Wednesday, 30 November 2011

About Face

About Face by Robert Moore, illustrated by Monkeystack (IPKidz) 
PB RRP $26.00
ISBN 9781921869129       
Reviewed by Margaret Warner

The bold cover of About Face invites young readers into this humorous story in which each of the facial features becomes an independent character. Nose even has a bandaid across the bridge and mouth has a missing tooth, just like the children who will enjoy this book. Each eye and ear, the nose and mouth all work together using their different functions in a surreptitious adventure to make raspberry pies while having fun dancing to lively music.

The vibrant colours of the illustrations against the darker background will immediately capture a child’s interest and be a source of discussion. The text stands out boldly, printed in white against the dark blue background of each page, making it easy for a young reader to follow the words. In the final pages, the child who has dreamed of the fun adventure wakes up to the reality of an earache, a runny nose, watery eyes and cracked lips.

Young children will enjoy having this book read to them or reading it themselves and will have a giggle at the characters up to mischief. The book could be complemented with songs and rhymes about the face and body and be a useful resource in a unit of work on the senses.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Not-So-Goblin Boy

The Not-So-Goblin Boy by Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-921720-15-4
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Samuel has lots of questions about his life. The twelve-year-old hates everything about himself. Abandoned as a new-born by his birth parents, he was adopted and raised by goblins. He is the only human boy in his world of rival goblins and gnomes.  

His life is a struggle to prove himself. He is a misfit amongst creatures who see him as easy prey. Although lacking in magic skills, Samuel is highly intelligent and inventive. He has created a fart forcer which is his strongest weapon, and which proves a constant life-saver.

Entry into the Goblin Academy appears to be the solution to his lack of esteem, and with his Uncle Magtal as the co-ordinator he doesn’t see why he can’t win. But being human is again his greatest obstacle. Uncle Magtal tries to convince Samuel that perhaps he was born for greater things, something the boy sees as inconceivable.

A frustrated and totally disillusioned Samuel falls into the hands of the Dead Bottom Pirates led by Captain Bockles and the beautiful Scout Master, Jet. The pirates have joined forces with Uncle Magtal to save the Goblin Empire from being destroyed by evil forces led by Drake, and Tolle, Jet’s former best friend who was believed dead. Samuel believes Drake knows something about his real parents. Is this the reason he was abandoned and why Drake has him targeted?

Being human might just prove to be Samuel’s reason for being born. He is faced with great challenges when his family is kidnapped. He calls upon all his resources, mental, physical, and the goblins to back him up.  He proves he is more than he thought, and much more than others expected when he battles for acceptance and a place in the world.

This story is cheeky, gross and a highly entertaining adventure with its magical fantasy for the 12+ age group. In a note from the author at the end, we learn that life experiences usually produce the best writing material. Ezekiel’s revelations are inspiring and encourage young writers to dream and never give up, regardless of the personal obstacles they may face.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Bruno Fiddlestein’s Dilemma, Mrs Papadopoulos’s Purple Hippopotamuses and Widow Hegarty’s Goat

Bruno Fiddlestein’s Dilemma, Mrs Papadopoulos’s Purple Hippopotamuses and Widow Hegarty’s Goat: collections of short stories by Vashti Farrer, illustrated by Naomi Kelly (Five Senses Education P/L)
PB RRP $12.95 each
Reviewed by Felicity Pulman

Vashti Farrer’s humorous and quirky short stories and poems have long been enjoyed by readers of NSW School Magazine, and her work will now reach a far wider audience with the publication of both old and new stories in these collections with subtitles: ‘stories to snortle at,’ ‘tall tales,’ and ‘unlikely escapades’. Readers will chortle over the antics of such things as a friendly emu called Ethel, a pair of naughty purple hippopotamus slippers, a pigeon with street smarts, the match-making goat of Widow Hegarty, and the garden gnomes who make themselves useful. They’ll also discover how Miss Muffet overcame her fear of spiders, and what happens when you play the violin to vegetables.

Of particular interest to my grandchildren were the fun stories about their favourite animals: cats and dogs that often got into trouble or had to save their owners. Some old favourites are also included in the collections: the stories of Lulubelle and Bones, Mr Pavlov’s Possum, and Green Piece’s Princess Euphorbia (ribbit!)

Alert readers will enjoy the puns. Imagine having classmates with names like Will Argue, Aidan Abbett, Wanda Round, Iona Broome and Luke Heare, and being taught by Miss Happ!

Naomi Kelly’s delightful drawings illustrate most of the stories and poems, adding an extra dimension of fun. Enjoy these wonderful collections, and remember:

‘Don’t maffle, cronk or chimble

When a bumblepuppy’s nigh,

It might clawscrunt up your mazzard

Nurk your goblocks on the sly.

It might knoup your knevel slister,

Sloom your snortle on the run,

Till you’re faffled, motched and gloppened

And it’s had its bit of fun.’

