Friday, 31 August 2012

On Two Feet and Wings

On Two Feet and Wings: One Boy's Amazing Story of Survival On Two Feet and Wings: One Boy's Amazing Story of Survival by Abbas Kazerooni (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74331-105-9
Reviewed by Ann Harth ( )

On Two Feet and Wings is the true story of a child’s struggle for survival during the Iran-Iraq war. Abbas is only nine years old when he flees Iran – alone.

Born into a wealthy and high-profile family, Abbas Kazerooni lives with Maman and Baba in Tehran. He and his parents are watched carefully by the rulers of Iran. When they reduce the army recruitment age to eight years old, it’s critical that Abbas escapes. Although Baba is not allowed to leave the country, he wants to send Abbas and Maman to Istanbul to keep them safe. All does not go as planned.

When they reach the airport, Maman is told that she is not allowed to leave Iran either. The choice is difficult but must be made swiftly. Abbas travels to Turkey alone or he goes to war. He lands in Istanbul, alone and terrified. He trusts no one and is suddenly faced with a constant struggle for survival. At nine years old, Abbas learns the lessons of a lifetime and meets many people; some can be trusted and others cannot. He discovers betrayal, trust, patience and great ingenuity within himself.

The writing in this book is superb, allowing the story to unfold effortlessly as the story progresses. Kazerooni’s use of sensory images invites readers to become so involved in Abbas’s life that they will feel as though they are wandering the streets of Istanbul beside him. This book will touch the hearts of young readers aged 12-14 as they follow Abbas on the most challenging journey of his life.

On Two Feet and Wings is Abbas Kazerooni’s first book. As well as an author, he is a lawyer, actor and producer. He attended the London Academy of Performing Arts and has worked in film, television and radio.

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

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Miss Understood

Miss Understood by James Roy (Woolshed Press – imprint of Random House Australia)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781864718607
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742748771
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Ten-year-old Lizzie Adams has certainly been misunderstood in her short primary school life as she melodramatically explains to the principal of Our Lady of the Sacred Wimple College how she accidently set alight his life-sized cardboard cut-out. Not only has she set off a chain reaction of burning the bike shed and singeing the surrounding grass, she’s also traumatised the nearby third graders. It’s the ‘latest in a very long line of wild events.’ There’s one result and one repercussion. Lizzie is expelled and to her horror, will be homeschooled by her mum.

Forever an optimist, Lizzie’s sassy attitude shines as she sees the positive side of being homeschooled. ‘It’d be a ‘stroll in the park, but with a late start.’

Lizzie’s misunderstandings continue at home. The dynamics of the novel open up as we are brought into the lives of Mum, Dad, their neighbour, Miss Huntley and the blow-ins from the adjoining HomeFest world of display homes.

Award-winning author James Roy makes you laugh out loud with his witty, visual prose. In the early morning hours, when Lizzie realises she’s forgotten to put the garbage bin out, Roy takes you into the scene as Lizzie is ‘charging down the driveway with the bin getting the speed wobbles.’ When she confides in Miss Huntley that her dad will kill her for forgetting, Miss Huntley wryly remarks, ‘I seriously doubt that. We haven’t had a murder in this street for three or four years.’

Roy’s layering of humour and seriousness is deftly written as Lizzie realises that she is not the only one to be misunderstood. Her dad has changed. He is grumpier than usual. He’s getting more forgetful and tends to spend a lot of time sleeping. Lizzie confides in the reader, that when your dad shouts ‘it felt extra yuck.’

Just when you think things are settling down for Lizzie, the next chapter races you off in another direction as Roy interweaves the parallel plots of those in Lizzie’s life. 

As Lizzie’s world broadens it’s finally revealed that her dad is suffering from depression. After he’s been to the doctor he gives Lizzie a brochure. ‘Mood swings, having no energy, feeling like everything was hopeless …Yes … a lot of them sounded like my dad,’ thinks Lizzie.  Roy deals with this issue in a gentle and sensitive way that just might speak to some of his readers who find themselves in a similar situation to Lizzie. And if that’s the case, as a separate entry at the end of the book there are a few helplines for those in need.

With six CBCA Notable Books and a litany of major awards to his name, James Roy has created another winner with Miss Understood. There’s a lovely sense of a moving-on cycle as all the characters grow within themselves and with each other. Will Lizzie be given another chance at Our Lady of the Sacred Wimple College? I’m sure, after the principal has seen how much Lizzie Adams has grown up. 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Time Vandals

Time VandalsTime Vandals by Craig Cormick (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-947-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Imagine waking up one morning to discover that everything you thought you knew about history was untrue. This is what happens to fourteen year olds Jack and Mei when they discover that their world, where the French colonised Australia and England, is an alternate reality. And what’s more, it is up to them to travel back in time and across realities to reinstate the true history, repair the changes, and save the world.

Jack, a computer games whizz, is ready to leap headfirst into any adventure, relying on just instinct and bravado, while Mei uses her calm intellect to think through a situation. These differing approaches cause much disagreement and sparring between the two.

They need to keep their wits about them, however, to understand Ixi, their guide and Temporal Reality Enforcement Officer (who looks like a garden gnome and sounds like Yoda). They also need teamwork to outsmart historical figures such as Napoleon and Stalin, and to outmanoeuvre the shadowy figure of Alpha, zombies, a gargoyle and the Time Vandals themselves.

This fast paced adventure is at times a little confusing as Jack and Mei flip back and forth through times and realities but the pieces all comes together as the story unfolds. The clever situations, alternate histories and consequences of changes all make this a fun read.

The story is light, funny and action packed. The chapters, which are numbered backwards, alternate between Jack and Mei’s viewpoints as they each take turns in the spotlight. This makes the story attractive to both boys and girls, but the humour and scenes such as the exploding guts and brains of the zombies, may make it more of a boys read. It would suit 9 – 14 year olds.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Dads: A field guide

Dads: A Field Guide Dads: A Field Guide by Justin Ratcliffe, illustrated by Cathie Glassby (Random House Australia)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781742755496
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Released in time for Father's Day, this book is a celebration of the vast range of different types of dads. The book opens with an intrepid researcher in the Dads Research Laboratory who ventures into the world to view fathers in their natural habitat. As he discovers, no two dads are the same. They come in all shapes and sizes and with different personalities.

