Sunday, 31 March 2013

Smitten: Unlucky Break

Smitten: Unlucky Break by Kate Forster (hardie Grant EGMONT)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781742972527
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang
In Unlucky Break we meet Andie, as she is on her way to Hollywood. Her celebrity, Oscar-winning aunt has offered her a life line. It’s every girls' dream come true, although Andie really needs to get away from everything in Australia. Her mother has died of cancer, her boyfriend cheated on her with her best friend. Andie feels like she has lost everything and doesn’t know where to go or who she is anymore.

She takes an Australian view on celebrity; she smarts at the fake boobs, the wealth and fads of the Hollywood elite. A series of chance events leads her to fall in love with the number one celebrity bad boy of Hollywood. In her he finds a girl that is honest and different and she finds that not everything is what it seams.

As Andie experiences the world of sex, drugs and celebrity she makes mistakes and learns from them. Overall, she learns to stay true to herself, a good lesson for a teen.

Smitten is a new series of books released by HGE set in the ‘life after high school’ stage of life. Four titles have been released so far all involving glamour, adventure and, of course, being swept off your feet in new love.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Gus and the Driftwood Puppy

Gus and the Driftwood Puppy by Carrie Haworth, illustrated by Bianca Ramirez (Published by Carrie Haworth)
PB RRP $14.95 plus $1.80 postage
ISBN – 978-0-9872340-9-4
Reviewed by Donna Austin

In this story, the third in The Adventures of Gus the Galah series, Gus is developing his communication skills further. Now he no longer mimics what Auntie Hazel says but has conversations with her. And it’s just as well he can, because on a particularly windy day he spots ‘something shiny on the river’. He keeps watch and sees something else, and shouts to Auntie Hazel, ‘Look over there in the river. Can you see something on that piece of driftwood?’

Though Auntie Hazel can’t see what is on the driftwood she and Gus set off to investigate. Once closer they see a puppy clinging to the wood. The river is too rough to swim in so Gus suggests to Auntie Hazel that they get a piece of rope from the garage and if she ties a loop to it he can fly out to rescue the puppy.

On their way back to the river they meet up with the pup’s owner, Dawn, who is looking for her pup named Ebony. She joins them and Gus takes the perilous trip through the wind with the rope in his mouth. On reaching Ebony, Gus tells her not to be frightened as he will tie the rope to the wood and Auntie Hazel will pull her to safety. To Dawn’s delight, the rescue is a success.

Reunited with her pup, Dawn marvels that she has no idea ‘how you ended up here at the South of Perth Yacht Club when we live further along the Swan River, but I’m very pleased Gus saved you’. She suggests that Auntie Hazel and Gus might join her and Ebony when they next walk along the river. Auntie Hazel asks what Gus thinks of this idea but gets no reply as Gus is already snuggled up inside her coat asleep. A lovely ending to the story.

In keeping with previous stories the large font text is well placed between bold and bright coloured chalk illustrations that fill the pages and the addition of a Willy Wagtail in each illustration gives readers something to look for in every scene.

Lightning Strikes: Disaster Chef

Lightning Strikes: Disaster Chef by Meredith Costain (Walker Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9781921977794
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Ollie is a sports champ with a room full of trophies. He’s the star of the family. His identical twin, Julian, is a quiet homebody, interested in cooking who is encouraged to enter a cooking show competition when a call out appears in the paper.

Ollie is no longer the focus of the family. He is so dejected when his dad decides to attend Julian’s cooking try-outs, that when the finals roll up he plays badly, pushes his opponent, and gets a suspension on top of the match.

As the cooking show progresses and Julian enters the final weeks, things begin to go wrong. Ollie, now an audience member each week, notices that sneaky Serena is sabotaging Julian in one way or another. But he has no proof.

It’s when Julian gets sick with glandular fever that Ollie has to step in for the finals. Will he pull it off? Cooking is nothing like sport. Most importantly, can he expose Serena’s diabolical actions?

This humorous, cleverly written and entertaining book could almost be seen as a spoof on what actually happens behind the scenes on cooking shows.  Meredith Costain’s sharp writing style adds pace and holds the reader’s attention from start to finish. It’s a great read that will appeal to readers of the 9+ age group, but also others who enjoy excellent books no matter what age they’re written for.

Friday, 29 March 2013


Bea by Christine Sharp (University of Queensland Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 4961
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

This is a picture book about a yellow and pink bird, Bea, whose tastes are out of synch with the rest of her flock. She dances to disco beats, flies with the bats and eschews worms and ants in favour of baking her own treats (we never find out if she shares these with her companions). Illustrated with vibrant colours, the story is about embracing individuality and respecting choices.

Sharp has portrayed Bea’s ‘unusual tastes’ and the flock’s choices as being equal; the author does not presume that Bea’s actions make her in any way superior. Bea and her peers are all illustrated with zany pictures that makes every option look like fun. Indeed, it is easy to imagine children opting to play in puddles with the rest of the flock in preference to Bea’s taste for a bubble bath.

Whilst Bea is never bullied as a result of her actions, she always plays by herself. It is not referred to in the text, but the illustrations make it clear that the price of doing one’s own thing is doing it alone – although she does not seem to mind. That is, until a new character, her friend Bernie is introduced mid-way through the text.

She drives a bus across the country to meet up with him and together they sing to the moon and fly kites. They continue to joyfully embrace their own shared pleasures, ignoring what the others do for fun.

This heart-warming tale is author/ illustrator Christine Sharp’s first book.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Busy Wheels

Busy Wheels series by Mandy Archer, illustrated by Martha Lightfoot (Scholastic Australia)
 Digger to the Rescue
ISBN: 978-1-74283-509-9
Fire Engine is Flashing
ISBN: 978-1-74283-510-5
Racing Car is Roaring
ISBN: 978-1-74283-511-2
Tractor Saves the Day
ISBN: 978-1-74283-512-9
PB RRP $9.99 each
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The new Busy Wheels series is a set of four energetic picture books which will appeal strongly to young boys and girls. Filled with sound and movement each book outlines a day-in-the-life story of various vehicles and machinery.

The text highlights words such as chugs, blustery, and thumbs up, as well as simple everyday words which children know and use. Sounds such as squelch, beep beep, nee-naw, wwoooshh, all emphasise the noises children love and they can easily be associated with these working machines.

