Friday, 30 November 2012

The Fire Chronicle (The Books of Beginning)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Twelve Days of Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Book of Everything

I think I may have just read the world's most wonderful book. The Book of Everything  is simply and beautifully written but so rich and deep. It is no wonder that the author Guus Kuijer was awarded the Astrid Lindgren Award for children's literature

Kuijer delves into the world of nine-year-old Dutch boy Thomas. Set in 1951 Netherlands, Thomas lives with a strict God-fearing father, his mother and sister Margot. With so few words, Kuijer builds up the world around Thomas. There is his neighbour Mrs Van Amersfoort; Aunt Pie and Thomas's friend Eliza.

Thomas sees things in the world that others do not. The plagues of Egypt are wrought down upon the streets around him. Jesus and the angels appear to him throughout the story as a friend. He writes all these things down in his diary, The Book of Everything, including what he wants to be when he grows up: happy.

The Book of Everything is a book about heroism and kindness and belief in yourself and others and how this can triumph over hardness and fear. It is sweet and beautiful and quirky in its handling of the bitterness within one family, and of the world. No review can describe or give justice to this book. Read it and I can guarantee you will be uplifted.

The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer, translated by John Nieuwenhuizen (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781747747513
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Maddy West and the Tongue Taker

Maddy West and the Tongue Taker by Brian Falkner, illustrated by Donovan Bixley (Walker Books Australia)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781921977671
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Maddie is a reflective and intelligent child with a rather special ability - she is omnilingual; a talker of tongues. Kazuki, Maddy’s friend from Japan has scant knowledge of English. It is while trying to communicate with him that Maddy realizes she can understand his language. Kazuki, bullied and belittled by his older brother, is timid and introverted, but has formed a strong bond of friendship with the empathetic Maddy. He also has a great imagination and believes he is a ninja and can make himself invisible. This belief will stand him in good stead during the dark days that follow the unsuspecting children.

On the day Maddy starts talking in Japanese, her mother takes her to the doctor to be cured. She discovers that her daughter is a genius and decides that Maddy’s talent can be financially rewarding after appearing on a television program for a substantial payment. This deceptive gift proves to be a magnet to evil intent, black magic, kidnapping and dangerous adventures which will take Maddy from England to Bulgaria, and bring out the crusader in Kazuki.

While returning from the TV appearance on the train, Maddy meets an old man who talks to her of her magic abilities and warns her against the darker side of magic then disappears. Soon after, Maddy’s parents are approached by Professor Coateloch who gets permission for Maddy to travel with her to Bulgaria to read some ancient scrolls hidden in a monastery there.

But Maddy is kidnapped soon after her arrival in Bulgaria, and is forced to translate the stolen scrolls by a witch and her daughters who hold Kazuki under the threat of death. Realization comes too late to Maddy, for her translations involve spells of black magic; recipes for thunderstorms, calling up of animals, and worst of all, the taking of tongues. She also learns that things and people aren’t always what they appear to be.

Maddy’s gift has a luminous side as well. She will encounter the giant wrestler Dimitar and his magical monkey Mr Chester, inherited from his late father, and come to the understand that while the spoken and written language is the greatest tool of communication, it is often wordless actions are of greater significance.

The black and white illustrations add a delicious touch to the atmosphere of the book as does the terrific cover design. It’s another good versus evil delight that is has a clever, well-designed story, with fast-paced adventure, penned by an imaginative master storyteller for the mature 8+ age group.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Burning Blue

Burning Blue by Paul Griffin (Text)
PB RRP $19.99 
ISBN 9781922079145
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

At the centre of this young adult novel are two troubled teenagers, Jay and Nicole who meet at the office of the school counsellor. While the reasons for their troubles could be seen as depressing, the story about them is not, lifted by the element of mystery. Sometimes quite thrilling, with plenty of action, it's a book that deals with difficult issues in a readable way and even ends on a positive note.

Jay is fifteen and lives with his alcoholic dad. He hasn't been to school much since he began suffering from epileptic seizures and is keen to keep to himself. Nicole who is beautiful, rich and smart appeared to have everything going for her until she had acid thrown in her face by an unknown assailant. Jay is gradually drawn in to finding out who Nicole's attacker was. He employs his skills in computer hacking and technology to find out information, risking serious consequences. In the process he becomes more and more involved in Nicole's life.

The short chapters are from alternating points of view: Jay's and Nicole's. Many of Nicole's are in the form of diary entries or transcripts from counselling sessions. Jay's are mostly in first person and he is a clever and likeable character. He is at the same time vulnerable (he is still recovering from his mother's death) and tough (as a wrestler he is able to physically protect himself when needed).

There are suspects galore in this mystery and it is very close to the end where we find out the identity of the attacker. But even then, the mystery is still not quite solved, not until the conclusion.

There is a lot of realistic-sounding dialogue which flows well. The mystery unfolds gradually and the end is satisfying for these characters the reader has come to care about. Burning Blue is suitable for secondary school students, male or female.   

Monday, 26 November 2012

Motive Games

Motive Games by L.D.Taylor (Wombat Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-921632-25-9
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

Sadly for me, my teen years are forever behind me. With this in mind I would not be 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 slight religious flavour too. I took a deep breath, and started reading. I soon discovered I couldn't put it down. This book is great read for kids aged twelve to kids aged ... well, much older than thirty five.

The book presents well with an interesting cover design and the screamer on the back cover almost dares you to read the book. 'When practically everyone you know hated your dad, where do you start to search for his murderer?' Why wouldn't you pick it up?

This story has everything in it to interest a young teenage reader, video games, movie line reference games, intrigue, murder, weird old guys... the list goes on. The language in the story is very now: texting, acronyms and words used specifically within computer technology is quite understandable (even for an oldie) and it moves the story along, possibly helping young readers enjoy it all the more. If help is needed with the jargon a glossary appears in the back of the book.

As I read this book for review I kept telling my son how much he is going to love this book. It contains everything he is interested in. L.D.Taylor has crafted a well written story that moves along at a comfortable pace keeping the reader interested and guessing as to who the murderer could possibly be right till the end.

