Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Too Busy Sleeping

Too busy sleeping written by Zanni Louise, illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Little Hare Books/Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781742979625

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Eleanor has a new baby brother, Reuben. She is eager to play with him, however is told, ‘The baby is too busy sleeping’. Patient at first, Eleanor waits and waits for Reuben to wake, passing the time playing with her grandparents and with her toys. Eleanor’s frustration grows as it dawns on her that little Reuben doesn’t do much aside from eat and sleep. Her fluctuating emotions are wonderfully depicted in a spread where she sits, flushed and cross-armed in an empty bathtub, and realises Reuben might not be the playmate she was hoping for.

There is a whimsical, old-fashioned quality evident in Pignataro’s illustrations – not only in their style but through the types of play depicted. Eleanor builds with blocks, makes a sandcastle in the backyard, holds picnic-style tea parties and has a tyre swing. There are floral and gingham patterns used throughout, including the endpapers, which add to the timeless feel.

The tale takes a heart-warming turn as Reuben remains awake just as Eleanor asks her Mum for some one-on-one story time. Rather than complain, she takes the opportunity to finally play with Reuben. The last charming page reveals that Reuben’s not the only sleepy one.

Two to five year olds will find much to love in debut author Zanni Louise’s sweet story of adjusting to a new baby, containing themes of change and acceptance.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Mr Huff

Mr Huff written and illustrated by Anna Walker (Penguin Viking) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780670078042                                                  
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Contained in the pages of this wise picture book is a wonderful idea which is sure to appeal to many children (even adults)! Bill is a boy who’s having a bad day. Absolutely nothing goes right for him at home or at school. When he awakes it’s ‘cloudy, with a chance of rain’. Hovering over him, like a storm cloud is a black shape – like a cloud, one which follows him all morning. By recess at school, the cloud has grown into an enormous size and has tiny feet that continue to follow the poor boy.

Bill’s unable to articulate the thing that’s following him.
Relentless, the thing – given the name Mr Huff – follows Bill to bed and – hatefully – is there the next day. Bill wants to be rid of it, and it is only when he accepts Mr Huff, taking it by its puny hand, is he able to do so. Next day, happily, ‘the day was cloudy, with a chance of sunshine.’

For any child who is finding life difficult – indeed for anyone suffering the blues or even a black depression – this book was especially written and illustrated for them. As with most people in Bill’s situation, the sufferer does attempt to be rid of the heaviness. But as you read on, the gentle message of this book is revealed: only when you confront your feelings are you able to go forward as Bill does.

In keeping with the heavy mood Bill feels for most of the story, Walker has kept her watercolour palette dark and simple. There are splashes of colour and even some humour (the enormous Mr Huff sleeping under Bill’s bed, determined to stay in his life) so there is always hope.
This is a splendid, poignant book which can be read simply as text, or it can be used by parents and/or therapists to help a small child overcome his or her unhappiness. My only criticism of the book is that the typeface is far too small, especially for young readers.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Bravest Dugong

The Bravest Dugong by Alec Trost, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117370

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

A dugong leaves the sea and goes dancing, parachuting, surfing, visiting a zoo, painting and cooking Cos Lettuce Pie (a dugong favourite). Charlie D is the dugong and he’s off on an adventure to see the world.


The gorgeous, high-energy illustrations are the highlight of this story, which is seeded with environmental facts as it moves through Charlie D’s activities on land.


Two final pages on the ‘Gentle Giants of the Sea’ are particularly useful for those interested in more information about dugongs. This section of the book provides handy teacher notes to help early readers negotiate the text.


Saturday, 29 August 2015

Bucket Sheep

Bucket Sheep written and illustrated by Jemma Phillips (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117387

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

A theft, a chase, a sneeze, a happy ending.


This simple story features a sheep with a cunning plan: to gain an entire blue bucket of hay for herself. While the farmer isn’t looking, this sheep tries to gobble as much feed as possible. But, in its haste to get to the very last titbit, the bucket gets stuck on its head.


The world goes blue and the sheep sets off in fright.


The farmer and his wife try to help but, every time they get close, the sheep runs away. Eventually the tickle of the remaining hay gets too much and the sheep sneezes off the bucket.


Much of the delight of this early reader comes from the realisation the story is based on a true incident at ‘Marble’s Run’ farm near Bendigo in Victoria.


Delicate illustrations exude a warm simplicity in perfect harmony with the gentle tone of the story. In addition, cute little Sedgwick the Mouse is hiding on every page, waiting to be found by observant readers.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Time for Bed, Daddy

Time for Bed, Daddy by Dave Hackett (UQP)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-0-7022-5381-2

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kasmer

Time for Bed, Daddy is a humorous, fun filled picture book that turns the traditional bedtime routine on its head. Bright cartoon-like images and visual jokes follow a likeable and patient little girl with the monumental task of persuading her reluctant Daddy to -- go to bed!

