Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Simon Meets Mrs Twinkle For the First Time

Simon Meets Mrs Twinkle For the First Time by Annabelle Wadsworth, illustrated by Annabelle Wadsworth (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781921928994
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Lately, young Simon has missed school a lot due to illness. His mum says it’s ‘growing pains’. Bored, he stares out the window and spots a huge star that he decides is a friend. He asks for her name and she introduces herself as Mrs Twinkle, suggesting they ‘forget your problems’ and take a trip together. Simon climbs aboard one of her ‘twinkly starbeam arms’ and off they go.

They explore various parts of Australia, first stopping to swim in a Sydney bay where Simon meets an octopus who explains how he uses his eight legs to get about. In the bush they meet a koala who complains of humans taking poor care of his species by not looking after trees. And in the rainforest they see a huge carpet snake that is harmless ‘as long as people don’t touch them’.

Mrs Sparkle begins hugging a tree and says that trees turn dirty air into oxygen that Simon can breathe and she suggests that Simon thank them. Simon is delighted at his surrounds and runs around saying that he is a tree and can keep growing and getting stronger every day. Mrs Twinkle smiles, pleased that he’s feeling happier and then tells him it’s time to return home.

Once back in bed Simon is visited by Mum. He tells her he’s feeling much better and wants to go to school. She replies that he’s been sleeping all morning and dreaming about a special friend but that this seems to have helped and going to school half a day tomorrow should be fine. Stardust falling on Simon’s hand tells him it was no dream and he looks forward to seeing Mrs Sparkle again.

The size of the font in the text, its colour and the background it appears on varies constantly, breaking up the look of pages. An Australian map in one illustration makes for a simple introduction to our country and vivid and sparkly illustrations in bold colours show what is happening as the text tells it. These, combined with quality production, give a lovely and inviting appearance.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Ghost Club 3 – A Transylvanian Tale

Ghost Club 3 – A Transylvanian Tale by Deborah Abela (Random House)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781742758534
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742758541
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Award winning author, Deborah Abela, uses her wit and humour in this third book in the Ghost Club series.

Ghost tracker siblings, Angeline and Edgar and their friend Dylan are off to their first Ghost Club convention in Transylvania, ‘home to so many stories, legends of paranormal activity, mythical beasts and, of course, Count Dracula.’

Staying at Hotel Varcolac (Romanian for werewolf), candles flicker and heads of wild boar hang on wooden shields. The children gather their ghost-catching gear and head to the Fortress of Fear with its cold spots, moving shadows, footsteps, slamming doors and skeletons under glass floor panels.

It’s a night of zombies, ghouls, vampires, mummies and all things creepy.

Young readers itching to be scared silly will love the series of events that happen while the children wait for the arrival of the famous ghost catcher, Ripley Granger. But, is Ripley really the greatest ghost catcher, or has his life become one tall story? At a crucial ghost-catching moment, Ripley disappears and the children trek off into the wild woods in search of their hero. They find him in a shack where ‘ragged mountain tops loomed like hunched monsters ready to pounce … and tree branches threw shadows like grasping claws or vampire teeth …’

The children encourage Ripley to help them reunite Vlad the Impaler with his long lost love and it’s here that Ripley learns to face his problems. This is a welcome message for young readers who have to face challenges that they would rather run away from. Ripley overcomes his fears ‘otherwise he may have been haunted the rest of his life by giving up on his true talent.’

Scattered throughout the book are snippets of ghostly trivia, like planting rosemary, hanging horseshoes and banging drums to deter ghosts.

Abela has used spooky puns on names throughout, such as Ripley, Edgar, Herman and the family name of Usher. Adult readers will quickly identify these and have a chuckle.

Readers 8+ will identify well with the child characters and have lots of laughs and scares along the way. Deborah Abela is a legend when it comes to storytelling with so many books to her credit, like The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon and the Max Remy Superspy and Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

What the Raven Saw

What the Raven Saw by Samantha-Ellen Bound (Woolshed Press)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781742757353
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742757360
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

On first sighting the gothic cover of What the Raven Saw I was reminded of Edgar Allan Poe’s equally gothic poem, The Raven, with its dark imagery and philosophical concepts.

Readers who love something different, something ethereal, something a little enigmatic, will enjoy this extraordinary and original tale about a raven that lives in the belltower of Father Cadman’s church. Here, the raven converses with a bookish but inferior pigeon, a flirty weather vane and the many ghosts who inhabit the graveyard.

The raven is vainglorious as he preens and protects his treasure of ‘bottlecaps and silver-stippled stones, curls of flashing tin … human jewels … gleaming slender bones of small animals.’ 

But there are other stories happening around the raven. There’s the child-ghost of Todd, who has just been buried. His sister, Mackenzie, frets that his death is her fault. Somehow the raven finds a way to communicate between the two.

There’s the man who the raven sees in the churchyard tree; he is full of despair and ready to jump. The raven ‘dealt out life’s lessons in the branches of a tree’ and saved the man’s life. There’s a lonely scarecrow in a nearby field in need of solace, and a church thief. Both come under the watchful wing and the philosophical wisdom of the raven.

The concepts of this book are old, almost fable-like. You learn that beneath the raven’s cool, black feathers, there is a soul both proud and lonely. He loves to live in Father Cadman’s church as it welcomes all creatures.

Beauty is found in death, in storms, in tatty old scarecrows, ‘everything from tombs to abandoned wheelbarrows to the spires of the church, (they) had a lightness, a sense of belonging to only themselves’. This is the crux of the story.

It’s a book about mythology and symbolism. Its values are those of generosity and kindness and its themes are of loneliness, helping others and dealing with death. It’s about philosophy and finding your voice.

Samantha-Ellen Bound has done a fine job in writing such a layered, complex and compelling story that will hold the interest of readers 11+. Next time you see a raven, look it in the eye and wonder what it’s thinking.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Watcher In The Shadows

The Watcher In The Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Text Publishing)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-192192252-7
ISBN for eBook 9781921961670
Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald

If you are over 13 years old and you like reading ghost stories laced with horror, mystery, romance and suspense I think you will like The Watcher in the Shadows by Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

In the beginning of this story Simone Sauvelle’s husband dies and she soon discovers her family has been left in major debt. It is winter in Paris in 1937. Simone needs to find a way to support her daughter Irene (age 14) and her younger son, Dorian.

Good fortune comes to them when Simone is offered a job in Blue Bay, a small village on the coast of Normandy in France.  A wealthy inventor and toy manufacturer named Lazarus Jann needs a housekeeper to help take care of his run-down mansion set in the eerie forest of Cravenmoore.

Using descriptive language Zafón cleverly introduces Blue Bay as a tranquil idyllic setting. We see the family settle into their new home called Seaview which is a modest house perched on the tip of a cliff overlooking the ocean.

