Sunday, 7 February 2016

Olivia's First Term: Stage School

Olivia's First Term: Stage School by Lyn Gardner (Nosy Crow)
PB RRP $16.95

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

There are other books in this series about Olivia, daughter of Jack and sister to Eel, whose family has a circus background. Olivia is skilled in tightrope walking, which is her passion. Thus she is sorely disappointed when Jack takes her and Eel to enrol in a stage school. The school is run by the girls' maternal grandmother, Alicia Swan, who has previously cut all ties from her daughter and son-in-law. Now Olivia's mother is dead and Jack is desperate for his girls to have a home. Alicia accepts the girls into the school and Jack departs. The story then proceeds, telling of life for Olivia and Alice in Swan's Stage School.

This is an odd book insofar as the narrative viewpoint shifts constantly throughout the story. It's almost as much poor, talented Georgia's story, spoilt, rich, bitchy Katie's story and enthusiastic, gifted dancer Eel's story. Their stories, and the stories of other students such as the school captain Aeysha and Olivia's friend Tom are played out throughout the book.

As I read Olivia's First Term, I had a sense of reading a book by Enid Blyton. The story's characters are all 'types' with jealousies, infighting and occasional kindnesses depicted from the numerous students of the school. Olivia struggles to fit in as she has no stage talents: instead she rigs up a tightrope and finds joy from walking on it in secret. Meanwhile, Eel flourishes and is chosen to dance in front of the Queen, and Jack attempts to renew a relationship with the girls' grandmother.

An average read, the book is easy to read and would most likely maintain the interest of a reader aged from eight to twelve years.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Return of the Fox: Further Adventures of a One-Eyed Chook

Return of the Fox: Further Adventures of a One-Eyed Chook by Pat Clarke, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)

HB RRP $24.95
ISBN: 9781925117585

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

This book is an unusual hyrid: it’s an illustrated chapter book presented in over-sized hardcover format. It’s the size of a picture book for early readers, making it about twice the usual dimensions of a chapter book. It’s of substantial length (76 pages) with a high level of vocabulary but curiously directed at preschoolers.

Compton’s illustrations, particularly of Clancy the goanna (my favourite), are a treat. Despite the title, the fox doesn’t appear until almost half way through the story. The earlier part is taken up with a description of the friendship between Elvis the eagle and Sheila the chook. Elvis is shot by some car thieves while trying to prevent them from setting fire to a stolen car – an action that could start a bushfire and result in huge loss of animal life. Sheila is hurt while getting down from a perch. They both wind up being sheltered and nursed back to health by Ma Taylor, a strange old lady who lives in the forest, and takes care of a menagerie of different birds and animals.

It’s hard to keep up with who’s who in her zoo, though Dulcie, the traumatised hen whose speech is peppered with EGGscellent and EGGxaggerated, mannerisms is a bird memorable for her eccentricity.

Rufus the fox hears a rumour that Elvis has died and, although he promised in an earlier story never to return to Goonoo Forest, decides to advantage of the opportunity. A chook for dinner would go down nicely! Or so he thinks.

Older children may enjoy this barnyard tale with its focus on courage and friendship.

Friday, 5 February 2016

The Incredible Edible Garden

The Incredible Edible Garden by Victoria Breheny, illustrated by Jemma Phillips (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $18.95
ISBN: 9781925117479

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

Annie’s father is afraid of grass. Fortunate then that they live in an apartment block; unfortunate that Annie’s favourite colour is green, not grey. One day on her way home from school Annie meets Rosemary and is invited into the incredible edible garden.

She is introduced to luscious fruits and vibrant vegetables, taught about the healing power of food and given lessons in making herbal teas. (The yummy ideas made me disappointed there were no recipes in the book!)

When Rosemary’s birthday comes around, even Annie’s dad is persuaded to go, if only to see the ‘overgrown wonderland’ he’s heard so much about. But the spectacular event changes his mind—and he decides he’s no longer afraid of grass. In fact, he wants a rooftop incredible edible garden. 

Simple, colourful illustrations bring this gentle story for preschoolers to green-hued life. An obvious love of gardening pervades every page.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Mouse Mayhem

Mouse Mayhem written and illustrated by Wendy McKay-Taylor (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117486

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

First it was one mouse, creeping into the house -- then two, hiding in a boy’s shoes. Soon there were hundreds, thousands … springing out of the paddocks and looking for food and shelter. They nibble through everything—including plastic, newspaper, car wiring.

