Friday, 25 April 2014

Life is Like the Wind

Life is Like the Wind by Shona Innes, illustrated by Irisz Agocs (Five Mile Press)
HC RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781760060558
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

‘Life is like the wind. When life goes, the body is very still’.

Coming to terms with, or understanding death is so difficult for children, and at times for many adults too. This simple, emotive, deconstructive approach to death, loss and grief, explains what happens when something or someone dies. It discusses various beliefs about where people go after death, and how a part of that person or thing remains alive in people’s memories.

In this second book in the Big Hug series by Clinical and Forensic Psychologist Shona Innes, feelings are addressed. What can be done to make loss feel less painful and how does one cope, regardless of age?

All the ideas and suggestions in these books encourage conversation and questions, and in discussing feelings, reasons and beliefs, a way of accepting death as part of life can be found.  

These exciting new and extremely well produced books are very well priced for a hardcover, and the superb watercolour paintings enhance the messages carried in the text. There is also a note to parents and teachers at the end of each book.


Thursday, 24 April 2014

Friendship is Like a Seesaw

Friendship is Like a Seesaw by Shona Innes, illustrated by Irisz Agocs (Five Mile Press)
HC RRP $ 14.95
ISBN 9781760060565
Reviewed By Anastasia Gonis

The stunning watercolour paintings by Hungarian illustrator, Irisz Agocs have brought Shona Innes’ exciting series of Big Hug books to life and imbued her words with a subtle, meaningful glow. This first one is released simultaneously with the second, Life is Like the Wind, with two more titles due mid-year.

Sensitive and sincere, soothing and gentle, it addresses the theme of friendship and its challenges, changes, and ups and downs.  The analogy of friendship being like a seesaw is perfect. It talks about rules in friendship, taking turns and sharing, balancing everything out, and doing nice things for each other.

The most impressive thing about this book is that it’s not directly aimed only at children. Adults and older people will also welcome this series of intelligently crafted books which ‘grew out of letters sent to children and their families after their psychology sessions’.

Shona Innes is a Clinical and Forensic and Psychologist who has patients of all ages and whose books ‘aim to give children and the people who care for them, a way to talk about problems’. And that sums it all up. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

My Australian Story: Kokoda

My Australian Story: Kokoda by Alan Tucker (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-205-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Written in diary form, Kokoda tells the story of World War II from the perspective of a young boy living in Townsville. With two older brothers on the battle front – Harold in the 2/14 Battalion, and Des in the 2/39th Militia Battalion – Archie is updated regularly on the action taking place off Australian soil from their letters home. Des (with Harold’s Battalion joining later) is sent to Port Moresby where his militia battalion has the task of defending the Kokoda Track from the advancing Japanese army.

This is a World War II story with a strong Australian feel. There is much focus on Archie’s life, and what it was like to live in the north of Australia during the war years. Townville was a base for the Americans and many of the local resented this. American soldiers enjoyed comforts local were unable to obtain due to rationing – even water was rationed at times. They lived in fear of Japanese invasion and bombing did occur occasionally in the parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland.

The diary entries show clearly how lack of information caused rumours to run rife. No-one really knew what was happening in the overseas theatres or where family members may be stationed at any given time. All this is recorded by fourteen year old Archie, through whose eyes everything seems a little exciting as well as a little frightening, but he is eager to learn about everything. And throughout the uncertainty of war, home life goes on and he has to deal with school, being the new kid, bullies, and getting a job.

This is a fascinating look at Australia’s war involvement between 1941 and 1942. It touches on peripheral subjects too, such as segregation in the US military and questions whether the Aussies treated Aboriginal recruits any better. It also raises the issues of leadership and what makes a good leader. 

While the focus is on Townsville and the Kokoda campaign, this is set in the context of the rest of the war. Mention is made of the Fall of Singapore, the Bombing of Darwin, Anzac Day services, the Battle of the Coral Sea and other relevant historical events as they happen. 

There are ten pages of historical notes at the end which help to explain the facts the author has drawn on to create this ‘darn good yarn’. Throughout the story, Australian humour, slang and values such as mateship and family shine through.

From the My Australian Story series, this story about the Kokoda campaign and Australia’s battle for the home front is a great tale for any child, ten years and up. The writing is very accessible, easy and entertaining and will suit those interested in war stories, adventure or Australian History. It is an absorbing coming of age journey, particularly for boys.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood, illustrated by Annie White (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-129-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Anzac Day honours the Anzacs who, among other campaigns, fought for a small area of land on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. Written by Kerry Greenwood, Gallipoli tells the story of Bluey and Dusty, close mates who are among the lucky ones to make it home at the end of the campaign. 