The illustrations are busy and place the specific vehicle firmly in the centre of the story as a character, along with its operator. The colours are strong and bright but the soft edges create a friendly environment.

In Digger to the Rescue, Bear and Digger start their day helping to build a playground, then end up rescuing a cat from a tree.

Fire Engine is Flashing is a story about Fox and Fire Engine working to put out fires and save lives. The text and pictures emphasise a sense of urgency without being dramatic.

In Racing Car is Roaring, Rabbit and Racing Car race and win the championship. Again, the speed and excitement are well conveyed.

And in Tractor Saves the Day, Dog works his way through all his farm duties, showcasing the versatility of Tractor.

All four books have a good amount of detail which should satisfy most young truck lovers. At the end of each story is a page illustrating the vehicle in a “Let’s look at...” section where specific parts of the machine are detailed. The last page illustrates similar machines such as ‘Other Farm Machines’ and ‘Other Emergency Machines’.

There are many young children who love to watch diggers, trucks and other machinery at work. This series will be hugely popular with these mechanically minded kids.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Solid Rock

Solid Rock [with CD] by Shane Howard, illustrated by kids from Mutitjulu, Kaltukatjara and Impana (One Day Hill)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-9873139-1-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

I was a young teenager in the early 1980s when Solid Rock by Goanna was a big hit. I knew it well as a rock anthem which we all sang with enthusiasm and passion. But when I read this re-released picture book version of the song, I was unprepared for the impact reading the words had on me.

Solid Rock (Puli Kunpunka – Sacred Ground) tells a story which is part of our Australian history. It mixes the reality of white man’s invasion with the spirituality of the indigenous dreaming. It captures the beauty of the Australia and the anger over what transpired here.The majestic paintings of Uluru add to the powerful feeling of place, while the pictures by the children of the Mutitjulu, Kaltukatjara and Impana communities give the book grounding, depth and spirit.

The lyrics are translated, each page in both English and Pitantjatjara. The accompanying CD is sung also, in both languages. The original English version is performed by Shane Howard and his band. The second version, in the Pitjantjatjara language, features the school children from the same communities accompanying Shane and his band. Both versions are beautiful, stirring and unique.

This inspiring book should have a wide audience. It will appeal to children, to those who grew up in the 1980s, to fans of Shane Howard and Goanna, to all who love to sing and to those with a strong interest in Australian and indigenous history.

Every book sold will benefit the communities involved in this project as 25 percent of all profits are donated towards their youth initiatives.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Walter Tull’s Scrapbook

Walter Tull’s Scrapbook by Michaela Morgan (Walker Books)
HB RRP $ 27.95
ISBN 9781847802125
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Walter Tull is an amazing historical figure. He was the first black officer in the British Army and was recommended for the Military Cross, an honour never bestowed upon him because of his colour. The book is told through Tull’s voice in first person narrative, with photographs and documents accompanying the text.

One of five children, Tull’s mother died when he was seven years old and his father remarried, but then died a few years later. Unable to care for all the children, his stepmother sent Walter and his brother Eddie to the Methodist Children’s Home in London. Eddie was later adopted.

Walter played and excelled at football, and with a conscientious, ethical, and positive outlook on life, he moved out of the orphanage into a good home, and was soon picked up by Clapton Football Club. This was the beginning of an amazing career in clubs which included Tottenham Hotspur where he became the first black British professional out -field player.

When playing against Bristol, Walter was jeered at and insulted because of his colour and ‘I lost sight of my aims and my energy leaked away. I lost heart, I lost form. But bit by bit…regained my spirits, gathered my courage and started again’ with a transfer to Northampton for a great sum of money. Walter is preparing to transfer to the Glasgow Rangers when the Great War breaks out. ‘I have to stand up for my country’ is his primary thought. The book documents his heroic feats and leadership skills that bring him the recommendation for the Military Cross.

This inspiring and moving documentation of Walter Tull’s life in scrapbook form contains original pictures and entries with newspaper clippings, certificates, pictures of the hospital train, the transporting of the wounded, Post Office telegrams and a War Office Report amongst many other informative pieces.

Walter Tull’s Scrapbook is an outstanding production for many reasons, the main being that it highlights the ethical life of a great and courageous man who against all odds, never swayed from his belief in honour and courage. It approaches Tull’s life in a different way to Michael Morpurgo’s fictional novel, A Medal for Leroy, but both books serve well in projecting this man’s life. Walter Tull was killed  during the Second Battle of the Somme in 1918, aged 29.

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Luck of the Buttons

The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker (Candlewick Press/ Walker Books)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9780763660611
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Tug Button, the main character in this outstanding novel, is reminiscent of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. The whole setting and environment brings that book to mind. A strong-willed tomboy, intelligent and questioning, Tug spends a lot of time in the local library with the Librarian learning words and their definitions from the giant dictionary. This is a marvellous thread that leads Tug to discovery and change.

The Buttons have never been lucky. Nothing ever goes right in their life. They are a rag-tag bunch known for their poverty and low educational status. But everything begins to shift when Aggie Millhouse, daughter of the Banking family of Goodhue, decides to be Tug’s friend.

Within this story weaves another sub-story of significance. Harvey Moore enters Goodhue claiming to be a newspaper man on a mission to bring progress once again to the place by bringing back the local newspaper and calling it the Goodhue Progress. He persuades the wealthy people to hand over money for a down payment on a printing press in return for advertising in the first edition. These two themes entwine and extend into a revealing tale of manipulation and possibilities.

When Tug wins two blue ribbons – one for best essay, and the other in a three-legged race with Aggie, everyone is astonished.  But then she goes on to win a Brownie camera in the raffle from tickets given to her for helping the shopkeeper unpack his goods. The camera becomes instrumental to the awakening of great optimism and opportunity in Tug, a child who, ‘in her life, could not find one beautiful thing’, for she thinks of all the things the Buttons are not. And the list is endless. But she feels a sense of possibility; that life has brought about a change for her.

It’s when Tug sees past Harvey Moore’s façade, and her sleuthing and library research uncovers the truth about this smart-talking, beguiling persuader, that the wealthy of the town are forced to take the transformed Tug seriously.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Gus and the Shiny Ring

Gus and the Shiny Ring by Carrie Haworth, illustrated by Bianca Ramirez (Published by Carrie Haworth)
PB RRP $14.95 plus $1.80 postage
ISBN – 978-0-9872340-4-9
Reviewed by Donna Austin

In this story, the second in The Adventures of Gus the Galah series, Gus is developing skills that see him mimic what Auntie Hazel says. He also responds to instructions. When Auntie Hazel sees that he needs some more bird seed, she prepares to drive to the pet shop. When she finally gets into the car she realises she’s left her car keys in the house but she sends Gus for them and he does this.

