Saturday, 30 June 2012

Invitation to a Stranger

Invitation to a Stranger by Margaret Pearce (Astraea Press)
Ebook RRP $2.99
ISBN 978-1-62135-036-1
Reviewed by Nina Lim

Before the arrival of the Demento family in town, Ronnie and her friends Katie and Jasmine lived completely normal lives. But when they meet Drake Demento they sense something special about him. He’s not like the other boys. He’s mysterious and intriguing but why is his family so strange?

Soon afterwards all of the animals in the district start disappearing. They find Jasmine’s cat again but its body has become floppy and its eyes are vacant. Then people start disappearing. And what has happened to Jasmine? She is now lying in a hospital bed, unable to recognize anyone, with the same vacant eyes as her cat. And why does the Demento mansion always look dark? And Drake seems distant and appears to be pushing them away.

Ronnie and Katie realize that something needs to be done, and done soon. They need to rely on Drake, but can they trust him?

This is a riveting story with a great cast of characters. The story unfolds fluidly and smoothly. Fans of the supernatural will enjoy this teen vampire fun.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The New Jumper

The New Jumper (The Hueys) The New Jumper (The Hueys) by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978000420650
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Award winning author/illustrator Oliver Jeffers introduces us to a new quirky group of characters, the Hueys, in his new picture book The New Jumper. Jeffers tells the story of the Hueys in his simplistic style, but that doesn’t mean his themes are ‘light’.

The Hueys all look the same and all do the same things until one of them called Rupert, knits himself a new jumper. Rupert wears his new jumper everywhere, however the other Hueys are unimpressed – horrified actually that someone dared to be different.

Gillespie, Rupert’s friend, thought about what Rupert did and he found the idea of being different rather interesting and knitted himself a new jumper so he could be different, too.
Rupert and Gillespie were no longer considered different by the other Hueys – in fact, they start a trend and new jumpers began to be knitted by more Hueys as the idea catches on.

Jeffers is able to celebrate difference on a level easily understood by young children. However, the quirky drawings will also appeal to older children and even adults.

Clever use of black and white with the addition of only one colour until the last endpapers adds another layer to an enjoyable simple story. Oliver Jeffers is certainly an author whose books are worthwhile additions to anyone’s shelves.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Mosquito Advertising: The Crunch Campaign

PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 0702239399
Review by Jo Burnell

Katie Crisp is seriously into advertising and not much else, but her mother forces her to realise there's a lot more to the world and living.

Katie's Mum falls in love with her boss who is raising four young children on his own. The Prime Minister flags a ban on junk food in her efforts to reverse childhood obesity and Katie's worst nightmare begins.

Not only does Katie have to contemplate sharing her house with four little siblings, she has to face the possibility of and a world without the soft drink company that began her passion for advertising in the first place.

Katie is an annoying, opinionated teenager who simply doesn't see other people's points of view, but she does have some redeeming features. Her single minded focus is the thing that gets her into trouble. This same characteristic somehow manages to help her save the day as well.

Although the dialogue was a little too life like, I was caught up in the tale of the Crunch Campaign. What could possibly happen to allow a happy ending?

Can Katie cope living anywhere else than the home she has known all her life? Can Mosquito Advertising continue if there is no longer a tree house office to hang out in? What about the advertising ban? Is there a realistic way to reduce childhood obesity without banning junk food ads?

Read on if you want to know. It's worth it. Old characters continue their quirky ways while new ones insist you either love or detest them.

There is no sitting on the fence when you get involved in Mosquito Advertising.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Mountain Wolf

Mountain Wolf Mountain Wolf by Rosanne Hawke (HarperCollins)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9780732293871
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Rosanne Hawke uses her experience and knowledge as a former aid worker in Pakistan to write novels which include themes about  refugees, multicultural issues and now the slave trade. Her writing lends an authenticity, even though she may be an Anglo-Australian.

It tells the story of Razaq who lives in the tribal area of Kala Dhaka, also known as Black Mountain, in Pakistan. The area is ravaged by an earthquake and Razaq’s family is lost. Told by his dying father to flee to his Uncle Javaid in Rawalpindi, Razaq is sold into slavery before he can even attempt the journey. He is kept a virtual prisoner washing dishes in a teashop, yet we are subtly aware there is another more sinister reason for his slavery and the reader is then on guard, expecting that prostitution and possibly rape will threaten  Razaq. This fear is made  real as we are aware that Hawke’s novel deals with facts, therefore thousands of children like Razaq in Pakistan are facing daily threats and conditions such as these.

Escaping to the streets where he meets other children like himself, his search for his uncle is again thwarted as he is betrayed and returned to the teashop. Razaq’s exotic looks, in particular his green eyes, catch the attention of a customer and he is again sold. Tahira, a girl he befriends is sold to a wealthy man and Razaq vows to free her.

Razaq and Tahira meet again and work in the same brothel and, with thoughts of finding his uncle fading, they eventually find a way out via an aid worker called Majeed.

Complementary to Razaq’s story is one told by his uncle Javaid, who becomes aware of the tragedy which has taken the lives of his brother’s family, yet spared his nephew. The interwoven story of Javaid’s desperate and frustrating search for his nephew mirrors the search by Razaq and heightens the suspense of the novel.

Will Razaq and Tahira be freed from their slavery and able to live safely – a fundamental right?
Rosanne Hawke delivers a confronting novel which simultaneously deals with the issues of child slavery and prostitution sensitively. Her novel explores the themes of social justice for those without power and is essential reading.

