Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Blog Tour and Giveaway: This is Not a Drill

Today, Buzz Words is thrilled to welcome Beck McDowell to talk about her debut YA novel This is not a Drill (see the Buzz Words review here). Answer the question at the end of the interview for your chance to win a copy.

Lillian Rodrigues-Pang asks Beck a few questions on the inspiration behind TINAD.

What inspired you to write this story? Was it originally a romance or sparked by the war veteran story?

The soldier story – and its impact on the small children - definitely came first.  I think a seed was planted years ago for THIS IS NOT A DRILL when my second grade nephew told me they’d been told, if they were in the bathroom and heard a “lockdown” announcement on the intercom, to lock the stall, sit on the toilet, and pull their feet up so an intruder wouldn’t see them. It broke my heart to think of him in there alone and terrified. I realized that innocence was a thing of the past when events in our world necessitated lessons like that. I’d also had a number of conversations with former students-turned-soldiers about their experiences during war, and since they were “my babies” at one time, I was struck by how they’d lost their innocence, too, because of the things they’d witnessed in battle.

You offer the story from two characters' perspectives, alternating between Jake and Emery for most of the book. What were the factors that lead you to this decision? 

I really like alternating viewpoints and I think teens do, too. Maybe it’s because the internet allows us to see different sides of every story, which is good. In THIS IS NOT A DRILL, I knew there had been a messy break-up, so I wanted to tell both sides of that story. Also I liked the idea of having a female character who would try to draw the soldier’s story out and empathize with him, plus a male character who just wants to beat the crap out of the guy. I don’t like gender stereotypes, but I think these two reactions are fairly true-to-life, and both are legitimate responses to the crisis. The hardest part of writing this way is to keep both stories straight and to make sure the two voices are distinct enough to help the reader separate them, too.

Okay, delving into the story itself. The first page is an offering of incongruent images – first graders, a gun, hospital beds, morning, night, “turned the warm yeasty air ice-cold”. I enjoyed this set up. It lays out the beginning and the end of the story – we meet guy with gun, Emery, the start of the day with French nouns and finish of the day with three people dead. Why did you choose to give us the ending upfront?

Thanks! I liked the idea of letting the reader know up front where we were headed and then unwinding the story of how we got there. And from my years of teaching, I knew there had to be a compelling reason for teens to turn the pages. It seemed to me that knowing from the first page that there are three deaths would make the reader feel more protective of the first graders and the teens – almost like helping pull them through.

The other thing I really enjoyed about the beginning is the introduction to the classroom. The kids are all unique characters within the group. You have the louder-than-everyone-child, the one who doesn’t stay focused, the repeater, the cheeky one, the class roamer, the mothering/protective girl, etc. It is a very realistic picture of first grade. Did you spend time in a classroom for this insight?

I can’t say that I’ve stepped foot inside a first grade classroom since my own grown children were there. In writing the story, I found that I could trace back the same personalities I saw in my middle and high school classes and imagine what those students were like in first grade. We don’t really change that much when you get right down to it. I’m also fortunate to have a cousin, Jeanne Wilson, who teaches first grade in Mississippi, so she shared stories with me. It’s funny, but I think you can take almost any picture of a first grade class and “spot” the kids from THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Those personality types are universal.

On the point of research, your main character Emery has an illness that I personally have never heard of before; POTS. The statistics you offered and the process of doctors being unaware and the fear that Emery faced when dealing with her illness were an insightful inclusion. Where did you come across POTS?

I had a family member who dealt with POTS as a teen and then several of my students were diagnosed. I learned that it’s very common in young people, but that many doctors don’t know about it. It’s easy to diagnose if you test someone’s heart rate sitting, then standing – and very treatable.  But when undiagnosed, it can lead to people thinking you’re lazy or that it’s “all in your head.” In crafting a character who suffers from it, I hoped to raise awareness.

Keeping the focus on the main characters: when Brian Stutts interrupts the class he is very stereotypical:“big guy, late twentyish, dark hair buzzed close, square jaw. Black t-shirt stretched tight across puffed-out chest. Muscular legs in camouflage pants. Army boots planted wide. His eyes scan the kid’s faces like he’s searching for a tasty meal. His focus stops on one.” (p. 4) 

For some time we see him as the bad guy, but when Emery decides to talk to him we learn a lot more about him as a man, father, war veteran and husband. I found myself becoming much more sympathetic to his situation. We learn of his fears – he is trained to kill and sanctioned by the government to kill. The IED – Improvised Explosive Device and the permeating fear they lived with as well as the specific mention of PTSD – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Why did this topic appeal to you?

As I mentioned, I’d talked with students who’d served in Iraq. The loss of innocence in war is a fairly common theme in literature, but I felt the timing was right for this particular story. We have an entire generation of young men and women returning home from Iraq and it’s important that we, as a society, help them deal with the psychological trauma they’ve suffered as well as the physical. I like the fact that there’s a movement now to drop the “Disorder” part of PTSD and just call it “Post Traumatic Stress.” If we’re honest about it, many of the symptoms (nightmares, etc.) seem like a pretty normal human response to seeing people die – instead of a “disorder.”

I have to admit I enjoyed the paradoxes in Emery. She was a shy girl, overprotected and with an illness who had real strength in decision-making. Most of the solutions came from her. It felt refreshing to read of a vulnerable but strong female character. Was this your intention?

I’m glad you liked her. I do, too. While Jake actually verbalizes that he’s always wondered how he’d respond to a life-threatening situation, Emery deals with that question internally. Even though she’s not, by nature, outgoing and pro-active like Jake, she rises above her natural shyness when she sees this horror unfolding. Her reaction is from the gut and out of character, but it’s how we all hope we’d respond when others need our help. She’s smart and she’s kind, so she uses her best assets to overcome her physical limitations and her fear. I like to think we all have inner resources we don’t even know about that will give us surprising strength in an emergency.

You have included a lot of pop culture references – kung fu panda, Reese Witherspoon, Edward and Bella (Twilight) etc. No fear of these references dating your story?

I know some writers and editors think this way, but middle and high school students are very tied to popular culture. It’s a huge part of their daily lives, their conversations, their jokes. I don’t see stripping down a story of those details to give it longevity. Many of those references will be around for a long time and the story’s not really affected by how well the reader knows them. It’s a judgment call, so I’m glad my editor agrees with me.