The book if read in a classroom situation would raise healthy discussion. I found it refreshing, compelling and in places a little heart wrenching. Computer game design and physics are the stories spine supporting the serious matters of death and murder, these issues are handled in a modern yet sensitive way without being condescending or preachy. Teacher's notes are available. The characters are fully formed and each has 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.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Blog Tour: Dimity Powell and PS: Who Stole Santa's Mail?

We're on the home stretch to Christmas and today Buzz Words hosts someone who knows more than most about Santa. Dimity Powell's new book is PS: Who Stole Santa's Mail? (Morris Publishing Australia). There's also my review at the end of our chat with Dimity and a chance to win a copy of her book.

Q. Hi Dimity, Thanks for dropping by. Other than writing, what else do you love? 

A. Food; cooking it, eating it and growing it. Oh and the feeling of the breeze on my cheeks when I’m reaching along on a sail boat. I suppose the real answer should be my family but for some reason ‘ice cream’ keeps popping up in my mind. I really, really love ice cream. But I can’t eat ice cream and write and sail at the same time.

Q. What were you in a past life (if anything) before you became a writer?

A. Waitress, Activities Supervisor, Chef de Brigade, Stewardess aboard a super yacht, Charter Liaison Officer, Director of Marketing. That’s in this life. Not sure about a past, past life … but I wouldn’t have minded being a pelican.

Q. Describe your perfect day. 

A. Any of my days would be perfect if I could get a perfect night’s sleep!

A day filled with kind words, kind smiles, kind encounters, kind outcomes and kind weather would be ideal. A large bowl of ice cream would end it perfectly, of course.

Q. What five words best sum you up?

A. Tenacious, weird, organized, talented, diligent. (Not all these are self-attributed)


PS: Who Stole Santa's Mail? by Dimity Powell, illustrations by Scott Anastasi (Morris Publishing Australia)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 9780985914714 
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

There's no time of the year more exciting for kids than Christmas. But when best friends Tobii and Sam go to post a letter to Santa they discover that the post boxes are going missing. No one pays them any attention. Matters go from bad to worse when Sam's little sister Maddie is kidnapped and the boys have to really save the day. With a bully brother, an evil elf, a stolen sister and more, this certainly will be a Christmas to remember.

Dimity Powell has written a highly original, fast-paced action adventure for younger readers with twists and turns around every corner. Readers will love how it is the kids who solve the mystery, rescue Maddie and save Christmas. But will they get what they want for Christmas?

WIN! In conjunction with this blog tour, you can go in the draw to win one of three copies of the book PS: Who Stole Santa’s Mail?. Send the answer to this question: 'What do you think Santa wants for Christmas?' to In the subject line put, PS: WSSM entry. The competition will close at midnight on November 30th  2012.

All entries will be assigned a number, and that number will be put in a draw. The winners will be notified by email. The book can be purchased at your local bookshop. If it is not in stock, please ask them to order it for you. A signed copy can also be purchased from

For the next stop on Dimity's blog tour tour visit From Hook to Book on 8 October. For the previous stop see Alison Reynolds. Check out all of Dimity's blog tour stops.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Crazy Relief Teachers: Ms Law and the Corn-fusing Case of the Broken Window

Crazy Relief Teachers: Ms Law and the Corn-fusing Case of the Broken Window by Matt Porter (Celapene Press)
PB RRP $ 12.95
ISBN 978-0-9806994-7-0
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Pete Peterson is determined to win the Corn-test trophy at the Annual Outback Creek Corn-fest. He has been waiting seven years to use his victory speech joke. Ms Law, the new Relief Teacher arrives on the day a ball breaks Pete’s class window in a before-school cricket match.

She sets up a courtroom to ascertain whether Pete is guilty of reckless behaviour and other charges, and therefore ineligible for the Corn-test. His friend Steele Buckle must find a defence for Pete or some evidence that will save the day. As usual, chaos reigns throughout the proceedings, until the indisputable evidence needed, is accidently discovered.

This is book two in the series which began with the incredible Mr Sergeant and the Dodgeballs of Doom. This is just as crazy (even crazier, if possible) with more play on words, especially corny ones. Every word that can be corn-figured is, and every page is a confusion of silliness and clever exchanges of words.

Matt Porter definitely still has all the joy of childhood alive and well in him, which he successfully transfers to the pages of this chapter book. His stories encourage reluctant readers to pick up a book and read because of their fun-loving content and smart language. The characters are all crazy and lovable. Outback Creek is the type of school that uninhibited children long to go to, and primary students love to read about.

These books are aimed at the 8+ age group, but older readers get a kick out of the clever way words are used and manipulated.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers

Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic Inc.)
HB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-0-545 17534 0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

George and Harold are back. For those who haven’t met them yet, George and Harold are the heroes who hypnotised their principal Mr Krupp, and turned him into comic book hero Captain Underpants. That was back in grade four.

This story, however, travels way back in time to George and Harold’s kindergarten days where they are facing another fearsome villain and bully, Kipper Krupp (and the nephew of Mr Krupp). Captain Underpants has not yet appeared so cannot help the boys in this adventure. The Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers tells the story of the funny and amazingly inventive way two kindergarten boys defeat the grade six bullies.

The comic book that the boys create - George writes and Harold draws - reflects all the action which takes place both in the school and in the minds of these small boys. The comic books enhance the ability for the adventure to be told through both text and illustration, as do the flip-o-ramas. All this makes for an interactive and interesting reading experience as well as breaking up the text, which helps less proficient readers.

The front cover promises ‘action’, ‘pranks’ and ‘laffs’ and there is plenty all three. But told through George and Harold’s comic books, prose and black & white illustrations, this story is more than just silliness and boy humour (although there is plenty of that too), it is also a fabulously plotted tale of revenge.

