Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Nancy Bentley: The First Australian Female Sailor

Nancy Bentley: The First Australian Female Sailor by Tracey Hawkins, illustrated by Jacqui Grantford (New Frontier Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921042812
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Nancy Bentley: The First Australian Female Sailor is a story filled with action, suspense and excitement, all the more for it being a true story. Six-year-old Nancy is on the shores of Port Arthur, dancing to the music coming from the ship in the harbour. As she runs home for tea she slips in the long grass and a poisonous whip snake bites her. Too far from medical treatment, Nancy's father rows out to the HMAS Sydney and Nancy is cared for by the ship's surgeon.

However, the captain has a dilemma. In 1920, females are not allowed aboard a naval ship. He solves this problem by enlisting Nancy in the navy. She has become Australia's first female sailor at six. Nancy recovers but before she is discharged, from the surgeon's care and the navy, she sails to Hobart and attends a night at a picture theatre with fifty of the ship's crew.

Tracey Hawkins' text moves along quickly as she takes the reader on Nancy's unique journey. Jacqui Grantford's watercolour illustrations add to the story and the picture of a limp Nancy in the arms of her father when they first board the ship clearly demonstrates the seriousness of the situation.

This snippet of Australian history is bound to delight and astound children. There is a biography of Nancy Bentley at the back of the book and it wasn't until World War Two that the next Australian females were allowed to join the navy (Women's Royal Australian Naval Service).

Monday, 27 February 2012

A Bus Called Heaven

A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham (Walker Books)
HB RRP $27.95
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Bob Graham is a genius. His books sing to the soul and A Bus Called Heaven is no exception with both the text and illustrations combining to tell an inspiring and uplifting story.

An abandoned bus unites a community that had previously co-existed but not interacted. Young and old, people of all colours and denominations, join together to make the bus the central meeting point of the community. Even the local gang is encouraged to join in and rather than scrawling graffiti across the bus turn it into a work of art. Importantly, part of the settling in of the bus into the community involves the natural world: weeds, snails and birds nesting in the engine.

For me, Bob Graham's books are how the world should be. Importantly, he shows it is how the world could be if only we banded together as one. In A Bus Called Heaven it is Stella 'the colour of moonlight' who helped people believe that heaven was theirs and is something to not give up on easily.

A Bus Called Heaven is endorsed by Amnesty international UK. It is easy to see why.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Why We Broke Up

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman (hardie Grant EGMONT)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-174297097-4
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang  

Why We Broke Up is a teenage novel written at the point of ‘recovery’ from a break up. The story portrays a rather obsessive teen girl, Min and her relationship with the high school jock, Ed. She has collected a multitude of items from their six-week relationship. Min seems to recognise that the relationship is unlikely to succeed but commits herself wholeheartedly in a world of fantasy and hope.

In this book we go through each item of her “Ed box”. She writes one chapter per item to Ed reminding him of the object and the event, what she had hoped for at the time and why they broke up. She has an obsession with movies so most scenes that are replayed or that she describes are related to a range of movie scenes and actors. She enjoys making long lists and long statements.

Min is a likeable character with a strong voice. We follow her on her fantasies – like tailing an 80-year-old woman to her home because she believes she is an aged movie star. We feel for her awkward school and sports moments – becoming a basketball girlfriend and not fitting in. We relate to her desire and heartbreak as she losses her virginity and then her man. On the positive side, she comes full circle into accepting herself and her true friends.

The story is written by Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket and includes a piece of artwork at every chapter. The artwork is by Maira Kalman and is full colour and quirky – just like the main character Min. The art is a lovely addition throughout adds a tangible feel to the story.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Oh Baby! The A to Z

Oh Baby!: The A to Z (black dog books, an imprint of Walker Books Australia)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781742032306
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Oh Baby! is an A to Z with a difference. The photographs are extraordinary (and extraordinarily cute) and the animals featured include some I have never seen in a alphabet collection before such as upland geese and x-ray fish. Animals from across the globe appear including many from Australia (and no, the 'k' is not a kangaroo or koala but a kookaburra).