I noticed Jake was the bringer of all things naughty – like the drugs charge, the alcohol abuse and violent father of his friend, he calls Stutts “the asshole” Was it a difficult choice to put these words/situations into your novel or do you see it as necessary to truly relate to the YA reader?

In my experience, these are all pretty pervasive aspects of high school life. You mentioned the contrasts in the book in an earlier question, and it’s fair to say that Jake’s big personality and bad choices highlight Emery’s quiet studiousness. Part of Jake’s rebellion, of course, is that he hasn’t dealt with his anger over losing his mother to cancer. And you get the sense that he’s also trying to get his dad’s attention since he talks about the things they used to do together.

You have very carefully planted humour into the story – the kids and their caricatures, the Justin Bieber t-shirt, the maniac mother references. Was this difficult to achieve? Did you have to map it out?

I knew this story was going to need some comic relief. That wasn’t hard to achieve in a first grade , in spite of the terrible events unfolding, because little kids are funny. Some might call it irreverent to include laughter in a story that involves a crisis like this, but to me, life is never all funny or all sad.  In times of grief and trouble, our sense of humour is sometimes all that saves us. Those parts of the story just flowed naturally for me. When I envisioned what was going on in that room, I knew the kids wouldn’t truly understand the magnitude of the danger and that they would just go right on being themselves – no matter what was happening around them.

*****

For your chance to WIN a copy of This Is Not a Drill. In 25 words or less, email Vicki your stand-out school memory. Competition closes midnight 7 November and is open to residents of Australia and New Zealand. Winner's name will be published on this blog.

Beck McDowell's blog tour will continue tomorrow at YA LOVE BLOG http://yaloveblog.com/. If you missed Beck's blog tour post from yesterday, read it at YA BLISS  http://www.yabliss.com/.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Shatterproof: Cahills Vs Vespers


Cahills Vs Vespers: Shatterproof: Bk. 4 (39 Clues) Cahills Vs Vespers: Shatterproof: Bk. 4 (39 Clues) by Roland Smith (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 978-0-545-29842-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Shatterproof is the fourth book in the action-packed Cahills Vs Vespers series which follows the popular original series, The 39 Clues. In this instalment of the ongoing adventure Dan and Amy Cahill are following the instructions of a shadowy figure known only to them as the head of a group called Vespers. Vespers have kidnapped seven members of the extended Cahill family and are threatening to kill some of them if Dan and Amy do not carry out certain daring robberies.

In this non-stop thriller, the Cahill siblings manage to follow clues and keep ahead of Interpol, but even their daring and bravery cannot prevent more deaths. Short chapters with sudden cliff-hanger endings encourage readers to devour the book in one sitting. And the uncertainty of who to trust and who will survive adds to the edge-of-the-seat reading experience. While the Cahill Vs Vesper series is darker with the Cahills actions holding more dire consequences, the roller coaster ride and breathlessness of the original series is still present.

This is the only one in the Cahills Vs Vespers series I have read - and although I had no trouble following the events, the books would be best read in sequence. With fifteen books already published, cards to collect and the companion website adventures, there is plenty to keep 12 to 15 year olds entertained.

Readers can use game cards (there are six with this book) to unlock online missions and interact further with this adventure, travelling around the world solving clues. They are invited to join the adventure, find the treasure, learn more about the characters in the stories and help save the world at www.the39clues.com.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Possum Magic Numbers


Possum Magic - Numbers [Board book] Possum Magic - Numbers [Board book] by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas (Omnibus books)
HB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-972-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Possum Magic is one of Australia’s best loved and well-known picture books, still widely popular after more than 25 years in print. Possum Magic Numbers brings those much adored bush characters back to life in a counting adventure for the very young.

This beautifully presented board book starts with Grandma Poss, ‘one possum’ climbing a tree and ends with a branch full of sleepy animals watching the stars. The artwork of Julie Vivas, who illustrated Possum Magic, is full of magic as well. These are gorgeous pictures, soft and gentle, bringing Fox’s characters to life. They flow wonderfully. Grandma Poss drops a slipper, which falls past ‘two kookaburras’ on the next page, who lose a feather which ‘three koalas’ then play with. This creates the narrative in the counting book. The slippers weave in and out of the pages which also tie the book back to the original Possum Magic.

This is a board book any parent could happily read many times a day and is sturdy enough for babies and toddlers to look at and play with over and over again. It would be a lovely Christmas gift for any new babies in your life. Read it and revisit the bush magic of Grandma Poss, Hush and the lamingtons.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

In the Lion


In the Lion In the Lion by James Foley (Walker Books)
HB RRP $27.95
ISBN 978-1-921720-32-1
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Richard, his parents and the twins are at the zoo. From a ramp above they can see into the lion enclosure which is surrounded outside by other animal cages. In goes the dentist with a giant tooth brush to clean the lion’s teeth. Richard and his family watch on until after one gulp, all that remains is the toothbrush.

As Richard looks on in shock, and his parents try to calm the twins, in goes the hairdresser. Only the comb, the mirror, the rollers and the ribbon are left. People start to gather as Richard starts to call attention to the happenings. Cameras click. Glasses are adjusted. Binoculars are focused.

Along comes the zookeeper with a key, accompanied by the chef who carries lots of large steaks, one of which she offers to the lion. They too, go in the lion and all that remains is the key, and the scattered containers and kitchen trolley. More people have gathered and look on in fright. Others start to run.

The lion has entered the yard headed for the animal enclosures. Chaos reigns. First the walrus is in the lion, then a flamingo, two monkeys and an armadillo. The lion stretches out to rest, his stomach bulging.

Little Richard is ready to right this wrong. He charges into the enclosure and grabs the giant toothbrush. At his approach the lion roars. Richard jams in the toothbrush to keep open the gaping jaws. Now he is in the lion then he is out, followed by all the animals and the people.

The front cover shows the open mouth of the lion whilst the back cover shows the end and the tail with Richard creeping behind it, indicating that everything happens between the mouth and the tail.

The illustrations are priceless! Even without the text the story is crystal clear. There is a perfect union of text and illustration. The illustrations are created with graphite drawings and digital colour. A highly entertaining story of courage and daring but pure fantasy (young listeners/ readers must be assured of this) for the 5+ age group.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Ella and Olivia: Ballet Stars


Ballet Stars (Ella and Olivia) Ballet Stars (Ella and Olivia) by Yvette Poshoglian, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-498-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ella is learning ballet at Mrs Fry’s School of Dance. It is announced that Cinderella will be the ballet performed at the end of the year concert. Ella and all her friends dream of dancing the lead role, being the star ballerina on the stage. Ella’s younger sister, Olivia, watches Ella’s dance lessons and wishes she too could be a star. But she is too young for ballet lessons.

