Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea

Amazing Grace: An Adventure at Sea by Stephanie Owen Reader (National Library of Australia)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN 9780642277435
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

This book is absolutely outstanding from the story created around the factual evidence to the presentation and production quality.

In December 1876, sixteen-year-old Grace Bussell (and others) risked their own lives to save passengers and crew from the shipwrecked Georgette. A fictionalised account of the rescue is interspersed with paintings, newspaper clippings, photographs, eyewitness accounts and other historical documents from the National Library of Australia's own collection. A true sense of pioneer life at the time is built up.

The author is a master storyteller, able to draw the reader into the thoughts of feelings of passengers, crew and rescuers. Grace is shown as a capable and affable, but not extraordinary country girl, who nonetheless does not hesitate when action is needed. Other rescuers such as the Aboriginal stockman Sam Isaacs, and James and William Dempster are given due credit for their bravery.

A list of characters, glossary, short chapters and plentiful illustrations and further information ensures that the story can be followed by competent younger readers as well as being enjoyed and appreciated by older readers and even adults.

I highly recommend Amazing Grace and it should find a place on all bookshelves.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Mr Darcy

Mr Darcy by Alex Field, illustrated by Peter Carnavas (New Frontier Publishing)

HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921042836
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

As a lover of Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice it was a no-brainer I would love Alex Field's picture book Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy is a duck who lives by himself at Pemberley Park 'where the trees blossomed and the lake sparkled'. Although he is lonely he feels too important to accept an invitation to tea from Lizzy and her sisters. Disaster occurs when Mr Darcy falls in a puddle (a little smile crossed my lips with visions of Mr Darcy from the BBC series emerging from the lake!). Lizzy, her sisters and their friends (including Bingley the horse) help free Mr Darcy and, realising the value of friendship, he accepts Lizzy's invitation.

The text and illustrations combine perfectly to bring this delightful story to life. Peter Carnavas once again shows why he is an award-winning illustrator. The illustrations are uncluttered yet full of energy, movement and emotional integrity. Mr Darcy is the stand-out character and his journey is brilliantly portrayed. Plenty of white space keeps the focus on the characters and does not distract the reader, ensuring that the message of the text is conveyed but never in a didactic manner.

Children and parents will both love this gentle and amusing story.

Monday, 26 December 2011


Brumbies by Paula Boer, illustrated by Rowena Evans (IFWG Publishing)
ISBN -978-0-646-56641-2
PB RRP $15
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Paula Boer's Brumbies is the first in a five-part series set in the Snowy Mountains of Australia where wild brumbies roam the National Parklands. Such is their numbers that authorities are forced to cull by mustering the horses for the sales yards. Unfortunately, most end up in the pet food market.

The two young protagonists, Louise, a city girl just moved to the country, and Ben, a farm boy, are keen to save at least some of them and plan to hold a muster of their own before high school resumes. When the teenagers happen upon part of a herd and see a buckskin and a colt they would love to capture for themselves, the personal element really kicks in.

Any young horse-lover will be thrilled with this novel, and I certainly relived my fascination with horses as a young girl. This is no pony club story, nor purely an entertaining adventure story - it is an education in riding, mustering, and breaking-in horses told in great and fascinating detail with the authority of Paula's experience as a horsewoman. It is this detail that sets Brumbies apart from the usual pony read. The problem-solving is especially intriguing to those who have never belonged to the horse world, and here again, Paula's expertise provides answers that, without first-hand experience, would be very difficult to portray.

Brumbies draws the reader into a different world, one populated by Australian birds and fauna, and the rigours of riding in the Snowy Mountains. Although maybe a little overly-descriptive for some readers, I personally felt any small flaws were not worth a mention in the joy of experiencing a truly inspiring Aussie adventure story told with such passion and truth. You want Louise and Ben to succeed, you understand their determination to win through and you suffer alongside them when things go wrong.

Brumbies includes a Glossary which will be most helpful to readers, especially those who are not familiar with Australian slang terms.

Rowena Evans' illustrations complement the story and the cover, with its pen and wash depiction of a herd of brumbies on a background of vivid green, is very attractive. Her engaging black and white drawings and maps are scattered with great effect throughout this excellent novel.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat

Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat by Anna Branford, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Walker Books Australia)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781921529191
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

The delightful Violet Mackerel is back with her newest theory: the Theory of Helping Small Things. However, Violet finds that helping small things is not so easy when the ladybird Small Gloria dies in the home Violet has made her. Violet discovers all about natural habitats and Small Gloria provides the key to repairing Violet's relationship with her sister Nicola who is 'going through a stage'.

Beautifully written and pitched perfectly for younger readers, this third Violet book is a heart-warming exploration of family dynamics and of a child working out the world around her and how she and others fit into it. Branford also provides advice on how best to keep a ladybird in a jar including that it is best not to keep them for long.

Sarah Davis' ink and pencil illustrations grace every page bringing Violet and her family to life. Davis has managed to capture the very essence of Violet's personality. In particular, I loved the illustration of Violet searching for Small Gloria in the rain.

Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat is the most gorgeous book and a must-have for all book shelves.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Lily's Wish

Lily's Wish by Barbara Pyett and Serena Geddes (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 978192104289
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Lily writes to Santa with just one wish: wings to fly. She has a gift that needs to be delivered to the other side of the world. Santa ponders the request. On Christmas Eve, he drops by Lily's house and takes her on a sleigh ride across the world  and Lily delivers a kiss to her grandmother in London. Lily wakes the next morning and wonders if it's all a dream until Grandma rings to tell Lily she has company-Lily's toy rabbit.

Lily's Wish explores the meaning of Christmas without being didactic or ignoring the excitement Santa brings to children. Gorgeous water colour illustrations bring the minimal text to life and extends it. Throughout the story there is no mention of the rabbit though it appears as Lily's constant companion in the illustrations. The illustration of Lily blowing the kiss is perfect. 

Lily's Wish is a book that will certainly feature under many Christmas trees.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Hal Junior – The Secret Signal

Hal Junior – The Secret Signal  by Simon Haynes (Bowman Press Australia)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-877034-07-7
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

From the author of the YA Hal Spacejock series comes a junior science fiction novel in which Hal Junior, who idolises Captain Spacejock, is the hero. Hal lives aboard a futuristic space station where Dad “once told him about people washing with actual water” and the idea of washing in it or “sloshing it all over your plates to clean them was insane.” Hal’s story begins with him needing best mate, Stephen 'Stinky' Binn, to help him retrieve his homework from the recycling hatch. Sounds simple enough, except it requires tampering with the space station’s gravity controls. Very carefully.

A whole series of events is set off in which his teacher, a robot, is hijacked and Hal discovers a sinister plot that puts the entire space station in peril. The set-up, which includes Mum as chief scientist and Dad as maintenance man for the air filtration system, ensures all of Hal’s antics are plausible. My favourites include his use of a home-made space cannon, bungie-jumping with elastic shoelaces and Hal drifting about in space, uncertain whether he will be able to hook back up with his family and friends ever again.

The book also contains small line drawings and some funny visual jokes, particularly at the beginning of each chapter. The technical diagrams scattered throughout, many of them explaining concepts in the text, add further interest. There are even plans for readers to follow that produce the world’s most acrobatic paper plane; the one Hal’s homework was written on the back of when it sort of accidently flew down the recycling hatch (which is what started the whole story).

Young readers are likely to be quickly drawn in by the likeable character of Hal. He is adventurous, fun, and a little cheeky, but always hopes to ensure that only fairness prevails. Being a hero, he manages to save all. Packed with danger and tension, as well as humour and sweetness, his story is highly recommended for confident readers in upper primary. 

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Boy and the Crocodile: the legend of East Timor

 The Boy and the Crocodile: the legend of East Timor illustrated by children from the Familia Hope Orphanage (Affirm Press)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-098713262-8
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

This book is an absolute inspiration. It is a creation tale about how East Timor the island came into being, how it got its shape and how kindness and friendship can create great things.

This is particularly apt as the story of the book creation is a magnificent one. It came from collaboration between Australia (Affirm press), Familia Hope Orphanage and Arte Morris in Dili, East Timor. Familia Hope Orphanage is home to 30 children, many of whom lost their parents in East Timor’s violent struggle for independence. They are now at an age where they must look to personal independence in the near future. This book was designed to give them a helping hand. All proceeds of this book will go to the orphanage.

The artwork was produced through workshops with the children of the orphanage and Arte Morris. Arte Morris is a free Fine Arts and Cultural Centre in Dili. It was established to use art as a building block in the psychological and social reconstruction of East Timor, a country devastated by war. It has a particular focus on the young. Its story alone is fascinating -

This book goes beyond helping those in the orphanage alone. Copies of this book were presold to finance the production and distribution (free) of a Tetum version of The Boy and the Crocodile. 5000 copies are being given out in the hope to foster an understanding of their own culture, legends and language, something sorely missing in East Timor presently.

All up this book is a gorgeous creation tale. The illustrations are beautiful and offer a variety that is true of a communal production. It teaches of friendship and kindness. It allows those who purchase it to assist others less fortunate. What more could you want in a book for yourself or as a gift for others?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Murgatroyd’s Garden

Murgatroyd’s Garden  by Judy Zavos, illustrated by Drahos Zak (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-921720-52-9
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

It is no wonder that this book won CBCA Honour Book, Picture Book of the Year in 1987. It’s rerelease is sure to be adored by those who battle at bath time because it means the dreaded task of hair washing. It opens with the havoc Murgatroyd’s AMAZING screams cause EVERYWHERE. They cause chaos for the Mayor, the Queen, the President and more. So much so that, by order of the Mayor, Murgatroyd’s parents must not wash it anymore.

At first, Murgatroyd is happy. As is everyone else. Peace and quiet is a good thing. Better still, it seems dirt ridden hair that grows a garden proves to be a novelty. The entire neighbourhood is kept stocked with freshly picked flowers. Experts can’t believe it. People come from the world over to witness it. And Murgatroyd becomes famous for something other than screaming.

The garden grows bigger and bigger. It produces vegetables and fruit trees. It becomes home for birds. The bigger and heavier it gets, the smaller and more miserable poor Murgatroyd becomes. Those visiting to sticky beak, and the animals living in the growth, don’t keep Murgatroyd company. He becomes lonely. And worried. “Soon there would be all garden and no Murgatroyd.” It is agreed, that the garden must go and Murgatroyd is so pleased with being able to stand again, he happily has his hair washed. Regularly.