Happily they have left their problems behind in cold old Paris. In Blue Bay we meet a friendly, chatty young girl called Hannah. We watch Irene fall in love with Hannah’s cousin, Ismael.  Dorian is happy sketching maps. Simone enjoys the work and is gets on well with her new boss, Lazarus.

But, as Lazarus warns, ‘The image of reality we perceive with our eyes is only an illusion, an optical effect.’  The mood of the story soon changes as we begin to discover the murky secrets that surround Lazarus and Cravenmoore.

Zafón takes us on a romp through dark shadows with sinister mechanical automatons, strange lights, deep secrets and fierce battles against dangerous creatures.

I was swept along, left trembling and totally hooked by this fantastical, magical adventure.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón draws on the tradition of suspense and gothic fiction. You might like to read more of his books- The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, The Midnight Palace or The Prince of Mist.  

Friday, 26 April 2013

Robert Irwin Dinosaur Hunter

Robert Irwin Dinosaur Hunter - series by Jack Wells, illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $9.95 each
Book 1 - The Discovery
ISBN 9871864718454
Book 2 - Ambush at Cisco Swamp
ISBN 9871864718461
Book 3 - Armoured Defence
ISBN 9871742750910
Book 4 - The Dinosaur Feather
ISBN 9871742750927
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

This new series featuring Robert Irwin, son of Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, is every boy’s dream. With the aid of a dinosaur claw fossil, 9-year-old Robert and his friend, Riley, time travel back 95 million years into the Cretaceous era where they witness first hand living with (and escaping from) dinosaurs.

Imagine being in the middle of a dinosaur stampede or crawling through a swamp, or camping in the Badlands of Canada or finding an abandoned dinosaur egg in prehistoric China.

Each book features a particular dinosaur. The font is large and clear and the chapters are scattered with black and white sketches heightening the action. The level of language is suitable for the readership of 6 – 9 year olds. Challenging words are used that will make readers feel more grown up, words like: carnivore, palaeontologist, Cretaceous as well as the Latin names of the various dinosaurs. Readers will love all the prehistoric facts and finding out how to use a fossicker’s took kit to find fossils.

At the back of each book is a field guide detailing the chosen dinosaur. Lots of interesting information is given about their discovery, physical characteristics and the origin of their names. Robert Irwin has also sketched each dinosaur.

Book 1 – The Discovery takes place in Winton, in outback Queensland. Robert and Riley are at the dinosaur digs. Robert is chipping away and discovers a dinosaur claw that becomes his portal. He is ‘dragged down a plughole really fast’ into the prehistoric world to a waterhole where the dinosaurs ‘don’t have good table manners.’ As he is about to be made into a prehistoric meal, he is whisked back to the dino lab in Winton.

Book 2 – Ambush at Cisco Swamp. Robert and Riley are on a research trip to the Cisco Swamp in Texas for the annual census of alligators, where they tag, measure and weigh each gator. Robert soon finds himself in the prehistoric swampland where he comes face to face with the largest prehistoric crocodile, four times bigger than its relative today. The croc is angry as it has a stick lodged in its massive jaw. Robert creatively thinks of a solution making sure he doesn’t become a ‘boy-sized meal’. A flock of pterosaurs wheel overhead as an enormous carnivore with ‘blood-stained teeth’ runs clumsily towards him. After a battle between the land dinos and the water dinos, Robert is back in the present, telling Riley of his adventures. Next time, Riley’s going with him!

Book 3 – Armoured Defence. The boys are camping in the Canadian Badlands, where the T-rex, Triceratops and Stegosaur roamed. At night, they are tumbled into the vortex of time travel to 70 million years ago, where instead of the desert they had left, they are in a swamp with quicksand and monster-sized mozzies. Vines have trapped a duck-billed dino and a meat-eating gorgosaurus is after it as an easy meal. Riley goes missing as Robert rescues the trapped dino only to become the target of the hungry predator.

Book 4 – The Dinosaur Feather. Back at Australia Zoo, where Robert lives with his family, he is making a video of the cassowary, the third largest bird in the world. There is a theme of evolution here as the boys are whisked to prehistoric China where they come in contact with an oviraptor, a dinosaur completely covered in colourful feathers. They find an abandoned egg and go in search of its nest only to be confronted by a giant dino, 9 metres long with a horn on its forehead. It is searching the trees for tasty birds and perhaps a couple of tasty humans!

What’s also exciting for lovers of all things prehistoric is that there are four more Robert Irwin Dinosaur Hunter books scheduled for release later in the year.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Mimosa Tree

The Mimosa Tree by Antonella Preto (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9-781-922-089-199
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

Set in suburban Australia, it's the summer of 1987 and Mira is beginning her first year at uni. No more school. No more unnatural politeness. No more apologising for being different. She's got a radical new haircut, and an all black wardrobe - she should be having the time of her life.

But it's hard to get excited about anything when you're being smothered by a crazy Italian family, enrolled in a course you're not interested in, and waiting to see if it's America or Russia that drops the first bomb.

Even a new best friend and the magnetic boy with the eyeliner can't rid Mira of the feeling that something terrible is about to happen. And she's right. Her world is about to explode, but it's not the skies she should be checking.

From the onset of this novel you enjoy and appreciate Preto’s beautifully formed and well written prose. I struggled initially with the characters and the setting as it’s an era I can remember only too well and the last thing I want is to dwell on my own teenage years, but it didn’t take me long to become absorbed and swept along by the storyline. It was totally engrossing.

Preto’s characters are interesting and engaging and quirky. Some I absolutely loved, and others I simply detested. At times I found the story very funny, the banter between Mira’s mother and her Aunt Via could be hilarious and yet poignant at other times.

While going through her own growing pains, poor Mira has to deal with the loss of her mother and it’s painful for all involved, including the reader. Preto too lost her own mother at 17 years of age and she handles this situation with care and sensitivity.

If you love Italian food, the sensory descriptions are delectable.

This is Antonella Preto’s first novel and I highly recommend it for Young Adults readers.

Neridah McMullin is the author of three books for children. Her latest book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to Me!' It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also just happens to love footy!) www.neridahmcmullin.com

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Amazing Spencer Gray

The Amazing Spencer Gray by Deb Fitzpatrick (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9-781-922-089-489328
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

Spencer Gray is twelve – finally old enough to join Dad in his glider. His mates are going to be so jealous!

Going up is awesome.  Spencer can’t believe they’re actually there; can’t believe he and his dad are flying in an aircraft with no engine high above the earth, the paddocks green and yellow squares below them. Crazy.

And, as it turns out, it is.

When disaster strikes the glider mid-flight, Spencer will need to be nothing short of amazing.
Spencer is a funny, self-effacing and engaging character who will connect and be well liked by the upper primary readership.

