Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Alana Oakley: Mystery & Mayhem

Alana Oakley: Mystery & Mayhem by Poppy Inkwell (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99 
ISBN 9781925275124                                                                                                                              
Reviewed by J Wishart

This debut novel by Philippine-born Poppy Inkwell is the first in the Alana Oakley series aimed at 11 to 13 year-olds. Alana has just turned 12 and finished primary school. Her father passed away three years earlier, but Alana lives an eventful life with her mum in Marrickville, Sydney – all of which is well-evoked by the author’s animated narrative. 

For its target age-group, this book is interesting in that it strongly features adult characters – albeit somewhat comical ones – with alternate chapters following Alana and her friends, then switching to focus on Alana’s groovy and young-at-heart mum, Emma – including her teen-dream job as an investigative journalist.

This dual narrative makes for a varied and lively read and enables layering of action-and-consequence that adds to the complexity and reader satisfaction. There is rarely a dull moment as Alana deals with new friendships, her first days of high school and a stolen jewellery item. Meanwhile, Emma has problems scheduling an interview with a famous and reclusive rock star around the interference of her mischievous friends, who also act as Emma’s self-appointed – and opinionated – personal stylists.

The text is filled with familiar popular-culture references and a slapstick humour that edges towards questionable in a couple of instances, but overall rollicks along and provides plenty of entertainment. The characters are likeable, diverse and fun and the narrative offers positive messages about responsibility, acceptance, friendship, support and loyalty.

Slightly wacky and sufficiently charming, Mystery & Mayhem would make a natural progression for those who enjoyed series such as ‘Go Girl’ as younger readers. As well as this, the series has the potential to appeal to older readers who still enjoy a bit of tween-age escapism.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Ollie and the Wind

Ollie and the Wind by Ronojoy Ghosh (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780857988485

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

When I first picked up Ollie and the Wind, the title immediately created intrigue. How does a little boy have any impact or influence over something as infinite as the Wind? The concept for early childhood readers would certainly be enough to pique curiosity.

The first picture book for Random House from Sydney based author and illustrator Ronojoy Ghosh, does not fail to deliver a quirky and heart-warming story of Ollie who lives on an island with a tiny community of people.  Immediately the illustrations convey much of the loneliness experienced by Ollie with sparsely placed houses and vegetation but the colour and Ollie’s personality give the book instant appeal.

Ollie must try to understand why the wind has decided to fly away with his hat then his scarf. He tries to search and contain the wind to demand his belongings be returned, but on discovering that the wind is untameable, he must think differently about it and how it must be dealt with.

The images are not complex but the openness created by Ghosh and the full bleed of colour allows for a sense of the outdoors. The text is styled simply and in line with the illustrations and offers restrained support to the story rather than becoming part of the imagery which can be common with a lot of picture books.

The illustrations are enhanced through texture and the colour palette of blue and greens communicate the smells and sounds of a seaside location while the primary colours attributed to Ollie and his possessions, give movement and focus to the story.

There is an obvious environmental element to this book in how wind lives around us, but I also thought that there was a feeling of discovering friendship in unexpected ways as Ollie learns to enjoy the wind.

Ghosh is an award winning advertising art director and is due to release another title next year for Random House titled No Place Like Home

Sunday, 11 October 2015


Platypus by Sue Whiting, illustrated by Mark Jackson (Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781922077448

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Story and information are so tightly wound together in this stunning book it is hard to separate one from the other. That’s why the text is written in two sizes. The story is in larger font and the additional information is in smaller text.

The detailed full page illustrations created with mixed media draw the reader into the water world of the platypus, one of the few venomous mammals in the world. The full page illustrated sequence is broken only twice. Once it shows two pictures on one page of platypus emerging and submerging. The second is at the end where platypus snuggles into his burrow after long hours of foraging.

Male and female habits are exposed. Parenting methods, nesting habits, and how the nestlings are protected are revealed. Hints on their personal grooming and their fat storing tails are also uncovered. Earthy colours, tangled tree roots, shapely rocks and running water fill the pages.

