Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Our Stories: Australian Writers of Influence

Our Stories: Australian Writers of Influence by Bernadette Kelly (black dog books)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978122179937
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

From the outstanding Our Stories series, come a compilation of influential Australian writers’ lives that left far more for history to relate than their writing. Free thinkers with strong views and at times radical in their approach, these ten people shaped Australian history with their contributions in and outside their writing lives.

Its 32 pages are jam-packed with information, pictures, and little info blocks that cover historical facts bound to, and surrounding the same era as the person profiled.

When Pen and Paper Ruled the World has an info box on Charles Tompson whose 1826 collection of poems, Wild Notes from the Lyre of a Native Minstrel were the first publication of poems by an Australian-born writer.

Introduced is the life of Adam Lindsay Gordon which refers to his battle with depression and sad end that came soon after the publication of his Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes.

Included is Marcus Clarke, famous for his work, For the Term of His Natural Life and the dynamic Louisa Lawson, mother of Henry Lawson who founded The Dawn: A Journal for Australian Women. It was the first magazine edited and printed entirely by women.

William Lane was known as one of Australia’s most radical journalists, a convincing public speaker with powerful ideas on how man should live, and the creator of the Cosme Settlement in Paraguay. Mary Gilmore was a staunch supporter of Lane’s ideas, and she left her teaching career to go to Paraguay where she married William Gilmore. Her life changed design with the failure of the Cosme colony, for Mary returned to Australia. She became the first female member of the Australian Workers’ Union and editor of The Women’s Page in its publication, The Worker.

Banjo Patterson, Henry Lawson, May Gibbs, CJ Dennis and Miles Franklin are all included, along with a few miscellaneous chapters. With a rich Glossary and Index, most of the image credits go to the SLV. This is an interesting and valuable reference book and teaching tool for children, aimed at the 8+ years age group. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Cars A Complete History

Cars A Complete History by Simon Heptinstall (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781925081855
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This unique publication is both educational and activity book together for the 9+ age group. With 50 easy-to-make models of cars, this is a model-making and collector’s book in one. It includes production details, and presents basic techniques and instructions on pressing out and folding these iconic car models. As the parts come numbered, at the end of the book, there is a break-down on how to match and stick the pieces correctly by following their correct numerical order.

It lists every model’s features: engine size, top speed, acceleration and power.  After the models have been removed, a brilliant reference book remains.

Cars: A Complete History will appeal to curious minds, children that love to cut, stick and paste, anyone of any age that loves cars and their history, and wants to know all about each model. Produced with a thick paper almost like cardboard, these models will be treasured 3D samples of car history.

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Cardinal and the Crow

The Cardinal and the Crow written and illustrated by Michael Moniz (Simply Read Books)
HB RRP $21.99
ISBN 978 1927018583
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

With a dust-cover, this is a fine-looking picture book for older readers 7 to 10 years, produced by an English publishing house. The story goes that all the birds in the forest torment old Crow for his scraggly feathers and harsh call. He is especially mocked by their ringleader, the proud Cardinal which has ‘brilliant red feathers and a beautiful warbling voice.’  As a result, the Crow is alone and lonely.

However, when Cardinal gets into trouble with a scavenging cat, there is only one creature smart enough to get him out – the Crow, of course. However, will Crow come to the aid of the boastful bird?

Inspired by Aesop’s Fables, this thoughtful picture book reminds the reader that pride and foolishness often go hand in hand. It has a message for the younger reader, too, about bullying and how the bullied and the bully can sometimes find common ground, even friendship.

The watercolour illustrations of the birds and the landscape are set against a pale brown wash. The only bright colour is of the Cardinal, a few other birds and the cat’s green, greedy eyes. My only criticism of the book is that the typeface could have been larger, especially for small eyes.

Michael Moniz is a Canadian working at Artistic Director for a Toronto-based advertising agency.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Flint Heart

The Flint Heart by Katherine Patterson & John Patterson, illustrated by John Rocco (Walker Books)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406341492
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabitha, and husband John Paterson Sr. bring to life a ‘freely abridged’ version of Eden Phillpotts’ wonderful fantasy fairy tale, The Flint Heart, written in 1910.

The story begins during the Stone Age when the flint stone was fashioned then discarded because of its ability to make the owner evil. It moves forward to a hundred years ago, to Dartmoor in England.

The owner of Merripit Farm, Billy Jago, offers to help move some stones on a hill. As he digs at a grave with his son Charles, he unearths an unusual stone which he puts in his pocket. In no time, the flint has hardened Billy’s heart. He becomes cruel, abusive and violent to everyone he meets, but mostly to his family.

Charles wants his father back; the kind loving one. He visits the Pixie’s Holt to get his father a present in the hope that he will return to who he was. It takes repeated trips into fairyland before Charles finally manages to take back and dispose of the flint heart. Immediately, life returns to normal.

The flint heart passes through two other hands with the same result until the King of the pixies and fairies, finds a way to be rid of the flint heart forever. During the course of ownership, we meet many amazing characters that achieve great feats. But what stands out is the courage and philosophical approach of the children and the personified characters of Ship the dog, and Bismark, the hot water bottle, made in Germany.

