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

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 - 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

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 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.        

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Guess Who Says Moo?

Guess Who Says Moo?  by Leonie Shearing (Little Hare Books)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-921541-68-1
Reviewed by Simone Zmood

Guess Who Says Moo? is a lift-the-flap book filled with farmyard riddles.  It is squarely aimed at the market for parents reading to their child from 12 months and beyond.  These young children will get caught up in the guessing game and eventually want to open up the flap by themselves to see if they are correct.

Each opening follows a simple pattern.  On the left there is the text with an illustration of the animal’s job and the page is surrounded by a faint border of their footprints.  On the right page of the opening is an edge-to-edge scene filled with farm life and a fully-integrated half page flap hiding most of the mystery animal.   All illustrations are in black ink highlighted with pencil and watercolours in cheerful spring colours.

The text also follows a pattern and gives several clues to the animal in hiding.  It describes one feature of the animal and tells us the noise the animal makes.  It shares the animal’s job and poses the question “Who am I?”  On the opposite page we read “I am the…” and must lift the flap to confirm our guess.

Typical farm animals are featured including a hen, dog, horse, cow, sheep and pig.  In the end, they all come together to make the farm.

This book has a few layers and there is certainly plenty to discover and discuss in the illustrations for each opening.  Guess Who Says Moo?  could easily become a childhood favourite.  The large font, common sight words, and predictive text could also make it a fun book for emerging readers to read back to parents.  

Friday, 19 November 2010

Mirrorscape: Book 1

Mirrorscape: Book 1 written and illustrated by Mike Wilks (Egmont)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-4587-6
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Mike Wilks is an award winning artist and the bestselling author of The Ultimate Alphabet and a string of other books. Mirrorscape is the backlist first book of an impressive trilogy which is artistic in every sense of the word. His intricate, detailed background information brings the reader directly into each scene. The storyline of this fantasy trilogy is unique and imaginative as are the characters which win the reader over from the first few words.

Mel is an artistic thirteen year-old boy condemned by his poverty to obscurity. The village priest, Fa Theum, who has nurtured the boy’s talents, sends Mel’s drawings of imaginary beasts to a friend for his opinion.

Dirk Tot, steward to Ambrosius Blenk the greatest artist in the Seven Kingdoms, so impressed with Mel’s work, arrives in person to offer the boy the rare honour of a free apprenticeship in Blenk’s studio. Mel’s father, who has other plans for his son, refuses his permission.

Dirk Tot returns at a later time for an answer but encounters Fa Theum and Mel being severely beaten and secrets the boy away to the city of Vlam. Their attacker is the unrelenting Adolfus Spute, a man of pure evil, who controls the Fifth Mystery that includes Pleasures for anything that come under the category of the fifth sense, sight, and thus Mel’s paintings.

Mel learns of the Five Mysteries that control each of the five senses. Originally formed to regulate and protect the villagers’ trade and produce from unscrupulous merchants, the meagre yearly tithes became extortion payments. Greed and power-lust created the invention of Pleasures, which demanded payment for purchase of the right to improve any existing trade or produce.

Arriving in Vlam, Mel is given over to the head apprentice Groot, the depraved and sadistic nephew of Blenk who is ignorant of any misconduct. He is subjected to bullying, destruction of his property, and punishment for manoeuvred incidents and accidents. But Mel is observant, intelligent and a survivor. He makes friends with Ludo, another apprentice, and Wren, a kitchen maid whose father, a gifted clock maker, has been sent to work in the pigment mines because he couldn’t make a profit for the Pleasures from Time. These three lives are integrated.

Mel learns about corruption and betrayal; about the power of knowledge, observation and silence. He discovers Blenk’s secret painting, a Mirrorscape that leads to other worlds and hybrid creatures which come alive on the other side of the painting. The abuse of this magical entrance leads to more corruption and chaos. It is through Mel’s incredible intelligence and talent that the trio’s lives are saved, only to be cast into new fantastic adventures.