(c) Felicity Pulman, 2011

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Fluff and Billy do everything together

Fluff and Billy do everything together by Nicola Killen (Egmont)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-140525425-0
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Fluff and Billy are best friends. The two penguins do everything together. When Fluff climbs up, so does Billy, when Fluff slides down so does Billy, they have a great time playing, yelling and copying each other. When Billy hits Fluff with a snowball Fluff is hurt and not impressed and their friendship takes a turn for the worse. Thankfully their playful attitude overcomes any problems and the friendship resumes.

Bright blue, a lot of white and yellow are used liberally throughout this book. The graphics are entertaining and easy on the eye. The layout of text and the placement of graphics is fun. It adds another level of enjoyment for young readers.

This is a heart-warming story. The text includes a high level of repetition, which young readers to actively engage. The graphics compliment the story and allow independent interaction with the story. My three year old enjoys reading this book with me as she understands the pattern of the text and can say her lines with ease. It is already a bedtime favourite in our household.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Recon Team Angel: Assault

Recon Team Angel: Assault by Brian Falkner (Walker Books)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781921720543
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

After Falkner’s previous award-winning works, this breath-stopping sci-fi adventure series will blow the top off every previous fast-paced read.

The setting is 2030, Australia, now known as the New Bzadia. The Aliens have control of Africa, Europe, and most of Asia and are headed for America. Humans are at war with Alien forces that have been slowly strengthening in mass and ability for many years in preparation to take-over the world.

Recon Team Angel in made up of a group of six highly trained teenagers selected from around the world; four boys and two girls. Their leader is Lieutenant Chisnall, the eldest of them all. They have been preparing since puberty for their roles in an elite team to war against the Alien Bzadian army. The Angels’ mission is to infiltrate a top secret Alien Facility behind enemy lines which is in the centre of Uluru, and discover what is being hidden there.

For the infiltration to be successful, the six had been made to look like Bzadians. Their bone structure has been restructured to Alien shape and form, and their skin dyed. They’ve learnt the language and habits, and lived as Bzadians so that they could convince any Alien that they were one of them.

Chisnall is the perfect leader who keeps secrets for the safety of his team. It is only when they lose a member do that they discover that there is a traitor in their midst.

Arriving at Uluru are five Angels and two SAS troopers disguised as RAF officers that the team picked up on the way. At Uluru Military Base, it is not the warhead that they plan to detonate to destroy the alien stronghold that scares the life from them. Nor is it the fact that one of them is a sleeper. It is what they discover in the glass cubicles that gives the gut-wrenching twist to the mission. Chisnall is faced with the hardest decision. How many lives can be classed as collateral damage?

All the adult action is superbly covered but simultaneously balanced by exposing the youthful side of the characters. Their thoughts, dreams and interactions are revealed in a witty, comical way. These comic insertions give the story light-hearted relief from the severity of the chaos that surrounds the teenagers.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Perfect Baby

The Perfect Baby by Tony Bradman, illustrated by Holly Swain (Egmont)
PB RRP $6.00
ISBN 978-14052755-1
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Little Lucy gets a brand new baby brother. While everyone else is excited Lucy finds it hard to be happy about a baby that just sleeps, cries and makes disgusting noises and smells. Her solution is to take him back to the hospital and get a new one. 

We join Lucy and her family as they trial a range of new babies. They get a baby tortoise, a baby baboon, a baby elephant and others, all of which presented different problems for the family. In the end Lucy decides that the first baby was actually perfect.

This book presents a fast paced humourous approach to all those parents struggling to encourage older siblings to accept and love their newborn siblings.

The graphics are fun, full of colour and detailed. The images and colour scheme interplay with the word layout and enhance the story nicely.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Boy Who Ate Himself

The Boy Who Ate Himself by Colin Cardwell, illustrated by Tony Lowe (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-74275-243-3
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Told in rhyme, this it the tale of Harold Bartholomew Jones whose regular diet is less than desirable. Besides ice-cream it includes “chips, MORE CHIPS and tomato sauce – Never anything green, off course.” When Mum declares it is to be no more and says it will be replaced by healthy foods only, Harold hides under his bed … and decides to eat himself!

Designed to convince young readers that healthy food is easier to eat than they may think, the story opens by warning them it is a gruesome, horrible and scary tale. While it states that eating one’s self is not considered good for one’s health either, it proceeds to show that it isn’t all that hard for Harold. Through quirky, brightly coloured and fun illustrations, readers become relaxed.

But then they see the last thing that’s left … a mouth that can’t eat itself. Could it get worse? YES! The mouth is “left behind on his bedroom floor for his mum to find.” Thank goodness the shock of that is enough to wake him. Readers will be most relieved. And thank goodness that, when recalling his dream, Harold feels ill and figures giving cabbage a go couldn’t possibly be all that scary.