This reviewer found the novel compelling reading and yet was shocked by the fact that child slavery exists on such a scale in Pakistan. Rosanne Hawke has again provided us with characters able to overcome harrowing circumstances, via a narrative which is both authentically written and thought provoking.

Mountain Wolf is confronting and  not suitable for primary school libraries nor the children’s sections of public libraries due to some of its content.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Red Wheelbarrow

The Red Wheelbarrow The Red Wheelbarrow by Briony Stewart (UQP)
HB RRP $ 19.95
ISBN: 9780702249259
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

This picture book couldn't be more different in style and substance from Briony Stewart's previous publications. While the Kumiko series dealt with mythical dragon creatures and fighting the bad guy, the Red Wheelbarrow could happen in your backyard. 

Parallel tales are presented on each side of The Red Wheelbarrow's double page layout. While both stories are about family, relationships and a battle of wills, one is about chickens, the other, little girls.

With not a single written word, Briny Stewart makes very step of this delightful story clear. Her eye for detail is partnered cleverly with spartan illustrations. Only that which adds to the tale is included.

Two little girls discover a red wheelbarrow. It's a perfect place to play and share a treat, but the fun stops when big sister sneaks an extra lolly without sharing. While tears fall and shrieks of indignation bounce off the page, another battle is being waged on the ground.

A baby chicken watches as a full grown chook extracts a worm from the ground and eats it. When another worm surfaces, the two play tug of war with the hapless worm.

The little girl's waling distracts the older chicken who goes to investigate the noise, leaving a younger chicken to take over the tug of war. 

What will it take to appease the heartbroken toddler? Will the tiny chick manage to wrestle the worm away from the others? The ups and downs of relationships are beautifully illustrated with every page. The Red Wheelbarrow is endearing in its simplicity and clever in the conversations it can stimulate.
A timeless treasure for toddlers upward. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Phoenix Files: Fallout

Fallout (Phoenix Files) Fallout (Phoenix Files) by Chris Morphew (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-192150243-9
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang
The Phoenix Files are a high paced action series that keeps you involved and questioning the whole way through. The series is a blend of action, conspiracy and the supernatural.

Fallout is book five in the series. In this book the time for pretending is over. The town of Phoenix is being held captive in a concentration camp, security guards abound and people are being tortured. The end of the world is scheduled – there is 14 days to go.

The few that are free, including Jordan and Luke, are working hard to stay free and defeat Shackleton’s evil plans. They also have to crack the secret weapon – named Tobias.

I loved the intrigue, guessing and movement of this story. Luke and Jordan are likeable, strong, active characters. They play a lead role in terms of action and decision-making. There is never a dull moment in this book.

Chris Morphew maintains an interesting blog and website:    He describes himself as a writer, reader, primary school teacher, Jesus follower and coffee enthusiast. I’m looking forward to reading more of his writing.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

For Pete’s Sake

 For Pete's Sake by Margaret Pearce
 by Margaret Pearce (Astraea Press)
E-book RRP $2.99 USD
ISBN: 9781936852499
Reviewed by Jo Wishart

Simone Henderby is fourteen; she works part-time at the local animal shelter and is given to the occasional crush on a cute boy. When she meets Pete the puppy, destined for ‘death row’, she falls in love and impulsively buys him. This lands Simone with a multitude of problems, ranging from her mum’s allergies to the fact that she’s just been fired and needs money to feed the hungry pup.

With help from her friends, Simone fakes her age to get a new job but it’s not long until her sham unravels. Dog lovers should enjoy the doggy friendship but Simone’s human love interests and problems with family and friends do take over the latter half of the book. Given this, For Pete’s Sake could be considered a transition book from animal stories into teen romance.

Pearce has captured the characteristics of certain dog breeds with affection – readers will recognise and be charmed by them. She has also created a varied and likeable cast of characters and placed them into novel settings. Despite feeling rushed at times and the occasional questionable expression or word choice, Simone and her friends’ youthful exuberance is well realised as are the onerous responsibilities that can come with a dog like Pete.

There are plenty of animal antics to get readers giggling and the more serious relationship stuff is handled with decorum. When Simone starts dating the boy we just know is wrong for her, the tension urges the reader on. With themes centering on friendship, authenticity and image, and a level of characterisation suitable for the target audience, For Pete’s Sake should please those looking for a light-hearted, upper-middle-grade read.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Steampunk: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories

Steampunk! an Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange StoriesSteampunk! an Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant (Walker Books)
HC RRP 24.95
ISBN 9780763648435
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The genre of Steampunk is constantly being reinvented. This book is testament to that statement with its absolute and wonderful writing. Mechanisation is the core of every story around which all the characters and elements perform. This extraordinary anthology is compiled of fourteen stories by authors of Speculative Fiction which include Cassandra Claire, Garth Nix, Holly Black, and M. T. Anderson amongst the talented contributors to the book. It is beautifully bound in a rich burgundy hardcover with a title that says it all –‘fantastically rich and strange stories’.

There’s not a disappointing word in this finely-crafted collection. All the writing is as crisp as starched linen ironed into sharp perfect lines. The content varies from talking dolls, zeppelins, clockwork mechanised people, garden robots to mechanical servants. The list is endless. The ingenious imaginations that have come up with these creations reaffirm that anything is possible with imagination and words.

There are two illustrated stories included which break the writing sequence up early and later in the book.