This trilogy written in incredibly creative and perfect prose, will suit readers of the 12 to 112 age group.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Phoenix Files: Mutation

The Phoenix Files: Mutation by Chris Morphew (hardie grant Egmont)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921502415
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

There are sixty-three days till the end of the world. When Luke, Jordan and Peter arrived, they believed that the move would give them a fresh start in life. But too soon, they discovered that every person brought to Phoenix was part of something more sinister; that they were all pawns in a power play. Their attempts to discover what and when, have been continuously thwarted by the Shackleton Corporation and all the security guards it employs, by threats to their lives. In this the third book in the series, the character Jordan is narrator.

Shackleton has had Officer Reeves killed in front of the three friends because he helped them in their search for truth. His death is made to look like an accident. But this hasn’t stopped them from searching for evidence against Shackleton and his apocalyptic operation Tabitha, and perhaps a way out of town. They wear a tracking device and because of their many escapades, they have been fitted with a suppressor that can be activated by computer in a matter of seconds. This has the ability to totally immobilise them and leave them disabled permanently.  Peter’s father has already been a victim of the mighty corporation’s brutality and is now wheelchair-bound as a warning to Peter to stop prying into ‘things that didn’t concern him’. But how do you stop three children who are determined to prevent the end of the world?

Strange mutations are taking place within the population. Jordan’s mum has been informed that the child she is carrying is growing at an accelerated rate and will be born well before the normal gestation period ends. He announces a ‘town wide screening program’ through blood tests after Georgia, Jordan’s sister, and Peter exhibit abnormal violent behaviour, which causes Peter’s suppressor to be activated. He is kidnapped by an unknown person soon after and forces Luke and Jordan into another dangerous mission to find him.

Jordan is experiencing repetitive and terrifying visions. Luke and his mother discover they lack the genetic requirement for being in Phoenix and should it become known to Shackleton, they will be killed.

Great trials await all the residents of the new town and despite the antagonism between them, three other children are at work searching for the same answers as Luke, Jordan and Peter, but going about from a different angle.

This sci-fi mystery/adventure is riveting reading and equal to that of Michael Grant’s Gone series. It will keep you wondering and guessing, desperate for the next book.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Mercy by Rebecca Lim (HarperCollins)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780732291990
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

It's no wonder that Mercy is ready to become an international hit. Rebecca Lim draws the reader into the story immediately with economical prose and tells the story of Mercy, the fallen and amnesic archangel, with great clarity and a very definite youth voice. This is an angel with attitude!

Written in first person present tense, the reader only knows what Mercy knows, feeling her confusion as she inhabits the body of an insecure but brilliant choir girl Carmen Zappacosta. Mercy does not fully understand her powers and does not know why she must shift from body to body. Is it to help the person whose identity she assumes, others around her, or is there an ulterior objective altogether?

Carmen has been billeted with the Daley family whose daughter Lauren, also an exceptional singer, went missing two years previously and is assumed dead by all except her twin brother Ryan. Mercy believes Ryan and tries to help him find Lauren putting herself in danger. A mysterious sub-plot running through the book, and I am sure throughout the series, is the appearance of other archangels, particularly Luc.

Even if you don't normally read fantasy, you will enjoy Mercy. Look also for the release of the sequels Exile and Muse in 2011.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Hanging Out

Hanging Out by Catherine Bateson, illustrated by Adam Carruthers (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $11.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-829-0
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Hanging Out is another title in the excellent Mates series for younger readers. Written by one of my favourite authors, the wonderful Catherine Bateson, Hanging Out explores the rivalry between cousins Ben and Weston, and between Melbourne and Sydney.

Bateson states in her author profile that she was born in Sydney and now lives in Melbourne. I have the reverse experience of being born in Melbourne and living near Sydney and can fully testify to the ferocity of the competition between the two cities.

Melbourne boy, Ben, had been in awe of Sydney when he visited cousin Weston but true to the inter-city rivalry Ben had boasted of bigger and better things at home. Ben is aghast when Weston is to visit him and thinks he will be shown up as a fraud after boasting about such things as snorkelling in Port Phillip Bay with sharks and taking a steam train everywhere.

While Weston doesn't swim with sharks, he does see the Penguin Parade as the fairy penguins come ashore in the evening; and goes for a ride on Puffing Billy among other adventures. Weston thinks that everything in Melbourne is awesome.

