Saturday, 25 February 2017

Before You Forget

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson (Penguin House) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780143574071

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

There is a lot that 17 year old Amelia wishes she could forget in as she attempts to negotiate difficulties in her life as she works towards her final year 12 in high school. Central to her studies is her passion for practical art where she works under the watchful and critical eye of teacher Ms M. Amelia attempts a self-portrait, made more difficult by problems which escalate in her life.

In no particular order is the disintegration of her friendship with long-time bestie Gemma who slips into such a poor state of anorexia that she is hospitalised. Then there is the deterioration of Amelia’s much loved Dad, Simon, who is clearly not coping. In fact, Dad is acting irrationally, constantly muttering to himself, speaking repetitively, driving dangerously, drinking too much, even urinating in a corner of the lounge-room: before long he is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Mum finds it difficult to manage him as she works full-time, so much of the caring for Dad falls on Amelia’s shoulders.

Amelia’s recurring thoughts of the helplessness of people trying to escape the damage caused by planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre reflect her attempts to negotiate the constantly changing troubles in her own life. With Gemma mostly non-communicative, Amelia turns to friendship with popular and talented artist Poppy who seems to have her act all together. But Poppy, too, comes from a dysfunctional family: her hippy mother reads tarot cards. Happily, she gives Amelia hope with the cards that her future might be more promising than the present. ‘Potential doesn’t mean anything without application,’ she says, which might well sum up Amelia’s future both in art and in relationships.

Australian Julia Lawrinson writes clearly and well. The characters she portrays, even minor ones such as Dad’s dog Hecta, and his eventual carer Rosetta, are all three-dimensional and interesting. The reader comes to really care about Amelia and the problems in her life. She is a strong character who does the best she can under difficult circumstances. And then there’s the cute boy next door – Will, who offers friendship – and the possibility of a romance.

Ultimately this is an ultimately uplifting story which, like life for all of us, and especially for teenagers, is constantly changing as are our family and friendships and circumstances. As the book concludes, Amelia observes that it’s like watching
the tide go out: ‘the waves lose their strength… and the water recedes into the ocean… before you know it… you can swim in the flat water.’ One day her father might not recognise her. And she is able to come to terms with that.

This is a brave book exploring many themes and certainly worthy of attention. Perhaps it will win awards.



Friday, 24 February 2017

100 Women who Made History

100 Women who Made History by Stella Cladwell et al (DK/Penguin Random House) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9780241257241

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Subtitled ‘Remarkable Women who shaped our world’, this is a handsome, thoroughly researched non-fiction book crammed with so many facts and figures presented in a beautifully designed book with hundreds of colour photographs and graphics and with many break-outs. It’s a book which doesn’t need to be read through from page one to the end, but one which can be dipped into again and again. It’s the sort of book a feminist would love and would love giving to children aged from 10 years and up.

I thought I knew my history of amazing women – and yet, reading this book, I have only a small knowledge. Opening at random, I find a double-page spread about two impressive females – one a child, the other a woman. Sophie Scholl was ‘an ordinary student who stood up to the might of Hitler and the Nazis’: she joined the Hitler Youth Movement but soon came to despise the hate-filled beliefs of the Nazis and helped to form the White Rose, a small non-violent movement that carried out a pamphlet and graffiti campaign against them. Sadly, she was sentenced to death for her ‘crime’ and executed. Pole Rosa Luxemburn was a radical, who tried to start a socialism revolution in post-war Germany, but she too was executed (without a trial) for her troubles.

There are dozens of women highlighted here. Some are well known, such as Rosa Parks, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousafzai, Angela Merkel, Joan of Arc and Catherine the Great. But there are others not so well known – Wu Zetian, Sacagawea, Maria Quiteria de Jesus, Shirin Ebadi, Ellen Johnson Sierleaf and Graca Machel to name but a few.

The book is divided into sections: Clued-Up Creatives, Super Scientists, Inspiring Campaigners, Leading Ladies, Intrepid Entrepreneurs and Amazing Achievers. If you cannot name at least five women in each of these categories, then you are strongly advised to buy a copy and learn about them before passing on the book (though you might very well want to keep it). Highly recommended!


