The Reckoning: How #MeToo is Changing Australia – Jess Hill

Quarterly Essay #84

Jess Hill’s See What You Made Me Do is one of the best books I’ve ever read about domestic abuse. I was keen to see how she’d tackle #MeToo and have been impatiently waiting for my library’s copies to arrive so I could dive in. 

This essay traces #MeToo from its origins (before it became a hashtag), with a particular focus on how it has played out across Australia’s cultural landscape since 2017. There are examples from the media, education, politics and the legal system, all of which I’d followed in real time but which felt more overwhelming when they were explored one after the other. I don’t know that Australia’s celebrated mateship has ever felt so toxic to me.

There have been battles undertaken in courts, the media and public opinion. We’ve learned just how brutal Australia’s defamation laws are. There are powerful people abusing their power and systems supporting them in their endeavours.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been positives, like #LetHerSpeak. Conversations have taken place that were once considered taboo and there are more people visibly working towards implementing changes to legislation, processes and policies. There are survivors turned advocates who are transforming the way we think about consent and grooming, and their voices have led to others finding their own. Good things are happening.

So, why do I still feel so angry having read this essay? 

Maybe it’s about reporting a sexual assault to the police in 2017 and getting my hopes up about the positive impact #MeToo would have on the way my report was treated. Then being told that there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges and subsequently learning that the investigation consisted solely of the detective phoning my psychologist to ask if I had a mental illness that would cause me to fabricate the sexual assault.

Maybe it’s about something a detective said to me a few months ago when they were trying their darnedest to dissuade me from formally reporting a series of sexual assaults (different detective, different perpetrator). No one ever gets a good outcome, they told me. Even if there is a conviction, and that’s a big if, it’s never going to be enough and what you’d have to go through to get it wouldn’t be worth it.

They talked about the things I would have seen in media (like some of the cases I read about here) and noted that they are the minority, and that I shouldn’t align my expectations with those outcomes. Even when someone reports a rape the same day and there’s physical evidence and CCTV footage, it’s almost impossible to get a conviction.They said they were telling me all of this to help me.

This is the same man who helpfully told me that my having a mental illness would be used against me because it would speak to both my credibility and character. ‘You mean the PTSD I have as a result of the sexual assaults I’d be reporting?’ The very same. Huh.

As I read this essay I wondered if the detective was right, that there’s no point in reporting. But you know what? It’s attitudes like this that contribute to silence, the antithesis of #MeToo. 

[And besides, this is the same police force whose representatives roll their eyes and pull faces at women who are reporting AVO breaches, who say that behaviour that clearly constitute breaches (written in black and white on the AVO) are in fact not breaches at all. Who write down what you say and then neglect to put it in their system so there’s no record you ever made a report. Who you have to insist write it down in the first place and give you an event number because, even though they think you’re overreacting, they don’t understand what this person’s capable of or how they may escalate.]

I’m mad because I read something like this essay and I get hopeful, but then think about all of the peoples’ experiences it doesn’t encapsulate because only some voices are heard. I want change for all of us, not just the lucky few who, let’s face it, probably shouldn’t be called lucky at all. Because they experienced what they did in the first place. Because even if they did get an outcome that looks like a win, it came at a great cost. Because being an advocate continues to cost.

In lesser hands, this essay could have been an absolute mess, but it’s not. At all. It is well written and clearly involved extensive research but, to be honest, I’d expect nothing less from Jess’ work.

It was a compulsive read. I gained even more respect and admiration for the survivors who tell their story publicly. The powers that be, political and otherwise, lost what little faith I still had in them, not that there was much to lose. I want everyone to read this essay and I want to read it again to pick up on anything I missed when I rushed through it the first time.

So, where do I currently stand on #MeToo? Despite my own experiences, I’m stubbornly hopeful. The systems still fail survivors but more and more of us are demanding change, and we’re done being silenced.

Content warnings include death by suicide (including the method used), domestic abuse, mental health and sexual assault.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In 2021, Australia saw rage and revelation, as #MeToo powered an insurgency against sexism and sexual violence. From once isolated survivors to political staffers, women everywhere were refusing to keep men’s secrets. 

