Sunday, 30 September 2012

Ghost Club 2: The Haunted School


Ghost Club 2: The Haunted School by Deborah Abela (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781742750835
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

In The Haunted School we once again join the adventures of Angeline, Edgar and Dylan as they confront problems, overcome hurdles and solve problems in both this world and the next. Our young ghostcatchers are tasked with working out why the ghost of a previous student is haunting their school and what she is trying to tell them.

I love how each of these characters have their strengths and weaknesses but it is more often in confronting their fears that they help solve the problems that beset them. This is especially the case with Dylan and Angeline. Dylan, a most reluctant ghostcatcher, usually finds the key to the solution. And Angeline, who is fearless around supernatural visitors but unable to talk easily to her peers, is discovering that she can make friends and deal with issues in this world.

Bullying and its effects are a major theme throughout this book. Angeline, Edgar and Dylan are the target of Travis, who has discovered their secret. Two figures of the past were also subjected to relentless tormenting with terrible results. However, the story is never heavy. There is a big smattering of humour and the tiniest sprinkle of romance too!

The Haunted School is a terrific read: fun and fast paced but never trite. The relationships within and the ending are tremendously satisfying. Author Deborah Abela knows how to write for children and the next instalment of this series will be eagerly awaited.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Big Yellow Digger

Big Yellow Digger Big Yellow Digger by Julia Jarman, illustrated by Adrian Reynolds (Orchard/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781408309032
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie 


Julia Jarman is an award winning author of picture book texts which come together brilliantly with Adrian Reynolds' colourful, energetic illustrations. There is so much to look at in this latest offering: toddlers will find it captivating, and the rhyming words have the repetition and rhythm kids love.

Once again Ben and Bella are off on another adventure, this time on a big yellow digger which will dig them a tunnel to Australia. The most surprising mix of animals join the children but perhaps the most important is Little Roo who is longing to get back to his mum's pouch. The fossil they find deep inside the earth adds a surprise element and when the gang reach Australia, they enjoy a great Aussie beach party.

Julia chooses lively words to describe the digger's actions: brum, judder, and jigger. Along with the fun, there is a strong educational element woven throughout, and the imaginative concept of tunnelling through the Earth is exciting and a little bit scary - the tunnel is dark until Bella switches on the digger's lights on the way back home.

Big Yellow Digger is a book that makes you wish your grandchildren could stay small so they can continue to enjoy Julia and Adrian's rollicking picture books for a very long time. More of their picture books are listed on the inside and end covers – yellow, of course!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Hal Junior – The Missing Case


Hal Junior: The Missing Case Hal Junior: The Missing Case by Simon Haynes (Bowman Press Australia)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-877034-25-1
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Living on the space station Oberon means a class camping trip, where Hal can cook over a fire, hike in forests and splash through rivers, is the best thing ever. He’s never done those things! Lighting a practise fire in the space station’s canteen sees Hal grounded. Mum, a research scientist, hosts a huge function to seek funding from VIP Grogan and, in exchange for having his grounding lifted, Hal agrees to occupy Grogan’s kid during the visit.

Alex turns out to be a snooty stuck-up girl. Yick! Her father is told that unless he allows guards to see inside the case he carries, he is unable to take it into the meeting. He entrusts it to Alex. In order to free them up for exploring the space station, Hal convinces her to store it in the spares cupboard. Once that’s done, however, they are dragged into class and ordered to help with the clean-up that teacher has on the go. It’s not enough to stop Hal from goofing off. He gains clearance from teacher to go box hunting with Alex.

The search leads to the recycling centre, where giant robots mulch everything to bits before producing useful items, like boxes. The centre’s head robot won’t allow Hal and Alex to take boxes until they bring something in exchange. In the head robot’s office Hal thinks he sees Grogan’s case. Searching for things to swap for boxes they check the supply cupboard. The case is gone!

Back in the recycling depot Hal opens the case to find a contract, signed by all planets, allowing Grogan to turn Oberon into a tourist resort. Hal and Alex snatch back the case and safely flee a very angry robot. Grogan, pleased to have the case back, reveals the contract but Hal’s last act sees it go up in flames. A furious Grogan is sent on his way, unable to carry out his plans. Will he ever return?

Young readers are likely to be quickly drawn in by the adventurous, fun, and a little cheeky character of Hal, who always hopes to ensure that only fairness prevails. The book also contains small line drawings and some funny visual jokes too. Danger, tension, humour and a great outcome combine to keep confident readers in upper primary satisfied.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Terratoratan (Boy Vs Beast)


Battle of the Mega-mutants - Terratoratan (Boy Vs Beast) Battle of the Mega-mutants - Terratoratan (Boy Vs Beast) by Mac Park (Scholastic/Pop and Fizz)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-921931-18-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Terratoratan is another story in the Boy Vs Beast series.

Border Captain Kai Masters, has learnt that the Outlands, where Border Guards banish captured mutant beasts to, is a BMC (Bordaria Master Command) research park. Here all the beasts are micro chipped so data about them can be collected.

In Terratoratan, Kai notices a fast moving black cloud heading towards the Rock Land. This begins the next action packed battle against toxic jellyfish and other pests which are cloning at a great rate as their pest-poo mixes with toxic water.

When the mega-mutant beast is cloned, it will take the joint forces of Kai and BF, Li and BC, with newcomer Akin Jango and his bionic chimp, to have any hope of winning the battle. If they can overcome the original beast, all the clones will turn to dust. The land inside the border walls will once again be safe.

