Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Magic Word

The Magic Word by Sherrill S. Cannon, illustrations, book design and cover art by Kalpart (Strategic Book Group)
ISBN 9781609769093
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Almost every child must have been told at one point to use 'the magic word'. In Sherrill S. Canon's The Magic Word Elisabeth Keys has never said thank you, excuse me, or please. The results for the little girl are devastating when she discovers that not one person has accepted her invitation to her birthday party. After a rethink, and a change in her behaviour so that she considers others, Elisabeth is delighted that her classmates now like her and accept her invitation.

The Magic Word is written in rhyme and the story moves quickly. The ending is predictable though satisfying for a child reader. The colourful computer-generated illustrations reflect the text detailing the change in Elisabeth from a selfish, stroppy child to one that respects those around her. The Magic Word has won three awards: a Gold Readers Favorite Award, a NABE Pinnacle Achievement Winner Award, and a Global eBook Finalist Award. The Magic Word would be a useful tool for parents and teachers to reinforce the importance of social skills. Australians can buy through any online store and the book is printed and shipped from Melbourne.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Whiffy Wilson, the wolf who wouldn’t wash

Whiffy Wilson, the wolf who wouldn’t wash by Caryl Hart,  illustrated by Leonie Lord (Orchard/Hachette)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978 1 40830 918 6
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Caryl Hart’s rhyming story about a naughty wolf is witty and fun. Wilson refuses to take a bath and his fur and body is alive with creepy crawlies, ear wax and other unsavoury elements which contribute to his wiffiness. He has horrible habits of wiping his fingers on his clothes after eating and never changing his underwear.

Wilson’s mum roars at him to take a bath, but instead he runs away to the neighbour’s shed and spends the night, unwashed but happy, under a pile of coal sacks. His best friend, Dotty, comes in to the shed in the morning and shrieks at the smell. She thinks he is a monster, but when she discovers it is Wilson, she takes her smelly friend in hand. She drags him inside and drops him in a hot and soapy bath, then cleans him from head to foot.

They run out to play and become thoroughly grubby. Dotty explains there is a difference between good dirt which gets washed off in the tub each night, and bad dirt which is germy, smelly and can make you sick.

That’s just perfect,” Wilson beamed.
“Being mucky is all right!
As long as I can have a bath
And wash it off at night!”

Caryl Hart has created a learning story all young children will relate to and enjoy. Leonie Lord has supported the amusing rhyming verse with crayon and wash illustrations which are simple but very effective. Whiffy Wilson is a great read for both parents and young children, and older brothers and sisters, too.

Monday, 26 September 2011

1-2-3 Count to Ten with Gumnut Babies; Colours, A Bush Rainbow with Gumnut Babies

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie present 1-2-3 Count to Ten with Gumnut Babies and Colours, A Bush Rainbow with Gumnut Babies illustrated by May Gibbs (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $9.99 each

ISBN 9781742830230 and ISBN 9781742830421
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

What a lovely way to revitalize the beloved characters of May Gibbs!  Part of the proceeds of this book go to benefit Cerebral Palsy Alliance and The Northcott Society. Awarded an MBE in 1955 for her contribution to children’s literature, May Gibbs bequeathed the copyright of her bush characters to charities. The proceeds have supported thousands of Australian children with disabilities and their families also.

This nicely presented 216x178mm board book with matt finish works beautifully with May Gibbs’ charming soft pastel illustrations. Each page is a different number on the way to ten:

One special hug,
two friends together,
three buzzing bugs,
four cuddly chicks…

I love these mythical little people, tucked up in their gum leaf beds, with their little wooden hats and chubby cherubic bodies! My favourite in Count to Ten would have to be ‘Seven soft floating flowers’ in which pink gum nut babies parachute earthwards beneath pink flowers and in Colours  the cover illustration, depicting two bush babies swathed in fluffy pale yellow wattle blossom sitting on a twig. The text is simple and evocative:
Gold sunrise glow,
Silver morning star,
Brown gum nuts roll,
Orange bees buzz…

These uniquely Australian drawings and concepts have a place in the hearts of every generation and I am so pleased to see them once more grace the shelves. That these lovely keepsakes also help charities help those in need is a wonderful bonus.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. Her new book, The Anything Shop will be launched October 15th. See here for details:

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Lazy Lou Lou

Lazy Lou Lou by Susannah McFarlane, illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $4.99 
ISBN 9781741698367
recommended for children 3 yrs+, readers 9 years+
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

This terrific series, Little Mates is quality. McFarlane’s text is alliteration heaven and Lachlan Creagh’s illustrations are whimsical and imaginative.

