Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Youngest Cameleer

The Youngest Cameleer by Goldie Alexander (Five Senses Education)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-74130-495-4
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In 1873, William Christie Gosse set out on a mission to the Northern Territory to map a route from the Overland Telegraph Line at Alice Springs to Perth. He was unsuccessful in this mission, but succeeded in discovering and naming Ayers Rock, and naming the Agnes River, Harry’s Reservoir, and Mount Hay in the MacDonnell Ranges. This story of Gosse’s expedition is taken from his diary.  It is a significant piece of historical reference for those who aren’t familiar with Gosse’s generally unknown trek into the interior.

The fictional, main character, Ahmed, is fourteen years old when he leaves Afghanistan after the sudden death of his father, and sails with his uncle to Australia to work as translator for the Afghans, and as the youngest cameleer. His goal: to earn money for his sister’s dowry and his mother’s livelihood. In the group is Gosse’s brother Harry, Edwin Barry, Henry Winnell, Patrick Niter, three Afghans - Kamran, Jemma and Allanah, and the aborigine, Moses.

A detailed insight into the life of cameleers and their bond with the animals in their care is presented in minute detail. Accompanied are descriptions of the harsh elements, unfamiliar terrains and lack of food and water, days of heavy rains and floods, and unrest from aborigines who see their land as being threatened by the explorers. The characters and their experiences on the trek appear as visual frames, and all the senses are awakened within the author’s clear and precise prose. The valuable equipment becomes visible; you can smell the camels, ride on them across the dry, merciless land, and share the warmth of the camp fires at night.
In the desert night scenes, we learn about Gosse’s past, family and education when Uncle and Ahmed exchange information. During Ahmed’s sleepless nights, we enter the boy’s internal struggle with homesickness, the unknown land, strange people and stranger customs. His suspicions about his uncle and the part he may have played in his father’s death accompany him everywhere, shadowing Jemma’s relentless cruelty that is meted out when they are alone.

Although aimed at the young adult age group, it is suited to every age group because of its valuable historical content. This is Goldie’s fifth historical fiction book set in Australia. All these books have generous amounts of Teacher Notes to be accessed on her website.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Agatha Parrot and the Floating Head

Agatha Parrot and the Floating Head by Kjartan Poskitt, illustrated by David Tazzyman (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-5596-7
Agatha Parrot is a strong outspoken character with a huge imagination and attitude. From the very first page her sense of fun and unique style are obvious. She starts with an introduction to her friends, including “Big Jolly Martha (who) likes chips and football and can sort out boys anytime. Mad Ivy (who) once did 103 hops on the same leg without stopping. Nobody knows why, not even her. (And) Ellie (who) is scared of being in this book because she had a dream that the pages were squashing her.”

Agatha is good fast easy reading fun. Aimed at a reading audience aged seven and above Agatha Parrot contains large print and is jam packed with cartoon style graphics. I enjoyed the variety of graphics and how they were placed, full page, double spread, interweaving with text, in between pages and text layout and at times randomly appearing as decorations or side scribble.

In this story the main characters outwit parents, teachers, mean girls, we read about kids against adults and some funny situations are described – these are all classic themes with timeless appeal. I think Agatha Parrot is going to be a well-liked character amongst young female readers.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

A Straight Line to My Heart

A Straight Line to My Heart A Straight Line to My Heart by Bill Condon (Allen & Unwin)
PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 9781742377308
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Bill Condon was the winner of the Prime Minister's Literary Award in 2010. In this outstanding, perfectly crafted novel, he showcases simple, everyday bits and pieces of life. His unique characters are engaging and lovable. The one-scene appearances of minor characters are perfect gems. But it’s Reggie, a priceless, dinky-di Aussie that leaves the reader in stitches with his clever one-liners.

Tiffany is ordinary in appearance and bookish. Her family came to her indirectly after her mother’s death. Reggie, the oldest member is like a grandfather; Bull, is her father figure. When Nell, Reggie’s wife died, the two men coped very well raising a child they adored.

