Saturday, 29 October 2011

Stay with me

Stay with me by Paul Griffin (Text)
ISBN 9781921758713
PB RRP $19.95
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Stay with me is about Mack and Céce (pronounced chee-chee), two teenagers from an unnamed American town. Written with gritty realism, this is definitely a book for more mature young adults, preferably over fifteen. Themes include sex, violence (some quite extreme), alcoholism and juvenile detention. Things are not all grim however, as it is also a story about love, friendship and forgiveness.

The book is written in first person, alternating between the points of view of Mack and Céce. Mack has problems. When gets angry he loses control and can be violent. However when Mack is around dogs he is at his best. He especially loves pit bulls and is talented at training those who have been badly treated in the past. Cece does well at school but has problems of her own. Her mother drinks too much and her brother is going overseas with the army and she is worried he will get killed.

Mack and Céce meet and the attraction is instant. They tell each other all their secrets and are very happy. However the reader knows it will not last as there is a hint in the introduction that someone does 'something stupid'. The tension builds to a climax which, even though it is expected, is quite shocking. The rest of the story explores how the two characters manage to eventually go on from this.

The book covers one hundred and two days, from Mack and Cece's first meeting, to the resolution of their relationship. Chapters are headed, for example, 'the twenty-third day'. The voices of both characters are strong and realistic and this is the strength of the book. There is hope at the end that this very flawed main character will overcome his demons.

(Dog lovers will especially respond to the canine characters, but prepare for some sadness with one of them!) 

Friday, 28 October 2011

Moo

Moo written by Matthew Van Fleet, photography by Brian Stanton (Simon and Schuster)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 978-085707318-1
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Take a trip down to the farm with lots of quacking, oinking, crowing and bleating fun as we meet chickens, ducks, pigs, roosters, lambs and of course…cows!

Moo is the latest interactive book from bestselling US author Matthew Van Fleet; following on from Cat, Dog, Alphabet and Heads. The format is very similar to Heads, with each page packed with colourful photographs and a rhyme focusing on a different farm animal.

        Mummy cow, Baby calf, Shaggy daddy bull.
        Moo cow, Milk the cow - grab the udder, pull!

It is a robust book that is suitable for young fingers – the pages are thick and strong with pull tabs that are easy to grasp and move.

Filled with farm animals of all shapes and sizes plus plenty of interactive and tactile elements, it’s hard to think of a young child that wouldn’t love this book.  The rhymes are simple yet rhythmical which would also make it fun to read-aloud.

Matthew Van Fleet is a New York Times bestselling author that has published several books for pre-school aged readers including: Dog, Cat, Tails and Alphabet.  He lives with his family in upstate New York.  

Thursday, 27 October 2011

People’s Republic


People’s Republic by Robert Muchamore (Hodder/Hachette)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781444906103
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

This is the first book in the second series of CHERUB, written by a London-based author who was a private investigator prior to becoming a best selling children’s author. CHERUB is a branch of British Intelligence whose agents are children between the ages of ten and seventeen. Recruited mainly from orphanages and care situations, the children (and younger siblings) live on a campus with a huge staff to educate and train them to become agents. This only happens if they pass a 100 day test of endurance and self reliance.

Ryan Sharma, twelve years of age, has passed the test and is recruited for a mission infiltrating a crime empire based in Kyrgystan. His task involves befriending the grandson of the woman who heads the evil Aramov Clan, Ethan Kitsell, who goes to a school in California. Ryan finds being an agent is not easy and his attempts to win over Ethan includes inadvertently harming him. He wonders if the whole project is worth it.

Enter an eleven year old Chinese girl, Fu Ning. Her story illustrates the difficulties of having a criminal for a father, and an alcoholic stepmother. When her father is arrested, she embarks on a dangerous escape from China, enduring torture, kidnapping and detention. The reader is exposed to the way desperate people are victimised, manipulated and abused. Ryan and Ning eventually meet which sets the scene for the next book in the series.

