Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Jeweller of Rassylon

The Jeweller of Rassylon by Peter Cooper (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-944-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Dillen and his companions Koto and Tajni are searching for the hideout of brigand-lord Zhangfu after he escaped with the precious Blue Jade. Many others also search, including Heito with the emperor’s army, but the three companions feel confident as they have the help of the Demon of the North. However, when they finally get an audience with him, they are given only riddles and challenges.

Riddles and challenges rise up to block the hero’s journey the whole way through this tale but Dillen and his friends are willing to face any task, physical, mental or magical, and risk their lives, to get to Zhangfu first.

The Jeweller of Rassylon is the gripping conclusion to the Tales of Blue Jade trilogy. Having not read the previous two books in the series I was surprised at how quickly I became immersed in the rich and well mapped fantasy world of Pangaea. Dillen had my interest and sympathy from the beginning and was a likable character. His companions were interesting and the unsettled, rocky nature of the relationship between the three was intriguing, adding to the compelling suspense and mystery surrounding the motivations of all involved.

But what kept me most engrossed was the Chinese and Japanese mythology, the magic, the spirits, the wonderful wind walker and the eerie atmosphere which is woven throughout the tale. They give the story a great depth and freshness.

This is a well constructed fantasy, drawing inspiration - breathing life - from the spirits and mythology of ancient Asia. It is, as well, a fast-paced action adventure quest. An exciting series for ten to fifteen year olds.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

What's Dad Doing?

What’s Dad Doing? by Susan Hall, illustrated by Cheryl Westenberg (National Library of Australia)
PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 978-0-642-27834-7
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Opening with “Pat Possum and is friend Wesley Wombat are looking for Pat’s Dad”, gives readers a sound starting point and raises their interest. Pat and Wesley are dressed in capes, with Pat carrying a toy sword, and they want Dad to come and play. But like many fathers, Dad has jobs to do. The boys must amuse themselves between repeated searches for him.

As readers lift the flap on each page they will see what Dad does.

Ringtails are the only possums where Dad helps Mum look after the baby. Pat’s dad is excellent at all sorts of jobs. He make’s Pat’s lunch, feeds the baby, serves Grandma a cuppa, hangs washing, cooks dinner and sweeps the floor. Before lifting the flap we see Pat’s thoughts as he repeats “I wonder if he’s …”.

When the work is done, the narrator steps back in to tell us, “Pat Possum’s Dad is ready to play now”. Dad says, “Let’s play footy together” and a turn of the page reveals that the story is done. Leaving Pat behind we see a new, non-fiction possum make his entrance. He has two double-page spreads to tell his story, accompanied by visuals of him in his natural setting.

This character says “Hi, nice to meet you, I’m a ringtail possum just like Pat!” He then tells some facts about himself, including where he lives, what he eats, how he lived in Mum’s pouch when he was younger, and what he uses his tail for. It’s a nice way of providing young readers with some non-fiction basics about a native animal.

Brightly coloured illustrations in Pat’s section show kids, parents and grandparent in ways all of us will connect with. While Mum is tied to baby for the most part, Dad steps up to take on a great load and this is also something that young children who have a new baby in the house will relate to. High quality paper will, hopefully, let readers lift-the-flap many times.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Eric Vale off the Rails

Eric Vale off the Rails by Michael Gerard Bauer, illustrated by Joe Bauer (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-994-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Eric Vale is back in a new adventure, back in trouble. This time the trouble is all Chewy’s fault but how is Eric going to explain his own extremely unusual behaviour to Principal Porter.

Eric Vale Off the Rails is once again packed full of Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale comic strips, amusing illustrations and a sense of humour aimed perfectly at early primary aged boys. Vampires, werewolves and especially aliens run wild through Eric’s ‘side of the story’ as he desperately tries to explain to the principal, and his parents, why he turned the fire hose onto the substitute teacher in the middle of a museum excursion.

Eric Vale is a popular series. Easy to read, laugh-aloud moments and the nerdy antics of Eric and his friend Chewy all mix to make and entertaining story for young boys. Suspend disbelief and go on the ride that is Eric Vale’s life. It’s great fun!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Enoch the Emu

Enoch the Emu by Gordon Winch, illustrated by Doreen Gristwood (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-871-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Enoch is not a very domesticated emu. He would rather be down at the Emu Club drinking billabong water with his mates than keeping the nest tidy or catching fat juicy grasshoppers for Wilhelmina as she sits on their clutch of eggs day after day. So it comes as quite a surprise when one day, Wilhelmina goes off on a holiday with her friends, leaving Enoch to care for their nine olive eggs and to raise the hatchlings.

Enoch and Wilhelmina are typical emus. In real life the males really do take care of the eggs after the female has laid them. And this book takes an amusing, imaginative look at this role reversal. Male emus make great dads and Enoch sets a new trend by bringing his chicks to the Emu Club.

Enoch the Emu has more words than are typically present in picture books for young children, but the text cleverly weaves the facts and fiction, making an entertaining and very readable story. And the book is one which adults will enjoy reading again and again.

The soft colourful illustrations are fun - Wilhelmina sits on the nest with her curlers in – and match the tone of the text beautifully. They are also filled with other Australian birds and animals of the outback. Children and adults alike will enjoy this story of Wilhelmina and her lazy husband Enoch as he is forced to turn over a new leaf.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron

Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron by Mary Losure, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780763656690
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The first sight of the wild boy who would be later known as ‘the savage’, was recorded as being in the mountains of Southern France in 1797. Initially seen by a couple from the village of Lacaine, naked and digging for roots in the ground, he was  tied up by two woodsmen and carried to the town square where he remained for days on public display. He somehow escaped and returned to the forest.

Little is known of how the boy came to be in the forest, for the past of other children discovered in wild places that are recorded in history, lack the same information:  a boy living with wolves in Germany, 1544; a boy discovered with bears in Lithuania 1661; the boy living with a flock of sheep in Ireland (year unrecorded), and ‘five wild girls and five wild boys found in various places throughout Europe during the 1700s’. These children were classed by scientists as belonging to the species Homo ferus, (Wild Man).

Wild boy’s life is not thoroughly documented as the written reports are scientific studies and do not give a great deal of personal information. His time in a ‘civilized’ environment was difficult, for compassionate people tried to give him a home but he suffered at his separation from the natural world and always escaped back to nature. Professor Pierre-Joseph Bonneterre, a priest-scientist of natural history, tried to teach the boy but saw him only as a specimen and in his reports named him the Savage of Aveyron.

The Savage was later named Victor by Doctor Itard. Abbe Sicard, the famous ‘miracle worker’ who ran a school for Deaf-Mutes, and who took Wild Boy in to try and teach him, granted permission to Itard to concentrate on teaching Victor how to speak. For this he received a yearly payment by the government. For five years Itard succeeded in teaching him many things, but not how to speak.

This is a moving document of a boy who represents all the children found in the wild over time. It is also a subject rarely approached due to lack of documentation, therefore little is known of these wild beings except that they were never completely ‘civilized’. It appears that their passion for the wild places was indelibly imprinted in their psyche and nothing could remove their longing for freedom, the natural world, and the elements, which they saw their place of belonging.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Bully Chip

The Bully Chip by Glenn Wood (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781921977640
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It’s been a year since the evil mastermind Lester Smythe was defeated by Callum, Sophie and Jinx in the highly imaginative, The Brain Sucker. But defeated doesn’t mean eradicated.