Everyone that’s read an Anthology always comes away with a favourite that screams a difference, whether it is theme, style or content that decides the reader. Clockwork Fagin by Cory Doctorow stands apart as does Steam Girl by Dylan Horrocks. This is a book that will be singled out by lovers of good writing. It comes highly recommended by the reviewer.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Lightning Jack

Lightning Jack Lightning Jack by Glenda Millard, illustrated by Patricia Mullins (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $26.99
ISBN 9781741693911
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

The striking cover of this beautiful book caught my eye immediately.  A rearing black horse, its eye on the viewer, mouth open in terror was like a magnet. The poetic beauty of Glenda Millard’s prose draws the reader deep into the story, imbued with a sense of thrill and challenge.

We travel in the dreams of a young boy, Sam Tully, who falls in love with the big, black, untamed stallion, Lightning Jack. As the horses rush past him, Sam grabs his whip and oilskin to ride the dangerous steed and together they drive five hundred steers. Then freedom beckons and they fly away, up among the storm clouds to Dead Man’s Leap, where Ned Kelly hides in a cave.

A hundred hoof beats on the highway, troopers, three rows deep, 
A hundred metres down, the jagged rocks of Dead Man’s Leap.
A desperate man, a gleam of gold, a pistol aimed and cocked,
‘It takes a man with nerves of steel to take the Leap!’ he mocked.

From here Sam takes Lightning Jack to run in a race, beside Phar Lap.  ‘The thronging thousands cheered as they passed the finish post. All eyes were on the midnight horse, the other was a ghost.’ Until finally, Sam is drawn back to the sound of traffic and the neon lights of a merry-go-round, where his midnight horse stands proudly, waiting for him to ride again.

Being a horse lover and owner myself, I was impressed with Patricia Mullins depictions of these noble animals, their necks proudly arched, their prancing legs fine and well drawn, their faces knowing. It’s so easy for an artist to get it wrong. Patricia uses mixed media with a deft hand, creating unique scenes filled with movement and colour. Among her hobbies she restores old rocking horses and I can see this love of horse in  her depictions of them in this book. My favourite spread accompanies this text by Millard:

In a place like horses’ heaven where the grass grew green and sweet,
Where roses strewed their petals at the passing pageant’s feet,
Came a cavalcade of horses, all keen to seek their fame.
But amongst them was a legend and Phar Lap was his name.
Beside him pranced the midnight horse, the horse called Lightning Jack.

This book would have to be one of my favourites. The quality of the paintings, the sheer ease of the rhyme make it a treasured book to read aloud, to take a small child’s mind on a magnificent journey, not just into a world of horses, but a world in which legends of Australian history provide a glorious backdrop for this stunning horse, Lightning Jack.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains. She was awarded a May Gibbs Writer’s fellowship in 2011. You can follow her exploits here: 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Book Review: Stink and the Midnight Zombie Walk

Stink and the Midnight Zombie Walk Stink and the Midnight Zombie Walk by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780763656928
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It’s only seven days before the release of Book 5 of Nightmare on Zombie Street and best friends Stink and Webster can’t wait. The release of the book at the bookstore will be followed by a midnight zombie walk through town. In combination with the Zombie festival, their school aims to reach one million minutes of reading.  But the boys have spent all their pocket money and have to find a way to get funds to buy the books. Their attempt to sell smells ends in destruction.

The boy’s grossness has no end. Although they continue to read and rack up the minutes, their world has become totally zombiefied.  They now communicate through zombie-speak. Their food is transformed into gruesome, gooey and disgusting gruel if only in their imagination.

The whole school is behind the reading target and is fully into the zombie swing of things. Everything is green and slimy. The canteen is serving zombie food and the children have gone through a temporary but grotesque transformation. Zombie sleepovers are arranged. Stinky has redesigned his ventriloquist’s dummy into a zombie doll which results in a frightening experience.

The celebrations begin along with the countdown. Lots of surprises are in store for everyone. The most important thing is that the children have read so many books that they have reached the reading target. This means they will receive books for the library donated by the townspeople while great fun has been had by all.

This is a gross, highly entertaining book ideal for reluctant young readers, mainly boys, which shows that reading can be fun. It has a profusion of equally gross illustrations which will send the senses reeling and keep the pages turning. The green cover depicts Stinky’s face in a zombie trance all over the place. It also has an attractive and well designed half-jacket with Stinky and friends doing the midnight zombie walk.  

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

My Father's Islands: Abel Tasman's Heroic Voyages

My Father's Islands: Abel Tasman's Heroic Voyages My Father's Islands: Abel Tasman's Heroic Voyages by Christobel Mattingley (National Library of Australia)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9780642277367
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

What a fantastic book! I read My Father's Islands in one sitting. It is an account of the great Dutch explorer Abel Tasman’s journeys of discovery which took him into uncharted waters and led him to find islands previously unknown to Europeans.

The book is told from the perspective of Tasman’s young daughter from his first marriage, Claesgen. While Claesgen’s inquisitive and bright personality are entirely fictional, the accounts of Tasman’s journeys are 100% accurate.

Claesgen gives a real sense of who her father was, not only as an accomplished seaman and navigator, but also as a man. She reveals Tasman’s triumphs and disappointments and the appalling treatment of people, both sailors and natives, by the Dutch East Indies Company which had thoroughly unrealistic expectations of what could be achieved on these voyages and only assessed success in monetary terms.