People’s Republic ticks all the boxes for coarse language, sexual reference and violence, although to its credit it does portray a sense of conscience and empathy. Halfway through this book I gained the impression I was reading an adult crime story in which, strangely, two children played the main roles. It is certainly a page turner, but also a reality hit which, to me, overshadows the fictional storyline. The tag NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNGER READERS found on the back cover is important for discerning parents aware of the influence of the written word.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Dinosaur Rescue – T-Wreck-a-saurus

Dinosaur Rescue – T-Wreck-a-saurus by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley (Scholastic New Zealand) 
PB RRP $5.00 special price 
ISBN 9781775430193
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Stone Age men don’t go hunting every day. It’s too much hard work. They only hunt when they get sick of eating nuts and berries. (The Never-before-told Secret of Stone Age Hunting, p52).

This crazy, fun book is part of a series in which the creators explore the idea that cave men lived in the age of dinosaurs, while acknowledging fully that they didn’t. It’s a fun notion. The protagonist, Arg, is a ‘caveboy genius’ who puts up with his less than intelligent, ape-like family and friends:

“But Arg’s mum had just scratched her armpits and yawned, It was way too complicated for her little brain to understand. She didn’t even know what a brain was… ‘Big trouble, Arg scream.’ His mum said.”

Arg finds smart ways to elude being eaten by a T-Rex. His faithful companion, a microceratops, Krrk-Krrk is a scaredy-saur, but provides comic relief at the right moment. There is a strong sense of the simplistic ethics of the caveman, necessitated by their ‘you could die any moment’ existence - When annoying Gurg gets chomped by a T Rex driven mad by itchiness Arg shrugs. He never liked Gurg anyway. A playful development sees the T Rex and Arg discover to their mutual astonishment that the other can speak and the realization that dinosaurs are in fact endangered.

The drawings and concepts are laugh-out-loud funny in this nicely finished volume. There’s lots of gross bits boy readers will love, including this little gem on page 13:

“She [Mum] stared at him suspiciously. Then she shoved her finger deep into her nose. When she pulled it out again, there was a big chunk of soft, green snot on the end. She studied it a second before popping it in her mouth.”

YUUUUUK! When I read this bit aloud to one of my students he made a face then laughed and said “That’s so cool!” I think Mewburn and Bixley have got it right with this particular audience, in the tradition of Andy Griffiths. An additional book in the series, Dinosaur Rescue – Stego-snottysaurus (ISBN 9781775430209) explores Arg’s quest to stop a dinosaur from getting people flu.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains. She was awarded a May Gibbs Writer’s fellowship in 2011 and her brand new book, The Anything Shop was released in October. You can follow her exploits here: www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Star Girl – Book 9 Dark Secrets and Book 10 Sticky Tricks

Star Girl – Book 9 Dark Secrets and Book 10 Sticky Tricks by Louise Park (MacMillan Education)
PB RRP $9.99 
ISBN: 978 1 4202 9378 4 (Book 9) and 978 1 4202 9379 1 (Book 10)
Reviewed by Wendy McLean


Year Two at the SEAS (Space Education and Action School) Space Agent Program, and Adelaide Banks, has made it! Addie, aka Space Girl, has graduated from Space Cadet and has now made it into the captains’ year of the SEAS Space Agent Program. As captains, Addie and her fellow students must learn to fly spacecraft and must successfully complete a number of missions to gain a place in the third year space agent program. 


These missions are not easy. In Book 9, Addie (Star Girl) must join fellow Space Captains Comet XS and Asteroid to investigate why the caves on Planet Cavernellus are being bleached and the alien babies are no longer hatching. Things get a little batty and with the malicious SC Asteroid making every attempt to sabotage the mission, the girls must pull out all stops to survive the alien attack long enough to save the planet and its alien vampescas. 


In Book 10, Star Girl must join Space Surfer and Supernova 1 on a hair-raising mission to the Planet Perilenda which has been struck by an evil force that is making the alien skunettas disappear. Supernova 1 and Star Girl must put aside their differences and join together to see through the evil tricks of a mysterious force in time to save the skunettas. As with the previous books, Addie experiences the good times and troubles all young girls do, but she also has to complete action-packed and sometimes terrifying missions.


There a many stories about boarding schools, but none quite like the Star Girl series, which combines real life and space fantasy. This exciting and action-packed series will appeal to and empower girls aged 7-10 years. Readers can also check out the Star Girl website: http://www.stargirluniverse.com/ 


Monday, 24 October 2011

Come Fly With Captain Kangaroo

Come Fly With Captain Kangaroo by Mandy Foot (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780734411945
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie


The title of this colourful in-house picture book is an immediate indication of being the ideal choice for parents anxious to prepare a child for his/her first flying experience. For once a book can be judged by its cover!