Along the way to the shop, Gus enjoys watching the people and birds they pass and readers are told that he even pretends he is driving the car himself. By the middle of the book Gus and Auntie Hazel reach the shop where Gus flies about to chat with the inhabitants. Purchase of seed complete, Gus and Auntie Hazel head back to the car where they notice a group of ladies gathered on the grass, looking for something. One of them, named Angela, has lost a valuable ring.

“We’ll help you look then,” says Auntie Hazel. Gus waddles about finding nothing until he moves to a section of longer grass where he spots something ‘glimmering in the sunshine’. He picks it up and takes it back to Auntie Hazel. She says “Oh Gus, you clever, clever boy. You found the ring!” and Angela is very pleased. Gus receives a tickle from Angela before Auntie Hazel takes him home.

In keeping with the first book the large font text is well placed between bold and bright coloured chalk illustrations that fill the pages and, as with previous book, the addition of a Willy Wagtail in each illustration gives readers something to look for in every scene.

Freia Lockhart’s Summer of Awful

Freia Lockhart’s Summer of Awful by Aimee Said (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978192977800
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

School is over and Freia has ended her friendship with the vain and spiteful three Bs, and has made a new group of down-to-earth friends, Vicky, Sooz and Steph. She also has Dan.

Holidays have barely started when Freia’s world is rocked by the news that her health freak mum has breast cancer. Both she and her brother Ziggy go into denial, refusing to ask about, or face, what this means. Consumed by thoughts of Dan and his feelings towards her that haven’t been clearly stated, Freia obsesses with these problems to avoid thinking of her mother’s illness. She also finds it impossible to share what’s happening with her friends.

Freia’s summer is ‘hijacked’ when her overbearing Gran Thelma comes to stay during her daughter’s illness, bringing with her a screeching parrot and obsessive knitting habits. At 80, she is energetic, can SMS on her Smart phone at the speed of light, walk without panting, and maintains a romantic involvement.

Dad escapes Gran by retreating to his study while Ziggy spends all his time at his mate Biggie’s place. But Freia is forced to endure Gran’s company for Dan suddenly goes to his mum’s for Christmas. Things become too much for Freia, and having distanced herself from her friends, and with Dan being away, she finds it hard to cope with all that’s going on in her head.

But the summer of awful doesn’t end as it started. The bad things take a turn for the better, including the way Freia hides from things she won’t face. Her brownies are in great demand at Switch café owned by Jay, with whom she has become close friends. Freia’s resentment of oldies recedes when she acknowledges that Gran has many redeeming qualities. She also learns that in love, things aren’t always how they seem, and that friendship is sharing all the parts you are, as well as the parts you are not.

This is a fantastic and entertaining follow-on from Finding Freia Lockhart. Written in a light-hearted narrative with hilarious asides, Freia Lockhart’s Summer of Awful addresses themes that encircle teen angst: the insecurities that come with first love, the confusion that is born from threats to family stability, and in real friendships, the importance of sticking together and sharing your problems no matter what.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Gus the Galah Meets Auntie Hazel

Gus the Galah Meets Auntie Hazel by Carrie Haworth, illustrated by Bianca Ramirez (Published by Carrie Haworth)
PB RRP $14.95 plus $1.80 postage
ISBN – 978-0-9872340-5-6
Reviewed by Donna Austin

The first in The Adventures of Gus the Galah, a series of illustrated stories, this story shows how Gus met Auntie Hazel. At the story’s opening, readers meet Mrs Galah who is concerned about her and Mr Galah’s nest not being big enough for the six eggs she has laid, for she normally only lays five. Mr Galah says ‘let’s wait and see’.

When the babies hatch, halfway through the book, Gus is the last one out. He’s also the biggest, noisiest and most impatient. When Mrs Galah is out looking for food he stands on the edge of his nest ‘looking for his Mummy’. He spots Auntie Hazel who is eating at the garden table with her grandchildren. Leaning over to have a closer look, Gus falls into Auntie Hazel’s lap. ‘Poor Auntie Hazel!’

But it seems it’s not such a ‘Poor Auntie Hazel’, for she picks up Gus and decides it’s wonderful. Unsure what to do, she ‘cuddled Gus to her and then had an idea!’ Readers are then told she decides to keep and look after Gus. He hops onto Auntie Hazel’s shoulder and drifts to sleep, dreaming of happy days ahead with her. So ends the first story, showing how Gus met Auntie Hazel.

Large font text is well placed between bold and bright coloured chalk illustrations that fill the pages and the thoughtful addition of a Willy Wagtail in each one gives readers something to look for in every scene.

10 Bush Babies

10 Bush Babies by Susan Hall, illustrated by Naomi Zouwer (National Library of Australia)
HB RRP $ 12.99
ISBN 9780642277695
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Ten Australian bush babies have gone to school where Mrs Roo is the teacher. But they decide to play a trick on her. Each time Mrs Roo rings the bell – ding-ding-ding-ding, one less animal appears. Who has gone missing? It’s up to the reader to check the animals and find who the missing one is. There is a hint at the bottom of the page to help discover the answer. To wind up their clever game, the bush babies have a surprise for Mrs Roo at the end.

It’s a countdown but also a counting up of Australian animals.

With their usual talented flair and insight, the authors and illustrators at the NLA have created another educational and simultaneously entertaining book for children featuring Australian animals while learning to count.

The delightful watercolour illustrations that accompany the text are charming. The book is produced in sturdy board with shiny pages that can easily withstand the frequent turning by small hands.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Shot, Boom, Score

Shot, Boom, Score by Justin Brown (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74331-368-8
Reviewed by Ann Harth ( )

Toby Gilligan-Flanagan wants a GameBox V3. His dad agrees to buy him one but there’s a catch: Toby has to score 20 wickets and 10 tries by the end of the season.

For many of Toby’s friends this may have seemed like an obstacle, but for Toby? No problem. He is a star bowler and feels he was born to kick a ball. Toby has sport in his blood. The new GameBox V3 is his!