All is going swimmingly well in Spencer’s until one day, when he and his Dad are out gliding a freak storm blows up and the glider is flipped by strong winds and smashed into the side of a mountain. Spencer’s Dad is badly hurt and drifting in and out of consciousness and their location isolated and thick with scrub.

It’s irresistible not to put yourself in Spencer’s shoes (I did!). How’s he going to cope? It would be so hard to know how you would react under such circumstances.

Spencer, however, is calm and logical and clear headed in his approach to the situation, weighing up all his options for rescue, how to make his Dad more comfortable, how to patch that nasty gash on his head, and his knee at a funny angle – don’t even go there! You can really feel Spencer’s fear and uncertainty and you know that he’s trying really hard to be brave. You go this journey with Spencer to get help and he does an ‘amazing’ job to achieve what he does.

Spencer copes admirably albeit he ends up with a bit of posttraumatic shock after the event.
This story is told warmly and with humour and would be a terrific read for 12 years + readers. I highly recommend this book.

Neridah McMullin is the author of three books for children. Her latest book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to Me!' It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also just happens to love footy!) www.neridahmcmullin.com

Zachary's Odyssey

Zachary's Odyssey by Antoinette Conolly (selfpublished by Antoinette Conolly)
PB RRP $16 plus $4 postage and handling
ISBN 0977586006
Reviewed by Julie Sutton

Zachary is staying with his Aunt Jane and unable to sleep one night he wanders outside. Aunt Jane's cat follows him and the two stumble upon a cave. Zachary trips and lands on a stone which whirs and spins. The next thing Zachary knows is that he is in a forest with a cat which is nearly as large as him, talks and calls himself Mactavish.

Zachary and Mactavish must now find their way home. In the quest the two come across talking and walking trees, strange cities populated by chess pieces or robots and villages where dolls talk in rhyme to name just a few of the creatures they meet. In Faunalia, where animals rule, Zachary and Mactavish gain an audience with the Grand Wizard, a two metre high white unicorn. They find out that they must find their way home to Wattle Bay in the next three days or be trapped in the world of Cauchemar forever. On their last part of their journey to a corridor back to Earth, they must travel across lands of vicious and ugly beasts which tear apart their prey.

Fortunately, the two find their way with assistance and they find their way back to home. Aunt Jane is none the wiser and Mactavish has returned to cat size and Zachary can longer hear him speak.

Zachary's Odyssey is the first book in the Cauchemar Trilogy.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Song for a Scarlet Runner

Song for a Scarlet Runner by Julie Hunt (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74331-358-9
Reviewed by Ann Harth (www.annharth.com )

Nine-year-old Peat and her sister, Marlie, live at the Overhang, a simple rock shelter they’ve made into a home. They care for a small herd of cattle and survive on their wits and the meagre supplies their aunt brings from the neighbouring settlement of Skerrick (a name as dismal and gritty as the place).

A stranger passes through one day and Peat gives him directions to Skerrick. She is unaware that he is carrying a deadly disease. When the townspeople become ill, Peat is blamed and chased from the only home she’s ever known.

Peat is alone and frightened. She travels aimlessly, only wishing to survive. Along the way, a small but strange creature joins her. The agile sleek keeps Peat on her toes as he bites and scratches but also supplies her with food. She cannot decide whether he is a friend or enemy, but has no choice but to follow him. He leads her deep into the marshes where she is trapped by Eadie, one of the Marsh Aunties. Peat’s leg is broken.

Eadie, a healer and storyteller, decides that Peat will be her apprentice. Peat wants her freedom, but her broken leg keeps her from fleeing. In the meantime, Eadie teaches her the power of words. Peat is a fast learner, intrigued by the magical influences the Marsh Auntie’s stories seem to have on real life.

Eadie has business in The Hub, a multi-storied metropolis a few days away. She bundles Peat into a boat and they set out on the river. The sleek travels with them at times but disappears without warning. His loyalty is still a puzzle. Peat’s leg grows stronger every day and, by the time they reach the Hub, she is healed and begins to plan her escape.

Soon after their arrival, Peat misses her only chance to run. This is a dangerous mistake as she quickly discovers that Eadie has a debt to pay and Peat’s life is the price.

Song for a Scarlet Runner is the story of a young girl’s search for truth, friendship and family. The characters are unique and memorable and Peat inspires great empathy. She is feisty, brave and intelligent. Once I opened this book, she rarely left my mind until I had finished. Peat’s character invites the reader to become totally immersed in her story.

The multiple twists and turns in Song for a Scarlet Runner will enthral any child over the age of 12. This fast-paced, emotive book will leave the reader smiling.

Julie Hunt lives in a mud brick house with a composting toilet on a farm in southern Tasmania. As a child she wanted to be a boy, a ballerina or a trumpet player. We are lucky – she became a writer instead. She attended a festival in Ireland which helped her to write Song for a Scarlet Runner. For more information on Julie Hunt, please visit: http://www.juliehunt.com.au.

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

Monday, 22 April 2013

For Valour: Australia’s Victoria Cross Heroes

Our Stories - For Valour: Australia’s Victoria Cross Heroes by Nicholas Brasch (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 17.95
ISBN 9781742032313
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Victoria Cross (VC)was first introduced by Queen Victoria in 1856 (thus its name) to honour British soldiers for their acts of heroism in the Crimean War. The medal is created out of bronze taken from the Russian canons captured by the British in that war.

In this book from the Our Stories series, Australia's 99 recipients of the Victoria Cross are represented. Twenty-six of these were awarded posthumously. The entries begin from the Boer War addressing why it was fought and how Australians took part in it, with a biography on the first Australian to receive the VC during the Boer War, Neville Howse. We learn the origins of the VC, and get a comprehensive breakdown of why and how World War One started in a clear, easy-to-follow setting.

Sixty-four Australians received the VC in World War One, the first being Albert Jacka. There is reference to Leonard Keysor, a bomb thrower at Lone Pine during the Gallipoli campaign, Hugo Throssell, the only recipient from the Lighthorse Regiment, who was the husband of author, Katherine Susanna Prichard, and Reginald Inwood, who was stoned by the people of Broken Hill who were opposed to the war as he departed, then was heralded a hero by the same people on his return. The pictures are made up of posters and photos of the VC recipients from archives.

Amazing stories of short but significant lives continue into the North Russia Campaign, then to World War Two, onto the Vietnam War, and ending in the War in Afghanistan. It showcases a few of the lives that were ‘firsts’ through photos, accompanied by a brief biography and the situation which led to the VC award. At the end, there is a list of the VC recipients for each campaign, a Glossary and an Index.

The Promise: The Town That Never Forgets: N’oublions jamais l’Australia

The Promise: The Town That Never Forgets: N’oublions jamais l’Australia by Derek Guille, illustrated by Kaff-eine, translated by Anne-Sophie Biguet (One Day Hill)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-9873139-6-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

In the north of France is a village called Villers-Bretonneux. This village, only an hour from Paris, has a special connection to Australia. Nearly one hundred years ago, the citizens of Villers-Bretonneux made a promise to never forget the Australians who saved them from occupation during World War I.