This is a superbly visual book on the life and habit of the ‘puzzling platypus’. It is the kind of book parents and family want to buy for their children. It will mesmerise them as they read and learn about these fascinating mammals.  Overseas visitors will want to take this book of incredible beauty home with them. Schools and libraries should rush to get this on their shelves.

Mark Jackson has done an outstanding job translating Sue Whiting’s text. The covers, end papers and everything in between is of the highest quality. It is suited to the 6 - 100 age groups, and for discerning collectors of magnificent picture books.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Birgitta Sif (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406362381

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Icelandic author/illustrator Birgitta Sif continues to impress with every new piece of work she produces. In this stunning book, writer and illustrator are a magical combination.

In this perfect collaboration, Birgitta breathes life into a meaningful story with cats as characters, and Crumb as the main one. The themes of shyness and fear and how they can be overcome by kindness and support, are approached with tenderness, insight and humour. The pages are filled with delightful images, full of colour and humour, and the easily recognized strokes and detailed drawings that are the unique trademark of this talented illustrator.

Miss Hazeltine has opened a home for all cats – strays and others that suffer from fear and shyness. They pour in. Some are brought there by their owners. The cats’ fears stem from countless sources such as birds, mice, noise, and wool. Others fear the dark or the light. They fill Miss Hazeltine’s every corner. She confesses to them that she too, has fears: of mushrooms and owls.

The days are filled with lessons on how to overcome their insecurities. The cats practice and repeat what they are taught: how to hold their tails, and arch their backs, and meet new friends. But going out into the world to use these skills takes great courage.

One day the milk runs out, and Miss Hazeltine goes to get some but doesn’t come back. What has happened to her? What will happen to them if they don’t find her? Are the cats brave enough to face the outside world? Has Crumb gained the confidence to lead the cats out of the house, into the dark in scary places in a search for their beloved Miss Hazeltine?

This fantastic book with its eye-catching cover is aimed at the 3+ years age group, but there will be lots of adults reaching for this story filled with endless possibilities.

Friday, 9 October 2015

IckyPedia: A Dictionary of Disgusting New Words

IckyPedia: A Dictionary of Disgusting New Words by Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins Aka The Listies (Puffin) PB RRP $14.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

What on earth are ‘bookers’? Only one who delves into this self-acclaimed ‘gross and wonderful world’ will learn that bookers are what your book gets covered in when you sneeze on it. Similarly a nose-go zone is a place too smelly to visit. And a unipsycho, being a crazy person on a unicycle, is best avoided. Yes, there’s lots to learn in this seriously weird paperback which is sure to be on the reading ‘have to’ list by wacky kids aged 8 years and up.

Icky-Pedia is sure to have been a designer – and an illustrator’s -- nightmare being chocker-block full of many different typefaces, cartoons, comic strips, photographs, black and white and grey illustrations, break-outs and more.

Boring this book is not! You know from the two vomiting guys on the front cover (and the realistic raised flies on the swamp of vomit) to the first entry, a quote by Jane Austink (‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a bum in possession of some gas, must be in want of a fart’) exactly what to expect. But it’s not just vomit, farts, nose droppings and other body excretions that excite junior rebels; the book has some factual -- albeit hidden -- information,. For example, in the ‘E’ section of the dictionary, under the entry ‘Did you know’ and the introduction: ‘Australians like to celebrate things by ENBIGENATING them’, there’s reference to The Big Pineapple on the Queensland Sunshine Coast and The Big Poo in Kiama, NSW (and there – to prove the point – is an illustration of Kiama’s (sic) The Big Potato – though this big thing is actually located in Robertson, to the west of Kiama.)

Here are a few examples of entries under the letter ‘K’: KANGAROOSTER (the rarely seen half kangaroo, half rooster. Can be identified by its call, ‘Hopadoodledoo!), KISSEMBOWELL (to suck someone’s guts out through the act of kissing. See also PSYCHOPASH), and KINGPONG (a fart that smells exactly like a giant stressed-out gorilla). You must surely get the idea by now!