Australian fauna are the airport staff and crew, and the bouncy rhyming text guides children through every step of catching a plane for a flight within Australia, from the moment of arrival at the airport to the flight itself. The text includes great action words such as loading up, bumpy, the click-clack of seat belts, the thump! thump! of the wheels when landing. Mandy Foot’s brilliant illustrations are imaginative and zany, and the only small flaw was that the animals were not shown to be wearing seat belts. I liked the inside cover illustrations of luggage of various sizes and shapes.

Come Fly With Captain Kangaroo is a fun read as well as being practical and educational. Not only will it be enjoyed before or during a flight but afterwards it is sure to prompt a child’s recollection of their own experience of air travel which, hopefully, was just as pleasurable.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

The 13-Storey Treehouse

The 13-Storey Treehouse The 13-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, ill. Terry Denton (Pan MacMillan)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN: 978 0 330 40436 5
Reviewed by Wendy McLean

Andy Griffith has teamed up again with his trusty and talented sidekick, illustrator Terry Denton, to deliver the hilarious ‘The 13-Storey Treehouse’, the first book in what promises to be an entertaining series of mayhem and mishap.

Two new characters – Andy and Terry – live in a 13-storey treehouse, where they create books together when they are not distracted by the treehouse’s many wacky delights.  And who wouldn’t be distracted in a treehouse that has a lemonade fountain, an automatic marshmallow machine, a library full of comics, a secret underground laboratory, a bowling alley and a tank full of sharks?

The book starts with Andy walking into the kitchen to find Terry painting the neighbour’s cat bright yellow in an attempt to turn it into a canary. Terry drops the cat over the balcony and Andy’s horror turns to surprise as the cat promptly sprouts wings and flies away.

Following the adventure of the “catnary” Andy and Terry receive a video-phone message from their very angry editor: they have until 5 o’clock the next day to deliver their new book – OR ELSE! The two consult their notebooks – Andy has four pages of text (one word per page!) and Terry has two drawings of his finger. The two have a lot of work to do!

The two settle down at the kitchen table to start work, but a series of distractions and nutty adventures follow. Terry has a disastrous attempt to grow pet sea monkeys and falls in love with a mermaid who is not all she appears to be! The two battle an invasion of monkeys, a giant gorilla, and of course, each other. After this series of chaotic and destructive events Terry and Andy must race against the clock to deliver their manuscript on time.

Kids will embrace and love this light-hearted, hilarious and fast paced book about a day in the life of Andy and Terry in their 13-storey treehouse. The book is full of imagination and Terry’s quirky drawings are an integral part of the story. This book is pure fun and is a must-read by kids who are daunted by books or by kids who just like a laugh.  

Look out for the next installment, ‘The 26-Storey Treehouse’, in 2012!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Wombat Went A’Walking

Wombat Went A’Walking illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Lothian/Hachette) 
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780734412645
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Wombat Went A’Walking is an in-house picture book which can be read or sung to the tune of “Frog Went A’Courting”. The lyric and musical score is printed on the back page. Wombat is invited by Turtle to dance with him to a party in the bush, and on the way they invite other Australian animals and birds to join them.

I like the way the simple storyline demonstrates the benefits of inclusivity – that by joining in, everyone can have lots of fun. Toddlers will enjoy identifying the bush creatures, depicted in a lively and amusing way by this Brisbane freelance illustrator/animator. The bright double spreads boost the effect of dancing and movement and undoubtedly enhances the reading experience. Swirls of text include coloured action-words to further emphasise the dancing concept.

Wombat Went A’Walking is a great souvenir idea for tourists as well as a delightful book for pre-schoolers.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Star Girl – Book 1 New Girl

Star Girl – Book 1 New Girl by Louise Park (MacMillan Education)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN: 978 1 4202 9029 5
Reviewed by Wendy McLean

Girls, are you sick of stories about fairies or horses or unicorns? Well never fear, there is a new super hero on the block! 11-year old Adelaide Banks, aka Star Girl, is the newest student to join the SEAS (Space Education and Action School) Space Agent Program. Addie and her fellow students are learning how to protect space as they strive to graduate from Space Cadet to Space Agent.

