Tuesday, 31 July 2012

How To Keep A Boy As A Pet

How to Keep a Boy as a Pet How to Keep a Boy as a Pet by Diane Messidoro (hardie Grant EGMONT)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-5816-6
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang
How To Keep A Boy As A Pet is the blog journal of Circe Shaw. The story begins with Circe explaining that her two best friends have hooked up and try to include her but all they really want to do is ‘get meaningful behind the bushes’. In fact all people in her school have relationships and participate in a snog fest at the school gates at the end of each afternoon.

Circe has recently moved to this neighbourhood, which she calls “The Middle Of Absolutely Nowhere" after a family breakdown. Circe has made some good friends in her new school although is being bullied by the most popular girl. Overall it leaves her facing a long summer holiday alone. In her desperation to fill the long boring hours she decides to become “…a fabulously sophisticated journalist and reveal the actual scientific truth about dating boys . . .” The result is this blog (book). Her blog attracts one reader who gives her the advice to treat any boyfriend with the confidence she treats a pet.

This is a coming of age story in which Circe learns to have confidence in herself. In the process the relationship between Circe and her Mum repairs and grows. The premise is sweet and there are some humourous moments and perspectives.

Personally I have a problem with the concept of a teenage girl blogging everything she feels rather than talking to a person but that’s probably more a statement about my age. The overall message is a strong and positive one.

Monday, 30 July 2012

I Can See Faces

I Can See Faces by Susan Pease, illustrated by Olivia Pease (Little Steps Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780980723793
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Written to encourage children to dream and to encourage adults to release their inner child, the text begins by telling readers “Toby liked all types of faces.”  He sees them everywhere: on carpet, in his breakfast cereal and Vegemite jar, in trees, at the beach and in bubbles at bath time. Some faces, however, he does not like. Those he sees at bedtime “poke their tongues at him and peak from behind curtains”, causing him to hide under his doona.

Mum says, ‘They could be fairies.” However, like everyone else, she can never see them or any of the faces Toby sees. And there are many. Sad, mad, bold and brave, but mostly happy and smiley. Readers follow Toby while he points out faces to his mum, dad, sister, grandfather, dog, cat, fish and rubber duck.  Each time, a repeated refrain tells readers that “nobody else could see them”.

Thankfully Toby is still so young he never stops looking for and seeing faces everywhere. My favourites are those in the bubbles, the carpet and the coat stand. When readers learn that Toby’s favourite faces are those he sees in the clouds the page is turned to reveal that this seems to be universal, ending the story with the line “Guess what, everybody could see them all.”

The eleven-year-old illustrator uses a delightful blend of paint, crayon and collage to form a vivid variety of colourful scenes. Much thought has been put into bringing faces to life in everyday objects. Likewise, collage is cleverly used to represent items like trees, beach umbrellas, clothes, curtains and rugs. The end papers, differ between beginning and end, capturing the spirit of the story beautifully. Though suitable for 3-6 year olds the illustrations may well appeal to readers of any age.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Jac of Hearts

Jac of Hearts Jac of Hearts  by Jenny Mahoney (Even Before Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978-1-922074-13-3
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

With my teen years forever behind me, I am not a target reader for this book. In fact, when I first picked it up, I groaned inwardly. Not only is it aimed at teens but it has a religious flavour too. I took a deep breath, and started reading. I soon discovered I couldn't put it down.

I did have to push past a slightly awkward start, but then the story enveloped me like a warm shawl on a chilly evening. I read late into the night, turning pages in a way that would have gratified the author. As I mentioned, I am not this author's target audience but her writing transported me in a way few books have. And I read a lot of books. If my experience is anything to go by, preference has little to do with captivating a reader.

This is author Jenny Mahoney’s first young adult novel and with it being this good, I can't wait to read her next installments, she has a fan in me. Jenny has written a beautiful story of love, betrayal, strength and conviction of self. Jac, the main character wakes in a hospital bed after a car accident from which she is left an orphan. An estranged aunt and step cousin deliver her to her new home where she discovers that her spikey personality and attitude are no barriers to the friendship on offer.

The book, if read in a classroom situation, would raise healthy discussion. I found it refreshing: the serious matters of sex, drugs and death are raised in this story and handled in a modern yet sensitive way without being condescending or preachy. The characters are fully formed and each have their own story to tell.

The story gives room for sequels and I am sure each would be an enjoyable read.
Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of the series ‘That’s not a …” learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Of Poseidon

Of Poseidon Of Poseidon by Anna Banks (hardie Grant EGMONT)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 978-1-74297287
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Of Poseidon is captivating, funny and thrilling. It holds all the elements of a well-structured story with page turning adventure, strong individual characters, funny and exciting situations including an exciting twist at the end.

I had to read this book twice before I could even think about composing a review. The first time was an obsessive, can’t put down, stay up to the wee hours of the morning kind of read. The second time continued to be an absolute joy as the humour and wonderful moments in the story shone through.

I love the blend of the modern world and ancient myths that run in this storyline. Emma Banks has drawn on Greek Mythology of Poseidon and presented it in a believable modern day setting. Poseidon is the Olympian God of the sea, rivers, horse (he produced the first horse in Athens during a battle with Athena), drought and earthquakes. He is also known as a seducer. Whilst Emma Banks’ Poseidon isn’t as broad she does include elements and adds her own intrigue.

