The Lorikeet Tree by Paul Jennings

Paul Jennings is probably best known for his humorous, quirky short stories and the television series ‘Round the Twist’. His latest novel is much more sombre, dealing as it does with the death of a parent and coping with the fear of what will happen in the future.

Emily and Alex are 15-year-old twins who live with their widowed father on a property near Warrnambool. Their dad bought the property when it was in dire need of resuscitation and he has spent many years replanting and nurturing the forest trees which used to thrive there. His efforts have been rewarded and the forest’s new growth has attracted much native wildlife, including rainbow lorikeets in abundance, which flock to the one remaining old, huge manna gum.

However, now Dad has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour and has only months to live. Each twin copes with this devastating news in their own way. Alex escapes to the treehouse in the manna gum and sets about renovating and adding to it in the hope he will delay his father’s death. He wants to keep a kitten from a litter born to a feral mother under their house but Emily is dead set against the idea because of the risk the cat will pose to the native birdlife. She can’t believe it when her father asks her to allow him to keep the kitten – and feels their environmental principles have been betrayed. She copes by writing down her memoir and submitting it in parts, delineated by the seasons, to her English teacher. And this is the text we are reading.

While this synopsis may sound morbid and depressing, The Lorikeet Tree is surprisingly engaging and easy to read. Major topics are tackled matter-of-factly and the twins’ support network of doctor, teachers and wildlife ranger are realistically portrayed. Emily grows and matures into a more compassionate person while Alex finally accepts the inevitable.

Reviewed by Lynne Babbage
Age Guide 11+

 

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Interned by Pamela Rushby

It took two weeks to turn us from an ordinary, respectable Australian family into something called “enemy aliens”.’

This is the story of two girls, Gretta and Tilly, who come from different social classes. Gretta comes from a wealthy family and Tilly comes from a working family, but what brings them together is their background – they are both of German origin and find themselves classified as enemy aliens in Australia as World War I breaks out.

Australia was to intern 4500 ‘enemy aliens’ and British nationals of German heritage in conditions that were far from comfortable during the war. There was also an outpouring of hatred and suspicion of these people, many of whom had been born in Australia. The hatred of all things German saw Germantown in southern NSW become Holbeck.

Initially Gretta and Tilly do not hit it off but find they do have something in common, (apart from their German heritage) music, which brings them together. The novel not only explores the relationship between the two girls, but also how the interned survive and make sense of their new life. It also looks at the prejudice that surrounds the internees, despite the fact they become valuable members of the community. As the war draws to its conclusion the girls are split up and sadly there is no happy ending for Gretta and Tilley.

This is a well written novel, and the language would be accessible from upper primary onwards. This could be especially useful for Year 9 students who study World War I.

Reviewed by Anthony Llewellyn-Evans
Age Guide 11+

When the War Came Home by Lesley Parr

Set in post-World War I Wales, When the War Came Home sees Natty and her single mum, Ffion, moving once again, as Ffion has lost yet another job. Ffion is an outspoken advocate for the underdog and a follower of the growing suffragette movement. Natty just wishes her mum would leave others to fight the cause.

They are offered a safe haven with Ffion’s brother’s family on their small Welsh farm. Natty is frustrated, resentful and adamant that she doesn’t want to move again, but Ffion promises that this will be the last time. Horror fills Natty when she realises that her cousin, Nerys, is tarred with the same brush as Ffion and is always fighting a cause.

However, it’s when Natty encounters the returned soldiers, including her cousin Huw, that has the greatest impact on her and she on them. Their sense of self and identity has been shattered and must be somehow restored. The scars they returned home with are both physical and emotional. The unimaginable battlefields having robbed them of their innocence.

Parr’s exploration of soldiers’ experience of ‘shell shock’ is commendable, highlighting the price that people pay, both physically and mentally, when sent to war. She also highlights the empathy that those around them need to show to help veterans readjust and to allow home to be a safe place. 

Reviewed by Cathy d’Apice
Age Guide 11+

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lesley Parr author childrenI grew up in South Wales, at the bottom of a valley and quite near a seaside steelworks. Now I live in the middle of England (almost as far from the sea as it’s possible to get) with my husband and our rescue cat, Angharad. I share my time between writing stories and tutoring adults.

Apart from books, rugby union is my favourite thing in the world, especially if Wales is winning. I graduated with distinction from Bath Spa University’s MA in Writing for Young People.

Visit Lesley Parr’s website