Showing posts with label biography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label biography. Show all posts

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Rise: The Sam Thaidy Story

Rise: The Sam Thaidy Story by Sam Thaidy and James Colley (Penguin Random House) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN9780143790149

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Born in Sydney but known as a Queenslander, Sam Thaidy is the son of a native Torres Strait islander. To a keen supporter, Sam has entertained Brisbane Broncos, Queensland State of Origin and Australian fans for sixteen years both on and off the field. This book for readers aged 8 to 12 years tells, with his trademark humour and honesty, of Sam’s roots as a Townsville boy and a die-hard Cowboys fan and of how his mum Julie taught him to pass and tackle.

In simple, easy-to-read language, the book also tells of the ups and downs of the game Sam loves including coping with injury and visiting places such as Darwin and Papua New Guinea. Sam says, ‘Papua New Guinea is the only nation on earth that has rugby league as its national sport.’ He tells of his feelings towards his trainers who ‘were picking on me’, but how, as an older more experienced player, he can see they were only trying to get him to better himself.

The book has a section of coloured photos of Sam and highlights of his career and of his family with wife and two small children. Young readers will find information in Sam’s book for setting and reaching goals, handling setbacks and finding things in life that really matter.

Rise: The Sam Thaidy Story is a must-read for any young league fan, regardless of who they barrack for.


Saturday, 27 May 2017

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie written by Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Frau Isa (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99   ISBN 9781847809612

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘When Marie was a little girl, she made a vow to herself … she was going to be a scientist, not a princess.’

The ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series showcases high-achieving women in history, all of whom acted on their childhood dreams. They are beautifully presented, hardcover, biographical picture books that target readers aged 5 – 8 years.

This title, about the gifted Marie Curie, explains how she was not allowed to study at university in her home country of Poland because she was a woman. Fortunately for the rest of the world (who would one day benefit from her scientific discoveries) she packed her bags and moved to France where she ‘soon became the best maths and science student in Paris’.

The book goes on to talk about her husband, Pierre, and their Nobel Prize winning discovery of radium and polonium. It also applauds her strength after Pierre’s sudden death, and the hard work that lead her to her second Nobel Prize. The text ends on an uplifting note, showing the many other girls whom she inspired, queuing up to study at the Radium Institute at the University of Paris.

Marie Curie’s story is conveyed in simple text, with only 1–3 sentences featuring across each double page. There is a longer biography included at the end of the book, featuring four black and white photographs.

Frau Isa’s illustrations are lightly textured, in a gentle watercolour palette. They offer deeper meaning to the text, both informatively and emotionally. For example, the text never mentions Marie’s connection to the development of x-rays, but the pictures show an injured soldier being x-rayed.  And when Marie accepts her second Nobel Prize award, the illustrations reflect her grief in both her facial expression and in a silhouetted empty chair in the first row.

The final picture, showing a full-colour Marie Curie sitting on a pile of books amongst a row of bemused (rather drab-looking) gentlemen, is a definite feminist celebration of Marie’s achievements in a male-dominated field.


Friday, 26 May 2017

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie written by Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Elisa Munsó (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99  ISBN 9781847809599

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

When Agatha Christie was a young girl, she would read lots of books with her mum … and she always offered ‘a better idea for how the story should end’! It seems she was always destined to be a writer, as showcased in this title in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series that highlights successes of high-achieving women in history.

Agatha’s wartime nursing experience taught her much about poisonous concoctions, and her imagination ‘wouldn’t stay quiet’. After the war, she began to write her own stories – great, murderous thrillers that hooked her readers immediately. She invented the great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and many of her books became stage productions.

This hardcover picture book conveys Agatha’s story in simple text targeting readers aged 5–8 years. Each double-page spread features no more than 1–3 sentences. A longer biography appears at the back of the book, featuring four black and white photographs. It mentions the success of And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, detailing how her particular writing style made her ‘the queen of mystery’. It also mentions her baffling disappearance in 1925 – a personal mystery that sparked a nationwide search!

The illustrations by Elisa Munsó are black and white, with selected splashes of red – especially striking and appropriate for a writer of murder mysteries! (I particularly loved the page showing a black and white cemetery, featuring the headstones of some of her murder victims, with an elderly Agatha looking on in her bright red coat.)

Other women featured in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series include Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel Maya Angelou and Marie Curie. This terrific series of books is definitely aiming to empower children (particularly girls) to follow their childhood dreams and make a difference in the world.


Sunday, 4 September 2016

Freedom Swimmer

Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781760113414

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘It doesn’t matter where they’re from, all desperate men are the same’.
Two teenage boys. One a villager, one from the city. One a hardworking peasant, the other a Red Guard supporter of the Party.
Two boys.
One dream.
One incredible story.

In 1973, Wai Chim’s father bravely undertook the ‘freedom swim’ through patrolled, shark-infested waters from the Dapeng Peninsula, China, to Tung Ping Chau island, Hong Kong. This novel is based on his experiences and is not so much about the swim itself, but the journey and despair preceding it.

Wai Chim has woven a warm, delicate narrative around a turbulent part of Chinese history. In a poor village in Communist China, during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, orphaned Ming spends his days working hard in the fields. 

However, he is befriended by the likeable, amicable Li. Ming teaches him to swim, and Li helps Ming communicate with the girl he’s in love with, Fei. A fourth, focal character, Tian, deserves a mention. Readers will instantly warm to Tian’s brotherly protection of Ming throughout, along with his playful social confidence and witty jibes at political China. (I quite missed this likeable character through the middle part of the novel, though his presence would have been detrimental to the main story.)

