Matty has everything going for him - a loving family, great friends, great skills on the soccer field and pretty good grades at school - which should add up to a great life right? Well they did, until recently. When soccer season started this year Matty found he couldn't get himself onto the pitch without sweaty palms, a racing heartbeat and a mind that kept telling him he wasn't good enough. And he couldn't figure out why. Things got worse when he began dodging his friends calls and texts, missing birthday parties, not doing homework and avoiding school. He felt guilty, scared, angry and sad with himself, and all he really wanted to do was sleep the world away. But one morning his dad convinced him to go for a walk in the local national park where they came across an abandoned dog. Matty felt an instant connection to this small, frightened creature. After coaxing him into their car, taking him to the vet and eventually being allowed to adopt him and bring him home, 'Cliff' and Matty become inseparable. Cliff has 'good days and bad days', and as the dog begins to heal, Matty realises that he needs help to heal too. He summons up all his courage to eventually tell his dad that he thinks he might be depressed, to which his dad replies 'You've no idea how brave you're being by telling me that.' This is one of my favourite moments of the book. Kate Foster writes with such clarity, compassion and understanding about Matty's struggles. There is a beautiful empathy and strength that shines through in this story, and the relief Matty feels after he finally tells his closest friends about his depression is palpable. As is the surprise when he discovers that someone else his own age, whom he would never have suspected, is suffering from severe anxiety. This is my other favourite moment in the book as it is Matty's realisation that he is not alone.
Animals, especially dogs (sorry but I'm totally biased about this!) are the perfect listeners and companions for when we're not feeling great. They know when we need a snuggle and will goof around with us when we're happy. They are like mirrors into our souls, emotional soothsayers, and seem to have an innate understanding of exactly what we need at any given time. Cliff was Matty's ideal companion.
Kate's own experience with depression has no doubt given her an invaluable, first hand insight into this illness. Her writing is filled with emotion, and the story is meaningful and transparent without being patronising or reductive. This is an important, must have, highly recommended novel for upper primary and middle school.
Matty is not alone as a young man suffering with depression as, according to the Beyond Blue organisation, one in seven young men aged between 16 and 24 experience depression or anxiety each year. If you are suffering from mental health issues you can contact Headspace, Kids Helpine or Reachout.
Themes for teaching could include mental health, depression, anxiety, friendship, courage, self awareness, dogs, pets as therapy, families and father-son relationships.
Find out more about Kate Foster.
Release date May 4, 2022. Published by Walker Books Australia
ISBN: 9781760654719 (PB)
Highly recommended for ages 9 +
The Curiosities centers around a young boy named Miro, who begins to see the world in a way that is different to others. When the Curiosities first appear they seem to blend in, but gradually they show Miro the 'oddments and snippets', 'wonders and possibles' in the places where no-one else looks. Sometimes the curiosities would show Miro how to tickle songs from the earth, whisper up waves and dance with him deep into the night. The pull of the curiosities gradually became stronger and stronger and soon others in his village begin to notice them too. They became so loud that people began to stare, and no matter what he did, Miro could not tame them. They were almost unbearable, and he felt as though he was vanishing deep inside the earth. Then he heard the whisper of a village elder who helped Miro brush away the darkness of the curiosities. They were still there, but he found the more he connected with people, the easier it was to control them. And he noticed that many others had their own the curiosities too which helped him feel not so alone.
There are many who deal with neurodiversities and disabilities, and this book is a wonderful celebration of who we are and how we see ourselves, and encourages us to not to worry too much how others choose to see us. Zana Fraillon is one of my favourite YA authors and she has managed the cross over to picture books flawlessly. Her text is poignant and uplifting, but also challenging, asking us to know ourselves first before we look at how we perceive others. Phil's whimsical and playful images draw us into Miro's world to see what life looks like through his eyes. His clever depictions of the curiosities as recognisable but wisp-like creatures, make us aware but not afraid of them, and inspires us to embrace the curiosities in all of us.
Diversity, autism, neurodiversity, acceptance, empathy, perspective, community, culture and mental health are all topics that can be introduced and discussed when using this beautiful and highly recommended book in the classroom.
Find out more about Zana Fraillon
Find out more about Phil Lesnie
Published in 2021 by Hachette Australia
ISBN 9780734417848 (HB)
Recommended for ages 4 - 8