But then the new kid arrives. Malcolm McGarvey has legs that look like they were stolen from a gorilla. He lives with his uncle and is allowed to stay up all night. He was attacked by a shark and has a squiggly scar on his neck to prove it. McGarvey is also good at sport but he doesn’t care much about winning; he only wants to stop Toby from scoring.

I was caught up in Toby’s world so completely that I ripped through Shot, Boom, Score at a blistering speed. Toby is very real. His decisions are not always the best, but they seem like a good idea at the time. I thoroughly enjoyed Toby’s journey as he learns to deal with McGarvey and strives to earn his GameBox V3. This is a great book for children aged 8-12. They will love Toby and his friends and even learn to appreciate McGarvey, much like Toby does.

Shot, Boom, Score is written in Toby’s viewpoint in the form of a ‘logbook’. It’s not a diary. Diaries smell like strawberries and have wimpy little locks. Toby’s struggles to gain his points, battle with McGarvey and stay out of trouble are recorded in this book, the kind of logbook a sea captain would use.

Justin Brown has written 25 books for adults and children. One of his most incredible experiences was, after writing about Toby for two years, he accidentally met him on a street in New Zealand.  The boy’s mannerisms and looks seemed vaguely familiar until it finally clicked. This was Toby Gilligan-Flanagan. Oddly enough, the boy’s name was Toby. For more on this story and to get to know Justin Brown a little better, please visit his website:

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

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Quiet Queenie and Racing Ruby (Little Mates)

Quiet Queenie (Little Mates) by Susannah McFarlane, illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $4.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-331-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Racing Ruby (Little Mates) by Susannah McFarlane, illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $4.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-332-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Queenie has always been a quiet quokka, the quietest in Queensland. But one day she needs a loud voice to help out a quivering quoll.

Ruby the rainbow fish loves to race. But one day, racing ahead, she takes a wrong turn and gets lost. Can she retrace her route and rejoin her friends?

Quiet Queenie and Racing Ruby continue the Little Mates series, a set of small, fun alphabet books featuring Australian animals and friendships. The alliteration is fun to read aloud and the author does a great job, especially with Q, which would not, I would imagine, be an easy letter to work with.

The illustrations are energetic, humorous and fun to explore. The animals are drawn with individual character and there is often something a little unexpected among the wonderfully Australian settings. I love Queenie in the bush library. There a family of ducks check out their books at the reference desk decorated in Quixote and the windmills. And the shoreline Ruby that fails to notice, as she races past includes a rafting rhino - so out of place in the Australian setting that I almost failed to notice the dinosaur in the background myself!

These books can be enjoyed by children from a very young age, for the alphabet, for the joy of tongue twisting words and for the delight in the pictures.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The False Prince

The False Prince by Jennifer A Nielsen (Scholastic UK)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-407133– 05-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

When four boys are ‘bought’ from orphanages around Carthya by a mysterious nobleman named Connor they find themselves in a different world - one of wealth and privilege. But it does not take them long to discover the purpose they have been taken for - the only thing they have in common is their physical appearance and Connor wants one of them to impersonate a long lost prince. And the boys soon realise that when one of them is chosen, the rest will be left in possession of a secret so dangerous and traitorous that they will not be allowed to live.

This is a totally absorbing and gripping story, told in the first person by Sage, an entertaining and wonderfully unreliable narrator. The author writes skilfully, letting the reader get emotionally close to the characters, leading reader perceptions and employing a sleight of hand which conceals plenty but doesn’t leave the reader feeling cheated as all is slowly revealed.

Although a fantasy, the magic is in the writing, not the storyline which is firmly based in an alternative medieval reality. Danger, sword fights, secret passages, conspiracies and deceit abound in this dark and thrilling adventure.

Being Book 1 of The Ascendance Trilogy, there are more adventures to come. I was happy to discover this as I didn’t want to leave the characters just yet, and I found myself thinking about the book long after I closed its pages.

The False Prince won the 2012 Cybils Award in the Fantasy & Science Fiction category. I would highly recommend this to readers of fantasy, adventure, the knights and chivalry era, and those who love mystery and intrigue. It should appeal to readers from 10 years and up.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

An Anzac Tale

An Anzac Tale by Ruth Starke, illustrated by Greg Holfeld (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN 9781921504532
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

Roy Martin and his best mate Wally Cardwell are among the first to enlist when Australia goes to war at the beginning of World War 1. Eager to fight for King and country, they soon discover the adventure they thought they would have is nothing but a disaster.  One day after the unsuccessful landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, more than 2000 of their fellow ANZACs are dead.

The two mates and their new friend Tom, soon have to endure a battle against a tireless enemy, hostile surroundings, and the onset of flies, fleas, cold and disease.

This graphic novel is extraordinary for many reasons. Ruth Starke has captured the ‘aussie’ spirit of get up go really well. Australian slang of the time, words such as ‘little tacker’s ‘six bob tourists’ all add to the sense of the era.

The illustrations by Greg Holfeld help to create a unique book. The use of animals personalising the story, native animals for Australia, and the caracal lynx for the Turkish soldiers, helps the reader take a step back. This allows the horror of  war and what actually happened to penetrate.

The careful choice of language and what is told is taken hand in hand with the select illustrations. A combination of pen and ink and colour washes, used most effectively.  Most memorable is the double page spread of a confrontation between the ANZACs and the Turks…not a word is necessary and the thorough use of the illustrations says more than words ever could.

This book would be a great introduction of young readers to the topic of Gallipoli and the ANZAC campaign. With maps, timelines and pages of information, with the easy-to-read aspect of a graphic novel, it would also appeal to boys and reluctant readers.

A truly amazing and powerful picture book.

Monday, 18 March 2013

The Scar

The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic, illustrated by Oliver Tallec (Walker Books)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781406344158
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This brilliant and moving book has been produced as a resource for bereaved children. The flooding of bright red for most of the book’s illustrations, including the covers, is a strong metaphor for the anger experienced by a child at the loss of a parent.

The child has lost his mother after an illness. How will he keep his thoughts and memories of her? He closes the windows so he can retain her smell; to be able to ‘keep breathing mum in’. When he falls and hurts his knee, he picks at the scab to keep it bleeding for it is then he can hear his mother’s voice comforting him.

He needs to care for his father, who doesn’t know how to cook his toast, who he sees as abandoned by his mother, and who when cries, is like ‘a flannel, all crumpled and wet’.