The playing around with time travel, which bookends the adventure of the kindergartners, is fun and the ending took me completely by surprise. Boys (and some girls) from about seven years old are going to love this ninth addition to the ongoing saga of Captain Underpants.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

This Is Not a Drill Giveaway

Charlotte Scotton of NSW is the lucky winner of a copy of This Is Not a Drill (Hardie Grant Egmont), Beck McDowell's debut YA novel about Jake and Emery who are caught up in a classroom siege. 

Charlotte won with her humorous school memory of a plan to booby-trap the German classroom backfiring! 

You can read a review of This Is Not a Drill and an interview with Beck McDowell.

Opal Dreaming: Book One – The Bronze Horses

Opal Dreaming: Book One – The Bronze Horses by Jennifer Crane (Morris Publishing Australia)
PB RRP $ 17.95 eBook $4.95
ISBN 978-0-9859147-4-5
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

At ten years old, Erin was given her great grandfather’s opal that he’d dug up at Lightning Ridge. Now at thirteen, she is drawn into a dream by the opal, and into the subject of her history assignment about the Eurasian Steppes in 3000BC and the Tarpan Horses.

She is now Fayina of the Saka tribes. All her longings become reality. Horses surround her and are an important part of her life. Fayina becomes separated from her father while on a scouting expedition. A storm forces her to seek shelter beneath an outcrop of rock which, unknown to her, is a sacred stone called the Travelling Rock, belonging to another tribe. She is found by Arima and his sister Mea, and taken to their hidden village.   

Protecting the secrecy of their village is the tribe’s main priority. The people there see Fayina as a threat. But Fayina has been brought up to be independent, to speak her mind; to ride and care for horses. All of these things are against what this hidden tribe believes in.

Mea shows Fayina kindness, friendship and trust. They learn about each other’s traditions, skills and practices. The leader demands that Fayina show her loyalty by teaching the men of the tribe how to bridle and ride a horse.  And she does so willingly.

But Fayina must return to look for her father. Will the tribe allow her return to the Travelling Rock? How will Fayina guarantee their secrecy?

This is an exciting adventure story told exceptionally well by Jennifer Crane whose life has been surrounded by horses. She is an experienced rider and competitor. Her knowledge expands across the history of horses and their evolution. The Opal Dreaming series will incorporate this subject in the story as well as addressing the ever-changing relationship between man and horse. The Bronze Horses is told in an absorbing, informative, and well-written narrative. Book Two - The Marble Horses, will be available early next year.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Marty's Nut-free Party

Marty's Nut Free Party by Katrina Roe, illustrator Leigh Hedstrom (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921633-36-2
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy
This book is suitable for pre-school aged children learning to read, older children and families. Marty's Nut-free Party is a fun looking book with colourful, clear illustrations inviting the reader to join the fun of the party.

The main character Marty loves going to parties. He is invited to all of them; he is always the first to arrive and the last to leave. That is until Marty discovers that peanuts make him sick, very sick. The story is well written and easy for young children to comprehend the dangers those children with allergies face and how easily they can find themselves in trouble. There is a extremely important message in this story wrapped in a very enjoyable read. The illustrations in this book are such that a non reader could understand the message in this story without it read to them.

Whilst reading this book to young children those parents (like myself) who have not come in contact with food allergy sufferers will now hopefully put more thought and care in the preparation of future party foods and school birthday cakes and lunches.

Even though this book contains a serious message reading this book together before lights out will be an enjoyable experience for the parent and the child. For Parents and Carers there are notes in the back of the book explaining more about allergies.

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.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Fire Spell

Fire Spell by Laura Amy Schlitz (Bloomsbury)
PB RRP $14.99
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Fire Spell is set in London,1860, an era well chosen for a gothic fairytale, complete with defenceless children to pity, villains to hate, and lashings of black magic. The story revolves around a wealthy young girl, Clara Wintermute, living a dreary life with parents forever mourning the deaths of her siblings through cholera.
While out with Agnes, the housemaid, Clara spies a puppet show in the park. Enchanted, she begs her parents to let the puppeteers - a weird-looking man, Grisini, a girl a little older than herself, Lizzie-Rose, and a thin younger boy, Parsefall - give a performance at her twelfth birthday celebrations. To her delight, they agree, but before her birthday is over, Clara has vanished - kidnapped and changed into a marionette by Grisini. However, before he can collect the ransom he is compelled by a witch, Cassandra, to her lair, Strachan's Ghyll near Lake Windemere, England. She has in her possession a jewel, the phoenix-stone, which is at once both dazzling and threatening and she fears for her life.
Schlitz weaves a sinister but fascinating story binding the lives of the two ragged children, taken from the orphanage by Grisini to work alongside him, with that of Clara and ultimately the witch. She is a master of suspense and lays a trail of intrigue from the opening page. What was a much younger Grisini trying to tell Cassandra about the phoenix-stone she wears in a necklace when she banished him? Will Grisini's power over Clara be broken so she can return to human form?
The story is told with great attention to detail, portraying thoroughly rounded characters and using real locations to add a significant touch of authenticity. Schlitz highlights brilliantly the conditions the poor of that era strived against and also the traditions which constrained emotions and behaviour of the upper classes. Her imagination rivals the Brothers Grimm and even the incredible parts of the story are readily accepted by the reader once immersed in the nightmare world Schlitz creates. It is, however, balanced by touches of compassion and kindness.
The author uses many lofty words, including Latin and French, which makes me doubt many nine year olds would persevere with this lengthy book, but perhaps the top end of the targeted age group, twelve, may, provided they are avid readers. Certainly most teenagers will find Fire Spell mesmerising and thoroughly entertaining.

Zoo in Me

Zoo in Me by Susan Pease, illustrated by Olivia Pease (Little Steps Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921928956
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Zoo in Me is a story and an alphabet book rolled into one. Friends Kat and Toby meet for a play date  All the essential ingredients are gathered: chocolate cake, crayons and paper, big and small blocks, and, best of all, animal dress-ups.

The two friends have a dress-up race to the end of the alphabet. Not only do they dress-up as an animal but they also choose an emotion, thought or action. There's everything from interested iguanas to racy rabbits! Both children try hard to win the race and discover that there's a reason for their different moods. Toby holds a drawing in front of his tummy and says, 'If you x-ray me, you will see ... (t)here are lots of animals in me.' Kat agrees, declaring that 'there is a zoo in me.'