Hanging Out is really just about that though - hanging out. While there maybe wonderful things to do and see everywhere you go, it is so much more enjoyable when there is someone to do and see all these things with. This is what the two boys come to realise in the end.

As with the other titles in the Mates series, the book is brilliantly presented and attractive to younger and reluctant readers. Adam Carruthers' coloured cartoon-like illustrations are full of life and fun. They are dotted throughout the book, breaking up the text. However, there is still plenty of white space so as not to overwhelm the reader. Variable fonts add to the quirkiness. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and highly recommend it.

Monday, 15 November 2010


Yumi by Annelore Parot (hardie grant Egmont)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921690358
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This amazing book introduces the Japanese kokeshi doll. It is an ingenious concept for a picture book and is aimed at teaching children about Japanese culture in an interactive way.

The character’s name is Yumi. She introduces herself from inside a cut-out framed image. Another full length Yumi follows surrounded by her accessories: sashes, fans, umbrellas, kimonos, socks, handbags, teapots, hair combs and more. Yumi’s name written in Japanese edges the left-hand page.

A double page depicts a large horizontal Yumi. In her head space are pictures in square caption form of her pet Bamboo, her best friend Sakumi, and a plan of her house. In the top part of her chest is the framed form of the city. On her sash are the shops, and on the lower part of her kimono is a picture of the dream garden and two pictures of Kimi’s party. These are labelled in English and Japanese. This sequence of frames are the events ahead.

Yumi’s kimonos fill the page. She peeks out from behind a partition of dialogue about her clothing. She invites suggestions about what to wear.

We must find her best friend Sakumi amongst the rows of kokeshi dolls on the page or under two additional flaps, and her pet, Bamboo, hidden amongst a forge of vivid colour and design against a black background.

Kimi’s having a party. Beautiful coloured kites in fish designs are floating in the wind as it gains force and the petals from the cherry blossoms float competing with the kites.

The costume shop is Kimi and Yumi’s destination. They must follow the detailed signs to find their way. Two pages of horizontal fold-outs exhibit all the costumes available. They return to Kimi’s house where they change and move toward the buffet meal of delicious, mouth-watering Japanese food.

They leave while the cherry blossoms and the trees are still visible. Then night is upon Yumi. ‘The animals have all gone to sleep and the trees are full of dreams’. The little kokeshi doll salutes the day inside a folded envelope of the same beautifully spotted design as her favourite kimono and the back cover.

This magnificently presented book has a padded hardcover decorated with Japanese prints. A sewn on character of Yumi wearing a red spotted kimono with a patterned waist band is depicted on the front against a sea-green background. The end pages have identical pictures of all the characters appearing in the book but with a different background colour. A second book, Kimonos, is also available.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

f2m: the boy within

f2m: the boy within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy (Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $20 print; also e-book format on Amazon
Reviewed by Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall 

f2m: the boy within is a sensitive, compelling fictional account of an 18 year old female-to-male transgender teenager and the emotional, social and physical challenges he faces in confronting transition. The writing style, which is extremely engaging, makes you inclined to keep reading once you start. I was especially impressed by the way it balances both the inner dialogue and lingo of turbulent late adolescence.

What I liked best about the novel was the authors' skill in portraying the subject as a multifaceted human being - a talented poet, composer and musician with clear political ideals and a distinct identity that is totally separate from social expectations that he identify with a specific gender role. In fact, it's almost as if he's caught in a time warp: he feels the normal drive of a late adolescent to pursue creative and career goals - yet owing to social stigma, he is unable to fully engage in either until he can physically conform to his self-identified gender. The main character is also quite unique in the closeness he feels towards his family and his extreme conscientiousness regarding family responsibilities.

I can see how this could be a very comforting guide for both teenagers and adults confronting a variety of gender identity issues - as well as their families. The authors cover all the bases involved in early transition - working through both positive and negative reactions of friends, family and employers; dealing with stigma and bullying; finding on-line and real-life support from other FTMs; making appropriate use of counselling; the medical and psychiatric assessments required to start hormone replacement and to get a surgery referral; and the physical and emotional side effects of starting hormones.

Most important of all, however, is the emphasis that there isn't just one acceptable way to transition from female to male. That the process involves a number of choice points, which is one reason why counseling is so helpful. Some FTMs opt not to take hormones. Some opt for breast removal surgery only and forgo genital reconstruction.

