Friday, 26 April 2019

Nullaboo Hullabaloo

Nullaboo Hullabaloo by Fleur Ferris (Puffin) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780143787143

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Australian author Fleur Ferris has a track record of awards, having written three YA novels. Nullaboo Hullabaloo is her first novel for young readers. Set in a faraway country town, Nullaboo, the story is of Gemma Hart who has a few problems. Her family might be evicted from their farm and she’s been allocated march flies as the topic of her science competition. Of course, she would have preferred butterflies, but that topic went to last year’s winner, Nina.

Gemma’s mother is an entomologist so has lent her special bug catcher which magnifies things two hundred and fifty times their size and has a microphone and earbuds. The catcher comes in very handy when Gemma heads off to catch march flies. However, she catches something more remarkable – a fairy named Janomi who, despite not being supposed to talk to humans, does so. She tells Gemma of her plight: her grandfather has been captured by silver spiders. She enlists the girl’s help to find him and asks for the fact of fairies to become secret.

However, Nina finds the recording and before long there’s a hullabaloo – a media frenzy -- and the fairy colony is under threat. Gemma and her family, friends, neighbours and school mates must take matters into their own hands in a bid to save the last fairy colony on earth.

This book which will probably be most enjoyed by girls aged 8 to 11  years, is illustrated with black and white pictures by Briony Stewart.

The Incurable Imagination

The Incurable Imagination text by Paul Russell and illustrations by Aśka
EK Books (an imprint of Exisle Publishing) 2019 HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781925335972

Reviewed by Julie Anne Thorndyke

This is the second lively book by the collaborative team of writer Paul Russell and illustrator Aska. Published by EK Books, it has the same design, fun approach and format as My Storee (2018). This time, it isn’t dyslexia that is causing problems in the classroom—it is a case of incurable imagination.

Audrey was always “ a little bit different”, never doing the expected thing in any situation. When she begins school, with many friends (some of them invisible to grown-ups) it becomes even more obvious that her approach to learning is unique. Not only that, but her wild imagination is contagious.

Teachers try to contain it, but her classmates, parents and eventually even the teachers become infected. Imagination even spreads into the wider community. Wild scenes ensue!

Aska’s illustrations are dynamic and brightly toned, featuring thought-bubbles of imaginary scenes and characters. Monsters, pirates, witches, frogs, trolls, inhabit every page.

Useful in classroom settings to inspire creative work, this light-hearted book will also reassure children whose approach to learning differs from the norm. The children depicted in Aska’s illustrations are energetic and ethnically diverse. Some of the characters wear glasses, but no other differently-abled children are shown. This could be a challenge for the next book?

The Incurable Imagination is a large, sturdy, hardback picture book that will survive many readings in the classroom and school library.
Who wouldn’t love a pet unicorn named Bruce?

Monday, 22 April 2019

Unpacking Harper Holt

Unpacking Harper Holt by Di Walker. (Walker Books Australia, 2018.) PB RRP $16.99  ISBN: 9781760650599

Reviewed by Julie Anne Thorndyke

You will need a big box of tissues for this one.

Tragedy can hit any family at any time. Normal life is thrown into chaos, and both parents and children struggle to regain equilibrium and a “new normal”.

Harper Holt and her super-capable translator mother Helena, and corporate-fix-it-man father Hugh, are a tight family unit of three. Moving regularly for Hugh’s work, they have the routines of travel, rental houses, new schools and life-planning down pat. It is Helena who smooths the way, enabling their transient lifestyle.

A good student despite many school changes, twelve-year-old Harper feels that the frequent changes in her life, resulting in a lack of long-term friends and no sense of belonging, have to stop. She is an intelligent and emotionally mature girl. She wants a permanent home, a best friend and a dog.

Helena is swift to organise dancing classes for Harper, just as she provides for another desire, bikes for riding on the tracks in their new, affluent, beach-side suburb in Melbourne. Harper meets a girl called Eve at dancing class, and makes an instant connection, as does Helena with Eve’s mother, Victoria.

During the first six chapters of setting the scene, a sense of foreboding builds. To put the reader off track, the author sets up a situation where Hugh goes out on  a boat in bad weather. However, it is the mother, Helena, who dies in a car crash on her way to collect him from the marina. Alone in the strange new house, Harper waits for her mother, who never returns.

