Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Apothecary

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (Text)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781921758171
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The Apothecary is a novel for young adults with elements of fantasy, alchemy and adventure. The setting is the early 1950s in a London still recovering from the Second World War and the threat of nuclear weapons now looming. This fast paced and highly imaginative tale has the reader turning pages until the conclusion. Large black and white drawings at the start of each chapter add to the overall appeal of the book.

Janie is fourteen when her parents leave California, under suspicion of being communists. Janie starts her new school in London and quickly meets Benjamin, the son of an apothecary who has been kidnapped. Janie is drawn into a dangerous world where she is pursued by Russian agents anxious to steal an ancient book called the Pharmacopoeia. The kids decipher the Latin in the book and make elixirs to turn them into birds and make themselves invisible. This helps them to allude their trackers.

The Apothecary is also about first love and fitting in. The main character Janie is a brave, admirable heroine and the story exciting. However the events outlined in the story lack credibility in some ways. At the start of the book is a 'note to the reader' from the main character, now grown up. She mentions that she lost her memory and that although she has pieced it all together with the help of her diary, some of what happened seems unbelievable, even to her. Because it is written in first person, the fact that Janie's memory is unreliable could make the whole story less believable for the reader.

The Apothecary has an interesting setting (both time and place) and has likeable, courageous characters. It will appeal to young adults of around ten to fourteen years. 

Monday, 29 August 2011

Only Ever Always

Only Ever Always by Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 987-1-74175-044-7
Reviewed by Thalia Kalkipsakis

When faced with the prospect of losing a beloved uncle, Claire retreats into a dreamscape. It is a parallel place layered behind Claire’s but crumbling and rotten. The objects, even the people, are broken or ‘half used up’.

Here we find Clara, the dreamer’s self and phantom other, who is faced with her own loss, not only of her friend and carer, but also of her refuge in this eerie and unsafe world.

Doubles such as these, or two sides to a coin, permeate the story, adding layers and bringing potency to the people and objects in both worlds.

It is reminiscent of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, in the way that characters slip between mutually existing words that are layered behind one another, in this case via toxic silvery bubbles of music that seem as dangerous and beautiful as mercury. Clara’s resourcefulness in the face of adults bent on their own agendas is also reminiscent of Pullman.

But it is Russon’s depiction of the dreamscape that makes this story stand apart. Her language is both poetic and unsettling, very much like a dream. Objects become potent with weight of emotional symbolism in this place where everything, even the very ground, is slimy and uncertain.

Claire’s passages, set in the ‘real’ world, are written in second person, which has the effect of making the reader feel that she, in turn, is dreaming Claire’s story. This is both powerful and deliberate, to the point where Russon momentarily brings herself into the story, addressing her character directly and telling her, ‘I am a dreamer too.’ How fortunate are we as readers to witness such a dream.

Recommended for readers twelve and over, there is much to be discovered in Only Ever Always, depending on what the dreamer, or reader, brings to the story. It might even offer solace for anyone facing grief of their own. At its heart, this story is ultimately about hope, grief and love, and finding the courage to accept all three.

Thalia’s latest book is called Head Spinners: six stories to twist your brain ( 

Saturday, 27 August 2011


Douglas by G.N. Hargreaves (hardie grant EGMONT)
HB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978-140525727-5

G.N. Hargreaves is the son of Roger Hargreaves – the creator of the very successful Mr Men series. In this book we meet a well-dressed dog, named Douglas.

Douglas can do many things, like play golf, read books, play the tuba and ski but he cannot figure out how to have laugh-out-loud, tail wagging fun. He wants to be able to wag his tail like every other dog, he just doesn’t know how to have fun, and not knowing how to have fun means he can’t wag his tail.

Thankfully a little bird named Basil comes along and takes Douglas on as his mission. Together they discover that Douglas can do silly things and laugh at them, not only can he laugh but he can wag his tail.

The book comes with a page of stickers for readers to enjoy.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Darcie Lock Girl on the Run: Ringmaster

Darcie Lock Girl on the Run: Ringmaster by Julia Golding (Egmont)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-140524734-4

Darcie Lock is a straight talking tomboy and the latest recruit of the British Intelligence Service. Having lived her life in relative wealthy seclusion Darcy spends her time avoiding the fashion conscious cools girls at school, playing soccer with the boys and training in fencing.

From the outset we find a spoilt rich girl, she has a close relationship with her father although spends some time bemoaning her mothers pedicure priorities. They live in a ‘compound’ home in Kenya with a Kenyan maid to get her out of bed, iron her clothes and make the day run as it should.

From the very first chapter I was hooked. Golding does a great job of setting the scene and introducing the relationships. We find a good deal of humour and a likeable character and the intrigue begins in chapter one.

