Friday, 31 December 2010

Feathers for Phoebe

Feathers for Phoebe by Rod Clement (HarperCollins)
HB RRP$24.99
ISBN 9780732289195
Reviewed by Chenoa Fawn
http://twitter.com/ChenoaFawn 

Some books seem to leap off the shelves and into your heart. Feathers for Phoebe is just such a Picture Book. Rod Clement’s cover art is a snapshot of both the personality and predicament of the central character Phoebe. She perches tensely beneath the title, encircled by exotic feathers. This small grey bird is fed up with going unnoticed.

Phoebe consults the beautiful, talented and dramatically attired Zelda. Like all enthusiastic salon owners, Zelda adorns Phoebe with an assortment of feathered accessories. Each visit further transforms Phoebe’s appearance but increasingly constrains her.

Clement leads us on a journey of self recovery with humour and characteristic colour. Kids will love the comic extravagance of Phoebe’s outfit. Former Scouts (and likely all Western adults) will be happily snapped back to childhood when Baden-Powell’s nonsense song Ging Gang Goolie appears in the text. Feathers for Phoebe is thoroughly enjoyable. Suitable for Ages 3 and older.


Thursday, 30 December 2010

Row, Row, Row Your Boat. What Can You See?

Row, Row, Row Your Boat. What Can You See? by Angie Lionetto-Civa, illustrated by Serena Geddes (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781921042539
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton and guest reviewer Daniel (7)

This delightful picture is written in rhyming text based on the familiar song Row, Row Your Boat. The text is perfect to be read or even sung out loud to children as they travel along 'gently down the stream' with two young boys in a boat. Along the way they encounter animals which then join them on their journey until they come upon one, a crocodile, that they must flee. The book ends on a joyous note when they all disembark to 'dance and play'. Lift-the-flap books are always a winner with children and any book that can lure my two-year-old nephew away from tractors and wheelbarrows to sit quietly and in anticipation to reveal the next animal has my vote. (In fact, to review this book I had to chase him around the backyard to, briefly, get it back off him.)

Serena Geddes' watercolour illustrations cover the double spread and show the anticipation and delight of the whole band of travellers as they encounter each new animal. My favourite picture is that of the giraffe with her calf.

Daniel (7) I like this book because there is a lion and a monkey and the words rhyme. My favourite picture is the otter swimming on his back.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Samuel's Kisses

Samuel's Kisses by Karen Collum, illustrated by Serena Geddes (New Frontier Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921042157
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Samuel is a little boy who loves to go shopping with his mum. However, it seems that many others at the shops are not enjoying themselves. Samuel sends them a kiss which brightens their day and those around them. Karen Collum has written an inspirational story about love and joy, perfect for the Christmas season.  Samuel reminds us all that a simple act of reaching out to others can make the world a better place. Samuel's Kisses is also a story of family. The bond between mother and son is evident and further reinforced with the ending which young children will find very satisfying and comforting.

Read out loud, the text is rhythmic (as all good picture book texts are) and Serena Geddes' large and colourful illustrations complements it perfectly. I love how the trail of kisses leads the eye across the double spread. Both children and adults will find Samuel's Kisses a highly enjoyable book that is sure to be read over and over again.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Striker: Close Range by Nick Hale (Egmont Press)

Striker: Close Range by Nick Hale (Egmont Press)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781405249645
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Striker Jake Bastin is now in Milan with his father Steve, a former famous footballer, who is designated commentator at a Four Nation Tournament organised to raise funds for humanitarian aid in Africa. Jake has learnt a lot about his father during their time in Russia. He is shocked but satisfied at what surfaced about his father’s real identity. The truth cleared away the fog of doubt, suspicion and disillusion that had tortured him for so long. He learned that Steve has been living a double life while working for years for MI6.

At the airport, while Steve is taken away by two officials, his mother Hayley, a former model turned professional photographer, is attacked while clicking away randomly at passers-by and her camera stolen. Jake gives chase, is bashed, but ultimately manages to retrieve the broken camera which unknown to him, has captured valuable evidence. This opening action sets up the tension and suspense and wins the focus of the reader.

At the stadium, a large protest has been organised against anyone involved in Granble Diamonds, a powerful mining company considered illegal because of their trading in blood diamonds which uses child labour under inhumane conditions, and which has a record of countless deaths.

A fashion parade is scheduled to highlight the 100 million dollars worth of Granble’s diamonds for the benefit of his investors. But anyone connected to that name is getting payback. Someone is murdering the models and Jake is in the middle of it for one reason or another. Now he too, is being hunted. He knows too much and his father’s advice to listen and report back is never enough for Jake who always dares to go further than he should. But when is far enough, too far? And why is his mother being targeted as well?

This exciting new espionage series shoots off at the first page. There is never a boring moment. The stories support the underdog, and have a strong social voice behind all the action and suspense. It is aimed at a teenage audience of age 15+ (in my opinion). For fans of this new hero, the third book, Striker: The Edge, is due in February.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Winnie - The – Pooh Favourite Stories

Winnie - The – Pooh Favourite Stories by A. A. Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard (Egmont)
HC RRP $9.99
ISBN 9780603562099
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Favourite Stories is a collection of eight delightful, frequently read stories from Winnie-the-Pooh’s life.  In each we visit a scene where every day is an opportunity for adventure and exploration. The endearing characters and their antics always bring laughter and thought into the life of the reader.  At the end there is a collection of all Pooh’s poems – nonsensical or otherwise - used in the book.

