Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Whisky Charlie Foxtrot

Whisky Charlie Foxtrot by Annabel Smith (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9-781-921-888-625
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

Whisky Charlie Foxtrot is a beautifully written love story crafted in a unique and fascinating way. 

Whisky. Charlie. Foxtrot. These are three letters of the International Phonetic Alphabet  and they are the names of the two main characters. They are also cleverly the chapter headings. Each chapter is titled on order of the International Alphabet names. For example, Chapter 1 is Alpha, Chapter 2 is Bravo, Chapter 3 is Charlie etc.

This is a story about brothers - twin brothers - Whisky and Charlie, and it’s about their gradual estrangement and attempted reconciliation after Whisky is involved in serious accident.

Charlie is a wonderfully flawed character and as we progress, we soon discover that Whisky and the rest of the family are flawed and vulnerable and memorable too. Families aren't always easy, but there is a feeling of respect for one another that contributes to the attraction and power of this book.

Charlie is on a hero’s journey, re-telling his life growing up in competition with Whisky. With the dawning realisation that he’s blamed Whisky unfairly and has perhaps contributed to their estrangement more than Whisky is heartbreaking revelation.

This story travels back and forth in time as his brother lies in a coma after a tragic accident. Annabel Smith uses the coma situation to dramatic effect, paralleling Whisky's coma as some sort of karma to Charlie's emotional journey. The themes of starting over and forgiveness are subtle as is the feeling of understated hope. I was surprised at the process of treating coma patients and found rehabilitation shocking.

I have to comment about the structure of this novel. It’s unique and incredibly well thought out. I didn’t realise how well this was done until I reached the end of the book and took some time to reflect upon it. It is almost as if the structure has come first and the story was written to fit it. Changes in tense, which is usually confusing work quite well in building the tension of the story.  

I found Whisky Charlie Foxtrot to be a terrific read, highly recommended for Young Adults. I couldn’t stop reading it, and I cried and cried at the ending.

Neridah McMullin is the author of four books for children. Her next book is based on a true story about an Australian Light horse called 'Taffy Waits' set in World War I in the Battle of Beersheba. Neridah loves family, footy and her cat Carlos who luckily also happens to love footy.

Monday, 24 December 2012

RSPCA Bumper Book of Pets and other Animals

RSPCA Bumper Book of Pets and other Animals (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781742757117
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

The thought of a Bumper Book of anything brings expectations of a cornucopia of fascinating information bound with trivia, jokes, activities, checklists and heart-tugging photos. This is exactly what you find in the RSPCA Bumper Book of Pets and other Animals.

This is the book to read if you are considering owning a pet. Being fully endorsed by the RSPCA this Bumper Book perfectly balances the fun side of pet ownership with the responsibilities. There’s even a checklist to see if you are mature enough to own a pet as well as other criteria such as the pet-friendliness of your home.

With its colourful layout, reader-friendly pages and bright breakout boxes of tips and trivia, this book urges you to sit and read about all creatures, scaly, slimy, furry and feathery.

As well as a substantial section on PETS, there are sections on FARMYARD ANIMALS and WILDLIFE.

The largest section is about dogs, and as with most other sections, there’s information about: diet, health, lifespan, exercise, grooming, personality, training, breeds and lots of tips.

There are fascinating facets sprinkled throughout. You find out that guinea pigs can’t make their own Vitamin C. They need to eat oranges, lemons and kiwi fruit, that’s after they eat their yummiest meals of brussels sprouts, broccoli and bok choy!

If you’re contemplating becoming a horse owner, learn what they mean when they neigh, nicker and snort. And if a pet rat is more your thing, learn how to make them an adventure playground in their cage, as rats love to explore.

Are you a bit of a bird fan? This book will help you find the right breed to suit your family. Canaries live for about 7 years whereas cockatoos live for about 80!

Do snakes, turtles or frogs take your fancy? How about an axolotl or a ferret?

For those who live on or visit farms, there are lots of interesting insights into sheep, goats and poultry. Did you know that cows have best friends within their herds? And then there’s the wildlife section with many more intriguing gems of information.

The RSPCA Bumper Book of Pets and other Animals is not just about reading. There are quizzes, word jumbles and jokes and a glossary for the tricky words like amphibian and terrarium.

Why are fish so smart? They live in schools! And if you’re old enough to read, this book is purr-fect for you.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Brotherband 3:The Hunters

Brotherband 3:The Hunters by John Flanagan (Random House)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 9781742750620
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742750637
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

After immersing myself in John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, with its fast-paced, adventurous storylines, I’ve joined the throng of landlubbers to sail with the Heron Brotherband in Flanagan’s latest Skandian saga of longboats, pirate hunting, and a matadorial sea duel to retrieve the stolen artefact, the amber Andomal.

If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, Flanagan’s style is so sleek, that the reader effortlessly slips into the saga. With the opening double page sketch of the Skandians’ longboat, the Heron, and the handy glossary, the reader is well primed for adventure.

The book is written in two parts: The Hunt and The Duel. Hal and the Brotherband are on the hunt for the pirate, Zavac, aboard the Raven as its crew plunders its way to the safety of their lair in Raguza. On board the Heron, the injured Ingvar is near death from an arrow wound. He needs to rest and recover so the Skandians beach their longboat. They are carrying a pirate prisoner who escapes and it’s here that we see the prowess of Lydia, the only female on board.

Excellent descriptions are given of the crew as each takes his or her part in the action; humour and courage interweave even in times most dire. There’s the shy Edvin, who knits watch caps for the crew, the quarrelsome twins Ulf and Wulf and the ‘shabby old warrior’ Thorn, who, if he ‘hadn’t lost that hand in an accident on board ship he would have been the greatest warrior in the history of Skandia.’

One of my favourite characters is Lydia. She is a fine role model. Not only is she an expert tracker, she is a crack shot with the atlatl (a dart thrower) with its ‘great, sharp iron warhead.’ She’s resourceful, clever and cluey as she executes the breakout of the Brotherband from prison, but ‘after years spent hunting alone in the woods, Lydia’s manners and social graces left something to be desired.’

It’s hold-your-breath action as the crew jumps from one impossible situation to another, whether it’s flume riding their longboat down the Wildwater Rift or the sea duel between the Raven and the Heron.

With its sophisticated level of language and layered storytelling, Brotherband 3: The Hunters will enthral teenage readers and transport them into the Middle Ages and a saga akin to the Vikings. Flanagan is a cracking storyteller.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Captain Kangaroo and the Big Bush Bash

Captain Kangaroo and the Big Bush Bash by Lothian/Hachette Australia, illustrated by Mandy Foot
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780734413390
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Mandy Foot's amusing and creative illustrations of well-known bush animals complement this new in-house Captain Kangaroo picture book. The annual Vintage Outback Race is taking place with Captain Kangaroo at the starting point to send the teams on their way. The wombats in their pink cadillac with pink tutus to match are the cutest, but the overalled koalas in their FJ Ute, the pelican motor-cyclists, be-scarved emus, and spiky echidnas are most appealing, too. Frilly lizards and other creatures add to the colourful scene.
When Captain Kangaroo waves the green flag they are off, and the Big Bush Bash begins. Mandy captures the flying start perfectly, as well as the problems along the way. The rhyming language is out of sync at times but it is barely noticed with all the action going on. Icon names, e.g., the Murray, Lightning Ridge, Longreach, Alice (and the Ghan) will have the kids Googling the map and asking questions.
The race is interrupted while Captain Kangaroo is commended for his help in the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It is such a schamozzle at the finish line in Broken Hill who knows who won the race! A ballerina wombat, maybe?
My grandson will love this picture book with the hectic pace and fabulous illustrations. It will make a great Christmas gift.

