Saturday, 1 August 2015

In the Evening

In the Evening by Edwina Wyatt, Illustrations by Gaye Chapman (Little Hare Books (an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont)
RRP $24.95 Hardback
ISBN 978-1-742975-28-3

Review by Dianne Cook

Edwina Wyatt’s In the Evening concerns itself with that ‘time of day’ when not only the light changes, but how our perceptions of the world around us can be affected too. It is the time described in a common French idiom as “the hour between the wolf and the dog” – when the light can cause you to confuse the friendly dog and the unfriendly wolf.  A stanza from Emily Dickinson, used as an epigraph, describes this effect.

There’s a certain Slant of light,
          Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
          Of Cathedral Tunes –     

Both the story and the illustrations are, in the strict sense of the word, fabulous.  At the launch of her book Edwina Wyatt described the relationship between writer and illustrator as the “co-imagining” of a story. This is an example of “co-imagining” at its best.

The book introduces us to Charlie and Oscar who are neighbours but not yet neighbourly. They spend their evenings differently, apart, but observing each other. The images of these endearing squirrely characters have a mythical quality; their story has universal resonance while at the same time showing homely particulars of how these two begin a friendship.  This layering of meaning is expressed verbally in the story’s ‘fable’ quality and visually in the wash of watercolour over clear outlines. Gaye Chapman’s artwork was inspired by the atmospheric paintings of JMW Turner, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. Gaye Chapman used loose washes of transparent watercolours and tea over graphite and coloured pencils and spatterings of masking-fluid stars, rain and snow.

The story has significance for Charlie and Oscar and for everyone, for this place and everywhere. In appreciating the story of the two creatures, children see possibilities for dealing with their own times of fearfulness and doubt.

Recurring uncertainty is expressed in the repetition of the line, “Oscar didn’t know what to do” -  a feeling every child and every adult will know.  But the cycle is broken with a gesture of outreach.  Oscar begins to “hope” for more signs of friendship from Charlie, and makes a move. A “knock, knock” on Charlie’s door, and a “hello” lead to an evening of delightful conviviality.

“That evening, bellies ached from laughter.
That evening, spoons went back for thirds.”

That “slant of light” that “oppresses” has been displaced by illuminated windows and a cosy fireside as “the night had just begun.”  So too has a friendship and an understanding. “Knock, knock” and “Hello!” won’t be strange sounds to Charlie any more.

There is a lesson here in this whimsical fable, but it’s conveyed with the lightest touch.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Silly Squid!

Silly Squid! by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Cheryll Johns (Koala Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-096-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Silly Squid is a picture book packed full of poems about Australian sea creatures. Inside its pages you get to meet all manner of characters which frolic in or under the waves. From the Leafy Sea Dragon to the Penguin to the Whale, these animals are explored in poetry and explained by prose fact which is written around the edges of each page.

The poems are fabulously fun. I did not trip over any awkward rhymes. Each one has a great rhythm, which makes reading them out loud a joy.  They all differ in form, length and tempo, which really make this collection sing. They are each individual and some of them short enough for young children to memorise.

Pitched perfectly at the preschool age, these humorous poems will entertain children and also teach them about undersea animals. The illustrations are bright and vibrant and based on the environment and colors of these sea creature’s homes. 

This is a great book for any young child who likes the sea, animals or poetry and would be a fun way to introduce poetry to those not yet indulging. A really great addition for any young person’s library!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Gus the Asparagus

Gus the Asparagus by Kaylene Hobson illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn (Dragon Tales Publishing)
PB RRP: $19.95
ISBN 9780992523992

Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

The Green family (made up of a selection of adorable vegetables) love their peculiar little Gus the Asparagus just the way he is. But when Gus starts school it becomes clear that Gus doesn’t quite fit in and doesn’t understand the rules. And now Gus no longer wants to go to school.

Mum takes Gus to the Doctor who diagnoses him with ‘Asparagus Syndrome’. There is relief when everyone finally understands why Gus is different, and how they are able to support him.

This is an attractive book; the illustrations by Ann-Marie Finn, featuring vegetables with googly eyes are fun and strangely endearing.

The page where the vegetables at school are having a rolling competition and Gus tries to roll lengthways made me laugh and it illustrates perfectly just how differently Gus thinks. 