In A House is Built on Pooh Corner, Piglet and Pooh find a pile of wood in the forest and decide to build a house for Eeyore to shelter him through the chilly winter months, not realising that the pile of wood is his house, which brings hilarious outcomes from good intentions.

 Tigger Comes to the Forest, sees the bouncy one’s arrival at the forest.  He meets all the other characters and goes on a voyage of discovery to ascertain which foods he likes and dislikes with a lot of adventures in between.

 Pooh Invents a New Game shows Pooh on the banks of a river, throwing pine cones into the water and choosing which one the tide will bring first towards him. He sees something decidedly like Eeyore floating with his legs in the air. It’s a challenge to get him out of the river but more so, to understand how he got there in the first place.

Tiger is Unbounced brings focus on the stripy one for his constant bouncing is creating problems. The friends have decided on a way to humble the springy one and unbounce him. But their plan backfires in a strange and entertaining way.

These are only a brief overview of a few of the entertaining stories. It is the lessons learned that make them so endearing to young and older readers. The characters are always optimistic. They are able to solve most problems either alone or together, and their lack of education and general  knowledge doesn’t seem to hinder them at all through their problem-solving. They have a strong sense of loyalty towards one another and although they continue to get into difficult situations, they see each experience as an adventure and an opportunity for fun. Each friend has a close relationship to the natural world and they spend as much time as possible outdoors enjoying all kinds of weather.

The book is illustrated in the original coloured illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard with the jacket an identical copy of the book cover, both of which are a soft lime green. This is a compact and well-priced hardcover that will be treasured by any owner.   

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Striker: Sudden Death

Striker: Sudden Death by Nick Hale (Egmont Press)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781405249508
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

What happens when your parents are divorced and after making the decision to move across the world to be with your father, incredible things start to happen, and you discover that almost everything you’ve been told is a lie?  Welcome to Jake’s life.

Jake Bastin at sixteen is a soccer team captain, and is following a life in sport left by his legendary father’s footsteps. He has abandoned Paris and his mother to join his father, Steve, in London. He barely arrives when Chernoff, his father’s friend hiding a suspect past, is poisoned in a restaurant while dining together. This sets off a course of events that force Jake to question everything he has been told by his enigmatic father.

Jake travels with his father to Russia at the request of the billionaire, Popov, in his private jet to coach a new team. While in mid-air, a fellow traveller and the two pilots are shot dead. Steve’s quick and cool-headed reaction saves their lives. Jake secretly questions the curious fact that Popov totally disregard these traumatic events, and acts as if nothing untoward has happened. These murders set a precedent for the remainder of the Jake’s Russian visit.

Jake’s curious and dissatisfied mind sends him out in search of answers and he uncovers ghastly secrets through detective work and lots of eavesdropping. He learns of sinister plots that involve his father in some way or another. Corruption seems to be everywhere and murder is a regular occurrence.

How and why is scientific research on tidal energy tied into a soccer match? Is Jake’s father really involved in murder? Why is the Russian Mafia and MI6 involved in something as everyday as sport?

This is a new action thriller series with a new young hero and countless twists and turns. It is riveting and fast-paced, and will be devoured at one sitting.  

Monday, 13 December 2010

Fear

Fear edited by R.L Stine (Random House)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5046-0
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Fear is a collection of suspense and horror stories for older readers. It’s headed by a legend of the genre, R.L Stine. It’s not all vampires and angels. Some of the stories are planted in the real world, offering tense situations that reveal dastardly secrets. Jennifer Allison’s 'The Perfects' story begins in normal suburbia but ends up with a ‘delicious’ ending.

Every story is tight and concise. There’s no waffling here, just genuine scares. The authors’ distinct styles mean that no two stories feel the same, even though some scenarios overlap. But hey, babysitting kids is plain scary by itself. 

The better stories have a killer twist. A favourite of mine is 'Suckers' by Suzanne Weyn which has an ending that you won’t see coming and will force you to revisit earlier scenes. There are stories that warrant its own novel, such as Heather Brewer’s 'Shadow Children', who paints a fascinating world of deadly shadows in a few pages. 'Dragonfly Eyes' by Alane Ferguson is going to be expanded into its own book. When you read this short story of a girl who has crossed over into the afterlife, you’ll be begging for more. Ferguson’s imagery and description is simply mesmerising.R.L Stine shines with his contribution, 'Welcome to the Club'. It’s a simple story, spun around with his trademark wry humour and twists.

Readers will have their favourites but they will enjoy every story in this Fear anthology. It’s perfect for anyone who likes their scares in short bursts. It’s recommended for ages 15 and up.    

Sunday, 12 December 2010

101 Things to Do to Become a Superhero or Evil Genius

101 Things to Do to Become a Superhero 101 Things to Do to Become a Superhero by Helen Szirtes and Richard Horne, designed and illustrated by Richard Horne (Bloomsbury)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978 1 4088 0257 1
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

From the series of '101Things', Horne and Szirtes team up again to tackle the topic of how to become either a superhero, or an evil genius, or both. Written with a humour that upper primary boys or girls should appreciate, this book is packed full with information, checklists, activities and stars to stick on the pages completed.

