Saturday, 29 July 2017

To the Moon and Back

To the Moon and Back by Dianne Bates (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925520293
Reviewed by Patricia Bernard

First let me say that I could not put down this gentle, sweet book. I read it in three days, enjoying every minute of it. To begin with, its title To the Moon and Back is perfect. It reminded me of how I also said the same thing when my children asked me how much I loved them.

This story is as much about Claire’s mother’s breaking-up marriage and the beginning of her new love affair as it is about Claire who is watching, although not always understanding the change in her mother. Claire loves her father and cannot understand why they now live apart from him. She isn’t keen on sharing her father with his new girlfriend and she isn’t keen on sharing her mother with this new man called Mac, who she will never call father. Claire feels bit lost, especially after her father disappears from her life. How does she fit into these new relationships? What is her place? Why don’t her parents love her the way they used to when she was smaller?

The character of Claire is so well written that the reader begins to identify and care for Claire from the book’s first page. As a reader I worried over how the story would end and what would happen to Claire as she moves from school to school, from best friend to best friend and from house to house. I need not have worried:  the author, Dianne Bates, knew exactly what she was writing about.

This book is unique in its treatment of an all too familiar situation for many children. It certainly is an appealing read for both adults and children, especially those between 8 and 12 years. It offers hope and adventure and I love the ending. This is an ideal book for school libraries. There are many children like Claire and To the Moon and Back offers a soothing, gentle way of them easing into the awkward situation of feeling left out.   

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A Cardboard Palace

A Cardboard Palace written by Allayne L Webster, (Midnight Sun Publishing) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN 978-1-92-522725-3

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

The back cover blurb claims this novel to be a humbling story about one boy’s desperation to escape a life of crippling poverty. And yes, the book is definitely this. But it is also so much more. A Cardboard Palace is a deeply engaging, thoughtful and ultimately life-affirming book that captures the reader from the very opening lines where action and characters are instantly present on the page. We meet eleven-year-old Jorge as he’s being clipped over the ear by his nasty boss Bill, while preparing to rob an old man with smiling eyes and a walking stick.

Jorge lives on the outskirts of Paris in a cardboard house, along with an army of child thieves. Stolen from their faraway homelands with the promise of making money for their struggling families, Jorge and the other children from this shanty town are under the control of Bill. Bill lives in an apartment with running water and a soft bed, while the children are forced to spend their waking hours stealing money and wallets from the millions of people who pour through the city centre.

The Paris of Jorge’s childhood is markedly different to the Eiffel Tower tea-towels and glossy travel brochures. The children’s Paris is harsh, dynamic and tinged with danger.

I love that we travel alongside Jorge; feeling the challenge and conflict of hunger, of criminal activity and of being unsafe. We laugh at his wonderful capacity for humour (especially sarcastic one-liners) and broader observations, and marvel at the dreams he manages to hold. We are drawn into this harsh yet remarkably human community where we’re not asked to feel sorry for Jorge, but rather to appreciate the world from his point of view. We see the obstacles in his way and hope that he’ll overcome them.

This is a captivating story that will transport both girls and boys into the action-packed and often seedy underbelly of Paris, a city that holds great sway in the collective imagination. This book is highly recommended.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Song Bird: The Battle of Bug World (Book 2)

Song Bird: The Battle of Bug World (Book 2) by Karen Tyrrell (Digital Future Press) PB RRP $14.95   ISBN 9780994302182

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Weird things were happening around town. Not only had the bees disappeared, but there were storms like never before, a black tornado over the next-door neighbour’s house, a giant sink hole in the main street and, to top it off, Rosie’s sister Raven had gone missing!

Rosie is convinced that Frank, the bully next door, has something to do with the strange events and she is determined to get to the bottom of it. Rosie Bird is a school girl who can transform herself into Song Bird Superhero using her voice to fuel her superpowers. Rosie’s teacher and mentor, Miss Darling (aka Wonder Girl), convinces Rosie to go to the Bug World theme park to look for her sister - ‘Be Brave. Be Song Bird.’