Kayla, Tiffany’s best and only friend, is willowy and stunning. Her home life is also unconventional. Her pregnant, pokie-loving mother lives with a younger man who adores her and her brood. Kayla has to fight the boys off while Tiffany dreams of love that seems never to reach her.

High School is over. With the summer stretched out before them the girls have lots of time to consider their future. Great changes are in store for both of them; all life-changing, some heartbreaking.

Tiffany gets work experience at the local newspaper hoping that this will open doors to a future in journalism. But Gungee Creek doesn’t offer many options, for there is ‘nothing much in Gungee Creek, not even a creek’.

Tiffany’s time at the newspaper is anything but fun. She is plagued with insecurities and nothing and no one is as she had expected. But she is forced through circumstance to see things from a different perspective. She experiences loss once again, but love comes softly when she meets someone as ordinary as herself who sees how extraordinary she really is.

Condon’s characters could be any person with their own life story. This life is often measured by others based on a thin slice of knowledge, when so much more makes up the whole than that slice, for lives are built from stories upon stories upon stories. This is a book about those stories; about humanity, love, loss, grief and growing up. It comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Hairy Nose, Itchy Butt

Hairy Nose, Itchy Butt by Elizabeth Frankel, illustrated by Garry Duncan (Exisle Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978 0 980812 92 3
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Hairy Nose, Itchy Butt is an entertaining story about a Hairy Nosed-Wombat who has an itch to scratch but nowhere to itch it! He finds his regular scratching post is gone and goes in search of a replacement. To his dismay, all his other options have been removed too.Finally, with some help from another wombat, he makes it to a conservation park where he can scratch his itch and finds a safe place to live away from the damaging activities of humans.

Children will enjoy the rhyme of this fast-paced text and giggle at poor wombat's dilemma. Garry Duncan's wombat is expressive and funny while the boldly coloured illustrations also depict the serious underlying environmental theme. As the factual information at the end of the book explains, habitat loss is threatening the survival of the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat. Land use, whether it be for farms, recreation, housing, or roads, cuts into the wombat's environment destroying its food sources and warrens.

Hairy Nose, Itchy Butt would be perfect for class discussions on Australian animals and environment as it is a great way to introduce kids to serious issues without overwhelming them with dry facts and figures. An added benefit is that a portion of the proceeds of this book goes towards Conservation Ark wombat conservation.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Japanese Ninja Surprise

Flat Stanley: The Japanese Ninja Surprise by Jeff Brown (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-5210-2
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang
Flat Stanley is an old favourite of mine. I enjoyed him as a kid and I enjoy him now. He is undergoing a revival with new books and an animation in development. There are two new titles available in June 2011; The Big Mountain Adventure and The Ninja Surprise.

In The Japanese Ninja Surprise Stanley is posted to Japan by his ‘always helpful brother’. He arrives to become immediately acquainted with his action movie Hero, Oda Nobu, who of course is a Flat Stanley fan. Flat Stanley is immediately made a personal Ninja to the master and they share some wonderful adventures. The story takes the two of them through so many parts of Japan that it made me want to visit the country.

The black and white graphics throughout the book are fantastic. All created in the style of Scott Nash, the current illustrator Jon Mitchell has done a remarkable job.

For any Flat Stanley fans out there this book will not disappoint. I had no problem getting my son and daughter to read this one either so its win win.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Hunt for Ned Kelly

The Hunt for Ned Kelly by Sophie Masson (Scholastic Australia ‘My Australian Story’ Series)

PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978 1 74169 564 9
Reviewed by Hazel Edwards

I’ll declare my bias. Sophie Masson is an Australian writer whose international view I admire, since she manages to operate enthusiastically in several cultures and languages simultaneously. And currently I’m especially interested in the ways history can be presented in an enticing fashion for junior readers.

Ned Kelly was an apt figure about whom much is known but also myths have been created. The Hunt for Ned Kelly was inspired by a photograph, alleged to be of Kelly and his gang on the run, which Sophie Masson first saw in Beechworth.

