Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Strongest Boy in the World

The Strongest Boy in the World by Jessica Souhami (Frances Lincoln/Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781847804112
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Strongest Boy in the World is based on a popular and well-known Japanese tale from the 13th Century. A young boy, Kaito, dreams of becoming a champion Sumo wrestler, therefore rich and famous.  He sets out for Kyoto and the wrestling tournament, convinced he can win regardless of his puny build.

A meeting on the way with the strong and manly Hana changes his life. She carries carry water on her head without spilling a drop. In the short time remaining till the tournament, Hana teaches Kaito strength training, which foods to eat for muscle building, and how to hold his stances.

On arrival, he is ridiculed by the huge wrestlers that refuse to take him seriously. But will confidence and absolute belief in himself bring Kaito to victory? And will the skills and disciplines Hana has handed on help Kaito in his quest for fame?

This tale carries several themes, the most important being nothing is impossible, and believing in yourself can achieve miracles.

The fantastic illustrations are boldly presented with collage of Ingres papers hand-painted with watercolour, ink and graphite pencil. This mixed media perfectly portrays the Japanese setting, and gives an added dimension to the full page pictures. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Rescue Ark

The Rescue Ark by Susan Hall, illustrated by Naomi Zouwer (NLA)
PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 9780642278104
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It’s the children that discover the pollution and damage to the environment, and therefore to the habitats of many Australian wildlife. They decide to build an ark and travel around the country, collecting two of each species to protect, until their homes are cleaned up.

We follow the trail the children take around Australia with their ark, on a map which indicates where each of the twenty animals represented, can be found. The delightful, detailed illustrations of each animal pair are presented within circles, giving the impression that the reader is looking through a window. This is set against a coloured background.

Stunning plates from the National Library of Australia’s collection are included at the end with an informational block that carries a description of each animal, how they live etc, if they are endangered, critically endangered, or vulnerable. This is followed by a List of Illustrations with the archive details included as always.

This is another outstanding production from the NLA that again, both entertains and educates. It promotes awareness of the environment and the need to protect our endangered native species. These subtle persuasions come wrapped in the entertaining sing-song rhyming verse of the animals went in two by two that will stay in children’s minds.   

Monday, 29 September 2014

To This Day: For the Bullied and the Beautiful

To This Day: For the Bullied and the Beautiful by Shane Koyczan, illustrated by 30 various artists (Walker books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781925081510
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Through tears, I read this poem and examined the illustrations on bullying and its detrimental lifelong effects. Consumed by sadness, with a heart pounding and filled with sorrow for all the people, especially children, that have been victims or perpetrators of bullying, I tuned into the YouTube video of the spoken edition of To This Day. Over twelve million hits and growing, this poem in all its forms, continues to make an impact on people worldwide.

I watched it twice then went into Shane Koycznan’s site to uncover any other work. Words fail me. I have been inspired and profoundly affected alongside the countless others, by his courage and commitment to his fight against bullying.

Shane was bullied unmercifully as a child. These painful experiences gave birth to this book. A spoken word poet, he admits that ‘writing was a way to escape my real life, a way to cope with cruelty and indifference.’

Illustrated by 30 artists, this book is extraordinary and powerful in every sense. These words have been life-changing for many readers and listeners. Included are testaments from several of the contributing artists on their experiences with bullying. To This Day is seen as one of the most influential books on this heartbreaking issue that continues to plague so many people all over the world.  

Bulling facts from and

Sunday, 28 September 2014

There Will Be Bears

There Will Be Bears by Ryan Gebhart (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9780763665210
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is a coming of age story that has many themes. It’s an exciting adventure filled with life lessons and the powerful bond between two generations of men. Filtering through are sub stories on friendships, relationships between siblings, between the old and young, all held together with strong threads on family unity and love.

The story focuses mainly on the relationship between teenager Tyson and his best friend, grandpa Gene, a war veteran. The setting is the rugged western Wyoming.

Tyson has been promised an elk hunt with roughneck Gene for his thirteenth birthday, and it’s time for the promise to be fulfilled. He will finally have something to post on his Facebook page, impress Karen who is an experienced hunter, and get his former best friend Bright back for betraying him to impress the popular group.

But kidney failure gets Gene moved into a retirement home to be cared for properly and things are postponed temporarily.

Tyson and Gene secretly scheme to realize their dream before it’s too late, regardless of the outcome. What sets out to be a life-changing trip turns into a fight for life when the two meet up with the bear Sandy, who has already killed several people.

There’s not one boring moment in this poignant and meaningful debut novel. The description of the natural world is like a reel of film playing before your eyes. The author is definitely writing about familiar and much-loved areas and experiences of his own, as everything is cleverly detailed and crystal clear to the reader.

