Friday, 3 February 2023

Grace Notes

Grace Notes by Karen Comer (Lothian Children’s Books) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9780734421722

Reviewed by Kellie Nissen

If you thought the market was saturated with pandemic experiences and nothing new could be written in a fresh voice with a fresh perspective – think again.

In Grace Notes, Karen Comer explores the inner lives of adolescents during the Melbourne lockdowns, through the alternating perspectives of two teenagers, Grace, and Crux.

Grace lives for her music. A talented violinist, she also has a dominating mother who thinks music is not a career. Crux loves art – street art, to be precise. His dad allows him to practise his craft in their garage, but he’s forbidden to paint in public. Two very separate lives are brought together by circumstance and pandemic lockdown restrictions.

As often happens when children are banned from doing something they love, both Grace and Crux secretly defy their parents and sneak out to do what they love in the public arena. Grace agrees to perform in a pub, but it is her solo playing afterwards in a deserted tram outside her grandmother’s nursing home window that Crux witnesses.

Immediately captivated and inspired, Crux uses Grace as his subject when he’s invited by fellow street artists to paint a section of a commissioned wall. Grace later sees herself on the wall and is determined to find the artist behind it.

Grace Notes is a masterful exploration of two teens who are determined to make their own way in the most difficult of situations, residents in the world’s most locked down city. Karen Comer touches on many elements of the pandemic, including isolation, family, death, domestic violence, and mental health in the most sensitive and articulate way that is sure to allow the reader to make easy connections throughout the story.

This verse novel is beautifully written and hard to put down. There were sections I had to go back and read again for their simplicity but their depth of meaning. It’s the type of story you’ll be able to read over and over, each time noticing something new you didn’t previously see. Grace Notes is perfect for readers 12 years and older, in the Young Adult market.   

Monday, 30 January 2023

Football Fever books by Kristin Darell

Football Fever 2: Half-time Heroes

Author: Kristin Darell

Illustrations: Lesley Vamos

Recommended age: 7+

Publisher: Puffin (imprint of Penguin Random House)

The second book in an action-packed junior fiction series in partnership with Football Australia. Featuring Commbank Matildas and Subway Socceroos stars Emily van Egmond, Courtney Nevin, Awer Mabil, Marco Tilio and more!

The Under 11s Merridale Fever are back! They’re having their best season ever, and even better – they have the chance to play as Half-time Heroes at a Socceroos game. All they have to do is make a video showing what makes their team special. Instead of working together, the team take sides and try to convince each other that their way is the best way. Can tips from some of Australia’s best footballers help the Fever agree on what makes them heroes?

Part of an expansive publishing program in the lead-up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Football Fever 3: Next Level
(due out March 2023)

Author: Kristin Darell

Illustrations: Lesley Vamos

Recommended age: 7+

Publisher: Puffin (imprint of Penguin Random House)

It’s time for the Under 11s Merridale Fever to test their skills against the most talented young footballers in Australia! The whole team has been selected for the National High Potential Pathway program and are taking part in a two-day camp. Both Kat and Crabbie are determined to be chosen for the Game of Stars match but will need to find a way to perform when they’re faced with challenges on and off the field. Can they learn from their football heroes and take it to the next level when it counts?

This is the third book in an action-packed junior fiction series in partnership with Football Australia. Featuring Commbank Matildas and Subway Socceroos stars Lydia Williams, Caitlin Foord, Milos Degenek, Andrew Redmayne and more!

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Friday Barnes Last Chance

Friday Barnes Last Chance by RA Spratt (Puffin Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780143779247

Here is yet another book in the Friday Barnes’ popular, bestselling detective series for readers aged 9+ years. Previously, Friday and her friends Melanie and Ian have just solved the mystery of a major European art smuggling operation. The suspects were handcuffed to a bench, awaiting their transport flight back to the mainland.

This is when Friday discovers someone stole the famous painting the Mona Lisa. Yes, it was over 100 years ago, but a recently uncovered letter reveals that the thief forged a copy. This means that the painting in the Louvre now is a fake. And the real Mona Lisa could be anywhere!

Friday Barnes, girl detective, needs to find the truth – and the genuine painting. This time she’s going undercover as an art student, along with her partner-in-crime-solving, Melanie, and her staggeringly good-looking boyfrenemy, Ian.

