Saturday, 17 March 2018

Mackenzie Tanaya and the Faerie Key: An Epic Adventure for children

Mackenzie Tanaya and the Faerie Key: An Epic Adventure for children written and illustrated by Josh Reid (Fernhill Clockwork Story Factory) PB RRP $5.99

This is a slim (34 pp) book which is the first in a serial novel for readers aged 7 to 9 years. As the author says, Charles Dickens first published The Old Curiosity Shop as a weekly publication until all episodes were complete. Reid hopes to do the same thing, hoping that the finished novel manuscript will be taken by a publisher. As he progresses towards publication, he also hopes for readers to provide him with feedback.

The book starts with a double page spread of the five characters who appear in Episode #1; they are the hero, Mackenzie Tanaya, her Nanny and Poppy, Chess the family dog and best friend Annie who lives over the road. In the first chapter ‘Every Story has a Beginning’ we read that before this story begins, Lilith, the Dungbeetle Queen, is the Destroyer of Worlds. She has almost destroyed the world of Faerie. ‘Only the power of the Silver Tree saved them in those days, by locking the doors, and forging a golden key.’ Now, however, Faeries is once again in grave danger…

After the prologue, the story shifts to Fairy Meadow school which is where the reader meets school girl and protagonist Mackenzie and her BFF Annie, both aged ten. At home, where her grandparents live while Mum and Dad are at work, Mackenzie decides to explore her back garden with Chess. While there, she is knocked into shrubs when a chook flies at her. This is no ordinary part of the garden: it has a magic path. From it, she slides downwards. And this is where the first book in the series ends.

Reid has spent all this episode introducing the characters and setting of the story so there is very little action until right at the end. Now that Mackenzie is in an alien place, one assumes that the next book will be action-packed. Episode #2 is titled Cold, Wet, Muddy and Miserable. This book and the third are already published and can be obtained from

The illustrations in the book are all paintings in thick, mostly primary colours. The picture of the chook attacking Mackenzie towards the end of the book is particularly effective.

Thursday, 15 March 2018


Missing by Sue Whiting (Walker Books Australia) PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 781760650032

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

‘In the dead of the night we run away.’ From the very beginning of new middle grade mystery Missing by Sue Whiting, we’re drawn into 12-year-old Mackenzie’s plight. Her bat biologist mother is missing – last seen on a field trip in Panama. And now, Mackenzie and her father are boarding a plane to try and find her.

The clever structure of this story sees each chapter veering between ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ as Mackenzie puts together the pieces of what may have happened. Mackenzie’s inner journey is one of denial and determination as she clings to the idea that her mother might still may be alive.

The writing is tight and compelling, with a strong and relatable voice in Mackenzie. The real places in the story, from the southern Sydney suburbs to the streets of Panama, are vividly brought to life. As you hurtle towards the end of the story (and yes, this is a book you’ll want to devour in one go), the tension and emotions intensify until the stunning final scene.

Based on the startling statistic that nearly 38,000 people are reported missing each year in Australia, Missing is a heartbreaking yet hope-filled exploration of the ones left behind.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure by Kaye Newton (Linland Press, January 2018) RRP $12.36 for paperback, $7.99 for eBook. ISBN - 978-0692986370

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This guide includes lists of books that hook children on reading, advice on managing book time vs screen time, and tips on how to make the required reading for school more enjoyable. It is targeted at parents, grandparents, librarians, teachers, and anyone who wants to promote reading to children. The reader’s motivation for writing the book began when her own children were eleven and fourteen: neither of them read books for pleasure although they had been avid readers when younger. Both, along with their friends, preferred to spend their free time playing Xbox Live, texting and skimming social-media sites.

Of course, the answer is obvious: give them books rather than electronic gadgets and insist on reading. However, in today’s world that’s not how it works. Thus it was that Newton, an American mom, set out to lead her screen-loving children back to reading for pleasure.

Her book is divided into two parts: Part One is understanding reading motivations and challenges while Part Two is titled ‘Carrying out a reading challenge.’ Newton explores subjects such as understanding the types of readers and promoting reading, introducing reading for pleasure and finding the right book that will hook a teenager. She examines reading rewards and whether they work, making reader ‘the most interesting activity in the room’ and more. Early in the piece she states that reading experience changes for teens when they are required to meet testing standards and to read informational texts and textbooks. To substantiate these claims, she quotes figures that show that 53% of nine-year-olds versus 17% of 17-year-olds are daily readers.

To hook readers, Newton, following the Kids and Family Reading Report that ‘nearly three-quarters of both books and girls say they would read more if they could find more books they like’. Thus, she says, ‘finding the right book is key to getting an adolescent hooked on reading.’ Probably the most important chapter in her book is devoted to listing books for interests and age groups. For instance, for teens wanting to read and escape and experience exciting worlds, she would recommend books such as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Maximum Ride, or Harry Potter. There are many books listed with brief synopses given of each book.

Doubtless Newton managed to finally get her teens hooked on to reading using her various methods. For any parent (or teacher) keen to increase reading activity, this book has many ideas which they might like to implement.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Quark’s Academy

Quark’s Academy by Catherine Pelosi (Lothian)

PB RRP $15.99

IBSN 9780734417800

Reviewed by Kate Simpson

“No parents, pets or soft toys allowed.” Quark’s Academy is the story of three young science whizz kids, Augustine, Celeste and Oscar, who are invited to spend a week at the prestigious Quark’s Academy to compete in the Best Invention Competition and win a prize of unspecified riches. But as the week progresses, it becomes clear that the academy is not what it seems and more is at stake than the offered prize money. It’s a sparkling and delightful debut from Catherine Pelosi, bursting with imagination and adventure.