A note of caution: there are scenes referring to the slaughter of animals that some readers might find confronting.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Breakfast Served Anytime

Breakfast Served Anytime by Sara Combs (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9780763667917
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It is school holidays and Gloria sets out for ‘geek camp’- a camp for gifted students. All electronic equipment (except phone) is left behind so is best friend Carol, and her beloved grandma that has just passed on. With her grief, Gloria carries her scant belongings and a journal and pen, and joins the four student study group ‘Secrets of the Secret Word.’ All these elements will be instrumental to her metamorphosis.

It is Gloria’s narrative voice that allows us an intimate view of her feelings and thoughts.

Raised in a privileged environment by her single dad who has encouraged her to think and decide for herself, Gloria is open to all cosmic signs which she sees in everything around her. When she first sets eyes on the blue butterflies, she accepts them as a sign that camp will produce significant outcomes.

And it does. Valuable friendships, life lessons, and love reach out to embrace Gloria from unexpected places. She learns that everybody hides something, and that sharing parts of yourself can be equally comforting to the giver and the receiver.

The lyrical prose is like a gift to the reader of something valuable. The warmth and the depth of the book’s content is obvious from the first to the last page. I felt I was sharing all of Gloria’s life; a shadowed observer yet part of everything she did and felt.

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Chronicles of the Knights of Katesh Book 2: The Summoning of The One

The Chronicles of the Knights of Katesh Book 2: The Summoning of The One by Royce Bond (Morris Publishing Australia)
PB RRP $20.00
ISBN 9780992505202
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Andy was just a teenage boy going to high school, forced to face his bullies daily, until the day the eagle with the black talons came to him. Now he has the life essence of the knight Methelgin inside him and he has become a Knight of the First Order of Katesh. He has gained great powers and fighting skills. He is believed to be The One that the warriors have been waiting for.

A long and dangerous quest begins for Andy. Maligor the wizard must be defeated, and the orb of power reclaimed in order to save the known universe.

But Andy’s transition from school boy to warrior holds other adjustments to those of simply tapping into and using his new abilities. His role as leader is one of great responsibility, especially after he learns the secrets regarding his lineage. Although he is determined to honour the role thrust on him, can he succeed when nothing and no one is ever what it seems? Especially Princess Katarin, the wind walker.

Royce Bond has created a fantastic world. Its characters and settings, the enemy demons and unnatural species that he has designed with great imagination thrill and excite. Powerful, courageous and intelligent female characters blaze their way through an action packed storyline, with battle scenes equal to a Hollywood movie.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Billy Slater: Banana Kick

Billy Slater: Banana Kick by Patrick Loughlin, illustrated by Nahum Ziersch (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780857982667
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857982674
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

What a great concept for a series for young boys who love their sport. You don’t have to be a footy player to engage with the Under 11s Ravens. Each book follows the story of one of the team members. In this 2nd book of this new series, it’s Junior Taafuli’s turn. ‘At ten years of age, Junior was already five foot five. His hefty Samoan build had earned him the nickname Mount Taafuli.’

Despite his size, Junior is a quiet kid. Author, Patrick Loughlin, describes Junior’s running abilities in vivid phrasing – he came ‘steaming in through the middle of the forward pack like a Spanish bull let loose on a crowd of tourists.’

As the Ravens play more games, the opposition’s parents constantly sledge Junior because of his size. He is so dejected he thinks himself a freak. Even his teammates join in by making mean comments, ‘he’s on a seafood diet: see food and eat it.’

Billy Slater, the famous Australian fullback, is once again centre field when it comes to the kids’ training and wellbeing. In a preface to the book he reveals that when he started out in football, he ‘didn’t have the natural strength or size the other players had,’ so he had to find other skills. With boys reading this they will understand that like Junior, they each have their positive areas.

There is a lovely interlude throughout the book where the reader gains insight into Junior’s supportive and strong family. His father works at the fruit markets and his mother is a nurse and a wonderful, traditional cook. When Billy Slater organises for the boys to swap junk food for healthy food to give them energy, despite his size, it’s Junior who comes up trumps.

But there’s more to Junior than his physicality. During a confrontation with the team bully, Junior is at tipping point. Surrounded by the team who are chanting ‘Fight! Fight!’ he could have pummelled the bully into the ground, but he surprises everyone by rapping about being who he is.

With its punchy use of language that rushes the plot through each chapter, there’s always something of interest. The enticingly colourful cover and the black and white illustrations scattered throughout give just enough of everything. At the end of the book Billy Slater gives his tips on healthy eating and on how to perfect the game-saving Banana Kick.

As the whole team is profiled, who will be the next player in the spotlight in Book 3?