With the cabbage comes carrots, beans, lettuce, broccoli and even aubergine. Harold grows fitter, stronger, and turns his back on even the tiniest biscuit crumb. A sweet illustration on the last page shows him in a bubble bath where, “for a special treat”, he may sometimes indulge in nibbling his feet. No doubt readers will be left giggling but, somewhere in the mix, their subconscious will surely digest some of the important message.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Ten Bush Babies

Ten Bush Babies by Susan Hall,  illustrated by Naomi Zouwer (National Library of Australia)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN – 978-0-642-27732-9
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Giving a delightfully Australian twist to the well-known rhyme of Five Little Ducks, this version sees Mother Duck replaced with Mrs Roo, who takes on the role of the bush animals’ teacher. Rather than ducklings wandering out each day, it’s ten bush babies who go out “Into the sun to jump and play.” When Mrs Roo rings her bell, “ding-ding-ding-ding”, one less baby returns each day.

Given that there are ten different babies to begin with, readers will delight in perusing the illustrations to see who failed to return that day. Lifting the flap confirms whether readers are correct. It also reveals that the bush baby hasn’t simply vanished but has, in fact, headed off for a specific purpose, showing readers something about the characteristics and habits of that creature. Written on the back of each flap is also an interesting fact about the animal.

The sing-song rhyme and repetition of refrains are things that children aged two to five will easily latch on to and the lift-the-flap design is most inviting. This well thought out, quality production has fun and lively pastel illustrations of our native animals in their natural habitat. At the very end are duplicates of paintings done by Jon Gould, a naturalist who came to Australia in 1838.

Showcasing our wombat, echidna, koala, possum, bilby, platypus, kangaroo, quoll, dingo and emu, this book is perfect for Australian children, a must for pre-schools, and will make a beaut souvenir for visitors or a unique and special gift for overseas friends and relatives. From counting how many animals are left, to identifying each one, working out which is missing, and learning facts about them, this book gives much to do and is sure to be a favourite.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Anything Shop

The Anything Shop by Dawn Meredith, illustrated by Lesley Vamos (Wombat Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978-1-921633-51-5
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

First impression of this chapter book was that it would be perfect for boys age 7 -10. Thanks to the cover illustration at first glance I was reaching for this book rather than others on the table and I am sure it would have same effect on children. The illustration of two young boys scheming supposedly against the cranky looking older couple on the cover is engaging.

Dawn Meredith’s story of young Charlie and his new friend Sam is one most children will relate to. The story shares a valuable life lesson in a way children will embrace. The Anything Shop is a strange building that has suddenly appeared in town. Charlie discovers the elderly man and woman from the store know his name and know his dreams. They swap his embarrassing hugs for a cricket bat that always hits a six, something that makes him very happy. It is not long before he and other children in the town discover they miss the hugs, laughter and kisses from their families, and that new toys can not replace affection.

Meredith’s writing is flavored with recognizable smells, sounds and sights and is a delight to read. “It was bright and clean inside the shop and smelled of vanilla and licorice.” This sentence invites you into the store and then on the next page the reader can feel a sense of uncertainty. “Meryl jumped down off the counter lightly. ‘Come into the storeroom,’ she said, beckoning with a bony finger, looking at him over the tops of her glasses. Her high heels clip-clopped on the floor as she led him to a blue triangular shaped door at the rear of the shop. On it was a sign that said ‘All your dreams in here’.”

The layout of the book is clean and easy to follow. Vamos’ illustrations are a big part of the book and keep the story flowing nicely giving affirmation to the younger reader who may be a little unsure. Each black and white illustration is strong and appears to be full of life and colour.

Young readers will enjoy this book.

Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of the series ‘That’s not a …” learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Maya and the Crystal Skull

Maya and the Crystal Skull by Robyn Opie Parnell (R&R Books Film Music)
PB RRP: $19.95
ISBN: 9781873671009
Reviewed by Zoya Nojin

Although Robyn Opie Parnell has had over eighty books published, this is her first foray into a longer novel for middle grade readers and it displays a ‘new direction’ to her writing. Her enthusiasm for her thoughts on the ‘spiritual connectedness with reality’ pervades this story which starts with the main character, Maya learning about ‘universal consciousness’ from a spirit boy as she deals with the loss of her mother.

When Maya discovers that her father is in danger in Mexico, she must travel there with her spirit guide to rescue him while trying to elude a mysterious villain and recover ancient crystal skulls. She soon learns of the skulls’ significance to the future of humankind and that her destiny is intertwined with them.

Written in the first person, Maya’s thoughts and discussions of the spiritual can slow the pace a little while her guide explains how ‘everything in the world is connected’. But the teen voices are realistic, it is easy to read and there is enough action and plenty of dialogue to keep the story moving. Readers will love to hate Sophia, Maya’s minder and enjoy the thrill of the chase through jungles and Mayan ruins.

The cover will whet the appetite for adventure with its gleaming crystal skull staring out over a fiery ancient temple. As this book is the first in a series, one can presume there will be more adventures to come in seeking crystal skulls, with further insights into how Maya’s future is linked to them.

Maya and the Crystal Skull is being marketed as a ‘paranormal thriller for children aged 8+’.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Bedtime Band

The Bedtime Band by Michelle Worthington, illustrated by Sandra Temple (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921633-57-7
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

This book is suitable for pre-school aged children learning to read. The rhyme and rhythm of the words with the repetition of sounds will make ‘sounding out’ easier and enjoyable.  First impression of this book was that it would be perfect for bedtime reading too as is suggested in the title.