Created by a mother and daughter team, Susan Pease's text is engaging and eleven-year-old Olivia Pease's illustrations are quirky and fun. Young children are sure to spend much time poring over them, pointing out such inclusions as the blocks which spell out the animals' names.

Zoo in Me is beautifully presented in hardback with quality paper and would make a lovely gift.

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Man from the Land of Fandango

The Man from the Land of Fandango by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 978-1-84780-220-0
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is a book to be read aloud. Read it the first time for the sounds in the magical text. Go through it the second time and observe the pictures. Then read it again and allow the text and illustrations to become one.  There is a wonderful bouncing rhyme and rhythm to the text. The illustrations appear to move in time with the rhymes due to the perfect translation in pictures by Polly Dunbar, who also illustrated the late Margaret Mahy’s Down the Back of the Chair and Bubble Trouble.

The man from the land of Fandango has a tricolour jacket and a hat with a tassel, he ‘bingles and bangles and bounces’ (like the text).The bears and the bison join his dance, and the baboons make music with their bassoons, while ‘the kangaroos come with a hop and a bound’.

The book is full of movement and sound, animals, and children. There are drinks and cake, dreams and dancing, and a wonderful play of consonants and vowels. This delightful and entertaining publication has a gorgeous jacket identical to the cover. It shows the man from the land of Fandango, ‘who only appears, every five hundred years, so you’d better be home when he calls’. It will be enjoyed by the 5+ age group when read alone, read to, or read together with someone else.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Brain Sucker

The Brain Sucker by Glenn Wood (Walker Books Australia)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-921977-63-3
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Callum is a paraplegic who has just turned thirteen. As a birthday gift, Rose, his grandmother and career has given him a new wheelchair that will change his life – a Thunderkit X5, which enables him to have greater mobility and overcome obstacles that have hindered him till now.

Sophie is his best friend. She is inventive, imaginative and a quick-thinker. She is also a genius around the workshop she has where she ceaselessly creates interesting mechanisms of outlandish designs and uses.

Toby is known as Jinx because bad luck follows him everywhere. ‘My thumb starts doing this crazy dance! ’ he admits when bad things are about to happen.

Lester Smythe is a criminal genius. Bullying and his unhappy upbringing created the totally evil and emotionless man that he is. His great intelligence has been channelled towards destroying all kindness and goodness from the world. Towards this end he has successfully invented a brain-sucking machine that for years has been extracting all good emotions from children’s minds. The city has become filled with rude and cruel adults as a result. The extractions take the form of green pulsing blobs that live in a huge tank of water. Lester hasn’t yet found a way of destroying the energy in the blobs which, if they found a way of escaping, would find a way back to their owners.

It is when Rose receives a letter from the Welfare Department about a review of her custody of Callum that she goes to the city. Here she falls victim to Lester’s Brain Sucker, after which he discovers that Rose’s blob is the golden globe of goodness, the only thing that has control over the other blobs.

Sophie’s ingenuity, Callum’s Thunderkit, and a series of monumental catastrophes and hilarious incidents from Jinx continue through the book, as the three combine their talents to find a way through the chaos that ensues, and save the blobs and Rose from being destroyed.

The ending is a crescendo of images and nail-biting events that will leave the reader breathless. The book is a marvellous and humorous fast-paced adventure through the warring of good and evil. Its theme has many strings that are connected to the absolute importance of kindness and goodness in humankind, and a vision of the catastrophe that exists without these emotions.

Saturday, 17 November 2012


Peggy by Anna Walker (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-270-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Peggy is a contented chicken who gets blown out of her comfort zone. One blustery day, the wind picks her up and deposits her on a bustling city street. She uses her ingenuity to find her way home, finding new friends and perspectives on her journey.

I loved this book. I loved the story, I loved the pictures and I loved Peggy.

Anna Walker, writer and illustrator, has melded the text and illustrations beautifully; one would not work as perfectly without the other. Young children will be taking in the pictures long after each page is read to them. Some pages have many pictures while some have one or two. A gorgeous illustration of Peggy walking on a crowded city footpath, surrounded by people and umbrellas needs no words at all and takes up the double spread of the open book. Here, the few red umbrellas lift the scene from one of a dull day to one that sparkles.

Walker’s use of colour helps to convey an impression of calm. For such a busy, blustery book, the energy of the story is gentle, slow and unruffled. The pen and wash create soft colours, enhancing the serene, considered way Peggy approaches her situation and adds to the surprising quietness of the story.

Peggy is humorous, intelligent and fun. The short, beautifully formed sentences are a joy to read aloud and there is so much to be explored in the pictures. I think this will become a much loved favourite. Peggy is a chook with character.

The twist at the end is a wonderful surprise and I closed the book with satisfaction and a smile, before opening it straight away to start again. This picture book will appeal to the very young, but also to their older sibling, parents and grandparents.


Friday, 16 November 2012

Found: The Art of Recycling

Found: The Art of Recycling by Lisa Holzl (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 34.95
ISBN 978-1-921720-13-0
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It’s always exciting to discover a book with so much to offer. In Found: The Art of Recycling, Lisa Holzl addresses sustainable art - but not only in an original way. It’s aimed at varying age groups starting with children, whom she encourages to create new things from old, used, or everyday materials that are around us everywhere.

There are fine examples of many artists - some Australian, of the way these found objects and discarded materials were utilized in their artistic creations. There is some history of art: Modernism and Postmodernism. It covers all the changing trends from 1907 and Cubism, and has a Timeline which follows the different styles up to today’s Contemporary art.

The artists include Pablo Picasso, Carlo Carra, Marcel Duchamp, Dada artist Raoul Hassmann. There is Joseph Cornell and his boxes, Robert Rauschenberg who used freestanding furniture as part of his artwork, and Fiona Hall, who was inspired by her historical research into the travels of the famous Joseph Banks. Indigenous artist Adam Hill and his work –The Crate Land Grab is included along with many others.