This is a well-written and wordy story which explores the issues of bravery, hardship, fear, humour and mateship. With much more text than is usual in a picture book, this is suitable for primary aged children. It includes interesting detail such as Simpson and his donkey Duffy, the Roses of No Man's Land (nurses), and the battles at Gaba Tepe and Lone Pine. 

The writing creates a little distance between the events and the reader. The story is more about what happens than a more personal account:

In between the fighting, an unexpected bond began amongst the exhausted enemies. They worked together to bury the dead and swapped gifts instead of gunfire.   The diggers offered bully beef, and the Turks gave fruit and sweets in return.

The emotion is in the pictures. Annie White's illustrations are watercolour, unusually soft and gentle for depictions of war. And it is the people who dominate these illustrations. Here, human emotions are beautifully expressed and shine strongly through. As well as full paged illustrations, White has painted sepia photographs, complete with photo corners, which run throughout the story, creating a feeling of a personal photograph album. These begin inside the front cover and continue all the way to the end pages where more recent photos of family round out a life story.

Between the text and the illustrations, a story of Aussie mateship, humour and stoicism is portrayed, making this a tale of Australians at Gallipoli with memories which can be shared with younger children as well as older.    

Monday, 21 April 2014

Archie’s War: My Scrapbook of the First World War

Archie’s War: My Scrapbook of the First World War by Marcia Williams (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406352689
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Archie Albright receives a scrapbook from his uncle for his tenth birthday in April, 1914.The entries end when he is 15 years old, in 1919. Full of fold-out cards and letters, clippings from newspapers, and posters of the era, we get a view of the First World War through Archie’s life, and his family members’ experiences.

Archie’s love of comics inspires the comic characters and drawings that make up this amazing scrapbook. It’s funny, clever, and imaginative. The humorous captions and banners present the harsh reality of war in a light-hearted (if possible) way. It allows children to learn the history of the war; the conditions the men fought in, and at the same time experience visually and verbally, how difficult life was for the people left behind at home in London.

This book won the UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association) Book Award. It is a reissue of the 2007 publication, and is suitable for all ages. The illustrations are highly detailed. The entire presentation is exceptional. Marcia Williams excels at creating books that appear like personalized journals and scrapbooks. She is the author of the outstanding Lizzie Bennet’s Diary.

Jack’s Bugle

Jack’s Bugle by Krista Bell, illustrated by Belinda Elliott (Windy Hollow Books)
HC RRP $25.99
ISBN 9781922081292
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Innocent about the meaning of war and looking for adventure along with so many others, Aidan Jackson, known as Jack, sets out for Gallipoli with his bugle. He becomes best mate to Harry, who later brings Jack’s bugle home.

This book is a salute to the men at Anzac Cove. It’s a hymn to the mateship and camaraderie shared in the sands of Egypt, and the trenches. And amidst the bullet fire, it’s always mates looking after mates with loyalty and sacrifice.

Ever present in the story is the bugle; Jack’s Bugle, that brought something singular to the men at Gallipoli and which remained along with a bent photo, the only reminder for Harry of his friend.

Krista Bell has again used a single object - the bugle - to create an interesting reflection on the war that was to end all wars. The story of the bugle is in itself a whole separate tale, uncovered at the end. These books are treasures and serve to remind us Lest We Forget.

Outstanding watercolour illustrations by Belinda Elliott take the reader back to the time and place perfectly with her perceptive translation of the text.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete

Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete by Stella Tzobanakis (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 18.99
ISBN 9781742030821
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Creforce was the name of the Commonwealth and Allied Forces of Crete. This reissue from The Drum series concentrates on the Australian and New Zealand Forces that took part in the historic ten-day Battle of Crete. It also covers the invasion of the Greek mainland, and includes an expansive history of WW2 during those catastrophic times.
The Battle of Crete was fought in May 1941, when German paratroopers fell from the sky, with the ANZAC, British and Greek units defending the island. The Germans encountered mass resistance from the island’s population. The Cretan’s knowledge of the mountains and their ability to survive there indefinitely proved to be their greatest weapon against the German invaders.

Lack of food forced soldiers to depend on the charity of strangers. What little they had was shared with the soldiers. Whole villages paid if a person was discovered harbouring an enemy of the Germans. The accounts of the Allied soldiers’ heroic attempts to fight with a shortage of guns and ammunition, in tattered clothing and shared boots, is deeply moving.

The statistics here are amazing. The layout is terrific. Its informative fact boxes include biographies of famous people associated with the Greek Resistance. Archival photos appear throughout the book. Customs, traditions, language, music, and past history of the island form the background of this comprehensive narrative on the invasion of Greece and Crete during WW2.