Strange and suspicious is the change in Jinx who is now keeping company with the popular kids, his tight-knit friendship with Sophie and Callum left behind. He believes he’s recovered from being unlucky and to him that translates to moving on.

The two new students, Lucy and Cain, are bullies. They exude hostility and danger with Lucy intimidating Sophie right at the start, and Cain on the attack against Callum.

The bullying continues and escalates in action, threat and sabotage. No one believes Callum’s claims, even when he’s injured after Cain causes several accidents while he is in his Thunderkit wheelchair.

Being set up then blamed for the fire in the chemistry lab is the last straw for Callum. The ingenious Sophie is determined to uncover the why and how behind the cruelty. Jinx realizes that his adopted friends have been manipulating him for their own entertainment and returns to his real mates.

Events take an exciting and revealing turn when they discover that Lucy has been implanted with a bully chip. The Sethal Stymer School, from where Lucy and Cain transferred, is perpetuating evil and cruelty and that equates to only one person.

There is another terrific shift in the pace as a crescendo of action, danger, excitement and ingenuity propels the story towards its climax. Lots of things happen in fast sequences and nail-biting intensity. This book is far better than its prequel and again, lots of interesting characters, both leading and minor, that call attention to their importance in the structure of the story.

Friday, 25 October 2013


Crossing by Philip Booth, illustrated by Bagram Ibatuolline (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9780763666644
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Lovers of all things connected to railways, regardless of their age, will cherish this superb book. Illustrated by the acclaimed Bagram Ibatoulline, his work is in demand more now than ever because of its great artistic merit. He has made Philip Booth’s rhyming verse into a gallery collection of steam engines and crossings, gondolas, boxcars, tankcars, cattle cars and hoppers of coal.

The reader is given the opportunity to travel back in time to an era where children’s excitement at watching and counting the cabooses was a delightful pastime. The characters’ clothes, bikes, and toys, together with the scenery, recreate the times and the carefree attitude of the people. You can almost hear the sound of the steel wheels against the train track, and hear the shouts of the children. Everything is so real it is as if the reader is in a corner of the picture, part of it, sharing the movement and sound.

A priceless addition to any collection, and comes highly recommended.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Great Aussie Inventions

Great Aussie Inventions by Amy Hunter, illustrated by David Rowe (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781922179241
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Australia boasts many brilliant inventors. Many we know about, others we don’t. Great Aussie Inventions reviews some of the best inventions and how and by whom they were invented. They vary from farm machinery to spray-on skin for burns. With illustrations by clever cartoonist David Rowe, inventions become entertainment. Perhaps that’s what the people who invented them saw their creations as.

The Coolgardie Safe, named after the place where it was invented, has been the saving grace of the world and its food production. Bruce Thompson invented the dual-flush toilet while having some thinking time in the lav. It took 500 years to invent the notepad. Till 1902, sheet paper was used. Then stationer JA Birchall decided to stick the sheets together. Kiwi shoe polish, Safe-n-sound baby capsule, Ormsby’s surf lifesaving reel, stainless steel braces for teeth and the list goes on.

The stump-jump plough, a harvester that separated the grain from the chaff, the mechanical shears for shearing sheep that were invented by author David Unaipon, are just some of the things that improved life for farmers.

This is a terrific reference book created in a light-hearted way to entertain and educate. Kids will love for its trivia- like content. The illustrations are filled with humour and delight, and the front cover is a blast! A valuable resource for all institutions related to education, most importantly homes.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

What Do Werewolves Do When It’s Not Halloween?

What Do Werewolves Do When It’s Not Halloween? by Heath McKenzie (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-879-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Halloween is a wonderful time for all the spooks and ghouls but have you ever wondered what they do for the rest of the year? What do Werewolves do when it’s not Halloween? is a fun exploration of the answer to this question.

   November the first is kinda the worst
   For everything spooky and creepy,

In this story, mummies explore fashion options, zombies visit libraries in the hope of expanding their minds and ghosts try to be nice. But it’s what the werewolves get up to that is most troubling.

The pictures are bright, bold and humorous with the tinge of creepiness which is sometimes present in Heath McKenzie’s illustrations. In this picture book the creep factor fits perfectly with the story, the humour in the text has the same scary edge.

The rhythm, the internal rhymes and the flow of the story make it fun and entice the reader to turn the page to discover what will come next. And the ending is just fabulous.

This probably isn’t a book for the very young, and will not be reassuring for those who are susceptible to nightmares, but it is aimed at prep children or older who will enjoy scaring themselves.

What do Werewolves do when it’s not Halloween? is a fun book to read for Halloween – if you dare!

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Walker Books)
PB $17.95
ISBN 9781406345193
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is a retelling of the classic tale from the 13th Century of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, which was also a poem by Robert Browning in children’s readers long ago. The production of the book is outstanding and the story is told in Michael Morpurgo’s brilliant first person narrative style, through the voice of the crippled boy that was left behind.

For those that don’t know the story, they must introduce themselves to it through this outstanding book, then read Browning’s poem! It will be an experience. The moral to this tale is that parents and children should always keep their promises and if you call the tune, to remember to pay the piper.

The illustrations by Emma Chichester Clarke beautifully complement Morpurgo’s text. The wide-eyed look on all the children’s faces, the way they blindly follow the Piper, his mysterious expression that speaks a thousand words, the anger in the villagers’ faces, the pompous looks of the Mayor. All this is tied with a bow and presented to the reader as a glorious gift of learning and entertainment to both readers of all ages.

There is a difference between this interpretation and Browning’s poem. But that will remain for the reader to discover.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Dance Like a Pirate

Dance Like a Pirate by Stephanie Owen Reader (National Library of Australia)
PB RRP $ 17.99
ISBN 9780642278418
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In rhyming verse and vibrant paintings, this lift-the-flap book is designed to encourage movement and activity in preschool children.  The pivotal words are highlighted in colour and describe an action/movement, then repeated in larger letters at the bottom of the page for reinforcement. Instructions follow on how to execute the spirited movements. The parts of the body appear in blue text in the role of teaching tools. Lift-the-flap and there is a challenge on how quick the action/movement can be done.

The two children in the pictures dress as dragons, clowns, super heroes, pirates, witches and wizards, fairies and elves, dancers and ballerinas, fire fighters, rock stars, bunnies, sailors, clowns and royalty.

They dance, hop, strut, tiptoe, leap, jump, march, stomp, and sway, (amongst other action/movements) What parts of their body is used for these actions starting from the face right down to their toes? Can you name them?

The parts of the body are again reinforced on the last page.

There is a double spread of Inspiring Images for children to study which shows how movement and actions are used in a professional capacity. As always, the high quality of NLA books is maintained with the pages thick and  durable for young hands.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Child Convicts

Our Stories: Child Convicts by Janette Brennan (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781742032238
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A great deal of Australian history from the convict era and the discovery of Australia is portrayed in this title. But it is the heart-breaking, tales about children, especially those from poor families, that is the most moving.