Then Grandma arrives. She knows about loss, for she has lost her child. She shows the boy why his mother will always be with him, and he and the father are comforted.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

My Easter Egg Hunt

My Easter Egg Hunt by Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74283– 777-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

My Easter Egg Hunt is a new book by popular author-illustrators Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley. It has simple pictures, simple text, and perfectly captures the joy of hunting for Easter eggs.

Three sweet bunnies play hide and seek with their friends, looking for brightly decorated eggs. The text directs ‘look down’, or ‘look under’ and young readers will follow, finding eggs in unusual places.

The illustrations have no background to distract from the central focus - two or three animals and the egg they are searching for. The spare text on each page complements this. The story is told as much through the pictures as the words. Look at the last picture and see who has already eaten his chocolate egg.

Soft colours and playful expressions on the animals make this a gentle read. It will be engaging for an audience from three years and up but could be read to younger children, toddlers and babies even.

A perfect Easter gift.

Bruce Whatley has illustrated many well-loved and awarded children’s books. Among them, Flood (with Jackie French) won CBCA Honour Book, CBCA Picture Book of the Year 2012, The Littlest Refugee (written with Ahn and Suzanne Do) won CBCA Honour Book, CBCA Eve Pownall Book of the year 2012 and Detective Donut and the Wild Goose Chase (with Rosie Smith) won Honour Book, CBCA Picture book of the year 1998. His collaboration with Jackie French, include the popular Diary of a Wombat, Josephine Loves to Dance, Pete the Sheep and Queen Victoria’s Underpants. With Rosie Smith he has produced picture books such as My Dad’s the Coolest, My Mum’s the Best and Hunting for Dragons.

The Floods – Bewitched

The Floods – Bewitched by Colin Thompson (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781742755304
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742755311
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Take a cauldron and simmer the usual suspects: blood, boils, bile, bedlam and, of course, bacon. Stir in a healthy dose of puns and drink in Colin Thompson’s 12th book, Bewitched, in his hilarious, The Floods, series.

The setting is Transylvania Waters and King Nerlin is going the way of all good monarchs. He’s going Doolally. ‘Things like Alzheimer’s disease and general Doolallyness weren’t supposed to happen to witches and wizards, they were the sorts of things humans got.’

As Nerlin’s mind slowly wanders off to Planet Janet, Queen Mordonna gathers their children and utters what all children dread to hear, ‘we have to do something about your father …’

Mordonna gets Nerlin his own personal manservant called Bacstairs, as Nerlin falls further under the spell of his imaginary friend, Geoffrey-Geoffrey.

But, as the title suggests, Nerlin may just be Bewitched! The Floods seek help from the old crones and ride their talking donkeys high up into the mountains, where ‘baggy knickers flapped like Buddhist flags’. They ride through the Masking Clouds (that keep things invisible) to the Impossible Waterfall, where water falls from thin air.

Nerlin is indeed bewitched as he loses control of his vowels and has to wear Incompetence Underpants until his vowels work again.

Thompson is a master of plopping in the puns. As with his previous Floods’ titles (that also pun the Soapies): Survivor, The Great Outdoors, Top Gear and Home and Away, Bewitched is bristling with them. There’s imaginary friend, Geoffrey-Geoffrey, the son of the Hearse Whisperer; the Floods ‘pop into Burnings, the famous Transylvania Waters hardware story’, and they even get caffe lattes from Scarebutts, where a wPhone is an iPhone for wizards.

There is also a parallel plot involving Geoffrey-Geoffrey; he is not all he seems to be.

So, is King Nerlin spiralling into Doolallyness or are the old crones able to cure him? All those children out there who are 8+ and who want to be in on the adventure, you’ll just have to read on.

Colin Thompson has more than 65 books published. He has won multiple awards, including a CBCA Picture Book of the Year, a CBCA Honour Book and was shortlisted for the Astrid Lindgren Award – the most prestigious children’s literature prize in the world. Let’s hope he never goes Doolally!

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Let’s Go to Sleep

Let’s Go to Sleep by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Michelle Dawson (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921504440
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

All over the world, in deserts and jungles, in woodlands and seas, little animals are going to sleep.

Once again Margaret Wild brings her love of language to the picture book. The soft gentle text in this book is perfect to be read out loud. It has a rhythm that is perfect for bedtime, guaranteed to settle young ones to sleep.

Dawson’s delicate illustrations, using a combination of soft pencil, ink and watercolours really bring these baby animals and their families to life.  Rendered in calm and soothing tones, they help to bring tranquillity to the book,  helping to emphasise Wild’s poetic text.

This book would make a wonderful gift for a new mum.  It would soon become a family favourite…perfect for bedtime.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Taff in the WAAF

Taff in the WAAF by Mick Manning & Brita Granstrom (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781847804150
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Taff in the WAAF was the winner of the 2011 English 4-11 Award, KS2 Non-Fiction. The writer and illustrator have an impressive folio of published award-winning work and this is the companion book to Tail-End Charlie, shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Awards.

The story is dedicated to Taff and her friends. The information is accessed through the memorabilia of WAAF Section Officer Paddy Fraser, and archives. It is presented in scrapbook form which has become a very popular method of presenting non-fiction to children of all ages. The visual part is comprised of photos, newspaper clippings, Official documents, certificates, menus, and wonderful framed illustrations with captions.

There are also reproduced sheets of paper of the era, that have explanations about  Morse Code,  Message Forms from the ‘Y’ Service, which was a ’chain of top-secret listening stations that intercepted coded enemy signals’ that were then immediately forwarded to Bletchley Park to be decoded by code-breakers. There is information on the loneliness the women experienced, the entertainment that kept them from desperation, and how they more than capably filled the men’s roles within any area they were needed.

This is a wonderfully detailed, brilliantly produced, and a valuable resource for children on the role of women and girls during WW2.  It has an expansive Glossary for a fuller understanding of terms, abbreviations and specific words used through the book. The text is similar to that produced by an old typewriter which is a perfect touch. It winds up with a double spread of original, single and group photos of WAAFs.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

When my name was Keoko

When my name was Keoko by Linda Sue Park (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9 780702 249 747
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Imagine living in a country that has been invaded by, then taken over by another. All of a sudden, you are no longer allowed to speak your language, tell stories passed down through generations, or even use the name you were born with.  Years before Gangnam Style and K-pop, this was Korea’s reality. A country occupied by the Japanese and its people forced to do whatever Japanese invaders told them to.