This is a clear and carefully considered book, and made from 100% recycled paper.  There are Activity suggestion boxes for children to create their own artwork. It displays ways that life can be enriched by reusing and recycling discarded objects; making the old new, and realizing that you are limited only by your imagination when making art. While it is centrally about recycling, it also contains a great deal of interesting and thought-provoking information.

Beautifully produced, the cleverly designed cover speaks volumes. The background is environmental green. It is covered on the back and front and on both end pages, with countless words associated with recycling, found goods and creating/making art. For the readers’ information, it contains a double page of Artist Biographies, a Glossary of artistic terms, an Index, and a rich Bibliography. There is also a listing of Artwork Credits and Picture Credits. This book is educational as well as a creative life tool for children and adults.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Bushland Lullaby

Bushland Lullaby by Sally Odgers, illustrated by Lisa Stewart (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-177-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

It is not only babies and young children who need their rest. All baby animals must go to sleep too, and this beautifully lyrical picture book shows how and where many of Australia’s bush creatures lay their heads.

Bushland Lullaby has a sparseness and simplicity which creates a safe and comfortable world for very young children to become immersed. The baby animals all sleep reassuringly entwined with their mothers, cosy and happy at nap time.

Each line is evocatively rhythmic: ‘The sun gives way to cool moonbeams’

They fill the imagination with images: ‘The sky flings stars on a winter’s night’

And touch the senses: ‘Where salty mud is warm as sand
                             In hushing waters by the river’s smile’

Stewart’s illustrations are soft and restful. There is nothing complex or busy to distract from the central focus. She has created them using watercolour, gouache, collage and rice paper, and the Japanese influence comes through in the style unique.

It is wonderful and rare to read such a perfectly rhymed picture book without stumbling over the rhythm, which lends itself ideally to a bedtime read. A delightful book for 2 – 5 year olds.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A is Amazing

A is Amazing: Poems About Feelings edited by Wendy Cooling, illustrated by Piet Grobler (Walker Books)
HC RRP $29.95
ISBN 978-1-84780-255-2
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Poetry within pictures is always a great way to cultivate an interest in another word form in children. This excellent collection of 33 poems by 29 poets from around the globe is about feelings. It begins with the letter A and goes though the alphabet. Each letter represents a feeling, at times with two or more poems beginning with the same letter. There are varied styles but each one has a specific focus on the feeling. The illustrations, created with pencil and watercolours complement the text, bringing visual life to the words and a double experience to the reader.

In R for Rotten, the poem is titled, I’m in a Rotten Mood by Jack Prelutsky. The illustration shows a young girl sitting on a chair, arms crossed over her chest with a forlorn look on her face. Her dog is keeping away, but looks at her over his shoulder from across the room. The window is grey, and dark with shadows, matching the girl’s mood. It ends –‘I’m in a rotten mood today, a really rotten mood today, you’d better stay away from me, I’m just a lump of misery, I’m feeling absolutely rude - I’M IN A ROTTEN MOOD!’

Under V for Very Strange, there are four poems on a double page. The strangest one is GHEAUGHTEIGHPTOUGH spells potato by Michael Rosen. This set of poems concentrate on language and how letters create words in differing ways and through various turns of phrase. These are the types of surprises awaiting the reader: happy and sad, moody and mixed up, loneliness and joy, celebration and loss.

This anthology of poetry has been carefully collected with a deep understanding of human feelings by Wendy Cooling who is the founder of the Bookstart Programme, a national programme which gives free books to each child in the UK. She has been awarded the Eleanor Fargeon Award for a lifetime devoted to children’s literature. Poetry of every kind is ageless. Therefore this book is ideal for the 8 -108+ age group.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Santa’s Secret

Santa's Secret by Mike Dumbleton, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Random House Australia)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781742752396
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742748801
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Here’s another rollicking, rhyming picture book to romp us towards Christmas.

Santa is zonked out after his exhausting Christmas Eve round-the-world trip. After a refreshing sleep, he’s ready to holiday … Aussie style!

Out goes the Santa speak of ‘Ho, ho, ho!’ and in comes ‘G’day’, ‘Fair go!’ as Santa lands at a beach shack where he secretes his reindeer and unpacks a surfboard from his sleigh.

Illustrator, Tom Jellett, dresses Santa in a tropical pineapple-patterned shirt and thongs before he dons a squeezy wetsuit (red of course!) and hits the waves. He bedazzles the grommets with his surfing skills: ‘He’s in the zone! He’s in a class all of his own!’

The lovely twist at the end reveals the Christmas spirit of giving in a fun way, without being preachy: ‘So, watch out after Christmas Day, for the greatest surfer in the bay.’

Santa’s Secret is a jolly read aloud book for three to five year olds. Children will love the clear and colourful illustrations that depict, not only Santa’s changing expressions, but also the humour of such a bizarre situation. Keep your eye out for the tyre swans, kettle barbecue and wind chimes at Santa’s beach shack.

Seven of Mike Dumbleton’s picture books have been selected as ‘Notable Books’ by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. He is also a multi-award winner for his titles. Illustrator Tom Jellett has illustrated a number of best-selling books for children; he combines this with his work as editorial illustrator for the various papers of News Limited.

A fine and quirky team!

Chook Chook: Mei's Secret Pets

Chook Chook: Mei's Secret Pets by Wai Chim (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780702249464
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Chooks and markets and one-eyed butchers. Love and loss. This chapter book for younger readers is certain to delight.

Mei lives in rural China on what must surely be the only farm without animals following the death of her father. However, when Mei discovers two fluffy chicks (and saves them from a snake) she vows to keep them. She hides the chicks and cares for them after school

Mei's brother shares her secret but the chooks are found by her mother and sold to the one-eyed butcher. Mei must now buy her chickens back. When efforts to earn money fail, Mei believes all is lost. However, it is through kindness that she is able to save them.

The subtle weaving through of the mother and family's story and of village life raises this book to the next level. While Ma may appear harsh at times, the reasons behind this are made apparent.