Late one day, Lou Lou was languishing on her li-lo at the lake. Little Lenny was leaning over a ledge to look at larvae…
Lo and behold! Lou Lou learned it was lovely to be lively and loyal.

 Lou Lou is a lizard with attitude. At first her attitude is frowned upon – laziness was her thing. Various animal friends tried to interest her in exciting activities to no avail. But when little Lenny falls into the lake, Lou Lou dashes in and saves him, discovering to her own surprise a talent for lifesaving. Now she wears the red cap and everyone dotes on her. What a gal!

In soft back, full gloss wrap-around covers, these little sized books are cute and highly collectible. Although touted as ‘helping children learn to read,’ the actual reading age is a little higher due to the phonemic complexity of some words, ie: lethargically, laconically, laborious, languishing, which is why I have put the independent reading age at 9 years+. The meanings of some words would need explaining. However, the content could easily please a younger child when an adult reads aloud.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. Her new book, The Anything Shop will be launched October 15th. See here for details:  

Friday, 23 September 2011

Gamers' Challenge

Gamers’ Challenge by George Ivanoff (Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1921665516
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

Gamers’ Challenge is the sequel to the award-winning Gamers’ Quest. Framed in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, and suitably aimed at eleven-year-old (plus) readers, Gamers’ Challenge is a well written, evocative and heart racing chapter book. 

Zyra and Tark, the two main protagonists, have spent their life playing a game. They never grow old, have an endless supply of energy and can survive on very little sleep. They never ask any questions either; at least they didn’t up until the point where they broke the rules of the all-powerful Designers by sharing a kiss. Their lives suddenly become complicated as they find themselves out of the game and being pursued by menacing, static VI balls. As they battle to survive, and start asking questions, they happen upon a group of ‘Others’ – people who have also chosen not to play the game any longer. The ‘Others’ lead them on a quest to find the ‘Ultimate Gamer’ who is the only one who can help them defeat the deadly computer virus and exit the game, once and for all.  Along the way, and in their bid for freedom, they discover the answers to their questions and the essence of their identities.

Gamers' Challenge starts right in the middle of the action and instantly launches the reader into the lives of Zyra and Tark and the thematic concerns of the book, as well as immediately raising story questions that drive the narrative right through to the end. Zyra and Tark are strong and unique female and male characters that this age group will identify with – both on an emotional and physical level. The plot is well developed with many plausible twists and turns, and interesting characters, that keep readers engaged and the wild pace and endless action will keep the pages being turned with eagerness. The game world that the characters inhabit is vivid, believable and painterly, too. However, the real strength of the book lies in the subtle handling of themes such as identity, trust and loyalty.

George Ivanoff has given us an excellent and engrossing read with Gamers' Challenge and one can only hope that an equally engrossing third instalment will follow! 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Boy vs Beast, Border Guard Battle Files, Land

Boy vs Beast, Border Guard Battle Files, Land by Mac Park, illustrated by Melanie Matthews, Britt Martin and Millie Shorter (Scholastic Australia) Text, design and illustrations copyright Lemonfizz Media 
PB RRP $9.99 
ISBN 9781921931093
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

 I love this series! As a teacher I find them incredibly useful. The consistent phonemic simplicity gives boys with poor reading skills the confidence to tackle each new title. In fact they can’t wait until the next adventure comes out! The series sits perfectly in its niche – adventure, excitement, danger, beasts and gadgets. Even girls enjoy these stories, for much the same reason. The illustrations are super cool and encourage the reader to expand his/her vocabulary by using the picture cues. In each volume a background story is provided, linking all the episodes and giving a first time reader the information to understand the plot and characters.

Set in the five lands of Beastium – Terradon, Infernix, Sludgia, Isolus and Volcan, young Border Guard Kai Masters battles to keep beasts inside the perimeter known as The Wall along with his sidekick BC, the robotic dog.

