Sunday, 3 May 2015

Big Digger ABC

Big Digger ABC by Margaret Mayo Illus. by Alex Ayliffe (Orchard/Hachette)
HB RRP $24.99

Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Long-time acclaimed British author, Margaret Mayo has created an alphabet picture book using names of vehicles which will enthrall little people, especially boys. Her rhythmic text has as much action as Alex Ayliffe's lively and colourful illustrations.  For example:
Aa Ambulance Busy, busy ambulance
rush, rush, rushing.                                                                                                            Whee-ow! Whee-ow!
                                                                  Loud siren blaring.

The use of bold letters in wavy or oblique patterns emphasises, for example the speed of the ambulance, and this is repeated throughout - a bulldozer push, push, pushing; a crane hoist, hoist, hoisting; right through to Z which is represented by a Zooming Rocket. Mayo isn't afraid to use adjectives instead of the nouns common in most alphabets, or even a letter in a word rather than at the beginning, e.g., X is for EXtra Big Wheels.

Narrowboat and Icebreaker are two unusual modes of transport which may not be familiar to all young children but they certainly add a further educational element to their reading experience.

The vivid illustrations of each vehicle are cheerful and appealing and Alex Ayliffe's award winning style doesn't stop there - the backgrounds also hold a lot of interest for children to examine and enjoy. E.g., a bright yellow Helicopter is in the air, but a ladder is being lowered to someone stranded on a snowy mountain which faithfully supports the text:
Smart yellow helicopter whirr, whirr, whirring.
Hovering and swaying - look!
Someone needs rescuing.

Machine-mad little kids will love the whole concept of this exciting ABC picture book.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Crystal Force

Crystal Force by Joe Ducie (Hot Key Books 2015)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781471404559

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Buckle up science fiction fans. British-born Perth author Joe Ducie, joint-winner of the Guardian and Hot Key Books Young Writer’s Prize for his debut novel, The Rig, is back with Crystal Force, an action-packed sequel. And you’re in for a roller coaster ride.

Crystal Force is predominately set on the East Coast of North America in the not too distant future, just two weeks after the events in The Rig.

With all the makings of a dark, apocalyptic tale, Crystal Force is balanced by Ducie’s charming teen protagonist, William Drake, and the development of his relationships with his sidekicks from The Rig through which Ducie introduces themes of self-esteem, identity, belonging and love. Will, Irene and Tristan may have escaped the world’s most secure juvenile detention facility, but Will’s exposure to the potentially deadly Crystal X and his resultant super powers see him on the run, struggling to distinguish friend from foe and battling to maintain his sanity.
Despite the Crystal X running through Will’s veins, his radical physical transformation, and the sheer unpredictability of his raw power, the fifteen and a half year old still remains the type of guy you want by your side.

Fiercely loyal, protective and instinctive, and with a healthy sense of humour and a voracious mutant teenage appetite, Will is driven by the desire to cure his mother of the cancer she suffers at the hands of the Alliance – global controller of all things from communication to medication.

Ducie’s background in security and intelligence adds credibility to his depiction of the global net of control cast by the powerful and ruthless Alliance.
Will and his friends share a volatile journey during which they meet potential allies, encounter an all too familiar nemesis and stand alongside enemies for the sake of human civilisation as we know it.

In an ever-changing battle field, Ducie draws contrasts between young and old, light and dark, sanity and madness, good and evil, love and hate, and, ultimately, life and death.

And when Will follows his instincts into uncharted territory, Ducie leaves friends, allies, enemies and readers alike to deliberate the consequences, and contemplate the future.

Recommended reading for thrill seekers and sci-fi fans aged 12 years and upwards.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot by Dav Pilkey, Illustrated by Dan Santat (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $10.99
ISBN 978-0-545-63009-2

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ricky Ricotta lives with his Mum and Dad in Squeakyville. His biggest wish is for a friend, a big one, who will help him thwart the bullies who pick on him. So one day, when evil Dr Stinky McNasty brings his Mighty Robot to town, Ricky befriends the giant robot. Instead of destroying Squeakyville, Mighty Robot teams up with Ricky to destroy evil and they become heroes and close friends.
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot is another series by the author of Captain Underpants which is well loved by primary aged boys everywhere. Together with illustrator Dan Santat, Pilkey has created a colourful, glossy book, full of fun illustrations, cartoon strips, boy humour, evilness, alien monsters and flip-o-rama's, that will also appeal to the young Captain Underpants fans.
A thin volume with very short chapters, short sentences, easy words, craziness and lots of action, Ricky Ricotta will attract beginning and reluctant readers as well as those who just want a fun fast read. 

Thursday, 30 April 2015

If You Find This

If You Find This by Matthew Baker (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781471404528

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

As soon as you read in the first page of this first person narrative that the protagonist eleven-year-old Nicholas Funes has an ongoing relationship with a tree that he believes is his brother, you know this is going to be quirky, and Nicholas weird.  The boy also collects prime numbers and square roots and the text is full of references to them. There is also something which irritated this reader: the words ‘forte’ and ‘piano’ are littered throughout the book to indicate mood. I found them distracting and could not see what purpose they served.

As for the story, Nicholas’ real troubles begin when his Grandfather, a family secret, is let out of prison. The old man confides he has a map to an immense fortune; the problem is that it seems as though he’s suffering from dementia. Fighting off bullies is one of Nicholas’ problems and, too, he’s upset that the family is going to have to sell off their home to solve monetary problems.

