Friday, 22 March 2019

The Great Lizard Trek

The Great Lizard Trek by Felicity Bradshaw and illustrated by Norma MacDonald. Non-Fiction Picture Book. RRP $24.99   ISBN: 9781486308828

Reviewed by Vanessa Ryan-Rendall 

Written by Felicity Bradshaw and illustrated by Norma MacDonald, an Aboriginal Yamatji artist, The Great Lizard Trek is an excellent addition to the science, geography and sustainability curriculum in classrooms. It is also a wonderful book for family homes where nature lovers will delight in looking at the detailed illustrations, the maps and the reasons why we need to care more for the world we live in.
The Great Lizard Trek takes us on a journey from the north to the south coast of Western Australia. Along this journey we meet the different types of lizards who live in this part of the world and learn their indigenous name and the indigenous country they come from. Not only do we learn about these lizards we also learn that they are having to move from the places they have always lived because of climate change. Many lizards cannot cope well with extreme heat, lack of water, too much water or lack of shelter. And we often forget that reptiles play just as an important role in the ecosystem as mammals and marsupials do – not as cute and cuddly so they just don’t get the attention.
We learnt a lot about different lizards and were especially surprised by goannas and how important temperature was for the development of their eggs. If the eggs get too hot all the babies will be girls, and this is a big problem for the future.
The Great Lizard Trek is a book you can read in one sitting or one you can take your time with, drawing on information, flipping to the maps included at the back and the front of the books and doing a bit of your own extra research. The story is engaging, as are the lizard characters we meet. The dialogue between the characters adds lots of fun to these reptiles that often get ignored!
Norma MacDonald’s illustrations are highly detailed and the background for each lizard is a reminder of where they live and the conditions in which they live.
Reptiles are amazing creatures that live in Australia – and we have so many of them. This book is a great wake up call for all readers to see how human actions are having huge ramifications on the animal world.
Luckily for these lizards the outcome seems to be good – but will it always stay this way? Will there be a part two? I’m not sure if the part two will be as positive.
The Great Lizard Trek is an excellent book to discuss climate change from a different angle, various reptiles and to learn more about indigenous language, culture and country.

Vanessa Ryan-Rendall is a teacher-librarian (St Mark’s, Drummoyne) and a gifted educator (Sydney CEO Gifted Education) 

Book reviews, links to literacy and ideas to create globally conscious children can be found on 

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Follow After Me

Follow After Me by Allison Marlow Paterson (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $17.50 ISBN: 9781925675580

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

What happens when a rural teenager’s efforts to run with the popular crowd clash with her discoveries of a tragic wartime family history? Lizzie is a year 12 student who has turned her back on her studies, her family and her long-time friendship group after attracting the attentions of the cool girl and the most desirable boy in town. While her life begins to disintegrate, she reluctantly begins researching her family’s World War I history for a school project.

Alternating with Lizzie’s contemporary tale comes the story of her family’s experiences during the Great War, told through a combination of letters and third-person narration. The reader is immersed in the experience of war, from the process of enlisting and fighting on the Western Front, to bearing the inevitable anxiety and grief on the home front. While the historical chapters broadly focus around the relationship between Tom, the youngest of five sons to go to war, and his intended, Evie, the whole family’s experience is represented.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, which is heavily based on the author’s previous non-fiction work Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front and her own family research. The contemporary chapters layer family tension, financial pressure, drought, teenage angst and year 12 stress. The reader is also confronted with a bald (though not excessively graphic) depiction of sexual assault and its aftermath. Marlow Paterson builds a strong sense of place through keen observation of small details (an ancient, dented kitchen table and threadbare tea-towel, for example) and the use of key features of the landscape to create echoing imagery.

The most important of those images is the ancient tree near the family homestead, which serves to tie the “then” and “now” strands of the story together with its significance to all the main protagonists. It serves as a motif for the novel’s unifying themes of family and romance, and the ghosts of the past lingering around its trunk give Lizzie valuable perspective on her life.

There is real emotional depth to this book, particularly in the historical chapters, which reduced me to tears and gave me chills down my arms on several occasions. Nevertheless, those chapters have some structural weaknesses. Marlow Paterson has tried to incorporate the breadth of her family’s experience and include some real letters from her research. This has educational value but also muddies points of view, which switch frequently between scenes and sometimes mid-scene. Some chapters, for example, take the point of view of the mother of the family, which resonated with me as a mother myself, but is not ideally tailored to a young adult audience. The emotional climax also comes relatively early in the novel – around the halfway mark – which makes for a long, melancholy denouement.

