Monday, 28 July 2014

When I See Grandma

When I See Grandma by Debra Tidball, illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921632-59-4
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Visiting Grandma can sometimes be sad but with a little imagination and thought, a little girl and her brother brighten Grandma’s dreams. 

When I See Grandma is a beautiful book.  The story follows a young girl as she visits her grandma, who is unresponsive in a nursing home.  By bringing in the special parts of her own life, the young girl tries to bring some happiness to Grandma’s dreams.

                  I love singing in the school choir.
                  The songs are happy and bright.
                  Grandma loves singing too…
                  When I see Grandma I sing her a song,
                  For her dreams to dance on.

Apart from the beautiful relationship depicted between the girl and her grandmother, what I especially loved about the book is that there is no shying away from reality.  At no point does the grandmother magically awaken; in fact the story ends, rather sadly, with her death.

                  I don’t like it when Daddy goes away for work.
                  I miss him a lot, but I think about how much he loves
                  me until I see him again.
                  I give him a big kiss before he leaves.
                  Grandma loves kisses too…
                  When I see Grandma again, I kiss her goodbye.

Although poignant, it is also a celebration of memories, family relationships and the simple things in life – music, laughter, having your hair brushed.

Leigh Hedstrom’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment - fun with lovely little details and warm colours. They are also a little understated which suits the gentleness of the story. 

When I See Grandma is a heart-warming, touching and sentimental book.  Overall, I loved it and would recommend it as a must have for any child’s book collection. 

Debra Tidball is a social worker, parent and author.  When I See Grandma is her first book and was drawn from her own experience of having a parent with dementia.  She lives in suburban Sydney with her husband, sons and furkids.  She can be found online at:

Leigh Hedstrom is a freelance illustrator with over 10 years’ experience illustrating for educational and children’s media.  She has illustrated for school readers and children’s magazines.  When I See Grandma is her first picture book.  She can be found online at:

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Boys Don’t Knit

Boys Don’t Knit by Tom Easton (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0147-3
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

I am not a target reader for this book, my teen years are behind me. In fact, when I first picked it up and noticed it was written in diary style I groaned inwardly. Not only is it aimed at teens but it would be full of a self-absorbed teenager’s thoughts too. I took a deep breath, and started reading. I soon discovered I couldn't put it down.

I read late into the night, turning pages in a way that would have gratified the author. As I mentioned, I am not this author's target audience but his writing transported me to a very happy place. If my experience is anything to go by, genre preference has little to do with captivating a reader.

Tom Easton has had over a dozen books published. His writing talents range from chapter books to young adult novels. Boy’s Don’t Knit is very clever. Ned, the main character is very likable in a completely flawed way, he is the kind of kid you want to succeed in life, you want to keep listening to his ‘voice’.

"I told Dad where I was going and he seemed really proud, like I was off to receive a Duke of Edinburgh award as opposed to what I was actually doing, which was fulfilling the terms of my probation by providing home assistance to an old lady I'd nearly killed. I suppose it's good to have his support, but if he's proud of me over this it does tend to suggest he has quite low expectations. I clearly don't need to do much to earn his respect. If I'm ever in the dock at Basingstoke Crown Court facing a thirty stretch for a triple murder, I can be sure Dad will be there in the gallery wiping away a tear, beside himself with pride at the fact that I managed to tie my own tie."

The book if read in a senior classroom situation would raise healthy discussion. I found it refreshing, the serious matters of peer pressure, sex, vandalism and theft are raised in this story and handled in a modern yet sensitive way without being condescending or preachy. The characters are fully formed and each supports the main character well.

The story gives room for sequels (I know there is one coming) and I am sure each would be an enjoyable read, in fact, I see a movie.
Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of picture book The Bear Said Please and the series ‘That’s not a …' learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.

An English Boy in New York, the sequel to Boys Don’t Knit is out August 2014.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Classics: Tales from Hans Christian Andersen

The Classics: Tales from Hans Christian Andersen by Naomi Lewis, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Frances Lincoln)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781847805102
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Nine of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales are translated by Naomi Lewis for a general ageless audience. Classic tales of incredible imagination and beauty transport the reader into a child’s world, and simultaneously an adult’s world where messages lay hidden and lessons await to be learnt. They come presented in a beautiful gift edition.  Stunning illustrations are by popular English children’s author and illustrator Emma Chichester Clark who studied graphic design before she studied book illustration under Quentin Blake.

This excellent collection contains some well known tales such as The Nightingale, The Little Match Girl, The Princess and the Pea, The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep, The Happy Family, and The Money Box Pig.  Two rare ones included are Elf Hill and Little Ida’s Flowers, although I confess I have read the last one before.

Entering Andersen’s stories is like entering a magical cave filled with valuable objects. You don’t know what you will discover. Nor can you choose a favourite thing for everything is priceless. This will be enjoyed by the junior reader or for a younger audience to be read to and shared. Look out for its companion collection of Tales from Grimm, retold by Antonia Barber.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Maxx Rumble Book 3: Grand Final

Maxx Rumble Book 3: Grand Final by Michael Wagner, drawn by Terry Denton (Walker Books)
PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 9781922244826
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Soccer Knockout Grand Final is here at last. The other teams that played the Stone Valley Saints were pretty rotten with their tacky tactics, but the Plankluvin Pirates are the ‘rottenest’ of the bunch. They look and are big and tough with their crayon moustaches and pirate chant that’s sung to the tune of the ‘drunken sailor’ song.

