Thursday, 31 July 2014

Spirit Animals Book 3: Blood Ties

Spirit Animals Book 3: Blood Ties by Garth Nix & Sean Williams (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-000-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan are four children who have bonded with some of the Great Beasts of Erdas; a wolf, a leopard, a panda and a condor. They are the Chosen Ones, the children and their spirit animals who protect their world from the Devourer and his Conquerors. But they have not yet learned to work as a team, they have not learnt to trust one another, and they all have doubt about their abilities and whether they deserve the honours bestowed on them.
Meilin is only just beginning to appreciate her Spirit Animal but her impatience with the slow, peaceful lumbering Jhi -a Great Panda - still bubbles to the surface often. A girl of action, Meilin is unwilling to be stillfor long enough to learn what Jhi is offering. Instead, she rushes back to her homeland of Zhong to find her father. But Zhong has been overthrown by the Conquerors and Meilin finds herself lost in the bamboo maze with only Jhi to help.
Conor, Abeke and Rollan travel to find Meilin and then continue on their way in search of the ‘Slate Elephant’ talisman hidden deep in the heart of a jungle. This quest may cost the lives of those dear to the children.
Once again, the authors of this instalment are well established in the fantasy genre. Blood Ties is an extremely well written book. The characters are not just vehicles for the action, they grow internally and learn more about themselves, others and their world. As a reader I am growing more attached to them as the series progresses and each book offers something new, rather than just action.
This is a fabulous series. Erdas is a wonderfully built world, with countries different in landscape, setting, people and cultures. All the characters, not just the main ones, are really well fleshed out, interesting and real. The action is fast and gripping, but there is reflection time as well to slow the pace occasionally.
I think this is a series which will captivate and inspire lovers of fantasy, action, animals and storytelling. It will suit middle school readers mostly, between grades five and eight.

Read the book, and then discover the action role-playing game online, complete with a spirit animal of your own, at

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Breaking the Spell: Stories of Magic and Mystery from Scotland

Breaking the Spell: Stories of Magic and Mystery from Scotland by Lari Don, illustrated by Cate James (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 17.95
ISBN 9781847805324
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Here are ten fantastic, magical tales of selkies, witches, kelpies, spells, courageous girls, magician and apprentice, monsters, justice and loyalty. They are drawn from Scottish folklore and revisited and reformed by the author to create a selection of riveting reads. In the note from the author, she shares the origins of these stories and what she drew on specifically to create this stunning collection.

Adults will enjoy this book equally as much as younger readers. The illustrations are unique, as is the content of each tale. They focus on the strengths of the main characters, the justice in each situation, and showcase the beauty of the country through the descriptions and settings of land and sea.

I loved this collection. I was wholly swept into its tales of perseverance and justifiable outcomes.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Happy Pants

Happy Pants by Heather Gallagher, illustrated by Liz McGrath (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $22.99
ISBN 978-1-921632-93-8
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

When Mummy wears her happy pants we build sandcastles, go out for babycinos and have lots and lots of cuddles.  But when she comes home with baby Darcy, her happy pants stay in her wardrobe. 

Happy Pants is a lovely story about a young child struggling to understand his mother’s post-natal depression.  He first notices the problem after his mum stops wearing her “happy pants”.

         ‘Mummy’s a bit blue,’ says Daddy.
         I love red – fire engines, racing cars and toffee apples.
         But a person can’t be a colour…can they?
         Some days, Mummy stays in bed, sleeping all day.
         ‘Mummy, let’s cuddle,’ I say.
         But she lies as still as the statue in the park.

The reader is taken through the young boy’s attempts to understand the change in his mum.  It is a gentle journey from his observations of her changed behaviour to being babysat by Nanna while Mum goes to the doctor.  Despite the book ending on a positive note, it’s made clear that the problem will take time to be resolved. 