At SEAS, students are sent on missions, for which they receive points for following instructions and successfully completing missions. They can also lose points for disobeying mission instructions or failing to successfully complete all elements of their mission. Addie and her students are equipped with all the latest gadgets for each mission, but they need to be courageous, creative and they have to learn to work together to overcome the obstacles that they encounter in their quest to save space. 

For her first space mission, Addie must join fellow student and enemy, the nasty Valentina. They must work together to discover what is melting the ice on the distant icy planet of Polare, and save the alien frozellas from extinction. 

This first book is a good indication of what girls can expect from the other books in this new series – adrenalin-packed missions, hi-tech gadgets, bizarre planets and petrifying space aliens. The lead character Addie Banks has to tackle not only these action-packed and sometimes terrifying missions, but also the normal troubles and worries that all young girls experience at school.    

This exciting and action-packed series, which combines real life and space fantasy, will appeal to girls in the lower to middle grade. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Ravenwood

Ravenwood by Andrew Peters (Chicken House) 
PB RRP $16.99 
ISBN 9781906427467
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

From page one I was hooked, immersed into the truly unique world of Arborium, in the treetops of ancient forests, where wood means life and Earth means certain death. The whiff of Arthurian quest is definitely appealing as Arktorius Malikum, a teenage plumber of mysterious heritage, rises to champion.

The evil dendran Fenestra is determined to destroy Arborium, the last haven for those loyal to King Quercus. There is danger at every turn and if not for his unlikely ally, Mucum, Ark would not succeed. 

The dark corners of a society completely made of wood, with its dangers and frailties is explored beautifully in this book. Friendship, betrayal and heroism all prevail alongside a tenderhearted regard for family. There are many solid messages in this story, though they are never thrust upon the reader. The interplay between Ark and his narcissistic nemesis, Petronius works well. Interestingly, Peters gently steers the reader towards an understanding and tolerance of what makes someone choose the darker path, in this case the desperate desire to please a parent. Ark himself triumphs on a personal level too as he battles against prejudice of those who live below ground, the rootshooters, in the immensely intriguing world of the giant tree root systems.

My favourite bits included the revelations of the Raven Queen Corwenna, Mucum’s awkward romance with the pale, tall, pragmatic rootshooter Florence, and Peters’ skill with descriptive language:

With a wingspan as wide as a roof and eyes that glittered like diamonds, a huge raven came soaring from the darkness, drawn by the perfume of lifeblood, her claws ready to take the injured prey as it stood defeated and defenceless.

Peters has a particular talent for inventing dialects which add a richness to his characterization: Say’s Flo to the boys, “Yow lot from up top be somewhat little. Yow needs to get some good grub down. Then yow might grows a bit, and catch moi up, warhh?” There’s fun invented swear words too: “What the holly are you doing here?” and terms such as make-be-leaf, squit-shoveller, acorn-nutters are a delight.

Ark’s quest becomes a struggle to warn the king of the impending threat to the kingdom whilst trying to elude capture and death by malevolent forces. At the back of his mind is always the nagging thought that he doesn’t quite belong, despite a loving family, that his destiny is determined by an another. Can a lowly sewage worker be anything other than despised? Is truth really the greatest weapon? Will the special skills he has inherited from his biological mother be enough to save them all?

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and was awarded a May Gibbs Fellowship in 2011. Her brand new book, The Anything Shop was released in October. You can follow her exploits at www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com 

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Shadow Girl


The Shadow Girl by John Larkin (Random House)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-8647-1875-1
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Shadow Girl is a novel for older readers but it’s back story may overshadow the actual book. John Larkin met a homeless girl during a school visit and started a dialogue that became the crux of the story. Shadow girl tells her story of how she became homeless and survived life on the streets. In between chapters are transcripts of recorded conversations with Larkin.

Shadow girl’s anonymity means that this story never holds back. It might echo with some readers when she escapes her abusive uncle and auntie. That fear of home not being safe is powerful. Her first few days on the streets are a real page turner. It’s a mix of tense moments that will stay with the reader. Shadow girl’s determination grows with a handful of allies who help her in key moments. Her fight to stay in school and to keep learning is truly inspiring. Her faith is tested but she finds resolve.

But the gripping fear for Shadow girl and the reader never goes away until the very end. I really enjoyed Larkin’s input in this story, it’s distant enough to let Shadow girl tell her story but he also asks questions that readers would be dying to know about.

