Sunday, 29 April 2012

In the Beech Forest

In the Beech Forest In the Beech Forest by Gary Crew, illustrated by Den Scheer (Ford St)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN 9781921665578
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A boy retreats from the beasts and heroes, unconquered and other, from within his computer games to venture into the forest for the first time to experience a real adventure. The beech trees are as unfamiliar as the untrodden path: primeval and haunting. This journey through the unknown is a test of courage for the boy.

Although imaginings flood through him, heightened by the strange sounds, and the images of bones created by the fallen branches, his courage pushes him forth. He recalls his fear of the darkness, and the dread of his computer characters coming to life when he closes his eyes to sleep. But his mind calms his fears by rationalizing each sight and sound.

A vibration beneath him rises and reaches him like a living, breathing thing; the heartbeat of nature. He comes across what he sees as ‘basalt runes from the dawn of time’. He could be within one of his games were it not for the heartbeat. He touches the earth and acknowledges the surrounding massive stone formations and the history of life they hold.

He now has seen things more powerful than those in his games and he connects with the primal force of the forest. He has conquered his fears.

There will be many interpretations of this story. Only the writer knows the truth. But does it really matter? The preciseness and beauty of Gary Crew’s prose remains unquestionable. He has aptly chosen Den Scheer, three times winner of the Artist of the Year Award from 2009 onward, to interpret his work in black and white using graphite and woodcutting. That she began this work at sixteen years old is testament to her great gift which hasn’t yet reached its full potential.

Den’s preference for her art work is graphite. The bold, exciting illustrations are framed within what appears to be stone. It’s a dark, macabre interpretation, gothic in its images, but breathtaking in its detail and expression. In the Beech Forest is another collectable work of art.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Butterfly

The Butterfly by Roger Vaughan Carr, illustrated by Ann James (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921977664
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is the story of a young girl named Malani and a beautiful butterfly. The story is told in poetic prose, a type that is stumbled upon when the issue is so delicate, that only words of this gentleness and beauty can portray what is needed to tell the tale.

It is a simple and clear example of the Chaos theory; of cause and effect. The slight movement of wings and the effect on everything around it reflects the unpredictability of nature.

The story takes us on a wind started by a wing as breath, and picked up and increased until it becomes a wind storm; ‘from a tiny wingbeat to a tornado’. But it’s the journey that’s magical.

First the vibrant splashes of watercolour against the page indicate the launch of the butterfly and the initial movement of wings. They are followed by the gentle shades of muted colours as it floats into a gentle wind. Then there is the sand and sky, as the wind moves over the sea. The trees and forests with fleeting deer are the increasing pace of the wind. The wind blows on, becoming the enemy of loose robes, lifting sand and blinding eyes.

Crossing the ocean the breeze ‘cooled but it did not calm’ and ‘did not stop to watch the waves’. Its next victims were the tall grasses across the cattle ranges through Peru, and out again ‘across the sea…to Australia’. It forges forth becoming a force as it ’bent and broke huge trees as it roared through the forests’.

As Malani and her father are confronted by this unpredictable act of nature, they are forced to flee. But the child was worried about the butterfly which the ‘wild wind had snatched’. And the butterfly was oblivious to the fact that a beat of its wings had caused the tornado. Nor did it know that ‘within its tiny wings (it) held strength enough to make even the mighty elephant tremble’.

There are many themes in this book and the opportunity to present to children many meaningful lessons on life and the way we look at everything.

The Butterfly was short-listed for the NSW Premier’s Award, 1997, and a Notable Book in the CBCA Awards Picture Books category of the same year. Roger Vaughan Carr is a Melbourne-born children’s author of over 60 books. Ann James the illustrator, was with her partner Ann Haddon, awarded the Pixie O’Harris Award for Distinguished Service to the Development and Reputation of Australian Children’s Books in 2000. In 2003, Ann also received the Dromkeen Medal.