Rosie decides to take on the challenge and asks her two best friends for help. With Amy and Ben by her side, Rosie sets out on a mission to find her sister and seek some answers. But, of course, it’s not that easy. Firstly, Rosie’s voice is croaky and sore, hindering her superpowers. Secondly, Frank appears at Bug World and Rosie starts believing he is somehow able to block her superpowers. What is Frank capable of? Can the trio save Raven? Can they stop the weird climate changes?

Song Bird: The Battle of Bug World is the second book in the Song Bird series of fantasy chapter books. Karen dedicates this book to ‘all those who deeply care about the Earth and the Environment’. In addition to highlighting environmental issues, this book contains themes of friendship, teamwork and diversity. It is suitable for children 7-10 years old who enjoy hero and villain stories. Teacher notes and children’s activities can be found on the author’s website ( Song Bird (Book 3) is due for release in 2018.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Dreaming Collection

The Dreaming Collection written and illustrated by Queenie Chan, (TOKYOPOP) 2010, PB  RRP $26.99 ISBN 9781427818713

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

This omnibus edition comprises Volumes 1-3 of The Dreaming graphic novel, a mystery-horror story inspired by Picnic at Hanging Rock, for readers 13+ years. The illustrations are fabulous. Each page overflows with action and emotion and  the backgrounds are full of realistic, careful, architectural features. Many teenage girls will love the detail on the Victorian costumes and the manga inspired look of characters.

Less successful is the storyline which has occasional lapses in continuity. Twin sisters Jeanie and Amber arrive at a mysterious boarding school deep in the Australian bush. Here they must pretend they are NOT twins, because the scary ancient principal, Mrs Skeener, doesn’t tolerate twins. Slowly, Mrs Skeener’s secrets, and the secrets of the school, are explained.  Ever since the school was founded, girls have wandered into the surrounding bushland and vanished. The third volume reveals that the disappearances are the work of the Quinkan. These are wicked aboriginal night spirits which lure sleeping children into the bush.  After a dramatic climax, evil is thwarted and the school burns to the ground. But the experience has damaged both sisters and they grow apart.

In an interview included in the book Queenie Chan admits she has taken ‘quite a few liberties with the Quinkan’.  These may not concern the US audience or publishers of the books, but they did worry me. 

Overall, though, The Dreaming looks amazing and has enough suspense to keep young readers eagerly turning the pages.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Fabled Kingdom Book 1

Fabled Kingdom Book 1 by Queenie Chan, (Bento Comics) PP RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781925376029

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Queenie Chan has written and illustrated The Fabled Kingdom Book 1, an intriguing graphic novel that updates fairytales into a modern world.  Its striking cover will draw readers, and gives a glimpse of what will unfold.

The book, which suits readers from 12 years and up, is the first in a series of three, with three central characters, each being based upon the era of kingdoms. It is divided into seven parts that clearly depict the journey of the book’s protagonist Celsia. She is a modern-day ‘Red Hood’ who is training with her grandmother to become a healer in a small village deep in the woods. Things are not all as they seem and before long, Celsia discovers her grandmother isn’t her real grandmother. Thus she flees her village on a quest of self-discovery. Quillon, Celsia’s childhood friend who is entrusted with keeping her safe, joins her, along with Pylus, a loveable faun, whom she meets on a never-ending brick path.  Each character plays their role, but it is refreshing to see a strong female character as the leader and decision-maker.

With unanswered and puzzling questions about her origins, Celsia must seek out her true-born grandmothers who are both powerful queens of magical kingdoms. By uncovering the truth of her heritage, Celsia is able to save the troubled kingdom of Fallinor whose people have been asleep for 60 years. Invasion and politics of the day has kept this troubled kingdom hidden behind a big, black wall of brambles. In her quest, Celsia is finally able to understand her own identity.

Detailed manga-style comic illustrations strongly support the written text and add layers of meaning to the story while the text is imaginative and well-written with a steady pace that is sure to keep readers gripped and wanting to know more. Different fairytales with an original spin appear throughout the story. The Fabled Kingdom certainly won’t disappoint readers of this genre.