Ballet Stars is the third book in this delightful new series about two sisters and their daily exploits. The font is large for beginner readers and the sweet black & white pictures break up the text making these chapter books inviting for even the youngest readers. The interesting and amusing text allows for older children to enjoy the story as well. The ballet lessons take place in a Scout Hall which smells ‘a bit like old socks’ and Mrs Fry sometimes has to light a ‘sweet smelling candle to freshen the air.’
It is this sort of detail which makes every book in the series stand out as individual stories. They are simple narratives which girls from 5 to 9 will relate to and love.

The issues explored are relevant to this age range and things are explained without being condescending or lecturing. All the relationships, between sisters, friends and family, are lovely but still realistic. There are four books published so far and I hope there are many more to come. I really enjoy reading Ella and Olivia.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Snook Alone


 Snook Alone by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering (Candlewick Press/Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-0-7636-6120-5
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

There is a special bond between Snook, the rat terrier, and Abba Jacob. They do everything together.  Abba Jacob along with several others is asked to help catalogue the plants and animal species of seven islands. Snook of course goes too. He fills his time chasing rats, digging, marking trees and enjoying all kinds of adventures while Abba Jacob does his work.

It is during one of these adventures on Avocaire Island, that Snook and his friend are separated. Gale force winds cause the sky to darken. Snook is busy digging and chasing rats, and doesn’t hear Abba Jacob’s calls and whistles above the roar of the wind. The gale forces the workers’ small boat to anchor in the lee of a larger island. When at last Snook tries to follow the Abba’s scent, it ends at the water’s edge. He is forced by the wind to find shelter.

Snook sits at the water’s edge each day where the scent ends and waits and waits. He sees crabs and birds of many kinds, but not Abba Jacob. Turtles make their way up the sand and lay their eggs, then turn back towards the sea.

Snook learns the sad loneliness of being left alone; the pain of being separated from a friend. But trust and faith live on in Snook within ‘a vast circle of longing’. And there, within that circle, Snook waits for Abba Jacob’s return.

An emotional and moving tale of faith and trust, and the pain of being separated from someone you love, is presented in poetic prose. The endearing illustrations are produced in acrylic and ink, with more than adequate text which allows older readers to enjoy this excellent picture book. Although it is aimed at age 4-7+, it is more than suitable for an ageless audience due to the absolute beauty of the book.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Be Home For Armageddon


Be Home for Armageddon Be Home for Armageddon by Luke Edwards (Omnibus)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-941-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Be Home for Armageddon starts with a bang when something falls from the sky creating a huge crater in a suburban street. Making it even more mysterious is the terrifying suction which draws objects into the crater at random intervals.

No-one in the neighbourhood seems quite sure about what to do and it falls to Victor and Soo, science nuts, lovers of sci-fi movies and addicts of old arcade games, to investigate what they hope is an alien invasion. After discovering what has moved in to the crater in Grundell Street, they enlist the reluctant help of their science teacher Mr Blake.

Although Victor, Soo and Blake are comfortable with the new residents, the Holingtons, the rest of the streets residents’ are not. Victor’s mother decides it would be best to move, far away. Then a gift from the Holingtons, with which they hoped to win favour with their neighbours, creates even more problems and the three realise that the Holingtons may not be quite so harmless after all.

This is a great science fiction story for young teenagers. It has an original premise, with twists and turns that surprised me many times. Although I didn’t always understand the scientific content (black holes, sentient beings, planet systems and computer technology) many science fiction readers will, and it didn’t detract from the storyline for me anyway. And the ever present vague sense of approaching doom kept me hooked until the end.

This adventure will appeal to both male and female readers. There are strong characters of both genders and it is a straight forward sci-fi adventure without added issues, coming of age problems or romance distractions. It is a light read and the often amusing banter between Victor and Soo keeps this adventure bouncing along.  

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Story of Silk: From Worm Spit to Woven Scarves


The Story of Silk: From Worm Spit to Woven Scarves The Story of Silk: From Worm Spit to Woven Scarves by Richard Sobol (Walker Books)
HB RRP $ 29.95
ISBN 978-0-7636-4165-8
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is another book from the highly interesting and successful Travelling Photographer series. There is so much to say about this book that only to own/read it will do justice to the information contained throughout.

The book initially weaves the legend of how silk was first discovered on a mulberry tree full of cocoons. It talks about the history of the Silk Road, and how the many tales written in the Travels of Marco Polo informed Europeans about this wonderful cloth. It refers also to the origins of silk which was exclusively made in China and kept a secret for two thousand years.

During the dry season after the rice harvest, Thai farmers occupy themselves with silk worms, which aren’t really worms, but the caterpillar or larva of a silk moth. Its scientific name is Bombyx mori. To ensure that the worms have enough food to eat, the farmers grow mulberry trees for that specific purpose.

Through the lens and photographs of Richard Sobol, we enter the life cycle of the silkworm, and the regiment of silkworm farming of the people of North Eastern Thailand. We learn how after twenty-eight days of continuous eating, the silkworm is now a fully grown pupa. After spinning its cocoon through the pupa phase, the cocoons are boiled to release the silk strands of fibre that are woven together.  Before they are boiled they every cocoon must be washed. Children, who are the main workers for the ‘poop patrol’, wash every single cocoon, because their fingers are small and fast for this essential and most important task.

The Story of Silk presents the detailed process which extends to the tools used, how the thread is removed from the boiling pot, what the spinning wheels are made of and what becomes of the boiled cocoons after releasing the thread. We follow the weaving process and the hand-tying patterns, where the threads are tie-dyed using pigments harvested from native roots, tree bark or herbs.

There are maps on both end pages highlighting the farming areas. The photos show up-close all the procedures from beginning to end. This book will impress readers of all ages.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Review and Blog Tour Dates: This Is Not a Drill


 This is Not a Drill by Beck McDowell (hardie Grant EGMONT)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 9781742973845

This is not a Drill is an engaging book written in first person from the alternating perspectives of Emery and Jake.

Emery has volunteered as a tutor for grade-one. She loves the kids and teaching language. She is essentially a shy girl who loves people, she is inspired by the classroom teacher and wants to be a teacher.

