Monday, 27 March 2017

The Secret of the Black Bushranger

The Secret of the Black Bushranger by Jackie French (Harper Collins Children’s Books) PB RRP $14.99    ISBN 9780732299453

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Award winning author Jackie French has been writing a secret Australian history series and this is the third book in that series.  Readers from the ages of 7 years and on will enjoy this book that is very well researched yet easy to read.   The book contains both the actions and opinions of real people as close as possible to the historical records. French’s writing voice speaks very clearly to the reader and really does open the door into our colonial past as if she has been there.  It is entertaining story and very engaging.

What is fascinating about this story is the central character Black Caesar (John Black) who really did exist and became Australia’s very first bushranger.  He arrived in Australia from England and was never free so he fought for his freedom and became a thief.  French has cleverly filled in many gaps with fiction as very little is known about Black. She shows the human side of the times and the hard way of life in a young penal colony.

The story travels well because it is interwoven with the characters that met and interacted with Black Caesar.  The story is told from the viewpoint of Barney Bean, a young English boy who features centrally in book one in the series, Birrung and the Secret Friend and book two Barney and the Secret of the Whales.

‘The giant man looked down at me with those brown eyes. ‘If I show myself in daylight, boy, they chain me up again.’ His voice was so deep, deeper than any other I had ever heard. He drew himself up even taller. More stars vanished behind him. ‘I am John Black Caesar. I will not be a slave.’

The book allows the reader to decide if the actions of the characters are right or wrong.

History is now part of the Australian primary schools’ curriculum so this book will be a handy resource; online there are also teacher’s notes available.  Anyone with an interest in Australian history will love this book and gain a good picture of our harsh early beginnings.


Sunday, 26 March 2017

The ABC Kids Book of Places to Go

The ABC Kids Book of Places to Go by Helen Martin, Judith Simpson & Cheryl Orsini (Harper Collins Children’s Books) PB RRP $24.99  
ISBN 9780733334283

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

The creators of The ABC Book of Cars, Trains, Boats and Planes and The ABC Book of Seasons have come up with a book that introduces its young readers to Places to Go. This latest book allows for reader interaction and discussion in a fun simple way by sharing places that the child goes to. Then it broadens a young reader’s knowledge by introducing places that are afar.  The concept that the world is full of fun and exciting places to explore is a wonderful introduction to a world beyond our own backyard. 

This book would suit 2-6 year olds and it also fits in nicely with the school curriculum so teachers will find the book a handy resource.

The fun, simple language in the book uses questioning to bring out the enquiring mind of the child.  This interacts well with the illustrations that delightfully show places and allow the child to share what they know and find.  The illustrations are detailed and the colour palette draws the eye without being too busy or hard. The more you look, the more you can explore.

I like the way the text shows but doesn’t tell the place. Here’s an example: ‘There are many different places to visit at the shopping centre. Scissors snip – click, clack –cutting hair front and back! Up and down between the shops, the escalator never stops. Hooray! Hooray! New shoes today! Stepping out to walk and play.’ 

This book is a worthwhile tool to create bonding as the child and parent can really spend time discussing and exploring.  It can also allow for talk about places to visit and explore as a family.  Or perhaps it can allow talk about where grandparents or relatives live or maybe travel to. The world globe can be looked at and a child may choose a faraway distinction or a local one that is unknown to learn more about and explore.

So many places… 
Special things to do…




                    




Saturday, 25 March 2017

Bone Gap



Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780571332755

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’ need not apply to this one. I was drawn to this book as soon as I saw the cover, and I wasn’t disappointed. Cornfields, beehives and a dark horse … I couldn’t figure out how it all fit together, but I knew I wanted to find out.

This alluring novel is best described as magical realism – it is a little fairytale-like, at times, and starkly realistic at others. It targets readers aged 14–18, and raises themes of family, love and self-worth.

It is a highly original, unusual tale set in a town called ‘Bone Gap’, where ‘the bones of the world’ are ‘a little looser’ and where people can simply fall away and disappear. Finn O’Sullivan is a handsome teenage boy who the locals are fond of, despite declaring him nutty. They call him ‘Sidetrack’ and ‘Moonface’ because he won’t look people in the eye. Finn lives with his older brother, Sean, whom the town adores. 