This particular edition is a little different to the usual story in that it is a source book, explaining the Border Guards merit badges for successful battles in Air, Land, Water, Fire, Battle Skill and Battle Gear awarded. In this volume the reader learns how to win the Rock badge in The Ground Lands. The book describes the beasts and pests indigenous to the Ground Lands, also the gadgets and equipment, such as the hover board, needed to combat them.

This is the fourteenth book in the series and I imagine (and hope) there will be many more. The lands of Beastium are constantly plagued by dangerous wild beasts which require brave Border Guards to keep them under control! At this time there is also a Battle Files book on ‘Air’ lands which follows the format.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. Her new book, The Anything Shop will be launched October 15th. See here for details:  

Monday, 19 September 2011

Rangers Apprentice: The Lost Stories

Rangers Apprentice: The Lost Stories by John Flanagan (Random House)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1818-8
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Rangers Apprentice has been a phenomenon with no signs of slowing down. Flanagan has received many letters from fans around the world and he’s responded with a different kind of book. The Lost Stories is a collection of tales that go back and forth in Halt and Will’s lives.

Flanagan explains how Will really met Halt and the event behind Halt’s decision to join the rangers. There are also a few stories that follow after Book 10 such as the long awaited wedding between Cassandra and Horace.
It’s nice to see the supporting cast get their own little stories. Gilan and Jenny have some amusing adventures. My favourite story is about Will and his relationship with Tug, his loyal horse. The inspiration behind the story was a fan that raised a very interesting point. Flanagan admits that there are a few gaps in his Rangers’ universe that slip through the cracks. I’m glad that he has the chance to settle the score on a few matters.

The short story format is a refreshing change. Each story is broken up into mini chapters just like in the other Rangers’ books. Flanagan shows his trademark narrative, full of action and suspense. The Ranger’s aura is as legendary as ever, I love seeing others react to Rangers, friends and enemies alike. As always, the animals get their fair share of jokes when they share banter with their owners.

Fans will get the most of this book and it’s a nice pit stop before the next thrilling instalment. The Lost Stories is recommended for ages 10 and up.  

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Crow Country

Crow Country by Kate Constable (Allen & Unwin)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74237-395-9
Reviewed by Thalia Kalkipsakis

‘The night belonged to the ancient, nameless gods, to silent spirits, to Waa and Bunjil and all the others. Sadie dug into the earth, she made a hole in the body of the land, and as she dug, she whispered, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’

New to Boort, Sadie is resentful of having been dragged to a country town by her mother. Her sense of belonging isn’t helped when she discovers an ancient stone circle and is told by a crow: ‘This is Crow’s place.’

And so begins a series of encounters between Sadie and the cryptic Crow. It hints at a Law that has been broken and sends her time-slipping backwards in time to the death of an aboriginal man who had desperately been defending a sacred place, as well as the cover-up by her great-grandfather.

In between her visits back in time, Sadie’s relationships develop in the present. Walter is an aboriginal boy with a troubled past and Lachie is a descendant of the perpetrator of the crime long ago. There is a sense of righting past wrongs, but also a warning from Crow of repeating history.

Constable has effectively distilled bigger themes into a story that, while shameful and disturbing, also offers hope for the future. Issues such as land ownership, abuse of power and most tellingly, the implications of being part of the cover-up of a crime, are handled with an even hand and understanding. Constable’s background in law is evident, as is her level of care and consultation in terms of Indigenous lore.

Crow Country is aimed at children aged nine to thirteen and is accessible on many levels. The characters and sense of place are vividly and enjoyably Australian. The time slip moments are believable and evocative to the point where this reviewer was hungry for more. It is an important book, one that has the potential to ground its readers, connecting us, as Sadie comes to be, with our country and our collective history.

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

Friday, 16 September 2011


Flood by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781742830728
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Flood is an unusual book indeed. The collaboration between two experienced children’s literary icons has produced a touching and thought provoking story which will, I am sure, be a catalyst for much discussion in schools and homes. Honourably, Scholastic is donating 100% of the profits from the sale of Flood to the Flood Disaster Relief Appeal. In addition, a complimentary copy of the book will be given to every primary school library, approximately 6000, across Australia.

The story is told from a lost cattle dog’s point of view. The nameless pooch appears as a bystander as the weather worsens, the disaster unfolds and the cleanup begins. At first the rain seems innocuous, gently falling onto parched land, but like a hungry monster, it soon turns savage, flooding the river and spilling out over the city. Our innocent and helpless little friend the cattle dog watches from a car roof, surrounded by brown water.

