Monday, 15 September 2014

Sports Carnival: Ella and Olivia

Sports Carnival: Ella and Olivia by Yvette Poshoglian, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-052-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ella and Olivia are sisters. Ella is seven and Olivia is five. They live with Mum and Dad, baby brother Max and puppy dog Bob. Ella and Olivia are very excited. Their school is going to have a sports carnival day and they are training very hard for it with Ella's friend Zoe. Even Mum and Dad are training hard as they are part of the purple team the sisters are in.

Will the purple team get enough points to beat Zoe’s green team and the other two teams? Ella and Olivia would love to win the grand prize, a trip to the Slip and Slide Water Park.

The Ella and Olivia series is pitched to 5 plus beginner readers and Sports Carnival is a sweet story which this young readership will adore. The sisters have a lovely, but realistic, relationship and they are feisty and interesting without being naughty - the cheekiness is left up to Bob the puppy.

The illustrator creates fun characters that are friendly and lively. These pictures break up the text which is clear and easy to read with short sentences and short chapters.

A constantly growing series, there are plenty of titles for young girls to read and enjoy.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly

The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly retold by Bronwyn Davies, illustrated by Pixie O’Harris (National Library of Australia)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780642278517
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Bronwyn Davies retells the original story by Pixie O’Harris of The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly, one of the classics from the National Library’s Marcie Muir Collection of Children’s Books. Themes covered include being different, conquering your fears, discovering your own individual gifts, adjusting to other’s expectation while staying true to yourself, and working together to bring about change.

It sounds a lot, but the story is so perfectly arranged that one theme rolls into another naturally.

The Fairy-who-wouldn’t-fly doesn’t want to be like other fairies. She enjoys lying in her spider web hammock and watching the world go by. So she is banished from Fairyland to the Woodn’t until she learns to comply with the rules.

In the Woodn’t everything is different. Lots of living things don’t do what is expected of them. Trees grow their own way. Kookaburra doesn’t laugh. Frog doesn’t like hopping. Bee won’t join the hive. Bat refuses to fly at night, Glow-worm won’t shine, Spider won’t spin, and Flower’s petals won’t close at sunset. How boring it all is.

The Fairy-who-wouldn’t-fly begins to imagine how it would feel to fly. At first, her attempts fail, but with perseverance, she discovers joy and achievement in flight.

When a very young boy is lost in the forest, the fairy enlists the help of the group to return the boy home. In a show of unity, they all reclaim their abandoned talents and learn many things about themselves they didn’t know.

The exquisite original illustrations are accompanied by additional pictures from NLA’s collection. Davies has breathed new life into an old favourite for another generation to enjoy and learn from.

The presentation, as usual, is of the highest quality. The book comes with a gorgeous jacket and the valuable information is found in the List of Illustrations. This is another gem for collectors and lovers of unique children’s books, regardless of age.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Devil and his Boy

The Devil and his Boy by Anthony Horowitz (Walker Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9781406357684
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Anthony Horowitz believes that teaching history to children has to be fun. In The Devil and his Boy, he has chosen the year 1593 and Queen Elizabeth 1 to prove that learning history can be an exciting adventure.

The Queen is sixty years old. She has secrets about her past that she wants answers to. The wizard, John Dee, is the only one that can give them to her.

Tom Falconer, a thirteen year old orphan, is a slave to a heartless couple. When the stranger, Sir William Hawkins comes to take him away, he has nothing to lose. Things go wrong and Hawkins is murdered by Ratsey, a notorious highway man. Tom escapes towards London, and is saved from death by the thief Moll Cutpurse.

These main characters’ lives are twisted together in a thrilling mystery that involves Tom’s real identity. The story includes the young William Shakespeare, the Rose Theatre, and a troupe of mysterious actors who are not what they seem. All this is plaited in with conspiracy and betrayal in the Queen’s court.

I sped through this terrific mystery novel. Readers of all ages will learn a vast amount about early England, people’s way of life and early death, poverty, and how orphans were used and abused by unscrupulous people cloaked as protectors, to make money.

Fast-paced and absorbing, the talented Horowitz has made history interesting and entertaining just as he set out to do.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Rainbow Magic: Selena the Sleepover Fairy

Rainbow Magic: Selena the Sleepover Fairy by Daisy Meadows (Orchard Books/Hachette)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN: 9781408330739
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