Michelle Worthington has captured night noises that most children in suburbia as well as the country should recognize from their own backyards. The other night time animal noises that they may not recognize will add (without frightening) to the excitement and adventure that will surely invade their dreams after this story.

The book is beautifully printed and bound; the hardcover opens fully assisting in reading to children while showing and discussing the illustrations. Sandra Temple the illustrator is an award winning artist with a love of conservation, this love of conservation shows through in her illustrations of the animals.  The layout of the book is easy to follow and Temple’s illustrations are beautiful with her coloured pencil over soft back ground colour. Although the colours in the illustrations are true to the strong Australian colours they remain soft and calming helping to make The Bedtime Band a marvelous book for peaceful bedtime reading.
Reading this book together before lights out will be an enjoyable experience for the parent and the child.
Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of the series ‘That’s not a …” learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Tale of Wil Wombat

The Tale of Wil Wombat by Susan Hall, illustrated by Ben Guy (National Library of Australia)
HB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978-0-642-27727-5
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

When Wil asks what the strange white shapes between the trees are, his mother says, “They’re the Uprights’ inside-out burrows.” Despite her warnings to stay away from the bushmen that she refers to as Uprights, Wil’s inquisitive nature sees him getting close enough to be trapped under a wooden box. And his captor calls to his mate Bill to get the fire roaring so they can have a cook-up!

This tiny, hard-backed treasure, is one of four in the Animal Tales series, and explores the reaction of Europeans to our native fauna when they first came to Australia. Uniquely, it does this via the viewpoint and experiences of each creature; in this case, Wil Wombat. His sturdy physical attributes and natural ability to dig are what saves him from becoming someone’s dinner.

A major strength of the series is its longevity, as young readers will enjoy it for the initial story about the animal but, as they grow up and learn more about the world around them and our history, they will see into more of the issues faced by early settlers. The book also shows how early settlers didn’t know what to make of creatures they had not seen before.

Besides incorporating small facts into the story, each book also ends with pictures showing some of the early paintings done by early settlers; most interesting, as they got a lot wrong first up! Story illustrations by Ben Guy are far more accurate presentations of the creatures we know so much about now.

There is something beautifully special about the bush scenes throughout, and the antics of the creatures and the ‘Uprights’ as the wombats know them. Humans and wombats, however, seemed to muddle through being exposed to one another well enough. From the scenic Australian end papers to the stylish cloth case and jacket, this is a quality production.

Friday, 18 November 2011

A Year in Girl Hell

A Year in Girl Hell by Merideth Costain (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-192175948-2
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Written in the first person we delve into the lives of five girls as they face a tortuous first year of high school. I wish I could say that I enjoyed this book but to be honest, as a parent of soon-to-be high school students, I found it frightening. The first year of high school for these girls involves cyber bullying, nasty friends, striving to be popular, bullying in the school grounds, bulimia, parental separation and not a positive proactive parent in sight!

On the serious side it was a riveting read and I believe girls will love this book. The language and situations depicted are well written and relevant to girls facing the first few years of high school (or changing schools). I had to laugh at all the talk of boys, the descriptions, the ‘pash-ability scale’, etc.

As we read the book we are presented with a different girl’s perspective per term; from the bullied to the bully. A year of Girl Hell presents a year of change, friendship, bullying and acceptance with an overall satisfying ending – not rosy or too positive, but satisfying. This book is well worth reading and will offer a platform for discussion that is sometimes very difficult to find.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Stew a Cockatoo My Aussie Cookbook

Stew a Cockatoo My Aussie Cookbook by Ruthie May, illustrated by Leigh Hobbs (Little Hare)
HB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-192154151-3
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

This book is a breath of fresh air. You can learn Australian culture, lingo, history and food recipes. There is even a recipe on how to stew a cockatoo – page 21.

This is a cultural offering for all the family. Ruthie May describes iconic Australian speech such as rhyming slang and offers interesting facts such as the number of meat pies consumed at an AFL Grand Final day in the MCG. From this book I learned the history of many iconic Australian dishes, including a few of our family favourites. The lamington, which was accidently created by Lord Lamington and the creation of the pavlova in Western Australia to honour the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova – I wonder if anyone called her pav for short?

Some of the introductions are priceless – “Thighs, breasts and eggs – chooks have it all…” (pg 20), “The Aussie barbeque is the natural habitat for many Aussies…the shielas make salads…the blokes guard the barbeque…and everyone swats flies.” (Pg 24)

Over recent years my children have received or borrowed many childrens cooking book and one of the things I dislike are the ridiculous recipes. Usually they are colour and sugar filled concoctions that I do not want my children making let alone eating. This book offers healthier recipes as well, on page 16 there is the Dinky-di Icy Pole recipe made from blended kiwifruit, oranges apples strawberries and passionfruit – yum!