Christobel wrote My Father’s Islands when the National Library of Australia contacted her to ask if she would write a children’s story around one of the items in its Treasure Gallery. When she spotted the portrait of Tasman with his second wife Jannetje and Claesgen she knew this was a way to tell the story of a giant contributor to modern Australia through a child’s eyes. Remarkably, for a man whose achievements are integral to establishment of our nation, his efforts have been grossly undervalued by Australians. Very few books have been published here on his journeys.

Throughout the book, are prints of original maps and drawings of Tasman's voyages. The copious footnotes on the page are a boon to younger readers, clarifying sailing and Dutch terminology without having to flick back and forth and interrupt reading enjoyment.

My Father's Islands is Christobel Mattingley's 51st book. She has been nominated for, and been the recipient of, many gongs for her books including the Children’s Book Council of Australia inaugural award for a book for junior readers, Kids Own Australia Literature Awards, International Board of Books for Young People’s Hans Christian Andersen Award and the Alice Award from the Society of Women’s Writers.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Early Readers Book Review: Little Witch

Little Witch (Walker Stories S.) Little Witch (Walker Stories S.) by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Cat Chapman (Walker Books)
PB RRP $11.95
ISBN 9781821720468
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Here are three stories in a compact book that will keep early readers entertained from the first to the last word. In The Wonderful Sorceress Little Witch’s parents decide to go out for the evening leaving the hard-of-hearing Sorceress Monda to babysit.  Little Witch anticipates an evening of boredom. But the words that are lost in translation between being spoken and heard cause a hilarious and anything but boring outcome for both Little Witch and her baby sitter.

The Magic Word has more than one definition for Little Witch. Her mother is trying to teach her to say the magic word ‘please’ which Little Witch keeps confusing with the magic word ALAKAZAM! Through trial and error, confusion, correction, and finally clarification, Little Witch finally learns which magic word is which.

Wixed up Merds is so funny that the reader won’t stop laughing until they close the book. Mixed up or misheard words are the pivotal part of all these stories and this one is the best! Little Witch gets into her father’s spell room and casts a word-mixing spell on herself.  Fourteen pages of non-stop laughter ensue accompanied by an equal amount of complementary illustrations. Mention must be made to the well- considered illustrations throughout this book which support and add zest to the hilarious text. Keep this book handy for days when it’s hard work bringing a smile to the lips.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Week at Mon Repose

The Week at Mon Repose by Margaret Pearce (Astraea Press)
E-book RRP $2.99 USD
ISBN: 978-1-62135-034-7
Reviewed by Jo Wishart

‘Dead enough to be the local cemetery’ is Jenny’s assessment of Mon Repose boarding house. She and her cousin, Allie, are stuck there for the week while their parents are working. Full of noisy families and elderly folks, there’s not much in the way of excitement for two teenagers. That is, until the girls meet goth-esque Marilyn and together they discover a dusty Ouija board in the attic.

The author evokes teenage boredom well and captures that sense of a building and surrounds as seen by young eyes – zoned according to entertainment potential. After the girls ask for something that will give them ‘what they all want’, they are led on a strange adventure ending up with a fledgling genie trapped in their dimension and a sinister houseguest who has doublecrossed them all. 

After riding the genie’s horses in a national park and getting caught by rangers, the girls are landed with a hefty fine and the horses impounded. The story borders on wacky and gets even wackier when their genie friend also starts to fade away, prompting the girls to take action to save him and right everything that has gone wrong. With themes including friendship and trust, Mon Repose also raises questions about what we think we want versus what really brings us joy in life.

Margaret Pearce is a Melbourne author and self-confessed compulsive writer. Many of her books are available electronically and are aimed at middle grade readers. Mon Repose is an enjoyable read that evoked memories of staying with my own cousins for weeks on end, looking for things to do and enduring unfamiliar and occasionally unpalatable meals. Pearce has included sufficient backstory to give some depth to the characters and the fast pace, action and fairy tale elements should go down well with the target audience.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Picture Book review: Frank N Stan

Frank'nStan Frank'nStan by M. P. Robertson (Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781847801302
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Robertson has added another incredible piece to his large body of illustrated and written work. Fantasy is his genre and through it he brings his imagination to life.

Frank is an only child who longs to have a brother or sister and is tired of his mother saying  ‘we’ll see’ each time he asks about it. Frank decides to take matters into his own hands. He will build himself a brother and call him Stan.

First he goes to the scrap metal yard and gets the parts, the nuts and bolts. He works deliriously in his workshop, soldering and screwing, wiring and joining. Things start ‘coming together’. After some adjustments and fine tuning, the unconventional Stan joins the family circle and from then on, Frank is never alone.

But it’s when the unexpected happens and mother gives Frank a baby sister named Mary that things go a little crazy. Stan is slowly replaced by Mary until they all realize that three can have as much fun as, if not more than, two.

This is a terrific story about being lonely, being different, and being accepted regardless of your differences. The outstanding artwork is produced using pen and watercolour and fills each page with movement and colour.

The illustrations and the text are perfectly synchronized and weave across the page as one. The end papers carry images of Frank’s workroom and his work-in-progress depicted in natural cream and brown shades. The colourful jacket is a replica of the book’s hard cover depicting Frank ’n Stan.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Bink and Gollie

Bink and Gollie, Two for One Bink and Gollie, Two for One by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781406337396
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The creators of Bink & Gollie have a list of successes behind them. From this band of highly talented people comes the second book about two best friends that are totally opposite in every way. One is tall, the other small. And that’s only where it begins.

