Thursday, 6 October 2022

How to Make a Pet Monster: Smidgen

How to Make a Pet Monster: Smidgen by Lili Wilkinson and Alex Patrick (Albert Street Books, Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN: 9781761067433

Reviewed by Kellie Nissen

Come on, who doesn’t want to have their very own pet monster?

Actually, Artie isn’t so fussed about making pet monsters (even though his monster, Hodgepodge, is now his best friend) but he tends to get dragged along in the monster-making game with his stepsister, Willow, and their neighbour, Arabella-Rose. Together, they make up the three members (plus monsters) of The Monster Club.

Smidgen is the third book in the fun How to Make a Pet Monster series, following on from Hodgepodge (book 1) and Flummox (book 2). Artie and Willow stumbled upon ‘The Bigge Boke of Fetching Monsters’ – a spell book for making monsters – and accidentally created their first monster. So far, the monsters haven’t turned out exactly like the monsters in the Bigge Boke – it happens when you don’t quite have the right ingredients – but they are cute, mischievous, not-at-all-scary and, as it turns out, often rather useful.

In Smidgen, Willow decides she wants to make another monster for herself and settles on a dragon, somewhat larger than their previous two monsters. Before they can get started, a surprise visitor – Zayn Osman – bursts in through their door in a big sloshy mess.

Trying to hide their monster-making activities from Zayn, Willow tells him that The Monster Club is a band – and now Zayn, who is one of the sporty, cool kids at school, thinks they are all pretty cool as well.

They manage to get rid of Zayn but, as usual, their monster making doesn’t go quite to plan – although they do end up with what looks like a chicken egg for their troubles. They’ll just have to wait to see what hatches from it.  

In the meantime, Willow’s father (Artie’s stepfather) is trying to prepare for a cooking show, Whole Lotta Loaf, where the recipe of the day is souffle. Of course, a souffle contains a number of … you guessed … eggs.

Can you see where this is going?

Somehow, the trio, with Zayn in tow, end up on the set of Whole Lotta Loaf and, with the help of Hodgepodge’s farts and Flummox’s ability to mimic any sound, they have to rescue the dragon egg, which is mixed up with all the chicken eggs for the souffles.

Lili Wilkinson’s sense of fun ‘what-if’ scenarios combine beautifully with Alex Patrick’s humorous, cartoon-like pictures to bring the adventures of Artie, Willow, Arabella-Rose and Zayn – along with Hodgepodge and Flummox (and eventually, Smidgen) – to life in a fast-paced story you’ll want to read in one go.

Perfect for independent readers, aged 7–10, or a wonderful read-aloud that can be enjoyed by parents and their younger children.

Tuesday, 4 October 2022

The Way of Dog

The Way of Dog written by Zana Fraillon, Illustrated by Sean Buckingham (UQP) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780702265563

Reviewed by Sarah Tegerdine

The Way of Dog is a uniquely original and tender-hearted tale written entirely in verse from a dog’s ‘point of snout’ and has an emotional depth that it’s impossible not to be moved by.

Scruffity is born into the harsh life of a puppy farm, torn from his mother. He, along with his pup siblings, huddle together in shock and confusion. As they tremble, they remind each other of their mother’s mantra, ‘Be Strong. Be Fierce. Life is more than a concrete floor’.

Scruffity’s environment is stark, and it becomes increasingly bleaker with each passing day he is not picked to be someone’s pup. The ‘shoe-legs’ who own the farm ‘GrowlManJim’ is a cruel and harsh man but it’s with his son, that a firm and unbreakable bond is formed.

In a swift turn of events, Scruffity is liberated, and he and his ‘ManPup’ flee the farm from which a true heartfelt journey ensues.

Out with the confines of a cage, Scruffity is enthralled by the world around him and revels in feelings of belonging, friendship, and discovery but when tragedy strikes, he is plunged yet again into turmoil and is equally reminded of its ever-present dangers and uncertainties.

The Way of Dog is a visually rich junior fiction experience that will captivate its readers from start to finish. It is wonderfully illustrated throughout by Sean Buckingham and is recommended for children aged between 8 to 12 yrs.

Monday, 3 October 2022

Meerkat Christmas

Meerkat Christmas by Aura Parker (Puffin Books) HB RRP  $19.99 ISBN978043777229

Reviewed by Kathleen Grace

Hip hooray! It’s Christmas Day! For ten meerkats it’s time to play. In rhyming couplets, a story is told of each of the meerkats as they celebrate. One is dressed as a reindeer, another is doing tricks, one is even lighting up the Christmas tree. All the meerkats are wearing sweaters numbered one to ten which would help a small reader learn his numbers. Finally, the ten animals create a human pyramid (shaped and decorated with electric lights) so they look like a Christmas tree. However, one of the meerkats sneezes and the whole of them topple (‘Meerkats falling down, down, down! CRASH! Giggling, laughing, rolling around.’)

This simple story is accompanied by lively illustrations including the opening fly pages which show meerkats on assembly lines preparing gifts for children at Christmas and on the closing pages showing meerkats around a Christmas tree and enjoying a lunchtime feast.

