Monday, 31 January 2011

Savannah Dreams

Savannah Dreams by Lolla Stewart, illustrated by Elaine Russell (Little Hare Books an imprint of Hardie Grant EGMONT)
HB RRP $25.95
ISBN 978-184877382-0
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Simply, this book is just beautiful. I highly recommend it to all ages.

Savannah Dreams is an engaging story that contains repetition, humour and most importantly delivers a likeable main character. The story and images work well together to offer a warm insight into community life.

In this book we follow Savannah, the youngest girl, and her family as they go hunting or gathering food. Savannah’s ‘help’ is usually of the trinkets-and-treasure-hunting-type and she finds no food at all for a week. Finally her persistent dreaming and creating pays off and she catches the biggest fish of all.

One of the lovely aspects of the story is that it takes us on a journey in and around an outback community, and we learn of bush tucker in the top end region where the story is set. The family hunt in the creek so we learn of mottled rock cod and stripy mangrove jacks. When the family walk in the mangroves we learn of blue-shelled crabs, sweet-tasting red claw and mud mussels. They hunt on the plains, near the billabong and finally visit the community store. The illustrations depict all of the community areas as a realistically positive and warm place to live.

Illustrator Elaine Russell is an incredible artist. She has authored and illustrated her own books, which include, The Shack that Dad Built, based on her life in La Perouse and A is for Aunty. Elaine is famous for her bold colours and depicting scenes from a bird’s eye view. She uses simple shapes with an attractive blend of colours and lines throughout the book.

Lolla Stewart has a number of titles under her belt, including Aussie Slang Dictionary, The Little Book of Household Hints and The Dream Dictionary. She has written this story with a sweet dose of humour and likability. The combination is a successful one and I recommend this book for the joy of reading and as a learning tool – that is for an insight into bush tucker specific to the top end and the style of artwork used by Elaine Russell.

Friday, 28 January 2011

I Like Peas

I Like Peas by Lorena Siminovich, illustrated (collages) created by Lorena Siminovich (hardie grant EGMONT)
HB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978-184877382-0
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

I Like Peas is a touch and feel board book for children aged one and above. This board book is one of a series based on nature called ‘petitcollage’ other titles in the series include I Like Bugs and I Like Fruit. The book has a natural feel with a wooden finish on every second page.

I Like Peas presents a simple depiction of opposites. Lorena Siminovich uses vegetables and the vegetable garden to demonstrate above and below (carrot), inside and out (peas), short and tall (corn) etc. She employs warm colours and includes a touch and feel section on every two-page spread. The textures are presented in a range of shapes for little fingers to discover and play with.

The illustrations are large enough for little eyes and hands and the colours whilst warm contain variety on every page. I’m fortunate to have a two year old who is enjoying this book very much. In particular she likes putting her fingers into the pea shaped holes to feel the fabric beneath. I am happy as it presents vegetables that she doesn’t always enjoy eating – maybe this will help? 

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Smuggler's Cave

Smuggler's Cave by Sonya Spreen Bates, illustrated by Kasia Charko (Orca Book Publishers)
PB RRP $6.95
ISBN 9781554693085
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Smuggler's Cove is an illustrated early chapter book about Jake, his little brother Tommy and cousin Lexie. Jake and Lexie are fierce competitors with Tommy tagging along. Lexie challenges Jake to a boat race out to Smuggler's Cave. The three become trapped by the rising tide. Can they escape?

Sonya Spreen Bates has the wonderful knack of immediately establishing character relationships. Although Smuggler's Cave is a sequel I had not read the first book and I never felt I was any missing information. Told through Jake's perspective we are able to hear his motivations and thoughts and while the rivalry between Jake and Lexie is what lands the trio in difficulties, they are able to work together to find a way out. The plot moves quickly with plenty of twists and turns. The style of language used is perfect for early readers but the book never plods and nor are young readers written down to. Every word builds adds to the setting, characterisation or plot and moves the story along. The dialogue is realistic and snappy contributing to the fast pace of the story.

There are 15 of Kasia Charko's black-and-white page-sized illustrations throughout the book, highlighting the drama of the story and breaking up the text. The publisher Orca Books is offering a sneak peek at chapters of Smuggler's Cave and Sonya Spreen Bates is currently their featured author.

To order the book in Australia, please contact: INT Books

Monday, 24 January 2011

All Through the Night

All Through the Night by Dean Jones (black dog books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781742031521
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

A young boy is tucked into bed at night after playing with his toy train. But nothing is ordinary in All Through the Night. He is transported on a magical night time journey as a passenger on a train, flying past boats and nets full of fish, a giant cloud Sandman lighting their way with their safety assured as they pass through a storm by travelling in a giant bubble until, on the first hint of light, they head for home.

