Friday, 30 March 2012

Gilbert the Great

Gilbert the Great [Board book]
Gilbert the Great [Board book] by Jane Clarke, illustrated by Charles Fuge (Simon and Schuster)
BB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-085707223-8
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

From the time Gilbert the Great White Shark was a tiny pup, Raymond the Remora stuck to him like glue.  Raymond was always on Gilbert’s side.  But one day Gilbert wakes up to discover that Raymond has gone.  Mrs Munch does everything she can to help Gilbert come to terms with his loss.  Slowly, Gilbert learns to smile again.  He knows that Raymond will always be in his heart and, when Mrs Munch takes Gilbert to the wreck, a chance meeting brings friendship into his life once more.

Gilbert the Great [Board book] is a gentle story primarily about loss.  Gilbert’s best friend, his constant companion, has suddenly gone.  He is confused, lonely and hurt and the bulk of the book shows Gilbert working through these emotions and trying to come to terms with his grief.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though, as Gilbert stumbles upon Rita the Remora who has lost her shark.  They agree to stick together and a new friendship is formed.

Despite the heavy topic, Jane Clarke has still maintained a light and fun tone – helped by the inclusion of several ocean-inspired puns.  There are other more subtle aspects to the story as well: being mindful of the things we say to our loved ones (it may be the last time we speak to them); not bottling up our feelings (Gilbert has a long cry); that grieving is a process of many emotions.  

Charles Fuge’s illustrations are a lovely compliment to the story; colourful and including lots of detail.  Gilbert’s underwater world is brought to life with sea-creatures of every shape and colour.

Gilbert the Great [Board book] is a heart-warming story that celebrates the importance of friends in our lives.

Jane Clarke is the author of several picture books including: Smoky Dragons and Tusk Trouble.  She lives in the UK with her two sons and two Labradors.  Charles Fuge has illustrated more than thirty picture books including Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball and Bush Vark's First Day Out (Picturemacs S.).

Sam the Cat: a true story

Sam the Cat: a true story by Sam Bowring, illustrated by Andrew McLean (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-921504-297
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

A new baby in the house means trouble. Not only does he get all the attention but he even gets Sam’s name. Upset Sam walks out, only to become lost after a huge storm. If the new baby has his name and all the attention, will Sam even be missed at all?

Based on the true story of how author Sam Bowring got his name. This book’s simple text tells a charming story of how everyone has a place at home. Filled with subtle humour and touches of irony, Sam – or should that be King Ironpaw, Ruler of the Roof- shows us that there is no need for jealousy. As long as the baby leaves his scratching post alone!

Andrew McLean is a highly awarded illustrator and once again his illustrations help to tell the story. Created in pen, ink, watercolour and pastels; these subtle illustrations bring Sam’s character to life.  I especially loved the image of a wet and bedraggled Sam waiting under the house.

This picture book would be suitable for lower primary readers and as it deals with jealousy it would be great for those young children dealing with a new baby coming into the home.

Thursday, 29 March 2012


Psychosilly by Alan Murphy (       
PB RRP (Convert from 10.99 English Pounds)
ISBN 978-0-9561734-1-6
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A lot of incredible talent has emerged recently from Ireland. Alan Murphy is one of them with a second book containing an unusual style of experimental poetry for children and adults. It is highly entertaining, thought-provoking and unique. The collection is made of sixty-seven poems written mostly in free verse and some limericks are also included.   

Murphy’s work is similar in style to Rachel Rooney’s (The Language of Cat and Other Poems) in that it contains the unexpected, unconventional and always surprising, subjects, themes and incredibly original use of language.

It is verse ‘made to baffle and entice’. A book that defies the norm and dares to challenge the reader to think outside the square; to interpret words and meanings in an alternate way, and at times to simply accept things as they are. The artwork is in perfect sync with the poems; a maze of well- utilised collage in unconventional shapes, sizes and colours. Together they create a picture of the writer’s mind that shows daring, innovation and style. This is also reflected in the superb yet zany front cover.