The tales of the flint heart’s ownerships are themes of power, ambition, and jealousy, and the negative outcomes that these emotions bring. Point of view is a pivotal issue, so there are many twists and turns and changes in perception throughout this multi-layered fairy story.

Katherine, a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, has won the Newbery Medal and the National Book Award, along with a string of other awards including the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for writing and the Astrid Lindgren Award for Lifetime Achievement. The Flint Heart, filled with adventure and fantasy, is ideal for the 7+ age group.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Frank Pearl in the Awful Waffle Kerfuffle

Frank Pearl in the Awful Waffle Kerfuffle by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Erwin Madrid (Walker Books)
PB RRP $11.95
ISBN 978076367213
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This chapter book full of fun, exploration, determination and trial and error, is from the series Judy Moody and Friends for the 6+ age group.

All the children are practising their Yo-Yo skills at the Frozen Yogurt shop. The best player will get to name the new flavour. Frank, unlike his friends, has never won a contest. He longs to have something to boast about as the others do. He is last to show his skills with the Flying Skunk. But things go wrong, for the ‘skunk stunk’ and he ended up breaking his glasses.

Feeling a failure but still optimistic, Frank enters Cookie his parrot in the in the Pets are Family contest. But Cookie chooses the wrong moment to refrain from public performance. Refusing to give up, Frank is determined to try one more time.

The Great Third Grade Breakfast Bash and Waffle-Off will determine who can make the best-dressed waffles. Frank feels the Blue Ribbon he longs for is within reach with his innovative exploding waffle. Unfortunately, his Mount Vesuvius has a meltdown. Just when he expect things to turn out one way, they do a flip and take an unexpected direction.

Frank is a fantastic role model for young readers. He encourages children through his actions to be persistent, give things a go, be in it no matter what, and always try to have fun. It will be your turn to win sometime. Don’t ever give up!

The whole series has familiar faces and names, terrific characters, lots of lessons to be learnt about friendship, and many other positive reinforcements. The illustrations are outstanding and complement the text perfectly.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Annie and Simon

Annie and Simon by Catharine O’Neill (Walker Books)
PB RRP $11.95
ISBN 9780763668778
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Annie is a curious, talkative child, and Simon is her big brother (a lot older than Annie).She talks about what she wants to be when she grows up, about loons, falling stars, bee stings and standing in the rain under an umbrella - even on a sunny day. Simon is kind and patient. He accommodates her interests most of the time, but loves it when he has some quiet time.

This delightful and humorous chapter book for the 5-9 age groups touches on each of Annie’s interests. To train for her adult hairdressing life Annie practises on Hazel the dog, then Simon, then herself - with bizarre results.

In chapter two the siblings decide to go on a loon hunt in their little boat. But no tipping is the precondition Simon sets. They see turtles, a muskrat, water lilies, a heron and an old bird’s nest which Simon tries to get for Annie. Guess what happens?

Annie gets stung by a bee while out in the garden. She still believes it’s going to rain although the sun is out. She wants to use her umbrella so Simon makes sure there’s rain.

Newspaper reports predict a meteor shower. Annie wants to stay up late and see it. They pack a blanket and a drink in the thermos which Annie mixes, and go to the park late. Things don’t always turn out the way Annie wants.

Beautifully illustrated by the author in watercolour, the characters shine. The stories are full of warmth, sharing and companionship. Part of the SPARKS series of books, there are twelve other titles for new readers to enjoy.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive Volume 1

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive Volume 1 by Kate Dicamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780763663391
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

I’m a great fan of Kate Dicamillo’s work and always get excited when I read something new. This title had me laughing and turning the pages quickly it was so clever and moving. The characters are unique, lovable, and highly entertaining. Even the horse! Accolades go to Chris Van Dusen for his brilliant black and white artwork. It adds life and laughter to the story, and enhances the text significantly if that is possible with such clever word arrangements.

Leroy ‘is a small man with a big dream.’ He wants to be a cowboy. He currently lives in an apartment block and works at the Bijou Drive-in theatre where he pours drinks, butters popcorn and smiles. But he needs to own a horse to realize his dream. Opportunity knocks when Beatrice the ticket seller, shows him an ad in the local paper about a horse for sale.

Leroy has chosen the name Tornado for his dream mount. But old and toothless Maybelline is what he finds. Patty, the owner, wants her horse to go to a loving home to live out her remaining years. She lists the things that Leroy must know about his horse to keep her happy and faithful. Leroy accepts her unconditionally and discovers that life looks better from the top of a horse. But he forgets to consider where he is going to keep her.

This is the story of an unlikely friendship that begins with two beings that need love. It is filled with humour and highly emotive. The message that keeps repeating throughout the story is that all living things just need love regardless of their imperfections.

This novel is ideal for 7+ readers who love the challenge of new words and interesting language. Adults will adore this book. Everyone should read it!