Friday, 24 October 2014

Heap House

Heap House by Edward Carey (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0157-2
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

Set in an alternate Dickensian London Heap House is a quirky and dark read. Definitely, not everyone’s cup of tea.

I was attracted to this book because it reminded me of Edward Gorey’s characteristic dark pen and ink comics. I struggled at first with the Dickensian language, and managed to muddle up the characters, finding it difficult to get my head around the story. Once I settled though and found my way, I enjoyed it. The creepiness of the story combined with the language made me forget that it's meant to be a middle grade book. In fact I counted a few swear words in there. I do think you'd have to have a real book lover on your hands for the intended audience to get to grips with this story. It is for a patient reader.

Carey has created a strange Gothic world. Heap House and its inhabitants are isolated from the city. The Iremongers find treasure in the rubbish (heap) that keeps growing. The heap acts as an ocean and sweeps people and things out to oblivion when a storm blows in. Clod, the main character, isn’t quite like the rest of his family, he hears objects whisper and recently they’ve not just been saying names. Every Iremonger has a 'birth object': an everyday household object that they must keep with them at all times, or else they will die. Clod has an unusual talent: he can hear birth objects speak names. His own birth object, a universal bath plug, says "James Henry Hayward". Clod is seen as strange for this talent and has therefore grown up to be rather unpopular. One day he meets Lucy Pennant, an orphan who has been brought to Heap House to be a servant. When she arrives, strange things begin to happen and Lucy is blamed for them. She and Clod must find out what is happening in order to clear her name and save her from bloodthirsty Iremongers who hate all outsiders.

If you like Howl’s Moving Castle, Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Events and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, then this book could be for you.

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.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Jumble Cat

Jumble Cat by Archie Kimpton, illustrator Kate Hindley (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0278-4
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy
Jumble Cat is a wicked romp of a story full of … well, wickedness. I can imagine boys 8 – 12 years rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter whilst reading this book.

Archie Kimpton’s Jumble Cat is fart humour with finesse. His way with words is nothing short of captivating. Not only are his words as poetically jumbled as the Cat but the way he describes certain characters is almost naughty.

The main character Billy Slipper is normal enough in a Cinderella kind of way but oddly enough, his best friend is a ninety something year old woman. Together they befriend a foul mouthed jumbled–up cat and win thousands in prize money only to have it stolen. They embark on an adventure scaling castle walls, stealing and crashing his monstrous mother’s car, so they can rescue the grungy rude cat from a demented taxidermist.

 Archie’s writing is a delight to read, and quite often I put my hand to my mouth in a No, he didn’t just say that kind of way. This excerpt is Billy’s mother Phillipa Slipper:

“Believe it or not, Phillipa Slipper was in a good mood. She was always in a good mood after her course. ‘Do you know what I learnt this evening?’ She twittered excitedly. ‘How to kill butterflies. Do you know the best way to kill a butterfly?’ She didn’t wait for an answer. ‘You could try a fly swatter, but you might leave a terrible mark on the wall. So you can either suck them out of the air with a vacuum cleaner, or if that doesn’t work, try catching them in a jar, put the lid on and watch them suffocate. Simple! And no mess.”

Jumble Cat is Archie Kimpton’s first book and I daresay not his last. The layout of the book is clean and easy to follow. Each black and white illustration is strong and gives a less confident reader a well-deserved rest.

Young readers will enjoy this book and I very much enjoyed this book. I look forward to reading more by this author.

Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of The Bear Said Please picture book 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.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Bridie’s Boots

Bridie’s Boots by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Sara Acton (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921504723
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

For her fifth birthday Bridie is given a pair of gumboots wrapped in rainbow paper. She loved these boots; they were the best boots ever.

When it rained they kept her feet dry as she crossed wild rivers.
When the sun came out she twirled on tiptoes and splashed in puddles.

Bridie wore her boots all that winter, but then the weather warmed and she put them away. For days, weeks, months and almost a year.  And when winter returns her boots won’t fit. She’s grown out of them, but now is the time to send them on an adventure of their own.

To someone, somewhere, on the other side of the world.

This is a charming story of a little girl who dreams of adventures, and when her boots no longer fit, she sends them on an adventure too. To a little girl on the other side of the world, who will love them just as much as she did.

Sara Acton’s soft and delightful illustrations add to this story of passing time and passing things on.  The simple addition of a seed being planted, then watered, flowering then dying back to nothing is a great visual of the passing of time.

Recommended for pre-schoolers,  this would be a good book to read before that ‘yearly toy clean out’.  Keeping the notion that someone else, somewhere in the world, will love your boots – or your toys - just as much as you do.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Augustus and his Smile

Augustus and his Smile by Catherine Rayner (Little Tiger Press — Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 978-1-84506-283-5
PB $14.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Augustus and his Smile is an endearing story about a tiger which goes looking for his smile. Writer and illustrator Catherine Rayner captures the essence of the main character from the very first picture on the cover: the friendly face of a tiger (Augustus) with a blue butterfly on his nose. Open the book and paw prints on an orange background lead you, the reader, to the first page.

The story is a simple but important one. Augustus is sad and travels to different places to cheer himself up. He goes under some bushes, to the top of the trees, to the crests of the mountains, the bottom of the oceans and through the desert. All the while, to the observant reader, his smile is growing. It isn't until he is caught in a shower of rain and sees himself in a puddle, that Augustus notices this, too.