This is essentially a forbidden love story, containing a strong, funny, lovable teenage lead in Emma. We feel her strength of character and unique voice right from page one. Of course the ‘man from the sea’, Galen is depicted as a thoughtful, well-built and utterly attractive outsider. The two hold a physically electric chemistry and have some seemingly insurmountable obstacles to overcome. Although some serious events are encountered it is done so with gentleness and consistent humour.

Anna Banks has a blog and can be found on Facebook and twitter. You can start at http://byannabanks.blogspot.com.au/

I highly recommend this book. The only problem I can see is we have to wait till 2013 for the sequel Of Triton

Friday, 27 July 2012


 Darth by Julieann Wallace, illustrated by Claire and Julieann Wallace (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9780980723786
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

This book, for children aged 6-9, opens with a ‘missing poster’ about Darth, baby of the family who lives in ’Row J, Tank 3, Captain Hook’s Fish ’r’ Us’. Suspicious circumstance of being last seen with a net, plastic bag of water and rubber band lurking by sets the scene for the actual story that follows. The story tells how, while playing with his friends, Darth is captured.

The story immediately has Darth being dive bombed into an unfamiliar world. He is, however, quickly taken in by the new surrounds, ‘Cool! This is a groovy kind of place!’  This soon changes when he meets a local gang who tell him he does not belong, because he is different. He can’t understand ‘how the fish could hate him when they didn’t know him. It wasn’t fair.’

In his memory, Mum’s voice says, ‘Use the power of kindness! Be kind, smile! Play some games.’  Darth seeks out the gang. When they tell him to go away he asks why they think he is different. They try to leave but Darth blocks their way forcing them to reveal that it’s his double tail they dislike. Being single-tailed means they swim slower. Slyly, they invite him to the sunken ship at midnight. Darth doesn’t want to go. It’s scary and unsafe, but he does go.

Once there, Darth reveals a toy which the others find fun and they all play nicely. The next day Darth meets them, saying, ‘Let’s go to the bubblespa. I know a fun game. Be there or be square!’  The gang happily follows. While playing, ‘Darth realised something amazing. If you give out happiness, it comes right back to you.’  Suddenly, Darth’s whole family are plunged into the tank.

Turning the page reveals a poster announcing Darth has been found and the page directly opposite, titled ‘The Bag of Happiness’  includes Darth’s tips about what readers can do to feel happy inside. Vivid watercolour illustrations excellently capture character and their emotions in each scene, giving readers much to peruse, enjoy and discuss, over and again.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Magnificent Tree

The Magnificent Tree The Magnificent Tree by Nick Bland, illustrated by Stephen Michael King (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP  $24.99
ISBN 978 174283 295 1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Bonny and her Pop have many ideas. Bonny’s ideas are simple and clever. Pop's are brave and brilliant. And when the birds they are trying to attract keep flying away they each have their own ideas about how to solve this. Although they approach the problem in their individual ways, it is together that they create a magnificent solution.

This is a story about ideas, big and small. The text is alive, beautiful and strong. It is not a rhyming text, yet still captures a lovely rhythm that makes it a joy to read aloud: 'They tinkered through summer, and toiled through autumn.'

The repetition of Bonny’s ideas being 'simple, clever and properly made' while Pop's are 'big, brave and brilliant' is subtle and runs through the story emphasising the differences between their approaches to ideas.

This is mirrored in the wonderful and clever illustrations. They do not merely accompany the words but tell as much of the story as the text does. The spaciousness and simplicity of the illustrations hold the text and the reader really sees how Pop's ideas are so big that they do not fit in his head. We see how Bonny nurtures her simple idea. The emotions and personalities of these two characters are conveyed beautifully. The expression on Pop's face when his brilliantly made wings fail, says it all. These qualities play a large part in the appeal of this gorgeous book.

I loved this quirky, comical and fresh look at a close, comfortable and fun relationship between a girl and her grandfather. I think it will become a favourite for many young children. Bonny and Pop feel like real people and I hope they have more magnificent ideas together.

Nick Bland is a bestselling author and illustrator. His books include The Very Cranky Bear (2008), the wonderfully funny The Aunties Three (2011), and The Wrong Book which was named an Honour Book by the CBCA in 2010.

Stephen Michael King has illustrated more than 15 books for Scholastic. His books include The Man Who Loved Boxes which won the Family Award for Children's Books in 1996 and was shortlisted in the Crichton Award for Children's Book Illustration, Mutt Dog! (2004), Leaf (2008) and You (2010).

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Nerdy Ninjas vs the Really Really Bad Guys

Nerdy Ninjas Vs the Really Really  Bad Guys (Nerdy Ninjas) Nerdy Ninjas Vs the Really Really  Bad Guys (Nerdy Ninjas) by Shogun Whamhower, illustrated by Heath McKenzie (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978 1 74283 026 1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Nerdy Ninjas begin their school years as ordinary nerds. Well, maybe not so ordinary. Ben, who plays the trumpet often and not always appropriately, is given detention for using his teachers in imaginative creative writing pieces. Jake, who drives a rocket powered wheelchair, earns detentions by arguing with his science teacher. Pongo, who travels everywhere on a pogo stick due to his allergies, is often in detention for arriving late to school. And Veejay, who wants to be an opera singer, uses the detention room to hide out from an over-attentive mother.