However, the big question remains: what is the best kind of dad? Luckily, this is a question that every child will know the answer to. It is, of course, 'My Dad!'

Illustrator Cathie Glassby has long being recognised in the fashion and music industry. She has been nominated as one of the world's most exciting female illustrators. In Dads, every child will have fun picking out the features their own dad has from the fun and colourful depictions.

Dads: A field guide has been included in the Get Reading! 50 Books You Can't Put Down.

Monday, 27 August 2012

My Fantastic Father

My Fantastic Father (Little Mates) My Fantastic Father (Little Mates) by Susannah McFarlane, illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-032-2
                                          Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

My Fantastic Father is fun! Felix and Freya have fantastic fathers and this Little Mates celebrates all they can do from fixing footballs to frying flapjacks on Fridays. The story describes how two friends decide to do something for their Dads at the Father’s Day festival.

This story is a delight to read aloud as each page is like a tongue twister. Young children will love the alliteration and laugh at the antics of Felix, Freya and their fathers and possibly think up more “F” activities that their own fathers can do.

The illustrations are charming and they bring the personalities of Felix, a kangaroo, and Freya, a crocodile, across in an interesting and light hearted way.

Little Mates is a series of alphabet books featuring Australian animals and friendships. My Fantastic Father is a stand-alone companion to this series and is out as a special for Father’s Day.

Sunday, 26 August 2012


City by James Roy (UQP)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-0-7022-4926-6
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

In this companion piece to his previous short story collection, Town, award-winning Australian author James Roy brings us a cross-section of city life told in twenty-two short pieces. Although aimed at a Young Adult audience, I (an adult) found it enjoyable. There are some drug references in the novel, but substance use is not portrayed.

Set in an unnamed modern Western city, Roy offers us tantalizing glimpses into the lives of some young adults. Roy is a skilled tease. With economical use of words, he gives us a lot – and leaves the reader wanting to know more.

The characters span the social spectrum – the unemployed, junkies, poets, artists, private school boys, students, speed-daters, workers, visitors from the country – mostly strangers, are linked by invisible threads. The connections that bind a city's inhabitants similarly unite the protagonists... the music, the streets, nightlife, the buses, the poem scrawled on a wall, the sporting teams. Roy elegantly demonstrates that we are all only separated by a few degrees.

Each piece in this anthology skilfully portrays the hopes and disappointments, wisdom and stupidity, prejudices and tolerances, pain and resilience of these people. They are all unique, yet easily recognisable. My favourite was Lauren the nurse, and her budding romance with an African musician, but admit to a soft spot for the slow-witted Chunks, who takes umbrage at a thug and ends up naked and hog-tied, dragging his equally impulsive mates into a head-on confrontation with a group of armed men.

City can be read as a series of discrete short stories. But this would be denying the fun of referring back to a previous story, to confirm where you might have read about this particular person earlier as they make a cameo in another's story.

Beautifully written with an economy of words, City had the effect of making me want to go back and read Roy's previous work Town. I can offer no higher praise to a writer than that.

A set of teaching notes is also available from the publisher, RRP $19.95.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Lollipop Lil

Lollipop Lil written and illustrated by Audra de la Torre (Ace Press Australia)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN – 9780987174338
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

The opening page of this book holds an illustration of Lil with the line ‘This is Lollipop Lil.’  The following page goes on to introduce friends, Benie and Dedie, who call her Lollipop Lil ‘because she loves collecting lollipops.’  Thereafter, text with illustrations to match tells readers what Lilli does with lollipops. This includes making a lollipop garden, decorating her bedroom, wearing lollipops instead of hair ribbons and tying them in her shoelaces.

Once readers are introduced to her activities they go on to learn that Lil also places all sorts of lollipops into a jar for a guessing game used at her preschool fete. As pages are turned each spread reveals a new sort of lollipop that Lil used. Young readers learning to count to five may well be engaged as first one ‘spirally lollipop’, is revealed followed by ’2 heart-shaped lollipops’, ‘3 apple lollipops’ ‘4 smiley-faced lolli pops’ and 5 ‘that are gone in a couple of licks’.

Lil’s friends reappear after this and they sell all-day-suckers in a stall in Lil’s front yard because these are a ’favourite with all the children in her street.’ Besides looking at numbers one to five the change of colour as each number appears in large font on the page will prove useful for children who are learning their colours, as will the shapes used. Vivid colour on mostly white background draws the eye of viewers and leaves things uncomplicated.

As the book nears its end readers are told that the thing Lil likes most about lollipops, besides collecting them, is sharing them with friends and that when Lil grows up she is going to work in her own shop and it will be ‘called Lollipop Lane for all the lollipop lovers in her town.’ The final accompanying full page spread is in complete colour, allowing readers to again spot much of what they first saw as they made their way through Lil’s world.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Creepy and Maud

Creepy and Maud Creepy and Maud by Diane Touchell (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9-781-921-888-960
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

Creepy and Maud is a highly unusual book. Hilarious and heartbreaking, Creepy and Maud charts the relationship between two social misfits, played out in the space between their windows.

Creepy is a boy who watches from the shadows, purposefully not bringing any attention to himself but keenly observing and caustically commenting on all that happens around him.

Maud lives next door to Creepy with her bedroom window facing his. She is less certain about life, emotionally suppressed and alienated and misunderstood by her parents. Maud is a confused girl with a condition that embarrasses her family, and this assures her isolation.

Together Creepy and Maud discover something outside their own vulnerability — each other’s.  A growing and unlikely friendship and develops between them through notes posted on each other’s bedroom windows.

A fascinating and different dual narrative and inner dialogue tackles the problematic issues some teens encounter, highlighting the effects certain parenting has on these young teenagers.

Creepy’s knowledge and interest in 19-century novels lets us see his inner and more complex side and it was joyful to read these quotes throughout the story. Creepy becomes my genuine hero when he becomes involved in a bizarre but genuinely funny cat-kidnapping situation.

Maud’s fragility is disturbing but all is not lost as her situation finally takes a turn for the better. For a tragic story, the ending is surprisingly uplifting.

Creepy and Maud is a fascinating first novel and highly recommended for YA fiction readers.