And as former ABC radio presenter Derek Guille discovered in 2007, when he accompanied the members of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to Villers-Bretonneux, the village has made good on this promise.

This is an eye opening book about a part of our history and present of which I knew nothing. Guille writes not only about the war which occupied the village, but also about the rebuilding, about the bonds formed, and about the interest and knowledge the village has of Australia to this day.

He also writes about the performance of the Melbourne Villers-Bretonneux Brass Ensemble at a ceremony held in the war memorial at the edge of the village. Nelson Ferguson was one of the Australian soldiers wounded in the 1918 ANZAC Day battle which halted the German advance into the village. Almost a century later, his grandson was one of the musicians honouring him. Via a mobile phone held high in the air, the vast distance was bridged and family members in Melbourne listened to the service.

This is a picture book with a difference. It is non-fiction with much more words than would normally be in this format. This makes it suitable for older children and with the text blending historical facts with the author’s personal experience it reads smoothly as a narrative story. Each page is first in English, then in French which helps to further convey the connection between the Australians and the French.

I love the painted illustrations. They are unique, compelling me to keep turning the pages and to really look at each one. They exude an atmosphere of playfulness, colour, movement and hope. Even the pictures of the war focus on bandaging the wounded rather than battle scenes.

The ending is wonderfully rounded out with the mention of Villers-Bretonneux helping Victoria rebuild schools after the Black Saturday bushfires. The illustration which accompanies this is my favourite.

In bringing the air of friendship to the fore, Guille’s writing style makes this story an interesting, emotional and uplifting one as well as being informative. I must admit, it brought tears to my eyes as I read the last page. I hope many children, teens and adults read this book. It illustrates the importance of community and how small the world really is.

Night Watch

Night Watch by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Janine Dawson (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921504365
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

Giraffe, Elephant, Hippo and Baboon live by the lake. All have very busy lives and apart from a polite nod of the head, wave of the trunk, swish of the tail or gruff grunt; they rarely spoke to each other. Until one day Giraffe sees the shadow of Lion creeping closer and closer. Can the animals band together to scare Lion away?

This book is a delight to read out loud. The text is full of movement and colour, with language children will love to repeat. Always love a good Boom Boom Boompety Boom and Splish Splash Burp!

Dawson’s vibrant watercolour illustrations bring the landscape and the animals to life. I especially love the hippos swimming in the lake. There is so much joy in their expressions. Priceless.

This book is suitable for pre-school and lower primary age children. It would offer the chance to discuss sound and movement, shadows and music, as well as being a great book to read at bedtime. 

A Key to Time

A Key to Time by Antoinette Conolly (self published by Antoinette Conolly)
PB RRP $16 plus $4 p&h
ISBN 9780977586035
Reviewed by Julie Sutton

A Key in Time begins with Mr and Mrs Kelly at the hospital bedside of their daughter Bethany, who has been burnt in a fire. We are then taken through the story of how Bethany has ended up in hospital.

When nine-year-old Bethany buys a charm bracelet at a local market, and later discovers a music box in the summer house, she finds that the key charm fits the clock on the music box. But this is no ordinary music box; it is a time travel machine and Bethany travels through time, at first back and then forwards. Central to the story is the big house Bethany and her family have recently moved to. She meets previous and future inhabitants of the house in all its incarnations including a hospital, a school, a farm and back to the time where no house stood.

Along the way she picks up some fellow time travellers, Rose from the 1950s and William from the 1920s. The children have difficulty in working the music box and fear that they will never return to their respective times. That is until they find themselves in 2100 and they meet Raygen who finds out how the clock works and the best way for the children to find their way home. William, an orphan, does not desire to return home and opts for 1950, becoming part of Rose’s family. When Bethaany returns to 2012, she finds herself in a fire. Bethany recovers from her burns and discovers through old newspaper reports that Rose and William end up in England.

The children’s reactions to the technology of different eras are interesting. Despite their youth, they are very knowledgeable and react in a mature fashion. Their dilemmas are solved quickly and easily and at no stage was it felt that the children were in any real danger in whatever situation they found themselves. A Key to Time is for younger readers. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ten Green Geckos

Ten Green Geckos by Phillip Gwynne, illustrated by Lloyd Foye (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283– 348-4
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ever since I saw my first wild gecko on holiday many years ago, they have fascinated me and held a place in my heart. They are such cute, awkward creatures with big eyes and toes. And the geckos in Ten Little Geckos are super cute. I think they’ll be a huge hit with children.

Based on the popular driving and campfire song Ten Green Bottles, this is a counting book with a difference; the count is backwards. As the geckos do the sorts of things geckos do – walking upside down, eating flies and climbing the walls – they drop out of the story one by one.

There were eight green geckos swimming in the sink
But when one green gecko had a bit too much to drink
        There were only seven green geckos swimming in the sink.

I found the text a little bumpy in parts. The rhymes were sometimes slightly off and as I’m used to the rhythm of Ten Green Bottles it was hard to read without wanting to add a repeat line at the beginning of each stanza. But this was a small issue and the humour and exuberance of the words far outweighed these bumps.

I loved the bright illustrations. The geckos (and the mouse) are playful and fun. Look out for the gecko that drops off the ceiling fan!

Children from two years and up are going to love this book, laugh out loud and learn their backwards counting. It is a very entertaining read.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

My Australian Story: Gallipoli

My Australian Story: Gallipoli by Alan Tucker (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-693-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

On the 25th of April, 1915, in one of Australia’s most well-known military campaigns, Allied forces landed on the Gallipoli peninsula and attempted to push back the Turkish defenders.

Gallipoli tells this story of Victor March, who, along with his new mates, Robbo, Fish and Needle, is among the first wave of soldiers to land at Anzac Cove. Desperate to leave world of the mines where he works as a pickey-boy, fourteen year old Victor views the war as an escape. He grabs the opportunity as a chance to travel, have adventures and do his bit for his country. With his parents permission he lies about his age and enlists in the 10th Battalion of the AIF. What he finds changes him and everything he thinks about the world.

Written in diary form, Gallipoli is an intimate account of Victor’s experiences, while the addition of letters from home also gives an insight into life in Australia at the time. The writing is straight forward and Victor’s voice is down to earth and genuine with just a trace of humour. These things keep the story from becoming too heavy or depressing which is a good thing as the author does not shy away from the realities of war or the horrors of the trenches – the lice, the dysentery, the confusion, the stench, the killing, the fear and especially the growing realization that the Turks in the enemy trenches were just boys like them. One of the most poignant moments for me was that after passing notes and food between the trenches, the ANZACs and the Turks had to go back to shooting at each other.

