Sunday, 1 February 2015

Ship of Dolls

Ship of Dolls by Shirley Parenteau (Candlewick Press)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780763670030
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Immigration Act of 1924 stopped East Asians from migrating to America. To promote goodwill and ease the friction between the two countries, former missionary Dr Sidney Gulick, who had spent many years in Japan, participated in the formation of the Committee on World Friendship Between Children.  

In 1927, the first program was to send almost 13,000 of what were called the American blue eyed dolls, also known as Friendship dolls, to Japanese children. It took into account the importance of dolls in Japanese culture. Each doll travelled with a passport, tickets, and a change of clothing. The doll delivery was to coincide with the Hinamatsuri, the yearly Japanese Doll Festival.

This little-known historical fact was the inspiration for this book.

The story begins in Portland, Ohio, 1926. Eleven year old Lexie lives with her grandparents after her unconventional, widowed mother remarries a man who doesn’t want kids around. Jack’s house connects with Lexie’s grandparents’ home by a tree branch that extends from his window to hers. They are secretly friends but enemies at school and in public.

Jack double dares Lexie to find, pick up and hold the Friendship doll that the school children had raised money to buy. This forbidden act leads to a complex web of half-truths, white lies, and humiliation for Lexie and her grandparents.

A letter writing competition is announced. The best letter will accompany the doll to Japan. Lexie longs to see her mother and when an undreamed of opportunity arises Lexie knows she must be the winner.

Spoilt, rich Louise is always in the light. Her popularity is threatened when the focus begins to fall on Lexie. High expectations by her parents lead the devious Louise to steal Lexie’s far better letter and claim it as her own. The whole competition becomes a nightmare when Lexie is accused of lying and dishonouring her grandparents.

Armed with her mother’s and grandmother’s ethics and teachings, can Lexie rise above all these challenges with her chin up?

This is a unique, multi-layered storyline with the Friendship dolls as the main tier. All the other themes are strong supports of a unique structure. The main theme is truth: how it is misused, abused, falsely claimed, but ultimately rises to the surface. Other themes include love and pride, relationships between children and grandparents, friendship and loyalty, the importance of being yourself, and finding your place in life.

This extraordinary book is for the 8+ age group. Further research is recommended to those interested in the incredible history behind the Friendship dolls.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Frankie Fox, Girl Spy: READY, SET, SPY

Frankie Fox, Girl Spy: READY, SET, SPY by Yvette Poshoglian
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN: 9780734415684
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Eleven-year-old Francesca (Frankie) Fox, motherless but with a millionaire Dad, has a boathouse for her room which she shares with Boss, her West Highland Terrier. It is located on a cliff 178 steps down from the main house called Griffin where Hanna the housekeeper keeps house for her Dad and cooks for the three of them when her Dad is home. He is a brilliant scientist and runs a secret set of labs on Fortress Island which Frankie can see from the boathouse window. Frankie's Dad protects his property with an electric fence, and is concerned that his wealth and scientific knowledge could make him a target of an evil group called the Alliance, a threat to the whole world.

Frankie has always wanted to be a spy. She is studying The Spy's Handbook which belonged to her Dad and pours over it every free moment. There is a code scribbled inside it that she needs to decipher and so far has been stumped. Unusual things have been happening. Frankie thinks she is being watched and her room has definitely been searched. Later, when kayaking, her boat is almost overturned by a woman in a kayak who she recalls later was the stand-in bus driver on the school bus. Also, strange underwater lights are puzzling.

James Jensen (JJ), a new neighbour but previous resident returned from Iceland who attends Frankie's school, arranges to kayak across to Fortress Island with Frankie and Boss. The two kayakers set off one evening and once again Frankie sees the underwater lights. When they land on the island, they come across soldiers and are captured. Their captors are agents for Griffin and are fighting the Alliance. When Frankie is told her father has been kidnapped by the Alliance, she is amazed to discover both JJ and herself have been in training as Griffin spies, and as things fall into place, she knows whatever she has to do to rescue her father, she will do it. It is vital she deciphers the code in her spy handbook and completes Mission Icefall. And Boss and JJ have a role to play, too.

