Wednesday, 30 April 2014

How I Love You

How I Love You by Anna Pignataro (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-818-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Although not specifically marketed towards Mother's Day, this charming picture book relates expressions of love between children and their mothers and would be perfect for the mood of Mother's Day celebrations.
Populated with Australian animals - mums and babies - this story is filled with expressive text, warmth and gentle movement. Energetic words such as snuggled, nuzzled, tickled and nestled, conjure up lovely images of these little animals and their own special ways of showing love.
     Very Spiky Echidna was tumbling in a ball. Very Spiky Echidna snuggled by Mummy's
     tummy and said, 'This is how I love you, Mummy.'
The illustrations are beautiful. Muted colours - browns, olive greens and grey blues - reminiscent of the Australian bush create soft images. Characters such as Little Sooty Owl, Little Wobbly Wombat and Baby Possum are very much alive in the pages of this book.
How I Love You is a beautiful story showing the mother child relationship wrapped in love. Its calmness and repetition make it perfect for bedtime reading and the strong sturdy pages and binding means it will survive countless readings and little fingers.
Who would not want to be loved like the mothers in this story? Baby Possum cradled Mummy's face and said, 'This is how I love you, Mummy.'

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Awesome Aussie Things to do with Mum

Awesome Aussie Things to do with Mum illustrated by Simon Williams (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-995-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

With Mother's Day approaching it's the perfect time to start thinking of Mum and activities you can do together. Awesome Aussie Things to do with Mum is the perfect book to help with this. Whatever your Mum's interests, this book can show you some awesome things to do together.
From indoor activities, to gardening, games, backyard projects and beach fun, there are so many ideas for you to explore.
Does your Mum like trees? Learn the art of Bonsai pruning together. Choose a suitable Australian species - eucalyptus, Grevillea, or Banksia - and get snipping. Does she want to put her feet up at meal time? Maybe you can make her some Home Cooked Tucker with a Twist? Teach her some new dance moves so she doesn't embarrass you at the next party, or build the most awesome sandcastle ever together next time you are at the beach.
There are recipes, excellent illustrations teaching skills such as knitting, and instructions for games from Mum's childhood such as Cat's Cradle, Knucklebones (Jacks) and Elastics.

Filled with quirky illustrations, fun facts, great tips, awesome ideas and step-by-step instructions this book will help you to discover just how amazing your Mum really is.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Room for a Stranger

Room for a Stranger by Ann Turnbull (Walker Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781406331059
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The last book of this outstanding trilogy winds up in 1941. The two older girls have moved out and joined the WAAF. Father has died from lung disease. Lennie now fifteen years old, and the man of the house, works down in the mines, while Mother works screening and sorting.

When the war starts in 1939, and evacuees are billeted out to homes in the countryside, Rhoda Kelly comes into Doreen’s life. Intelligent, questioning and interested in everything, she shares Doreen’s room and eclipses her life.

Rhoda’s mother, an actress, is too absorbed in herself to care about her child. So Rhoda has also learnt to act and pretend, and has become far too confident and capable for a thirteen year old. It isn’t until Doreen sees the other side of Rhoda’s life that she comes to understand that everything isn’t always what it appears to be, and being loved is the greatest longing in every human life.

Here the trilogy comes full circle with the family making a life in whatever way possible to see out the war years. This impressive series was inspired by the local history of south-east London where the author grew up.  The excellent characters, strong narrative and great sense of time and place add credence to the fictional part of the story.  This series comes highly recommended.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

No Friend of Mine

No Friend of Mine by Ann Turnbull (Walker Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781406324778
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In the second book of the series following Pigeon Summer, it is now 1937. The focus is on Lennie, Mary’s younger brother who just wants to draw all that he sees around him of nature.  Both Mary and her sister Phyl are working, and baby Doreen is now at school. Father has returned but cannot do more than care for the pigeons due to his wheezing miner’s lungs.

At school, boys led by the vicious bully Bert, continue their callous and brutal daily attack on Lennie. A last effort to escape the bullies leads Lennie to the remains of an old stone cottage which becomes a refuge, and place for privacy away from his cramped home.

But rich boy Ralph, whose father owns the mines, has also claimed this place. He too, needs a refuge away from home. They create an imaginative world full of adventure and interest together, and build a friendship; something that neither had ever had before.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Pigeon Summer

Pigeon Summer by Ann Turnbull (Walker Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781406352498
Reviewed Anastasia Gonis

The setting is the 1930s England for the opening of this interesting historical trilogy which follows the life of the Dyers, a mining family. Father has left in search of work and eleven year old Mary is left to care and exercise their racing pigeons. With her older sister Phyl working as maid, Mary longs for a bike so she can work as delivery girl and contribute to their rapidly declining finances.

Arnold, a classmate of Mary’s from a large family that everyone makes fun of, finds a rusted, twisted bike in a ditch and restores it. Their friendship is mocked by all, but the astute Mary, sees more in Arnold than is visible to others. The pigeons become a way of staving off hunger when Mother has no food to feed her family.

Mary sends her best pigeon Speedwell by train to Bordeaux for the pigeon club’s annual race in the hope of winning. But the role of the pigeons changes when Mary falls down a quarry. Will Gaffer make it home in the storm and get help for her? Speedwell is also thrown off course by a different storm. Will she too, make it home safely? What about father who hasn’t been heard of for a while?

