Friday, 27 March 2015

Stand Up and Cheer

Stand Up and Cheer by Loretta Re (The Wild Colonial Company)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780992306922
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

I enjoyed everything about this book from the factual storyline crafted with perfect prose, to the outstanding characters - both bad and good. All my senses stood at attention from the first page to the last. Right from the beginning, a strong sense of time, place, and social conditions is projected.

It is 1934 in Albury situated on the border of NSW and Victoria. Ten year old Jack is passionate about and well-versed on the subject of planes and the history of aviation. When the Great Centenary Air Race from Britain to Melbourne is announced, all he wants is go to Melbourne to see the planes come in. His father, ‘the Voice of the ABC’, is calling the race. It is a time of great adventure and achievement, but also of great poverty due to unemployment.

Mac Robertson, the chocolate king, announces a free trip to Melbourne. The winner must collect the marked wrappers from Cherry Ripe that spell out ‘Centenary Air Race’. Jack sees winning the competition as his only chance of getting to Melbourne.

Jack’s heartbreaking experience with the town’s bully and his stash of wrappers is one of the many sub-stories that make this book so fantastic. Seamlessly knitted to Jack’s story are the disastrous events that cause the Uiver to be blown off course during a fierce storm. Subtly sifted into that is the conflict that occurs in Jack’s father’s working life. This is juxtaposed with his courageous actions that save the plane and crew, and put Albury on the map.

Loretta Re has written a powerful fictional account of a great Australian historical event in such a way, that it is impossible to put the book down. It has so many themes threaded through it that I’m unable to list them all. The writing is full of vivid scenes, and not a single unnecessary word exists anywhere.

I haven’t been so completely absorbed in a book, or enjoyed one so much, in the longest time. It is aimed at the 8-12 age groups but has everything readers of any age want from a story.

Thursday, 26 March 2015


Home by Carson Ellis (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406359428
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

There are many definitions of Home. There are also many places to call home. It might be in a house on wheels, a city underwater, a hollow in a tree, a large apartment building or a tiny house. There are so many options to claim. Don’t forget that there was on old woman who lived in a shoe. There’s one in this book too, along with all her children.

In Home, Carson Ellis’ first complete book, we are introduced to the many places people and animals call their home. She examines the what, who and why of homes around the world, and the different types of living arrangements that depend on climate and country, lifestyle and affordability.

Ellis’ exquisite style and colour choice for her illustrations accentuates her clever and minimal use of words. Darker shades are used than are normally found in children’s books, but this choice serves the theme and text well. There is a large amount of visual information to be found in the illustrations. This book is ideal for an adult to share with a child of 3+, for questions and discussion will be born from the detailed images. It is also a stimulating book for children to imagine and create their own stories with, simply from the illustrations alone.

Whether it is a nest, a boat or a wigwam, a palace, the home of a Japanese businessman, or a Slovakian duchess, home is where you live and are happy.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Nanna’s Boot Camp

PB RRP $15 eBook $7.99
ISBN 9780987543462
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Nanna’s Storm was Indigenous author and painter Vicki Griffin’s first book. This is her second and certainly not her last, for her heritage inspires her artistic expression.

The four children are sent off to Nanna’s boot camp. They expect an adventure but don’t know what they will experience.  Here boot camp takes on a new meaning. A huge boot hangs against the wind at the doorstep. Other dirty boots are piled up outside the tent. What does all this mean? Who owns these boots?

Nanna and the mob wade into the creek. The net comes up full of prawns. They cook them over a campfire and the tale of the boots is heard.

Uncle Joe arrives minus one boot. He claims the other from the wind and hook, and also catches his dinner of prawns. But he comes out minus his boots. They will now wait in the water for the dry season. Another pair of boots is added to the creek by Jacob. Now two pairs of boots await the dry season. That means a return to Nanna’s boot camp.

This simple tale incorporates so much. It talks of family and love, sharing of oral traditions over campfires with the younger mob, and a sense of place and belonging. All this is told in picture book form in a fun-loving way for the 5+ years’ age group. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Last Thirteen Book 11: 3

The Last Thirteen Book 11:3 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-194-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.

In this, the eleventh instalment of the globetrotting, action packed adventure The Last Thirteen, Sam finds himself searching for the next Dreamer and her gear in the Australian Outback.  The eleventh Dreamer is someone Sam knows well and this time, in the search which takes him below Uluru, Stella and Solaris are hot on his heels and closer than they have ever been. After losing a friend in the most recent stage of the search, Sam is determined not to lose another in Australia. It will take great skill by Sam and the Dreamers to manipulate their own dreams to keep their enemies at bay and win the gear for themselves.