Follow After Me is a moving contribution to the increasingly popular YA war story genre. It will appeal to a wide range of older teenagers (and adults) from 14 years and up, particularly those with an interest in real stories, history or rural life, although it also has a place as contemporary fiction. Despite the female main protagonist, there is a lot here for boys, both in conveying the wartime experience of their predecessors and providing insight into the modern experience of teenage girls in a #MeToo era.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Buzz Words Achievement

At the recent SCBWI conference in Sydney, children’s author Kaye Baillie was approached with an offer of representation from Essie White, Literary Agent of Storm Literary in the US. Kaye is delighted to say it’s official and she has accepted that offer.

Good luck Kaye!

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Violet and Nothing

Violet and Nothing written & illustrated by Fiona Burrows (Fremantle Press) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN9781925591552

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Violet is always thinking when she’s eating, playing, feeding her cat, cooking, just living. One day she thinks about ‘nothing,’ but the concept eludes her. What is nothing? Where is it? If nothing is real, is anything real? These are deep philosophical questions for a small girl to ponder. She asks people in her life such as her sister and mother. They come up with ‘answers’ such as nothing is empty space, or blankness.

But when Violet looks at blankness, such as a white page, she can nevertheless see ideas on it in imaginary traces. Inside her mind when it is ‘empty’, she nevertheless has ideas galore. Even in the garden where there’s ‘nothing’ in the air, she can smell and hear. Finally, in her closed hand, she finds ‘nothing’ but that leads to the idea that if nothing is real, how do you know if anything is real?

This book is likely to amuse and puzzle a reader aged 4+ years. Every page shows Violet and the ‘nothing’ she finds – such as the richly colourful ‘nothing’ that occupies her mind. The illustrations of ‘nothing’ are abstract and filled with interesting trivia while the illustrations of Violet and the people in her life are eye-grabbing. This is a picture book about the big questions that children have and that adults often can’t answer.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Sleep Tight, Platypup

Sleep Tight, Platypup written & illustrated by Renee Treml (Puffin Books) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9780143789796

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Baby platypus wakes at night and cries for his mother. He’s scared of the darkness. Happily, Mummy appears and hugs him, telling him it’s just the night. She takes him outdoors and asks him what he sees. Of course, there is the moon and stars, trees and the family burrow, all familiar to both mother and son.

When the trees rattle and boom and the grass crinkles and crackles, Platypup is again scared. Once more his mother draws his attention to the noises that he can hear that are familiar – grasses shifting in the wind, leaves whispering… ‘just like the do during the day’, and of course that’s not scary.

This is a very simple picture book which could surely calm a child aged 3 to 5 years who has night fears. The illustrations of mother and son are executed in black and white like lino prints with muted backgrounds of purples and blues. There’s not a lot of visual interest and the platypus don’t always look faithfully rendered with the bills sometimes looking like duck bills. The depiction of platypus standing upright are invalid, too. It’s a shame that the illustrations aren’t as interesting as the written text.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Tilly Maguire and the Royal Wedding Mess

Tilly Maguire and the Royal Wedding Mess by Emma Grey (Harper Collins) RRP $19.99 (PB)ISBN 9781460755051

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Tilly Maguire and the Royal Wedding Mess (An Accidental Fairy Tale) is a romantic comedy for teenagers set amongst the world of British celebrity. Tilly, a blogger from Australia, arrives jetlagged in London for her new job as an intern for a PR company. She goes straight to a charity ball, where she meets her childhood crush, boy-band member Reuben Vaughan. One misunderstanding plunges Tilly into the limelight of the tabloid press and the world of the rich and famous. 

Just finished high school, Tilly’s big international opportunity goes pear-shaped when she snaps a photo of Princess Isabelle (supposedly in the middle of a marriage proposal from Reuben) and accidently shares it to the worldwide media. Reuben goes into damage control and whisks Tilly off into hiding after announcing she is his ‘muse’, meaning Tilly is thrown together with the boy she obsessed over as a teenager. Now Tilly has other ambitions than marrying a pop star, like writing a novel, but to save her career she must go along with a subterfuge. This leads to a series of confusing events, not just for Tilly, but for Reuben and Isabelle, and finally to a royal wedding.

Tilly is an impulsive, funny character who is given more depth by the fact she suffers from anxiety, and Reuben’s character becomes more appealing by the way he responds to this. Princess Isabelle is not your standard princess as she has been hiding her sexuality from her conservative parents and the girl she loves. Told from multiple perspectives, the fast-paced plot, with a twist, leads the characters to a better understanding of themselves. And a ‘happily ever after’ at the end!