Some of the animals also have descriptions or actions added in the text and these were the best pages of all. It was hard to decide on my favourite. Was it the hedgehog which 'has a very spiky hairstyle!' or the chicken which 'is curious about flying'?

Oh Baby! is a delightful book to share with young children and for those eager to learn the alphabet. Children will be sure to return to the book time and time again.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Au Revoir Crazy European Chick

Au Revoir, Crazy European ChickAu Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber (Egmont)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-5943-9
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang 
Au Revoir Crazy European Chick is an extremely fast paced action story that will keep you turning pages. This is a quirky story that takes action to its limit. The action and pace are faster than a speeding bullet and more outrageous than a Die Hard movie. Thankfully it has a good deal of humour and is so fast paced that there is no time for logic. This story is fun to read.

The main character, Pery is a daddy’s boy. He is getting good grades at school and obeying all that his father asks of him. Into the family balance comes an unremarkable exchange student, Gobi who is a let down on all young male fantasies – or so Perry thought. For one night at the end of the year she becomes a wild, gun swinging action woman who has some vicious debts to repay. She drags Perry through a night of murder, violence, fast car chases and dodging police.

Joe Schreiber has written a number of books, including some of the Star Wars titles. He is a New York Times best seller. He has produced a book that is easy reading and likeable characters – despite their actions! The dialogue and wit is enjoyable throughout. I think young teenagers and above will enjoy the ‘virgin hero’, the ‘female assassin’ and the strong father figure being taken down a notch or two. It has everything a reluctant teen could want in a book. 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Winnie-the-Pooh (and friends) Hide and Peek

Winnie-the-Pooh (and friends!) Hide and Peek based on the “Winnie-the-Pooh” works by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard (Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-140526119-7
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

Winnie-the-Pooh is an old favourite and this book is created true to the classic form. It has a gentle pace and spacious illustrations. The illustrations are gorgeous with a rounded edges and soft colours used throughout.

Hide and Peek is a board book for those aged 1+ with unfolding flaps on every double spread. Children are to find the four friends in the forest. There is only one sentence to read on each double spread allowing the child to take the story and graphics wherever they choose. They could race through and find every friend or they can saunter through creating stories to go with the illustrations.

The animals they are seeking are all in the same repeated, predictable place allowing children to feel confident with this book. The materials are durable so I can leave it with my three year old and be confident that it will not be in shreds when I return. If you like the Hundred Acre wood and its characters this is certainly one to get.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Billy’s Boatshed : The Project

Billy’s Boatshed : The Project by Aimee Atkins, pictures by Franfou Studio (Random House)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-74275-313-3
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Billy and Lilly live in Washaway Bay with their friends Pauly the Pelican, Sparky the speedboat, Bazza Barge and a sailboat with pink sails named MJ. The project tells how Billy plans to spend the day finishing building his boat. When Lilly walkie-talkies him to say she is having trouble counting all the fish in the reef, where she is standing knee deep in the water. For some reason, Billy thinks building a ‘glass bottom boat’ will make Lilly’s task easier.

Of course, drawing up plans for this distracts him from his original project. As does the ‘Honk Honk, Honk Honk!’ Billy hears from Bazza the Barge, who is struggling to raise his anchor. Billy dives under the water to untangle it, and gets the bright idea that he should make a submarine with big arms and a glass bottom as that would help Bazza untangle his anchor and help Lilly count fish.

When Billy begins building this, Sparky the speedboat yells for him to come and save his beach ball that landed on the sand while Sparky was playing with it. Sparky cannot travel across sand to save it and when Pauly flies over to return it Billy thinks of a great solution. He will put wheels on the submarine he is going to build, as that would mean it could go up to retrieve the ball in future.

