Friday, 28 April 2017

See You in the Cosmos

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (Puffin) PB RRP $16.99  ISBN 9780141365602

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a middle-grade debut novel about a space-obsessed boy's quests in life. All eleven-year old Alex wants is to launch his iPod into space. With a series of audio recordings, he will show other life forms out in the cosmos what life on Earth, his Earth, is really like. Thus the book, instead of being written in chapters, is presented as a series of five to six minute recordings with Alex’s spirited, optimistic and largely innocent voice telling the aliens ‘out there’ about all aspects of his life which is largely complicated by his depressed and unavailable mother, his long-dead father and his absent older brother.

Eleven year old Alex struggles with the big questions. Where do I come from? Who's out there? And, above all, what can I achieve? Determined to find the answers, Alex sets out with his dog Carl Sagan on a remarkable road trip that will turn his whole world upside down. First stop is the south-west high altitude rocket festival (SHARF) where he plans to launch his rocket. From there he travels further, all the time full of joy and optimism and determination. He doesn’t always get what he seeks but he is constantly brimming with a love of life and its possibilities.

Alex is a wonderful, memorable character which is reflected in the voice of this novel. There are many funny and poignant moments, and lots of wisdom from a small boy. Any reader aged 10 years and up is sure to be captivated by Alex and his quest.



Thursday, 27 April 2017

How Many Dinosaurs Deep?

How Many Dinosaurs Deep? by Ben Kitchin, illustrated by Vicky Fieldhouse (New Frontier Publishing) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781925059731

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

Jim is ready to go swimming and has just graduated from the baby pool. He’s anxious about the depth of the middle-sized pool and asks his mother about it. His mum reassures him by explaining that the water would only be up to a Stegosaurus’s knee. While he watches other children in the pool (and works up the courage to go swimming himself) they chat about the depth of various bodies of water — the bath, the big pool, the water near a familiar jetty, the deepest water in all the world — compared to the different dinosaurs he knows. All this dinosaur talks puts Jim at ease and as he jumps into the pool he calls out, ‘It’s just Stegosaurus-knee-deep!’

Children who love dinosaurs will enjoy the bright illustrations showing the obliging dinosaurs stacked up in various water depths. This picture book is a wonderful springboard for discussions with young children about measurement, space, and resilience. And dinosaurs!

At the end of the book there’s an illustrated glossary with interesting facts about the dinosaurs shown in the book.

About the reviewer: Rebecca Newman is a children’s writer and poet. She is the editor of Alphabet Soup’s website and former editor of Alphabet Soup’s print magazine. rebeccanewman.net.au




Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise

Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Celeste Hulme (New Frontier Publishing) PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9781925059755

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

Sage Cookson’s parents are television chefs and Sage goes with them whenever they travel to locations to film. Now the Cooksons are off to Crystal Bay in Queensland, and Sage is thrilled about bringing her best friend along.

Soon after they arrive their excitement is dampened when Sage thinks she’s seen Nancy. (Nancy had a run in with the Cooksons in an earlier book). Could Nancy be behind the hundreds of rotting fish on the beach? Is someone trying to sabotage the cooking show? Sage finds herself in hot water — as usual — when she tries to investigate on her own.

This is the third book in the Sage Cookson series of chapter books for early readers. The short chapters have occasional black and white illustrations. Each title in the series includes a themed recipe at the back of the book and this time the recipe is beer battered fish and chips. These books are sure to be popular with readers aged 7 and up, budding chefs, and young fans of cooking shows like MasterChef.

The series also has its own website www.sagecookson.com.au featuring sample chapters, more of Sage Cookson’s recipes, and activities related to the books.


About the reviewer: Rebecca Newman is a children’s writer and poet. She is the editor of Alphabet Soup’s website and former editor of Alphabet Soup’s print magazine. rebeccanewman.net.au

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast retold by Alex Field, illustrated by Helene Magisson (New Frontier Publishing) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781925059809

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

This is a retelling of the well-known fairytale in a picture book format. The text of the story is in large clear type with lots of white space. The pared back narrative occasionally feels more like a story summary than storytelling — however, this simpler format might enable younger readers to have a go at reading the story for themselves.

I’m already a fan of Helene Magisson’s work as an illustrator and her illustrations glow with fairytale magic. The use of birdcages and butterflies in the background to symbolise imprisonment and then freedom will delight the observant child reader. The end papers give an extra twist to this element.

Beauty and the Beast is just one title in the Happily Ever After series and will be in bookshops from 1 March 2017. This is a beautifully presented hardcover book.

