Saturday, 1 July 2017

Road Trip

Road Trip written by Danny Parker, illustrated by Nathaniel Eckstrom (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781760127404

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Road Trip, told in flawless rhyme, chronicles the persistence of a child asking their dad how long an hour is as they embark on a road trip. Familiar to adults everywhere, the impatience of kids and their sometimes comical lack of awareness of time is evoked in this story.

The dad explains all the things that can take an hour, highlighting its brevity while also charting all the joyous things about childhood (which lovers of the author’s Perfect will come to see is a recurring Danny Parker theme). From cake making to play dates and jumping in puddles in the rain, it’s a charming look at special moments. As the child grows increasingly impatient and frustrated (‘I don’t want some Dad-words’ – I love that line!) they happen to arrive.

This book manages to be fun, funny and poignant all at the same time, with a great ending summing up the way an hour can easily be passed. The illustrations have a unique quality with their light blue, green and grey palette, with the use of pencil providing a naïve feel that suits the tone of the story.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Blue and Other Colours

Blue and Other Colours with Henri Matisse (Phaidon) HB RRP $14.95 
ISBN 9780714871325

Reviewed by Stephanie Ward

Matisse’s bold use of colours has inspired many artists. In Blue and Other Colours, his collages are brilliantly paired with playful, read-aloud text that draws the child’s attention to specific colours. With a back page full of interesting facts about Matisse’s art and life, parents and carers can expand upon the simple colour lesson introducing children to the artist and his art.

Through simple statements matched with Henri Matisse’s famous art, young readers are introduced to the world of colours. One piece of artwork per page and simple statement such as ‘Ooh, blue and green!’ puts the focus firmly on the colours within the images. Matisse’s abstract cut-outs and range of vibrant colour palette, learning the world of colours just became even more engaging.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

This is Banjo Paterson

This is Banjo Paterson by Tania McCartney, illustrated by Christina Booth (NLA Publishing) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780642278982

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

This beautifully simple narrative celebrates the life of the great poet and author Andrew Barton Paterson. Tania McCartney and Christina Booth have cleverly combined forces to make this educational picture book engaging and relatable to a young audience. The text is nonfiction while the illustrations depict a parallel fictional story.

The dreamy endpapers set the scene for this inspired outdoor adventure. In a typical suburban backyard, a small group of resourceful young children recreate the events and experiences of Banjo’s life through their imaginative play. Throughout the journey we discover how this talented Australian got his nickname, his many boyhood interests, the people who influenced him and the many and varied jobs he undertook.

The children’s re-enactment of Banjo’s life story is illustrated using a combination of single page images, double page spreads and vignettes. The playful illustrations provide entertaining rhyming dialogue, via speech and thought bubbles, as well as humour scattered throughout.

This book is equally appealing as a bedtime story or read aloud in the early years’ classroom. It can be a great conversation starter about poetry and a natural introduction to Banjo’s work. A detailed biography, photos and some renowned verses can be found at the end of the book.

If you like this book you may also like This is Captain Cook by McCartney and Booth.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack by Mark Greenwood (Puffin Books) PB RRP $12.99 ISBN 9780143309260

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is one of a series of books for children which investigate Australia’s extraordinary past with history mysteries. Other books in the series include The Last Tiger, Lasseter’s Gold and The Lost Explorer, all written by Greenwood who describes himself as ‘a history hunter.’

This book, Diamond Jack, began when Greenwood saw a wartime photo of five men and a bullet-riddled aircraft. One of the men, wearing a stained singlet, was known as ‘Diamond Jack’ – actual name Jack Palmer. Investigating, Greenwood discovered that the men had been sent on a mission to locate a mysterious parcel.

However, Diamond Jack’s story in this book begins in 1942 in Broome, evacuated after the Japanese attack. Jack, master of an old pearling lugger, was a beachcomber along the Kimberley coast. Setting off with two Aborigines in his boat, he came across a plane which had been shot down at Carnot Bay. There was no sign of any survivors but inside the plane, the beachcomber found a wallet stuffed with thousands of diamonds.

Earlier that month a Dakota aircraft, piloted by a Dutchman, Captain Smirnoff, had left the Indonesian Bandung airport, heading for Broome on a desperate midnight escape, taking refuges to safety. With Broome emptied of people, Smirnoff flew away but was soon attacked by a Japanese fighter jet. His plane finished up descending and landing on the beach. Some of its occupants died, some went for help.

The mystery surrounding the crash was the missing diamonds worth, in today’s figures, over 25 million dollars. Jack Palmer eventually handed them in to the authorities, but not all of them: thousands were unaccounted for. It would appear Jack gave many of them away and might even have kept some for himself (in his old age he was mysteriously wealthy.) In a court case, outlined in this book, Diamond Jack was found not guilty of theft. What happened to the rest of the diamonds is not known to this day.

Of particular appeal in this book is a series of (mostly) fuzzy photographs of real-life people, such as Palmer loading supplies on the wharf at Broome, the army investigation team at the crash site in April 1942 and Captain Smirnoff. The story is simply written with facts intermingled with fiction to give an engrossing tale. At the end of the book is a timeline of events for the history buff, ending in Diamond Jack’s death in 1958. The author has also provided a list of websites, online newspaper articles and book references.