The minimal text is rhythmic, like a lullaby, and perfect to read out loud as a reassuring bedtime story. Rather than being something to fear, the night is full of magic and wonder and no harm can come one's way. Jones' illustrations are vibrant with a hint of nostalgia. It was hard for me to decide on my favourite: was it the one when the boy is woken by a seagull landing on his head; or that of the snails nibbling on the moon; or the new day with its city of toasters, eggs, milk jugs and orange slices?

I was fortunate to have my have my four-year-old niece and two-year-old nephew's assistance in reviewing this book. My nephew was mad on the train and kept flicking back and forth through the pages to show me each drawing of the train, including those on the end pages. While I was delighted in his enjoyment of the book, I was even more so with my niece's. Normally one to favour stories of fairies and princesses, she asked me to read and re-read All Through the Night

This beautifully presented picture book with its padded cover and special ticket to ride in its own pocket is a quality production and one for all young children. It is sure to become a family favourite.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

In Lonnie's Shadow

In Lonnie's Shadow by Chrissie Michaels (Ford St Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781876462918
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

In Lonnie's Shadow is a remarkable work of historical fiction. Set in inner-city Melbourne in and around Little Lonsdale St, it tells of four young adults Lonnie, Pearl, Daisy and Carlo. They are poor and life is difficult, sometimes horrendously so. Each has their own dreams and aspirations and their own crosses to bear. Lonnie continually finds himself in trouble as he cannot accept the unfairness of his friends' and relatives' situation and constantly tries to find solutions, staying within the spirit of the law if not the letter.

Michaels writes in a language that brings 1891 Melbourne to life but the reader is not overwhelmed by the vernacular. The characters within In Lonnie's Shadow cover the gamut from madams and gang members, heartless landlords and kindly aunts, to child rescuers and the toffs on Collins Hill. The multicultural nature of the area is explored as are all harsh realities of life before the welfare state. Prostitution, gambling, drunkenness and theft is rife but so is compassion, honesty and the desire for companionship.

As a self-confessed history nut, what I loved most about the book was how it brought historical artefacts to life. Each chapter is named after an artefact found in an archaeological dig and catalogued by the museum. This item is mentioned within the chapter. The chapters are short and link together to weave a story of complexity and heart but not bogged down by the historical minutiae.

I highly recommend In Lonnie's Shadow to all interested in Australian history and all who love a good read.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Learn Fire Safety with Jamie

Learn Fire Safety with Jamie by Jillian Fitzgerald, illustrated by John Morgan (Kandy Ko Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780977568109
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Jillian Fitzgerald, a former Fire Safety Officer with the WA Fire and Emergency Services Authority, wrote Learn Fire Safety with Jamie in response to a lack of  literature on fire safety for children. She has succeeded in producing a clear and easy to understand book which covers the vital aspects of fire safety. 

Jamie and his friend Michael take a tour through Uncle Frank's fire station and learn what they must do to help prevent a fire and how to keep safe in the event of one. As a frequent visitor to the fire station, Jamie is well versed in fire safety. Points covered include: Stop, Drop, Cover and Roll; not running around; Go, Go, Go; designated meeting spot; smoke alarms and more. How to call for help and an explanation of firefighters' equipment are also canvassed.

Fitzgerald has cleverly used Michael as the child who gives the expected answers. For example, Uncle Frank asks, 'What would you do if your house caught fire and there was smoke everywhere?' to which Michael answers, ' I'd run outside very fast.' Uncle Frank tells him that he must crawl below the level of the smoke otherwise he might suffocate. 

Plenty of white space ensures that the reader is not overwhelmed with information. Illustrations depict the actions mentioned in the text and the key words are scrawled across the page to reinforce the message.

Learn Fire Safety with Jamie has some high level endorsements with messages from Dr Fiona Wood and John McMahon (retired Chief Officer for the Fire and Rescue Service) at the front of the book. Part proceeds from the sale of  Learn Fire Safety with Jamie go to the McComb Foundation  for burns research. 

For more information, or to purchase this book, go to the Kandy Ko website. 