I sense the realistic, multifaceted characters - as well as the dramatic tension leading to the subject's decision to come out to various family members and their individual struggles to accept his decision - will also be quite appealing to mainstream readers. As a well-told story exploring one particular dimension of the human condition.

Further details: http://www.hazeledwards.com/page/f2mthe_boy_within.html   

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Dark Divine

The Dark Divine by Bree Despain (Egmont Press)
PB RRP 19.95
ISBN 9781405254588
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In this exquisite story of love, faith and devotion, high tension is visible from the beginning.  Written in a fast-paced style, tension is further increased throughout the prose by inference and things left unsaid and unqualified in a mesmerising way, making the reader long for the next turn of the page. It is laced with myth and mystery. The characters are outstanding and the storyline is well-crafted with lots of surprises amid stories within stories.

Gracie, Pastor Divine’s seventeen year-old daughter, has loved Daniel since she was a child growing up next door to him. The Pastor took Daniel in as a member of his family after the authorities finally stepped in to stop the brutality he was suffering at his father’s hands. This cemented Gracie’s feelings which remained unchanged with the passing of time and Daniel’s sudden and unexplained departure. Now he is back, enigmatic as always and hiding secrets about himself. The burning feelings he had for Gracie are again in play, giving him more reason to straighten out his life by getting into art school and tying up his mysterious loose ends.

But Gracie fights her feelings, for everything about Daniel indicates she shouldn’t care for him. There are sides to him that Gracie doesn’t know about and he’s not ready to share anything yet. Rumours about him abound, as do warnings about his character from her good and well-intentioned brother Jude, whose weird, festering hatred for Daniel is exhibited from the moment of the prodigal’s return.

This inexplicable reaction makes Gracie wary. He also keeps secrets from his sister, fearful, dangerous secrets that threaten to destroy the religious Divine family. Gracie discovers that the Pastor too, has secrets and the merry-go-round they are all on seems unable to stop.

The tales of a monster killing people in their area start up again when the mauled bodies of people and animals are found. Who or what is doing this? Why is Daniel under suspicion and can loving grace rid the family of the traumas they are experiencing? Who and what is the monster, and is the homeless Don whom the Pastor has supported for so long, hiding more than they know?

Twists and turns; revelations and explanations. This is a great read for the 16+ age group (or mature younger readers) that will have them stuck to their seat and hanging onto every word.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


Lies Lies by Michael Grant (Egmont Press)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781405254304
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

With an author tour currently under way in Australia, Lies the third in the extraordinary Gone series of six books, continues the saga of the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone) at Peribo Bay, where the sudden, inexplicable disappearance of all adults from the area, has left their children imprisoned behind an impenetrable wall forcing them to find any method possible to survive. This series comes with a warning that the books ‘contain scenes of cruelty and some violence’.

The lack of food has created a desperate situation. Kids are dying and cannibalism is at times the only food source. Almost all the cats, dogs and rats have been eaten. Although Quinn and his group fish daily in the distant sea and Hunter hunts for food continuously, it is never nearly enough to feed all the starving children. Mary continues to care for the little ones as best as possible under the circumstances, ignoring the fact that her anti-depressant dependency combined with her dangerous war with food has left her in a state of near-collapse.

Everyone walks around with weapons and brutality reigns. A virus is racing through the Bay and the medical supplies are almost depleted. Lana the Healer has become a recluse and has lost control of her thought process as the gaiphage is controlling her for its own evil end.

Zil, the leader of the normals, is determined to kill off all the freaks, which are mutating at an incredible rate. Their abilities and abnormalities increase daily and fighting amongst the inhabitants keeps everyone on edge.

Things have taken a disastrous turn.  Drake with his monstrous snake hand, was believed dead, but is now alive again, as is Brittany. It’s good against evil now more than ever. More horrors await Sam who is determined to end it one way or another with Drake. Sam’s half-brother Caine has also declared war against him with unrelenting, brutal and callous dedication.

Lies expands with new characters to excite the reader. Across the bay, unbeknown to them all, a couple has left behind their five adopted children in the family mansion. The five are determined to escape the island in a helicopter. Here unlimited possibilities are released to feed the reader’s imagination as new issues enter the game. For the first time we also learn about the other side of the Wall and what the parents are thinking.