The adventure is set in Kenya, which I enjoyed immensely. The descriptions of the society, the clubs, and the schools were something very new for my daughter and I believe would be of interest to most readers. In particular I enjoyed the use of a second language. The words were dispersed throughout the book and were always a reminder of the unique location. There is also a Glossary of Terms at the back.

Darcie Lock promises to be a great series with Empty Quarter to be released in early 2012. The author Julia Golding also wrote the Cat Royal series. Reading about the author scans like an adventure tale in its own right, having served time in Cambridge, then the diplomatic services, and then as a lobbyist with Oxfam.

The writing is clear and precise. It is action packed with a good balance of emotion, suspense, surprises and warm characters. Topics such as being used by others, being deceived, attraction and girl/boy angst are touched upon. Fantastically Darcie is a positive role model and a great read.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien (Simon and Schuster)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-085707139-2
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

In the future, in a world baked dry by the harsh sun, there are those who live inside the walled Enclave and those who live outside.  Sixteen-year-old Gaia Stone lives outside.  As a toddler, she was disfigured by burns to her face.  This has left her with few friends and little romantic prospects.  Following in her mother’s footsteps Gaia has become a midwife; delivering babies in the world outside the wall and handing a quota over to be “advanced” into the privileged society of the Enclave.  She has always believed this to be her duty, until the night her parents are arrested by the very people they serve.  Now she has no choice but to rescue her parents.  Soon she discovers that the Enclave is not as perfect as it appears.

Within the Enclave Gaia learns that her father has been executed and her pregnant mother has been imprisoned.   She discovers that her mother was arrested because of secret records she kept of all the births she attended.  The records have been written in code and Gaia is forced to help break that code to assist with the Enclave’s efforts to stem the amount of inbreeding that is occurring.

She is also presented with the last thing she was expecting: love.  Leon, the disgraced son of the Protectorate proves himself to be an unlikely ally, but Gaia eventually learns that his motivations are more than just altruistic.  Because of the scars on her face, Gaia has grown up believing that she is unlovable, except by her parents.  It takes her some time to accept Leon’s attentions for what they are.  When he sacrifices himself to ensure her safety, it drives Gaia to embrace her future; desiring to be worthy of his actions.

The society created in Birthmarked is almost feudal – with a labouring class supporting a privileged few.  Acceptance of the rules is the only real ticket to happiness for those outside the walls – and, as we discover later in the story, for those within the Enclave as well.  It survives because there is nothing else around it; other societies are only rumours.  Like any good dystopian fiction, there is something inherently believable about the futuristic world portrayed in the story.
Although all of the characters were well rounded, I particularly found Gaia a terrific character.  Her ordeals within the Enclave see her transition from meek and subservient to courageous and confident.  However, as a romantic at heart, I was a little disappointed that her romance with Leon was so short lived.

The book does not come with the happiest ending.  Knowing that her father has died she manages to rescue her heavily pregnant mother only to watch her die during childbirth.  She and her newborn sister only escape through Leon’s sacrifice and she must leave without him.  Gaia embarks on an unknown future outside the community she knows with a small bundle of supplies and only the hope that she will find other people. 

I finished reading this book in a very short amount of time (for me); not because it was a light read, but because I was totally carried away with the story.  There is much to like about this book: it is original, has great characters and provides a thrilling read.  Anyone who has enjoyed The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Gone by Michael Grant will certainly enjoy Birthmarked.
Since earning an MA in writing at Johns Hopkins University, Caragh O’Brien has published several adult romance novels.  Birthmarked is her first novel for young adults and was nominated for The Young Adult Library Services Association Best Fiction for Young Adults.  The follow-up novel, Prized, is due for release later in 2011.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


Barry by Colin Thompson, (Random House)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1883-6
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Move over Wall-E, Barry the robot’s come to melt people’s hearts. Barry is Colin Thompson’s latest picture book for younger readers.

Barry’s a tiny robot that looks like he’s made out of scrap metal, with clamps and an air vent for his tummy. He’s been sent to save Earth but he becomes stuck at the back of someone’s sofa.
Barry’s a powerful robot who can control Earth, everything from the weather to unexplainable phenomenon like reality TV. Over time, Barry gets found by a human who tries to fix him up. This results in even more freaky changes in the weather. When Barry realises what he’s done, he sets out to undo the damage.

Thompson continues to deliver quirky stories that are backed up with some crazy illustrations. Each page has a mixture of realistic photos and stark drawings. Readers will be kept busy pointing out all the details. Thompson has created a very friendly robot with a bubbly personality. There’s an underlying environmental theme that can lead to further discussion.