It’s a beautifully written story of strength, courage, resourcefulness and survival with a theme of family unity twisted through a background of pigeon racing during the Depression era.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Life is Like the Wind

Life is Like the Wind by Shona Innes, illustrated by Irisz Agocs (Five Mile Press)
HC RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781760060558
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

‘Life is like the wind. When life goes, the body is very still’.

Coming to terms with, or understanding death is so difficult for children, and at times for many adults too. This simple, emotive, deconstructive approach to death, loss and grief, explains what happens when something or someone dies. It discusses various beliefs about where people go after death, and how a part of that person or thing remains alive in people’s memories.

In this second book in the Big Hug series by Clinical and Forensic Psychologist Shona Innes, feelings are addressed. What can be done to make loss feel less painful and how does one cope, regardless of age?

All the ideas and suggestions in these books encourage conversation and questions, and in discussing feelings, reasons and beliefs, a way of accepting death as part of life can be found.  

These exciting new and extremely well produced books are very well priced for a hardcover, and the superb watercolour paintings enhance the messages carried in the text. There is also a note to parents and teachers at the end of each book.


Thursday, 24 April 2014

Friendship is Like a Seesaw

Friendship is Like a Seesaw by Shona Innes, illustrated by Irisz Agocs (Five Mile Press)
HC RRP $ 14.95
ISBN 9781760060565
Reviewed By Anastasia Gonis

The stunning watercolour paintings by Hungarian illustrator, Irisz Agocs have brought Shona Innes’ exciting series of Big Hug books to life and imbued her words with a subtle, meaningful glow. This first one is released simultaneously with the second, Life is Like the Wind, with two more titles due mid-year.

Sensitive and sincere, soothing and gentle, it addresses the theme of friendship and its challenges, changes, and ups and downs.  The analogy of friendship being like a seesaw is perfect. It talks about rules in friendship, taking turns and sharing, balancing everything out, and doing nice things for each other.

The most impressive thing about this book is that it’s not directly aimed only at children. Adults and older people will also welcome this series of intelligently crafted books which ‘grew out of letters sent to children and their families after their psychology sessions’.

Shona Innes is a Clinical and Forensic and Psychologist who has patients of all ages and whose books ‘aim to give children and the people who care for them, a way to talk about problems’. And that sums it all up. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

My Australian Story: Kokoda

My Australian Story: Kokoda by Alan Tucker (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-205-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Written in diary form, Kokoda tells the story of World War II from the perspective of a young boy living in Townsville. With two older brothers on the battle front – Harold in the 2/14 Battalion, and Des in the 2/39th Militia Battalion – Archie is updated regularly on the action taking place off Australian soil from their letters home. Des (with Harold’s Battalion joining later) is sent to Port Moresby where his militia battalion has the task of defending the Kokoda Track from the advancing Japanese army.

This is a World War II story with a strong Australian feel. There is much focus on Archie’s life, and what it was like to live in the north of Australia during the war years. Townville was a base for the Americans and many of the local resented this. American soldiers enjoyed comforts local were unable to obtain due to rationing – even water was rationed at times. They lived in fear of Japanese invasion and bombing did occur occasionally in the parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland.

The diary entries show clearly how lack of information caused rumours to run rife. No-one really knew what was happening in the overseas theatres or where family members may be stationed at any given time. All this is recorded by fourteen year old Archie, through whose eyes everything seems a little exciting as well as a little frightening, but he is eager to learn about everything. And throughout the uncertainty of war, home life goes on and he has to deal with school, being the new kid, bullies, and getting a job.

This is a fascinating look at Australia’s war involvement between 1941 and 1942. It touches on peripheral subjects too, such as segregation in the US military and questions whether the Aussies treated Aboriginal recruits any better. It also raises the issues of leadership and what makes a good leader. 

While the focus is on Townsville and the Kokoda campaign, this is set in the context of the rest of the war. Mention is made of the Fall of Singapore, the Bombing of Darwin, Anzac Day services, the Battle of the Coral Sea and other relevant historical events as they happen. 

There are ten pages of historical notes at the end which help to explain the facts the author has drawn on to create this ‘darn good yarn’. Throughout the story, Australian humour, slang and values such as mateship and family shine through.

From the My Australian Story series, this story about the Kokoda campaign and Australia’s battle for the home front is a great tale for any child, ten years and up. The writing is very accessible, easy and entertaining and will suit those interested in war stories, adventure or Australian History. It is an absorbing coming of age journey, particularly for boys.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood, illustrated by Annie White (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-129-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Anzac Day honours the Anzacs who, among other campaigns, fought for a small area of land on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. Written by Kerry Greenwood, Gallipoli tells the story of Bluey and Dusty, close mates who are among the lucky ones to make it home at the end of the campaign. 

This is a well-written and wordy story which explores the issues of bravery, hardship, fear, humour and mateship. With much more text than is usual in a picture book, this is suitable for primary aged children. It includes interesting detail such as Simpson and his donkey Duffy, the Roses of No Man's Land (nurses), and the battles at Gaba Tepe and Lone Pine. 