A rollercoaster of grief, mourning and loneliness spirals out of control. Hugh is frozen into inertia by his grief. With no family of friends for support, Harper is left to make funeral decisions—something no twelve-year-old should have to do. Harper has effectively lost both parents.

Helpers arrive. Leanne, their relocation professional. Monica, the social worker. Mr Thorley, headmaster of Harper’s new school. When Harper starts attending the new school, she immediately falls victim to the bullying tactics of Rowena. Without the support of her mother and father, Harper feels desperately lost and alone.

Victoria and Eve intervene and help smooth the way to a new way of coping, one day at a time. Friendship develops, and with the support of Eve’s family, eventually Hugh resumes his parenting role.

Protagonist Harper is a likable character and we empathise with her struggles throughout the story. The portrayal of grief is realistic and there is no glossing over of her pain.

Do I have any quibbles with this book? The cover. It is a close headshot of a girl’s face behind dishevelled hair. This image sets the right tone for the story, but the girl’s brown eye is rimmed with eyeliner. This doesn’t fit right with the bike-riding, pony-tail wearing, twelve-year-old protagonist Harper. It seems to push the book to an older market. Di Walker wrote this story for middle-grade readers, but the marketing seems to be aimed at YA. The themes of grief, mourning and loss are meaningful to all ages. I was engaged by this book, as I think older teens and their parents would also be. It will take a mature twelve-year old to cope with the emotional impact, so perhaps the marketing team got it right after all.

Just sometimes, the dialogue seems too formal. The male characters are less nuanced than the women and girls. But the two-faced Rowena, sweet-as-pie to teachers and yet a manipulative queen bee to her peers, is skilfully portrayed. Haven’t we all met her?
Dealing with both bullying and grief in one book is challenging, both for the author and the reader. In this debut novel, Di Walker has shown deep insight into both of these very real problems. Readers will respond to Harper’s troubles, and gain greater emotional intelligence through the experience.

Highly recommended. Keep the tissues handy.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

The World of Ruby Red Shoes

A Book about Ruby’s Day        ISBN: 9781460756935 HB RRP $14.99
A Book about Ruby’s Feelings ISBN: 9781460756928 HB RRP $14.99
Series: The World of Ruby Red Shoes by Kate Knapp. (Harper Collins, 2018.)

Reviewed by Julie Anne Thorndyke

A Book about Ruby’s Day and A Book about Ruby’s Feelings are two new releases in The World of Ruby Red Shoes Series by Kate Knapp. Designed as small, square, hardbacks in the style of Beatrix Potter’s child-sized volumes, interestingly, these books have none of the earthy naughtiness of Peter Rabbit or Jemima Puddleduck. These are cute, pastel, feminine books, each with a positive tone and a consistent illustration style like up-market greeting cards.

The endpapers feature a floral design reminiscent of a Liberty print or Laura Ashley wallpaper. Each two-page spread, on sturdy matte paper, features a stylised illustration and a rhyming text. The anthropomorphised white hare wears classic “little girl” outfits, and of course, her signature red shoes, all hand-drawn in pencil, ink and watercolour. Each page has a stanza of two or more rhyming couplets.

The poetry is even and sunny, no surprises, drama or flashes of brilliance await the reader. The words and pictures are comforting, predictable, optimistic. Even the negative emotions in the Feelings book are rounded off with a strategy for coping, e.g.
“So now when I’m cross, it’s a sign to me
To relax somewhere quiet, like under a tree.”

Ruby’s Day features the events of a small child’s life: mealtimes, school, nap time, bath time, bedtime, and so on. It is a reassuring book to share, perhaps with a child who struggles with routines. The gentle reassurance of the rhyming text and the safe, flower-filled world Ruby inhabits offer a peaceful reading experience.

The first books in The World of Ruby Red Shoes series were alphabet and counting books. These new titles add to the collection in an educative way for preschool story times.

The Ruby Red Shoes Series is a related set of books about travel adventures to Paris and London, for an older audience. There is a related range stationery and  giftware.