This series won’t allow the reader to stop reading until the last word. It is confronting at times because of the brutality executed by the young characters, but all scenes are justified and believable. The next book will be available in April.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Aussie Nutcracker

The Aussie Nutcracker by Heath McKenzie (black dog books)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74203-161-3
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

The Aussie Nutcracker is heath McKenzie's best book so far. Just in time for Christmas, McKenzie Australianises E.T.A. Hoffmann's classic story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Clara and Fritz become Clare and Felix and their magical godfather Herr Drosselmeyer is Uncle Don.

McKenzie stays true to the story but all the characters (apart from the mice) are depicted as Australian animals. Clare, Felix and Uncle Don are koalas, Felix's toy soldiers are a platypus, goanna, wombat and a possum, and the nutcracker is a giant red kangaroo. I loved the sugar glider cast as the Sugar Plum Fairy, ruler of the Land of Lollies. 

McKenzie's illustrations are as bright, bold and colourful as always with the focus on the characters and the action. The snowy edging around the pages pays homage to the original tale. This book will be a sure Christmas hit, an ideal gift for children or to send to relatives and friends overseas. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Kisses for Daddy

Kisses for Daddy by Frances Watts, illustrated by David Legge (Little Hare Books)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-921541-63-6
Reviewed by Simone Zmood

Kisses for Daddy is a delightful book from an award-winning duo.  It was first published in 2005 and has been repackaged in hard cover as the fourth title in Little Hare’s “My Little Library” collection of books on kisses and love.

Baby Bear was feeling out of sorts and didn’t want to cooperate with his parents in going to bed.  He reluctantly gave his mother a kiss goodnight but steadfastly refused to give his dad one.  So his father transforms the bedtime routine into a game, trying to get a kiss at each step along the way by imagining the type of kiss that other baby animals would give their dads.

When Daddy Bear picks Baby Bear up, he requests a long, tall giraffe kiss.  While carrying him up the stairs Daddy asks for a cuddly, clingy koala kiss.  As they bathe together Daddy suggests a snappy, watery crocodile kiss.  Baby bear is clearly having fun but still refuses to give his dad an upside down bat kiss while they dry off.  No stripy, growly tiger kiss is forthcoming while they brush their teeth.  As he dresses Baby Bear in his pyjamas, Daddy suggest a jumpy, wriggly monkey kiss.  He then asks for a tiny, whiskery mouse kiss as he tucks Baby Bear into bed, but all to no avail.  By now Baby Bear has got over his original grumbles and he has the last laugh.  It is only as Daddy Bear is about to leave the room that Baby Bear offers a big bear kiss and a big bear hug to say goodnight.

Kisses for Daddy is filled with warm edge-to-edge illustrations and the bears look so soft, anyone would want to have a cuddle.  The black text is set at the top of each page and sits nicely on the backgrounds of the whole-page illustrations.  This is a lovely book which can be read to toddlers and pre-readers at any time of day. It could be particularly helpful for those who are parenting reluctant bed-goers and provides a wonderful role play opportunity to use when standard bedtime routines aren’t working.  Thank goodness for imaginative parents!  

Monday, 8 November 2010

The Wishing Chair Collection

The Wishing Chair Collection by Enid Blyton (Egmont Press)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 9781405248488
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The famous Wishing Chair Collection has been released again with three books in one. It contains The Adventures of the Wishing Chair, The Wishing Chair Again, and The Wishing Chair Stories. The print is larger and darker in the first book then goes into a smaller and lighter text as the adventures progress. The black and white illustrations are interspersed throughout the book to reinforce the characters and their actions.

The ever-popular Peter and Mollie with their best friend, Chinky the Pixie whom they saved from the giant’s clutches, are alive on the pages. They go on delicious, exciting and unusual adventures on their wishing chair, a rare object they discovered in an antique shop while searching for a gift for their mother’s birthday. On their travels they come into contact with, and are set upon by, mischievous goblins, gnomes, brownies, giants, elves, and various other magical and frequently more than kind and friendly creatures.