This is another stunning story for collectors of extraordinary picture books.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Spitting Image

PB RRP $ 12.95
ISBN 978-1-921977-49-7
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Lightning Strikes is a terrific series of books for junior readers of both genders. They are by different authors with different topics. In Spitting Image we meet twins Helen and Charlie and toddler Abby, and Mum and Dad as they set out on a family outing. The destination is supposed to be the Zoo but they end up at Farmer Phil’s Fabbo Funtime Family Farm, aka a petting zoo.

The twins know it will be boring. They’d looked forward to poisonous snakes, reticulated pythons, even an anaconda. What they get is farm animals and alpacas, and even more boring events - or so they think.

Their parents mock their negativity and try to shift them into a positive mood by suggesting to Helen that she make use of her new camera to take photos of the animals. The complaints and groans continue. It is this new camera that causes her to fall into the alpaca enclosure which sets off a chain of unfortunate, catastrophic and chaotic events that are anything but boring.

It starts when Farmer Phil forgets to close the gate to the enclosure and the alpacas escape. They mix in with and frighten the cows that are halfway through an automated milking session. The cows try to escape and mayhem follows as the children try to round up the alpacas and experience all the animals’ oddities in the process. But then there’s the sheep dog trials, and the tangling of the rope attached to the alpaca with the mountain bike, and the list goes on.

This is a hilarious and unbelievably entertaining read.  It’s fast moving; unstoppable in fact until the last full stop. This is certainly a fabulous read for young people and older people who still nurture the child within and who enjoy a good laugh.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Do Not Forget Australia

Do Not Forget Australia by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Sonia Kretschmar (Walker Books)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN 9781921529863
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Just in time for Anzac Day! This beautiful book illustrated with mixed media, is a story for Primary School children (and adults that collect beautiful things) about war and remembrance. It is a wonderful learning tool and a reminder of the battle at Villers-Bretonneux.

Two boys, Billy in Melbourne and Henri in a village in France, simultaneously miss their fathers who have gone to fight in the First World War.

Henri cannot remember Australia when asked to name the continents. He only cares that his father is no longer there with him. Later, he only cares that he has to leave his home and all that he loves because the fighting has reached his village. On his return, Henri remembers Australia, because the Aussie soldiers have helped free their village which was won back on Anzac Day, 25 April, 1918. A soldier sits with him and talks about his boy Billy, far away in Australia. They exchange stories and Henri tells the man about his school being bombed.

Billy finally receives a card from his dad from Villers-Bretonneux. He had studied the battle his father had fought in. He learns about Henri and his village and is moved to help in some way.

Nine years later, Henri stands in the courtyard of the new school. All the children are wearing red poppies in their lapels. He reads the banner Do Not Forget Australia which hangs across the front. As if he ever could. At the same time, on the other side of the world, the headlines on Billy’s newspaper blaze with the announcement of the opening of a new school, built by the money sent by the soldiers who fought at Villers-Bretonneux.

In A Note from the Author at the end of the book, we are reminded that although the characters are fictional, ‘Villers-Bretonneux is very real’. It gives an easy to understand historical account of the battle and the fundraising for the people of France. It also refers to many other things connected to the site of the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux which commemorates all Australians that died during the First World War, and about the school that reopened in 1927. A valuable book for any home/collection produced with full page, full colour pictures, and an outstanding front cover.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Show No Fear and Go Bzrk: Michael Grant

Buzz Words is thrilled to be part of Michael Grant's Show No Fear and Go Bzrk blog tour of Australia and New Zealand. We put five quick questions to Michael about Fear and going Berserk:

BW: What is guaranteed to send you Berserk?

MG: Needles. Hate them.

BW: What is your deepest Fear?

MG: Poverty and not being able to care for my kids.  Also a long, slow, lingering death.  Oh, and of course like anyone I fear there may be another Chipmunk movie.  That keeps me up at night.

BW: How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

MG: Impatient, hard-working, imaginative.

BW: If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be and what would say to them?

MG: Hitler.  And I'd say, "Dude, if I buy some of your lousy paintings do you think you could stick to art and avoid the whole mass-murder thing?"

BW: How easy/hard was it to switch to beginning work writing your BZRK trilogy when you’d be so engrossed by the GONE world over the last few years?

