Thursday, 31 January 2013

Eric Vale – Epic Fail

Eric Vale – Epic Fail by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrations by Joe Bauer (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-992-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Most kids dislike their nicknames, but Eric Vale has just been landed with a shocker. Due to a run of bad luck and inattention at school, all the kids begin calling him Epic Fail.

With help from his best friend Chewy, who doesn’t seem to mind his nickname (but then he has the annoying ability to look on the bright side of everything), Eric is determined to get rid of his new name. But to do this, he needs a win of epic proportions.

Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale would be able to do this in a heartbeat. His ability to perform heroic deeds and escape the sticky situations is just what Eric needs. But unfortunately Agent Dale is a figment of Eric’s imagination, a comic created by Eric while escaping the realities of the classroom and his teachers.

The entertaining black and white illustrations bring the comic, Eric’s world and his imagination to life. They go hand in hand with the text creating many laugh-out-loud moments. His schemes for an ‘Epic Win’ are down to earth – he attempts to win the school project award, and to beat his nemesis at the swimming carnival. The believable nature of these activities makes his ‘Epic Fails’ easy to relate to and all the funnier.

Filled with pictures, large print, comics and light humour this book would mostly suit 8 – 10 year old boys.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Divide and Conquer : The Infinity Ring Book 2

Divide and Conquer : The Infinity Ring Book 2 by Carrie Ryan (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-545– 38697-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

In order to save the future, Sera, Dak and Riq must fix the past and once again, the children have travelled into that past with the Infinity Ring. This time they find themselves in 885, where the Vikings are laying siege to Paris. Unable to break the code on their SQuare tablet, they cannot be sure about the task they have been set. According to history, the Vikings conquered Paris in a long and bloody battle. But should the children help Bishop Gauzelin defend Paris against the Viking attack, or should they help to ensure a smooth and bloodless transition of power?

Before long, however, Dak’s fascination with the realities of history gets him into trouble and separated from his friends. The challenge is then to stay alive among the Vikings and reunite with Sera and Riq.

As in their first adventure, much depends on recognising the Hystorians and SQ agents, remembering their history, remaining cool, and sticking to their priorities.

Another roller coaster ride, Divide and Conquer is the second instalment in the Infinity Ring series. There is no let up in the action; the friendship, humour and glimpses of historical events are just as strong as the first. The continuing ‘what if’ moments keep interest well piqued in this sequel.

After the story is read, there is the opportunity for continuing the adventure online with a fight for freedom and a race to save the first lady of the United States. Readers may use the enclosed top-secret map and log into to play along with the Hystorians in a race to save the future.

There will be much anticipation of the next book The Trap Door, where the children’s task will centre on the American Civil War and the underground railway.

The Infinity Ring is a great series for boys and girls (10+), particularly those with an interest in action, danger, historic events and time travel.

Indigo Solves the Puzzle

Indigo Solves the Puzzle by Wendy Fitzgerald, illustrated by Sophie Norsa (Little Steps Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921928987
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

What an important book this is. Dyslexia is a condition that can alter a child's course in life, socially, educationally and career-wise. Indigo Solves the Puzzle centres on the true-life story of Indigo who struggles academically at school, not because she is unintelligent but because she is dyslexic. She is bullied and doubts her own self-worth until her mother takes her for tests which reveals the true source of Indigo's difficulties. Fortunately for Indigo her dyslexia is discovered early and she is enrolled in reading programs. This has a positive flow on effect through to all aspects of her life.

The book is written from Indigo's point of view. Young children encountering similar difficulties will easily relate to Indigo's story written in simple and direct language that is never didactic. Sophie Norsa's beautiful watercolour illustrations have a delightful playfulness about them. Yet, in the period of the story where Indigo is suffering most, Norsa's use of darker tones shows how devastated Indigo becomes. I particularly like how the bullies are shown as dark, faceless figures in the background. 

Real-life Indigo is remarkable, not only for dealing with the difficulties of dyslexia, but for her desire to help others. With her mother she launched the Indigo Express Foundation which assists with a literacy program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Parents and teachers will be particularly interested in the forward from Professor Kevin Wheldall of the MultiLit Research Unit at Macquarie University regarding the importance of early intervention in dyslexia. He also debunks the myth that dyslexia is almost exclusively a problem encountered by boys. Rather than being four to five times more common in boys than girls as previously thought, it less than twice as common. At the back of the book there is an information resource page with numerous website addresses.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Troggle the Troll

Troggle the Troll by Nick Falk and Tony Lowe (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9781742756011
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742748269
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Tony Lowe’s dedication at the beginning of this humorous and colourful picture book for children aged 2+ hooks me in at the start. ‘While deceiving your parents is bad, eating people is definitely worse!’