The river was the enemy… Trees and sofas sucked and swirled into the torrent… the cables of the boardwalk snapped. A kilometre of wood and metal became a weapon of the flood.

The hero of the story and a focal point of hope becomes the little tugboat, which hauls and strains to push the dislodged boardwalk out to sea. As the water level falls, the community swings into action:

The kindness of strangers bloomed like flowers after rain.

Brisbane resident Jackie’s own father was caught in the flood and many of the story elements were inspired by long phone calls between them. More than 60,000 volunteers helped to clean up.

Bruce Whatley’s illustrations in acrylic wash and pencil on paper are intelligently sparse, deliberately vague and washed over with a brown tinge which suits the subject matter perfectly. The spatters of paint make the scenes real as people of all ages grapple with removing rubbish, shovelling mud and sharing food. By contrast, when the city is returned to normal the sky is clear and blue and the cattle dog is reunited with its family. Bruce says, “This is a very emotional story and I needed to find an illustration style that would do it justice.” Having experimented with using his left hand, rather than his natural right, Bruce feels his self-expression is more vivid. I would have to agree.

Flood  is a wonderful book, not just for the magical execution of the story, but for the whole premise behind it – to reach out to flood disaster victims in a practical way, to show the generosity of the Australian spirit and to remind the rest of us how lucky we are.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. Her new book, The Anything Shop will be launched October 15th. See here for details:  

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Mosquito Advertising: The Blade Brief

Mosquito Advertising: The Blade Brief by Kate Hunter (UQP)
PB RRP $16.95
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

Katie hasn’t come down from her high at being a Marketing Success at 14 years of age. She’s not bothered with unimportant things like school work anymore. All she wants to do is advertise. The problem with being so focussed is that details can pass you by. Important things, like the fact that you are starting to irritate your best friends, go unnoticed.

In her desperation to keep developing Mosquito Advertising, Katie doesn’t see the warning signs. The advertising opportunity of a lifetime smells rotten, but Katie just can’t smell it. Will Katie survive this mess? Will she still have friends to turn to at the end of it all? Anything is possible, even a little romance along the way.

The Blade Brief is another intriguing easy read. It’s perfect for escaping the humdrum of school, home and other mundane facts of life. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Pirate X

Pirate X  by Sherryl Clark (UQP)
PB RRP $16.95
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

Will’s stepfather’s bullying reaches deadly proportions, so Will has no choice but to run away. In his fight to survive on the streets, Will tries to nick some bread. In his flight from the outraged shopkeeper, Will falls and bumps his head. This is where the adventure begins. He wakes up in the Bahamas in 1717.

Pirate X is not for the fainthearted. There’s a lot of killing, looting and threats of violence. Blackbeard thirsts for blood and riches, in that order. He’s a crook, but also a strategic leader. No one stays on his ship unless they do their bit. That includes fighting and plundering.

What would you do if you landed in Blackbeard’s world? Would you wield a sword for the chance to live, or jump overboard and take your chances with the sharks? Seriously. Will’s survival depends on the choices he makes, but it’s hard to tell who to trust. All is definitely not as it seems.

My heart skips a beat when I stand on a snail, so cold-blooded looting and murdering didn’t sit well with my queasy stomach. However, there will be a lot of boys (and girls) who will be happy to dive into this cut throat world.

Be careful, ‘me hearties’. You’d better watch your back between the pages. A fast moving pirate adventure, embedded with 18th Century sailing facts.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space

Galactic Adventures: First Kids in Space by Tristan Bancks (UQP)
PB RRP $16.95
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to travel into space? Dash Campbell thinks about nothing else. One day his chance comes, but can he convince the judges that he should be one of only 5 children in the whole world to take off?
While half the world protests that the very idea of sending children into space is an act of child abuse, tens of thousands of  children will do anything to have the chance. How far would you go? Would you stop at nothing?  Join Dash in his struggles and triumphs. I wonder if you’ll guess the climax just before the end of this tale. It took me completely by surprise.

All is not as it seems, but one thing is for sure. There are secrets and mysteries at Space School. Some clues kept me wondering even after they became dead ends. Other titbits led to satisfying pieces in this novel length puzzle.  It will take every ounce of Dash Campbell’s courage to achieve his dream.