The writing creates a little distance between the events and the reader. The story is more about what happens than a more personal account:

In between the fighting, an unexpected bond began amongst the exhausted enemies. They worked together to bury the dead and swapped gifts instead of gunfire.   The diggers offered bully beef, and the Turks gave fruit and sweets in return.

The emotion is in the pictures. Annie White's illustrations are watercolour, unusually soft and gentle for depictions of war. And it is the people who dominate these illustrations. Here, human emotions are beautifully expressed and shine strongly through. As well as full paged illustrations, White has painted sepia photographs, complete with photo corners, which run throughout the story, creating a feeling of a personal photograph album. These begin inside the front cover and continue all the way to the end pages where more recent photos of family round out a life story.

Between the text and the illustrations, a story of Aussie mateship, humour and stoicism is portrayed, making this a tale of Australians at Gallipoli with memories which can be shared with younger children as well as older.    

Monday, 21 April 2014

Archie’s War: My Scrapbook of the First World War

Archie’s War: My Scrapbook of the First World War by Marcia Williams (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406352689
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Archie Albright receives a scrapbook from his uncle for his tenth birthday in April, 1914.The entries end when he is 15 years old, in 1919. Full of fold-out cards and letters, clippings from newspapers, and posters of the era, we get a view of the First World War through Archie’s life, and his family members’ experiences.

Archie’s love of comics inspires the comic characters and drawings that make up this amazing scrapbook. It’s funny, clever, and imaginative. The humorous captions and banners present the harsh reality of war in a light-hearted (if possible) way. It allows children to learn the history of the war; the conditions the men fought in, and at the same time experience visually and verbally, how difficult life was for the people left behind at home in London.

This book won the UKLA (United Kingdom Literacy Association) Book Award. It is a reissue of the 2007 publication, and is suitable for all ages. The illustrations are highly detailed. The entire presentation is exceptional. Marcia Williams excels at creating books that appear like personalized journals and scrapbooks. She is the author of the outstanding Lizzie Bennet’s Diary.

Jack’s Bugle

Jack’s Bugle by Krista Bell, illustrated by Belinda Elliott (Windy Hollow Books)
HC RRP $25.99
ISBN 9781922081292
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Innocent about the meaning of war and looking for adventure along with so many others, Aidan Jackson, known as Jack, sets out for Gallipoli with his bugle. He becomes best mate to Harry, who later brings Jack’s bugle home.

This book is a salute to the men at Anzac Cove. It’s a hymn to the mateship and camaraderie shared in the sands of Egypt, and the trenches. And amidst the bullet fire, it’s always mates looking after mates with loyalty and sacrifice.

Ever present in the story is the bugle; Jack’s Bugle, that brought something singular to the men at Gallipoli and which remained along with a bent photo, the only reminder for Harry of his friend.

Krista Bell has again used a single object - the bugle - to create an interesting reflection on the war that was to end all wars. The story of the bugle is in itself a whole separate tale, uncovered at the end. These books are treasures and serve to remind us Lest We Forget.

Outstanding watercolour illustrations by Belinda Elliott take the reader back to the time and place perfectly with her perceptive translation of the text.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete

Creforce: The Anzacs and the Battle of Crete by Stella Tzobanakis (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 18.99
ISBN 9781742030821
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Creforce was the name of the Commonwealth and Allied Forces of Crete. This reissue from The Drum series concentrates on the Australian and New Zealand Forces that took part in the historic ten-day Battle of Crete. It also covers the invasion of the Greek mainland, and includes an expansive history of WW2 during those catastrophic times.
The Battle of Crete was fought in May 1941, when German paratroopers fell from the sky, with the ANZAC, British and Greek units defending the island. The Germans encountered mass resistance from the island’s population. The Cretan’s knowledge of the mountains and their ability to survive there indefinitely proved to be their greatest weapon against the German invaders.

Lack of food forced soldiers to depend on the charity of strangers. What little they had was shared with the soldiers. Whole villages paid if a person was discovered harbouring an enemy of the Germans. The accounts of the Allied soldiers’ heroic attempts to fight with a shortage of guns and ammunition, in tattered clothing and shared boots, is deeply moving.

The statistics here are amazing. The layout is terrific. Its informative fact boxes include biographies of famous people associated with the Greek Resistance. Archival photos appear throughout the book. Customs, traditions, language, music, and past history of the island form the background of this comprehensive narrative on the invasion of Greece and Crete during WW2.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Along the Road to Gundagai

Along the Road to Gundagai by Jack O’Hagan, illustrated by Andrew McLean (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-979-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Although the words of this song are familiar to me, I had no idea of the wistful story representing young men sent to the first Word War which lies behind the lyrics. This book tells the story of a young soldier in World War I who is injured and hospitalised. Through this he relives memories of home. And it is through the illustrations that we get the emotions which go deeper than the jaunty, happy song seems to suggest on the surface.

Andrew McLean uses charcoal and watercolour to create these pictures, then scans and colours them on an iPad. His powerful images contrast the dark, heavy depictions of war with the lighter, rosier memories of home. There are many such contrasts within the pages. A constant eerie glow hangs over the war scenes while the pictures of home have a sunrise shine to them. There is a fabulous illustration of young soldiers washing in a creek near a bombed out building, then the next page shows children playing freely in the waters of the Murrumbidgee River. And the use of horses is a theme which runs throughout, creating a further divide between war and peace.

