Thursday, 25 May 2017

The 12th Dog

The 12th Dog by Charlotte Calder, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Hachette Australia) HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9780734416919

Reviewed by Brook Tayla

The delightful memories that this book brought up make me smile.
The 12th Dog is the classic Aussie kids’ street or backyard cricket match story – simple but fun.  Charlotte’s words take us on a sweet journey of the annoying ball thief who is finally recognised for his great cricket playing skills. Tom Jellett’s illustrations are adorable – especially the expressive, realistic faces the dog pulls throughout the book.

When I was growing up there were many games of cricket played in the street and dogs made really good fielders – but occasionally one would take off with the ball and there would be a stream of kids chasing the dog down the road to get the ball back.  From memory the dogs always outsmarted and outran all of us, which ended the game unless another ball could be found!  

At one stage we had a ball crazy dog named Snoopy that the neighbours used to borrow for their backyard cricket games.  They put him to the test one day in a match that lasted five hours – he didn’t let them down!

This is a really great book that both children and adults will enjoy and hopefully it will get lots of you playing cricket with your dog – they make the best players…..and the best memories!

Brook Tayla writes a blog called and would love you to drop by, read some reviews, leave a comment and follow by email so you get to receive all the latest reviews.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Where’s The Ballerina?

Where’s The Ballerina? by Anna Claybourne, illustrated by Abigail Goh (Quarto Group UK)  HB RRP $19.9   ISBN 9781782404507

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Some of the greatest stories in the world are presented as ballets, but their meaning can be lost amongst young audiences. ‘Don Quixote’, ‘Swan Lake’ … even ‘The Nutcracker’ can seem confusing. When I first picked up this charming, full-colour picture book, I thought it would simply be a look-and-find, ‘Where’s Wally’ style of activity book.  I was glad to discover it was much more than that – it is also a kid-friendly reference guide to ten different ballet productions.

The ballets presented in the book are: ‘Swan Lake’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Giselle’, ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘La Bayadère’, ‘Coppélia’, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Don Quixote’ and ‘Cinderella’. Two double-page spreads are devoted to each ballet. The first is an introduction. It features a plot synopsis, setting description and full-colour storyboard, accompanied with text, depicting seven main scenes from the ballet. The second double-page spread offers the look-and-find activity for that particular ballet. The illustration for the task is always a scene from that ballet, and readers need to find 5 - 7 hidden characters from that ballet. (For example, for ‘The Nutcracker’, they need to find Clara, The Nutcracker Prince, Dr Drosselmeyer, The Mouse King, The Snow Queen, The Sugar Plum Fairy and Mother Ginger.) As an added bonus, there is always a hidden peacock lurking amidst the scene, along with a ballerina in a white tutu. The answers have been included at the back, and are cleverly presented as darkened stage scenes with spotlights shining on the hidden characters.

This beautifully presented hardcover book is suitable for 5–8 year-olds, and would make a beautiful gift for a child about to start dance lessons or who is generally interested in ballet.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener by Eric Fan and Terry Fan (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781847809391

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Something magical is happening at Grimloch Lane … trees are being shaped into astounding animals overnight, giving the residents a new surprise to wake up to each morning. William, a boy at the local orphanage, is filled with wonder. First, he wakes up to a huge owl. Then, a cat. One day, it’s an enormous dragon, fit for climbing on. Suddenly, the trees look alive … and so do the people. Neighbours unite to marvel. No longer do they walk alone, heads down. They speak to one another. They laugh together. The crowds grow.

One night, William spots the elusive ‘Night Gardener’ and follows him to Grimloch Park. The gentleman knowingly turns and smiles at him: ‘I could use a little help.’ He teaches William his craft and, together, they work all night to create a magical zoo wonderland. The Night Gardener is not there when William awakes, but it seems the entire town has congregated in the park, in awe.

The story closes with a heartwarming message – though the Night Gardener has gone, and the leaves have long fallen from the trees, the people of the town have changed. They find other reasons to come together. And William, who received the man’s garden shears as a parting gift, continues his legacy in topiary art.

This stunning book has been written and illustrated by two brothers, Eric and Terry Fan. The illustrations are breathtaking, imbued with the perfect colours to evoke the text’s emotions. They are black and white at first, but begin to come to life as the Night Gardener works his magic. The topiary trees appear in vivid green hues, showing life against an otherwise drab town. People start to come to life too, slowly receiving colour in their clothes and facial expressions. The seasons are portrayed in realistic hues, with autumn colours, especially, leaping off the page. The entire town finally appears in colour on a striking double page spread near the conclusion. The illustrations are a combination of ink and graphite mixed with digital colours. (The detailed linework reminded me a little of the work of Ron Brooks!)

This story is a beautiful salute to the magic of nature and its power to bring people together. It will suit readers aged 6 and older.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Running From the Tiger

Running From the Tiger by Aleesah Darlison (Empowering Resources) PB RRP $15   ISBN 9780994501066

Reviewed by Wendy Haynes

This is a story of true friendship. When ten-year-old Ebony meets Teena the new girl at school, she can’t believe her luck. A real friend at last. Follow Ebony and Teena as their friendship and trust for one another grows.

Darlison draws on Ebony and Teena’s growing friendship to give the reader a message of how friendship and encouragement can lead to overcoming a difficult family life.