Written for children over 9 years, this story is based on events that the author’s parents lived through.  Both sad and funny, Linda Sue Park tells the story of Kim Sun-hee, a girl who never forgot her name even when forced to take on a Japanese name, Keoko. Park details the everyday outrages that were perpetrated on ordinary people, such as when Sun-hee’s brother Tae-yul had to give up the bicycle he painstakingly rebuilt because a Japanese soldier took a fancy to it.

The tone of the novel changes half way, as World War two commences. Koreans were expected to support Japan’s war effort by giving up their valuable possessions. Then Sun-hee’s beloved uncle disappears and although the family suspect he has joined the resistance movement, they have no way of knowing whether he is still alive.

With food and goods scarce, the families of Koreans who enlist with the Japanese army are rewarded with larger rations, older brother Tae-yul (who dreamed of being a pilot) joins up, to the outrage of the family. However Sun-hee never loses faith in him, believing he had a plan to sabotage any mission he took part in. Written in alternating viewpoints, tension mounts as Park drops hints about what Tae-yul feels he must do, and the final twist caught me by surprise.

I found this story well written and engrossing to read. American author, Linda Sue Park won the Newbery prize with her previous novel, A Single Shard.

The Windy Farm

The Windy Farm by Doug MacLeod, illustrated by Craig Smith (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921504419
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

Living on the windiest farm on Windy Hill is not easy. Some days the pigs are nearly blown away, and one day half the house is blown away. But Mum comes to the rescue. Not only is she an inventor (love the heavy metal shoes that keep everyone grounded) but she comes up with the idea to save the farm. Why not harness the wind and build a wind farm?

This funny and tongue in cheek picture book not only tells the story about the windiest farm on Windy Hill, but also sends a message about the environment, especially sustainability and harnessing wind power. Issues that are very current.

Smith’s delightful and detailed illustrations add to the sense of humour of this book. The image of Grandpa with his favourite pig, Big Betty and the pigs and chickens in the background wearing Mum’s metal shoes is one of my favourites. I also love that the wind becomes a character, appearing in every page.

This would be a good book for younger readers, but lower primary school children would also find this a good jumping off point for discussions on the environment and issues such as sustainability and energy consumption.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend

Violet Mackerel’s Possible Friend by Anna Branford, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Walker Books)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781921977565
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Violet has moved into a new home. She goes on a discovery tour of the garden. She finds ants and rings of mushrooms. But it’s the knot in the fence that is the best find. She pushes it with her finger and through the hole it creates, she can see into the neighbour’s garden. It is a perfect garden, unlike theirs which is overrun with grasses.

Rose, a girl Violet’s age, lives there - a possible friend. Violet considers employing her Theory of Swapping Small Things as a stepping stone towards a friendly relationship.  But as the acquaintance progresses, Violet begins to feel bad about her preloved clothes, hand-made presents, and odd socks - seemingly imperfect things when measured against Rose’s beautiful and perfect new home and belongings.

Violet learns that comparing yourself and what you have, with what others are and have, can be painful. For what seems ordinary to the person that owns it, can appear a novelty to the other and that in true friendships, nobody notices these things anyway.

I’m a big fan of the Violet Mackerel books. They address concerns, fears and problems that children, and adults, frequently have, and approach them with an understanding of the problem and its resolution in a helpful manner. The tone of the narrative sounds just like the voice of a loving relative trying to relieve a child’s deep concern about something that is worrying them.

This is Book 5 in the delightful and insightful string of stories that also have some environmental flavour flowing within the major theme. The meaningful and well considered text is accentuated by Sarah Davis’ wonderful illustrations.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

LOOK Really Smart Art

LOOK! Really Smart Art by Gillian Wolfe (Walker Books)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 9781847804143
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Gillian Wolfe, Director of Learning and Public Affairs at Dulwich Picture Gallery, and award- winning creator, has produced another amazing art book for children.

Look! Really Smart Art draws on the many inventive ways artists have to help people see things differently. There are 17 pictures used to show how each artist uses their own unique method to produce their effect.

It begins with the trick of 3D and its deep shadows that help to model something solid into looking real. Escher’s, Drawing Hands, are used as an example here.

When drawing speed and movement, artists take liberties. Looking at The Chariot Race by Alexander Von Wagner, you’ll question the reality of the horses’ hooves all up in the air at the same time. But how else can an artist portray the speed at which the horses are travelling?

 Music and poetry is combined with imagination, memory and dreams in Marc Chagall’s Birthday, to create a floating sensation. This is in total contrast to Jackson Pollock’s White Light, where ‘paint is the picture’.

The computer-generated art of Akiyoshi Kitaoka and Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book style in Blam stand apart from Salvador Dali’s double image in Paranoiac Face, and the extraordinary story pictures of Forever Always by Octavio Ocampo. The listed works are only half of what is to be discovered inside this exciting new book.

The ‘Look It Up’ section at the back depicts all the featured artists and their work with information on where each piece is held, plus a blurb for those interested in further research.

Monday, 11 March 2013


CAT-astrophe by Robert Favretto, illustrated by Kevin Burgemeestre (Morris Publishing)
PB RRP $13.99
ISBN 9780985914790
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Rhys has detention for not showing interest in his Writing assignment. Bored out of his head and with not even a floating thought of what to write about, a ball comes through the widow, shattering both his thoughts and the glass. A brilliant idea enters his head, breaking his day-dream.

The story flows through him at great speed. It takes a peculiar, detailed form, and includes the class suck-up Alex, and Alex’s well-known, over-used story about the fish that got away, and a hilarious cat tale with a strange and questionable twist.

This book for younger readers is clever and entertaining due to the marvellous play on words that is used, and the terrific illustrations produced by the multi- talented Kevin Burgemeestre. It’s the kind of book kids love to read – full of nonsensical barbs, and smart-mouthed conversation. It comes highly recommended for reluctant readers.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Wolf Princess

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (Chicken House)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-9084353- 42-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Sophie has strange dreams of Russia, her beloved father and wolves. Then she and her best friends Delphine and Marianne get to go to St Petersburg on a school trip. But then they end up in a remote palace with a mysterious Princess in the middle of the Russian Winter and the girls begin to suspect something is not quite right about the visit.