Tristan Bancks has created a high action page turner that tells the hard truths. Based on the nitty gritty facts, Galactic Adventures explains what it takes to get fit for this extreme form of travel.  Training is no joy ride. It’s more than hard work. It’s excruciating.

Get ready for an enthralling ride. 

Friday, 9 September 2011

Mr Badger and the Magic Mirror

Mr Badger and the Magic Mirror by Leigh Hobbs (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $13.99
ISBN 9781742374208
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Mr Badger and the Magic Mirror is the fourth installment in this delightful series for early primary school readers. It is a pleasure to re-visit the Boubles Grand Hotel and the rather eccentric Smothers-Carruthers family. Quirky illustrations on almost every page add greatly to the text and help to make Mr Badger and his friends come alive.

Hard-working Mr Badger, although he would never complain, needs a holiday. He finds a strange mirror at the hotel and is amazed to be able to step into it, and to find a beach, a castle and a fun-park. Sir Cecil Smother-Carruthers takes Mr Badger on a fantastical tour of 'Boublay land'. They meet a familiar-looking and rather short pirate and Algernon, the stuffed ape from the glass case in the foyer of the hotel. All too soon Mr Badger is bounced back into the reality of the hotel, with Lady Cecilia complaining about the Australians who eat all the scones.

This story is book-ended nicely by a tired Mr Badger, reading a story to his children at the end of the day. Apart from one unusually long sentence, the writing is very suitable for early readers. Children will be encouraged to increase their vocabulary with words such as whirligig, papier-mâché, galleon and cutlass.

Mild-mannered and bespectacled, Mr Badger makes a quiet and unassuming hero. It is impossible not to become quite fond of him by the end of this imaginative tale.  

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A Journey Around Melbourne

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A Journey Around Melbourne by Tania McCartney, illustrated by Kieron Pratt (Ford Street)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921665493
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat is the fourth book in the series about the curious Riley who is always ready for an adventure as he travels over the cities of the world. This time he’s in Melbourne with his panda friend, a koala and two hangers-on. His red plane has taken on the two passengers who search the city and see the sights from the wings of the plane.

Everyone needs a home. So when a grumpy old wombat scuttles into a hole, Riley wants to know why he is cross and if he can help him somehow. He goes in search of the animal and answers.

Riley flies the contraption controlled red plane through the Bourke Street Mall, over Federation Square, past Flinders Street Station, along Southbank, and over St Kilda  Beach where he uses his ‘low frequency robotic burrowing machine’ hoping to discover the grumpy wombat, to no avail. The Royal Botanic Gardens precede Lygon Street followed by the Dandenong Ranges. At the freezing slopes of Mount Hotham Riley nearly loses one of his passengers to the ski slope but he’s snatched in the nick of time.

Heading to the country he searches over the Sovereign Hill goldmines without a sign of the wombat. All that’s left is the Great Ocean Road and a cruise over Phillip Island. A last try on land with his ‘fandangled hifalutin patented doodad’ he searches and searches in new and newer holes.

Turning the plane for home he makes the most amazing discovery!

This is an exceptional production with black and white photographs of all the Melbourne landmarks in the background. The vivid, blood red plane and its passengers are in bright shiny colours illustrated against the grey shaded photos. The front cover has a photograph of Flinders Street Station in the background. Riley with his friends in the plane, and his box of contraptions in sight, are depicted in the foreground. The back cover shows a happy snap in colour of all the six characters.

The contraptions are as interesting as the language. The whole book is entertaining and educational; funny and light-hearted. It is wonderfully planned and illustrated. No disappointments here at all.

With a target audience of 6-10 years old, this series will appeal to adults as well. It is an ideal learning tool as well as a travelling adventure that highlights the sights of Melbourne.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Sounds Spooky

Sounds Spooky by Christopher Cheng and illustrated by Sarah Davis (Random House)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1879-9
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Sounds Spooky is a creepy picture book that will delight and scare kids at the same time. It revolves around a haunted house with a chirpy girly ghost who gets some unexpected visitors. It’s hard to say who’s scared more, her or the intruding kids!