Mechanisation caused many people to lose their jobs in Britain in the 1700s. They moved to the overcrowded cities to find work, but it was ‘steal or starve’. Death tracked the poor everywhere as the death penalty applied at times for stealing even the slightest thing. It is reported that children as young as four were forced to work or steal to stay alive, until Botany Bay’s penal colony absorbed most of the prisoners from the overcrowded jails and floating prisons.

This book contains history before and after the settlement of the penal colony and focuses on the many child convicts, their crimes and punishment, and how their lives evolved. It also touches on the governors and their roles, and the great changes that Australia underwent during that era up to the ‘end of transportation’.

Our Stories is a marvellous series and one from which a great deal can be learnt about our early development as a nation. They are books of only 32 pages but which present so much valuable information in a minimalistic and easily absorbed way. There are archival pictures throughout to accompany the text and give it visual support.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


Primrose by Alex T. Smith (Scholastic UK)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-407109-66-4
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Princess Primrose wants to have fun. But that is not what is expected of a royal princess. When her behaviour threatens to get out of hand there is only one thing to do – send for Grandmama. Can she teach her how to behave like a proper princess?

This is a really fun book full of wonderful alliteration. ‘Princesses don’t dabble with dough!’ the cook nervously tells Primrose when she wants to help in the kitchen. She is told not to dig in the mud with the gardener, climb trees, or play board games with the maids. She should be waving politely and wearing very uncomfortable outfits.

The fun is evident in the illustrations too. They are bright, bubbly and full of colour. The king and queen are very proper – in the beginning. And this makes their later transformation all the more enjoyable.

It is a Royal Decree that in emergencies, Grandmama must be telephoned immediately. And that stately and upright lady arrives on a dark page, in a thunderstorm, surrounded by dark clouds and mud. Then the next page is back to pink and fun, lightening the tone immediately.

I love that with Grandmama comes a change of pace highlighting the differences between what Princess Primrose wants to do and what she should do! Grandmama’s solution will surprise young readers. It certainly surprised the King and Queen.

Children will enjoy the cheeky princess and her ‘plump little pug’ Percy immensely.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

I Love You 5 Lollipops

I Love You 5 Lollipops by Jaquelyn Muller, illustrations by Kathryn Zammit (Jaquelyn Muller Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780646591490
Review by Anastasia Gonis

Elizabeth Rose lives in a loving family circle made up of people who express themselves freely in their own unique ways. Then so does Elizabeth Rose.

Her sister twirls hoops, and her dog jumps through them. Her pop looks like a ringmaster. Her grandma twirls sticks and dresses in lavender chiffon with matching high-heeled shoes. Her dad is a harlequin that swings from a bar, but reads bedtime stories to her. And her mum looks like a princess, tiara and all.

But when each member asks how much she loves them, Elizabeth Rose answers in her unique way: 1 puppy, 2 dollies, 3 cupcakes, 4 teddy bears and 5 lollipops.

This delicious book is aimed at preschoolers. The delightful illustrations are happy and entertaining in soft colours and fine lines. The repetition of words support literacy and the numbers encourage numeracy.

Friday, 18 October 2013

An Aussie Year Book Launch ACT

Book and Party. Two of the best words in the English language. Put them together and you have a book launch! Canberrans can head out to Paperchain Bookstore in Manuka on 26 October for the hugely talented Tania McCartney's launch of An Aussie Year. RSVP essential.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Dance Teacher

The Dance Teacher written by Simon Milne, illustrated by Chantal Stewart (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74331-331-2
Reviewed by Ann Harth

The Dance Teacher is a quiet but powerful book that entertains and inspires while instilling a gentle message about following one’s passion.

Miss Sylvie owns a dance studio. She teaches dance to children of all ages. One day a little girl pops her head in the door. ‘I want to be a ballerina,’ Isabelle says. Isabelle practices every day, never missing a ballet class. Her friends come and go but Isabelle never wavers. She grows strong and skilful under the patient teaching of Miss Sylvie. Isabelle is accepted into a dance school in the city and eventually fulfils her dream of becoming a prima ballerina and dances all over the world. The years go by and Isabelle grows tired. She is ready to go home. Miss Sylvie is sitting in her dance studio when Isabelle pops her head in the door. “I am ready to become a teacher,” Isabelle says.

The Dance Teacher is a story of a little girl’s dream and the dedication and commitment it takes to achieve it. It also highlights the powerful influence a teacher can have on a child’s life. Children from the age of four will enjoy this book but it’s a treasure for any age. Its warm and tender illustrations make the characters come alive and work beautifully to tell an important part of the story.

The Dance Teacher is Simon Milne’s first picture book. Although he now works in the book industry, his background is in directing music videos for well-known artists such as Elton John and Duran Duran. For more information on Simon Milne, please visit

Chantal Stewart was born in Paris. She worked as a graphic designer and illustrator in the advertising and publishing industries until she moved to Australia where she followed her own dream and became a children’s book illustrator. She has collaborated with author Joan van Loon on a number of books, and their work has been shortlisted for the YABBA awards for three consecutive years. More of Chantal’s work can be seen in her portfolio at  

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, was released in 2012. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Xander's Panda Party

Xander’s Panda Party written by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Matt Phelan (University of Queensland Press)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-0-7022-4998-3
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Park’s latest picture book ticks all the boxes! The writing is simply a joy to read aloud, exquisitely crafted with internal rhymes that flow within a rhythmical structure. The narrative at times consists of delightful tongue twisters (try saying “Amanda Salamander lent a hand to Xander Panda. Xander’s party plans went from grand to even grander!” out loud five times!). Great fun to listen to, but Park never allows the style to over-power the story. The situation remains clear and easily accessible to young listeners.

This beautiful picture book is immediately appealing with the cute roly-poly panda distributing a ribbon of colourful invitations on the cover.  Phelan’s water colour illustrations are simple and bursting with life, sometimes telling little anecdotes in themselves.

The story follows the dilemma of Xander Panda who, as the zoo’s only panda, has nobody to celebrate his birthday with. So he invites all the resident bears to a party, mistakenly including a koala on the guest list. After he understands a koala is not a bear at all, he stresses that other non-bear residents might feel left out. In order to not offend, he expands the guest list to all the mammals. Then finds he has to include all the birds, so that rhino might come with his bird. Then the reptiles, offended that they were left out, receive an invitation too. His party has grown into a mammoth event!

This is a lively story about inclusion and reaching out to others who might seem different to oneself. Xander’s Panda Party is a wonderful addition to any child’s bookshelf. Linda Sue Park is a Newbery award winning author of A Single Shard.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

It Wasn’t Me!

It Wasn’t Me! written and illustrated by Belinda Jeffrey (University of Queensland Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-0-7022-4998-3
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Belinda Jeffrey is a well-known author for older readers. It Wasn’t Me! is her first venture into picture book illustration. She tells the story of Finnigan, a child who seems to be followed by mess and mayhem yet bewildered by their cause. In the long-established tradition of all small people, poor Finnigan, protests his innocence whenever a household disaster is uncovered.  But could there be a cause other than Finnigan?

Jeffrey’s colourful and lively collage illustrations carry the story which has minimal text. The reader needs to seek out detail in the pictures to follow Finnigan’s dream-like journey in a gigantic egg shell. The story is bursting with the unexpected and full of delightful silliness, including a scene where the tables are turned and his Mum protests her innocence of some mess. The real culprits and their motivations are finally revealed in the final pages. A who-done-it for younger people!