Zak’s artwork is splendid. Sepia tones, with teensy dobs of colour, form detailed illustrations of Murgatroyd’s town. Black is often used on white to outline parts of Murgatroyd’s personal world, with the key features being in bold colour. Sepia returns to show the garden growing and, as it blossoms into much life, enormous amounts of colour pull readers into the action and help hide poor Murgatroyd. There is so much for readers to look at and find in these pictures, they will come back again and again. This book is highly recommended for pre-schools and young readers.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Ships in the Field

Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Anna Pignataro
(Ford Street Publishing)
HB RRP $26.95
ISBN 978-1921665233
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

Joining the mastery of award-winning author, Susanne Gervay and award-winning illustrator, Anna Pignataro – Ships in the Field is a picture book filled with significance, beauty and rich subtext.

Narrated through the simple, but intuitive eyes of a little girl, this picture book tells the story of life for a refugee family who have fled from their war torn country and started a new life in a foreign land. The little girl shares heart warming family moments with the reader. Images of her father splashing her with water from the laundry tub, making hats for the whole family from paper napkins, promising her a puppy that she so longs for, or sitting on top of trees that give a view of the whole world; all of these provide a safe and comfortable foundation for her to share other images of her family’s life that are far deeper and more complex. We see her mother crying in the hallway as she sleeps, we hear of how the night scares her, we hear of the loss of their previous life, and the complexity of mistaking ‘ship’ for ‘sheep’. These images are delicately interwoven in a way that brings hope and understanding.

The intricate images from Anna Pignataro are wonderfully complimentary and equally telling. She captures the warmth, solidary and strength of the family through her soft, watercolour images; however, the double page image spreads also provide the subtext for what is left partially unsaid in the narrative – the gloom, loss, fear and devastation of war. Colour is a significant part of the illustrations and the sense of hope overcoming loss and devastation is depicted through the changing colours, as the darker and more neutral tones are slowly replaced with brighter and more vibrant colours towards the books close.

Through its imagery, clever word play and warmth, Ships in the Field has created a thoughtful and touching insight into the world of a child whose life has been shredded by war. While it is a great insight, it is not overly confronting and easily accessible for younger readers. It is a significant picture book that will assist children (aged 7+) to develop empathy and understanding. 

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Unicorn Riders Book 4 : Ellabeth’s Test

Unicorn Riders Book 4 : Ellabeth’s Test by Aleesah Darlison, illustrated by Jill Brailsford (Walker Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-921720-00-0
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

When Willow breaks her leg, Ellabeth volunteers to be lead rider in her place. The team’s latest mission is to acquire magical diamond scales from a specific Dakkar Serpent, needed to make Princess Serafina’s armour for her initiation ceremony. The ceremony will be followed by a Council of Kingdoms meeting that the princess will attend in an effort to avoid a war. The Unicorn Riders must travel dangerous territory and return in time for the armour to be made before the meeting.

Though Ellabeth is at first adamant she should take the leadership role ahead of any other rider, she soon learns that being a leader isn’t simply about bossing people around. It means lots of decision making. It’s frightening when the black Mists of Shanahan engulf the riders, making it impossible to keep track of their path. Ellabeth becomes plagued by self-doubt and battles self-pride before she finds it within herself to ask for help.

After the team makes it to the serpent’s home, they must face another obstable; convincing the serpent to give the scales freely. Their magic will die if taken without permission. Ellabeth, tired and snappy, does not treat the serpent with the respect she deserves. The serpent decides she “can not entrust the Dakkar Diamonds to one who is not respectful.” Fortunately, Ellabeth is placed in a position where her actions enable her to redeem herself.

Besides a map that allows readers to follow the riders’ journey through Avamay, there are illustrations that capture scenes within new territory and characters no-one has met before. As well as reading about the fantasy world Darlison has created, girls aged eight and up will be able to visually absorb it and its people.

Like others in the series, this story is magical and uplifting. Action and adventure is high on the list, with risks and dangers that are sure to engage readers. Moving forward at a lively pace, while also exploring possible failure as Ellabeth makes her way through this test, guarantees the attention of young readers is held.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Albert Santos-Dumont

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont by Victoria Griffith, illustrated by Eva Montanari (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
HB RRP $16.95 US
ISBN 9 781419 700118
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Scant knowledge of flight history had me believing that the Wright Brothers were the first to fly a plane. It seems, however, it’s not all that simple. Their first flight required their plane to be pushed before it could ascend. All sorts of people were hoping to be the first to get a self-propelled plane into the sky and one of the most famous was a Brazilian living in Paris who, believe it or not, did his errands by airship. He was the first to achieve his goal.

This picture book for children aged 6-10 portrays Alberto as a man of quirky personality who flew a dirigible over Paris to run errands. He “sometimes tethered his flying machine to a lamppost in front of a fashionable café and asked the waiters to send him up a glass of champagne or coffee." As the son of a wealthy plantation owner, Alberto had the financial backing needed to pursue his project.

The visual portrayal, in rich, smudgy oils and pastels, gives readers a feel for Paris of 1906, its people and the excitement that went with events. End note photos of Alberto and his dirigible over the Eiffel Tower are nice for readers but the illustrations that capture the feel of the time, the pursuit of the dream, Alberto’s success and everyone’s response will give great perspective and much delight.

