ages 11+
Reviewed by Tessa Wooldridge
Review: Cybertricks by Goldie Alexander
Four cloned 13-year-old children named Pya, Zamia, Jafet and Trist live in the year 20,043. These “hatchlings” live solitary lives in tiny, sterile cells. Their days are dictated by a computer, CommCen, and they are taught by tutor-holos, so the closest thing to having a human interaction is in their Virtual Reality lessons. But even then they are represented by avatars.
When one such session sends them to the beginning of the Great Disaster in 2043AD – when the Earth’s population is starting to become infected with plague – the hatchlings befriend Rio and Charlie, who are also thirteen. As the division between Virtual Reality and Reality blurs, the hatchlings inexplicably find themselves in their real bodies and unable to return to the safety of their cells. They must quickly develop the skills they need to survive, as they are faced with numerous perils, including the extremes of nature, attacks from violent gangs, and terrifying monsters. The six children must overcome their fears and individual differences to work as a team, for they are quickly learning that it is only through cooperation that their impossible goal of survival can become possible.
In this imaginative science fiction novel for children, Goldie Alexander deftly weaves an environmental theme into an exciting adventure story for young independent readers. Despite alluding to the perils facing our own time, such as disease and climate change, the story does not descend into doom and gloom. Rather, there is a pervasive and positive message that, if we can all learn to work together, it is possible that we can avert disaster to achieve a fresh start.
Julie Murphy 2016
Glam Adelaide Review by Rod Lewis on October 28, 2016
It’s a bleak and bizarre future that Goldie Alexander has envisaged for her middle grade readers, but it’s also one full of wonder, fun and adventure with many of life’s lessons being taught in unique ways.
Set in the very distant future, when most of Earth’s population has been wiped out in The Great Disaster, four hatchlings live in tiny cells, only communicating with each other through avatars during their daily lessons. Their lives are ruled by a great, hidden computer known as ComCen, and they’re cared for by tutor holograms.
The hatchlings struggle to get along in their lessons, which are mini-adventures trying to teach them about life. Then one day, their avatars are sent back to the year 2043AD, just before The Great Disaster, to observe a traditional family. When something goes wrong, the four hatchlings materialise and find themselves stuck in the past with no way home.
Aided by local twins Rio and Charlie, the narrator, Pya, and her fellow hatchlings Zumi, Jafet and Trist must all learn to work together if they are to survive in the real world after being left behind in an evacuation.
Through a series of challenges and dangers, the six young people progressively begin to understand that working together helps everyone and achieves much more than working alone or being selfish. Bonds are formed, and collectively, they grow into a smart, brave team with a greater understanding of life and friendship.
The complexity of Alexander’s future world takes a few chapters to sink into. Told from Pya’s perspective, it takes time to begin understanding her world and how it works. The reader is bombarded with unexplained colloquialisms from the start – the first half page alone mentions ComCen, Weirwolf, Tutor-Henny, Cell-Q3 and food-tube with no context of what’s what or where we are. As the story progresses, it all becomes clear but it’s only then that the wonder and adventure take hold.
Once settled into Alexander’s imaginative world, Pya’s story is a delight. Alexander has filled her future Earth time periods with enough detail to make them seem real, and the more supernatural elements, such as the Shape-Shifters, meld nicely into the more standard characters and elements of an apocalyptic Earth. Her characterisations are all recognisable and age-appropriate, as is the dialogue, and it’s easy to identify with all six of the heroes, even the selfish ones like Zumi.
Filled with excitement, danger and a generous sprinkling of laughs, it’s great to read a novel where there is collective growth, not just the personal growth of a single, central character. Having a strong female lead and having the story told from her perspective is also a bonus, as it seems so rare in juvenile science fiction.
Only this afternoon Papa had warned us of the German threat to Poland. Now the Luftwaffe’s bombs had succeeded in convincing us that everything was about to change…
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis
Goldie Alexander again proves herself an insightful writer; skilful and imaginative. The Holocaust and all its heartbreak, death and desolation, is always confronting and painful to read about. Goldie’s familiarity with this subject is visible. But she has presented that traumatic time in history in such a way, that the horrors are not what are showcased alone. This is a story of courage, faith, family, hope and survival.