Cheng delivers a wonderful prose that’s perfect for reading aloud, acting and performing. There’s a neat rhythm with the rhyme, action words and alliteration. It builds the tension as the ghost girl and kids edge closer to meeting each other.  

Davis is simply brilliant with her illustrations. She has created her pictures from the ground up. She’s made miniature models of the characters and settings. Its Claymation meets Paper Mache. The unique illustrations set the perfect tone for the book. There’s an awesome ‘behind the scenes’ video on the book’s website, (

Kids and adults alike will love this picture book. It’s perfect for Halloween and scary nights when you want a little fright. Highly recommended for ages 5 and up.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Invisible Hero

The Invisible Hero by Elizabeth Fensham (UQP)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780702238901
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

The Year 9 English and History teachers team up to create a major project with a difference. One Man’s Hero is another’s Villain. Find a hero or villain in history. Look into their actions and motives and explain whether they are a hero or villain to you.

The Invisible Hero is made entirely of student diary entries. Power struggles that pulsate  in the school grounds permeate journal entries. Some students are high achievers with very specific ambitions. Others do the bare minimum to pass, making quick exits to Facebook. Phillip is dyslexic, so his actual entries fill the left page while plain English translations are provided on the right.

The Invisible Hero is a rollercoaster. Conflict and stark contrasts arise at every turn. Even the teachers don’t see eye to eye. One is a merciless bully, the other deeply concerned about all of her charges. Phillip’s struggle to find a place in his world is just one of the major dramas embedded between the pages. No one is going to come out of this class unchanged, but the revelations are not all positive.

The piecemeal nature of diary entries left me hungry for more. My favourite characters had a nasty habit of writing less than I would have liked. Quirky facts about weird people in history was the glue that held The Invisible Hero  together. Who would be perverse enough to murder people to sell their bodies for medical research? What about the bloke who bought the bodies?  Were they considered heroes or villains in their time?

How does that help me understand the good guy that everyone likes who persecutes a select few? The issue of relative good and evil also emerges. One man’s idea of evil can be justified by another as good.

Be warned. I couldn’t put The Invisible Hero down. It got under my skin like an itch that wouldn’t go away until the story was resolved.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


Mammon by J.B. Thomas (Random House)
HB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5074-3
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Mammon is the debut novel from J.B. Thomas, the first in a series for older readers. Mammon kicks off the Ferryman Chronicles. A brother and sister discover that they’re ‘Sarsareh’-demon hunters. When their parents get killed by a deadly demon, they vow revenge and train up for battle with a group of mercenaries. This is where they have to gain respect and skills. 

Joe is a headstrong boy who holds a trump card. He’s a ferryman who can create a rift to send demons straight to hell. It’s a rare ability is sort after by both sides of the war. Mammon is a high-level demon who wants Joe for his own ambitious plans. 

Grace tries to keep her brother in order. She’s a telepath who wants to prove that mind over firepower works against demons. Both main characters get equal footing in this novel. There’s also a massive cast that come and go. Politics plague the group of mercenaries who are mostly in their teens. Sometimes there’s more action in the words than against the demons themselves.

Thomas sets up a contemporary and supernatural setting that is ripe for action and suspense. A world where demons hide themselves among humans is pretty cool. Joe and Grace learn the ropes of demon hunting and guide the reader through all the nuts and bolts of this dangerous war. There are some gruesome scenes here that make you want to read more in the Ferryman Chronicles. Mammon is a promising novel that will attract readers who love their supernatural thrillers. Recommended for ages 13 and up. 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

I Can Cook! American Food

I Can Cook! American Food by Wendy Blaxland (Macmillan Education Australia)
HB RRP $31.99
ISBN 9781420290035
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

I Can Cook! American Food is a cook book, history book and travel book rolled into one. Wendy has chosen traditional American recipes that kids will be running into the kitchen to cook: hamburgers, blueberry muffins, pancakes (no one does pancakes better than the Americans), homemade lemonade, apple pie and, of course, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The layout of the book is exceptional, full of colour and information, and budding young cooks will find it easy to read and follow the instructions. Each recipe is laid out with each step in its own text box and with accompanying photograph/graphic. The recipe is introduced with a brief history of the food. All equipment and ingredients required are listed as are prep and cooking times. The addition of information on special diets for either health or cultural reasons is highly commended. Experimentation is encouraged with each recipe with suggestions for variations and a Try this! section which suggest activities to learn more about American food. Cooking basics and safety in the kitchen are explained with text, photography and graphics.

