• Books and reading

    Lives of crime: ‘Sanctuary’ by Gary Disher

    Gary Disher writes the kind of crime stories I like best: ones that focus on the people more than the crimes. He manages to show the how and why of the crimes committed, sure; but also the impact on both perpetrators and victims. This is meaningful fiction, not showcasing crime for its own sake, but to say something about humans and why they do the things they do.

    Sanctuary is unusual for this genre in that the workings of the world of law enforcement are of minimal importance to the narrative. It centres on several people whose stories overlap, though for much of the book we don’t necessarily know how or why.

    There is Grace, formerly known as Anita, who grew up in an unlovely and unloving foster home, along with Adam. They become a team involved in petty crime, just the two of them against a hostile world, until Anita meets a man who teaches her the tricks of a higher level criminal life. When she decides she has had enough of this man’s cruelty and control, she becomes Grace and continues her life of crime alone.

    But Adam harbours a grudge and when they inadvertently cross paths on a ‘job’, she runs again, fearful of what he might do.

    So begins a series of intricate and well planned moves; staying several steps ahead, constantly checking on surrounds and on people, distrusting of others, always looking for an escape, adopting a series of disguises.

    Disher vividly conjures the loneliness and insecurity of this life, and we feel some sympathy for Grace as she tries to adopt another way of being, the kind of ‘legitimate’ and ordinary life that she now longs for. It takes enormous mental and physical energy to live like this. I was reminded of Maxwell Smart in the 1960’s cold-war spoof series Get Smart, in which he often says of the ‘baddies’: If only they could use their cleverness for niceness instead of nastiness.

    Through the viewpoint of another character we are given insight into the mind of someone who indulges in digital stalking and illegal surveillance of people. It’s an unpleasant place and I was always relieved to move onto another scene, away from this sordid and rage-filled character’s world view. But I am very aware that sadly, technology has provided increased opportunities for people like this to frighten and hurt others.

    The tension mounts as the trajectories of Grace, Adam and other characters head towards collision, with complications cleverly woven in.

    The resolution does not tie everything up in a neat bow; that would be unrealistic and too tidy. But we are left with a hope that perhaps, at some future time, Grace and Adam can find a more satisfying way of being in their world.

    Sanctuary is published by Text Publishing in April 2024.
    My thanks to the publishers and to NetGalley for an early review copy.

  • Books and reading

    Australian thriller: ‘Deadly Secrets’ by H.R. Kemp

    It’s refreshing to find a complex, character- and- plot focused novel set in an Australian city, featuring characters not usually encountered in a typical thriller or crime novel.

    H.R. Kemp’s Deadly Secrets is just such a read.

    The setting is Adelaide, regarded by many Australians as a quiet and tame city. This novel digs deep into another side of the city – one that travel companies and city authorities would rather keep out of sight.

    The strapline for Deadly Secrets reads: ‘What unspeakable truths lurk beneath the lies?’

    Shelley, the main character, is about to find out. Initially she is protective of her safe, quiet and ordinary life in Adelaide and her public service career in the Department of Immigration and she can’t imagine stepping outside the boundaries of the expected and accepted.

    When a former client, a refugee who Shelley helped to resettle in Australia, dies suddenly, Shelley is unhappy with the official explanations for the death. When she digs a little deeper, a chain of events is unleashed that changes her life forever.

    In the process she encounters corruption at high levels in politics and corporations, cynical use of misinformation to promote and protect the powerful, but also people determined to shine a light on the murkiness at the heart of power. The novel canvasses modern issues such as asylum seeker policy and the treatment of refugees, the practices of mining companies, and the insidious changes that have weakened Australia’s political, public service and law enforcement sectors. Family, relationships and domestic violence are also part of the story.

    These are all entirely recognisable and believable to anyone who has been following Australia’s political, social and corporate landscapes over the past few decades.

    Shelley is a relatable character: she has a desire to live a more adventurous life but is uncertain of herself and her future. She struggles with the need to hold onto her government job, even when the policies she must implement sit uneasily with her. Her involvement in the action at the heart of the story is not immediate, but we see her gradual transformation as she begins to embrace her own agency and recognise the need to change.

    Place is important: the novel opens in Paris as Shelley experiences her first solo travel experience and is unwittingly caught up in a major protect action on the city’s streets. Much of the novel is set in Adelaide and readers who know that city will enjoy moving vicariously around there as the action develops.

