Thursday, 28 November 2019

My Book with No Pictures

My Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak (Puffin) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780241444177

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This skinny book is exactly what it says – a (picture) book with no pictures. The story is also missing words, but there are blank spaces provided for the reader to contribute whatever words they think of.

It reads, for example: ‘Here’s the rule: Everything the words say, the person reading this book has to say. Which means I will sound very…’, which is followed by a blank. Some ideas are provided, such as ‘goofy’, ‘absurd’ and ‘cool’ but the reader might like to provide his or her own word. Alternatively, they can make use of the bonus sticker sheet provided and stick in a word such as ‘Baloney’, ‘Boo Boo Butt’ or ‘didda-BOO.’

There’s no real story to this book, and, of course, no pictures. There are, however, spaces where the reader can draw or paint their own illustrations. Talk about an interactive book!

My Book with No Pictures would probably amuse and engage a reader-writer-illustrator who is aged from six and up.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Buzz Words Short Story Prize Shortlist 2019

The following stories have been shortlisted by Dianne Bates and Bill Condon and sent to finalist judge Dyan Blacklock.  

The Script, Fionna Cosgrove 
My Secret Friend, Joanne Eather 
Sticks and Stones, Rebecca Timmis 
Carly and Griselda, Geraldine Borella 
Fifteen Minutes of Fame, Susan Hancy 
The Pompous Princess & The Fortunate Frog, Jo Mularczyk 
To Catch a Tuna, Annemarie Scott 
Trevor, Jennie Tasker 
Joe Detective, Angela Fraser 
What Remains, Eunice Tan

The winner, runner-up and Highly Commended in our 15 December issue. 

You will also find the results on this website.

The Fate of Fausto: A Painted Fable

The Fate of Fausto: A Painted Fable by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins) RRP HB $24.99
ISBN 9780008357917

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

The Fate of Fausto is a fable about a pompous man named Fausto who believed he owned everything. Fausto roams a sparse land claiming everything he comes into contact with, stating “You are mine.” A (personified) flower, sheep and tree are each submissive to his commands. Never satisfied, he continues his quest to obtain more and more. As he tries to claim larger and larger things across the land, including a lake and a mountain, they start to show some resistance. However, they eventually become compliant to Fausto’s demands when he becomes persistent and angry.

Full of his own self-importance and selfishness Fausto continues on. Using bravado and lies, he then tries to claim the sea. Eventually, his reign comes to an end when his arrogance and ignorance cause his demise.

The Fate of Fausto is a picture book that exposes a moral lesson. The unique illustrations, using a limited colour palette, were created using a manual lithography press. The book has triple the number of pages of a traditional picture book, large text and a lot of white space. The Fate of Fausto is highly recommended for children aged 5+ years.

Friday, 22 November 2019

No Place for an Octopus

No Place for an Octopus by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press) HB RRP $24.95 ISBN: 9780702262609

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

When a young boy discovers an octopus hiding in a rock pool, its strange body and ‘blobby head’ fascinate him. He decides that it ‘must be lonely there all by itself’. The boy thinks about taking the octopus home and making it ‘comfy and snug’. He believes that they would become great friends and do lots of fun things together, such as playing games. But as he looks into the creature’s eyes, the boy realises that the rock pool is the best place for the octopus to live.

Brimming with wide-eyed wonder, Claire Zorn’s delightful picture book will appeal to children aged three to eight. In a little over 200 words, she delves into a surprising array of themes: the essence of friendship, the value of empathy, the true meaning of happiness and loneliness, and the need to understand and respect the natural world. She leaves room for the child reader to make connections and draw conclusions using their own powers of imagination and reasoning.

From the clever die-cut cover, which invites the reader to dive into the book, to Claire’s fresh and fluid watercolour illustrations, No Place for an Octopus is a visual feast. Kids will spend hours poring over the vivid details flooding the rock-pool spread and giggling at the vignettes of the octopus having a bath, watching a 3D movie and riding a bike. Perhaps most importantly, Claire utilises the large and expressive eyes of the octopus to engender an emotional relationship between the creature and both the protagonist and the reader, awakening compassion and rapport within each child.

In no time at all, this endearing book will find a place in every young heart. As children read the story again and again, an ocean of new ideas and insights will fill the rock pools of their minds.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

My Folks Grew Up in the '80s

My Folks Grew Up in the '80s by Beck and Robin Feiner (ABC Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780733339417

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

Any parent who grew up in the 1980s will open this book with a sense of anticipatory glee. In fact, it feels like parents are the target audience of this book; at the very least, there’s a big wink in their direction. Nevertheless, kids will love the opportunity to share their parents’ stories of growing up in that strange decade.

The prose is written from the point of view of a child whose 30 or 40-something parents have been telling him stories of their childhood, and the tone conveys the narrator’s amusement and incredulity. The book covers topics from fashion and technology to music and slang. There are the typical references from that decade, like shoulder pads and boom boxes, but also some things parents probably haven’t thought about for some time. Anyone remember the TV show Perfect Match?