An engrossing and well-written story about Australia’s history is a great way to learn about our past. This story is both. It shows the mundane problems which affect soldiers, such as seasickness and boredom, as well as the shocking and bloody battles. Gallipoli is a balanced story which depicts the awakening consciousness of young men faced with the realities of war, along with the growing realisation that the line between right and wrong, good and bad, is never clear.

I would urge young boys in particular, from twelve years to read this, but I think adults would enjoy this and learn much from Gallipoli as well.

Meet … Ned Kelly

Meet … Ned Kelly by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Matt Adams (Random House Australia)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781742757186
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742757209
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

I like the idea of “Meet …” as it’s an invitation to get to know, perhaps personally understand, many of the iconic men and women who have shaped Australia.

Meet … Ned Kelly is the first in this picture book series that spans the education and trade markets.

Told in verse, the story comes alive. The reader is involved in the action, just like in the bush ballads of Ned Kelly’s era. The font has a nostalgic look, as if it’s hot off an old-fashioned printing press.

The armour protected Ned’s arms, head and waist.
The bullets bounced off one by one.
Sergeant Steele took a shot at Ned’s legs that were bare.
With a cry, Ned collapsed and was done.

We all know how Ned’s life ended, but we are given a poignant insight into his early life of poverty and fatherlessness and how his mother was gaoled with her young baby. We share the major turning points in Ned’s life both by verse and by following the handy timeline at the back of the book.

As a young boy we learn how Ned saved a drowning child. He is presented with a sash for his bravery. Another poignant moment is the revelation that under his suit of armour, in the shoot out at Glenrowan, Ned is wearing the same sash from childhood provoking discussion on how deeply we are affected as children, along with the need to know that we have worth.

Matt Adams’ illustrations are evocative of Sidney Nolan’s famous Ned Kelly series, with hints of other landscape painters of the era, like Arthur Streeton and Russell Drysdale. Sometimes, it’s like I’m standing in an art gallery. Young readers will connect to the pathos and humour within the illustrations as they engage with Australian history. The cover is startling as you face Ned close up. He is kitted in his ironclad helmet and armour, although I would love to have seen a peek of the green sash that he was wearing underneath.

Award-winning author Janeen Brian has captured the essence of our most legendary bushranger and award-winning illustrator Matt Adams has brought him to life with colour and texture. An excellent read for 8+.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis (Walker Books)
HB RRP $ 17.95
ISBN 9781406339802
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Timmy is CEO of detective agency Failure Inc. which he runs with his polar bear partner Total, and by secretly using his mother’s Segway that he calls the Failuremobile.

Timmy has an over-active imagination and is obsessed with greatness and achieving success in order to alleviate his mother’s constant worry about money. In truth, he is totally clueless and gets everything wrong, even if he is always off following clues for some case or another. But his quirky character and activities keep the laughs coming.

Besides Timmy, there are other secondary characters just as quirky. Rollo is determined to go to ‘Stanfurd’ therefore studies constantly, with the help of Evil in Disguise whose name Timmy never mentions. She becomes his rival in the detective business. Then there is Timmy’s persistent admirer Molly Moskins, who is determined to smother Timmy with affection at every opportunity.

There are two ways to view Timmy. He is the eternal optimist; a boy who believes he is ‘a genius unrecognized’ whose self-delusion leads to extraordinary situations and conversations that are unbelievably ridiculous, but sharp and entertaining.

The other way is to view him as a detached child who lives in the imaginary world he has created, who also has vulnerable moments. These make him real in an unreal environment.

Whichever way Timmy is viewed, it all leads to an entertaining read about bizarre characters that do bizarre things. My ten year old reader didn’t stop laughing until he closed the back cover. (A true indication of a successful book)

Stephan Pastis’ imaginative and first book in the Timmy series follows his highly successful comic strip, Pearls Before Swine. Young readers will experience a twisted delight in reading this, and without doubt incessantly quote its creative and clever narrative.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Somewhere in Australia

Somewhere in Australia by Marcello Pennacchio, illustrated by Danny Snell (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74169– 522-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

There are many picture books available at the moment that are based on classic rhymes or songs. Some lack something and do not work so well, whereas others use the original to create a story which has its own point of difference and unique quality.

Somewhere in Australia is one of the latter. The author has used Australian animals and habitats to reinvent the classic children’s rhyme Down in the Meadow. Some of the animals chosen are iconic – such as the kookaburra, platypus and kangaroo – and some of them are lesser known – the thorny devil, red-back spider and the death adder – but all of them are uniquely Australian and all of them are placed in the beautifully placed in their settings.

In the Blue Mountains of Australia, near a Wollemi Pine,
lived a mother green frog and her little froglets nine.
‘Jump,’ said the mother. ‘We jump,’ said the nine,
as they jumped and they leaped near a Wollemi pine.

The rhythm is not perfect but it is close, and the actions of each animal will delight young listeners. The counting element and the gorgeous pictures of animals with their babies will also appeal.

This hardcover book would make a wonderful gift, especially to overseas friends. It showcases the diversity of Australia’s natural environment, it’s fun to read out loud and the artwork is stunning.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Light

The Light by Jo Oliver (New Frontier Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921928413
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Jo Oliver’s love affair with the sea continues and her skill as an author and illustrator takes the reader with her as we are introduced to the lighthouse keeper and his family. The closeness of the family is evident as they spend their time together doing chores, schoolwork and spending leisure time together. The isolation of the island seems almost a gift to them.

The harsh but beautiful landscape and music are interwoven throughout the story. Father plays his fiddle, Loulou plays her tin whistle on the rocks while watching seals bask in the sun, and as a storm brews in the evening, the family joins together for songs as Mother’s piano playing joins the whistle and fiddle. The storm delivers a shipwrecked crew of four to their door, guided to safety by the light and the music.

Jo Oliver’s illustrations perfectly complement the tone of the story and extend the sparse, poetic text to further draw the reader into this other world. The illustrations are solar plate etchings. They are a non-chemical way of producing an etching plate from a drawing using sunlight. The plate is then inked, wiped and printed using an etching press. The ink on the surface of the plate gives tonal depth in addition to the etched lines. The prints are then hand coloured with watercolour. 