This book may better suit the older range of picture book readers – early primary school children – as the monsters and Finnigan’s headlamp eyes may not appeal to younger readers.

Monday, 14 October 2013

An Aussie Year Book Launch Brisbane

If you're in Brisbane on 19 October don't miss this chance to celebrate the launch of Tania McCartney and Tins Snerling's gorgeous new release, An Aussie Year. RSVP essential.

Early Readers: Ava Adds, Ethan Eats, Rory Rides, Violet Vanishes

Early Readers by Ursula Dubosarsky Illus by Annie White (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $9.99
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Ursula Dubosarsky is an award-winning author who has written this four-story series to bridge the gap between picture books and junior fiction. Melbourne-based illustrator Annie White's line-and-wash images are as delightful as the simple text which relates well to the experiences of 5- to 7-year-olds. The books are all approximately 650 words long and are structured as novels of four chapters, each of which develops the storyline towards a satisfying conclusion.
Ava Adds ISBN: 9780734414007. Ava loves playing shops, using her bed as the display counter, and creating her own pretend bank notes. The opening chapter shows Ava and her friend Billy wondering what type of shop to have, and coming up with the answer - a shoe shop.
Chapter Two shows Ava as the bossy shoe salesperson going through the routine of helping a customer buy shoes. Billy chooses a gumboot and Ava tells him to try it on and walk up and down to see if it fits. Billy thinks it is too big. "Oh, you'll grow into it," said Ava.
In the final chapters, Billy appears quite confused when it comes to paying for his purchase, and gets upset parting with his money. However, Ava knows exactly what to do and the shopping session ends happily.
Ethan Eats ISBN: 9780734413987. Ethan is a good eater except he doesn't like peas. The use of green lettering for several words including peas enhances this statement; Annie White's illustration of a large plate of peas with Ethan looking glum adds further emphasis. Ethan's mother is okay with the fact he won't eat peas, but a problem arises when he has a sleep-over at his friend Gabby's house. Gabby's father doesn't know about Ethan's aversion to this particular green vegie, and gives Ethan a generous helping at dinner.
In Chapter Three, Ethan tackles all the other food first, but when nothing but the peas are left on his plate, he begins to worry. Would he get into trouble for not eating them?
Fortunately, Gabby's father is a wise dad and a good solution is found so that Ethan can relax and not feel uncomfortable.
Rory Rides ISBN: 9780734413994. Rory loves riding his bike. His dad explains why there are two small wheels at the back. "They are called training wheels," said Rory's Dad. "They are to stop you falling over, while you are learning."
Rory's older cousins arrive for a visit with their big bikes without training wheels. They zoom off leaving Rory to peddle like mad to try and catch up with them. On a turn, his front wheel hits a stick and flips over, and Rory lands on the ground with an "Ouch!"
Chapter Three commences with Rory rubbing his leg and discovering one of his training wheels has fallen off and disappeared. He wonders if he can ride his bike without it. Would he wobble and fall off, too?
The last chapter has Dad arriving with the missing wheel. He flips up the other training wheel so it doesn't touch the ground and Rory begins to ride. His cousins encourage him and Rory soon discovers the answer to his question.
Violet Vanishes ISBN: 9780734413970. Violet wants to see a magic show like the one she saw on television. The magician wore a cape and top hat and had made a rabbit disappear. Chapter Two has mum searching the newspapers and notices and finding out that a magic show is to be held at the library. Violet and her mum join other kids on the floor of the library and Violet's heart thumps with excitement as she sees the magician's silk cloth and wand.
When the magician appears he is just a young fellow in jeans. He begins with card tricks, and instead of a rabbit he holds up a pineapple and announces he will make it disappear. The lights go off and when they come on again not only has the pineapple disappeared, so has Violet!
The author brings the story to a conclusion kids will easily relate to, and when Violet wonders what it must be like to be a rabbit in a magic show, mum makes the statement all mums will endorse.

I particularly liked the illustrations in Violet Vanishes. The last one of mum and Violet in conversation on the bus is particularly endearing. Children will enjoy the experience of reading these first short novels.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Only Game in the Galaxy

The Maximus Black Files – The Only Game in the Galaxy by Paul Collins (Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781925000061
Reviewed by Francine Sculli
There are many great things about Paul Collins’ trilogy, The Maximus Black Files, but there is one certified characteristic of the trilogy – a characteristic that effortlessly binds all three books – and that is the thrilling and interminable action-packed disposition that keeps the reader hanging on the edge of their seats.

The latest and last book in the trilogy, The Only Game in the Galaxy, wastes no time in hauling readers into the fast-paced story line. By the end of the first page, readers are back in the sci-fi galaxies that create the perfect scene for the trilogy, right by the sides of our protagonists – megalomaniac Maximus Black and the hard-edged saviour Anneke Longshadow.

Anneke has thwarted another attempt on her life by Maximus but ends up with amnesia. When Maximus, in his renovated guise as Nathaniel Brown, sees Anneke return to RIM headquarters, unharmed but without memory, he uses this to his advantage, making Anneke an ally. But soon Anneke’s memory starts to come back to her and she takes her rightful place in a cast of intriguing characters that help her save the galaxy from the evil plans Maximus has to have his own dictatorial empire.

An all out war ensues between Maximus’ army and Anneke’s forces; one filled with beastly Omegans, age-old dreadnought ships and a protected fortress. But what neither Anneke nor Maximus know, is that Maximus is not the anticipated chosen one of Kadros as the Envoy had led him to believe, marking a different fate for the galaxy, for Maximus, for Anneke and the actual chosen one.

While this book is a thrill seeking sci-fi adventure – ripe with time travel, the significance of history and highly developed characters – it is also much, much more. With many subplots woven meticulously together, The Only Game in the Galaxy is a cleverly written story with threaded themes of friendship, honour, love, identity and choices. As it brings this fantastic trilogy to a close, this book answers many questions readers may have been asking as they read to this point. We uncover more of Maximus’ and Anneke’s back stories, we find out the significance of Deema (Anneke’s foster child) and the history of the characters that make this book so rich.

Paul Collins has created a trilogy that will no doubt live a deservingly long shelf life in the collection of many teens. 

The Accident

The Accident by Kate Hendrick (Text Publishing)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781921922855
Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald 

The Accident is the debut young adult novel by Sydney high school teacher and author, Kate Hendrick. I found it to be a captivating story and think it is best suited to keen readers aged from 15 years.

I do like Hendrick’s use of multiple narrators and I like the way her chapters alternate between Before, Later and After the accident. Sarah, Will and Eliat each speak to us from separate first person points of view, giving us the effect of 3 separate story strands each with their own timeline.

There is a theory that kids should relate easily to this form of story telling as it mirrors the internet. When kids search the internet they are getting snatches of information from here and there and they have to put it all together. In every day life this is also the case. We are constantly processing random snippets. Our brain filters this information and links it together so it makes sense to us.

However surveys show that it’s not always easy for kids to read stories using multiple narrators. The readers need to be keen readers to persevere. For some readers this style can be confusing. That said, I think Kate Hendrick moves cleverly between the three different points of view. I like the way they all link up at the end. I also like the way the ending was not what I was expecting.