Friday, 21 December 2012

My Best friend and Other Enemies

My Best Friend and Other Enemies by Catherine Wilkins (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-85763-095-7
Reviewed by Ann Harth

Jessica and Natalie have been best friends forever. Before they were in sixth grade, they made dens in the lounge room with sheets and ate Fizzy Wands all night. They even pretended they belonged to a pop band and wore matching rainbow t-shirts.

Best friends do these things. Well, they do until they start sixth grade and Amelia enters the scene.

Suddenly Natalie seems to spend more time with creepy Amelia than with her best friend. Jessica is hurt but not beaten. She lingers around the fringes of Natalie’s new life until she decides to strike out on her own.

In this funny and fast paced novel for children aged nine and over, Jessica makes new friends and focuses on her true talent, creating cartoons. Her artistic skills and wit help her to get noticed by tough Tanya. Tanya is always in trouble and Jessica is a little afraid of her, but Tanya seems to like her. She nicknames her “Toons” and plays the part of protector, boosting Jessica’s reputation with the rest of the school.

While Amelia muscles Jessica out of her best friendship with Natalie, Jessica teams up with a whole new group of friends and discovers that she can have just as much, if not more, fun with them.

A welcome twist at the end of the book brings about a satisfying conclusion which allows Jessica to retain her newly discovered individuality and her new friends as well as gain some notoriety as a cartoonist.

Catherine Wilkins captures the voice and thoughts of Jessica beautifully, making it seems as though the author still remembers the roller-coaster of Grade Six as though it were yesterday. Her writing is clear and appealing and her characters likeable. My Best Friend and Other Enemies is hilarious; it’s a book that’s hard to put down. I highly recommend it for ages nine and up.

Catherine Wilkins is a comedian and writer. She lives in London and, when she isn’t writing, performs stand-up comedy in the UK. She has had a wide variety of jobs in her past from insurance broker to pizza deliverer but her favourite is being a writer. For more information about Catherine Wilkins and her book, please visit

Ann Harth is a published children's author and writing tutor at Australian College of Journalism. She loves to read, write and is committed to creating children's literature that inspires, entertains and triggers a tiny twist in the mind. Her latest middle-grade novel, The Art of Magic, and her book for budding authors, Writing for Children – In the Beginning are available from Amazon. 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich

Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich by Lorraine Francis and Pieter Gaudesaboos (Book Island)
HB RRP NZD $24.99
ISBN 9780987669605
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

A book about food - that got my attention! And this super-sized board book is bound to get the attention of young children with its roll call of everything that could possibly go into a sandwich. The fantastic thing is that Sammy includes them all!

Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich will appeal to a child's idea of the ridiculous about something so simple as making a sandwich. Mum and Dad react as if building a sandwich which goes through the roof  and is 'as tall as a skyscraper standing on another skyscraper's shoulders on top of the world's tallest mountain' is an everyday event. Lorraine Francis adds lovely touches of humour with passers-by such as a boy in a hot-air balloon and a man with a megaphone commenting on Sammy's efforts.

Pieter Gaudesaboos' funky illustrations will delight child and adult alike with their 1950s retro feel and rich colours. Each page is an artwork to be pored over with plenty of humour to be found in the illustrations as well. Sammy carts the food in a car and wagons; swings from a trapeze, and then later a crane, to reach the top; and uses the help of a remote control plane to continue adding to his creation.

This is a perfect picture book with the text and illustrations both adding to the telling of the story and the joy of its reading. Cleverly, Book Island has published Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich in a board book format for it is bound to be read and reread (and reread and reread) with plenty for even the youngest of children to relate to.

Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich was first published in Dutch in Belgium and has now been released in its original language by newly established independent New Zealand publisher, Book Island. Ann Packer, the children's book editor for the New Zealand Listener selected Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich for her list of 50 Best Children’s Books of 2012.

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by Sally Rippin and Regine Abos (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781742032092
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

 This book is superbly produced from the wonderful covers that depict a tiger leaping from the back cover to the front, to the last pages that document the Twelve Animals of the Chinese Zodiac with accompanying Chinese symbols.

The Jade Emperor announces a race which will enable the first twelve animals that cross the river, to have a year named after them.

Friends Rat and Cat catch a free ride on Ox and show him the way. Dog follows splashing. Rooster finds a raft asks for help and Monkey clears the way while Goat pushes the raft into the water. Snake hides in Horse’s mane for a free ride, and Pig eats until her tummy is big ‘as a balloon’, so she falls asleep.

Dragon flies out across the river causing the earth to shake with sound. But it’s Rat that gets the first year named after him with Ox claiming the second.  When Rabbit asks Tiger what kept him, Tiger answers that he ‘was carried downstream on a strong current’. He claims third place with Rabbit taking fourth after jumping from a log behind him.

The Jade Emperor questions Dragon’s lateness. Dragon explains how he came across a drought so he ‘stopped to make rain’. Next is Snake, then Horse, Goat, Monkey and Rooster, Dog and finally Pig. Unfortunately, Cat misses out. That’s how the Chinese Zodiac was created.

This beautifully illustrated book teaches children about the Chinese Zodiac in an educational as well as entertaining way. The superb drawings are created with mixed media comprised of Chinese brush and ink, digital media and linocut. Thick black brush strokes and shades of bronze, burnished gold and golden browns dominate the colours. Green plays a big role on the dragon pages. The facial expressions of the animals are terrific and will appeal to young readers as they follow the race to the finish line.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A House in the Woods

A House in the Woods by Inga Moore (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781406342819
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

As a devoted fan of Inga Moore’s work, I am delighted with this new book. It begins with two pigs, two houses in the woods, and a spread of two full-page illustrations that depict golden leaves scattered and still falling from giant trees.

Two pigs go for a walk and return to find that a bear has moved into the first pig’s den, and a moose into the other pig’s hut. Both houses are destroyed. Now four animals have nowhere to live. Moose comes up with a great idea – to build a house big enough for them to live in together.

They call in the Beaver Builders, who agree to the project only if they are paid with peanut butter sandwiches. The illustrations here are divine. They show the industrious beavers arriving in their trucks loaded with logs, wearing huge smiles and hard hats.

Another double spread shows the beavers felling trees using their sharp teeth, within a great forest of various green hues and muted light.

Building begins and everyone works together to get the house finished quickly. The detail is extraordinary. The cement mixer is turning. Moose works on a log. Some beavers cart rocks in a wheelbarrow, while the pigs cut away small branches from logs using their axes.

It’s all team work. The walls are up then the roof is on. The house takes shape. Moose and Bear go with the pigs to the junkyard to find furniture. (Recycling is always the best option.) Finally the house is finished. The shopping is complete and the peanut butter sandwiches change hands. A beautiful new house awaits the friends. The fire crackles in the hearth. Beds beckon.

