Monday, 21 April 2014

Jack’s Bugle

Jack’s Bugle by Krista Bell, illustrated by Belinda Elliott (Windy Hollow Books)
HC RRP $25.99
ISBN 9781922081292
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Innocent about the meaning of war and looking for adventure along with so many others, Aidan Jackson, known as Jack, sets out for Gallipoli with his bugle. He becomes best mate to Harry, who later brings Jack’s bugle home.

This book is a salute to the men at Anzac Cove. It’s a hymn to the mateship and camaraderie shared in the sands of Egypt, and the trenches. And amidst the bullet fire, it’s always mates looking after mates with loyalty and sacrifice.

Ever present in the story is the bugle; Jack’s Bugle, that brought something singular to the men at Gallipoli and which remained along with a bent photo, the only reminder for Harry of his friend.

Krista Bell has again used a single object - the bugle - to create an interesting reflection on the war that was to end all wars. The story of the bugle is in itself a whole separate tale, uncovered at the end. These books are treasures and serve to remind us Lest We Forget.

Outstanding watercolour illustrations by Belinda Elliott take the reader back to the time and place perfectly with her perceptive translation of the text.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete

Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete by Stella Tzobanakis (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 18.99
ISBN 9781742030821
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Creforce was the name of the Commonwealth and Allied Forces of Crete. This reissue from The Drum series concentrates on the Australian and New Zealand Forces that took part in the historic ten-day Battle of Crete. It also covers the invasion of the Greek mainland, and includes an expansive history of WW2 during those catastrophic times.
The Battle of Crete was fought in May 1941, when German paratroopers fell from the sky, with the ANZAC, British and Greek units defending the island. The Germans encountered mass resistance from the island’s population. The Cretan’s knowledge of the mountains and their ability to survive there indefinitely proved to be their greatest weapon against the German invaders.

Lack of food forced soldiers to depend on the charity of strangers. What little they had was shared with the soldiers. Whole villages paid if a person was discovered harbouring an enemy of the Germans. The accounts of the Allied soldiers’ heroic attempts to fight with a shortage of guns and ammunition, in tattered clothing and shared boots, is deeply moving.

The statistics here are amazing. The layout is terrific. Its informative fact boxes include biographies of famous people associated with the Greek Resistance. Archival photos appear throughout the book. Customs, traditions, language, music, and past history of the island form the background of this comprehensive narrative on the invasion of Greece and Crete during WW2.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Along the Road to Gundagai

Along the Road to Gundagai by Jack O’Hagan, illustrated by Andrew McLean (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-979-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Although the words of this song are familiar to me, I had no idea of the wistful story representing young men sent to the first Word War which lies behind the lyrics. This book tells the story of a young soldier in World War I who is injured and hospitalised. Through this he relives memories of home. And it is through the illustrations that we get the emotions which go deeper than the jaunty, happy song seems to suggest on the surface.

Andrew McLean uses charcoal and watercolour to create these pictures, then scans and colours them on an iPad. His powerful images contrast the dark, heavy depictions of war with the lighter, rosier memories of home. There are many such contrasts within the pages. A constant eerie glow hangs over the war scenes while the pictures of home have a sunrise shine to them. There is a fabulous illustration of young soldiers washing in a creek near a bombed out building, then the next page shows children playing freely in the waters of the Murrumbidgee River. And the use of horses is a theme which runs throughout, creating a further divide between war and peace.

O’Hagan, a prolific Australian song writer, wrote Along the Road to Gundagai in 1922 and it was an instant success. Even if you think you know this song well, read the book and see it with a new perspective.

This is an excellent book with beautiful illustrations but keep in mind that, although a picture book with a simple concept, some of the illustrations are powerful and could be frightening for very young children. It is ultimately a story about war and as such depicts scenes from the battlefront.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Simpson and his Donkey

Simpson and his Donkey by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frane Lessac (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921529542
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The heroic life and death of Jack Simpson and his donkey is presented again by husband and wife team Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac. It starts with Jack’s life before he sailed for Australia, then aboard as a stoker. His working history shows us the man he was, and how easy it was for Jack to serve ‘king and country’ when the war broke out. 

But fear replaced the sense of adventure that many soldiers set out with, when the fighting started on the ‘razorback ridges’. Jack was working tirelessly carrying wounded to the boats to be evacuated, when he came upon a stray donkey which he named Duffy. Thus they became Simpson and his donkey.