It’s a shame that the publisher did not print the book on better quality paper. But young readers aged 8 to 12 years are not likely to be too fussed about this.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Gus Dog Goes to Work

Gus Dog Goes to Work written by Rachel Flynn and illustrated by Craig Smith (Working Title Press) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921504884

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Sheep dog, Gus, does much the same thing every day. He has his breakfast, hops into his owner’s ute and goes to work with him. One day, though, he wakes to an empty bowl. What’s more, his owner, Tom, seems to have left home without him! What follows is a warm and witty tale of Gus Dog’s mischievous trek around town to locate Tom. And perhaps to find some breakfast.

Tom has taught Gus Dog several colloquial expressions that come in handy on his adventures: ‘gidday, getup, getdown, come’ere, getoutovit, gohome and goodboy’. (There is some fantastic alliteration with the letter ‘G’ in this book!) Gus Dog goes to school, rounds up people’s chickens and sheep and forages through some garbage bins. He receives tirades of abuse from people around town and is never really sure what he has done wrong, but he certainly recognises some of their words. He even learns a new word, mongrel, after it’s said to him a couple of times. Somewhat confused, he good-naturedly trots off elsewhere each time he is berated.

Eventually, Tom finds him and Gus Dog gets to hear a far more comforting expression: ‘goodboy’. The author cleverly contrasts the use of the phrase ‘gohome’, also, subtly showing how it can be interpreted positively or negatively in different situations.

Popular author-illustrator team, Rachel Flynn and Craig Smith, have published several books together and have a complementary style. Smith’s illustrations – a combination of pencil and Corel Painter – are superb, as always. The rustic colours throughout the book perfectly reflect the dustiness of rural Australia. Gus Dog has a comical appearance, to match the humour in the text, and a soft expression in his eyes that makes him very endearing. Whenever Gus is being spoken to, the language appears in speech bubbles within the illustrations. Gus Dog’s journey is beautifully reflected in a wider view in the endpapers, where sepia-toned pictures offer an additional picture revealing Tom’s path. (Smith’s illustrations in the story itself also reveal the reason why Tom disappeared.)

This simple story reflects on the power of language, while observing country life, pets, working dogs and animal behaviour. At around 800 words, it’s a great length for lower primary school students aged 5 years and up.

Monday, 27 March 2017

The Secret of the Black Bushranger

The Secret of the Black Bushranger by Jackie French (Harper Collins Children’s Books) PB RRP $14.99    ISBN 9780732299453

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Award winning author Jackie French has been writing a secret Australian history series and this is the third book in that series.  Readers from the ages of 7 years and on will enjoy this book that is very well researched yet easy to read.   The book contains both the actions and opinions of real people as close as possible to the historical records. French’s writing voice speaks very clearly to the reader and really does open the door into our colonial past as if she has been there.  It is entertaining story and very engaging.

What is fascinating about this story is the central character Black Caesar (John Black) who really did exist and became Australia’s very first bushranger.  He arrived in Australia from England and was never free so he fought for his freedom and became a thief.  French has cleverly filled in many gaps with fiction as very little is known about Black. She shows the human side of the times and the hard way of life in a young penal colony.

The story travels well because it is interwoven with the characters that met and interacted with Black Caesar.  The story is told from the viewpoint of Barney Bean, a young English boy who features centrally in book one in the series, Birrung and the Secret Friend and book two Barney and the Secret of the Whales.

‘The giant man looked down at me with those brown eyes. ‘If I show myself in daylight, boy, they chain me up again.’ His voice was so deep, deeper than any other I had ever heard. He drew himself up even taller. More stars vanished behind him. ‘I am John Black Caesar. I will not be a slave.’

The book allows the reader to decide if the actions of the characters are right or wrong.

History is now part of the Australian primary schools’ curriculum so this book will be a handy resource; online there are also teacher’s notes available.  Anyone with an interest in Australian history will love this book and gain a good picture of our harsh early beginnings.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The ABC Kids Book of Places to Go

The ABC Kids Book of Places to Go by Helen Martin, Judith Simpson & Cheryl Orsini (Harper Collins Children’s Books) PB RRP $24.99  
ISBN 9780733334283

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

The creators of The ABC Book of Cars, Trains, Boats and Planes and The ABC Book of Seasons have come up with a book that introduces its young readers to Places to Go. This latest book allows for reader interaction and discussion in a fun simple way by sharing places that the child goes to. Then it broadens a young reader’s knowledge by introducing places that are afar.  The concept that the world is full of fun and exciting places to explore is a wonderful introduction to a world beyond our own backyard. 

This book would suit 2-6 year olds and it also fits in nicely with the school curriculum so teachers will find the book a handy resource.

The fun, simple language in the book uses questioning to bring out the enquiring mind of the child.  This interacts well with the illustrations that delightfully show places and allow the child to share what they know and find.  The illustrations are detailed and the colour palette draws the eye without being too busy or hard. The more you look, the more you can explore.

I like the way the text shows but doesn’t tell the place. Here’s an example: ‘There are many different places to visit at the shopping centre. Scissors snip – click, clack –cutting hair front and back! Up and down between the shops, the escalator never stops. Hooray! Hooray! New shoes today! Stepping out to walk and play.’ 

This book is a worthwhile tool to create bonding as the child and parent can really spend time discussing and exploring.  It can also allow for talk about places to visit and explore as a family.  Or perhaps it can allow talk about where grandparents or relatives live or maybe travel to. The world globe can be looked at and a child may choose a faraway distinction or a local one that is unknown to learn more about and explore.

So many places… 
Special things to do…