Splashed with neon colours, the bold, graphic illustrations provide layers detail and context, not just explaining but also enriching the text. Children and parents will have fun exploring the objects scattered across each spread, from hard-copy encyclopedias to floppy discs, slinkies and troll dolls.

A nostalgic walk down memory lane for parents, and an amusing pop cultural history for kids, this book will be a wonderful sharing experience for kids aged 7-plus and their parents. As the book’s final page points out (illustrated by the narrator’s parents executing a certain iconic Dirty Dancing pose in the backyard pool), the kids will finally understand why we’re so weird.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Ghost Bird

Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller, (UQP), 2019, pb, RRP $19.95 ISBN 978072260230 (pbk)
ISBN 978072261633 (pdf)
ISBN 9780702261640 (epub)
ISBN 9780702261657 (kindle) 

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

Stacey and Laney are mirror twins – the mirror images of each other physically. In every other way they are different. Laney takes risks. Stacey works hard at school and covers for her twin when Laney skips school and sneaks out at night to meet her boyfriend. Then Laney disappears.

It’s 1999. The difficulties of an indigenous family in a small country town in Queensland are presented honestly and undramatically. Laney was last seen near the property of the Potter family who’ve been known to shoot at anyone with ‘skin darker than tan.’ On the western side of the Potter property sits a mountain that Stacey, and all the younger children, have been warned to stay away from. When Stacey asks why, her mother goes quiet. Here’s her partial explanation: ‘Remember daughter, this world is a lot bigger than anyone knows. There are things that science may never explain… Maybe I was so focused on (you girls receiving) whitefulla education I forgot to educate you proper way.’  

When the white police show little interest in searching for Laney, her uncles, aunties and cousins rally around. At first Stacey believes the Potters know what has happened. But gradually, after Stacey has a series of strange dreams, she realises it’s not the Potters she needs to fear but whatever it is that lives in the mountain.

Something was taken from the mountain and ‘the creatures’ there want it back. After much tense, dramatic action, Stacey returns the stolen object and releases her twin. By doing this, she goes some way to healing a generations-long grudge between her family and the nearby Millers.

This powerful story is Lisa Fuller’s debut novel. It deserves a wide YA (and adult) readership. In 2017 Fuller won the David Unaipon award for an unpublished indigenous writer, and has previously published poetry and short fiction. Stacey is a great creation, gutsy, tough and loyal. Her burgeoning love affair with Sam Miller (echoes of Romeo and Juliet) is sensitively handled.
Fuller’s characters accept the society they live in with muted resentment, some humour and a reliance on close family connections, which reminded me of the characters in the American novel The Hate U Give.
The supernatural element is cleverly presented. Whatever ‘the creatures’ are, they are not named or fully described which makes them all the more frightening.

UQP have done a great job offering the story in so many different formats. It’s
a page turner, clearly and atmospherically written. Highly recommended for school and public libraries.

Monday, 11 November 2019

Weird, Wild, Amazing!

Weird, Wild, Amazing! by Tim Flannery, illustrated by Sam Caldwell (Hardie Grant Egmont) HB RRP ISBN 9781760501587

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

A mammologist, author Tim Flannery was curator of mammals at the Australian Museum in Sydney for 20 years. During this time, he visited most of the islands between eastern Indonesia and Fiji, discovering new species of marsupials, rats and bats. In an interesting introduction to this substantial and very interesting book, Flannery tells how his discovery, at the age of eight, of the fossilised remains of an extinct sea urchin, inspired his love of dinosaurs and the years that followed leading to his illustrious career.

This handsome non-fiction book begins with colourful spotlights on land, sea and air creatures and then a list of contents under headings, ‘Concepts’, ‘Water,’ ‘Sky’, ‘Forest’ and ‘Desert’ plus an index and a glossary. In the section titled ‘Water’, there’s a list of water animals including jellyfish, piranhas, frogs and toads, pufferfish and many more. Pages are devoted to animals: under ‘Whales’ for instance, there are fascinating sub-headings such as ‘Huge Heads V Big Brains’, ‘Singing Stars’ and ‘Seasoned Travellers’. In ‘Diving Champs’, the reader learns that sperm whales can dive more than a kilometre deep in the ocean to look for giant squid, holding their breath for up to an hour and a half at a time. It seems their heads are packed with ‘spermaceti’ which is thought to help these whales adjust their ability to float or sink in the water.

Throughout the book which has many break-out boxes on each page, there are amazing facts and figures. Consider some of the interesting sub-headings” ‘Poop and Pee’, ‘The Biggest Creature Ever’, ‘Terrible Table Manners’ and ‘Spitting’. Flannery certainly knows what will amuse and interest young readers and provides facts and figures from his many scientific studies. There’s a great few pages about naked mole rats which live in colonies of about 75, each with its own job to perform. Reading about them, you realise a similarity with bees insofar as there is a queen whose job is to eat all the best food and have lots of babies, their dads, security guards and workers which dig tunnels for everyone, gather food and look after the queen’s babies.

Information is broken down into small columns which invite the reader to either read from cover to cover or to dip in wherever and whenever. And there are plenty of colourful critters on each page with boxes of all colours to draw the eye in.
A terrific read for children aged 10 years and up. Highly recommended.