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

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Stripes and His Night Alone at Preschool

Stripes and His Night Alone at Preschool written and illustrated by Audra de la Torre (Ace Press Australia)
HB/PB RRP $17.95
ISBN – 9780987174307
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

The opening page of this illustrated book begins ‘This is Stripes. Stripes is Charlie’s favourite knitted cat.’  It then goes on to tell that he is all alone, at preschool, because Charlie has forgotten him. Rather than fret, however, Stripes heads straight to ‘home corner’ where he has lots of fun, cooking up a make-believe party.

Once bored with that, Stripes moves on to raid the dress-up box and parades about in shiny black gumboots he finds. Standing before the mirror he thinks the reflection he sees is another cat. It is only on receiving no response when speaking to it that he twigs to something being wrong. Illustration and text combine to help readers see his reaction … 'His whiskers droop. His body sags and … His knitted face looks sad.’

The simplicity of telling readers what Stripes is doing, and then following that with illustrations to match what each piece of text has stated, may well appeal to the very young. The illustrations, some with bold colours and others black outlines on white, show readers a variety of expressions. First he seems shocked when left alone. Then he is happy and smiling while he amuses himself.

Missing Charlie, Stripes goes on to draw a picture of himself and his owner playing at the park together. This makes him feel better and he snuggles into the ‘rest sheets’ for a nap. Before he can doze off he hears a sound. It’s Charlie who has come to collect him, calling him a ‘silly cat’ before taking him home.

Children who worry about leaving things or have left things behind will easily relate to this element of the story, as might those who themselves fear being left behind. The ending makes room for discussion about how anything that is left behind is always found and the lighthearted delivery of such a potentially frightening situation will ensure young readers are left comforted.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Star Girl: Books 13 and 16

Star Girl – Book 13 Spilling Secrets and Book 16 Everything to Lose by Louise Park (MacMillan Education)
PB RRP $9.99 each
ISBN: 978 1 4202 9382 1 (Book 13) and 978 1 4202 9385 2 (Book 10)
Reviewed by Wendy McLean

Year Three at the SEAS (Space Education and Action School) Space Agent Program and Adelaide Banks has made it to agent-in-training! Addie, aka Space Girl, has graduated from Space Cadet and Captain, and has now made it into the last year at SEAS Space Agent Program. Students must complete a number of dangerous and important missions to outer space planets that need help, and need to earn more than 100 mission points in total to earn the rank of Space Agent.

But nothing is easy in the mission to become a Space Agent. In Book 13, Space Agent Star Girl is called away from her preparations for the Agents’ Masquerade Ball by an urgent mission text message on her Spaceberry. The Planet Catlabrator is turning into muddy sludge and the alien creatures keep getting bogged! Star Girl and her fellow agents-in-training, Space Agents Supernova 1 and Asteroid, must save the puppy-like aliens with the tiger faces (known as catralabs) from drowning. Space Agents Star Girl and Supernova 1 are focused on the task at hand but is Space Agent Asteroid? After discovering a certain Space Agent received an invitation to the Agents’ Masquerade Ball from the handsome Space Surfer, she is more focused on thwarting Star Girl’s chances of attending the ball than saving the catralabs. Whether Star Girl can save the catralabs, overcome the evil actions of Asteroid and still make it to the ball is uncertain until the final pages of the action-packed Star Girl 13 Spilling Secrets.

In Book 16, it is graduation week but Space Agent Star Girl hasn’t flown a mission since her harrowing trip to Planet Oceanella and still does not have enough mission points to graduate with her best friends. But when Space Agents Comet XS, Neuron Star and Shooting Star are called to an important mission to the Planet Molluscara, they have more on their mind than just rescuing the alien shelluscas. With the help of her very best friends, Star Girl braves one last mission in an attempt to not only rescue the shelluscas from deadly fire and smoke but to earn the vital mission points necessary for graduation.

The Star Girl series is an exciting and empowering series which touches on skills necessary to succeed in any mission (real life or fantasy!): trust, quick thinking and the ability to work as team. The action-packed books combine the trials and tribulations of everyday life in a boarding school with the dangerous and action-packed adventures of the best space fantasy and will appeal to girls aged 7-10.  Readers can also check out the Star Girl website:

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

My Dad’s the Coolest

My Dad's the Coolest My Dad's the Coolest by Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-0742-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

With Father’s Day coming up it is the perfect time to be reminded about all the cool things dads can do.

In the latest picture book, written by Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley, we see wonderful relationships between fathers and their children. From the rooster who tickles his chick to the mountain goat who climbs with his kid, these animal families are having fun together.

The illustrations are bold, bright and strong with much humour and warmth shining through. The text is simple, spare and direct. Preschoolers will understand and identify with the emotions beneath the words and pictures. “Dad is very brave, and clever too.”

The story is a simple message told in a lively and enjoyable way. This is a beautiful book and a delight to read.

Bruce Whatley is a much loved and awarded picture book author and illustrator. He has co-written several books with Rosie Smith including My Mum's the Best and Danny da Vinci: The Flying Machine of Lombardy.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Clementine Rose and the Surprise Visitor

Clementine-Rose and the Surprise Visitor Clementine-Rose and the Surprise Visitor by Jacqueline Harvey, illustrated by J. Yi (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9781742755410
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742755427
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

‘Clementine Rose was delivered not in the usual way, at a hospital, but in the back of a mini-van, in a basket of dinner rolls.’ With such an intriguing opening sentence it soon becomes clear that five year old, Clemmie (as she is affectionately called), is a little girl with a difference. Even her pet is unconventional; a cute-as teacup pig called Lavender who is ‘as big as a cat and won’t grow anymore.’

Clementine lives in a crumbling mansion in the village of Penberthy Floss. Her mother, Lady Clarissa Appleby, not only wins lots of competitions she also takes in paying guests to help upkeep their mansion. There are lots of deliciously named characters such as Digby Pertwhistle (the butler), Mrs Moggs (who makes Clemmie’s pretty dresses) and Pierre Rousseau (the local baker of all things French).

Each easy-read chapter is filled with light, bouncy prose and takes us into Clemmie’s life as she goes from scrape to scrape. The light-heartedness changes when Clemmie’s crusty, great-aunt Violet, and her bald, sphinx cat, come to stay. Violet has a secret and Clemmie does her best to find out what it is as she accidently-on-purpose sees strange things in her great-aunt’s mysterious black bag. Violet takes a great dislike to darling Clementine as she creeps and lurks around the mansion looking for something left there from her own childhood.