The only time these nerds are ever noticed by anyone is when they are in trouble at school. This suits them fine. But when the four friends are ignored by the local bully Crispin Staniforth, who deems them too nerdy, it is the last straw. They decide put this ability to remain unnoticed to use and train themselves as Ninjas. They may even be able to stop this bully.

This comic story follows the exploits of the four friends as they transform themselves into ninjas, battle the bullies and manage to get the bottom of the puzzle of the men in orange who lurk throughout the story.
The supporting characters are great too. There’s Crispin Staniforth, the local bully who lurks in an alley posing with his pipe and the Financial Times rolled up under his arm. Mark Fotheringham-Smythe is the ‘tanned, stunningly handsome, impossibly blonde’ charismatic captain of everything at school. And Mr Caruthers, an extremely tall teacher with an infamous stare.

A variety of illustrations are scattered throughout. The black-and-white illustrations match the light comic tone of the text. I love the picture of Jake's mother abseiling down from their tree house after bringing them a snack. There are useful charts, such as the one demonstrating the range of Mr Caruthers' stares from Level-1: freeze a fruit fly, through Level-6: shut down a great white shark, to Level-10: turn a recipient to stone; character description; and rules for teachers and bullies. 

Each chapter begins with a fact from ‘The Ninja Warriors Handbook, Volume 27': 

A ninja’s garments should always be black, unless he finds himself in a 
snowstorm, then white is preferred. If a ninja is hiding amongst a herd of 
zebras, then a combination of the two is advised.

The corners of the pages become a flick book and you can watch Pongo bounce up and down on his pogo stick. The front cover has a hologram. Depending on which angle you look at it from, it shows four nerds in school uniform, or four ninjas ready for action.

The dialogue is fabulous. The banter between the friends is witty and very funny. My eleven year old son and I spent much time chuckling our way through the list of Veejay's fears, such as Arachibutyrophobia: fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth. Then there’s the list his mother has written to excuse him from various activities like Right Turns: Veejay prefers to turn left at roundabouts, so Veejay is banned from any excursions that would require the school bus to turn right. Veejay, it is pointed out, is a ‘complex guy’.

This is a fun and easy book to read. It did not take a predictable path and I enjoyed my time with the Nerdy Ninjas. I think young boys are going to love this and I feel it is perfect for reluctant readers.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

New Series: Ella and Olivia

Cupcake catastrophe (Ella and Olivia) Cupcake catastrophe (Ella and Olivia) by Yvette Poshoglian, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $3.99
ISBN   978 1 74283 354 5

Best Friend Showdown (Ella and Olivia)

 Best Friend Showdown (Ella and Olivia) by Yvette Poshoglian, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN   978 1 74283 355 2

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Cupcake Catastrophe and Best Friend Showdown are the first two titles in a new Australian series sharing the exploits of sisters Ella and Olivia.

Olivia is five and a half and looks up to her seven year-old sister Ella. They have a sweet and realistic sibling relationship which many young girls with sister of their own will relate to. Olivia wants to be just like her big sister, and although Ella sometimes wishes her little sister wouldn’t hang around quite so much, she knows Olivia can be helpful and fun.

In Cupcake Catastrophe, the first of the series Ella and Olivia make cupcakes for Dad’s birthday. Ella reads the recipe and measures while Olivia fetches ingredients and help to mix. They are happy to be able to bake them without Mum’s help. It is not until the party, when someone takes a bite of one of these perfect iced cupcakes, that they realise there is a problem...

In Best Friend Showdown Ella’s teacher announces that there will be a chocolate drive for the class to participate in and that there will be a gold star award for the student who sells the most. Will Ella’s best friend Zoe sell the most chocolate, or can Ella, with Olivia’s help, win that gold star award? And will the girl’s friendship survive the chocolate drive?

This is a series that young girls will enjoy. The large font and cute illustrations make these books perfect for beginner readers, as does the simple, fun and light text. Look out for the next couple in the series Ballet Stars and The New Girl.

You can find out more about Ella, Olivia and the series, read first chapters or download Ella and Olivia bookmarks at www.ellaandolivia.com.au.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Sheep on a Beach

Sheep on a Beach Sheep on a Beach by P. Crumble, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP  $13.99
ISBN  978 174283 321 7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Sheep goes to the beach. It is a new experience for him but luckily he has Crab to guide him through the day.

The text is lovely to read aloud. Each page is a repetition of the previous one, with one new line added each time. This builds a nice rhythm and anticipation as the story progresses. I can imagine young children memorising their favourite lines and chanting them as the pages are turned.

This is such a fun book for preschoolers. The simple text is wonderfully expressive: “Boardies on – Sweet!” as Sheep tries on a pair in front of a mirror provided by Crab who holds two more potential pairs.

The bold, bright illustrations are gorgeous. Sheep and Crab have wonderfully strong personalities which grow as the story progresses in the same way that the text is built on line by line. All the while, Crab, in quieter moment, builds his sandcastle in the background.

I can see this fast becoming a bedtime favourite.