I did engage with the three main characters. I felt for Sarah and her family who suffered terribly in the accident. My heart went out to sensitive Will who was juggling a depressed mother and 2 confused sisters. I admired Eliat’s foster parents who minded her baby while she partied on.

Hendrick’s has written some challenging scenes that involve sex, alcohol, drugs, depression and neglect.

This is a book about families. It’s about coping with whatever situation you find yourself in. It’s about how a pivotal moment can transform your life in lots of different ways. Specifically it explores how a split second accident can change the lives of many different people.

I can see that Hendrick understands teenagers and the pressures they can experience. In my opinion The Accident is an excellent first novel and I look forward to reading more from Kate Hendrick. 

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Caesar the war dog – operation blue dragon

Caesar the war dog – operation blue dragon by Stephen Dando-Collins (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9780857980533
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857980540
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Stephen Dando-Collins. Take a bow. For the past nights I have been living your story. You had me hooked from the opening paragraph – the setting, Sydney Harbour, a black hawk helicopter; Sergeant Ben Fulton in full camouflage gear, an ‘automatic pistol was strapped low on his right thigh, and a rappelling harness covered his torso.’ And at the end of the paragraph,  ‘two small pouches … the smaller one containing dog biscuits.’

Caesar is an EDD, an explosive detection dog. He follows a long line of war dogs, the first serving with the Anzac troops during the First World War. The Caesar of Dando-Collins’ first book was based on the true story of an explosives dog that went missing in Afghanistan. Book 2 – operation blue dragon, fictionally continues Caesar’s extraordinary career. He’s found after missing in action in a gruelling firefight with the Taliban. Just as he is reunited with his handler and best friend, Sergeant Ben Fulton, Dr Park, the Secretary-General of the UN’s helicopter is ambushed. Dr Park is kidnapped by the Taliban and held in a secret cave location, code-named blue dragon. All stops are pulled out to find and rescue him.

There are several stories at play. On another tangent is Charlie’s story; he’s a crack member of the SAS. His legs have been blown off by an IED. He has to prove himself all over again when he is fitted with zoomers (similar to the blades that paraolympians wear).

Sergeant Fulton’s son, Josh, holds the 3rd tier in the storyline. Targeted by the school bully, Josh is taunted with ‘Dog Boy’ and has his possessions stolen.

This is boys-own adventure writing. It is fast-paced, gritty, filled with intrigue and derring-do. The fact that it is set in an area of current confrontation makes it all that more real for the reader. There are drones, frags, Green Berets and the CIA. And if you don’t know the lingo that Dando-Collins uses, there’s an extensive glossary at the back that gives great explanations of military terms.

A book for boys? Definitely. I can imagine boys 10+ glued to this book (and their fathers). Not only is it an education about what happens in these treacherous war zones, it’s adrenalin-pumping and filled with high adventure.

Dando-Collins has more than 30 books to his moniker. Many have military themes. He has won several prestigious prizes for his writing. No wonder the reviewer at the Herald Sun tagged ‘Caesar the war dog – operation blue dragon’ as ‘One of the best war stories I have read’.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit up the World

Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit up the World by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 27.95
ISBN 9780763658557
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Nikola Tesla was a man destined for great things. This realization came to him at an early age when he ‘began to notice invisible energy everywhere’. Perhaps this was because on the night of his birth ‘lightning zapped, crackled and flashed overhead’. Throughout his childhood, he was drawn to the sight of electrical bolts in the sky.

This is the story of a magnificent mind and the alternating current that he dreamed of and imagined in specific and minute detail in his head. As a college student he promised himself that he would find a way to harness the power of alternating current and he did. He had to overcome great obstacles and initially and for a long time, the derision of all the people he called on to invest in his work. Even Thomas Edison tried to stop him for he had to protect his own invention of direct current for which he became famous.

It was at the Chicago World Fair that Nikola Tesla proved himself, with the support of the Westinghouse Company that had committed to use his other smaller inventions.

This is a heroic story of self-belief and perseverance, perhaps one of many experienced by early inventors.

This inspiring story beautifully presented with bold illustrations by Oliver Dominguez highlights this great man’s achievements and shows children that dreams can materialise and thoughts can become reality.

An Aussie Year

An Aussie Year by Tania McCartney, illustrated by Tina Snerling (Exisle Publishing)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-921966-24-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

An Aussie Year is a delightfully entertaining and informative journey across the months, seasons and places of Australia through the eyes of five children.

All Australian, the children who take us on this tour come from culturally diverse backgrounds. Ned’s family have lived in Australia for five generations. Zoe’s parents emigrated from Greece. Lily has a Chinese/Vietnamese background. Kirra is an Indigenous Australian. And Matilda’s family came from Ireland when she was a baby.

Each page opening illustrates a month in the year. And each month shows the activities, festivals and celebrations of the children. It reflects both the differences and similarities of the various cultural traditions.

The pictures are bold and bright and clear with cleverly set out, attractive pages. Six or seven scenes illustrate each month and the text snakes around them, through them, and in some cases, become part of them.

In January they swim, play frisby, have picnics, celebrate Tet (Vietnamese New Year), surf, watch the Australian Open, wear thongs, fish, slip-slop-slap, have school holidays, New Year’s Day and watch fireworks on New Year’s Day. All without crowding the page. And in January too, I learned that Australia Day is sometimes called Survival Day.

There is so much in this book that is representative of all Australian Children and families – it’s a wonderful melting pot of cultures that reflects Australia of today. All children will find plenty to relate too.

There’s a lot to learn as well. Some of the information is straightforward: “It’s Earth Hour. We turn off our lights for sixty minutes. (It’s because we want to save the planet).”

And some of the information is tucked away in clever sentences: “We paddle quickly away from box jelly fish.”

The humour is subtle, in both illustration and text. In March, on Clean-Up Australia Day, Zoe is vacuuming grass in the shape of Australia. Then, in September: “It’s Father’s Day. Dad reads the paper, watches the footy and goes to the hardware store.”

The last page has a map of Australia with more snippets of information and humour and the endpapers – front and back – area a wonderful montage of scenes from throughout the book.

I really loved this deceptively simple picture book. There is so much to see, read, discover and discuss. It will be thoroughly enjoyed by readers of all ages and is a celebration of all that happens in our diverse Australian lives.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Winner of The Nelly Gang giveaway

Congratulations to Jodie McAlister on her winning response to our question in The Nelly Gang giveaway: What do you think is the biggest moment in Australian history?

A big question and has had me thinking long and hard - I think perhaps it is Cathy Freeman celebrating victory with her lap of honour carrying an Australian and Aboriginal flag.  Why - because it combines many important facets of Australia; our first Australians, the recent British history of the country, a fantastically successful female ambassador, a sports hero in a country which often be united by sport and all of this on the global stage of the Olympics.

A signed copy of The Nelly Gang by Stephen Axelsen (Walker Books Australia) and a poster is on its way!

Read Buzz Words Books review of The Nelly Gang.

Meeting Cezanne

Meeting Cezanne by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Francois Place (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781406313796
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Yannick is sent to his Aunt Mathilde in Provence when his mother becomes ill. She’d prepared him by repeatedly showing him a book of Cezanne’s paintings, and by telling him everything about Uncle Bruno, his cousin Amandine, and the village inn where they worked.