    I ‘read’ this novel via the Audiobook version, narrated by Lisa Armytage, who competently handles the various accents and voices of the cast of characters.

    Deadly Secrets tells a tightly woven tale of crime and abuse of power without the usual car chase scenes (yawn!) bombings, gunfights and male machismo (double yawn!) I appreciated the fact that the ‘heroes’ at the heart of the novel are otherwise very ordinary people, doing their best to make things better. Even better, it’s a team effort – no glorious heroes off on their own. Everybody who counts in the story has moments of bravery, but they must work together to achieve real change.

    Deadly Secrets is independently published by the author and you can read about H.R Kemp and check out her other projects here.

    My thanks to the author for a copy of the audiobook to review.

  • Books and reading,  History

    Unlikely connections: ‘The Star on the Grave’ by Linda Margolin Royal

    Did you know that six thousand Jewish refugees were saved from murder at the hands of Nazis during WWII by escaping Europe via Japan? And that they were able to do so by the actions of a brave and committed Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who in defiance of his government’s express orders, wrote transit visas for desperate people trying to flee from Lithuania.

    He was helped in this by an official from the Netherlands, who supplied documents allowing refugees to travel through the Dutch colony of Curacao, and from there to Japan. From Japan, individuals and families found refuge in countries such as the USA and Australia.

    I had never heard of either of these individuals, whose courageous and compassionate actions have been lost in the stories of that terrible war. And the connection between Japan, Poland, Lithuania and Australia seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

    The Jews whose lives they saved included the author’s own family: her father and grandparents fled Poland to Lithuania, and were amongst those who owed their lives to Sugihara and the Dutch man Jan Zwartendijk. Rachael wrote this book, her first novel, to tell their story and that of the men who saved them.

    In the novel, the main character Rachel is a young nurse who lives with her widowed father and has a close relationship with her Polish grandmother, Felka, whom she adores. It is Sydney in 1968. Rachel has been brought up as a Christian, attended a Catholic school, and is engaged to marry Yanni, a doctor at the hospital where she works.

    When she tells Felka that she must convert to Yanni’s religion of Greek Orthodoxy on their marriage, her grandmother’s reaction is bewildering and confusing. Then Felka announces her plan to attend a reunion of friends in Japan, and asks Rachel to accompany her. She is puzzled. What is this ‘reunion’, and why Japan?

    When she is told the truth of her family, she is incredulous. Her father and grandparents were among those able to get out of Europe because of Mr Sugihara. And they are Jewish. The trip to Japan is for survivors to meet with Mr Sugihara, to thank him for their lives.

    Rachel’s shock and sense of betrayal at having been lied to her entire life are profound. Slowly, she begins to understand the reasons why her father and Felka did what they did: to protect her, so that she would never know the hatred and anti-Semitism that they had experienced.

    She travels to Japan with Felka and there, hearing the stories of the other people saved by Sugihara, she grapples with the questions of who she is and what the revelation of being Jewish means: does it bring a heritage of suffering and loss, or of family, tradition and deep connection? Or all of those things?

    And how has the trauma experienced by her surviving family members manifested in their personalities, their relationships and approaches to life?

    These are all deep, deep questions she must face, and all at once. It is difficult and painful. Through travelling to Japan with Felka, listening to the people she meets there, and reappraising her own beliefs, Rachel finds some acceptance and a strong desire to learn more.

    Initially, I thought Rachel’s ignorance of the events of WWII, the Nazi persecutions and concentration camps, the murders and unspeakable cruelties, was somewhat disingenuous. But I reminded myself that Rachel had come to adulthood barely twenty years after the war. She was taught the minimum details of the conflict at school, and not knowing of her personal connection to those events, did not seek to learn more. And many, many survivors, refugees and veterans, were reluctant to talk about their experiences, preferring to try to forget, to move on with life.

    The Star on the Grave is a moving story of one family, fictionalised but inspired by her own, in a surprising and little-known chapter of that global conflict. I found it absorbing, and I hope to read future works by Ms Margolin Royal.

    The Star on the Grave is published by Affirm Press in January 2024.
    My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for a review copy.

  • Books and reading

    Startling: ‘The Visitors’ by Jane Harrison

    Immediately this book opens, we know we are in for a startlingly different view of the British ships, sailing into Sydney harbour in 1788.