MG: Surprisingly easy.  Imagine you have two wives. . . Okay, no, forget that.  Imagine you have two kids.  In fact, I have two kids.  I can spend time with them each, and appreciate them each.  Same thing with GONE and BZRK.  It never feels like either/or.  I like them both.

You can read the Buzz Words Books reviews of Fear, the fifth instalment of the Gone series; Plague  (the fourth instalment); and Lies (the third instalment). Jump on over to Michael Grant Downunder and check out all the other posts by Michael and the great book review blogs he visits.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Cinnamon Rain

Cinnamon Rain by Emma Cameron (Walker Books)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 978-1-921720-45-1
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Three young people experiencing chaos in their lives, how they deal with it and the journey they take is the basis of this extraordinary, moving and well –written verse novel. The story takes place over nearly three years which allows the reader to view the three characters’ lives, the choices they made, and the outcome of those choices.

It opens with Luke’s point of view. Through his voice we learn about the other two main characters, David, known as Bongo, and Casey, the girl they both love. There are other peripheral characters that also have meaningful roles but it’s these three that are the pivotal part of the novel.

The story opens up in the trio’s daily school routine where the characters are introduced and quite a bit of information about them and their lives filters in. It then moves seamlessly to incorporate their private lives and the issues that cause the dilemmas they are dealing with. Here the reader is swathed in layers of tantalising preparatory information about the three which sets up the entire book.

Luke is an intelligent boy who is trying to find his way in the world, just as the others are. But he feels there is an essential element missing from his relationship with his parents that leaves a space inside him. He admits ‘if I didn’t know better, I’d think I was adopted’. He is kind-hearted and compassionate, with an interest in helping others. He’s searching for a fulfilling role in life.

Bongo is a troubled soul. His stepfather bashes him and his mother is always in rehab but never healed. The social services have removed his little brother Dylan, and placed him in foster care. Bongo turns to drugs temporarily to escape his mother’s futile attempts to repair her life and therefore theirs. She walks out and it’s not until Bongo leaves his abusive home that he is able to make optimistic decisions about his life, all the while considering how to maintain a relationship with Dylan who is later adopted and seems to be slipping further and further from his life.

Casey is controlled by her father. Both she and her mother are overpowered by his domineering nature. Casey has always felt unwanted. She was the reason her parents married. ’I am their mistake’.  Her existence has always been a fierce contention between Casey and her father. She submits to his controlling decisions just to keep the peace. But she has a place in her head that he can’t influence or control. She too, finally finds the courage to leave home.

After Luke’s chapter, there are two other overlapping stages of the story by Bongo and Casey. We see what has become of them over that particular space of time, how they have evolved, matured and changed through their independence, and the results of their decisions.

The impact of how powerful this novel is because of its verse form, becomes clear right from the beginning. Emma Cameron has trimmed all the excesses off in this book and has kept only what is absolutely necessary to showcase the characters, their personalities, actions and lives, producing pages of sharp, precise and flawless prose.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Slog’s Dad

Slog’s Dad by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean (Walker Books)
PB RRP $27.95
ISBN 978-1-4063-3139-4
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Slog’s dad was a binman. He loved his family and his life, sang hymns as he walked and worked, and believed in Heaven and life after death.

When the first black mark appeared on his toe, he lost his leg in parts. It was replaced by a tin leg. When the black mark appeared on the toe of his other foot, and after that leg was gone, he sat in a wheelchair in the garden, still singing hymns. His wife nurtured and cared for him as she would a child.

When he got seriously ill, he promised Slog that he’d be back one more time, in the Spring, to see him.

In the Spring, after his father’s death, Slog sees a scruffy man resembling his father sitting on a park bench. He believes it’s his dad keeping his promise. Although his friend Davie doesn’t share Slog’s beliefs, he keeps his thoughts to himself. He believes it’s a conman trying to get a free meal. Davie tries to expose who he sees as an imposter.

But this man has legs; he knows things about Slog including his mother’s name. This knowledge confirms to Slog that it is his father. His appearance brings comfort and hope to the heartbroken boy, before he disappears forever from his life.