Many grade six students are discussing the concept of ‘heroes’ and ‘quests’ so the dilemma of Ned Kelly being ‘notorious’ or ‘famous’ is a good starting point.  Using the photographic realism of a camera which was novel in this period will make ‘digital native’ students consider a time when mobiles didn’t exist.

I've enjoyed the once-removed perspective of 12 year old Jamie from which the writer presented The Hunt for Ned Kelly. It was a clever way of conveying the chronological facts of the case. Readers are likely to relate to Jamie’s viewpoint and his diary format.  I liked the way the graphics/newspaper clippings from the period were inserted and the dilemma of how Ned was perceived. Loyalty seemed to be a strong thread.

Another strength of Masson’s writing is the ability to evoke the Northern Victorian countryside but also with the correct late 1880s details. Like many readers, I’ve been in the Beechworth / Glenrowan area and Masson’s writing revived memories.  For those who have not, Masson’s writing plays on the senses most effectively. Historical detail is cleverly woven; the emotional content is involving and the brother-sister relationship convincing.

Sophie Masson was deservedly given the Patricia Wrightson Award for this title and there are many resources available including radio interviews and Youtube if you Google.

For educators, the title ‘Ned Kelly’ and the substantial range of teachers’ notes and lesson plans provided in support creates almost an entire unit of work, linked to the Australian curriculum.

As there is need for accessible history for the school reading market, I wonder how Ned might have reviewed this book. But that’s another story …

Patricia Wrightson Award: Judges' Comment
Through the eyes of young orphan Jamie Ross and his sister Ellen, an early professional photographer with designs on getting that 'one big shot' using her father's camera - a surprising narrative device which leads to a neat confluence of history and fiction - this story manages to strongly and clearly depict northern Victoria in the late 1800s, in particular the gossip and speculation that followed celebrities then much as it does now. Rather than being 'just (yet) another Ned Kelly book', this novel provides a window into a part of our history that is commonly defined by legend, myth and caricature, but is in fact so much more.

The ability to develop tension in an ending that we already know is no mean feat. In addition to its success as an exciting story this book would work well in the classroom, with the technical aspects of the writing and the historical context each offering much to discuss and explore.

Hazel Edwards’ latest junior fiction is Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop published by New Frontier in the ‘Aussie Heroes’ series.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Great Expedition

The Great Expedition by Peter Carnavas (New Frontier Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921042812
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

The Great Expedition is inspired by the story of Burke and Wills who led a party of the first Europeans to traverse the Australian continent from south to the north. In The Great Expedition two young explorers led a group on a great mission to deliver a very important parcel. Like the original expedition, they encounter mishap and misadventure and achieve their ultimate goal. Fortunately, there is no tragic ending to this tale.

Carnavas’ text drew me in immediately and had me travelling the ups and downs of the expedition with the young explorers. There is plenty of humour and the gentle pastel illustrations extend the text contributing an alternative aspect to the story. The text is viewed completely through a child’s perspective. There is no ‘pretend play’ while the illustrations show reality.

This is the beauty of the story. It revels totally in the child’s world and has no adult ‘voiceover’. I loved this book and its reference to the historic Burke and Wills’ expedition and young readers are encouraged to further investigate Burke and Wills. In addition to its literary merit, The Great Expedition is perfect for introducing history to young children.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Nanny Piggins and the Rival Ringmaster

Nanny Piggins and The Rival Ringmaster by R.A. Spratt (Random House)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1815-7
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Nanny Piggins is back for fifths in this latest book for younger readers. She’s taken care of the Green children for some time now and they expect food and fun when she’s around. The short stories work like sitcom episodes but like previous books, there’s an arc that carries through until the end. This time, the evil ringmaster is in jail and the circus falls apart. It’s up to Piggins to save the ringmaster’s bacon, putting grudges aside.

Spratt continues to push the boundaries of her crazy world and the satire is still razor sharp, poking fun at weddings and celebrities. In the ‘double episode/season finale’ story, Nanny Piggins is up against a rival ringmaster from Cirque De Soul, ‘one of those awful artistic circuses where they play classical music and impossibly thin acrobats hang by their teeth from the ceiling for ages while the audience is meant to contemplate their own insignificance.’