For me, what makes this book stand above other children's cook book is the additional cultural, historical and geographical information included about America: the influence of native Americans and migration on contemporary American food, regional variations, American produce, landscapes and climates, and the American celebration of Thanksgiving.

Wendy Blaxland's marvelous six book I Can Cook! series also includes titles on Chinese, French, Italian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern Food with each of these following the same format.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Melbourne Via the Pages of Grumpy Wombat

Today is a first for Buzz Words Books, the debut visit by a 'blog tourer' and it is the wonderfully talented Tania McCartney. Tania is currently on her Grumpy Wombat for her new book Riley and the Grumpy Wombat where the intrepid friends visit my hometown of Melbourne.

Come with Tania, Riley and, of course, the Grumpy Wombat as they give you a sneak look at Melbourne.

What better way to enjoy the beauty of Melbourne and surrounds than via the pages of a children’s book? In Riley and the Grumpy Wombat, lead character Riley is on the hunt for a very grumpy wombat – and during his search, this adventurous little aviator and his team tour the spectacular sights on offer, from Federation Square to the Great Ocean Road.

Even if you’re already a Melbourne aficionado (and there are many), this insight into the places Riley visits during his journey are fascinating to learn. Enjoy the tour!

Bourke Street Mall is located right in the heart of Melbourne city and is traversed by trams. Bourke Street is named after Sir Richard Bourke, the Governor of New South Wales (1837). The city centre is laid out in a block-like fashion which is called the Hoddle Grid. In Grumpy Wombat, you may see more than a tram or two – you may just see a certain illustrator!

Federation Square was built to commemorate 100 years of Federation in Australia (1901-2001). Two large office towers had to be torn down to make way for the Square which is now a centre for multimedia including a cinema, function centre, restaurants, cafés, street theatre and music. The sandstone used in construction was mined and quarried from the Kimberley Region in Western Australia.

Flinders Street Station is located at the southern end of the city centre, right next to the Yarra River. Every day, over 110,000 people and 1,500 trains pass through the station. People wanting to meet near Flinders Street Station often say “I’ll meet you under the clocks.” The Station is listed on the Victorian Heritage Register.

The Southbank area is so named because it runs along the south bank of the Yarra River, right in Melbourne city. The area is an entertainment hub for Melburnians with shops, cafés, restaurants, a riverside food court, and also features the Crown Casino and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Tall columns line the river along Southbank, intermittently spurting fire.

St Kilda Beach used to be a seaside resort and is now one of Melbourne’s most famous beaches. It is fringed by palm trees, and fairy penguins are sometimes seen on the beach. The Melbourne Marathon passes through St Kilda and its beach is used for State and International volley ball tournaments.

Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens are one of the world’s most famous gardens and cover 36 hectares, right near the centre of the city. The gardens were originally built on marshland and swamp. In 1877, Australia’s first prime minister, Sir Edmund Barton, was married in the gardens (to Jane Ross). The gardens now host over 10,000 floral species. The 300-year-old ‘Separation Tree’ can be found in the gardens. It’s a River Red Gum.

Lygon Street in the inner city suburb of Carlton is one of Melbourne’s most famous restaurant, café and shopping strips. The street is particularly famous for Italian restaurants and cafés, and hosts the annual Lygon Street Festa, one of Australia’s largest street festivals. Toto’s Pizza House was Australia’s very first pizzeria, and the FIFA World Cup and Ferrari Festival are celebrated in this famed street.

The Dandenong Ranges were formed more than 300 million years ago by a major volcanic eruption near the town of Olinda. When white man arrived in Australia, the ranges were inhabited by the Wurundjeri  tribe who called the area Corrhanwarrabul, meaning a desirable place where birds sing, kangaroos jump and lyrebirds perform. Indigenous plants, ash forests and fern gullies thrive in the rich volcanic soil of the Dandenong Ranges.

Mount Hotham in the Victorian Alps north of Melbourne stands 1861 m high and has the highest natural snowfall of any other resort in Victoria. The first ski run was developed by 1900 and there are now a number of resorts available to skiers.