Moore’s detailed artistry encompasses the natural world which is alive and vibrant in all her work. The forest, the trees, branches and leaves create a calm that matches the harmonious unity of the animals. The beaver’s lodge at the lake sits amidst breathtaking scenery. There is so much for children to discover on each carefully considered page which is created around themes of friendship, team work, and the natural world.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Boo and the Big Storm

Boo and the Big Storm by Wendy Lawrence, illustrated by Glen Vause (Wild Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978 0 646 57779 1
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Boo and the Big Storm is an absolutely gorgeous book that young bird and nature lovers will adore.

Boo is a Southern boobook owlet with impossibly big eyes and curiosity to match. With her simple and beautiful text, author Wendy Lawrence is bound to draw young readers into feeling what Boo is feeling: when she falls from the tree in a fierce storm, finds herself in the middle of the road, is picked up by Farmer Goodman, and frets for her parents and brothers. Boo's relief when Farmer Goodman returns her to the safety and comfort of her nest and family provides a comforting and satisfying conclusion to the story.

The owlets are ideal subjects for a children's book with their fluffy down and huge eyes. Glen Vause's talent in illustrating landscapes and natural history is evident. He portrays the apprehension of Boo perfectly and it would take a hard heart to not fall in love with her.

At the end of the story, Lawrence gives a rundown on the Southern boobook owl. We learn their diet, habitat and threats to their survival. Two websites to refer to are also noted.

Boo and the Big Storm makes the perfect book to share with children. This book's a keeper and would make a great addition to any home, preschool or school library.

My Dog, My Cat, My Mum and Me

My Dog, My Cat, My Mum and Me by Nigel Gray, illustrated by Bob Graham (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 14.95
ISBN 9781921529511
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

New life is always a great joy. Nigel Gray’s absolutely gorgeous book about birth, both animal and human, will bring great joy to readers and listeners. Simple in its approach, yet carrying a strong message, it serves to teach and entertain with the use of rhyme, repetition of main words, and numbers up to three. It also informs children about the changes in the body which herald new life.

The dog ‘was fat when she went in, but she came out thin’.  The girl takes a look. There are two puppies under the door flap of the cupboard. The cat was fat when she went in the box, ‘but she came out thin’. Three kittens are lying in a heap under the cardboard flap lid. Then mum ‘got fatter and fatter. This time I knew what was the matter’. What happened next?

Bob Graham’s illustrations are outstanding as always. The characters and all the pictures are outlined in thick black strokes which are also repeated in the text. Vibrant colours fill the pages, and the expressions on the faces of the animals and people say more than any written word could.

This is such a happy book. Its yellow cover is the perfect choice for the background colour. The front shows Mum with her swollen tummy with the girl, who is pushing a pram in which the fat dog and the fat cat stand upright. The animals appear to be smiling for some secret reason. (That’s obviously before they go into their private places behind the flaps.) The back cover has a framed picture of all the new arrivals; animal and human, with the dog licking the girl’s face.

You’ll smile when see the covers and laugh from sheer pleasure while enjoying the book. This simple and perfect book with its simple and perfect message is suitable for all ages.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm

Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (Walker Books)
HB RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9780763634513
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Judy Moody is on a lucky roll. She believes it’s due to her lucky penny from the 1970s that Grandma Lou gave her. Judy wins three times with the claw, and during the celebrations for Jessica’s birthday at the Extreme Bowling Challenge.

The Spelling Bee competition is coming up. The finals are to be held in Washington D.C., home of the President and other great sights. Judy has her heart set on going, but everyone knows that Jessica is the world’s best speller.

Judy depends on her lucky penny to win. But winning without putting in the work is a lesson that Judy must learn.

Not having studied, and in an attempt to be last in line for the classroom spelling test, Judy goes to the toilet and her lucky penny falls from her pocket into the bowl. The penny is rescued, but it’s ‘goodbye lucky penny and hello bad luck charm’, for Judy is out of the Spellathon, and Jessica is going to Washington.

But things take an unusual turn. Jessica needs a pig-sitter for Pee Gee while she’s at the competition. Judy puts her hand up and the Moody family set out on a road trip where they see the sights of Washington after all. Judy and Stink believe they have it made without any effort, until the time comes to pig-sit.

Jessica’s pet is set on having a good time too, and that means freedom. He slips away from the siblings through an open door. The chase is on - down stairs and elevators, through foyers and hallways. Chaos and destruction reign.

When he’s caught, mum’s the word about his escape. But the room is nothing less than a pigsty and there’ll have to be explanations. Judy reaches for her lucky penny to save the day only to find a hole in her empty pocket.

Taking responsibility for your actions and working hard to succeed, are important issues in this Judy Moody which is ideal for readers of the 9+ age group.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Bitter Chocolate

Bitter Chocolate by Sally Grindley (Bloomsbury)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 9780747595021
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Sierra Leone and Liberian war breaks out. Children are the main victims. Ten year old Pascal is one of them. Life as he knew it collapses after the rebels attack his village killing his father. He is forced to flee for his life.

The story is woven into non-sequential chapters which reflect the flashes of Pascal’s fragmented memories. He is drugged by his captors after being abducted in the forest. His metamorphoses into a boy soldier that kills on command follows. His tormented memories alternate between this terror, and the time he spent with a large group of boys on the cocoa plantations. There they were all subjected to physical and emotional abuse, deprivation, and inhuman conditions.

 When dreaming of these horrors, Pascal holds onto one glowing light through all the misery. His longing to one day be reunited with his remaining family members.

This heartbreaking story addresses the tragedy of children of war, and the powerful role of hope.  It is suitable for the 12+ age group.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Black Spring

Black Spring by Alison Croggon (Walker Books)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 978-1-921977-48-0
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

With opening Black Spring, you immediately know you have stepped into another Wuthering Heights. That’s because this outstanding novel was inspired by that book. Alison Croggon has created a verbal and visual masterpiece. The sheer beauty of the magnetic prose and the outstanding descriptions of the rugged natural world won’t allow you to stop reading before the end. It is told in first person narrative by three of the main characters, Hammel, Lina and Anna.

It begins with the narrative of Hammel a poet/writer, who has gone to Elbasa, ‘a hamlet in the centre of the northern plains’ of the hinterlands, for solitude and to complete a manuscript of poems. He has unknowingly entered a den of evil and violence, betrayal and revenge, and ruthlessness, obsession and conflicting passions that envelope the lives of all the people at the Red House. But it is also a place of loyalty and unconditional love.

The story is spellbinding; made more so by the fantastic elements of the supernatural emanating from the character of Wizard Ezra and Lina, and the unrelenting demands of the Blood Laws and their Vendettas. ‘With Vendetta, a man must pay in two ways, with Blood Tax and with his life’.

It has extraordinary and powerful monologues throughout the book. If deconstructing, you might discover that this is also about the controlling role of men and their laws for the subjugation of the female gender, and the absolute suffocation of all their natural passions and feelings.

To try to elaborate further would do an injustice to a magnificence piece of work. I simply say, read this book! And look out for more of the author’s work.