But that must wait, as it is now tea time. While nothing has been built, the story ends with Billy looking into the sky before bed time and wondering if he should build a spaceship instead. Franfou Studio have used simple, bold colours to show what is happening just as it is told in the text. This story may appeal to children aged 3-4 years.

Thursday, 16 February 2012


Don't by Ann Harth, illustrated by Angelita Ramos (Soto Publishing)
PB RRP $9.00/$12.95
ISBN 9780982171110
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Don't is a story that will ring true for young and old alike. Jackson's busy family is always telling him, 'Don't.' But as soon as he hears that word, he is immediately drawn to the forbidden and  disaster inevitably follows. However, Jackson's school teacher Miss Connor prefers 'do'. This simple act boosts Jackson's feelings of self worth and even when disaster still ensues he is able to stay calm.

Ann Harth carefully selects her words and the reader is with Jackson all the way as his 'shoulders twitch and ... fingers tremble.' My particular favourite is 'my skin quivers like a horse with flies'. The text is filled with humour and though the story has a powerful message it never comes across as didactic. Angelita Ramos's bright and colourful illustrations faithfully portray the text. She is particularly good at depicting Jackson's facial expressions. i could almost see his mind ticking away.

With its message of positive reinforcement and the encouragement of children, Don't would be especially useful within pre-schools and in early primary school as well as reminding all of us in contact with children that encouragement wins out every time.

Don’t can be bought on Amazon:
or directly from the publisher

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Losing Turtle

Losing Turtle (Walker Stories S.)
Losing Turtle by Adrienne Frater, illustrated by Cat Chapman (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 11.95
ISBN 9781921529108
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Losing Turtle is a collection of three delightful short stories for emerging readers: Losing Turtle, Top Secret, and Scrambled Eggs. Each of the stories star Sam, an inventive and thoughtful boy who solves his dilemmas in unique ways and with surprising results. Although the stories are simple with carefully selected words and straight forward sentence structure the stories are anything but bland. Sam’s personality shines through and the images of his family and school life that are built up will keep children reading and looking for more. What more could we want in this National Year of Reading!

Cat Chapman’s black-and-white illustrations jump off the page with joy and humour, adding to the reading experience and ensuring that children are never overwhelmed by a page of words.

Walker are to be congratulated for their Walker Stories series for younger readers. The Walker Stories target readership group of young and emerging readers are not generally catered for as well as they might be in the publishing world and titles such as Losing Turtle fills this important niche.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Billy’s Boatshed : MJ Saves the Day

Billy’s Boatshed : MJ Saves the Day by Aimee Atkins, pictures by Franfou Studio (Random House)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-74275-314-0
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

This story opens with Billy and Lilly packing their things to go and watch baby sea turtles hatching on the sand. While they do this, MJ the sailboat watches Sparky the speedboat speeding around the bay. When he asks if she can go as fast as him she says, ‘No Sparky, without an engine, I can’t go that fast.’ She sails away and Sparky takes Billy and Lilly to Barnacle Bay.

Once Sparky has dropped Billy and Lilly off he goes and amuses himself by speeding continuously from one side of Coral Reef to the other. Back at Barnacle Bay, Lilly takes photos of the hatchlings. ‘Billy, Lilly and Pauly were so happy they’d seen the turtles hatching, as it only happened once a year.’ They send Pauly the Pelican to tell Sparky they are ready to set home.

Sparky sets off to pick them up, only to discover he can’t go all that fast anymore. He’s used up all his fuel by zipping around having fun. Coincidentally, MJ happens to be sailing past and offers to tow Sparky back to pick up Billy and Lilly and take them home. Sparky suggests that next time they go to Barnacle Bay they should take MJ with them and the story ends, saying that ‘ MJ was the happiest little dingy in the world!’

Franfou Studio have used simple, bold colours to show what is happening just as it is told in the text. MJ has the brightest pink sails ever and, in contrast to Lilly’s black hair and green eyes, Billy has the reddest hair and very blue eyes. This story may appeal to children aged 3-4 years.