This is a story of loss, grief and the joyous comfort of hope and faith. It reflects on how humans, especially children, frequently create their own reality as a way to cope with grief and loss.

It is not just the text in Almond’s unique style that involves the reader’s mind and heart. It’s all the corresponding wordless, meaningful artworks that create a sub-story of their own in this part story, part graphic novel.

This book is the second collaboration between the winner of the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Award, Irish children’s writer, and multi-talented artist Dave Mc Kean. The previous was The Savage, another powerful book about grief.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Event: The Maurice Saxby Lecture

The NSW Branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia have organised a prestigious National Year of Reading Event, at the State Library of NSW on Tuesday 1 May at 6pm. THE MAURICE SAXBY LECTURE, to be presented by Professor Robyn Ewing, will honour the contribution made to Australian children's books by Maurice Saxby over more than sixty years. Bookings essential:

Monday, 16 April 2012


Who needs a premier to run literary awards? A group of volunteers led by Queensland authors Matthew Condon and Krissy Kneen, and supported by Avid Reader bookstore, have established the Queensland Literary Awards. 

The awards are now open for nominations in the same 14 categories as the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, including children’s and Young Adult, and close 6 May 2012. This year’s awards will have no prize money attached but the group considers it important to continue to recognise great literature and hopes that the awards may be re-established. For further information or to enter the awards go to

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Forget Me Not: The Story of One Family’s Voyage on the Titanic

It is one hundred years today that the opulent ocean liner RMS Titanic sank on her maiden voyage with the loss of 1514 lives. Neither she, nor her crew or passengers, will be readily forgotten.

PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781742032108
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Forget Me Not is a story created from fact about the fictional Gilmore family’s voyage on the Titanic in April 1912. Their experiences cover the eight days of their voyage and are narrated alternately by the voices of teenage siblings Thomas and Evelyn.

Thomas is excited about the trip to America. All their belongings have been sold and they are sailing towards a new life. Although the family is quite wealthy, they travel second class. Thomas soon meets Hugh and his sister Meggie, who are returning to America after a holiday in France with their parents. The four become daily companions and Thomas and Evelyn learn much about America, the people and lifestyle.

But Evelyn feels sorrow at having left all that is familiar behind, especially her dog Dash, and her two best friends, Clara and Mary-Jane, who have gifted her a leather-bound book in which to collect autographs. (These autographs open each chapter that Eve narrates) Increasing her despondency is an inexplicable feeling of dread. Evelyn also has her snappy mother to contend with. Nothing she does seems right. Her gender places restrictions on her, and she must care for her younger sister, Bea. Slowly, her mother’s reasons for being waspish and bitter are revealed.

There are moments of joy and exploration for the children, and their father is a great buffer between them and their mother’s abrupt words. They all meet up with interesting characters on board. Information on the daily happenings, descriptions of the ship and the crew, activities and gossip, flow through the narrative up till the events of the dismal day.

There is a two-page glossary of nautical terms at the end of the book. Welcome are the additional facts included which are similar to those presented in The Watch That Ends the Night by Alan Wolf. These include the biographies of actual people that were on board the Titanic, and a list of Australians on board (the survivors and those that weren’t recovered) There’s a breakdown of statistics of men, women and children in each Class which includes how many were saved, how many lost, and a Timeline of happenings from the 10th April to 1st September 1912.

There is no possibility of this historical event ever being forgotten. Even after one hundred years, Titanic fans still thirst for books to read on a disaster that continues to hold people spellbound.

More children's and YA titles featuring the sinking of the Titanic:

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf (Walker Books). Read the Buzz Words Books review here

"Titanic": The Ship of Dreams One from my own bookshelf: this is an outstanding creative non-fiction book with maps, journal entries, pop-outs and more to pore over.

Titanic Sticker Book

Titanic: An Edwardian Girl's Diary, 1912 (My Story S.)