The backdrop of sheet music for some illustration spreads further highlights how essential music is to this family. While first and foremost an illustrator, Oliver’s writing skills are exemplary. She sets a sense of foreboding within only a few deftly crafted sentences in the lead up to the storm. I highly recommend this book for school, home and public libraries.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Yobbos Do Yoga

Yobbos Do Yoga by Phillip Gwynne and Andrew Joyner (Little Hare Books)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921714832
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

With a catchy title and lively cover illustrations, Yobbos do Yoga immediately draws the reader in. The narrator of the story is a small, dark-haired girl whose neighbours have moved out (with their noisy cat, Sir Reginald the Third). The girl's dad is at peace to do his favourite yoga poses — the fish, the lightning rod and the salute to the sun. Then, with their cars in the front yard and their dogs in the backyard, yobbos move in next door.   
The newcomers have a party where there is yobbo music, yobbo dancing and yobbos singing yobbo songs. Dad gets so angry he can't do his yoga any more. But when the little girl goes over the fence to get her ball and actually meets Tubby, Ferret and King Wally Kahuna, they call her Princess and give her cordial. Even their dogs let her pat them. She knows if she can just get her father to talk to these nice people, he might begin to get along with them.
This is a humorous story about tolerance and the importance of not judging people by appearances. The very Australian prose, use of repetition and the colourful illustrations work together to allow the readers to come to their own conclusions, way before the dad does. The friendly-looking yobbos have flannelette shirts, ACDC t-shirts and one has a great mullet. The skinny dad with his bald patch and spectacles is a nice contrast.
Suitable for children over the age of three (and quite a good read for adults as well) Yobbos Do Yoga ends on a positive note with everyone joining in for a yoga session.
Phillip Gwynne's picture books include Ruby Learns to Swim and The Queen with the Wobbly BottomAmong the books illustrated by Andrew Joyner are The Terrible Plop and Too Many Elephants in this House. 

Monday, 15 April 2013

Not a Cloud in the Sky

Not a Cloud in the Sky by Emma Quay (ABC Books/Harper Collins)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780733330919
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Bird had been flying for such a long time.
Sometimes everything looked the same all over.
Nothing different.
Nothing at all.
Apart from the odd cloud.

A lovely beginning to Emma Quay’s latest picture book featuring something that we have all shared with children (and adults) – watching clouds float by, changing shape and using our imaginations to conjure specific shapes.

Bird had been flying for a long time and everything looked the same until he saw a cloud drifting. Cloud says hello to Bird. An interchange begins, with cloud changing as the breeze pulls him into different shapes for Bird to guess. Both Cloud and Bird find this very entertaining and as the day draws to a close, Cloud is tiring, small wisps of him disappearing on the breeze. As the sun sets, he conjures a final magnificent shape of a dragon, its fiery breath represented by the glowing sunset.

Bird settles down to roost for the evening but is loath to leave his friend Cloud ‘See you in the morning?’ he asks. The story ends as it begins. 'Nothing different, nothing at all.' Except that Bird has roosted in a tree with other birds like himself. He will wake tomorrow amongst other new friends. Cloud may have moved on, but Bird will not be alone. Another bird comes in to roost below Bird and looks up at him expectantly, mirroring Bird at the beginning of the story – the cycle of friendship will continue.

Young children will enjoy one level of the narrative where Cloud befriends Bird and changes shape for him to guess, yet older children may also recognize the themes of loss, letting go and change as Cloud moves on – though he will be there in one way or another. Cloud could evaporate or turn into rain which in turn feeds the rivers and plants.

The endpapers continue the theme of change illustrating the progression of the  day, with the sun at the beginning and ending with the moon. Quay shows the cloud at it’s different stages of metamorphosis into a variety of shapes and this continues on the back cover, providing children with additional shapes to guess. See Quay’s website for examples of her illustrations in progress.

A gentle book which will be shared and enjoyed.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Candlewick)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9780763664589
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Ella’s story begins in Yonkers, New York, in 1930 when there wasn’t much money around. But nickels always fell when thirteen year old Ella Fitzgerald danced, for music hadn’t reached her mouth yet. It was a time when Jazz music poured from every house and Harlem was 45 minutes and a world away.

Ella was determined to be famous. All she needed was for someone to notice her. She saved her nickels and dimes and travelled to Harlem. There she watched the dancers and copied their steps, and came back to Yonkers to dance the new moves. And more nickels fell.

Ella’s life twisted out of shape when her mother died suddenly. Her mother’s boyfriend treated her badly, so her aunt Virginia took Ella to Harlem to live. Ella had lost more than her mother. Now her friends, home, school, and dancing jobs were gone. Worst of all, aunt Virginia offered nothing more than food and shelter to the orphaned child who was tough on the outside but ‘milky and silky and soft and shy’ inside.

Breaking the law meant a school for orphans. This was a nightmare for Ella and after two years, she escaped and ended up on Seventh Avenue where furs and jewels reigned, and where Ella found she could sing as well as dance. Homeless, but supported in various ways by charity, she entered the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night and won. But her lack of clothing and poor appearance found her still singing for coins on the street.

It was the Harlem Opera House Amateur Night win that changed the course of Ella’s life, and she was invited to sing with Chick Webb’s band.

Ella Fitzgerald’s life is a success born of tragedy as are many great artists’ lives. Beautifully and emotively portrayed through the text and illustrations, this moving biography is accompanied by a wonderful bibliography for further reading, a listening list, a view list, a referenced website, and an Index.

Saturday, 13 April 2013


Homecoming by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Peter Bailey (Walker Books)
PB RRP 14.95
ISBN 9781406341072
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Mrs Pettigrew is a loner who lived in a railway carriage by the sea wall. She knows all the birds of the air that nest in the surrounding marsh and their calls, and which animals inhabit the sea ahead and the marsh areas. This story is about her unconventional life, her fierce bond with the surrounding natural world, and a boy called Michael.

Michael returns to the place of his past to revisit his memories and is flooded with the remembrance of all the people and the happenings both good and bad, of a youth made richer by having known Mrs Pettigrew. He is confronted by the monstrosity that is the closed atomic power station, a permanent reminder of what was lost in the name of progress. He remembers the impassioned speech given by the usually silent Mrs Pettigrew on the disaster that awaited the town should they consent to the power station being built.

Michael recalls the cheers of support first given in the hall, and how at the end only his mother was left standing with Mrs Pettigrew holding the banner of protest against the power station. He sadly brings to mind the unexpected climax that separated all that was with all that was to be. These memories, especially those associated with Miss Pettigrew and what she stood for, are all recalled in exquisite and superbly moving prose.

This tender recollection of memories is juxtaposed with the lies and deceit marketed as progress that ultimately ends in environmental destruction. Morpurgo’s challenging themes together with the outstanding illustrations by Peter Bailey in double-page spreads complement the important messages in this book.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Have You Seen My Egg?

Have You Seen My Egg? By Penny Olsen, illustrated by Rhonda Garward (National Library of Australia)
PB RRP $ 17.95
ISBN 9780642277886
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Eddy emu is missing an egg. He sets out to find it. He asks magpies Maggie and Matt. They are watching their own eggs hatch. Young readers can lift the corner flap and view the hatching of each baby animal/insect represented from here on.