The quirky, highly intelligent poems incorporate subjects such as the humorous In Praise of Buttocks, the uncommon use of a common object in Ode to Blue Tack, and the title poem Psychosilly which is mind-bending as intended.

The titles themselves are a string-bag of surprises: Hell is Homework, Buttons, and Puddles and Mud and Chairs, Ham Sandwich Haiku, An Alien from Inner Space Murphy is so comfortable with words that his inventive use of assonance and alliteration, and the fantastic word play is nutritional brain food for the reader.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Millie’s Special Something

Millie’s Special Something by Tania Cox, illustrated by David Miller (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-1-921504-38-9
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

Everybody has something special that makes them feel brave when they are scared. Or that’s what Millie’s friends tell her. Don stomps, Gus roars and Lea flies and swoops. But Millie is too small to stomp and roar, and her feathers aren’t meant for flying. So what is Millie’s special something when big bad Reggie comes along?

Tania Cox has written a delightful story about a small dinosaur that discovers, with the help of her friends, what her special something is. The text is full of action and a lovely use of language and noises makes this a great book to be read out loud.

The vibrant paper sculptures by David Miller add an extra depth to the story. Intricate and detailed, they manage to create texture and movement on the page.  Tania Cox and David Miller also worked on Snap! Went Chester, shortlisted for the 2003 CBCA.

This picture book is ideal for pre-schoolers but as it also touches on the topics of self-esteem, fear and bullying, it would also be suitable for lower primary readers.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Submissions open for 2012 National Young Writers’ Festival

Submissions are now open for 2012 National Young Writers’ Festival. The NYWF is held in Newcastle NSW and the focus is on writers and artists 18-35 years old. 

The festival co-ordinators are seeking proposals from fiction writers, poets, journalists, zinesters, magazinesters, bloggers, playwrights, editors, curators, independent publishers, critics, activists, media geeks, comics creators, theory-heads, thinkers, performance artists, visual artists. Submissions close 31 March 2012. Go to for more details.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Kiss Kill

Kiss Kill by Jeni Mawter (Really Blue Books)
Epub, PDF RRP $4.40
ISBN 978-0-9872606-1-1
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Sixteen-year-old Mat can't believe his luck when he snags the hot new girl, Elle. She's stunning, witty and his. She's perfect. But then Elle's behaviour changes and she swings between adulation of Mat to humiliation and violence against him. Mat can't understand why things are different now, what he's done wrong, or how to fix things. He detaches from those around him thinking that this will help. He finally realises that he is not at fault. He also realises it is up to him to stop allowing Elle to rule how he behaves and to believe in his own self worth.

Fortunately for Mat, as he rides this roller-coaster of emotions, his best mate Jonno and Jonno's girlfriend Nadia stick by him. It is through their support that Mat comes to realise the toxic nature of his relationship with Elle. Jonno also intervenes by going to the school counsellor - something which Mat would never have considered especially following the talks at school where males are portrayed as abusers and females the abused. For Mat to confess to his abuse is tantamount in his mind to denying his masculinity. The thoughtful manner in which the counsellor deals with the situation allows Mat to begin the process of easing his way out of the relationship.

Kiss Kill presents Mat's story in a unique manner. It is not told as a traditional prose narrative but rather as fragments of prose, lyrics, scripts, social media, comics, texts (displaying the phone screen), drawings, photographs, poems and essays. The story flits from one to another at breakneck speed much like young adults can watch television, listen to music, do their homework and chat on facebook all at once making this format perfect for the intended audience

Author Jeni Mawter has also extended the book into an interactive forum. Mat blogs at (the entry with the dogs is hilarious!), there is ongoing utilisation of Youtube and reader feedback is encouraged.

Books such as Kiss Kill are a brave new world where the reader's involvement with the story and characters have been elevated to a whole new level not even imagined until recently. Rather than computers, Youtube and the entertainment of the digital world sounding the death knell for the book, they are the birth of a whole new way of seeing books and young adults will be leading the way. Kiss Kill's publisher Really Blue Books, Australia's first digital only publisher, and Jeni Mawter are to be congratulated for being at the forefront of this evolution of the book.