As they watch the comings and goings of France’s most famous art gallery, they see some very strange things. Amid digital pickpockets, guerilla graffiti and projectile perfume, Friday soon discovers that the Paris art scene is a hotbed of crime.

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Fritz and Kurt

Fritz and Kurt by Jeremy Dronfield (Puffin) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN978024156742

This book is the children’s version of The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz, the inspiring true story of a father and son’s fight to stay together and survive the Holocaust.

In 1938, brothers Fritz and Kurt Kleinmann’s family are Jewish, and that puts them in terrible danger as the Nazis come to Vienna. They hate anyone who is different, especially Jewish people.

Fritz, along with his father, is taken to a Nazi prison camp – a terrible place, full of fer. When his father is sent to a certain death, Fritz can’t face losing his beloved Papa. He chooses to go with him and fight for survival.

Meanwhile, Kurt must go on a frightening journey, all alone, to seek safety on the far side of the world.

In this extraordinary true story, Fritz, and Kurt face unimaginable hardships, and the two brothers wonder if they will ever return home.

For people who would like to know more about events, background, and context of the Kleinmann’s family story or about the Holocaust in general, the best starting place would be the original version of The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz, which includes full, detailed endnotes with source citations and a complete biography.

This children’s novel, written in third person past tense, would best suit readers aged 9+ years. Included in the back of the book is a section titled ‘What Happened After’, a timeline of events, and a note for parents, guardians, and teachers.

Sunday, 22 January 2023

Vale Edel Wignell

by Hazel Edwards OAM

An author’s legacy is ideas, interpretations, and books, in varied formats.

Edel Wignell left a literary legacy others will continue to read. Her history- themed books will not date.

Raised in a Fundamentalist family, the second eldest of six girls, on a farm, Edel had strong views and a work ethic which later sustained her through the rejections of the freelancer workstyle.

An intelligent girl, accepting a studentship to teachers’ college and higher education in the city, meant her family ex-communicated her.

Edel wrote mainly for children and yet claimed that being ‘child-free’ was her choice.

She also mentored young authors and illustrators, often at her own cost.

Her interpretation of marriage to Geoff Wignell was a ‘lifelong romance’. He suffered arthritis which limited their social life.

A highly skilled and persistent researcher, Edel’s best work included historical tales or scripts which explored myths and legends as well as the natural world. Until her marriage, she was a very competent teacher and later a teachers’ college lecturer and the educational skills were apparent in her articles, notes and books. ‘Escape by Deluge’ was the historical YA novel of which she was most proud, and also of being mentored by Patricia Wrightson on this project set during the 1970’s flooding of Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.

Rarely do writers keep good records. Edel’s files were immaculate and she could find contract clauses when necessary. An ‘old-school’ editor she could be pedantic about commas and grammar, and this upset some. She also read well for programs such as Radio RPH Children’s Hour and recorded some of her work.

Her real name was Edna, which she didn’t change legally to Edel until after her mother’s death, aware that this name change might be seen as insulting to the parents who named her. Edel could be thoughtful about issues others might not notice. When the Fundamental group to which her family belonged, hit the news, Edel allowed me to borrow a rare book which explained the extreme upbringing.

I’m forgetful of exact dates, although Edel could probably tell the day we met as well as the year. My 2-year-old daughter (now 50) was in childcare within Burwood Teachers’ College and Edel lived nearby and had volunteered at a Children’s Book Week display. It was the early 1970s, I had a couple of books already published, but Edel was much better informed about the general children’s literature field and was writing an educational column. Later she added educational journalism to her skills.

With teaching and freelance writing in common, we’d have quick coffees as we lived geographically close. Occasionally Edel would ‘borrow’ my children for ‘embarrassing moments’ inspiration or as readers, and she dedicated a couple of books to them, especially after one child fell in the pond and another went through the car wash. When our family traveled overseas for six months, Edel looked after my business mail and my records had never been so well organized. Scrupulously honest and intellectually curious, she was more of a compiler than a fiction writer although she utilized family anecdotes with crafted humour. Occasionally she wrote short adult crime, well plotted. Her brief funny poems found constant markets.