Mei is an absolutely delightful character and one that Australian children will easily connect with. This story is an easy introduction to another culture and shows that while each nation and culture has its own identity, there are so many basic similarities. Highly recommended.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Hammering Iron

Hammering Iron by L.S. Lawrence (Omnibus)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-971-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

In the Bronze Age, life and land was ruled by Lords and Kings. Life was harsh, but if boys were lucky they had a trade to enter. Fatherless brothers Niko and Paramon were lucky. Under the protection of Lord Agios, Niko becomes the Lord’s shield bearer and Paramon is a clerk apprenticed to the Lord’s store master. Neither is totally comfortable in the profession chosen for them but both are grateful for the position. Then the gods intervene and their fates are switched though an accident. Paramon must set off across unknown lands.

Much of the story centres on blacksmiths, forges and the forming of blades, knives and weapons such as swords. Swords were an important commodity but they were made of bronze and bronze was an expensive metal. Only the rich and powerful could afford to have them and amongst the weaponry in Lord Agios’ store house there was a grand total of six swords. Blacksmithing was a trade in which a hardworking and clever man could become rich, but the trade was only passed down through family lineages. Blacksmithing was a secretive profession.

Paramon is a great character. Fast on his feet, an original thinker, adventurer, brave, loyal and moral. He learns early the realities of battle, but it takes him longer to realise how dangerous secrets can be.

The author’s descriptions are very evocative. He talks of the heat in the forge moving through stages until it got to ‘sparking white-hot’. You could easily imagine you were in the forge alongside Paramon and Kurada as they worked. These characters were alive. They were easy to believe in and care about; their personal growth as the story progressed being central to the story. The dialogue was natural. It kept the story moving and was realistic in this fascinating and gripping story.

Hammering Iron is a captivating historical novel. The author explores fictional lives of those who may have shaped stories and changed history as the Bronze Age moved forward. This is a fantastic book for twelve year olds and up, especially those with an interest in history. It is very well written, easy to read and engrossing. I would happily seek out more books from this author.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

All the Wrong Questions: Who Could That be at This Hour?

All the Wrong Questions: Who Could That be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Seth (hardie Grant EGMONT)
HB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1742972961

 This is the first book in the much-anticipated four part series from Lemony Snicket. His first autobiographical account of his childhood training, called All the wrong questions.

In this humorous fast-paced book we follow the young Lemony Snicket during the first moments of his apprenticeship and his first case. It starts with the unexpected act of his trainer taking him from the city (and his plans) to a seaside town that is no longer by the sea to find a valuable statue that wasn’t stolen.

It is an arresting case with many twists and turns. In classic detective style Snicket describes those around him, the situations, the people, and all of his questions (wrong and right). His language is precise and humourous which keeps a smile on the readers face and the mind racing.

Some of the most immediate examples of his fantastic descriptive language include:
  • The Bombinating Beast which “looked like a sea horse like a hawk looks like a chicken.” (pg 45).
  • “…with hair so black it made the night look pale.” (pg 131)
  • “I am not a hairy person, but each one of my hairs stood up and showed off at the sound of his name.” (pgs 207/8)

My 9 and 11-year-old children were laughing out loud and re-reading passages to me throughout the book.

The story is made up of a range of wonderful characters, including the setting, which serves as one of the stronger characters in the book.  The graphics by Seth are blue, black and white prints that add to the classic feel of the book. There are graphic at the beginning of each chapter as well as random full-page offerings.

I enjoyed reading this first book of the series. It is a fun read for the summer months to come and would make a great Christmas present.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Ella and Olivia: The New Girl

The New Girl (Ella and Olivia) The New Girl (Ella and Olivia) by Yvette Poshoglian, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-499-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ella is seven years old and starting year two. Olivia is five and a half and starting big school. Their brother Max is a baby and is “picking his nose. He is not quite ready for school yet.” But school starts a little more smoothly for Olivia than Ella because a new girl in year two presents challenges for Ella and her friends.

I love that the children in the Ella and Olivia series sort out their problems without teachers or other adults pointing the way too much. The issues explored are approached in a gentle manner. In this story, the problem is a new girl who is trying to fit in to the class, and comes across as mean and bossy.
The relationship Olivia has with her big sister’s friend is beautiful. Zoe loves and protects Olivia in the same way that Ella does. All the relationships in these stories have a realistic balance of jealousy, respect, love and annoyance.

Simple black and white illustrations of varying sizes are dotted throughout the chapter book. These are sweet but also enhance the text. One illustration shows Zoe and Ella sharing sandwiches at lunchtime while Millie, the new girl, sits by herself behind, watching them with a sad look. It is the first clue that Millie’s meanness may stem from loneliness. There is also a charming illustration of Ella’s family all walking to school together on the first day. It shows beautifully the togetherness of their family.

I highly recommend this series for all girls from the age of 5 up, regardless of reading ability. The large text makes it perfect for beginner readers, but it would be just as enjoyable for more experienced readers or as a read aloud at bedtime for those who are not reading yet. There is also a website to find out more, play games or do other fun stuff. Visit

Friday, 9 November 2012

Zal and Zara and the Great Race of Azamed

Zal and Zara and the Great Race of Azamed Zal and Zara and the Great Race of Azamed by Kit Downes (Walker Books)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 978-1-4063-4085-3
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In the city of Azamed, the greatest attraction is the annual Great Magic Carpet Race. Travellers arrive from everywhere to watch and bet on who the winner will be. The 1000th race has been announced by the Caliph and the two favourites are the Thesa family, and the Shadow Society, represented by Haragon and his partners.

Zal Thesa is a talented weaver but resents being pushed to follow in the footsteps of seventeen generations of carpet weavers. He dreams of becoming part of the Caliph’s Citadel Guard. Toward this goal he has been training diligently for years. At twelve years old, he is betrothed to Zara Aura. But they are both totally against this arrangement. Although they work together, they constantly fight and disagree.

 Zara was born with the gift of seven colours of magic. She is the one that enchants the magic carpets for the Thesas, seven times winners of the Magic Carpet Race.

