Sunday, 19 April 2015

Wild Boy and the Black Terror

Wild Boy and the Black Terror by Rob Lloyd Jones (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781406341409
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Darker and more dramatic, this sequel to Wild Boy draws us into Mayfair in West London, 1842. Wild Boy the circus freak and his best friend Clarissa Everett have been hidden away by their guardian Marcus these last months after they helped him catch a murderer. This was due to Clarissa’s nimbleness and Wild Boy’s perceptive observational skills, which have become finely tuned assets to the children.

There is a great and sinister threat to all of the surrounding area which includes the Palace and Queen Victoria. A dark pervading presence that carries horrible symptoms has begun to envelope everyone. Its mysterious power causes past memories to resurge and its terror grotesquely transmogrifies the victim. This all consuming blackness in body and soul ends only in death.

Wild Boy and Clarissa are called upon to use their detective skills and particular gifts to track down and destroy this dark monster. Will they succeed? Can they do so before Marcus succumbs to the black terror? And what role, if any, does Wild Boy’s nemesis, Augustus Finch, play in this frightful story?

This is a fast-faced, heart-pounding mystery of great proportions suited for the 12+ age group, although it’s listed as 9+. Scary and graphic at times, its gothic horror will appeal to readers of this genre. It has a pit full of suspects, and just when you think you’ve guessed who the culprit is, another more convincing choice appears. It will be read in one sitting for there’s no way it can be put down before the last page.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Ride, Ricardo, Ride!

Ride, Ricardo, Ride! by Phil Cummings, Illustrations by Shane Devries (Omnibus Books for Scholastic)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-073-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ricardo loved to ride his bike. His ‘silver handlebars sparkled like fresh snow in sunshine’ while his father watched on, clapping, saying, "Ride, Ricardo, ride!" Then one day the shadows came. And life was never the same again.
This stunning picture book, set in a war-torn European village, engages all the senses. The smell of the wildflowers, feel of the wind and the quiet stillness which transforms into the endless drone of marching military boots. The text evokes imagery while the illustrations add substance to the story.
Every sturdy glossy page glows. As the ‘shadows’ mar everyday living, this glow adds eeriness, where previously it made everything shine.
The use of the shadows and what they represent is very effective too. The line ‘In the darkest of one of these nights, Ricardo's father went out and was lost to the shadows’ takes the breath away.
This is picture book writing at its best. There are not many words, but each is vital and creates emotion and pictures. The illustrations are just as spectacular, images and colour filling every page.
Ride, Ricardo, Ride! could be read to preschool-aged children, neither the war nor soldiers are mentioned directly. It is a beautifully uplifting story, but be aware of the menace of the shadows, the war-torn streets and the implied death of Ricardo's father.
The ending, with Ricardo putting his bike back together, piece by piece, as many would their lives after the war, is wonderful.
The text, illustrations and layout all combine together to create a beautifully appealing picture book. It would be a great addition to any bookshelf and one I would highly recommend to anyone wanting a story about the war and its impact for younger children.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Escape From Wolfhaven Castle: The Impossible Quest #1

Escape From Wolfhaven Castle: The Impossible Quest #1 by Kate Forsyth (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-406-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Tom is a kitchen hand, trained to scrub pots in Wolfhaven Castle under the watchful eye of his mother, the castle's cook. But after Lord Wolfgang ignores a wild man’s warning the castle is attacked, leaving Tom on the outside alone with Elanor, the lord's daughter, Sebastian, a knight in training, and Quinn, the witch’s apprentice. It soon becomes clear that it is up to these four children to fulfil an old prophecy to save Wolfhaven castle with their friends and family who are held prisoner inside.
Escape from Wolfhaven Castle is the first book in a series of five which mixes fantasy and adventure in an action-packed quest, which will enthral both boys and girls in equal measure.
The characters are strong, likeable and believable. They don't know each other at the beginning of the journey and often have disagreements about the best way to achieve the quest - or even if it is actually a quest - but it is this newness that helps the reader get to know the characters as the children grow into their relationships.
Medieval in feel, and darkly ominous, the story follows these four children as they desperately try to outrun frightening bog-men and pursue treasures held by griffin, unicorn, sea-serpent and dragon – even though they do not fully believe in the existence of these mythical creatures.
Although dark and a little scary in some places, the structure of the traditional quest, and the age and motivations of the characters makes this series suitable for nine year olds and up.

This fast-paced adventure is hard to put down and I was eager to pick up the next one as soon as I closed this first book.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front by Allison Marlow Paterson (Big Sky Publishing)
HB RRP $24.99 PB
ISBN 9781925275148

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is an impressive-looking book for young readers, from its striking cover and internal design to the internal text which is broken up into chunks of information presented as postcards, newspaper clipped or letter texts, or in break-outs. Most books for young readers focus primarily on Gallipoli (in keeping with the 100th landing of the Anzacs this year). But this covers the Western Front. Further, it is a unique story, being the tale of five Australian brothers all serving in WW 11 and, too, it is told by the grand-daughter of one of the three surviving brothers.

Photographs, maps, letters and facts tell the story of the Marlow boys – George (Geordie), twins Allan and Percy, Charles (Charlie) and Albert, four of whom enlisted in the 38th Battalion. They were among over 330,000 Australians who served in the First World War, more than 60,000 dying.
Researching meticulously through over 500 letters (some unpublished), maps, and other war memoriam, Paterson tells the story of the family’s background that led to the five brothers leaving their family farm in Northern Victoria headed for the battlefield. Interwoven with personal stories (sixth brother Jim turned away due to poor eyesight, Charlie getting his teeth fixed in order to enlist), Anzac Sons tells of the war both in a broader sense, but also how it affected those left behind in Australia (such as the Marlow parents, Charles Senior and Sarah).  