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Tommy Bell, Bushranger Book: Shoot-Out at the Rock & The Horse Thief

Tommy Bell, Bushranger Book: Shoot-Out at the Rock & The Horse Thief by Jane Smith, illustrated by Pat Kan (Big Sky Publishing)   PB RRP $14.99                                                                                                                              ISBN 9781925275940 & 9781925520064

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here are two chapter books in the Tommy Bell series where readers can enjoy fast-paced fictional adventures with real bushrangers. In Shoot-Out at the Rock, Tommy is sent to Grandpa’s farm after getting into trouble at school near Uralla. There Grandpa gives him a horse called Combo to use. Together, horse and riding explore a cave: it is here that Tommy finds a bushranger’s cabbage-tree’ hat. Grandpa tells Tommy about a bushranger called Captain Thunderbolt who roamed around Uralla in the 1860s on his horse also called Combo. Thereafter Tommy is transported back in time to find himself involved with Fred Ward who bails up a coach. This turns out to be Captain Thunderbolt himself.

In the rest of the story, author Jane Smith interweaves Tommy’s journey with his family and Combo to a dressage event, with unpredictable ventures in 1850s Victorian goldfields. At the conclusion of this adventure story, there is an historical note about Thunderbolt as well as a question and answer section.

In The Horse Thief, Tommy again finds himself in trouble at school with a new friend. It transpires that Francis is less trouble than the bushranger Tommy meets while wearing his bushranger’s hat which once again takes him back to the gold rush days. Continuing his time-travel adventures, Tommy finds himself involved in a horse robbery, a police chase and a prison escape. This time he is involved, too, with another bushranger -- Francis Christie, a skilled horse rider whose alias is familiar to Australian history buffs – Frank Gardiner.

For readers who like historical facts, there are footnotes again in this book which tell more about Gardiner and his life. The writing in both books is clear and fast-paced while the illustrations that highlight aspects of the narration are stark and simple, with thick black lines reminiscent of wood-cut prints.

These books would suit readers, particularly boys, aged 9 to 12 years.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Reckless III: The Golden Yarn

Reckless III: The Golden Yarn by Cornelia Funke (Murdoch Books)
PB RRP $24.99   ISBN 9781782691266

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Fairytales have long told of magic mirrors and Cornelia Funke’s Reckless series – a story inspired by the Grimm brothers – features one that is a portal to an alternate fantasy world (‘Mirrorworld’).

In The Golden Yarn, Jacob discovers a Rumpelstiltskin-like character (Spieler) in the human world, while trying to hide the legendary crossbow he found in Living Shadows. It seems the Reckless brothers are not the only ones who can cross between worlds … and theirs is not the only mirror.

Funke slowly weaves us through the plots and subplots of this third story in the series, as we absorb the details of the world she has built. First, Kami’en and Amelie’s baby goes missing. Then, the Dark Fairy disappears. Clara is in a Sleeping Beauty slumber so Will is seeking the Dark Fairy. Jacob is looking for Will … with several distractions along the way. He meets elf siblings, ‘Sixteen’ and ‘Seventeen’, who steal faces from mirrors to disguise themselves. He also meets … his long-lost father! Having struck a painful deal with Spieler, Jacob keeps his distance from his true love (Fox), who then falls in love with someone else. We also learn more about Will’s cursed skin from the first book, The Petrified Flesh.

This series will appeal to young adult readers of fantasy, particularly fans of Funke’s prior works (such as the Inkheart trilogy). Reading the first two novels in the series is a must as Funke releases crucial details at different points across the series. There is always a sense that she knows much more than she has revealed! Admittedly, this can either hook her readers or frustrate them.

Funke has revised and re-released The Petrified Flesh, retaining the original story but adding more depth to her characters. (The portrayal of darkness and light in her characters is definitely her forte, with her writing beautifully depicting the hesitation in their actions.) The second novel, Living Shadows, has also been re-jacketed. She is currently working on a fourth book in the series.


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Great Barbie Disaster

The Great Barbie Disaster by Tania Ingram, illustrated by Christina Miesen (Omnibus Books) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-124-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Dad wants to make a barbeque. He comes from a long line of barbie builders and thinks shop bought barbies are for wimps. The trouble is Dad’s not very good at building things. The Great Barbie Disaster is a very funny story about all of his attempts to construct the perfect backyard barbie and what goes wrong – very wrong – each time.