Saturday, 14 April 2012


Fear by Michael Grant (Hardie Grant)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-5762-6
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The children of the FAYZ have survived loss, hunger, lies, and plague, all of which were accompanied by fear. Now the word fear takes on a new meaning when Darkness slowly swallows Perido Bay. All the former trials have returned in full force and cruelty and the search for control is transformed into something more horrible than ever. Everything that they had gained and learnt, is now lost within the lack of light.

On the other side of the barrier, Sam and Caine’s mother, Connie, has learnt that the barrier is to be blown up using nuclear weapons, which may kill the children on the other side. Betrayal and lies follow her discovery, but the children’s lives are at stake and she will do anything to prevent the blowing up of the barrier.

The gaiaphage has ordered the invincible Drake/Brittany to find a body for it to be reborn. With Astrid’s brother Pete no longer an obtainable vessel for rebirth, the focus has turned to Diana whose accelerated pregnancy speaks volumes. Her fear becomes terror when Drake comes and drags her back to the gaiaphage’s cave to give birth to her mutant child, which then is transformed into the new gaiaphage, aptly named Gaia.

Caine has paid the price for allowing Penny too much freedom. Her perverse and revengeful nature has turned on him and given him a taste of his own medicine. The rule of King Caine is toppled when the children see he has hands of cement and feet of clay.

Death again comes to the teenage population. It is a constant and accepted horror amidst a life of continuing horrors. Amidst these debilitating and confronting losses, Sam and Astrid at last consummate their relationship, the one beautiful thing amidst all the terror, death, hunger, lies, loss and fear.

Unfortunately, it is too little within the ugliness that results from the clearing of the Darkness. Although the parents cannot hear their children, they can now see them through the barrier. They witness the brutality of their offspring without having any understanding of its role in their survival. None of the children are the same as they were before the barrier went up. They are strangers to their families. On one side is shock and disbelief at the horror they see. On the other side it’s a fact of life. It’s about survival and justice.

This is the fifth book in the riveting and highly successful Gone series. The story concludes with Light, due in 2013. This series comes with a written warning that it ‘contains cruelty and some violence’.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Ladder to the Moon

Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Walker Books)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN – 978-1-4063-3773-0
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

This is a gentle, heartwarming story inspired by the author’s own daughter’s desire to have known her grandmother, who died before she was born. It opens with Sulailia asking what Grandma Annie was like. We learn that, like the moon, she was “Full, soft, and curious”  and “would have wrapped her arms round the whole world if she could.”  Sulailia yearns to meet her and, one night, Grandma Annie appears on a golden ladder at Sulailia’s bedroom window, arms open.

They climb the ladder to the moon and look down to Earth to see some frightening things: children caught in a tsunami, or climbing down two tall, trembling towers, or fleeing an earth that is shaking. From up so high, however, they are able to reach their arms out and bring all the children up to a better place, where there is room for all and their stories are shared so they learn they are all one and the same and certainly never alone with people like Grandma Annie to look out for them and help.

As they continue to make the afterlife kind and safe Sulailia looks down to see people on Earth in synagogues, temples, mosques and churches, with their hands joined in prayer. When she asks what they are all praying for her grandma says “For one another, and for us. And to make the fighting stop.”  The powerful words, combined with soft and warm, yet vibrant pastels, bring a sense of peace, giving readers much to marvel at and ponder over. It is a book suitable, and one I’d recommend, for every age and gender.

The language used by the author is lovely and Grandma Annie speaks beautifully, saying she and others will “throw in our hearts and minds, and work with our hands to make the land a little more kind.”  The reader learns that, together, we can “build bridges and buildings and bonds between people.”  With a strong sense of a woman’s love and compassion for all, the story reminds us how connected we are to one another and how, even though they have left his world, our loved ones will always stay connected to us.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Billie B Brown:The Copycat Kid

The Copycat Kid (Billie B Brown)
The Copycat Kid (Billie B Brown) by Sally Rippin (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $7.95
ISBN 978-174297141-4

Billie B Brown is a wonderfully strong honest character. We meet her dressed to impress and excited about having a new student in her class. The new girl has come from Japan and Billie has been assigned the important role of being the new girl’s buddy. She is excited and enjoys her first day of being a special friend. The second day brings a new and upsetting challenge for Billie – the new girl is copying everything she does. We follow Billie as she tries to deal with the situation.