Sunday, 2 October 2022

The Worst Dog in the World

The Worst Dog in the World by Michel Streich (Scholastic Australia) HB RPP ISBN 97817438778

Reviewed by Kathleen Grace

A small girl wants a dog, but she gets Piper … the worst dog in the world. Piper doesn’t know how to play fetch, she doesn’t want to learn any tricks, she hates being in the car and frolicking at the beach with the other dogs. She loathes baths and really doesn’t want a tummy tickle! Luckily though, as soon as Piper feels ignored, she starts returning a little love … and that’s when we realise what she really likes to do … she is crazy about paper and string and cardboard boxes. Her owner finds that ‘we were both fond of lazy evenings’, and Piper makes ‘a great hot water bottle’ (when she lies on the little girl).  It is only at the end that Piper’s mistress realises that Piper isn’t a dog, but a cat.

Other than the unsatisfying ending (how could the girl NOT realise that Piper is a cat from the outset?), this brightly coloured book with bold cartoon-like illustrations is sure to amuse a reader aged 3 to 6 years.

Saturday, 1 October 2022

How We Came to Be: Surprising Sea Creatures

How We Came to Be: Surprising Sea Creatures by Sami Bayly (Hachette) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780734421364

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Award-winning author and illustrator Sami Bayly loves exploring interesting and extraordinary creatures, those that don’t usually get a lot of attention. This time, Sami goes on an underwater journey to discover a myriad of unusual deep-sea dwellers.

The audience follows Sami, in her yellow diving suit, on a deep dive through each of the five different ocean zones as she discovers a myriad of weird and wonderful sea creatures. As Sami and the deep-sea creatures converse (depicted in speech bubbles), readers learn about the important features of each of these incredible sea creatures, and how they have evolved. Sami meets a giant oarfish, a tripod spiderfish, and a hadal snailfish among many others. The final double-page spread includes a host of fascinating facts about 10 more surprising deep-sea creatures.

How We Came to Be: Surprising Sea Creatures combines a gentle narrative with fun facts, making it both informative and entertaining for a young audience. This picture book is highly recommended and is sure to delight any inquisitive primary school student

Friday, 30 September 2022

Ah-Fur Super Sleuth (Book 1: The Case of the Missing Moggies)

Ah-Fur Super Sleuth (Book 1: The Case of the Missing Moggies) by Debra Clewer, illustrations by Kym Langfield (Morris Publishing Australia) PB RRP $14.95 ISBN 9780645476620

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Ah-Fur is a highly regarded Australian cat detective who has been called upon to work on a top-secret case overseas. The Prime Minister of England’s two cats have been stolen, and Ah-Fur has been recommended to help find the missing pair.

Ah-Fur heads straight to London, with his cousin and driver, Show-Fur, to investigate the catnapping. He is informed that the missing moggies are highly trained and superior rat catchers, so Ah-Fur suspects an infamous gang of rats may be behind the crime, trying to protect their family and friends.

The Case of the Missing Moggies is a chapter book suitable for readers aged 7 years and older. It would appeal to an audience who enjoys adventure and mystery narratives.

Thursday, 29 September 2022

A Walk in the Dark

A Walk in the Dark by Jane Godwin (Puffin) Paperback RRP $16.99 ISBN 978 0 734 420770

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks


Five teenagers set off on an overnight school hike. 'It's just a walk in the dark. What is there to worry about?' That’s what head teacher, Johan says. But what he doesn’t know is that a storm is brewing. The teens head into the forest late afternoon, unaware of what will unfold. Yet, what happens will change them forever. To survive, each must use their own individual strengths and learn to trust each other. Set in the rainforest of Victoria’s Otway Ranges, A Walk in the Dark is about friendship, family, trust, identity and setting boundaries.

Jane Godwin has written a unique, enthralling read with a strong plotline and characterisation. The story is both fresh and modern. For example - same parent families, not fitting in, self-acceptance, family dynamics and home situations are explored. The voice is strong and believable. The reader is constantly surprised as each teen grows and changes.

‘I’ll catch you before your ankle hits the ground. Trust me,’ said Elle, the water rushing so close to them. ‘Hold my hand.’ As the storm builds, dangers unfold, and relationship dynamics increase. They stood in a little circle, soaked through, shivering, frightened and exhausted. ‘What do we do now?’ said Ash.


Godwin has created tension in each chapter and the dialogue moves the story along. The sentence lengths vary according to the tension and story pacing. Chrystal hummed. Looked up. ‘Where are the birds now?’ There are no adults which is attractive to its readership. I love the fact that lots of information about various topics is shared by each character which lets a reader learn things informally. This book has a strong Australian environmental element too.


A Walk in the Dark is a brilliant read for children aged eleven and up. I would highly recommend this book to teenagers, parents, schools, and librarians because it’s so well written and captivating. Just as the highly acclaimed book Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden (1993) captivated a middle grade audience and still does today A Walk in the Dark will gain a young readership today.