Haragon of the Shadow Society is determined to win this year. He will stop at nothing for the first prize. He destroys Zal’s carpet and all his father’s supplies. The prize money from the race was intended to save them from ruin.

The weave in the magic carpets have been in six colours, but legend has it that there was once a Rainbow Carpet with seven colours, a carpet faster and more magical than any other. Finding the secret of the Rainbow Carpet weave is their only saving grace.

Zal and Zara set out on a frantic quest, which turns into an exciting adventure. Pitting themselves against Haragon, and with death only one breath away, they face water dragons, the temptation of a magical diamond ring, ancient ghosts in a hidden city below the city, and much more. The two put aside their differences in a life-and-death pilgrimage to past things in order to trace the origins of the Rainbow Carpet in time for the race.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

EJ12 Girl Hero: Kimono Code

Kimono Code (EJ12: Girl Hero) by Susannah McFarlane (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-92193-115-4
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Emma Jacks has a secret. This seemingly average ten year lives a double life. She is a spy in the under 12 division of SHINE, an agency devoted to stamping out evil plots designed to harm the world. Recruited after winning a maths competition, EJ12 (Emma’s spy name) specialises in cracking codes and thinking logically under pressure. While EJ12 is out in the field on a mission she is confident, brave and holds her own. But back at school, Emma has trouble dealing with the mean girl Nema and her constant taunts.

EJ12 Girl Hero is an adventure series for girls, full of secret agents, secret tunnels, evil plots and fabulous spy gadgets. But it is also full of everyday problems, friendship groups and loyalty. And as each mission takes place in a different location around the world, when SHINE battles the evil agency SHADOW, each book also offers interesting cultural facts.

Kimono Code, the 14th in the series, takes place in Japan where EJ12 must do battle with the SHADOW operative behind a string of geishas who infect cherry trees with blossom block. While she is on this mission she learns about Japanese culture, traditions and even picks up a little of the language.

Each book starts and finishes at school, with a problem that Emma needs to address. In Kimono Code she is coming up against Nema in karate competition. Although the mission (which is the middle section of the book) does not solve this problem, it does indirectly help her to manage the issue with Nema, giving Emma a fresh way to look at the situation.

This simple structure works well. It will appeal to 8 to 12 year olds as a fast paced and exciting read for girls. The book has large type and is bound in an attractive and eye catching silver cover which should stand out well on the shelves. For readers who like to be actively involved in solving the mystery, the codes are achievable.

The writing is bright and fun. I really enjoyed the disguises, the plot, the villains and the concept of the charms on Emma’s bracelet. The gadgets are so marvellously over-the-top that I can’t help but think of James Bond.

This book would be fine read as a standalone, but there are plenty in the series for those who get hooked. I’ll be looking at the backlist now.

Keep an eye out for the animals EJ12 seems to acquire in each of the adventures.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Unforgotten Coat

The Unforgotten Coat The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce, photographs by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney (Walker Books Australia)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4063-4154-6
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Julie is the narrator of the story. After many years, she returns to the school of her childhood which is about to be demolished. In the lost property, she finds the Mongolian coat that brings back the memory of the two brothers who entered her classroom one hot day dressed in clothes straight out of their mountainous countryside, and changed her perception of, and interest in life forever.

There begins the most amazing but funny story of Chingis and his younger brother Nergui, and their claim to Julie that she is their Good Guide.

Julie, an intelligent and diligent student, finds being chosen as something special a novelty. She embraces the role and the boys. Their superstitions and fears are accepted immediately as part and parcel of this strange but interesting pair.

The boys learn quickly. They become disguised within the knowledge and the language they quickly master, so the demon they are fearful of, who they believe will make them vanish, won’t recognize them.

Julie is beguiled by the tales Chingis relates to her about his homeland. These stories are reinforced by the photographs he carries with him depicting the beauty and mystery of his origins, taken by the Polaroid camera that accompany him everywhere that adds to the magic that the stories weave around her.

But the brothers are secretive about their parents and where they live. They fear the demon will make them vanish as others have vanished before them. “That’s why we had to leave home- because people kept vanishing’.

It is in discovering the heartbreaking truth of who the demon is that Julie loses a part of herself with the departure of the two brothers.  (Fortunately this story has a happy ending thanks to Facebook).

This impressive and beautifully presented story is extremely moving and delicate, though it is not until we are well into the book that the theme of illegal migrants is identified. The book is presented as an exercise book or journal with ruled lines. Its design is enhanced by the inclusion of the marvellous photos referred to throughout the text.

Reading this extraordinary book, there is no questioning the reason why The Unforgotten Coat is shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award 2012.  Winner of the Carnegie Medal for his first book, Millions, multi-talented Frank Cottrell Boyce is well known for his many screenwriting successes.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

How to Seize a Dragon's Jewel

How to Seize a Dragon's Jewel by Cressida Cowell (Hodder/Hachette)
PB RRP $13.99
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
This is the tenth volume in the popular How to Train Your Dragon series, continuing the memoir of Hiccup the Viking who right now is being hunted by both dragons and humans. Exiled, Hiccup has only his faithful dragons for company, but he presses on with his quest to find not only the Dragon Jewel, mankind's last and only hope, but his father, Stoick and dear friend Fishlegs.
The Dragon Rebellion has begun, led by the Dragon Furious whose aim is the extinction of the entire Viking race. The Vikings are being lead by Alvin the Treacherous, guided by his dreadful mother, the Witch Excellinor who is trapping and killing the dragons. She presides over the Vikings in the Amber Slavelands. Hiccup knows the dangers that await him there but he is determined to rescue his friend and Dad.
He has in his possession a map leading to where the Dragon Jewel can be found, but he is suddenly attacked by a terrible Silver Phantom dragon ridden by the Warrior, Valhallarama, his own mother!!! She almost kills Hiccup, not recognising him as her son, but after Hiccup escapes, he no longer has the map.
In her typical adventure-a-minute style, Cressida Cowell plunges Hiccup into one life-threatening situation after another, where he is hopeful one moment and in despair the next. Along with the suspense, plenty of mirth is generated, especially by Toothless, one of his dragons, who is totally incorrigible.
Hiccup may be in the midst of his enemies but he often finds he has friends to help at just the right moment. But when no-one can help him, he relies on his wits, especially his knowledge of dragons, which serves him well. Many will benefit from his actions, including a little girl called Eggingarde, who supplied Hiccup with an important clue to the disappearance of Fishlegs.
This volume thunders to a satisfying end, and yet there is more to come before Hiccup's memoir is complete and he is recognised for the Hero he is. Fans can look forward to the exciting conclusion in the series by this amazingly talented author.
Note: The fun thing about the How to Train Your Dragon books is that they don't have to be read in order.