This Early Reader edition has been especially designed for younger fans of Rainbow Magic books, with an easy vocabulary and full colour, beautiful illustrations to encourage independent reading. The book has been divided into three story chapters.
Rachel and Kirsty, who are friends of the fairies, are going with their school to have a sleepover in the National Museum. On the way, their coach stops at a service station and the children stretch their legs. The two friends notice a cloud of purple fairy dust and sure enough, a fairy appears. It is Selena the Sleepover Fairy who is very unhappy because Jack Frost’s servants, the goblins, have stolen three of her objects vital to ensure a happy sleepover. She needs to recover The Magical Sleeping Bag, The Enchanted Games Bag and The Sleepover Snack Box as quickly as possible and return them to Fairyland. The girls offer to help Selena find them.
Daisy Meadows has created an enchanting storyline which maintains interest to the end. There is plenty of action and excitement as the girls set out to recover the lost items. Kirsty and Rachel are used to being transformed into fairy-size by a wave of a wand, and they are very good at solving problems and dealing with nasty goblins. Jack Frost gets his comeuppance, too! With such fun characters, it is no wonder that the Rainbow Magic series holds small girls in thrall. I was impressed by the full colour illustrations which add a lot more oomph than black and white drawings. The large font text is also a plus.
With each of the original stories available as Early Readers, junior fans of the series will be delighted at the feast of reading in store for them.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Buffalo Soldier

Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781406314595
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Many things inspire artistic and memorable works like this one. Strange things, personal things, and things we’ve seen, read or experienced. Tanya Landman was mistaken for a boy until the age of fourteen. She was also inspired by the real life of the slave, Cathy Williams, who disguised herself as a man to become a Buffalo Soldier.

Landman courageously explores the notion of freedom and its complexity; the misuse of absolute power and its corruption, and the blood lust of the war era. She thrusts the history of man’s inhumanity in our faces and says, ‘I dare you to look.’

All the characters in the book regardless of colour, class and position in life, have things in common. Each group has ranks; there are levels of authority in place with orders to be obeyed without the option of choice. This common thread is an important element in the story.

The young slave girl Charlotte becomes Charlie O’Hara to join the army; her only means of survival after being freed. We travel with her from just before the Civil War until the removal of the last Apache from their reservation. This gut-wrenching and desolate content is explosive and heartbreaking. The injustices experienced by slaves and Indians at the hands of soldiers are painful. I had to stop frequently and set the book aside due to the overwhelming sadness that engulfed me.

But these dismal components share the space with a moving love story. Past all the slaughter, ugliness and desolation of war crawls love. Unexpected and uninvited, it surprises Charlie and with its power, and changes the look and feel of everything she’s part of.

This is an outstanding book that will be returned to again because of its superb narrative voice, confronting yet undeniable truths, and strong historical content. A brilliant piece of work based on history, it is one of the best books I have ever read.

Caution: this book contains highly graphic and disturbing scenes.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Swim That Rock

Swim That Rock by John Rocco and Jay Primiano (Walker Books)
HC RRP 24.95
ISBN 9780763669058
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis
Jake at fourteen years old has experienced a growth spurt of eight inches from one summer to the next. Self-conscious of his height and uncoordinated, he is seen as a freak. His dad disappeared months ago while qhahogging and is presumed drowned. Because his body was never found, Jake believes he will come home. While his mother struggles with depression, their mortgaged family diner is under threat of repossession by the local loan sharks if the repayment in not made on time.

Jake learnt a lot from his dad and is determined to use that knowledge to keep what is left of his father’s life, dreams and memories alive. This determination leads Jake to accept work salvaging and qhahogging at night from a man known only as the Captain, and who knows everything about illegal fishing and avoiding capture. The money pours in, but can Jake make enough in time to save the business?

This is an enjoyable, uplifting and humour-filled story about family, hope, friendship, community, and quahog fishing. The story is set in Narragansett Bay, New England and propelled by fantastic characters, such as Gene, and Jake and his best mate Trashman Tommy, the king of recycling. Its strong prose is illuminated by the unique sub-stories woven through the main storyline like delicate lace.

I learnt a lot about quahogs of which I knew nothing, and the illustrations positioned on the inside of the covers and on the end pages, gave complete clarity to the fishing references.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Haunting of Lily Frost

The Haunting of Lily Frost by Nova Weetman (University of Queensland Press)
PB/HB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5015 6
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a genuinely spooky story that doesn’t rely on violence and gore for effect.

Teenager Lily’s life is turned upside down when her family move from the city to an old house in a country town. Strange things start to happen whenever Lily enters a small room in the attic – a room which becomes her bedroom. Odd sounds, plummeting temperatures, letters marked on the floor, a presence in a room. Has Lily’s imagination gone wild, or is something supernatural happening?

In between questioning her sanity, Lily has to juggle normal adolescent concerns, with missing her bestie and trying to fit-in at the new school high on the list. This is complicated by the fact that she has a striking resemblance to the girl who used to live in her house. A missing girl. A girl with secrets.  A girl whose place she seems to be taking.

Her classmates seem to know more about it, but some are overtly hostile to Lily’s presence. Baffled by her classmates’ reactions, Lily is determined to discover the secret. Did the unhappy girl run away or did something sinister happen to her? And how is she connected to the mysterious happenings in the room. Author builds the tension page by page to the nail-biting climax.

Don’t read this story when you’re alone.