Visually breaking the book up each page has a different coloured header relating to its theme. For example identity is blue, saving the world is green and special powers are brown. The left side of the double page has a small picture with information underneath. The reader then fills out the right side by doing some sort of activity. Activities range from trying to fly (nothing dangerous), to perfecting one's evil laugh. The densely filled pages contain many hours of entertainment should the entire book be completed.

The print is quite small but is broken up further by headings and dot points and always relates to something to do on the next page. In this way less keen readers may be encouraged to keep going. Pages jump from one topic to another and one activity to another. There is no need to read the book in any order, although there is an introduction at the beginning and some answers at the end (no cheating).

101 Things to Do to Become a Superhero or Evil Genius is a very interactive book which encourages imagination and uses humour well. By the end of the book the reader will have unintentionally learnt a few things. And this is regardless of whether they have used it for good or for evil.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Nanny Piggins and The Accidental Blast-off

Nanny Piggins and The Accidental Blast-off by R.A Spratt (Random House)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1859-1
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Nanny Piggins and The Accidental Blast-off is the fourth instalment of the proudly un-PC series. You don’t have to read any earlier books, each book have short stories that are self-contained in themselves. It’ll just take a few pages for readers to warm up to everyone’s favourite piggy nanny, with an insatiable appetite for cakes.

Nanny Piggins leads the Green children on merry adventures, skipping school and trying to avoid Mr Green, their unreliable and overworked father. However, Mr Green is in the running for the Best Father of the Year competition and is forced to spend time with the children. Derrick, Samantha and Michael are equally disgusted too. The competition is the running joke throughout the book.

R.A Spratt has nailed all of the characters in this series and it’s a delight to see her place them in more outrageous situations. Nanny Piggins signs up to the lollypop lady because she thinks she’ll have a giant lollipop to hold. When she finds out the truth, she takes her wooden stop sign and finds better things to stop than just traffic. It’s a wild idea that keeps growing and growing.

The title refers to a story that sees her being the first pig in space. Nanny Piggins puts authority figures in their place, from the head of NASA to the ‘Steel Chef’ in a parody of the popular cooking show.   

Nanny Piggins’ fans will love the devilish lines scattered on every page. There are so many jokes crammed in each story. If you think you’ll get used to Spratt’s eccentric pace and wit, she’ll hit you with clever lines that make you stop and take time to laugh.

Nanny Piggins' adventures are the stand-out humour series for the past two years. It’s for anyone who wants a belly laugh or a riveting read that isn’t afraid to say things that are on kids’ minds. It’s highly recommended for ages 9 and up.   

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Looking Glass Wars Bk 3: Arch Enemy

The Looking Glass Wars Bk 3: Arch Enemy by Frank Beddor (Egmont Press)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781405251938
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Imagination of all kind has been wiped out with the attack by Redd who has united with the Borderland tribes against King Arch. The detonation of WILMA, Arch’s Weapon of Inconceivable Loss and Massive Annihilation has left the Heart Crystal weak. Redd too, has lost her imagination. Hatter has sent word that he is returning with Molly, still grieving for her mother, who had left Alyss in shame because of her impulsive act that damaged the Crystal Continuum, Wonderland’s public transport system.

Wonderland unprepared, is again attacked by the Club soldiers who are kidnapping Wonderlanders and imprisoning them in limbo coops – areas of little space and no escape. Alyss and Dodge witness the treachery of Lord and Lady of Clubs’ after they travel incognito to attend the anti-imagination rally. They are recognised and trapped, only to be rescued by Dumphy, a tinker who hides them in a wagon full of imaginists headed for the limbo camp. There they learn that imagination is slowly returning.

Arch takes advantage of Redd’s diminished powers and reclaims control over the Borderland tribes. He is determined to kill Redd and become the first king of Wonderland. Meanwhile, Redd’s forces have stopped retreating and have gained positions all over Wonderland.

Here the longest and hardest battles of all kinds ensue. Redd is fiercely determined to reign. Her indomitable and forceful character allows no room for defeat. Many battles between good and evil will be fought. Alyss and Dogde’s courage and love will be tested. Lives will be lost and cities destroyed. Strange liaisons are sought for the welfare of the Wonderlanders regardless of the suspicion and mistrust that weaves in and out of each group. Travel between worlds will see all the characters move towards a satisfying resolution regarding their personal dilemmas.  The final climax is stupendous and rewarding for the reader. This trilogy will stay in the mind long after the last word is read. All three books are currently available.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Bones of Faerie

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner (Random House)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5065-1
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Bones of Faerie is a haunting novel for older readers with a few twists. Firstly, it’s a fairy tale fantasy in post-apocalyptic world. But the main point of difference is the way magic is used in this book. Magic is the enemy and it kills.

Liza lives in a world that hasn’t recovered from a raging war between humans and the Faerie. The Faerie used their magic to turn nature against the humans. Her father is strictly against anyone who has Faerie-like features and abilities, including Liza’s little sister. But when Liza starts showing signs of doing her own magic, she is forced to run away from her home and find answers. She starts a journey to find her mother who disappeared herself.