Other notable stories are the ones where Piggins herself is the victim. I really enjoyed Ghosts of Easter where Nanny Piggins is taught a lesson by the Green children. There’s also a clever story where everybody’s been invited to a host a murder party and Piggins is convinced that it’s a real murder; its classic stuff.

Nanny Piggins and the Rival Ringmaster is another solid collection of stories that are full of hearty laughs and will make readers salivate from all those descriptions of chocolate.  

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Changing Yesterday

Changing Yesterday by Sean McMullen (Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978 1 921665 37 0
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

In Ford Street’s ’07 debut, Before the Storm, we were introduced to BC (Liore) and Fox, two young soldiers from an alternate 21st century who travelled back in time to prevent the bombing of the first Australian parliament and the century of war that would follow. They succeeded, with a little help from Emily, Daniel and con-artist and thief extraordinaire, Barry the Bag. But no sooner had they achieved their objective than an alternate beginning to the Century War came into being. In Changing Yesterday the fight to save the future continues.

The story opens in spectacular style: Our guardians of tomorrow must foil a plot to blow up the heir to the British throne during his Australian tour. Once this task is accomplished, yet another future presents itself. Meanwhile, Barry the Bag is entertaining visions of grandeur: If he can pinch Liore’s plasma lance rifle, the King will surely reward him handsomely. The ever-resourceful Barry does just that and soon finds himself aboard a ship to England. Daniel, too, is aboard the same ship, destined for a posh boarding school. And hot on their tails is battle-ready Liore. Believing she has been betrayed by everyone she trusted (including Fox who is AWOL), Liore is fixing a man-sized helping of revenge.

This is a story rich with action, emotion and humour. McMullen’s characters are superb, particularly Barry the Bag. Despite his thieving ways, I couldn’t help but cheer him on. So, too, Liore is a stroke of genius, with her snipped battle-speak and macho idiosyncrasies. These characters are so incredibly flawed, they are perfect. While the character core of Before the Storm remains intact (with the exceptions of Fox and Muriel who are out of the picture loving it up in France), McMullen has introduced new character Madeline, who fills the role previously held by Daniel’s snooty sister, Emily. A Miss Marple in the making, Madeline adds a fresh perspective to the character dynamic.

Crossing many genres—historical, SF, fantasy, adventure—Changing Yesterday will appeal to more than just die-hard SF fans. The technical aspects aren’t overdone and are easily understood—as are the early 20th century setting and customs. The contrasts drawn throughout this story provide unlimited fodder for classroom discussion.

A leader in Australian Fantasy and SF, McMullen is a multiple award-winning author with fifteen novels and sixty short stories to his name. Find out more at:

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Witch Hunter Chronicles: The Scourge of Jericho

The Witch Hunter Chronicles: The Scourge of Jericho by Stuart Daly (Random House)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5052-1
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Scourge of Jericho is the first book in an enthralling series for younger readers, in the same rein as Rangers Apprentice and Spooks Apprentice. I suppose Jakob is sort of like an apprentice too. The sixteen year old has run off to join the Hexanjager, an elite squad of witch hunters.

Daly takes the historic significance and facts of 1666 and throws in a few twists, adding real witches who can really do magic. Jakob’s first mission with the Hexanjager sees him trying to recover a mysterious relic. The four members vary in hostility towards Jakob. He’ll have to earn their trust and respect, starting with the fearless leader Blodklutt.

Jakob’s a novice who quickly earns his stripes and scars. This is a non-stop mission with witches, demons and traitors in their path. There are hardly any quiet moments. Action buffs will get a kick out of the gruesome descriptions of the witches and their spells. Readers will enjoy the ride through Jakob. He’s a likeable lead who has his fair share of doubts about himself. But it’s his courage that shines through. I like how his elders praise him for his efforts, every step of the way.  
Daly has taken a few playful liberties with the weapons and battle tactics. You get the best of both worlds; fantasy and loose historical fiction in one. I really enjoy the descriptions of the blades used in the story. It may trigger readers into further research about these dangerous and tense times. 