Boy Vs Beast books are action packed adventures for young boys. Paced at an easy level for beginner and reluctant readers, those at this level will soon be flying though these chapter books. With many titles in the series, there are plenty of battles to keep the faster readers satisfied.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Between the Lines


Between the Lines Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74331-092-2
Reviewed by Ann Harth (www.annharth.com )

What happens when you close a book? Are the characters simply suspended in time, waiting for someone to open it again? You might think so, until you read Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer.

Delilah is 15 – way too old for fairy tales. Everyone already thinks she’s weird because she’d rather read than hang out with the mall and lip gloss crowd. What would they think if they saw her reading a book for little kids?

But for some reason, Delilah simply can’t get enough of Between the Lines, a book she found in the school library. Prince Oliver, the reluctant hero, seems to reach out to her and she feels an inexplicable connection with him. One day, she’s shocked but certain that Oliver glances at her from the pages of the book.

Oliver lives in a fairy tale world that is not what it seems. As soon as the book is closed, the characters return to their “real” lives. Oliver avoids Seraphima, the beautiful but irritating princess, and hangs out with his best friend, Frump, the dog (who is secretly in love with Seraphima). If he isn’t tasting the Queen’s baked treats, Oliver is swimming with the pirates who are “actually quite nice fellows” as long as the book is closed. Even the Queen isn’t his real mother, but just a kind, elderly woman who plays the part. Oliver wants out. He’s tired of scrambling into position every time someone opens the book. He wants to discover what’s out there beyond the pale flat faces that peer down at him.

When Delilah and Oliver discover that they can actually talk to each other, they grow close and are determined to find a way to be together. Although they live in two different worlds, they devise a number of schemes to help Oliver escape from the confines of his fairy tale.

Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer have created an intriguing fantasy with a unique style. Between the Lines is written using three consecutive storylines which unfold over the course of the novel. Delilah and Oliver each have their own chapters so we can see what happens in their respective worlds as well as their overlapping experiences. The fairy tale is the third storyline and adds even more conflict as the reader can see the contradictory role Oliver has to play as the prince who’s afraid of dragons.

Between the Lines is engaging and filled with internal as well as external conflict. It will appeal to readers aged 11-15.

Jodi Picoult is the author of eighteen novels, four of which have been New York Times bestsellers. The idea for Between the Lines came from her teenage daughter Samantha van Leer. When Samantha isn’t writing she’s playing softball, dancing, performing and playing with her dogs. Mother and daughter worked together to create this absorbing book.

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

Monday, 24 September 2012

Coming Home


Coming Home by Sharon McGuinness, illustrated by Shannon Melville (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921633775
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Coming Home is a sensitive and wonderfully told story of Gemma who notices Dad sitting alone in the garden, day after day. She wonders why he does not play with her anymore. Reassurance from her mother that it is not her fault but her father’s depressive illness helps Gemma to understand. She maintains her connection with her father, despite his seeming indifference, and he eventually recovers.

The illustrations reflect and extend the text. Initially, in shades of black and white, Shannon Melville introduces more and more colour as Dad recovers from his depression to embrace his daughter, family and life. Even the endpapers are part of his journey with the front papers showing black and white weeds and the ones at the back showing glorious, bright pictures of flowers and butterflies.

This book does not intend to explain the reasons for depression or the treatments available. Rather, it assists children, and others, to understand depression and how the support and love from those closest to the sufferer can assist recovery. Coming Home has been endorsed by Black Dog Institute. Sharon McGuinness is also donating her author royalties to this very essential organisation, a world leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders.

Sharon McGuinness will officially launch Coming Home at Thirroul Library on Saturday October 6. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Destiny Road


Destiny Road by Melissa Wray (Morris Publishing Australia)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN – 978-0-9859147-2-1
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Sixteen-year-old Jessica only met her father a number of months before her mother moved the two of them to a new town. It takes a bit of time for Jessica to find her feet in her new school but she’s happy to give things a shot for Mum’s sake. A comment made by Jessica’s English teacher in reference to a novel they study sets up readers to explore the notion of how pivotal moments happen to everyone but that it isn’t only the moment that changes our course, it’s the choices we make that determine where life will take us.

When Dad sends her an airline ticket so she can come stay with him and his wife in the next holidays, Jessica’s thoughts about where she really belongs escalate. Though she wrestles with some guilt, the decision to move in the first place was Mum’s alone and Jessica feels her desire to move back isn’t totally inappropriate. She makes a huge choice, asking Dad if she can move in with him.

As Dad lives in a different school zone to the one she used to live in, the move back involves another change and brings new people into her life. It’s amazing to see how life can change when you make a choice. Jessica’s choice brings not only new relationships with Dad and step-mum but also others. A whole world opens and calls into question how that will change things with Mum too.

Chapter headings reflect what is about to unfold and description is sparse, only given when needed to set up a visual. Otherwise, it’s what happens in the scenes themselves that gives a sense of place and the teen world, with its ups and downs. Moments of angst and uncertainty balance with those of discovery, fun and success and the story gives a satisfying end.

Themes of change, choice, family and friendship are strong and while the story includes teen social life there are no token issues or scenes, only what is needed to keep readers moving along with the core issues that Jessica’s choice presents her with. While her choice was huge, readers are likely find the outcome settling.