Billie B Brown is an exciting, active and open little character. She loves colour (not just pink), has a boy as a best friend and serves as a positive role model. I recommend this story and series. The language throughout is age appropriate with new or difficult words printed in bold, encouraging readers to pay attention and determine their meaning. New concepts, such as writing in Japanese, are introduced and reinforced with graphics and an appropriate amount of repetition within the story. The narrator also speaks directly to the reader asking questions and encouraging thought and interaction.

Billie B Brown books have sold over 220,000 since their launch only 12 months ago. This story was a good read, encouraging and interesting. It is also accompanied by a colourful and easy to use website –

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns

Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns by Doug MacLeod, illustrated by Craig Smith (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-921504-43-3
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

This is a new full colour hardback release to celebrate the 26th anniversary of its first publication. Now, back by popular demand, a new generation can become acquainted by the sisters of Our Lady of Immense Proportions.

This book is a collection of funny, weird, warped, hilarious, mirthful, amusing, chuckle-worthy and even funny poetry.  Doug Macleod’s comic verse introduces us to Sister Madge Mappin and her fellow nuns. From Sister Bossy and her descent to warmer climes, to Sister Cristabel and the Cushion of Joy. ( I will never think of nuns in the same way.)

With the artwork of Craig Smith, detailed pen, ink and watercolour; the book is alive with colour. My favourite is the image of Sister Isobel in the pool with the ‘deadly fishes’.

A great picture book to read out loud. Suitable for the older reader, 7 and up. It will become a favourite for children that like ‘silly and naughty poetry’.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Alien Shores

Alien Shores: Tales of Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Australia and the Indian SubcontinentChildren’s authors Sophie Masson and Susanne Gervay are part of ALIEN SHORES, an anthology that reaches into the journey of refugees. ‘Alien Shores’ is cross over young adult – adult literature.

Alien Shores: Tales of Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Australia and the Indian Subcontinent will be launched by Deborah O’Neill, Federal member for Robertson, on Friday 18th May 2012, 6pm to 8pm at Erina Library

Light refreshments provided.

RSVP 17th May 2012 to (02) 4304 7500 or book online at

There will also be a launch of Alien Shores at The Hughenden Hotel, Woollahra. Bookings essential and must be received by 10th May:-

Date: Sunday 20th May
Time: 2-4 p.m.
Place: The Hughenden Hotel, 14 Queen St Woollahra
Parking: Plenty of parking at Centennial Parkland across the road

Head booking with: Launch 20th May 

Sunday, 8 April 2012


Try! by Sharon McGuinness, cover illustration by Tom Jellet (distributed by Palmer Higgs)
RRP eBook $6.95; flipbook $5.00
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Jesse is desperate to play rugby league but his mum isn't sure since Jesse is on the small side. He persists, convinces Mum, and wins over his team mates through persistence and training.

Tom Jellet's cover illustration in his trademark style brought a smile to my face as soon as I opened this eBook. The smiles kept coming as I read the story. McGuinness has written a gem of an early chapter book for rugby league and other sport fanatics. I'm not a league fan but I can understand passion for football being a big Aussie rules fan and that's exactly what comes across. I was with Jesse all the way in his quest to play the sport he loves, and it is sure to delight younger readers. The story ends not only with triumph for Jesse but with some all round good sportsmanship.

This book is an extension of a story published previously in The School Magazine and is dedicated to two children who pestered McGuinness, a teacher-librarian, for stories about rugby league. Try! is targeted at a level emerging readers can tackle themselves and its satisfying story will no doubt bolster a love of rugby league and reading.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

HB RRP $27.95
ISBN 978-0-7636-3703-3
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A hundred years from the sinking of the Titanic, Allan Wolf shows us that this event is still a subject not easily exhausted. He has gone to extraordinary lengths to prepare an unusual and fascinating personal view of a tragedy that shocked the world. It is also stylistically unique. The text is fashioned on the pages to complement the context of the prose – sometimes wavy, sometimes rhyming, always unpredictable, yet perfect in style.

