Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Rainforest Feasts

Rainforest Feasts by Carolyn Eldridge-Alfonzetti, illustrated by Heather Charlton (Wild Eyed Press) PB RRP $15.50 ISBN 9780648161127

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

What do the critters of the rainforest get up to when they wake up at night? Feed their hungry bellies, of course! This colourful book of rhyming verse explores the eating habits of a variety of rainforest creatures.

The book comprises a series of vignettes rather than a narrative plot. The unusual selection of animals and insects Eldridge-Alfonzetti has featured, including crayfish, native rats and glow worms, distinguishes the book from comparable titles.

The watercolour illustrations are bright and colourful while still conveying a sense of the night-time forest setting. Each spread shows the featured rainforest creature and its prey, often in the act of capturing or eating the meal. Some critters are rendered with a greater sense of character and likeness than others, and not all are perfectly consistent throughout. Nevertheless, young children will enjoy the double-page spreads.

The final spreads will particularly enthrall young audiences, with a challenge to find all the featured creatures in both a daytime and night time setting. This book would form an engaging yet relaxing part of any young child’s bedtime routine and is particularly suited to 3 to 8 year olds. With its large, bold illustrations and many springboards for discussion, it would also fit well into a junior primary classroom.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018


The release of a Christmas anthology, It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas embraces a wonderful collection of festive stories and poems.

Margaret Joy Gibb’s poem ‘The Magical Fairy Wish’ and story, ‘The Musical Christmas Tree’ captures the family and magic that the season brings.

Editor Michelle Worthington encouraged and supported all the writers and this book raises money for bicycles for trainee teachers in Tanzania. There was a special book celebration at the Grand View Hotel, Cleveland, USA.

Monday, 3 December 2018


This is an extract from Maximus, a middle-grade novel written by Steve Heron, released in 2018 by Serenity Press. Maximus is available through, some bookstores, online bookstores etc.

‘Everyone was laughing, including Maddy. I turned around to see what was so funny and saw my footy boots hanging in the rafters.

So, that’s what they were laughing at. I could see Jason laughing the most. The hot lava bubbled inside of me as their laughter fuelled the fire. This time I couldn’t hold it in. I erupted like Mount Vesuvius.

My arms swung around like a mad octopus. Somehow my fist connected with the closest person, Jason. Thwack! I felt the awful impact of flesh on flesh. His head wrenched sideways. He did a half pirouette and crashed to the ground as if someone had pulled a rug out from under his feet. Everyone gasped in shock.

I didn’t mean it. It just happened.

Everything seemed to freeze, except me. I took off.

I ran like a fugitive and hid behind the undercover area where I thought no one could find me. I curled up in a ball, put my arms on my knees and slumped my head on my arms. I was in big trouble. Kids got suspended for hitting other kids, even if they didn’t mean to.

How was I going to talk my way out of this? Everything officially sucked.

Why am I such a loser?

Dad’s words materialised in my brain: We don't solve problems with our fists, we use our words. Lately his words hit harder than fists’.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Issue 286 December 1

(Request a free sample of Buzz Words here)

The latest issue of Buzz Words – 1 December 2018 -- is jam-packed and oozing at the seams with children's literature goodness.

Here are some of the things you'll find inside the latest issue:
  • 11 children’s and educational book markets to investigate (Australian and overseas) plus a profile of the Australian children’s book publisher, Dirt Lane Press
  • 7 Opportunities and Events
  • 3 Writers’ Festivals and Conferences
  • 11 competitions (plus numerous announcements of award winners). We also reminder readers of the inaugural Buzz Words Short Story Prize with prize-money of $1,500, to be judged by Bill Condon, Dianne Bates, Cathie Tasker and Jackie French which closes on 31 December
  • The Inside Scoop with author Stefan Nicholson
  • A profile in Book Creator of American children’s author, Paula Danziger
  • Spotlight on YA with YA author Zana Fraillon
  • An interview with award-winning children’s author, Janeen Brian
  • In Who’s Who in children’s books, a profile of Susannah Chambers, Commissioning Editor of books for children and young adults at Allen & Unwin.
  • A profile of children’s author Catherine Bauer
  • Our new section titled Resources offers 10 ways to improve your writing
  • A new section called ‘The Secret’ which shows the secret to finishing a book                                    
  • and then there’s the usual segments of industry news, useful websites, have your say, and classifieds.

Princess Hayley’s Comet

Princess Hayley’s Comet by Rebecca Fung; illustrations by Kathy Creamer.
(Christmas Press) RRP $13.99  ISBN 978 0994 528 070

Reviewed by Julie Thorndyke

Debut author Rebecca Fung has taken a fun idea, punning on the name of the famous Halley’s comet, and produced an enjoyable and original story for young readers.

Princess Hayley’s Comet is a slim little book with an engaging cover and the promise of an active storyline. The cover illustration by Kathy Creamer is attractive in bold primary colours and the dynamic swirling path of the golden comet looks appropriately regal. The expressions on the faces of the king and the princess give a hint of the plot.

The first page plunges straight in to the crux of the story: “Dearest Hayley,” asked the King. “What would you like for your birthday?”

A princess with everything she could ever wish for, the soon-to-be-ten-year-old Princess Hayley asks for a comet.

Although set in a traditional, generic fairy-tale castle, this story does introduce elements of science fiction as the narrative unfolds. Some basic information about real comets is embedded at the beginning of the story. The princess obtains information about comets from her book Simple Astronomy. She wonders about the personality of a comet:

Hayley was sure the comet was independent, exciting and adventurous, and the more she felt that, the more she adored it.”

The comet symbolises Princess Hayley’s own personality, and her desire for adventure and exploration.

