Thursday, 19 January 2017

Little Brother

Little Brother by Patricia Bernard, illustrated by Rizaldy Valencia (Blake Education) PB RRP $10.95
ISBN 9781760200909

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a book in the Sparklers’ series which aim to educate and entertain readers aged 6 to 9 years. Little Brother certainly does this and does it well. Set in Malaysia, it tells the story of a small Sabahian boy, Latif, who goes on an adventure with his pet Little Brother to find a home for the orang-utan in a rehabilitation centre in Sepilok.

As it progresses, the fast-paced story takes Latif (and the reader) from the boy’s family longhouse, where Little Brother and other orang-utans have wrecked a plantation nursery, to Kota Kinabalu. There Latif and Little Brother are photographed by tourists who give the boy ringgits so he can afford to catch a bus to Sepilok. On the bus Latif meets an Australian girl Kendra who aims to sponsor an orang-utan at the rehabilitation centre.

The book employs coloured illustrations -- both drawings and photographs -- on every double-page spread so young readers can see aspects of Malaysia from banana plantations to markets to cityscapes. To further inform and educate the reader, there are pages at the end of the book which contain a map (and flag) of Malaysia, facts about the country and a glossary. There is also a story analysis (orientation, complication, resolution) and a short comprehension.

Other books in this series set in south-east Asia and written by Australian Bernard include Goat Girl and Garden Boy, Emilio and the Volcano, and The Talking Hands Guesthouse.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Beginning Woods

The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill (Murdoch Books)
PB RRP $16.99   ISBN 9781782690900

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? What is the best way to live?’

These are ‘Accursed Questions’ and, in the sinister world built up by debut author Malcolm McNeill, searching for the answers to them might just make you Vanish.

Max Mulgan, abandoned in a bookshop as a baby and raised by foster parents, is plagued by these questions. He has vivid dreams of his real parents, and is consumed with the thought of finding them. Around him, adults are randomly Vanishing, much to the bewilderment of leading scientists. Only one, Boris Peshkov, comes close to solving the mystery.

He connects the Vanishings to a place called the Beginning Woods (a dark, fairytale, parallel version of the current ‘World’) and he knows Max’s background is somehow related. Max, meanwhile, immerses himself in Storybooks, desperate to learn more about his past. When the powerful Professor Courtz calls for book burnings, Max’s anger and thirst for self-identity grows and he finds a way to cross over to the Beginning Woods. Finally! He can try and figure out where his birth parents are … only it seems his destiny requires him to complete another quest first. And it involves hunting a dragon.

The novel would suit young adults (and adults) with an advanced, sophisticated passion for fantasy stories. It is unique, highly original, and deeply analogous with life itself, taking a strong stance on the importance of imagination. (As if in affirmation of this, the novel itself demands a generous imagination on the reader’s part!)

McNeill has built a detailed, complex fairytale world with an array of familiar archetypes (witches, dragons and wolves) combined with not so familiar (Shredders, Kobolds and Wind Giants). The story is not fast-paced, requiring some perseverance on the reader’s part. Those that follow the story through from start to finish will be rewarded with a truly satisfying ending though, which presents a wonderful sense of order being restored and life moving forward.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Wilderness: An interactive atlas of animals

Wilderness: An interactive atlas of animals written by Hannah Pang, illustrated by Jenny Wren (Little Tiger Press) HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781848575066

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

A beautifully presented, hardcover non-fiction book, Wilderness provides a fact-filled overview of the world’s animals, perfect for readers aged five to eight.

The book is divided by habitat, from ‘On Safari’ and ‘Sea Search’ to ‘High Mountains’ and more. The book is illustration-heavy and interactive, with pop-ups and lots of flaps to lift, revealing fascinating facts about quirky animals and diverse eco-systems. A particularly fun spread is ‘Trek to the Poles’, with animals from the Arctic at the top, and those from the Antarctic upside down at the bottom, encouraging readers to flip the book around.

While the book is broad in its overview, a unique aspect is its focus on lesser-known creatures. From the pale-throated sloth to the red-lipped batfish, kids will delight in discovering the world’s animals beyond the usual suspects. The book would make a great gift, and would also be a handy resource for school projects.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Making Up

Making Up by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781760128999

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Making Up is a short board book consisting of a tale extracted from Ormerod and Blackwood’s picture book Maudie & Bear.

Feisty Maudie takes offence when Bear laughs at her dancing. Bear explains he is laughing with her rather than at her; however, Maudie is quite a strong-willed little character and doesn’t accept this. Bear is gentle yet persistent in attempting to coax Maudie out of her bedroom and make amends, until he finally comes up with an idea to bring them back together.