At the back of the book are some tiger facts, including information about the endangered Siberian tigers (the kind of tiger Augustus is). Contact details are included for the World Wildlife Fund, for those interested in helping. This is a lovely book to enjoy reading aloud and has a good message about finding happiness in the world around you.

 UK children's author Catherine Rayner has shown a great talent for drawing animals in her previous books, for example Harris Finds his Feet (about a hare) and Sylvia and Bird (about a dragon). With his wistful face and ready smile, her newest character Augustus is impossible not to become attached to. Preschool children will want to read this book over and over, just to see the tiger's happy face. 


Boy21 by Matthew Quick (Headline/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99 EBook $9.99
ISBN: 9781 4722 1290 0
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Matthew Quick has embarked on a dark and quirky story set in a poor North American town where drugs, filthy streets, and danger abounds.
Finley's life is no bed of roses. His mother died when he was just a kid and he lives with his Dad and Pop, an invalid with no legs who ever-mourns the loss of Finley's grandmother. He attends Bellmont High and the highlights in his life are basketball and his girlfriend Erin who also attends the school. She is a significant member of the girls' basketball team. Her older brother Rod assumes the role of protector and has a fierce reputation among the white and black residents of the town. The reader quickly gets the impression that it is a place you only live in if you have no choice. Both Finley and Erin have dreams of using their basketball prowess to give them tickets out.
The Coach burdens Finley with the job of companion to recently orphaned Russ, a high-profile high school basketball player from L.A. who copes with his trauma by claiming to be a space alien, Boy21. Finley is given information about Russ which he is not allowed to divulge to anyone. Finley speaks very little in any case, due to his own negative experiences, but he is not happy when he realises Russ plays his starting position in the basketball team. Right now Russ does not want to play basketball and Finley has been tasked to encourage him back into the game. If he is successful, he may have to forfeit his place and number in the team as Russ is also number 21. Surely that is too much to sacrifice.

Boy21 is an insight into lives that are oppressed by shadows of the past and which threaten them still. But it also shows how families battle along together and that some sacrifices are worth it. Quick has tackled a number of emotional and external problems to reveal a deep understanding of the way young people are affected by trauma and how friendship can help turn things around. Finley and Russ's story reflects the concept of keeping on in difficult circumstances and may encourage readers who are also finding life impossible. Boy21 demonstrates that things are never static; at some stage there is a breakthrough, often when you least expect it.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor

Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor by Julie Anne Grasso, illustrated by David Blackwell and Samantha Yallope (Julieannegrassobooks)
PB RRP $10.00
ISBN 978-0-987372-54-3
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy
First impression of this chapter book was that it would be perfect for boys age 7 -10. The cover illustration of our young detective Frankie, in front of a mysterious building, surrounded by ‘clues’, invites the reader to open the cover and investigate for themselves. I was reaching for this book over others in my ‘to read’ pile and I am sure the cover would have a similar effect on kids.

Julie Anne Grasso’s story of young Frankie and his search for his missing cousin Kat has many twists and turns, the ending is of course satisfying, but not at all expected. The setting for the story, Enderby Manor, is a strange building filled with strange characters and bumbling Inspector Cluesome whom I assume will be a consistent character in future Frankie Dupont stories. The story is written in a way that children will relate to. The lyricism in the text will sound wonderful to a read-a-loud ear and will capture a confident reader’s imagination.

Julie’s writing is flavoured with recognisable smells, sounds and sights and is a delight to read. “Frankie took a bite and his whole mouth tingled with delight as though his taste buds were giving a round of applause.”

The layout of the book is clean and easy to follow. The illustrations are a big part of the book and keep the story flowing nicely giving affirmation to the younger reader who may be a little unsure. Each black and white illustration is strong and appears to be full of life and colour.

Young readers will enjoy this book and I very much enjoyed this book. I look forward to reading more by this author.
Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of The Bear Said Please picture book 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.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Story of World War One

The Story of World War One by Richard Brassey (Orion/Hachette)
PB RRP $12.99
EBook $12.99
ISBN 9781444010855
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Richard Brassey's explanation of World War I is an entertaining and informative picture book children will find captivating. The heartbreak of slaughter has been omitted in his colourful and precise illustrations but there is plenty of action and insight to glean. He uses topics throughout the book, e.g., The Home Front and the Role of Women, and Weapons and War Machines, and the text is supported by maps and cartoon-style strips together with fact boxes. I found the Trench Warfare double spread showing a section of trench layout and why it was constructed that way absolutely fascinating. Information about trench foot, shellshock and even the trench coat which later became a popular item of clothing were among the other interesting snippets included in this section.
There is a naivety in Brassey's drawings which reflects the innocence of the times. Never again in war would opposite sides down tools to play footie together in no-man's land on Christmas Day as they did in 1914. The text gives a concise, easy to understand explanation of the events leading up to, during, and the ending of the Great War, and reflects the courage, resilience and decisions, often unwise, of those involved. His side facts which include why the poppy is worn on Remembrance Day give a wonderful balance to the more sobering events. The prediction that only one in ten English girls would marry because of so many young men being killed thankfully did not become a reality.

The Story of World War One is a timely release to co-incide with the centenary of the opening year of the event. My impression is that children will have a much better grasp on this period in history, and appreciate the significance and sacrifice of those who fought for freedom because of the skill and creative talent of the author.