The Witch Hunters Chronicles has started off with a bang in The Scourge of Jericho. Readers who crave action and adventure will eat this up and it’s recommended for ages 10 and over.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers by Briony Stewart (UQP)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN: 9780702238741
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

This third Book in the Kumiko and the Dragon Trilogy holds the ultimate climax to a scary story without being too terrifying.

In Book Two, the Shadow Catchers kidnapped Kumiko’s little sister. They planned to pin her shadow down and take her special powers away. Kumiko nearly lost her own shadow when she came to the rescue. Prone to nightmares even as an adult, I was a little bit freaked by the themes of this second book.

In stark contrast, Book 3 is full of light, hope and possibilities. Despite the dilemmas and seeming challenges, Kumiko’s will to do something shines through. The problem of the shadow catchers weighs heavily on her heart. She knows that no one will be free from fear until the Shadow Catchers are defeated.

Kumiko decides she must rid the Shadow Catchers of their ability. Can one little girl find the courage and strength to outwit powerful Shadow Catchers? The Council of Ancient Dragons don’t think so.

This doesn’t deter Kumiko for a moment. She decides to try whether she gets help or not. Will Kumiko ever see her family again? As with so many good tales, help comes from unexpected places.

Get ready for a riveting read with a satisfying end: the perfect combination for a middle reader.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Bouncy Bouncy Bedtime

Bouncy Bouncy Bedtime by David Bedford, illustrated by Russell Julian (Egmont)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1- 4052-5742-8
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang
Bouncy Bouncy Bedtime is an imaginative bedtime rhyme book for children aged two and above. It is written by David Bedford, who also authored It’s a George Thing, The Ways I Love You and Moles in Love.

The text encourages children to take an imaginative journey to a great big bouncy bed in the sky. Fantastic animals arrive in succession and happily play until sleepiness descends. The rhythm is a little hard to get at first but a few attempts out loud and the bounce and fun of the language comes to the fore. I find there is a nice amount of space in the language to play with and my two year old can really have fun with this book.

Every page is full of colour, gorgeous soft hues. The illustrations are dreamy and quirky and work as a tight fit with the text. Each word is placed on the page with care and they become an integral part of the picture. The word placement is a distinct part of the fun in this book.

My two year old has consistently asked for this book over the past few weeks. She really enjoys the two page spreads of animals flying to that big bouncy bed in the sky. It is a novel bedtime story for those looking for something new.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Pocket Rocket Go Girl: Dancing Queen

Pocket Rocket Go Girl: Dancing Queen by Thalia Kalkipsakis (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $5.00
ISBN 978-192184887-2
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Pocket Rocket books are a new concept from Hardie Grant Egmont. They are small format books that cost only $5. The size makes them very convenient for carrying in a handbag (my 8 year old daughters or mine), or leave in the car/school bag for any situation that arises. Pocket Rockets include books for girls and boys; titles from Zac Powers, Go Girls, Naughty Stories, Space Scouts and From Your Diary With Love. They provide a low cost alternative so that kids can choose to buy books with their own pocket money or parents can try a new author/series.

I like the size format. I found it handy to have a small book that is an interesting read for my children and readily available. It makes for a quick special gift that I can read aloud with my kids as well - without being stuck for months!

I have previously quoted a “Go Girls” aim of producing refreshing and ‘real’ stories – no vampires or fairies anywhere. Once again this book offered exactly that.

Dancing Queen is a great little story using the first line of that wonderful ABBA song. The main character Charlie has worked hard to try her first ever dance class at a proper dance school. When she arrives she finds she does not fit in with the trendy dance class girls. However she also finds that she loves to dance. She persists past all the uncomfortable, teasing or shy moments

She holds on to her love of dance, a lot of practice and help from her best friend she becomes good enough to perform with the trendy girls at the concert. She has a believable and enjoyable friendship at school that adds light and humour to the story. She has to learn to have confidence in herself to be able to perform well – a great message for all girls.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

I Can Cook! French Food

I Can Cook! French Food by Wendy Blaxland (Macmillan Education Australia)
HB RRP $31.99
ISBN 9781420290059
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

I Can Cook! French Food is an outstanding cook book for younger children. Not only are there simple recipes for cooking French food which requires minimal assistance from adults, this book discusses French culture, food traditions and styles, regional produce and ingredients, French landscapes and climates as well as basic cooking equipment, measurements, safety and hygiene. I loved the page 'Try this!' which encourages readers, among other things, to grow vegetables, celebrate Bastille Day or search out a French patisserie to try petits fours (my personal favourite!).