He asks Ella the echidna, but she’s occupied with her puggle. Lizzie lizard, Fiona the frog, and Suzy the spider who still has her babies in a silk bag, are all preoccupied with their newborns. By the time Eddy reaches Selena the snail and Connie the crocodile, he is extremely anxious.

Sandy the shark’s pup has just appeared, and so have all of Tessie the turtle’s hatchlings. But they haven’t seen Eddy’s egg.

As a last resort, he asks Pip and Poppy the penguins to help him. But they must mind their own eggs. When Eddy gets to Harriet the hen, he is desperate. She suggests he goes back to his other eggs. And he does.

Can you guess what happened to Eddy’s egg?

This exciting and educational book for young children introduces twelve Australian animals/insects. With glorious full-page colour illustrations of the parent on the left page, it identifies the name of each baby hidden under a die cut flap at the bottom corner.

The thoughtful presentation and attention to detail in these full-page illustrations is commendable for it will challenge questioning minds that thirst for information. There is a Did You Know? section on the twelve subjects’ lifestyle and habits, with accompanying photos referenced for further research.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Sidney, Stella and the Moon

Sidney, Stella and the Moon by Emma Yarlett (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: 9780734414090
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Sharing is important but not to Sidney and his sister Stella, until one fateful night when a bouncing ball they are fighting over hurtles out of the bedroom window and bounces so high it shatters the moon. The two siblings are horrified! One moment the moon is shining and next it is gone, leaving the town in darkness.
What happens next is portrayed in a double page spread inviting the reader to open the children's front door and look outside. There are television news crews everywhere. A reporter with a microphone broadcasts the breaking news that the moon has disappeared, while moon balloons and moon ice creams are being sold on street corners. Every second person is reading a newspaper with the headlines, "Vanished" and "Who would steal a moon?"
Sidney and Stella quickly realise they have to find a replacement moon. Emma's quirky illustrations capture the children searching for something in their home which could become a second moon. Their frantic efforts leave them tired and hungry.
When Sidney takes a big round cheese out of the fridge and starts nibbling, he finds the answer to their problem. Stella comes up with the idea of using her skipping rope to catapult the cheese into the sky. But Sidney thinks he should do it and Stella disagrees. Will they never learn to share?
Fortunately they do, and once again the moon is in its rightful place.
I liked the simple but very effective drawings and the use of a wide palette of colours in this engaging picture book. The message of sharing came across in a direct but fun way, making it easy for children to accept and, hopefully, emulate. The stand-out cover design embellished by a sprinkling of silver stars is bound to attract readers.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Light Horse Boy

Light Horse Boy by Diane Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds (Fremantle Press)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9-781-922-089-199
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

In 1914 Jim and Charlie abandon the Australian outback for the excitement and adventure of the war to end all wars. But in the Light Horse they quickly discover the brutal realities of life on the frontline. And nothing will ever be the same again.
Light Horse Boy is a beautifully crafted book encompassing a culturally significant Australian story that is little known but deserves to be so much more. It’s a behind the scenes look at the legendary Light Horse Brigade and their experiences in World War I.

The story itself is delightfully well written but it’s the engaging and fascinating layout that combines text with primary source historical documents and letters, telegrams, original photos and stunning charcoal sketches done by Brian Simmonds that really grabs you. It has the intimate feel of scrapbook and it’s a story to take your time over. A story to be pored over.

Brian’s artwork is very expressive and you’ll find yourself riding on every emotion that these boys experience in their journey. Brian’s illustrative style is particularly suited to this story, the black charcoal capturing the seriousness and sadness of war.

The symbolism of friendship and mateship is iconically identified and well defined in this story. I think you can read this and understand more what it means to be Australian and why we feel the way we do about certain things.

At the beginning of the book Diane Wolfer gives an overview about the role of horses in the war and what became of them afterwards. Even though this story does cover some tragic and grim events, it doesn’t overtly dwell on them. 

Every Australian school and library should have a copy of this book.

Dianne is an author of thirteen books for teenagers and younger readers. This book is a companion book to her best selling Light House Girl. I haven’t read this one but am rushing to my local bookstore now to get it!
Neridah McMullin is the author of three books for children. Her latest book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to Me!' It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also just happens to love footy!).

My Book of Knock, Knock Jokes

My Book of Knock, Knock Jokes illustrated by Christina Bollenbach (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74283– 164-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

This is the cutest, most attractive joke book I have seen in a long while. And knock, knock jokes can really hit the funny bones of young children who are just starting to play around with words and experiment with their meanings:

Knock, Knock!
Who’s there?
                                         Lucy who?
                                         Lucy-elastic made my shorts fall down.

There are lots of different animals knocking on a variety of doors. A bird knocks on a door in an apple, behind which a worm lives. A chick knocks on the door of an igloo, and inside lives a penguin. These bold, bright illustrations are delightful.

The text and illustrations work in unison - each joke is told up until ‘Andy who?’ or ‘Moo who?’, then the page is turned to reveal the punch line and the animal behind the door.

The layout, pictures and jokes are all pitched at the same age (4+) and will encourage questions, conversations about animals and their homes, and many more jokes from young readers imaginations.

From the front cover, where a cow and a hen peer through the door, to the surprised looking elephant on the back, this joke book is filled with playful characters, word play and funny knock, knock jokes.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

ANZAC Biscuits

ANZAC Biscuits by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74283– 346-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

ANZAC Biscuits is a touching story about a young girl baking biscuit with her mother to send to her father who is serving on the frontline of war, far away.

The contrasting situations of the girl Rachel and her mother - warm, happy and safe - and her father - cold and miserable - is brought clearly to the pages in a gentle manner. This is achieved through both the illustrations and text. Swan’s delicate pictures of Rachel and her mother in their kitchen are washed in cosy pastel colours of pink, lemon, pale blues and greens. The images of Rachel’s father on the frontline are chilly, with the colours drained. They are painted in greys, white and black, with only a hint of yellow.

The differences between the two worlds accentuate the starkness and desolation of the soldier’s situation. Rachel’s mother wears her favourite apron, covered in wildflowers, while her father hides his head on the ground amongst wildflowers to escape gunfire. In the warm kitchen, flour and oats are sprinkled like snow for the ANZAC biscuits, while bitter cold snow falls on the battlefield.

But it is these differences which also bind the family together; Rachel with the sticky treacle while her father trudges through sticky mud, the smell of smoke, a photo of the soldier on the wall, and the singing.

The final images are especially powerful. The love which pours from the soldier’s box of ANZACs reflects on his face and fills it with hope. These soft pencil and wash illustrations are beautiful, conveying the strong emotion which the text hints at. It is a fabulous example of text and illustrations working together to create and expand the story.

This is not a confrontational story about the horrors of war, but rather a subtle and gentle story which can be read to pre-schoolers. It embraces the ANZAC traditions and shows how family can be close in heart, even if physically separated, through simple actions such as the baking of ANZAC biscuits.