They have fun all the time. They have their strengths and weaknesses, individual characters and tastes. Of the three comical stories in this book, the first, Whack a Duck, had me in stitches. The girls decide to go the spring fair. Bink wants to whack a duck of which the prize is the world’s largest doughnut. Three balls are on offer. The man tells her she’s got winner written all over her. Bink looks for the sign on her blouse. (Children take things literally which makes it even funnier)

She gets ready, lines the ball up and sends it flying – right between the man’s eyes breaking his glasses!  He’s a bit confused but hands over ball number two. Bink lines it up again and it flies faster than the first, right against his nose. With glasses bound and nose bandaged the man hands over the third ball. By now his words are jumbled and he’s cross-eyed. With a bandaged head, broken nose and glasses, Gollie hands Bink some money and off she goes to the doughnut stand. Bink returns with a bag full of doughnuts and they sit and share them together with the comforting thought from Gollie, ‘but we’re all still alive’.

Two more stories follow of equal enjoyment and laughter guaranteed: You’re Special aren’t You? and Without Question. The conversation/dialogue throughout the book is incredibly clever and entertaining. The illustrations, full of movement and expression, give a more potent translation to the text. The two together are priceless!

This book can make an adult laugh out loud. It has interesting and valuable themes running through them such as being different can be fun, and opposites attract. There is a lot for the adult reader to discuss with the young listener. It is produced with a hard, durable and attractive cover with vibrant colours which continue onto the end pages. It will most surely be available in paperback later as was the first book.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Picture Book Review: Cloth From the Clouds

Cloth from the Clouds by Michael Catchpool, illustrated by Alison Jay (Walker Books)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN 9781862337992
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A boy spins thread from the clouds – gold in the morning, white in the afternoon and crimson at evening – to weave cloth on his loom, but only as much as needed. His mother’s words are always foremost in his mind as he works, ‘Enough is enough and not one stitch more.’ He weaves two scarves, one to protect his head when it is hot and another to wrap around his neck when it is cold.

The King notices the uniqueness of the cloth and orders the boy to make a longer scarf for him. The child tries to explain that the king doesn’t need it. This angers the royal who commands the boy to do what he’s told. The finished item is breathtaking. So much so, he then commands clothing for his wife and daughter.

Slowly the precious resource is exhausted.  There are no clouds, therefore no rain for the farmers and their flocks and crops. It is not until the princess, believing ‘there is still time’, rolls up the garments and returns them to their source, that the clouds and a natural balance is restored once again.

Awareness between need and want, greed and excess, is the theme of this poignant, and delicately illustrated book. The illustrations throughout are created to identify with cracked china, symbolic of the fragile state of nature, and the outcome of misuse by humankind. The joyous fact that children have the wisdom to see things clearer than the adults projects hope and optimism for the future.

This is definitely a book that will be shared and discussed by adult and child readers because of the significant messages it carries.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Busy Boats

Busy Boats Busy Boats by Susan Steggall (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781847801982
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis
Illustrated with collages of torn paper, Busy Boats is rhythmic text with full page artwork. The pictures are outstanding and detailed. Yellow cranes are loading. Fishermen are preparing their ropes, fishing nets and lobster crates. All sorts of boats are moving along deep blue water with a decoration of white foam.  There’s so much for a child to observe, discover from flags on the masts or flying from ropes, to windows in the houses being passed by. There are letters and numbers on the boats, shops and noticeboards. It’s like a Where’s Wally search with so much to see and learn.

The thick grey stones that hold up the jetty are caressed by the water as it laps against it. The tug boats are tugging; the seagulls are screeching and squawking. Helicopters are heading out over the sea. Islands and rocks are passed by sailing boats with their masts full blown; sheets to the wind.

On the streets beside the water, people are riding bikes, driving cars and walking. There is so much activity on every page that you must look carefully to absorb all the details.

Then the fishermen are coming home. Full nets are placed on trolleys then pushed along the quay. Others are unloading boxes onto their utes; others into trucks. Women are trying to see if they can buy fresh fish. Even the seagulls want a share.

This is a delightful book to be shared by adult and child. Fun and learning is a pleasurable combination for the nursery bookshelf. Susan Steggall is the author of The Life of a CarOn the Road and Rattle and Rap. Trains, cars and boats! With this medium, everything looks unique. Highly inventive and beautifully executed work!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Picture Book Review: The Baby That Roared

The Baby That Roared The Baby That Roared by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Nadia Shireen (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-85763-018-6
Reviewed by Ann Harth

Mr and Mrs Deer desperately want a baby. When a bundle of baby lands on their doorstep they are thrilled. A note is attached to the baby’s blanket.

I am a dear little baby. Please love me and cuddle me and read me lots and lots of stories.
Mrs Deer cuddles the baby and makes him a bed. The baby ROARS. Mr Deer thinks he’s hungry but the baby refuses everything he offers. The baby roars and roars. The Deers approach many of their neighbours for help, but the baby keeps roaring. Nothing seems to work.

Simon Puttock keeps the reader turning pages in this picture book as Mr and Mrs Deer search for a way to stop their new baby from roaring. Varying font size is appealing, creating emphasis and adding humour and the imaginative twist at the end will inspire a gasp and a giggle and have the kids turning back to page one to start all over again.

The vibrant and humorous illustrations created by Nadia Shireen are uncluttered and her use of white space is effective. The pictures enrich the story and portray each character with a unique expression and personality.