For those who don’t know this author, she is more than an Australian writer. Alison Croggon is the author of The Books of Pellinor, a fantasy quartet, and a widely published poet. She has written and performed nine works for the theatre, including operas and plays. Alison is the founding editor of Masthead, a literary arts journal, and a critic, who trained as a journalist on the Melbourne Herald. She has also been published internationally.

Friday, 14 December 2012

The Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time

A Mutiny in Time (Infinty Ring) by James Dashner (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-545–38696-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Dak Smyth and Sera Froste are best friends, thrown into a whirlwind of adventure and time travel. When they discover the powerful Infinity Ring they lose Dak’s parents somewhere in the past and discover the Hystorians a group more mysterious than the SQ. Through the Hystorians the two children learn that the world’s fate is in their hands. They must travel through time to fix all the breaks in history.

The reader experiences a vague sense of unease in Sera and Dak’s world, as if all is not quite as it should be. This feeling increases with each mention of the SQ, with the apparent normality of the children’s intelligence, and with the frequency of natural disasters. But it is not until they go back in time to fix a break in history that the reader begins to discover just how off kilter the world has become. This book is concerned with one history break, the mutiny of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America, but subtle hints about other breaks left me keenly anticipating the next book in the series, eager to discover where else history may have gone off course. It left me wondering about the what-ifs of historic outcomes such as elections, battles and discoveries. Events which determine who holds the power in the world.

A Mutiny in Time is packed with history, danger and time travelling fantasy. Dak, Sera and Riq are likable characters with recognisable flaws. They struggle to come to terms with (and apply their incredible intellect to) the extraordinary task they have been assigned to. But while they are out there in the world, seeing and smelling the past, they make the most of exploring and enjoying the adventure.

A Mutiny in Time is the first book in the multi-platformed adventure series, The Infinity Ring. Set out in a similar way to the popular 39 Clues series, each book - written by a different author - relates one part of the adventure undertaken by the three children in an effort to save the world. This book comes with a secret Hystorians Guide in a pocket marked Top Secret! Open only after you’ve completed A Mutiny in Time. This map reveals a code that allows access on to a new adventure which the reader may embark upon. This adventure picks up directly where the book has left off.

Although it starts off a little slowly, once the story takes off it is hard to put down until the end. This is a thrilling read for eight to fourteen year olds. Come and join the adventure.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Truly Tan

Truly Tan by Jen Storer, illustrated by Claire Robertson (Harper Collins)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9780733331213
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This book should be marked – Be warned! Contains extremely funny matter and is highly suitable for both genders in the 8-12 age group. It is light- hearted with terrific characters, mystery, and entertainment on every page.

Tan, the narrator, is curious, questioning, and reflective. She is an amateur detective with three sisters - Emerald, Amber, and Rose, whom she calls the lollipops. There is a collection of pets: Q V the tortoise, Babbles the parrot, E the cat, Doodad, Amber’s cat, and Tan’s dog, Awesome. Dad is a vet and mum writes about food for a magazine.

The family moves from the city to the country, but the girls aren’t happy about this decision. On arrival, they find the dodgy removalists have dumped their furniture and belongings on the veranda and grass and left. They see it as a bad start to a bad idea.

In no time at all, Tan has more on her mind than their change of environment. She meets Ted who invites the girls to enter his ‘circle of truth’ on a promise not to reveal his secrets. Thus they join the Chosen Few. Ted’s sister, Jem, lives in a creative world of her own design.  All the girls are invited into Purple Haunt, Jem and Ted’s spooky cubbyhouse, which is painted purple and decorated with a dead fox, skulls of dead animals, has stairs and a veranda. Suddenly, life becomes interesting again.

Tan’s diary entries slowly reveal her changing feelings about country life. She finds an old tree house which she cleans out with her dad’s help. Here she sets up her new World Headquarters, which houses her telescope, binoculars, a real Spy ‘n Pry magnifying glass, and her Secret Spy Files which contain all her observations about people and unusual happenings. This will later include the curse of the dead fox, and Wandering Wanda, a ghost that won’t rest.

But Tan has a lot of sorting out to do. She is the new girl at school and she misses her best friend. Lily steps into the role too easily but proves a fickle friend when the popular Verity Crisp returns from holidays. Tan’s cat skeleton at show and tell causes uproar in the classroom, and finally, Tan finds a real new friend in Gloria.

What with the drop dunny out back of the cubbyhouse, spooks, and trying to solve the mysteries of Wandering Wanda and the haunting of Purple Haunt, much is added to the Secret Spy Files.

The book is more than a great read. Unfamiliar words and their definitions are displayed within an illustration of graph paper stuck with tape. The reader can visualize the people they’re reading about through the character illustrations. Thankfully, this is not the end of Tan for so much more can be explored through the characters and their escapades. Truly Tan: Jinxed will be available in May 2013. I feel that this also, will not be the end.

Eve and Adam

Eve and Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate (hardie Grant EGMONT)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 9781405264341
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Evening Spiker is thinking of an apple when a street car slams into her. With this we are launched into a horrific accident and into Eve’s mind as she lives through the event. It is a compelling beginning to a story that is filled with medicine, technology and intrigue.

Eve is whisked away from the public medical system and into the laboratory of her famous medical research mother. A place Eve has rarely spent any time. Eve makes a miraculously quick recovery and we are launched into the complex world of medical technology, test cases and morality. Eve’s mother is a strong determined dominating woman who is surrounded by success, wealth and a number of mysterious deaths.

Solo is a good-looking guy just older than Eve who lives at the research facility. As their friendship develops they discover their lives have been linked all along. We travel through this story alternating between the first person perspective of Eve and then Solo. Eventually we also have Adam’s perspective.

In an attempt to keep her daughter (and her fast recovery) out of the public eye Eve is given an indoor task – create the perfect boy. Just as an exercise on some new technology, of course  So Eve gets to create Adam. As Eve plays with the technology we get a fun quick lesson on genetics – a gene for jealousy, height, hair colour, sweet tooth, restless energy, age and lifestyle. Eve can slide a bar for all of the genetic inputs to see the effects it has on Adam's body.

When Adam – the perfect partner, comes to life the story takes another change. Eve is confronted with her perfect creation and many moral issues are faced. The importance of a name, a history, do creators always fall in love with their creations, etc. The book has a great premise and makes for an interesting read. It is a medical thriller for teens and the story full of characters and twists definitely keeps the pages turning.

Written by the highly successful husband and wife team Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate. It is their first joint release since 2001. They have every technology a writer can; twitter, Facebook and websites. So delve into the big questions – what genetic features would your perfect partner have? Not a bad question for teens and adults to ponder.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas by David Almond, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Walker Books)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781406320763
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Stan has lived with Uncle Ernie and Aunt Annie since his parents died. After the shipyard closes, Ernie reinvents himself with a passion. He turns his home into a fish-canning factory and makes an excellent living. But (DAFT) the Department of Abolition of Fishy Things is determined not to let Ernie escape their net, regardless of the success of his creation. These plans will play out as a sub-story full of comical situations and dialogue, and great laughs.

Stan is a thinker therefore there are many things that he can’t understand. He also feels things deeply. His uneventful life is commandeered by Ernie who has inveigled the boy into leaving school to work on the machines. On his birthday, life-changing events propel Stan towards becoming the person he longs to be.

