Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Single Stone

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781925081701

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Everyone is obedient to the words of the Mothers that direct their lives. All they know is the world inside the mountains created by Rockfall, a time when the mountains shifted and land was swallowed by water.

Jena leads the line of girls that have been physically ‘adjusted’ so their bodies are pliable enough to wriggle through the crevices of the rocks that form the periphery of their village.  This is a place where females are more important and necessary than males, for these thin and pliable female bodies tunnel for the flakes of life-giving mica which keeps the population alive during the harsh winters.

Jena accidently discovers many truths hidden from them all.  The Mothers have kept their dangerous secrets well. She learns about the ‘ripening’, enforced to manipulate the premature birth of babies. This guarantees the abnormally small stature necessary for the preservation of the line.

She also discovers that there is an Outside, and everyone has been lied to.  Will the people believe her if she tells them the truth? Can she gather the courage to make her way through the mountain one last time?

This highly creative novel covers issues of gender, body image, the abuse of power by persons in positions of authority, and how easy it is to view people as disposable.

Written in scintillating prose filled with rich metaphors, this imaginative and well-crafted story is for the 12+ age group.

Monday, 8 February 2016

The Bunyip in the Billabong

The Bunyip in the Billabong written by Elaine Ouston (Morris Publishing)
PB RRP $13.99
ISBN 9780994246301

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The first in a new chapter book series called ‘Bush Tails’, The Bunyip in the Billabong tells the story of Matthew, an eleven year old boy who is enamoured of his grandfather’s tales about the elusive bush creature, the bunyip. His grandfather describes the bunyip as a large, walrus-like animal, with long black hair and a bloodcurdling howl that lives in a cave by a waterhole.

When some lambs go missing on their remote, rural property, Matthew is convinced it must be due to the bunyip. Matthew’s father mocks his belief in this supposedly mythical creature, yet his spritely grandfather supports Matthew, suggesting they camp by the billabong to be sure.

When Matthew hears strange sounds and sees ripples on the water’s surface, he’s more and more certain it must be a bunyip. On a subsequent trip with his older brother bearing scuba diving gear, Matthew discovers the truth.

The book’s traditional rural setting and characters are reminiscent of a bygone Australian era, with echoes of bush poetry along the lines of Waltzing Matilda evident. Matthew’s endless curiosity and determination would resonate with readers, and his grandfather and brother’s support is truly endearing. This is an entertaining story with enough mystery and rising tension to keep a primary school-aged reader hooked.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Olivia's First Term: Stage School

Olivia's First Term: Stage School by Lyn Gardner (Nosy Crow)
PB RRP $16.95

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

There are other books in this series about Olivia, daughter of Jack and sister to Eel, whose family has a circus background. Olivia is skilled in tightrope walking, which is her passion. Thus she is sorely disappointed when Jack takes her and Eel to enrol in a stage school. The school is run by the girls' maternal grandmother, Alicia Swan, who has previously cut all ties from her daughter and son-in-law. Now Olivia's mother is dead and Jack is desperate for his girls to have a home. Alicia accepts the girls into the school and Jack departs. The story then proceeds, telling of life for Olivia and Alice in Swan's Stage School.

This is an odd book insofar as the narrative viewpoint shifts constantly throughout the story. It's almost as much poor, talented Georgia's story, spoilt, rich, bitchy Katie's story and enthusiastic, gifted dancer Eel's story. Their stories, and the stories of other students such as the school captain Aeysha and Olivia's friend Tom are played out throughout the book.

As I read Olivia's First Term, I had a sense of reading a book by Enid Blyton. The story's characters are all 'types' with jealousies, infighting and occasional kindnesses depicted from the numerous students of the school. Olivia struggles to fit in as she has no stage talents: instead she rigs up a tightrope and finds joy from walking on it in secret. Meanwhile, Eel flourishes and is chosen to dance in front of the Queen, and Jack attempts to renew a relationship with the girls' grandmother.