Jake is Emery’s ex. He is a likeable, charming boy who wants to sleep in two mornings a week so volunteered to tutor French. The two of them didn’t expect to be put together but sometimes these things cant be controlled. We meet them trying to make the best of the situation. Jake wants to befriend Emery again, he still likes her but knows that he did wrong by her. He is using this class as an opportunity to show he isn’t all that bad and maybe the two of them still have a chance. Emery is happy to be friends but wants time to get over Jake.

The trickiness of being together is outweighed when an unstable war veteran father shows up in class demanding to take his son away. The teacher stands firm and protective of all her students and refuses permission even when the father pulls out a gun.

The pace and action of this story change consistently. We learn about Emery and Jake through flashbacks and memories of childhood, their relationship, summer holiday events etc. We follow the two of them as the situation escalates and people are shot. Also as they learn to trust and work together despite their past. It is up to Emery and Jake to find their strengths and work past their fears to save the kids.

The student’s father is a soldier home from Iraq who is no longer fit for duty. As time passes his character is fleshed out and is very interesting. We learn a lot about his difficulties and our sympathies develop for him and his family situation. In all this is an exciting book that takes us into territory that is not usually covered.


****

Buzz Words is thrilled to be involved in the THIS IS NOT A DRILL blog tour with author Beck McDowell and involving over 16 book blog sites from around the world. Beck will drop by Buzz Words on October 31 and there will be a book give away as well. Here is the full list of blogs involved in the tour:

Thursday, Oct. 25

CYNTHIA LEITICH SMITH    http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/

Friday, Oct. 26

A LIFE BOUND BY BOOKS http://alifeboundbybooks.blogspot.com/

Monday, Oct. 29

THE STORY SIREN  http://www.thestorysiren.com/

Tuesday, Oct. 30

YA BLISS  http://www.yabliss.com/

Wednesday, Oct. 31

 BUZZ WORDS BOOKS    http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.blogspot.com.au/

Thursday, Nov. 1

YA LOVE BLOG http://yaloveblog.com/

Friday, Nov. 2

ICEY BOOKS    http://www.iceybooks.com/

Monday, Nov. 5

NERDY BOOK CLUB     http://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, Nov. 6

THE NAUGHTY BOOK KITTIES http://naughtybookkitties.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, Nov. 7

THE COMPULSIVE READER http://www.thecompulsivereader.com/

Thursday, Nov. 8

TEACH MENTOR TEXTS   http://www.teachmentortexts.com/

Friday, Nov. 9

CONFESSIONS OF A BOOKAHOLIC http://www.totalbookaholic.com/

Monday, Nov. 12

KATIE’S BOOK BLOG http://www.katiesbookblog.com/

Tuesday, Nov. 13

ALLURING READS http://www.alluringreads.com/

Wednesday, Nov. 14

PAGE TURNERS BLOG http://www.pageturnersblog.com/

Thursday, Nov. 15

MY BEST FRIENDS ARE BOOKS  http://bestfriendsrbooks.wordpress.com/

Monday, 22 October 2012

Our Stories: Life on the Goldfields


Our Stories: Life on the Goldfields by Doug Bradby (Walker Books)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978-1-742032-13-9
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

From the wonderful series Our Stories from black dog books, comes another historical book, this time about life on the goldfields. It covers the period from 1851-1891 and focuses on the Victorian diggings.

In 1852 when six ships returned to Britain from Australia carrying eight tonnes of gold, people rushed to procure tickets on the next ship back to the goldfields. The poor were unable to pay for their ticket, so the British Government paid the fare for 90,000 workers. They also chose farmers so the migrating thousands could secure a source of food.

And so begins an interesting and informative narrative concerning life on the goldfields. The chapters are set out with main headings with sub-headings following, accompanied by supporting images. Under The Voyage to Australia we read about life on board the ships, how the accommodation and food differed between the classes, what they ate, who they shared sleeping quarters with, and what the routines of their daily life held. Why women and children were rare on the goldfields and how men managed without their families for such long stretches of time. What did they do on Sundays when nobody worked, and on Holy days and Holidays?

Dangers and Disasters exposes the difficulties encountered by the emigrants at sea, such as storms and shipwrecks, including the fate of the 546 assisted migrants on the Guiding Star’s maiden voyage which were never heard of again.

There is a chapter on all the different ethnic groups that joined the diggings, and how and when the Chinese arrived, and their contribution there. It also addresses the environmental price paid when trees were destroyed to make way for all the tents and living quarters demanded by the increasing arrivals.

The chapters have been carefully compiled to cover as many areas and as much information as possible within the thirty-two pages.

The book is a great teaching and learning tool about life on the goldfields of Victoria and the strains and pressures, loneliness and deprivation experienced by the men, women and children that lived there. The chapter on Little Diggers addresses the high rate of child death during those years from scalding and burning, when children were left alone in the tents for long hours during the winter. 376 children died by drinking contaminated water. Such facts are simultaneously interesting and heartbreaking. The outstanding images chosen and used in the book bring us visually closer to the facts which have been checked by the Education Officer of Sovereign Hill.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Brave Squish Rabbit


Brave Squish Rabbit Brave Squish Rabbit written and illustrated by Katherine Battersby (University of Queensland Press)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-0-7022-4943-3
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

A follow up to Squish Rabbit, this beautiful picture book is immediately appealing.  Its padded cover engages the tactile sense, and children will also enjoy exploring the glow-in-the-dark feature. All this before the book has even been opened!

The story tells the adventure of Squish Rabbit, a small creature, who is able to put his biggest fears aside to search for his missing friend. His fears are those shared by many children – the dark, storms, and animals (in his case, chickens).

Although Battersby, a paediatric Occupational Therapist, stated that she used the approach outlined when helping children with fears, the dialectical component of the piece is never allowed to overshadow the storyline. Told simply and economically, the story flows at its own pace.

Some passages are narrated entirely in pictures, and children can follow Squish Rabbit’s progress as he approaches a scary silhouette, loses his nerve and runs for cover, but has to return to retrieve his own dropped toy, and inadvertently comes close enough to face one of his biggest fears.

Although the story is about feeling frightened, the illustrations are not scary. Beautiful, with bold colours and layers of textures, the pictures are simple and reassuring to a young reader.  Brave Squish Rabbit is a wonderful addition to any child’s bookshelf. 