The graphics are by Leigh Hobbs – really how could it get any better? The pictures of Uncle Daz tenderizing the meat, Dame Melba inspiring peaches and cream and bush pig fairy bread are hilarious. Highly recommended as gift for visitors, children and anyone inbetween.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The e-book process

Today at Buzz Words Books we have our first guest author post. YA author D L Richardson gives personal insights into the e-book process. You can read an expanded version of this article in the 1 December 2011 issue of Buzz Words.

There’s good and bad things said about e-books. My favourite quote doing the rounds is this one: “The good thing about e-books is that anyone can publish one. The bad this is that anyone can publish one.” It’s an accurate sentiment and one that I’d take seriously if I hadn’t read a lot of trash in print format. 
So what is it about the e-book that’s so darned appealing? Is it because in this current economic climate they’re cheap to produce? Is it because in this current environmental climate a rainforest can be saved by not printing a book? Or has this sudden boom in e-books sales got to with something else, say, the coming of a new revolution?

It’s no surprise the e-book is popular. Aspiring authors who have grown tired of mainstream publishers locking the doors on their creativity have at last found the means to produce and sell their work. For many, the e-book is about empowerment. I was fortunate enough to get a contract with an e-book publisher so I haven’t had to do my own editing, cover design or distribution. But is empowerment enough to push the print book out altogether? After all, DVD replaced VHS. Motion pictures replaced silent films. Cars replaced horse and cart.

Once upon a time the only way to travel was through a travel agent. The internet empowered the consumer but we still have travel agents. We’ll probably still have mainstream publishers because empowerment is a powerful thing. But expertise is equally powerful. 

D L Richardson is the author of Young Adult paranormal novel The Bird With The Broken Wing. She is currently working on her second novel.

You can read an extract of D L Richardson’s debut novel The Bird With The Broken Wing at Kobo Books. 

You can purchase The Bird With The Broken Wing at Etopia Press,, Barnes &Noble, Kobo Books, and OmniLit 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

NO RETURN Captain Scott’s Race to the Pole

Captain Scott's Race to the Pole (No Return) Captain Scott's Race to the Pole (No Return) by Peter Gouldthorpe (Lothian/Hachette)
HB RRP $28.99
ISBN 978 0 73441 220 1
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Peter Gouldthorpe is a CBCA award winning author/illustrator and his talented artwork is showcased in this recounting of the race to the South Pole by Robert Falcon Scott.

Lieutenant Scott heads The National Antarctic Expedition in 1901, sailing from London in the Discovery, specially built for hazardous ice conditions. Apart from gaining scientific knowledge of plant life and unearthing geological secrets, Scott hopes to fulfil his dream of being first to reach the South Pole.

Among Scott's party are Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson and 19 huskies. The men trek to within 850 kilometers of the South Pole, but are forced back by terrible deprivation and the loss of all the dogs. Nevertheless, they remain there for two years before arriving back in England in 1904 with their data of new discoveries. Scott is hailed as a national hero and promoted to captain.

Interest revives in the South Pole after Robert Peary conquers the North Pole in 1909 and Shackleton’s own expedition to Antarctica comes close to reaching the Pole. Scott, spurred on by this news, forms a second expedition funded by himself. On June 1, 1910, the Terra Nova sets sail for Australia. To Scott’s dismay, a telegram arrives while docked in Melbourne to say Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer was challenging him in the race to the Pole.

Once in Antarctic waters, it takes a month for the ship to navigate through the pack ice. The Terra Nova anchors off what is now called Cape Evans, and the preparations for the race to the South Pole begin in earnest. Within two weeks, a hut is built to house the men in the bitter Antarctic winter ahead.
Scott sends out two exploration parties. One returns with the news that Amundsen's ship has anchored in the Bay of Whales. Scott works out that the Norwegian will be 97 kilometers closer to the Pole than his own party. Wondering whether his rival will reach the Pole first must have lain heavily on his mind through the long winter months.

The many experiences of the twenty-five men who remain behind after the ship returns to New Zealand are recorded in both text and brushwork. Peter Gouldthorpe's detailed and powerful illustrations magnify the horrendous conditions and challenges Scott's exploration party face. -44°C temperatures without modern thermal clothing would have been daunting enough, but along with the blizzards, the men suffer fatigue, hunger, frostbite, painful snow blindness, and loss of companions and horses (whose meat provided valuable food). The picture book's title is well chosen.

Captain Scott's Race to the Pole (No Return) pays homage to Captain Scott and his team. Their courage, determination and sacrifice is an inspiration and has reserved them a well-deserved place in history. A poster showing maps and a time line is included with the book and is an excellent tool for an instant overview of the race to the South Pole.

Monday, 14 November 2011


Aoki by Annelore Parot (Hardie Grant Egmont)
Padded HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-174297003-5
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Aoki is a visual and textual delight. It is a padded hardback with the image of Aoki stitched onto the cover. I have enjoyed just having my hands on this book it has such a unique and enticing design.

Aoki is a Japanese Kokeshi doll. Kokeshi dolls were traditionally made from left over wood with sculpted hair and little rounded bodies. Now they are coloured. This book centers on Aoki who is one of a family of dolls. They are a cute set of dolls, with attention to the little details such as rosy cheeks, cherry hair bands and matching lunch cloth bags and dresses.