In this electrifying essay, Jess Hill traces the conditions that gave birth to #MeToo and tells the stories of women who – often at great personal cost – found themselves at the centre of this movement. Hill exposes the networks of backlash against them – in government, media, schools, and in our national psyche. This is a powerful essay about shame, secrecy and, most of all, a revolutionary movement for accountability.

Windswept & Interesting – Billy Connolly

I grew up watching Billy, first on VHS and then on DVD. I laughed along before I was even old enough to understand what was so funny. I was in the audience for three of his concerts, one of which was during his final tour of Australia. I met him twice and have the photos to prove it, including the one where my camera unexpectedly decided it needed a flash. Billy’s surprised expression is just as awesome as you’d expect. I even managed to get some Billy autographs and a Billy hug.

I’ve laughed so much my body has gotten confused and morphed into ugly crying. I’ve learned to be wary of beige people and to appreciate the freedom of naked dancing (vicariously, not personally). I’ve identified as windswept and interesting for as long as I can remember.

Of course I was going to read this book, and preorder a signed copy. 

It was just as wonderful as I’d hoped. You can hear Billy in your head as you read his story. I’m going to hear him in my head for real when I listen to the audiobook version. Naturally I needed a copy in every format I could find but the audiobook is going to be an absolute treat; I can’t wait to hear his laughter.

You’ll learn “wee interesting things” about Billy here, some you’ll already know as if it’s your own autobiography, but you won’t care because it’s Billy. The new things may build on things you already knew; they’ll give you an even greater appreciation of the man he is and the things he’s overcome in order to delight you with his worldview.

I highlighted too many quotes to share with you here but I need you to read some of them.

On fashion: 

I once wore a pair of black patent brogues with furry black and white spotted panels on a plane. A flight attendant said, ‘I like your shoes.’ I said, ‘Thanks – I had them made abroad. The shoemaker had a big box of Dalmatian puppies, and you could pick your own …’ It was the only time in my life I was smacked by a flight crew member. 

On weight: 

I can’t control my weight and eat the things I like, so I eat the things I like.

On libraries: 

Everything I’ve achieved in my life has been because of the library. 

On Australian wildlife: 

I’m warning you. Australia is a dangerous place! Australians must be the bravest buggers on the face of the earth. Imminent danger every fucking day. 

On snorkelling: 

I was a bit nervous because I’d just seen Jaws for the first time – you know that movie about a shark that plays the cello? It put me off being in the sea. Every time I put my head underwater, I heard, ’dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun …’

On scuba diving: 

My favourite underwater trick is to get my buoyancy bang on and stand still vertically. Just stand there looking bored when people swim past. Nod to them as if you’re waiting at a bus stop. Look at your watch. You get the most extraordinary looks from people. 

This is the Billy you already know and love, but in book form. If anything, it made me love him more. 

‘I’m William F. B. Connolly the Third. Here’s some parting advice for you: “Lie on your back and you won’t squash your nose.”’

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In his first full-length autobiography, comedy legend and national treasure Billy Connolly reveals the truth behind his windswept and interesting life.

Born in a tenement flat in Glasgow in 1942, orphaned by the age of 4, and a survivor of appalling abuse at the hands of his own family, Billy’s life is a remarkable story of success against all the odds.

Billy found his escape first as an apprentice welder in the shipyards of the River Clyde. Later he became a folk musician – a ‘rambling man’ – with a genuine talent for playing the banjo. But it was his ability to spin stories, tell jokes and hold an audience in the palm of his hand that truly set him apart. 

As a young comedian Billy broke all the rules. He was fearless and outspoken – willing to call out hypocrisy wherever he saw it. But his stand-up was full of warmth, humility and silliness too. His startling, hairy ‘glam-rock’ stage appearance – wearing leotards, scissor suits and banana boots – only added to his appeal.

It was an appearance on Michael Parkinson’s chat show in 1975 – and one outrageous story in particular – that catapulted Billy from cult hero to national star. TV shows, documentaries, international fame and award-winning Hollywood movies followed. Billy’s pitch-perfect stand-up comedy kept coming too – for over 50 years, in fact – until a double diagnosis of cancer and Parkinson’s Disease brought his remarkable live performances to an end. Since then he has continued making TV shows, creating extraordinary drawings … and writing.