Told in first-person, the writing smoothly shifts from the perspective of Ming and Li and is easy to follow. The author has used artistic license to cleverly translate the regional speech of the characters into modern-day expressions that readers can identify with.

The novel is gripping – not by pace, but by the constant sense of foreboding that shadows every chapter. When Li’s father is caught and punished for traitorous acts against the Party, Li is disgraced in the village. Ming’s loyalty doesn’t waver, and the boys begin to discuss their common dream as we discover what two desperate people are prepared to risk for freedom.

This uplifting story could be an enjoyable accompaniment to school studies of Chinese history, as well as a fantastic read all-round. The recommended age group for this book is 11–14 years, though adults are likely to enjoy it too.


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

No Crystal Stair


Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Classed as a documentary novel, No Crystal Stair covers the life and work of Lewis Michaux, an intelligent, but headstrong and wilful young man who starts his life with chaos and dreams of claiming an identity of his own. He finds his life’s path through his creation of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem that sells books for black people by black writers. His intention is to educate African Americans about their origins and history, and instil in them a sense of pride and belief in who they are and what they can achieve. He starts with 5 books and ends with over 200,000, many of which are books for children.

The book took years to research and write. It is presented in the first person narrative, drawing on various voices including Lewis’, and many famous people. This perfect approach allows the reader to see more than just a single view of each issue that is addressed.

Lewis’ story begins in 1906. It is set up in 7 sections and covers historical events, and personal milestones in Lewis’ life, up to 1974 when he was forced to relocate the bookshop.

This is a brilliant historical document and reference book that inspires. It reports on the influence Lewis Michaux’s passion for learning and encouraging others to do so, had on many famous black people, including Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. 


Riveting, detailed information on the historical changes that took place within that time frame, are well researched and presented. Every page is full of honesty and truth. I enjoyed this book greatly and will definitely revisit it time and again. It is ideal for the 12-102 year age group.

No Crystal Stair


Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Classed as a documentary novel, No Crystal Stair covers the life and work of Lewis Michaux, an intelligent, but headstrong and wilful young man who starts his life with chaos and dreams of claiming an identity of his own. He finds his life’s path through his creation of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem that sells books for black people by black writers. His intention is to educate African Americans about their origins and history, and instil in them a sense of pride and belief in who they are and what they can achieve. He starts with 5 books and ends with over 200,000, many of which are books for children.

The book took years to research and write. It is presented in the first person narrative, drawing on various voices including Lewis’, and many famous people. This perfect approach allows the reader to see more than just a single view of each issue that is addressed.

Lewis’ story begins in 1906. It is set up in 7 sections and covers historical events, and personal milestones in Lewis’ life, up to 1974 when he was forced to relocate the bookshop.

This is a brilliant historical document and reference book that inspires. It reports on the influence Lewis Michaux’s passion for learning and encouraging others to do so, had on many famous black people, including Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. 


Riveting, detailed information on the historical changes that took place within that time frame, are well researched and presented. Every page is full of honesty and truth. I enjoyed this book greatly and will definitely revisit it time and again. It is ideal for the 12-102 year age group.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story

Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story by Christobel Mattingley (Allen & Unwin) PB RRP$19.099 ISBN 9781760290177

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The first thing to notice about this book is how beautiful it is, like a small work of art from the title page with its background of indigenous pattern artwork  through its almost 200 pages with good quality paper and numerous photographs, black and white and coloured. The typeface is brown, easy on the eye, and the whole design of the book is considered and attractive.

Award-winning author Christobel Mattingley, a white woman from Adelaide, honours the legacy here of Yvonne Edwards, a highly respected and community elder who was born near the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1950. The artwork is Yvonne’s, and so is the country shown in the photos. Yvonne’s mother was one of the Anangu family while her father was white (a walypala). Her Aboriginal name was Tjintjiwara and her mother tongue was Pitjantajara. As her child she learned how to carve artifacts, skin rabbits, make damper and draw in the sand. And, too, she learned the stories of the Dreamtime.

However, the Anangu family was told to leave by the white people and sent to the country of another Aboriginal family. Meanwhile, at an Anangu place called Maralinga, white people were planning something which would cause long, slow and painful dying to Yvonne’s husband and two of her sons. Maralinga, of course, was the site of atomic bomb testing.

In clear and obviously well-researched fiction, Mattingley relates Yvonne’s story from her birth through her upbringing. Like many indigenous children, she was taken from her family for a while, but then returned to the Lutheran mission. When the girl was pre-pubescent, the atomic testing – almost 100 kilotons of explosives – occurred near the mission. It went on from 19653 to 1957 with elderly people dying and some blinded. More personal disaster occurred for Yvonne when her first born son was taken from her by Welfare: it would be 20 years before she saw David again.

This beautifully written and designed book is sure to be of interest not just to young readers, but for anyone with an interest in the life of a woman whose life and those of her clan was affected by decisions made by ignorant white people. Maralinga cast a very long shadow, but throughout her life Yvonne triumphed, finding her gift as an artist in her later years. In 2012 after a turbulent life which included the loss of close family, Yvonne died at the age of 61. Happily a copy of Maralinga: The Anangu Story was brought to the hospital for staff to see what an important person they were caring for.


Mattingley met and befriended Yvonne six years before her death, but had to wait for two years after her friend’s death, as is Aboriginal custom, before she could write her book. It is a moving tribute to a wonderful woman.