Author-illustrator Queenie Chan who has a background in graphic design, is based in Sydney: her first professionally published work was The Dreaming Series. She has also worked with best-selling authors such as Dean Koontz and is well-regarded for her work in the Australian graphic novel and comic industry.

The reviewer, Karen Hendriks, is a children’s author and speaker whose

Thursday, 20 July 2017

In my World: ‘Wheels of Fire’ and ‘The Basketball Tree’

In my World: ‘Wheels of Fire’ and ‘The Basketball Tree’ by Carole Lander, 
(Checkword Publications 2016)

Reviewed by Lucinda Gifford

All children whether they live with a disability or not encounter disabled people through school, family and friends. The list of books featuring relatable disabled characters is slowly growing, but we still need more and more children's books where people with disabilities take the lead.  In my World contains two stories where the characters do just that: 'Wheels of Fire' and 'The Basketball Tree'. In both stories, the protagonist is a normal person in a normal situation who just happens to live with a disability – and who overcomes common prejudice and perceived physical issues to achieve their potential.

In 'Wheels of Fire,' the main character Bec describes her alter ego – Rebecca. 'Rebecca' is all the things Bec isn't. She's popular at school and good at sport; her parents aren't divorced and she lives in a big house. Meanwhile, the 'real' Bec is just the 'girl in the wheelchair', overlooked at school and sidelined by her peers.

Despite this, 'Wheels of Fire' is not a 'problem' book. Told with insight and without sentimentality, it is an optimistic story about making friends, being thoughtful, taking time to accommodate difference – and catching thieves! And it adds to the valuable (but still too short) list of books where the main character, while not being defined by their disability, is in a wheelchair.

In 'The Basketball Tree', Sam is a 'little person' who just happens to love basketball, a sport normally reserved for more lanky humans. Sam is no victim. He's a strong-willed and lively boy with loyal friends and a loving family. During the story we meet a 'bully' who turns out to have a few physical challenges of his own, and Sam learns that he's not the only one living with difference.

Both 'Wheels of Fire' and 'The Basketball Tree' are valuable stories about children with disabilities dealing with common events and also having a positive impact on their community.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Goldie Makes the Grade

Goldie Makes the Grade (Little Paws series) written by Jess Black, illustrations by Gabriel Evans (Penguin Random House Australia) PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 978-0-14-378183-7

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Goldie Makes the Grade is one in a series of four short chapter books about the puppies that train to become Guide Dogs and the families who look after them. If I were back in primary school now, I know I would have devoured every one of these! For reviewing purposes I have read just this title in the series.

Author Jess Black has penned all four books, and hopefully illustrator Gabriel Evans has also worked on each. The simple, black and white pencil sketches dotted throughout this story are wonderfully evocative and well-placed to support the narrative. The delightful storyline is engaging and very readable.

Goldie is a fourteen-month old Labrador who is due to leave eight-year-old Abby Agresta and her family soon, to begin her final Guide Dog training.
However, young Abby faces the urgent dilemma of clearing Goldie’s ‘name’ in order to ensure that she will be accepted as a service dog. An unfortunate incident in the Agresta household involving cupcakes, has cast some doubt on Goldie’s ability to control her Labrador eating instincts!

This short chapter book punches well above its weight in terms of providing thoughtful ideas for both individual pondering and further classroom discussion. Without being at all ‘preachy,’ it opens up issues of gender and cultural stereotypes, friendships, loyalty, standing up for what you believe in, self-empowerment and doing the right thing, and, of course, information about looking after a guide dog puppy.

I really enjoyed the fact that although child and dog share a very close bond (Goldie even sleeps on Abby’s bed), the story doesn’t delve into the sadness that the two will feel at the time of separation. It rather focuses on the gifts that will be brought to both Goldie and her future vision-impaired owner.

A section with interesting facts and further information is included at the end of the story. An added bonus is that ‘Buying this book helps me become a Guide Dog!” as claimed by the gorgeous golden Labrador on the front cover.

Both girls and boys of primary school age will enjoy, and be informed by, this book.