Windswept and Interesting is Billy’s story in his own words. It is joyfully funny – stuffed full of hard-earned wisdom as well as countless digressions on fishing, farting and the joys of dancing naked. It is an unforgettable, life-affirming story of a true comedy legend.

Wayward Children #7: Where the Drowned Girls Go – Seanan McGuire

Illustrations – Rovina Cai

That strange noise you’re hearing? That’s what a contented sigh mixed with an undercurrent of panic sounds like. It’s January so that means I’ve been able to hang out with some Wayward Children, some I already knew and others I’ve just met. Also, it’s January so I now have to wait until the calendar winds its way through all of the other months and says ‘January’ again before I’m allowed to go on my next quest. Yeah, I know. 

No solicitation. No visitors.
No quests. 

In this not-a-quest, we follow Cora, who we already know and love. Cora, who travelled to the Trenches and has quite possibly the best hair ever as a result, broke my heart all over again in this novella. Haunted by her time in the Moors, Cora comes to the very logical but devastating conclusion that if she can only find a way to forget, she will be safe from the Drowned Gods. 

And everyone knew that things from the other side of the door could absolutely leak through into this reality. 

Cora’s decision takes her away from my beloved Eleanor to the Whitethorn Institute, a place where care is weaponised. There we meet more Waywards, their experience of reentry into this world nothing like those we’ve seen so far. I spent much of this book feeling sad and angry and powerless, but I know Waywards and they’re a plucky bunch so hope is never too far away, even when the circumstances look, sound and, dare I say, taste dire.

I love every world I’ve visited so far and every one I’ve heard about in passing. There’s always a part of me, though, that hopes this will be the story of my door, that when I read it I’ll recognise its shape and it will finally open to me. I already know I’m sure, even if my world eventually spits me back out into this one. I’m going to keep believing and it will find me. 

The closest I’ve come to finding my door came in this book, explored in only four sentences. The never ending Halloween of Emily’s world sounded right up my alley and I’m hoping to get to explore it further in a future book.

As always, I’m obsessed with Rovina Cai’s illustrations. I’m including two of the ones from this novella here so you can drool over them as well and anticipate the awesomeness of this read if you haven’t been there, done that yet. 

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While I’m still patiently waiting for the time when Seanan is sure enough to share Kade’s story with us, I’m also still hoping to visit Eleanor’s world, as well as those of the nameless girl and one of the matrons. 

“The doors never completely leave us.” 

Content warnings include bullying, domestic abuse, fat shaming and a suicide attempt.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Welcome to the Whitethorn Institute. The first step is always admitting you need help, and you’ve already taken that step by requesting a transfer into our company.

There is another school for children who fall through doors and fall back out again.

It isn’t as friendly as Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

And it isn’t as safe.

When Eleanor West decided to open her school, her sanctuary, her Home for Wayward Children, she knew from the beginning that there would be children she couldn’t save; when Cora decides she needs a different direction, a different fate, a different prophecy, Miss West reluctantly agrees to transfer her to the other school, where things are run very differently by Whitethorn, the Headmaster.

She will soon discover that not all doors are welcoming …

Square3 – Mira Grant

One moment, nature had laws and generally followed them, unenforced and unpoliced. One moment, everything was normal. The next, physics and mathematics were negotiable things, and the supposed laws that had always governed biology were shattered beyond all repair.

Seventeen year old Katharine and her fourteen year old sister, Susan, are almost close enough to one another when the incursion happens. Almost.

Now an adult, Susan works in “rift physics”, the world she knew as a child changed in ways her and other scientists are still trying to come to grips with. Katharine, meanwhile, is on the other side of the rift. Susan doesn’t even know if her sister is still alive. That side of the rift is where the monsters came from, after all.

“Sometimes you have to be inside a thing to understand it”

I preordered this book in May 2021 and may have accidentally burned the cover image into my brain since then. It had me expecting more monsters per page than I actually encountered but the monsters I met were well worth the anticipation. 

I loved Katharine and Susan and the ways they looked after one another as kids. I loved the science and how easily I believed all of this was not only possible but potentially imminent. 