Tilly Maguire and the Royal Wedding Mess should appeal to readers in their mid-teens. The pink cover with a tiara and high heels seems to direct the story mostly towards girls. Written with age-appropriate terminology and humour, this book should be a page turner for these readers.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019


This story by Geraldine Borella was placed second in the 2018 Buzz Words Short Story Prize for a story written by an adult for children.

I kissed a green tree frog but it didn’t turn into a prince, it turned into a Viking. I really don’t know why I did it. I’m not the princess type. Not like Nina.
          Nina liked twirling around the schoolyard, pretending to be Elsa from Frozen, zapping annoying people into icebergs, whereas I preferred being two-time world champion netballer, Laura Geitz.
          Actually, I do know why I did it – Nina dared me.
          ‘Go on,’ she said. ‘Kiss it.’
          ‘Yeah, go on,’ urged Ali.
          ‘Ew!’ screeched Larissa, crinkling her nose. ‘Gross!’
          To be honest, I think that’s what swayed me. I enjoyed doing gross things to freak people out.
          ‘She won’t do it,’ said Nina, examining her fingernails. ‘She doesn’t even believe in frog princes.’
          That was true. I didn’t believe in frog princes. Nina knew me so well. But, she also knew that telling me I wouldn’t do something would inevitably push me into doing it.
          So I kissed the tree frog we found in the school bubbler tap tray.
          It morphed into a human, little green digits turning into pink fingers and toes and we screamed. I threw him away, tossing him off the palm of my hand, and he spun in the air cloaked by a cloud of green smoke and glitter until he landed on the ground, a fully formed Viking boy, complete with horned helmet, leather clothes, a bearskin cape and woollen boots. Poor thing! He’d boil in this tropical heat.
          Other kids in the schoolyard were curious as to what was going on, hearing our screeches and squeals, but we created a shield, blocking him from view.
          ‘What’s going on?’ asked Jackson.
          ‘Nothing,’ said Nina, sneering. ‘Just playing a game.’
          ‘Really?’ He drawled and raised an eyebrow. ‘What sort of game?’
          ‘None of your business,’ said Nina, and she raised her hands to turn him into an iceberg.
          Jackson rolled his eyes and hugged himself, pretending to shake and tremble. ‘Ooh, I’m soooo scared,’ he said. His mates smirked. ‘She’s gonna turn me into an icy-cup.’
          Nina shot them an evil glare and they walked off, muttering about how pathetic Frozen is. 
          We spun around to examine the Viking boy. He gazed up at me from the ground, with big blue eyes.
          ‘Hello, my beautiful shield-maiden,’ he said in a weird accent.
          Nina nudged me. ‘He’s in love with you,’ she whispered. ‘I can see it in his face.’
          ‘I’m not a shield-maiden,’ I said. ‘I’m just a school girl.’
          ‘You shielded me from the other warriors.’
          ‘Well, yeah, but…’
          ‘You are all shield-maidens,’ he said, gesturing to my friends.
          ‘Well, no…,’ I started, and Nina nudged me again, shushing me up.
          ‘How come he can speak English?’ asked Larissa.
          Nina scowled. ‘It’s magic, of course!’ Then she turned to the boy, ‘So, what’s your name?’
          He got to his feet and punched himself hard in the chest, just above the heart. ‘I am Broddi Samsson of Njarevik.’ 
I winced. That had to have hurt!
          ‘I’m Nina Clarke of Freshwater,’ said Nina, repeating the gesture, though punching herself more gently. ‘And this is Ali Tingle of Redlynch, Larissa Weir also of Redlynch, and …’ She pointed to me. ‘Cassie Camden of Caravonica.’
          ‘Cassie Camden of Caravonica,’ whispered Broddi. His eyes seared into mine and I cleared my throat, glancing away. Stop staring, why don’t ya!
           The morning bell rang for class and I looked around at my friends. What will we do with him?
          ‘Come with us,’ said Nina, taking charge. ‘And let me take that cloak. You’ll swelter, otherwise. Oh, and you can ditch the boots and helmet as well. We’ll go get some stuff from the lost property box.’ She glanced over her shoulder. ‘Got your netball sneakers here, Cass?’ she asked.
          I nodded as Broddi allowed Nina to drag him along. Most people allow Nina to organise them, me included.
          ‘Who’s this?’ asked Mrs Tupperton.
          ‘An exchange student Cass has staying with her,’ said Nina, not missing a beat.
          ‘Oh really?’ said Mrs Tupperton, sounding impressed. ‘Where from?’
          ‘Njarevik,’ said Broddi. ‘I am Broddi Samsson from Njarevik.’ He slammed his fist into his chest again and even Jackson winced.