Sunday, 22 July 2012


Shadows (Rephaim) Shadows (Rephaim) by Paula Weston (Text Publishing)
PB RRP $19.99 
ISBN 9781921922503
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Gaby Winters describes her hair as ‘… dark and hard to manage. A bit like me.’ But she's not what she appears to be and even she doesn't know why. On the surface she is a physically and emotionally scarred nineteen year old, recently arrived in the idyllic Pandanus Beach following the death of her twin brother Jude. But why does she dream about hell cats, corpses and decapitations? And when tough but sexy Raf turns up in town and seems to know her, can she trust him?

This fast paced story doesn’t leave us wondering long. Supported by her hippy friend Maggie, Gaby discovers a world of fallen angels, outcasts and demons, where ‘shifting’ from one place to another can heal wounds. Gaby, whose memory has been mysteriously wiped, learns that she is over a hundred years older than she looks and can only be killed by having her head chopped off. There is also a possibility Jude may be alive. Then Maggie is kidnapped and the fighting begins.

Shadows is suitable for older readers, over the age of fifteen. The fight scenes are quite graphic, for example: ‘My arm and neck are sticky with blood. I roll over, crawl along the ground, trying not to give myself away. I’m not slinking away: I want Jude’s sword.’ The scenes set in Pandanus Beach, where Gaby hangs out in an organic food cafe, runs in the rainforest and works in a library, are a nice contrast and show a softer side to her character.

This is the first book in a new series called the Rephaim and it leaves plenty of loose ends to follow up in the next instalment. While there is hope Jude is alive, there is still no sign of him. Gaby and Raf are still far from together, despite having shared steamy embraces and a couple of rather well-written kisses. There is some resolution at the end however, not just a 'to be continued'.

This is Paula Weston’s first novel and I highly recommend it. It’s engaging and has an interesting heroine.  We can all look forward to the second book in the Rephaim series when it comes out.  

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Fire in the Sea

Fire in the Sea Fire in the Sea by Myke Bartlett (Text Publishing)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781921922749
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Fire in the Sea was the 2011 winner of the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing. Set during a hot Perth Summer, it is the story of Sadie Miller, a teenage girl who wants to be anywhere but where she is. The first chapter begins with menacing shadows in the water, then gets straight into the action as a mystery man is attacked. Sadie and her friend Tom go to the hospital and Sadie finds herself the recipient of a dead man's will. Suddenly, it seems, her life has changed.

Sadie inherits a big old house at 1 Ocean Street. Here she meets Jake, 'the most gorgeous boy she had ever seen'. He says he is the reincarnation of the old man at the beach and an envoy from the gods. Sadie doesn't believe a word of it, but eventually she must as she is drawn into his world of Minotaurs, Drowners and Demons. Since her parents were killed in a car accident, she has had problems facing the idea of death. Now she can no longer escape it as she fights for her own life against creatures she never knew existed.

An ancient box goes missing, which contains a demon. If the demon is released the future of the world is at stake. Sadie, Tom and Jake must find the box and give it to the Drowners under the sea before the whole city of Perth is engulfed by water. But when the box is opened it is up to Sadie to make a choice. Will she make the right one?

Sadie is a strong character, skeptical at first, then courageous. Apart from a couple of sections from Tom's point of view, the majority of the book is from Sadie's perspective, which is more effective.  The story is grounded in Aussie suburbia, a nice contrast to the fantastical events that unfold. This action packed tale is suitable for young adults from early secondary school onwards.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Event: Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

The National Library of Australia is hosting an event for members of the public to meet the authors, poets and filmmakers shortlisted for the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. You’re invited to a celebration of great Australian writing and a conversation about the writing life where you will be among the first to find out who’s won the Awards. Shortlisted authors will be available to sign copies of their books.

Young adult fiction shortlist:

·                                 A Straight Line to My Heart, Bill Condon
·                                 Being Here, Barry Jonsberg
·                                 Pan’s Whisper, Sue Lawson
·                                 When We Were Two, Robert Newton
·                                 Alaska, Sue Saliba

      Children's shortlist:

·                                 Evangeline, The Wish Keeper's Helper, Maggie Alderson
·                                 The Jewel Fish of Karnak, Graeme Base
·                                 Father's Day, Anne Brooksbank
·                                 Come Down, Cat!, written by Sonya Hartnett and illustrated by Lucia Masciullo
·                                 Goodnight, Mice!, written by Frances Watts and illustrated by Judy Watson

Where: National Library of Australia Theatre
When: 12 noon, Monday 23 July
Cost: Free
Bookings: 02 6262 1271 or http://events.nla.gov.au

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Book Launch: Trust Me Too

Ford Street Publishing invites you to the launch of its latest book, Trust Me Too. Edited by Paul Collins with an introduction by Judith Ridge, Trust Me Too has never-before-published stories and illustrations from 57 contributors including Shaun Tan, Leigh Hobbs, Oliver Phommavanh, James Roy, Michael Gerard Bauer, Gary Crew, David Miller, Michael Pryor and many others.

Ford Street will be launching Trust Me Too in both Victoria and NSW.

Launch 1: NSW residents -- come along to the launch at Parramatta High School (Great Western Freeway) on Friday 20th of July. It'll start at 9:15. Wendy Orr (who will read from her story), Susanne Gervay, Meredith Costain, Oliver Phommavanh, Judith Ridge and others will be there. RSVP by July 14 to Terrie: fordstr@internode.on.net.