With ANZAC Day approaching, this would be a perfect time to introduce young children to a piece of Australian history.

No Matter Who We’re With

No Matter Who We’re With by Robert Vescio, illustrated by Cheri Scholten (IP Kidz)
HB RRP $26.95 (e-book $13.00)
ISBN 9781922120212                                            
Reviewed by Margaret Warner

This is a heartwarming story that reinforces the fact that if parents divorce, both parents still love their children. Told from the children’s perspective, the story has an authentic feel. The children relate favourite activities they do with each parent but also gently remind the reader that life isn’t the same as it used to be e.g. when they ask dad to read a particular book and he tells them it’s at their mum’s house or when mum takes them to the pool and they ask to go again tomorrow but are reminded they will be at their dad’s place.

 The children understand that while they love their mum and dad and sometimes miss one when they are with the other that one thing remains constant: both parents love them and they love both parents.

Cheri Scholten’s cover is bright and engaging showing happy children with their parents with each parent being on one side of a fence and the children between them. It literally and metaphorically sends a message of a happy family even though they are sometimes apart. The endpapers are bright little images set against a vivid yellow background. This leads into the bold images depicting a range of different activities and also different emotions.

No Matter Who We’re With is a book that would be valuable to read and discuss with young children to help them understand that even though parents might separate, their love for their children remains the same.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Thea Stilton and the Mystery on the Orient Express

Thea Stilton and the Mystery on the Orient Express by Geronimo Stilton (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-0-545-34105-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Thea is Geronimo Stilton’s sister, and a special correspondent for The Rodent’s Gazette. In The Mystery on the Orient Express, Thea tells the story of a group of young students - Nicky, Colette, Pamela, Paulina and Violet - and their adventure on that famous train.

Accompanying a precious wedding gown, (the historic Veil of Light being returned to its country of origin), the five mouselets mix with the rich and famous on a 1920’s styled journey. As the train makes its way from Paris to Istanbul they manage to foil the infamous cat burglar in his attempt to steal this beautiful treasure.

Being a reporter, Thea likes the facts and sprinkles interesting research throughout the story; about the Orient Express, holograms, Transylvania, and other aspects important to the narration.

Just as in Geronimo Stilton adventures, this tale is full of mice and cheese puns, outrageous plots, humour, clues, red herrings and wonderfully flowery language. ‘In the twitch of a whisker, the Thea Sisters had transformed themselves from modern day mouselets into roaring rodents from the 1920s.’

The large and colourful font and illustrations make it a fun and easy read for those moving from early readers to chapter books.

Sunday, 7 April 2013


Tree by Danny Parker, illustrated by Matt Ottley (Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921714412
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

This book is an absolute graphic delight. Matt Ottley is a master of colour and perspective. I delighted in the range and depth of images presented throughout.

The story is simple yet powerful. It tells of a sapling that grows under the shelter of an older tree, within a forest of trees. Time passes and a storm changes everything. The tree must then stand a lone through the clean up, the growing urbanisation of its environment, changes in use and then happily becoming just one in a park. In the end tree is offering shelter to a new sapling.

Overall it’s a gentle visually pleasing book which speaks to the environment and resilience. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Sneaky Art

Sneaky Art by Marthe Jocelyn (Walker Books)
HB RRP $ 17.95
ISBN 9780763656485
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It’s amazing what can be made with inexpensive things like paper plates, old magazines, buttons, wool, string, old pegs, paper clips cup cake papers, and empty matchboxes, and imagination. This crafty book gives great ideas for creating stuff from all these objects that are easily found, and at minimum cost. It is fun, mind-expanding, creative and interesting.

Although it is American and has some examples that differ slightly to what is available in Australia, and suggests that the things created are for surprise public displays, the items can be used as functional surprises for friends, family or self.

There is a Sneaky Art Tool Kit that lists what you need to begin with. Note that the recycling bin ‘can be a treasure trove of useful items.’ A visit to the Reject Shop or $2 Shop will fill your needs adequately. Keeping children occupied with constructive and entertaining activities is always a challenge. This book will provides them with visual stimulation and ideas through the pictures that accompany the craft activity.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Rebecca and the Hobgoblin Invasion

The Wingless Fairy Series Book 2: Rebecca and the Hobgoblin Invasion by Margaret Pearce
(Writers Exchange E-Publishing)
Ebook $2.99
ISBN 1922066192
Reviewed by Nina Lim

In the second instalment in this entertaining series, we meet Rebecca again, who is now a mortal girl. After being banished from fairyland by the evil Queen, she has lost all her magic powers and now lives happily with her new human family. But there is trouble brewing in fairyland.

When Golly the house goblin disappears Rebecca is worried. And soon her fears are confirmed when nasty hobgoblins start swarming over the farmlands. Suddenly the cows are no longer producing milk, the chickens are no longer laying eggs, and the humans are all exhausted and worn out. Rebecca knows she needs to rescue Golly and all the other vanished house goblins, but how can she go back to fairyland when she no longer has any powers?

With her wise owl and guard beside her, Rebecca hatches a plan to return to fairyland, but what happens once she is there will change fairyland forever. A captivating and fun read for middle-graders.  Sci-fi and fantasy lovers will enjoy it.

Princess Betony and the Thunder Egg

Princess Betony and the Thunder Egg by Pamela Freeman, illustrated by Tasmin Ainslie (Walker Books)
HB Mini RRP $17.95
ISBN 9781921720246
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Lady Pineal has been teaching Princess Betony to curtsey in order to welcome the guests at the door at her parents’ tenth wedding anniversary. But the lessons are failing.

An eagle with a wren under its wing arrives with greetings and a precious gift from the Wild Magic for the royal anniversary. But the gift, a thunder egg, must be collected by Betony. She must travel to Teapot Mountain and get the thunder egg from a fierce dragon known as the Oldest Under the Mountain.

The palace is outraged at the suggestion, but the queen permits her to go, for Betony has passed the test in the Dark forest of Nevermore and is now protected by the Wild Magic. Betony’s challenge is a test of trust between the forest and the humans, for both long for peace to reign between them.

Betony sets out on her quest unafraid. She must walk through the forest infested by giant spider webs hanging from trees, overcome her fear of the rock creatures and find a way to retrieve the thunder egg from the Stone Cruncher who has stolen it from the dragon. Betony’s courage is tested and time is against her. Will she collect the egg and return in time for the anniversary celebrations? And are they prepared for what will hatch from the thunder egg?

This delightful story is presented in gift book size, ideal for young girls’ handbags or purses, and for travelling. With illustrations created in pencil and watercolour paint, its beautiful dust jacket has Princess Betony holding the huge thunder egg with the wren perched on top.

This is the second Princess Betony book. Princess Betony and the Rule of Wishing and Princess Betony and the Hobgoblin are on the way.