Thursday, 31 July 2014

Spirit Animals Book 3: Blood Ties

Spirit Animals Book 3: Blood Ties by Garth Nix & Sean Williams (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-000-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan are four children who have bonded with some of the Great Beasts of Erdas; a wolf, a leopard, a panda and a condor. They are the Chosen Ones, the children and their spirit animals who protect their world from the Devourer and his Conquerors. But they have not yet learned to work as a team, they have not learnt to trust one another, and they all have doubt about their abilities and whether they deserve the honours bestowed on them.
Meilin is only just beginning to appreciate her Spirit Animal but her impatience with the slow, peaceful lumbering Jhi -a Great Panda - still bubbles to the surface often. A girl of action, Meilin is unwilling to be stillfor long enough to learn what Jhi is offering. Instead, she rushes back to her homeland of Zhong to find her father. But Zhong has been overthrown by the Conquerors and Meilin finds herself lost in the bamboo maze with only Jhi to help.
Conor, Abeke and Rollan travel to find Meilin and then continue on their way in search of the ‘Slate Elephant’ talisman hidden deep in the heart of a jungle. This quest may cost the lives of those dear to the children.
Once again, the authors of this instalment are well established in the fantasy genre. Blood Ties is an extremely well written book. The characters are not just vehicles for the action, they grow internally and learn more about themselves, others and their world. As a reader I am growing more attached to them as the series progresses and each book offers something new, rather than just action.
This is a fabulous series. Erdas is a wonderfully built world, with countries different in landscape, setting, people and cultures. All the characters, not just the main ones, are really well fleshed out, interesting and real. The action is fast and gripping, but there is reflection time as well to slow the pace occasionally.
I think this is a series which will captivate and inspire lovers of fantasy, action, animals and storytelling. It will suit middle school readers mostly, between grades five and eight.

Read the book, and then discover the action role-playing game online, complete with a spirit animal of your own, at

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Breaking the Spell: Stories of Magic and Mystery from Scotland

Breaking the Spell: Stories of Magic and Mystery from Scotland by Lari Don, illustrated by Cate James (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 17.95
ISBN 9781847805324
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Here are ten fantastic, magical tales of selkies, witches, kelpies, spells, courageous girls, magician and apprentice, monsters, justice and loyalty. They are drawn from Scottish folklore and revisited and reformed by the author to create a selection of riveting reads. In the note from the author, she shares the origins of these stories and what she drew on specifically to create this stunning collection.

Adults will enjoy this book equally as much as younger readers. The illustrations are unique, as is the content of each tale. They focus on the strengths of the main characters, the justice in each situation, and showcase the beauty of the country through the descriptions and settings of land and sea.

I loved this collection. I was wholly swept into its tales of perseverance and justifiable outcomes.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Happy Pants

Happy Pants by Heather Gallagher, illustrated by Liz McGrath (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $22.99
ISBN 978-1-921632-93-8
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

When Mummy wears her happy pants we build sandcastles, go out for babycinos and have lots and lots of cuddles.  But when she comes home with baby Darcy, her happy pants stay in her wardrobe. 

Happy Pants is a lovely story about a young child struggling to understand his mother’s post-natal depression.  He first notices the problem after his mum stops wearing her “happy pants”.

         ‘Mummy’s a bit blue,’ says Daddy.
         I love red – fire engines, racing cars and toffee apples.
         But a person can’t be a colour…can they?
         Some days, Mummy stays in bed, sleeping all day.
         ‘Mummy, let’s cuddle,’ I say.
         But she lies as still as the statue in the park.

The reader is taken through the young boy’s attempts to understand the change in his mum.  It is a gentle journey from his observations of her changed behaviour to being babysat by Nanna while Mum goes to the doctor.  Despite the book ending on a positive note, it’s made clear that the problem will take time to be resolved. 

         ‘Did the doctor make you better Mummy?’
         ‘Not quite, my love,’ she says.
         ‘You’ll need to be patient with me…but I will get better, I promise.’

Liz McGrath’s illustrations are big and colourful.  With many full-page pictures, they provide a bright, beautiful backdrop throughout the book.      

Happy Pants is a lovely, heartfelt book that provides insight into a painful and confusing situation that many children find themselves in.  It is a beautiful book on its own or would be a great way to begin necessary conversation on a condition that deserves greater attention. 

Heather Gallagher wrote Happy Pants based on her own experience with post-natal depression.  It is her second book; her first, Ferret on the Loose, was published in 2013.  She lives by the seaside with her husband and two daughters.  When she’s not writing she works in community development at a church.  She can be found online at:

Liz McGrath is a freelance illustrator that specialises in projects that deliver health and community messages to parents and children.  She runs arts projects at a special school in Geelong and, since 2013, has been working on a number of projects through the Bluebird Foundation.  She can be found online at: 

Monday, 28 July 2014

When I See Grandma

When I See Grandma by Debra Tidball, illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-1-921632-59-4
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Visiting Grandma can sometimes be sad but with a little imagination and thought, a little girl and her brother brighten Grandma’s dreams. 

When I See Grandma is a beautiful book.  The story follows a young girl as she visits her grandma, who is unresponsive in a nursing home.  By bringing in the special parts of her own life, the young girl tries to bring some happiness to Grandma’s dreams.

                  I love singing in the school choir.
                  The songs are happy and bright.
                  Grandma loves singing too…
                  When I see Grandma I sing her a song,
                  For her dreams to dance on.