Meanwhile, captured by pirates, Alex, Hans and Dr Kader have their own battle to win before they can continue on their quest. Alex's relief at being rid of these pirates cannot quite overcome his anxiety about Han's true motivations towards Antarctica, the next gear and the Dreamgate.

Shiva discovers that Stella's headquarters are at the nuclear disaster site of Chernobyl in the Ukraine, so Lora, Xavier and a team of the remaining loyal guardians plan to storm the hideout. But is this a trap set by their enemies?

Once again the three storylines are told in alternating chapters, sometimes intersecting, but always thrilling and integral to the central plot. The closer we get to the end of the race, the more intense and nail biting the adventure gets.

With only two more instalments to go, readers (10+) will be reaching for the next in the series without pausing for breath. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Imagine a City

Imagine a City by Elise Hurst (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-009-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Imagine a train to take you away is the first line in a beautifully magical journey into a land of fantasy. The words are few, just a sentence to every double page, but deeply evocative, ‘A world without edges’. Each sentence stands alone, and is part of the bigger picture of the story.  If you take the text alone, it is a lovely poem.
The black and white illustrations are stunning. They draw the reader even further into a fantastical place, where bears hold up bridges, paintings do not end at their frames, fish fly through the sky carrying passengers and stories escape from the pages of books.   Among the whimsical fantasy of the story are a boy, a girl and their mother, whose appearance on each page gives a consistency and solidity to a story which otherwise may have flown away.
Along with the juxtaposition of real and imaginary, are the contrasted concepts of past and present, large and small.
There is so much to see in every wonderful picture. This story will engage and expand the imagination of readers, boys and girls, from three to adults. 
It’s a city like you've never seen before. Get ready to explore!

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780763669638
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This stunning collection follows the evolution of poetry through time and objects. The introduction gives an historical overview of the changing periods of poetry. Beginning from the Early Middle Ages, 400-1000 and ending in Contemporary times, a great many objects are used as a single theme or themes in every poem.

Great preparation and research has been conducted to compile these 77 pages of poems by a variety of authors from all over the world. Included are Rumi, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, William Wordsworth, Robert Burns, Tennyson, and many that are not well known names, but whose poetry is highly commendable.

As in all collections, there are always poems that stand out from the others for some related reason or other. The Death of the Hat by Billy Collins, which comes close to the end and is the title poem, is clever and thought-provoking. It speaks of times past and habits lost. Stick and Hat by Emporer Le Thanh Tong from the Renaissance Period offers wisdom and insight into the use of two common objects and their versatility.  Boxes and Bags by Carl Sandberg, Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath, and An Hymn to the Evening by Phillis Wheatley are also poems  I’ve chosen for their specific messages.

Readers will find their own favourites and perhaps all the poems will fall under this heading for some. No poetry enthusiast will be disappointed with the selection Paul B. Janeczko has chosen. Illustrations in watercolour and ink support each poem and add beauty to the rhyming and non-rhyming verse presented in this production for the 8+ age group (which includes adults of course).


Saturday, 21 March 2015

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy (Allen & Unwin)
YA Speculative Feminist Anthology RRP$16.99
ISBN 9781743319789

In late 2012, Australia and India were rocked by violent crimes against young women. In Delhi, thousands protested against rape. In Melbourne, thousands stood vigil in memory of a young woman raped and murdered while walking home. The fate of all young women, what they should fear and what they can hope for, were hot topics in the media around the world. Out of that storm rose the idea for this anthology. (From the introduction)

To see a collection such as this, written specifically for young people with its feminist message by contemporary authors who crossed cultural boundaries  and set in exciting alternate and dystopian worlds and different realties hit all the right notes for me.

The anthology includes seventeen works of fiction, including a play and six graphic stories written by twenty-two authors and illustrators and set in dystopian or fantasy worlds and sometimes in distant galaxies.

Contributors were given the added challenge of working in collaboration with a partner from the other country on which they give an insight in brief notes at the back of the book.

My favourite stories include ‘Cast Out’ by Samhita Arni, ‘Cat Calls’ by Margo Lanagan and ‘Memory Lace’ by Payal Dhar; I also was immersed in the graphic story by Isobelle Carmody through the illustrative style of Prabha Mallya. In 'Cast Out', girls showing signs of magic, even in self-defence, are cast off in the ocean to die a gruesome death. The main character also finds herself in this position, and what she finds will change her life as much as it has been saved. 

Reading the inspiration behind the story which was based on conversations between Samhita Arni and her Australian counterpart, Alyssa Brugman, on feminism and consumerism gave an insight into how this story came to be. Brugman’s story ‘Weft’ is a very different, thought-provoking story showing the main character’s reflections while she is in the process of buying a full head of hair.

This is a strong contender for my favourite anthology of the year!

Yvonne Mes is a children's author. Her first picture book, Meet Sidney Nolan (Random House) is scheduled for release in October 2015.