The Shadow Girl contains some coarse language and glimpses of violence. It’s a raw and honest story that needed to be told. Larkin captures her essence effortlessly. Readers may not know her name but they’ll know her inside out. Highly recommended for ages 15 and up.     

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Kangaroo Footprints

7
 Kangaroo Footprints by Margaret Warner  
 PB RRP $20
 ISBN 9780987112507
 Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

One of the highlights of compiling Buzz Words is the number of books I review and Kangaroo Footprints is among the best non-fiction books that have crossed my desk. The scope of the research is impressive and Warner is obviously very knowledgeable, and passionate about, kangaroos. Information about kangaroo ancestors, species, diet, and heroes are all covered. Also included are a traditional Indigenous story, information on caring for wildlife, threats to kangaroos and a page on my childhood favourite, Skippy.

Kangaroo Footprints is aimed at children aged seven to twelve and Warner knows her target audience well. It would have been very easy for the child reader to have been overwhelmed by the scope of the information. However, each double-spread is balanced with one page of information and the other filled with a related fun activity. The activities are varied and will maintain reader interest: word puzzles, riddles, mathematical puzzles, drawing activities and origami are but a few of the options. Each spread also boasts a ‘Fast Fact’ text box.

Schools will find Kangaroo Footprints an ideal teaching tool. The book has been supported by Voiceless, an organisation committed to ‘a world in which animals are treated with respect and compassion’. 

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Mask of Destiny

The Mask of Destiny by Richard Newsome (Text Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781921758539
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The 'Billionaire Trilogy', began with The Billionaire's Curse, which won the Text prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing in 2008. The second book, The Emerald Casket, was published in 2010. This third and final installment in the series, reunites readers with Gerald, Ruby and Sam and follows them on their quest to uncover the mystery of Gerald's inheritance.

The story starts in London, where Gerald soon becomes framed for the murder of his arch-enemy Sir Mason Green. He escapes with Sam and Ruby and, with their help, attempts to clear his name by finding the third casket. The search leads the three children to Mont Sant Michele, Paris, Rome and finally Delphi, all while pursued by the police. Charlotte, Sir Green's evil niece and chemist extraordinaire, is also searching for the casket. Gerald and his friends must find it before she does.

While Gerald and his friends perform amazing feats, like swimming into dark caves with skeletons and escaping police in Paris on hire bicycles, they still squabble over who smells the most after not having a shower. The fact that they behave like normal kids makes them easier to relate to and increases the strength of the whole story.

What most stands out about the story is its rapid pace. The narrative moves along at such a rate that the reader almost becomes breathless trying to keep up. The locations are exotic, further enhancing the fantastical elements of the tale. The twist just before the end keeps the reader guessing right until the dramatic conclusion.
  
The Mask of Destiny should appeal to readers aged ten and upwards.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Grumpy Little King


HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74237-572-4
Reviewed by Thalia Kalkipsakis
  
War is a topic that does not sit naturally in a children’s picture book, but Michel Streich’s Grumpy Little King handles its complexities in a way that is both accessible and touching. The ending may even make you smile.

When asked why he is grumpy all the time the little king explodes: ‘I am fed up with being the little king of a tiny nation! I want to be a big king, important, powerful and rich! I want to be famous and rule over an enormous country!’

His advisors recommend war.

And so follows the search for an enemy and the purchasing of ships, planes and guns. Parades are held, and the little king gives speeches. The men in the kingdom, who used to be bakers, teachers, farmers and builders, are given uniforms and rifles. ‘Everyone was a soldier now.’

The story is told in simple language, with honesty and humour, but its illustrations speak most powerfully. The grumpy king is at once terrifying and tragic, dwarfed by his advisors and almost disappearing at the end of his dining table. Every line in his face seems to simmer with fury.

The king’s advisors are bland, hidden behind empty spectacles. The general is almost faceless beneath his army cap, other than a smug smile. Most telling of all are the expressions on the soldiers’ faces as they march into war: their heads are tilted down, their eyes turned to one side. It’s a page that commands a pause.

Misdirected authority and its awful impact are at the forefront of themes in this story, but it also lends itself to more. For younger children, Grumpy Little King could be an entry to discussion about fighting and bullying. For older children it could be about the dynamics and consequences of war itself, as well as conflict resolution. Even adults will find themselves cheering at the outcome, and then rethinking the victims. Where, for example, are the king’s advisors during the final pages of the book?