Parents will smile knowingly as this resourceful little girl uses every trick in the book to coax Daddy through the nightly bedtime routine with bubble bath, jokes and horsey rides. Finally, there is a quick monster check under the bed, a story to be read and a bedtime song to be sung. But, just as the little girl thinks the job is complete, Daddy appears, and he’s out-of-bed!

This delightful story celebrates the special bond between dads and their kids and will appeal to both children and adults alike. Young children will love the role reversal aspect of the story and will no doubt be inspired to act out the story (which happened in my household with hilarious results).

Time for bed, Daddy is both written and illustrated by Dave Hackett (Cartoon Dave). Dave has appeared on Australian children’s television and is a popular speaker at conferences and literature festivals across the country.  For more information visit: www.cartoondave.com

Elizabeth Kasmer is a Sunshine Coast based writer of children’s and young adult fiction. www.elizabethkasmer.com

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Frankie and Joely

Frankie and Joely by Nova Weetman (UQP)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-0-7022-5363-8

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kasmer

Set in a small Victorian country town during the week between Christmas and New Year, Joely invites best friend Frankie for a holiday at her Aunt and Uncle’s farm. Joely introduces Frankie to her country cousins, Thommo and Mack, who both begin to compete for the beautiful Frankie’s attention. Tensions rise further when local bad boy, Rory, decides to make a move on both girls. When it is revealed that Rory has been leading the girls on, without the other knowing, hidden jealousies threaten to shatter their friendship. 

The story is written in third person omniscient and told mainly from Frankie and Joely’s perspectives. The constant change in point of view gives a fascinating insight into the complicated dance between teenage girls as they explore the intense love they feel for each other along with equally strong feelings of annoyance, jealousy and competiveness. The rural town setting, the stifling heat, dust and flies add a believable and uncomfortable atmosphere to the story as these two girls attempt to navigate their personal problems.

Mother/daughter relationships are also explored with Frankie’s aloof and unreliable mother and Joely’s anxious and overprotective mum nicely contrasted with the warmth and tenderness of Joely’s Aunt Jill, whose kitchen and home cooking provide a refuge for the girls.

The novel gives interesting insights into both Frankie and Joely’s struggle for self-awareness in a world filled with boys, family problems and testing emotions. It also reminds older readers of the power and importance of first friendships. This is an honest and beautiful story about female relationships aimed at junior to middle teens.

On her webpage, Nova Weetman states her goal as a writer is to: “Write stories that snuck into a reader’s heart so they’d fall in love with them.” She has certainly achieved this with Frankie and Joely.

Elizabeth Kasmer is a Sunshine Coast based writer of children’s and young adult fiction. www.elizabethkasmer.com

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Winell Road: Beneath the Surface

Winell Road: Beneath the Surface by Kate Foster (Jet Black Publishing)  PB RRP $32  ISBN:  9780994318725 

Reviewed by Elaine Harris

Although it is not the norm to introduce the reviewer before the book, in this instance I hope you will permit an exception.

I accepted the challenge to review Kate Foster’s debut novel simply because it was a challenge. Excepting Terry Pratchett and some early Jackie French, I have read little or no sci-fi – and they might be better described as fantasy and cross-over respectively, although labels can be misleading. In other words, apart from the UFO mentioned in the blurb, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

Winell Road: Beneath the Surface is great fun, well-paced – you need those few thinking spaces provided – and full of the unexpected. There is a complex mystery to solve as well as a quest to fulfill. Not only that, but the action begins in the opening paragraph.

My first reaction was: is the language in this book clich├ęd? No. It might be considered so if it were a straightforward narrative; However, in spite of being written largely in the third person, what the author is doing here is telling the story through the thoughts, words and actions of the protagonist, Jack Mills. You hear his voice, think his thoughts and share his doubts and concerns. Many authors aspire to this technique, not all succeed.

Despite the “Encounter” on page one, Jack is bored, bored, bored! His parents are boring; ditto the neighbours, as is his little dead-end street. All of this changes when Roxy moves in next door and the Freogans (pronounced free-o-gans) come to call.
As the story unfolds, you discover that Mum is a fanatical gardener as well as a cook rivalled only by Letitia Cropley in “The Vicar of Dibley”, while Dad is a mad inventor whose weird contraptions never sell. Or are they? You also learn to trust no-one and that nothing is what it seems.

This book will work wonderfully read aloud in class. There are enough cliff-hanger chapter endings to keep them begging for more. It will also promote discussion about making snap judgments while providing plenty of scope for related art projects.
Then there is the wordplay. The vocabulary is rich and varied without being off-putting. Winell Road is an anagram and there are other word puzzles scattered throughout the book. The author’s love of philology and etymology shines through without being intrusive; you can follow up as much or as little of it as you choose.

Kate Foster plans two or three sequels to the novel. I wish her the very best of luck.