About the reviewer: Rebecca Newman is a children’s writer and poet. She is the editor of Alphabet Soup’s website and former editor of Alphabet Soup’s print magazine. rebeccanewman.net.au


Monday, 24 April 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 5: Terror at the Talent Show

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 5: Terror at the Talent Show by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781760295592

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It’s another crazy week at Buchanan School in this, the fifth installment in the bestselling Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series. Chase Cooper’s multi-talented cousin, Zoe, is busy organising a school talent show. She is stressed about her to-do list, and asks Chase for some weekend help to set up the school cafeteria for rehearsals. His response? ‘Yeeeeeah, that’s actually right in the middle of my nap, so I’m gonna have to say no.’

Uh oh. As per previous novels, Chase has once again let Zoe down, breaking an unspoken ninja code to do ‘the honourable thing … to help family’. When a strange kid in a hockey mask ruins the rehearsal by setting a penguin loose in the school and destroying part of the unfinished stage, Zoe thinks Chase is partly to blame. If he had’ve helped, the stage would have been properly attached. It’s up to Chase to make it up to Zoe by using his ninja skills to find the culprit, find that penguin and save the talent show.

In each novel, Emerson cleverly builds on the growing list of Chase’s enemies to make it difficult to identify the culprit. In this novel, Jake (a popular, quarterback football player) is less than impressed with Chase’s decision to change the mascot to a moose. Jake joins Wyatt, Carlisle, Olivia and Sebastian as possible suspects in the talent show disaster.

There are some loose ends in the novel that will no doubt leave fans wanting to read the rest of the series. There’s a mysterious ‘white ninja’ character, a noticeable shift in numbers between Chase and Wyatt’s ninja clans, and a foreboding promotion for Wyatt to ‘Vice President of Buchanan School’.

The novel follows the same style as the others, featuring plenty of realistic banter between the students as well as over-the-top humour. The stories require a slight suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part, which won’t be a problem for the target age group of 7–12. In addition to the missing penguin, there is also a delightful group of ‘library zombies’ in this one – a tongue-in-cheek observation by the author on the
growing (over)use of smartphones! (‘Waaaaaaatch this cuuuuuute videeeeeeoooooo’!)




Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Big Snow Adventure

The Big Snow Adventure by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Mikki Butterley (Five Mile Press) HB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781760400651

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is another inexpensive picture book in the About Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds which aims to gently teach small children how to explore the skills needed to successfully manage relationships with their friends and family.

In this book Pickle and Bree each displays poor manners by not waiting their turn in the ski shop and upsetting their friends Jason and Anna, Reggie and Lucy. Then they refuse to follow the teacher’s instructions about skiing downhill and thus cause mayhem. In a snowball fight, Pickle ignores his friends’ pleas not to throw a huge ball – and he makes Reggie and Lucy disappear.

As a result of the friends’ ignorance of manners, the others don’t want to play with them anymore. ‘Maybe I should have paid more attention to the rules,’ said Pickle. ‘Nobody wants to play with me. I’m a big, blundering, bumbling bear.’ And, says Bree, ‘I’m a pushy, pesky pain the neck.’

Luckily the others are forgiving and when the six of them go kiting downhill, Pickles and Bree take their turn so all have fun together.

This is a simply told, sweet story which offers a message to youngsters without being preachy. One can imagine the child reader and parent talking about taking turns in order to be a good friend. In the back of this book, as in all of the Pickle and Bree books there is a full page ‘Guide to Good Deeds’, a list of reasons for and outcomes of following rules which the parent (or teacher) can discuss. Great for ethics teachers in particular!


Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Playground Meanies

The Playground Meanies by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Mikki Butterley (Five Mile Press) HB RRP $14.99 ISBBN 9781760400644

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The first two things I noticed about this picture book for young children is how inexpensive it is and how beautifully produced. On the cover it reads, ‘All about being kind with Pickle and Bree’ which is what this book and others in the series is all about – teaching children how to have happy and productive relationships with others.

Pickle is a loveable bear and Bree is a high-spirited girl; they are best friends. In this book they appear in a playground to witness two grey bears hogging the equipment. The bears, Howard and Gracie, make fun of Pickle’s feet, also those of his friend Jason. It’s only teasing but both bears feel unhappy. The verbal bullying continues. ‘It isn’t nice to feel there’s something wrong with you,’ Jason says. Pickle roars his displeasure.

At the picnic in the park, there’s more tormenting about the bears’ feet. The two think about using their feet to smash the food but Bree reminds them that basically two wrongs don’t make a right.  Happily, in an incident a few moments later, Jason’s big foot saves a situation. It’s then that the teasing bears apologise.
And of course the four have fun playing together after that.

Being mean is never the answer. Of course. This is a lesson that small children (and big) need to learn. That’s what this book and other books in the series is about: using simple, humorous narrative to gently demonstrate a lesson about the value of good manners.

The book is beautifully illustrated with bright, full page illustrations showing the personable characters interacting with one another. Small children aged 4 years and up are sure to be thoroughly engaged by story and illustrations.