Kiss Kill can be bought through Really Blue Books, ($4.40) or through Amazon ($5.95).

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Closing Soon: Charlotte Duncan Award

Celapene Press invites entries to the Charlotte Duncan Award 2012 for a short story of up to 1500 words for young readers aged 9-12 years. Entries close on 31 March 2012.The Charlotte Duncan Award was established in 2009 in memory of Charlotte Duncan, to raise funds for the neo-natal unit at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital. 

Entry fee: $9.90 per story; Prizes: $75, $50, $25, Winning and commended entries will be published on the Celapene Press website.

Charlotte Duncan Award 2012 Competition Guidelines(25KB)
Charlotte Duncan Award 2012 Entry form (33KB)

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Colouring Book

Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Colouring Book by Yves Saint Laurent (Walker Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9781406338836
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

This is a colouring, drawing and activity book like no other. Utilising previously unpublished sketches by Yves Saint Laurent this book will appeal to young aficionados of fashion. Incorporating fabric swatches, design and fashion tips, children can participate in bringing colour to sketches, completing designs and fuelling their imagination (and maybe their career aspirations) as they put themselves in the shoes of a designer. 

Friday, 23 March 2012

Closing Soon: Picture Book Residencies (Writers and Illustrators)

Australia Council for the Arts is offering support to individual writers and picture book illustrators through residencies and studios in Australia and overseas (Rome and Paris). Grants of up to $18,000 for travel and living and/or research expenses are available. Applications for this grant close on 30 March 2012 and funded projects can start 1 August 2012. Check out the details for this great opportunity at 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Mort: the 10 000 year old boy

Mort: the 10 000 year old boy by Martin Chatterton (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781742753157
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

What a cracking read? Kids are bound to love this adventure with Mort and his family who by some strange quirk of nature age only one year for every 1 000 lived. This book has everything – mad scientists, cloned geniuses (Da Vinci, Oppenheimer, H.G. Wells to name but a few) and cloned madmen (Genghis Khan), a mutant vampire Goldilocks, a sabre-toothed tiger, a time machine and one very unflustered truancy officer!

Mort flies along at breakneck speed with a new twist around every corner. Chatterton makes this totally outrageous story very believable. His black-and-white illustrations which pepper the story add to its humour. The ending very obviously leads into the sequel but rather than feel cheated, as I have done on other occasions when that technique has been used, I’m merely hanging out for the next instalment where Mort, Khan and others have been transported back to 1941 and landed in the clutches of Nazi soldiers.

Included in the back is a brief run-down on some of the historical figures that Mort and sister Agnetha had cloned for those that need the heads-up.

I highly recommend Mort for younger independent readers who enjoy action, adventure and a good laugh. 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Event: Beijing Tai Tai

Brisbanites: Visitors to Buzz Words Books know the wonderfully Tania McCartney as the author of the Riley series and the newly released Australian Story: an illustrated timelineTania is also the author of the adult book Beijing Tai Tai and she is holding a book event on Tuesday 27 March at The Avid Reader in Brisbane (6pm). 

Beijing Tai Tai: Life, Laughter and Motherhood in China's Capital is a collection of witty observations on Beijing expat life, from a mother, wife and woman intent on capturing her love-hate affair with China. It's a rollercoaster ride of honesty and openness as a mother and wife(tai tai) juggles suburban family life in urban Beijing. 

Don't miss out on this great event. Tickets are only $5. RSVP essential. 3846 3422 or events(at)

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Taming of Lilah May

The Taming of Lilah May by Vanessa Curtis (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781847801494
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Lilah is an angry girl. She’s not interested in anything except her classmate Adam, ‘songs, clothes and rage’. The last being uncontrolled since her brother Jay left. But Jay left because Lilah told, and she promised she wouldn’t tell. But she had to because she loved Jay so much and he needed help. And for two years she’s been angry at herself for letting her brother down; for telling about the drugs.