Hannah’s narrative begins in 1941 in the Warsaw Ghetto where she, her brother Adam, baby sister Ryzia, and her parents are taken by the SS after their two years’ safe hiding place is revealed by a traitor. Instead of being put to death, Papa is told to report to the Jewish Council to work as translator processing new arrivals. This employment allows him a small income to purchase food and bare necessities.
Over time, the Ghetto becomes overcrowded. People are shipped away to an unknown place. Thousands are being starved to death or randomly shot on the streets in order to diminish the population of Jews through inhumane acts.
But this is mostly eleven year-old Hannah’s story. We read about her thoughts and longings; about her love of reading and her talent in gymnastics. She is a strong and reflective child, open to adventure and change while accepting of her current position. The loss of the things and people she loves never diminishes her faith in life and the future.
We glimpse how some German soldiers felt about killing and war; how they were forced into conscription, and into unspeakable acts in contrast to their beliefs and humanity.
The backstories are vivid and realistic. Each family member’s story is reflected, even if in a minor way. A lot of historical information is incorporated and is a flowing river through the text. Rich Historical Notes are added at the end along with a detailed glossary of words used.
This book is part of the Courage to Care education program which ‘helps us to understand how lives are affected if we let discrimination occur….’ There will be more books of this ilk coming, so look out for them.
“Cassie Georgiana Odysseos has the potential to become an Olympic swimmer. However, after her parents separate, her training is interrupted when she and her little brother Timmy are sent to live with elderly Mike and Peg Calypso in Ithaca, a small country town without a training pool. Asked to deliver an important message to the underwater city of Neptunia, Cassie must use all her strength, strategy and spirit to survive a marathon swim. But can she overcome King Neptune’s terrifying obstacles? ”
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis for Buzz Words
Cassie is a strong swimmer capable of competing in the State Championships. But her parents’ break-up puts a stop to her dream of going to Norris Park College with its outstanding sports facilities and pool. Cassie and her little brother Timmy are sent to Ithaca, a country town with no pool, to stay with distant relatives till the storm passes.
The children find a metal box in an abandoned silo. It is one of many things stolen from Iris Laertes, a world champion swimmer who lives on the property Neptunia. The box is ‘a magic entry into a mythical land’. Cassie is swept into the greatest adventure and challenge of her life; to swim to the mythical Neptunia with a message of an environmental disaster that could destroy its many species of marine life.
The story loosely incorporates myths and legends attached to Homer’s Odyssey while weaving environmental issues into the magical fabric of the story. The many themes contained in this well crafted and imaginative story include overcoming obstacles through strategy, strength and spirit; self belief, and courage and triumph over difficulties.
Sharon L Norris‘s review for Neptunia at Good Reads
With our world becoming increasingly fractured in many ways – in the human hemisphere as much as the global environmental hemisphere – the theme of ‘resilience’ is increasingly popular in books for all ages. Goldie Alexander’s novel for upper primary readers, ‘Neptunia’, is no exception.
When her home life falls apart after the separation of her parents, up and coming competitive swimmer Cassie Odysseos is sent far away to a small country town, Ithaca, with her younger brother Timmy. Away from her family, her friends, her future at Norris Park College, and her beloved swimming pool, Cassie struggles to cope as kindly relatives Peg and Mike Calypso offer her and Timmy a home until their mother can get her life together.
The separation is particularly hard on three-year-old Timmy, who acts out his frustration and despair. Forced to go for a walk together after one bad behaviour episode, Timmy and Cassie find a rare box in an empty silo on a farm nearby. Cassie learns the box belongs to a mysterious elderly lady, Iris Laerte, who swam at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and now lives on the property ‘Neptunia’. She returns the box to Miss Laertes who shares with her the secret of the rhyme engraved on the box and encourages Cassie to become the new special envoy to the magical underwater land of Neptunia – a place that can only be reached by a swimmer with a strong heart, strategic mind and plenty of spirit. Cassie’s mission is to deliver a special message to the Mer-King, Neptune.
When Cassie recites the magical rhyme on the box she is swept into the adventure of a lifetime that takes her on a journey of epic proportions. Here she is forced to face the challenges set for her by the angry Mer-King, who blames Cassie for the abuses of the sea committed by all humankind. Along the way she is helped by the friendly and wise turtle, Athena and the boisterous seal Jono.