These sweet little books will be popular as new-baby presents and gifts from grandparents. Snuggle up and read one with your special little hare soon.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

A Quiet Girl

A Quiet Girl, written & illustrated by Peter Carnavas (UQP) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN9780702260025

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Mary is a quiet child whose family is so noisy and occupied with mundane tasks that she is frequently overlooked. The small girl whispers quiet words, steps quietly and has quiet thoughts. At the same time, she is involved with the world around her, listening to the sounds of birds and enjoying the garden. She hears things nobody else does, buzzing and sighing and creaking, while her family use motorised tools and tell her to use a ‘nice, loud voice’.

Eventually Mary feels as though she is invisible. It is only when a bird lands on a windowsill that her family realises she is missing. When they eventually find her, she becomes the catalyst for them to finally stop their business and enjoy the sounds and sights of nature which so captivate their youngest member.

Carnavas has written many picture books including his most recent, The Elephant, which was short-listed for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. A Quiet Girl was, he says, his tribute to the introverts, who, it must be said, are rarely represented in children’s literature. This book, like The Elephant, is delicate and thought-provoking, a quiet voice in a noisy world.

The illustrations are in keeping with the theme of the book which is that one needs to be quiet and to look carefully at nature in order to be attuned to it. In its quietness, the book is powerful. It is suitable for all young readers, including the newly independent reader.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

In the shadow of an Elephant

In the shadow of an Elephant by Georgie Donaghey &, illustrated by Sandra Severgnini (Little Pink Dog Books) PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-0-6-482563-1-1

Review by Wendy Haynes

Georgie Donaghey has delivered a moving story that explores love, loss, friendship, and trust. Though this story is for five to six year olds, it could be used as an aid in middle primary when dealing with the sensitive issues of life and death.

The story takes you to the African Savannah where Lualani a baby elephant is ripped away from her mother’s side one dark night. Poachers scare the herd leaving Lualani calling for her mother. It informs those new to reading about the harshness of life in a gentle way.

Lualani is frightened and extremely sad, but she is not alone for long. A boy Jabari and his Papa find her, and through, empathy, understanding, patience, and perseverance earn the trust of Lualani. A strong friendship forms and both Jabari and Lualani over many years learn from each other.

The story brings you full circle when Jabari’s papa passes, and now Lualani is the one to help Jabari through his saddest moments.

The story is added to with the delightful artwork by Sandra Severgnini showing the reader the beauty of Africa and evoking the nature of the emotions that are felt throughout the story.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Changing History? in Shakespeare Now!

Changing History? in  Shakespeare Now! by Goldie Alexander (Five Senses Education) Anthology Edition RRP $34.95  ISBN 9781760322601

Reviewed by Claire Stuckey

In 2017 Taylor travels to Berlin with her grandfather Opa to visit the city that family fled in the 1920's. Her future is currently unclear with her dancing a focus but is she good enough for it to be a career? She escapes an overbearing mother, and a boyfriend she wants to dump but only to fall into a desperate and dangerous situation.

Waking up in 1928, Taylor has a bad concussion and no money, but she is helped by a young man called Rom. Despite the hardship of his own Jewish family, he aids Taylor's recovery, then assists in finding her a job and a place to stay. Taylor has never worked so hard, shared so little food, money or comfort. She makes friends and enemies while struggling to work at night eventually dancing with Juliet on stage to pay her way. Her friendship with Rom and Juliet educates her on the influences of religion and class in a society also struggling with political and cultural change in a dynamic economic environment. Their situation is difficult; both are restrained by family pressures, both are caring, but very much in love.

Taylor shares her time-travel secret with the couple who respond with much interest. Her revelations on the rise of the Nazi party and the consequences becomes a catalyst for a plan to poison Hitler on a visit to the restaurant where they work. The plan is foiled by an informer, Taylor does not escape the wrath of party officials. Saved once again, she lives rough on the streets until she returns to the present day, in hospital, with a terrible head injury. Taylor returns home with significant changes to her views on her life, family and her future. Opa finds a photo of his parents and Taylor realises that the family history is entwined with her own Berlin journey.

Although I knew much of the history surrounding this story, I enjoyed travelling with Taylor into this period. Unlike the original play, the young couple survive.  As an historical story it provides a good entry point into German socialism and the religious intolerance in the pre-war period.  

It may make Shakespeare more readable for students, but this story diverts markedly from the tragedy of the young lovers in the original. Highly readable, I did not try to look for the comparisons like I have in others stories in this series but enjoyed the time-travel adventure with well-drawn characters arranged in an dynamic setting.