In this story Aoki is off to visit her friend Yoko who lives in Tokyo and “is one of the most kawaii (cute) of kokeshis!” The story is sweet and the images are typically Japanese – attractive, high use of colours and patterns and very cute. The book incorporates Japanese language throughout and various culturally significant concepts such as the search for beauty, cherry blossoms, the high speed train, bento lunch box and relaxing in Zen gardens.

The internal pages incorporate a wide range of visual discovery and presentation, from peep windows, to lift flaps of all shapes and orientations and raised graphics on the final spread. All of my children (and I) enjoy holding the book and moving through each double page spread. Even the youngest child (3 years) could enjoy this story and the overall book without my supervision. It is a delightful, positive and satisfying story of discovery and adventure. I recommend this absolute delight of a book.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Note on the Door

Note on the Door and other poems about family life by Lorraine Marwood (Walker Books Australia)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781921720611
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Award-winning poet Lorraine Marwood's newest collection of poems is full of astute observations of the intricacies and eccentricities of family life. The poems are organised into sections titled: Family Notes, Holiday Notes, School Notes, Extended Family Notes, and Playtime Notes. All the ups and downs of growing up are represented by a poem - from being sick and stuck in bed to friendships to beach holidays and everything in between. There is something that everyone can relate to and the poems are accessible to all.

The title poem is a standout and one that will be read aloud in homes across Australia. The fate of the child's bedroom is one that many will relate to with the news that a "bedroom rotted away at 9.15 am this morning'. Another favourite of mine is Almost a Circus where the older sibling is so besotted by the baby brother that he is equated with a "crowd-stopping circus extravaganza".

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and highly recommend it.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Witch Hunter Chronicles 2: The Army of The Undead

The Witch Hunter Chronicles 2: The Army of The Undead by Stuart Daly (Random House)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978-1-7427-5052-2
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

If Jakob thought his first mission was tough, he ain’t seen nothing yet. Jakob and the Hexanjager tackle the ruthless Watchers in the second book of the Witch Hunter Chronicles series.

The Watchers are fallen angels, able to resurrect anyone, including a prophet who has hidden the Tablet of Breaking, capable of starting Armageddon. It’s a race to see who can recover the Tablet first. Jakob is joined by many new characters, including the feisty Francesca who has attracted the eye of Jakob’s ally, Armand. There are some great scenes where the two are sparring with their words.

Daly develops the relationship between Jakob and Armand really well. Jakob looks up to him and they share many battles. They stand out in a large cast. Jakob is growing as a character too. He’s got a knack of getting out of trouble that will keep readers on the edge. Jakob also shows off his mental strength too.

Everything in this sequel is bigger and better. The relentless zombies are led by the creepy Watchers who are hard to kill. Daly takes us everywhere from Greece to a booby trapped mausoleum under the Dead Sea. There are shades of Matthew Reilly as Daly allows the action to roll on continuously.  

You can tell Daly’s a history teacher. This is a rich world that features many weapons and locations from the real world. It’s no historical fiction, more like historical thriller. Daly’s included some notes at the end of the book.

The Army of the Undead piles on the action, giving fans a reason to look forward to next pulsing adventure. Recommended for ages 10 and up.  

Friday, 11 November 2011

Diva 6: Girls at Sea

Diva 6: Girls at Sea by Sue Lawson (black dog books: an imprint of Walker Books)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 9781742031729
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Mickey, Skye and Coco head out whale watching for an episode of Girls' Stuff TV. Skye loves whales and is super-excited. But she has a problem - she gets seasick and has left her ginger tablets at home. As in previous books, Mickey is always thoughtful and helps her friend solve her problem and the girls head out to sea. Coco's snobbery sees her come unstuck and patience with her antics is running thin with all.

Mickey Farrell and the Diva series is welcome relief from the deluge of fairy books for girls of this age and reading level. Mickey sings and dances and loves cool clothes. She is also smart and sassy and committed to her friends. Girls will be sure to lap up this instalment and be wanting more.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Unicorn Riders: Quinn’s Riddles

Unicorn Riders: Quinn’s Riddles by Aleesah Darlison, illustrated by Jill Brailsford (Walker Books)
PB RRP $6.50
ISBN 978-1-921529-97-9
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

When Prince Simon of Avamay is kidnapped it is the Unicorn Riders, Quinn, Willow, Krystal and Ellabeth, who Queen Hearts calls upon for help. In order to rescue the queen’s son, the riders must follow a series of riddles that uncover a greater revelation about Quinn than she could have imagined. Quinn’s Riddles is the first in a series of six adventures that readers aged eight and up will delight in. Four are available now and two more in 2012.

This story’s magical and uplifting feel took me back to many I loved as a child. While good battles evil, and good naturally succeeds, there is not too much unbearable darkness. Enough danger to engage readers but not so much that they won’t read on. One of my favourite examples of gentleness in it is that it is even against the Riders’ Code to restrain a unicorn because the beautiful yet powerful creatures can’t “bear the touch of a bridle around their majestic heads or the weight of a saddle on their proud backs”.