The personal view is presented by twenty-five voices narrating their experiences. They are the voices of the passengers that survived (and others from ones that didn’t make it) from varying class decks, and those of the staff and crew of the liner which include the ship builder, captain, stoker, baker and countless others. We view these characters and their reasons for the voyage through narratives that are sharp and clear. Interspersed with the portentous, detached and cold voice of the Iceberg - we hear their fears and longings, strengths and weaknesses.

But there are painful and confronting narratives, such as the opening one from John Snow the Undertaker, which thrusts the reader inside the difficult but courageous role he owns. ‘To ease my queasy stomach, I am lying down atop the empty coffins stacked neatly across the Mackay–Bennett’s decks…You could say my living is death. I am the Undertaker. I have come for the bodies.’ He later describes the grisly yet essential task of recovering the dead from the sea, followed by the meticulously documentation of evidence needed to ascertain the identity of each body.

The Six Watches are covered in detail up to the climactic ‘Seventh Watch That Ends the Night’ The Author’s Note addresses the Mystery Ship whose lights were seen on the night of the collision and Wolf has gone so far as to include interesting and informative Character Notes on twenty-two of the voices. There is a listing of the real-life passengers and crew mentioned in the book and their fate – lost and saved, plus a listing of the Titanic Societies. Lots of additional interesting trivia facts spice up the end of the book.

To round off this extraordinary body of research, there are copious Notes that clarify details and explain any contradictions that may have occurred between the narratives and the documented information. There is a generous bibliography that includes details of Articles, Periodicals, Government Documents, Encyclopaedia Titanica Research, Internet and Audio Files, and countless other resources. Wolf goes so far as to include a well-researched biography of the real people mentioned in the book, and what happened to them, the fate of other historical persons mentioned in the novel, a listing of which people were lost and who was saved, and a miscellany of RMS Titanic statistics.

This fantastic book for young and older readers is an asset to any collection due to its unique approach to an immortal subject.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


Demolition by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock (Walker Books Australia)
HB RRP $27.95
ISBN 978-1-921529-26-9
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Well done to Sutton for realising how many onomatopoeic sound attributes and verbs there are that children will readily associate with demolition and building. With a cry to grab your gear, readers are immediately with the workers and on task at the demolition site. I confess, though, I was hooked the moment I lay eyes on the end papers. The creators of the prize-winning Roadworks have surely conjured up another winner.

Lovelock’s illustrations immerse readers in tradespeople, safety equipment, machinery and signs that very young children will recognise immediately. Not only does the story show demolition, it shows recycling components of building operations; Crush the stone. Crush the stone. Chip and grind and munch. Make new concrete from the old. Whirr! CHURR! CRUNCH!  The old is demolished, disassembled, recycled, and removed to clear land.

Using dozens of verbs and sounds, the book presents a full story of the process involved in demolition and building. Each delivery of three words is formed in print where the first word is big and bold, the next bigger and bolder still, and the last is gigantic. Clever use of colour captures the landscape of demolition, clearing land and recycling. Once cleared and ready, construction begins. With it returns colour and life beyond demolition and construction.

As is true in our world, the building stage takes far less time than the preparation. No sooner does it begin than a new playground awaits and it’s three cheers for a job well done. Readers can see families enjoying the playground, an oasis of fun nestled below the cityscape with its permanent haze hovering in the background. A pictorial glossary at the book’s end ensures readers can really learn about the role each machine plays. Demolition is a superb production and sure to be read again and again.

Society of Women Writers NSW

The next meeting of the Society of Women Writers NSW Inc will be Wednesday, April 11

Venue: Dixson Room, State Library of NSW, Macquarie St, Sydney

Workshop (10 – 11.50) Patti Miller - "Researching your Memoir" - workshop: $15.00.
Bookings for workshop: Beatrice Yell - 9452 2299 or email:

Literary Lunch: (12.30- 1pm)

Member Talk: (1- 1.20 pm) Lynda Bennett & Trish Stewart discussing their book: What Can I do?