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Model Mania: the fabulous diary of Persephone Pinchgut

Model Mania: the fabulous diary of Persephone Pinchgut by Aleesah Darlison, illustrated by Serena Geddes (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781921042409
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Book two of Aleesah Darlison's series about ten-year-old identical twins Persephone and Portia Pinchgut has Portia aspiring to fame and fortune as a model. Unfortunately, as we see in Perse's diary entries, it all goes to Portia's head and she forgets about the importance of true friends. Portia is indeed lucky to have such understanding and supportive people around her who are prepared to forgive her foibles. In the end, however, she realises that an actor's seemed fabulousness in public can sometimes hide a totally different (and mean) personality, and that true friendship is more than skin deep.

The diary format will suit reluctant readers. Serena Geddes' black-and-white humorous illustrations are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, breaking up the text and adding that extra dash of quirkiness. The cover will appeal to the targeted readership with its diary look, stars and 'girl stuff'.

In book 3, Persephone and Portia head to Fiji with Gran. Fans of the series can also check out Perse's blog at

Monday, 17 January 2011


Forgotten Forgotten by Cat Patrick (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 9781921690624
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Fortunate enough to have received a special advanced copy of Cat Patrick's debut novel Forgotten, I pulled it out of the to-read pile and read it in a day. Nothing got done until I had finished reading about London Lane, the girl who cannot remember the past but sees her future. Patrick has received a concept so original and long after I finished reading the story I wondered if I would cope as well as London with such a condition.

Each night as London sleeps her memories of the past are wiped at 4.33 am. She copes with the help of a supportive mother and a system of writing notes about the events of each day, her outfit, what she needs to bring to school etc. London has forward memory of what the future holds for her and those around her but she is perplexed when she meets and falls in love with Luke. (As I did!) She cannot see him in her future and cannot remember him in her past. Disturbing visions of  a funeral begin to plague her and revelations of a family tragedy in the past may provide keys to London's unique condition.

Patrick's writing style is simple and eloquent. the work is uncluttered and such is her skill the story is never confusing. Patrick has chosen first person, present tense to tell London's story allowing the reader to see and, more importantly, feel exactly as London does.

Not due for release until June, I highly recommend you pencil this book in as one of the ones to buy for 2011. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Last Tree in the City

Last Tree in the City by Peter Carnavas (New Frontier Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921042218
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

There is one word for Peter Carnavas's Last Tree in the City; outstanding. The story is beautifully simple. Edward lives in a beige world of 'concrete and cars' where, for a few moments each day, he finds refuge in the tree at the end of his street. It is the last tree in the city. Edward is shattered when the tree is cut down but when he discovers a small branch, plants, waters and nurtures it, the city ultimately undergoes an environmental transformation bringing life and joy. Last Tree in the City is a reminder that individual efforts can lead to great changes.

The uncluttered illustrations complement and extend the story. With plenty of white space and the use of bright colour restricted initially to Edward, his bike and duck, and the tree, the reader's focus remains on the little boy and his reactions. Carnavas has managed to portray emotion with a brush stroke or two. The illustration of Edward when he finds the tree gone is heart wrenching. Importantly for young children, the text, and illustrations in particular, finish on an inspirational and hopeful note.

Last Tree in the City brings to my mind two of my favourite picture books of recent years: Bob Graham's How To Heal a Broken Wing and Stephen Michael-King's Leaf. Peter Carnavas is bound to be around for a long time to come and I am sure he will continue to garner awards for his exceptional work.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Lulu and the Brontosaurus

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorist, illustrated by Lane Smith (Simon and Schuster)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-085707147-7
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Lulu is an only child – and a pretty spoiled one at that. She decides that she wants a brontosaurus for her next birthday and won’t take no for an answer. Her parents however, despite Lulu’s ear-splitting tantrums, actually do say “No” and so she must set off into the forest to find one for herself. On her adventure she encounters several other animals before she finds what she is looking for. She tries to take the brontosaurus home as her pet only to discover that he has other ideas. In fact, he wants to have Lulu for his pet.  Her usual methods for getting what she wants simply don’t work. So now, Lulu needs to think of a plan that will get her home safely. If not, she will be spending the rest of her life doing cute tricks for a brontosaurus.

Lulu and the Brontosaurs is a fun new chapter book from best-selling author Judith Viorist.

The book starts out with Lulu as very unsympathetic character.  In fact, she is described in the first chapter as a “pain in the butt”. She learns a hard lesson at the hands (or should that be feet?) of a very polite brontosaurus: behaving like a spoilt brat does not always get you what you want.   

The story is delivered in a light and quirky way. I particularly enjoyed the way the reader is addressed directly with lots of little asides throughout the book. The message is clear – not demanding your own way all the time and treating others with respect. However, the unlikely way that Lulu gets her comeuppance makes for a highly enjoyable read.