This immortal story has been brought to life again through Greenwood’s ability to tell a great tale, and make it sound fresh and new. Lessac’s insightful illustrations fit like a glove around Greenwood’s words. Detailed and expressive, each full page illustration gives up all of Simpson’s bravery, determination and courage, as he carries water to thirsty troops, and makes the return journey with a wounded soldier on Duffy’s back. One of them being his childhood friend Billy.

It also gives us a clear picture of Gallipoli and the conditions the men experienced there. It’s a salute to this part of Australian history that is in our hearts and memories.

Simpson was admired and respected as ‘the bravest of the brave’ due to his humanity. He died the way he lived - always doing what was right, and serving others. He was buried at Hell Spit. We must also reflect as we turn each page of this beautifully illustrated edition with its poetic prose, on all that we are because of Gallipoli.

Lest We Forget.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Gallipoli: Reckless Valour

Gallipoli: Reckless Valour by Nicholas Brasch (black dog books)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 9781742030258
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

With an entirely unique approach to presenting the Gallipoli campaign, Nicholas Brasch has broken down the information into easy to understand divisions. He asks a question, and then answers it in comprehensive detail.

This is a wonderful reference book for young readers, and others of any age who are looking to understand the main structure of why WW1 was declared, and what happened next. It explains in easy to follow fact boxes, the main points of how and why Australian soldiers were sent to Gallipoli, why so many died, and what the outcome of the campaign was. It also tells us why Anzac Day is commemorated on April 25.

The contents are visual as well as informative. With photos and images from the Australian War Memorial, there are maps, posters and a glossary of terms for clarification. Other words highlighted within the text are also included in the glossary.

Aaron Pegram from the Australian War Memorial has done a fact check of this book, which is beautifully designed with an excellent layout of information and visuals.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Bilby Secrets

Bilby Secrets by Edel Wignell, illustrated by Mark Jackson (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 29.95
ISBN 9781921529320
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) Short-Listed book, Bilby Secrets reveals extraordinary information about this charming marsupial. Before white settlement, two types of Bilbies lived on the Australian mainland. One of them – the Lesser Bilby - is now said to be extinct. But at Easter lots of chocolate bilbies can be found.

The story is presented in two parallel parts on each page. There is the narrative with the Bilby as protagonist at the top, and the factual information displayed in sentences shaped like waves. The two parts are connected by a common thread creating continuity and flow.

Did you know that a Bilby mother can have a litter of three babies and that they can have four litters in one year? Or that a baby spends 75 days in its mother’s pouch?

How does a Bilby keep predators from following them into their tunnel? How old are they when they start to mate?

This and lots more information about the Bilby’s secret life is beautifully presented in this well-researched book. Fantastic illustrations in earthy colours created with mixed media, accompany each entry. This educational and entertaining book will make the perfect gift for readers of all ages at Easter. Perhaps to accompany a chocolate Bilby (just a small one)?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

We’re Going on an Egg Hunt

We’re Going on an Egg Hunt [with CD] by Laine Mitchell, illustrated by Louis Shea (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74362– 041-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

       We’re going on an egg hunt!
       We’re going to find the biggest one!
       I can’t wait!
      Chocolate for you and me!

We’re Going on an Egg Hunt is Mitchell’s Easter interpretation of the very popular We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. It’s nearly Easter and like almost everyone else, the five friends in this vibrant picture book are off to find hidden Easter eggs in their adventurous egg hunt.

Young children will love to join these cute animals as they search for the biggest eggs in exciting places. As in the original hunt they face many dangers, obstacles they must negotiate such as a wild turnabout maze, and a garden with pretty buzzing flowers! Will they go over, under or through?

Shea’s instantly recognisable illustrations are bright, colourful and playful. They are full of cute animals and cheeky detail – check out the chicks hatching in the birds nest, one of them is not a chick! See if you can find the Easter Bunny and eggs hidden in the pages.

Accompanying the book is a CD recording of the song. Children can sing along with lively, funny and popular entertainer Jay Laga’aia. His voice is instantly known and loved by preschool children (and older)) and this Easter reinvention has simple catchy lyrics.

This can be read, re-read, chanted, acted out and listened to over and over again.