Sunday, 31 August 2014


Caminar by Skila Brown (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9780763665166
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This stunning verse novel is Skila Brown’s conduit for the real life events of the era beginning in 1954 when the first democratically elected government of Guatemala was overthrown. The Guatemalan Civil War raged between 1960 and 1996. It left more than 200,000 people killed or never heard of again. This book is dedicated to their memory.

The setting begins in Chopan, Guatemala, 1981. When the soldiers arrive, they encourage the hungry villagers to betray the ‘communists’ for money. The word communist is unknown there. But they reinforced their message in their language, by hanging a man with the word communist a necklace around his neck.

Carlos is a boy forced to become a man to survive because work made a boy ‘step away from child, and step into Man.’ Later the villages are razed to the ground and people are slaughtered like sheep.  On the day his cousin is born, Carlos’ mother sends him into the jungle to pick mushrooms. ‘I could not see the village. And it could not see me.’ He follows his mother’s orders to set out for the mountains if the soldiers come and ‘in the woods, eyes closed, ears open’ he listens to the slaughter and death behind him as he hides in trees like a monkey. We accompany his travels and fears, his growth and his mourning.

This verse novel is poetic and powerful, heartbreaking and mournful, but stops a breath away from being desolate. The author has used the power of the elements, emotive language and metaphor to portray all that we see, hear and almost smell. The plants, streams and forests must surely be as familiar to her as breathing for they appeared as strong visual scenes before me throughout the book. This is a feast of language of the highest quality; a work of incredible depth.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Goldilocks on CCTV

Goldilocks on CCTV by John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781847804990
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Award winning playwright, poet and children’s author (a few of his many talents), John Agard is an overall performer of the written word; a master of language. This is reflected in his new edition of poetry which follows his wicked The Young Inferno, which updates to modern, Dante’s magnificent work.

In Goldilocks on CCTV, Agard transmogrifies in a surprising and eloquent way, familiar childhood fairytales into rap, or hip hop rhythm, with a new slant on each tale. He begins by stripping away the original framework of the tale, to build a new one with the same basic equipment for modern verse lovers. Imaginative mixes, wordplay, role reversal, imitation, and re-evaluation of all you read in your childhood takes place here.

Totally magical and creative, he brings the past into the now and assuredly will draw further on the new audiences that are drawn to this modern style. This out-there verse is perfect for performance when captured or spoken in the correct rhyme and rhythm.

The fantastic, bizarre and inventive art/illustrations in black and white by Satoshi Kitamura, are shadows to the clever lyrics/text.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Alexander Altmann A10567

Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail (black dog books)
PB RRP $ 18.95
ISBN 9781922179999
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Alexander Altmann at fourteen years old loses his name and becomes a number at Birkenau. Separated from his mother and sister by the wire fence, he pretends to be sixteen and is put into the men’s section to work.

Shattered at learning his young sister has gone to the gas chambers, and not knowing what became of his parents, he clings to ‘just get through the day’ as a lifeline. He watches as other boys get shot or kicked to death and he is determined not to be next.

When Alex is moved to the extermination camp at Auschwitz, his farm life and experience with horses, places him in the Horse Platoon to care for the animals. The decision to keep to himself and feel nothing for no one is fuelled by the smoke, smell and sight of death that constantly surrounds him. Even the friendship offered to him by the persuasive Isidor, another young horse-handler, is totally rejected.

It takes a new horse, a wild, frightened being, very much like himself, ‘to teach him how to be human’ again. As the Russian troops draw nearer and freedom is in sight, Alexander Altmann reclaims his name, along with many other things that were taken from him.

This deeply moving novel is based on the real life story of a Holocaust survivor. Suzy Zail has built powerful, heartbreaking images of the brutal life in concentration camps. The hunger, inhumanity and deprivation are presented in strong visual narrative. Suzy’s previous novel, The Wrong Boy, set in the same era, was short-listed for the 2013, CBCA Book of the Year Award.  