There’s nothing more Aussie than a backyard barbie in the summer and this story captures the essence of summer and family. I related strongly as my father was a backyard builder and I suspect there are lots of kids out there who have watched or helped as Dad constructed a chicken coop, barbeque, cubby or outdoor furniture with varying degrees of success who will relate to this tale as well.

Part of the Mates series, this title is filled with the humour, Australian culture and entertaining storylines these Great Aussie Yarns are known for. Written for the eight year old age range, short chapters, large varied font and illustrations - which break up the text, filling the pages with colour and appeal - make this a perfect tale for beginner and young readers. The text is clear and uncomplicated and explains concepts such as the waste station within the story.

The voice of the girl who narrates the story is engaging. She is laid-back with just a tinge of sarcasm, but clearly loves and admires her Dad.

Using soft colours, the illustrator has created pictures which echo the humour of the words, enhancing the story and adding the enjoyment of the reading experience. These pictures, large and small, fill the pages and bring the characters to life.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Pig the Winner

Pig the Winner by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press) HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-76015-428-8

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Pig the Pug and his good friend Trevor are back. This time it’s Pig’s need to win at all costs that is highlighted. And as always, it is up to Trevor to save the day, and the Pug, but does this long suffering sausage dog get any thanks? Well, no, not really. But Pig does learn his lesson and the two dogs emerge as close as they were in the beginning.
Pig the Winner is a hilarious look at fair play and sportsmanship. 

Told in rollicking, rhyming verse which is a joy to read aloud, this cautionary tale will be an instant hit for those, young and old who have already fallen in love with these two dogs, and for those who are meeting them for the first time.

Trevor would say to him
‘Let’s just have fun.’
But Pig would reply –
‘It ain’t fun till I’ve won!’ 

The illustrations support the tone and humour of the story. Bright, glossy pages feature fabulous expressions on the two friends, taking the meaning of the text a step further. 
Fabulous fun for three year olds and older, Pig the Winner is the third Pig the Pug book. Each is as enjoyable as the last.

Aaron Blabey is a multi-award-winning author/illustrator and his genius is not in picture books alone. The Bad Guys is a very funny graphic novel series for middle grade readers which I would highly recommend as well. 


Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Visions of Ichabod X

The Visions of Ichabod X by Gary Crew, illustrated by Paul O’Sullivan (Harbour Publishing House) HB RRP $24.99    ISBN 9781922134547

Reviewed by Allison Paterson

With all the intrigue that is synonymous with the writing of Gary Crew, The Visions of Ichabod X is a picture book which mixes the past with the future to convey a powerful and significant message of environmental sustainability. Narrated in the hypnotic voice of the ageing caretaker of Raven’s Eye Cemetery, the tale begins as he explains how one headstone has always puzzled him, that of Ichabod X.  This stone, which commemorates the short life of the gypsy child Ichabod, shows no signs of the wearing of the elements, despite the decay of others and that of the crumbling church that sits in the grounds. 

Years before, so the caretaker reveals, the mysterious boy had appeared to warn the man of the perilous future of the earth. The boy leaves behind him curious contraptions, his “aids to see the future”. As mysteriously as Ichabod appears, he never returns. From this point,  the reflections of the caretaker and his drawings, what he imagines Ichabod could see, continue wordlessly to an ending which challenges the reader to imagine and reflect.

The illustrations are equally as intriguing as the text. Steeped in sepia tones to create a sense of vintage combined with steam punk images, Paul O’Sullivan enhances the tale and provides a deeper level of meaning for the engaged reader. Exploring the symbolism is absorbing and a catalyst for discussion. Biblical references are significant and are not confined to Ichabod (the Book of Samuel), the raven (perhaps the all-seeing God’s messenger) and the old man’s biblical quote of, “There is a time for everything…”. The oak tree and oak leaf represent endurance, wisdom, strength and significantly, new life. 

Throughout the tale, the clocks, and timepieces, both broken and intact suggest to the reader that time is running out. There are so many layers to peel, with the “unlocking” of colour being a symbolic transition to a series of wordless double-page spreads that delve deeply into the conflict between nature and the industrialised world.

I continue to return to The Visions of Ichabod X and each time I am delighted to make a new discovery. This is a text for the late primary years and up. It is a thought-provoking tale which will challenge the reader to explore their own perspective on the future of the earth.