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Down-under 12 Days of Christmas


The Down-under 12 Days of Christmas by Michael Salmon (Ford St Publishing)
PB $12.95, also available in HB $19.95
ISBN 9781921665608
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Talented author Michael Salmon has a vast range of achievements. He’s been involved in television and theatre since 1967 with his Alexander Bunyip show on the ABC for ten years. In 2010, a bronze statue of Alexander Bunyip was commissioned by the ACT Government, which stands outside the Gungahlin Public Library. He has written and illustrated over 160 books.

In his latest book The Down-under 12 Days of Christmas, Salmon’s wonderfully entertaining illustrations bring visual life to the Aussie song that children love to hear and sing.

A kookaburra in a gumtree (with a black hat that matches his beak); two snakes on skis (spotted and striped snakes on yellow skis with glasses, and scarves flying in the wind) ; three wet galahs (pink galahs, throwing water on clothes hanging on the clothesline but getting washed themselves at the same time); four lyrebirds (preening themselves after being attended to by Mr Robert’s Robot Cleaning Service); five kangaroos (two painting the roof, one sitting reading the Bunyip Bulletin with his bucket and brush resting at his feet, one sweeping, and the last one taking notes).

Six sharks a-surfing (on coloured surfboards with huge grins on their faces); seven emus laying (their facial expressions are priceless as they all watch an egg hatch!); eight dingoes dancing (in full ballroom costume with partners); nine crocs a-snoozing (but their eyelids are half-open, teeth visible); ten wombats washing (in a bathtub with snorkels, bubbles galore, scrubbing brushes and rubber duckies); eleven lizards leaping (over a pole that rises higher and higher); twelve  possums playing ( in a cool band called The Possum Band, under a tree). Then it’s ‘all together now’ and the whole song goes back to the beginning. Absolutely delightful!

Each of the twelve numbers is introduced on a full page spread in full colour. The opposite page contains a smaller picture of the previous days’ animals and their antics. Along the bottom of each page is an array of colourful indigenous animals, changing position as the pages change.

On the last double page spread, there are four pictures representing the stages of Christmas celebrations: Carol Singing - candles lit, decorations and expectations; Christmas Eve - Santa arrives with his presents and anticipates the goodies in the plate; Christmas Day – the excitement of opening the presents by the sea in the sun. And then Boxing Day –over-fed and tired, everyone has a good rest!

There is a colour-in picture on page 32, to be photocopied and coloured in.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Katie and the Leprechaun

Katie and The LeprechaunKatie and The Leprechaun by Kathryn England, illustrated by Emma Stuart (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $12.95
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton


On her way to school, Katie O'Reilly bumps into a leprechaun named Paddy. Katie discovers that Paddy is a one-shoe maker and is on the look-out for new ideas. Eventually, once Katie recovers from the shock and amazement of meeting one of the little people, Katie helps her new friend come up with a solution to his dilemma.

Emma Stuart's bright colourful illustrations are dotted throughout the book. The pictures will delight readers and assist them by reflecting the story and breaking up the text. I particularly liked the depiction of Katie with her messy pigtails and freckles.

Katie and the Leprechaun is part of the new junior fiction series, Little Rockets. The books are of a high production quality and perfect for newly independent readers with easy to follow plots and likeable characters.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Under a Silver Moon


Under a Silver Moon Under a Silver Moon by Anne Fine (Walker Books)
PB RRP $13.95
ISBN 9781406319248
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Anne Fine has created a delightful moral tale of two boys born at the same time; one rich, one poor. The story tells how Prince Haroun, the Sultan’s son and Heir to Throne, and Akil, son of a kitchen servant and a gardener, played together in the scented gardens of the palace. But too soon it was time for Haroun to learn his Princely duties, and for Akil to learn gardening skills under the supervision of his father.

But everything was done for the Prince. The only thing he was allowed to do was feed himself. This became his sole occupation since play was forbidden, until he was too fat to move and pain and boredom was all he experienced. Meanwhile, Akil grew strong and sturdy outside in the fresh air, working beside his father.

A hooded stranger dares to approach the royal family with an unusual suggestion and a solution is finally found to rid the Prince of his pain and boredom.

Illustrator Lotte Klaver has created black and white pencil images of the characters and their activities that complement and accentuate the text. This is a compact chapter book, but one that carries a great tale and a worthwhile lesson for children. The attractive cover is presented in sky blue, with silhouetted images of the two boys in a darker shade of blue, sitting together under a sliver moon.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge


The Beginner's Guide to Revenge The Beginner's Guide to Revenge by Marianne Musgrove (Woolshed Press)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781742750866
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Marianne Musgrove has an uncanny knack for writing stories with deep heart yet humour and lightnesss. In The Beginner’s Guide to Revenge we meet the wonderful, and wonderfully flawed, characters of Romola and Sebastian.

Many kids will identify with Romola. She has ditched Old Romola and is now New and Improved Romola, who will not risk losing her new friends. This goes dramatically wrong when, at a birthday party for the most popular girl at school, Romola defends the ANZAC Day tradition and her soldier father. Once again she finds herself on the outer. 

Romola finds a new ally in Sebastian who is staying with his mother's fiancĂ©, Korean war historian Marshall. Sebastian is desperate to find his father and avert the impending disaster of his mother's remarriage. When a plan to travel to visit his (unreliable) father in South Australia falls through, Sebastian blames Marshall. He believes it is now up to him to stop the wedding.

