Monday, 16 September 2019

White Bird

White Bird by R.J. Palacio, (Penguin Random House), 2019. Hard cover. 220pp. RRP $39.99

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

Here is another venture into the world of R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. This time it’s a young adult graphic novel for which she’s created both text and illustrations. The sparse, unfussy drawings are an excellent medium to tell a powerful tale.  

White Bird continues the story of Julian, the classroom bully from Wonder, whose backstory was fleshed out in Auggie and Me. It begins when Julien makes a FaceTime call to his grandmother Sara and asks her to tell him more about her experience as a Jewish child in France during the Second World War.

Through her eyes we see how the Nazis gradually changed life for the French, many of whom chose to look the other way and ignore what was happening. Young Sara herself is guilty of this to some extent because she stands by while the crippled boy in her class – the original Julien – is bullied. When the Jews in the village are rounded up, Julien’s family bravely hide Sara in their barn. Sara and Julien fall in love but sadly Julien becomes a casualty of the war.  

‘Evil will only be stopped when good people decide to put an end to it,’ says Vivienne, Julien’s mother. Sara realises she can and should act differently in future. And so does present-day Julien. By the end of her story, Sara has transformed her grandson from a bully into an ally. The final pages are a call to readers to resist contemporary prejudice and xenophobia.

White Bird is highly recommended as an easily accessible, deeply moving, retelling of a shocking historical time. There is an afterword, author's note, in-depth glossary with photos, a suggested reading list and a list of organizations and resources – all of which will be valuable resources for students and readers of any age. 
The white bird itself, which appears as a motif throughout the book, variously signifies hope, kindness and freedom. 

Saturday, 14 September 2019

I Love my Dad Because

I Love My Dad Because written by Petra James, illustrated by Alissa Dinallo (Pan Macmillan) HB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781760784393 2019

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

This is an interactive picture book that a child can personalize with their dad. Once completed it would make a delightful keepsake and would make a perfect gift on Father’s Day as it can be completed together with a child to celebrate their dad: making a treasure together is bonding and caring.

Alissa Dinallo use of colour and hand drawn pages, encourages togetherness and sharing as the bright illustrations bounce off the pages. The activities encourage learning and cognitive skills as children fill out the pages with their dad and it helps a child voice love and togetherness. What I particularly like is that the book supports and applauds the unique role that dads play in a child’s life.

Petra James has created some heart-warming activities that include drawing, colouring, counting, playing noughts and crosses and making a fish.  This book can be given to a dad on any special occasion: birthday, Xmas, Father’s Day… or any. There is also I Love My Mum Because to celebrate all things mum.

We all know dads know everything and this book celebrates the king of the castle.

Friday, 13 September 2019


Buzz Words reader, Kesta Fleming, is extremely pleased to announce that her author website is finally live. 

This is something of an achievement for Kesta, who has had, until now, a ’touch-it-and-watch-it-self-destruct’ kind of relationship with technology. The impetus for creating her website (in the face of such challenge), was the impending release of her debut chapter book, Marlow Brown: Scientist in the Making on 1 October. 

Kesta would love you to pay her a visit at:

Thursday, 12 September 2019

The Most Ungrateful Girl in the World

The Most Ungrateful Girl in the World by Petra James, illustrated by Anna Zobel (Puffin) RRP PB $16.99 ISBN 9780143793670

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Izzy Winkle is a 10-year-old girl with big dreams. She is longing to find her talent and become great at something. She considers her best friend Katie a genius and is aware that Mozart was eight when he wrote his first symphony, so she believes she’s falling behind in her quest already.

When a competition flyer falls from a hot air balloon through her window and onto her bed, Izzy believes it’s fate and she has to enter. The competition aims to find The Most Ungrateful Girl in the World. To prepare for the competition Izzy turns to Katie, who is smart and resourceful. Katie then points out the obvious problem… Izzy is 100% grateful and comes from a kind family with great manners. Undeterred, Izzy tells herself that she just has to do the opposite of what she normally does. Easy! Determined to win, Izzy and Katie seek help from a coach - Horace Unthank, a Professor of Bad Manners and Appalling Behaviour.

In the process of becoming ungrateful, Izzy discovers that people and events are not as they seem. She soon becomes tangled in a web of deception and lies and is approached to complete a secret mission. Izzy’s plan to win the competition remains but her motives drastically change.