          ‘Hmm,’ said Mrs Tupperton. ‘Where’s that? In Norway?’
          Broddi spat on the carpet. ‘I spit on King Harald and his unification, and I rue the day Arnarson came ashore.’
          ‘Ahh, Broddi, we don’t spit in the classroom, thanks,’ said Mrs Tupperton. She seemed intrigued though. ‘That’s interesting,’ she said, tapping a finger against her lips. ‘I thought King Harald was quite a nice man and very popular, too.’
          Broddi spat again and Jackson, Tian and Ethan sniggered.
          ‘Broddiiiii,’ warned Mrs Tupperton, frowning.
          ‘I’ll make sure he doesn’t do it again, Mrs Tupperton,’ I said, guiding Broddi to a seat and out of danger.
          The morning ticked by slowly as we worked hard to keep Broddi camouflaged and in his seat. He was prone to jumping up and wandering about the room, inspecting things. When Mrs Tupperton began the math lesson, he chimed in, obviously quite handy with numbers. Mrs Tupperton had asked: ‘If you had fifteen goats and seven were stolen, while two died of disease, how many would you have left?’
          Broddi slammed his hands on the desk and said, ‘I would drive my sword through the belly of the thief, get my seven goats back, sacrifice one to the gods and still have twelve left to feast upon.’
          The whole class screamed with laughter and Broddi looked surprised and then pleased with himself.
          ‘Yes, well,’ said Mrs Tupperton. ‘That sounds like quite a feast.’
          Broddi gave a serious nod then stood up and wandered over to the goldfish tank. Mrs Tupperton flashed her eyes at me and I got up to guide him back. He stared at the goldfish, then snatched one out and swallowed it. I gasped. Did he just eat Hazel? Luckily none of the class saw, as Mrs Tupperton had instructed them to flip to a certain page in their texts and they were busily doing so.
          ‘I’m ravenous,’ he said, munching on Hazel.
          ‘Here.’ He reached in and caught Fred. ‘You must be hungry too.’
          ‘No, no,’ I said, hands up. ‘I’m good.’
          ‘Oh, well, do you mind if I…?’ He nodded at Fred.
          Before I could answer, he tipped his head back and dropped Fred into his opened mouth. My stomach turned. How was I going to explain this?
          ‘We’d better go sit down,’ I said, reaching for his arm. He looked down at my hand on his elbow and took it, spinning me around to stand in front of him.
          ‘Cassie Camden of Caravonica,’ he announced, loud enough for the whole class to hear. ‘I take you as my wife and shield-maiden from this day forth and for ever more.’
          The class erupted with laughter and Mrs Tupperton’s jaw dropped.
          Nina sighed out loud. ‘Oh, so romantic!’
          ‘Show me to the graves of your ancestors,’ he said. ‘So I may retrieve their sword.’
          ‘Um…’ I was pretty sure my great granddad wasn’t buried with a sword. I suppose I could check with Mum though.
          ‘We’ll sacrifice another goat…’ said Broddi.
          ‘That’ll leave only eleven to feast on though,’ Jackson pointed out, laughing.
          ‘Eleven will do fine,’ said Broddi, taking him seriously.
          ‘Right,’ said Mrs Tupperton, trying to gain control of the class. ‘I think that’s enough horseplay for today.’
That was almost three years ago and I still have Broddi hanging around. He doesn’t come to school anymore; he lives in the rainforest that backs onto the schoolyard, continually switching between Viking and frog. He said that’ll happen until I agree to marry him; it’s a huge obligation to have resting on my shoulders.
          I visit often, with Ali and Larissa. Broddi roasts a scrub turkey on a spit, offering me (his beloved) the choicest leg. It’s created a terrible split between Nina and I, unfortunately. She’s jealous, I think. But Broddi’s here to stay, and to be honest, it’s nice to have someone who loves me unconditionally.
          I’m off to high school next year and when Mum and Dad floated the idea of me going to St Matthew’s, the private school across town, I quickly laid it to rest.
          ‘But it’s got so much to offer,’ said Mum, her brow creasing. ‘It’s quite expensive, but it’s got an indoor swimming pool, a gym, a music academy, theatre group…’
          ‘I know. But I’d still rather go to Redlynch High.’
          ‘Aren’t your friends going to St Matthew’s?’
          ‘So,’ I shrugged. ‘I’ll make new ones.’
          ‘Hmm...’ Mum pursed her lips, frowning.
          ‘Looks like we’ll get a holiday this year, after all,’ mumbled Dad, burying his head back into his newspaper.
          I smiled. St Matthew’s may have a lot to offer but it doesn’t have everything. It doesn’t have a rain-forest plot with a creek running through it, or a paddock full of goats, and it doesn’t have a frog-Viking called Broddi either.