The two plot revenge on their tormentors. However, through the process they discover much more about themselves and others than they'd bargained for. The underlying theme of family and respect that runs through adds layers to the story.

Funny, sweet and with a big heart, The Beginner's Guide to Revenge is a story kids will enjoy and learn from. 



Monday, 17 September 2012

Life, Death and Detention: Short Stories about School and Other Stuff


Life, Death and Detention Life, Death and Detention by George Ivanoff (Morris Publishing Australia)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9780987244499
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This book was George Ivanoff’s first book, published in 1999. He has written over 50 books since then. Although out of print for some time, it has been on the Victorian Premier’s Reading Challenge since it began in 2005. It’s reprinting is welcome because of the excellent content of the stories.

Confronting, powerful, poignant, and at times shocking, it contains ten stories about school life and all the terrors faced by youth during those educational years, the result of bullying, the absence of duty of care from teachers and headmasters, and peer pressure. These stories have strong themes including, attempted suicide, grief/mourning and love, the angst of first love, and loss.

An interesting thing about these stories is the Afterword by the author, where he addresses the reader with a short response to the story; a note about the reason for the ‘deliberate uncertain ending’. This is meant to draw the attention of the young reader to the various outcomes, how the situation depicted can have many endings, depending on the reaction of the victim and ‘the other/s’ involved.

The only story that is unrelated to the rest is the slightly Sci Fi, Sugar. All the rest are within the boundaries of school and schoolyard. Ghosts is a slightly different slant on coping with grief, and The Writing’s on the Wall is about conversational graffiti, although both stories are set inside the school boundaries.

Ivanoff, although having moved the stories into the 21st Century, and having edited some prose where it was not clear due to his earlier inexperience as a writer, has remained true to the original contents of the book in this revised edition.

This is an impressive collection of stories, highly recommended by the reviewer to anyone wishing to understand the separate world of school bullies, the absence of care and interest for young people’s dilemmas, and the chaos of young lives biding time behind the boundaries of schools, where changes may occur slowly, but seem never-ending.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Guardian Angel


Guardian Angel (CHERUB) Guardian Angel (CHERUB) by Robert Muchamore (Hodder/Hachette)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781444912777
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

This is the second book in the second series of CHERUB, written by a London-based author who was a private investigator prior to becoming a best selling children’s author. CHERUB is a branch of British Intelligence whose agents are children between the ages of ten and seventeen. Recruited mainly from orphanages and care situations, the children (and younger siblings) live on a campus with a huge staff to educate and train them to become agents. This only happens if they pass a 100 day test of endurance and self reliance.

The story opens with ten-year-old twins Leon and Daniel Sharma and Fu Ning, a twelve-year old Chinese girl, the only ones left standing out of twelve kids on the latest training course. In reality, the training would no doubt be identified as child abuse, but here the kids are keen to pass the test and are willing to suffer vicious punishment in the process. To fail would result in having do the test all over again. They desperately want to wear the grey CHERUB T-shirts which means they are qualified for missions.

In Russia, Ethan Aramov, grandson of the matriarch of the Aramov Clan, Irena Aramov, has joined the family who live at the Kremlin. The Clan runs a billion-dollar crime empire which CHERUB is bent on destroying, utilizing the friendship between Ethan and Ryan Sharma, brother of the twins. Ethan is wary of his uncle Leonid whom he suspects murdered his mother in California. Ryan saved Ethan's life at the time, and is now regarded by him as his guardian angel. He keeps in touch with Ryan via email. This is in violation of the Aramov rules which forbid contact with people from the past. He pays dearly at the hands of Leonid and his cousin, Boris when they discover he has used the off-limits computer. He feels only his grandmother's presence is keeping him alive.

When CHERUB discovers Ethan will be sent to a school in Dubai, Ning and a mate of Ryan's, Max, are sent to board at the same school and befriend Ethan. But Ethan never arrives at the school. Ryan, whose mission is to destroy the Aramov Clan, is seriously concerned.

Ethan's situation keeps the reader glued to the page, the fast moving plot is rivetting and undoubtedly shows the skill of the author. However, once again I am disappointed in the content of the CHERUB stories with its violence, coarse language and sexual reference. Much of it seems entirely inappropriate for the age group 10-13 year olds, and as the main protagonist, Ryan will be fourteen in the final book in the series, I am concerned these levels will increase. The tag NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNGER READERS found on the back cover is important for discerning parents aware of the influence of the written word.  

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Art of Magic

The Art Of Magicby Ann Harth (Solstice Publishing)
RRP PB $9.99, eBook $3.99 (Amazon.com)
Smashwords $3.99
All Romance eBooks $3.99
Bookstrand $3.99
Barnes and Noble $3.99
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

The Art of Magic is an intriguing story of a boy struggling to come to terms with the death of his father from illness. However, while there is a backdrop of grief and longing, the story is never overwhelmed by this. Rather, elements of history, timeslip, and friendship shine through.

Andrew lives in Momentary Point, a coastal town with  heritage that goes back to the earliest times of white settlement in Australia. He is a lonely boy. Following his father's death, Mum works many hours at her supermarket job to make ends meet.  He has withdrawn from his best friend Jack due to a perceived disloyalty; given up his painting; and is constantly threatened by the local bullies.

Andrew finds friendship and guidance assisting a local artist 'Mad' Max in his market stall. Max was once a local teacher who disappeared for thirteen years and has never revealed why. At the stall, he sells paintings, all of the same house though at different times of the year. There is a thread throughout of people asking why he only paints this house and Ann Harth does a good job of building the intrigue around this key aspect of the story.