O’Hagan, a prolific Australian song writer, wrote Along the Road to Gundagai in 1922 and it was an instant success. Even if you think you know this song well, read the book and see it with a new perspective.

This is an excellent book with beautiful illustrations but keep in mind that, although a picture book with a simple concept, some of the illustrations are powerful and could be frightening for very young children. It is ultimately a story about war and as such depicts scenes from the battlefront.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Simpson and his Donkey

Simpson and his Donkey by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frane Lessac (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921529542
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The heroic life and death of Jack Simpson and his donkey is presented again by husband and wife team Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac. It starts with Jack’s life before he sailed for Australia, then aboard as a stoker. His working history shows us the man he was, and how easy it was for Jack to serve ‘king and country’ when the war broke out. 

But fear replaced the sense of adventure that many soldiers set out with, when the fighting started on the ‘razorback ridges’. Jack was working tirelessly carrying wounded to the boats to be evacuated, when he came upon a stray donkey which he named Duffy. Thus they became Simpson and his donkey.

This immortal story has been brought to life again through Greenwood’s ability to tell a great tale, and make it sound fresh and new. Lessac’s insightful illustrations fit like a glove around Greenwood’s words. Detailed and expressive, each full page illustration gives up all of Simpson’s bravery, determination and courage, as he carries water to thirsty troops, and makes the return journey with a wounded soldier on Duffy’s back. One of them being his childhood friend Billy.

It also gives us a clear picture of Gallipoli and the conditions the men experienced there. It’s a salute to this part of Australian history that is in our hearts and memories.

Simpson was admired and respected as ‘the bravest of the brave’ due to his humanity. He died the way he lived - always doing what was right, and serving others. He was buried at Hell Spit. We must also reflect as we turn each page of this beautifully illustrated edition with its poetic prose, on all that we are because of Gallipoli.

Lest We Forget.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Gallipoli: Reckless Valour

Gallipoli: Reckless Valour by Nicholas Brasch (black dog books)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 9781742030258
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

With an entirely unique approach to presenting the Gallipoli campaign, Nicholas Brasch has broken down the information into easy to understand divisions. He asks a question, and then answers it in comprehensive detail.

This is a wonderful reference book for young readers, and others of any age who are looking to understand the main structure of why WW1 was declared, and what happened next. It explains in easy to follow fact boxes, the main points of how and why Australian soldiers were sent to Gallipoli, why so many died, and what the outcome of the campaign was. It also tells us why Anzac Day is commemorated on April 25.

The contents are visual as well as informative. With photos and images from the Australian War Memorial, there are maps, posters and a glossary of terms for clarification. Other words highlighted within the text are also included in the glossary.

Aaron Pegram from the Australian War Memorial has done a fact check of this book, which is beautifully designed with an excellent layout of information and visuals.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Bilby Secrets

Bilby Secrets by Edel Wignell, illustrated by Mark Jackson (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 29.95
ISBN 9781921529320
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) Short-Listed book, Bilby Secrets reveals extraordinary information about this charming marsupial. Before white settlement, two types of Bilbies lived on the Australian mainland. One of them – the Lesser Bilby - is now said to be extinct. But at Easter lots of chocolate bilbies can be found.

The story is presented in two parallel parts on each page. There is the narrative with the Bilby as protagonist at the top, and the factual information displayed in sentences shaped like waves. The two parts are connected by a common thread creating continuity and flow.

Did you know that a Bilby mother can have a litter of three babies and that they can have four litters in one year? Or that a baby spends 75 days in its mother’s pouch?

How does a Bilby keep predators from following them into their tunnel? How old are they when they start to mate?

This and lots more information about the Bilby’s secret life is beautifully presented in this well-researched book. Fantastic illustrations in earthy colours created with mixed media, accompany each entry. This educational and entertaining book will make the perfect gift for readers of all ages at Easter. Perhaps to accompany a chocolate Bilby (just a small one)?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

We’re Going on an Egg Hunt

We’re Going on an Egg Hunt [with CD] by Laine Mitchell, illustrated by Louis Shea (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74362– 041-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

       We’re going on an egg hunt!
       We’re going to find the biggest one!
       I can’t wait!
      Chocolate for you and me!

We’re Going on an Egg Hunt is Mitchell’s Easter interpretation of the very popular We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. It’s nearly Easter and like almost everyone else, the five friends in this vibrant picture book are off to find hidden Easter eggs in their adventurous egg hunt.

Young children will love to join these cute animals as they search for the biggest eggs in exciting places. As in the original hunt they face many dangers, obstacles they must negotiate such as a wild turnabout maze, and a garden with pretty buzzing flowers! Will they go over, under or through?

Shea’s instantly recognisable illustrations are bright, colourful and playful. They are full of cute animals and cheeky detail – check out the chicks hatching in the birds nest, one of them is not a chick! See if you can find the Easter Bunny and eggs hidden in the pages.

Accompanying the book is a CD recording of the song. Children can sing along with lively, funny and popular entertainer Jay Laga’aia. His voice is instantly known and loved by preschool children (and older)) and this Easter reinvention has simple catchy lyrics.