    The First Nations people of the lands surrounding Sydney are portrayed in a rich cultural context (informative and easy to absorb within the story), however they have European names and wear modern European dress. What does this mean? What is happening here? We are left to wonder.

    It is an effective device to ensure that readers approach this story with a different mindset than they might otherwise do. Especially if the readers have been raised in Australia, and grown up with the story of Captain Phillip planting the British flag in the sand of Sydney cove in the name of His Majesty King George.

    Instead, we see the ships from a vantage point above the cove, where seven respected Elders, representatives of their various nations, have come together for a day to collectively decide what their response to these ‘visitors’ should be.

    The cover blurb of the book reads:

    1788, Gadigal country.
    Eleven ships.
    Seven Elders.
    One day.

    They’ve got a big decision to make…

    The Visitors

    It’s a brilliant premise and the reader is plunged into the many considerations and issues that the seven men need to take into account as they ponder their response to this unprecedented situation.

    Some of the older men remember the time, eighteen years earlier, when similar ships had appeared and strange looking men disembarked. In their short time on land, those men had cut down trees, trampled precious clean water to mud, and took ridiculous amounts of seafood from the waters. But that time, those visitors left and did not return. Perhaps the same thing would happen again?

    Each of the seven men representing their mob have their own backstory: a set of family, cultural and tribal circumstances that affect their behaviour and how they approach the discussion and voting. This allows the reader to see them first of all as people – with their own preoccupations and motivations.

    I enjoyed the portrayal of the tensions, petty squabbles, and individual behaviours of the seven. It meant I could approach their story as I could that of any other people dealing with a sudden and unexpected arrival of uninvited visitors of their country.

    Within the narrative of a long day of arguments, counter arguments and vote-taking, the author has woven in a great deal of beautifully described customary lore and traditions. It includes one of the best and easiest-to-understand explanations of songlines:

    Songs, Joseph knows, are a living map of country – where the fresh water is, the good fishing spots, the whereabouts of steep crevices or marshy swamps and all of the other signposts, so you don’t get lost or travel the hard way. And all songs are three-dimensional, referring to the stars above and the earth and even below the seas. And the songs are always evolving and being shared. They are maps for all who need them to travel for food, for shelter or, like him, for business. And they are sung, because singing is the most effective way to memorise great swathes of data.

    The Visitors, p33

    The use of modern expressions by the men also helps to bring us into our own time, with an understanding that these men represent a spectrum of life experiences and attitudes – much like today’s representatives in our modern parliaments.

    There is a telling moment when the men are faced with the idea that perhaps, this time, the strangers won’t leave, and a great deal of irony as well-worn European-centrist ideas about ‘barbarism’, ‘a dying race’, ‘thieves’ ‘superior weapons’ and ‘capable of learning’ are turned on their head.

    This book invites us to ask those ‘what if?’ questions: what if the First Nations peoples of Sydney had attacked in a concerted effort to rid their lands of these foreigners? What if the British had been able to listen and learn from the original inhabitants of the continent? What if the diseases brought by those ships had not wreaked such a terrible toll? So many things we can never know, but in the asking of the questions, there is learning to be had.

    In a profound way, one of the men, Gary, sums up what was important for those Elders and still remains important today:

    Just because they break lore, doesn’t mean we should. Then they’ve won, in a way, before even one spear has been thrown. I think we need to be good ancestors.What are the stories a good ancestor needs to create, to leave behind? Do we want our descendants to look behind them and see that we have failed in our duty, that we succumbed to the lowest denominator? Or do we want them to be proud of us and the stance we took?…I’m voting to let them land and that we do what we always do: we follow protocol to the letter. That means when they step on country, we welcome them and wish them safe passage.

    The Visitors p222-223

    If only those ‘visitors’ could have been so generous and gracious in their response.

    The Visitors is published by Fourth Estate in August 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    From stormy to calm: 4 new picture books for frazzled kids (and parents)

    In what is perhaps a response to the alarming rise of diagnosed anxiety conditions in young children, here are four new picture books to assist parents and kids find moments of calm and peace.

    Two are especially aimed at soothing bedtime dramas and creating a quiet space conducive to sleep.

    From ABC Kids and HarperCollins, these sweet little books are all about sleep.