Launch 2: VIC residents – You’re invited to: Princes Hill Secondary College (Arnold Street, Carlton North) on July 27 at 6 pm. A STACK of children's authors and illustrators will be there, including Isobelle Carmody, Kirsty Murray, Meredith Costain, Marc McBride, Leigh Hobbs, Sean McMullen, Corinne King, Adam Wallace, David Miller, Janeen Brian, Gabrielle Wang, Sue Bursztynski and many others. It'll be a hoot! RSVP July 23 to Terrie: fordstr@internode.on.net.

Buzz Words loves Trust Me Too. This review was posted at BWB on 3 July:

Trust Me TooTrust Me Too edited by Paul Collins (Ford Street Publishing)   
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1921665585
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

Trust Me Too is a wildly diverse collection of short stories and poems, edited by Paul Collins, that is jam packed with intoxicating tales written by an all-star line up of Australian writers. In her introduction, Judith Ridge sums the collection up perfectly: “If reading is something you do to find your way into the lives of other people, whatever kind of world they live in, you will find something to enjoy and ponder on within.”

And there is definitely no shortage of worlds and lives to explore in this collection; nor a shortage of themes, motifs and genres that will perfectly engage the middle-readers audience, but the one thing that truly binds this anthology is the thrilling sense of adventure and strong themes. From the very first story, Kerry Greenwood’s ‘The Calabar Crystal’, readers are thrown right into the very heart of a historical otherworldliness through the daring adventures and discoveries of best friends, Red and Liam, who unearth Liam’s eccentric great-aunt’s secrets from Zimbabwe.

There is no turning back from the benchmark of Greenwood, and the ripping pace continues as readers travel from world to world meeting strong characters of both old and young who encounter everything from a lone child raised by dingoes, scavenger hunts with prized ashes, sci-fi detective deaths inspired by plagues of rats, failed rock star fathers, cartoon farmers plagued by Zombies and so very much more. The big draw card of the Obernewtyn novelette ‘The Journey’ by Isobelle Carmody, is well worth its weight in gold. Carmody outdoes herself, once again, with a brilliant sci-fi story of Hannah, her telepathic powers and groundbreaking research. Hannah, drawn to the corporate city in search of people like her and a research internship that could change her life, finds herself attacked by a nunazi ganger and rescued by Jake Obernewtyn who shares his wisdom and creates a new path for Hannah.

The Obernewtyn novelette, however, does not outweigh the brilliance of this anthology as a whole. Each and every story, poem and illustration is well crafted and stands impressively on its own. This collection really does present the best of the best and there is so much to chew on that it is almost impossible to even select a stand-out. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Captain Kangaroo's Activity Book

Captain Kangaroo's Activity Book Captain Kangaroo's Activity Book by Lothian/Hachette Australia, illustrated by Mandy Foot
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978 0 7344 1310 9
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Following the success of the in-house picture books, Come Fly with Captain Kangaroo (2011) and Captain Kangaroo and the Great Balloon Race (2012), Lothian/Hachette and Mandy Foot have again combined talents to produce a great companion activity book. While the picture books are aimed at a younger flying audience, many of  the activities in Captain Kangaroo's Activity Book will also interest and entertain the high end of primary age children. Parents will enjoy helping the under-sevens solve the puzzles and answer the questions, and may even find they have to stop and think twice!

Mandy Foot's colourful Aussie animal crew, luggage and hot air balloon illustrations are featured as shiny stickers centre-page, and a set of colouring pencils is attached to the easily-recognised cover with its white plane and Captain Kangaroo in the cockpit. There are various black and white drawings waiting to be coloured in, including a colour-by-numbers drawing to assist the indecisive. A travel diary, a passport to cut out once home and a word search puzzle based on air travel words are just a few examples they kids will enjoy.

Captain Kangaroo's Activity Book is packed with fun and is a happy and educational way to  keep boredom in check while in-flight. With 24 pages to choose from, kids are bound to be absorbed for hours on end.  

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Lucky Lucky by Roger McGough (Walker Books)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781847803214
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Welcome to another superb, lively and witty book of poetry. I avoid saying ‘for children’ because everything written for children is always enjoyed by older readers as well. Roger McGough is an observant and wondrous wordsmith. He writes for the stage and has been awarded an OBE and a CBE for services to poetry. He is the author of Dotty Inventions and the other superlative poetry collection, An Imaginary Menagerie who gives readings all over the globe.

It is books like these that bring words to life. Poetry becomes reborn through this entertaining form and enters the mind like a beat from a drum. Each poem is better than the one preceding it.

There are poems about hay fever, the stars, snails, a burp, granny’s canary. From this short list the reader can gauge how versatile and zany the subject matter is in this little book. There are forty-eight poems on ninety pages. The writer has also illustrated the book with pen and pencil.

‘Is sandpaper used for wrapping up sand?
If you lay down your arms, can you still lend a hand?
Is a sick bed a bed that is feeling unwell?
Is a crime wave a criminal’s wave of farewell?’