         ‘Did the doctor make you better Mummy?’
         ‘Not quite, my love,’ she says.
         ‘You’ll need to be patient with me…but I will get better, I promise.’

Liz McGrath’s illustrations are big and colourful.  With many full-page pictures, they provide a bright, beautiful backdrop throughout the book.      

Happy Pants is a lovely, heartfelt book that provides insight into a painful and confusing situation that many children find themselves in.  It is a beautiful book on its own or would be a great way to begin necessary conversation on a condition that deserves greater attention. 

Heather Gallagher wrote Happy Pants based on her own experience with post-natal depression.  It is her second book; her first, Ferret on the Loose, was published in 2013.  She lives by the seaside with her husband and two daughters.  When she’s not writing she works in community development at a church.  She can be found online at:

Liz McGrath is a freelance illustrator that specialises in projects that deliver health and community messages to parents and children.  She runs arts projects at a special school in Geelong and, since 2013, has been working on a number of projects through the Bluebird Foundation.  She can be found online at: 

Monday, 28 July 2014

When I See Grandma

When I See Grandma by Debra Tidball, illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921632-59-4
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Visiting Grandma can sometimes be sad but with a little imagination and thought, a little girl and her brother brighten Grandma’s dreams. 

When I See Grandma is a beautiful book.  The story follows a young girl as she visits her grandma, who is unresponsive in a nursing home.  By bringing in the special parts of her own life, the young girl tries to bring some happiness to Grandma’s dreams.

                  I love singing in the school choir.
                  The songs are happy and bright.
                  Grandma loves singing too…
                  When I see Grandma I sing her a song,
                  For her dreams to dance on.

Apart from the beautiful relationship depicted between the girl and her grandmother, what I especially loved about the book is that there is no shying away from reality.  At no point does the grandmother magically awaken; in fact the story ends, rather sadly, with her death.

                  I don’t like it when Daddy goes away for work.
                  I miss him a lot, but I think about how much he loves
                  me until I see him again.
                  I give him a big kiss before he leaves.
                  Grandma loves kisses too…
                  When I see Grandma again, I kiss her goodbye.

Although poignant, it is also a celebration of memories, family relationships and the simple things in life – music, laughter, having your hair brushed.

Leigh Hedstrom’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment - fun with lovely little details and warm colours. They are also a little understated which suits the gentleness of the story. 

When I See Grandma is a heart-warming, touching and sentimental book.  Overall, I loved it and would recommend it as a must have for any child’s book collection. 

Debra Tidball is a social worker, parent and author.  When I See Grandma is her first book and was drawn from her own experience of having a parent with dementia.  She lives in suburban Sydney with her husband, sons and furkids.  She can be found online at:

Leigh Hedstrom is a freelance illustrator with over 10 years’ experience illustrating for educational and children’s media.  She has illustrated for school readers and children’s magazines.  When I See Grandma is her first picture book.  She can be found online at:

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Boys Don’t Knit

Boys Don’t Knit by Tom Easton (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0147-3
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

I am not a target reader for this book, my teen years are behind me. In fact, when I first picked it up and noticed it was written in diary style I groaned inwardly. Not only is it aimed at teens but it would be full of a self-absorbed teenager’s thoughts too. I took a deep breath, and started reading. I soon discovered I couldn't put it down.

I read late into the night, turning pages in a way that would have gratified the author. As I mentioned, I am not this author's target audience but his writing transported me to a very happy place. If my experience is anything to go by, genre preference has little to do with captivating a reader.

Tom Easton has had over a dozen books published. His writing talents range from chapter books to young adult novels. Boy’s Don’t Knit is very clever. Ned, the main character is very likable in a completely flawed way, he is the kind of kid you want to succeed in life, you want to keep listening to his ‘voice’.