By moving forward at a lively pace, and feeding out clues and suspense along the way, the story holds attention. My past work in school libraries tells me this series won’t sit idle on shelves. The characters are admirable and unique in their own magical way, each with special skills that they bring to the team. Their motto is ‘We ride as one’. I imagine it will see girls playing Unicorn Riders in the playground, picking their favourite character as the one they wish to be and setting off together on missions to save others.

Illustrations throughout the story help readers see into the land of Avamay and break up text so it doesn’t appear overwhelming to young readers. Darlison’s writing has the right balance of simplicity and complexity to appeal to a wide range of readers and will help them open their imaginations. Clues, given in riddles, are sure to delight readers who will be solving the mystery with the team of strong, supportive friends, rather than simply reading about it. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


Birdsong written and illustrated by Ellie Sandall (Egmont)
PB RRP $6.00
ISBN 978-140524738-2

This book is a colour and sound presentation. Written for the very young it includes rhyme and a singsong quality to the text when it is read out loud.

The story is about a tree that has two colourful and loud birds land on its bough. Every double page spread introduces two new birds and sounds until one large dominant bird comes along and scares the others away. An unexpected little creature overcomes the large dominant bird. My three-year-old daughter heard this little twist with delight.

The images have a certain crayon like quality about them that is attractive and accessible to young children.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


Vampyre by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Andrew Yeo (Walker Books)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN 9781921529221
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Is there no depth to Margaret Wild's talent? Her newest picture book Vampyre is a story with many layers. It is a powerful and emotional narrative for older readers which explores themes of love, identity and change. Wild's poetic and lyrical language wastes not one word. 

Vampyre immediately draws us into the realities of the world for the protagonist:

I am Vampyre.
I live in darkness.
I long for light.

Vampyre's loving family and joyous childhood has given way to what is now expected of him - a destiny that he rejects and fights against even to the point of threatening his own survival.

Newcomer Andrew Yeo's illustrations are menacing and thought-provoking, highlighting and extending the text. Vampyre's world, both internally and externally, is a dark place and it is only through his remarkable courage, shown by the increasing presence of light, that he can break free of his family's expectations and the life mapped out for him. Significantly, when he reaches the light of the natural world, the deer and doves wait for him.

Walker Books has produced two separate sets extensive teachers' notes for use in either the upper primary/lower secondary classroom or for those in upper secondary school. Vampyre is sure to be a much studied book for years to come.

Monday, 7 November 2011

2011 CBCA NSW Lady Cutler Award

THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION. The Children’s Book Council of Australia NSW Branch will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Lady Cutler Award on 15 November. This prestigious award commemorates the contribution to the CBCA NSW Branch by Lady Helen Cutler, wife of Sir Roden Cutler, Governor of NSW. She was Patron for many years and even after Sir Roden’s retirement, she continued until her death in 1990.

The Lady Cutler Award is presented annually for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature in New South Wales and is sponsored by Peribo. The 2011 Award will honour children’s author Margaret Wild – ‘for her dedication to her craft and to her audience and for the important place she has in the history and development of Australian children’s picture books’.

Bookings are open for the dinner at the Menzies Hotel, Sydney: $75 for CBCA members/$85 for non-members. Phone: 02 98183858 or email:

Not me!

Not me! written and illustrated by Nicola Killen (Egmont)
PB RRP $6.00
ISBN 978-14054830-3
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

How do you guarantee a book is attractive to children? Present mess on every page? How do you make a book attractive to parents? Present the children cleaning up at the end.

This is essentially the story of Not me! With double spreads of full colour graphics the book offers gorgeous images of all the mess and trouble that kids (or a puppy) can get up to, from handprints on the walls, puddles on the floor to muddy bike tracks indoors.

The very cute resolution gives us an image of a tired puppy and the kids having to clean the house. This is a book that could be read as a warning for all those kids who are begging for a dog.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Monster High 3: Where There's a Wolf There's a Way

Monster High 3: Where There's a Wolf There's a Way by Lisi Harrison (Atom/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978 1 907410 65 9
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Lisi Harrison is back in high form with her third book in the series, Monster High. Clawdeen Wolf is the featured member of the RADs in this story. She is worried her Sassy Sixteen birthday bash won't eventuate now that the RADs are in hiding, following the exposure of many of their faces on a video filmed by Frankie Stein. Frankie's heart-mission is to unite the normies and the RADs in one peaceful, accepting group, but now things are further apart than ever, thanks to Bekka, ex-girlfriend of Brett who is set on destroying the RADs.

Suspicion rages everywhere as to who to blame and whether Cleo de Nile, who was at a Teen Vogue photo shoot at the time, knew the video would expose the RADs. With identities destroyed by order of the chief of the RADs, it is impossible to make contact by phone and those RAD parents' who have decided to stay in Salem, keep their children off the streets.

Frankie is suspicious that her new love interest, Brett, gave Channel Two the unblurred interviews. She can't contact him and is beginning to believe he is in hiding because he is guilty of this betrayal. When her invisible friend Billy takes shape she finds herself attracted to him big-time, and her interest in Brett fades.