This picture book will be enjoyed by children 3+ and adults will get a laugh as well.
Simon Puttock is the author of around 30 books. He has lived in many places all over the world and now resides in Scotland.  His books have won a number of awards and, when he was a child, he had a beanbag frog called King Suey. For 12 more interesting facts about Simon Puttock visit his website

Nadia Shireen is a brilliant illustrator who brings her characters to life with simple and effective strokes. She not only illustrates other writers’ books but she has recently illustrated her own. You can find more information on Nadia Shireen on her website.

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, will be released in 2012. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Ghost at the Point

The Ghost at the Point The Ghost at the Point by Charlotte Calder (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781921977732
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It is the time of the Great Depression. Twelve year old Dorrie lives with her grandfather, Gah, who has left his solicitor’s practice and now fishes and supplies the inhabitants surrounding Ned’s Point with a food source. Gah’s sister, Dorrie’s late great aunt Gertrude, had related tales of a ghost roaming the cliffs above the point.

But someone or something is there on the point. When Gah falls off the ladder while clearing the spouting and is taken to hospital, Dorrie refuses to go to horrible Aunt Janet’s place in town. She remains determined to stay alone at home by any means possible. Aunt Janet owns dogs and would never allow Dorrie to bring her cat Poppy with her. Furthermore, her Aunt sees Dorrie not as the free spirit she is, but as bad mannered and uncultured wild thing.

Dorrie hides and evades, runs away and lies to stay at home. Her lone survival is aided by Jacky, an adult with a child’s mind, the result of a blow to the head at a young age. Jacky and his father are loners, but it was to them that Dorrie turned for help when Gah was injured.

Aunt Janet is not the only threat to the Dorrie’s independent life. Two strangers have appeared claiming a friendship to the late Gertrude. They have a treasure map, spades and sinister intentions, and are determined to dig up Dorrie’s house in their quest for world travel. Fighting off these threats is a challenge to Dorrie’s courageous and independent spirit.

A great adventure unfolds and the mystery of the ghost at the point is unravelled. Jacky also sees the shadowy figure and shares in the discovery which is accompanied by amazing revelations.

All the characters play a significant role within the book. They serve as a conduit to the lifestyle, lack, and strength needed to survive during those hard years of the Depression. The surroundings: waters, cliffs and Stringybarks, clearly bring to view the Australian landscape and the harsh but challenging environment.

Monday, 11 June 2012

YA Review: Red

Red Red by Libby Gleeson (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74175-853-5
Reviewed by Ann Harth ( )

She wakes in pain, covered in mud and with no memory of who she is or why she is lying in a scene of flooded devastation.

Written from the viewpoint of a young girl with amnesia, Red is the captivating novel of her struggle to piece together the past after a devastating cyclone tears apart the eastern suburbs of Sydney. Befriended by Peri, a compassionate but troubled boy, she agrees to be called Red until they can discover her true identity. The two develop a strong friendship as they search for clues about her family and her place in the world.

Snippets of Red’s memory begin to return after she is reunited with Jazz, an old friend from primary school and Red and Peri move in with Jazz’s family until they decide on their next move.

While staying with Jazz, the discovery of a locket containing a memory stick with a message from Red’s father triggers the start of a dangerous mission for the three friends. The information on the memory stick must be delivered into the right hands. Red’s life depends on it, her father’s too – if he’s still alive.

Throughout the book, the strength and courage of Red’s character shine through as she overcomes numerous obstacles. Her loyalty to her father and friends is inspiring as she battles to achieve her goal.

Libby Gleeson has created a fast-moving plot filled with conflict, suspense and with a cast of believable characters. She plunges into the story from the first sentence and keeps the intrigue and emotion high until the very last page.

Younger readers will be riveted by this compelling story as they follow Red on her quest for the truth. The writing is rich with sensory images and invites the audience to enter the world of post-cyclone Sydney.

Award-winning author, Libby Gleeson has published over 30 books for children and teenagers. She is the winner of the 2011 Dromkeen Medal, awarded for her significant contribution to children’s literature. For more information about Libby Gleeson, please visit her website:

Sunday, 10 June 2012


Broken Broken by Elizabeth Pulford, illustrated by Angus Gomes (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 19.95
ISBN 9781921529887
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This book is remarkably clever and powerful in its structure. The style of the text changes as the character Zara shifts her thoughts and this device is used very effectively in several other areas within the prose. It is full of metaphors and strong messages on the power of love, and the ability of humans to change, regardless of the occurrences in their life.

Zara sees and hears from the silent world of a coma unaware that her brother Jem with whom she has a very strong bond, has died in the accident that damaged her, after swerving to avoid hitting a toddler.

While the family is supportive and encouraging, sharing their life and happenings with her to prevent her floating into nothingness, none of these conversations are enough to draw her back. Zara’s mind is totally preoccupied with finding Jem whom she believes is trapped inside his comic book collection, which meant everything to him.

In her mind, Zara travels in and out of situations searching corridors and chasing Jem’s comic book hero in an attempt to trace the whereabouts of her lost brother. These scenes are brilliantly accompanied by black and white comic book illustrations which reinforce the strength that is keeping Zara from relinquishing her hold on life.

Her best friend, the Gothic looking Trace, is her strongest lifeline. While Zara is distanced from reality and hears each person’s voice but is unable to respond, Trace is experiencing a metamorphosis. She shares this amazing journey with Zara on a daily basis, and through this, the reader also shares the thoughts of both girls during the process. Trace’s crazy and unhappy life at home evaporate under the change creeping into her life.