The black-and-white illustrations are provided by award-winning illustrator Lane Smith. They have a Tim Burton quality to them that suit the quirky style of the story.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus is a great book that would suit younger readers – around 8 to 10 years old. Each page contains only a small passage of text and there are lots of illustrations to break things up.

Judith Viorist is the bestselling author of Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and several other works. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband. Lane Smith is the Caldecott Honour-winning illustrator of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. He lives in rural Connecticut.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Claire de Lune

Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson (Simon and Schuster)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-141699182-3
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Hanover Falls hasn’t had a werewolf problem in over one hundred years.  So, when people suddenly start dying, panic starts to spread.  At her sixteenth birthday, however, Claire Benoit is more focussed on the gorgeous Matthew Engle. That night, she discovers something that completely changes her life – she is a werewolf.  She must keep her secret at all costs; especially from Matthew whose father is leading the werewolf hunt. As Claire is initiated into the pack, she struggles to come to terms with her new identity. Additionally, she must help to identify the rogue werewolf responsible for the recent killings and decide just how far she is prepared to go for love.

Claire de Lune is a fast paced story by first-time novelist Christine Johnson. 

The teenage heroine, Claire, is a character that most teenage girls should easily relate to – a typical teenager who is preoccupied with parties, friends and boys. She reluctantly finds that she is part of a world about which she knows nothing; a world that forces her to distance herself from everything dear to her.

Discovering she is a werewolf also forces Claire into a closer association with her mother – a situation that is not initially successful. This was one aspect of the book that left me a little disappointed:  I found the tension between Claire and her mother rather flat and hard to believe.

The romantic interest of the story is the character Matthew Engle. The blossoming relationship is present from the first chapter and flows naturally throughout the story. It is a dangerous love for both of them particularly because Matthew’s father is bent on destroying all werewolves.

The book offers a different approach to werewolf lore: all the werewolves are female and it is something you are born into as opposed to being infected by a bite. While there are some flaws to these twists (for example how the purity of the werewolf bloodline is maintained since children are sired by human men) it does give the story a certain freshness.

Christine Johnson is an American writer and Claire de Lune is her first book. Anyone wishing to learn more can visit Christine’s website:   

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Tom Skinner, illustrated by Annie White, Audio CD read by Antonio Kidman (New Frontier Publishing)
HB RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781921042096
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a colourful and lively contemporary adaptation of Goethe's famous poem and attests to the enduring popularity of this story. First written in 1797 (and titled Der Zauberlehrling), the poem was put to music by Paul Abraham Dukas in 1897, and has been the basis of two Disney movies; Fantasia (1940) and Fantasia 2000. 

Tom Skinner has brought The Sorcerer's Apprentice into the era of the car while still retaining the magic and wizardry. The sorcerer's apprentice Rizwan uses spells to help him with his tasks at the Wizard Car and Camel Wash. As in the original tale, everything goes wrong and the sorcerer must fix all on his return. However, that is not until after the mayor, his limousine and the whole Wizard and Camel Car Wash have nearly disappeared under a cloud of foamy bubbles.Annie White's illustrations are bright and colourful and full of movement. As with Skinner's text she manages to combine magic and modern.

The third title in New Frontier's Music Box series, the book is accompanied by an audio CD read by Antonia Kidman. At various times during the reading, Dukas' classical composition of The Sorcerer's Apprentice plays. There is further music after the reading ends and I must say it is delightful to be writing this review while it plays. The Sorcerer's Apprentice could stand as a picture book on its own but is also a perfect way to introduce young children to some of our literary and musical traditions. 

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Wandering Wombles

The Wandering Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford (Bloomsbury)
PB RRP $13.99
ISBN 9781408808337
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Following on from the first book in the series, The Wandering Wombles continues with the adventures of our familiar furry friends who clean up after us messy, rather wasteful human beings. In this book the Wombles face the problem of finding somewhere new to live. The story is quite fast paced and would suit readers aged eight to twelve. Black and white illustrations by Nick Price depict the Wombles with their pointy noses and shy expressions. Who wouldn't want to meet a Womble some day?

Two new characters are introduced in this book. Wellington is a young, bespectacled Womble who works in the library. The responsible Miss Adelaide is in charge of the Womblegarton. In case adding two more to the already large cast of characters confuses any readers there is a Wombles Who's Who at the back of the book. This is followed by a few Wonderful Wombling Facts to further satisfy the fans.

This story is not just set around Wimbledon Common. In their search for a new home, the Wombles send out a scouting party (Bungo and Orinoco) to Loch Ness in Scotland. The gardens of Buckingham Palace are also checked out as a possible place for a new burrow but are found to be far too tidy for Wombles.  