I’ve experienced a mouse plague on a farm, so I know how realistic this story is. However, to most people, it may seem outrageously exaggerated.

The watercolour illustrations are too cute by far to really portray the menace of mice in such overwhelming numbers. Young readers are much more likely to feel more sympathetic to the pesky critters that to the cat or people—and certainly feel uncomfortable with the solution to the problem. 

It’s the sort of book that would probably go well in country schools but is likely to be far less appreciated in the city.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Granny, Wait for Me!

Granny, Wait for Me! by Sarah Owens, illustrated by Anil Tortop (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117400

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

The exuberant, lively illustrations spring off the page in vibrant, crisp colour.

This story of an energetic granny is so spirited and enthusiastic that I feel exhausted just looking at the small boy valiantly trying to keep up as his granny displays her cycling prowess!

It’s a rhyming story but, unlike many offerings for this age group, the rhyme stays workably simple. This gives the story a deceptively effortless and easy pace.

A boy is visited by his grandmother who takes him out for the day. This is not a granny who stays home and sips tea: she does wheelies, tricks and spins on her bike, loops-the-loop on the playground swing and sizzles down the slide.

This fun book for preschoolers is fabulously enhanced by the gorgeous and dynamic illustrations. 

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Freedom Ride

Freedom Ride by Sue Lawson (black dog books)
PB RRP $ 17.95
ISBN 9781925126365

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This deeply moving and at times disturbing book is based on real events. It takes us back to the Australian Freedom Ride of 1965. Influenced by the American Civil Rights Movement, Sydney University students formed the Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA) with Charles Perkins, the first Indigenous Australian to graduate from university, as their leader. A busload of students decided to travel through country towns to investigate the living conditions of Aboriginal people. It was when they came to Walgaree that is the focus of the story. What took place was the beginning of change within the social and political climate of Australia for Indigenous population.

The story of the Freedom Ride is delicately wound around a parallel story of the brutality of racism and bullying, the abuse of power, and the degradation suffered by whites and Aboriginals alike that stood up for human rights. It is also about having courage to change against all odds.

Robbie lives with his dad and gran, a narrow-minded, bigoted person without kindness or compassion, not even for her grandson. e has been told fro years that his mother diedHHe has been told that his mother died when he was three and she is never mentioned.

Barry takes over the caravan park in Walgaree after his father dies suddenly. Robbie gets a paid job there during the school holidays instead of doing odd jobs for gran’s gossipy friends for nothing. There he discovers the joys of real family life, kindness and interest, and love from both Barry and his mum.

With gossip a raging river in the town of Walgaree, everyone is blaming the Aborigines for all the vandalism and destruction of property. But Robbie knows who’s really doing it. But he dare not speak out.

Robbie’s friendship with the Aboriginal boy Mickey, also employed by Barry, is an excuse for the town’s bully to bash and persecute him mercilessly without any repercussions from his father who happens to be Walgaree’s police chief.

But this is the least of Robbie’s dilemmas. He discovers his dad and gran have lied to him for years. He also witnesses a gut-wrenching act that the two cover up, and he wars with his conscience about keeping silent.

Now that Robbie knows the truth, is he able to stand up for what he believes in and carve a new path in life?

Riveting and unforgettable, Sue Lawson has again created another exceptional piece of historical fiction. Fast-paced with crisp and precise writing, this book comes highly recommended.

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Runaway Foal: Pine Valley Ponies

The Runaway Foal: Pine Valley Ponies by Kate Welshman, Illustrated by Heath McKenzie (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-431-9

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Autumn has arrived and all the ponies at Pine Valley Ranch are putting on their winter woollies. Maddy’s pony Snowy has grown his winter coat too and Pattie, the Ranch’s horse riding teacher, has decided now is the perfect time for the girls to learn some bareback riding. Although nervous at first, Maddy bravely joins her confident friend Iris in practising this challenging task, not realising how much her new skill will come in handy when a young foal, Sunny, becomes a runaway.

The Runaway Foal is the second book in the Pine Valley Ponies series which will appeal to young girls who love horses. Humorous, adventurous, and full of Heath McKenzie’s charmingly quirky illustrations, new readers will find this a satisfying story even without reading the first book. Although the text is straight forward, there are still loads of ‘big’ words and it doesn’t talk down to readers. Plenty of information about horses is imparted also.

Simple, fun and easy to read chapters make this good for independent readers.