But first love strikes when he meets his older and beautiful cousin. Amandine is at once bossy and alternatively ignores him. But Uncle Bruno takes him under his wing and teaches him to cook and bake.

But it is when a painter leaves a drawing on the tablecloth as a reward for Yannick’s wonderful crème brulee that things go awry. Unknowing, Yannick throws it into the fire and must then make restitution by replacing it with another. But which artist does he go to and who is the man who draws the new picture for Yannick?

A beautiful told tale of first love and awakenings, of surprises and lessons learnt, with the artistic setting of Provence as background and the excellence of Michael Morpurgo’s fluid prose. Francois Place’s delicate illustrations complement the text beautifully by bringing the characters and setting to life.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Welcome Little Scrub Fowl

Welcome Little Scrub Fowl by Sandra Kendell (Windy Hollow Books)
HC RRP $ 25.95
ISBN 9781922081261
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

How many readers know what a megapode is? Megapode is Greek for big foot. There are 19 species of birds that are megapodes and the Orange-footed Scrubfowl is one of them. This story is about the Scrubfowl, their laying and life habits.

From the beautiful shadowed illustrations on the fly pages to the vibrant, and eye-catching covers, every part of this book including the prose, is perfectly presented. The soft watercolour illustrations create a background of harmony and fluidity between the text and artwork.

Their house has legs. Their garden is ‘wild and green’, full of birds, fruit trees, lizards, frogs and vegetables. But the seedlings are found ‘scratched up’. Mum knows it’s the scrubfowl, and she gets cross. The child can hear them singing in the night and mum calls it courting. The child doesn’t know what that is, but imagines scrubfowls wearing crowns in the garden, surrounded by owls, possums, and tiny insects that have permanent residence there.

Mum knows they are scratching around to make a mound to lay their clutch of eggs. When it hatches, the little scrubfowl digs its way out of the earth to the surface. They are now independent beings.

This is a most informative, educational and entertaining story on the Orange-footed Scrubfowl found in the ‘Top End of the Northern Territory, north-eastern Queensland, and some islands in the Indonesian archipelago’. It has a double spread of information about this interesting bird at the end of the book.

Windy Hollow Books has caught the attention of lovers of children’s books everywhere with their excellent themes, beautiful productions and carefully considered presentation. They are a delight to read and learn from, and equally delightful to gift to anyone that enjoys quality in Australian children’s books.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Silver the Silly Sorcerer

Silver the Silly Sorcerer by Candice Lemon-Scott, illustrated by Janet Wolf (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN – 9781921928499
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Silver has only one chance left to pass the Eggs test at school or he’ll have to join the circus as a magician. He can easily make a mouse disappear and reappear, but his test requires he make it reappear as something else. When making the mouse disappear, he accidently makes his teacher vanish too. School is closed as all the other teachers try to work out how to reverse this.

Silver is deemed to have failed the test and is packed off to a failing circus forthwith. As he farewells his family, his sister Star gives him a magic card that he can rub if he needs to get back home in an emergency. Silver thinks life as a circus magician will be awful and, given that his first job is cleaning out the animal cages, he could be right. Worse still, the circus master doesn’t like the fact that Silver’s snake, Slither, is a back chatter.

When Silver does put on his magic act he is so bad it turns out to be seen by the audience as comical, thus earning him the name that matches the book’s title. It also means the circus begins to draw great crowds. Though things always get to a point where Silver is incapable of fixing them, Slither the snake steps in to do so and all turns out fine. But what of the missing teacher?

Well, as the story winds up in dramatic fashion it not only reveals a surprising fact about how the circus acquired its elephant but also has Silver’s teacher reappear as part of the twist. And just as they are at their final and most dangerous point of the tale, Silver rubs the magic card given to him by Star. They immediately return home safely and Silver receives a pass in the Eggs test. Hooray!

Like all Little Rockets titles, this has well-spaced text and colourful illustrations to break up the chapters, thereby encouraging young readers just stepping into chapter books to give it a go. The high quality paper used in production of this series, for readers aged 7+, will prove excellent for very likely repeated library borrowing.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Christmas at Grandad’s Farm

Christmas at Grandad’s Farm by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Janine Dawson (Five Mile Press)
HC RRP 16.95
ISBN 9781743463789
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The popular and talented Claire Saxby has produced a magnificent picture book in verse format. Christmas at Grandad’s Farm is a warm, fun-loving depiction of family unity and holiday enjoyment. Using the Jingle Bells theme, her own Christmas song depicts a typical Aussie family barbeque, and the freedom of outdoor fun and games; swimming in the creek, too much food, over-eating, and the company of family - young and old.

Dust clouds, leaping kangaroos, tree-lined roads running besides farmhouses, travelling in an old ute through the countryside and our good old Aussie language all add flavour to the carefree scenes.

Barbeques in the country are nothing without barking dogs, kids shouting, a game of cricket, clothes strewn everywhere, and that last wonderful event of the day when all the children are in bed.

Then it’s all around the Christmas tree, presents, wrapping paper everywhere, hugs and kisses, sharing, and a house filled with love. Then it is home again in the old ute.

Congratulations to Janine Dawson on the amazing translation of the text in watercolour and pen. She’s brought words to life with her insight and talent. This book is ideal for promoting Australian country life and would do well in all areas of tourism and promotion.

Sunday, 6 October 2013


Owl by Anna Pignataro (Windy Hollow Books)
HC RRP $25.95
ISBN 9781922081162
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Owl and Frida live together in a cottage deep in the forest. Their life together has been enough for them for they share everything. But words are powerful objects. When Owl is told how beautiful he is and how the world would benefit by his presence, he begins to think. His thoughts create discontent, and what he is and what he has, seems minute compared to what awaits him out in the world.

He loses interest in sharing everything with Frida. After a hundred frozen nights of snow and retreat from the cold, the window of the house is again open. The external space beckons Owl and he follows its call.

Leaving Frida, Owl explores the world which is more than he knows. But he is only a small enough thing in a huge space. He thinks of Frida, her love and warmth. He returns to their snowy home in the forest. But what will he find?

Owl, in its burgundy cover, is a beating heart; the poignant story of love and freedom, home and belonging. Beautifully illustrated with delicate lines and equally delicate prose, this book is a collector’s item made so by its uniqueness in presentation, theme and overall content.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Snowy and Snuffles

Snowy and Snuffles illustrated by Felicity Gardner (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: 9780734413888
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
This is a gorgeous little book about siblings and beautifully illustrated by Felicity Gardner who recently made her debut with Where's My Potty? Her lively depictions of Snowy, an exuberantly loud wombat and his quiet brother, Snuffles, extend the meaning of the story to great and often hilarious effect.
Snowy is in endless trouble because of his wild interpretation of life and Snuffles is often on the receiving end of his antics. But he doesn't seem to mind being plastered with cereal catapulted from Snowy's spoon, or being pushed recklessly on the swing and falling off. It is obvious that Snowy is simply full of fun and means no harm, but his mum has to keep him in line while his more careful sibling gets the rewards. There is no hard feelings between the brothers and they are the very best of friends.

This jolly and endearing tale featuring a rare white wombat will resonate with both parents and children, especially those with siblings who are opposites. Felicity has captured the personalities of the characters so well that it could almost be written without the text which is kept to a minimum, and therefore makes it a perfect picture book.  

