Monday, 2 May 2016

Trouble at Home

Trouble at Home by Cate Whittle, illustrated by Kim Gamble (Omnibus Books) PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-076-7

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

When Georgia’s family home was stolen – with baby brother Godfrey inside – she saw it happen. But no-one believes that she witnessed a dragon swoop down and fly off with the house and Godfrey. So Georgia and her brother Henry go in search of the dragon, following the only clues they have -- sarsaparilla and potato chip crumbs. But even if they find the dragon, can he be persuaded to give up their house and brother?

This is a fun story about family unity and a troublesome dragon. While the family can make do without the house by cooking on the barbeque and sleeping in the garden shed or car, they do miss Godfrey. And Georgia’s teacher doesn’t believe she actually did her project (or that a dragon carried it off with the house) and Mum is very weepy (being constantly worried about Godfrey).

Georgia’s voice is fresh, young and very entertaining. She is a spunky girl, determined and full of bravado when she faces the dragon. The secondary characters are well rounded, too, especially Henry and the dragon. Dragon is a huge personality; he and Georgia play off each other delightfully.
‘Now what are we supposed to do?’ I said, feeling a bit crazy.
The dragon looked thoughtful.
‘I could make you a cup of tea,’ he suggested.
‘...But you just stole our house!’
‘The cave was getting a bit dull.’
Our house!’ I repeated.
The dragon shrugged, his big wings shuddering. ‘I always take what I want. I have to. What else can I do?’
‘You don’t even fit inside!’ I shouted, while Henry tugged my arm.
‘Georgia,’ he whispered, ‘you’re shouting at a dragon.’
Of course, he had missed the bit where I had – possibly- vanquished the dragon in the staring contest, because he had fainted.

Enhancing this text are the illustrations of Kim Gamble, who many will recognise from the hugely popular Tashi series. These pictures show not only the action, but also give clues to the emotions and motivations of the characters.

They also help to create an appealing chapter book which is a great tale for boys and girls seven and up. Trouble at Home is the start of a new series so there will be plenty more adventures with Georgia and Dragon to be enjoyed.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Meet Don Bradman

Meet Don Bradman by Coral Vass, illustrated by Brad Howe (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-92532-489-1

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

I am a child of World Series Cricket. The colourful larrikins in their multi-coloured flares and sideburns seeded my lifelong and often misunderstood love of cricket. Between that and my love of superheros, I think my husband believes I was a 12 year-old-boy in a former life.

As an opening batswoman for my high school’s all-girl cricket team, my heroes included the likes of David Boon, Dean Jones and Geoff Marsh, but no one could ever deny that Australia’s pride and love of cricket would not be where it is without the ground-breaking career of Sir Don Bradman.

Meet Don Bradman is the latest release in Random House’s successful non-fiction Meet..picture book series. What I love about this series is that it not only showcases our prominent historical figures in a contemporary engaging way, but it also shows the depth of talent we have in our authors and illustrators, managing to pair just the right talents for each of the titles.

Coral Vass has written a factual text about Don Bradman’s rise to glory; however she has beautifully conveyed the life and times he lived in and why his success became so important to the average Australian during The Great Depression. Don Bradman’s humble beginnings resonate with so many and in retelling his story, Vass reminds us of his inspirational and at times wonky ascent to cricketing stardom. Who knew that Don Bradman at one point gave up cricket to be a junior champion tennis player or that he left school when he was 14 years old?

The evocative watercolours in Brad Howe’s illustrations are also highly entertaining and give you a feeling of a newspaper comic strip reminiscent of the age. His snapshots of Australian culture at the time will assist younger readers to understand how people consumed media and sport in the 1930s.

As always with the Meet….series, an historical timeline at the rear of the book details the specifics of Don Bradman’s illustrious career and make this book a great foundation for classroom learning. Don Bradman lives on through the iconic ‘Baggy Green’ he helped make famous.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Secrets We Keep

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman (UQP) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-0-7022-5421-5

Reviewed by Joanne Pummer

 This novel by Nova Weetman, is highly recommended for all children (9 yrs+), but it's especially relevant for children feeling anger towards a parent who's struggling with depression, mental illness or addiction.

Written in the first person, by eleven year old Clem, the story starts on the first day at a new school, when Clem and her Dad are living in a flat because their house has burnt down. The fate of her mother is a mystery; 'Mum was asleep' is all Clem tells us. This is the hook that entices the reader.

Clem's new friend, Ellie, is inquisitive about the reasons she has shifted schools.  'My mum died,' Clem says. Three words she'll live to regret. Ellie, believing she's found someone who understands, tells Clem her mother is dying of cancer.

We feel for Clem when she has flashbacks of her mother before the fire, in bed, crying, unable to cope with housework, the signs of depression. Ellie's mother dies and Clem is unable to face the funeral.

A turning point comes when Clem receives a letter from her mother and refuses to read it. Clem is angry, believing it was her mother who started the fire, When Ellie finds out she flees in tears, because Clem has lied to her.

I had a lump in my throat when Clem, eventually, between sobs, reveals her shameful secret. She wished her mother had died in the fire because it's easier to talk about a dying mother than one who's unavailable. My tears came at the last page, when Clem sees her mother at the school athletics carnival, with her 'arms out and ready' and Clem says ''Mum''.

Warning: Copious amounts of sugar were eaten by the characters, during the writing of this book.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Beetle Boy

Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard (Chicken House) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-910002-70-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

After the disappearance of his dad, Darkus is sent to live with his Uncle Max. The police seem to think his father ran away and have given up looking for him. So with the help of his uncle, his two new friends and the strange beetles that live in the dump next door, Darkus sets out to rescue his father.