All the characters are well drawn. Even absent Dad is a fully developed character and Dad's love of history woven through the story is integral to the resolution. Ann Harth pulls in all the threads beautifully for a very satisfying ending.  Andrew is able to help Max find his way back through time and this helps Andrew comes to term with the loss of his father. He is also able to reconnect with his friend Jack and to neutralise the bullies.

Ann Harth is the author of numerous fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. She is a writing tutor, ghostwriter and manuscript assessor. For more information about Ann, her services and books go to www.annharth.com 

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Ghost Club 1: The New Kid

The New Kid (Ghost Club)The New Kid (Ghost Club) by Deborah Abela (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781742750804
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton


Deborah Abela's new series for kids, Ghost Club, is bound to be a huge hit. The first in the series is The New Kid where readers met siblings Angeline and Edgar, two of Ghost Club's youngest and best ghost catchers. They are tasked with introducing newbie and reluctant ghost catcher, Dylan, to the organisation.

As Angeline and Edgar show Dylan through Ghost Club, readers are also introduced to the gadgets (such as the Spectrovac, Ghost Soap and the Atomiser) and crazy characters (my particular favourites are Grandma Rose and Mr Gloom).

The story really takes off when the trio travel to Castle Koszmar with Gloom to investigate hauntings. Through clever sleuthing they work out who the ghost is and find a resolution which is satisfying for all, including the ghost.

The New Kid is fun and humorous with plenty of action, gadgets and a huge heart. I'm looking forward to reading the second in the series.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary


Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary by Nick Earls, illustrated by Terry Whidborne (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN978-0-7022-4945-7
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Hold onto your hats – it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Twelve-year-old Al is a quiet history buff; his twin Lexi is anything but. When Al and Lexi Hunter stumble on an old dictionary, they are catapulted back through time and space, with only some mysterious pegs as clues.

This is a time-travel adventure with a lexical twist. The twins lurch between eras and countries – they witness the Battle of Hastings, visit Thomas Edison’s laboratory and crew a whaling ship – and soon discover the link between each point in history is the turning point for a word. They witness the situation which forced a word to gain a new meaning. After hearing the new use for an old word, are able to open a portal and travel further back to the previous time the word’s meaning changed, until its debut in English.

The first in a new series, this well researched novel is for readers aged 9 and up, and designed to appeal to the word-nerd in all of us. Beautifully presented with an embossed cover, Terry Whidbourne’s detailed line illustrations bring the story to life.

Word Hunters introduces readers to the concept that language evolves over the generations. Earls was inspired to use etymology as the background for an adventure.

My reservation, however, is that some children in the targeted age group may lose interest in the earlier part of the story, as Lexi and Al merely witness events, and do not actively participate in the action around them, other than to escape. For example, upon hearing the word “hello” used as a sound-beacon in a dark and choppy sea, they are promptly whisked away from impending danger. Some readers may feel cheated that it is never revealed whether two whaling boats collide (although presumably, some crew survived, in order for the word to continue). However, Al and Lexi do actively solve problems in later escapades, so I suggest that parents encourage kids to continue.

The crux of the story, that words are disappearing from history, and that the twins’ own long-missing grandfather may be trapped in an earlier epoch, is revealed in the latter half, and paves the way for a sequel.

A full set of teacher’s notes is available from UQP for $14.95.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Star


Star Star by Catherine Bateson (Omnibus)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-981-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Star has much to deal with in her young life. Her father is dead, her school friend has dumped her and her Mum now spends much of her time listening to the problems of her friend Charlie. Worse still, Charlie’s ex-wife often drops of his whinging children and Star is expected to look after them. Star wants a horse and a new best friend, not two unpleasant step siblings.

But Star’s biggest problem is that no-one will listen to her. How can she make her Mum take notice of her problems so Star can start to turn her life around?

I really liked Star. I loved how she approached her problems and the people in her life. She wasn’t overly dramatic or whiney. She chased her own dreams, no matter how insurmountable they seemed. When Mum kept saying no to a horse, Star started a catfish breeding business to earn money for horse riding lessons. When Mum and Charlie wouldn’t listen to how unhappy she was, she sought out Mum’s friend Cara and spoke to her.

I think many young readers will easily identify with Star and the isolation she feels at school and to a certain extent, at home. Her problems are common ones for children, social problems at school, change happening in the home, and blended families. The author deals with these issues in a gentle but realistic way.

The adults in this story are rounded characters too. The mother is selfish, but she is very wrapped up in her world with Charlie who is battling depression. They are both artists have ‘typical’ artists temperaments to match, self absorbed one minute, then passionate and hugely generous the next. The other two adults in Star’s life, Mum’s friend Cara and Stuart from the aquarium balance them out beautifully with their strength, security and dependability.

I did love that it was Charlie who helped Star to overcome her problem with friends in the end. It was a very satisfying ending.

This story was a realistic portrayal of families, relationships, childhood anxieties and change, told in an entertaining, light and moving way. It was filled with characters I really cared about. Star’s haiku poetry (complete with strikeouts and corrections) at the beginning of each chapter was delightful to read and offered an extra insight into her personality and state of mind.

This is a fabulous read for all children aged 9 to 12 but will particularly appeal to girls with its delicately attractive, pink blossom cover.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Where are Snugglepot and Cuddlepie?


