It’s always a treat to read a good kid’s book – whether it’s a picture book, a mid-grade or a young adult book, and it’s an even better, bigger and happier treat when the book is self-published and can stand as an example of what self-published books can and should be. Margot Finke has been writing for kids for . . . well, a number of years. She has traditional publishing credits, has paid her writing dues, and her talent and mastery of her craft show up well in this self-published work that has just been released.
Down Under Calling is partly a series of letters between an Australian grandmother and her American grandson, part typical “mid-grade kid has a problem and needs to solve it” straightforwardly told story. But Margot melds the two threads seamlessly into a lovely tale of a grandmother and grandson getting to know each other through the medium of written communication. The story opens with Grandma Rose who lives in Deception Bay, Queensland, Australia rescuing a joey (baby kangaroo) after some dumb gits (stupid, thoughtless idiots) shoot its mother. While nursing the little creature, she receives a hand written and snail-mailed letter from her grandson, who lives in Portland, Oregon. He’s writing under duress. “Mom says I should write you a letter, so here it is.” But between the lines, Grandma Rose can hear his distress and unhappiness, and tries to interest him in something other than music downloads and computer games. She talks about the animals and birds that live in the bush behind her house and garden, and tells him stories about her childhood in mid-twentieth century Australia, long before computers and the internet. Shortly after the correspondence begins, she realizes how lonely she is, and how much she misses her daughter, son-in-law and grandson, whom she last saw as a toddler, when she returned to live in her native Australia.
For his part, Andy has to cope with a “downsized” and only recently re-employed father and with the consequences that long-term unemployment brings: debt and reduced circumstances. They’ve lost their lovely house and live in a squalid apartment block, they’ve lost their dog, since the rental doesn’t allow them, and in order to help clear the debts, Mom has to go out to work. He can’t have the computer games he wants, because they can’t afford them, and according to Andy, Dad is a grouchy, real skinflint tightwad. In addition, he’s in the throes of calf-love with his friend, Kelly, a red-haired neighbour who has problems of her own – her parents are divorced and remarried, and the plethora of presents and cash from double the usual number of grandparents doesn’t nearly make up for the feelings of abandonment and loss she’s grappling with.
Margot deftly includes factual information about the flora and fauna of Australia in the book. It’s delivered naturally and easily in the context of the story, as the kids go on the internet to dig up information on the animals that Grandma Rose writes about.
While the book is never an “on the edge of your seat” read, Margot has a quiet touch that makes you care about the characters and their problems, has you rooting for Andy and Kelly as their friendship deepens and expands as they explore non computer activities: reading books, biking and birdwatching in the local park. Through the shared letters and activities they learn not only to trust not only each other, but also Grandma Rose. Margot shows, without ever preaching, how the inter-relationships help both kids to appreciate what they do have, and to learn that while you can’t choose your family, you can choose your friends, and sometimes, they can give you what your family lacks.
As the book progresses, and the time for Rose to actually move to America draws closer, the reader may tear up at the final goodbye, and grin right along with Andy and Kelly as the family is finally reunited in Portland airport.
A lovely, enjoyable read that I’d unhesitatingly recommend for any boy or girl from age ten on up.
BIO AND PURCHASING INFORMATION:
DOWN UNDER CALLING: Grandma Rose Spins a Web by Margot Finke
Margot Finke is an Aussie transplant who writes midgrade adventure fiction and rhyming picture books. For many years she has lived in Oregon with her husband, children, and grandchildren. Gardening, travel, and reading fill in the cracks between her writing. Her husband is retired, and very supportive. Margot didn’t begin serious writing until the day their youngest left for college. This late start drives her writing, and pushes her to work at it every day. Margot said, “I really envy those who began young, and managed to slip into writing mode between kid fights, diaper changes, household disasters, and outside jobs. You are my heroes!” She has 13 published books. Survival by Walkabout, the follow-up to Taconi and Claude, is due out soon. All her books, video readings, trailers, reviews and sample pages can be seen on her website.
Margot also does Skype Author Visits to many schools in the US, and she runs a Manuscript Critique Service. Nothing gives Margot a bigger thrill than to hear that a book she helped polish has been published. “This is always a huge YEA moment.”
Amazon ( Kindle and soft cover) : http://tinyurl.com/bg9dtxt
Hook Kids on Reading: http://hookkidsonreading.blogspot.com/