    Tjitji Lullaby, by Michael Ross and Zaachariaha Fielding, brings to a board book the lyrics and illustrations of the lullaby story, set in Central Australia. Meaning ‘child’ in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) languages, in Tjitji we have a mother kangaroo guiding her joey (baby kangaroo) to sleep – ‘sleep is a present after a day that was gorgeous.’
    Here is the lullaby as seen on ABC TV. Lovely, isn’t it? And so simple – a perfect addition to parents’ repertoire of lullabies. The board book format is robust enough to withstand chewing, sticky fingers, and anything else a baby can throw at it.

    The second sleep-themed book is by Byll & Beth Stephen: the Teeny Tiny Stevies, back again with their wry humour and charm, hitting the mark for sleep-deprived parents. In Sleep Through the Night, we explore the world of sleep – how other creatures (like dolphins, albatross, walruses, bats…) sleep in different ways – but always coming back to what we humans need. There is a touch of wishful thinking which adds to the humour:

    Some species can sleep standing up straight,
    but human beings need to be in a lying-down shape.
    Some species can sleep
    with their eyes open,
    but most human beings
    need to close them.

    The illustrations by Simon Howe are just gorgeous and add to the fantastical feel of this sleepy world: it’s a sweetly funny hymn to a good night’s sleep.

    Now that sleep has been dealt with, how about those stormy feelings? The next two new releases are here to help.

    The new Play School ‘Mindfully Me’ series helps to soothe troubled emotions in the very young, by exploring how friends – and taking a moment to Breathe In and Out – can make things right again. Written by Jan Stradling and illustrated by Jedda Robaard, we see Big Ted trying to deal with troublesome emotions. His friends come to visit, but Big Ted just doesn’t feel like playing. One by one, Jemima, Little Ted, Kiya and Humpty show Big Ted the different ways they calm their own stormy feelings. The beloved Play School characters will be instantly recognisable for small Aussie kids and the book uses simple text and gentle pictures to tell the story of how Big Ted learns to relax and enjoy his day.

    Finally, we come to Sarah Ayoub’s new picture book, Nice and Slow. It’s all about how a family rediscovers the joys of a slow day:

    Let’s take today nice and slow,
    have a break from the go-go-go.
    Spend some extra time in bed,
    release the worries in our head.
    Let’s make our breakfast a special treat,
    banana pancakes cannot be beat!

    Hopefully most parents can remember those days as children, in school holidays or on a weekend, when we didn’t have ‘be somewhere’ or ‘do something’ – school, dance class, Saturday sport, music lesson. When we could hang about in our PJs until lunch, chatting to our family, playing a card game or riding our bike, making something or baking a cake. Just – because. That’s what this book is about. Recapturing that wonderful sense of freedom, connection and quietness, for ourselves and our younger generation. The illustrations by Mimi Purnell show a family doing just that. Nothing special or out of the ordinary: but actually, in contrast to the sometimes-frenetic pace of life, quite extraordinary.

    So, four picture books to suit youngsters from babies to early primary age. And three of them just in time for Christmas – published by HarperCollins in late November 2022. Breathe In and Out will be released in January 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for copies to read and review.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    ‘Mothball’ turns twenty! ‘Diary of a Rescued Wombat’ by Jackie French & Bruce Whatley

    Australian children born in the past twenty years (and their parents) will be very familiar with the series of Wombat books, written by Jackie French and beautifully illustrated by Bruce Whately.

    They are all about the simple life and loves of Mothball; a round, cuddly wombat who loves sleeping, digging, eating grass and carrots (not necessarily in that order.)

    These hugely popular picture books introduce youngsters to one of Australia’s most loved marsupials. The text and story lines invite recognition, while the illustrations evoke an emotional response despite the books’ apparent simplicity.

    The latest book tells the story of how Mothball first came into Jackie French’s life (and books.) She was a ‘rescued’ wombat, one of many native animals given a second chance at life after a disaster kills the parent. Sometimes that is bushfire, frequently it is roadkill. Many Australians volunteer with WIRES or other animal rescue services to raise and nurture orphaned young until they are independent. Here’s a short video from the ABC, showing volunteers doing their thing.

    So, Mothball was a rescue wombat before she became a literary star!

    Fans of the Wombat series will love hearing Mothball’s ‘back story’; the book is also a perfect way to introduce her to new readers. It is, as well, a beautiful tribute to those many volunteers who give so much to preserve Australia’s unique fauna.