Where are Snugglepot and Cuddlepie? Where are Snugglepot and Cuddlepie? by May Gibbs (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-166-4
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie play hide and seek in this delightful lift-the-flap version of May Gibbs’ endearing gumnut baby adventures. Young readers can follow little gumnut baby Ragged Blossom though the Australian bush, lifting the flaps to uncover who is hidden behind rocks and in bushes. A platypus is hiding among the ferns on one page, while a flannel flower baby hides among some ‘pretty white flowers’. Will Snugglepot and Cuddlepie be hiding inside a nest, by the pond or under some leaves? Young children will have fun finding out.

Who can resist smiling at the chubby gumnut babies, their cheeky sense of adventure and the many friends who lie hidden in the pages?

The simple text, with its clear questions and answers, turns the reading experience into an interactive game of peek-a-boo which all babies love and respond to.

  “Is there someone in the butterfly field?”

Lift the flap:

“It’s Ladybird.”

May Gibbs’ artwork is beautiful and timeless. It evokes memories of childhood and will introduce new generations to the gumnut babies and their world.

The copyright for all of May Gibbs bush characters were bequeathed to charities. Royalties go to Cerebral Palsy Alliance and The Northcott Society.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Nanny Piggins and the Daring Rescue


Nanny Piggins and the Daring Rescue (Nanny Piggins) Nanny Piggins and the Daring Rescue (Nanny Piggins) by R.A. Spratt (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781742754970
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742754987          
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Nanny Piggins is at it again. She has romped through six book-length adventures and now catapults you into her seventh.

The cover of Nanny Piggins and the Daring Rescue shows this daredevil pig flying through the air as she bungy jumps into the stories between the covers. In the opening scene her charges (after all, she is their nanny), Derrick, Samantha and Michael find her in gaol. She has been trying to one-up Galileo’s theory of gravity by dropping cannonballs from the roof without realising the mayor’s car is in their flight path.

The children’s dour father Mr Green only bails her out, not for his children’s welfare, but because he wants Nanny Piggins to give him tap-dancing lessons that will further his career as a tax lawyer – Nanny’s pig-logic seems to have its effect on the whole family.

Author, R.A. Spratt keeps the reader in stitches with her descriptions of the cake-eating pig wheedling her way out of bizarre situations. She is a law unto herself. If children could write their own criteria for hiring a nanny, Nanny Piggins would tick all the boxes.

Every now and again, Nanny Piggins shows her sensitive side. When the house is being fumigated and they have to camp in tents outside, Nanny Piggins comments wistfully that the tents ‘smell of unhappiness.’ Derrick brings her back to reality by adding ‘I think it’s just mould.’

Nanny’s world is also shared with her circus friends, Boris (a ten-foot-tall ballet-dancing bear), Percy (the radio-star parrot) and her identical fourteenuplet sisters.

Spratt has her tongue firmly in both cheeks as she writes the witty prose. In order to seduce the President of Vanuatu (and rescue the children’s father from the slavery of his luxury job and apartment), Nanny Piggins does the Dance of the Seven Cakes; she ‘wiggled, sashayed and shimmied, all while showing off her greatest assets – her cakes.’

With each chapter being a stand-alone story, it’s easy to pick up this book and read as much or as little as you have time for. Every chapter is a laugh and an excursion into creative problem solving. What’s great for readers is that creativity begets creativity. As you read, you find yourself using your imagination to help solve the predicaments in which Nanny Piggins and the children find themselves. It’s a ‘win-win’ situation.

With such amazing talents, Nanny Piggins is offered many awesome jobs. When you start wondering is there anything this pig cannot do, she brings you back to why she is a nanny. ‘I have a much more important job – looking after these three children.’ No more needs to be said, other than, what lucky children.

With R.A. Spratt’s eighth book Nanny Piggins and the Race to Power in the pipeline for 2013, you have to wonder what wacky adventures await Nanny Piggins, Derrick, Samantha and Michael.


Friday, 7 September 2012

The Forsaken


The ForsakenThe Forsaken by Lisa M Stasse (Orchard/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781408318805
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

As soon as I read the blurb on The Forsaken, the books, Lord of the Flies and George Orwell's 1984 sprang to mind. This is the first book of a planned thriller trilogy, set in the future where Aleena Shawcross is a victim of a police state after a global economic meltdown. Canada, the US and Mexico have been formed into the United Northern Alliance (UNA), and freedom is a thing of the past.

Aleena's parents were taken away when she was ten years old and she lives in Orphanage Forty-One. Minister Roland Harka controls this new nation and every high school student in their junior year takes the Government Personality Profile Test. Failing the test means banishment to Prison Island Alpha. The test predicts a propensity for criminal activity in advance. The orphans have been told psychopaths, murderers and other teenage ill-doers roam the island where there are no rules and no escape.

Now, in 2032, Alenna has turned sixteen and is about to take the test. She is confident she won't fail, but after being subject to the serum injections, she wakes up to find she is on the Island. Feeling ill and disoriented, Alenna is somewhat comforted to find another new arrival, although she is prepared to run in case he is a psychopath. David seems normal enough and he suggests they stick together for protection.

Almost immediately they are captured by a gang of masked teenage boys, or "drones". They belong to the Orange Sector headed by a person they called the Monk. But a girl from the Blue Sector, manages to free Alenna and take her to her village. David, who is hampered by an injured foot, can't outrun his captors and is taken away.