The book intersperses Albert’s story with that of history and some quirky elements are revealed. For example, in his wish to always time his journeys, Albert Santos-Dumont asked his jeweller friend Louis Cartier to make it easier for him to clock flight times, saying a fob watch was too fiddly. Louis presented him with the first male wristwatch. A Cartier watch called the Santos is still available today.

The story also shows Alberto with his hat maker, expressing his belief that "once people are able to fly to different countries, they will see how much we have in common. We will all be friends." While he was the first man to take off in a self-propelled plane, end notes tell how Alberto’s wish for world peace was dashed when he saw that planes were used in war. Sadly, he took his own life.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Side by Side - Shoulder to Shoulder

Side by Side - Shoulder to Shoulder by Neridah McMullin, illustrated by Ainsley Walters (One Day Hill)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780980794823
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Football is an integral part of Melbourne and defines the culture of the city. Side by Side gives the young reader an insight into what that meant in the Great Depression where football teams bound communities and provided a distraction from the harsh realities of unemployment and hunger.

It is the eve of the 1935 Grand Final and, with hundreds of other supporters, young Tom and his grandfather attend the final training for the Collingwood team at Victoria Park. Grandpa points out the fearless players of  'The Machine' including the Collier brothers and Gordon Coventry as well as legendary coach Jock McHale. A buzz runs through the crowd when the news that Bob Pratt the champion full forward of South Melbourne, Collingwood's opposition in the 1935 Grand Final, has been hit by a truck.

Underlying the story of the club is the strength of the relationship of grandfather and grandson. Above all, it is the sense of belonging and familial loyalty to the team that comes through McMullin's text. Tom may be hungry but he feels lucky to be part of something bigger.

Ainsley Walters' colourful illustrations are perfect for the nostalgic feel of the book and the addition of original newspaper clippings, cartoons and photographs give a true sense of the era. A glossary of football and historical terms, facts and a rundown of six grand finals are included as well as biographies of many Collingwood players of the era.

Love 'em or hate 'em, Collingwood Football Club is an icon of Australian Rules Football and still holds the record of four premierships in a row from 1927 to 1930. Side by Side is perfect for young Collingwood fans and lovers of this great game.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Celeste, Nick and the Magical Tea Party

Celeste, Nick and the Magical Tea Party by Miss Dinkles, illustrated by Adam Oehlers (
HC RRP $22.45 online
ISBN 9781921596803
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Discovering the world of Celeste and Nick is like rediscovering ancient wisdoms about the connectedness of all life.Celeste, unlike her carefree sister Renee, is anxious about leaving her home with the pond in the yard and moving to a big city. Settled in the new house, Celeste doesn’t feel safe outside. She shares tea parties with imaginary friends in her room and is unhappy until she finds an old radio in the shed. Listening to music evaporates her darkness.

The first day of school is traumatic. She is teased, has her hair pulled and eats her lunch alone. At night she cries, feeling lonely and alone. She puts on the radio and is transported from her room to a place of grassy fields, soft clouds and blue skies. Colour and light fills her life; colours of the sun, grass, water and sky.

Nick sits next to Celeste at lunch the following day. He tells her of his loneliness when he started at school. Later, Celeste is transported to that other place when she closes her eyes and dances to the music. Further miracles of nature await her. She waters the plant from her previous visit and watches it grow. Streams and the colour blue enter her life.

This pattern continues. Music is the prelude to Celeste’s visits to the other world. Nick joins her in her excursions to that other place. More things grow. Animals, plants and colour join the children. With dance and closed eyes, they commune with nature and the environment. Celeste wants to share this new-found knowledge with everyone. They decide to throw a tea party in the park and show the other children how easy it is to connect with music and nature, simply by closing your eyes.

This beautiful book carries strong messages. It teaches children about the unity of all living things. Its unique fine line illustrative style uses colours of the earth, trees and natural surroundings. Symbolism is used to unite and present the ideas. Its superb front cover shows Celeste and Nick through a brown hollow of a tree, walking through rippling grass toward a giant sun in the horizon. The back cover reflects the tools of Celeste’s loneliness (the tea set) being swept away with the dark clouds over a crescent moon in a sky flickering with stars. The end pages are the brilliant yellow of the sun. Delightful!

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Flying Emu

The Flying Emu by Sally Morgan (Walker Books)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-192172064-2
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Sally Morgan is a well know Australian writer having written books for both children and adults. Her autobiography, My Place, is an Australian classic and has been published in a special children’s edition called Sally’s Story.

This is a collection of her short, folktale like stories that she has written and illustrated. Her illustrations are gorgeous. Sally is a respected visual artist whose work has won international acclaim. She is represented in galleries in Australia, US and elsewhere. Sally is a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of northwest Western Australia.

In her preface Sally states that the stories in the book are not traditional ones although some were drawn from her childhood. Many read as ‘modern folktales’ and I particularly enjoyed Old Poker Face and The Laziest Seagull. She tells of her childhood memories of hearing stories and the importance they had in her life and encourages readers to have fun making up their own stories to share.