Alice Award

This year the Society of Women Writers NSW is hosting the biennial "Alice Award" presented to an Australian female writer who has made a significant contribution to literature. The first recipient of the Alice Award was Eleanor Dark in 1975. 

Alice Award Presentation Luncheon Wednesday, November 14

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

Workshop (10am – 11.45) Presenter Robyn McWilliams: "Dreaming & Creativity" - workshop: $15.00. 
Bookings for workshop: Beatrice Yell - 9452 2299 or email:

Alice Presentation and Special Luncheon: (12 noon - 2.30pm)
Guest Speakers: Dr Helen O'Reilly
Special Guests: Susanna de Vries
Michael Dark (son of Eleanor Dark)
Cost: $40 special luncheon cost for this month only

Bookings required before 10am Mon 12 November to:
New booking email: (please use email booking system)
Maggie Arber - (02) 9520 1089 (will exclusively be taking the bookings from November onwards)

Monday, 5 November 2012

Catherine’s Story

Catherine's Story Catherine's Story by Genevieve Moore, illustrated by Karin Littlewood (Frances Lincoln/Walker Books)
PB $RRP 16.95
ISBN 978-1-84780-402-0
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

At first glance Catherine looks like any other child although her claps are noiseless and she walks in boots that no one else can walk in. Her cousin Frances decides to try walking in her shoes – literally. But she can’t. She just falls down from the weight of them.

Catherine’s parents see her as special and tell her so. They also tell her that she is a good listener. And when her father kisses her, he reminds her how special he feels to have a child like her.

This is Genevieve Moore’s first book; thoroughly researched and written from personal experience. She has chosen the delicate but seldom approached subject of children with disabilities for her debut story. This is a valuable and informative book, and belongs in libraries and other accessible book areas. It serves to educate the young, and helps develop an understanding about children that are different to themselves.

The message is presented in a gentle and sensitive way through the sparse but clear text, and the beautiful illustrations produced in watercolour by Karin Littlewood, three times nominee for the Kate Greenway medal.

There is a note at the end of the book referring to how the book came about, and refers also to symptoms that cause children like Catherine to be the way they are.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Dinosaur Rocks

Dinosaur Rocks by Lachlan Creagh (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Picture books on dinosaurs are always a magnet for young children and this one, written and illustrated by Creagh, is no exception. Tim is spending the holidays with his grandparents on their property which includes a large formation of rocks - Dinosaur Rocks. With no technology to amuse him, Tim takes up his grandparents' invitation to explore the outcrop with Belle, the dog.
He is soon distracted when he finds a strange stripey chicken and, in trying to return it to its mother, Tim jumps down onto a bed of golden feathers. The feathers leap up and Tim is carried away on the back of Goldie, the dinosaur. Goldie gallops into a cave and when they emerge into a forest, Tim hears many weird rumblings and noises. The forest gives way to a valley inhabited by many different dinosaurs, big and small, land and air inhabitants. They all seem to have the one purpose - to get to the sea and find fish to eat. Goldie joins the rush and Tim spies in the ocean other prehistoric creatures ready to feast. Goldie gets her share of fish and they head back, having many an adventure on the way.
Creagh's two-page spread illustrations are full of life and fascinating detail. The spreads encourage both child and reader to hold the pages together as there is so much to see. I was only disappointed in two illustrations - one where the dog is balanced on a chair across the room from Tim and his grandfather when it seems more natural to me to place the dog in close proximity to its owner; the other shows the grandparents waving to Tim as he sets out to explore, but the grandparents appear to be focussing past him. The action words in the text are highlighted in colours and placed in waves to emphasise movement which knits the book into an exciting whole.
The dinosaurs' distinctive Australian names, e.g., a titanosaurus called Wintonotitan Wottsi and a kronosaurus: Kronosaurus Queenslandicus add a sense of wonder that dinosaurs actually walked around in Australia.
A bonus for kids is a separate spread of the dinosaurs-with-comments which can be hung as a poster. I liked this particular spread as it encourages the reader to believe that the writer actually witnessed these prehistoric creatures.
Dinosaur Rocks, published in both paperback and hardback, is a picture book that will provide endless pleasure for young dinosaur-lovers.  

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Hercules, Champion of the World

Hercules, Champion of the World by Nigel Gray, illustrated by Heath McKenzie (Walker Books Australia)
PB RRP $ 14.95
ISBN 978-1-921529-89-4
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In this hilarious and most entertaining book by Nigel Gray, children will learn about the legend of Hercules and his feats while laughing all the way through the book. It is geared to make a complicated story easy to remember and a pleasure to read.

Hercules is filled with annotated idioms, definitions of difficult words and explanations of phrases that some younger readers would otherwise be unable to understand. There is a lot of learning here presented in a tongue-in-cheek way.

Gray enjoys the freedom of wordplay and uses it excessively on purpose. But as we follow the twelve tasks set for Hercules by his jealous and cruel half-brother Eurystheus, there is no doubt about the success of the method chosen to present the story.

The illustrations are another source of entertainment. They are a story in themselves. The text is visually reinforced allowing the reader to view the characters and their reactions through facial expressions and body language, with some background entertainment added. The reader will easily retain the gist of the story and recall the major facts of the tale. There is also a map at the beginning of the book tracing Hercules’ journey through Greece and the Mediterranean for readers to refer to. This book is recommended for age 8+.