Dance Steps for the Self-Employed Editor

The details of this course was sent to me by one of the wonderful Buzz Words' subscribers and it sounds just the sort of thing I need. If I was in Melbourne I'd be there in a shot. Cut-off for rego is today:

Soc Eds (Vic) presents training course: Dance Steps for the Self-Employed Editor, with Jackey Coyle
To be successful as a self-employed editor, there's so much to stay on top of: marketing, administration, keeping track of the money, finding work and staying current. And that's above and beyond actually doing the work.

'Dance steps for the self-employed editor' combines information, discussion and activities across the five essential elements of being successfully self-employed:
* Getting it out there - honing your identity; optimising internet and social media; exploiting free marketing opportunities
* Mastermind - managing your business; controlling correspondence; optimising your billable hours; making bookkeeping your ally
* The money trail - budgeting for cash flow; establishing invoicing and bill-paying systems; sorting tax and GST
* Irons in the fire - brainstorming networks for generating work; managing conflicting deadlines
* Know how - keeping your knowledge and skills current.
When: Saturday, 25 February, 10:30 am to 4:30 pm
Where: CAE, 253 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Cost: Members (Soc Eds, APA, ASTC, ANZSI, WV) $180, non-members $240. Tea, coffee and mini muffins are provided.
Bookings: close 6 pm 13 February. Visit for the forms.

Friday, 10 February 2012

My Australian Story: Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge (My Australian Story) by Vashti Farrer (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9 781741 699531
Reviewed by Felicity Pulman

Vashti Farrer’s new addition to the My Australian Story series gives a detailed and valuable insight into the construction of one of the world’s most notable icons.

After a passing reference to August 1930 (with some fascinating information about how the bridge spans were finally joined together) the book begins in January, 1931. Through the diaries of Billie and Alice, we read about the year leading up to the opening of the bridge from two very different points of view.  Alice lives on the north shore. Her father is an engineer working on the Bridge so her perspective of the construction is very different from Billie’s, whose father has been out of work and whose employment as a ‘donkeyman’ on ‘the Iron Lung’ has proved a life-saver for the family.

The two viewpoints coincide nicely as we learn about different aspects of the Bridge’s construction from both the workers’ and the management’s point of view. Detailed information about the construction process is spread throughout the text, bringing home to the reader just what a mighty project this was, and how far-reaching the consequences.  The danger of working on the Bridge is also highlighted. There were 16 deaths associated with its construction, and many men were injured.

Because the building of the Bridge took place during the Great Depression, Billie’s diary is of particular interest, touching as it does on how some families struggled to survive during those hard years.  Billie is keeping the diary to share with his mate Bluey, whose family was dispossessed by the clearance of houses before building on the Bridge commenced. Unable to afford housing elsewhere, the family has been moved to Happy Valley Camp at La Perouse, home for the homeless. The resolution, at the end of the Diary, is touching. It also brings home the truth of why the Bridge was called ‘the Iron Lung’ – ‘because it employed a total of 1654 workers and so kept Sydney “alive” through jobs.’  The notes at the end of the Diary are of particular interest.

The politics of the time are skilfully interwoven through the narrative:  the refusal of Labor Premier Jack Lang to pay the interest on NSW’s overseas debt, his raiding of the State Savings Bank in an effort to keep NSW solvent, and his refusal to invite either the King or the Governor to formally open the Bridge are set against the rising popularity and machinations of the New Guard, culminating in the opening of the Bridge with all its attendant drama.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sydney Harbour Bridge, and I learned a lot while doing so. Highly recommended.

© Felicity Pulman 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Two-Hearted Numbat

The Two-Hearted Numbat by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9-781-921-888-007
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

What is a Numbat? It’s a small native Australian marsupial also known as the banded anteater or walpurti. Once they were widespread across southern Australia, and are now mainly found in Western Australia. Thankfully, these cute little guys are now protected by conservation programs.

Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina are from the Bailgu and Nyamal peoples of the Pilbara region of Western Australia and The Two-Hearted Numbat, is a story close to home, told in the style of a dreamtime story.

Numbat has two hearts—one is made of feathers, and the other is made of stone. When Numbat is wearing his feather heart, he’s soft, kind and likeable—but exhausted from helping others. When he wears his stone heart, he’s strong, hard working and clever, but not very likeable. Numbat is torn between choosing a heart of stone that promotes strength and self-confidence at the expense of caring about others, and a feather-heart that promotes compassion for others at the expense of caring about oneself.

Feeling conflicted, Numbat consults the wisest of the numbats and they encourage him to go on a journey to discover his true heart. Facing many challenges, Numbat realises he needs both strength and gentleness, and his two hearts merge into one. “I once thought I had to choose between being as strong as a stone, or as gentle as a feather. But now I know that no one is truly strong who does not also have the softness to care for others. And no one is truly caring of others who does not also have the strength to care for themselves.” Numbat gains wisdom, and becomes a great leader.

The style of the artwork is a contemporary blend of modern and traditional. The use of brightly coloured rainbows of hot pinks, deep blues and jungle greens are throughout the book. There are identifiable, key elements of indigenous art—spirals, magical auras around the numbats and aerial views of the landscape. The traditional methods of ‘x-ray’ painting is also used to show Numbat’s two hearts, clearly visible inside his body.

The Two-Hearted Numbat is a vibrant combination of beautiful visuals and narrative; it’s simple and profound and thought provoking. It is a delightful story with an important message and will appeal not only to pre-schoolers, but older readers too.

Neridah McMullin is the author of three books for children. Her next book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to Me'. It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story that’s being endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy, and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also just happens to love footy). 

Monday, 6 February 2012

Girl Parts

Girl Parts by John M. Cusick (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406334340
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The idea for this book is distinctly out of the ordinary but with a very current theme. It focuses on the effects of technology on today’s society and its invasion of people’s personal lives. It written in a humorous style and exhibits a flair unusual for a first novel. The author is a literary agent of books for children and teens.

The setting is Westtown where all the prime land around the man-made lake belongs to David Sun’s father, a computer magnate. All, that is, except the small piece that Charlie and his dad, refuse to give up. They are thought of as weird because their idea of perfection is a natural existence.

The story opens with Nora committing suicide on a video blog with 750 people watching. Someone could have, but no one tried to stop her, for in Westtown frightening statistics had emerged. ‘Cases of moral apathy, suicide, and anhedonia’ were on the increase. This proved the suspicion that many ‘interpersonal relationships’ were ‘increasingly crowded out by electronic distraction’ and that the young people at St Sebastian’s had become disconnected from reality.

A behavioural specialist/counsellor is brought in to help the boys relearn how to reconnect with the moral side of life.  Mr Roger ‘a pioneering researcher of Teen Dissociative Disorder’ is associated with Sakora Solutions - a company that makes female robotic Companions (in several models) David’s parents coerce him to accept a solution to his indifference to drinking and driving, and immoral habits in the form of Rose. She is the original model-type and perfect in every way. (The only thing that can decommission her is total submersion in water)

Rose is connected via satellite to a data bank at Sakora Headquarters. Her Intimacy Clock has a security system and she learns things by listening to and repeating others, and through data transferred to her wiring.

David believes he has found the perfect partner. Her demure manner and moral stance moves the vain David. Although he is initially envied by all his friends, David quickly becomes frustrated when he finds Rose has a set of ethical standards that he simply can’t overcome, and robotic companions are not made of the stuff that humans are. David returns to his old ways and breaks off with Rose. Everything literally goes hay-wire.

The weird yet wonderful Charlie steps in and saves Rose’s life when she too, tries to commit suicide. But Rose is not the same. A series of entertaining yet sad and frightening events are set in motion and we discover that the world we are reading about is similar to the one we are living.