The idea of capturing and riding a comet (without being burned to ashes) is unrealistic. However, Fung manages to pull this absurd situation off, the reader suspending disbelief and going along with the story. Afterall, the fairy-tale genre does not set up an expectation of realism.

In eleven chapters liberally sprinkled with black and white drawings, the book is accessible, dynamic and inviting to primary school children, and offers both visual and textual surprises on each page. The size of the book is appropriate for child hands and the text is well-spaced and not at all daunting.

Princesses are standard fare in children’s literature. How does Hayley compare with the stereotype? She has a benevolent father, the king, ready to grant her every wish. (The Queen is not mentioned.) Princess Hayley has a collection of exotic birthday presents including polar bears, golden treehouses and diamond tiaras. She has servants to assist her in everyday life at the palace. But unlike many princesses, she isn’t isolated or lonely.

With two “equal best” friends, Ned and Cara, Princess Hayley is a well socialised and resourceful character. When the King’s Advisors say that a birthday comet is impossible, she actively devises strategies to catch her own comet.

Kathy Creamer’s illustrations reveal a princess who wears plaits with her crown, and boots with her regal robes, that are a sensible calf-length for active movement.

If there is a moral to this enjoyable tale, it is that girls are capable, interested in science and don’t need the help of male authority figures to achieve their goals.
A great addition to every little princess’s book collection.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Ara the Star Engineer

Ara the Star Engineer by Komal Singh, illustrated by Ipek Konak (Page Two Books, distributed by Newsouth Books) HB RRP AU$24.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This book has two important features going for it: one is that is shows numerous females and people of colour in positive working roles and the other is that it is about computers and numbers. 

The author is a woman in technology who was challenged to write this book when her four-year-old daughter proclaimed, ‘Engineers are boys.’ Singh, in an author’s note at the front of the book, says research shows that girls start doubting their STEM intelligence (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) by the age of six. Hence this picture book hopes to redress this.

The story begins with Ara, and her robotic assistant Dee Dee who explore the STEM world. Ara starts with telling the reader that the word ‘googol’ (meaning a number with a hundred zeros in it), was name by a nine-year-old. To figure out how many googols of stars there are in the sky, Ara and Dee Dee, travel to Innovation Plex, where they meet Kripa in the Data Centre who shows them now to use a computer to solve problems. Another woman tech whizz the two meet is Parisa who uses algorithms to solve problems. And so, the story moves on – to Coding Pods, and X-Space – as more interesting information is revealed.

This is a an inspiring, inclusive, whimsical way to learn about computers and technology from real-life trailblazers. The women at the centre tinker-and-tailor, build-and-fail, launch-and-iterate, and in the end discover an amazing algorithm of success -- coding, courage, creativity, and collaboration. The women mentioned in the book, by the way, are real: their biographies appear at the end. And, too, there’s a notebook with activities and information about women trail-blazers (like programmers Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, and NASA’s space investigator Katherine Johnson).

If you would like to inspire your budding computer, maths or science child, this is certainly a book which should do the trick! The book is filled with colourful illustrations to pour over which show workers in coding pods and other interesting work spaces.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Stories for kids who dare to be different

Stories for kids who dare to be different by Ben Brooks, illustrated by Quinton Winter (Quercus) HB RRP $35.00 ISBN 9781787476523

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Sub-titled ‘True tales of boys and girls who stood up and stood out’, this is one of the most interesting, fascinating and absorbing non-fiction books for children I’ve read in years – and I’ve read many. The sub-title is misleading, though, as the accomplishments of many of the heroes featured occurred when they were adults, but the book, equally devoted to the exploits of males and females, tells of childhoods, often deprived and of people who overcame poverty, physical problems and more. However, the design of the book with typeface often on overly-dark pages, does it a disservice. But truly, the stories are wonderful and certainly inspiring, even for adults as well as children aged 9 to 13 for whom the book is marketed.

Bjork, Dr Seuss, Whoopi Goldberg, Andy Warhol, Gertrude Stein, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Lady Godiva, Yvonne Goolagong and Dr Seuss are people most adults are familiar with and whose stories they know. But this book of 100 (or more) people from countries all over the world include amazing achievements in all fields from astro-physics to medicine, ballet to civil disobedience.

It’s difficult to focus on only a few heroes when all here are remarkable… but the Edelweiss Pirates, teenagers who undermined Nazis (by acts such as posting anti-slogans and putting sugar in petrol tanks) during Hitler’s reign of terror, were certainly brave. So too was Witold Pilecki who defended Poland against the Russians and volunteered to be arrested and sent to Auschwitz death camp to expose the horrors there, transmitting messages to the resistance and to the British authorities, becoming the first person to alert the outside world of the Nazis’ atrocities.

Someone who was heroic in 2018 was Emma Gonzalez, a teenager who organised March for our Lives, a peaceful protest in America in support of new gun control laws following a mass killing in her school – she managed to mobilise almost 2 million people! Muslim Loujain Al-Hathloul drove a car and made videos in Saudi Arabia at a time when women weren’t allowed to drive (they couldn’t vote until 2015 and still aren’t allowed to open their own bank accounts). There are dozens more stories. I was inspired to follow the lives of some depicted here, such as the Inuit artist, Kenojuah Ashevak, 18 year old Hannah Herbst who has invented a small machine called BEACON which uses wave action to create electricity and black ballet dancer Eric Underwood who became the star of The Royal London Ballet and had a ballet shoe named after him.

Throughout the world, where there are injustices, strong men and women (and sometimes children) emerge to remedy wrongs. In our evermore hectic and overwhelming world, Stories for Kids Who Dare to be Different is refreshing proof that dreams do come true and that it is okay to be different.

This is an inspiring read for any young person, particularly those struggling to find their place in the world and who want to know about the lives of those heroes who have led the way, changing the world for the better as they go. 

Highly recommended.