Then there’s The Book Borrower who borrows a book from a lender who knows it won’t be returned. ‘I’d give her a piece of my mind, but I’d never get it back’. Everything Touches is outstanding and meaningful; No Peas for the Wicked is clever and funny. The title poem Lucky is extraordinary in rhyming verse. The list goes on. If you want a good laugh, or to be amazed at what acrobatics words can do, pick up this book and fill your mind with impressions through poetry. It is a treasure to be treasured and a word lover’s ideal possession. It comes highly recommended.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Judy Moody and the NOT bummer summer

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer SummerJudy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9780763657116
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The countdown is heading to the last millisecond on the last day of school and the onset of summer holidays. But Rocky is going to circus camp and Amy is accompanying her mother to Borneo. Therefore Judy is left with Frank to have the best summer ever, which with the others gone, she anticipates as being totally boring!

Her brother Stinky though has big plans and nothing can dampen his spirits. There have been Bigfoot sightings and Stinky with his mate Zeke, are determined to catch him.

An emergency with Gramps takes the Moody parents to California, leaving Stinky and Judy with their Aunt Opal, a person they haven’t seen in years. Boring and double boring! But when Opal arrives she brings with her a huge smile, mood rings, hippie clothes, and an even cooler attitude to life. She is an immediate hit.

Thus begins a summer of dares and thrill points. While Rocky and Amy are building up their points, Judy and Aunt Opal are making strides of their own, even if they aren’t collecting points. Opal shows Judy how to create art from rubbish and teaches her that fun can be had in the most unexpected and unplanned ways.

The not so bummer summer comes and goes camouflaged in mayhem, mishaps mischief and masses of goo.

For first time readers of the Judy Moody books, there is a double page of Who’s Who of the characters incorporated in Judy’s world. The illustrations in the book are done in watercolour, ink and tea, the last being a favourite medium of the illustrator. Judy Moody books are ideal for early chapter book readers. They are funny, gross and highly entertaining!

Friday, 13 July 2012

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Jim Kay (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406339345
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is a gut-wrenching book; dark and sad, that explores the many faces of fear, loss, grief and love. It is powerful and frightening and one of the most outstanding books that have come my way in many years. It is a book a writer/reader longs to hold; to be able to experience and engage with every word in a deeply emotional way.

The prose is enhanced if it’s possible to enhance perfection, by the illustrator’s meaningful pen and ink artwork. The book was born from an idea of the late and multi-talented writer Siobhan Dowd who died of cancer aged forty-six, in 2007. Patrick Ness has done an exemplary job of creating and forming Dowd’s ideas into such a magnificent piece of writing, made all the more unforgettable because of the grouped pivotal themes involved.

It’s always 12.07 pm when the monster calls on thirteen year old Conor. What he wants is his most valued possession – truth. But it’s something the boy cannot and won’t give up easily for the cost to him is unthinkable.  So he suffers and carries his pain until his burden becomes unbearable and he knows he must set it down.

This moving story reflects along with the above listed themes, the difficult process of letting go and healing. The book will suit mature readers of any age but should be chosen with care for readers under fifteen. This is only the opinion of the reviewer.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


Walker Classics: Hist! by C. J. Dennis, illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921977749
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Another generation of readers is being given the opportunity to embrace and enjoy poems from their parents’ and grandparents’ childhood. These immortal works are represented through the outstanding Walker Classics series of reissued books.

 Hist! was featured in my Victorian Readers Fourth Book when I was at school. Imagine my delight when I saw this wonderful production of that marvellous poem that we recited in front of the class more than half a century ago.

The outstanding linocuts were created by Gouldthorpe in 1991. The dark coloured pictures are positioned in jagged frames with borders of black images against a deep blue background.

The expressions on the children’s faces are priceless as their imagination runs wild at every sound they hear while crossing the Possum Park on a moonless night. It’s a daring adventure they’ve undertaken by torch light.

‘The clouds are low and gloomy. 
Oh! It’s just begun to mist! We haven’t any overcoats
And – Hist!

The first sound is the mopoke in the tree, then a pair of possums, a cat, and a frog behind a rock. But while they are scared witless, they think, ‘isn’t it a lark just to roam so far from home…’

The light from their house beckons as they exit the park. So does the supper on the table. So they run toward safety, knowing they’ve braved their fears. As they shout for joy at reaching home again, they are confronted by the stern faces of their parents waiting in silent reprimand. Even without the text, the poem’s story could be translated perfectly through the superb illustrations.

This reissue is a priceless present from the past to a new generation of young readers.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Until I Die

Until I Die Until I Die by Amy Plum (Atom/Little, Brown/Hachette)
PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 9781907411038
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Amy Plum has followed her stunning paranormal story, Die for Me (read review here) with a second book which deepens the Parisian romance between Kate Mercier and her revenant boyfriend, Vincent Delacroix and plunges further into the mystery surrounding his supernatural world. Once again the cover is beautifully crafted and mega-appealing.

Revenants have an irresistible urge to die after saving a human life, but Kate, with her misery over her parents' deaths the previous year still fresh, finds it appalling that Vincent has to repeatedly die, even though he will slowly resurrect by the third day. When Kate decides she would rather be alone than to be attached to someone who will die over and over again, Vincent makes a vow to her that he will do his utmost to resist the compulsion. This goes against every fibre of his "unbeing", the urge equating to a drug addiction.