Harvey’s lively turn of phrase helps the reader visualise the characters, such as the napping guest, Mr Sparks, ‘whose forehead and cheeks were lined like crinkle-cut chips’. As Clemmie reaches out to touch his ‘not quite right’ hair, it slides onto the floor ‘like a flat ginger cat.’

The cover of Clementine Rose invites the reader in as the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl taking her teacup pig for a walk, waves and makes eye contact with you. You can almost hear her asking you to come and play.

Scattered through the chapters are appealing black and white illustrations that I was so tempted to colour in myself. There’s also a handy Cast of Characters at the back of the book to help the reader keep up with who’s who.

Jacqueline Harvey is the author of the bestselling Alice-Miranda series and it looks like she’s got many more adventures in store for sweet five-year-old Clemmie, with the last page showcasing the preview cover of Clementine Rose and the Pet Day Disaster.

This easy-reading chapter book (first in the series) for children aged 6 – 9 sings of the joy of childhood and of families, even ones with grumpy great-aunts called Violet.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

One Very Tired Wombat

One Very Tired Wombat One Very Tired Wombat written and illustrated by Renée Treml (Random House Australia)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781742749013
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

There are many counting picture books on the market but Renée Treml’s idea is unique. Take one ‘very tired wombat’ and add to the mix, a plethora of iconic Aussie birds that take turns in groups of 2 to 10, to use the poor, sleepy wombat as their source of play.

We’ve all been so tired that no matter who annoys us, we do our best to ignore them. It’s early morning and Wombat has been up all night; he is determined to get some sleep. He curls into a ball, tucks his head onto his front paws and closes his eyes. The birds have other ideas.

He’s peered at, sat on, nested on and slid down. There’s ‘warbling’ and ‘cooing’, ‘cackling’ and ‘chattering’ all around him. Poor Wombat twists and turns and covers his eyes. He is super patient with all the kerfuffle until a ‘flittering fairy wren’ loses a feather. It flutters onto Wombat’s nose causing him to sneeze with such magnificence that all the birds scatter. The counting flashes backwards as each group flies off until Wombat is finally alone. That’s when the twist comes on the final page. Wombat opens one sleepy eye and looks at the reader. There are 11 owls perched across his back. Perhaps they think he is an arching tree branch!

Treml’s use of language is inventive for both reader and listener. There’s lots of alliteration for the littlies to repeat, such as ‘curious curlews’, ‘playful penguins’ and ‘cackling kookaburras.’ The simple words in the text are sprinkled with more challenging ones like ‘inquisitive’, figurine’ and ‘hysterical’, but these are easily understood by the illustrations. Onomatopoeic words, such as ‘coo-cooing’ and ‘giggling’ are fun to repeat, as are the rhymes that describe each group of birds’ playful interaction with the wombat. And let’s not forget the counting of birds on each page.

One Very Tired Wombat is a story of patience and the celebration of the simple things in life. Treml’s illustrations are crisp and clear as she has created them using a scratchboard covered in white clay. Each animal is blocked out in black ink and then scratched into life with faces, fur and feathers. The detail is amazing.

The use of colour is kept to feature the wombat, starting off with blue for a peaceful, nocturnal feel. As the day with the playful birds progresses, the colours move through the colour wheel of teal, green, yellow, orange and then dusky pink into purple as the wombat finally gets to rest.

Just when you think you’ve finished this playful romp, there’s more. The back pages tempt you with information about wombats, curlews, frogmouths and penguins.

After moving from the USA to Australia in recent years, Renée Treml was inspired by our wildlife and birds. She has certainly captured their quirks and personalities.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Shy the Platypus

Shy the Platypus Shy the Platypus by Leslie Rees (National Library of Australia)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780642277411
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Some books are classics that speak to each generation of readers; Shy the Platypus is one of these. Originally published in Sydney during World War Two (1944), Leslie Rees' story of Shy the platypus growing up in the Australian bush will be enjoyed as much today as it was seventy years ago.

We first meet Shy in the nest with her mother and brother. The two young platypuses grow and learn until it is time for them to make their own homes. Shy ventures into the world and meets her own mate and the life cycle continues.

Leslie Rees love and knowledge of Australian fauna and flora shines through in this tale which weaves a captivating story with a real sense of the bush in all its beauty and danger, including that most vicious of creatures-humans.

One highlight is the inclusion of artwork from the National Library's own collection. The introduction by Rees' daughter Dymphna Peterson provides an intimate insight into Leslie Rees and his work. Included are photographs and corrected typescripts of Rees' own manuscripts. Another bonus is the scientific information about platypuses.

The book is superbly presented and would make a perfect gift. It is a book to treasure and to hand on to the next generation.

Friday, 17 August 2012


The Children’s Book Council of Australia has just announced the winners and honour books for 2012. Congratulations to all winners, honour books and those shortlisted. Children's literature is alive and well!

Book of the Year: Older Readers
(These books are for mature readers)

Gardner, Scot The Dead I Know, Allen and Unwin

Honour Books: Older Readers
Condon, Bill A Straight Line to My HeartAllen and Unwin
Newton, Robert When We Were Two Penguin Books, Penguin Group (Australia)

Book of the Year: Younger Readers
(These books are intended for independent younger readers)

Crow Country Constable, Kate Crow Country Allen and Unwin

Honour Books: Younger Readers
French, Jackie Nanberry: Black Brother White Angus and Robertson, Harper Collins
Green, Susan The Truth About Verity Sparks Walker Books Australia

Book of the Year: Early Childhood
(Intended for children in the pre-reading to early reading stages)

The Runaway Hug Bland, Nick, Illus: Freya Blackwood The Runaway Hug Scholastic Press, Scholastic Australia

Honour Books: Early Childhood
Hartnett, Sonya Come Down, Cat! Puffin Books,
Illus: Lucia Masciullo Penguin Group (Australia)
Honey, Elizabeth That's Not a Daffodil! Allen and Unwin

Picture Book of the Year
(Intended for an audience ranging from birth to 18 years. Some books may be for mature readers)
Arranged by Illustrator

A Bus Called Heaven Graham, Bob A Bus Called Heaven Walker Books Australia

Honour Books: Picture Book of the Year
Brooks, Ron, Text: Margaret Wild The Dream of the Thylacine Allen and Unwin
Whatley, Bruce, Text: Jackie French Flood Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia

Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
(Intended for an audience ranging from birth to 18 years range. Some books may be for mature readers)

One Small Island Lester, Alison and Tulloch, Coral One Small Island Penguin Group (Australia)

Honour Books: Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
Do, Anh and Suzanne, Ill. Bruce Whatley, The Little Refugee Allen and Unwin
Qld Art Gallery Surrealism for Kids Qld Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art

In a previous BWB post, I had a stab at picking the winners. See how I did!