As Goldie Alexander explains at the end of the book, ‘Neptunia’ is loosely based on the Greek poet Homer’s ‘The Oddessy’, which chronicles the hero Ulysses’ adventures at sea. Just as Ulysses (also known as Odysseos) has to fight demons and overcome severe obstacles put in his way by the Mer-King, Cassie does the same in ‘Neptunia’. Throughout this dangerous quest, Cassie uses strength, strategy and spirit to deal with the obstacles in her path. As she fights for her life to complete the quest, she uses these same tools to accept and deal with the multitude of other difficulties in her own life.
‘Neptunia’ has an action-packed plot and strong characterisation, and gives an intriguing insight into ancient history, legend and mythology. Above all, it shows that through resilience of mind, body and spirit, much can be achieved.
Using Odysseus’ trials to get home to Ithaca, in a typical adolescent child-problem situation, is an interesting way to go. Alexander uses it to shape the story of Cassie. Cassie is a swimmer and trains three times a week. Though she has won every race to date, she really hopes she can win gold at the eight hundred metres at the big school meet happening just before school returns – a new school with her friends Amy and Megan. But for that she needs to keep up her practising, her friend Jen the coach tells her.
But then Dad moves out to live with Helen. And Mum doesn’t cope. Cassie and little brother Timmy are moved to foster parents in a little country town of Ithaca, which has no pool – disaster. No practice! And for that matter it was Dad who took her to swimming in the early morning – how could he leave? How will she get there from home, anyway? Mum will have to find somewhere cheaper for them to live – another house, most likely in another suburb. So Cassie won’t be going to secondary school with Amy and Megan.
Cassie is unhappy, angry and confused.
But Timmy finds an ancient box which belongs to old Miss Iris Laertes and with its help Cassie is able to visit the city of Neptunia beneath the waves, and deliver a message about global warming to King Neptune. But to get there she has to pass through similar trials to Odysseus – the Cyclops is here a one-eyed octopus of gigantic proportions. He guards a bottle with a magic elixir in, which, once stolen from him, enables her to keep going and extends her strength. The enchantress represents the Sirens. She lures Cassie by singing about her hopes of success at swimming. The monsters Scylla and Charybdis are two seven headed serpents (like the Hydra), and she finds she has tricked them into fighting themselves to death. She rests on the island of Lotus, and falls into the lake of forgetting (actually the river of Lethe). But Athena (here a turtle) restores her memory eventually with another elixir.
She eventually gets to Neptunia and delivers her message, the result of which is that Neptune will have to move the city – but he now has time to do it, and is grateful to the messenger, instead of blaming her. Now she can go back to Ithaca. And there Mum phones calling them home and telling that all is resolved – she has found a house, from which Cassie can walk to the school, will not have to change suburbs and schools and can go in the big Meet, winning the eight hundred metres.
This is a brilliant way to draw children into the myths Homer immortalised in the Odyssey – using his trials and monsters. They are all acknowledged in an afterword.
Sam and her single mother Kate live in the rear of the Conch Café, close to Sam’s best friend Melody and her dog, Billy. The building is owned by greedy witch Hecate Badminton who will do anything to own the café’s Good-Luck-Conch. After Hecate steals the shell and the café burns down, the girls have a series of remarkable adventures inside ‘eSide’. Because digital graphics create unique scenarios, the girls travel to dangerous places and overcome some of their worst fears before they can recover their conch and go home.
Click here to download the eSide Reviews (PDF 94kb)
1790 Yesterday was Good Friday. Master Henry Dodd gathered his servants together to read “the Lord’s Prayer”. He made us repeat it after him. Sarah says to never tell anyone that I know my letters. She fears that if the officers hear that I can read and write, they might decide to send me elsewhere, and that this would separate us.”
Lizzie Harvey, a convict transported to Sydney Cove, is starving and overworked.
She has to fetch the water, please her master, do all the housework, and look after sickly Emily, and tiptoe around moody Winston. She can barely find time to dream about the way things used to be, much less write in her diary.
BRIEF OUTLINE OF STORY
ELIZABETH (LIZZIE) HARVEY was convicted of stealing a linen gown and a silk bonnet worth 7 shillings and transported to Australia on the First Fleet.
After swapping two onions for a journal, her diary begins in 1790 when she is thirteen and working as a domestic on Henry Dodd’s farm at Rose Hill. Lizzie intends to post this diary to her younger brother Edward who lives in the Cotswolds in England. Because they have been parted these last four years, the entries interweave how she came to be in Botany Bay and present day happenings.
