Wednesday, 20 August 2014


Soonchild by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Alexis Deacon (Walker Books)
HC RRP 27.95
ISBN 9781406329919
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Sixteen-Face John is a shaman that lives north of the Arctic Circle. His wife, No Problem is expecting a baby that she’s named Soonchild, because it should be born soon, but won’t be born until it hears the World Songs that welcome all newborns.

John has lost many of his abilities since he started drinking Coca-Cola, reading magazines with centrefolds in them, and watching television. He sets out on a quest with the help of a strong dose of Big Dream Brew, Ukpika, a benevolent owl spirit, lots of spirit ancestors. He treks through frozen lands and years and is faced with many challenges and awakenings, before he finds the World Songs and returns with them so his child can be born.

This stunning jacketed book is Russell Hoban’s last novel completed before his death in December 2011, and was released by Walker in April 2012. Alexis Deacon’s haunting and mesmerising pencil illustrations pay tribute to Hoban’s most outstanding work.

Soonchild is an expedition into a foreign place; a trek into the spirit world of Inuit mythology, and the buried places of the mind and spirit where one’s deepest thoughts lie. It is frequently humorous, then dark but distilled. It provokes an examination of self as it takes you to places of stillness and silence to reveal the uniqueness of each being.

Every reader will come away with a different opinion of this extraordinary piece of work. One thing that we might all agree on is that profound and thought-provoking philosophical messages weave through the text, that once read, will call you back again and again. I closed the cover agreeing with Patrick Ness’ quote, ‘Hoban is the best sort of genius.’

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Come On, Let's Play!

Come On, Let's Play! illustrated by Cheryl Orsini (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: 9780734415509
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
This delightful in-house picture book shows the fun a family can have while staying at home. Cheryl Orsini's colourful and merry illustrations in water colour and gouache support the sparce but meaningful text as mum and dad and the kids play games together.
Mum and Dad's bed is transformed into a fort with all the pillows and blankets, and pancake-making for breakfast using eggs from the back-yard hens is presided over by Dad and the kids. Mum happily sips on tea to await the treat, then its hide and seek, picture painting and dressing up for a show to make the day extra fun.  All children will relate to these activities which have been tested for generations.  I liked the illustration of Dad pretending to be a hatstand and the two older children counting to a hundred before hunting for their parents.
After dinner, there's just time to play rocket-ships and have stories read with the whole family sitting on the couch before its bedtime. The children are soon asleep after their busy family day.
This picture book is warm and comforting for kids and parents alike. In a busy world how often parents would like to be able to spend a whole day having fun with their precious offspring! Maybe this book will be the inspiration they need. 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Brumbies in the Outback

Brumbies in the Outback by Paula Boer, illustrated by Rowena Evans (IFWG Publishing)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN: 9781925148312
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Brumbies in the Outback is the fourth book in Paula Boer's stunning Brumbies series, and like its predecessors, combines an enthralling storyline with real life experiences of brumbies and other equines in their Australian setting. The two main characters in the novels, Ben and Louise, are now two years older, and the author has matched her writing to their more mature ages of sixteen and fourteen years.
The two friends have enjoyed many brumby related-adventures and former townie, Louise, has worked hard to increase her level of horsemanship. However, when she is persuaded by Ben to come with him to his Uncle Graeme's million acre cattle station out west for the school holidays, Louise is challenged in ways she did not expect.
In the past Ben happily shared his farm and horse knowledge with Louise, but suddenly Louise finds herself sidelined by the close relationship Ben has with his feisty, patronising cousin, Jacinta. Ben seems oblivious to his cousin's hostility towards Louise which is relentless, and at times he, too, adds to the discomfort Louise is experiencing. Nevertheless, she does her best on a borrowed horse to herd cattle into the yards and on to the transport trucks, and gamely tackles other tasks involved in the operation of a cattle station.
Louise is constantly confronted with new situations which test her riding skills and showcase her ignorance. One such instance, when she is charged by a bull, is life threatening. Ben is less than understanding, and all reader sympathy goes to Louise who often wishes she had said no to Ben's invitation. She is stuck in a difficult situation but is determined to meet every challenge headlong. It is Uncle Graeme who proves to be the most support.
The level of tension Boer brings to her story is commendable. Not only is the reader drawn into the scenarios with all the attention to detail which has become the author's trademark, but one's sense of justice is well and truly sparked. At the same time, young readers are given an underlying lesson in patience, perseverance, forgiveness and courage in the persona of Louise.