Fizzlebert Stump: The boy who ran away from the circus (and joined the library)

Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away from the Circus (and Joined the Library) Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away from the Circus (and Joined the Library) by A.F. Harrold (Bloomsbury Publishing)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978 1 4088 3003 1
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Fizzlebert Stump is the only kid in the Circus where he lives with his mum, a clown and his dad, the circus strongman. To people outside, Fizzlebert's life would seem exciting, especially as his part in the Big Top performance is to put his head inside the mouth of a lion. But he is lonely.

Things start to change when he finds a library book and his (rather hopeless) history teacher, Dr Surprise, the circus magician, advises him to take it back to the library so the boy who borrowed it wouldn't get into trouble. But it is Fizz who gets into trouble, and the library can't be blamed. Who would think a couple of elderly pensioners could turn kidnappers?

The author, A.F. Harrold is a performance poet and this shines through with his descriptive language and very different writing style. He breaks the rule of author intrusion extravagantly, and unfolds his story in conversational style. Because his main character is very innocent of life outside the circus environment he capitalizes on Fizzlebert's naivety, which also enables him to emphasise safety rules for young readers, such as why kids shouldn't talk to strangers, particularly ones who tell lies.

"Stuffed with laughs" is the comment on the cover, but I found the going fairly bland for the first few chapters. Having said that, many bookworm kids who love stories unfolding in a more pedestrian, even distracting, manner will be hooked. There is plenty to smile about as the plot picks up pace. A.F. Harrold's imagination soars, his descriptive words multiply, and the action sets in, bringing his humorous story to a most enjoyable end.

Fizzlebert Stump is a read as quirky as the title, and a lot of kids will embrace giggling along with the writer as equals. I'd recommend it also for writers of children's literacy as an example of how a book can be written in a very different way with much success.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Ned Kelly’s Secret

Ned Kelly's Secret Ned Kelly's Secret by Sophie Masson (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-032-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Hugo Mars has come to Australia with his father chasing stories of the gold rush until the coach they are travelling in is held up by the notorious outlaw Harry Power. Father and son then turn their attention to the stories of the area’s infamous bushrangers. The Victorian countryside is vastly different from their hometown of Paris, but it provides the adventure that Hugo craves when he befriends Maggie Kelly and her brother Ned. Hugo is swiftly caught up in the world of bushrangers.

The author has created a fantastic character in Hugo Mars. He is keen to help his father’s research and is encouraged by Mr Mars to make up his own mind about situations and people rather than follow others. He also longs to strike out on his own and does so occasionally, yet is reasonably cautious, not foolhardy.

Masson manages to make the reader see the unfolding drama through the eyes and perspective of Hugo. The scene where he meets Harry Power and is torn between admiration and dislike is particularly powerful in this respect.

The writing is evocative. In the wonderfully tense bail-up scene, Hugo describes the kookaburra’s sound as the “long drawn-out cackle of a witch mocking our pitiful plight.” The bush, small country towns and the city of Melbourne in 1875 are well drawn and full of life.

Hugo Mars and his father are fictional, but most of the other characters are based on real people from history. Ned Kelly and his family, Harry Power, Jules Verne (Mr Mars’ friend in Paris), even the smaller characters such as the squatter Robert MacBean, the policemen and the Beechworth lawyer Mr Zincke have historical origins.

It is well researched and holds the excitement, suspense and drama of a great bushranging tale. Ned Kelly is not painted as evil, nor particularly good, and the openness of right and wrong works really well in this telling of Ned’s boyhood years.

This book would suit boys or girls from the age of twelve, and I think boys in particular will connect with the brave and adventurous Hugo Mars.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable, exciting and informative story about an era of Australian history.

Sophie Masson has written many books for children including three in the My Australian Story Series. The Hunt for Ned Kelly (My Australian Story) won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for children’s fiction in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2011.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


Survive Survive by Alex Morel (hardie Grant EGMONT)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 9781742973067

This book had me hooked. Jane had attempted suicide a couple of time and when we meet her she is about to execute another attempt. This one is better planned and she believes she will succeed. Suicide is a part of her family history, and she is convinced that she is destined to follow as well.

Her father committed suicide throwing her into a depression that she won’t acknowledge. When we meet Jane she is in an institution and planning her own death. She boards a plane to visit her mother over Christmas though she has researched and bought all the pills she needs to not wake up at the destination. The plane however hits turbulence when she is in the bathroom, then crashes leaving Jane and one other young man as the sole survivors. From the top of the remote frozen mountains Jane discovers that she wants to survive and she works hard to do so.

This book delves into a difficult and serious topic without any moralising. Most teenagers will think about suicide at some point in their changing lives. The story takes the classic scenario of “wanting death till faced with it” and makes us believe and care for the main character. The writing is scenic and the character well developed. The language and personality of Jane is well constructed. The book hits the target audience of 14+ with accuracy. I recommend this book as a reinforcing statement about what is good in life.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Phyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr Okyto

Phyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr Okyto Phyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr Okyto by Geoffrey McSkimming (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781742378213
Reviewed by Ann Harth ( )

Fourteen-year-old Phyllis Wong is a brilliant magician. She inherited her talents from her great grandfather Wallace Wong – Conjurer of Wonder. In the prime of his magical career, Wallace Wong vanished. The mystery of his disappearance has never been solved. Phyllis, her father and her dog, Daisy live in Wallace Wong’s majestic home in the city.

In Phyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr Okyto, Phyllis attempts to solve a more recent mystery. A spate of robberies is rocking the city. An expensive bookend is taken from Mrs Lowerblast’s Emporium, a priceless necklace disappears from Duckworth’s and a famous painting is stolen from the museum. Every one of the thefts seems to take place in front of witnesses but no one sees a thing.