Will this book sell a heap for Penguin Books? Mmmm… it’s difficult to tell. What parent is going to want to have his or her child reading aloud all the disgusting entries in Icky-Pedia, perhaps at the dinner table? Or should one ask instead, what parent wants his or her child to simply read? And will librarians want to bring more warty, farty, bummy and other gross stuff into their schools? It all remains to be seen.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

How Turtle Got His Shell and Other Stories

How Turtle Got His Shell and Other Stories by James Vance Marshall, illustrated by Francis Firebrace (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 19.95
ISBN 9781922077219

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This collection of Dreamtime Myths, legends and folklore is amazing. The content focuses on the environment and nature, and how important it is to care for the earth and waterways. The stories are written in a way that will inspire children to focus on caring for our world, while they simultaneously learn the legends of our Indigenous people.

Compiled of ten stories in addition to several random pages on selected subjects, each story is followed by a page of information on the main object. For example, after the story of Why Young Koalas Cling to their Mother’s Back we learn about koalas: their main features, what they eat, their natural habitat, why their numbers are declining, and how they can be protected.

How Animals First Came to Australia heads the line. The information that follows tells us ‘why the animals of Australia are unique.’ It continues with the greed of a frog named Tidalick and his outcome, and about the vindictive Purrah, who stole the Desert people’s water and tried to hide in the clouds.

Learning about the role bees (there are 20,000 species) and flies (122,000 species) each with a specific role to play will change your perception of these two insects forever.

The title story of How the Turtle Got Its Shell is a legend of love and punishment for disobedience. The young Yiddiki, while out hunting, discovers a log that becomes the didgeridoo. A seemingly insignificant frill-necked lizard has the power to stop the drought, but can’t get anyone to listen to him.

There is a wonderful tale on how the Murray River was created and the last legend refers to Why the Stars of the Southern Cross Shine so Brightly.

All the stories are mesmerising. There is a rich Glossary at the end followed by two pages of Aboriginal Symbols and their Meaning.

The illustrations created with acrylics are outstanding. Rich earthy brown, ochre, black, green, blue and red represent the trees, rivers, sky and the people so beautifully. There are full-page illustrations without text, pages interspersed with text, and text decorated by art. Full of vibrant colour, this attractive book is a valuable learning tool for students of the 9+ age group, and those interested in Indigenous culture.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

My Secret War Diary by Flossie Albright

My Secret War Diary by Flossie Albright written by Marcia Williams (Walker Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781406331998

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The tremendously successful Archie’s War documented WW1 through the eyes of Archie as a child. Now Archie’s daughter, Flossy, has compiled her own diary about WW2. It covers 1939–1945.

Archie has joined the army and left nine year old Flossy to care for her baby brother. Flossy’s mother died after Boo was born.  They live at Honeysuckle Cottage on an estate in Dorchester with Great-Uncle Colin, who is head gardener. Flossy loves to draw and is given the diary to document the war and to keep her occupied and literate. The pages are filled to overflowing with drawings that share her life, and the lives of her friends and family. There is also fold-out family tree.

This is a marvellous scrapbook/diary. Its wealth of information is collected from many different sources. It’s compiled of statistics, local information, fold-out letters from home and overseas, newspaper cuttings, posters, photographs and maps. It relays the fears, thoughts, feelings, and extraordinary challenges faced during those difficult years, many from the point of view of children. This allows readers of the 9+ age groups to relate to the characters’ experiences, and learn about the war with interest.

Flossy’s humorous tone makes it a cheerful narrative, despite the sad happenings. Each historical entry magnifies the courage, resilience and resourcefulness of the children left behind to do adult work, knit for the soldiers, and to grow food to keep themselves alive. The power of the Women’s Land Army and the countless other women’s associations is never understated. Neither is the role the nurses played.

I found this a valuable book. I enjoyed every word and it is visually stimulating, educational and entertaining. It’s something children will love and return to over and over.