The contrast between petulant Maudie and patient Bear captures the irrational moments of the toddler and preschool years. It also suggests the endless love of a parent or carer, even in the face of difficult behaviour. Maudie is a flawed and very real character, who reflects the emotional highs and lows experienced by the two to five year old set, the book’s target market. Blackwood’s gentle illustrations capture the moods evoked in the story beautifully.

Other books in the series include The Bike Ride, with further titles to come in 2017.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Penguin Problems

Penguin Problems by John Dory, illustrated by Lane Smith (Walker Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781406375992
Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Penguin Problems is the story of a grumpy, yet loveable penguin which spends his days whinging and whining about his conditions.

Penguin lives in Antarctica but instead of relishing in the beauty and freedom of his surroundings, he constantly complains about how difficult life as a penguin can actually be.

He whines about the cold, the snow, the sun, the noise, his waddle, and the fact that the ocean is too salty and inconveniently full of predators. And can you imagine how hard it is to find your mum in a big crowd of identical penguins? Well, it’s almost impossible, according to Penguin.

One day while Penguin is busy complaining, a clever walrus offers him a more balanced view. Walrus tries to make Penguin realise that things aren’t as bad as he thinks. He encourages Penguin to focus on the good things in life and to remember how much he is loved.

Just when it seems like Penguin concedes with Walrus’ point of view, Penguin’s cranky old ways resurface and readers are once again reminded about why life in Antarctica is so terribly difficult.

This hilarious picture book is the first collaboration for John Dory and Lane Smith, a four-time recipient of the New York Times best illustrated book award.  It is delightfully witty and face-paced, and is overflowing with quirky illustrations that will put a smile on the face of anyone who reads it.

Penguin Problems is perfect for readers aged 3-8 years but even adults will find themselves laughing out loud when reading to their children. It is a delightful, fun-filled book and a wonderful bedtime read.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson (Walker Books) HB RRP $27.99   ISBN 9781467789035

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

This book is a nonfiction narrative about a time in history we would sooner forget. It is the true story of 6-year old Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor, Sachiko Yasui, and her long journey to find peace.

On August 9, 1945 Sachiko’s life was forever changed. At 11.01am she was playing outside with four other children when an atomic bomb exploded half a mile away. Moments later those children were dead and her country was left in total devastation.

In the days and months that followed, Sachiko lost family members to radiation sickness, her hair fell out and she woke up screaming in the night. She found strength and understanding in the writings of Helen Keller, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr, which influenced her eventual decision to speak about this horrendous event.
When writing this book, author Caren Stelson had unprecedented personal access to Sachiko, conducting hours of in-person interviews, which enabled her to create a personal and moving history.

It is a story that is at times difficult to read but it also a story that needs to be shared, as it not only offers a remarkable new perspective on the final moments of World War II but also the horror and aftermath that ensued.

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story is a beautifully presented work, overflowing with stunning photographs and short essays on topics such as ‘Racism and War’ and ‘Long-Term Effects of Radiation’. 

It is a wonderful educational tool for children as it will not only teach them about world history but also help them understand why this atrocity can never, ever happen again.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Rain Stones

Rain Stones by Jackie French, (Harper Collins) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781460753170

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

The 25th anniversary edition of Rain Stones was recently released. It is Jackie French’s debut book, a collection of five short stories that have a unique Australian flavour. The stories, with a strong environmental theme, show a great love for our country. The imaginative and thought-provoking writing draws primary school aged readers into a world of adventure and freedom.
'Rain Stones tells of the hardship of drought and the desperate need for water: our hard dry land can be a tough place to live in. ‘Afternoon with Grandma’ touches on Alzheimer’s, dreams and determination.  ‘Jacob Saw’ warmly shows there are ways to see other than with one’s eyes.  ‘Dancing with Dinosaurs’ cleverly imagines the rolling hills of Canberra as dinosaurs come to life in their nightly dance. In ‘Dusty the Dragon’ a magical dragon is hidden in a sleepy bush valley.

There is a touchingly warm afterword from French about how her writing journey started and about the inspiration for each story.  The first story,  ‘Rain Stones’, French says, written out of a desperate need for income as well as to express her passion for writing.  Needless to say French’s talent shone through and her writing career took off.

Today’s children will enjoy the stories as they still manage to connect and touch readers.

The book is handy for teachers looking for stories that are distinctly Australian to share in their classrooms. These stories will surely lead to much discussion about what it means to be an Australian.