This short picture book has relatable characters for those families who live with a child with Asperger’s syndrome, and especially for the child itself.

The story, inspired Kaylene Hobson’s own experiences, however, is not a story of woe, instead it uplifts and recognises and accepts the eccentricities of the asparaguses’ around us.

Yvonne Mes is a children's writer and illustrator. Her picture books, Meet Sidney Nolan (Random House) and Oliver’s Grumbles (Dragon Tales Publishing) are scheduled for release in October 2015.
Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Fiery Phoenix by Jess Black (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925059441

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Eve and Oscar have become friends and constant companions, after sharing the experience in the desert of Panthor after Eve had summoned the power of the unicorn.

In the second book of the Keeper of the Crystals series Eve finds a tiny crystal phoenix in an Odditorium which once again, leaves an imprint on her palm.
A powered illuminated light appears just before a torrent of water sweeps Eve and Oscar away.

Everything is dark around them. Eve, who loses sight of Oscar, allows herself to be helplessly taken along by the water. Suddenly, she connects with something solid and clings to it.

The force of the water sends her down a river surrounded by jungle on either side. A log with Oscar clinging to it brings them together, and they manage to haul themselves to the bank by grabbing onto overhanging branches.

A tiger confronts them, with the boy Slate close by. The children must find his people’s sacred fire spirit. Its song is what brings the sun up to warm the land of Griffid, the tiger jungle. Eve knows that her magic power has brought her to this place where tigers and people live in harmony together for that purpose.

But where is the phoenix? Eve and Oscar’s quest is to bring the magical bird back to them as soon as possible. It is losing its feathers and each feather dropped starts a fire that destroys more of the landscape.

Can the children negotiate the maze of caves at Merden by following the imprint on Eve’s hand? Will the bird, like its legend, rise from the ashes reborn, to bring the sun back to its people?

This fantasy adventure with magical powers at play is now moving at a faster pace. The question of what Gran has to do with the magic crystals was born in the reader’s mind at the end of the last book, and fed in this one. It has generated an interest that expands beyond the story and a longing to find out what secret Gran is hiding.

Eve and the Mermaid’s Tears is due in October. Full of mystery and adventure, this exciting series is proving to be an addictive read. It is highly suited to the 7+ age groups. It carries subtle environmental themes, addressing the importance of nature and its survival through people, plants and animals living together harmoniously.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


Zombiefied written by C M Gray (HarperCollins)                                                             PBK $14.99 ISBN 9780733334214
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Benjamin Roy is an 11 year old with a passion for zombies – movies, video games and zombie comics take up most of his leisure time. Together with his best friend and sidekick Sophie, they spend many afternoons after school doing their own brand of ‘homework’, immersed in their zombie games and movies.

After Ben is knocked down by the school bully Tank, he escapes to the boys toilets to wash his scraped knee, things take on a mysterious turn however, when Ben stumbles on a secret doorway at the back of the toilets. Just when he is about to investigate, one of the teachers Mr Slender, startles Ben from behind and he falls down for the second time that morning, grasping a wooden shelf in an attempt to save himself. Not only does the secret doorway then disappear, but he is given an afternoon detention for his trouble.

Ben confides in his friend Sophie and together they try to find the secret doorway, but are unsuccessful. Later when he is again at her house Sophie’s dad, a writer, overhears them talking and calls Ben to the kitchen where he tells Ben he has known about the secret doorway, warning him not to investigate further. Was Sophie’s dad spying on them? Ben’s suspicion is aroused and as he leaves for his house, he can’t help but look inside the bus that Mr Knight used as a study to write. Slipping in via the back window, Ben is intrigued to find corkboards lining the walls with notes and pictures of zombies. Surprised to learn that Mr Knight was interested in zombies, Ben is astonished to see a plan of the school. He could even see the staircase which led to the hidden room. It had been marked with a red cross!

Now Ben is undeterred to find out more about the secret doorway and hidden room, which had obviously been an interest of Mr Knight. Maybe he was intending to write a book about it, but Ben was determined to find out.