Rowena Evans has enhanced the pleasure of the unfolding story with her apt black and white illustrations and maps. The author herself is responsible for the charming cover photo, and once again the Glossary at the commencement of the book offers further opportunity for readers to learn more about horses, cattle and other relevant subjects. There is no doubt that this series will continue to delight lovers of horses and the bush.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Riddle Gully Runaway

Riddle Gully Runaway by Jen Banyard (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9-781-922-089-885
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin
Pollo di Nozi is a reporter-in-training and the local super sleuth of Riddle Gully. She definitely has a nose for news but occasionally she does get things a little bit muddled up. So it’s just as well her heart is in the right place.
Pollo can smell a mystery from a mile away and when things start to go missing in Riddle Gully, Pollo can’t resist the challenge to solve it. With Shorn Connery, her sheepish sidekick pet and her best friend Will by her side, Pollo is determined to track down the thief.
Unfortunately, Pollo is quick to point the finger and accidently implicates the Mayors nephew, Benson.

With determined zeal, Pollo strives to redeem herself for getting it ‘wrong’ and whilst restoring Benson’s reputation, setting the record straight. What follows is a series of hilarious mishaps, typical of Pollo Di Nozi’s adventures. But that’s why we love her!

Riddle Gully Runaway is a story that skips along. It’s fast-paced and funny, packed with action, false leads, adventure and mystery, in the fight to clear Benson’s name and find out who the real thief is.

It was quite sad in places as Benson’s had a bit of a rough family life but he’s a forgiving and brave character and Pollo, as her charming self, with Shorn Connery and Will, definitely comes through with the goods and a thoroughly satisfying ending.

Jen Banyard has extensive Teaching Resources that support this novel engaging learning about English Language, Literature and Literacy. The notes also suggest that the book can be used as a springboard for discussion about family relationships, teenagers, journalism, local government, and the understanding that people are not always as they might at first appear.

This is Jen Banyard’s third book and it’s a well-written, humorous and suspenseful read for readers of middle fiction (10 – 12 years). I thoroughly recommend this book!
Neridah McMullin is the author of five books for children. Her latest book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to Me'. It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story that’s being endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also just happens to love footy).

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Crashing Down

Crashing Down by Kate McCaffrey (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9-781-922-089-854
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

Crashing Down is an engaging, insightful and realistic read for teenagers and adults alike.

This story is fast paced and fun and McCaffrey uses common turns of phrase that are engaging and accessible to today’s teenagers. Her writing voice and narrative is strong and genuine and written in an Australian cultural context that we would all understand.

Lucy is in Year 12 and under pressure to succeed. The last thing she needs is an intense boyfriend. So Lucy innocently breaks up with Carl at the school dance. She admits it wasn’t great timing with exams coming up, but it felt like the only way to keep her dreams on track.

Things haven’t been great with her and Carl for a while now and she knows this is the right thing to do. She feels completely smothered by him and his expectations of the future are so very different to her own. All he can talk about is living locally, with no plans of university, settling down and having kids.

Unfortunately some good decisions can have bad consequences.

Carl leaves the dance angry and hurt and stoned. Driving recklessly, he crashes his car, badly smashing up not only himself but also his best mate JD.

After coming out of his coma, Carl is a changed man. As a result of his brain injury, he’s angry and paranoid and acting completely irrationally. And he can’t remember breaking up with Lucy. She doesn’t want to hurt him so she keeps up the pretense.

Everyone is extremely upset and then McCaffrey throws in a curve ball that will send you into a spin: Lucy is pregnant. She tells Carl she doesn’t want to keep it and he has a brain aneurism! His parents then slap an ‘injunction order’ on Lucy to stop her from having the baby aborted.