We follow the progression of the war from Australia to the Somme and on to Fromelles, later to places like Pozieres. In break-out boxes we read of causalities and see photographs – black and white and coloured – of interesting places and events. There’s Charlie and Pearl, for instance, on their wedding day prior to Charles leaving for overseas, unaware his new wife is expecting. (Later we see Pearl with baby Eva, both gorgeous looking Marlows!)

There’s so much information in this book that is compelling and fascinating and so full of heart that any reader – children six to teens (and over) -- will want to linger over the written and visual texts. At the end of the book is a sub-heading, ‘We Will Remember Them.’ This book is a valuable way of personalizing war through one family’s sacrifice, but showing, too, how Australia’s sons and daughters participated with great bravery despite horrendous odds. It’s a book that ought to be in every school library, and hopefully too in many home libraries.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Lily the Elf: The Midnight Owl

Lily the Elf: The Midnight Owl by Anna Branford, illustrated by Lisa Coutts (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 7.95
ISBN 9781925081053

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Children’s fears and insecurities are the themes that Anna Branford has chosen to address in this first book of her new series for emerging readers. It introduces Lily the Elf and themes of imagining, overcoming fears, and learning to be brave.

Lily lives with her dad in a tiny house under a bridge. Her granny lives in a flat at the back of their house.

Lily can’t sleep. All she hears is the spooky questioning hoot of the owl. To both her granny and dad, the sound is a welcome one. But their encouraging words don’t help the tiny Lily. Granny suggests an adventure. Perhaps seeing the owl face-to-face would change things for Lily.

Lily prepares herself by practising at being brave. Will reading a scary book, going into a dark cellar or jumping off a high toadstool make her braver? She dresses brave. In the mirror she looks brave. Will these things help?

It’s the feather that granny shows her and the story connected to it that opens up other possibilities for Lily. The themes weave through the simple text accompanied by black and white illustrations that depict the loving family and the close relationship they share. A happy, embracing story with a message that things imagined, are not always what they first seem.

Delightfully delicate like the tiny elf, this story promises readers, mainly girls of the 5+ age, a new and interesting character that becomes involved in challenging adventures with a positive outcome. This will surely create as strong an interest in younger readers as the highly successful Violet Mackerel books did for an older age.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Lily the Elf: The Precious Ring

Lily the Elf: The Precious Ring by Anna Branford, illustrated by Lisa Coutts (Walker Books)
PB RRP $7.95
ISBN 9781925081046

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Lily the elf lives with her dad in a house below the bridge. Her granny lives in her granny flat behind their house. They are a loving and caring family. Today Lily is faced with a new dilemma. She awakes to find what appears to be a paddling pool in her yard. Granny tells her it’s a human ring. Lily has been taught that elves must return lost precious things to humans. But she wants to keep it.

After playing in her pool, Lily discovers a glass gem is missing from the ring when she tries to polish it. While Granny suggests they fill the space with coloured foil, they hear voices. A mother and her anxious child have come to the bridge in search of the lost ring. Lily hears that it is the girl’s favourite possession, although not of much value.

Lily knows the feeling of losing something special. Will she return the ring as she should, even though she really wants to keep it?

Anna Branford’s warm and engaging tone is ever present. Her work carries subtle ethical dilemmas, a temptation, and a positive resolution. There is a strong sense of fairness, and of right and wrong in her stories. They always present opposing views of the same story which encourages a choice or decision. Lisa Coutts’ illustrations are carefully considered and complement the text perfectly in watercolour and pen and ink.

I am a fan Branford’s work, and believe this series will initiate discussion about important themes; in class and at home with adults. For young readers of the 5+ age group who enjoy Lily’s adventures, her other titles, The Wishing Seed and The Elf Flute are also listed as being available.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones (EK Books imprint of Exisle Publishing)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921966699

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

‘Sometimes Sophie worried.’ That opening sentence immediately had me questioning; what does she worry about and why? I had to find out.

Sophie is a thinker. While she is busy, she thinks about the games she plays, and all that she’s currently occupied with. But in the still of the night when activity stops, she begins to worry. She worries about every what if…? she can think of. Sleep stays away from all the questions clogging her mind. Her days are frequently sluggish and unproductive due to her restless nights.

Despite all the family trying hard to help Sophie, nothing changes behind her closed eyes. She continues to worry until her mother gives her something else to think about.

 Susan Whelan is a writer, Managing Editor of Kids Book Review, and a ‘passionate advocate for children’s literature.’ Her publishing debut is impressive. She approaches the theme of worry in an imaginative and sensitive way.

Gwynneth Jones gives Whelan’s text a detailed and insightful translation in media of ink pen, colour pencil and gouache. Her vivid, visual portrayal of the text is highly individual. While keeping the expressions on the faces of the children authentic, she has created them in a more simplistic form than those of the adults. Sophie and what she is doing, thinking, and feeling is always the main focus.

I love the fact that the cat, or some part of it, is used on many of the pages. It’s like a game of seek-and-find in addition to the main story. The same device applies to hands (and paws). They appear without the rest of the body, expressing something of their own (or perhaps simply as part of a game). This has quite a fantastic effect on the whole presentation; a stand-out factor. With its stunning cover and delightful end pages, this captivating production can easily be used as a resource for children and adults to explore this theme together.