    Diary of a Rescued Wombat: The Untold Story is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in
    November 2022.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Books and reading

    Friendships and memory: ‘True Friends’ by Patti Miller

    Upon opening Australian author Patti Miller’s latest book, I immediately began thinking about my own friends, past and present. I have been fortunate to have experienced sustained, deep, nurturing friendships throughout my life, but of course there have been some that have fallen away as the years went on – mostly gradually through changed life circumstances, but one or two abruptly and somewhat painfully.

    True Friends is an exploration of friendship but also of memory: when considering the people and events in our past, what Patti Miller calls the ‘questionable vault of memory’ will inevitably get things wrong, or in a muddled order. Tightly linked with memories are sounds, smells, tastes, places, feelings; even if we get some facts wrong, these things bind the event or moment to the memory and help to bring it alive once again.

    First there is the original experience, but even at that stage, before interpretation or memory, so much is unobserved, unrecorded. A few moments of colour and sound are partially registered and then all that is left are the neurotransmitters floating from axon to dendrite, hopefully creating a neural pathway. The lovely, faulty, biochemical science of friendship.

    True Friends p167

    She describes the epic poem Gilgamesh, written on clay tablets up to two thousand years before Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey were written, as the first story – and it is, essentially, all about friendship. The need for connection, contact and understanding with another is a fundamental trait from the deep past of humanity right through to modern times. Thinking about this, I wondered why there have not been many more non-fiction books on the topic of friends.

    This book is about friendships generally, and the author’s friendships specifically, but it is told through the framing device of one friendship in particular which did not last, and which ended in a way that left her feeling bewildered and hurt. She describes the period of time during which she struggled to recognise the end of the relationship as ‘the long bewilderment.’

    I’m certain that many reading this book will recognise the pain of this.

    Overall, though, the book is a hymn to friends and the richness they add to our lives, in all their complexities and challenges:

    For me, loving friendship is not a fusion with another, but it is a rickety swing bridge to a separate being, and even though I know it can fall away in to the abyss, the urge to step onto it is always there…when I am with a friend, I am woven into the human mystery.

    True Friends p279

    I have enjoyed every book by Patti Miller that I have read, and this one is no exception. It is a book to savour, one that made me laugh and sigh in recognition, and that I continued to think about long after I’d closed the cover.

    True Friends is published by University of Queensland Press in 2022.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    “Gus and the Starlight’ by Victoria Carless

    It’s rare for a novel aimed at middle grade readers to deal openly with issues of family instability and broken or difficult parental relationships. Aussie author Victoria Carless has achieved this, while imbuing her story with a sense of hope (and a smidgen of the supernatural).

    Gus is twelve. At the novel’s opening she is in a car with her mum, older sister Alice and little brother Artie. They are driving through the day and night – actually, several days and nights – heading north to Queensland. Her mother, Delphine, is escaping another difficult boyfriend, looking for a fresh start with her kids, somewhere where Troy won’t find them. Equally importantly, she wants to find a place to live where the locals won’t know about her work as a spiritual medium, which she’s keen to leave behind because of all the sadness it brings.

    So, not entirely a ‘regular’ family then, especially as it becomes clear that the girls of the family tend to inherit ‘the gift’ (connecting with the dead) at puberty. Will the gift – or curse, depending on your viewpoint – manifest itself in Gus and her sister?

    The family lands in the small township of Calvary, surrounded by sugarcane fields, where Delphine plans to restore and run the long-neglected drive-in cinema, the Starlight.

    Gus has learnt long ago not to put down roots, make friends, or get used to the places that her family stay in, because it’s too painful when the inevitable happens and they have to leave. Despite herself though, she becomes fascinated by the workings of the old-fashioned film projection equipment and learns to operate it, with the help of Henry, who may or may not be a ghost.

    The descriptions of the drive-in and the surrounding Queensland countryside are vivid and will resonate with anyone who remembers drive-ins of yesteryear, or who has driven through such semi-tropical parts of Australia. The novel is, in a way, a homage to some of the terrific films of the 1980’s and 90’s, such as ET, Strictly Ballroom, Ghostbusters, and The Princess Bride. Each film has something to say to Gus and to the locals, who eventually flock back to the drive-in.

    Their landlady, Deidre, proves to be problematic, but by the time of the showdown, Gus and her family have developed a degree of self awareness and confidence and prove to be more than a match for their bullying landlady.