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Mystery of Nida Valley Book Two: Captured


Captured (Mystery of Nida Valley) Captured (Mystery of Nida Valley) by E. J. Ouston (Morris Publishing Australia)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 978-0-9872444-4-4
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In Book One, The Mystery of Nida Valley, we met Meg when her friend Amanda disappeared during a High School excursion. The ghost of Charles leads her to the whereabouts of Amanda. Meg and her cousin Jaiden discover the handle on the painted gate of the mural that leads them to Nida Valley, a magical place, secret and protected, where megafauna and dinosaurs live. Here Meg first learns of the powers that she has inherited from her ancestors, the Guardians of Nida. She also learns that Amanda’s parents, zoo keepers and magical animal controllers, were killed by the Red Dragon of the cave in Nida Valley.

Meg realizes she’s a healer after her horse Bluey sprains his leg. Many puzzling questions need answering, so she is given a Book of Magic left to her by her grandmother. This makes Meg over-eager to learn everything quickly. But there are other people who also have special powers, all belonging to the Founding Families of the Valley. There are wondrous things to discover through these powers which must only be used for good. But  there are dangers at every turn. Things and people are not always what they seem. Mysterious happenings and sabotages take place frequently. And someone is trying to kill Meg. No one knows who or why. Then there is  Grundymere, an insidious person with plans to take over the Valley for money-making purposes. Situations are being sabotaged and the traitor is still to be found.

Book Two: Captured continues with Meg passionate about saving the ancient creatures of the Valley from extinction. She’s desperate to test the time-travel portal found in the cave. Her plan is to return to the past and bring back company for her beloved Willie, the giant wombat. But  Meg must learn that when something is removed from the past, there are consequences on the present. Meg’s skills are increasing daily and she is seen as the next leader of the Guardians. To this end she is being tutored on the Book of Magic, secret potions and invisible spells.

There is no sign of the three stolen pteros anywhere. In the meantime, exciting and dangerous adventures are being undertaken by Meg and her friends. There is a kidnapping and more attempts on Meg’s life. But she is a courageous and daring young girl, yet ready to foolishly disobey rules in order to achieve her dream. But it also appears that her challenges could well be tests to her ability, skill and courage; a way for her to prove that she is capable of taking on the leadership role when the time comes.

This series holds magical and exciting adventures with an environmental theme running through it. There are wonderful sub stories flowing through and around the central  story like streams and rivulets which lead the reader to other places and other conclusions, then seamlessly draws them back again. The characters are outstanding: cruel and scheming, loving and forgiving, ruthless and daring. A third book is due early next year. The series is ideal for ages 9-16.

Friday, 19 October 2012

1001 Aussie Crack-Ups


1001 Aussie Crack-ups1001 Aussie Crack-ups (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-319-4
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop



Q: Why was 6 scared?
A: Because 7 8 9 (7 ate 9).

Camp Quality, a children’s family cancer charity, believes laughter is the best medicine. It can exercise your mind and body in the same way as physical activities such as rowing and jogging. This book provides an excellent start to laughter. There are some old, tried and true jokes along with many new jokes I’d never heard before.

Q: How do you make a bandstand?
A: Hide all their chairs.

Divided into 20 fun sections such as Goofy Geography, this joke book is easy to navigate and the large type and funny pictures means that even the youngest readers can join in reading jokes aloud. Anyone can open the book at random and ask a funny riddle.

Gross-Out Groaners has:
Q: Why do gorillas have big noses?
A: Because they have big fingers.

Animal Wise Quacks asks:
Q: What do you call a story about a hairy little horse?
A: A ponytale.

Included are jokes donated by celebrities such as David Koch, Andy Griffiths, Luke Mangan and Rachel Finch. Wall E. (from Disney Pixar) supplied one of my favourites:
Q: What do you do if you see a spaceman?
A: You park in it man.

This book will tickle every funny bone (child and adult). It’s a great one for your collection, or better yet, leave it lying around the house waiting to be picked up at random.

Parting joke: There are two snowmen standing on a hill. One turns to the other and says, “Say, do you smell carrots?”

All royalties from this book go to Camp Quality. For information on this charily, visit their website www.campquality.org.au

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Nobody’s Boy


Nobody’s Boy by Dianne Bates (Celapene Press)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN: 978-0-9872556-0-0
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

Ron is nobody’s boy—and everyone’s. He has spent his young life moving between his troubled mother. foster parents Pearl and Brian, and assorted relatives. When Ron’s mother is sent to prison, he must stay with a new couple, Rosie and Bob. All he wants is to live with his father, but Dad now has Anna and the situation is complicated.


‘I hid behind the curtains
when I saw her in our street
mum
in a mini-skirt with
bare feet
a bottle of beer’           Excerpt from MOTHER  p10

Written in verse narrated by Ron, this is an original and competing account of a confused boy trying to make the best of his constantly changing situation. Ron is hopeful and resilient—to a point. He has friends, values relationships, and dreams of the most basic need: a life with his dad.

                            ‘MOST DAYS
                             I act remote
as the island I can see
from my bedroom window
I hurl words like grenades
all around me
brutal and deadly

Bob says he can’t understand me
Rosie shakes her head
son you’re not trying
I answer I’m not your son
I’m no longer part
of their happy-ever-after story life
no longer
trying to impress
no longer
hiding behind the mask
I’ve worn for years
no longer
checking my words
one by one
minding my damn manners

I’m the me that spells
trouble
who wants to be
who aims to be
who demands to be
for once and forever
my father’s son’           P81 (After Ron is rejected by his father)

Rather than being a tragedy in many parts, which this book could have easily been, this is a story of hope and love that ends on a distinctly positive note. The stream-of-consciousness narrative flow, devoid of punctuation, feels authentic and immediate. It is pure emotion with all the usual literary filler taken out.

Bates, an author of more than 90 books for kids and a foster-mother to boot, has a rare understanding of children in Ron’s situation. Nobody’s Boy pulls no punches. It will bring a lump to readers’ throats, but so, too, it will lighten the heaviest heart. I hope this story finds its way into classrooms. Dealing with issues all too common in today’s society, this is a book that begs to be discussed.

Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels and a number of short stories for young people. She has been a regular reviewer for seven years, both online and in print publications. Her first novel for adults, The Unforgetting, has recently been added to the Kindle Store.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Five Times Dizzy and Dancing in the ANZAC Deli


Five Times Dizzy & Dancing in the ANZAC Deli Five Times Dizzy and Dancing in the ANZAC Deli by Nadia Wheatley (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN: 9780734413819

Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Nadia Wheatley wrote these two excellent books in 1982 and 1984 respectively. They are now considered classics and for this 30th anniversary edition, Lothian have combined the stories in one book. Five Times Dizzy received the New South Wales Premier’s Special Children’s Book award in 1983. In 1986, it was adapted into a twelve-part television series for children. Dancing in the Anzac Deli was commended in the 1985 Australian Children’s Book of the Year Awards, and in 1986 received the IBBY Honour Diploma for writing.

Inspired by Nadia’s experiences of living in Greece as well as in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, the stories are centred around Mareka and the Wilson kids who live in Smith Street, Newtown. In the first book, Mareka is troubled about her Yaya (grandmother), a short stout lady dressed in black the Greek way, who misses her village in Crete and especially Poppy the goat. When Mareka is not helping out at her dad’s delicatessen, she is pondering what she could do to make Yaya happy. Then there is the rivalry between herself and the Wilson kids who spend their time laughing and whispering about her, especially Patricia who is around the same age as Mareka. Jenny Wilson who is eight likes M’reka but if Mareka plays with her, the others in the gang snigger even more. But their mum is nice and both families want the kids to be friends.

At last Mareka hits on the idea of buying Yaya a goat. She needs to raise the money but her best efforts leave a shortfall. When someone accidentally betrays her secret in front of the Wilsons, it looks as if Mareka’s plan will fail until Mrs Wilson comes up with a great fundraising idea. Not only is it successful but it brings the whole street together. Love and friendship abounds and Mareka and Patricia are wary friends.

Peppered with a lot of Greek words and references, this romp of a story about Greek immigrants adapting to the Australian way of life is inspiring, informative and fun.

Dancing in the Anzac Deli continues the lives of the Smith Street crowd. One morning Mareka comes into the delicatessen to find the window has been smashed and new glass is being installed. Her parents appear tense and unhappy, and a Greek called The Munga, a creepy, sinister man, visits her father and appears to be the reason behind her parents' anxiety.

The Munga works for the Red-Headed Man who wants to take over the delicatessen to use as a second-hand fridge shop. The local councillor, Kyrios Graham, knows he is a bad lot, using the fridge business as a front for other deals - protection money and bribes to name a few. The Red-Headed Man uses The Munga to scare people into doing what he wants, which is why the Anzac Deli's window was smashed.

When the Smith Street children find that the empty Haunted House they play in has been rented out and now has a Trespassers will be Prosecuted sign in the front, they go to see Alderman Graham to plead for his help. But it is hard to find a loop-hole to enable Graham to rid Newtown of the two thugs.

Nadia Wheatley weaves a very enjoyable and action-packed story, giving a wonderful insight into the Nikakis family and their Greek superstitions and tales which the Aussie children of Smith Street find fascinating. One such superstition saves the day, and the whole street rejoices by dancing in the Anzac Deli.

These are two immensely entertaining stories kids will relate to easily and learn about another culture into the bargain.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

My Hamster is a Genius



My Hamster is a Genius (Stinky and Jinks) My Hamster is a Genius (Stinky and Jinks) by David Lowe, illustrated by Mark Chambers (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN: 9780734413437
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Benjamin Jinks is your average nine year old who plays tricks on his sister Susan, if, for example, sticky-taping her to the bed can be called a trick. His mum keeps dreaming up suitable punishments, and this time she decides he will learn to be responsible if he has a pet to care for.

Ignoring Ben's suggestions which include a Husky dog together with roller skates so he doesn't have to walk to school anymore, Mum buys him a hamster. Ben decides to call him Jasper Stinkybottom.

It isn't long before Ben discovers his hamster can talk. More than that, he is excellent at maths and other homework subjects. In exchange for keeping Stinky well fed on carrots and in a clean cage, Ben gets all the right answers much to the surprise of his nasty bearded teacher, "Beardy" McCreedy. Unfortunately Ben isn't nearly so well learned in the classroom, and when McCreedy and Ben's Dad have a wager on Ben's performance in the class maths test, Ben has to find a way to smuggle Stinky into school.

The exercise is hilarious but unfortunately fails, and Ben also fails the test. For punishment he has to clean McCreedy's huge car with a toothbrush, wearing a T-shirt printed with the words: I am a Cheat.

When Dad and McCreedy wage another bet on the next test, Ben is determined to pass. Otherwise his Dad will watch Ben clean the car again - wearing a dress. If he passes, McCreedy will be the one to be humiliated.

David Lowe comes up with a novel solution which also emphasises that cheating isn't the way go. Mark Chamber's line drawings add to the amusement of the story, and I can just about hear the kids cheering when Beardy McCreedy is the one to suffer humiliation. My Hamster is an Astronaut is the next book in the series and promises to be just as entertaining.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations


Australia's Greatest Inventions and Innovations Australia's Greatest Inventions and Innovations by Christopher Cheng and Linsay Knight in association with the Powerhouse Museum (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781742755649
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

What a fascinating book. Not everyone is into reading fiction and this latest compendium of inventions that explains and celebrates Aussie creativity has three things going for it. It is sumptuous to look at, simple to read and seriously interesting to learn from.

Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations is a handsome book, generous in size at almost A4 proportions, with each page clearly numbered and glossy to handle. Its layout is fresh with appealing print and visuals and enough white space so that you don’t feel weighed down by slabs of words.

Its catchy cover sparkles in colour and font and cries out to be opened. Sure, you can Google Aussie inventions (if you knew what Aussies had invented apart from Vegemite), but this book is tactile, fun and not intimidating even though it is filled with information.

Simple to read is another plus. With its conversational tone, it’s as if someone is spinning a yarn about each invention. There are nine themes reflecting innovations in science, industry and design. Each theme is colour-coded, such as green for communication, red for leisure and blue for health. Each invention begins with a problem conceived by the inventor, such as ‘How to convert chook poo into a useful fertiliser…’ We’ve all smelt the eye-watering odour around the neighbourhood and here we learn that chook farmer, Norman Jennings took years to work out how to turn the sludge into Dynamic Lifter that is now sold world wide. We get a short bio of the inventor and then find out the nitty-gritty of the process he had to go through. A keyword for each topic is helpful, as is the glossary at the back.