Each recipe is introduced with a brief history of the food. Equipment and ingredients required are clearly stated. A fantastic initiative has been the inclusion of a section stating whether each particular food is suitable for special diets such as vegetarians, nut-free or kosher. The recipes are laid out in an easy to follow step-by-step format with clear pictures and simple instructions. Visually, the book is very attractive with the liberal use of text boxes, and bright and colourful photography.

I highly recommend I Can Cook! French Food. It is one title in a six book series on world food by Wendy Blaxland.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Audrey of the Outback Collection

The Audrey of the Outback Collection by Christine Harris, illustrated by Ann James (Little Hare Books)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1- 921714-21-4
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang 
The Audrey of the Outback collection is a cloth bound edition of the three Audrey books. I had previously read Audrey of the Outback and loved it. I wasn’t the only person as it had received the White Haven Award and been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia, Book of the Year – Younger Readers award.

Audrey is a strong female character. She is inquisitive, funny and extremely lovable. These books serve as a positive writing model for children (and aspiring writers) as well as being captivating stories. I love this series. Audrey gives voice to the big questions, such as; “Do you reckon chooks just stop making eggs? Or do you think they’re still in there and the chooks are holding on tight so they don’t drop out?” (pg16).

Audrey’s home is in outback Australia in the 1930’s, which is a fascinating setting that is well used by the author. Most of us have had limited if no contact with the outback. Features such as dust storms, dirt floors, ant nests for ovens, meat safes and of course the outdoor dunny are all incorporated in the daily life. The series being set in the 1930’s also offers some interesting features such as; table manners, clothing, language and steam trains. There is a lot of historical learning available here as well as a lot of fun. There are fascinating jobs that go with the time and place such as being a ‘dogger’, delivering mail by camel, hospitals where children are not allowed to enter, and cleaning the infamous outdoor dunny!

In the first book,  Audrey of the Outback, we meet Audrey and her outback family and home. It is a touching story of family, with the loss of two sisters ever present in her home and a father that must go away for long periods for work. Each of the family characters are endearing as we laugh with Audrey and her imaginary friend, particularly when her older brother sets the dunny on fire! 

In Audrey Goes to Town, we share Audrey’s wonder as she encounters a town with houses so close they even touch, a train station, and most exciting of all a general store. Audrey manages to cover meaningful topics with precise language and humour. 

The third book Audrey’s Big Secret came as complete surprise to me. It is a sensitive and beautiful glance at the issue of the stolen generation from the perspective of two bush girls. In this book Audrey keeps a secret from her family and she is torn between the prospect of lying to her family and upholding a promise of secrecy to a new friend on the run. All parts of these sensitive issues are dealt with the lovely innocence of Audrey. It is a wonderful book.

Re-releasing the three books as a collection has had a positive impact for this family. Personally I like the traditional feel of the cloth cover, gold lettering and the ribbon to hold my place. In the age of the downloadable this classic feel is a refreshing difference. My son is reading the series now. I could never get him to read a ‘girls book” before. The change of look, including a more neutral image of Audrey on the front has helped (it used be a picture of Audrey in a dress now it is her in overalls sitting down). He also likes that the pages number to over 500. The collection of books are supported by a number of websites, a book website, book series blog that is up to date and interesting, and an author website This collection is great value and comes highly recommended.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Against the Odds

Against the Odds by Marjolijn Hof (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 9781742375083
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This is a book about war written for young children aged about eight to eleven years old. First published in the Netherlands this 2009 translation was written, rather interestingly, by two people with the same name (Johanna H Prins and Johanna W Prins). With simple writing appropriate for the audience, Against the Odds deals with the consequences of war and how you feel when something happens to someone you love. It’s dealt with in a gentle way with some humour and is quite moving.