The conclusion is indeed satisfying but, true to war, not all guilty players get what they deserve.
  
Thalia’s latest book is called Head Spinners: six stories to twist your brain (www.thaliakalkipsakis.com). 

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Blood Song


Blood Song by Rhiannon Hart (Random House)
HB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5097-2
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Blood Song is a debut novel for older readers and the start of the Lharmell series. It all begins with Princess Zeraphina who harbours a secret of blood lust. She’s aware that she’s different from her mother and older sister Lilith who are busy with marriage proposals and saving their kingdom. When Lilith accepts an offer from the Northern region of Pergamia, something stirs inside Zeraphina. No one notices her animal urges for blood except for the suspicious king’s advisor, Rodden. The two spur each other on, Zeraphina desperate for answers and Rodden eager to send her away.

The sparks that fly between the two drives this entertaining yarn. It’s anything but romantic, they hammer each other with wit and snappy comebacks. Hart does a great job in drip feeding her information about Zeraphina’s past. Of course, Zeraphina’s different, but nothing is fully revealed until the thrilling finale.
Zeraphina is proactive and feisty, there’s some great humour as she dissects the formalities of kingdom life. Hart has built up a gothic and creepy world that will be explored further in the series. If you like a paranormal story that doesn’t overdo the gushing romance, then Blood Song will be music to your ears. Recommended for ages 13 and up.    

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Northwood

Northwood by Brian Falkner, illustrated by Donovan Bixley (Walker Books Australia)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781921529801
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Northwood is a thoroughly wonderful story. It is refreshing and quirky with wonderful characters, an unusual setting and a fast-paced plot. Cecilia Undergarment is our hero. She is likeable, though unremarkable except for one detail: the ability to talk to, and understand, animals. It is this ability which starts off the story's chain of events when she discovers that her neighbour Mr Proctor has been mistreating his dog Rocky. Cecilia rescues Rocky and in a fit of rage Mr Proctor bulldozes Cecilia's balloon house and she floats away, landing in the mysterious Northwood from which none who have ventured have returned.

The book begins with the narrator talking directly to the reader and its a device that works well. I was drawn into Cecilia's world immediately. Her balloon house seems entirely plausible and her rather unfortunate surname is never sniggered at. Northwood has a feel reminiscent of a fairy tale although Cecilia is not your fainting female character waiting to be saved by a prince in shining armour. Always polite and considerate, she is nevertheless strong and courageous. Humour is filtered throughout the story (the twins are marvelous). The black lions in the forest add an extra element of malevolence but they are not evil; they are lions acting as lions will.

Donovan Bixley's black-and-white illustrations add to the pleasure of reading this book and are in keeping with the nostalgic feel. The cover is a winner and will be sure to draw readers to pick up the book. It depicts Cecilia and Rocky running through the forest and the lurking black lions and hints at all the action, adventure and fantasy to be revealed.

Northwood is a book which shows that strength does not need to be brutal and respect needs to be earned. It is uplifting and never didactic. One of the books of 2011 for its originality, quirkiness and sense of wonder. I expect to see it shortlisted for many awards and highly recommend it for mid to upper primary school children.


The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon


The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey (Viking)
PB RRP $29.95
ISBN 978 0 670 07474 7
Reviewed by Gail C Breese

In landscape format the cover illustration sets the scene for this delightful ghost story in mixed media using subdued colours of greys, browns and greens.

The people of the village of Twee had a problem. They feared that the town was haunted by a ghost called Miss Annabel Spoon. She appeared amongst the townspeople at any time of the day or night and they were terrified.

‘Enough is enough,’
Puffed the Mayor in a huff
To a crowd who were equally cranky.
‘Things must be improved,
Yes she must be removed.’
Then he patted his head with a hanky.

Brave young Herbert Kettle had an idea: he’d go to the witch’s house in the woods and ask why she haunted the town. Annabel was so glad to see Herbert and in tears told him that she was tired of being alone. Herbert promised to be her friend and now she no longer haunted the townspeople who were happy again.

The rhyming text has a pleasing rhythm which is fun to read aloud. The illustrations are intriguing and expressive.