The premise is enticing. Trolls! Eating people! Read on.

Troggle the Troll lives with his family ‘under a bridge in a hole in the ground.’ Unlike his fellow story character in the Three Billy Goats Gruff, Troggle and his family are different. They’re not scary. They’re just always hungry. Troggle doesn’t like dinner, ‘because they always had the same thing. Every single night. They had people.’ On Mondays they ate Postman Pie. On Tuesdays it was Teacher Tart and on Thursdays, they lapped up Pilot Pudding.

When Daddy Troll falls ill, it’s up to Troggle to fetch dinner. He is under strict instructions. ‘Something tender, something sweet, something with arms and legs and feet!’ But … ‘No vegegubbles!’

With this delightful dilemma, creators, Nick Falk and Tony Lowe devise a crazy second half of the book. Troggle meets a boy called Tom. Troggle should bring Tom home to be their dinner, but Troggle confesses that he doesn’t really like eating people.

‘Carrots, cabbage and cauliflower?’ said Tom.
‘Yum!’ said Troggle.

So, off to the vegetable patch they go.

Troggle returns home to howls of ‘What’s for dinner?’
‘Something special, something new, something tasty just for you.’

The troll family hoes into the vegetable person Troggle has made by snagging an arm, grabbing a leg and nabbing a nose. They heartily agreed, ‘It’s the tastiest person we ever did eat!’

Troggle is very happy proving that a little troll can make a big difference.

As with the quotes I’ve used, you can see that there is playful use of prose and poetry in this picture book. There are made-up words, visual puns, such as ‘Hole Sweet Hole’, luscious alliteration and lots of onomatopoeic words that capture movement and sound. The words are simple for little ones to read and repeat, and different fonts are used when words need stressing.

There is much humour in the cute and colourful illustrations. There are obvious things to find on each page as well as quirky detail to discover with a closer look.

Nick Falk brings into play his life as a practising psychologist and Tony Lowe’s passion for drawing since he was a child shines through. He also illustrated The Boy who Ate Himself. Hmm, there seems to be a theme here!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Saurus Street

Saurus Street by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.95

Saurus Street 1: Tyrannosaurus in the Veggie Patch
ISBN 9781742756554
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742749211

Saurus Street 2: A Pterodactyl Stole my Homework
ISBN 9781742756561
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742749228
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

There’s a new kid on the block. That should read; there’s a new dinosaur on the block. The block is Saurus Street and the dinosaur is a ginormous green tyrannosaurus, or is it a bright blue pterodactyl?

These are the first two books in the action-packed new series for 5 – 8 year olds, especially dinosaur-crazy boys. Once they start reading, they won’t want to put the books down, unless they’re whisked by mistake back to the Cretaceous Period.

In Book 1, Tyrannosaurus in the Veggie Patch, Jack wishes for his own Tyrannosaurus. When he goes searching for his dog Charlie, he finds a great, green T-rex straddled in the veggie patch. His ‘mum’s gonna boil’ when she sees what it’s done. The ‘cauliflowers are crushed, the tomatoes are toast and the cabbages are KAPUT.’

Jack convinces his best friend Toby to help build a time machine to send the T-rex back to the dinosaur era. They collect all the clocks they can find, including the ‘supercool glow-in-the-dark clock’ from his scary sister’s bedroom.

The only trouble is, Jack, Toby and Charlie get caught up with the T-rex and end up whizzing back to ‘dinosaur world’.

There’s a great dinosaur chase as the boys work out how to reverse the time machine. When all is back to normal, Jack sees a shooting star and makes a wish … Yep! For another dinosaur!

Book 2, A Pterodactyl Stole my Homework, continues the high jinks in Saurus Street. This time it’s with Jack’s neighbour, eight-year-old Sam and his older brother, Nathan. Together they’re known as ‘Team Dinosaur’ because they ‘build dinosaurs, draw dinosaurs and play dinosaurs.’

Sam’s homework keeps getting stolen and his teacher, Miss Potts with ‘twisted yellow teeth’ has given him an ultimatum. Tomorrow … or else! Trouble is, a pterodactyl has flown into his room and stolen it again. This time, Sam is going to follow the flying creature. With the help of his brother, they build a hot air balloon filled by the hot-air snores of their neighbour.

