Tuesday, 23 December 2014


Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc) 
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781863956925 
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

When I heard Alice Pung talking on radio about her life, she was so interesting and articulate and amusing that I knew I had to buy this, her latest book. However, the novel is an enigma to me. For a start, Black Inc is known for publishing only adult novels. So I don’t know where this book fits into its list. It’s not a typical YA novel, though the narrator, Lucy Lim, is aged fifteen and writing about her year as a scholarship student at a prestigious girls’ college. What the problem for me is the style and sophistication of the narrative. The writing is excellent; overall I enjoyed reading the book. But I’m curious to know what teenage reader would make of it.
Lucy constantly addresses what seems to be a close friend, Linh. It was only towards the end of the story that I realised that Linh is Lucy's Chinese name. The whole of the novel is about Linh’s navigation -- and eventual transformation – from her working-class roots in Stanley (‘a place of bogans’ where people are generally poor) to Lucy who experiences learning (social more than academic) in a wealthy school where girls take their elevated status for granted. Lucy’s home life stands in stark contrast to that of the young women at Laurinda which appears to be dominated by what she calls ‘The Cabinet’. This trio of teenagers prove to be nasty and spiteful though giving the outward appearance of conforming. They appear to be an asset to the school and its principal, Mrs Grey ,who seems to be under their thrall -- enough to say that the trio’s mothers run the Alumnae Association and make massive donations to Laurinda.
Throughout the book – and this is really at its heart – Lucy is constantly self-analysing and making judgments about this alien world in which she finds herself.  She is quiet and truthful and tries to fly under the radar but the principal constantly sees her as not fulfilling her potential. At home she sees her parents struggling to put food on the table (eating meals from newspaper on the floor). Her mother runs an at-home business sewing clothes while Lucy is often left to care for her beloved little brother, The Lamb. All of this is at odds with what she sees at the prestigious Laurinda.
Matters come to a head when The Cabinet traumatises a woman teacher they detest and later cast aspersions (in the form of sexual innuendos) on a caring and effective male teacher. Lucy, whom The Cabinet has pretended to befriend, removes herself from the group, but in the end she makes her feelings known publicly. Thus she sets in motion changes to the school ethos.
Will teenagers like this well-written and very different book? I really can’t say. It’s not an adult novel or even a cross-over novel -- therefore it must be for teenagers. I would love to have some teen opinions!                                                                

Monday, 22 December 2014

Zenna Dare

Zenna Dare by Rosanne Hawke (Rhiza Press
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-925139-03-7
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

When Jenefer moves to the old family home in country Kapunda, she encounters a secret from the past.  What sort of life did Gweniver, her great-great-great-grandmother lead?  What connection did she have to the glamorous young singer Zenna Dare?  Jenefer’s curiosity develops into a passion and she is taken on a journey that spans five generations, from Cornwall to Australia.  Her pursuit of the mysterious Zenna Dare brings reconciliation in more ways than Jenefer could ever have imagined.

Zenna Dare is the latest book from Australian author Rosanne Hawke.  It is a lovely book that moves along with a good pace.  The simplicity of the premise is misleading – a teenage girl’s search into her family history; the story touches on such a broad range of topics, from the sense of dislocation at moving towns to Victorian social conventions; genealogy to racial prejudice and the treatment of Aboriginals.  Never, however, is the story bogged down with extraneous details.

 A typical teen, Jenefer sees life with a very limited perspective.  It is her search into the life of her great-great-great-grandmother, Gweniver, which opens her eyes to the wider world; and not only as a means of appreciating her own situation.  As Jenefer delves deeper into her family’s past, she also starts to gain an appreciation of her newfound friend Caleb’s family history.  As an Aboriginal, Caleb has very different family stories and secrets to tell.  It helps Jenefer become present to the treatment of the Aboriginals – both now and throughout Australian history.  Whilst the topic is not the central focus of the book, it provides an interesting counterpoint to Jenefer’s discovery of her past and a gentle reminder of the backdrop of European settlement.

Caleb also presents as the romantic interest in the story.  However, I particularly liked that it was a sub-plot that did not dominate.  Whilst it was clear that a budding relationship between the two was developing, the book did not digress into a teenage romance.

 I really enjoyed Zenna Dare; finding it both an easy and interesting read.  The amount of research that has gone into it is evident and the book goes a long way to reminding us of the amazing, interesting and heartbreaking stories that exist within our own families.

Rosanne Hawke is an Australian, award-winning author of over twenty books.  Her titles include: Shahana, Taj and the Great Camel Trek and The Messenger Bird.  Rosanne was an aid working in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates for ten years and now teaches Creative Writing at Tabor Adelaide.  She lives in South Australia with her family.  She can be found online at: http://www.rosannehawke.com/

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Tom Gates a Tiny Bit Lucky

Tom Gates a Tiny Bit Lucky by L. Pichon (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-534-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop
Tom Gates, master doodler and expert in getting on the wrong side of his teacher, is back in his 7th hilarious adventure. Tom is still obsessed with caramel wafers and band practice (so that Dogzombies can enter the Battle of the Bands).