This is a terrific Science Fiction future read and many frightening truths are hidden within. It is witty and light-hearted, yet it addresses a great issue. 

Saturday, 4 February 2012


Bluefish by Pat Schmatz (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780763653347
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Travis carries secrets. They are bottled up and twisted with his anger. Therefore he is a boy of few words. He’s bitter, lonely and has just started another dreaded year at a new school. On the first day he goes out shortly after going in. Travis is also suffering from grief and loss, of which we have no inkling of till well into the story.

He lives with his grandfather who is also a man of few words that always cut the air and end too soon. Grandpa has just started AA, chain-smokes, and works at the local bakery to keep food in their stomaches.

Velveeta also has  secrets. Some that are never exposed but at which the reader can guess through the absence of attention to her fears.  Reasons for her existential problems become known to us through letters that she writes to her old friend Calvin, who has recently died and left her his wife’s scarves. These scarves are the emblem of her belonging to someone and something. Each day she wears a different one. She copes with her grief by utilising her observant eye and astute mind. These she converts into sharp talk with a flippant attitude. Her isolation is compounded by her mother’s inability to sever ties with an alcoholic partner and take control of her life.

The third young central character is Whistler. He is short, wears braces and glasses, is always being bullied and cannot overcome his fears. Yet he has an optimistic view of life, nurtured by a loving family which is absent in the other two young people lives. 

These three outsiders merge to form a circle of friendship and support in a subtle and slow fashion; feeling their way towards acceptance and the need for one another.

The pivotal role is claimed by the dedicated teacher Mr McQueen who quickly identifies the main cause of Travis’ withdrawal. It is his gentle and matter-of-fact manner that indirectly steers the boy and Velveeta toward change.

This is definitely a character-based novel. It’s moving, multi-themed and layered within perfect prose. Its minimal and direct style complements the beauty of the language which distils the themes, and the emotions of the exceptional characters. It is about surviving loneliness, loss and grief, and learning how to live with it all. It is also about the  great well of potential that each person has inside them, which often only surfaces when acknowleged, encouraged and supported by others.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

There was an Old Sailor

There was an Old Sailor by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Cassandra Allen (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921720765
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Winner of the Crystal Kite Member Choice Award, Australia and New Zealand Division, SCBWI, 2011, There was an Old Sailor is a joyful tale written in verse of a gluttonous sailor. It begins and ends with laughter on the reader’s lips.

The feast began when ‘he swallowed a krill’. That it will make him ill didn’t seem to bother him so he ‘swallowed a jelly, that wriggled and wriggled and jiggled his belly’ to catch the krill. It seems his appetite was whetted for then he swallows in turn and in rhyming verse, a fish, then an unbroken chain of other fishes of sorts to catch the previous one. But he ‘had to kneel to swallow the seal’ and ‘it must have been dark when he swallowed the shark.’

His tummy is growing and growing and it appears that so is his hunger. It’s when he swallows ‘the whale to catch the seal’ that the biggest burp exits his cavernous tummy and he sets sail.

What joyful galloping rhyme and rhythm this book has with its accompanying, beautiful and subtle coloured illustrations. The fly pages show a swirling aqua sea with fish swimming. The title page has the Old Sailor looking out to sea through his hand-held telescope.  The front cover depicts the sailor and his rotund upper body, with a krill sitting on his rounded shoulder.  The back cover is a replica of the sea and fish depicted on the fly pages. The book is perfect for reading out loud; for listening to, and for the simple pleasure of reading by young and older aged readers

It was extremely satisfying to see the listing of the media used for the excellent illustrations – gouache and pencil, on the publication page. I have longed for this information to be included for interested readers/collectors of picture books since I wrote about the exhibition of children’s books at Birrarung Marr long ago.  Good for you Walker Books! May all the publishers of illustrated books follow in your footsteps.