An average read, the book is easy to read and would most likely maintain the interest of a reader aged from eight to twelve years.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Return of the Fox: Further Adventures of a One-Eyed Chook

Return of the Fox: Further Adventures of a One-Eyed Chook by Pat Clarke, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)

HB RRP $24.95
ISBN: 9781925117585

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

This book is an unusual hyrid: it’s an illustrated chapter book presented in over-sized hardcover format. It’s the size of a picture book for early readers, making it about twice the usual dimensions of a chapter book. It’s of substantial length (76 pages) with a high level of vocabulary but curiously directed at preschoolers.

Compton’s illustrations, particularly of Clancy the goanna (my favourite), are a treat. Despite the title, the fox doesn’t appear until almost half way through the story. The earlier part is taken up with a description of the friendship between Elvis the eagle and Sheila the chook. Elvis is shot by some car thieves while trying to prevent them from setting fire to a stolen car – an action that could start a bushfire and result in huge loss of animal life. Sheila is hurt while getting down from a perch. They both wind up being sheltered and nursed back to health by Ma Taylor, a strange old lady who lives in the forest, and takes care of a menagerie of different birds and animals.

It’s hard to keep up with who’s who in her zoo, though Dulcie, the traumatised hen whose speech is peppered with EGGscellent and EGGxaggerated, mannerisms is a bird memorable for her eccentricity.

Rufus the fox hears a rumour that Elvis has died and, although he promised in an earlier story never to return to Goonoo Forest, decides to advantage of the opportunity. A chook for dinner would go down nicely! Or so he thinks.

Older children may enjoy this barnyard tale with its focus on courage and friendship.

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Incredible Edible Garden

The Incredible Edible Garden by Victoria Breheny, illustrated by Jemma Phillips (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $18.95
ISBN: 9781925117479

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

Annie’s father is afraid of grass. Fortunate then that they live in an apartment block; unfortunate that Annie’s favourite colour is green, not grey. One day on her way home from school Annie meets Rosemary and is invited into the incredible edible garden.

She is introduced to luscious fruits and vibrant vegetables, taught about the healing power of food and given lessons in making herbal teas. (The yummy ideas made me disappointed there were no recipes in the book!)

When Rosemary’s birthday comes around, even Annie’s dad is persuaded to go, if only to see the ‘overgrown wonderland’ he’s heard so much about. But the spectacular event changes his mind—and he decides he’s no longer afraid of grass. In fact, he wants a rooftop incredible edible garden. 

Simple, colourful illustrations bring this gentle story for preschoolers to green-hued life. An obvious love of gardening pervades every page.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Mouse Mayhem

Mouse Mayhem written and illustrated by Wendy McKay-Taylor (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117486

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

First it was one mouse, creeping into the house -- then two, hiding in a boy’s shoes. Soon there were hundreds, thousands … springing out of the paddocks and looking for food and shelter. They nibble through everything—including plastic, newspaper, car wiring.

I’ve experienced a mouse plague on a farm, so I know how realistic this story is. However, to most people, it may seem outrageously exaggerated.

The watercolour illustrations are too cute by far to really portray the menace of mice in such overwhelming numbers. Young readers are much more likely to feel more sympathetic to the pesky critters that to the cat or people—and certainly feel uncomfortable with the solution to the problem. 

It’s the sort of book that would probably go well in country schools but is likely to be far less appreciated in the city.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Granny, Wait for Me!

Granny, Wait for Me! by Sarah Owens, illustrated by Anil Tortop (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117400

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

The exuberant, lively illustrations spring off the page in vibrant, crisp colour.

This story of an energetic granny is so spirited and enthusiastic that I feel exhausted just looking at the small boy valiantly trying to keep up as his granny displays her cycling prowess!

It’s a rhyming story but, unlike many offerings for this age group, the rhyme stays workably simple. This gives the story a deceptively effortless and easy pace.

A boy is visited by his grandmother who takes him out for the day. This is not a granny who stays home and sips tea: she does wheelies, tricks and spins on her bike, loops-the-loop on the playground swing and sizzles down the slide.

This fun book for preschoolers is fabulously enhanced by the gorgeous and dynamic illustrations.