Inspector Barry Inglis knowing, but not quite understanding, the clever workings of Phyllis’s mind, enlists her help. She, Daisy and her friend, Clement (who will do anything to get out of xylophone practice) combine forces and attempt to solve the mystery behind the robberies.

Readers aged 9-14 will enjoy Geoffrey McSkimming’s novel, becoming immersed in the mystery along with a cast of likeable and unique characters. McSkimming’s writing style is particularly enjoyable as he has a wonderful touch with words.

… a colourful, glamorous, zhooshy woman burst down the stairs like a perfumed cluster of runaway balloons.’

‘A little noise came from the back of Daisy’s throat (it sounded like she was quietly gargling with marbles in her mouth)…’

These are only two of the many gems found in Geoffrey McSkimming’s book.

Phyllis Wong and the Forgotten Secrets of Mr Okyto is a lively and entrancing story unfolding in a small community within the bustle of the big city. I highly recommend this book for its characters, plot and writing style.

Published internationally, Geoffrey McSkimming is the author of the popular Cairo Jim chronicles and Jocelyn Osgood jaunts. He has also written Ogre in a Toga and Other Perverse Verses. His work can be found in various magazines and poetry anthologies. For more information about Geoffrey McSkimming, please visit him at Phyllis Wong has her own website which can be found here:

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

Monday, 13 August 2012

Koala Tails

Koala Tails by Lynton Allan (Sketch n' Tell Publishing)
PB RRP $18 plus postage
ISBN 9780646571287
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Koala Tails explores the the issues of self-acceptance and self-worth in a fun and non-didactic manner and would be useful in any home, pre-school or primary school to assist in the very important task of assisting children to develop a healthy self-esteem.

Grumbles the koala is a likeable character but believes he is ugly and that no one will want to play with him because he has no tail. In an effort to remedy this Grumbles heads off for the tail shop, 'an old gum tree covered in stringy pieces of bark'.

In a choose-your-own ending style, readers select a tail for Grumbles who then meets the owner of a similar tail. Grumbles soon discovers that he doesn't really desire the way of life the tails offer.

The stand-out feature of this book is Lynton Allan's illustrations. Full of the vivid colour of the Australian bush with striking blues, greens and oranges, and featuring the unique wildlife, the illustrations will be enjoyed by young and old.

Lynton Allan is a visual artist and storyteller who is available for presentations in schools and the community. He is available to paint on commission and original art, prints, and gift cards are for sale. For further information go to the Sketch n' Tell website.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Wheels on the Bus

The Wheels on the Bus [Board book] The Wheels on the Bus [Board book] illustrated by Mandy Foot (Lothian/Hachette)
BB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780734413116
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

This great little in-house board book offers a new slant on the ever-popular nursery rhyme/song. The driver and passengers are all Australian fauna, and Mandy Foot's bright and quirky artwork tells a great story.

The cute Wombat bus driver is taking his passengers on a trip around Australia. At Coober Pedy the wheels get stuck and help is needed from Kangaroo. In Tassie, Joey, chased by a Tasmanian Devil, is hoping the doors of the bus won't shut until he is aboard. At Bondi Beach a surf-lifesaver koala is on duty and Emu is eager to step out of the bus to go for a swim, but Kangaroo is keen to hop back in the bus...

There is plenty more fun and action throughout the book. Toddlers will laugh at the bus becoming water-borne on the Great Barrier Reef where the wipers certainly need to swish a lot. In the outback the emu family find the track especially bumpy, and when the baby emus and joey start to waah! their mothers are quick to shhh! them as the bus crosses a Darwin creek full crocodiles.

Young readers will enjoy singing the song, naming the animals, and looking for the green gecko on each spread. The music score is found on the end page while a map of Australia on the inside cover shows all the destinations, lending a further educational aspect to this delightful board book. 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Battle of the Mega-mutants - Aquamaxitor (Boy Vs Beast)

Battle of the Mega-mutants - Aquamaxitor (Boy Vs Beast)Battle of the Mega-mutants - Aquamaxitor (Boy Vs Beast) by Mac Park (Scholastic/Pop and Fizz)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-92193-117-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Aquamaxitor is a Boy Vs Beast adventure starring Kai Masters. Kai Masters is a border captain posted to a lighthouse in Australia with his robotic dog, BC. Kai is one of five guards who defend the border-wall from beasts who try to escape the Beastium to get through to Earth.

In this story, Kai’s battle partner is Ying Li, a border guard from the Hong Kong posting, along with his bionic cat, BF. Together Kai and Li fight pest attacks, such as flying toxic jellyfish and rock-bombing hawks, before the ultimate battle with the mega-mutant beast Aquamaxitor.

This is a popular series for boys at the beginning reader level, 6+ years. The use of short sentences, large type, short chapters and simple words make it great for this age group. It is fast-paced, adventurous and full of pictures. The ultimate battle scene is done in the style of a cartoon strip, making the battle even more visual.

The illustrations scattered throughout the text also helps this reading level. The plan of Kai’s lighthouse, with its observation deck, test room and indoor skate park will delight young boys.

The story is structured much like a computer game through the use of levels of advancement and specific language, such as the upgrading of beasts. This, along with the gadgets, robotic and mutant animals and battles make it a good series for reluctant readers as well. It will especially appeal to those who love computer games.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Ann Whitehead book signing

Ann Whitehead book signing at Dapto

Okay, this isn't Buzz Words Books usual post but Ann is a personal friend and a fabulous writer.

Ann Whitehead will soon be having a book signing for her new adult historical sage Waratah House (Penguin Books). The signing will take place at Newings Bookstore, Dapto Mall, opposite Woolworths from 11am-2pm on Saturday 18 August. Please go along to support our terrific local author who lives at Oak Flats.

Please pass this message on to others who might be interested.

The Terrible Suitcase

The Terrible Suitcase The Terrible Suitcase by Emma Allen, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-940-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The first day of school is a big experience. It is long awaited and anticipated with a mixture of nervousness and excitement. So imagine how you’d feel it you were given a terrible suitcase instead of the red backpack with rockets which you desperately wanted as a going-to-school present. Would it make you mad, mad, MAD?