Simner has written a tight story that grips you from the very beginning. There’s some dark descriptions that show how deadly magic can be. Liza’s efforts to control her visions of the past and future are a neat way to flash back and forth, telling how the Faerie came to be. Liza’s yearning to be reunited with her mother run parallel to the hope that magic can be used for good. The apocalyptic elements are subtle but effective, especially when things like batteries are precious and words like Disneyland are cast off into the world of ‘Before.’ It’s another layer to this involving story.

Bones of Faerie is a promising start to a thrilling series. It’s recommended for ages 13 and up.           

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Battle Boy

Battle Boy: Bloodaxe (ISBN 978-033042520-9)
Battle Boy: Aztec Attack (ISBN 978-033042558-2)
Battle Boy: Battle Bust-up (ISBN 978-033042559-9)
by Charlie Carter (Pan Macmillan)
PB RRP $9.99
Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

If you are looking for a Christmas present for the reluctant reader, then it is worth looking at the Battle Boy series.

Battle Boy: Bloodaxe - Napoleon again finds himself sent back in time, this time to England in 954 - The Dark Ages, where he meets the feared Viking, Bloodaxe, and again finds himself in the middle of a battle. Napoleon befriends Bloodaxe’s son, Haeric, and although they have to fight each other, the boys learn lessons about leadership and war.  Again, supported by Skin, Napoleon navigates the intricacies of being in another time and despite Professor Perdu’s belief that the mission has failed, Napoleon has learned something about himself.

Battle Boy: Aztec Attack - The year is 1519 and this time Napoleon has found himself in Mexico facing the Aztecs and Spanish Conquistadors. This time, the mission might not be as clear as in the past - is Battle Boy really after the DNA sample from Cortez, or is there something more to the mission that Professor Perdu is not telling him?  Battle Boy 005 finds himself face to face with BB004 and the hope that they will meet again sometime in the future, rather than in the past.

Battle Boy: Battle Bust-up - After five eventful, but successful missions, Napoleon, better known as Battle Boy 005, finds himself in a tangled tale as two battles, The Battle of Issus in 333BC and the Battle of Kursk in 1943, are mixed up in the same book. His job this time is to find the contaminated parts and return them to their rightful book.  This is a nice change from the formulaic stories of previous five books and an astute reader will keenly pick up the differences in the types of battles used in such different times. As always, Napoleon returns home safely, even if a little battle weary, having restored the battle books to their correct states.
  
The Battle Boy series offer adventure and fun for readers and cleverly incorporates historical events into a genre that young readers, and in particular young boys, will love.  They combine history and technology with adventure and provide just enough facts to keep the reader intrigued about the topic. Hopefully, the stories will lead young readers to the non-fiction shelves of their local libraries, in the hope that they might come across their own historical adventure.

The series is supported by a website with information about the equipment and a quiz about each book - and it’s a Battle Boy secret how many this reviewer got right! http://www.battleboy.com.au/

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Vanilla Assassin

The Vanilla Assassin by AN Boswell (Brolga Publishing)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-192159614-8
Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

Set during the 30 Years War, The Vanilla Assassin is an engrossing read about a young boy, Gustave, gifted, or cursed, with the ability to change his appearance to that of another person.  In a time where witches are burned at the stake, doppelganger’s, as Gustave’s type are called, are feared throughout the community.

Guided by his father, Artur, Gustave works using his shape changing ability and The Vanilla Assassin leads us through Gustave’s preparation for his next, but for him unknown, job.  Befriended by the Jesuit Priest by whom he is employed, Gustave is accepted into Dresden’s elite music school lead by composer Heinrich Schutz, a person that Gustave soon comes to respect.

Gustave’s character development throughout the novel is that from young boy to adult. He is challenged in more ways that he could expect, firstly dealing with the absence of his father who has always controlled what jobs Gustave does, the development of trust in Father Friedrich, his growing affection for Schutz and the blossoming of romance with fellow student, Sophie.  Gustave’s feelings for each relationship is challenged and the final realisation of what his “job” involves has him questioning his role.  It also raises the question of what is the value of love - for a child, a parent, a mentor, a teacher and a friend.

The Vanilla Assassin is a great story that touches on the religion and politics of the era, but is not overwhelmed by it. The story is essentially the journey of a young boy to manhood.  It flows beautifully, is well written and keeps you reading so those elements of the story that are hinted at or anticipated can be revealed - and always revealed at the right moment - just when you think you want to glimpse ahead.

The reader develops what can only be called affection for Gustave, and compassion for the position he has found himself in. The Vanilla Assassin certainly left this reviewer searching for time to sit down and read it. If you do not think of historical fiction as a genre that you would normally consider, I would highly recommend obtaining a copy of The Vanilla Assassin, finding a nice quiet spot where you can read it uninterrupted and enjoying it.  And best of all, it has a small twist at the end.  Highly recommended for older readers.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Looking Glass Wars Bk 2: Seeing Redd

The Looking Glass Wars Bk 2: Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor (Egmont Press)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781405209885
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Alyss has made it through the Looking Glass Maze and defeated Redd. Now she has new challenges. The Heart Palace has been rebuilt after its destruction by Redd, but it doesn't feel the same to Alyss.