Thompson’s tongue in cheek humour is splattered all over this lovely picture book. Barry is a delight to read and adore. Recommended for ages 5 and up.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

For All Creatures

For All Creatures For All Creatures by Glenda Millard, illustrated by Rebecca Cool (Walker Books)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN 9781921529818
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

For All Creatures is an outstanding book of gratitude for the gifts of nature. The vibrant cover, filled with Rebecca Cool’s distinctive illustrations in her bold, na├»ve style, compelled me to select it first from the pile to be reviewed. Open the book and endpapers burst with colour and images of animals, people, and flowers. It bursts with joy. I was in love with For All Creatures before I even reached the title page.

Glenda Millard’s mastery of the English language is unsurpassed. Her text is lyrical, yet her word choices are also challenging with such inclusions as metamorphosis, nonchalance and quagmire. This is definitely a story to be read with children, perfect to be shared, and one that will become a classic.

I loved how Millard began For All Creatures with one of the non-favourites of the animal kingdom – spiders. She shows us the beauty in all animals.

For weavers and wisps.
For silk spinners and spiderlings,
lace and loveliness
and for webs, we are thankful.

Each double spread finishes with the phrase ‘we are thankful’. Animals from throughout the world and Australia are included; there are amphibians and snails (with their ‘scribbled silver secrets’), birds and insects, mammals small and large. Millard always surprises with her use of language. We are thankful for the ‘upsidedownness’ of bats and the ‘fleas and fingers’ of monkeys.

There are also people, young and old. Textually, this double spread is my favourite. On the left is the young family who ‘wish and wonder and wait’ for their new child, while on the right, we read of the love and tenderness that comes with age.

Cool’s illustrations lift the text to an even higher plane. Each spread is a work of art. My personal favourite is the butterflies, with the contrasting greens and oranges.

Glenda Millard and Rebecca Cool previously collaborated on the award-winning Isabella’s Garden. This new offering must surely reap a swag of awards, too.

For All Creatures reminds us that our world is a wonderful tapestry. Share this book of joy and wonderment with the children in your life. 

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Crowfield Demon

The Crowfield Demon by Pat Walsh (Chicken House for Scholastic Aust.)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781906427634
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read yet another supernatural themed book, but the second instalment of the ‘Crowfield’ series intrigued me largely because of its unusual setting.

In recent times the relevance of Christian religion has been questioned. Walsh fearlessly throws us into a medieval period when religious belief was a big part of everyday life and the sacred lifelong commitment to seclusion and study was more common. The belief in angels and fallen angels who became demons is absolute. That there was war in Heaven and angels of both persuasions were sent to Earth is likewise considered fact. And there was more than a cursory nod to the ancient rites and beliefs of goddess worship.

Walsh creates an intense world I found easy to identify with.The desperate lives of the villagers and clergy, living on the knife edge of existence due to poverty and poor weather conditions stirred my sympathy and my curiosity.

Will lost his family in a terrible fire in book one, The Crowfield Curse and has been living with the brothers at Crowfield Abbey, tending gardens, running errands and eating very poorly. Times are tough and the brothers have little to eat. The abbey is in poor repair. But things are about to get much, much worse. A demon resides beneath the abbey’s floor, trapped in an enchantment, but with power that grows daily. A crack appears in the abbey walls, then it collapses, killing one of the brothers. The abbey is built upon a much older religious site, one where sacrifices were made to a ‘god’ Raum, the demon now wakening. Will unwittingly releases Raum when he removes a wooden box containing a cup inscribed with warnings about a fallen angel.

Are Will and his faithful friends, kindly Brother Snail, the fox-like ‘hob’, Brother Walter and the fey, Brother Shadlock faced with the rise of The Dark King once more, after defeating him in book one by digging up an angel of light? Or is the creature under the abbey are far greater threat, its dark power formidable? Will follows clues left by a previous abbot in secret messages but battles against the ignorance and fear of the current abbot, Prior Ardo, who wants nothing to do with the witchcraft which bound the demon to the cup last time.

Despite the abbot and his followers’ prayerful vigil in the remains of the abbey chapel, the demon comes into its full power and rampages throughout the countryside, killing and burning. The whole world seems to be at its mercy. What can one young boy do? Believing in the purity and light of the angel he found three months ago in the forest, Will prays and prays for rescue. But will it be enough?

The Crowfield Demon was a great read and I thought the glossary at the back explaining terminology such as: ‘book of hours’, ‘reredorter’, ‘sigils’ and ‘chapter house’ was helpful for enhancing the reader’s understanding. I think this book will encourage children to want to learn more about The Middle Ages, which, for all its dark dangers, was a very intriguing time of history.