Ben does investigate again, joined by Sophie and is successful in locating the secret to the hidden doorway. It leads to rooms filled with cages of rats, another with dogs and the last for ‘Homo Sapiens’. One cage is even labelled ‘Benjamin Roy’.
Ben and Sophie are horrified to learn that mild mannered teacher Mr Crumpet is responsible and has an evil plan. Corvus, Mr Crumpet’s raven attacks Ben, digging his talons into his skin and begins pecking at his neck. Ben is forever changed – he now craves to eat meat.

Here, the story becomes a little gruesome, with Mr Crumpet encouraging Ben to kill his friend Sophie and eat her. Then the dogs are let loose and turn on Mr Crumpet, devouring him.

Ben saves Sophie and they escape to the waiting arms of their parents, yet Ben has changed. Suddenly everything flashes blue and he seems to have the power to look inside people’s bodies. Corvus, the raven follows Ben and his parents home where Ben is greeted by his brother Michael, who tells Ben he thought his brother was lost forever. ‘No such luck,’ Ben replies. ‘I plan on being around forever’.

This story contains simple illustrations and larger print – giving the impression it has been written for younger readers. As the story reaches its climax with Mr Crumpet urging Ben to kill, however, it takes a more sinister turn, before ending on a lighter note with Ben’s acceptance of himself as a zombie.

It is obviously the first in a series devoted to Ben’s zombie adventures and I believe children aged nine and above would enjoy reading it – hopefully without any nightmares!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Hunter’s Moon

Hunter’s Moon by Sophie Masson (Random House)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780857986030

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

Sophie Masson’s retelling of the Snow White mythology in Hunter’s Moon was one I longed to immerse myself in. It sat patiently ready for my holiday north and as soon as we left the freezing tarmac, I unsociably planted my nose in it (husband, kids - go entertain yourselves).

I eagerly consumed the opulent then perilous tale of Bianca Dalmatin, heir to the Ladies Fair department store empire and stepdaughter to the beautiful but sinister Lady Belladonna. Presented into society at the Duke’s ball by her controlling stepmother, shy and lonely Bianca soon finds herself the subject of a murderous plot involving herself and her much loved father.  The fleeting kindness of Belladonna’s faithful servant that spares Bianca, catapults her on a quest to find out the truth behind her father’s death and her stepmother’s treacherous plans.

The mythical European inspired Faustine Empire creates scenes of rich architecture, tactile landscapes and mystical creatures. The majesty of the first few chapters illuminates a grand stage reminiscent of the late 1800’s, but then extremes of a sophisticated society and mystical backdrops, forced me to release my expectations and let the imagery unravel naturally.

It is these extremities of setting that force young Bianca out of her protected life to find the inner strength to navigate betrayal and look beyond her upbringing to learn the true sense of trust, loyalty, sacrifice, determination, family and self.

Uncovering the references to the well-told Snow White tale was an entertaining addition to the reading experience. The huntsman, magic mirror, poisoned apple, glass coffin and seven dwarfs have all been cleverly intertwined through the story in unexpected ways that will give the younger reader a spark with each discovery.

Hunter’s Moon has all the appeal of romance, action, magic and a fabulous frock or two which has been brilliantly constructed to not overwhelm or confuse readers in the early teens.  It is the fourth book in the series by Masson that retells famous fables. Moonlight and Ashes, Scarlet in the Snow and The Crystal Heart, take the skeletons of Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to a new and wondrous level. The trick is to work out which one is which?

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Last Thirteen Book 13: 1

The Last Thirteen Book 13: 1 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-196-1

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.
This is the final installment in a thirteen part action thriller which takes Sam, the Thirteen Dreamers and readers around the world in a battle to save civilization from Solaris and his evil intentions.
Events seem to have come full circle when the players end up back in Egypt, where the race began in earnest for Sam and his friends. This time however, there are shocks in store. Loyalties are destroyed and, in the final push to keep the Dream Gate from falling into the hands of Solaris, lives may be lost.

For those who are already immersed in The Last Thirteen, this final book answers questions asked throughout the series. For others, start with 13 and follow the countdown to 1. This is a series which must be read in order.

Each book in this series for readers over 10, is short, exciting and has edge-of-seat drama often ending in cliffhangers - making it an addictive and speedy read. Strong female characters, both heroes and villains, ensure that girls will enjoy The Last Thirteen as much as boys.

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