Quark’s Academy is to science and invention what Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory is to candy-making. It’s packed full of fun, futuristic and sometimes downright outlandish inventions like jet packs, weather makers and an invention to combine the DNA of different animal species: fancy a lion mixed with an antelope? An anaconda crossed with an elephant? Anything is possible at Quark’s Academy.

With strong male and female protagonists, this book will appeal to both boys and girls aged 8 and up with a taste for fun and adventure. And if they weren’t science fans before they read the book, they will be afterwards.  

Monday, 19 February 2018

Shout Out to The Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to The Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women (Penguin Random House). HB RRP $29.99   ISBN 9780143789420

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

If, as Australians, we want role models for our girls to become amazing women, and our boys to respect and honour women, it is incumbent upon us to share the kinds of stories found in this recently published book.

Fifteen women employed by the publisher have written biographies of 50 incredible Australian women, some (like Mary MacKillop, Nancy Wake and Ita Buttrose) who are nationally known, and others (Sia, Aheda Zanetti and Alice Anderson) who are lesser known.  An early, fully-qualified mechanic, Anderson (1897 – 1926), for example, was founder of the Women’s Automobile Club, and opened her own business, Kew Garage, where she employed an all-female staff of mechanics and apprentices.

The women featured in this book are by no means all Anglo (such as motivationalist Turia Pitt, comedian and disability activist Stella Young, artist Nora Heyson); there are, for example, a number of aboriginal women, such as film-maker Rachel Perkins, Sudanese-born mechanical engineer, author and activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied, third generation Chinese Kylie Kwong and author Melina Marchetta of Italian heritage, and many others. Tribute is even paid to transgender Jordan Raskopoulos, an internationally acclaimed comedian.

The chosen women’s sphere of influence is wide-ranging, embracing for instance, fields such as human rights, politics, car racing, social work, film and theatre production and much more. Quite a few women are advocates (including for women’s health, aboriginal rights, brain cancer, the environment, the arts).

Thanks to this book, for the first time this aged feminist reviewer came upon the stories of Felicity Wishart, Ella Havelka, Dharmic Mistry and Daisy Pearce. One of the featured women has won four Academy Awards (Catherine Martin), has led Australia (Julia Gillard), been honoured as Australian of the Year (burns surgeon Fiona Wood), represented Australia internationally (Paralympian skier Jess Gallaher). There’s even young Jade Hemeister (2001 --) who’s explored the Artic!

Each of the one-page biographies is colourfully illustrated by 34 talented women artists, giving art students a great reference for a variety of portraiture.

The women in Shout Out for the Girls must surely show both sexes that women can and do succeed in whatever industry they decide to enter. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Curly Tales: short stories with a twist

Bill Condon (text), Dave Atze (illus.),  Curly Tales: short stories with a twist,  Big Sky Publishing, 1 Sept 2017,  100pp.,  $12.99 (pbk),  ISBN: 9781925520590

Curly Tales includes fourteen very short stories for children eight years plus, ranging in length from a few pages to around twelve pages. Each story features an animal as its central protagonist, and concludes with a twist on a well-known proverb. For example, a story about a famous tv personality who happens to be a pig, and who fatefully changes his life based on the advice of the artist Van Geek, concludes with ‘Beware of Geeks bearing gifts’. The proper proverbs are included at the end of the book, along with an explanation of their meaning.
The characters in the stories are creatures great and small – worms, elephants, gorillas, fleas and more. They find themselves in some crazy situations, often because of their wish to escape the confines of their usual life: Gertrude the worm gets to fly, Wally the wolf plays dress ups and Fifi discovers what is so great about being a flea. Some of the stories don’t end well for the protagonists – they meet their ends eaten by a lion, flushed down a bath plug or set in concrete. For others the outcome is far better, and often they learn valuable life lessons.
Simple line drawings feature regularly, bringing the stories to life with a lot of humour and action. The print is large and broken up by occasional changes of font as well as a front page for each story, so reluctant readers will find it easy to move forward through the text.  The stories themselves often veer into unexpected territory, featuring funny characters and situations that will raise a giggle. It’s a shame that the gender balance is so uneven – nine stories feature male characters, whilst only three have a female at their centre, although these are clever, adventurous females. The remaining two stories feature a wife/husband couple, and the females at least are a masterful chef and a trapeze artist. Overall these are fun stories and would be a great way to introduce the idea of proverbs.
Reviewed by Rachel Le Rossignol

Friday, 15 December 2017

Letters from the Dead

Letters from the Dead by Dawn Meredith (Dingbat Publishing) PB RRP $18.50
ISBN 9781977720702

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Delia Fox is a nineteen year old university student who discovers she has a unique gift. During a horrific accident at the café where she works, she learns that she can read the last memories of the recently departed just by touching them.

Unfortunately for Delia this gift is a double-edged sword. It makes her feel empowered and she considers it ‘a privilege to be the recipient of a soul’s last memories’. However, most people are infuriated that she interferes with the dead. One of the very few people who appreciate Delia’s special gift is a police inspector, Jonah Rainbird, who seeks her assistance to solve complex cases. Delia happily begins working with Jonah but encounters more resistance than she bargained for. Her family, her boyfriend, Jonah’s colleagues and others, show their disapproval in a variety of hurtful and disturbing ways. Yet despite the negativity from most people in her life, Delia feels it is her duty to fight for the dead and let them be heard. But at what cost?

The story is written in the first person, told through Delia’s eyes. As Delia loved getting lost in Shakespeare’s sonnets, each chapter opens with a Shakespeare quote for readers to contemplate. This 400+ page fictional novel is targeted towards adults who love drama and suspense. It has themes of death, crime, corruption, revenge and love. Letters from the Dead is a page-turner definitely worth a read!