This can be read, re-read, chanted, acted out and listened to over and over again.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Easter Egg Express

Easter Egg Express (Little Mates) by Susannah McFarlane, illustrated by Caroline Keys (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $4.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-169-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop
The Little Mates alphabet finished with Zippy Zoe but Eric and Ellie, Easter Bilbies from the Easter Egg Emporium, have arrived in time for Easter in a new title Easter Egg Express. These two cute bilbies have great fun making Easter special for everybody -    ‘Ellie has elegant handwriting and Eric is an exceptional egg wrapper’ – but can they get everything done in time? Perhaps they need to call on their friends for help through the Bush Telegraph.

Easter Egg Express has a different illustrator to the previous books in the series and although Keys does not include the same detail in every illustration as Creagh did, the endearing nature of the Aussie bush animals shines through in her vibrant and colourful pictures. The Australian bush flavour also is retained throughout.

This Easter edition of Little Mates is an entertaining addition to the well loved alphabet series. Have some fun, twist your tongue and read it aloud this Easter.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

10 Hopping Bunnies

10 Hopping Bunnies by Ed Allen, illustrated by Simon Williams (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-636-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

  Ten hopping bunnies with their egg and spoon.
  Ten hopping bunnies with their egg and spoon.
  And if one hopping bunny drops the egg too soon,
  There’ll be nine hopping bunnies with their egg and spoon.

Easter is coming and for most young children this means the thrill of the egg hunt and Easter Bunny. None of these bunnies is Easter Bunny, but they are just as fun. From the front cover - with them all heaped on a collapsed trampoline – to the last page – where they jump on the bed, these vibrant, bouncy bunnies keep the energy and entertainment high.

Ed Allen’s newest version of 10 Green Bottles has an easy, smooth rhythm and great rhymes. And William’s illustrations bring out the fabulous humour of each situation. 10 Hopping Bunnies is a great example of illustrations, being more than just decoration. Young children will be enchanted by these bunnies, their different personalities and the activities they get up to.

As with previous versions - 10 Smiley Crocs, 10 Funny Sheep, 10 Green Gecko’s (just to name a few) there are numbers hidden on every page for children to find as they enjoy this reverse counting book.

This is a great book for preschool children who love numbers, bunnies and slapstick fun.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Devil’s Promise

The Devil’s Promise by Veronica Bennett (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406343236
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Welcome to another outstanding novel by Veronica Bennett with a wild, strong-minded, independent female protagonist.

Catriona’s father has died and she is now heiress to a large company and estate. Doctor Hamish arrives from Scotland to pay his respects to the family. This unknown cousin carries with him a secret that he holds close about his relationship to the deceased. But his warm nature endears him to Catriona and her mother, and the girl accepts an invitation to spend the summer at his castle.

A complex and haunting tale plays out in Drumwithie Castle that is built on a rock overlooking the sea. Hamish’s son Jamie, a young female ghost of the tower that enlists Catriona’s help to free her, and dark secrets that have been buried in the caves for years, are woven into a beguiling and suspenseful scenario.

This is a story of love and finding one’s path in life; family secrets well-kept, and retribution. It has countless twists and turns, similar to all the entrances and exits to the tunnels of the castle where lost things are found, and freedom is never free.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Love Oracles Book 1: Nymph

The Love Oracles Book 1: Nymph by Tonya Alexandra (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 19.95
ISBN 9781922077240
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

 A fantasy tale written much like a Mills and Boon romance, Nymph is a delicious tale of forbidden love between a star nymph from Olympus and a mortal.

Merope is the star nymph, the youngest of the Pleiad sisters. She is being pursued by Orion to become his consort, but she refuses to comply. Escaping to modern day Earth with her uncle Prometheus as her protector, she believes that she can distance herself from these unwanted advances.

Earth life, language and technology are challenging. Merope fights hard to keep her identity a secret at school where ‘life never reads the same script as we have prepared’. Her beauty attracts Lukas whose imperfections and gentle characteristics - virtues lacking in the vain, perfect gods - steal her heart.

Can their love conquer the opposition, or will Zeus’ law separate them forever?

There is the usual game of avoidance, pretence, longing and misinterpretation which fails to douse the couple’s fire. Merope agrees to return to Olympus to visit her sisters, but blinded by love, she can’t see the real reasons behind this offer.

This first story in a trilogy, will delight readers with its blend of old fashioned romance, Greek gods and goddesses, lots of mythology and a good strong story line. You’ll love the characters, even when you hate the gods’ smug vanity, and their belief that females exist for their pleasure alone. Filled with humour, lots of laughs will be had as Merope tries to fit into the modern world with her ancient upbringing and principles.

Thursday, 10 April 2014


Angelmonster by Veronica Bennett (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406306002
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The first time I read work by Victoria Bennett was years ago when I came across Shakespeare’s Apprentice. What an astonishing talent this writer is! I couldn’t put this title down.

Angelmonster is a mix of history and fiction. These combinations inform and entertain simultaneously. We share the life of Mary Wollstonecraft and her fierce passion for the poet Shelly. Sorrow at the loss of their children to illness is juxtaposed against the flame that burned between them. There is an astonishing sadness when human weakness leads to betrayal and loss of trust between the deeply loving couple. I devoured each page of this stunning portrayal of life between these two famous people and the incredible strength of their love. It was perfectly plaited into the beauty of the settings, descriptions of scenery, and powerful prose.