The stories include characters such as the moon, the sun, the planets, a vain emu, a young girl Jilji and her nemesis ‘Fatfella’ and the list goes on, all colourful characters that make for good reading. I enjoyed this collection very much. They are relevant for today, enjoyable, use exciting fun language and offer great colourful illustrations. This is another wonderful contribution by Sally Morgan and one to have on your shelf.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Giggly Times Giggly Rhymes

Giggly Times Giggly Rhymes: Poems for Children by Richie Cotton, illustrated by Rhonda Cotton (Billy’s Books)
PB RRP $19.95 inc. P and H
ISBN 9780646522302

Giggly Times Giggly Rhymes No 2: Picture Book Poems for Children by Richie Cotton, illustrated by Rhonda Cotton (Billy’s Books)
HB RRP $29.95 inc. P and H
ISBN 9780646541747
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

These two delightful books are evidence that creativity originates from many sources and through many daily life experiences. The first book was born through a father’s need to entertain his young child. He created rhymes, some nonsensical, all simple rhymes in varied lengths, about everyday situations and all kinds of animals. The second book is an extension of the first.

Giggly Times Giggly Rhymes incorporates pirates, rabbits, maths on a blackboard, garden fairies, jelly beans, and a whole range of exciting and naughty situations and animals. The natural world is alive throughout the book which entertains and educates.

In Giggly Times Giggly Rhymes No 2, the layout of the pages and the rhymes adhere to the style of the previous book with a change in subjects and characters. Also, this hard cover comes with a jacket identical to the cover of the book.

There are frogs and falling donuts, cactuses to cuddle and a truckie duckie amongst other cheeky, happy, characters. The rhymes again have a strong entertainment quality. They are funny, silly, and very appropriate for young children.

It is the illustrations that make these books special. They are outstanding, have the minute detail that children look for in their world of books, and the characters are portrayed in an expressive and colourful way. For an illustrator without any formal training, Rhonda Cotton has translated the text perfectly. The front and back covers are fully illustrated with all the characters that appear inside. The title pages are identical, showing Billy blowing blue bubbles all over the red title. Both back end pages have the naughty rabbits from the rhyme, Naughty Rabbits, driving away in a green ute leaving ‘see you next time’ behind them!

Mention must be made to the durable and excellent quality of the paper used in the books’ production. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Tale of Peek Platypus

The Tale of Peek Platypus by Susan Hall, illustrated by Ben Guy (National Library of Australia
HB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978-0-642-27728-2
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

As the sun sets on a beautiful day, Peek swims in the river and spots a strange thing swishing back and forth above him. It’s a scoop net and he is picked up in it by ‘Uprights’. The humans peer into the net and argue over what Peek is (duck, beaver, valuable fish). It becomes obvious to readers these humans have no idea. They pop Peek into a bucket of water with a lid so he can’t escape.

One of the humans thinks Peek could be worth a fortune. A kinder, gentler one thinks he belongs in the water. Once the humans are far enough away from Peek, a curious dingo disturbs the bucket and Peek is able to reach the water. There is a close call as the greedy Upright pulls him back but the dingo does not give up and the kind, gentle human is relieved to see Peek swim away.

One of four in the Animal Tales series that explores the reaction of Europeans to our native fauna when they first came to Australia, this is a tiny, hard backed treasure. Young readers will enjoy this book for the initial story about the animal but, as they grow up and learn more about the world around them and our history, they will see into more of the issues faced by early settlers and native animals. Explanatory notes at the books end will help with this.

Like all books in the series, this one includes beautiful bush scenes that show animals in their peaceful, natural setting. Scenic end papers and a stylish cloth case and jacket finish off this quality production. The last pages include pictures of the early paintings done by early settlers; most interesting, as they got a lot wrong first up! Story illustrations by Ben Guy are far more accurate presentations of the creatures we know so much about now.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Totally Twins - Tropical Trouble

Totally Twins - Tropical Trouble by Aleesah Darlison, illustrated by Serena Geddes (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $14.50
ISBN 9781921042690
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Identical twins may look the same, but can be such opposites in personality. This story, the third in an illustrated series for girls aged seven plus, is written as a travel diary because Persephone and her twin Portia are off to Fiji with Gran. One snag is that they have to take Dillon, the seven-year old pest from next door. And as Portia finds it easy to make friends, Persephone feels like she’ll be stuck with him. Thank goodness she has her diary for company.

At Kids’ Club, the only two girl’s similar in age to the twins hit it off with Portia immediately. The three pal around, leaving Persephone out on her own. Activities at the resort’s Kids’ Club, like dancing, show off Portia’s ability. Persephone is over her sister’s popularity and writes, “I wanted someone to notice me”, confessing that she would like that someone to be the resort owner’s son Ashton.

Not wanting him to like her over Portia, Persephone gets on with the activities everyone is doing, including swimming with sharks and sailing the open sea. That sees her, Portia and Dillon unable to return to shore, but Ashton rescues them. Less skilled at sport than dancing, Portia suffers injuries at tennis and basketball. Again, it’s Ashton to the rescue. Why does everything always work out for Portia? Or does it only seem that way?

By the story’s end, Dillon, an only child, reveals how special Persephone is to him. She sees his loneliness and, despite petty squabbles with Portia, realises she wouldn’t want to be without her. And at the Kid’s Club Disco Dance-off, Ashton wants to dance with her, not Portia. Turns out to be a great holiday, really.

The books simple yet effective line drawings capture adventure, thrills and the emotional rollercoaster of the holiday, as well as the setting, personalities and relationships. It is sure to engross young girls and does not need to be read in the order it falls in the series. This series will be popular in school libraries and have longevity.