Arriving at the park, Maxx and his team are amazed at the amount of spectators. But they are there only for the Plankluvin Pirates. Everything reflects their pirate preference from their outfits to their nasty placards. But the Saints won’ be intimidated. 

Playing in the Grand Final is a special moment in time for Maxx and his team. But the cry of all-out attack from Blackbeard has the Pirates stampeding across the field. Mr Nuffin the referee is unable to blow his whistle because he’s being water cannoned by the crowd. It’s a free-for-all and the Saints have to come up with something bigger than the Pirates.

Mr Nuffin refuses to be intimated also. He finds a spare whistle and doesn’t spare the blows. The ever-optimistic leader Maxx digs deep to find that little bit more and calls all-out-attack as the pirates make a wall.

Can the Saints find enough energy to stay in step with the Pirates? Can a ball to the face again for Rexx be the Saints’ saving grace? If so, how? And can Maxx Rumble bring his team to victory and take the trophy?

Outrageously entertaining, with its clever word play and with the round-up of the series the best of all, this series is a winner. Michael Wagner’s smart prose teamed up with Terry Denton’s amazing translation of the text guarantees that.

These chapter books are not to be missed by parents searching for reading matter for their reluctant reader. Highly creative with strong optimistic messages in every book, kids who loved the Crazy Relief Teachers series by Matt Porter will love these as well. 

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Hide and Seek: A Woolly Wombat Story

Hide and Seek: A Woolly Wombat Story by Kerry Argent (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $6.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-049-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Woolly Wombat is very good at hiding from his friends; he knows lots of tricky spots. But what happens if his friends don't find him? Will he miss out on the fun?
Hide and Seek is another story based on the classic counting book One Woolly Wombat. Join Wombat and his friends Bandicoot, Platypus and Koala as they explore the concepts and intricacy of friendship... And good hiding spots!
Perfect for beginner readers, Hide and Seek has clear simple text. The entertaining storyline is revealed mostly through the beautifully expressive illustrations.

Simple, funny and wise, books from the Woolly Wombat series are great for young children. The other three in the series are One Woolly Wombat, Best of Friends and At the Beach

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

That Stranger Next Door

That Stranger Next Door by Goldie Alexander (Clan Destine Press)
PB RRP $18.00 Available also as EBook
ISBN 9780992492434
EBook ISBN 9780992492441
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It’s 1954. The Petrov scandal has made the news and the threat of communism casts shadows everywhere. A stranger moves into the empty flat above the Milk Bar next to Ruth and her family. The secrecy leads Ruth to believe that the woman is Eva Petrov. A strong friendship is formed between the two.

Ruth, highly intelligent and a scholarship student, is struggling to follow her own path in life regardless of the rigid restrictions imposed upon her by her family. Her dream of becoming a doctor is unacceptable to Ruth’s mother who sees it as too costly, and ‘who will want to marry a girl who looks at naked men?’ The idea of any kind of friendship/relationship with anyone of a different culture or religion is also forbidden. This becomes an issue for Ruth when she meets and falls in love with Catholic boy Patrick.

Goldie Alexander has created a riveting story with many layers to it. It is told through two points of view by the main characters. This approach gives a close and intimate look into their thoughts which adds mystery and tension, and keeps the pages turning.

The reader is immediately pulled into the era and setting. Its strong sense of place and time, descriptive historical happenings, social and political climate, class distinctions, and post-war prejudices, are plaited into a Romeo and Juliet romance that threads its way through the pages.

Perhaps Goldie Alexander’s best work yet, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, between the ages of 14-104, due to the many themes and issues covered.

It should be noted that some scenes contain sexual content.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Obelisk Trap

The Obelisk Trap by Margaret Pearce (Kayelle Press Australia)
PB RRP $11.95 E-book $2.99
ISBN – 978-0-9875657-2-3
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Told from Charlie’s viewpoint this middle grade reader sees Charlie, his sister Billie and Uncle William sucked through a portal into The Place of No Name, where fruit and vegetables of every kind are in season 365 days a year and nobody dies of disease. Residents can live forever … so long as they do all that’s expected of them by The Traveller. If not, they risk being ‘Disintegrated, unloosed, unbound, liberated, gone to God, or whatever you want to call it.’

The Traveller, who rules the land, is a parasite. He inhabits a host body and after using up every ounce of life it holds he moves to another. The only thing he fears is young girls. The biological make up of their bodies will kill him if he tries to inhabit them. Consequently, young girls sucked into this land are instantly killed. To keep safe till she can return home, Billie must parade as a male.

Being a feisty type, her less than low key attitude often means Charlie must pull her into line to keep her safe. In their efforts to find a way out, the trio learns more about the land, the obelisk that transports people in, and how they may use it to get home. But everything must be done as secretively as possible, because The Traveller has surveillance set up all around. When they are just about to leave he discovers their plan and tries to stop them.

But all is not lost! Billie is ‘sacrificed’ and as The Traveller attempts to take over her body, which he thinks is male, he is destroyed. Before the trio leave they ask if any of the remaining inhabitants wish to leave with them. Without The Traveller around, those who live in The Place with No Name say it’s peaceful and question why anyone would want to return to a place where wars still exist.

The action and dialogue in this story is easy to follow and moves things along quickly. It takes readers into a world that, on the surface, seems different to ours, with simple explanations where needed to ensure clarity. It will, hopefully, encourage readers to reflect on issues of segregation, surveillance, and discrimination.