Life on Prison Island Alpha is dirty and dangerous. The average life span is 18 years. There are threats not only from the drones but from mechanical sky-born weapons and mysterious illness.
David reappears with information about Alenna's parents who have inscribed their names and hers on a rock at the entrance to the dangerous Grey Sector. It is somewhere in this Sector the teenager villagers believe their escape route lies to get off the Island. Alenna is determined to survive and discover what happened to her parents. When a plan is formed to go into the Gray Sector, she volunteers. Terrifying adventures lie ahead as more sci-fi elements kick in.

While much of the storyline is dark and depressing, the thriller aspects keep the reader turning the pages. To the author's credit she completes this first book in a very satisfying way and opens up a wider scenario for the second. With its mix of bleakness, endurance, death and hope, mid-range teenagers should find this book a powerful read.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Riggs Crossing

Riggs Crossing by Michelle Renee Heeter (Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921665-70-7
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

What happens when there’s a part of your past, or a part of who you are, that you’d just rather forget? And what happens when that very past catches up with you and makes you question everything you think you know about yourself? Riggs Crossing, the debut novel by Michelle Renee Heeter, excels as a story of loss, belonging, memory and upbringing.

When Len, a fourteen-year-old girl, is found in a car wreck near Wollombi in NSW, surrounded by spent bullet casings, bloody clothing, she quickly learns what it means to lose something. She wakes up in a hospital with severe injuries and psychological trauma so deep, she has completely erased any memory of what happened to her in the accident. She doesn’t even know her real name and is given the nickname ‘Len’ by the nurses, based on the name embroidered on the jumper she was wearing when she was found.

She is taken to a children’s refuge in Sydney where she encounters a supporting cast of intriguing characters that challenge, confront and annoy her, which leads Len to display signs of aggression, reclusive behaviours, racism and defiance toward her peers and the social worker, Lyyssa. Her battle does not stop with the people in the refuge, as time passes patches of memories start to resurface and Len starts to piece together the puzzle of who she really is and what really happened to her. She remembers her father as a marijuana cropper in Riggs Crossing and the shady characters that surrounded their life. Soon, she is closer to the truth than ever before, but the truth catches up with her before she has a chance to fully uncover it. The men responsible for the car accident and the shooting of her father find her in Sydney and try to put an end to Len and her story, once and for all.

In the events that follow, Len’s story unfolds before her and she discovers that her real name is Samantha Patterson, whose mother and father were both tragically murdered. As she comes to terms with her loss of family, belonging and identity, Samantha starts to work toward a path of recovery and healing, as she learns to find her place in the world that abandoned her.

Riggs Crossing is a poignant tale, written with a strong and identifiable voice, which raises important issues about morality, racism, choices and upbringing and is a significant read for those wanting to explore the underbelly of human existence.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Liar and Spy


Liar and Spy Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead (Text)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781921922947
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Packed with quirky characters, this book for older children has mystery and suspense alongside more realistic truths about growing up. The story is about Georges (pronounced George) a twelve year old boy who moves into a apartment block in New York. He sees a sign in the basement : SPY CLUB MEETING — TODAY! which leads him to a boy called Safer who drinks lots of coffee and doesn't go to school. Now the adventures begin.

Since his best friend left him for the 'cool table,' school hasn't been much fun for Georges, who sometimes wishes his name didn't look so much like gorgeous. Home hasn't been great either. His dad lost his job and his mum is always at the hospital, working double shifts. Georges and his mum communicate through scrabble tiles, rearranged each night before and after he goes to sleep. 

Georges' worries recede when he joins Safer and his sister Candy in surveillance of the mysterious 'Mr X' who lives in their building. Georges is encouraged to be brave, to do things he wouldn't normally. He doesn't worry about the bullies at school so much, because now he has a new friend. However, as the title suggests, maybe not everyone is telling the truth. This is bound to make things a bit complicated.

Liar and Spy is a book about friendship, courage and the importance of facing up to things. Written in first person, the voice of Georges is very believable as a twelve year old boy. He is not always a reliable narrator (as the reader realises slowly towards the end of the book) and this is a great technique which adds to the mystery element of the story. I would recommend this for older primary school children, boys or girls.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Time Thieves (Omega Squad)

Time Thieves (Omega Squad) Time Thieves (Omega Squad) by Charlie Carter (Pan Macmillan Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN: 978-1-7426-1093-1
Reviewed by Wendy McLean

Get Reading! is a nationwide campaign focused on inspiring more Australians to discover or rediscover the pleasure of reading. Time Thieves, Charlie Carter’s newest offering, has been included in this year’s Get Reading’s selection of ‘50 Books You Can’t Put Down’ for good reason. It’s a dramatic and thrilling series that will engage even the most reluctant reader.

Time Thieves is the first book in Charlie Carter’s Omega Squad series, which follows on from the very successful Battle Boy series. In the newest offering, Napoleon Augustus Smythe (aka Battle Boy 005) has been promoted to Battle Agent 005. In the Battle Boy series Battle Boy 005 was a sole agent travelling back through time, under the guidance of Professor Perdu, to spy on the past and solve famous historical mysteries. But now he is Battle Agent 005, part of an elite team of Time Troopers. He must work together with his other Omega Squad team members, Winston Garibaldi (aka Battle Agent 004) and Amazon Diana (aka Battle Agent 009), to undertake Operation Battle Book.