Vincent spends time apart from Kate in search of a solution, but it is evident that whatever he is doing is knocking him about physically. His strength is waning, he has dark circles under his eyes and mysterious bruising. He won't reveal to Kate what is the cause behind it, so Kate decides she will do her own research and investigating to come up with a better, less gruelling answer.

Two new revenant characters, Arthur and Violette, aristocrats who died in their early teens around 1500 have prominent roles in the story. They have come from their medieval castle in the Loire Valley to help the leader of Paris' revenants, Jean-Baptiste, develop strategies against the numa, the enemies of revenants. Because of their huge experience over the centuries, and also Violette's expertise on revenant history, they are very highly regarded by the other revenants. However, Georgia, Kate's sister dislikes Violette intensely and Kate is wary of Arthur. One sister will be proved right. In the meantime, Violette befriends Kate and wins her confidence while Georgia is hoping Arthur will fall for her.

Although the story opens with Kate practising defence exercises in case of a numa attack which occurs soon after, the progress of the story is fairly pedestrian for a good third of the book, although there are lots of kisses and romantic moments between the two protagonists which no doubt will delight the target age group. 
Nevertheless, interest is definitely whetted by the many questions requiring answers and by Kate's personal quest unfolding. She is unaware of how dangerous her mission is, but it is soon clear she is antagonising the enemy. She has discovered someone who could help Vincent, and the numas are aware of it.

As Until I Die heads towards conclusion, the pace is dramatically increased and readers will not be able to turn the pages fast enough. Surprises are in store and the ending confronting. I think Amy Plum has more to tell us about the paranormals of Paris.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Shadow Runners

Shadow Runners  Shadow Runners by Daniel Blythe, cover design by Steve Wells (Chicken House) 
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 1906427801

Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Shadow Runners is immediately appealing. The cover design shows a young woman’s face, shrouded in fiery light and the silhouettes of five teenagers standing on a hilltop below, backlit by purple skies and lightning. The blurb tells of Miranda, the new kid in town, who is drawn towards a group of social fringe dwellers who seem to know and understand the weird things she begins to experience in this normally uneventful town she dubs ‘Dullsville’.

Miranda, her mother and baby brother have moved here from London after the death of her TV presenter father. There’s a lot to get used to. Miranda is supposedly only twelve years old, but I found her character to be closer to sixteen, based upon her language, maturity and interactions with other characters. Also the cover shows a girl of about that age, which probably threw me off. But, that is a minor thing. Shadow Runners keeps you turning the pages, long into the wee hours, just to find out how Miranda is coping with the strange challenges thrust upon her whilst trying to come to terms with her beloved father’s death.

There’s a bunch of misfit kids at school who seem to know a lot about Miranda. They’re not perturbed by the bizarre dreams she keeps having, the mournful tunes in her head and the terrifying visual representations which start to haunt her daylight hours too. Her only friend is the dark, tortured orphan, Jade, who has lots of secrets of her own. Does that mean she can’t be trusted? It turns out Miranda’s mother, a therapist and healer, has passed down extraordinary abilities to her daughter, which Miranda’s rebellious nature refuses to acknowledge as being real and rational.

A teacher from school, Miss Bellini, is the only adult Miranda can turn to. And she’s the leader of this group of cosmic super sleuths, who battle against the forces of darkness threatening to engulf this modern seaside town, where links to events in its ancient past swarm forwards in time. In order to stop a malevolent character, reborn time after time, from taking over Miranda’s body, Miranda must battle forces she is just starting to believe in. Ancient evil. Dark spirits. It’s all a bit dramatic! But Miranda finds strength and comfort in the most unlikely places in this story of self-discovery and personal triumph. Teens will love Blythe’s hip language and sarcastic sense of humour. There’s plenty of good solid characters to believe in and an ending that leaves the reader wanting more.

Dawn Meredith is a May Gibbs Fellow and an author living in the Blue Mountains. www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com

Thursday, 5 July 2012


Floors Floors by Patrick Carman, illustrated by David Wyatt and Chris Turnham (Chicken House)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 1906427909
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Floors is a fabulous book! It’s a crazy romp through the wild imagination of Patrick Carman, who has created a fictional hotel, The Whippet, to rival any in our known world. It has official floors and secret floors, internal hidden floors, high speed elevators for ducks, expansive gardens and quirky guests. The Whippet is the creation of eccentric millionaire and inventor, Merganzer Whippet, who leaves the running of his unusual establishment in the hands of a terse manager, Ms Sparks and the maintenance crew, consisting of Leo Fillmore and his father Clarence, who reside in the basement, snug against the boiler.

And don’t forget the ducks. Every good mystery must have ducks. You never know when one will come in handy.

The colourful cover of this book is immediately appealing, jammed with all sorts of interesting elements from the story, which catch the eye and fire the imagination. There’s a shark’s head emitting tickertape maintenance orders, a chatty robot, cogs and wheels, lurking shadows and a boy in a suspended bucket shining a torch into the gloom. Merganzer’s distinctive profile is seen in silhouette, just as it appears on stationery and mysterious boxes throughout this intriguing story.