Lilah’s mother is a clown who entertains at kids parties. Her father is a lion-tamer at the local zoo. Both spend too much time outside the home due to their work. This is the main reason that for so long they didn’t address their child’s abnormal behaviour. Now for the last two years they have been mourning his loss, believing him to be dead as he took nothing with him except his mobile. He even left behind his contact lenses.

Lilah has gone from the best to the worst student. She is rude, refuses to do her homework, is disobedient and disinterested in everything except being alone and kicking the walls. Her mother has spent a miserable two years crying at the slightest thing. The family has grown apart while Lilah’s anger has reached unmanageable proportions. Lilah’s father tries to teach her anger management. He buys her a puppy, and even cuts back on his work load and so does his wife, in an attempt to be a normal family again.

Everything seems lost until the day she receives an email from one of Jay’s band members. He has received a missed call from Jay’s phone. Lilah and her parents dare to hope that Jay is alive. After the police track the call, they announce it was from someone who found the phone in the street. Then Lilah’s parents are asked to identify a body they believe to be Jay. But it’s not. And Lilah remains angry. To add to her misery, Bindi betrays her with Adam.

But something happens which gives hope to the family. And life with hope can be reconstructed.

Award-winning author of Zelah Green, Queen of Clean, Vanessa Curtis always addresses difficult and important themes. She has approached her subject with an air of mystery, keeping the reader longing to know her secret. Then she uncovers her theme with a flourish. Here she has addressed the destruction caused to the family unit and the individual by drug use; grief, loss, and loneliness.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Queenie: One Elephant’s Story

Queenie: One Elephant's Story by Corinne Fenton, illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe (black dog books)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN – 978-1-742032-15-3
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Excellent storytelling and beautiful variety in illustrations pull readers inside this historic tale. Without over dramatising elements of animal cruelty surrounding our past ignorance and disrespect for animal rights, Queenie’s story tells how an Indian elephant was hunted down, taken from her home and family, and shipped to Australia so she could be ridden for tuppence at Melbourne zoo. People came from miles around to enjoy the riding experience.

Gouldthorpe’s thin line drawings of dark ink on creamy-yellowed pages, with central parts in colour, either in circles or rectangles with rounded corners, pull the reader’s eyes right into the action. The scenes reflect Queenie’s character, as well as Australia and its people in the early part of last century. When Queenie crushed her keeper to death, believed to have been an accident, thousands wrote asking that she not be put down. Due to the war and a shortage of fodder, she was destroyed on 3 July 1945.

The acknowledgements at the book’s end are testament to the vigorous research needed to build the story. It is what brings truth and life together to show how a wild animal can become tamed by humans and how the results, despite our wish to treat the animal well, are not always to the creature’s benefit. While Queenie was treated fondly by her keeper Wilfred Lawson and many visitors, some people teased and taunted her. In great spirit, she would tease back by squirting a trunk full of dirty water at them.

First published in 2006 it is not surprising to see this CBCA Honour Book rereleased. It is delightfully Australian and while Queenie’s life ends tragically, the book honours her memory. It ends with a poignant request to readers who visit Melbourne Zoo today, where they can see the Trail of Elephants along which the zoo elephants are now able to roam and swim more freely; ‘Close your eyes and you will feel Queenie’s spirit with them – playing in hideaway places, just as she did all those years ago in India.’

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Chinkapook and the Manangatang Mountain Munyips

Chinkapook and the Manangatang Mountain Munyips by Bob Heddle (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780980575057
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

This story, the third in a series, shows the Valemink family, Mum, Dad, Zac aged 8 and Ria aged 11 arriving in Chinkapook where they will live for several months while Mum and Dad, scientists sent here by the ‘Australian Agricultural Department’ research why Chinapook, North-West Victoria, was named the ‘place of red earth by the Aborigines’.