It is in the first book that we are introduced to the children and follow them as they discover the wishing chair, where they meet and befriend Chinky, and discover how they keep the chair a secret and hidden in their playroom at the bottom of the garden. Their adventures begin at a command from the children or other occupant, and take place on visits home from school during holidays and during any visits home.

These adventures aren’t always good ones. Many times the three find themselves embroiled in trouble and are forced to turn to Chinky for help, and he in turn depends on his countless connections and his magic wand to get them all out of sticky situations. They learn many lessons on their travels. They discover that everyone is not always to be trusted, and things are not always what they seem; that goodness is found in the most unexpected people and that kindness usually is the best tool in a difficult situation.

Most of Enid Bytom’s books continue to be published and their popularity never wanes. These re-issues enable new readers –young and older ones- to escape into the magical and mythical adventures born so many years ago. This series is suitable and highly recommended for anyone five years and onwards.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

W is for Wombat

W is for Wombat  by Bronwyn Bancroft (Little Hare Books)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-921541-85-8
Reviewed by Simone Zmood

The thing that grabs you about W is for Wombat is the large, bold colour illustrations and indigenous dot technique.  They draw attention to the front cover of the book and this style is delivered throughout.  Most pages have a single, solid colour background which is not overwhelming for a young child, though a few pages do have a vibrant background scene.  The strong colours used are those routinely associated with the Australian outback including rust red, blue, green and gold.

There is typically one word per page in very large, easy-to-read black font. The A-Z words themselves capture a range of iconic Australian animals such cockatoos, dingo, emu, goanna, joey, koala, magpie, platypus, and wombat.  Some less well-known Australian animals are also included such as lyrebird, numbat, quokka, and yabby.  A boomerang features early on and this is the only iconic Australian object.  There are also a range of items which are not unique to Australia but will capture a young child’s interest, including creatures such as ants, hawk, owl, unicorn fish, and zebra fish, and the more ubiquitous island, river, sun, tree, and vine.

W is for Wombat is subtitled “My First Australian Word Book” and the back cover proclaims this as “a first book of Australian words for the very young”.  The book is well-suited to capture the interest of babies through to 3 years.  Beyond that age, the book could be used to discuss artistic style and indigenous culture, but there is no storyline to maintain the interest of an older preschool child. 

It is a delight to welcome another feast for the eyes by noted artist and illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft.  W is for Wombat was first published in 2008, and this edition was released in mid-2010.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Scaly-tailed Possum and Echidna

Scaly-tailed Possum and Echidna by Cathy Goonack, illustrated by Katrina and Marlene Goonack and Myron Goonack (Magabala Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-19221248160
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

As a start I have to say I love this story and the book. Scaly-tailed Possum and Echidna is the story of how the possum became scaly-tailed and how echidna got his spikes. It is a story told by the Goonack family from the Wunambal people – living in the remote Mitchell plateau region of the Kimberley, Western Australia.

Like the majority of Aboriginal stories it involves a wrong-doing, violence, drama and consequence. These are great stories for children, youth and adults as it involves all the elements we know and enjoy!

The book contains a strong sense of voice. I can hear the depth and lilt as I read. The personal photos at the front and back of the book aid this. In particular the photo at the front of Wilfred Goonack teaching his grandson to cook up crocodile is both personal and beautiful and allows the reader to feel a connection to the people for whom this story is a part of their dreaming.

The beginning of the book also describes the artistic process, which was very interesting. The children, with the support of Janie Andrews produced them. They are all silk-screen images. It made me take a closer look at the art and I wish I could view the original silk screens.

This book is not only a dreamtime story it is also an instructional tool. Until reading this I had no idea that a scaly-tailed possum existed in the far north-west of Western Australia. There is a page of information regarding the scaly-tailed possum, the echidna and the Kandiwal mob and their region at the end of the book. It is refreshing to have a reminder about the broad nature and biodiversity of the land we live in and the people whilst reading a lovely dreaming story.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Cat's Pajamas

The Cat’s Pajamas by Wallace Edwards (hardie grant Egmont)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921690730
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Presenting another collectible work of art that will sharpen the reader’s intake of breath from the sheer beauty of the work. The jacket is an exact replica of the inside cover. A cat sits on a velvet couch dressed in attire fit for a queen/king with painted nails and a decorative throw rug covering it. The end pages are illustrated in an identical cat end-to-end, in a milk chocolate brown.