Just in case this novella winds up in the non fiction section, it’s been really nice knowing you. No matter which side of the rift I end up on, it’s practically a certainty that I’m a goner. Maybe I’ll be too mesmerised by the impossible colours to notice the monsters. Maybe I’ll be too curious about the possibilities of the other side of the rift. Maybe I’ll irritate the wrong kid. 

“Should I be alarmed?”

”It won’t change anything if you are, so I wouldn’t bother wasting the time if I were you.”

Bonus points for the delightfully appropriate chapter numbering and Susan’s Project title. 

Now, if someone would please commission a companion novella written from Katharine’s point of view or a sequel, I’d be a really happy soon to be squished, melted or otherwise mangled rift casualty. And if that could happen some time in the next, oh, 130 days, that’d be awesome.

Heads up: the incursion happens on 16 May 2022. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

“This is a safety light!”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

We think we understand the laws of physics. We think reality is an immutable monolith, consistent from one end of the universe to the next. We think the square/cube law has actual relevance.

We think a lot of things. It was perhaps inevitable that some of them would turn out to be wrong. 

When the great incursion occurred, no one was prepared.  How could they have been?  Of all the things physicists had predicted, “the fabric of reality might rip open and giant monsters could come pouring through” had not made the list. But somehow, on a fine morning in May, that was precisely what happened.

For sisters Susan and Katharine Black, the day of the incursion was the day they lost everything. Their home, their parents, their sense of normalcy … and each other, because when the rift opened, Susan was on one side and Katharine was on the other, and each sister was stranded in a separate form of reality. For Susan, it was science and study and the struggle to solve the mystery of the altered physics inside the zones transformed by the incursion. For Katharine, it was monsters and mayhem and the fight to stay alive in a world unlike the world of her birth.

The world has changed. The laws of physics have changed. The girls have changed. And the one universal truth of all states of changed matter is that nothing can be completely restored to what it was originally, no matter how much you might wish it could be.

Nothing goes back.

House of Hollow – Krystal Sutherland

Three little girls fell through a crack in the world. 

When Iris Hollow was seven, she and her two older sisters, Grey and Vivi, were missing for a month. When they returned, they couldn’t remember where they’d been or what happened to them. Now, a decade later, the past is intruding on their present and their lives will never be the same. 

Dark, dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters. 

I’ve been obsessed with this cover for months and now I’m equally obsessed with the Hollow sisters. This story is dark but somehow still gorgeous. I both loved and was wary of the intense bond between these sisters. 

It was a compulsive read and the imagery was almost tangible. I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved that a book didn’t come with Smell-O-Pages.

I absolutely adored this book and want to gush about each of the sisters, their history, the imagery, the horror and the beauty. However, this is one of those books where the less you know going in the better. 

Get to know the Hollows and let their world unfurl around you. Just be prepared for them to get under your skin, whichever way you choose to interpret that. 

I am the thing in the dark.” 

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide (including method used), self harm and sexual assault. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with some scenes.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange.

Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful and inexplicably dangerous. 

Now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school – something her two famously glamorous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing, leaving behind only bizarre clues, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her. As they brush against the supernatural, they realise that the story they’ve been told about their past is unravelling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home.

Krystal Sutherland’s latest novel is a dark and twisty modern-day fairytale that expertly melds the fantastical with the real as the Hollow sisters discover just how much horror can lie beneath the surface. 

The Phantom of the Opera – Cavan Scott (Adapter)

Illustrations – José María Beroy

This graphic novel is an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, itself based on Gaston Leroux’s novel. While I would have loved to have been able to indulge in a scene by scene replication of the entire musical, that would have been a much larger volume. The scenes that were adapted still clearly told the story that I know so well, and I sang along (in my head, of course, so I didn’t frighten the neighbours) with all of the song excerpts. 

The illustrations were gorgeous, evoking the feel of the scenes, from the bright, colourful masquerade to the leaching of colour when the Phantom appears in Christine’s mirror. 

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I spent much of the 90’s obsessed with this musical, having travelled to Melbourne for the best school excursion ever. I’d never imagined that a musical could be so immersive; we gasped and pointed each time we saw the Phantom appear off stage and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I really thought that chandelier was going to hurt someone. 