They fly high to the top of Saurus Hill. Everything is creepy, ‘the insects are gigantic’ and ‘there are spider webs everywhere.’ Sam falls into a giant nest made of children’s homework. The pterodactyl returns and feeds Sam a regurgitated lizard. He ends up with a giant pterodactyl egg and has to keep it safe from the oviraptor, the dinosaur egg thief. It’s all too funny!

These books are a breath of fresh air. What I also love is the spontaneity and interaction of each page. There is plenty of white space and there are oodles of illustrations. The font is reader-friendly and its shape changes for special words that connect to the emotions even more. Sometimes it’s hairy, twirly, ENORMOUS and even quivery.

The stories are told in first person, which connects young readers to the action. It makes it immediate. Made-up words make the sentences aural, like: THUNK! KER-SPLASH! WHAP! and FLOOMP! Suspense is often built by the font size increasing.

It’s laugh as you learn, as there are facts of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods interspersed with the action. Young minds will surely soak these up.

Nick Falk has been writing since he was seven and he so much remembers what excites young readers. Tony Flowers’ humour jumps out from his drawings. He’s also a master of 3-D chalk-art – imagine a dinosaur clawing its way out of the school playground! To me, this creative team works like Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, the perfect humorous mix of the written and the visual.

Look out in April for the next two books in the Saurus Street series: The Very Naughty Velociraptor and An Allosaurus Ate my Uncle.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Life in Outer Space

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 9781742973951
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is the first published novel from the Ampersand Project of Hardie Grant Egmont. It’s a delicious read; humorous, well written, with strong and interesting characters and a fantastic storyline set in Melbourne.

Sam is a nerdy geek; a self-deprecating loner that hates his life. His friend Mike, who is struggling with his sexuality, describes him as being ‘dead inside’.  Sam uses all life outside his own as ‘fodder for future screenplays’, and as practice for his chosen career as screenwriter which he works towards with consuming passion. His favourite pastime is repeatedly watching his stash of Star Wars and horror movies with his mum or small group of downtrodden friends. Each can quote almost every line word-for-word.

When Camilla Carter walks into Sam’s English class his world shifts. Her blue tattoo, 1950s-look yellow dress and English accent appear too much. Sam’s first impression is that Camilla is ‘another minion for the army of suck’ led by Justin Zigoni that has made his and his friends’ lives a misery during school hours.

But Camilla’s encompassing smile and ability to remain unfazed by the politics of another new school environment, impresses Sam. That Camilla prefers his group’s company to that of the A-group is a mystery to him.  But Camilla sees all the good things in Sam and slowly helps him to see them too. Their friendship grows and strengthens and Sam’s life changes drastically. But his home life still sucks. His father finally leaves and it happens when Camilla sets off to visit to her mother overseas.

To keep Sam’s mind off the tragedy, Camilla sets him a series of challenges that take him out of his comfort zone and enable him to expand his interests away from Star Wars and horror movies. His self-esteem increases and he evolves further during her short absence.

But life is never easy for Sam. He is plagued by confusion, doubt, and misunderstanding. He must clear these clouds before he can step into the truth.

This is an outstanding and highly entertaining debut novel about love. Melissa Keil has grasped the angst, confusion and doubt of teenagers perfectly and presented it with insight, intelligence and humour.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Princess and Fairy: Enchanting Carnival

Princess and Fairy: Enchanting Carnival by Anna Pignataro (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74283– 320-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Princess and Fairy are best friends who live in fairyland. In Enchanting Carnival, the sixth Princess and Fairy book, the holidays have arrived and the two friends have plenty of activities to keep them busy. One day, while they are playing on the beach, a hot air balloon drops them an invitation to the Carnival, along with a list of objects to find along the way.

From this point all the pictures contain hidden objects. Marvellously intricate illustrations hide all the objects on the list, things such as four glass balls, two musical noses and a flea circus carriage. These double spread pictures are busy, full of bunnies, carnival folk, sideshows, rides and other fairyland landmarks. They are soft, magical and enchanting and could be looked over countless times, with new discoveries made every time the book is read. All the pages are filled with sweet fairyland images: mushrooms, star lanterns, horse drawn caravans, creating much distraction and diversion for the reader as they search for the hidden treasures.

The story, also, is rich with imagery and written in magical rhyme:

‘The Elf Storm, the Witch Whirl, and the Hobgoblin Slide,
Make Princess and Fairy all wriggly inside.’

The sparkly cover and cute bunnies will attract young girls from about 3 years old, but the curly script and the reasonably tricky look-and-find elements will draw in older girls as well for long stints of scrutiny.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Me and Momma and Big John

Me and Momma and Big John by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by William Low (Walker Books)
HB RRP $ 29.95
ISBN 9780763643591
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This story was inspired by Carol Hazel, a mother who became an apprentice stonecutter to support her children. It’s about the building of the largest cathedral in the world, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City, also known as ‘Big John’ and Saint John the Unfinished, because it is still unfinished today due to delays since the laying of the first stone in 1892. After World War 2, forty years passed before building started up again.