The Wolf Princess explores the sense of dreams and reality and the blurred line in-between the two. It also touches strongly on the concept of home and what that means. As the adventure continues, Sophie, an orphan girl who often feels out of place at boarding school, gains confidence while her two ‘larger-than-life’ friends fade into the background.

The story begins slowly, but the promise of excitement to come shines through and the intrigue mounts throughout until the dramatic climax. In places the plot is a little stiff, the writing awkward and there can be too much ‘telling’ of Sophie’s feelings at times so that the two friends feel like a cliché. But Sophie’s character is wonderful and the writing in many places is beautiful, especially when describing the snow filled woods, the dilapidated palace and the wolves. ‘Be careful of the moon, little Sophie,' Ivan Ivanovich whispered. ‘It will bewitch you. Before you know it, you can no longer live in the day, but only in the world of dreams.’

The dreams of travelling to an exotic place with best friends, discovering you are a long lost princess, the romance of a snowy Russian world, luxuriant train journeys and hidden diamonds will all touch a chord with many young girls (10 +). It is a fantasy they will happily indulge in and the thrills of blizzards, distant wolves and secret histories will keep the reader on edge and well entertained. The purple and silver cover and pages are eye catching.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

The House that Wonky Built

The House that Wonky Built [with CD] by Craig Smith, illustrated by Katz Cowley (Scholastic NZ)
PB RRP $24.99 (includes CD & activity kit)
ISBN 978-1-77543– 115-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The House that Wonky Built is an activity pack inspired by and including the well loved picture book The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith. 

‘I was walking down the road and I saw ... a donkey. He had only three legs ... And one eye! He was a winky wonky donkey.’

The rhythm of the words, the build up of the repetition and the increasingly difficult tongue twisting end line all make this story a delight to read no matter how many times you are called to.

The illustrations by Katz Cowley are fabulous. The Wonky Donkey’s character is portrayed through his cheeky grin and is charming, playful and attractive despite his three legs, one eye and bad smell. The little bird, who follows Wonky through the pages, is a great character too. This small yellow companion experiences the donkey’s characteristics for us. He faints at Wonky’s bad smell, flies off with the donkey’s eye, and plays Wonky’s honky tonk music on the gramophone. My favourite picture is Bird sitting in the grass looking up at Donkey, emphasising the clever perspective from below, making Wonky Donkey look tall and slim.

The activity pack with the book includes a play set, removable stickers and a cd. This play set folds out to create Wonky’s stables, three rooms and an outdoor area. Along with this are several pages of foldable furniture and accessories to create Wonky’s world, as well as Wonky Donkey and Bird. I especially love the inclusion of the coffee machine and pot. This has all been cleverly created by paper engineer Phillip Fickling.

While playing with Wonky Donkey and recreating the story, children can listen to the very amusing CD included in the kit. The honky-tonky tune is performed by Craig Smith.

This book can be enjoyed from a very young age, but the play set is best suited for over six year olds. Even at this age, children will need adult help to construct the furniture as it is more complex than paper dolls, but there are hours of fun to be had during and after construction. I think upper primary children would enjoy the humour and ingenuity of the furniture, stables and ‘setting up house’.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Genius Ideas (Mostly) (Tom Gates)

Genius Ideas (Mostly) (Tom Gates) by L. Pichon (Scholastic UK)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-407134-50-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Tom Gates is a normal school boy. He’s not keen on training for Sports Day, is embarrassed by his family, loves to practise with his band Dogzombies, and enjoys doodling during boring classes, if only Marcus would stop dobbing. When things are looking bad, (like the food at the last family picnic), it is Tom’s genius ideas that get everyone through. Now if only Dogzombies can get a gig at the school talent show.

Genius Ideas is a fun read. From the opening sentence ‘If my writing looks a bit wobbly it’s because I’ve just had a terrible shock!’ I was hooked. And while all the problems in Tom’s world are minor in the scheme of things, they are all very major to a young boy. From Dad’s cycling shorts, to his sister’s green hair, to the photo of himself in the school newsletter which makes him look like a pineapple, Tom has a lot to contend with.

The humour is very dry, reminiscent of the sarcasm of the young teenagers I know and the author seems to get inside their minds in a very believable fashion. The banter between Tom and his sister Delia is classic.

Visually, it is fun to read. Every page is packed with sketches and changing fonts, which all influence the way the story is read and makes it feel as if Tom is telling the story intimately to the reader in the same way a diary may.

I think this book would appeal to anyone from between the ages of seven and twelve. It would also be great for hesitant readers as the text is not demanding, but the storyline is suited to older readers. It is light and amusing, with laugh-out-load moments and parts that could be easily related to most people’s childhoods.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

I Love You Too

I Love You Too by Stephen Michael King (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74283– 497-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

I love the illustrations of Stephen Michael King and I Love You Too is filled with the gorgeous water colour and ink pictures King is well known for. The beautiful text and individuality and confidence of the characters in the story make this picture book one to read, re-read and treasure.

The text is sparse, simple and evocative. ‘The world is filled with windy days, should stay inside days, but we explore, fly a kite, swoop, dive ...’ It inspires as much movement as the illustrations. King has captured the four friends in I Love You Too in all sorts of activities as they romp together through the day. These illustrations are playful from the beginning – with stunning gentle dragonfly endpapers - to the end.

There is quiet joy on every page. The story celebrates and reinforces the beauty of being with friends you love. This picture book is a perfect one to share with someone you love. It will entrance, entertain and inspire children from a very young age.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

We Love School

We Love School illustrated by Lucie Billingsley (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780734411570
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Lucie Billingsley and Hachette have together created a great first-day-of-school book to give children an insight as to what school is all about. The pupils in the story are puppies, both big and small, many varieties of the dog spectrum. Each animal example is beautifully and realistically created in stunning detail.
The school day begins with the puppies finding their own basket to place their belongings, and enjoying art time and being encouraged to take a toilet break. One puppy makes a mistake before he can trot outside. Each step of the day is told in simple fashion, and Lucie has maximised the impact of her illustrations by keeping the supporting background artwork uncluttered. Plenty of white space brings the puppies forward and no doubt parents will be asked, "What kind of puppy is that?"
Playtime, lunch time, walks, getting wet in the rain and having a nap is demonstrated, ending with storytime and the puppies taking their artwork home to their families. Children will easily relate to the activities and see themselves in the story.
This is a delightful picture-book with its stunning colours and realistic depiction of what puppies do and how they react. It is bound to be much read leading up to a child's first day at school. I loved the “bones and balls” inside covers.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Mind If I Read Your Mind? (Ghost Buddy)

Mind If I Read Your Mind? (Ghost Buddy) by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver (Scholastic UK)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-407132-29-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Billy Broccoli is back along with his ghostly buddy, Hoover Porterhouse the Third. This time the Hoove is pulling out all stops to help his friend win the speech day award by showing off Billy’s ‘special talent’ for mind reading.