Friday, 4 October 2013

Interview: Fiona McDonald and David Allan of Christmas Press

Author/artist/designer Fiona McDonald and artist/illustrator David Allan have joined with author Sophie Masson, to create Christmas Press, a new publishing house for children’s books. Their first publication Two Trickster Tales was launched late September. Anastasia Gonis gets an insight into the hows and whys of this union, and attempts to learn about these two creative people.

An extended version of this interview was featured in the October 1 2013 issue of Buzz Words.

You are an author/artist/designer. Can you tell us something about yourself and your work?

F. I’ve always loved making things: pictures, dolls and stories. I hated school and dropped out in Year 11. I went to the city to seek my fortune but enrolled at Julian Ashton’s Art School instead where I spent the next four years rigorously training to be an artist.

I love to make pictures with an enigmatic narrative; people say ‘why is she doing that?’ Or ‘why are they there?’ and my answer is - ‘Well, I don’t know, it’s a mystery’.

Now I am a director at Christmas Press but I also do layout, concept design and am a writer and illustrator, and hope to do both of those in the near future.

You are a new illustrator. What opened the door to this new area of art for you and at what other occupation do you work?

D. I've had a love for drawing ever since I was a young boy. I completed a Diploma in Fine Art at TAFE and have held Fine Art exhibitions of Landscapes and Portraits in Oils. I've always wanted to be an illustrator though, and after working in bookshops and as a graphic designer in the past, I felt like now is the time to pursue my dream career. I've been heavily influenced by classical illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin (especially for Two Trickster Tales), along with Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha and more recent illustrators such as Alan Lee and William Stout. Meeting Sophie and Fiona and getting so much encouragement from them has helped my progress immensely.

How did you come to join forces with David Allan and Sophie Masson to create Christmas Press?

F. Some years ago Sophie and I were lamenting the passing of the age of the luxury Christmas picture book. In the days of Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac publishers produced a gloriously illustrated children’s book in time for Christmas. Nowadays most Christmas books seem to be the very tired retelling of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

At the time we said to each other how much fun it would be to have our own publishing house. We’d call it Christmas Press in memory of those antique books.

It was at the beginning of this year (or even the very end of last year) that we decided we’d really do it and set ourselves up as a publishing house and produced a beautiful book. David Allan had come on the scene by then and his illustrations were exquisite and we thought this a great project for him to do to help showcase his work.

In a continuing unpredictable climate that publishers are currently experiencing, what is it about Christmas Press that will make it stand apart from other established publishing ventures that are struggling?

D. We'd like to think that there is still a lot of love for very traditional picture books in a style reminiscent of Arthur Rackham and other illustrators from long ago. Also we feel there is an untapped market in picture books that specialise in traditional fairy tales and the like.

New ventures in the current changing climate of children’s books need passion, commitment and
money. Do you feel confident that all these needs will be satisfied with the work you all propose to do?

F. Yep! I never worry about money, it always materialises when needed. This is a passion and we don’t expect it to make a fortune. As long as we can keep bringing out new titles I think we’ll all be happy. I have lived on an artist’s wage for most of my adult life. You do without a lot of things but you have the fulfilment you need instead. I think more people need to think about their lives this way, follow their hearts and cut up the credit card. No proper job is secure so what do you have to lose?

Traditional fairytales have long been lost to the world of children’s books. Your work also has its magical side to it. Did this influence your decision in any way to join Sophie and David in recreating new stories and characters from the old?

F. I think the three of us share a visual sense of aesthetic. We all love old picture books, fine technique, great draughtsmanship. We also all love fantasy stories, fairy stories and have a strong nostalgia for childhood.

The printing costs for Two Tricksters from Russia were funded by an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Can you explain what this is and why you chose this method for funding? 

D. Online Crowdfunding involves seeking to pool the collective money of individuals via the Internet, to fund efforts such as ours. We basically thought we'd have a crack at crowdfunding after seeing the success of other people’s ventures that had been funded in this way. Through networking our friends, colleagues and relatives we were able to very nearly cover the cost of the print run of our book.

Beauty, colour and imagination are part of both worlds that you’re involved in now. In your opinion, is this combination a participating factor in the success of the traditional fairytales that the group is now producing?

F. Absolutely! I personally feel there has been a death of beauty in children’s books and toys in the last few years. Everything in life is becoming homogenised and bland from food to television.

My toys, mainly dolls and dragons, are selling really well as if people are starving for something a bit different. I think the same is happening in the world of books. We are already discussing and planning adding new characters to Granny Fi’s Toy Shop. I just have to find more hours in the day!

What type of media did you use for the artwork in Two Trickster Tales and how does the illustrative style differ from what you are used to?

D. For the artwork I used pen and watercolour on paper. The style for this book is pretty much an extension of what I normally do. Prior to starting the project, Sophie introduced me to the work of the great Russian Illustrator Ivan Bilibin whose work I had somehow missed before and now love. His use of a clean line and areas of flat colour style has been a huge influence on the look of the illustrations I produced for Two Trickster Tales from Russia.

You can read Buzz Words' review of Two Trickster Tales in the post below.

Two Trickster Tales from Russia

Two Trickster Tales from Russia retold by Sophie Masson, illustrated by Davis Allan (Christmas Press)
PB RRP $22.95 (buy direct from publisher, or form bookshops listed on site)
ISBN 9780992283803
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

To all the people that have loved classic fairytales and longed for their resurrection, take heart!  With its first publication, Two Trickster Tales from Russia, Christmas Press has returned the classic tale to new generations of readers with the promise that classic tales from all over the world will be reborn in a fresh and exciting fashion. This is a new enterprise with artist David Allan making his illustrative debut, who with designer/artist/writer Fiona McDonald and author Sophie Masson make up the trio that form Christmas Press.

This beautiful book contains two tales from Russia. In Masha and the Bear, a simple trip to the woods to collect berries leads Masha into a bear’s clutches. But she is clever and resourceful, and soon finds a way to get home. With The Rooster with the Golden Crest, a rooster that refuses to listen to logic, finds himself in the clutches of a hungry fox, not once but three times. He is saved from ending up as dinner by his fast-thinking friends, a cat and a thrush.

The illustrations are presented in colour, sepia, and black and white. Delicate lines and intricate details return with full page pictures, borders and double-paged spreads. The design and layout is superb and the language has been adapted well to weave in with and complement the entire structure of the book. The book can be read or listened to with equal pleasure.

The Harvest Race

The Harvest Race by Em Horsfield, illustrated by Glen Singleton (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN – 9781921928888
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Inspired by life as lived by the Bromet family on their macadamia nut farm this tale’s cast of charming characters takes readers on a bonza ride that illustrates many traditional aspects of country life. It begins with Nosh the trusty Nutmobile waking up, happy that today marks his first ever entry in the harvest race. Not long after things start he finds himself in the lead, but trouble soon appears.

The greatest “Moooo”  causes harvesting to stop. Yep, it’s a cow. Or so we think. Turning the page, however, reveals it’s a whole herd. And a herd of cows can be destructive. Especially when they’ve spotted a paddock of luscious juicy grass. They trample a whole field of nuts not yet harvested to get to what they want. Farmer B is dejected. He can’t get his macadamias to market. What’s to be done?

