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.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

The Crayons' Christmas

The Crayons' Christmas By Drew Daywalt, pictures by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins) ISBN 978-0-00-818036-2 RRP $27.99 (HB)

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The Crayons' Christmas is a picture book with activities, about a boy called Duncan and his family of crayons. In the lead-up to Christmas, mail arrives at Duncan’s house from crayons around the world. Six envelopes through the book contain items such as postcards, things to make out of paper, a map and a game. Illustrations in the book are of crayons, each with their own personalities, having conversations and making jokes. There is a lot to look at!

Aimed at early-to-mid-primary school children, this is a book that can be read by adults to their children or by the children themselves and the humour is directed at both these groups. For instance, there do seem to be a few crayons getting themselves stuck to underpants. On the other hand, the map of the world depicting famous landmarks in the wrong places, such as the Great Wall of China in Africa and the Statue of Liberty in Australia, is obviously one of the adult jokes and would need to be explained to the kids to avoid confusion.

The story is set in the US and does mention a celebration other than the Christian one (one of the crayons sends a Hanukkah card). There’s also an inclusion of gluten-free crayons! In one of the funny conversations, a candy cane that’s been on the tree as a decoration for years, points out to one of the crayons that candy is supposed to be eaten. And there’s a homage to the Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer story to make everything all more Christmassy. 

The appeal of this book is its variety. There are many topics, subjects and characters. It is colourful, tactile and has a big pop-up Christmas tree at the end. The Crayon’s Christmas is an interactive and funny Christmas-themed book. It should be good entertainment, and will no doubt be a popular present at this time of year.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Brave Adventures, Little Girl

Brave Adventures, Little Girl by Iresha Herath, illustrated by Oscar Fa (Little Steps Publishing) HB RRP $24.95 ISBN: 9780648267485

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

Four-year-old Anika doesn’t feel brave when she tries new things. ‘I always feel funny in my tummy,’ she tells her grandfather, Seeya. With a gentle smile, Seeya reveals that whenever he did something for the first time – from swimming quickly to escape from a big water lizard, to moving all the way to the other side of the world to go to university – he often had a funny feeling in his tummy. But he did those things anyway, and ended up having many amazing experiences. With Seeya’s help, Anika begins to look forward to her next adventure – hopping at the Kinder Olympics for the first time.

Inspired by her Sri Lankan family, Iresha Herath has written a sweet and sensitive book for children aged three to eight years about overcoming fear and having the bravery to face new situations. Although Seeya speaks about places and events beyond Anika’s sphere of knowledge, Iresha has cleverly used humour and wonder to draw Anika – and the child reader – into the stories. Just like Anika, readers will derive comfort and courage from Seeya’s willingness to acknowledge the anxiety he has felt during his life.

French artist Oscar Fa adds a whimsical layer to the words with his bright and bewitching illustrations. Even though the characters are rendered with simplicity, they exude a charming warmth that will appeal to young eyes. A wonderful example of this is the choice to dress both Anika and Seeya in crimson, visually linking the characters and strengthening their heartwarming bond.

Brave Adventures, Little Girl is a fabulous book to read with youngsters who are worried about navigating an ever-expanding world of unfamiliar experiences. They’ll soon discover that everybody gets butterflies at one time or another, and that trying new things despite the funny feeling in your tummy ‘makes you very brave indeed’.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Rebel by Dawn Meredith

Dawn Meredith’s YA fantasy novel, Rebel, Book 1 of the Flight series is out! Pre-orders are now available from the publisher,

Rebel was begun 11 years ago and almost published twice before. Now it’s finally being born into the world! 

A young rebel is called upon to lead... with a broken wing and absolutely no idea what he is doing. A wounded flying hero struggling to accept his destiny, a shy girl of dark, mysterious secrets unaware of the power within her and a lonely youth out to prove himself worthy of his warrior father. A race with dragon DNA suffers under malevolent overlords, dreaming of a hero to set them free. But what they get is a handsome young joker more interested in breaking the rules than breaking free his people.