But although the comic captions and illustrations lend the story another dimension, it’s the tantalizing thread of a past horror in Zara’s childhood that propels the reader forward to learn what and how.

This superbly crafted novel is extraordinary in that there is so much to admire about it. The main characters and their stories are outstanding. It also has a beguiling cover that would entice you to buy it just on its merit alone. The book comes highly recommended.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Letters to Leo

Letters to Leo Letters to Leo by Amy Hest, illustrated by Julia Denos (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780763636951
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Leo is Annie Rossi’s new dog. Annie’s dad worries about her too much and doesn’t like dogs. But Leo came to her in an unexpected way, and after longing and pleading for a dog for so long, Annie was surprised when her father said, ‘the dog in the doorway can stay.’  Annie loves writing letters. Her letter of welcome to Leo is the beginning of a long list of correspondence to her new mate which opens a door for the reader to view Annie’s life and thoughts.

When Annie’s mother died, all the life and joy seeped out of father and child. Leo brings interest, joy, and adventure to Annie’s life, and slowly but surely to her father’s as well. His presence and affection finally fill the cracks that her mother’s absence created. But there are a lot of interesting and comical lessons learnt with lots of letter-writing taking place covering eight months of school and home life. Unexpected occurrences bring growth and personal change for both Annie and her dad as their grief and loneliness is replaced by optimism and hope.

Although this is a story about loss and grief and living again; about friendships and change, it is not a sad story. It is entertaining and comical with the sad bits entering like shy visitors into the text.

The black and white illustrations in crayon, pencil and paint, complement the characters and their antics. This is the second book on Annie which follows Remembering Mrs. Rossi and is suitable for 8+ readers.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Love Notes from Vinegar House

Love Notes from Vinegar House Love Notes from Vinegar House by Karen Tayleur (black dog books)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978142032191
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This well-crafted and compelling mystery incorporates family secrets, misunderstandings, teenage dilemmas and a ghostly presence. It is told in first person narrative by Freya, who speaks directly to the reader; a device that works extremely well with this style of writing. 

Freya’s parents have gone to visit her ailing Nanna and Freya must go and stay at Grandma Kramer’s house close to the sea where all the family gatherings have taken place throughout her lifetime. Unfortunately her bossy and manipulative cousin Rumer is also staying there. Since childhood, no love has been lost between the two girls for Freya uncovered Rumer’s failings early. Since then they have merely tolerated one another for the sake of common courtesy within the family circle.

Freya’s long, close friendship with Luke is on the rocks because of a Facebook prank.  His interest seems to have turned to the attractive and flirty Rumer. He has also turned up to work in the garden at Grandma Kramer’s house and Freya’s agony at seeing him interested in her awful cousin, churns inside her like the rough sea that surrounds them. Quite out of character, Freya finds herself taking notes left under Rumer’s door supposedly from Luke. These lead to an even more disturbing discovery which is linked to the mystery the house holds tightly to within its walls.

But the old house holds more secrets than anyone is prepared to talk about and is said to be haunted. But by whom and why?  During her stay there, Freya starts to notice that the bath tub fills with water by itself. There are sounds which have no logical explanation. The lights in the house stay on during a power blackout and the attic is always kept locked and out of bounds.

Freya is also troubled by the fact that nobody ever talks about Rumer’s mother, especially Rumer herself. Even crabby Grandma Kramer keeps quiet about her daughter. She is determined to find answers at any cost. This search brings about astonishing results and closure for more than one person.

This is a moving story that weaves through many sub-stories and plaits themes together beautifully. It is a book will be read in one sitting for there’s no putting it down once you start.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Happy Like Soccer

 by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (Walker Books)
HC RRP $29.95
ISBN 9780763646165
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Sometimes words are not enough to describe beauty and excellence. That is the case with this book.

Soccer makes Sierra happy and sad. She plays hard at soccer and loves it. Sierra lives with her auntie who works at a restaurant that is busy on the days Sierra plays soccer. ‘When she hugs me goodbye, I know she can feel me low around the edges’. That is her sadness, that there is no one to cheer her on or watch her play when ‘every girl has someone there but me’. Sierra longs for her auntie to be at the game; to hear her name and not her number being called from the crowd.

Something wonderful happens to turn an unhappy situation into a dream come true for the hard-playing Sierra and her hard-working auntie.

This is a beautifully written book with amazing illustrations produced in ink and watercolour with acetone transfer. The artwork is unique and appears in landscape across the page giving a wonderful sense of space – open and limitless. On the single picture pages the images are large and lively and filled with detail. The backgrounds that are painted in watercolours add substance to each page on paper of extraordinary quality. There is an excellent jacket depicting Sierra playing on the field across the back and front, and if the covers are opened up, it produces an expansive landscape image again. This is another extraordinary picture book to look out for.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Monster High 4: Back and Deader Than Ever

Monster High 4: Back and Deader Than Ever  by Lisi Harrison (Little, Brown Atom/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 97819074410666
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

The latest book in the Monster High series is full of familiar weird characters and one or two new ones. Frankie Stein's ambition to have the RADs accepted by the Normies has at last been successful, but no sooner has this happened, Draculaura (Lala) discovers her dad is intent on splitting Salem students apart by building another high school specifically for the RADs. Lala is determined this won't happen and when she hears about a glamorous contest which will fund the winning high school, she infuses everyone with her own passion. This isn't hard, because the T'eau Dally contest also includes a chance for a couple to star in a national ad campaign, complete with glamorous clothes and photo shoots. The fight is on to save Merston High.