Once there Zac and Ria befriend ‘Koori boy, Mick La Bonbon, better known as Marsupial Mick, who tells unbelievable stories.’ He says there are Bunyips in the area. For no particular reason, Zac insists on calling them Munyips, which ceases to aggravate his sister once she decides they should all call them that. Visiting Mick’s place, a ‘shack with a tent attached to it’ which he calls a multimillion dollar mansion due to its view and nice fresh air, Zac and Ria join him and his four year old brother Mim on a visit to Munyip Country in the Manangatang Mountains.

They put yabbies they catch back when Ria says it would be cruel to cook them. They eat cake Mick’s mum packed instead. Losing their way home they stay bush overnight. Investigating a noise he pretended to hear, Mick makes Munyip sounds to scare the others. In the morning Ria tells him it was a lousy trick. While packing to go home, real Munyips chuckle. They are cheeky though potentially dangerous and the children learn that making them laugh is helpful when wishing to escape. Once home Dad asks if they saw any Munyips and they reply ‘Don’t you know munyips don’t exist.’ They don’t want their parents to halt their adventuring.

Ten of the 55 pages include Heddle’s illustrations and some of his beautiful watercolour images of the Mallee region. Also included in the 55 pages is a two page synopsis and instructions for a Munyip Game in which children must try and make players laugh by pulling funny faces at them. Marketed at children aged 9-14, Chinkapook and the Manangatang Mountain Munyips seems more apt for readers aged 5 to 10 given the age of its characters and the subject matter. A quick read in a setting very different to anything most young readers will be at all familiar with.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Alex Cottle Axolotl

Alex Cottle Axolotl by Christine Moroney, illustrated by Niki Oram (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780980723755
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Moroney, a medical diagnostic radiographer, writes children’s stories with a medical slant and underlying Christian message. Alex Cottle Axolotl lives in Mr Tulley’s pet shop and enjoys watching the comings and goings as people visit the cute cats and dogs, bright tropical fish and birds who sing beautifully. Poor Alex feels he has nothing to offer. Mr Tulley urges him to be patient, saying his time will come as ‘there is a place in this world for every creature.’

Bought as a birthday gift for Marcus, Alex proves to be a novelty. For two weeks. After that he is left alone and becomes bored. His tank fills with so much algae that he can no longer see outside and can barely breathe. He would climb up the sides of the tank to get out if it wasn’t so slippery with algae but if he could climb out ‘where would he go from there? He had no money to call a taxi.’

Luckily, messy Marcus tosses things around his room when searching for something and a shoe lands in the tank. Though it knocks off one of Alex’s toes he is able to climb it, balancing on top to attract attention. This doesn’t work and it’s not until Mum threatens to suspend pocket money that Marcus cleans up and sees what has happened. He remembers that ‘Alex had come with a set of instructions but he was not a science kit or a model plane’. He cleans up the tank and nurses Alex back to health.

When Marcus sees Alex’s toe growing back he tells Dad, who invites medical scientists over to examine Alex. They plan to build a research lab to learn more about this animal, asking Marcus to be an adviser to them which thrills Marcus.

Said to be aimed at 9-14 year olds the story line, language used and lesson Marcus learns about what happens if you don’t look after your pet are likely to be better suited to 6-10 year olds, as are the cute and varied black on white illustrations. Interesting facts about this endangered species and their use in medical research are contained on the last few pages of this book's 57 pages.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

These Are My Hands/These Are My Feet

These are My Hands / These are My Feet by Judy Horacek (National Library of Australia)
HB RRP $17.95
ISBN 9-780642-277480
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Horacek, a widely published Australian cartoonist, visual artist, illustrator and writer, is surely known for her first step into the children’s book world for illustrating Where is the Green Sheep?. One half of this new, sturdy, square offering, filled with bold, bright colours, has readers exploring what their feet mean to them. Flipping the book over and reading from the other side, the story in the other half of the book has them do the same for their hands.

