Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Alice’s Food A-Z: Edible Adventures

Alice’s Food A-Z: Edible Adventures by Alice Zaslavsky (Walker Books)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781922179388
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

What a clever and well-researched book! That it’s about food and directed at educating children (and adults I’d say) about healthy eating and preparation, makes it more exciting. This ‘edible adventure’ is full of fun, brilliant ideas, lots of food facts, origins of food items and healthy ideas. It also challenges children to try everything, even when it looks different.

Alice Zaslavsky is no newcomer to food. She has an expansive list of accomplishments to boast about which includes her competing in MasterChef Australia Series 4. She also hosts Kitchen Whiz, a ‘food knowledge quiz show for kids’ aged 8 and over on Channel Nine’s Go!

Alice plays with words as well as food. She expresses herself like a tour guide full of professional knowledge, but through the world of food and its history. She prepares you for a great experience. And each page is just that!  The entire content is ecologically and environmentally aware, therefore encourages people to be conscious consumers, and ask questions about where their food comes from.

There is so much here to appreciate and attempt. Most of the food indexed is natural and healthy, and is accompanied by ideas and tips for its preparation. There are Fun Facts about each food item presented. Word Wizard gives the definition of words that children might not know. What’s in a Name tells the origin of each food name, and the list goes on.

There are over 40 recipes for children to try. Always aware of safety issues, it is made clear when there is a ‘grown-up supervision alert’.

One of my favourite bits of information is ‘key numbers’ in the honey section. It presents amazing trivia via numbers about bees: life span, how much honey a bee produces in its lifetime, average distance it flies per hour- that sort of thing.

This is truly an outstanding journey of learning about food, its value and preparation, without being a cookbook. So, ‘be curious, stay interested, and choose your own adventure.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Beloved

The Beloved by Alison Rattle (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $15.75
ISBN 97814703798
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Sometimes mothers and daughters don’t bond from the outset. So it is with Alice Angel and her strict mother Temperance, who is from humble origins and wife of the very wealthy Alfred. 

It is 1848 and sixteen-year-old Alice, a rebellious and spirited teenager, is trapped in an unloving Victorian home with a mother who punishes her cruelly. When the book opens, the girl is strapped by the wrists overnight in her bed because she did not want to sleep in her tight corset. Papa, whom Alice loves, is often absent on business but weak when it comes to dealing with his beautiful wife. Alice’s brother Eli sides with their mother who adores him -- until a dramatic turn of events.

Escaping one day from home, Alice witnesses an enigmatic, charismatic man preaching in town. She feels strangely drawn to him, but later at home events conspire against her even more when there is an unexpected family tragedy. En route in a carriage to the madhouse, Alice escapes and eventually finds herself in the community run by the preacher who is always referred to as ‘The Beloved’. At first she feels free and happy but things are to change to such an extent she does not know where to turn.

Sometime it is difficult to find sympathy for Alice as she reacts angrily to situations, but who knows how one might act given such a restrictive life as hers? Certainly her mother comes across as a selfish, self-centred and vicious woman whose aim in life is to fit into the upper echelons of society. The Beloved explores what freedom and friendship mean and how manipulative people can behave when their wants are not met. Full of drama – sometimes melodrama – this easy to read, well-plotted and fast-paced novel is recommended for young adult (and older) readers.

Alison Rattle’s other novels are The Quietness and The Madness.

Monday, 30 March 2015

This is Captain Cook

This is Captain Cook by Tania McCartney, illustrated by Christina Booth (NLA Publishing)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780642278692
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Two highly talented artists have collaborated to create this entertaining and educational picture book for the 3+ year age group. It’s totally captivating from cover-to-cover. The end pages display the chickens from the story accompanied by clever captions. Every page is a new discovery. I loved it! This is another outstanding production from the National Library of Australia.

Mrs Batts’ class is presenting a play on the life of Captain James Cook; from his boyhood on the farm (lots of chickens and two goats are included in the show) to when he sailed away to Hawaii never to return. The story concentrates on his life as mariner, father and adventurer.

For me there were several parts to applaud in this stunning picture book (the comedy of chickens was an added novelty). The delightful, light-hearted text by Tania McCartney sets the mood. Christine Booth’s brilliant detailed illustrations activate the art show.

The story begins with ceaseless activity taking place on the stage. Chickens run amok as children try to catch them with nets. A cast of children act out their parts as they wave to parents in the audience. Everyone is having tremendous fun.

The first image of the audience shows the parents arriving, greeting each other, and the show starting. This is all in colour.

On the following pages, the images of the audience are shadows. Parents share whispered conversation. Babies babble. One baby is thinking of the toy it has dropped. Another has fallen asleep in its mother’s arms. This is where a second story seems to appear, trying not to obscure the stage play, but demanding attention none-the-less.

There is doubt as to how much the parents are taking in of the actual show, for many are distracted by the few children chasing and trying to catch those elusive chickens.

I was impressed by the amount of interaction the book engendered. I had to look carefully time and again, to fully absorb the volume of information contained on each page. This guarantees that children will discover new things each time they open the covers. The rich content will generate questions and answers between adult and child.