Orphaned at nine, Lizzie went to London to be an apprentice where she was unjustly accused of theft and sent to Newgate Prison. There she was befriended by Sarah Burke who became her staunch ‘protector’. Lizzie describes her life in the hulks, the 252 day voyage on the Lady Penrhyn, the landing in Botany Bay and working as a domestic for Surgeon James Russell, his son Winston and little asthmatic Emily. Plus her first contact with the Aborigines.
Lizzy’s account of life in the new colony takes place over 2 months during the very worst of the ‘starving years’. It opens just before the foundering of the flagship Sirius (5th April 1790) and ends with the arrival of the 2nd Fleet. (June 3rd 1790)
FICTIONALIZING HISTORY FOR YOUNG READERS
Goldie Alexander (pub Viewpoint Spring 2000)
The first My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove (2000) is set in 1790. This is one of a number of diaries published by Scholastics, (and now published in the UK as My Story: Transported.) Like their American counterpart, these are intended to bring Australian history to life. When I began researching this novel, I found that I knew very little about our first European settlers. The more I read, the more I was struck by the difficulties the First Fleet suffered. Conditions in 18th century English jails and hulks, on board the convict ships and the early days of New South Wales, were appalling. I was particularly interested in that period of total isolation between April when the Sirius foundered off Norfolk Island and the coming of the 2nd Fleet in June.
“We… in Rosehill (Parramatta)… ‘ are a long day’s walk from Sydney Cove. Any news is slow to arrive. However we now know that the flagship Sirius, which was coming from Capetown with food and other supplies has been wrecked on a reef at Norfolk Island.
‘Have you anything else to report?’ Sarah demanded of the sailor who came to deliver this sad news.”
My research took me to many different sources, in particular Watkin Tench’s diaries, and Captain Phillip’s letters. The language might be archaic, but the contents struck a very modern note. Phillip’s reasoning for sending Lieutenant Ross to Norfolk Island are not dissimilar from a contemporary CEO sending his difficult 2IC to an inaccessible branch of that same business. Watkin Tench could rarely remark on any person or incident without adding some sardonic comment of his own. They talk of ‘Opened up a elderly convict’s belly and found it empty.’ ‘Convicts refusing to share cooking pots.’ ‘A woman dying of over eating by consuming all her rations in one meal.’ Provisions were running out and their first attempts at farming had failed. Governor Phillip had placed everyone – freeman and convict alike – on starvation rations. What they desperately craved was what they perceived as ‘real food’: that is pickled pork, mutton, and ships biscuits. With too few muskets to go around, fishing boats or lines, or a willingness to learn from the local ‘indians’, hunger prevailed. Meanwhile, as the historian Alan Frost points out, they were surrounded by a profusion of seafood, wild game, and Vitamin C iron-rich wild spinach and sarsaparilla. Perhaps this helped them survive. The evidence lies in the astonishing number of women that became pregnant. To become pregnant they had to be menstruating. It is also interesting to note that significantly fewer children died than if they had stayed in England’s appalling 18th Century cities.
My challenge was to get this down in a palatable form for young readers as well as create ‘a good read’. In a way it was those awful conditions that wrote its own story. Briefly: In 1790, Sydney is a convict colony. Elizabeth Harvey is sent there for stealing clothes worth seven shillings. Her diary revealed her struggles as she copes with starvation, disease, brutal punishment, isolation and drunkenness. Lizzie talks about tackling simple domestic tasks, homesickness, looking after the doctor’s sick daughter Emily, her ‘sparring’ friendship with Winston, and defending Simple Sam from an avenging mob. Her diary, though imaginary, was partly based on the real life story of Elizabeth Hayward, the youngest female convict shipped to Botany Bay.
I perceived Lizzie as brave, curious and somewhat rebellious, part of the new colony’s emerging spirit. She says,
‘Sarah says that the Governor think Master Dodd the most trustworthy man in all Port Jackson. Though she also adds that my Master puts too much faith in God – and not enough in hard work- to get us out of our misery. But it seems to me that if all my Master says about God is true, and if God were listening, then our poor lives would not be as sad. Yet, I would never dare say this aloud, as surely I would be flogged for blasphemy.”