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

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Numbers; Colours

Numbers and Colours, designed and illustrated by Orla Kiely (hardie grant EGMONT)
HB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-140525856-2 (Colours) 
978-140525855-5 (Numbers)

Colours and Numbers are the first two books in a series by designer Orla Kiely. She is one of the U.K.’s most eminent designers, with a very distinctive style. She uses strong and earthy colours, simple lines and graphics that are reminiscent of the 1950’s era.

Being design driven the choice of materials are distinctive and lovely to touch. Both of the books are cloth covered, each board is thick and easy to turn for little fingers and the boards are matte varnish. They are very appealing and the quality would indicate long lasting.

The two books sit together well as a set, offering the same spread of colour and graphics in use. Each incorporates a two-page spread of full colour making every turn of the page pleasing.

Colours offers a range of tones for any one colour along the right hand side of the spread. The layout of the graphics is lovely with each both large and small images complimenting each other and offering more for the child to discover on the page.

Numbers uses a range of familiar objects in a variety of strong colours that are presented playfully on each two-page spread.

These books are attractive for both baby and parent.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Koala Bounces Back

The Koala Bounces Back by Jimmy Thomson and illustrated by Eric Lobbecke (Random House)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5007-1
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Koala Bounces Back is the cheerful sequel to The Koala Who Bounced. Karri the bouncing koala is settling into his new home when he’s disturbed by a gang of moggies. They’re dumped domestic cats creating havoc with the native wildlife. Karri tries to convince them to go but the cats challenge him and his bush friends to a soccer match. If the cats win, they stay.

Karri stars in another funny story with a distinct Australian favour. Karri finds the cats a new home and it’s ripe for discussion about feral and stray cats in the wild. Lobbecke nails each animal, giving them human features that make them stand out. His experience as a cartoonist shines throughout. The gang of moggies look like bikies and the bush animals in their soccer gear is a hoot. But Karri’s expressions steal the book. Readers will love this crazy koala.

The narrative is playful and the pictures capture the quirky tone of the book. The Koala Bounces Back is a delight to read aloud, again and again. Bring on the next Karri adventure! Recommended for ages 5 and up.    

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Bilby Secrets

Bilby Secrets by Edel Wignell, illustrated by Mark Jackson (Walker Books)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN 9781921529320
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Bilby Secrets is a wonderful book which explores the desert world of the Greater Bilby and aims to highlight the vulnerability of this unique Australian marsupial. Undoubtedly the strength of the book is the fictional story of Mother Bilby and her son and factual snippets running consecutively throughout.

We follow Baby’s growth under the guidance of Mother until he is mature and strikes out by himself into the harsh desert environment of the Pilbarra in Western Australia where Greater Bilbies make their home. Other desert inhabitants are also introduced. These include a fox, an olive python and a golden orb-weaver. Each spread also contains text in a different font which explains the behaviour and habits of bilbies including their food, habitat and reproduction.

Wignell writes in an engaging manner that draws the reader into the bilbies’ journey. Her text is perfectly complemented by Mark Jackson’s colourful illustrations that bring the desert world to life. Rather than being an empty landscape, Jackson shows the desert in all its variety and also from the perspective of the bilbies. (That is one big python!) The colours of the Western Australian outback provide a wonderful palette for him to draw from and he makes full use of it.

The book is further complemented by a brief introduction to the bilby at the beginning and an index at the back of the book. This would make a wonderful addition to libraries and a perfect gift, especially to send overseas.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Horses for King Arthur

Horses for King Arthur by L.S. Lawrence (Omnibus for Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $17.99 
ISBN 978186291918
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

The title of this book made it irresistible, as I have been a huge fan of Arthurian legend since childhood. There are many erroneous and fanciful versions of the story, some of which are annoying, to say the least, in their inaccuracies. TV’s Merlin is a glaring example, drawing on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth century storylines when most scholars acknowledge the ‘real’ King Arthur would have probably lived in the sixth century AD. I am happy to report that Horses for King Arthur did not disappoint. Set in Britain in the year 475, Lawrence has taken the time to research properly and respect this time-honoured story.

Alexa is a tomboy brought up in the Roman fashion in a noble family. With that position comes responsibility, but Alexa is not one for conventional ways. She loves riding her horse, Feather and is closely watched by old soldier and family servant Syragus. A magnet for trouble, Alexa defies her father’s restrictions upon her behavior. She dreams of breeding beautiful horses, to fight invaders on horseback, but all that is left in Britain are the hardy ponies. No more warmblood stallions to improve their stock.

One evening two strangers come to dinner. Alexa is introduced to an acquaintance of her father, Ambrosius Aurelianus and his son Artorius Aurelianus, a carrot haired boy who shares her passion for horses and plants the seed of an idea in her head. An army on horseback, carrying lances, wouldn’t that be formidable?