Yvette Poshoglian, a Sydney-based high school teacher involved in creative writing workshops, has created an exciting story with plenty of intrigue and drama. She uses retrospect cleverly to keep the momentum charged and pacey. Each chapter is headed by a quote from The Spy's Handbook which alludes to the content and increases interest.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Fearless Sons and Daughter

Fearless Sons and Daughter written by Colin Thompson, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Harper Collins)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780733330872
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Ever since Fearless was first published, readers have anticipated the next title in the series. I was no different. Colin Thompson’s original story was beautifully enhanced by the wonderful illustrations of Sarah Davis. We followed Fearless from a pup in a pet shop window and grew to know and understand the breed of the British bulldog through his antics. Fearless was a dog who didn’t live up to his name and Thompson and Davis were adept at showing their readers this through the perfect combination of both text and illustration.

In this third Fearless story, I feel that the text of Thompson has now become the vehicle for the illustrations of Davis for while they take centre stage on each page, the story seems to run second.

Thompson tells us that while people may grow up to become more sensible, on the other hand, although he grew bigger, Fearless’ brain stayed as confused as ever. This didn’t change when Fearless became a father to five pups – four sons and a daughter. Both Fearless and Primrose have no idea where they have come from, yet Fearless somehow knows it’s his job to teach them everything he knew. Dangerous things like vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers and handbags, which could often creep up on you when you least expect it, the garden outside, but especially the pond.

Fearless’ confusion increases when the pups begin to disappear (they have been weaned and are going to new homes) and he fears the orange ‘sharks’ in the pond have eaten them. This is backed up by Eric, the last puppy who claims he ‘saw’ his brother in the pond.

Fearless is too frightened to accompany Eric to the pond to ‘rescue’ the apparently missing pup so it is up to Primrose and Eric.
Seeing her own reflection in the pond, Primrose leans in closer to chase it away from her baby, accidentally falling in, which brings Fearless crashing through the rose bushes to rescue her. Perhaps, he will overcome his fear of the pond after all.
It’s up to Eric, however who doesn’t hesitate and jumps in immediately, while the goldfish ‘sharks’ hide under the water lilies.

The final illustration of a rather fierce looking goldfish with teeth is a great match to Thompson’s (Fearless) perfect closing statement.

Will there be a future story focussing on Eric, who is the antithesis of his father? I suspect readers will remain hungry for Davis’ illustrations which continue to delight both children and adults.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Flywheel

The Flywheel by Erin Gough (Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 9781742978178
PB $19.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The Flywheel is the second debut novel to be published by Hardie Grant Egmont through their annual Ampersand Project. (The first was Melissa Keil's award winning Life in Outer Space.) The Flywheel is a young adult novel about a girl called Delilah who runs her father's café while he is away overseas. In doing this, Del juggles school, work and relationships and the story is about how difficult and how funny this all becomes.

Delilah (Del for short) is seventeen and in her last year of school when she encourages her depressed father to take a trip, after Del's mother leaves them. Neither of them know the café manager will leave, that the café down the road will try to put them out of business or that Del will be bullied at school because of her sexual preferences. To further complicate things, Del's crush on Rosa, the flamenco dancer across the road, seems to be unrequited and Del's best friend Charlie gets himself on the wrong side of the law and hides out at Del's place.

Written in first person, Del's story is told with a lot of self deprecating humour, particularly when it comes to dancing. Under the humour, she faces many issues, such as what to do when her best friend asks her to lie for him in a court of law, whether to tell her absent father that his business is going down the drain and how to deal with girls who are not completely comfortable with the fact they like girls. Although she makes a few mistakes along the way, with the help of her friends Del works it all out by the end. 