Wow, this story has got it all. It’s fast past with a winding plot and complex characters. Even so it raises some valid questions about how these situations could be handled.

Crashing Down is written in a distinctive and engaging style and is thoroughly recommended to Young Adult readers.

This is Kate McCaffrey’s second novel and now I’m going to track down her first book to read!

Neridah McMullin is the author of five books for children. Her next book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to Me'. It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story that’s being endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also happens to love footy!).

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Last Viking Returns

The Last Viking Returns written by Norman Jorgensen with illustrations by James Foley (Fremantle Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921888106
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

The Last Viking Returns is a fun and adventurous book about being brave and looking after your siblings.

Josh is as brave as a Viking warrior and not a lot worries him. But when Josh’s youngest twins go berserk (meaning they are an absolute handful and are out of control), Josh, Grandpa and Nan are at their wits end.

To get them out of the house, Grandpa suggests they visit ‘Viking World’.

‘Viking World’ is theme park about all things Viking. There’s Viking food (Bjorn Burgers – hilarious!), sideshows such as the ‘Hammer of Thor’ and the show stealing act of a Viking kings funeral re-enactment, which involves a Viking longship being set aflame.

Well, the twins clear off and of course, they appear on the longship just before it’s about to be set on fire to be sent to it’s fiery grave.

Parallel to this story, is another. Thor is up in Asgard (Viking Heaven) looking down and watching Josh. He can see that Knut (Josh’s Viking name) and the twins are in trouble but at the same time Asgard itself comes under attack from a fire-breathing dragon called Fafnir.

Knut saves the day thanks to the ‘Hammer of Thor’ and it all ends satisfactorily well.

There’s a very cool section that goes with the story that gives all sort of information about Vikings. There’s also a lot of detail in James Foley’s illustrations. Every time you read this, you will pick up something new. The emotion on Josh’s face is so real, his twins do look like they are going ‘berserk’ with the mess they make and Josh’s little dog Wolverine is wonderful.

Norman Jorgensen’s words and James Foley’s illustrations perfectly compliment each other. As with all good picture books, the words allow room for the illustrator use artwork to expand and add meaning to the story.

There are wonderfully creative Teaching Resources available on Fremantle Press’s website and on Norman Jorgensen’s author website relating to the story, children will have a ball applying the rune alphabet write their own secret messages and codes. The illustrator James Foley has a blog called, and this also gives a fascinating look at his journey in creating the artwork for this picture book.

This is a highly recommended read for primary school readers.

Neridah McMullin is the author of two books for children. Her next book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to me!'. It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story that’s being endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy, and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also loves footy!).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Incy Wincy Spider

Incy Wincy Spider illustrated by Karen Erasmus (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: 9780734415493
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
This in-house picture book has extended the well-known action song and turned it into a lively story. Where else did the Incy Wincy Spider shelter other than the water spout?
Children often scream at spiders, but Karen Erasmus' large-eyed Incy Wincy is very cute and benign sitting in a splash of water on the cover, with legs like liquorice spaghetti. The red of Incy Wincy, the dark turquoise water shooting out of the black spout on a lime-green background is bright and eye-catching.
Young readers will enjoy looking for Incy Wincy in many familiar places: on a beach umbrella, the toilet seat, and a chair are a few examples, and will empathise with him as he survives lots of scary adventures. Grandpa sweeps Incy Wincy off the verandah, the cat threatens him, Aunty Joan nearly flushes him down the toilet, and he gets washed clean in Mum's washing machine, not forgetting a narrow escape when the dog jumps on the bed where he is lying. Perhaps almost being sucked up by the vacuum cleaner is his worst plight.

Although the new text is not as rhythmic or snappy as the original verse, it nevertheless provides a good storyline with plenty of interest and excitement. Incy Wincy demonstrates the determination of real life spiders which are found in so many places around and in the home. Karen Erasmus's illustrations are delightfully executed and it isn't hard to guess where Incy Wincy is found at the end of the tale.