She and Geoff led very organised domestic lives including healthy soup and salad for lunch each day. Edel’s marmalade was the best and she made fabulous lettuce soup. She also created silver jewellery.

Classical music, ballet and galleries with ‘nice meals’ on weekends away (but mid week) were treats.

Edel could surprise. When I was researching ‘massage’ for my sleuth character in ‘Formula for Murder’ and needed to practise massage techniques, Edel volunteered.

She was proud of her slim body and power walked at 5 am daily. After she was widowed in her seventies, Edel did a tandem parachute jump, hired a limo and went hot air ballooning. In her twenties she had toured Europe in a van.

In later years we didn’t meet as much, as the realities of teenage families left no time but I did admire her persistence in recycling and archiving manuscripts. Edel retained her writing friends by being part of various organisations.

She was always politically interested in the ‘Dying With Dignity’ organization and made no secret of her intentions. But she had a stroke and passed away in mid January 2023.

In (2019), Edel Wignell was awarded the ASA Medal. The mentorship for children’s writers/illustrators that she bequeathed to the ASA will continue to help other creators.

Edel’s website has author photo: 


Saturday, 21 January 2023

Lies we Sing to the Sea

Lies we sing to the Sea by Sarah Underwood (Harper Collins) ISBN 97880008528080 RRP $19.99 (PB)

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

In Homer’s Odyssey, when Odysseus finally returns to his wife Penelope in Ithica, he has all twelve of her maids hung for disloyalty. This young adult story is set many years later, in an Ithican kingdom cursed by Poseidon, God of the sea. Each year, Ithica must find twelve girls to sacrifice, otherwise their land will be destroyed. Leto is one of these girls and at the beginning of the story she is hung and thrown into the ocean. However, she washes up alive on the magical island of Pandou, where Melantho, half girl, half sea creature prepares her for her fate. In order to break the curse and stop the sacrifices, Leto must kill Matthias, the king of Ithica.

Leto is a feisty, likeable character, who falls in love with both Melantho and Matthias. Not surprisingly, this creates some complications. One she is supposed to kill and the other, she learns, will also die when the curse is lifted. But time is getting short, and another twelve girls will be hanged, and many more in the future, if Leto doesn’t carry out her task. Both Leto and Melantho, who turn into sea creatures, have the ability to control sea water. This can be a weapon when required and great for fighting pirates.

The plot moves quickly along its rather twisty path, but is quite easy to follow, especially because of the developing relationships of the characters. Leto is also the daughter of an oracle, and her powers provide foreshadowing of things to come. The historical Greek setting is an appealing time and place to read about. And there’s plenty of romance as well.

Lies We Sing to the Sea is UK writer Sarah Underwood’s first novel.

Friday, 20 January 2023

Super Sidekicks: No Adults Allowed

Super Sidekicks: No Adults Allowed by Gavin Aung Than (Penguin Random House) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN: 9781761049323

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

Junior Justice, Flygirl and Dinomite are sick of being taken for granted by adult superheroes, so they start their own group: the Super Sidekicks. They are soon joined by Goo – the viscous accomplice of their nemesis, Dr Enok – who just wants to be treated kindly. When Dr Enok abducts Goo and takes him back to his evil lair, the Super Sidekicks have to overcome a super-sized serving of self-doubt to save their new friend.

A bright and bold graphic novel, Super Sidekicks: No Adults Allowed is ideal for hesitant readers aged eight to eleven. The basic premise – children can do plenty of amazing things without the help of adults – will appeal to all kids, and the superhero storyline is packed with stacks of gags, action and aha moments. In his four sidekicks, Gavin Aung Than has given readers role models for life: kids who love physical fitness, science, and literature, and who aren’t afraid to be themselves.

Brash colours bound from the pages and bedazzle the eyes. Panels of varying shapes – as well as illustrations that defy constraint within boxes – allow movement to explode from the spreads. Gavin’s characterisation of the sidekicks is reminiscent of other superhero comics (such as Teen Titans Go!) but still retains a somewhat unique charm – especially the bubblegum-like Goo.

Mateship and mettle come to the fore in Super Sidekicks: No Adults Allowed. The dynamic story empowers young readers to step out of the shadows and show the world what they can do.