The stonecutters and carvers of the Cathedral stones were apprentices drawn from the large population of unemployed people. They were taught by masters brought from Europe to teach the art of stonecutting which stopped it from dying out as well as creating work for people in desperate need.

John’s Momma has lost her job at the factory but has trained for a new one - a stonecutter for ‘Big John’. It’s hard for John and his siblings to understand how his mother works so long and hard on one stone. But Momma knows her stone ‘just like her babies’ faces’. She can ‘smell it in her sleep’.

Momma takes her children to see the great Cathedral. First they visit the area where the workers are using their tools to chip and shape; where the ‘tools make music on the stone’. Then the family looks at the light filtering through the stained-glass windows. They listen to the sound of voices as they lift and float to the ceiling before joining their own to the music.

Then Momma shows them her stone. They watch as the stones are lifted by a crane up to the tower. Building a Cathedral is ‘an art’, Momma tells them. John has seen art before. It always has the artist’s name beneath it. How will everyone know that this stone is his Momma’s? But Momma knows that even one stone becomes something grand within a building of this kind.

William Low’s superb illuminated artwork embraces the elegance of the text to create an outstanding publication for collectors and readers of all ages. There is a generous amount of information on the Cathedral and its history at the end of the book.

Monday, 21 January 2013

A Very Unusual Pursuit: City of Orphans

A Very Unusual Pursuit: City of Orphans by Catherine Jinks (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74331-306-0
Reviewed by Ann Harth ( )

Birdie is ten. She lives in London in the 1870s at a time when Bogles – child-eating monsters – are scattered throughout the city. They reside in wells, chimneys, sewers and any place that welcomes the dark and dastardly.

Alfred Bunce is a well-known bogler. He’s paid to hunt and kill bogles. Bunce has the magical sword and vast experience in his trade but he can’t do it alone. Without Birdie, his success would evaporate like the bogels he kills.

In exchange for lodging and food, Birdie works as an apprentice for Mr Bunce. Her job is to be the bogle bait. Standing with her back to the yawning darkness in places where children have disappeared, Birdie sings in her clear, sweet voice. She stands in a ring of salt crystals and watches the black opening through a mirror. The singing draws the bogles near but Birdie knows exactly when to leap from harm. At the same instant, Mr Bunce thrusts his sword through the bogle and the monster dissolves.

Birdie feels fulfilled in her work, thanking her good fortune every day that she has not yet landed in the workhouse. There, children are beaten and starved and made to work all hours of the day and night.

When Miss Eames, a real lady, enters the scene, she’s horrified by Birdie’s plight, and tries to find alternative methods for luring bogles from hiding. Birdie is furious. This meddling will only make her lose her job. If that happens, she’ll be tossed into the workhouse forever.

Creating a shaky alliance, Mr Bunce, Birdie and Miss Eames work together to uncover the mystery behind the disappearance of some of the missing children, a crime masterminded by someone even more evil than bogles.

In the first book of this series readers, 10 and older, will follow Birdie, Mr Bunce and Miss Eames through the perilous streets of 19th century London, begging for more when they turn the final page. A Very Unusual Pursuit: City of Orphans will have its audience riveted as they race through this fast-paced adventure.

I recommend this book for lovers of intrigue and adventure. The characters are strong and believable and the setting gives the reader a strong impression of the time and place in which the story is set.

Award-winning Catherine Jinks has written over 30 books for all ages. She was born in Brisbane but grew up in Papua New Guinea. She attended high school and university in Sydney and now resides with her husband and daughter in Leura NSW. Catherine Jinks has been writing since she was eight years old. Fingers crossed that she continues for a long, long time. For more information about Catherine Jinks, please visit

Friday, 18 January 2013

Alex as Well

Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman (Text Publishing)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781922079237
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

If the reader is confused in the early pages of this book, it is nothing to the confusion going on inside the head of the main character. Alex,  born with an intersex condition (a 'noodle' and ovaries), has been brought up as a boy, with the aid of medication. Now fourteen year old Alex has stopped taking the medication and is determined to be a girl. Alex's parents, who have never been honest about his/her condition, are horrified. The story is about Alex's fight to be who she really is.