The depiction of Wollstonecraft’s strong, independent and rebellious spirit, and her outspoken nature that was never bothered by conventions or religion, is superb. Bennett has captured the era and the language of the time perfectly, making the reader a participant rather than an observer.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Afghanistan Pup

The Afghanistan Pup by Mark Wilson (Lothian/Hachette)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN: 97807344153525
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Part of Wilson's war-themed series of stunning picture books, this latest story is set in Afghanistan and features Kinah, an Afghani schoolgirl who finds an abandoned, starving puppy in her village of Hafir, and an Australian soldier fighting in the Afghanistan war. The puppy is destined to be loved by both.
Kinah takes the puppy to school which she is thankful to attend as some adults do not believe girls should be educated. It is a dangerous time as Spring has arrived and fighting will begin again. When the school is bombed, the injured puppy survives and goes looking for his mistress but she is not there.
Australian soldiers arrive to assess the extent of the damage and one of the engineers finds the weak puppy who has returned to the school. He takes it back to camp to clean its wounds and give it food and water. When the pup is well enough, it accompanies the soldier on patrol until the situations become too dangerous. One day the soldier does not return and the pup waits in vain.
Mark Wilson has portrayed in word and wonderful, atmospheric illustrations his moving story of a soldier's life in Afghanistan and the cruel impact of war. That a pup could survive the insecurity of life in a war-torn country is remarkable and it is due to the pup's own instincts that he has a happy ending.
Young readers will find the action pictures and newspaper clipping-style inserts most evocative and informative. A special inclusion is an illustration of a soldier with the Australian flag created by James Farquarson who served in Alpha Company 5/7th Battalion, RAR. It is located almost at the end of the book.

Mark Wilson is an award-winning author/illustrator whose picture books are instantly recognisable by the consistency and quality of his work.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Annabelle and the Missing Turtles

Annabelle and the Missing Turtles by Rose Inserra, illustrated by Jason Chatfield (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-921632-38-9
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

The sea turtles are disappearing from their habitat on the Queensland coast.  It’s up to Matilda, Emily, Amy, Annabelle and Jasmine to solve the mystery of where the turtles could have gone.  Perhaps they have been snatched away. Thanks to their rainbow necklace, the girls are taken back in time and given some important information by a famous Australian explorer.  Can the girls save the day?  With some clever advertising and a beach rescue only time will tell.

Annabelle and the Missing Turtles is the third book in the Australian Girl series.  It is a lovely blend of environmentalism, turtle biology and history with a touch of magic.  Although part of a series, it can be read as a stand-alone book.  However, as the first book does introduce the Rainbow Necklace it would certainly be worthwhile meeting the Australian Girls from the very beginning.

The group of girls that star in the book are based on the successful line of Australian Girls dolls created by Helen Schofield.  The five friends - Matilda, Emily, Amy, Annabelle and Jasmine - come from different ethnic backgrounds and bring a variety of strengths and interests to the group.

In this latest instalment of the series, the girls are faced with the disappearance of the loggerhead and green sea turtle hatchlings from their beach nest.  Together they embark on a mission to discover the whereabouts of the missing wildlife.  In order to do this, they spend time with a marine biologist learning all they can about the turtles.  Thanks to their magical Rainbow Necklace, the friends take a trip back in time and meet an Australian explorer.  Through the explorer’s aboriginal companion, they learn the secret behind the hatchlings’ disappearance. Armed with all this knowledge, they are able to find, capture and return the animals to the sea.

Overall, I found this to be a lovely book combining environmental themes and Australian history with fun and friendship.  It is a book that will appeal to young girls around 8 – 10 years, especially if they already own an Australian Girl doll.  More information about the dolls can be found online at:

Rose Inserra is an internationally published author of over sixty children’s books on topics ranging from library resource books to fiction and picture books.  She lives in Melbourne and when she is not writing she runs workshops as acts as a coach and editor for aspiring authors.

Jason Chatfield is a cartoonist and stand-up comedian based in Melbourne.  He is the fifth cartoonist in 91 years to produce the iconic Australian comic strip, Ginger Meggs.  His work has been published in several books in Australia and overseas.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Event: Meet the Anzacs Book Launch

Five Little Platypuses

Five Little Platypuses illustrated by Karen Erasmus (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780734414908
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
The classic children's song, Five Little Ducks Went Out One Day is given an Aussie twist when five little platypuses wander off from their mum. An in-house picture book, Five Little Platypuses has been charmingly illustrated by Karen Erasmus.
The chubby babies are depicted in various watering holes while their anxious mum awaits their return each day. Double page spreads in soft colours enhance the gentle nature of the lyrics, and show the platypus family surrounded by bushland, native flora and smooth river stones. A couple of colourful lorikeets, a frog and a butterfly add extra appeal. I am sure mums will sing, rather than read this picture book to their toddlers as they count how many youngsters return each night.