At the end is a double page spread with illustrated frames identical to the images in Cook’s Gallery. More information can be accessed along with maps and journals through the NLA on-line. 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Double Trouble: Dinosaur Danger

Double Trouble: Dinosaur Danger by Sarah Fraser, illustrations by Louis Shea (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-376-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Seven year old twins Tommy and Coop are known for their love of  pulling pranks. They collect all sorts of gadgets from a joke shop and use them to play tricks on their family, friends and class mates. But on a school excursion to the museum with Mr. Crotchet, the boys know they will have little opportunity for pranks. The button and knot exhibition is shaping up to be as boring as they expected until they see a sign which reads "Dinosaur Danger! Do Not Enter." Maybe there is a way to pull the best prank ever? Or will they get pranked themselves?
Double Trouble is a new Australian series for boys, pitched to the five plus beginner readers market. The boys are cheeky, funny and full of surprises. Each title is slim, with short chapters, large font, easy words and plenty of pictures.
Louis Shea is well-known for illustrating many children's picture books and this series features his humorous illustrations and expressive characters which emphasise the naughtiness and boy humour throughout.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Double Trouble: Midnight Mischief

Double Trouble: Midnight Mischief by Fiona Regan, illustrations by Louis Shea (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-377-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Twice the fun. Double the trouble.
Tommy and Coop are identical twins. They are very excited as school camp is coming up and these seven year olds know it will be a fabulous opportunity for pulling pranks. They have been to Joking Jo's, their favourite joke shop, for supplies and are ready to pull off some of their best pranks. The only problem is that they have promised Mum and Dad they will behave on camp and not prank anyone.
These cheeky brothers, who have never let something like this stand in their way, work out a way to get around the consequences of breaking their promise (or so they think) and soon there is mayhem at midnight.
But the pranks always get the boys into trouble. And every now and then, they may even be out-pranked.
This new Australian series is well suited to young boys who love an entertaining prank and cheeky fun. The structure and text of the story make this a good series for beginner readers while the entertaining and funny illustrations add to the appeal of these stories, enhancing the 'boy humour' throughout.  

Friday, 27 March 2015

Stand Up and Cheer

Stand Up and Cheer by Loretta Re (The Wild Colonial Company)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780992306922
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

I enjoyed everything about this book from the factual storyline crafted with perfect prose, to the outstanding characters - both bad and good. All my senses stood at attention from the first page to the last. Right from the beginning, a strong sense of time, place, and social conditions is projected.

It is 1934 in Albury situated on the border of NSW and Victoria. Ten year old Jack is passionate about and well-versed on the subject of planes and the history of aviation. When the Great Centenary Air Race from Britain to Melbourne is announced, all he wants is go to Melbourne to see the planes come in. His father, ‘the Voice of the ABC’, is calling the race. It is a time of great adventure and achievement, but also of great poverty due to unemployment.

Mac Robertson, the chocolate king, announces a free trip to Melbourne. The winner must collect the marked wrappers from Cherry Ripe that spell out ‘Centenary Air Race’. Jack sees winning the competition as his only chance of getting to Melbourne.

Jack’s heartbreaking experience with the town’s bully and his stash of wrappers is one of the many sub-stories that make this book so fantastic. Seamlessly knitted to Jack’s story are the disastrous events that cause the Uiver to be blown off course during a fierce storm. Subtly sifted into that is the conflict that occurs in Jack’s father’s working life. This is juxtaposed with his courageous actions that save the plane and crew, and put Albury on the map.

Loretta Re has written a powerful fictional account of a great Australian historical event in such a way, that it is impossible to put the book down. It has so many themes threaded through it that I’m unable to list them all. The writing is full of vivid scenes, and not a single unnecessary word exists anywhere.

I haven’t been so completely absorbed in a book, or enjoyed one so much, in the longest time. It is aimed at the 8-12 age groups but has everything readers of any age want from a story.

Thursday, 26 March 2015


Home by Carson Ellis (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406359428
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

There are many definitions of Home. There are also many places to call home. It might be in a house on wheels, a city underwater, a hollow in a tree, a large apartment building or a tiny house. There are so many options to claim. Don’t forget that there was on old woman who lived in a shoe. There’s one in this book too, along with all her children.

In Home, Carson Ellis’ first complete book, we are introduced to the many places people and animals call their home. She examines the what, who and why of homes around the world, and the different types of living arrangements that depend on climate and country, lifestyle and affordability.

Ellis’ exquisite style and colour choice for her illustrations accentuates her clever and minimal use of words. Darker shades are used than are normally found in children’s books, but this choice serves the theme and text well. There is a large amount of visual information to be found in the illustrations. This book is ideal for an adult to share with a child of 3+, for questions and discussion will be born from the detailed images. It is also a stimulating book for children to imagine and create their own stories with, simply from the illustrations alone.

Whether it is a nest, a boat or a wigwam, a palace, the home of a Japanese businessman, or a Slovakian duchess, home is where you live and are happy.