 It begins when Aunt Annie declares a day off for Stan and hands over some spending money. He wins a goldfish from the hook-a-duck stand at the visiting fairground. Then he rescues the remaining dying goldfish from the owner, Mr Dostoyevsky. Stan immediately feels an emotional bond with the fish that are miraculously able to communicate with him.

Back at the factory, Ernie’s passion is now an obsession and he sees Stan’s goldfish as a new money-making enterprise. While Stan is sleeping, he cans them all except one. This action is the catalyst for Stan’s decision to leave home and escape with the fairground people.

Stan’s unusual dedication to the goldfish has a strange effect on Mr Dostoyevsky and also in time, on his difficult, moody daughter, Nitasha, and on many others of which he is unaware of. There are other sub-stories within which changes are also taking place parallel to the changes in Stan.

When Stan finally meets up with the ageing but famous Pancho Pirelli and his tank of piranhas he realizes the tremendous turn his life has taken. Pancho Pirelli teaches Stan that ‘we can become something special if we put our minds to it’, and Stan proves it by jumping into the piranha tank; a metaphor for overcoming his fears.

The voice of the author addressing the reader at the beginning of each chapter acts as a special effect on the story. The metaphors and allusions weaving through the dialogue add greater substance to the work. Oliver Jeffers’ thoughtful illustrations blend harmoniously with the text and the cover is highly entertaining, just like the book. Poignant and moving, David Almond has again created a work of art.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

May Produce Gas (World of Norm)

May Produce Gas (World of Norm) by Jonathan Meres (Orchard/Hachette)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781408323601
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Former comedian, Jonathan Meres has written a third funny book for nine-year-olds plus revolving around the character of Norm, who appears slightly dim and definitely bewildered by his small world.
His father worries about greenhouse gas and the story begins with Norm being blamed for global warming for not turning off his computer or putting too much water in the kettle to boil. Norm thinks it is more about saving money rather than energy as his dad is out of work. He's not too worried about his dad's punishment threats as he never follows through. Meanwhile, Mikey, his friend who is already thirteen, worries about getting hormones which leads Norm to having a chat with Grandpa. But he comes away more confused than ever.
Meres uses the ordinary concerns of family life and becoming a teenager to produce a clever and humorous story which will give young readers a glimpse into puberty e.g., needing deodorant and becoming aware of girls. He includes parental worry about Norm's younger sibling Dave, and Norm's reactions to discovering both Dave and Brian are victims of bullying. All the dilemmas are easy to relate to and young readers will thoroughly enjoy Norm's way of tackling them, or not. They will no doubt grab on to Norm's favourite word, 'flipping' and invent words similar to abso-flipping-lutely!
Complete with lots of black and white illustrations, this light-hearted novel is a pleasing length of 275 pages. Kids will be sorry when they reach the end. An excerpt from the first book will get them scurrying to the book store.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Rocket into Space

Rocket into Space by Ragbir Bhathal and Johanna Davids (National Library of Australia Publishing)
HB RRP 19.95
ISBN 9780642277510
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Pre-school children and early readers can set out on a wonderful space adventure with Maddy and Jack in another superlative book from the NLA (National Library of Australia).  In this pull-the-flap and fold out interactive book, children discover the amazing world of space and the solar system while Maddy and Jack travel across the pages in their red rocket.

The information is relayed through brief, clear facts that accompany the pictures. Bold colours, large fonts and outstanding images grace every page. The reinforced pages cater to easy handling by young hands.

There is so much to see. The journey begins with the Sun, its distance from Earth in kilometres, its diameter, and the average surface temperature. The last is included with every planet picture. There are eight stops after that – one for each planet with significant facts hidden under flaps and pull outs. Three more references cover Asteroids, Comets and The Milky Way.

Children can undertake the projects that are at the end. One entails making a crater. There is a list of what you will need and instructions on how to do it. The second shows how the Sun shines on the Earth to create night and day. There is Name a Comet or an E.T.

The author of this superb production Dr Ragbir Bhathal is an award-winning author and astrophysicist. His latest books are Australian Backyard Astronomy and Aboriginal Astronomy. This book has been created in collaboration with his wife, Johanna Davids. It has been published by NLA Publishing ‘as a contribution to the 2012 National Year of Reading’.

Astronomy is an area well represented in the NLA by their outstanding and ‘diverse collections of beautifully illustrated charts, posters, maps, drawings and photographs of celestial objects that go back to the seventeenth century’. The images in this book and more can be seen online at the National Library of Australia’s website.  

Full House: An Invitation to Fractions

Full House: An Invitation to Fractions by Dayle Ann Dodds, illustrated by Abby Carter (Walker Books)
PB RRP 44.95
ISBN 978-0-7636-6090-1
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

With illustrations in watercolour and black coloured pencil accompanying the rhyming verse, Full House is a simplified introduction to fractions presented in a delightful and entertaining manner. Aimed at the 6+ age group and designed in the Big Book format (dimension 343 X 360mm), it is created to be used in classrooms as well as in the home surrounded by children at floor or table level.

Mrs Bloom owns the Strawberry Inn which caters for five guests, in addition to a room of her own. She also allows animals to accompany the guests. She’s lucky enough to fill every room, and a full house gives her great joy. Dinner is cooked and served but unfortunately the best part is forgotten.

So, at night when everyone is supposed to be asleep, Mrs Bloom hears noises - amidst whispers, muffles and shuffles, shadows on walls make their way to the kitchen. Dogs and cats sit around with the humans enjoying the dessert of strawberry cake ‘with whipped cream piled high’ that has been forgotten. Luckily, they leave a piece for Mrs Bloom!

With each increase of another guest to the rented rooms, there is a change in the fraction. This is highlighted in a blue box at the bottom of the page after the guest has occupied the room. Superb animated expressions light up the characters faces. There is extraordinary detail on every page which is like a zoom lens which makes the illustrations more alive because of the size of the book. The story is simple, happy, and entertaining. There is so much to notice on every page, and makes the interplay of reading and learning fractions a game. The delightful front cover introduces Mrs Bloom holding her special cake with her Strawberry Inn in the background.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Secret Breakers - Orphan of the Flames

The Orphan of the Flames (Secret Breakers) by H.L. Dennis (Hodder/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99

