Thursday, 20 November 2014

Where are Santa's Pants?

Where are Santa's Pants? by Richard Merrit (Little Hare)
ISBN 978-1-921541-50-6
PB $9.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Where are Santa's Pants? is basically Where's Wally? with a Christmas theme. The introduction explains the predicament : Santa has lost weight (he's been dieting) and now his pants keep falling off. The reader's job is to find Santa's pants on each page —he's got a few pairs in different colours. Also there to find, are the reindeer and a lucky sixpence, if you're extremely observant.

There's a reason this book is recommended for kids five and over — these things are not easy to find! The illustrations are packed with colour and detail so it will keep the children quiet for some time as they search for the various objects. Each page has a theme which has something to do with Christmas, starting with the North Pole, the beach, the ice rink and the department store, to name a few. The last page is a vibrant looking apartment block, where different people are celebrating the festive season in their own unique ways.

There's quirky humour such as a giraffe in a taxi, a mermaid watching a Christmas concert and two snow people getting married. There's someone who looks like Wally on one page as well. Kids can have a lot of fun while getting into the Christmas spirit. For those who get stumped, or even those who want to cheat, the answers are on the last few pages. Small versions of the previous pictures are dotted with circles showing the location of the pants and reindeer.

This is a reprint of Where are Santa's Pants? which was originally put out in 2010 and reprinted in 2011. Available now as well is a follow up book called Where is Santa's Suit?  also illustrated by Richard Merrit.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Alien Wizardry

Alien Wizardry by Antoinette Conolly 
PB RRP $25
ISBN 9780977586042
Reviewed by Sandra Park

Author Antoinette Conolly was compelled to write Alien Wizardry as the readers of the Cauchemar Trilogy would ask her what happened next. Alien Wizardry is the first book in a sequel trilogy and once again Zachary travels to Cauchemar. He is called to the magical world by his friend Mactavish, a ginger cat and Zachary’s previous travelling companion who remained in Cauchemar and is now a powerful wizard. However, one of the most powerful wizards, Malfactorius, is intent on destroying Cauchemar through an ancient prophecy.

According to the prophecy, though, alien help will save the world. And that is where Zachary and his new cat companion Taffy come in. Through the powers of a magical stone, they travel back to the Cauchemar and link up with old friends and new including Magenta the witch, Bijour the dragon and Ulysses the unicorn to thwart the prophecy. They travel to lands which have the most unusual inhabitants such as musical instruments and walking flowers. It is in these lands that the solutions to the prophecy are found and they are linked to the senses. However, it is the final sense that is the most difficult to work out. It is only at the very last, when it seems that Malfactorius has indeed triumphed, that they work out the final sense – a sense of humour! 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

State of Grace

State of Grace by Hilary Badger (Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 9781760120382
PB $19.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

 By the co-creator of the Zac Power series, State of Grace is a young adult book about a girl called Wren who lives with a group of other teenage creations in a paradise, not unlike the Garden of Eden. Wren spends her time swimming in the idyllic lagoon, hooking up with her friends and worshipping their creator, Dot. Despite this perfect world, Wren begins to have flashbacks to another life in a different world. She tries to fight it, as she wants to get to 'completion night' and be chosen, but when a boy called Dennis arrives from outside, everything changes.

This is a story where things become clearer as the book progresses, but it is obvious from the outset (to the reader, at least) that things are not as they appear. The little world Wren lives in is actually a trial for a drug called Grace, given to a select group of people with depression and other psychological problems. The world created uses religion for happiness and a sense of purpose. Blaze is the only other person apart from Wren who questions the reality of the world they live in, as he also experiences memories of another life.

 The language of this world is very effective: 'sungarb' for clothes, 'tatas' for breasts, 'dotly' for good and never using remotely negative words, just putting a pre in front, such as prenormal (different), prehealthy (sick) and prelight (dark). The revelation of the drug is not until right at the end, so most of the book has a rather creepy undercurrent, especially when Gil, one of the creations, tries to take charge and make new rules. A group called the Circle who is against the Grace trial also surfaces at the end, and there is action as they help Wren (real name Viva) and Blaze (real name Luke) escape to the real world. Viva gradually remembers the pain in her past and is able to live with it.

Like popular novels Divergent and The Giver, this is a young adult story about a utopian world, which turns out to be not as good as it seems. It's also about facing reality and the benefits of doing that. These are interesting concepts to explore and the well written State of Grace should go down very well with the readership.

Elizabeth Rose on Parade

Elizabeth Rose on Parade by Jaquelyn Muller, illustrated by Kathryn Zammit (Jaquelyn Muller Books)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780646921266
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

A follow-up to Muller’s first picture book I Love You 5 Lollipops, which was released in 2013, Elizabeth Rose on Parade features a short but sweet rhyming narrative. Readers are introduced to a cast of circus performers, from a posing strongman to an elaborate showgirl, yet none ‘delight or enchant like Elizabeth Rose’. The joyous and carefree protagonist parades, juggles and cartwheels through the pages, and appears happy and content with who she is.