Meanwhile, Melody Carver is catapulted into a singing gig, which quickly leads to bigger things, upsetting her boyfriend, Jackson who had other plans for them over the coming school vacation. Granite, another member of the band, is seriously challenging Melody's and Jackson's relationship.

The time comes for Principal Weeks to choose a couple for the leadership of Merston High. Frankie is hoping she and Brett will win, but so are Cleo and Deuce and Haylee and Heath. All have been drumming up voter support and the competition has been fierce. Will it all be worth it? And will their school be chosen by T'eau Dally?

As is typical of this series, there is an overlay of gloss and glamour, the freaky and the fantastic. A newcomer, an Australian called Blue infuses the scene with Ocker slang, including the term "iced sammies" which is a complete mystery to me. And since when did prawns come from a reservoir? But then again, everything is at least slightly over the top and imaginative, including the offbeat language.

In this fourth book, I feel the plot and purpose is not as well defined as the previous three titles. It didn't capture my interest nearly as well and I find it hard to imagine the series expanding further. But it is lively and quirky, and many fans, to borrow a term from Frankie, may think it Voltage!

With the heavy focus on relationships, I think Monster High 4 is more likely to be enjoyed by over twelve year olds, however, the Mattel toys and games will no doubt attract the target age group of ten plus.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Event: Society of Women Writers NSW

The next meeting of the Society of Women Writers NSW Inc will be Wednesday, June 13

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

Workshop (10 – 11.50) Amanda Hampson: "Five First Pages " - workshop: $15.00. 
Bookings for workshop: Beatrice Yell - 9452 2299 or email:

Literary Lunch: (12.30- 1pm)
Member Talk: (1- 1.20 pm) Sandy Fussell: The Accidental Author
Guest Speakers: (1.25 - 2 pm) Sonia Goernitz: Write, Publish & Market your Own Book
Book sales: 2pm onwards (conclusion 2.30pm)
Cost: $30 for non-members, $25 for members, $15 (workshop only)

Bookings required before 10am Mon 11th June to:
Eunice Lovell—9959 5568 or email:
Sandra: 4296-1182 or email:

Book Review: Dotty Inventions and some real ones too

Dotty Inventions: And Some Real Ones Too Dotty Inventions: And Some Real Ones Too by Roger McGough, illustrated by Holly Swain (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 97881847803320
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis
If you want children to learn things, make learning fun. If you want them to remember what they’ve learnt, make it funnier. That’s what’s going on in this wonderful book full of fun and learning. The main characters are Professor Dotty Dabble and her robot Digby. Digby has a screen across his tummy on which he searches for the real truth about inventions, for Dotty loves to claim inventions belonging to others as hers. They travel in a Gizmobile that also has wings attached which open when they need to fly high.

Dotty is invited to enter a competition for the best invention at the National Science Museum. The prize is ‘the holiday of a lifetime’. But which invention should she submit? There is the chocolate cup in which you add hot water and drink before it melts; the voice-activated socks, the nasal floss and the thermal dentures. And there are more to choose from and Dotty is getting dizzy trying to decide.

The types of inventions that enter the competition are: pens that correct spelling as you write, umbrellas with a built in stereo, and edible school scarves, amongst others.

The marvellous real inventions that readers will learn about with Professor Dotty Dabble are: when and why windscreen wipers were invented, how the parachute came to be, and how and by whom was the Biro created. Then there is Velcro, the name originating from the two words, velour and crochet. But the story behind it is so amazing, funnier even than how the Frisbee came to be.

Dotty wins the competition for her claim to having invented Digby. But what are his real origins?

This vibrantly coloured book is entertaining with knowledge at centre stage to excite the reader’s mind. Roger McGough also has a wonderful book of poetry due out next month titled Lucky, created for children and young adult audiences. He was the illustrator of his highly successful, previous collection of poetry, An Imaginary Menagerie.

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Ruby Bottle

The Ruby Bottle The Ruby Bottle by Janet Reid, illustrations by Michaela Blassnig (IP Kidz) 
PB RRP $17.00; E-book $8.00
ISBN 9 781921 8691402   
Reviewed by Margaret Warner     

The bright colours and bold style of the cover of The Ruby Bottle invite readers to open the book to start the story. When Amber finds a dusty red glass bottle in the shed of her elderly neighbour, Mrs Heggety she feels certain that the bottle is meant for her to keep. It doesn’t take long before she discovers a secret: a curious djinn named Jimell lives in the beautiful red bottle. As she gets to know his story, he tells her that she must perform an important task but cannot say what it is.

While the story of the djinn in the bottle unfolds and the history of the bottle is revealed through Roger Heggety’s diary, another story interweaves through the narrative. Amber is lonely since her best friend, Bethany moved house and she is being bullied at school by Marissa and her friend, Rachel.

The two stories merge in a tale of mystery and adventure that subtly explores the theme of friendships and relationships: new and old friends as well as young and old friends. Jimell encourages Amber to believe in herself and through his friendship and that of a new friend, Ricco she gains confidence to be independent and achieve by herself … not by magic.

Readers aged 9 to 12 will be drawn into the intriguing mystery of The Ruby Bottle from the first pages till the final pages.

Margaret Warner is a children's author whose books often have an environmental theme. Her latest book is Lone Pine published by Little Hare Books. Margaret's website is