Observant children will discover all the truant babies on the second last spread and know a happy ending is in store. The great rhythm and repetition of this well-known song is easy to learn and in this new form, will delight another generation of kids.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Firelight of Heaven

Firelight of Heaven by Lizbeth Klein (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-921632-47-1
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Robbie and Dougray have grown up with their grandfather knowing only the rule of the evil king Morgran. After a rebel meeting they are attending is ambushed by the kings’ soldiers, they are forced to flee their home. Running for their lives, they travel over the mountain into the perilous lands of Gardenia.  After they meet Belle, an Elf girl, they begin a quest to locate the seven lost crystals of the Morning Star and overthrow Morgran.  Their journey is fraught with danger as they face magic and monsters the likes of which they have never seen.  But one dark secret threatens to tear them apart altogether.

Firelight of Heaven is the first book in the Bethloria fantasy series and introduces us to the three heroes: Robbie, Dougray and Belle. It is an exciting beginning; a fast paced book with plenty of action that would appeal to kids from upper primary to lower secondary, both boys and girls.

At this early stage, the plot is focussed on the journey of the two boys, Robbie and Dougray.  They are two very different people and the story alternates between their perspectives which gives the reader greater insight into the inevitable friction that occurs between them.  They cope very differently with the events around them and their relationship is quite changed by the end of the book.  

Approximately half way through the story, we meet Belle the Elf girl. She is a strong, capable female character and not introduced purely as a romantic interest – although there is certainly room for that to develop. She is calm and wise, in contrast to the boys’ often rash and emotional behaviour.  She is also something of an enigma. Whilst we know the backstory of the two boys, we learn very little of Belle’s personal history.

It was easy to engage with all three of these characters. They are all likeable, despite their flaws, and I was easily carried along with them.  I am looking forward to seeing how they develop through future books.

The world that Lizbeth has created is a dark one, ruled by evil forces. The dangers that the trio face reflect this: giant spiders, rock trolls, werewolf-like creatures and giant, hooded guardians plague their journey. The battle-scenes are particularly exciting and often bloody without being unnecessarily gory.

Overall, I really enjoyed Firelight of Heaven and finished the book wanting to start the next instalment immediately.  It will appeal to any fantasy-lovers both young and old.  The second book in the series, Green Heart of the Forest, is due for release in 2014.

Lizbeth Klein has over nineteen years’ experience in the classroom and has written several stories for the Yellow Box – a reading kit for early primary readers.  Firelight of Heaven was shortlisted in the 2010 Caleb Unpublished Manuscript competition.  The second book, Green Heart of the Forest, was a finalist in the 2011 Caleb competition.  She lives in the Sutherland Shire, NSW, with her husband.  She can be found online at:

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Event: QLD CBCA Judge talk

Invites Teachers, Librarians, Teacher-Librarians, Teacher-Aides
and anyone with an interest in children’s literature
to hear the CBCA Qld judge for
The Book of the Year Awards

Mia Macrossan 

talk about the 2014 short list
Friday 11th April
Barry Jones Auditorium
 Ipswich Library and Information Centre
cnr South and East Sts Ipswich
9.00am – 3.00pm

Program for the day
9.00am – Early Childhood and Younger Reader categories
10.45 Morning Tea
11.15am – Eve Pownall Award and Picture Books
12.45 Lunch

1.30 Options - 1. Older Reader category for secondary school teachers or
2. Workshop to develop ideas for the shortlisted books for primary school teachers

Register online at
by Tuesday 8th April
PD Certificates available
Suggested parking in the Ipswich Square Carpark
More information:

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Meerkat

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Meerkat by P. Crumble, illustrated by Louis Shea (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $13.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-646-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

‘There was an old lady who swallowed a meerkat,
I don’t know why she swallowed that meerkat ...
Fancy that!’

From the creators of There was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Mozzie comes another addition to the There was An Old Lady/There was an old Bloke series and this time the hungry woman is visiting the zoo. The rhyme in this story works really well making it fun and easy to read aloud and the rhythm aids in creating a crescendo effect. Crumble has chosen animals which young children will know well from their own visits to the zoo. The familiar setting makes the absurdity of the situation even more pronounced. As the animals the Old Lady swallows get bigger and bigger the sense of ridiculousness builds to a fantastic explosive ending.

Shea’s illustrations in this series can be either fabulous or terrifying. In this picture book they are fabulous. The animals are chock full of their own character and the detail in the pictures will keep children thoroughly entertained. The illustration of the Old Lady leaving the zoo after the seams in her clothes have let go ends the story brilliantly. Look out for the ‘Do Not Feed ...’ signs and the hungry monkey who follows the Old Lady around. The zoo animals and setting will make this story a hit for young children and with amusing details to spot in every scene they will be pouring over the pictures as well as reciting the rhyme.

I found this to be the funniest and most entertaining book in the series this far.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Zippy Zoe

Zippy Zoe (Little Mates) by Susannah McFarlane, illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $4.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-884-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Zoe is zippy. This little Zebra Finch can zip from zero to a zillion in seconds. But all this zipping and zapping can tire out a small bird and when Zoe zonks, it can be really hard for her friends to wake her. What will they do?

Sadly, this entertaining little series is drawing to a close with Zoe and her friends. I have enjoyed the alliteration and the standard has been really consistent across the series. The illustrations have always been a fabulous part of the stories as well - uniquely Australian with humour, detail and many objects to find for each given letter.