But Alexa has no clue that a transaction has taken place at dinner. Her parents have just promised her to Ambrosius Aurelianus, Artorius’ father. The story explodes into action early the next day when Saxon invaders attack and with the grown men rushing out to meet them, the boys and women are left to defend the manor house. Artorius shows his gift for battle strategy and Alexa her prowess. But it is not enough to save her father from being killed. Nor can it prevent the wedding going ahead. Without her father to manage the estate, the workers are already rebelling and fighting amongst themselves. Alexa is trapped by circumstance.

Desperate to delay her marriage, Alexa convinces her mother to allow her to visit her aunt Prima in the large town of Weymouth. Here Alexa finds her aunt’s house in a dilapidated state and goes about restoring the household to its former glory.

A ship arrives at the docks and horses are unloaded. A beautiful stallion catches Alexa’s eye and she is smitten. Where could more be purchased? In her possession she has her mother’s priceless jewels – enough to purchase fine quality stock to breed from and realize her cherished dream. But many obstacles stand in her path.

Alexa is a strong willed girl of solid ethics and blessed with a sensibility to see things through whilst keeping an eye on her goals. Amusingly, the future King Arthur, Artorius, is her young sidekick. Alexa finds herself caught up in murderous clashes and an ocean voyage to a strange land, Brittany, where she is held hostage during a time of war. Her only hope is to impress King Euric with her as yet untried methods for training horsemen to carry and lances in battle. If her faithful servant and mentor, Syragus succeeds, she will be allowed to return home with a herd of her own. Provided no one finds out about the stash of gold in her sewing box and tries to force her into using it as a dowry.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Lawrence plunged me straight into his world and I found myself swept up with Alexa, sharing her indignation at being a pawn in the marriage/dowry political machinations and urging her on to finally return home triumphant. And with the handsome sea captain Grecca at her side, of course!

Lawrence is also author of Eagle of the East and Escape by Sea. Scholastic has provided Teacher’s notes for Horses for King Arthur.  

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and was awarded a May Gibbs Fellowship in 2011. You can follow her exploits at  

Saturday, 13 August 2011


Ballad by Audrey Stiefvater (Scholastic UK)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781862918672
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Once again, Stiefvater charms me with her misty half-world where reality and faerie mingle seamlessly. Nuala is a hunter, taking on several different human forms in succession, each lasting sixteen years. She must hunt to live, giving the gift of creative genius to her victims in exchange for their lives. The music inside James draws her to him as her next target. James is still recovering from a bad experience with faerie. In the first book, Lament, his best friend Dee fell in love with a faerie and was lost. James has left home and come here to Thornking-Ash School of Music to start a new life but is confronted with the strange and sexy Nuala, who is dangerously, hypnotically invading his thoughts and dreams. Can he extricate himself from her? Will she succumb to the urge to bind him forever or will she resist?

James has an otherworldly talent for playing ‘the pipes’. As he spends more and more time with Nuala, music is taking over his body, appearing on his arms in strange writing. His dreams are infused with it. He is falling into something he can’t control. Thornking-Ash is the centre of faerie activity and the faerie queen is hungry for a new human lover. Only James’ unusual teacher, Sullivan, knows what’s really going on and Nuala, in her stunningly gorgeous human form, is working her way into James’ affections. Even though he knows it could kill him. And then Dee returns and James is faced with that familiar longing that eats away at him.

I do enjoy Stiefvater’s feisty pseudo-evil character, Nuala very much. Not having read Lament I can’t compare her with Dee, but Nuala does, in her own abrupt and concise way:

          One, her eyes were too big. She looked like an alien… Three, she used James to make herself feel better. It was the sort of attribute I only liked for me to have.

James is a little wimpy and gets tossed along the shoreline with the flotsam for a good portion of the book. He understands what’s at stake, but he rarely does anything. Samhain is looming and Nuala’s sixteen years are up. The fey have found a way to become more powerful, to invade the human world of the present. James is being pulled by the king of the dead’s nightly song. Dee is a cloverhand, attracting more and more faeries to the area. Sulllivan is desperately trying to save James and all the other talented students, like James’ room mate, Paul, who hears the lyrics of the King of the Dead’s song – a list of people who are to die. To be free of her curse of immortality, Nuala must stand in a fire and be burned alive. Only in the ashes can she return to James. It’s a risk she is willing to take, but will it work?

I wanted to read this book in one sitting, but alas, life is a bit too busy for that. Its magical little fingers worked their way into my daily routines, snippets and ideas following my thoughts. Stiefvater is a master of infiltrating our world with her intriguing creations.