Melody Carver who was at the Teen Vogue shoot with Cleo de Nile and controlled the camels by singing to them, was told she sounded just like her mother, Marina. As Melody's mother's name is Glory, a seed of suspicion is planted. She knows she will have to find out if she is adopted to have any peace of mind. Another problem is how to persuade her RAD boyfriend Jackson's mum to stay in Salem and not send Jackson away to London. But the good news is that Melody now has great powers of persuasion.

Typical of this monster series, the adventures of the Merston High students are wrapped in crazy fashion statements, teenage speak, and music idols such as Lady Gaga and Pink. By the end of the book, Frankie's dream has moved slightly closer, Melody has discovered an amazing secret revealed by Marina, and Clawdeen's persistence has paid off. Readers will not be disappointed.

Monster High 4 Back and Deader than Ever is due out in 2012.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Slightly Invisible

Slightly Invisible by Lauren Child (Orchard Books)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978 1 40830 792 2
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

First published in hardback in 2010, Lauren Child’s latest book featuring Charlie and Lola packs its usual zany punch.

Charlie wants time alone with his best friend, Marv, but little sister, Lola, is glued to his side as usual. She hopes she can persuade the boys to play tea parties instead of looking for strange and tricky monsters. Charlie gets more and more exasperated so Lola promises to sit under the table and be quiet while the two friends mix up a special invisibility potion in order to creep up on their quarry.

The boys put the pink potion in the fridge but when they need it to capture their monster, it has been drunk! Lola blames her invisible friend Soren Lorensen, and when the boys complain they will never catch the monster now, Lola shows them how!

Lauren Child’s books plunge the reader into the minds of young children and how they interact with their siblings. They demonstrate the imaginary worlds children live in, interspersed with doses of reality. Slightly Invisible is no exception. The text whirls around the illustrations in a slightly mad way and the dialogue between the children is uniquely entertaining, e.g.,

Marv says, “There are no such things as invisible voices.” Lola says, “If there are no such things as invisible voices, then why can’t you hear him?”

Colourful, exuberant and grounded all at the same time, Slightly Invisible will be eagerly embraced by followers of this highly original author/illustrator.  

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Brotherband: The Outcasts

Brotherband: The Outcasts by John Flanagan (Random House)
HB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978-1-7416-6449-2
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Is Brotherband a Rangers Apprentice spin-off? Yes and no. It’s set in the same world as the beloved Rangers and there’s a reference to them in this book. But you don’t need to know anything before coming to this new series for younger readers. 

Brotherband takes place in Skandia, where Vikings rule the land and seas. Brotherband is a rite of passage for boys to become warriors. Teenagers form groups and compete in a series of challenges and training exercises. This is where lifelong friends and enemies are made.

Hal Mikkelson is a capable guy who ends up leading his own brotherband, the Herons. They’re made up of boys who were rejects. No one gives these outcasts any hope of competing with the two other brotherbands. But Hal has other ideas. The Herons might be outnumbered and out-muscled in most tasks but they’ve got enough ingenuity and courage to surprise everybody.

Flanagan has fun exploring the rituals of brotherband, explained through the narrative and characters’ thoughts. It’s full of the tactual insights that made Rangers so enjoyable. Readers will love the fighting and mateship that happens within brotherbands. Flanagan has happily included a glossary of shipping terms which adds extra flair to the climax.

Ranger fans will lap up this series. There are similarities between Will and Halt relationship and Hal’s connection with his mentor Thorn.  No one does adventure like Flanagan, the non-stop action and tension of Brotherband will leave readers wanting more. It’s a perfect introduction to another thrilling series and is highly recommended for ages 10 and up.  

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

I’m Here

I’m Here written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (Simon and Schuster)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-141699649-1
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

A little boy plays alone in a schoolyard while the rest of his classmates play in the distance – they are there, he is here.  But soon a little girl joins the little boy, returning his paper airplane and making a new friend.

I’m Here was created to reach out and appreciate those children in the autism spectrum, as well as anyone who is different.  As a parent of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, I was immediately drawn to this book.

It is a truly lovely story that gives voice to a child who is unable to bridge the gap between himself and those around him; and encourages others to make that first connection. While the behaviour of the young boy in the story is reminiscent of Autism Spectrum Disorder, it is open enough that any child who feels shy or on the outer could relate.  It also shows the importance of making the first move with kids who are shy or isolated and, maybe, make a new friend.

There is a lot of subtlety to the story and it is wonderfully complemented with Peter H. Reynolds’ delicate illustrations. There is lots of white space on each page and this represented pictorially to me the tendency of many autistic and Asperger’s kids to shut out the world around them (I don’t know if this was the intention).

I’m Here would be a great book to read in a classroom setting as there would be so much for kids to learn, discuss and relate to. It is a beautiful book that I would certainly recommend.

Peter H. Reynolds is an author and illustrator of children’s books and the Founder of the educational media company FableVision. He has illustrated Someday and Little Boy both written by Alison McGhee.  He is also the creative mind behind the bestselling picture books The Dot and Ish