Monday 15 April 2024

When the World Was Soft

When the World Was Soft by Juluwarlu Group Aboriginal Corporation. Illustrated by Alex Mankiewicz. Allen & Unwin 2024. Soft cover large graphic novel. RRP $34.99 ISBN 9781761180651

Reviewed by Debra Williams

This is an interesting approach to relating Indigenous folklore, involving the Yindjibarndi people’s Creation-times stories. From a project begun in 1998, stories were collected and recorded to pass on to children and grandchildren. The Juluwarlu Group Aboriginal Corporation is based in WA’s Pilbara region, and their purpose is to collect and promote knowledge of Yindjibarndi culture. These ancient stories have now been compiled and released into a beautiful book which combines storytelling with artwork from the various group members: 11 women in all. Each artist is featured with a short bio towards the back of the book, as well as specific information about the group and the illustrator.  Combined with comic-style illustrations to bring the tales to life, it is an innovative way to present the culture not only to the families and communities of the Yindjibarndi people, but also to wider readerships. Allen & Unwin describe it as a ground-breaking graphic novel in an immediate and engaging way for a contemporary audience.

This is categorized as a children’s graphic novel and should suit those aged 10+ years. However, some of the subject matter may be a little graphic for sensitive readers.  Some adult guidance may be required for certain stories.

Saturday 13 April 2024

The Making of a Monarch

The Making of a Monarch by Linda Shmith is a photographic, non-fiction book of the life cycle of the Monarch or Wanderer butterfly. It is a useful resource for teachers, parents, and grandparents to share with young children to be able to see closeup detail of the metamorphosis of a butterfly’s lifecycle. The benefit of macro-photography means that you will see detail that you will not see with the naked eye. Preschools and librarians in schools use it when teaching the lifecycle section of the curriculum. There are few words on the page as the photographs are the star of the book. You may see a preview on my website where there is an online shop and a ten-minute video of other butterflies and their host plants in my garden.

I made this video for Sophie Thomson’s Open Garden talk during Covid because Shed Talks were cancelled. There are links to other resources at the back of the book and a Teaching Resource Pack available at the online shop that includes a Butterfly Garden design. The monarch is a big, beautiful, and easy butterfly to observe and as a retired preschool teacher I have happy memories of seeing the excitement on children’s faces when the butterfly emerged. Also, engaging children in nature has boundless benefits. This information is then transferrable to many other butterflies endemic to your area.

Thursday 11 April 2024

Shadows of Truth by Astrid Schotle. Allen & Unwin 2024. YA Fantasy, paperback, RRP $22.99. ISBN 9781761068898

Reviewed by Debra Williams

Shadows of Truth is the sequel to the YA fantasy, League of Liars. It follows the story of several characters (Cayder, Narena, Leta, Jey, Elenora,) after Cayder and his friends stage a dramatic escape from Vardean prison in the world of Telene. Telene is surrounded by a veil and the friends find themselves on the other side, in another world that exists beyond that veil.  

Telene and the other world are dangerously close to being destroyed. This group of friends must work together to prevent an apocalyptic ending, and it relies on the assistance of their enemy, Dr Beuter, who appears to have disappeared. Through determination, grit and dogged persistence, despite severe life-threatening injury to some, they are to push through if they want to return home and save their world. There is betrayal, treachery, lies, misunderstanding and confusion throughout the different relationships, making the solution difficult to resolve. Add to the mix several mysteries which also must be solved, and you have an intriguing tale.

Along the way, they need to overcome the all-powerful wiles of the evil Shadow Queen, who seeks to dominate Telene with her creatures of destruction.

The story is complicated in parts, with the involvement of edem (extra dimension magic), as the chapters alternate from each character’s POV. It is full of dramatic twists and turns, ensuring that the reader is engaged in the plot and characters alike. Even if the reader has not had the benefit of having read League of Liars, the author has woven enough information through the book to inform the reader of the background events leading up to the current story.

This adventure will be enjoyed by those aged 15+ years.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors by Barry Jonsberg (Allen & Unwin) ISBN: 9781761180750 RRP $19.99

Reviewed by Melissa Wray

Unlike most teenagers, Grace only cares about two things, and they don’t include social media and friends. Grace lives for magic tricks and her grandmother. A repertoire of magic tricks she can master, but her cantankerous yet charming grandmother is a whole other act.