Situated at Ballarat, north of Melbourne, Sovereign Hill is an outdoor museum which showcases one of Australia’s most historical events – the Gold Rush. People from all over the world flocked to Victoria to find their fortune when gold was discovered in the area in 1851. Sovereign Hill museum attracts over 750,000 visitors a year. Visitors can explore the area indoors, outdoors, above ground and even below ground.

The Great Ocean Road lies west of Melbourne and is one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world. One of its major attractions is The Twelve Apostles – massive limestone stack formations that were once named The Sow and Piglets but were renamed in 1922 for tourism purposes. The road stretches for 243 kms and was actually built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932. The rate of erosion at the base of the limestone pillars is approximately 2 cm per year.

Phillip Island is located 140 kms south-east of Melbourne and was named after the first governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip. The island is visited by 3.5 million people every year, who come to see a nightly beach parade of the Fairy Penguin or Little Penguin. Fur seals also frequent Phillip Island, and settle on Seal Rock, forming the largest colony in the Southern Hemisphere.

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A journey around Melbourne is published by Ford Street Publishing, A $22.95 hard cover

Tania McCartney is an author, editor, publisher and founder of well-respected children’s literature site, Kids Book Review. She is an experienced speaker, magazine and web writer, photographer and marshmallow gobbler. She is the author of the popular Riley the Little Aviator series of travelogue picture books, and is both published and self-published in children’s fiction and adult non-fiction. Tania lives in Canberra with a husband, two kidlets and a mountain of books.

Riley and the Grumpy Wombat Blog Tour

Thursday 1 September
Blog Tour Announcement: Tania McCartney Blogspot
Blog Tour Schedule: Kids Book Review
Book Review and Give away: Bug in a Book
Publishing v Self-Publishing: Claire Saxby’s Let’s Have Words blog
Friday 2 September
Author Guest Post and Book Review: Read Plus
Hosting a Fabulous Book Launch: Sheryl Gwyther 4 Kids blog
Melbourne Via the Pages of Grumpy Wombat: Buzz Words’ Book blog
Book Give awayHandmade Canberra
Saturday 3 September
Book Give awayFat Mum Slim
Book Give away: HerCanberra

Sunday 4 September
Book Give away: Posie, The Blog
Writing Effective Teachers’ Notes: Sandy Fussell’s Stories Are Light
Interview with Wombat: My Little Bookcase
Book Giveaway: Alphabet Street

Monday 5 September
Creating Effective Presentations for Schools: 
Blue Dingo
Researching Tips for Writers: Chris Bell’s From Hook to Book blog
Book Resources for Parents: The Book Chook
Top 10 Tips for Writing a Submission: Sally Murphy’s Writing for Children Blog

Tuesday 6 September
Writing Processes: 
Soup Blog
Top 10 Book Writing Tips and Top 10 Book Marketing Tips: DeeScribe blog
Travelling with Children: Wise Words blog
Author Interview: HerCanberra

Wednesday 7 SeptemberBook Review: Buzz Words’ Book blog
Author Interview: Helen Ross Writes blog
Book Review: My Little Bookcase
Book Give away: Australian Women Online

Thursday 8 SeptemberBalancing Motherhood with Career: Planning with Kids
Self-Publishing Journey, Review, Book Give away: Pass It On blog

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Neville No-Phone

    Neville No-Phone by Anna Branford and Kat Chadwick (Walker Books)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 9781921529962
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

It is no wonder that Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot was awarded Honour Book in the Younger Readers category for the 2011 CBCA for Anna Branford has a remarkable ability to tap into the heads of her target readership.

Neville No-Phone is a hilarious account of how Neville and his friend Enzo endeavour to obtain a mobile phone. Neville speaks from the page in this story written in first person, present tense. The boys firstly try to convince their parents that they need a mobile phone since, they claim, everyone else has one. Their efforts are to no avail. When they find a mobile phone left on a seat in a bus shelter it leads them into trouble with their parents, teacher and conscience.

Both Neville and Enzo are wonderful characters. They are fun and inventive and find that having a mobile phone is not all it’s cracked up to be. The story moves from them wanting a device to learning more about communicating with others. The secondary characters, particularly the boys’ parents and Dennis, are full of life and add much to the story.

Kat Chadwick’s numerous black-and-white illustrations capture the mood of the text perfectly. This is a book that younger readers are sure to enjoy.