ISBN 9780340999622 
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Orphan of the Flames is the second book in the Secret Breakers series in which a team of code-breakers tries to discover the secret lying behind the ancient Voynich Manuscript. Discovered in 1912 by William Voynich, it was written entirely in a code that has never been deciphered. It was donated to Yale University in 1969 and registered as MS 408.
Team Veritas consists of Brodie, Hunter and Tusia, backed up by several adults, including Mr Bray, Brodie's grandfather. They began their work from Station X at Bletchley Park, the secret code-breaker site of WWII. Level Five of the Ministry of Information (the Black Chamber) wants to prevent anyone breaking the code of MS 408.
Orphan of the Flames opens with Brodie receiving a parcel. Inside is a small dragon statue which turns out to be an incendiary device sent by the Black Chamber to discourage the team from their task. It destroys the house belonging to Brodie's grandfather. Nevertheless, the team carry on, concentrating on a musical box that plays a tune by the composer, Edward Elgar who, significantly, loved codes. Within his music score, The Enigma Variations, Elgar has encoded various people he knew, including his pet dog. He also wrote a coded letter to a girl, Dorabella. The Dorabella Cipher has never been solved.
As the team follow a trail of clues towards breaking the Dorabella Cipher, the storyline weaves around historical incidents such as medieval bookburnings in Florence committed by Savronela, and a mystery boy known as the Orphan of the Flames. On the way the team picks up a new member, Sheldon. They believe solving each complicated mystery code will eventually lead them to the truth about MS 408.
Not being of a mathematical mindset which seems essential to code-breaking, I found this story somewhat of a challenge. There was also a large number of secondary characters which lead me to the conclusion that the series needs to be read from book one to readily appreciate their roles. One asthmatic character was nicknamed Sicknote, and to me quite revolting, but kids may love it.
The strength of the storyline definitely lies with the code-cracking and the author's love of history gives it an educational touch which is deftly incorporated. A plus is the interesting reference at the back of the book describing the authentic historical elements which were the inspiration behind this six-book series.
Orphan of the Flames is sure to appeal to readers who love puzzles and deciphering mystery codes. 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Out for Blood

Out for Blood by Kristen Painter (Orbit/ Little, Brown/Hachette)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780356502106
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Vampires, fallen angels, ghosts, and shifters are integral to the House of Comarré Series of which this book is the fourth. The urban fantasy revolves around a race of humans bred to feed vampire nobility, called comarrés.
Chrysabelle, a commaré, has been ordered by the Kubai Mata to rescue a child kidnapped by the leaders of the vampires, otherwise Mal, who is very close to her, will be regarded as enemy number one. Lola, the mayor, whose deceased daughter is the mother of the stolen child, also wants the child in her clutches. She declares a curfew in Paradise City in the hope of controlling the othernatural population. In so doing, Doc, a close friend of Chrysabelle and Mal is captured. Mal risks death in saving him, and Chrysabelle, in turn, goes to his rescue. She has powers she does not understand but they have given her the ability to return to life after dying. Chrysabelle is relying on these powers to aid her in the recapture of the child, Lilith, and also to rescue Damian, the brother she has been searching for.
Not having read the previous books, I was bewildered by the lack of retrospective detail to grasp the storyline, especially as it abounds in fantasy words equal to my knowledge of Russian - zilch! However, a small reference list at the rear of the novel did provide some answers and the intriguing scenario in the opening pages encourages going with the flow.
For a start, I liked the name choices, three of which seem to be derived by the omission of one letter, e.g., Chrysabelle (Chrystabelle?) Jerem (Jeremy?) Maddoc (Maddock?) but also disliked her use of three names beginning with D which made me have to rethink who these characters were. But it is the author's prolific details of the emotional and physical responses of a vampire which is fascinating, along with the unreal abilities of other supernaturals. Painter's imagination expands way beyond the basic point that vampires drink blood. It is as if she opens a window into their private world. There is also a glamorous touch to her work.
Although I found the dialogue to be stilted in parts and sometimes there was a tendency to over-explain, Painter shows expertise in creating gripping action, and the passionate scenes stop short of the graphic, strengthening the romance factor. 

I found the normal human elements - cars, chocolates, city buildings etc. grounded this near-future story but wondered about the use of laudanum to inhibit the victims a little at odds with the magical elements which Painter conjures up. Why not call the drug something else? But perhaps this, too, was to give the readers a name they would readily understand, albeit one from over a century ago.

There is more for fantasy fans to look forward to in this entertaining series. Watch for Last Blood.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Inside and Out and Back Again

Inside and Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 4941 9
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

This is the story of a year in Ha’s life. Written in verse to portray her Vietnamese thoughts, this semi-autobiographical piece begins with snippets of her life in a privileged family in Saigon as a ten year old. But it is not carefree, as the family live under the shadow of their absent father, missing in combat, and a not-too-distant war.

Ha is otherwise a typical kid. She has her flaws, her conflicts with siblings. When trusted to shop for groceries in the market, she skimps on quantities in order to buy herself treats with the change. She longs for the delicious fruit of her papaya tree to ripen. But before she can enjoy them, the army marches into Saigon. The family is torn between remaining where her missing father may find them, and fleeing for safety. They eventually cram into a crowded boat headed for the US, abandoning the life they knew.

Moving to America turns her life upside-down, hence the title. Lai portrays the culture shock sensitively and with humour. The family are sponsored by a man who wears a cowboy hat but has no horse. The first Asians encountered by most in the small town in Alabama, the family meet both generosity and cruelty. Ha is confused by the smell and colour of her first hot dog, unlike any food she has ever experienced.

Sensitively written while avoiding any self pity, Lai writes of Ha’s humiliation, school ground bullying and her ultimate triumph. She is a survivor, not a victim.

As an adult, I found her literary style excellent, and her portrayal of a childhood in Vietnam and subsequent displacement, compelling. Comparisons to Amy Tan are inevitable.

This story of resilience is Lai’s first book, and won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in the US, and was a 2012 Newbery Honor book.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Moon Shines Out of the Dark

The Moon Shines Out of the Dark by Stephanie Dowrick, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas
(Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74237-565-6
Reviewed by Ann Harth ( )

Harry loves the moon. He loves thinking about it and he loves looking at it. Once he asked his mum for a ladder long enough to reach the moon. “Will you hold the ladder steady while I climb?” he says. Mum promised.

Harry likes to know what’s going to happen. “It’s time to get up, Harry,” Mum says. “It’s time for the bus, Harry,” Mum says.

But Mum’s away. Harry goes to work with his dad and plays with his friends at school. It seems like Mum’s been away forever.

On this night, Harry’s room is dark. He hops from his bed and onto the cold floor. He and looks out the window. The moon hides behind thick clouds. Harry wishes he could pull them apart like curtains. The night is dark without the moon but as he watches, the clouds part and the moon shines out of the dark.

He hears footsteps and his bedroom door opens. Mum is hugging him and he is smiling. “It’s time to sleep now, Harry,” Mum says.

This book will appeal to children 4-8 and parents of all ages. Harry is a believable character and many children will be able to identify with his comfort in guidelines, his dreams of a ladder that reaches the moon and even his cold nose and feet as he stands in his dark bedroom.

The Moon Shines Out of the Dark is a gentle book about a little boy who misses his mum. The language is simple and clear and the combination of Stephanie Dowrick’s prose and Anne Spudvilas’ soothing and effective water colours will create a cocoon of warmth and safety around a child as he drops off to sleep. I highly recommend this book.

Bestselling author, Stephanie Dowrick is a spiritual activist and public speaker as well as an interfaith minister. Family and the quality of relationships are important to her and much of her writing illustrates this. She has written many books on spiritual and personal development. The Moon Shines Out of the Dark is the first picture book she has written for many years. For more information on Stephanie Dowrick, visit

Anne Spudvilas’ illustrations bring an additional element of warmth and tenderness to this story. Anne Spudvilas is an award-winning illustrator for children’s picture books as well as a courtroom artist for the Melbourne media. The Race was awarded the Crichton Award for Illustration and CBCA (Children's Book Council of Australia) Honour Book. Jenny Angel was chosen as CBCA Picture Book of the Year and was also shortlisted for the NSW Premiers Award. For more information on Anne Spudvilas visit

Ann Harth is a published children's author and writing tutor at Australian College of Journalism. She loves to read and is committed to creating children's literature that inspires, entertains and triggers a tiny twist in the mind. Her latest middle-grade novel, The Art of Magic, is available from Amazon.