The writing had to be simple, yet sound authentic. No way could I use the complex and melodramatic language of the 18th Century. I kept sentences short and avoided contractions. Lizzie says to Winston, “Excuse me, sir. That book. Is it something I can write in?” Also, because this was a diary, I had to tell the action instead of showing it. She writes, “Sydney Cove is full of murderers & thieves.” Plus I had to do something that was foreign to all my writerly impulses, and that was to tell the action instead of showing it.
However where possible, I used dialogue to show what was happening:
“My Master said, ‘Many folk may not survive. It is hard to collect food when we have so little shot and only two fishing boats.’
At this such a gloom fell over us I was almost sorry that I am still alive…”
There’s an automatic pruning in historical novels written for younger readers. Anything that doesn’t move the story along must be eradicated. The historical background can only exist as an unconscious framework. The characters must live solidly in their world to make them credible. They must keep their feet firmly placed in their own reality. At the same time there was so much information I wanted to get across. If the reader is ‘historically unsophisticated’, the novel had to contain enough information to make sense of the story. My solution was for Lizzie to fill her brother in on everything that had happened to her since they were last together.
She says, “Though it is four long years since we last were together… I plan to use it (the diary) to describe my present life, and a little of how I came to be here…”
However certain frustrations ensued. So many facts that I had painfully researched couldn’t be used – for example, a true account of the sexual misdemeanors of the 1st fleet, as that might have been a little too ‘real’ for many young readers. Also, I tried to make my convicts sound like cockneys by dropping letters and messing up their grammar. But my editor was worried that my readers might have problems with this, and she fixed it all up…
First Fleet Resources on the Internet
- First Fleet 1788 #1
- First Fleet 1788 # 2
- Women Convict Assignments
- Convicts from Lincolnshire (on line list – database)
- Papers of Sir Joseph Banks
- Gondwana to Gold
- The Provisions Carried by the First Fleet
- Activities for Students and other links to the First Fleet Data
- First Fleet Fellowship – Ships and Voyage, Pictures and history of the ships of the First Fleet, and how to become a member if your ancestors arrived on the First Fleet
- The First Fleet Home Page List of Marines and database of convicts on the First Fleet
- Australian Facts
HISTORICAL NOTE: See the back of the book for more detail.
.This book is one of the books in the My Australian Story series, which is an Australian version of Dear America, featuring the fictional diaries of young people during different events in Australian history.
The year is 1790, in colonial Sydney, Australia. Elizabeth Harvey, or Lizzie as she is called, is a young girl sent to Sydney Cove as a convict. Wrongly convicted of stealing from her employer, Lizzie was forced to leave behind her beloved brother in England and was transported to Sydney, where she lives in servitude. Life is very difficult in the colony, and food is scarce. Will Lizzie survive to ever see her brother and home again?
Written in the form of Lizzie’s diary, this book brought to life the early days of colonial Australia through the eyes of young convict girl. The book describes the injustices faced by the lower class in early England and the hardships of settling a new land. I recommend this book to young readers who enjoy historical fiction written in diary form and who enjoyed other books in the My Story series.
25,000 copies of this novel have now been published!
Recommended Reading Age: Middle and Upper Primary.
Science fiction, humour, adventure and mystery –this lively collection of short stories will have particular interest to boys aged between 9 and 13
This is the companion volume to Killer Virus and Other Stories
and My Horrible Cousins and Other Stories.
From the opening of ‘FREAKY!’
When I was old enough to question such things, I’d want to know where I came from and why the man I call ‘Dad’ had taken me on. It was pretty obvious we weren’t related. Back then we were hitching rides on starships, though never staying more than one month in any port.
Dad’s answer was to grin and ruffle my hair. ‘Jay, I found you under a cabbage in a Hydroponics Plant. When no one else claimed you, I took you on.’
‘Which Hydroponics Plant?’ I’d ask.
‘No place you’ve ever heard about,’ he’d say and that was all I’d get out of him except that this planet was too dangerous to visit. I suppose I could have tried to figure it out. But there are so many ports, and each with its own Hydroponics Plant, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
But isn’t this stuff a boy should know?
Later we turned this into a joke. Like eating coleslaw, I’d say, ‘Hope this isn’t Mum’ and we’d both laugh. But one day when I’d been carrying on about cabbage soup and cabbage rolls, he said unexpectedly, ‘If you must know, that plant was on Salisia.’