King Arch of Borderland arrives at her inaugural gala to inform her of threats from other sources. He secretly plans to take over Wonderland by force or any other means. He can barely hide his derision at Alyss’ position as Queen, but pretends a past alliance with her deceased father who he always despised because of his subservience to a woman, albeit a queen.

Arch’s Borderland is a male dominated nation where women are considered worthless chattels. It is a nation of nomadic settlements; a tribal land where each group stays isolated from the each other, free to live as they please as long as they acknowledge him as King, and his preferred laws were kept.

Jack of Diamonds and his parents have been cast into the Crystal Mines. They are traitors to be bought and sold in a world of power and politics.  But Jack is abducted by Arch for his own mercenary ends. Redd has returned after escaping to Earth, more vicious than ever, and Jack is throwing in his lot with her. Desperate to save himself, he grovels at Redd’s feet, with a plan to win over the border clans and destroy King Arch, thus giving Redd the union of the two lands.

For Redd to gain more power than Alyss, she must navigate the Looking Glass maze and retrieve her sceptre which will strengthen her power. After visiting the oracle-caterpillars, she manages this feat and is prepared again for war. Meanwhile Alyss and Dodge are slowly revealing their love for one another within the few free moments away from warring that they are able to steal together.

Hatter Madigan has taken leave for unrevealed reasons and we enter his secret life and see him as more than an outstanding warrior dedicated to serving and protecting the queen. He learns that Molly, Alyss’ bodyguard, is his daughter by the love of his life, Weaver, who has been killed. Each of the characters has a life apart from their role at the palace. These lives are revealed and the characters become human, rather than robotic beings that fight for the Queendom. These sub-stories are moving and the scenes of war and annihilation become secondary to the emotional upheavals of the characters’ lives.

Much keeps happening in Wonderland. The story is dense and thrilling, highly detailed and descriptive with battles and armoury; full of twists and turns like the mazes that have to be navigated. Betrayal, treachery and manipulation surround Alyss.

The next thrilling fantasy adventure, Arch Enemy, closes the trilogy. This series is highly recommended reading for the 15+ age group.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Chill

Chill  by Carol Thompson (Little Hare Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-921541-73-5
Reviewed by Simone Zmood

Chill stands out.  It is not your ordinary picture book for the 3+ age group.  At times, the book has sparse text and much of the underlying story is captured in the illustrations.  But it is perfect for opening a discussion with pre-school children on important topics such as friendship, fighting and making up, alone time and calming oneself, stress and anxiety, and individuality.

Dolly the pig likes to play on her own but some things are more fun when done with other people.  Jack Rabbit is her best friend and they enjoy playing together, comparing and competing, and hanging out in their Best Place.  One day they paint each other’s portraits and don’t like the way the other has depicted them.  They fight and go off in a huff.  As anger fades, sadness and loneliness start to encroach.  They each seek comfort in doing something relaxing but their thoughts drift to the other.  The next day, having calmed down, they each go to their Best Place where they meet, acknowledge their true feelings and start to play.  Sitting back to back under a tree, Jack Rabbit says “We’re both chilled now, Dolly.”  The book closes with the two friends holding hands and walking off together into the sunset.

There is a rawness to this book that touches the heart.  Pencil illustrations filled with often subdued colour move across white backgrounds and capture the characters’ feelings.  The minimal text leaves lots of room for the reader to fill in the story with details and interpret the implied emotions.  This book is a treasure from accomplished illustrator and storyteller, Carol Thompson.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Looking Glass Wars BK 1

The Looking Glass Wars BK 1 by Frank Beddor (Egmont Press)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781405219761
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Looking Glass Wars begins an outstanding fantasy trilogy. It creates new lands and uses the characters of Alice in Wonderland in an exciting and different way. Wonderland is the place where the imagination is the most powerful tool powered by the Heart Crystal which is the power source of all the cosmos; where the deck of cards become transformed into soldiers as are the chessboard characters.

The story begins in Wonderland on Princess Alyss’ seventh birthday. Celebrations are underway at Heart Palace. Twelve years have passed since civil war raged between good and evil; between the White and Dark Imagination. Princess Redd was banished because of her evil practices and denied her lawful succession to the throne, leaving her sister Genevieve to be crowned Queen of Wonderland.
  
Alyss’ future intended is the ambitious and obnoxious Jack of Diamonds but it is her lifelong playmate, the commoner Dodge that is her soul-mate.  Bibwit Harte, the royal tutor, is grooming Alyss to be future queen. Hatter Madigan is the leader of the queen’s security force and Alyss’ protector. These wonderful characters are alive on the page, as you love and detest, empathise with or dismiss them through every new adventure fraught with tension as the story is propelled forward.

Alyss’ father is absent on a visit to King Arch of Borderland trying to establish an alliance between the two nations against Redd, who is rumoured to have planned an attack on Wonderland. Alyss’ life is shattered when her parents are murdered by Redd in a perfectly planned attack. She escapes with Hatter through the Pool of Tears, but they are separated and Alyss comes out alone on Earth, into an England of the late 1800s. Taken in by a group of homeless orphans, she uses her unrefined powers of imagination to survive, until they unexpectedly dwindle, then disappear. 