Sunlight by Josie Montano (Summer Solstice Publishing)
Ebook RRP $1.99
ISBN: 9781301922321
Reviewed by Nina Lim

It’s hard enough being 16 at the best of times let alone when your boyfriend’s not speaking to you, your Dad is depressed, your Mum is gone, and you’ve been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. All this and more is experienced by Paulini during a summer she will never forget.

Josie Montano deftly weaves together a cast of memorable characters. There is the dramatic Greek grandmother, the stern nurses, Paulini’s friends and enemies. We explore how Paulini deals with her diagnoses and treatment, her dreams and fantasies, and the impact that being seriously ill has on her and those close to her. There are several themes running through the story including friendship, love, relationships and life itself.

This book is suitable for teens and young adults. It has serious themes that are explored in a sensitive and thought-provoking way.  Paulini is an engaging character and she will stay with the reader long after they have put the book down.

Nina Lim is an author and creator of fun and fabulous storybook apps, available for the iPhone and iPad.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Good Night, Sleep Tight

Good Night, Sleep Tight by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-257-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

It is bedtime, and Bonnie and Ben are told a goodnight rhyme by their favourite babysitter Skinny Doug. When they request it again he replies ‘No’:
“But I’ll tell you another
I heard from my mother:”
and he recites another rhyme.

Where is the Green Sheep? is a long time favourite and it is great to see another book by this author/illustrator combination. Mem Fox is always a joy to read aloud and Good Night, Sleep Tight is especially fun with its changing rhythm and pace - from the text of the main story, to the nursery rhymes and back to Bonnie, Ben and Skinny Doug.

The illustrations by Judy Horacek are bright and energetic. She blends beautifully the world of Bonnie and Ben with the action of the nursery rhymes by involving the children in the rhyming worlds. Bonnie’s stuffed horse becomes their steed in This is the Way the Ladies Ride, and the children, along with their babysitter, ride into the picture at the end of the line of ‘ladies, gentlemen and farmers’. Horacek also manages to balance the lively illustrations and characters with the bedtime atmosphere.

Good Night, Sleep Tight has great rhyme, rhythm and repetition. Young children will find familiarity in the seven classic nursery rhymes such as Good Night, Sleep Tight, Pat-a-Cake and It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, as recited by Skinny Doug. The characters are fun and engaging and the message, of stories before sleep, is beautifully and simply portrayed. It makes a wonderful bedtime story for the under fives.

Ruby Redfort: Take Your Last Breath

Take Your Last Breath (Ruby Redfort) by Lauren Child (Harper Collins)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780007334087
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

 Ruby is a genius, recruited by spy agency Spectrum for her ability to crack codes and puzzles, after their ace code breaker was murdered by the villainous Count Von Viscount. She is courageous and daring with written rules which instruct her life. Hitch, an experienced agent, works as butler in the Redfort household in order to protect Ruby. Clancy Crew is Ruby’s best friend and the only person who knows about her secret life.

Strange and unusual things are happening in Twinford. Flocks of seagulls have descended in the city area. Dolphins discovered in the harbour refuse to return to sea.  It appears that someone is tampering with the radar signals and there is strange marine activity in the sea. Is it the asteroid that’s passing close to earth causing these happenings, or something more sinister?

Ruby’s family line is linked to mysteries; stories of ghosts, shipwrecks and pirate treasure. When her parents are thrown overboard by pirates whilst on a trip around Twinford Bay, Ruby needs all her skills, gadgets and Clancy’s help to find answers to more than the strange and unusual happenings in the town.

This book is a combination of mystery, adventure, and complex spy story with delicious sub stories. It will have readers hooked. It has fantastic characters, clever dialogue and super gadgets. Fast-paced and full of tension, the legends of the deep, pirates, priceless treasures, murderers and sea monsters, all vie for centre stage with the life-threatening situations.

Lots of codes and puzzles have been created specifically for this series by ‘super geek consultant’ Marcus du Sautoy, Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, another genius. (Examples of these are found at the end of the book to challenge the reader even more).

Lauren Child, after years of worldwide success with Charlie and Lola and Clarice Bean, has cleverly advanced to an older reader age group. This is the second Ruby Redfort book. The highly acclaimed Look into My Eyes (Ruby Redfort) was released last year.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Parvana’s Promise

Parvana's Promise by Deborah Ellis (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 13-978-1-74331-298-8
Reviewed by Ann Harth

Fifteen-year-old Parvana, living in post-Taliban Afghanistan, is found alone in the remains of a bombed out school. American authorities seize her and treat her as a suspected terrorist. She is questioned, threatened and mistreated. During the ordeal, Parvana remains silent. She provides no information and never raises her voice to defend herself or explain her proximity to the destroyed school.

Told from the point of view of Parvana, we begin with her imprisonment and her stoic silence as she deals with the uncertainty of her future as a prisoner. Although she says not a word to her captors, her memories are portrayed in alternating chapters and take the reader on a vivid and emotional journey through the events leading up to the bombing of her beloved school.

Parvana, alongside family and friends, takes a leadership role in the battle against powerful forces opposed to Afghani girls’ right to an education. Her story illustrates one girls’ decision to turn her back on her own safety and comfort so she can fight for the good of her people.

Parvana’s Promise takes the reader on a journey through determination and courage as Parvana remembers her past and keeps her silence in the face of her fear.

The first two books in this trilogy, Parvana, a young girl’s efforts to make a life for herself in Afghanistan and Parvana's Journey, a quest to find her family, lead us to Parvana’s Promise which continues the story of Parvana’s struggle for survival and rights as a girl living in Afghanistan.

Many of Deborah Ellis’s award winning books are based on personal experiences and her own observations of women and children in countries steeped in military and social chaos. Her voice is clear, honest and paints a disturbing but courageous picture that is not often seen outside of these regions. For more information on Deborah Ellis, please visit

Ann Harth is a published children's author and writing tutor at Australian College of Journalism. She loves to read and is committed to creating children's literature that inspires, entertains and triggers a tiny twist in the mind. Her latest middle-grade novel, The Art of Magic, is now available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Star

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Star by P. Crumble, illustrated by Louis Shea (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-330-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

‘There was an old lady who swallowed a star.’
Now if you think that’s bizarre, read on as she polishes of larger and larger items including an elf, fairy lights, and eventually, Santa Claus himself!

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly has captured the imagination of children for decades and I’m sure some adults can still recite this whole poem. Such a silly and humorous premise with an easy and familiar rhythm has spawned many picture book variations. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed A Star is a Christmas version.

Unfortunately the rhythm doesn’t quite work for me after the first two layers of the poem. It is uneven and awkward, hard to read aloud. I have read and enjoyed many other P. Crumble books, but the text in this one doesn’t flow.