This time, Tom’s dad is big on getting fresh air and decides they will make a kite together. Which is a good thing really as Tom discovers there is so much fun to be had with a piece of string. In fact, string provides a perfect enhancement to doodling – until Mr Fullerman confiscates it.
Throw in Delia’s bad moods, an invitation to meet the new neighbours and school Enrichment Week and Tom has too much to think about. All he wants to do is find a copy of The Very Special Recipe in the library so he can finish the story Mr Fullerman started.

The pictures and doodles sprinkled among the pages are as much a part of the story as the text and provide many laugh-out-loud moments. The humour is quirky but easily relatable, especially within the family dynamics.
Short chapters and big font with pictorial cues make Tom Gates great for the beginner reader market, 8 years plus. But once you read one, you’ll probably want to read more. They’re light, quick to read and very funny.
As a bonus, at the end of A Tiny Bit Lucky, is Dad’s instruction on how to make a kite. Try it out, then go fly it with a friend.


Saturday, 20 December 2014

There’s a Hole in my Bucket

There’s a Hole in my Bucket [with CD] illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $12.99 [Board book]
ISBN 978-1-77543-234-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

There’s a Hole in my Bucket is a board book version of the well known song of the same name. In this book, the long-suffering Liza is depicted as an often grumpy goose, while dear Henry is a happily goofy goat.

The illustrations throughout this board book are delightful. Henry keeps getting distracted by all manner of things – like a clothesline full of clothes – and Liza, who starts off cheerful, gets more and more frustrated with him.
The text dances along the pages, echoing the playfulness of the lyrics and the humour is wonderfully alive in both the words and pictures.
This is a fun and attractive board book for both babies and their older readers.
Along with the board book is a CD which is performed by New Zealand comedians the Topp Twins. They sing with wonderfully goaty and goosey voices to great effect.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Isaac's Dragon

Isaac's Dragon by Kaylene Hobson, illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn (Dragon Tales Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780992523909

Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

This charming chapter book with its quirky dragon-loving hero is the first in a series. Isaac is desperate for a dragon. He is convinced they exist, no matter what anyone says or thinks and he is determined to get one, preferably before his birthday. But when even his fairy hunting skills and the tooth fairy are not able to help him, he has to think of another way to get his dragon, and soon, it is almost his birthday!
Kaylene Hobson has created an enjoyable character; an optimist with a go-get-em attitude, a big dose of self-confidence, no lack of determination and a unique view of the world. Children will find him admirable and will be able to empathise with his everyday struggles of being a child trying to fit into a world of adult's logic.

I found Isaac's determination, persistence and unwavering self-belief in the face of obstacles  a great read for children who perhaps do not feel as much in control of life, after all Isaac has a solution for everything.

 The illustrations by Ann-Marie Finn compliment the story; she has done a great job bring Isaac's character to life visually.

Isaac's dragon was conceived as a bedtime tale to help Kaylene's son deal with self-confidence issues. I think she has done so superbly and created a fun confidence boosting story for any young reader. It is recommended for ages 4 to 10.

Yvonne Mes is a children's writer and illustrator. Her first picture book, Meet Sidney Nolan (Random House) is scheduled for release in October 2015. www.yvonnemes.com

Thursday, 18 December 2014

How Long Is A Piece of String?

How Long Is A Piece of String? by Madeleine Meyer (Windy Hollow Books)
HB RRP $25.95
ISBN: 9781922081346
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

A boy wakes to the sound of his lost dog, barking mournfully in the night. Putting on his hat and stepping out the window with the help of an orange crate, he sets off in search of the wandering canine, red string in hand. (No doubt he’s learned a thing or two from fairytale of the Hansel and Gretel or that old Victorian tourism ad about visiting mazy Melbourne.)

Past a funky castle

and a teetering town

across a moody mountain

into a monster’s meadow,

the boy finds the dog on a strange, otherworldly seashore.

All he has to guide him home is that trail of red string.

A friendly and fabulously grotesque flying fish lends a hand (or maybe a fin) to rescue the boy and the dog and bring them home safely.

 As unusual and quirky as Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, this wordless book shows that facing your personal monsters and getting past them to save a friend brings its own reward.


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale

Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale: The Case of the Animals Behaving Really, Really Badly by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrated by Joe Bauer (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-065-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

 Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale is the superhero drawn by Eric Vale when he is bored in class at school. And here finally is a full length adventure for all his fans. The Case of the Animals Behaving Really, Really Badly sees Agent Dale of Secret Agents ‘r’ NOT us up against Dr Evil McEvilness.

From the opening of the story, with Agent Dale facing certain death at the hands of Countess Krystal, to the end when he bursts through Archibald Boss’s office door after defeating McEvilness, Danger Dale is placed in seemingly impossible predicaments. But being the hero that everyone knows him to be (especially his creator, Eric Vale!) he manages to bumble his way out of every dangerous situation.
The Case of the Animals Behaving Really, Really Badly is a quick and easy read. Fun and light, it combines handwritten text and wordless comic strips on every page. It has the silliness young boys will love, great sarcasm, dry humour and a wonderful mix of ridiculous names.
This book is a spin off from the Eric Vale series for slightly younger readers, 8 plus, but any fan of Eric Vale will enjoy reading this.