Guest Speakers: (1.25 - 2 pm) Carol Baxter: Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady

Book sales: 2pm onwards (conclusion 2.30pm)

Cost: $30 for non-members, $25 for members, $15 for workshop

Bookings required before 10am Mon 9th April to:
Sandra: 4296-1182 or email:
Eunice Lovell—9959 5568 or email:

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Children's Book Council of Australia Awards 2012

The 2012 Children's Book Council of Australia Awards Notables and Shortlist have just been announced. The lists include some new faces and some old favourites and congratulations to all nominees who have produced world class literature for our children.

I'll stick out my neck and have a go at predicting who will win in each category come August.

A Straight Line to My Heart Older Readers:
A Straight Line to My Heart by Bill Condon (Allen & Unwin)
Brilliant characters, witty dialogue and perceptions about life, death, friendship and family. Bill Condon gets better and better and this absolute gem of a story proves it.

Read the Buzz Words Books review here.

Crow Country
Younger Readers:
Crow Country by Kate Constable (Allen and Unwin)

A compelling time slip novel set in the town of Boort, Victoria combining history, Indigenous lore and tackling bigger issues of power and racism. Unique and very Australian. Loved it and have already bought it for half my family.

Read the Buzz Words Books review here.

The Last VikingEarly Childhood:
My pick is The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen, illustrated by James Foley (Fremantle Press)
Bravery and imagination, the perfect combination for any child or for any one of us. Beautifully detailed and colourful illustrations delight.

Read the Buzz Words Books review here.

Picture Book:
This one was tricky, a close call between For All Creatures by Glenda Millard, illustrated by Rebecca Cool (Walker Books Australia) and A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham (Walker Books).

For All Creatures I have to give the nod to For All Creatures with its message of gratitude for the gifts of nature. In my review at the time, I said that this beautifully lyrical text accompanied by the visual treat of the bold, naive-like illustrations would win a swag of awards.

Fromelles: Australia's Bloodiest Day at War
Eve Pownall Award for Information Books:
Carole Wilkinson's Fromelles: Australia's Bloodiest Day at War (black dog books) is one that all Australians should read. It is heart-breaking and inspirational at the same time and a reminder of the sacrifice war demands from not only 'our side' and 'our troops' but from all.

Read the Buzz Words Books review here.

Squish Rabbit Chrichton Award:
Squish Rabbit by Katherine Battersby (University of Queensland Press)
Exquisitely simple and effective illustrations tell this story about friendship for young children.

Read the Buzz Words Books review here.

You can read the full lists here: Notables, Shortlist , Chrichton Shortlist

My predictions are, of course, my personal choice for the best books for children in Australia over the past year. I know I lean towards historical books.

I'd love to hear your predictions.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Smallest Bilby and the Easter Tale

The Smallest Bilby and the Easter Tale by Nette Hilton, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (Working Title Press)
HP RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-921504-42-6
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

A great new title in time for Easter, this is the third book in the very popular The Smallest Bilby series. (The Smallest Bilby and the Midnight Star and The Smallest Bilby and the Easter Games.)

Once again Billy Bilby and the little bilbies face adventure. It is the night before Easter and they are out hiding eggs. They place them high and low, here and there, up and down, in and out. But what happens when one of the bilbies falls over the edge? Will there be an Easter?

Nette Hilton has given us another charming story featuring Billy Bilby and the little bilbies. Her love of language is obvious...

‘One by one, two by two, three by three,
down the path, past the billabong trees,
around the bend, and out into the night.’

This story, while not only taking us on an exciting adventure with the bilbies, shows us what working together can accomplish.

Once again Bruce Whatley’s illustrations come to the fore. Using subtle washes of pen and ink on watercolour paper (especially created for this series) the illustrations are delicate and gentle, warm and inviting.

If you loved Billy Bilby in his previous adventures, from the tips of his ears to the tips of his toes, you’ll love this third instalment. This picture book is suitable for ages 5 and up.