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

Friday, 12 August 2011

30 Things My Dad Taught Me

30 Things My Dad Taught Me by Ian, Paul and Denis Baker (Exisle Publishing)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780980812985
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

30 Things is written by three brothers to honour the memory of their father Leon James Baker. Anecdotes about Leon and of Baker family life from each of the boys fill the book. Leon's wise words and actions highlight the type of man he was and his legacy. There is no doubting the deep love held this man held for his sons, and his sons for him.

The book is a celebration of family life and as such the authors' mother is also included in many of the stories. Inspirational quotes and personal stories are shared. There are also pages where sons and daughters can reflect and write things their own fathers taught them as well as things they would like to teach others. To me, this is the core of the book: the giving and receiving of love.

This is a truly touching book and one that will leave a mark on all who read it. It would make a perfect and personal Father's Day gift.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

How It Came About

How It Came About by Bryan Evans, illustrated by Kimberly Moon
ebook $2.99
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

How It Came About is an original concept that will fascinate young children learning the three 'r's. In a place called Knowledge are little towns each inhabited by particular people. In the town of Alphabet live Letters. In another town live Numbers and among the Numbers lives Zero but 'nobody took any notice of the Number Zero because she didn't amount to anything.'

Disheartened Zero heads out into the world of Knowledge and meets Spot from the town of Punctuation who reminds her that '(e)verybody amounts to something. It's up to each one of us to find out what it is.' When Zero and Spot stumble upon Alphabet, they discover that everyone does indeed have a purpose. Letters can become words, sentences, books and then libraries and that numbers can amount to more than nine. But Spot is the most important of all.

The accompanying illustrations are bright and colourful and add to the quirkiness of the story with the personification of the letters, numbers and punctuation. This book could be a very useful teaching resource and one that will have everyone thinking about how words, numbers and language is formed.

View How It Came About at

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Seekers Fire in the Sky

Seekers Fire in the Sky by Erin Hunter (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-5462-5
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang
This is book five of the Seekers series – an unusual adventure tale that takes us into the minds of four bears. The main characters include a brown, a black, and a white bear although they are accompanied by a brown bear that is a shape shifter. He is related to the legends of old, he has visions, special talents and serves as their guide, their mission is to save the wild.

Erin Hunter does a beautiful job of weaving the landscape in as a distinct and strong character. The descriptions range from the tantalising – dancing firelights in the sky at night, to the horrifying - oil drilling machines and animals that have been affected by them. Erin Hunter is the author of the Warriors series that has sold 5 million copies and spent 63 weeks on the New York Times Best selling list.

The story is set on ‘the great ice’ where the younger white bear has to take a leadership role. The story takes the brown and black bears onto the unfamiliar landscape of the ice. They need to learn to trust in another bears knowledge and give in to another’s ability to lead. The white bear, Kallik also embarks on a journey of learning to trust herself. It is a story that includes slow thoughtful moments and page turning action.

It is aimed at 9 year old plus. The writing style is thoughtful and descriptive. It is equally attractive to girls and boy readers and deals with issues of the natural environment and human impact, all very relevant to the modern young reader and learner.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Space Footy and other stories

Space Footy and other stories by Goldie Alexander (Teaching Solutions)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921613-30-2
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Space Footy and other stories, a book for boys aged 9-13 years, (I’d say people aged 9- 100) is the companion to the previous book of entertaining tales for girls of the same age group, My Horrible Cousins and Other Stories. It covers various genres including science fiction, mystery, adventure, historical fiction and humour. Ghosts, aliens and bullies are only a few of the main characters the stories are built upon. There are contemporary issues addressed and handled in a comprehensive but subtle way.

My favourite of all the eleven stories, although each one has merit, was Freaky. Imaginative and meaningful, it tells the story of an inter-galactic boy, Jay, ‘found under a cabbage patch’ who was ‘a freak, an idiot, or both’, as he had an extra head ‘that hung from his left shoulder like a dead weight’. Cloned in a fertility lab, his origins had been kept secret. But he’d inherited the gift of inexplicable strength, and a step-father who adored him.

Forced to land on the asteroid Salisia, his planet of origin, Jay and his father Bruth meet Beyong, a boy always on the run because he refuses to tell a lie. Jay is told never to be separated from Bruth no matter what occurs. As he grows, so does his head. It is the explanation of the unnatural circumstances of his form that explodes into crystal-like perfection at the climax of the story.

Goldie has a gift for drawing in the reader at the beginning with a little unexpected twist that promises excitement and something unusual. The whole of the collection and the previous one have this sustainment. The characters are unconventional; but they have something specific that’s extraordinary about them. They do outrageous things, have significant setbacks, but every story ends in a positive outcome.