Grace lives with her alcoholic mother and avoids any kind of relationship with her at all costs. Instead, she visits her grandmother whose unpleasant and forthright attitude is almost as predictable to Grace as it is startling. Gran’s character is a ripper! There are many laugh out loud moments with Gran’s quick retorts and embellished truths. Jonsberg has created such a fabulous portrayal of this feisty, rude but loveable woman that this reader would happily visit and enjoy a cup of tea with a wagon wheel with Gran anytime.

Grace’s magician career begins to take off with the help of a patient and purely platonic friend called Simon. He invests in Grace’s career and stands by her even when she repeatedly lets him down. Grace’s career of performing magic tricks begins to disappear as she grapples with the terminal illness diagnosis given to Gran. However, she is saving the best trick for last.

This book deals with terminal illness and tough conversations in a manner that is considered, open, heartfelt and at times, light-hearted- “May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” It also addresses family trauma through the tragic loss of Grace’s father many years before. A driving force for Grace’s self-imposed isolation and trust issues.

This book is such an entertaining read. The hardest part will be putting it down once you begin. Smoke and Mirrors is suitable for a 14+ readership.


Sunday 7 April 2024

Circles of Life

Circles of Life by Gregg Dreise (Penguin Random House Australia) HB RRP$24.99 ISBN 9781761340550

Aboriginal creator Gregg Dreise explores his cultural tradition of painting in this picture book for readers aged 5 to 7 years. With ochre from Mother Earth, two young girls are guided by Uncle to paint each layer of the Thank Your Circles as a celebration of the different elements of our world. When the dots are placed together, they form circles of life.

Circles of Life explores themes such as First Nation traditions and storytelling, art, creativity, and the environment. The story encourages children to create their own artworks and reflect on the meaning behind each stroke and dot.

This book is a companion to Dreise’s previous picture books, Hello and Welcome and My Culture and Me.

Friday 5 April 2024

Some Families Change

Some Families Change by Jess Galatola, illustrated by Jenni Barrand. EK Books 2024. Hardback PB. ISBN 9781922539670. RRP $24.99

Reviewed by Debra Williams

Everybody’s family looks different. And over time, situations can change for many families. These changes can bring an emotional toll on children, with a range of difficult feelings to navigate. The family unit may not always be as it was: the author covers single-parent families, those with two mothers or fathers, split families, families that merge and other situations.

This book, beautifully illustrated, covers the wide range of emotions that children can experience during alterations in the family structure. They need to understand that it is okay to feel worried, upset, confused or uncertain about the changes, and adjustment to different circumstances can only happen with time. The author has done a great job of covering and explaining these various situations and emotions, assuring children that no matter what happens within their family structure, they are loved and cared about. She helps them to understand about the shift in circumstances and navigate their big feelings, to find their own place in the world, with the diverse ways that can mean being a family. There is reassurance for the child/ren that whatever has occurred, it is not their fault, and encouragement to share their feelings with somebody to begin the healing process.

Jess wrote this book after her own family unit changed in 2020, to help her sons understand and adjust to the changes that the situation brought.

This book is recommended and suitable for children aged 4 -8 years. 

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Baboon In a Balloon

Baboon In a Balloon by Patrick Guest, illustrated by Katie Abey. Scholastic Australia 2024. Hardcover PB. ISBN 9781761204975 RRP $18.99

Reviewed by Debra Williams

Poor old Baboon! His day is off to a wonderfully adventurous start in his hot-air balloon. However, when things begin to go wrong, he finds himself in all sorts of places and situations, but not the way he planned! Up on the moon, shot out of a cannon, or driving a car: where will he end up?  He is assisted by The Badger of Boo and The Yeti of Yay, who either cheer him on or express upset when things go awry. There’s a good ending, but where is his hat?

This is a fun rhyming story for young children, colourfully illustrated throughout. The illustrations are a little odd at times with Baboon’s colourful bottom sitting on the top of his right thigh, next to his tail, but in others it is in the correct place. Suitable for children 3+ years of age.