I gulped. How come he hadn’t told me this before? Salisia was the most exciting star-port in our galaxy. Any freighter who gave us a hitch usually flew great distances. To wile away those months in space, there was always an excellent stock of holos and many were about Salisia. In my imagination I was already there….’
Review by Anastasia Gonis for Buzzwords
Space Footy and other stories, a book for boys aged 9-13 years, (I’d say people aged 9- 100) is the companion to the previous book of entertaining tales for girls of the same age group, My Horrible Cousins and Other Stories. It covers various genres including science fiction, mystery, adventure, historical fiction and humour. Ghosts, aliens and bullies are only a few of the main characters the stories are built upon. There are contemporary issues addressed and handled in a comprehensive but subtle way.
My favourite of all the eleven stories, although each one has merit, was Freaky. Imaginative and meaningful, it tells the story of an inter-galactic boy, Jay, ‘found under a cabbage patch’ who was ‘a freak, an idiot, or both’, as he had an extra head ‘that hung from his left shoulder like a dead weight’. Cloned in a fertility lab, his origins had been kept secret. But he’d inherited the gift of inexplicable strength, and a step-father who adored him.
Forced to land on the asteroid Salisia, his planet of origin, Jay and his father Bruth meet Beyong, a boy always on the run because he refuses to tell a lie. Jay is told never to be separated from Bruth no matter what occurs. As he grows, so does his head. It is the explanation of the unnatural circumstances of his form that explodes into crystal-like perfection at the climax of the story.
Goldie has a gift for drawing in the reader at the beginning with a little unexpected twist that promises excitement and something unusual. The whole of the collection and the previous one have this sustainment. The characters are unconventional; but they have something specific that’s extraordinary about them. They do outrageous things, have significant setbacks, but every story ends in a positive outcome.
Teacher Notes are available for both collections as with all the author’s works.
Teacher Notes are on the website of www.teachingsolutions.com.au
Recommended reading: Middle and Upper Primary
Included in the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenges.
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton
From Shakespeare in space (with a twist in the tale) to a magician who knows exactly when to bow out, this collection of ten short stories is as varied in style as it is in location and atmosphere. In common, however, are a girl and a problem.
For Lorrie, it’s the ‘horrible cousins’ of the title story who are such irritating little stains that they perfectly deserve the comeuppance they receive. For Chloe and Stella, it’s the ruin their families face as they struggle to hold on to their livelihoods. A stranger with a penchant for cowpats makes a difference for Chloe, as a helpful magician does for Stella, but in each case, it’s the girl herself who takes action and brings a resolution to the situation. Not every girl wins exactly what she wants. Layla helps save a baby whale and gets carried away by imagining herself in a re-enactment of Free Willy. Rom’s sister is far from happy when a space gypsy named Julietta captures her brother’s attention. Lucy tours the world as a Spelling Bee celebrity and champion – until disaster strikes her dad’s Instant Spelling Program.
Each story is told with flair and humour. The Horrible Cousins has a blog-style format, while others vary between first and third person narratives. Many of the resourceful girls are passionate about causes – Layla in Raising Ella about whales; Rosie about native animals in Lame Duck Protest; Stella about her parent’s historic café in The Great Googol.
Supporting notes for teachers are available online at the Teaching Solutions website. Clearly targeted at educators looking for stories in which girls are given opportunities to shine, the stories are far too good to be relegated to the classroom. However the book seems to position itself in this niche with its unprepossessing textbook-like cover and indifferent interior design. My Horrible Cousins and other stories deserves exposure to a far wider market.
“Off the Bookshelf”, a newsletter for schools and libraries produced in Pretoria by Audrey Hitchcock, an acknowledged expert in South Africa on children’s literature, writes:
These ten short stories for girls by one of Australia’s most prolific authors, brings to readers strong female characters who are ‘strong and resourceful, girls overcoming adversity, solving problems, being determined, being passionate about causes……good strong stuff’. The cousins referred to in the title story are the older teenagers who object to everything possible on a trip the family take to Europe to visit an elderly grandmother. Familiar? Yes, our readers (in Grade 3 and 4) would certainly relate to the issues raised in this selection. From environmental issues and the preservation of heritage site to the fun of boredom and bullying- these stories are ideal for reading aloud and sharing with young readers.