Friday, 29 July 2016

Ride High Pineapple

Ride High Pineapple by Jenny Woolsey (Pearls of Wisdom Press) PB RRP $29.25 ISBN 978-0-9945341-0-1                                                                             
Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Issy is in year 9 at Pinaroo High with a bestie and a beastie. The bestie is a friend and the beastie, a relentless bully.

Ride High Pineapple takes us via Issy’s journal into her friendships, family, school life, anxiety, sporting dreams, and the fact that she’s a normal kid with a not-very-normal face (she has craniofacial syndrome). It shows how she deals with the usual challenges of adolescence as well as being called names like ‘froggy face’.

It’s important to note that Ride High Pineapple is quite distinct in style and delivery from Wonder, another teen title dealing with facial difference.
In typical teenager style, Issy is moody, unpredictable and endearing. She is beautifully rendered in this novel – we don’t always understand her motivations but can resonate with the real and flawed human being before us. When she’s unable to deal with issues, Issy simply ignores them and immerses herself in either a screen or skateboard.

The intensity of teenage life including best friendships, romantic crushes, school and family, is played out with a sense of truth and drama. Issy can be jealous and mean-spirited. She’s also very clever, sassy, compassionate and kind, with a best friend who sticks by her.  

Creating the novel as a journal allows for passages of time to be marked, and requires the reader to do a little ‘work’, which is often a good thing. Coping strategies and questions are both woven into the fabric of the narrative and directly addressed to the reader. At times the author’s agenda is apparent, sitting alongside the practical solutions for children to use when dealing with difference and bullying.  

I love the intent of this beautifully told, page-turning story. The graphic and specific nature of both Issy’s syndrome and the bullying that she receives, are balanced with the technical detail and knowhow around skateboarding to offer interest and intrigue for both boys and girls.  

An unashamedly issues-based YA novel, it will no doubt elicit passionate and varied opinions if used as a stimulus for classroom discussion.   

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Rose Campion and the Stolen Secret

Rose Campion and the Stolen Secret by Lyn Gardner (Nosy Crow/Allen & Unwin)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780857634863

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Rose is a girl full of life, love of adventure, and spontaneity. She is compassionate and loving.  Abandoned at the stage door of Campion’s Palace of Varieties as a baby, Thomas Campion has raised and loved her as his own child.

Rose adores Thomas, but secretly yearns to learn who her mother was and where she came from.

But Campion’s is a place ‘full of people with secrets’. All are aware that knowledge is a dangerous thing; that life can be snuffed out quickly when people know or reveal too much.

When the generous-hearted Rose allows Effie and Aurora, girls with deep and complex secrets of their own, into her life, there are incredible happenings, and astonishing links are revealed.

I loved this book! It is riveting reading; stimulating, exciting and imaginative. There is a strong storyline full of continuous mystery which holds the reader’s interest every second. The excellent characters and the secrets they hold, are wound together tightly with past events that are even more thrilling and macabre than the current events they are experiencing. Stories are linked to sub-stories in a continuous chain of involvement.

This brilliant novel shows how our circumstances don’t always reflect who we are, and in order to survive, how frequently life forces us to do things that are against our nature.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Squishy Taylor in Zero Gravity

Squishy Taylor in Zero Gravity written by Ailsa Wild, illustrated by Ben Wood (Hardie Grant Egmont) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781760127725

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The fifth Squishy Taylor book opens with Squishy playing space-stations with her half-sisters Jessie and Vee (whom she refers to as her ‘Bonus Sisters’ throughout the series). This sets the scene for the book’s space-themed antics. While peering through their telescope to view a meteor shower, the girls notice something else intriguing. Someone resembling an astronaut is on a nearby rooftop, with what looks to be a rocket with visible sparks flying out.

The plot centres on Squishy’s determination to get to the bottom of the mystery, even if it means doing the wrong thing. Squishy, along with Jessie and Vee, hatch plans to sneak into the apartment building and make their way to the rooftop, deceiving their parents in the process and lying to the pyjama-clad man they find once they reach their destination.

Throughout, Squishy’s relationship with her stepmother Alice deteriorates. Squishy’s feelings towards Alice appear more hostile than in the previous Squishy Taylor books I’ve read (books one and four), and she yearns for her Geneva-dwelling birth mother for comfort more than ever.

The story’s conclusion sees a physically painful consequence for Squishy, yet her stepmother Alice’s reaction to the mayhem is inexplicably calm. While the Squishy Taylor books cleverly infuse action, mystery, fun and a touch of daredevil with real-life family issues, it felt as though this ending was a little too ‘nice’, considering Alice’s earlier impatience with Squishy. Regardless, the book’s page-turning hooks will keep young readers engaged, eager to discover who or what the strange astronaut and rocket may be.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Shakespeare for Kids, Five Fully Illustrated Classic Plays

Shakespeare for Kids, Five Fully Illustrated Classic Plays. Exisle Press (Familius Imprint) PB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781939629777

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

What child doesn’t love a slipcase full of books? In my house these items are gold on the shelf, indicating much-loved and well-read volumes for returning to over and again. Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton – childhood staples that always deliver.

So I have to say that the mere notion of a slipcase full of Shakespeare for kids had me a little concerned. Can the concepts within Shakespearian plays, created for mass public consumption within a very specific time and context, really and truly resonate with today’s children? And the biggie; do these books warrant a slipcase?