This book for 10 -12 years old girls comes with a warning. It has a purpose of empowering those living with domestic violence. This social issue is woven tastefully throughout the narrative and encourages children to have a voice.

Ebony loves to run; it gives her freedom from her father and the abundances of chores and responsibilities he saddles her with at home. Both she and Teena among other classmates gain a spot in the zone carnival. With training commences after school Ebony dares to ask her father for permission. As the reader, you can’t help but have empathy for Ebony as she finds herself and strengths.

The climax comes when Ebony gets a chance to slips away with the encouragement of Teena, to compete at Zone level.  This book has a marvellous way of raising a difficult subject.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Secret Science of Magic

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9781760127763

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Secret Science of Magic is Melissa Keil’s third YA novel. A contemporary love story with an over-arching nerdy feel (in the best possible way), it is about Sophia, a maths genius with an eidetic memory, and Joshua, a magic-trick loving, self-confessed slacker. Told via both points of view (see the handy silhouettes at the top of each chapter), we are soon immersed in their inner-most thoughts and fears.

Sophia applies maths and science to all aspects of her life – there’s a theory for everything. However, when it comes to feelings, and magic, it becomes apparent that logic and order can’t figure everything out. Joshua feels a little aimless as the end of high school is rapidly approaching, but one thing is for sure – his feelings for Sophia. Both characters are complex, intelligent and endearing in their own ways, though I did find myself with a softer spot for Josh.

A strength of the story is the dialogue – snappy, sarcastic, funny and super smart, and peppered with pop culture references. The sibling relationships felt very real, as did Sophia’s friendship journey with BFF Elsie. Joshua’s little sister Gillian, sassy and wise beyond her years, was particularly hilarious.

This is a fabulous, engaging YA novel with unique characters, much heart and a love story you really hope happens, despite Joshua’s reiteration that in life, and in magic, timing is everything.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Archie Appleby: The Terrible Case of the Creeps

Archie Appleby: The Terrible Case of the Creeps by Kaye Baillie, illustrated by Krista Brennan (Wombat Books) PB  RRP $10.99 ISBN 9781925563016

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

This slim chapter book tells what happens when Archie has to spend two days with his scary Aunt Ruth.  He’s a boy with a vivid imagination who likes making up stories. She’s a keen gardener who knows a lot about poisons and weird plants. Her husband, Uncle Jock, seems to have disappeared.  

Late at night Aunt Ruth takes food down to something in her deep, dark basement. Archie is convinced she is keeping Uncle Jock down there a prisoner and bravely decides to rescue him. After two failed attempts he manages to discover what is really in the basement. Not his uncle --  who arrives fit and well from a fishing trip -- but a monstrous plant, a Venus Flytrap Gigantus. (Shades here of The Little Shop of Horrors, although this plant isn’t a man-eater.)

Luckily everything ends well. Archie and Aunt Ruth are reconciled and he goes home considering the possibility of another visit.

The carefully chosen language, clear print and short sentences make it an easy read. Newly independent readers will enjoy the building sense of suspense and the humorous way Archie misinterprets events.  The book would also be good to read aloud.

Krista Brennan has contributed a number of delicate line-drawings. There is a mismatch, though, between the pictures of Archie smiling mischievously as he enters the basement, and the descriptions in the text of what he felt: ‘his heart pounded,’ and ‘he shuddered at the thought of going to the basement in the dark.’  

Friday, 19 May 2017

Hotaka: Through My Eyes

Hotaka: Through My Eyes by John Heffernan (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99  ISBN 9781760113766

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

When media attention dwindles, we are left to merely imagine the after-effects of a natural disaster. How does a community recover from such a large-scale event? How do people unite to rebuild lives and towns when, in fact, so many are mourning their loved ones?

This novel, set in Japan, is the first in a promising new spin-off set of ‘Through My Eyes’ books (created by Lyn White) focusing specifically on natural disaster zones. The story is told from the perspective of a boy named Hotaka, and begins on March 11, 2011 – the day the northern coastline of Japan was struck by a tsunami that killed around 16,000 people. John Heffernan, who spent a month in the damaged Tōhoku region of Japan to research the novel, vividly describes the residents’ chaos and fear in a gripping, nail-biting introduction.

The story then cuts to 2014, three years later. The entire region is still a construction site. Many people are living in sub-standard accommodation. Hotaka is mourning both his friend, Takeshi, and his grandfather. Haunted by memories of that fateful day he tries to busy himself organising a memorial concert, enlisting the help of his two best friends (Osamu and Sakura). Sakura starts getting fired up about the seawall the government has arranged to build, and Hotaka doesn’t initially understand why. His beloved Uncle Yori explains it better: ‘We’re part of Nature. We can’t shut it out with walls. We have to live with it, not against it.’

Sakura, whose own tragic past is eventually revealed, starts a major community revolt against the wall, against the government and against the construction company. Together with Hotaka, Osamu, and the power of social media, their campaign reaches far and wide … but it seems the corrupt mayor will stop at nothing to silence them.

This uplifting work of historical fiction, targeting readers aged 11–14 years, is a compelling read in or outside the classroom. Its themes cover family, friendship, identity, community and government corruption. A glossary, timeline of events, and list of websites has been included. The novel is a wonderful exploration of the positive community forces at play when disaster strikes, delivering a beautiful message: ‘Sadness is not necessarily the enemy of happiness … for the dark gives the light a place to shine.’