Written in first person, the strength of this book is the distinct voice of Alex, as she enrols in a new school as a girl and tries to make friends. Male Alex is also present, in the internal dialogue and talking to other characters. It is the male Alex who serves as the female Alex's confidante for much of the book, discussing bodies, sexuality and of course parents. This works well most of the time. There were only a couple of occasions where it was a little unclear which Alex was talking.

The point of view of Alex's mother is in the form of posts on an online blog. This supplies some of Alex's history and describes her mother's difficulties in raising such a child. However Alex's mother comes across as quite an unlikeable character in her determination for Alex to remain a boy. Her father, while more sane, shows a similar lack of understanding of Alex's wishes and feelings.

This book doesn't supply any easy outcome for Alex, whose parents refuse to accept her choices. She discovers modelling (a source of income) and finds a lawyer, who enables her to break free from her parents. But while she is at liberty to be herself, things will never be easy for someone like Alex.

This is an unusual book about an unusual person. At times it is quirky, other times quite sad, but Alex has no choice but to make the best of things and this strength comes through in an inspiring way. Alex as Well is suitable for older young adult readers. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Sir Mouse to the Rescue

Sir Mouse to the Rescue by Dirk Nielandt, illustrated by Marjolein Pottie, translated by Laura Watkinson (Book Island)
HB RRP NZ $24.99
ISBN 9780987669629
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Everything about Sir Mouse to the Rescue is delightful and you will not find a better collection of short stories anywhere for young children.

Mouse and Dragon are best friends. With wit and humour, Belgian author Dirk Nielandt treats us to a very human relationship between Mouse and Dragon in all its wonderful complexity. No didactic 'you must act in this way' preaching to children in this book. Instead, children can explore what it means to be a friend through the adventures of these two, and in their interactions with each other and other characters.

Mouse and Dragon are as different as chalk and cheese with Mouse being proud and extrovert and Dragon thoughtful and introvert. Yet this is the strength of their friendship.  Rather than being friends because they are alike, they are friends because they like one another. Each brings their strengths to the friendship and helps the other grow.

Mouse is hilarious. When the two friends, discover a Prince in a tower calling 'help', Mouse calls back 'How do you want me to help you?' She wonders if he needs help with his homework or is on the loo and has run out of paper!

Throughout the five stories, Dragon is generally the one who comes up with solutions to the friends' dilemmas and to smooth things over, even if Mouse is inclined to take the credit. However, the heroic actions of Mouse in the final story in the book 'About War and Friendship' sum up friendship.

Marjolein Pottie's illustrations complement and extend the text perfectly with a combination of collage and paper-cutting techniques, True to her character, Dragon appears particularly loveable with her patchwork appearance and Mouse's determination is evident in every depiction. I particularly loved the pages with the paper cutting art which tell the stories in an unique fashion.

As with Book Island's other two inaugural titles (read my reviews of  Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich and Bernie and Flora), Sir Mouse to the Rescue is beautifully presented: gorgeous endpapers, quality paper and would make a wonderful gift to an emerging reader. I look forward to many more translations into English of Flemish children's literature from Book Island.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Rosie’s Magic Horse

Rosie’s Magic Horse by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Walker Books)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406339826
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This delightful story, beautifully illustrated in watercolour and ink in Blake’s easily identifiable style, carries a strong message of hope. It represents the endless possibilities that life holds and the magic of dreams come true.

It all began with a new cast away icy-pole stick. It was picked up by Rosie and added to the collection in her cigar box. The old sticks believed they were useless, and nothing. The new one told them that it can be something wonderful like a horse. Desire is born in the others. They too, want to be a horse. A dream is born to all the sticks which renews hope and life in them all.

Rosie’s parents are unable to pay their bills. As she wishes that night that her cigar box was full of treasure that would pay for their bills, her hands unconsciously create a stick horse. “A horse can’t pay the bills” says Rosie before she falls asleep.

In her dream, Rosie astride Stickerino the stick horse, searches for treasure. They pass over cities and jungles, oceans and deserts until they come to an icy-pole mountain which is a treasure in itself. But it is pirate treasure she wants. Her longing becomes an adventure with pirates and icy-pole sticks and a casket of treasure. Rosie grabs the casket and escapes on Stickerino.

With the morning, the treasure from Rosie’s dream has materialised. Dreams can come true. Sticks can become something - even if they’re old.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Stories for 8 Year Olds

Stories for 8 Year Olds edited by Linsay Knight, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781742756608
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Andy Griffiths, R.A. Spratt, Paul Jennings, Tristan Bancks, Belinda Murrell. This is just a smattering of the all-star line-up of authors for the last of the four collections, Stories for 8 Year Olds.