Rhyme that scans well is a pleasure to read, my favourite being ‘My feet take me places – walking, running, different paces. Hopping, skipping, jumping races, crazy, zany, backyard chases.’ There are so many reasons to appreciate our feet and where they take us and young children will easily identify with all those that are presented. The fun and varied illustrations that show children doing all kinds of activities, including those that leave footprints, are a delight.

When it comes to hands, Horacek herself said she was amazed at how our relationship with them is so different to that with our feet. Again, the narrative and illustrations explore how many different activities our hands are used for. My favourite is ‘My hands hold on to things, like other hands … to make a ring.’  The accompanying illustration shows eight children holding hands to form a circle. While similar in many ways, they differ in hair and skin colour and facial appearance. The one wearing glasses is especially cute.

Great use of shapes and colours make this an excellent learning tool and I’m certain that young children will never tire of going back over the book to spot the many things there are to see in the full, yet uncluttered, scenes. Likewise, I’m sure no adult could tire of reading this glorious text. It rolls from the tongue so easily and splendidly and will help children with language development. No child should miss out on exposure to these things and, as such, this is the perfect book for preschools at the very least.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Edge of the World

Edge of the World by Ian Trevaskis, illustrated by Wayne Harris (Walker Books)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN – 978-1-921150-21-0
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

‘Snowdrifts piled high against the breakwater’, of the village near the edge of the world. This village, however, was bleak for many reasons. One was that villagers had to rely on cheating nature’s dangerous elements to ensure their livelihood. While ‘wind shrieked and howled through its empty streets’  fishermen mended their nets and boats so they could fish for their families. Toby, whose family was stolen by tragedy, did not join in. This story’s text and illustrations leave readers in no doubt as to why this village shivered ‘beneath a blanket of snow’.

Early pages end with the refrain ‘nobody smiled in the village near the edge of the world’, drawing readers into a life where the sea’s danger is ever present and means wives and children spend weeks hoping the fishermen will return. One morning Toby takes his boat out alone. When he hauls in his net he finds a tiny pot with the word Giallo on it. At home, under lantern light, he removes the lid, dips in his finger, and views a splotch of yellow paint on it.

Toby paints parts of the village yellow, bringing smiles to the fishermen on their return. Each day he sails, finding another pot; Cremisi, Scarlatto, Verdi di Linfa, Blu Oltremare and Vermillion. He uses them all to paint more colour on the stone houses, church, school and lighthouse. Every addition renews life in Toby. It also renews it in others, as does the return of their husbands, fathers and sons. His final painting, on the lighthouse, is a dedication in memory of his wife, son and daughter who were taken by the sea.

Wayne Harris, illustrator of many award winning books, skillfully blends light and colour into this work to show the gradual process of healing in both Toby and the town. His pictures, and Trevaskis’ breathtaking text, show how time, light and small sprigs of joy can gradually remove the darkness of tragedy and help people to heal. The meaningful and detailed pictures combine with the author’s poetic use of language to create atmosphere and instill emotion in readers. This gentle tale is a privilege to read over and again.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline

Buzz Words is honoured to be involved in Tania McCartney's blog tour. Read on for my book review and see why I loved Australian StoryAn Illustrated Timeline so much.

Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline by Tania McCartney (National Library of Australia)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780642277459
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Tania McCartney has excelled herself in bringing to life our country's journey and she begins at the very beginning: Once there was nothing. Then there was something. 

The first few pages take us through prehistory with the creation of Earth, the movement of the continents, and a mention of the dinosaurs. Then comes the human story with the arrival of Indigenous Australians, European explorers and the First Fleet. Every aspect of Australian history is covered: convicts, agriculture, politics, exploration, gold, sport, culture, education, federation, inventions, war, literature ... the list goes on.