The illustrations by Louis Shea are intense, and at times a shade on the scary side, but this is not a book for pre-schoolers and should be engrossing for primary students. I imagine they will respond with humour, rather than anxiety to images such as the elf who hides fearfully behind the table just before he is swallowed by the old lady.

And the detail in the illustrations is great. On the first page the old lady sits up in bed yawning, which is when the star drops into her mouth. On the wall is a framed photo of the old man and his chook from a previous book by this author and illustrator There Was an Old Man Who Swallowed a Chook. There are two cheeky mice that can be found on most pages doing something naughty. And I love the spines on the books in the book case: Captain Corelli’s Mandarin, Oliver Twisty, Pride and Prune Juice and many, many more.

It will catch the eye of children between the ages of 7 and 12 with its lenticular moving image cover. As you tilt the book in different directions, the Old Lady climbs to the top of the Christmas tree to eat the star. It will appeal to their sense of humour and the detail in the illustrations will entertain.

This is an enjoyable book, just don’t expect it to be an easy read aloud for pre-school children.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Ibarajo Road

Ibarajo Road by Harry Allen (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-84780-320-7
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The story opens with a shocking scene Charlie witnesses on his way to school. Two children are run over by a car as they play a dangerous game of dare in the busy street. The driver is hauled from the car, attacked by bystanders, then ‘necklaced’ with a tyre.

Charlie is a student at an elite American school in West Africa. His father’s work has sent him from Hampshire and all the modern conveniences of life, to an area of abject poverty. Charlie is easily influenced by Max and his group of followers, who ridicule and belittle Guppy, a fellow student with a pronounced limp due to a birth defect. Despite this, Guppy likes being with Charlie for he sees his true nature.

Charlie must fit in, regardless of feeling uncomfortable doing as the others do. For this reason he agrees to go to a prohibited bar at Max’s suggestion, and against his parents’ wishes, while they are away. This evening changes his and Guppy’s life forever because of the brutality of the events that occur and the following outcome.

Threatened with expulsion from school with his diploma at stake, Charlie agrees to his mother’s suggestion to volunteer at a refuge that shelters lepers, addicts, homeless and orphans. Guppy, having met the same fate as Charlie, accompanies him. Here the two boys see the hard side of life.

They learn that poverty forces good people to become bad and quickly discover how evil and corrupt the rich and powerful are, and how lawless the law keepers. They don’t realize how far the abuse of power and its manipulation extends until they are forced to take action themselves in order to save the refuge and their lives.

This is a profoundly moving, and confronting story about the obsession of power, the complete disregard for human life, and how far people will go to gain money and control over others. It is written in descriptive and flowing prose which brings the reader into the scenes of each chapter. The characters are strong and powerful, even in their weaknesses, and weak even when showing strength.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Little Mates: Christmas is Coming

Little Mates: Christmas is Coming by Susannah McFarlane, illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $4.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-168-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Christmas is coming to Crystal Creek. Chloe and Connor have much to do in preparation for the event. This story follows the delightful pair as they create Christmas cards, do the Christmas cooking, sing carols at the old chooks home, and then enjoy the day itself.

The alliteration is fun and although at first glance the verses appear to be a tongue twisters, clever construction makes the text playful, catchy and easy to read aloud. Both the language and the illustration create the happy atmosphere of a hot Aussie Christmas without the feeling of cliché.

There is so much to look at in the pictures. I love details such as floaties on the little wombat swimming in the creek. Make sure you look closely at Connor’s carefully composed wish list. As it is part of the Little Mates series, children may have encountered many of the characters which populate this Christmas addition. They will enjoy hearing about their new adventures.

It is a small book and would be perfect for popping in the post as a Christmas gift for pre-school aged friends and relatives overseas, as well as for those young children closer to home.

Friday, 30 November 2012

The Fire Chronicle (The Books of Beginning)

The Fire Chronicle: The Books of Beginning 2 (Books of Beginning) by John Stephens (Doubleday)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780857530875
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781446452325
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

This is the second title in John Stephen’s fantasy trilogy, The Books of Beginning. I have not read the first, but with its tempting title, The Emerald Atlas, and after now having read its sequel, The Fire Chronicle, my imagination is primed to go back to the beginning.

That said, for the first-time reader, Stephens has done a great job of weaving you into the story from the first pages, ‘the scream … the mist … burning yellow eyes’ … a boy tucked tight beneath the director’s desk at the orphanage and the last haunting words, ‘Where are the children?’

And so, we are whisked into the world of fifteen-year-old Kate and her younger siblings, Michael and Emma.

The three children have spent years in a string of miserable orphanages, ‘one next to a sewerage treatment plant,’ and The Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans where, ‘the water was brown and chunky.’ The children’s knowledge of their parents teeters at the edge of their existence, but there is magic afoot as we learn the existence of three books that have the ‘power to alter the very nature of existence, to reshape the world.’

We are given glimpses of the powerful sorcerer, the Dire Magnus, whose ‘power waxes and wanes … since the Books were created.’ His goal is to find the children who will bring the books together and fulfil the prophecy.

Kate, through the magic of the time-travel book (The Emerald Atlas) that she is guardian for, is separated from Michael and Emma. She is kidnapped into an Artful Dodger kind of world in New York in 1889. It’s New Years Eve and moments before The Separation, when the magic world that has been around forever disappears into the human world.

The chapters alternate between Kate’s journey and that of Michael and Emma, who are on the hunt for The Fire Chronicle. Michael is its chosen guardian, but he has to find the book, which is embedded in the magma chamber of an Antarctic volcano.

The fears and strengths of the children ebb and flow through their stories as they learn independence and survival through the use of their imaginations. Michael often quotes from his father’s last gift, The Dwarf Omnibus. ‘A great leader lives not in his heart, but in his head.’

This book makes thrilling reading and at times, I felt the magic pens of Philip Pullman, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lois Lowry and L. Frank Baum, such is the fine writing of the author and the imaginative adventures of the children.

American author, John Stephens, comes well equipped to writing for the YA reader of 11 and up, as he was the executive producer of Gossip Girl and a writer for Gilmore Girls and The O.C.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Aussie Christmas by Colin Buchanan, illustrated by Glen Singleton (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-367-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Over the years there have been many versions of the Christmas classic Twelve Days of Christmas and this is a really enjoyable addition to that assortment.

Beginning with a platypus up a gum tree, the countdown to Christmas is filled with iconic Aussie images such as footy fans, rusty Utes, cricket legends and meat trays.

The bright, cheerful illustrations enhance the fun and frivolity of the text, and indeed of Christmas itself, and bold clear colours impress summer on every page. Along with the heat, unique traditions of an Aussie Christmas come through strongly in the pictures of the backyard barbeques, cricket games, cheeky chooks and meat tray raffle. Everyone, people and animals, are having a fantastic Christmas. We’d all love a ‘best mate’ who could help provide this.

Included with the book is a sing along CD, complete with wobble board, performed entertainingly by Colin Buchanan. There is also an instrumental version for the adventurous souls.

Out in time for Christmas, this delightful book is aimed at pre-schoolers, but I think its appeal will stretch upwards many many years. And get ready to sing...

On the first day of Christmas, my best mate gave to me...
A platypus up a gum tree.