Adventure Classics for Boys; Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Kidnapped!

Adventure Classics for Boys; Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, Kidnapped!  (Egmont)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-140525465-6
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

This book offers three classic adventure stories. It is all boy in presentation with a blue mock cloth cover, a shipwreck image on the front and gold gilding around the edges. It is an attractive hard cover book. The original images are used throughout which are a delight.

A few months ago my son’s teacher suggested he start reading the classics. I gave him Treasure Island after finding it in a second hand bookstore. It began well enough although the language was a major barrier - he came to me so often with English phrases that are out of date and that I had no idea what they meant. Some we looked up, most were too difficult even to guess at and in the end we had to give up on the story. Thankfully this abridged version takes some of the harder classical English out while retaining the feel of the story. The stories are accessible in this format and I am glad as I felt a huge loss at not being able to get through the original.

The first story is Robinson Crusoe. The concept of a shipwreck and living completely alone on an island is one many good tales have come from. If you can put aside the fact that native peoples are portrayed as cannibals and inferior it is a grand adventure tale of survival and determination.

The second story is Treasure Island. I really enjoyed this story. I like the fact that the protagonist is a boy who makes bold decisions. He is wonderfully capable and adventurous and a great judge of character. He fights against the odds and in the end gets a share in the treasure.

The third and final story is Kidnapped. It is an intriguing story that shifts and changes but contains a strong friendship at its core. The story is quick moving and resolves well.

Monday, 5 December 2011

A Safe Place to Live

A Safe Place to Live written, illustrated and published by Bic Walker
RRP $20
ISBN 978 0 646 56516 3
Reviewed by Hazel Edwards
Available in selected bookstores and directly from
As a 3 year old,  Bic was a boatperson, a Vietnamese refugee. Now she is an architect, wife and mother of two children.

Ashburton Primary School is our link. Bic’s children now attend this school, and in my childhood, so did I, from prep to Grade 6  Last Friday night, enthusiastic Asian families filled the hall for the book launch. In the 1950s, no-one in my class was born outside Australia. A picture book travels well across cultures and helps explain the  universal story of the individual, which in this story is the family voyage on a  refugee boat.

When Bic e-mailed an invitation to launch  her self-published picture book ‘A Safe Place To Live’ I agreed. Bic’s architectural skills are apparent in her design of the paintings which form the illustrations of this large sized picture book. The tone of the story is matter of fact to make this sensitive subject approachable. ‘A Safe Place to Live’ is the kind of picture book you can recommend, and reads well aloud because although it includes the sub-text of politics, pirates and danger, it also has the courage of the quest for a new life, which is universal.

The voice is child-centred. The figures are stylised in a naïve, child-like way. The colour is striking.
My favourite quote is:  My brother took his kite, my sister took her teddy and I only took with me my memories. 

It starts with ‘Once upon a time, my family lived in a place which was unsafe…People were always fighting and there was war everywhere. Despite the fictional ‘once upon a time’, the story follows the facts, as remembered by her older sister. This picture book is faction, but the child is generic.

At the end, the photo ID of 3 year old refugee Bic  holding the ID board with her refugee number at the camp, and the acknowledgements, indicate the depth of this picture book.

Sometimes a story can travel even further than a person. ‘A Safe Place to Live’ would make a good audio story and could be translated or become a dual language book with some tweaking of the illustrations for space.

Highly recommended for all ages and especially for schools and libraries with local refugee communities to initiate discussion with locals who are not refugees.

Hazel Edwards ( is a National Ambassador for the  2012 International Year of Reading, a nominee for the 2012 Astrid Lindgren Award and an author of picture books such as ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake’ (Penguin)and co-author of the YA novel ‘f2m:the boy within’(Ford Street) She also attended Ashburton Primary School

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Famous Classics for Girls; Heidi, What Katy Did, Black Beauty

Famous Classics for Girls; Heidi, What Katy Did, Black Beauty (Egmont)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-140525466-3
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

This book offers three lovely classic stories. This collection has something for all girls and mothers – who grew up loving these tales. This abridged version takes some of the harder classical English out while retaining the feel of the story. The book is covered in mock cloth and the cover images contain silver gilding, which adds to the classic feel.

The first story is Heidi. Heidi is an endearing story of love that I have always enjoyed. I love the character of the grumpy uncle and the power of good outdoor living for healing.

The second story is What Katy Did, a classical story that pays tribute to more traditional values. In this story Katy and her impetuous nature lead to a major spinal injury. During her confinement she is changed from impetuous and selfish to giving and humble – the centre of the hearth and home.

The third and final story is Black Beauty. I remember when I first read Black Beauty, I was surprised by the fact that it is told from the horse’s point of view. I find that my eight-year-old daughter loves stories with strong animal characters and this held true for Black Beauty. It is a powerful and sad story that stays in the imagination long after it has been finished.

This collection of Famous Classic for Girls was first published in the 60’s and the original black and white illustrations are included. I enjoyed looking at these images, the hairstyles, the clothing, the presentation of poverty is interesting and makes for a discussion in its own right with younger readers.