The story is more character than plot heavy, taking the reader on a simple journey through a cast of performers in a travelling circus. The action of the circus parade is effectively conveyed through the imagery, until the delightful conclusion featuring Elizabeth Rose sprawled on a heart-shaped patch of grass.

Zammit’s beautiful illustrations strengthen the story with their nostalgic, vintage style. The charming, candy colours echo the sweet nature of the narrative, and will likely captivate preschool-aged readers. The pastel-striped endpapers featuring whimsical circus props add to the visual feast. Astute readers can also try and spot the recurring lollipop motifs hidden in each spread.

The book is ultimately a celebration of individuality and the carefree magic of childhood. Despite all the pomp and flair of the circus performers, Elizabeth Rose stands out just for being herself.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Healthy Harvest

The Healthy Harvest by Emma Martin, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN: 9781925117431
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

I’d have said it was Mission: Impossible.

The task, should anyone have been foolish enough to accept it: write a children’s picture book in rhyming verse about the five food groups. Combine educational imperatives with an appealing story.

Ok, the mission was not without its minor hiccups. Intrepid rhymester Emma Stuart stumbled over occasional rhythm—but that it worked at all seemed almost miraculous. There were a couple of awkward sentence constructions to accommodate the rhyme scheme. And Harry Harvester’s friends were mostly male.

But these minor quibbles aside, The Healthy Harvest is admirable in all the right ways.

A fresh, zesty look complements a simple storyline.
Harry Harvester introduces the reader to the five food groups with the help of his friends—Alfie Apple, Carly Carrot, Charlie Cheese, Wally Wheat, Sammy Salmon and Tommy Takeaway. In the course of the story, the reader learns about the five different food groups, food sources, what nutrients are and how they benefit health.

Graeme Compton’s graphics enhance
A fun but firmly factual foray
Into the five food types we need each day.  


Pandora Jones: Deception

Pandora Jones: Deception by Barry Jonsberg (Allen &Unwin)
PB RRP$17.99
ISBN 9781743318126
Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

Deception is the second novel in a three part series. In the first novel Admission we learn that a virus has wiped out most of the world's population.  Pandora wakes up disorientated in the grounds of The School where teenage survivors from around the world have been brought together.

Every teenager is encouraged to develop a skill or ability in order to contribute to the new world and everyone is trained in survival skills. Pandora's special skill is rather unique, a kind of sixth sense, which allows her to find lost items but as the novels progresses this develops into something stronger.

Pandora tries to adjust to life within the isolated grounds of The School but  discovers there are many secrets kept from the group of teens by the few surviving adults.

While in Admission Pandora gets close to her team mate Nate, hinting at a developing romance, in Deception the focus shifts to Pandora and her tough ass-kicking team mate Jen. The girls who are opposites in many respects, and without much affection for each other, grudgingly learn to rely on and earn each other's trust with Jen finally sharing some of her personal story. 

As in the previous novel a lot of attention focusses on escape attempts from The School. When they finally do escape, it is certainly a worthy thrill ride, needing perhaps a little suspension of disbelief from the reader.

 Though the first two novels raise plenty of questions that need to be answered,  the novels are a satisfying read. Deception's twist at the end is even bigger than the first novel making it long wait to the final in the series due out in May 2015.

 If you love your dystopian YA combined with strong female characters, and a world where teenagers have to fend for themselves battling their wits and strength against uncertainty and possibly evil adults, you won't be disappointed. This is an easy read that keeps you guessing while staying engaged with the story line and the main characters.

If you read this book recovering from a bad flu, as I did, and with cases of Ebola rising, the start of Admission with its violently dying population and frequent gruesome flashbacks to the pandemic in Deception, the novels can be a little confronting.

Jonsberg is not new to the YA novel and I was glad to see his My Life As An Alphabet receive multiple awards.

Yvonne Mes is a children's writer and illustrator. Her first picture book, Meet Sidney Nolan (Random House) is scheduled for release in October 2015.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Karana: The Story of Father Emu

Karana: The Story of Father Emu by Uncle Joe Kirk, with Greer Casey and Sandi Harrold, illustrated by Sandi Harrold (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-313-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Karana is the tale of a father emu hatching and raising his chicks. This Indigenous story is told by Uncle Joe Kirk, a Wakka Wakka elder, and the emu holds much significance in the Wakka Wakka culture. He symbolises the father figure who nurtures the whole family.
Each page is filled with soft illustrations, expressing the togetherness of the emu family and the simplicity of life lessons while rhyming couplets create an engaging and lively story.
Up she jumped and wandered away,
While Karana sat on those eggs for thirty-two days.
 He sat there alone in the rain and the heat,                                                                                                                                                                           With no water to drink and no food to eat.
So many facts about emu’s and chicks are imparted throughout the story as Karana teaches his chicks about when the waterhole is safest, where the best protection is, what foods to eat and how to swallow stones to help with their digestion.
Children will relate to learning about life through the care and teachings of families and the overriding message is of love and the father/children bond.
‘These are my chicks. I love them a lot...
  I will stay with them NO MATTER WHAT!’
This gentle story about love, families and the cyclical nature of life is strongly Australian in narrative and illustrations. It is a lovely read aloud book for the very young.