It was even more exhilarating the second time I witnessed the chandelier fall, in Sydney many years later, as our seats were directly beneath its arc. I also got to watch the conductor do their thing and all of the musicians warming up prior to the performance. It was like being able to sneak a peek behind the scenes and it was breathtaking.

My Nan and I listened to the double cassette tape (back in the 90’s here) so many times I’m surprised we didn’t destroy it; we’d get up and dance, with much abandon but little rhythm, around the room each time a new song began. We became so familiar with the entire musical that we’d recite it to each other as it was playing.

While not many of my childhood belongings followed me into adulthood, I still have two Phantom keyrings, the coffee mug where the Phantom’s face glows when you add hot water (it still works!) and the program I bought in Melbourne in the 90’s. I also have all of the piano sheet music and yes, I do intend to finally get around to mastering at least one of the songs one day.

I’m always going to be biased where the Phantom is concerned but I absolutely adored this adaptation. It made me wish I could walk out the door and straight into a performance of the musical. Since that’s not currently possible, I’m going to do the next best thing … reread this graphic novel and indulge in some nostalgia.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Comics for the opportunity to fall in love with this graphic novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the original libretto of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world-famous, multi-award-winning musical that has been playing continuously around the world for over 33 years comes this fully authorised graphic novel adaptation.

In 1881 the cast and crew of a new production, Hannibal, are terrorised by the Phantom of the Opera, a mysterious, hideously disfigured man who lives beneath the Paris Opera House. Hopelessly in love and obsessed with one of the chorus singers, the Phantom will stop at nothing to make her the star of the show, even if that means murder.

Mort the Meek #2: Mort the Meek and the Monstrous Quest – Rachel Delahaye

Illustrations – George Ermos

You survived your first trip to Brutalia, an island that’s just as brutal as its name advertises. There are Grot Bears, who are as likely to squeeze you to death as they are to rip you to shreds. There are hungry ravens, who are always on the lookout for some tasty eyeballs. There’s the stench. And if all of that isn’t punishment enough for you, make sure you stick around for Punishment of the Day. 

Now that you’ve been reminded of what a terrible place Brutalia is, why would you voluntarily return? 

Is it because of Mort, the loveable pacifist who is so good at recruitment that the Pacifist Society of Brutalia has recently increased its membership by 50%? (There are now 1.5 members.)

Is it your fascination with the Queen’s fashion sense? Tarantula leg eyelashes are not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure.

Is it the promise of a gigantic sea monster? It’s the sea monster, isn’t it.

Mort has an excuse to escape the confines of his horrid island home so it’s no surprise that he takes it. It’s time to set sail for the Salty Sea. We’re going on a treasure hunt. 

Bonus points for Mort if he finds his father and siblings, Gosh and Gee, who have been missing at sea for two weeks.

I missed Ono, who I’d hoped would be joining Mort for this adventure. However, I quickly grew to love Punky, the daughter of a rock crusher who is as tough as nails. Like the ones that make up her face piercings. 

This is a “story riddled with suckers”, with so many whys it could rival a toddler on a good day. Oh, and it’s prodadly important to rememder that d’s and b’s are interchangeadle. 

Taking over from the chatty ravens who introduced each chapter of the first book are Larry and Bruce, lobsters who have somehow managed to avoid the dinner table thus far. I initially missed the ravens but Larry and Bruce are also entertaining, mishearing and misinterpreting all manner of topics. 

“Bored, bored, bored.”

“To pass the time, shall we have a go at some good insults?”

“Okay, I’ll start: chips.”

“What do you mean, chips?”

“Good in salt.”

“Forget it.” 

George Ermos’ illustrations once again highlight the danger and drudgery, as well as the humour and hope. Wait. Hope? Are you sure that belongs in this book?

I particularly loved the expressive lobsters and the fearsome sea monster.

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Does it sound like a threat if I say that if there’s not a third book in this series I will be having conversations with the Queen about a suitable Punishment of the Day? I must have spent too much time in Brutalia; I’m starting to sound like a local.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Stripes Publishing, an imprint of Little Tiger Group, for the opportunity to read this book.