Adopted by the Liddell family from an orphanage where she is cast after being arrested for stealing, Alyss finds it difficult to adapt to normal life and lives in the past with her memories, which she relives by relating them to the Reverend Dodgson. He has befriended Alyss and is using her fantastic stories of Wonderland as material for a book which becomes a best seller.

Meanwhile, Hatter spends every waking moment searching for his princess. He travels the world, in and out of puddle portals, experiencing amazing adventures. We view what is happening to all the characters elsewhere: the cruelty, destruction and decay of the leaders, the populace and the Queendom. The story covers a thirteen year time span. Hatter finally finds Alyss and they jump into a puddle and exit through the Pool of Tears to Wonderland. But she is faced with the vicious, vengeful Redd on her return.

The tale is told in perfect, flowing chapters which move back and forth from the point of view of the characters in Alyss’ current life to the characters in Wonderland. It incorporates a lot of brilliantly set up backstory.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Riley and the Curious Koala

Riley and the Curious Koala: a journey around Sydney by Tania McCartney, illustrations by Kieron Pratt (Tania McCartney Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9780980475036
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton
www.buzzwordsmagazine.com

One rainy day Riley stares out the window and watches the clouds roll across the sky making all sorts of shapes. Granny says it looks like the city of Sydney but Riley spies a koala among the "gaggle of buildings". Fascinated, he flies off to Sydney in his fabulous red bi-plane to search out the koala.

McCartney's imaginative text complements her exceptional black-and-white photography of Sydney at its finest. Riley flies past many iconic Sydney landmarks including  the harbour, the beaches, The Rocks, Circular Quay with its ferries, Luna Park, Strand Arcade, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge as he searches for the elusive koala. Finally he finds the koala sound asleep nestled in a tree at Taronga Zoo. And it is no wonder the koala is exhausted. Children will find it hilarious that throughout Riley's journey, the koala is climbing and snorkelling and getting into all kinds of adventures but Riley fails to spot him.

Pratt's brightly coloured illustrations inject movement and draw the eye across the page. Panda, Lion and Dragon, Riley's friends from the previous two titles, add humour and that touch of companionship to make Riley's journey a shared journey.

From the embossed cover to the illustrated endpapers, Riley and the Curious Koala is beautifully presented and would make a wonderful gift. A percentage of the proceeds of sales will also be donated to the Australian Koala Foundation

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Mirrorshade

Mirrorshade - Bk 3 written and illustrated by Mike Wilks (Egmont)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-5373-4
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In the third book of the trilogy, Mel, Wren and Ludo are jailed in the dungeons of Deep Trouble in the Mirrorscape. They are helped to flee by a girl Wren’s age, and the help of Cogito, the thinking machine. Their mission is to find the mirrortree and obtain its fruit so they can be totally free again. But no one knows of this fruit. What it is exactly is for the children to discover.

Here a parallel story begins. Three bad figments identical to the children have been released. Their intention is to find the real children and destroy them, take their place and obtain freedom from the Mirrorscape forever. But these figments are unknown to Mel and his friends.  It is when the real children start to be hunted because of the theft and destruction that the mirrorshades cause that they find out what they are dealing with.

With the help of their friends Goldie and the invisible Pilfer, they escape firedrakes, giant furry spiders, and stare crows amidst lots of comic confusion that occurs in trying to establish to who is who. There are many lessons to be learned for the three children on their search for freedom and truth. Battles between good and evil are metaphorical and literal. They learn that what they had to find was the knowledge that there is a dark and light side to every person and their mirrorshades reflect the side of themselves that they refused to acknowledge. For them to be whole, ‘they must be united with their dark side’ at some stage of their life. Their experiences bring them to a greater understanding of who they are, and of others.

This series is highly imaginative and well constructed. There is a glossary of terms in the Seven Kingdoms and the Mirrorscape, plus a list of the artistic terms used at the back of each book, which helps with the definition of unknown words. 

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Lilli-Pilli, The Frog Princess

 
Lilli-Pilli, The Frog Princess by Vashti Farrer, illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press Australia) 
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74169-620-2
Reviewed by Felicity Pulman

The pastel line drawing of a joyful young girl leaping off the pink front cover on long frog legs is guaranteed to prompt a curious child to investigate further.  This is a delightful modern fairy tale of a young princess who cannot please her royal parents, Queen Euphorbia and King Nasturtium, or live up to their expectations because, unlike the other royal princesses, she has long frog legs that get in the way of everything she does.

The curving text on some pages perfectly illustrates the leaps and capers of her progress from acrobatics at the Royal Swimming Pool, through lessons on how to be a proper princess, to the dance floor of the Grand Ball where prospective suitors complain that she’s treading on their toes.

Princess Lilli-Pilli is rescued from ignominy by Prince Antirrhinum, star gymnast of the Royal Circus, who twirls and whirls her and throws her into the air, to the amazement and delight of everyone (except the Royal Dancing Master.)  The princess’s future happiness is assured, especially when she becomes the prince’s partner in the Royal Circus’s newest act: The Flying Antirrhinums.