Aaron Blabey’s first picture book Pearl Barley and Charley Parsley received a CBCA Award in 2008. Sunday Chutney was shortlisted for CBCA picture book of the year 2009.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Santa's Birthday Gift by Sherrill S. Cannon, illustrations by Kalpart (Eloquent Books)
PB RRP US $11.50
ISBN 9781608608249
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Santa's Birthday Gift does something I have never seen before. It combines the traditional story of Christmas with Santa. I am sure I am not the only parent to be asked how Santa fits in with Christmas. This book may provide an answer.

The rhyming tale starts with the birth of Jesus in a Bethlehem stable. At the North Pole, 'an angel named Santa Claus' (who is toy maker) wakes to starlight, packs toys into a sack, hitches his reindeer and offers a prayer. The reindeer fly Santa Claus to the manger in Bethlehem where he offers his gifts and promises to deliver gifts each year in celebration of Christ's birth.

Santa's Birthday Gift has won two awards: a Silver Readers Favorite Award and a National Indie Excellence Finalist Award. Australians can buy through any online store and the book is printed and shipped from Melbourne.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Far Rockaway


Far Rockaway by Charlie Fletcher (Hodder/Hachette)
HB RRP $28.99
ISBN 978 0 340 99732 1
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Cat Manno and her brother Joe are devoted to their grandfather, Victor Manno who encouraged a love of reading by giving Cat old classics for Christmas and birthdays, but Cat wasn't really interested until Victor visited each summer and read the novels out loud. Suddenly Kidnapped, The Last of the Mohicans and Treasure Island are transformed in a far more lively way than the old-fashioned style in which they are written. When the children visited Victor in New York he took them to museums by subway train, and said that one day they should all go to the end of the line to Far Rockaway. It hasn’t happened yet.

But now the children are a lot older, Joe has become independent and when Cat and her parents next arrive in New York she finds Joe has already visited Far Rockaway on a gig with his band. Cat is upset as she thought Joe, Victor and herself would go together. She is also worried about a lie she told Victor, that she had read The Three Musketeers, his latest gift. She tries unsuccessfully to get out of going to Far Rockaway by train with Victor because she knows she will be found out when she can’t talk about the characters in the story. A trip has been arranged for the following day.

While walking in the city, the troubled Cat lags behind her parents and Victor and tries to contact Joe on her smart-phone. When there is no answer, Cat decides now would be a good time to Google The Three Musketeers to learn about Milady, a character in the story whom Victor has mentioned. Concentrating, she steps off the kerb and into the path of a fire truck. Victor leaps to push her out of the way, but they are both mown down and taken to hospital. Cat is in a critical condition with head injuries, and her grandfather’s legs and chest have been crushed.

Cat enters another world where she has to fight for her life and that of Victor against the evil Magua, and is helped by Chingachook, characters in The Last of the Mohicans. Her battle is fought on parallel lines to what is happening to her in hospital. Each time she overcomes, her condition also improves, and when she is in deep trouble, complications threaten in the natural world, as she fights for her life. Cat’s other-world battles continue alongside the heroes and villains of the rest of the classics read by her grandfather.

It isn’t until Cat faces her arch enemy, the Magua, and saves herself, rather than relying on help, that her battle is over. The result is reflected in real life and the hospital team know that she will recover. Much later, in memory of Victor, Cat and Joe at last travel to Far Rockaway together.

I found this 400+ page book challenging. It is extremely detailed, with many facets which make it a complicated read. Despite the story having a courageous female protagonist, it is essentially a very masculine, swashbuckling tale in part, and the reality side depicting a hospital operating emergency and treatment is bluntly expressed. Will girls love it? I’m not sure. Nevertheless, Far Rockaway is a first-rate adventure, with plenty of gripping moments and imaginative escapades. The loss of Victor is handled well. Determined readers of both genders should find this novel well worth the effort.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Peter and the Whimper-Whineys

Peter and the Whimper-Whineys by Sherrill S. Cannon, illustrated by Kalpart (Strategic Book Publishing)
PB RRP $13.00
ISBN 9781609115173
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton




Peter is a whiner and he is driving his mother around the bend with his bad manners. One night, he finds himself transported into the woods with the Whimper-Whineys in Whimper Whineland and discovers that everything in their world is sour and ruined. It is with great relief that Peter wakes in his own bed.

Written in rhyme, the tale allows children to reflect on how their behaviour affects not only them but also the world around them. The illustrations cleverly show that Peter's world is one of life and colour whereas Whimper-Whineland is dark and foreboding.