Operation Battle Book is run by the mission controller, Professor Perdu. The Battle Agents must enter Professor Perdu’s Battle Books (super-strong metal caskets containing compressed energy of past battles) and collect important data for her research. But working as a team with the super smart BA004, the girl with attitude BA009 and super soldier TEX, proves a real difficulty for Battle Agent 005. And not only do the three Battle Agents struggle to operate as a team, they also become the target of sabotage as clandestine forces seek to destroy Professor Perdu and her Operation Battle Book. The three Battle Agents must overcome their differences to work as a team and find out who is stealing time and energy in an attempt to destroy Professor Perdu’s Operation Battle Book.

The Omega Squad series is compelling and action-packed and will appeal to both those who are familiar or new to the Battle Boy and Battle Agent series. Readers will be taken on a journey through time to discover who is stealing time and energy bundles from the Battle Books. Charlie Carter (aka the famous Australian author John Heffernan) has cleverly reinvented the history lesson in action-packed and relevant ways that will appeal to boys and girls aged 6-10 years.

Readers can check out the other Battle Boy books at: http://www.battleboy.com.au/. The next installment in the Battle Agent series History Hackers will be released in December 2012.









Monday, 3 September 2012

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend

Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend by Steven Herrick (UQP)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9780702249280
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Australia's master of free verse, Steven Herrick has excelled himself with his latest release. Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend is the tale of class 6A from a school in a country town. The story is told through multiple perspectives: a number of class members, their teacher and the grounds-keeper.

Herrick has an amazing ability to immediately immerse readers in the story and the characters with such few words. Each of the characters has their own cross to bear, their own joys, frustrations and idiosyncrasies revealed within the wider school and town communities. It is remarkable how Herrick can fit so much into his stories - grief, crushes, loneliness, friendship, love and more. There's no car chases, aliens or amazing gadgets in this book. What you'll find is the ups and downs of life in all its wonder.

I'm unable to pick out a favourite verse and there are so many heart-warming moments it's impossible to list them all. To do so would not do them justice as it in their combination that makes this book so wonderful. I loved all the characters and their foibles and their inner strength. I think maybe Mick was my favourite but then Cameron was gorgeous or Laura ... Once again, impossible to pick.








Sunday, 2 September 2012

Animal Rescue #4: Shark Attack


Shark Attack (Animal Rescue) Shark Attack (Animal Rescue) by Jackie French, illustrated by Terry Whidborne (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-384-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Leo and Mozz are taking their jet, SkyTiger, out for a ride inside a volcano when they get an emergency call from Gran. An old mining dam has collapsed in a storm and a wall of toxic mud is heading towards the breeding grounds of the endangered Grey Nurse sharks.

It is up to Leo and Mozz to get there before the mud to warn the sharks to swim to safety. There are a few obstacles in the way. Firstly, the savage storm which wrecked the dam, is between them and the sharks and may prove to be a test for the SkyTiger (which Mozz invented in Year 3 and built out of recycled plastic bottles). Secondly, saving the sharks means going underwater and Leo is afraid of the water and cannot swim. Then thirdly, although he is fluent in all animal languages, Leo doesn’t speak Shark, or fish for that matter. This rescue looks a little more complicated than the previous ones.

Shark Attack is a great adventure. Mozz has a scientific brain and is a genius inventor. She has made Leo a watch which can do everything from homework to putting new laces into Leo’s sneakers whenever he needs them. Leo has the enviable ability to speak to all animals and he has the cutest, coolest pet - a guinea pig named Alan Nesbit Kirk who is keen to join in on all the adventures. The banter between guinea pig and Leo is especially fun.

Shark Attack is well written. It is light hearted and enjoyable, yet beyond the fanciful plot, inventive gadgets and dramatic chapter headings lurk the more serious undercurrents of animal conservation, pollution damage, responsibility and personal growth which give the book solidity.

Animal Rescue is a fabulous adventure series for middle grade readers. The stories are all centred on rescuing endangered animals and would appeal to both boys and girls. All written by Jackie French, a popular and prolific children’s writer, the other titles so far are Elephant Alert (Animal Rescue)Gorilla Grab (Animal Rescue) and Tiger Tangle (Animal Rescue).

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Blackfella Whitefella


Blackfella Whitefella Blackfella Whitefella by Neil Murray, illustrated by students from schools around Australia (One Day Hill)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-0-9807948-9-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Blackfella Whitefella is a picture book by Neil Murray and illustrated by students from all around Australia. It’s simple message - that we are all the same whatever our colour or race, and that it’s what’s in our hearts that matters - is one that should be shouted (and sung) many times over. It is a message that is passionately conveyed, important and relevant to all people, young and old. It makes us think about how we can make a difference, and help our children to embrace difference, to stand strong and to speaking out.

The words, originally written as lyrics, are rhythmic to read aloud, strong and accessible. The wonderful illustrations drawn by children help with this accessibility, allowing readers to identify with the sentiments expressed. The rich variety of these pictures emphasise the central message of diversity of people, that it takes all kinds to make a community. This book should appeal to children young and old, along with fans of Neil Murray and lovers of Australian song writers in general.

Blackfella Whitefella is the second of Neil Murray’s songs to be illustrated and released in picture book form. The first is his much loved My Island Home. One Day Hill has also published Paul Kelly’s From Little Things Big Things Grow as a picture book, illustrated by the kids from the Gurindjio Country and with painting by Peter Hudson. A percentage of the profits raised from the sale of this book will go to Ian Thorpe’s “Foundation for Youth” towards arts and literacy projects.