Australian Story is a visual delight and will immediately draw in readers, young and old. Facts pop off the page and a timeline runs across the bottom of each spread. It is the perfect book to share with children and I challenge anyone to be aware of every fact presented. Undoubtedly the highlight of the book is the inclusion of treasures from the National Library's own collection - a painting of the now extinct thylacine, the Eureka flag, Captain Cook's list of Indigenous words, the Cathy Freeman stamp, a photograph of children attending The School of the Air and the photo of the beach-goers in 1902 is hilarious.

An inspiring aspect of the Australian Story is that it is not only about our past. The invitation is extended to all of us to become involved in the creation of our nation's future: Where will we go next? What will we do? It's all up to you ...

Australian Story has distilled the essence of what it means to be Australian, our achievements and, at times, our tragedies; where we have come from and where we are going. This book is an essential addition to every home, school and local library.

You can follow Tania on her blog tour:

Monday 5 March 

Blog Tour Schedule and Book Giveaway
Kids Book Review

Book Launch Party Wrap-Up
Tania McCartney’s Blog 

Book Giveaway
Alphabet Street

Tuesday 6 March

Book Review
Buzz Words 

Australian Story Research Process 

Book Review and 10 Reasons Why History is Exciting 
Soup Blog 

Wednesday 7 March

Australian Story Teaching Notes for Key Stage I 
Sheryl Gwyther’s Blog

Book Review and Teaching Notes Ideas for Key Stage II
The Book Chook 

Book Review 
Kids’ Book Capers 

Image-Sourcing for Australian Story
Blue Dingo  

Thursday 8 March

Book Review
Reading Upside Down 

Book Review
Pass It On 

Book Review
Bug in a Book 

Friday 9 March

Book Giveaway 

The Writing Process for Australian Story
Sally Murphy’s Blog

Book Review
Books for Little Hands 

Book Review

Saturday 10 March

Book Review 
Kids Book Review

Book Giveaway
Posie Patchwork Blog

Book Review
Suite 101 

Sunday 11 March

Book Review
My Little Bookcase 

Book Giveaway
Australian Women Online 

Blog Tour Wrap-Up 
Tania McCartney’s Blog 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Mighty Machines

Mighty Machines (Ready to Read) by Sarah Creese, designed by Karen Morrison (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $6.99
ISBN 9781742831190
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Part of the new ‘Ready to Read’ series, this book has instant appeal, with its 3D cover of monster sized trucks, tractors and heavy machinery – all things boys in particular love! Of course there’s no reason why girls wouldn’t be interested too. I can see the series being used as a starting point for projects and posters for the classroom. They’d also be fabulous for dads to read with their children.

According to the blurb, ‘Ready to Read combines simple words and sentences with amazing photographs to provide inspiring first reading books that children will love to read together, read with help – and read alone!’

Pre-Level 1’s objectives are: first words, word repetition and ABC’s. Level 1 – beginning to read, simple sentences & sight words, Level 2 – reading alone, longer sentences, fact boxes, Level 3 – reading proficiency, richer vocabulary, paragraphs & short chapters.

As a teacher I am quite excited to see how my struggling readers will take to them. There are good, solid tips for parents in the ‘Reading Together’ section inside the front cover, such as text understanding, looking at pictures and quiz pages. At the end of the book there’s a comprehension section called ‘What do you know?’ and further ideas page with dictionary and key words ideas.

I think the concept is wonderful and much needed. There are only a couple of niggles about this title in particular – the rhyming scheme is not consistent. It doesn’t quite scan properly, making it a little difficult to ‘get’ the rhythm from one page to the next. I know it’s a tall order and the author, Sarah Creese, has done a great job keeping the interest level high, but this does present a problem if learning about rhyme is one of the objectives. In the other titles, listed below, the rhyme is fine and Extreme Animals doesn’t use rhyme in its text.

The other tiny niggle is the phonemic complexity of some of the context words – they are above the skill level of a beginning reader. Examples are: tough, haul, demolition, buildings, certainly. Although the aim of level 1 doesn’t appear to be independent reading, one has to consider how these books will be used in the classroom. They will be put in the level 1 box and children will assume they can read them alone. There would in all likelihood not be an adult to sit with. The text is in large font, suggesting year a reading age of 6-7 years, but I have put this series at an independant reading age of 8 years, as the beginning reader would require some assistance with these words.