Peter and the Whimper-Whineys has won a Bronze Readers Favorite Award - and is also now available as an App on iTunes, where it can be used as an audio book, regular eBook, and can also record parent and child reading the story. Australians can buy through any online store and the book is printed and shipped from Melbourne.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Uncommon Criminals


Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978 7344 1193 8
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

For readers hooked by Heist Society the second book, involving Katarina Bishop and her crew, will not disappoint.

Kat is determined to shake off the “thief” image of her family background although she does not hesitate when it comes to returning stolen art or jewellery to its rightful owners. But a heist involving the Cleopatra Emerald is another matter, one her Uncle Eddie has forbidden. When an elderly woman, Constance Miller and her grandson Marshall ask Kat and Hale, her close, fabulously rich teenage friend, to do this very thing, Kat is in a quandary.

A decision is made to do the heist after Kat and Hale are told that they have been recommended by Romani Visily, a sacred name used only by the best thieves for the most worthy causes. Also, Kat’s confidence levels are high, having just returned to New York from a successful solo mission to Moscow.

Even though the 97 karat Cleopatra Emerald is known to be cursed, Kat is more concerned that her relatives gathered in Paraguay (or Uraguay – she is never quite sure) will find out their intentions. Gabrielle, her beautiful cousin is in town and the three teenagers set out to formulate a plan to somehow grab the emerald from its present owner, auctioneer Oliver Kelly. The Kelly Corporation is bringing the gem to New York.

The Cleopatra Emerald is the most heavily guarded gem in the world and all attempts in the past to capture it, including the ones by Kat’s uncles, failed. But with clever planning and a visit to reclusive Uncle Charlie in Austria for a replica emerald, the heist is carried out and the genuine emerald returned to Constance Miller. And then Constance Miller appears in a TV documentary and Kat knows she has been conned – brilliantly conned. The real Constance Miller in the documentary is not the elderly woman Kat met. When Kat next sees that woman she is once again on TV calling herself Margaret Brooks and claiming to have discovered the Antony Emerald, the other half of the Cleopatra. She announces the gem will be auctioned.
Devastated by her mistake, Kat is equally determined to redeem herself by besting Maggie Brooks, undoubtedly a superb thief, maybe the most accomplished in the world.

Ally Carter’s highly sophisticated storyline and enigmatic writing skills are a delight to the reader. The problems presented to the heist crew seem insurmountable, but each teenager has vital talents to contribute. Kat, Hale and Gabrielle are joined by Simon, a computer genius, twins Hamish and Angus Bagshaw, Nick whose mother, Amelia is with Interpol, and Marcus, Hale’s chauffeur, to foil Maggie and secure justice for the real Constance Miller.

Against a lavish background involving Hale’s private jet and yacht, the Casino de Monte-Carlo and the Palace, Kat Bishop, with the backup of the heist crew, uses all her thief skills and experience to bring this mission to a stunning end. I can highly recommend Uncommon Criminals.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

On Orchard Road


On Orchard Road by Elsbeth Edgar (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781922170291
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

On Orchard Road is a gentle story about change, friendship and understanding. Everything is changing in Jane’s life, for the worse. Her baby sister Sylvia is born prematurely and struggles for life in hospital. Dad has lost his job and the family must move from Melbourne to Castlemaine. A new town brings a new school, new kids and unwelcome dilemmas.

Jane’s first day at school is a disaster and she makes an enemy in the bully, Darren. However, she also finds friendship with Michael and when she falls off her bike and Michael must get help from Miss Harrison, a strange lady feared and tormented by the town’s children.

A friendship strikes up between Jane and Miss Harrison. Both are lonely, both are creative. Jane writes stories and the crotchety Miss Harrison paints. Miss Harrison’s house with its exotic plants, books filled with art and a lifetime’s worth of paintings is a highlight of the book and represents an almost magical escape from the realities of Jane’s world.

Edgar allows the story to unfold at a gentle pace and the reader sees the shy and uncertain Jane develop courage and confidence through her friendship with Miss Harrison. Michael is a steadfast friend and Jane discovers that all is not as it seems, not only in the life of Miss Harrison but also for the bully, Darren.

Jane’s acceptance of her baby sister comes as a result of her increasing self-confidence. She no longer sees Sylvia as a threat and there is a correlation with the two sisters both gaining strength throughout the story and by the end the family unit is a whole. This story will be particularly enjoyed by girls.