Saturday, 3 December 2011


Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $34.99
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

It’s 2:47am and I’ve just finished reading Wonderstruck. I couldn’t put it down. I had to read it all in one sitting. To hell with work the next day! I fell in love with Selznick’s debut novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, #1 New York Times children’s bestseller and winner of the 2008 Caldecott Medal among countless other awards. The 3D movie, Hugo Cabret, is due for release in 2012. I didn’t think it would be possible to produce something better, but this book captured me from the very first page.

The simplicity of the dialogue and uncomplicated style belies a complex criss-crossing web of emotions and unresolved conflict, exploring themes of struggle with identity, the meaning of family, modern attitude to marriage and children, friendship and loneliness and courage. So many aspects of human existence are touched upon in this book! It’s like an encyclopaedia, a reference book, available for children and their parents to explore together. A book of gifts. 

As with the first book, the drawings are spellbinding and tell great chunks of story just by themselves. Selznick is so clever in his ability to show a reader how to be an interpreter of visual imagery not just a reader of words. And this seemed particularly apt as the story centres around two main protagonists who are both deaf, for whom visuals are everything. I liked that juxtaposition. The grainy, black and white illustrations of this 460 page volume draw us in, mute, but with astonishing storytelling power.

The two stories involve Ben, a young boy recently orphaned, who sets out to find his father and Rose, a young girl whose mother was a famous actress and had little time for her daughter. These two characters are separated by time and also modality. Ben’s story is told in words, Rose’s in pictures. Eventually we find Rose is actually Ben’s grandmother and they meet in the present day. Ben follows a trail of clues to the city’s museum where he meets a young boy, Jamie. Homeless, Ben stays hidden in the museum for days. But it’s in those days that he gradually uncovers a secret.

Like unfolding layers of silk around a treasure, Ben realises the mysterious man from this very museum, Daniel, whose portrait is inside his mother’s locket, came to his home town by the lake to do research. And fell in love with Ben’s mother.  But just as Ben makes this amazing discovery he realises that his legendary father died. I had held my breath, hoping for the best outcome, but no. It was devastating to me, as reader, that Ben be denied his father, after longing to meet him his whole life! But with childlike acceptance, Ben keeps searching, following the clues, until he makes a delightful discovery which brought tears to my eyes – his grandmother Rose. A new chapter begins in Ben’s life—a sense of belonging, an intimate family connection, a place.

Perhaps more than anything, this book does not seek to shield children from an uncomfortable truth – that life sometimes contains sadness and regret that we do not have control over these things and that other joys may await us if we have an open heart and an inquiring mind. The delights of the old exhibits in the museum, the beautifully crafted cabinet, the ‘Wonderstruck’ in which his father displayed fabulous items and many other joys made this book fascinating to me.

It’s nice to think that out there somewhere, despite the loneliness and isolation of our individual journeys, that there is a warm soft place to land. Like a long-lost grandmother.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. You can follow her exploits at 

Friday, 2 December 2011

The Rosie Black Chronicles: Book 2 - Equinox

The Rosie Black Chronicles: Book 2 - Equinox by Lara Morgan (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781921529405
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The second Rosie Black book is riveting. It has an action-packed storyline and the symbolism in the language gives the writing richness. Emotional tension between Rosie and Pip threads through the story and juxtaposes the violence and death with soft and subtle romance.

Set five hundred years into the future, Equinox is an underlying theme of environmental negligence. Food, water, and shelter are scarce. There are three social classes of people fighting for survival in different ways. The deadly MalX virus created by the Helios Enclave determined to rule the world, has spread, and fear of mutation and transfer is everywhere.

Rosie Black has escaped Mars after blowing up Helios’ Enclave. Pip and Riley helped save her father who is slowly recovering from the virus thanks to a transfusion from Pip whose blood acts as an antidote. From his hiding place, he has been transfusing to save as many people as he can.

Rosie is fearless in mind and body, and immune to the deadly virus; a virtual superwoman. Pip walked away from her and went into hiding, leaving behind feelings of betrayal to haunt her. But Pip surfaces again. So does Riley, believed to be dead. A third and enigmatic character, rich boy Dalton Curtis, enters the trios’ sphere. Part of Rosie’s flight class at the Academy, she is initially suspicious of Dalton’s friendliness till she discovers that he’s working for Riley.

The four pick up the war against Helios with urgency for Riley discovers that Helios is now building a wormhole that will access travel across great distances in a moment. Riley inserts a cortex implant of the plans in Rosie’s brain then disappears in fear of his life. Rosie now owns the security protocols of Helios, the number of staff, their names and positions. They set a plan in action as Rosie knows who the Pantheon – the ruling five, are.

But the war against MalX and Helios are not the only wars raging. Friendship and loyalty are shadowed and betrayal is as common as breathing. So the group remain vigilant for there is the burning animosity of Cassie, Riley’s sister, and the suspect Agent Sulawayo, a former Helios, who now leads a breakaway faction claiming altruistic intentions. How can Rosie trust them? What is Sulawayo’s real interest in Pip? Why did she tape vision of her father’s transfusion and then threaten exposure? Highly Flammable reading!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Squish Rabbit

Squish Rabbit by Katherine Battersby (UQP)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780702239250
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

This adorable children’s tale is not just a picture book with cute characters. Squish Rabbit’s simple wisdom will withstand the test of time.

Being little has its difficulties, but being alone is even harder. We journey with Squish as he learns how to make friends.