Notwithstanding these issues, I am very impressed with the series and eager to get these appealing books into the hot little hands of my reluctant readers! Well done to Sarah Creese for tackling a wide variety of subject matter, which is sure to grab the attention of the beginning reader.

Other titles include:
Dangerous Dinos (Ready to Read) ISBN 9781742831213 with truly scary photographs and drawings,
Slithering Snakes (Ready to Read) ISBN 9781742831176 with gorgeous coloured snakes,
Sharks (Ready to Read) ISBN 9781742831206 with ferocious teeth and weird looking heads,
Bugs (Ready to Read) ISBN 9781742831183 (my favourite) with beautiful close-up photos of interesting bugs of all shapes and colours and
Extreme Animals (Ready to Read) ISBN 9781742831169 with everything from spiders to elephants.

Dawn Meredith is a Special Education Teacher and children’s author in the Blue Mountains. She was awarded a May Gibbs Fellowship 2011. Her new book, The Anything Shop was launched October 2011. See here for details:  

Friday, 2 March 2012

Queen of the Night

Queen of the Night by Leanne Hall (Text Publishing)
ISBN 9781921758645
PB RRP $19.95
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The sequel to This is Shyness, winner of the Text young adult prize in 2009, quickly re-introduces the reader to the city where the Darkness has taken over one of its suburbs. Things are not going perfectly with either of the main characters Nia (aka Wild Girl) or Jethro (Wolf Boy). Nia is trying to get on with her life in her normal suburb, where she goes to school, works at a clothing emporium and tries to forget that Wolf Boy hasn’t called. Wolf Boy thinks about Nia as he tries to work out what is happening in Shyness. His friend Paul has joined a sect who wear blue clothes and he suspects Dr Gregory has something to do with it. 

The setting, part recognisable, part fantastical draws the reader in with its strangeness. Words like Tarsiers (furry animals) and Kidds (small vandalistic children who run wild in gangs) are explained for those who didn’t read the first book. There’s a build up to the mysterious Queen of the Night character which is not sustained on meeting her. Even Nia says, ‘She’s not what I expected.’ However the nursery she lives beneath is filled with plants which only live in darkness and have special herbal qualities. This part is beautifully described, suitably dream-like and sets the imagination soaring.

Nia is a feisty girl who doesn’t mind getting into trouble so it makes sense that she would go back to Shyness, pulled back by the excitement and by the unresolved sexual tension between her and Wolf Boy. There’s a mystery to be solved, all in the dark, of what is happening in Shyness. To save Paul one of them needs to enter his dream and Wolf Boy must confront Dr Gregory to find out the truth. Nia and Wolf Boy also need to get together. When they do there is just the line, ‘There is nothing more to say.’ While some may find this slightly disappointing and want more details, it may does make the book more accessible for younger readers.

This is a highly imaginative and evocative story with believable teenage characters and issues the book's readers can relate to, despite inhabiting a such very different world. Suitable for mid secondary school age students, particularly girls. 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Harry Potter Exhibition Powerhouse Museum Sydney

If you live in or around Sydney or happen to be visiting before 9 April make sure you visit the Harry Potter Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. Bookings are essential (the day I went every session was booked out) for this journey through JK Rowling's world.

The session begins with the Sorting Hat. Unsurprisingly, all those selected wanted to be sorted into Gryffindor! Ball gowns (Cho's is exquisite), bedrooms, wands, lollies and the opportunity to throw a quaffle were all top attractions along with the dementor and other aspects of the darker side of the wizarding world. Hagrid's hut was a big (excuse the pun) favourite and there was a queue to sit in Hagrid's chair.

This exhibition is a chance too good to miss for all lovers of the Harry Potter books and movies. And thank you to JK Rowling. How wonderful is it that in this day and age of entertainment on tap that it is BOOKS that have us all lining up.