To the obvious recycling message is added an environmental message. The destruction of the burrow is caused by heavy trucks passing by the Common. But don't worry, the Wombles are resourceful and the book has a satisfying ending. The reader can then look forward to the next book in the series of six.  

Monday, 3 January 2011

Alice-Miranda takes the lead

Alice-Miranda takes the lead by Jacqueline Harvey (Random House)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1849-2
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Alice-Miranda takes the lead is the third book in the series for younger readers. She is back at school for a new term and there’s a new student, Sloane Sykes, a pushy and rude student, similar to Alethea’s bullying ways in the first book. But that’s where the comparisons end because when readers meet Sloane’s mum, September, you’ll see where Sloane gets her attitude from.

Harvey spends a lot of time on building up Sloane and September Skyes. They are fascinating characters, who seek fame and fortune through Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale. It speaks volumes about what people will do for status and I hope it’s not lost on the readers.

Alice-Miranda seems to thrive at school, mainly because we get to see her interact with her friends, who are not as optimistic. Alice-Miranda’s trademark resilience and seeing the good in everyone will delight fans.  
Readers will enjoy the drama production with the neighbouring boys school. But there’s also an evil scheme against the boys school in the works, plus Alice-Miranda uncovers the mystery of a witch who lives in the woods. There’s so much going on than the two previous Alice-Miranda stories combined. It makes this story the best yet!

Harvey’s experience with boarding schools and girl talk comes through in this lovely adventure. Alice-Miranda takes the lead is recommended for ages 8 and up. 

Sunday, 2 January 2011

The Wombles

The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford (Bloomsbury)
ISBN 9781408808375
PB RRP $13.99
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Forty-two years after they first appeared in print, The Wombles are back to inspire a new generation with their furry form of recycling. This re-release begins with a preface written by Elisabeth Beresford, followed by an additional note from Great Uncle Bulgaria (the patriarch of the burrow of Wombles under Wimbledon Common). Black and white illustrations by Nick Price are scattered throughout the text, further depicting just how cute Wombles are. These stories would be suitable for children aged 8 to 12.

The Wombles have popped up several times over the past few decades. They were also part of a highly successful BBC TV series aired in the 1970s, followed by further series in the 1990s. The cast of characters includes the lazy, over-eating Orinoco, the new kid on the block Bungo, Tomsk, the night watchman and the cook Madam Cholet. Just in case anyone is confused there is a 'Womble's Who's Who' at the back of the book. The Wombles collect 'rubbish' that Human Beings leave behind and take it back to their burrow where it is turned into something useful.

Each chapter contains an adventure of some kind such as finding a concrete mixer to mend the burrow; inviting an elderly Human Being to the Womble Christmas party; and getting free tickets for the tennis (Wimbledon, of course). Children reading this book cannot help but become fond of these little creatures who cannot tell lies or let go of something once they've hung onto it. They will be drawn into the world of the Wombles as they make mistakes and get into scrapes, very much like their readers do every day.  

Elisabeth Beresford died on Christmas Eve 2010 at the age of eighty-four. She leaves behind a legacy of highly enjoyable stories with a strong environmental message that have stood the test of time. 

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Mademoiselle Lisa

Mademoiselle Lisa by Delphine Perret (black dog books)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781742031620
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Mademoiselle Lisa wins my prize for quirky in 2010. It is so unique that it is hard to pinpoint who the target audience is. Maybe it is everyone, for the book works on so many levels that everyone would find something of interest or amusement in it.

Mademoiselle Lisa is based on the best known of all portraits Mona Lisa, who finds that she is ready for a change. She skips on out (and who hasn't felt like that from time-to-time) and after selling mini-photos of herself, she is able to experience some of the pleasures of life like a LBT (I have to agree totally with her there!) and give herself a makeover with a new cut and colour, bag and boots. You go Girl!

Mademoiselle Lisa follows her whims ultimately heading to Las Vegas, hits the jackpot and sets up a whole new life. There, she meets Sally who 'had always dreamt of being someone else' and so permanently and happily takes on Lisa's old role at the Louvre. Lisa wiles away her time, living next door to her handsome neighbour who has an uncanny likeness to the Titian's painting of Man with a glove!

Perret's illustrations are just as quirky as the text with a combination of line drawings and photography with the occasional patch of dotted colour. I highly recommend Mademoiselle Lisa and it would make the perfect gift for art lovers with everything. They certainly won't have anything like this!