The Most Ungrateful Girl in the World is a fun middle grade fiction novel written in the first person. It has monochrome illustrations scattered throughout the book; a combination of single page images and vignettes. The book would be suited to children aged 8+ who enjoy a little mischief. The story is about friendship, gratitude (and lack of!) and being yourself… which is naturally a bit of both good and bad.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Final Storm

Final Storm by Deborah Abela, (Puffin Books), 2019, Pb, RRP  $16.99
ISBN: 9780143794462

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

This is the third and final of Deborah Abela’s Grimsdon series. Isabella, Griffin and their friends exist in a reimagined civilisation after climate change has wrecked the planet. Since managing to survive in a flooded world (described in the second book) they have settled into the relative safety of  New City.

Before long their home is threatened by ever more erratic weather patterns. An organisation named Future World Solutions promises it can control the weather. But Isabella discovers that the man behind the organisation is their old enemy Byron Sneddon. Even worse, the person she believes to be a new ally is, in fact,  Sneddon’s son. After a series of escalating adventures, the son turns on his father, and the good guys triumph.

The story is fast-paced with many unexpected twists. The friends are action heroes who manage to overcome each potentially deadly challenge in the nick of time. There is no clear main character, which is unusual in a middle grade novel. Both Griffin and Isabella take centre stage at different times, concerned for each other and the future of New City. Especially poignant is Isabella’s desire to find her mother.

Some of the best writing describes the terrifying extreme weather events. Abela wrote the series because she was angry that governments around the world weren’t doing enough to combat climate change, and as a rallying cry for young environmental activists. I found it surprising, though, that her vision of climate change encompasses storms, winter weather and floods - not high temperatures and drought, which is something Australia is already experiencing. 

There maybe one or two moments of confusion for those who have not read the previous novels (e.g. the introduction of Matilda without any explanation as to what she is). Overall this is an exciting read for Grades 4,5 and 6.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The Tiny Star

The Tiny Star by Mem Fox, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Puffin) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780670078127

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Two of Australia’s best-known and best-selling children’s picture book creators have collaborated on this book, which is a celebration of family and community following the loss of a loved one.

The fly and title pages depict a night sky and two houses side by side, both with windows lit up. This leads to the opening lines, ‘Once upon a time, although this happens all the time, a tiny star fell to earth. There’s a neighbour scene, though no depiction of where the star has fallen. 

On the next page, an interior scene, the reader discovers that the star is a baby, discovered by a couple who take it home ‘wrapped (it) warmly in a quilt covered in stars.’ The baby, which gets ‘rounder and rounder’ is loved by all in the neighbourhood until one day it is all ground up ‘loved and adored’.

The story relates how the child becomes an adult and then so old and ‘so tiny it disappeared altogether.’ The community grieves the loss but ‘the tiny star hadn’t vanished at all!’ It has returned to its home in the heavens and ‘there it remained, to rest.’ ‘Everyone knew that they star they had loved so much would be there always, loving them from afar and watching over them… forever.’

This touching story is timeless, and the book ideal for reading to a child who has lost a loved one as a way of simply explaining the cycle of life and death in a non-religious but touching way.

Blackwood’s illustrations are, as usual, ideal for the story. Here is an artist who can faithfully depict real-life children and put them into scenes which are warm and loving. There are pages with lots of white space, while others are full-page coloured spreads.

No doubt this book with its pared-back text, uplifting message and eye-catching illustrations, will win awards. It will also win the hearts of readers aged 5 years and up.

Monday, 9 September 2019

My Dad is a Dragon

My Dad is a Dragon by Damon Young, illustrated by Peter Carnavas
(University of Queensland Press) PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780702260490

Review by Wendy Haynes

My Dad is a Dragon is the sixth instalment of this series, a testament to the talent of this duo. The book bolsters the important role of fathers and how children thrive having a happy relationship with them.

The story tells of the many thing other dads can do, but the author Damon Young deliberately pulls the reader’s focus back to the relationship between father and child. My Dad is a Dragon is a representation, a celebration of fatherhood, and how fathers play a significant role throughout a child’s life.

The illustrator Peter Carnavas builds on the story with the characters having a togetherness throughout the pages. His illustrations are in pastel shades which gives a sense of calm.

The young girl is like an observer and a participator as the author moves the reader through the story. She can see what other dads do but her dad is a dragon!