This story hooked me straight away and I was surprised by just how much I loved it. Darkly humorous, the storyline is quirky and unique, with a huge dose of magical realism which sneaks up on the reader. The characters too, are wonderfully quirky, and though some appear on the surface to be a little clich├ęd, they become less so as the surface is scratched.

Darkus, brave and resourceful, becomes friends with two unlikely kids Bertold and Virginia. They are full of life and jump whole-heartedly into the adventure with him – although Bertold has to overcome his uneasiness with bugs. The ridiculous and horrible cousins who live next door are spectacular in their nastiness, and the vibrantly vile villain Lucretia Cutter has one redeeming feature, a beautiful daughter/fair damsel in distress Novak, to whom Darkus can appeal for help. Even Uncle Max who warned Darkus ‘Adventures are dangerous, Darkus, and villains are real.’ was up for helping the kids rescue his Darkus’ dad.

Darkus, Virginia and Bertold have the ultimate base camp from which to plan their moves. A den buried deep in a heap of furniture on enemy territory, with many different tunnels, escape routes and booby traps. This is the ultimate in cubby houses!

And then there are the beetles which include Baxter, Newton, Marvin and Hepburn. These are beetles unlike any I’ve seen or read about before. Larger than your average beetle, they have the advantage of being able to communicate with humans through body language - but only if the human in question cares to look closely enough. And it’s a good thing these beetles are on the side of good – aka Darkus and his friends – as they can provide a whole army.

This is an appealing book on many levels. The cover is eye catching, reflecting the humour and subject of the story inside, with beetles and insects climbing across the fore edge. Scattered throughout the pages are fabulous little illustrations of the beetles and people as well. It is an adventurous tale of a daring quest, with many nail-biting moments balanced out by very funny scenes.

Beetle Boy is for lovers of danger, quirkiness, beetles and great story telling. It will delight readers from the age of 10 years (but is a solid /lengthy read) and has an entomologist’s dictionary at the end for those who are beginners in the world of insects.

And better still, it is the first of a trilogy. 

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Tree

The Tree by Neal Layton (Walker Books)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781406358216

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It begins with a piece of land for sale. All that’s on the land is a tree. A couple arrive to build their home. They have a design of their house on hand and dreams of the outcome.

But unknown to the couple who must remove the tree to build the house, it is home to families: squirrels and owls and a burrow of rabbits. When the couple begin cutting, the families pour out of the tree in fear of their lives.

Distraught at what they’ve discovered, the couple cease their work. Is there a solution to be found? Can the needs of the animals that have made their home in the tree, and those of the humans be made compatible?

This is a fantastic picture book that reflects on how animals live in harmony; sharing their homes and natural surroundings. It’s a powerful message about humans being conscious of preserving and sharing nature with other living things in a way that accommodates them all.

This delightful picture book for the 3+ year age group has stunning illustrations in vibrant colours, and a strong environmental theme. It will surely initiate conversations at home and in early learning centres around its many important issues.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Emperor of Any Place

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780763669737

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Fascinating from the beginning, this dual point-of-view story is extremely powerful, confronting at times, imaginative, and deeply moving. It has many themes woven into it, the main ones being the futility of war and the chaos it leaves behind, family relationships, love, truth and trust. Presented in precise prose, it’s a book not to be missed.

When Evan’s father dies, the boy discovers an unusual book on his dad’s desk and begins to read. Two parallel stories begin, presented in alternating chapters.

Evan’s narrative is in third person. At seventeen, he is now alone in the world except for his grandfather Griff whom he’s never seen because of a falling out with Evan’s dad. Life-long critical stories heard about Griff from his dad built a bitterness and resentment against the old man in Evan. These negative feelings flare when Griff turns up suddenly. A career soldier, his regimented army life leaves no room for admitting or making mistakes, especially his own. Evan is unaware of the significant role his estranged grandfather will play in his life.

The second story is the one Evan is reading from the book. Written by the Japanese soldier, Isamu Oshiro, it’s told in the immediate first person, and begins in July, 1944. It starts as a journal meant to reach his new wife in the case of his death, but evolves into a continuous confession of love blended with his daily existence on the island.

A third voice, that of American soldier Derwood Kraft, shares Oshiro’s narrative later in the book.
Oshiro makes it to the island he later calls Kokoro-Jima, the Heart-Shaped Island. He is badly wounded and expects to die. But he survives amidst the company of flesh-eating ghouls, kept alive by the sheer will to live and return to his beloved. The island becomes his paradise until Kraft arrives. The two begin as wary enemies struggling to survive, but in fact they have much in common. Here we witness a parallel war to the one raging on the opposite island. This takes place between Kraft and Oshiro’s conscience and soldier’s ethics.

Here is a complex and multi-layered story with many parallels. It is a magnum opus, for the great skill needed to blend the portions of this magnificent creation into a fluid read is evident in the stunning outcome. This is a crossover novel suitable for young adult/adult readers.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Phantom Wings Over the North

Phantom Wings Over the North by Desmond O Connor (A&A Book Publishing) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN: 9780994329462

Reviewed by Ellie Royce

At 60 pages this slim volume nevertheless contains a big story. Twin
teenagers Joan and Mark join their prospector uncle Paddy and his mate Bluey for a camping holiday in the outback. But the group discovers more than they expected when they come across a mobile laboratory supposedly scouting for mineral deposits and realise that there is something unusual about the mysterious midnight aircraft flying in and out of the Pilbara.

This story took me back to books like “Swallows and Amazons” where there is so much information to be absorbed while relishing an adventure. With maps and colour photographs adding to the text, I almost felt as if I had visited the Pilbara by the time I finished reading.

Desmond O Connor’s personal experience as a pilot and surveyor shines through, endowing the fiction with authenticity and making for an absorbing reading experience.

Recommended for readers 12 years and up.