As a rebellion against massive over-development in the city, a haven from the vertical urban sprawl, the Whippet Hotel is a sanctuary for guests and a troubling enigma for greedy developers. Leo, our child hero, adores Merganzer Whippet and is dismayed when the proprietor leaves the hotel unexpectedly. But then messages begin to appear, especially for Leo. Boxes must be found and their contents utilized in a tightly woven quest to save the hotel from ruin. Ms Sparks adds tension, as does the ominous Bernardo Frescobaldi, a millionaire with his eye on the dilapidated hotel and parklands taking up valuable real estate. Leo befriends younger boy, Remi, whose mother works as a maid in the hotel and trust develops. He also enlists the dubious assistance of a small robot who can’t stop blabbing.

Leo and his father are extremely loyal to their beloved hotel and keep it in working order as best they can. They know all its little foibles, but lately disaster has struck every day and they are scrambling around the building trying to contain it and please the finicky guests, who keep threatening to leave. It seems someone wants the Whippet to fail. Is it Captain Rickenbacker? Mrs Yancey? Mr Bump?

I enjoyed the twists and turns, the strangely themed rooms and floors, such as the Cupcake Room, The Room of Rings, The Central Park Room, The Puzzle Room and the terrifying, Flying Farm Room. Despite his love of the Whippet, Leo’s life is frequently in danger as he follows the trail of clues left to him by Merganzer Whippet.

Carman has an easy style and endearing sense of humour which he sprinkles upon plot and character alike. Floors was a thoroughly enjoyable book.

Dawn Meredith is a May Gibbs Fellow and author living in the Blue Mountains. www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Trust Me Too

Trust Me TooTrust Me Too edited by Paul Collins (Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1921665585
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

Trust Me Too is a wildly diverse collection of short stories and poems, edited by Paul Collins, that is jam packed with intoxicating tales written by an all-star line up of Australian writers. In her introduction, Judith Ridge sums the collection up perfectly: “If reading is something you do to find your way into the lives of other people, whatever kind of world they live in, you will find something to enjoy and ponder on within.”

And there is definitely no shortage of worlds and lives to explore in this collection; nor a shortage of themes, motifs and genres that will perfectly engage the middle-readers audience, but the one thing that truly binds this anthology is the thrilling sense of adventure and strong themes. From the very first story, Kerry Greenwood’s ‘The Calabar Crystal’, readers are thrown right into the very heart of a historical otherworldliness through the daring adventures and discoveries of best friends, Red and Liam, who unearth Liam’s eccentric great-aunt’s secrets from Zimbabwe.

There is no turning back from the benchmark of Greenwood, and the ripping pace continues as readers travel from world to world meeting strong characters of both old and young who encounter everything from a lone child raised by dingoes, scavenger hunts with prized ashes, sci-fi detective deaths inspired by plagues of rats, failed rock star fathers, cartoon farmers plagued by Zombies and so very much more. The big draw card of the Obernewtyn novelette ‘The Journey’ by Isobelle Carmody, is well worth its weight in gold. Carmody outdoes herself, once again, with a brilliant sci-fi story of Hannah, her telepathic powers and groundbreaking research. Hannah, drawn to the corporate city in search of people like her and a research internship that could change her life, finds herself attacked by a nunazi ganger and rescued by Jake Obernewtyn who shares his wisdom and creates a new path for Hannah.

The Obernewtyn novelette, however, does not outweigh the brilliance of this anthology as a whole. Each and every story, poem and illustration is well crafted and stands impressively on its own. This collection really does present the best of the best and there is so much to chew on that it is almost impossible to even select a stand-out. 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Holier Than Thou

Holier Than ThouHolier Than Thou by Laura Buzo (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 978-1-74175-998-3
Reviewed by Ann Harth (www.annharth.com)

Holier Than Thou is a journey through a difficult time in the life of a strong, young woman who has learned to hold her emotions in an iron grip. The death of her father, a demanding job and the confusion of a solid relationship threatened by temptation, combine to take 23-year-old Holly to the brink of despair.

Holly Yarkov is smart, funny and real. Even as she is tormented with pain from her past and the uncertainty that comes with making decisions about the rest of her life, the core of her character is consistent and strong.

Laura Buzo’s experience as a social worker is evident in her realistic portrayal of Holly’s work which adds a poignant backdrop to this plot, and offers a glimpse of the sadder side of Sydney. It highlights the challenge of remaining optimistic when dealing with the daily pain of people’s lives.

Holier Than Thou deals with difficult issues, and yet it is infused with humour. Holly’s powerful feelings for her friends and family, as well as her slightly cynical view of the world in general, offer a way of looking her life with warmth and wit.

Laura Buzo has surrounded Holly with a cast of unique (a sensitive, dreadlocked circus enthusiast) and recognisable (a selfish, dramatic beauty) characters who breathe life into the pages of this book. The development of Holly’s own personality allows me to identify with her and become involved in her story.

Holier Than Thou would appeal to the upper end of the young adult market as well as adults. There are a few references to drug use and the honest portrayal of a mature relationship. The characters and quality of the writing will ensure that an older reader will savour this book.

Laura Buzo is the author of Good Oil (read Buzz Words Books review here) which was shortlisted for the 2011 Prime Minister's Literary Awards for Young Adult Fiction. It was also listed as a Notable Book in 2011 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year - Older Readers. Holier Than Thou is Laura Buzo’s second novel.

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.