Editor of the series, Linsay Knight shares her thoughts on the stories chosen for the eight-year-old readership. ‘With burgeoning confidence and feeling increasingly comfortable with fewer illustrations and smaller type, these readers are eager to try out their skills on a range of different genres.’

Once again, 11 stories have been chosen from a smorgasbord of Australian authors, and they’re not all prose. Gruesome Grandads and Nasty Nans, with its shades of Roald Dahl, is a story written in verse.

There are many weird and wacky stories, none so different as the UFD - the Unidentified Flying Dog. Colin Thompson’s, A Giant called Norman Mary, is written with delicious exaggeration where giants roamed the land eating bicycle seats and haystacks as they ‘reached up into the sky and pulled down a star and by its light they picked their way across the world.’ Exaggeration is also the tool used in Toe, where Tom’s cruel sister Tanya could let saliva ‘drip right down to her bellybutton and still manage to vacuum it back up.’ It’s laugh-out-loud wicked humour.

Sometimes the point of view is that on an animal, as in Anita Bell’s Marom. A challenge is set up in Michael Pryor’s Say Cheese, where Phil builds a Santa display out of bits of junk that he declares, ‘the finest piece of engineering since the Pyramids.’

There’s great imagery in The Lachatim Dragon, where Lachie ‘could smell the distinctive rotting reek of bats’ as he and his friend explore a cavern for treasure.

Nanny Piggins is at her best in the Holistic Cake Healer as she gives free advice at the doctor’s surgery; after all, she has taken ‘the Hippopigic oath.’

And don’t forget to read about your favourite storytellers at the back of the book. You’ll be amazed when you find out how many other books they have written. Enough to keep you reading until the cows come home!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Bernie and Flora

Bernie and Flora written and illustrated by Annemie Berebrouckx, translated by Laura Watkinson (Book Island)
PB RRP NZ$19.99 AU$15.99
ISBN 9780987669612
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Bernie Loves Flora is a picture book that will fill your heart with joy. The story of Bernie the bear, Flora the duck and a flower garden is one of sharing and the 'warm glow, deep inside' received from true love and friendship.

Flora and Bernie are best friends and Flora loves nothing more than helping Bernie in his flower garden. So when she arrives one morning to discover his flowers have vanished, and no sign of Bernie, she rushes off to find who has done this dreadful thing. She questions Bernie's friends but to no avail.

With the warm glow inside Flora now gone, she returns to her own home to find Bernie inside, surrounded by masses of flowers from his garden. He declares his love and asks Flora to live with him and 'the two of us together can make a garden full of beautiful flowers'. It is an offer Flora gladly accepts.

The text throughout is beautiful. Lovers of gardens will identify with 'he breathes in the scent of the flowers and feels the joys of spring tickling inside his tummy' and Belgian Annemie Berebrouckx's gorgeous illustrations truly represent this with flowers spilling across the pages. The manner in which Ms Berebrouckx captures the the emotions of Bernie, and particularly Flora as she experiences feelings of joy, outrage, surprise and contentment, is superb. The illustrations are highlighted by plenty of white space so, despite their colour and intensity, they are not overwhelming to younger readers.

Bernie and Flora has been translated into English from the original Dutch and is one of the three inaugural releases of newly established independent New Zealand publisher, Book Island, which focuses on translations of outstanding children's books. (Read my review of another top Book Island release, Sammy and the Skyscraper Sandwich.) 

Bernie and Flora is the first book in a series and comes with a colouring-in page. An additional nice touch is the inclusion of meanings of the names Bernie and Flora as well as the meanings of particular flowers. I highly recommend Bernie and Flora as a gentle and heart-warming story.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Stories for 7 Year Olds

Stories for 7 Year Olds edited by Linsay Knight, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781742756622
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

This is the third instalment in the Stories for … anthology series. For seven-year-old readers, editor Linsay Knight says, ‘these stories take readers into worlds beyond the familiar – particularly into fantastical and humorous worlds.’

The lime green cover is the colour of grass and the great outdoors, and I can imagine a young reader sitting under a tree or spread out on a rug, laughing and turning the pages of this selection of stories.

With more words to the page and three black-line illustrations per story, the seven-year-olds are eased into a more grown-up style of reading. The 11 stories have slightly more complicated language and layered plots, rather than single-line plots.

There are sub-headings, dot points and pieces of poetry scattered throughout the stories. Some are short stories and some are written in chapters. There’s lots of colloquial language to connect with, such as ‘Mum’s gone mental about food,’ in Morris Gleitzman’s, Think Big.