When a young, beautiful girl called Roza appears in their barn, she charms the entire town with her beauty and playfulness. Then she is kidnapped and everybody is devastated. Finn was there but he can’t describe the kidnapper. Locals know that Bone Gap is full of magical ‘spaces one could slip into and hide’ … perhaps Roza simply disappeared as mysteriously as she arrived.

Finn is frustrated that nobody believes him – especially Sean, who was in love with her. When a magical horse appears in their barn one night, it leads Finn to Petey Willis, the beekeeper’s daughter, whom the townspeople taunt for her erratic appearance and behaviour. Finn and Petey fall in love, and she uncovers a remarkable truth about him. When Roza’s kidnapper turns up, Finn realises he himself needs to slip away from his world in order to find her.

Laura Ruby treats us to insights from Sean, Petey and Charlie Valentine (the town veteran), but the majority of the novel is told from Finn and Roza’s perspectives. She expertly overlaps the slow, mystical setting of Finn’s world with Roza’s frantic attempts to escape her captor. The effect creates a very gripping novel, making it a well-deserving winner of the 2016 ‘Michael L. Printz Award’.


Friday, 24 March 2017

The Smuggler’s Curse

The Smuggler’s Curse by Norman Jorgensen (Fremantle Press) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9781925164190

Reviewed by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

The Smuggler’s Curse is a swashbuckling adventure that delivers a rollicking good read guaranteed to keep young readers glued to the pages throughout. This not-so-young reader was captivated from the opening lines by the tale of a boy sold to an infamous smuggler in the closing days of the nineteenth century.

The adventure unfolds through the boy’s eyes and Norman Jorgensen captures his young narrator Red Read’s voice beautifully. He also draws a vivid picture of life in colonial times. History comes alive for the reader as Red is caught up in life-threatening encounters with cutthroat pirates, head hunting guerrillas and the forces of nature when he joins the crew of Captain Black Bowen’s ship The Black Dragon as ship’s boy.

Jorgensen has set his gripping tale of smuggling and piracy off the north-west coast of Australia, with the ship sailing from Broome and travelling to South East Asia. Historical detail is woven seamlessly into the story, which has clearly been well researched.

There is some violence in the book but there’s also a liberal sprinkling of humour and a strong element of warmth underpinning the relationships between the Captain, his crew and young Red.

Jorgensen is an award-winning author whose books for young people have won critical and popular acclaim both in Australia and overseas.
He is a consummate tale teller and has delivered this latest release in inimitable style.


The Smuggler’s Curse is sure to be a favourite with 9-14 year olds who enjoy a ripping yarn told well. It would also be a great addition to the classroom for its perspective on life in colonial times. Teaching notes are available from the publisher.    

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Complete Adventures of Figaro and Rumba

The Complete Adventures of Figaro and Rumba written by Anna Fienberg and illustrated by Stephen Michael King (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99   ISBN 9781760292997

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The highly imaginative tales of Figaro and Rumba are written by Anna Fienberg, author of the Tashi books, and accompanied with full colour pictures by the talented Stephen Michael King. Both books in the series have been published together for the first time in a colourful, eye-catching paperback.

Figaro (an excitable, adventure-seeking dog) and Rumba (a sensible, musical cat) have been the best of friends since they met in Cuba. The first story, Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile CafĂ©, is driven by the characters’ desire to get on ‘the Very Fast Train’. They seem destined to keep missing it though, with one zany adventure after another. The story is fast-paced, enticing readers to keep turning the pages to find out whether Figaro and Rumba ever do get on the train. Eventually, they meet a sly, Cuban crocodile who gains Rumba’s trust. It’s a good thing Figaro’s instincts are on high alert though, because something just doesn’t seem right.

The second story, Figaro and Rumba and the Cool Cats, is far more musical in nature. (You might find yourself tapping along to an imaginary Cuban beat!) Rumba seems quite at home singing with the Cool Cats, but Figaro is bored. The cats just want to sing all day and he can’t join in because their leader, Marta, does not like his singing. Plus, he’s feeling disturbed about that grey monster he keeps seeing. When he meets another like-minded adventurer, Dora, they sneakily take Marta’s car and go exploring. Their adventure doesn’t go smoothly though and, in trying to fix things, Figaro winds up meeting the ‘monster’, joining forces with Rumba again, and discovering a musical talent he never knew he had.