What do you do when you are too small to join in adult conversations? How do you get by when you are too short to catch a flying balloon? Made up friends don’t do a lot and trees can’t play by the rules. When things get out of control, how do you make it all STOP?

Squish is irresistible. Simple graphics keep the story rolling for little ones, while adults will enjoy the unspoken humour cleverly depicted body language. These same qualities are the perfect starting point for teaching nonverbal cues to preschoolers: a perfect pre-kinder introduction to making friends.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

About Face

About Face by Robert Moore, illustrated by Monkeystack (IPKidz) 
PB RRP $26.00
ISBN 9781921869129       
Reviewed by Margaret Warner

The bold cover of About Face invites young readers into this humorous story in which each of the facial features becomes an independent character. Nose even has a bandaid across the bridge and mouth has a missing tooth, just like the children who will enjoy this book. Each eye and ear, the nose and mouth all work together using their different functions in a surreptitious adventure to make raspberry pies while having fun dancing to lively music.

The vibrant colours of the illustrations against the darker background will immediately capture a child’s interest and be a source of discussion. The text stands out boldly, printed in white against the dark blue background of each page, making it easy for a young reader to follow the words. In the final pages, the child who has dreamed of the fun adventure wakes up to the reality of an earache, a runny nose, watery eyes and cracked lips.

Young children will enjoy having this book read to them or reading it themselves and will have a giggle at the characters up to mischief. The book could be complemented with songs and rhymes about the face and body and be a useful resource in a unit of work on the senses.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Not-So-Goblin Boy

The Not-So-Goblin Boy by Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-921720-15-4
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Samuel has lots of questions about his life. The twelve-year-old hates everything about himself. Abandoned as a new-born by his birth parents, he was adopted and raised by goblins. He is the only human boy in his world of rival goblins and gnomes.  

His life is a struggle to prove himself. He is a misfit amongst creatures who see him as easy prey. Although lacking in magic skills, Samuel is highly intelligent and inventive. He has created a fart forcer which is his strongest weapon, and which proves a constant life-saver.

Entry into the Goblin Academy appears to be the solution to his lack of esteem, and with his Uncle Magtal as the co-ordinator he doesn’t see why he can’t win. But being human is again his greatest obstacle. Uncle Magtal tries to convince Samuel that perhaps he was born for greater things, something the boy sees as inconceivable.

A frustrated and totally disillusioned Samuel falls into the hands of the Dead Bottom Pirates led by Captain Bockles and the beautiful Scout Master, Jet. The pirates have joined forces with Uncle Magtal to save the Goblin Empire from being destroyed by evil forces led by Drake, and Tolle, Jet’s former best friend who was believed dead. Samuel believes Drake knows something about his real parents. Is this the reason he was abandoned and why Drake has him targeted?

Being human might just prove to be Samuel’s reason for being born. He is faced with great challenges when his family is kidnapped. He calls upon all his resources, mental, physical, and the goblins to back him up.  He proves he is more than he thought, and much more than others expected when he battles for acceptance and a place in the world.

This story is cheeky, gross and a highly entertaining adventure with its magical fantasy for the 12+ age group. In a note from the author at the end, we learn that life experiences usually produce the best writing material. Ezekiel’s revelations are inspiring and encourage young writers to dream and never give up, regardless of the personal obstacles they may face.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Bruno Fiddlestein’s Dilemma, Mrs Papadopoulos’s Purple Hippopotamuses and Widow Hegarty’s Goat

Bruno Fiddlestein’s Dilemma, Mrs Papadopoulos’s Purple Hippopotamuses and Widow Hegarty’s Goat: collections of short stories by Vashti Farrer, illustrated by Naomi Kelly (Five Senses Education P/L)
PB RRP $12.95 each
Reviewed by Felicity Pulman

Vashti Farrer’s humorous and quirky short stories and poems have long been enjoyed by readers of NSW School Magazine, and her work will now reach a far wider audience with the publication of both old and new stories in these collections with subtitles: ‘stories to snortle at,’ ‘tall tales,’ and ‘unlikely escapades’. Readers will chortle over the antics of such things as a friendly emu called Ethel, a pair of naughty purple hippopotamus slippers, a pigeon with street smarts, the match-making goat of Widow Hegarty, and the garden gnomes who make themselves useful. They’ll also discover how Miss Muffet overcame her fear of spiders, and what happens when you play the violin to vegetables.

Of particular interest to my grandchildren were the fun stories about their favourite animals: cats and dogs that often got into trouble or had to save their owners. Some old favourites are also included in the collections: the stories of Lulubelle and Bones, Mr Pavlov’s Possum, and Green Piece’s Princess Euphorbia (ribbit!)

Alert readers will enjoy the puns. Imagine having classmates with names like Will Argue, Aidan Abbett, Wanda Round, Iona Broome and Luke Heare, and being taught by Miss Happ!

Naomi Kelly’s delightful drawings illustrate most of the stories and poems, adding an extra dimension of fun. Enjoy these wonderful collections, and remember:

‘Don’t maffle, cronk or chimble

When a bumblepuppy’s nigh,

It might clawscrunt up your mazzard

Nurk your goblocks on the sly.

It might knoup your knevel slister,

Sloom your snortle on the run,

Till you’re faffled, motched and gloppened

And it’s had its bit of fun.’

(c) Felicity Pulman, 2011