    Gus and the Starlight is part coming-of-age story, part magical realism, and all heart.
    It was published by HarperCollins Children’s books in May 2022.
    My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

  • Books and reading,  History

    ‘The Brightest Star’ by Emma Harcourt

    Recently I have noticed a heartening bounty of books being published that feature women striving and achieving in areas traditionally the preserve of men. It’s a timely redress of a centuries-long imbalance. The Brightest Star is a terrific example.

    Set in Renaissance Florence, it tells the story of Luna, a child born under a full moon and in the eyes of many, doubly cursed, as she was born with a crippled foot and her mother died shortly afterwards.

    Luna is raised by her father Vincenzio (a prosperous wool merchant with an appetite for learning, particularly in the burgeoning field of astronomy), her stepmother and two half-siblings. She has a happy childhood, despite her disability, as she has a quick, intelligent mind and a love for learning, which her father indulges – until Luna grows ‘too old’ for such interests, which are seen by most as inappropriate for a young women.

    To make matters worse, Florence has fallen under the spell of the fanatical preacher Friar Girolama Savonarola, who rails against all earthly pleasures and any view he regards as heresy. The powerful Medici family, who Luna’s father secretly supports, have been banished from the city. These are dangerous times for anyone who questions accepted orthodoxies or who longs for a different life than that set out by church, family and society.

    The reader is plunged into the world of Renaissance Florence: the petty concerns of society are contrasted with ground-breaking developments in science, mathematics, philosophy and the arts; the blossoming of intellectual thought collides with the fundamentalism of Savonarola. Luna’s interests and abilities lead her into conflict with the norms and expectations of her society, just as her father’s political views result in danger for the entire family.

    The hold of the Friar over the great and good of the city has echoes of modern so-called ‘leaders’ whose followers similarly suspend rational or independent thought and swallow all they are told, no matter how improbable or dangerous the lies become:

    It was very clever the way the preacher stood in the halo of luminosity, just as he spoke of the divine light the Lord had sent to him. All around, people murmured in agreement with his words and Vincenzio was astounded. Was he the only sane man to hear the brittleness in the hollow-cheeked voice? How could Savonarola speak of a new era of universal peace whilst ransacking the homes of good citizens and banishing others? Discord was growing and word had travelled that Florence was becoming unstable, yet the people believed the preacher’s promise of riches, glory and power.

    The Brightest Star p138-139

    Sound familiar?

    Reading this book, I had a sense of the ebb and flow of human knowledge; the theories of the ancient Greeks more advanced than some of the ideas of mediaeval Europe; some of the ingrained assumptions about women almost as familiar today as they were over six hundred years ago. Characters from history appear in the novel’s pages, inviting recognition: Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Machiavelli and Copernicus, to name a few.

    The Brightest Star is a welcome addition to the growing number of historical novels in which women’s aspirations and abilities are centre-stage, in settings where such things could be dangerous.

    The Brightest Star is published by HarperCollins in July 2022. My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Making history: ‘The Story of Us’ by Michael Wagner & Beck Feiner

    This new book for kids is set to warm every family historian’s heart (and I am sure, their children’s). It’s designed to encourage kids to talk to various members of their family: mum, dad, grandparents, cousins, aunties, siblings, and anyone else considered ‘family’. Each double page spread offers an idea for discussion and a way to record the stories that make up the rich tapestry that is a family’s history.

    During the 2021 long winter Covid lockdown in my area, I have found solace and interest in a deep dive into family history, investigating hitherto unexplored parts of my family tree and finding the stories of the people there. It is, for me, always the stories behind the facts, dates and names, that turn a basic family tree into a world peopled by families, with all their ups and downs. Stories are what make family history so engrossing.

    The Story of Us is a wonderful way to introduce this idea to children, and to create a beautiful keepsake that family members can look through in years to come.

    The questions up for discussion include topics like: One of my earliest memories… One of the strangest things that ever happened to me… The best decision I ever made… One of the most precious things I own… My favourite and least favourite parts of school were…

    Each topic has illustrations that invite inclusion and diversity, with bold, colourful block prints by Beck Feiner, plus plenty of space for various family members’ comments and memories to be recorded.

    This book is sure to be a favourite way for families to explore ideas and memories and while they are at it, to write their own history.

    The Story of Us is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in September 2021.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.