P.S. Readers with emetophobia, beware. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Around the unfriendly, rocky island of Brutalia, the waves are awash with brave sea-farers, on a treasure hunt for their demanding queen. Among them is Mort, but rather than hunt for treasure, he’s more interested in looking for his family who are lost at sea. Unfortunately, his shipmate Punky has her eyes firmly on the prize.
But when the pair find the tentacle of a mythical sea creature, their adventure takes a dramatic turn. Is this the prize-winning treasure Punky and the queen seek? Or could it be a monstrous twist in Mort’s rescue mission?

The Beatryce Prophecy – Kate DiCamillo

Illustrations – Sophie Blackall

How to make me fall in love with your book in 5 easy steps

Step 1: Begin with a quote that makes me cheer on the girl before I’ve even met her. 

It is written in the Chronicles of Sorrowing that one day there will come a child who will unseat a king.

The prophecy states that this child will be a girl.

Because of this, the prophecy has long been ignored. 

Step 2: Make your main character someone who loves to read, who is imaginative and brave and resilient and adorable. 

“There are twenty-six letters in all,” she said. “You will learn each of them, and once you know them, you can mix them as you will, and then use them to form the words of the world and the things of the world. You can write of everything – what is and what was and what might yet be.” 

Step 3: Introduce me to characters who will live in my heart long after I finish reading. People like…

* A monk who sees beauty everywhere and whose words are true
* A boy with a brilliant memory who talks to bees
* A man who remembers how wonderful it is to laugh.

Step 4: Impart wisdom and, in doing so, make me highlight an absurd amount of sentences. 

He said, “The world is not always a kind place.”

“No,” she agreed.

“But there are sweet things to be had,” he said.

“Nothing is more terrifying to evil than joy.” 

She felt as though the darkness were trying to swallow her up.

She must not allow that to happen. She must stay herself. 

To be brave is to not turn away.

To be brave is to go forward.

To be brave is to love. 

Seemingly, the heart could hold an untold amount of things – letters and people and goats and bees.

Seemingly, there was no limit to what it could contain. 

We shall all, in the end,

be led to where we belong.

We shall all, in the end,

find our way home. 

Step 5: Include gorgeous illustrations.

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Bonus points if there’s a goat called Answelica who has attitude and a very hard head. 

“I do believe the best and wisest thing we can do is to follow the goat.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all – for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories – powerful tales – within the tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves – ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her – a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone – will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

Dragon Skin – Karen Foxlee

Ten year old Pip remembers the before time, the time before Matt moved into her home, the time before his “rumbling rock words” made her feel unsafe. 

Remember to disappear. Remember to stay quiet. Remember to not exist. 

She also remembers Mika (“Mick. Ahhh.”). He arrived at the end of Grade Three, two weeks after Matt moved in. Mika lived with Mrs Jarvinen, his great-grandmother. Pip shared her places with him. 

Mika believed in almost everything! And aliens were his favourite. 

Now Mika is gone and Pip’s mother is a shell of her former self, controlled by Matt and his “weather patterns”, so when Pip finds a dragon that’s barely clinging to life, she knows she needs to look after him all by herself. 

If she told her mum, then her mum would tell Matt and Matt owned everything. Her mother had to tell him everything because he was the king of knowing everything. 

Pip wants to protect Little Fella and make sure he survives. But as Little Fella begins to heal, changes are also taking place within Pip. 

That’s what happened with dragons. You started to believe stuff. 

I loved that this book was set in Australia. There was even some classic Aussie terminology: Pip ‘wags’ school, Archie’s Mum works at the ‘tuckshop’. It delighted me no end when Pip fed Little Fella Weet-Bix, although he did love spaghetti as well.

This book introduced me to a brand new swear adjacent word, ‘Fudge-nuggets’. It was also a surprisingly sensitive exploration of the way a child experiences domestic abuse. Matt is a textbook coercive controller and it made me so sad seeing Pip having to make herself smaller inside her previously safe home. I loved her for her courage and her ability to remain open with her friends despite what she’s experiencing at home.

While the reader is under no illusion about how scary Pip’s home life is, I felt the level of detail provided was age appropriate. Young readers who have experienced domestic abuse will likely see themselves in the way Pip describes her home life and will hopefully see that they’re not alone and that help is available. 