The concept of allusion is found in Mr Jonah’s Whale by Vashti Farrer, and a sense of irony is gleaned in Paul Jennings’ Snookle, where readers will find they should be careful what they wish for!

There are new genres introduced, like Deb Abela’s sci-fi story, My Friend Wilbur, and the understanding of legend comes across in JB Thomas’ How the Crow’s Feathers turned Black.

We meet Alice-Miranda’s new friend, Millie, which provides an introduction to Jacqueline Harvey’s series of the same name.

There are lots of laughs as Derek learns to ride a surfboard in a swimming pool and African Itching Ants run amok as a guest author plays one too many practical jokes on the kids at assembly. One lovely touch is the main character Daisy, who, as a shy girl finds her voice and saves the day.

As with the rest of the series of Stories for …, you can read about each of the authors at the back of the book and see where else your favourite stories have been published such is the quality of the inclusions.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Stories for 6 Year Olds

Stories for 6 Year Olds edited by Linsay Knight, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781742756646
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

To continue Linsay Knight’s short story anthology, here’s the next edition, Stories for 6 Year Olds.

‘… we have thought carefully about reading requirements for this age group, such as ratio of text to illustration and type size,’ says Linsay Knight in the forward of the anthology.

Tom Jellett continues his black-line illustrations that add context and clues to the stories, and the font style and size is different for the 6-year-old readers, with a little less white space on each page.

Robots, gnomes, teeth, bunyips, imps and goblins are some of the subjects in the 11 stories presented. Some stories are written in first person, while others are in third person, to vary the reading experience.

There’s a twist on the classic, The Ugly Duckling, with Mark Svendsen’s, The Ugly Bunyip. Robin Klein’s snooty robot, Parker-Hamilton, keeps his family’s house so clean that ‘the curtains hung like sheets of glass …’ and what does happen to all the ‘wobbly, wiggly, joggly, jiggly’ teeth in Dianne Bates’ story, that the tooth fairy collects?

Imagery enlivens the stories, with words like ‘twanged’ and ‘kick-swish’. Names add to the traits of the characters such as Ms Grizzly – the meanest deputy principal in the world, and Mrs Macgillacuddy, who dabs snails with whiteout.

There are slightly mythological stories such as Michael Pryor’s Lucky Jack, who is the seventh son of the seventh son, and the fairy tale-ish The Old Woman and the Imp by Sophie Masson.

The last story is Victor Kelleher’s Goblin at the Beach written in nine short chapters, which well prepares the reader for the next anthology in the series.

This anthology makes great holiday reading, or plain great reading to draw the new reader into the worlds created by some of the biggest names in Australian children’s literature. Okay – which Aussie author supported his writing habit by working as a supermarket-trolley boy and shelf-stacker? Find out lots of interesting titbits by reading the biographies of the eleven famous authors at the back of the book.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Lyrebird! A True Story

Lyrebird! A True Story by Jackie Kerin, illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe (Museum Victoria)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921833045
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

I immediately fell in love with this book. Set in the insanely picturesque Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne in the 1930s, Lyrebird! is based on the true story of James, a 'Miracle of the Dandenongs', and Edith, a flower grower.

The tall lush rainforest of this beautiful part of the world is home to many birds: robins, bell miners, magpies, wattlebirds and hundreds more. As Edith 'whistled, weeded and dug' her flowerbeds, the birds, some friendly, some shy, accompany her. One day, one of the shiest birds of all, a lyrebird, appears. Edith does not expect to see him again but he returns over seasons and years as a young bird and then as a father with a family. Over this time, the two develop an enduring relationship.

Snippets of notes, sketches and songs lets us in on their special friendship in a time before development had impinged on the flora and fauna of the Dandenongs. However, change was coming. Word spread of James' visits to Edith. The president of the Royal Zoological Society of Victoria, Mr Ambrose Pratt, asks to visit and is overawed by James' imitations of birds, and then a rock crusher and car horns.

Award-winning illustrator Peter Gouldthorpe fills out the story with colour and heart which brilliantly depict the Dandenongs and the era. I particularly love the opening double page spread with Edith working in her flower garden and the view across the valley.

The author's note at the end of the book reveals aspects of her research and you can check out more about the process at the Museum Victoria blog. There are brief biographies of Edith, Mr Pratt and James himself, as well as colour illustrations of a variety of birds found in Edith's garden.