Teacher Notes are available for both collections as with all the author’s works.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Angry Mangry

Angry Mangry by Barton Williams, illustrated by Benjamin Johnston (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780980723748
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Benjamin is having a tough day. He has been pushed, shushed and bumped. His pencils have been hogged. His anger rises and rises until  Relax Max turns up on his bike and the two go for a spin with Benjamin cooling down in the process.

Angry Mangry is an empowering book for younger children. The first title of the School Rox series, it demonstrates how people can take control of their own emotions. Simply written, with an infusion of humour, the text is complemented by illustration in coloured pencils. Bountiful white space focuses the attention on Benjamin and his emotions.

This book would be a wonderful asset particularly in an early educational setting and a useful tool to discuss emotions that are often viewed by our society as bad. Angry Mangry highlights that there are many small situations each day that can anger any one of us. However, it is how we deal with that emotion that is important and this book will help children do just that.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Zelah Green

Zelah Green by Vanessa Curtis. (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-5505 -9
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Zelah Green is the teenager with an unusual name and very real problems. She is a full-charactered girl, facing modern problems of a deceased mother, an alcoholic father and a new and selfish stepmother. Her way of trying to implement control gets out of control as OCD takes over her life. Zelah believes her rituals and cleaning habits means she has things under control although in a turn of events she ends up in an institution.

It’s a small private institution for teenagers only so readers are kept within a warm loving environment. We are introduced to one girl who has anorexia, one who cuts herself and a boy who is selective mute. The house hosts/doctors are loving caring and relaxed people. Despite the situation Zelah is in there is good quality humour in this story. Zelah is ultimately likeable, with a witty sense of humour. She comes across as a very normal teenager who is facing big issues. I found myself liking her a lot.

I enjoyed reading about a humorous and real teenager and that the book covers a range of very real issues. I feel teenagers will get a valuable insight into various mental health conditions. The book offers solutions and we travel with characters as they find their way towards recovery.

This is a re-release of Zelah Green, a second book Zelah Green, One more little problem is also available.

The book is advertised as 11 years and above and I highly recommend youth read this book. It is a great story with a very likeable character. It can also serve as a good conversation starter on some very real problems in our community.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Great Emu Chase

The Great Emu Chase by Sarah Palmer, illustrated by Emma Stuart
(Sarah Palmer)
PB RRP $14.95
Reviewed by Anke Seib

Seagulls stealing the odd chip is something many of us find familiar, so Sarah Palmer’s all Australian story is easily identified with. The simple concept has a whole new twist, however, if the bird that steals the chips is both flightless and large enough to take off with the whole bag. And because young children enjoy seeing adults goof up, the valuable lesson that comes through this totally non-didactic telling is excellent—for Gar was the one who fed the emu a chip to begin with. Big mistake!

The narrator follows Gar as he pursues the emu and chips all over the wildlife park, the familiar setting for this story being another aspect of its appeal. Both narrator and park inhabitants are highly amused as Gar is forced to enter various animal enclosures in order to continue his pursuit. The worst one has to be that of the crocodile, but being wedged in a burrow and having to be pushed out by the wombat is pretty funny too—though not so much when this sees Gar land face-first in a prickle bush.

Colourful and lively illustrations capture both Gar’s frustration and the spritely spunk of the emu. The emu is daring and cheeky, leaving Gar rather worse for wear. By the story’s end, Gar is dishevelled and covered in leaf litter, with pants torn and face scratched, BUT he has rescued his chips. The other characters are also well illustrated and sure to delight children. I particularly liked the finer details in the work, like the corrugated iron and paling fences that are so Australian.

Told in rhyme, the story includes a fun refrain that is likely to be embraced quickly by young readers. Recommended for children aged three to eight, the availability of excellent teaching notes on the author’s website will make this book well worth including in every pre-school and primary school collection.

Girls Stuff

Girls Stuff by Sue Lawson (black dog books)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 9781742031712
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

The Dream Diva contest is over and Mickey Farrell now has the gig of co-hosting Girls Stuff TV with Dream Diva winner and friend Skye. The girls' excitement is tempered with the discovery that Coco, or Mini-Freak as Mickey has dubbed her, arrives on set due to legal shenanigans.

Girls will love following Mickey and Skye through the process of recording their debut TV program. the clothes, make-up, filming at a theme park and the 'diva-ish' antics of Coco as she attempts to upstage Mickey and Skye at every opportunity.

Mickey Farrell is a wonderful heroine who loves singing and is always supportive of the other girls. This series for younger readers is fun and easy to read and comes recommended.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The Last Viking

The Last Viking The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen, illustrated by James Foley (Fremantle Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921888106
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

The Last Viking is a warm and funny book about being brave and what can happen when you truly believe in something with all your heart. Good things follow, that’s for sure.