Owen Swan’s delicate illustrations complement perfectly the quirky humour of Vashti Farrer’s text – doing ‘pullovers, back-flips and hip-back circles’ sounds like such fun!  Above all, this story gives a positive message to children that, even if you’re different in some way, even if you don’t fit in, it’s still possible to be happy and fulfilled because everyone has a special talent of some sort.
 
Felicity Pulman is the author of numerous award-winning novels for children and teenagers, including Ghost Boy, the Shalott trilogy and the Janna Mysteries.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Vulture of Sommerset

The Vulture of Sommerset by Stephen M. Giles (Pan Macmillan) 
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-330-42564-3
Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

After reading the first book in this series, Silas and the Winterbottoms I was left wanting to read more about the adventures of the Winterbottom children and was very happy delve into their next adventure.

Like the first book, Stephen M. Giles has incorporated mystery, suspense, a little humour and a lot more nastiness in The Vulture of Sommerset.

Now living at Sommerset permanently, the children find themselves searching for Aunt Rosemary after her mysterious disappearance. Milo is now haunted by Uncle Silas, and this leads to some unusual behaviour and questioning by his cousins, Isabella and Adele.  Convinced she is on the right path to solving the mystery, Adele becomes engrossed in the past of Captain Bloom hoping to find the solution.

The children’s character development is not taken much further in this book: we already know what we need to know about them and their personalities, but there is the possibility that the reader will find a little compassion for spoilt Isabella.  On the plus side, we discover other delightful characters from the first book that were sitting in the wings waiting for their opportunity to expose their true nature.

Unlike the first book where I felt the end was rushed, this time I felt it was a little slower. I found some of the events towards the end a little unnecessary for this age group and could have been toned down a little, but it did not detract from the rest of the story.

Stephen M. Giles has delivered an enjoyable sequel, which will hopefully not be the last. 

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Thomas the Tank Engine: 65th Anniversary Edition

Thomas the Tank Engine: 65th Anniversary Edition by the Rev. W. Awdry (Egmont)
HB RRP $34.95
ISBN 9781405252683
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This beautiful, cloth bound edition of Thomas the Tank Engine was put out a few months ago to celebrate the 65th Anniversary of the first publication of The Railway Series. It is a collector’s dream. It comes in a hard slip-case with a sea green background on which all the train characters, sheds, signs and other railway paraphernalia are represented.

The book itself is oblong in shape and has a rich red cloth binding with gold train tracks running parallel to the spine on front and back covers. The end pages are identical in colour and design to the slip case. There are photographs of Wilbert Awdry in the book in his later years.

Its first entry Making Tracks to Great Destinations, talk about the inception of the Railway Series, and how and why the first book, The Three Railway Engines, was  written and then published in 1945.

When Wilbert Awdry’s son Christopher was very ill, he made up stories of engines to keep him entertained through a long illness. Christopher kept correcting his father’s inconsistencies each time the stories were repeated so that Wilbert was forced to write them down. Pictures of these manuscripts with the corrections are shown in this chapter. His wife encouraged him to publish the stories because they were so entertaining. The dream was to publish ‘small books for small hands’.

Finding the appropriate illustrator wasn’t easy. Awdry drew pictures that the illustrator had to adhere to. The third and final illustrator chosen was C. Reginald Dalby, a commercial artist. He was able to re-draw Awdry’s sketches satisfactorily.

The Thomas character was introduced as a wooden toy and was given the number 1. Each new train that was introduced followed numerically in line. A volume was issued annually until 1972 when the last book in the Railways Series, Tramway Engines, was published.

There are also three stories included in the book which are accompanied by coloured framed plates of the engines. In the first one, Thomas and Gordon, a lot of the secondary characters are showcased. We meet the drivers, guards, stationmaster, Fat Controller, signal men, the shunter, and people on the platform. Thomas’s Train and Thomas and the Trucks follow.

This is an ideal keepsake for readers of all ages who adore the personification of Thomas and his friends and appreciate the lessons each story teaches.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Cats, Bats and Witches Hats

Cats, Bats and Witches Hats by Michele Dodd (Brolly Books)
HB RRP $21.95 (PB RRP $16.95)
ISBN 9781921756306
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton
www.buzzwordsmagazine.com

Cats, Bats and Witches Hats is illustrator Michelle Dodd's debut as an author. At midnight, witches emerge from under the witches' hats on the road and create havoc with their magic brews until the sun begins to rise and they return to from whence they came.

Written in rhyme, the text plays cleverly on the terminology of the road: witches' hats, cats' eyes, road hog, zebra crossing, traffic jam and more. Children will be sure to enjoy the word play and will love the book being read aloud.

The illustrations are bold, colourful and humorous and make full use of each double spread. Each turn of the page provides a new surprise for the reader and I love the mayhem of the last spread which has the results of the witches' spells, such as a zebra, camel, bull and hog roaming the bush during the daylight hours once the witches have returned to their hidey-holes.

Cats, Bats and Witches Hats is wonderfully presented with illustrated endpapers and has a quality feel about it. This is Michele Dodd's first release following the loss of her home and studio in the tragic Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria in February 2009.