Nosh wonders just that, until he realizes the answer is sitting right under the race’s spectators. Loaded up with the hay bales he and is driver, Max, lure the cows away. Sadly, that means they aren’t still racing against the others. So they harvest nothing. But without their heroic act no harvest would have happened at all, so really they are winners for saving the day. And everyone celebrates this.

The story is told in rhyme that scans well, using lively language. I especially like the repeated refrain used each time anyone tries to get the herd to “Moooove out, moooove out!”  Thoughtful and varied colourful illustrations are bold and busy enough to add a sense of action, without being so cluttered as to cause confusion. They present authentic characters and all the hallmarks needed to give readers a true picture of farm life and agricultural community.

Suitable for ages 4-8, this work’s final page contains information and expands the reading experience with simple activities that aren’t a strenuous lesson but that ensure readers pay attention and absorb all there is to see. It’s especially handy for those who have no experiences of rural life. Most of all, this book will be valued by anyone who enjoys maintaining traditions we hold dear.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Find Your Feet

Find Your Feet by Rebecca Sparrow (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 4926 4
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

The author, Rebecca Sparrow, has had an enviable career as a travel writer, marketing executive, television scriptwriter, novelist and newspaper columnist. She’s interviewed celebrities and admits to loving her job. And why not – she’s described every girls’ dream career.  Yet Sparrow is the first to admit that her secondary school results were hardly spectacular and she won no awards during her uni years. In this book, Sparrow offers no-nonsense career and life advice to girls – the type of stuff she wishes somebody told her while she was at school.

Sub-titled The Eight Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Left High School, this slim book is part career-planning manual, part etiquette handbook with a good dose of self-empowerment thrown in. Sparrow writes passionately about the benefits of humility and eagerness to learn when starting out in the workplace, balanced with information about warning signs of harassment and abuse.

The book includes articles by Mia Freedman, Jessica Rudd, Sacha Drake, Leigh Sales and Caroline Overington on topics as diverse as the benefits of work experience, job interview tips, the importance of doing something that you love, dealing with humiliation and the importance of keeping one’s eyes on the road whilst driving.

Written in a light manner that avoids lecturing, Sparrow comes across as an agony aunt with a sense of humour. My only criticism is that it was written about twenty years too late – I could have benefitted from it as a youngster!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Author Interview: Tania McCartney on Why Caroline Chisholm?

Regular visitors to Buzz Words know how much I love history for kids so I'm thrilled to welcome Tania McCartney as she explores the life of one of the greatest contributors to colonial Australia, Caroline Chisholm. 

Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend is the fifth book in the Aussie Heroes series by New Frontier. With so many eminent Australians to choose from, why Caroline Chisholm?

Oh goodness, where do I start? I think I initially chose Caroline because I knew so little about her—nothing in any great depth, anyway—and she fascinated me. I also appreciated the family and community focus in her work, and her endless sacrifice and dedication to the downtrodden and displaced.

I also knew that her story had been pretty heavily unrepresented. There are few biographies or life accounts on Caroline, and scant has been written for children on her life. Despite having a catalogue of places, suburbs, institutions and buildings named after her in both Australia and England, there is no national monument, not even a bronze statue, and in 1992, she was stricken from the five dollar note in favour of Queen Elizabeth II.

I suddenly felt a bit ferocious about her. So, she was my choice.

What did you find most impressive about Caroline’s life’s work?

Again, when do I start? For me, it wasn’t just the selflessness and support she offered others, it was the relentlessness, the courage and the fact that she refused to take no for an answer.

The other thing she did was refuse to align her work with any political party or cause. This meant her family was often in dire financial straits. It was the support of her colleagues and the community that kept her family afloat at these times. But only just.

Even in the lowest times, through financial strain and severe ill health (Caroline developed kidney disease that eventually killed her), this was one gutsy woman.

Why do children need to know about Caroline’s life?

Because of the selflessness. Because our general populace have moved so far away from community and family ties. We are such an I-focussed society now and it’s producing generations of ostracism, loneliness and depression. More than ever before, kids are in danger of overt self-focus and I’m hoping this book in some small way shows even a few kids that giving—support, sacrifice and generosity—is such a large part of our ultimate life happiness.

What was the hardest thing about writing this book?

I think I became too attached to her. This really surprised me. Like my NLA picture book, Australian Story, I spent a surprising amount of time weeping over Caroline’s story and the plights of so many. What people went through at Settlement—both Indigenous and introduced—is just heart-wrenching.

So, I found the research process very emotional and this made things tough at times—Caroline’s was a life of sacrifice. It doesn’t surprise me in the least bit that a Catholic body is campaigning for her canonisation. She’s just that good!

What did you love the most about it? 

How proud I felt. How heartened. But also, how princess-like! Caroline almost single-handedly made me feel princess-like and trust me when I say I’m not the least bit princessy (okay, I’ll admit I don’t like camping but I do like bushwalking and gardening and I don’t mind getting stuck into the composting!).

Here was a woman who didn’t bat an eyelid at extreme temperatures or conditions or snakes or bugs or bushrangers or politicians or literary giants. She even gave birth to her fourth child, Sydney, aboard a ship for England. It nearly killed her. This was one gutsy, phenomenal woman, who put comfort aside in order to help those in need.

That is what I loved most about writing this book.

Will you write more historical faction? Are you hooked?

Totally. I’m currently exploring a book on May Gibbs because, again, I feel she is so under-represented—at least in children’s book circles. When I speak to school children, I’d so love every single hand to pop up when I ask if they’ve heard of Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie. Dorothy Wall would also be amazing to write about and I have a real fascination with Florence Broadhurst—again not someone kids know a lot about. What a life she lived.

In the meantime, I have a picture book on Captain Cook in production right now—for the National Library, and that’s extra exciting because it’s being illustrated by friend and fellow-Taswegian (did you know this term comes from Royal Australian Navy slang of the 1930s? Fascinating!) Christina Booth.

In a way, I think I’m drawn to write about particular historical figures because they tend to ‘call’ me. I may have a small fascination with their story, but it’s the ones who speak the loudest that really get my attention. I have quite a few people in my head, so we’ll soon see who wins the shouting match …

Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend
(New Frontier, Oct 2013, $14.95, paperback, 9781921928482)

‘If Captain James Cook discovered Australia––if John Macarthur planted the first seeds of its extraordinary prosperity––if Ludwig Leichhardt penetrated and explored its before unknown interior––Caroline Chisholm has done much more: she has peopled—she alone has colonised in the true sense of the term.’
—Henry Parkes’ Empire newspaper, 15 August 1859

The fifth book in the Aussie Heroes series of junior historical fiction, Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend is an illustrated chapter book for children aged 8 - 12, and covers the remarkable life and work of one our Australia's greatest philanthropists. The book features beautiful illustrations by Pat Reynolds.

Tania McCartney is an author of both children’s and adult books, and has been writing professionally for over 25 years. An experienced magazine writer and editor, she also founded respected literary site Kids’ Book Review. She is passionate about literacy, and loves to speak on reading, books and writing. Her latest books include Eco Warriors to the Rescue! (National Library Publishing), Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra (Ford Street), Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant’s Friend (New Frontier) and An Aussie Year: Twelve months in the life of Australian Kids (EK Publishing). Tania adores books, travel and photography. She lives in Canberra with her family, in a paper house at the base of a book mountain.