Seriously interesting is my last criteria. Over 45 inventions or innovations are explained that can be dipped in and out of. How would you find clues at a crime scene that are hidden to the naked eye like invisible fingerprints? Check out the Polilight on page 172.  What about Spray on Skin or the Supreme Mousetrap Machine? Heard of the Black Box Flight Recorder? Read their stories and more.

This book would suit anyone from upper primary through to teens and adults. It is a result of the collaboration of great minds with accomplished children’s author Christopher Cheng and author and editor Linsay Knight together with the storehouse of all things innovative, the Powerhouse Museum.

Just think. You might be a future inventor. That light bulb moment could happen when you least expect it. What a great idea. Let’s patent it!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Alphabet Town

Alphabet TownAlphabet Town by Bryan Evans, illustrated by Kimberly Moon (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781921928277
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton


Originally electronically published under the title How It Came About, Alphabet Town is an original concept that will fascinate young children learning the three 'r's. In a place called Knowledge are little towns each inhabited by particular people. In the town of Alphabet live Letters. In another town live Numbers and among the Numbers lives Zero but 'nobody took any notice of the Number Zero because she didn't amount to anything'.

Disheartened, Zero heads out into the world of Knowledge and meets Spot from the town of Punctuation who reminds her that '(e)verybody amounts to something. It's up to each one of us to find out what it is.' When Zero and Spot stumble upon Alphabet, they discover that everyone does indeed have a purpose. Letters can become words, sentences, books and then libraries and that numbers can amount to more than nine. But Spot is the most important of all.

The accompanying illustrations are bright and colourful and add to the quirkiness of the story with the personification of the letters, numbers and punctuation. This book could be a very useful teaching resource and one that will have everyone thinking about how words, numbers and language is formed.


Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Wattle Tree



The Wattle Tree 
The Wattle Tree by John Bell, illustrated by Ben Wood (Lothian/Hachette)
HB RRP $28.99
ISBN: 97807334412911
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie


The Wattle Tree is a charming first picture book by Bell about the grieving process. Molly's grandmother has passed away and she and her mother miss her very much. Molly's mother can't bear to talk about her and so Molly has to find a way of coping.

Molly discovers the old straw hat which Grandma wore still holds her special scent, so Molly wears it and goes out into the garden which Grandma often watered. She continues down to the creek and the wattle tree there reminds her of Grandma and the sprigged dress she often wore. Molly begins to feel happy and sits for ages with her feet dangling in the creek thinking about Grandma.

She hugs her secret to herself for a long time, watching the wattle tree turn from green to golden, and keeping her Grandma's memory alive. But one day she catches her mum crying in the kitchen missing Grandma, and Molly feels it is time to share her secret.

The illustrations of Ben Wood capture perfectly the sensitivity of the story, all soft watercolour washes and fine outlines. The gold of the wattle tree is replicated on the inside covers and despite the topic, the story is uplifting and happy. It would make a wonderful gift for young children missing a departed grandparent.

Friday, 12 October 2012

My Mum Makes



My Mum Makes My Mum Makes illustrated by Dee Texidor (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN: 9780734412812
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

This colourfully illustrated in-house picture book is a celebration of a mother's care and love for her pre-schooler. A little girl recounts her routine with mum assisting at every step - waking her up, getting her dressed, feeding her, showing her how to plant vegetables, giving her a swing etc.

Each page demonstrates the unique mother-daughter relationship forged in the simple act of spending time and putting thought into what they do together. The child is also aware that mums are busy and is happy to play alone at times.

The message that the little girl feels important and loved shines through the dialogue. She is not threatened when she discovers her mum is going to have a baby. In fact she thinks a baby is the best thing her mum has made and can't wait for her mum to bring it home.

Young children will enjoy the dazzling colours and busy designs chosen by the artist and relate to much of what unfolds. The delightfully simple story may help children to accept the arrival of a sibling. Perhaps, like the small protagonist, they will think their multi-skilled mum is a genius, too.  

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Truth About Verity Sparks


The Truth About Verity Sparks The Truth About Verity Sparks by Susan Green (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921720277
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Verity Sparks is an orphan, courageous and independent. Raised by people who loved and cherished her but who unfortunately died too soon, she is left to make her own way in the world after being thrown out by her drunkard uncle. She becomes an apprentice milliner at Madame Louisette’s Boutique during the late 1870s. The only reminders her loving life is a Russian wedding ring, a satin patchwork quilt, and a charm with a pattern of stars engraved on it. These tokens that her ma gave her just before dying hold a mystery attached to Verity’s real identity. She also has a valuable and unusual gift. Through her itchy fingers, she is able to find lost things.

At thirteen, she loses her job due to a vindictive rich client, and is left literally on the street. Here she is attacked by the riff-raff, and is saved by SP Plush, a member of the Confidential Inquiry Agency. Through a series of fortunate events and much kindness whilst in the Plush family home, she discovers that her gift can be honed and expanded. She also acknowledges that her life has changed forever. 

While her life improves with her new surroundings and her skills expand in surprising ways, she knows nothing of her past or her family. It is her ability to find things lost, to communicate with the dead that leads her to finally find the truth about herself.

This is a fantastic read! It’s fast-paced, full of mystery and heart-stopping adventures with strong, subtly included messages throughout.  It has the most interesting and entertaining characters a reader could hope to find in a children’s novel without a dull nanosecond anywhere. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Amazing Illustrated Floodsopedia


The Amazing Illustrated Floodsopedia by Colin Thompson (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781742751047
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Grab a torch, climb under the doona and check that your funny bone is in working order. Colin Thompson, the Aussie icon of wit, wackiness and whimsy has created the ultimate guide to accompany his laugh-out-loud book series, The Floods.

I couldn’t wait to open the cover, after all the skeletal Valla was inviting me into his world of Transylvania Waters (think pun for parents) holding a placard quipping ‘Family fun with Mildew, Germs & Boils.’

The humorous tone is set from start in this gothic-themed picture book/encyclopaedia, as in ‘A is for armpit – a place to store arms.’ There are tantalising titbits of witch and wizard Flood family history, zany diagrams, horoscopes and inventions.

Not only will readers get to know the Flood family better, but also their relatives, like Artery the Wizard who is the ‘Top High Priest of the Ancient Order of the Long Nose.’

Visit Haemorrhage Lakes, the ‘ultimate in luxury holiday destinations’ where ‘every night as you sleep, all your blood is sucked out by a team of highly trained Vampire Nurses and piped down to the basement, where it is given a full service in the laundry.’