It certainly makes the main character in The Terrible Suitcase mad, especially when her friend Howard is given the backpack with rockets and all the other children starting school have incredible new backpacks.

This charming story about starting school, fitting in and outer space is told through the eyes of a girl with strength, passion and a glorious imagination. The story follows her predicament as she moves through mad, grumpy, and sulky until she slowly eases herself out of her moods.

I haven’t read many picture books which are written in the first person and it makes this story refreshingly intimate. Children will be able to get inside the head of the character and relate to her. It reminds me a little of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, (a great favourite in our house when my children were young) in the way that it explores how moods and actions can build up and affect the day.

Although there is far more text than is usual in a picture book for preschoolers, the words flow beautifully and fit the character and voice, making it a pleasure to read aloud.

There is much to explore in the beautifully soft but busy illustrations. There are many children doing different things, with different backpacks and different personalities.

The appeal of rockets and space travel is wide and young children will respond to the imagination of both the text and the pictures. This is a picture book well worth including in any young person’s book collection.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Imagine We Were

Imagine We Were by Renee Bennett, illustrated by Claire Richards (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921633-63-8
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

On first impressions this book is inviting, it begs for you to pick it up and have a read. I was not disappointed when I did. It is not only beautifully illustrated but beautifully written. A rhyming adventure for a mother and her baby, they imagine themselves to be a variety of animals always a mother and baby with the mother confirming her love.

The author Renee Bennett has managed, in a simple rhyme, to express a very important message, and one that shared by parent and child would make this book a favorite.

Claire Richards, the illustrator has illustrated six books. She works in watercolour, coloured pencil and crayon. The illustrations in this book are peaceful and comforting yet still loose, colourful, and full of fun.
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.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Rock and Roll Elephants

Rock and Roll Elephants by Bill Condon, illustrated by Ian Lamont (Hands Up Books)
PB RRP $10
ISBN 9780955558931
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

This little pocket book of poetry gems by award-winning author Bill Condon will have kids turning pages and giggling away. Off beat humour and clever twists are the order of the day with poems featuring many childhood favourite topics such animals, body parts and food. However, my favourite poem, Auntie Dot, features none of those and is also one of the shortest in the collection:

The world's tidiest person
Is my Auntie Dot.
When she got the measles
She numbered each spot. 

Ian Lamont's black-and-white illustrations appear on every page adding to the humour of the poems. This is a book that will be enjoyed by children of all ages, whether it is read to them or read independently.

Rock and Roll Elephants can be purchased here.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Writing Competition: Kidlit Writing Contest

Submit your first 450 words HERE to be judged by a panel of experts including literary agent Catherine Drayton. Entries close SUNDAY August 12. 

Report to on Wednesday, August 15 to check out the top 5 entries and vote for your favourite. 

The page with the most votes wins $1,000 and their own author profile page. Voting will close September 5 at midnight EST and the winner will be announced on September 6, 2012.

Girl V the World: Waiting for it

Girl V the World: Waiting For It Girl V the World: Waiting For It by Chrissie Keighery (hardie Grant EGMONT)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1742971810
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Girl V the World is a new series of books launched by HGE. Four titles will be released in 2012 and more to follow in 2013. This series is targeted at the “forgotten girls – the girls who have been pushed up from early fiction straight to paranormal romance.”

In Waiting for it we met Hazel, a very likeable and thoughtful teenager just starting high school. At thirteen years old she is young in some ways – she loves teddies, is a daddy’s girl and is upset by change within her household. She is also half way to growing up. She wants to be treated like an adult, wants to get her period and longs to feel comfortable amongst boys and her new friendship circle.

In this story, Hazel has made it into the cool group but is unsure of her position there. She is the last of her friendship circle to get her period and she spends agonizing girl talks hearing about the others and how much more advanced they are. Boys and their developing body is the topic of the moment and this story navigates it all with humour and tenderness. Hazel discovers that staying true to herself brings the best results.

Waiting for it is written in a straightforward honest manner. This is a welcome series covering real life topics. The series is written by a collection of authors already well known within the field, having penned Go Girl and Girlfriend Fiction. In 2012 there are two books by Chrissie Keighery, followed by one by Thalia Kalkipsakis and one by Meredith Badger.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Maximus Black Files – Dyson’s Drop

The Maximus Black Files – Dyson’s Drop by Paul Collins (Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921665-66-0
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

Dyson’s Drop is the second book in The Maximus Black Files trilogy. Fran Atkinson of the Sunday Age warned readers of the first book, The Mole Hunt: “Don’t bother trying to acclimatise. There’s no meandering here, just a full throttle shove…” The second book is no meek and mild sibling, if anything it is a harder and faster journey that takes the readers on a thrilling, action-packed ride.

Maximus Black, the intriguingly dark and menacing character also known as Nathaniel Brown, is on a mission to conquer the galaxy. He will stop at nothing. With the mysterious alien, Envoy, by his side Maximus has set out to solve the riddles and uncover the locations of the three lost coordinates that will give him all the power he needs to rein over the entire galaxy. The only true thing standing in his way is Anneke Longshadow, one of RIM’s best agents back from the dead, whose sole agenda is to find the coordinates first and save the galaxy from the destructive ways of Maximus Black.

A whirlwind succession of events, including the dismantling of RIM as the galaxies law enforcement spy agency and the positioning of Black’s Majoris Corporata as the highest power, sees Anneke and Maximus tailgating one another through the galaxy in a battle between good and bad. With nail-biting encounters, near deaths, explosions, high-tech gadgetry, cleverly weaved problem solving and a chase that leaves you on the edge of your seat, Dyson’s Drop serves as a mesmerizing read.

The thrills are not the only things that make this book so rich. Collins has created a captivating and highly thought out world that is powered by a tapestry of themes not unlike those of our own earthly world. There is corruption, dictatorships and power struggles woven through the story. Then there are the strong characters that bind the story. It’s not just Anneke and Maximus that intrigue readers. The supporting cast of characters that surround and support both Anneke and Maximus are just as well carved with human struggles and psychology that piques the reader’s engagement and curiosity and the two themes of humanity that grasp us most are those of identity and belonging.