Conservation and the environment are hot topics at the moment. Above all, though, Lyrebird! demonstrates the connection between people and the natural world. I highly recommend this book for any home or school library. It would also make the perfect international gift.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Gift

The Gift by Penny Matthews, illustrated by Martin McKenna (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-545-86291-698-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

As Christmas approaches and all the special Christmas toys are being bought one by one, Brown Bear feels very plain sitting on the shelf in the toyshop. As he sits waiting with the crocodile, he gifts the only Christmassy thing he has, his ribbon, to his friend. When the crocodile is bought the next day, Brown Bear is alone and sad until finally on Christmas Eve, his wish is granted.

The Gift is a beautifully and simply told story filled with hope and expectation in the lead up to Christmas. It embodies the warmth and generosity of spirit which characterises Christmas and shows in a lovely way how insecurities can be overcome by love.

The text captures the rush of shoppers with, ‘worried faces’ and ‘long shopping lists’. It also brings out the friendship as well as the insecurities and anxieties of Brown Bear and the crocodile. All told in a soft and gentle manner.

The story is mirrored in the gorgeous and realistic illustrations. By not showing people’s faces, the focus is kept on the toys until the very last page. Here the baby is sleeping with Brown Bear, and here their relationship is highlighted.

This is a quiet Christmas story which will be welcomed in the frantic rush of December and I’m sure it will find its way into the hearts of young children.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Samurai Kids Book 7: Red Fox

Samurai Kids Book 7: Red Fox by Sandy Fussell, illustrated by Rhian Nest-James (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 15.95
ISBN 9781922077509
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Sea Dragon is shipwrecked and Sensei and the Little Cockroaches, working as crew, are cast into the sea. Niya awakes alone. With a sprained ankle, and having lost his crutch, he drags himself and whatever useful debris that has washed up, to a place of shelter.

Beneath his makeshift cover, he imagines the worst about his friends. He believes he is being taken prisoner when men come and carry him away to their village nearby.  But relief replaces anxiety when Chen appears and hospitality is offered. Sensei’s teachings regarding respect for the customs of the people they encounter are adhered to in return.

Youke, a princess that has chosen not ‘to live life as a caged bird’ is passing through the village with her companion Somnang, who chooses not to speak. The two samurai believe if their companions are alive, they’d be headed to the temple at Angkor. Youke offers to show them the way. Unexpected adventures and many dangers challenge the group from the outset of their journey, beginning with Niya being bitten by a snake in the forest. During his delirium, Sensei’s voice in his head directs him to the monks’ temple.

Niya’s hopes soar when a passing traveller informs the group that another boy wearing the same clothes, who is ‘blind, but it’s as if he can see’, is in his village.

Chen makes a friend of the silent Somnang through their mutual interest in drawing and the journey is filled with creating maps and images of the birds they encounter.

At the temple they reunite with Sensei and the others except for Yoshi, who is now receiving medical treatment at the King’s palace after being hurt while saving a girl from a tiger.

But a new threat enters the lives of the Little Cockroaches and Sensei in the form of Chan-Zen, a noted physician visiting the temple. The group is immediately uncomfortable in his presence and sense he is not what he appears to be. They are forced to accept his company as they travel towards Yoshi in Udong. There are challenges and moral dilemmas for the group to work through, while Chen makes a life-changing decision. They must look to Sensei’s teachings to do the right thing at all times, adhering to the samurai code of chi, jin, yu – wisdom, benevolence and courage.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Stories for 5 Year Olds

Stories for 5 Year Olds edited by Linsay Knight, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781742756660
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

It’s a perennial question asked by parents, relatives and friends. What book can I buy for a 5 year old to read?

Editor, Linsay Knight, has responded to the question with the first in a series of anthologies for young readers.

At 5, some children are reading independently, some are reading with help and others are being read to. This selection of 10 stories has something for everyone.

Most are short stories, but three are written in chapters. The font is friendly to new readers, the sentences are short and simple and there are small twists in the plots to keep the readers guessing. That doesn’t mean that the stories are simple. On the contrary, there are many quirky stories.

There’s Dianne Bates’ inventive adventure story set in the middle of the post-Christmas sales and Sophie Masson’s layered plot that builds and builds the suspense and then cleverly unwinds it.

Humour paves the way with Bill Condon’s descriptions of Jasper, the bottom-biting dog and in Victor Kelleher’s story, The Gorilla Suit.

There are challenging words, lots of alliteration, onomatopoeia and vibrant verbs. These stories come from a variety of sources including Aussie Nibbles and The School Magazine.

Tom Jellett’s cute sketches break up the prose on every second or third page so that the reader doesn’t get too word-weary.

You can even find out about the award-winning authors by reading their biographies at the back of the book.

With writers like Mark Macleod, Janeen Brian, Phil Cummings and more, the 5 year old in your life will be well catered for.