Kiki’s father is a doctor who is frequently away, working to help people in countries at war. Kiki is understandably worried about him although both her parents try to reassure her that he’ll be okay. Her worst fears are realised however when her father actually does go missing. Powerless to do anything about the situation, Kiki finds herself behaving quite strangely. This very believable and sometimes funny response brings the reader closer to Kiki in the confusion and uncertainty surrounding her father’s disappearance. 

Kiki’s voice is distinctive and the writing is clever, saying much in few words. The book has only 126 pages and is broken up into short chapters making it quite easy to read. There are ‘adult’ issues that are dealt with, but they are issues that can and do affect children and are important for them to read about. In writing in such an accessible way Marjolijn Hof manages to both entertain her reader and show them the strength they have as children to cope with just about anything. 

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Warambi by Aleesah Darlison and Andrew Plant (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978 1921504 28 0
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

Little bent-wing bat, Warambi, lived in comparative safety with her colony in a forest cave, growing and learning to fend for herself until ...

          ‘One day the bat colony was woken
          by a terrible noise. The earth shook.
          Trees were ripped from the ground and came
          crashing down. Forest animals fled in panic.’

Amid the chaos that followed, Warambi became separated from her mother. Gone were the familiar sounds and smells of home. Eventually she found somewhere to tuck herself away from hostile eyes. But it was far from ideal.

Based on a true event, Warambi’s story is one of survival. With themes of family, safety and the fear change can bring, this is a story that will resonate with children everywhere. Even a first day at a new school can induce similar feelings to those experienced by Warambi.

Darlison’s language is evocative; sentences such as: ‘Sunlight and metal burst into the darkness.’ are alive with imagery and emotion. So, too, are Plant’s illustrations. Having trained as a zoologist and with a background in scientific illustration, there is none better equipped to illustrate books involving animals. Plant’s depictions of Warambi, from tiny newborn to half-grown hunter, are a delightful combination of detail and sweeping lines. His use of colour and movement to convey mood, from subdued blues and sunset pinks in times of peace, to the starkness of jagged black and ochre, adds richness to Darlison’s well-chosen words. Warambi will stand the test of time and will make a beautiful addition to every child’s bookshelf.

Aleesah Darlison is the author of: Puggle’s Problem and the Totally Twins series. Andrew Plant has illustrated over 130 titles, including Working Title picture book, Puggle written by Catriona Hoy.

Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels for kids, her most recent title being: The Ice-cream Man (Ford St). She has been reviewing for Buzz Words since ’06 and also contributes to The Compulsive Reader: 

Friday, 1 July 2011

The Ivory Rose

The Ivory Rose by Belinda Murrell (Random House)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5071-2  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Ivory Rose is a novel for middle school readers and its Murrell’s third time slip story. Following her other novels, Locket of Dreams and the Ruby Talisman, it involves an object that sends the character back in time.
This time, it’s Gemma’s turn to be thrown back into the past. Gemma’s babysitting Sammy who lives in Rosethorne, one of the famous Witches Houses in Sydney. Sammy reckons she can see a ghost girl named Georgie. Gemma thinks it’s just an imaginary friend until she meets Georgina in the flesh…back in 1895 when she touches a rose charm made of ivory.

Gemma discovers that sweet Georgina was murdered and it’s up to her to solve this mystery. She becomes an apprentice maidservant at the Rosethorne house, making new friends and discovering how much has changed since her present time. 

Murrell has picked another fascinating time, offering lots of information about the days of Old Sydney Town. Gemma finds out what kids do for fun, as well some of the added responsibilities that they had back then. It really puts her life in perspective. Murrell has done some great research to capture the language and feel of 1895. Plus the mystery of Georgina keeps ticking on until the end.

Fans of Murrell’s previous books will devour this thrilling ghost story and adventure. It’s a sweet and tender novel for ages 10 and up.