The emphasis put on friendship, family and helping out has also been a great strength of these stories. It’s a lot to pack into a tiny book and this series manages it well. With so many titles to collect there are hours of fun to be had for littlies who are learning the alphabet - and for lovers of animals and words.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Yum Yum Yoshi

Yum Yum Yoshi (Little Mates) by Susannah McFarlane, illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $4.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-742-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Yoshi has many friends. He hangs out with Yolanda, Yuri, Yasmine and Yang. Of all these Yellow-bellied gliders it is Yoshi who loves food the most. He’ll eat anything from Yams to Yum Cha. One day, however, Yoshi wakes up feeling yicky. All his friends try to help suggesting many activities which may help him to feel better. Nothing seems to be helping. Then they remember his favourite food. Will that do the trick?

I have been enjoying this pocket-sized series of alphabet books. Featuring a great variety of Australian native animals these stories have such a great flavour of our bush, outback and other Aussie settings.
I love the tongue-twisting alliteration. And although this must be hard to construct for some of the curlier letters towards the end of the alphabet such as Y, the author does well.

‘And yummy yum cha whilst yachting?’ suggests Yasmine. 
‘Yum Yum!’ yells Yoshi.

With just one more to go, what does Z have in store for us?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Blog Tour: On The Nose with Robert Favretto

Buzz Words chats to Robert Favretto about his latest children’s book, On The Nose (Morris Publishing Australia). Robert is a primary school teacher and Victorian based writer of children’s fiction. His previous publishing credits include CAT-astrophe (Morris Publishing Australia), Leonardo’s Spot of Trouble (Blake Education) and Lost for Words (Limelight Press). He has also had his short story The Cuckoo Clock published in the CHARMS anthology. Robert has completed a Diploma of Professional Children’s Writing and has presented writing workshops for primary school aged children and the Mornington Peninsula Libraries.

Comment on this post to be in the draw to win a copy of On The Nose. Details below. There is also a review of Robert's book.

Welcome Robert. Please describe your book in five words or less. 

Not to be sniffed at!

How did the ideas for your book come to you?

Disgusting smells have always held a fascination for kids. So when I came across an article about a rare, living thing that emits a repulsive scent, I thought it would make a great idea for a children’s story. The foul odour would take over a city, and all I needed was someone special to solve the mystery of the phantom stink. Enter Justin Credible – a comical, quirky character with a long nose and expert on smells. The ideal person to sniff out the problem.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? 

Justin Credible uses his super nasal powers to solve crimes of a smelly nature. However, unlike talented kids who are sometimes singled out and teased for being exceptional, Justin isn’t resented at all. At a time when bullying is becoming more and more frequent among children in schools and online, it’s great to see that his difference is embraced and celebrated, not shunned and ridiculed. So apart from OTN being a good rollicking fun read, it also has a light-hearted message.

Why did you choose to write in this genre?

I feel comfortable writing in this genre because of my work as a primary school teacher. I am familiar with children’s interests and the sort of books they like to read, especially reluctant readers. Humorous, imaginative, and fast-paced stories with plenty of action are generally favourites, so I try to steer my stories in that direction.

Does the life of your main character parallel with yours in any way?

Like Justin, I have a prominent nose, although I don’t share his super-sniffing prowess. I enjoy pleasant smells, like the tantalizing aroma of fresh coffee, but certainly not disgusting odours like the ones featured in OTN. Justin and I both enjoy mysteries. However, Justin’s investigative powers are better than mine. (He has a better nose for solving those hard to crack smelly cases).

Thanks for chatting with us Robert. Good luck with your book. 

As part of the blog tour, we will give away a copy of On The Nose. To be in the draw, simply comment on the post and send an email of your comment to with the subject "On The Nose competition". Competition closes midnight EDST 15th April 2014.

On The Nose by Robert Favretto, illustrated by Kevin Burgemeestre (Morris Publishing Australia)
PB RRP $13.95
ISBN 9780987543479
Reviewed by Ramona Davey

Robert Favretto’s chapter book On The Nose is a fun read for children aged 8-12 years old. The main character is Justin Incredible, a Grade 4 school boy who has a nose like no other. Perfectly made for such tasks as guessing what his classmates have for lunch in the game ‘’Sniff-a-snack,’ or playing quoits. But the most important job Justin’s nose will have is to solve the mystery of the bad smell of Aroma City. Justin, who has been trained as a super sleuth for the DNA (Department of Nasal Affairs), follows his nose in this fast-paced, detective story. Armed with a compass, a scent-o-meter and following a whole bunch of smelly clues, Justin discovers who and what is causing everyone to leave Aroma City.

On The Nose is full of puns, similes and play on words which teachers may find very useful during Literacy lessons. I read this book out loud with my eight and nine year old children and they loved the humorous names of all the characters, such as Stella Mozzarella, Marsha Mallow and Barry Mundi.

The front cover has a colourful illustration that shows Justin’s unusual nose. Inside there are four fun, black and white cartoon style illustrations throughout the story. Boys that love humour and aren’t put off by gross sneezes will find this a fun read as will readers who prefer books that have a few illustrations in them.

Ramona Davey is a trained Primary teacher and children’s writer.