"I told Dad where I was going and he seemed really proud, like I was off to receive a Duke of Edinburgh award as opposed to what I was actually doing, which was fulfilling the terms of my probation by providing home assistance to an old lady I'd nearly killed. I suppose it's good to have his support, but if he's proud of me over this it does tend to suggest he has quite low expectations. I clearly don't need to do much to earn his respect. If I'm ever in the dock at Basingstoke Crown Court facing a thirty stretch for a triple murder, I can be sure Dad will be there in the gallery wiping away a tear, beside himself with pride at the fact that I managed to tie my own tie."

The book if read in a senior classroom situation would raise healthy discussion. I found it refreshing, the serious matters of peer pressure, sex, vandalism and theft are raised in this story and handled in a modern yet sensitive way without being condescending or preachy. The characters are fully formed and each supports the main character well.

The story gives room for sequels (I know there is one coming) and I am sure each would be an enjoyable read, in fact, I see a movie.
Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of picture book The Bear Said Please and the series ‘That’s not a …' learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.

An English Boy in New York, the sequel to Boys Don’t Knit is out August 2014.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Classics: Tales from Hans Christian Andersen

The Classics: Tales from Hans Christian Andersen by Naomi Lewis, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Frances Lincoln)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781847805102
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Nine of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales are translated by Naomi Lewis for a general ageless audience. Classic tales of incredible imagination and beauty transport the reader into a child’s world, and simultaneously an adult’s world where messages lay hidden and lessons await to be learnt. They come presented in a beautiful gift edition.  Stunning illustrations are by popular English children’s author and illustrator Emma Chichester Clark who studied graphic design before she studied book illustration under Quentin Blake.

This excellent collection contains some well known tales such as The Nightingale, The Little Match Girl, The Princess and the Pea, The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep, The Happy Family, and The Money Box Pig.  Two rare ones included are Elf Hill and Little Ida’s Flowers, although I confess I have read the last one before.

Entering Andersen’s stories is like entering a magical cave filled with valuable objects. You don’t know what you will discover. Nor can you choose a favourite thing for everything is priceless. This will be enjoyed by the junior reader or for a younger audience to be read to and shared. Look out for its companion collection of Tales from Grimm, retold by Antonia Barber.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Maxx Rumble Book 3: Grand Final

Maxx Rumble Book 3: Grand Final by Michael Wagner, drawn by Terry Denton (Walker Books)
PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 9781922244826
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Soccer Knockout Grand Final is here at last. The other teams that played the Stone Valley Saints were pretty rotten with their tacky tactics, but the Plankluvin Pirates are the ‘rottenest’ of the bunch. They look and are big and tough with their crayon moustaches and pirate chant that’s sung to the tune of the ‘drunken sailor’ song.

Arriving at the park, Maxx and his team are amazed at the amount of spectators. But they are there only for the Plankluvin Pirates. Everything reflects their pirate preference from their outfits to their nasty placards. But the Saints won’ be intimidated. 

Playing in the Grand Final is a special moment in time for Maxx and his team. But the cry of all-out attack from Blackbeard has the Pirates stampeding across the field. Mr Nuffin the referee is unable to blow his whistle because he’s being water cannoned by the crowd. It’s a free-for-all and the Saints have to come up with something bigger than the Pirates.

Mr Nuffin refuses to be intimated also. He finds a spare whistle and doesn’t spare the blows. The ever-optimistic leader Maxx digs deep to find that little bit more and calls all-out-attack as the pirates make a wall.

Can the Saints find enough energy to stay in step with the Pirates? Can a ball to the face again for Rexx be the Saints’ saving grace? If so, how? And can Maxx Rumble bring his team to victory and take the trophy?

Outrageously entertaining, with its clever word play and with the round-up of the series the best of all, this series is a winner. Michael Wagner’s smart prose teamed up with Terry Denton’s amazing translation of the text guarantees that.

These chapter books are not to be missed by parents searching for reading matter for their reluctant reader. Highly creative with strong optimistic messages in every book, kids who loved the Crazy Relief Teachers series by Matt Porter will love these as well.