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Pa Joe’s Place

Pa Joe’s Place by Clancy Tucker (Clancy Tucker Publishing)
PB RRP $25.00 plus postage E-Book $2.99
ISBN 9780646572208
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Boo is a Thai girl, the youngest of seven children and seven years old. Extremely bright, courageous, optimistic and mature in her outlook, she always sees the best in every person and situation. Accepting of her circumstances, she obediently leaves her family, home, best friend and dying father, and sets out on a journey over 1,000 kilometres to Songkhla in the south, to be cared for and educated by Jesuit priest Pa Joe along with his other 155 orphans.

She finds another father, a new family and friends, and the opportunity to become something wonderful and experiences the greatest adventure of her life, which includes helping survivors of a train wreck, catching criminals, and meeting strangers whose lives she touches in significant ways.

This deeply moving story is inspired by and dedicated to real people: Boo Nawigamune, and Father Joe Carey who for 50 years, against great odds and with the help of many compassionate and generous people, cared for children he found on the streets of Thailand.  

Clancy Tucker has mapped out a superb social, cultural, and geographical picture of Thailand, and used it as background to his story. Tucker’s intimate knowledge of the country and the people gives an added richness and realism to every page of a story filled with inspiration and love.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Night Sky Dragons

Night Sky Dragons by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Patrick Benson (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 27.95
ISBN 9781406309850
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Co-authored by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, this elegant book with its fine line illustrations in colours of the desert are presented on coloured pages. The story is reminiscent of the age of the Silk Road, and its caravanserais where merchant traders found shelter and safety, and carried more than wondrous wares, silk, and gunpowder.

Motherless Yazul waits for spring, the kite-flying season of warm winds. His grandfather’s workshop is his haven and where he learnt the art of building kites. Here the old man and the boy play games that involve dragons that appear when the gods are angry.

His father is the protector of the han. Business and money, travel and trade are his focus. Yazul will inherit this responsibility. But for now he is mischievous and curious, and prone to getting into trouble. It is during one of these mischievous moments that his carelessness causes his grandmother to drop the dish which tells the history of his people. This is seen as a bad omen. His father punishes him by sending him to the kitchens to work as a drudge.

He misses the changing of the season, but learns about the bandits that have come to attack their han. Finding no way to enter, they wait. Without water and food, it is just a matter of time before the citizens surrender.

It is Yazul’s ingenious idea that drives away the bandits. But there is one more act of reparation for Yazul to undertake before he can be forgiven.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Messenger: the Legend of Joan of Arc

Messenger: the Legend of Joan of Arc by Tony Lee, illustrated by Sam Hart (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 22.95
ISBN 9781406336153
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Joan of Arc was known as the Messenger. Her visions began in 1424 when she was thirteen years old. These visions and the voices of the Saints guided her towards the salvation of France against the onslaught of the English and their Burgundian allies.

In an outstanding retelling by Tony Lee through this graphic novel, brilliantly illustrated by Sam Hart in bold shadowed and bright shades of colour, we relive the legend of Joan of Arc until her burning at the stake in May 1431.

This is an historical fiction novel about faith, adventure, treachery, betrayal and manipulation. It reflects on absolute power and its tragic outcomes, and the position of the Church during the 1400s.

Joan of Arc, now the Patron Saint of France, became a martyr after the verdict of 1431 was overturned by the Church in 1456. Her Beautification took place in 1909, and she was made a Saint by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Prometheus Unplugged

Prometheus Unplugged by Alan Murphy (AvantCard Publications)
PB RRP (Euro11) approx. AUS $16.00 plus P&H
ISBN 9780956173423
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Talented Irish poet Alan Murphy’s latest offering is as surprising and impressive as his last book, Psychosilly. Musical in theme, text, rhyme and rhythm, this collection will entertain teenagers and others that harbour an interest in eclectic lyrics that are as unique and individual as they are.

Subjects range from Ozzie Osborne, fleas at a rock concert, lullaby rap, rock lobsters, scarecrows and so much more. Greek flavour is added to Prometheus Unplugged with Orpheus and Sisyphus Rocks.

This set of 33 poems is filled with endless clever and original thought, imaginative word play, musical language and innuendo, and rock and roll references.

The artwork/illustrations are brilliant patchworks and carefully considered collages of musical appendages. The book is a creative assembly of ideas and words which fall into place perfectly due to the master strokes of this talented artist.