Our protagonist is Josh, whose Grandfather gives him a book about all Vikings. There’s a really cool non-fiction section within the story that gives all sort of information about Vikings and their lives and this is what Josh decides to be – a Viking.

Josh becomes K-nut the Viking and takes all Viking matters very seriously. Inspired to follow his Viking heart, he soon faces his biggest challenge – how to outwit the local bullies.

Throwing caution to the wind, K-nut is a brave as his word and the mighty Vikings Gods hear his battle cry. They’re delighted someone is taking an interest in worshipping the Viking ways again!

So when Josh is confronted by the bullies (his Nan thinks they should come for cordial!) the Viking Gods deliver a thundering storm full of lightning and menace that scares the living wits out of the bullies.

There’s so much detail in James Foley’s illustrations that every time you read this, you will pick up something new. The emotion on Josh’s face is so real and tangible and his little dog Wolverine is hilarious.

Norman Jorgensen’s words and James Foley’s illustrations are a perfect match in complimenting each other. As with all good picture books, the words allow room for the illustrator use expressive artwork to expand and add meaning to the story.

There are wonderfully creative Teaching Resources available on Fremantle Press’s website and on Norman Jorgensen’s author website relating to the story, children will have a ball building a Viking longboat and applying the rune alphabet write their own secret messages and codes.

The illustrator, James Foley has a blog called, and this gives a fascinating look at his journey in creating the artwork for this picture book.

This is a highly recommended read for primary school readers.

Neridah McMullin is the author of two books for children. Her next book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to me!'. It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story that’s being endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy, and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also loves footy!)

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Alice-Miranda at Sea

Alice-Miranda at Sea by Jacqueline Harvey (Random House)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1848-5
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Alice-Miranda goes abroad in her latest adventure for younger readers. This sweet girl who always looks on the bright side of life is on a luxury yacht with her family and friends. She’ll get to witness the wedding of her Aunt Charlotte and movie star Lawrence Ridley. It’s a star studded celebration attracts unwanted attention from many fronts. There’s plenty of mystery with a stowaway named Neville, a short-tempered cook who looks very familiar to Alice-Miranda and a possible thief on board.

Alice-Miranda tries to melt the staff’s hearts, which is a little tricky when they’re not used to kids. It’s another chance for Alice-Miranda to show what she’s made of and save her aunt’s wedding from being a disaster.

Harvey turns her attention to luxury cruises and comes up with luscious descriptions of the yacht. It almost reads like a brochure because it’s so enticing. I’m sure readers will continue to daydream about her glamorous life. Long-time fans of Alice-Miranda will be delighted to see some characters from previous novels returning. Jacinta finally gets to see her mother again but it’s not the reunion that she hopes for.

Alice-Miranda overcomes challenges in her positive and charming style. She’s a great role model for girls of all ages. Alice-Miranda’s friends also have their own moments, with plenty of gentle humour between them. Alice-Miranda At Sea is another exciting addition to the series and there’s more to come. Recommended for ages 8 and up.     

Monday, 1 August 2011

In the Sea there are Crocodiles

In the Sea there are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda and Enaiatollah Akbari (Random House)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-4464-0072-2
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

In the Sea there are Crocodiles is the true story of Enaiatollah Akbari melded into a gentle narrative by Fabio Geda. It tells the tale of how Enaiatollah, an Afghan kid travelled from Afghanistan to Italy over five years.

This is a book is proof that it’s not the destination, it’s the ride. And Enaiatollah goes one amazing journey. One day, he finds that his mother has gone. He’s looking for a place to belong. His travels to Europe take him to Iran, Turkey and Greece. He’s trying to earn enough to survive and push onwards to the next place.

Enaiatollah deals with people-traffickers, corrupt police officers and harsh labourers, working undercover in many building sites. He builds friendships with other asylum seeking kid but never feels settled for long. Readers will admire his courage to move and go on life-threatening trips, inspired by nothing but hope.

Geda makes sure that Enaiatollah’s story is honest without being brutally descriptive. Like Enaiatollah says in his many interviews that break up the story, he doesn’t remember much of the finer details. It’s the people and their actions that stand out.
There are countless moments where Enaiatollah gets into some truly dangerous situations. But he never gives up. This book offers a moving insight to what an asylum seeker will go through to find a better life. There are enough tender scenes to stir your heart. The flashback storytelling with some reflective commentary works quite well.

In the Sea there are Crocodiles is a great book about refugees for kids. It’s also for anyone who wants to go on a thrilling adventure. The fact that’s it’s a true story only makes it more exciting and remarkable. It’s recommended for ages 12 and up.