Consider Yourself Schooled

Teacher - One woman's struggle to keep the heart in teachingTeacher – One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching by Gabbie Stroud

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a teacher you will, at some point, recognise yourself in this book. I did and, while I am not a teacher, I work closely with students every day. If you are not a teacher, you will want to walk up to every teacher you know and THANK them for what they do every day. For how they care, for the time they sacrifice, for the absolute gut-wrenching crap they have to endure most of the time to make sure your children, OUR children, get the best education possible.
This is a harrowing read. No doubt. There are moments of emotional uplift, but mostly this is a very raw, very real account of how the joy of teaching, as a profession and a calling, is being constantly eroded and demeaned by powers who have no business dictating a letter, let alone dictating what the national curriculum should be. Gabbie Stroud’s voice is loud and clear. Teacher is a highly readable and extremely well-written memoir, and a searing indictment on our education system and its “standards”. Our education system is broken. This book won’t fix that, but Gabbie’s voice, the voice of so many educators out there, needs to be heard. By everyone. Read it, cry, then resolve to never let another child sit the NAPLAN and to tell your child’s teacher they are valued, that they MATTER. A heartbreaking call to arms. A must read for EVERY parent of school-aged children, and everyone else too. Highly recommended.

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A Sparkling Biography

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and DisasterThe Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This biography is as illuminating about the biographer as it is of her subject. Sarah Krasnostein lays herself bare many times in this fascinating account of the life (or lives) of Sandra Pankhurst. Sandra reveals little sections of her life story to Krasnostein, forcing her to piece together all the disparate parts, sometimes filling in the blanks with her best guess. As we travel the road of Sandra’s life with her biographer, we get a definite sense of a person who has undergone terrible trauma herself, and now helps other people deal with theirs, in various ways, as her job.
Sandra is the classic unreliable narrator, sometimes choosing not to include details which Krasnostein later uncovers. The fact that any of it leads to an immensely satisfying conclusion is testament to Krasnostein’s easy writing style and willingness to “go with it” when speaking with Sandra; and to Sandra Pankhurst’s dogged determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.
Drawn to this initially because of the professional cleaning aspect (Pankhurst cleans death scenes, crime scenes and hoarders’ houses for a living), I found myself staying because I cared about Sandra, AND because I felt connected to her biographer who, by her own admission, struggles with the task she has set herself in documenting Sandra’s life.
Sandra’s clients help Krasnostein turn a light on her own life and experiences and the book is the richer for it. This is biography at its finest, despite its flaws -and it has plenty.
I can ignore the chinks in its armour, though, because I found this story compelling. I hope lots of other people do too, because as a tale of triumph in the face of overwhelming odds, it is a testament.

A Goddess Indeed…

GoddessGoddess by Kelly Gardiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kelly Gardiner’s Goddess is an engaging version of the life of La Maupin, Julie d’Aubigny, in 17th Century France. Julie is beautiful, smart, witty and feisty. This fictional account of her last confession (and basically retelling of her life) grabs the reader’s attention right from the get-go.

“Don’t hover in the doorway like that. Come in or piss off – I don’t care either way. Who the hell are you?”

This is how Julie greets the priest confessor in the first lines of the novel – and it sets the tone for the rest of the book really well. It is clear that Julie does not suffer fools gladly and she has confidence to burn. The road Julie travelled to become the famed swashbuckling opera singer, La Maupin, is full of twists, turns, heartbreak and humour and I thought Gardiner nailed her tone throughout. Julie learns to adapt to her surroundings quickly and learns that her looks are to be her fortune and her curse very early on. Despite her strong persona, there is always the feeling that just under the surface she is very fragile and on a knife edge emotionally. It is a great depiction of an enigmatic historical figure.

It is clear that Kelly Gardiner did extensive research for this book- even down to which operatic works La Maupin performed and where she performed them. You can check out this blog to learn more about La Maupin’s life here. I started reading this book having catalogued it into our Senior Fiction collection at work, but now realise it is definitely for a young adult/adult audience! The language, whilst completely in context, is quite prolific and the relationships in the novel are most certainly for a more mature reader.

I found this a most enjoyable read – this one is definitely for the grown-ups and would suit those who like historical fiction with a bit of romance and adventure thrown in. I look forward to reading Kelly’s next project with avid interest.

A life-saving list

The Boy on the Wooden BoxThe Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an engaging and simply told tale of Leon’s years as a child of the Holocaust. One of the lucky 1200 Jews on Oskar Schindler’s legendary list, Leon’s life was one of hardship, loss and terrible personal suffering. To not only have survived, but gone on to emigrate to the US and build a new life, is amazing and inspiring.
It is clear right from the outset that Leon wants to share his story so the sins of the past will not be repeated. It is interesting to read his reaction when he boards a bus in the South during the 1960s. Moving to the back of the bus, as he has always done (because as Jews they were always crammed into the back of the bus), he is told not to do so because that is where the negroes belong. He recalls being confused and saddened that such discrimination could take place in a country that called itself the land of the free.
The photograph of the page of Schindler’s list that contains Leon’s name (his real name is Leib Lejzon)is poignant, as are the photos of members of his family that were lost to the Holocaust.
Whilst the subject matter is, obviously, confronting, the style is suitable for Year 5 and up and could be used as a companion to Morris Gleitzman’s Once.
Read it.

Anh Do really is The Happiest Refugee

The Happiest Refugee: A MemoirThe Happiest Refugee: A Memoir by Anh Do

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this biography/autobiography. I really hope the rumours I have heard about Anh not actually writing this book turn out to be false.

This is a story not just of Anh, but of his whole family and their triumph over very difficult circumstances. The writing style is VERY easy to read and I whipped through this in a day. The stories from Anh’s childhood are poignant and fascinating – there is much self-deprication here, and gratitude.

Certainly, as I read of the terrifying ordeal Anh’s family went through on the boat getting out of Vietnam, I realised just how lucky I was to be born here in Australia. The troubled relationship with his father and, later, the wonderful reconciliation were lovely to read.

Anh comes across as a loving son and brother, and his devotion to Suzie, his wife, is palpable. They truly seem like soulmates and it is clear by the end of the book that Anh is very happy with his lot here in Australia.

I thoroughly recommend this as a light but very interesting holiday read.