This book is not for the faint-hearted. I didn’t know if I was dreaming or having nightmares as I read the poems, fairy stories and character descriptions. It’s like living in Colin Thompson’s brain that keeps shorting out. And I loved it!

Even the page colours match the Floods’ personas: gruesome grey, bogbottom brown, germy green and pukey pink. Thompson has thought of everything to entice young readers to think outside the square. Primary school boys especially will love this brilliantly illustrated treasure chest of hilarity. I can see many emulating Thompson’s inventiveness in art class.

Colin Thompson has more that 65 books published. He is a multiple award winner, including a CBCA Picture Book of the Year and a CBCA Honour Book. His talent is boundless. So if you want to know what makes Nerlin, Mordonna and the little Floods tick, then stick your eyeballs to the page, open your mind like a plughole and get ready to go on the raft-ride of your life as you journey into Colin Thompson’s imagination.

PS – One last Floodsopedia advertisement: Old Pottybreath’s Elixir (including the ten greatest plagues of all time) with the added bonus of 87 free scabs – some rare and collectible treasures.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Topsy-turvy World: how Australian animals puzzled early explorers

Topsy-turvy World by Kirsty Murray (National Library of Australia)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9780642277497
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Topsy-turvy World is an exceptional exploration of the wonder, surprise and disbelief early Europeans felt when encountering Australia’s unique wildlife in the early years of colonisation. Utilising early drawings from the National Library of Australia’s own collection, Kirsty Murray shows through stories of actual characters and events these initial reactions and the many misinterpretations European scientists had of Australian fauna. Even drawing these creatures were difficult as they were outside any previous knowledge of animal biology: kangaroos were drawn more like rabbits or rats; an echidna’s hind paws were shown facing forwards rather than backwards; a depiction of a platypus and a thylacine fighting depicted similar sized animals …

Each animal entry is formatted the same way. It begins with a story, some information regarding early experiences of the animal and then a What the Europeans needed to learn section. A fast facts section is also included with essential details regarding size, habitat, diet, locality, Indigenous names etc.

The book can be read from front to cover, as I did, or a specific animal selected from the contents page. Not only Australia’s famous mammals are included. There are also birds, reptiles and a sea creature. A brief biographical section on the Europeans mentioned throughout as well as a glossary, index and list of illustrations complete this beautifully presented book should grace the shelves of every library in Australia, be it school, public or home.       

Monday, 8 October 2012

Greylands


Greylands by Isobelle Carmody (Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1921665677
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

When I was a teenager, I remember reading Isobelle Carmody’s The Gathering. It’s darkness, and the messages it harboured, were so intense it has affected me until this very day. Greylands did not impact me any less and its potency still gnaws away as I write this review. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Greylands is such an important book that everyone should read it. (It is also a book that every writer should read, if not simply for Isobelle’s inspiring foreword!) While pegged as a young adult novel, this is a book whose metaphor and meaning can transcend any age barriers.

Greylands is Jack’s story, our teenage male protagonist who lives with his younger sister Ellen and his father David. Jack’s mother has recently died and his father has become an empty vessel who no longer feels anything and while Jack, too, is grieving the loss, his feelings are suppressed with the responsibility of his sister and his concern for his father. One night, after being awakened by a dream of his mother having wings on her back, Jack goes to the bathroom and is taunted by memories of the day his mother died. His troubled, sleepless faces peers back at him in the mirror but soon the mirror starts to ripple and he wakes up in a place devoid of colour, smell and feeling – the greylands.

In the greylands, Jack meets Alice – a young and elusive girl with wings on her back – who is carrying and protecting a secret bundle that glows. Drawn to her, his captivating and heart-racing journey through the foreboding greylands begins. Alice is not the only one he encounters on his journey through grief, pain, love, redemption and forgiveness – he is chased by savage wolvers, faces a laughing beast whose laughter has become more like sadness and a fun park that is wrought with confronting memories and truth. Jack becomes torn between the ‘real’ world and that of the greylands and is only able to leave the greylands once he uncovers the truth of his mother’s death, the disclosure of Alice’s identity and secret bundle and confronts his own grief once and for all.

Greylands is rich with metaphors about life, loss, grief, love and existence and equally rich with evocative language, a gripping story, captivating characters and a fully carved other world that Isobelle Carmody has truly mastered. It is unbelievably touching and profound. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Ghost Buddy: Zero to Hero


Zero to Hero (Ghost Buddy) Zero to Hero (Ghost Buddy) by Henry Winkler & Lin Oliver (Scholastic UK)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-407132-28-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

There are many changes in eleven year old Billy’s life. He has a new stepfather, a new stepsister, a new school, a new bully to avoid and a new house with a new bedroom (lavender and pink with rainbows and ponies) which comes complete with a new/old ghost. Hoover is a teenaged ghost who has hung around for ninety-nine years trying to improve his grades in Helping Others, Invisibility (requires focus) and Responsibility. If these grades do not improve, he will be permanently grounded. Not an attractive prospect for a ghost.

So Billy now has a personal ghost to help him navigate the tricky parts of an almost twelve year-old's life. But this teenaged ghost with a major attitude problem and big plans may make Billy’s life even harder.

The book has a fabulous opening paragraph which is intriguing and sets a fun mood: “Billy Broccoli wasn’t getting out of the car. He had warned them.” The way in which everyone else reacts to this mini-rebellion establishes personalities right from the first page. It is a character driven story, populated by fun people with wonderfully appropriate names.

How can you not love a boy named Billy Broccoli? And the ghost, Hoover Porterhouse the Third, or The Hoove for short, who is never serious, always looking for the fun in life, and dragging Billy along in his wake of ideas. Billy’s stepsister, Breeze, is a teenager who wafts through life doing things on a whim, such as becoming a vegetarian for a day. Even the bully is a well rounded character. Rod Brownstone is as solid, brilliant and unmoving as a brick wall, keeps Siamese fighting fish as pets and sleeps with his blankey.

This is a light, amusing story about fitting in, standing up for yourself and making friends, with just a tiny bit of revenge thrown in. The bold bright cover art by Tony Ross is instantly appealing. It is fun to read, easy for younger readers with enough humour and plot for older readers as well. It should appeal to both boys and girls between the ages of eight and fourteen.

Look out for the sequel Ghost Buddy: Mind if I Read Your Mind?