He was dangerous. Dangerous like water. He could seem calm and glassy on top but underneath he was all dark silt and weed. 

We have to find out how to make him happy. We have to solve the mystery of how to keep him happy. We have to make everything perfect. When everything is perfect, he’s happy. 

Pip hated that worse than any of it. Worse than the shouting, the rumbling rock words, the blaring television hiding the meanness. She hated the next day cover-ups. 

Although Pip’s mother doesn’t play a huge role in this book, I appreciated being able to witness her own changes, from being entirely controlled by Matt to the stages of readiness she needed to go through in order to leave her abusive relationship. The fact that this part of the story was told through the topics Pip’s mother searches on her phone showed this progression in a way that highlighted to me how difficult even contemplating leaving can be.

There was potential for an ugly cry, which I cleverly averted by stopping my reading binge abruptly with about ten pages to go. I finished the book the next day, reading a page at a time to save on tissues. 

Love. That’s what you needed mostly, to save things. And Weet-Bix. And spaghetti. 

Content warnings include domestic abuse and grief. Readers with emetophobia may have trouble with this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How to save a dragon:
1) Assemble equipment. Water, Weet-Bix, sugar, syringe, sticky tape, scissors.
2) Believe in everything.

Pip never wants to go home. She likes to sit at the waterhole at dusk and remember Mika, her best friend. At home her mother’s not the same since her boyfriend moved in. They don’t laugh anymore and Pip has to go to bed early, turn off her light and pretend she doesn’t exist. When she finds a half-dead creature at the waterhole, everything changes. She knows she has to save this small dragon and return it to where it comes from. But how?

Worst Week Ever! #1: Monday – Eva Amores & Matt Cosgrove

Justin Chase is about to have a really bad week, starting at 5am. Who wants to be awake that early on a Monday? Not Justin, that’s for sure. Yesterday was a big enough day; his mother did marry a vampire after all.

Today is shaping up to be even more hectic. 

His mother and her new (possibly undead) husband are dropping Justin off at his father’s house on their way to their honeymoon. Justin’s father is on a new health kick (we’ll see how long that lasts) and is now only eating green things. That’s bad news for Justin, who can’t find any other colours in the fridge. His Nan lives with his father and you’re going to love her: she swears, crochets and drinks tea.

Justin’s cat, who is essentially a ball of furry attitude (cattitude?) is newly missing, presumably abducted by aliens. 

That kind of far-fetched, OUTLANDISH thing only really happens in PREPOSTEROUS kids’ books. 

You know, like this one.

And if that’s not enough, Justin’s being chauffeured to Day 1 of his brand new school in style. Sort of. His father drives an oversized toilet. 

’What the actual WHAT?!’ 

Besides scoring detention on his first day and having to endure Maths Monday, Justin also meets his archnemesis and makes a name for himself at school.

Kids who aren’t particularly squeamish (those with emetophobia may want to avoid this one) will love this book. Naturally, because this series was written during lockdown, toilet paper plays a fairly significant role (roll?) in this book. There are cringeworthy embarrassing moments, toilet humour and the promise of even more terrible and terribly funny things to come. Justin will be here all week!

The writing is fun but it’s the illustrations that really bring the horror story that is Justin’s Monday to life. 

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I loved the pages that the censors decided were too graphic to be seen, especially the one featuring the guinea pigs. 

Be on the lookout for The Pluminator. 

I’m most looking forward to getting to know Justin’s next door neighbour, Mia, whose own illustrations are not to be missed. I’m ready to call my favourite character of the series: Nan. She hasn’t had much page time yet but she’s got so much potential.

I’m keen to continue this series. Tuesday is school photo day and plenty can go wrong there, the kind of wrong that could easily haunt Justin into his adult life. It’s also the day of the Super Science Spectacular so I’m expecting some impressive explosive moments.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Have you ever had a bad week? Justin Chase sure has, and this is it!

His mum has just married a vampire. His dad is driving a giant toilet on wheels. His cat has probably been abducted by aliens. A psychotic bully is making his first day at a new school miserable. And right now, he’s hanging off the edge of a ten-metre-high diving tower in front of his entire class, wearing nothing but rapidly disappearing crocheted swimmers.

And it’s only Monday!