Erin Gough has written a fast-paced novel with lots of realistic dialogue which should appeal to young adult readers. With a very independent and genuine main character, The Flywheel is an enjoyable addition to the Ampersand Project.       

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Our Stories: Australian Writers of Influence

Our Stories: Australian Writers of Influence by Bernadette Kelly (black dog books)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978122179937
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

From the outstanding Our Stories series, come a compilation of influential Australian writers’ lives that left far more for history to relate than their writing. Free thinkers with strong views and at times radical in their approach, these ten people shaped Australian history with their contributions in and outside their writing lives.

Its 32 pages are jam-packed with information, pictures, and little info blocks that cover historical facts bound to, and surrounding the same era as the person profiled.

When Pen and Paper Ruled the World has an info box on Charles Tompson whose 1826 collection of poems, Wild Notes from the Lyre of a Native Minstrel were the first publication of poems by an Australian-born writer.

Introduced is the life of Adam Lindsay Gordon which refers to his battle with depression and sad end that came soon after the publication of his Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes.

Included is Marcus Clarke, famous for his work, For the Term of His Natural Life and the dynamic Louisa Lawson, mother of Henry Lawson who founded The Dawn: A Journal for Australian Women. It was the first magazine edited and printed entirely by women.

William Lane was known as one of Australia’s most radical journalists, a convincing public speaker with powerful ideas on how man should live, and the creator of the Cosme Settlement in Paraguay. Mary Gilmore was a staunch supporter of Lane’s ideas, and she left her teaching career to go to Paraguay where she married William Gilmore. Her life changed design with the failure of the Cosme colony, for Mary returned to Australia. She became the first female member of the Australian Workers’ Union and editor of The Women’s Page in its publication, The Worker.

Banjo Patterson, Henry Lawson, May Gibbs, CJ Dennis and Miles Franklin are all included, along with a few miscellaneous chapters. With a rich Glossary and Index, most of the image credits go to the SLV. This is an interesting and valuable reference book and teaching tool for children, aimed at the 8+ years age group. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Cars A Complete History

Cars A Complete History by Simon Heptinstall (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781925081855
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This unique publication is both educational and activity book together for the 9+ age group. With 50 easy-to-make models of cars, this is a model-making and collector’s book in one. It includes production details, and presents basic techniques and instructions on pressing out and folding these iconic car models. As the parts come numbered, at the end of the book, there is a break-down on how to match and stick the pieces correctly by following their correct numerical order.

It lists every model’s features: engine size, top speed, acceleration and power.  After the models have been removed, a brilliant reference book remains.

Cars: A Complete History will appeal to curious minds, children that love to cut, stick and paste, anyone of any age that loves cars and their history, and wants to know all about each model. Produced with a thick paper almost like cardboard, these models will be treasured 3D samples of car history.

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Cardinal and the Crow

The Cardinal and the Crow written and illustrated by Michael Moniz (Simply Read Books)
HB RRP $21.99
ISBN 978 1927018583
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

With a dust-cover, this is a fine-looking picture book for older readers 7 to 10 years, produced by an English publishing house. The story goes that all the birds in the forest torment old Crow for his scraggly feathers and harsh call. He is especially mocked by their ringleader, the proud Cardinal which has ‘brilliant red feathers and a beautiful warbling voice.’  As a result, the Crow is alone and lonely.

However, when Cardinal gets into trouble with a scavenging cat, there is only one creature smart enough to get him out – the Crow, of course. However, will Crow come to the aid of the boastful bird?

Inspired by Aesop’s Fables, this thoughtful picture book reminds the reader that pride and foolishness often go hand in hand. It has a message for the younger reader, too, about bullying and how the bullied and the bully can sometimes find common ground, even friendship.

The watercolour illustrations of the birds and the landscape are set against a pale brown wash. The only bright colour is of the Cardinal, a few other birds and the cat’s green, greedy eyes. My only criticism of the book is that the typeface could have been larger, especially for small eyes.

Michael Moniz is a Canadian working at Artistic Director for a Toronto-based advertising agency.