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Mirrorstorm

Mirrorstorm - Bk 2 written and illustrated by Mike Wilks (Egmont)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-3746-8
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Mel, Ludo, and Wren, the first girl to be apprenticed by Ambrosius Blenk, have been commissioned to paint a corner of the ceiling in the Hall of Awakenings. While working back alone, Mel overhears a conspiracy by the order of Ters whose numbers are dwindling, to create storms that release demons on the population of Vlam to cover their devious deeds and sinister plots that support a power play which is underway. They also intend to marry Wren to the hideous demon-sniffer Morg, a creature more horrendous than any imaginings.

The children continue to use a luck-compass that was given to them by Cassatti, the Cloud Sculptor, to find answers and escapes from all the situations they find themselves in. In and out of the canvases, their final challenge is not an easy one. With destruction surrounding them, they must make hard and dangerous choices against fearful odds if they are to save themselves and Vlam, and expose the intended usurper Fa Odem. Even Morg’s final spontaneous action contributes to their success.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Dame Nellie Melba

Dame Nellie Melba by Gabiann Marin, illustrated by Rae Dale (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781921042645
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton
www.buzzwordsmagazine.com

Dame Nellie Melba is the first title in the new Aussie Heroes series for younger readers. this is a fictionalised account of the life of Helen Porter, who became one of the greatest operatic singers the world has seen in Nellie Melba having taken on the moniker of Melba in deference to her love for her hometown.

In child-friendly language, this book explores Melba's family relationships particularly that with her father David Mitchell. In an era when society's only expectation for women was that they married and bore children, and that singing was considered a lowly profession, the strength of Nellie's character shines through. Nellie was an exceptionally talented singer but she needed more than that to succeed. She needed a strong will, courage and determination.

And she needed plenty of it. Another obstacle thrown in her way was the snobbery of the British and Europeans towards a 'colonial', including it seems Arthur Sullivan of he prominent musical duo Gilbert and Sullivan. It was also interesting to see that Australians suffered from tall poppy syndrome in colonial and federation times! While Nellie Melba was single-minded in pursuit of her career she was not self-absorbed. During World War One she worked tirelessly, holding fundraising concerts and entertaining troops.

Colourful illustrations are liberally sprinkled throughout to break up the text. A time line of Nellie Melba's life is also included at the end. A further three books in the series are due to be released in 2011: Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, Fred Hollows and Mary MacKillop.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Adventures with Grandpa

Adventures with Grandpa by Rosemary Mastnak (hardie grant Egmont)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921690761
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This poignant story is about relationships. It details the special bond formed between the old and the very young; between grandparent and grand child. Told in a simple but deep and meaningful way, it expresses the joys shared by older people and youngsters, and the valuable contribution each one can make to the other’s life.

For the boy, the destination is grandpa’s shed; that sacred, cluttered and complex shelter in which many youngsters learn, discover, and play; that mysterious dwelling full of ’forgotten things, things he wants to save’.

The boy accompanied by his dog, goes in search of grandpa to this private place. ‘It is like a magic cave!’ Each visit is a tactile and sensory journey of discovery, a new adventure. Some smells he recognizes; others are new. Amongst the rubber tyres, empty buckets, old cupboards, plant pots, watering cans, mowers and catchers, and planks of wood, something valuable is hiding.

The tree isn’t just a tree. Tie a rope and add a rubber tyre and a swing for young and old appears. The boy dreams of the next great creation as he looks at the tool box. An old steering wheel and some metal sheeting equals a racing car. The old bath tub can become a sailing craft. An old tin plus umbrella and old iron roofing become a rocket to the moon for ‘the dog, the chook, grandpa and me’. They can battle dragons together, or convert an old basket into a floating balloon. Nothing is impossible for the two mates. Or they can keep swinging until dinner time.

Illustrated in soft, warm watercolours, the full-page pictures are detailed and alive. The text is minimal and large and the grey instead of black print blends well with the fading shades of background colour, but also stands well alone against the white page. You can almost touch the articles on the shelves, pat the dog, or wind the string that hangs from the boy’s arm.

Pictures from inside the book have been reproduced on both front and back covers. They reveal the joy that the two characters share as they revel in each other’s company. Well thought-out and perfectly executed, the illustration are in perfect union with the text and this is one picture book that will be enjoyed over and over again. It comes highly recommended by the reviewer.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Wolfborn

Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski (Random House)
HB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1825-6
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Wolfborn is an enticing novel for older readers, exploring the folklore of werewolves. Etienne is training to be a knight with Geraint of Lucanne,a well-respected man. All is well until Etienne discovers Geraint’s secret, that he’s a bisclavert, a born werewolf. When Geraint is missing, Etienne is racing against time to find his master before Geraint’s enemies hunt him down. Etienne’s assisted by other bisclaverts, including the beautiful Jeanne.

Bursztynski builds up this world through concrete details and an authentic voice. Etienne is retelling the story as if it’s a giant flashback. It takes some time to get used to but it works well. There’s old English language that adds to the dark mood of the story. Readers will find themselves immersed in this fantasy thriller. Readers may also enjoy the traces of romance as Etienne develops feelings for Jeanne. But it takes a back seat to the involving action and tension, especially when Etienne unravels some secrets about himself.

Wolfborn will leave werewolf fans howling for more. It’s a traditional story that can hold its head up high in the genre. It’s recommended for ages 12 and up.