These volumes look the part, in a modern kind of way. In my collection (the first of four Shakespeare Classic Libraries) are The Tragedy of Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Tempest, All’s Well That Ends Well and Much Ado About Nothing. Muted colours on the box and covers give each a certain gravitas which does seem important when introducing the bard.
The interior of the books is cohesive and lives up to the promise of illustrations on each page. Black line drawings take us through the same introduction of Shakespeare in every book (one page with an illustration in a hand-drawn frame, a nice touch), and then to an illustrated list of the main characters in each play.

There are two obviously different illustration styles in the collection of books I received. I, personally, am very fond of scrawly line drawings (Quentin Blake is an all-time fave) and appreciated both styles which have come from McCaw books.

To their credit, these books are exactly what they say they are: straight up, no frills, blow-by-blow outlines of Shakespeare’s plays. Not written as plays but rather as condensed summary texts, they make sense of often grossly convoluted plots in a comprehensive manner. Interspersed with dialogue and illustrations, each is compact enough to engage and hold attention, and is accessible to children in terms of language and ideas.

So far, so good. As a reviewer I do have to note, however, that these are not the gorgeous, Roald Dahl-esque sublimely clever and rhythmic treatments of the classics that I was secretly hoping for; for instance, there’s no modern equivalent of the iambic pentameter that so endeared Shakespeare to his audiences.

However, when all’s said and done I believe that they do make a substantial offering and for that, they earn their slipcase – a very different kind of slipcase to those that contain imaginative, much-loved children’s classics -  but one that’s library-worthy nonetheless.

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Towers of Illica: Star of Deltora Book 3

The Towers of Illica: Star of Deltora Book 3 by Emily Rodda (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-064-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

When the Star of Deltora docks in the harbour at Illica, Britta knows this will be her most important trade in the quest to win the Rosalyn Contest and become mistress of her own trading ship. But the Collectors, who make their home on this island, are slippery hosts and the shadows which swirl and haunt Britta, press even closer. It becomes more evident to her that she is reluctantly following in her father’s final footsteps, increasing her anxiety that someone will discover her true parentage.

The Towers of Illica is the third instalment in the adventurous and fast- paced fantasy series, Star of Deltora by well loved Australian author Emily Rodda. It has a thrilling plot and an edge of foreboding darkness throughout, which will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Britta is likable, strong and feisty heroine whose relationships with others aboard the ship are building as the story progresses.

Lovers of fantasy and great storytelling will become engrossed in this entertaining series –especially fans of previous Deltora books. A great read for middle-grade through to early teenagers.

Readers can collect cards – six come with every volume – and share in the trading experience.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Princess Parsley

Princess Parsley by Pamela Rushby (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-161-0

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Parsley Patterson’s first year of high school is not turning out as she’d expected. Targeted by Danielle and her group of ‘mean girls’ who Parsley dubs The Blondes, she is picked on for her name, her hippie family and her Possum Creek address. But just as she decides to keep her head down and try to ignore it until it all blows over (or she finishes high school, whichever comes first!) her father’s announcement causes the spotlight to rest firmly on Parsley again.

Locked in a fight with the local council over the right to hold a market day, Parsley’s parents have decided to ‘drop out of the nation’ and form their own Principality of Possum Creek. This makes Parsley and her sisters Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, all princesses. If Princess Parsley is going to survive even the first year of high school she is going to need to form a strategy.

From the title, front cover and blurb I was expecting a cute story about fitting in at high school, but what I got was much more solid and thoughtful. The storyline often went in unexpected directions and the way in which Parsley tackled the bullying problem was novel.

The serious themes of bullying and politics are balanced with Parsley’s humour. She has a unique way of looking at the world and of approaching her problems. Her drama teacher harnesses this by encouraging her to try stand-up comedy as an outlet for her frustration and embarrassment.

Princess Parsley is an entertaining and engrossing read, with a dash of interesting political information thrown in as well. There is something fascinating about Principalities, how they work, and the reasons people have for forming them. The characters are fun - even the ‘mean girl’ Danielle is portrayed sympathetically and is not just a two dimensional foil for the heroine – and this is a well written tale which is hard to put down before reaching the satisfying ending.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela (Random House Australia) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781025324822

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

With the recent advent of children’s spelling competitions on national television, this book by Australian Deborah Abela is likely to have added appeal to readers aged 8 to 11 years.

India Wimple is a national spelling champ in the making. She and her family religiously watch the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Been on TV every Friday night. India invariably knows the correct spelling of words presented to competitors. She would go public with her talent but nerves get the better of her – ‘she was terribly, horribly shy and whenever she found herself the centre of attention, her cleverness seemed to disappear.’ Despite this, and encouraged by her loving family, India faces her fears.

This is a fast-paced and engaging book. Abela wonderfully captures the caring spirit of family and community. She presents an accurate view of a spelling bee with its wide variety of competitors, including a spoilt rich girl who is determined to win at all costs. A special feature of the book is the way in which each chapter is introduced. A word is highlighted, as well as its part of speech, its definition, and its use in a sentence. Each time, the chapter opening clearly hints at what is to come. For instance, there is ‘Skulduggery (noun): Trickery, underhandedness, funny business. It seemed there was a lot of skulduggery about.’ Other chapters are prefaced with words such as ‘Tremulous’, ‘Valorous’, ‘Trepidation’, ‘Calamitous’.

This is a spirited, exciting and heart-warming story that is sure to be enjoyed by young readers. And, too, it will be of special interest to anyone who is keen to improve their vocabulary and spelling abilities.