These entertaining stories about friendship are great for 5–8 year-olds. The chapters are short, with lots of dialogue. Much humour is provided in Figaro and Rumba’s banter, along with their dog and cat-like differences. King’s comical illustrations are naturally complementary, appearing on almost every single page. Fienberg’s writing is superb. The Cuban accents are perfectly portrayed, and there are some great alliterative lines like: ‘Isn’t he a rascal, a ruffian, a rogue and a reptile?’ The ending is terrific, both closing the stories and alluding to further adventures.



Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Exploding Endings

Exploding Endings - Books 1(Painted Dogs and Doom Cakes), 2 (Cursed Pants & Cranky Cops) and 3(Dingbats &Lollypop Arms) by Tim Harris, illustrated by Ryan Perno (Harbour Publishing House)
PB RRP $14.99
Book 1 ISBN 978-1-922134-57-8
Book 2 ISBN 978-1-922134-69-1
Book 3 ISBN 978-1-922134-70-7

Reviewed by Joanne Pummer

Short Stories With Big Twists - that's how author Tim Harris describes his trilogy of short stories called 'Exploding Endings'. Each story is told by a child narrator in the first person about contemporary family life in suburban Australia. All are extremely whacky and sure to illicit laughs and groans in equal measure from Primary School children.
Book 1 begins with a list of the top 79 excuses for being late. Book 2 begins with a list of the top 79 excuses for talking in class and the third book begins with the top 79 excuses for not doing your homework - just the kind of subversive humour that children relish. Jokes, riddles and 'knock knocks' appear between stories, recipes and 'Page Wars' - the ongoing war between the right hand page and the left hand page, named (appropriately), 'lefty' and 'righty'.
A recipe for Murphy's Chocolate Cake has 43 steps and a Prep time of 204 days 2 hours and 17 minutes. Step 42 is 'Forget about it and go to the beach instead'. Step 43 is 'Get eaten by a shark'. Ryan Perno's black and white illustrations, which are little more than zany emojis in Book 1, become more sophisticated in the books that follow.

The final story in Book One (‘Psycho, Sweet Tooth Seagull’) ends after two chapters with 'to be continued'. This is a hook, bound to induce readers to buy the next book. Cleverly, Tim Harris repeats the first two chapters of 'Psycho Sweet Tooth Seagull' in the second book so each book works as a stand-alone story book as well as part of a series.

The large type face, easy reading and accessible stories make these books suitable for all children from newly independent readers (7 years and up ) tackling their first chapter books to eleven year olds, reluctant readers included.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 4: A Game of Chase

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 4: A Game of Chase by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9781760295585

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It’s another crazy week for Chase Cooper at Buchanan School, and it all starts off with the chess piece and anonymous note he finds in his locker. Somebody, who goes by the name ‘Jovial Noise’, threatens to expose his ninja identity if he doesn’t play along with their game. Er … what game? Chase is getting tired of the crazy behind-the-scenes activities at his school. (At one stage, he humorously dwells on how many years of therapy he’s going to need after he completes just one year at the school! He also blames James Buchanan, the school’s namesake and one of America’s most controversial presidents, for the madness.)

It seems Jovial Noise is out to sabotage the school science fair … by destroying people’s projects. The game of chess certainly becomes ‘a game of chase’ when Chase has to connect the chess pieces and clues together in order to save people’s science projects. Then Chase himself is framed for Faith’s ruined project and he knows he needs to find the real culprit, fast, before more projects (and friendships) are destroyed. Is it Carlyle? Wyatt? One of the red ninjas? Or that new hall monitor, Sebastian?

This is another fast-paced, entertaining read in the bestselling Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series by Marcus Emerson. There are lots of laugh-out-loud scenes, including a very funny conversation about ‘meese’ (the supposed plural of ‘moose’)! I particularly love how this series overturns the idea of a fist-fighting ninja and replaces it with a ninja who instead focuses on empathy, bravery and (above all) doing the right thing.

‘If you know me then you’d know I don’t fight no matter what,’ I said.
‘You don’t fight with your fists’ … ‘you’re a very strange ninja.’


This amusing series of books for 7–12 year-olds is definitely out to empower kids who want to deal with bullies … without getting physical.