Acclaimed author-illustrator Wallace Edwards is well known for his animal portraits and these will have you humming as will the idioms attached to each of the twenty-six framed tableaus, and the challenge of finding the cat in each picture. (There was one I couldn't discover, no matter how hard I looked!)

Each idiom has an identifying tableau with the animal mentioned literally acting the way described in the text. This creates an entertaining combination of illustration and words. The colours are striking: rich reds, burgundy, various shades of greens and browns, lots of gold and yellow, varying blues and other softer shades of all the above and more. The animals include bears, birds of all kinds, mice, a lion, rhinoceros and underwater creatures; roosters, rabbits, a gingerbread house, a fox, giraffe, and pig, a crab, camel, ducks rowing, and the list goes on.

This extraordinary and beautiful book is suitable for teaching children their idioms with an accompanying visual reinforcement. The learning will stay in their mind because of its hilarious content. It’s also for anyone who appreciates fine art and the effort put into its presentation.

Other books by this award-winning author-illustrator are listed on the back flap. The jacket has been designed by Karen Powers.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Phoebe Nash: Detective

Phoebe Nash: Detective by Justin D’Ath (Laguna Bay)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978-0-9805664-3-7
Reviewed by Heather Zubek

This is the second in the series of adventure seeker Phoebe Nash. The first Phoebe Nash: Girl Warrior saw Phoebe and her family travelling through Africa. The second installment follows on from the first story with Phoebe looking forward to a visit from her African friend Sospeter. All the elements are there to get a young pre-teen reading – especially a young female pre-teen. Is Sospeter a boyfriend or not? Best friend dramas, Hanna Montana, make-up and of course the adventures of stolen sapphires and angry animal rights protestors. Author Justin D’Ath knows his audience and uses this knowledge effectively. Justin’s other series includes Extreme Adventures which has as its hero a young teenage boy. This new series is definitely aimed at young girls.

To really enjoy this second installment of Phoebe Nash, readers should read the first, Phoebe Nash: Girl Warrior. There are references to events in the first book that may confuse first time readers. Is it best to write each installment as a stand-alone? I don’t know the answer to this but I guess from a marketing standpoint having readers need to read the entire series is good business. Still, the second story is a great read and the fan base for the heroine should be growing. Suitable for competent readers aged 10+


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

One Perfect Pirouette

One Perfect Pirouette by Sherryl Clark (UQP)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-070223841-3
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

One Perfect Pirouette is about so much more than just ballet. I’m not into tutus and frills, but I believe in pursuing your dream. Brynna relentlessly pursues hers, but she is painfully aware that her ambition comes at an enormous cost to her family. Just how far would you go to achieve your dream?

You don’t have to be rich to achieve your goals, but toughness and persistence are ‘must haves’. Friendships are lost as progress is made, but what about enemies? Should you let others walk all over you just to keep the peace? The consequences can be more devastating than you could ever imagine.

Sheryl Clark always does her research and then makes the nitty gritty details a seamless part of the story. Apart from tortuous hours of boring repetition, the artistic demands of a ballerina’s schedule were brought to life. However, the height of perfection is possible only for a very small number. There are many who resent not making it. I wasn’t prepared for the lengths people could go to, just to stop others from achieving their dream.

I walked away from One Perfect Pirouette with a deep awareness of the trials faced when working to develop elite skills – not only in ballet. In this politically correct world of report cards that outline abilities but not weaknesses, Sheryl’s clear depiction of rejection is a revelation. What happens when your dream crumbles and years of practice lead to a dead end? It was something I’d never considered.

As always, Sheryl Clark’s tale has layers of meaning hidden between the pages. Some of these insights take time to surface. A week after finishing reading, I realised that just like Brynna, there are many things my parents never told me.

Anyone with a burning desire to achieve their dream will love One Perfect Pirouette, even if they aren’t into ballet. However, be warned. There is so much more hidden between these pages than you will have bargained for.

Speech Pathologist Jo Burnell is passionate about igniting a love of reading, especially in struggling and reluctant readers.