Dyson’s Drop is a brilliant read and not one not for the faint-hearted. It keeps you gasping for more with every turn of the page and leaves you hanging at the most crucial point at the end of the book – the perfect clincher to have you spurring Collins on to swiftly write the last book! 

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Horrible Harriet’s Inheritance

Horrible Harriet's Inheritance Horrible Harriet's Inheritance by Leigh Hobbs (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $13.99
ISBN 978-1-74114-985-2
Reviewed by Ann Harth ( )

Horrible Harriet is back! If you haven’t met her, it’s time. She’s larger than life and confident she is the best of the best – in everything. She feels beautiful, popular and talented and isn’t afraid to say so.

When Horrible Harriet receives a letter from Sir Ponsonby Flashback stating that she may be a long-lost member of the Royal Family (possibly even a queen), she is thrilled, but not surprised. To claim her rightful title she must embark on a mission to find the missing links in her family tree.

After a thorough search through the museum and a rummage through a mysterious chest that arrives at her school, Horrible Harriet finds that she is, indeed, of royal blood. She leaves her nest in the top of the school, bakes a frog’s legs, lizard and spider pie for the teachers in the cellar, double locks her fridge so her friend Mr Chicken won’t eat her food and heads to the railway station to claim her inheritance.

Horrible Harriet’s journey is filled with adventure, humour and a surprising revelation.

This unique and fast-paced tale is told by Horrible Harriet herself with the assistance of Leigh Hobbs’ whose clever illustrations tell a slightly different story. His black and white drawings give the reader a wonderful view into the life of Horrible Harriet and those who surround her.

Children aged 7-11 will enjoy following the funny and slightly scary Harriet as she searches for her royal roots. If they haven’t read Leigh Hobbs’ first Horrible Harriet book, they will certainly do so now. Horrible Harriet is impossible to ignore!

Leigh Hobbs is an artist/author, best known for his children’s books. His work has been shortlisted three times for the CBCA Picture Book of the Year. His books are so loved by his audience that he has won every major children’s choice awards in Australia. His work has also been made into a TV series and adapted for the stage. For more information about Leigh Hobbs, please visit his 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, is now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Farmer John's Tractor

Farmer John's Tractor Farmer John's Tractor by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Robyn Belton (Walker Books Australia)
HB RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781921150944
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

What an absolute delight this book is. It will enthral all young children, boys and girls, with its array of machines coming to the rescue of two little girls, their parents and a VW beetle trapped in rising flood waters. A jeep, tow truck and fire engine all do their best but fail. The day is saved by Farmer John's tractor which "lies locked in the shed, rusty yet trusty and orangey-red".

Reading aloud is a pleasure with Sally Sutton's text displaying perfect rhyme and rhythm. Drama in the story escalates on each page until the final satisfying and comforting resolution.

Robyn Belton's illustrations in pencil and watercolour fill the pages with soft colour and movement. Large double spreads expand upon and extend the text. High production quality including quirky endpapers with chooks and tractors make this book a delight to own and share. Highly recommended.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Mystery Horse

Mystery Horse Mystery Horse by Jane Smiley (Allen&Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-0-571-27936-4
Reviewed by Ann Harth ( )

When Abby hands over a five dollar note and a handful of change and becomes the owner of a pretty, dappled grey horse, she gets more than she bargained for. True Blue is smart, sensitive and well-behaved. He’s also haunted.

Abby is convinced that True Blue’s former owner, who was killed in a car accident, is refusing to give up her beloved horse. She feels an eerie presence surrounding True Blue who strengthens her fears with his odd behaviour. Abby struggles with her dread, avoiding the truth until the end of the book when she no longer has a choice.

Mystery Horse is a novel that will appeal to horse lovers aged 9+. The gentle pace and thorough characterisation offers the reader a chance to relax, settle in and become involved in Abby’s life, following her through her troubles with a family at church, a broken wrist and her new employment teaching riding to kids.

Detailed facts and information are scattered liberally throughout this book, increasing the reader’s knowledge of riding, training and caring for horses. The author’s love for these animals is evident in her descriptions and understanding of the workings of a horse’s mind.

Jane Smiley is the author of eleven novels. Among other awards, she received the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for A Thousand Acres. Her interests are many and varied and she has written for numerous magazines. Mystery Horse is her third book for young readers and continues Abby’s adventures from Nobody's Horse and Secret Horse.

Horse lovers will adore True Blue and mystery lovers will relish the thrill of suspense that is woven through the pages.

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

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Pink Pirate

  The Pink Pirate by Michelle Worthington, illustrated by Karen Mounsey-Smith (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 9781921928932
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Six-year-old Georgia, the daughter of Ginger John who captains the Jolly Jellyfish, can “swim like a dolphin, do backflips off the gangplank, climb the rigging like a monkey” and does sword practice daily. Though without a son who he’d hoped to pass his ship on to once too old to pillage and plunder, John refuses to teach Georgia how to steer the ship. He makes her wear a pink dress, with buttons, and bows and says girls can’t be captains!

A caring father, he bundles her below deck as Captain Blackboots and his crew arrive. From the galley, Georgia hears Blackboots and gang invade, and her father’s crew scattering. The ship drifts with the tide and Georgia realizes nobody is steering. It is her chance to prove herself. She dons Dad’s spare hat and sword and sneeks out, hiding behind the ship’s wheel. In her fiercest captain’s voice she orders Blackboots to “surrender or suffer the consequences.”

He turns on her but she climbs the rigging, slashing the canvas so it falls on top of Blackboots and gang, trapping them. Dad and his crew toss them back onto their ship and Dad declares Georgia to be the best pirate ever. Wearing a purple pirate suit, complete with hat, she “sails away into the sunset, knowing that you can be anything you want to be, as long as you believe in yourself.”

Bright, lively, Illustrations combine with strong text to show a wide array of character emotions. They make it obvious that Georgia’s father is her hero and that she is the apple of his eye. Readers will sympathise with how gutted she appears when he has no choice but to order her below deck. Likewise, images of her frustration when she hears Blackboots get the better of her father’s crew and her joy when she is recognised for her success and finally allowed to be herself will connect with readers. The ship’s cat and mice appear in every spread: in fun battles with each other, unified in sorrow when the ship is taken over, sharing their joy by giving each other high-fives when it’s won. Publisher’s notes say this is for 2-6 year olds though it will appeal to older readers too.