Their awesome display has Billy becoming popular with the other students, especially Ruby. But by the time the finals come around, Billy is unsure about whether it is fair to win with a trick, over students with real talents. And in the meantime, his new found-friendship with Ricardo is not pleasing the Hoove at all.
The Ghost Buddy stories are funny. This one is just as entertaining as the first. Once again the Hoove tries to make Billy cool, and once again, Billy struggles with the ethics of his ghost buddy’s plans.

Underneath the humorous storyline and banter, the story explores more serious problems which often face young teens. The social issues of friendships, bullies, popularity and loyalties can seem insurmountable at that age, let alone the insecurities surrounding embarrassing families and interacting with the opposite sex. These are all touched on in a light, but not superficial, way.

Some readers may find the story very American in flavour, and there is a strong emphasis on baseball, but apart from not understanding the references to historic baseball players, I didn’t find this a bad thing. I look forward to the next instalment of Billy’s adventures with his ghost.

A great read for 10 years and up.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

We’re Going on a Croc Hunt

We’re Going on a Croc Hunt by Laine Mitchell, illustrated by Louis Shea (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74283– 248-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

We’re Going on a Croc Hunt is a reinvention of a familiar catchy rhyme and has a strong Australian flavour.

The rhythmic refrain:

                                              We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. 
                                                      We’ll have to go through it!

is unaltered, but the obstacles have been cleverly changed to reflect the Australian landscape. Waterholes, hot trickly sand, and spiky brown scrub now bar the way for the adventurous heroes.

I love Louis Shea’s bright, bold and comic style of illustration. He has a talent for animals – these are so full of expression and character that you feel you know them already as the string of six brave friends set off in search of a croc. They take turns to the lead and as they travel further into the adventure, some of the friends drop off, unable to get through an obstacle.

There is so much to look at in the illustrations. What happens on the periphery of the action is fun too. Yabbies are nipping at the devil’s toes, lizards are frying insects on a hot rock in the desert and I love the luminescent frogs in the swamp. The stunned expression on the face of a firefly as a fat frog sleepily shoots out his tongue and wraps it around the poor insects body is fabulous. And all the time the heroes are going ‘sneaky, sneak, sneaky, sneak’ through the dark, spooky swamp.
The last line of the story is a wonderful surprise.

Play the included CD and sing along with children’s entertainer Jay Laga’aia, in a humorous and lively version of this well-known song. This can be read, re-read, chanted, acted out and listened to over and over again. For pre-school aged children.


Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Third Door

The Third Door by Emily Rodda (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-86291– 9142-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Emily Rodda is a mesmerising storyteller. She makes the reader hold their breath and plunge into Rye and Sonia’s worlds as they venture once again beyond the safety of The Weld’s outer walls. This time Rye is able to choose the ancient wooden door and - with his three companions, Sonia, Sholto and Dirk, - embark on their third quest to save their home from the skimmers.

Skimmers have always terrorised life in the Weld at night, but the children’s discovery beyond the Silver Door, intensified this threat. The Lord of Shadows is breeding skimmers, or slays, which can attack in the daylight hours too.

Rye and his friends face many perils as they use their charm, wits, magic and all weapons at their disposal to discover the answer to their problems. But the source of danger may be closer to home than they realise.

Having not read the first two books in the Three Doors Trilogy, there were times in the story I felt confused and a little lost. But I was kept fully engaged by the richness of the worlds Rodda has created, the beautiful writing and the depth she achieves in the wonderfully complex and likeable characters which populate the adventure.

This is a story which explores, not just the black and white of people – and societies – actions, but also the many shades of grey. Mysterious and intriguing, this book was well paced with quieter parts allowing space to digest information and admire the scenery before being plunged back into action.

An exhilarating ride for all lovers of fantasy, magic and epic adventures from 10 years and up.
The Third Door is the final book after The Golden Door and The Silver Door. Readers would get the most out of them if they read them in order.

Emily Rodda has written many popular fantasy series for children including Deltora Quest, Rowan of Rin and Fairy Realm.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Bureau of Mysteries and The Mechanomancers

Bureau of Mysteries and The Mechanomancers by HJ Harper, illustrated by Nahum Ziersch (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781742756486
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742756493
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

George Feather, chimney sweep and assistant cryptographer, is on the trail of the Mechanomancers, ‘ancient evil beings that mixed magic and technology to terrorise the world!’

In this sequel for 8 – 12 year olds, author, HJ Harper has created a fantastic, almost Dickensian world, melding genres of Steampunk, Western and Detective Novel with a pinch of James Bond thrown in. It’s a combination to intrigue most readers.

The young protagonist, George, with the aid of his Cryptographer’s Compendium (his code-breaking book) and his partner, Imp Spektor, have to save the mysterious metropolis of Little Obscurity. They team up with adventurer, Lord Periwinkle Tinkerton, who travels with his scribing assistant, Lexica Quill, in his mechanical mammothmobile.

Together they battle mechanical bulls and icebergs of garbage; they ride on a giant grey rat called Bubonic through the sewerage dungeons and joust giant lice.

George uses all the tools of the trade in his quest to eradicate the Mechanomancers. He has Antigravity Gauntlets and Eyeopener Goggles. There are skypirates and skydragons. The adventure twists and turns as each chapter ends on a hook.

The reader rollicks along with George as he comes across many codes that he has to crack. This is a strength of the book, as young readers will pit their wits against George, in the quest to work out the clues and eliminate the enemy.

There is clever wordplay throughout that keeps you chuckling. There are clichés and puns (the Clockness Monster, Joust in Time). The use of first person includes lots of internal dialogue, so you know what George Feather is thinking.

All is wonderfully illustrated in Nahum Ziersch’s stylised black and white panels that depict characters and scenes along the way.

Twist follows twist towards the last third of the book. You don’t know the goodies from the baddies as you weave in and out of the story. In the end, it’s down to the power of the pen … and the ability to decipher codes.