What follows next is a series of events that see Nicholas, with two unlikely accomplices, trying to engineer a break-out from a retirement home, making an agreement with a local witch and trying to solve the secrets of his family’s past.

Nicholas is a weird child indeed. I found this story challenging, trying to ignore the fortes and pianos and other oddities. But for a reader aged 11 years and up who enjoys books about strange friendships, weirdness, family secrets and dangerous adventures, then this might be a book for him or her.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Knockabout cricket: A story of sporting legend – Johnny Mullagh

Knockabout cricket: A story of sporting legend – Johnny Mullagh by Neridah McMullin, Illustrated by Ainsley Walters (One Day Hill Publishing)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780992439736

Reviewed by J Wishart

This charming and informative picture book is aimed at middle primary school readers. It tells the story of a young Aboriginal man, Unaarrimin, also known as Johnny Mullagh, who became a famous cricket all-rounder in the 1860s.

The narrative begins with a schoolboy, James, at home on Pine Hills sheep station for the holidays. Cricket was popular and James often played with the shearers at the end of their working day. When Johnny Mullagh emerges from the bush and is introduced to the game by James, the author describes a fictional – but entirely possible – version of the first match Mullagh ever played.

The author has used lively and evocative language to capture the game, with the ‘thwack’ of the bat and balls ‘fizzing’ through grass. Throughout the main story there are also fact-boxes tracing the life of Johnny Mullagh, his trademark batting style, and the development of cricket as a game. At the end, Johnny’s story is summarised again to acknowledge his great talent and eventful life, including a tour of England in 1868, and the difficulties he faced as an Aboriginal player.

The illustrator has employed a painting style reminiscent of artists like Pro Hart to effectively depict the open spaces and broad skies of the Australian outback. The passage of time during Johnny’s re-imagined first match is shown through deepening sunset colours and eventual dusk that descends over the players and ends their beloved game for the day.

The result is a blend of fictional story, facts and artwork, with broad appeal and loads of potential to engage readers.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Anzac Puppy

The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett, Illustrated by Trish Bowles (Scholastic NZ)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-77543-097-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

'In the middle of the night, in the middle of the winter, in the middle of a war, a puppy was born.'
Lucy names the puppy Freda but sadly the family cannot afford to keep her so a passing young soldier, Sam, adopts her and takes her with him to war. Sam and Freda become fast friends, comforting each other through harsh times on the battle front, with Freda becoming a mascot for all the young men fighting in the trenches.
The Anzac Puppy is a beautifully written book. It is a story about the realities of war, the hardships, the friendships and love. It has wonderful sentence construction with much internal repetition such as 'The long, cold nights at the front soon turned into long, terrifying months'. This is a lovely story to read.
The illustrations are soft and sensitive, depicting the emotions of people along with the bleakness and isolation of war and the warmth of reunion.
Inspired by the true story of Freda, a Great Dane who was mascot to the NZ Rifle Brigade during World War I, the author has done meticulous research. The facts of this ‘real’ Freda are given in an equally readable illustrated double page spread at the back of the book.
Ending on a positive note, the echoing of the story’s beginning creates a satisfying conclusion which will appeal to early primary aged children, especially dog lovers.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Nanna’s Boot Camp

Nanna’s Boot Camp by Vicki Griffin (Morris Publishing) 
PB RRP $15.00
ISBN 9780987543462
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

When one hears boot camp these days, we automatically think of sweat, tears and lycra. But Vicki Griffin’s Nanna’s Boot Camp brings a whole new meaning to bootcamp, a softer and subtler feeling that oozes the warmth only a grandmother could.  And when it comes to grandmothers, we know that there is wisdom they carry that no-one else does, like a secret society passed on through the generations.

All this is what makes Nanna’s Boot Camp a simple and lovely tale that celebrates this very essence. And it brings a whole new meaning to the teens that visit Nanna’s boot camp one holiday. Apprehensive at first, the teens are confronted by the storm brewing in the sky and the large tent set up with boots piled up outside its doors. But the smell of damper wafting through the air and the warmth of Nanna’s voice eases them into the experience.

Nanna guides the teens through an experience they won’t get anywhere else – catching prawns in the creek at dusk, guided by the light of an old kerosene lamp, and cooking by the angry flames of an outdoor fire pit. It  is here, by the fire, that they uncover the story of the boots and the particularly large single boot they are all mystified by, as Nanna passes on the tales of all the mobs that have come before them and lost their in the muddy banks of the creek. This presents a beautiful moment, as the traditions of oral storytelling seep through the pages. The teens meet owner – Uncle Joe – who ventures off for more fishing in the creek, only to re-emerge barefoot and proud to say that his boots will rest there until the dry season comes. The teens leave Nanna’s boot camp endowed with knowledge about the creek, fishing, boots and the seasons.

Nanna’s Boot Camp is written in simple language and is a simple story to follow. There were moments in the story where I wanted to know even more about the traditions of the land, but this is a great entry-level text to expose children to the wonders of living off the land and the traditions that go with it. Nanna is a strong character and her presence is felt, driving the book with an equally strong Indigenous storytelling element that is brought to life with Vicki Griffin’s colourful and dynamic illustrations.