Apart from the beautiful relationship depicted between the girl and her grandmother, what I especially loved about the book is that there is no shying away from reality.  At no point does the grandmother magically awaken; in fact the story ends, rather sadly, with her death.

                  I don’t like it when Daddy goes away for work.
                  I miss him a lot, but I think about how much he loves
                  me until I see him again.
                  I give him a big kiss before he leaves.
                  Grandma loves kisses too…
                  When I see Grandma again, I kiss her goodbye.

Although poignant, it is also a celebration of memories, family relationships and the simple things in life – music, laughter, having your hair brushed.

Leigh Hedstrom’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment - fun with lovely little details and warm colours. They are also a little understated which suits the gentleness of the story. 

When I See Grandma is a heart-warming, touching and sentimental book.  Overall, I loved it and would recommend it as a must have for any child’s book collection. 

Debra Tidball is a social worker, parent and author.  When I See Grandma is her first book and was drawn from her own experience of having a parent with dementia.  She lives in suburban Sydney with her husband, sons and furkids.  She can be found online at:

Leigh Hedstrom is a freelance illustrator with over 10 years’ experience illustrating for educational and children’s media.  She has illustrated for school readers and children’s magazines.  When I See Grandma is her first picture book.  She can be found online at:

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Boys Don’t Knit

Boys Don’t Knit by Tom Easton (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0147-3
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

I am not a target reader for this book, my teen years are behind me. In fact, when I first picked it up and noticed it was written in diary style I groaned inwardly. Not only is it aimed at teens but it would be full of a self-absorbed teenager’s thoughts too. I took a deep breath, and started reading. I soon discovered I couldn't put it down.

I read late into the night, turning pages in a way that would have gratified the author. As I mentioned, I am not this author's target audience but his writing transported me to a very happy place. If my experience is anything to go by, genre preference has little to do with captivating a reader.

Tom Easton has had over a dozen books published. His writing talents range from chapter books to young adult novels. Boy’s Don’t Knit is very clever. Ned, the main character is very likable in a completely flawed way, he is the kind of kid you want to succeed in life, you want to keep listening to his ‘voice’.

"I told Dad where I was going and he seemed really proud, like I was off to receive a Duke of Edinburgh award as opposed to what I was actually doing, which was fulfilling the terms of my probation by providing home assistance to an old lady I'd nearly killed. I suppose it's good to have his support, but if he's proud of me over this it does tend to suggest he has quite low expectations. I clearly don't need to do much to earn his respect. If I'm ever in the dock at Basingstoke Crown Court facing a thirty stretch for a triple murder, I can be sure Dad will be there in the gallery wiping away a tear, beside himself with pride at the fact that I managed to tie my own tie."

The book if read in a senior classroom situation would raise healthy discussion. I found it refreshing, the serious matters of peer pressure, sex, vandalism and theft are raised in this story and handled in a modern yet sensitive way without being condescending or preachy. The characters are fully formed and each supports the main character well.

The story gives room for sequels (I know there is one coming) and I am sure each would be an enjoyable read, in fact, I see a movie.
Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of picture book The Bear Said Please and the series ‘That’s not a …' learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.

An English Boy in New York, the sequel to Boys Don’t Knit is out August 2014.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Classics: Tales from Hans Christian Andersen

The Classics: Tales from Hans Christian Andersen by Naomi Lewis, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (Frances Lincoln)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781847805102
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Nine of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytales are translated by Naomi Lewis for a general ageless audience. Classic tales of incredible imagination and beauty transport the reader into a child’s world, and simultaneously an adult’s world where messages lay hidden and lessons await to be learnt. They come presented in a beautiful gift edition.  Stunning illustrations are by popular English children’s author and illustrator Emma Chichester Clark who studied graphic design before she studied book illustration under Quentin Blake.

This excellent collection contains some well known tales such as The Nightingale, The Little Match Girl, The Princess and the Pea, The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep, The Happy Family, and The Money Box Pig.  Two rare ones included are Elf Hill and Little Ida’s Flowers, although I confess I have read the last one before.

Entering Andersen’s stories is like entering a magical cave filled with valuable objects. You don’t know what you will discover. Nor can you choose a favourite thing for everything is priceless. This will be enjoyed by the junior reader or for a younger audience to be read to and shared. Look out for its companion collection of Tales from Grimm, retold by Antonia Barber.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Maxx Rumble Book 3: Grand Final

Maxx Rumble Book 3: Grand Final by Michael Wagner, drawn by Terry Denton (Walker Books)
PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 9781922244826
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The Soccer Knockout Grand Final is here at last. The other teams that played the Stone Valley Saints were pretty rotten with their tacky tactics, but the Plankluvin Pirates are the ‘rottenest’ of the bunch. They look and are big and tough with their crayon moustaches and pirate chant that’s sung to the tune of the ‘drunken sailor’ song.

Arriving at the park, Maxx and his team are amazed at the amount of spectators. But they are there only for the Plankluvin Pirates. Everything reflects their pirate preference from their outfits to their nasty placards. But the Saints won’ be intimidated. 

Playing in the Grand Final is a special moment in time for Maxx and his team. But the cry of all-out attack from Blackbeard has the Pirates stampeding across the field. Mr Nuffin the referee is unable to blow his whistle because he’s being water cannoned by the crowd. It’s a free-for-all and the Saints have to come up with something bigger than the Pirates.

Mr Nuffin refuses to be intimated also. He finds a spare whistle and doesn’t spare the blows. The ever-optimistic leader Maxx digs deep to find that little bit more and calls all-out-attack as the pirates make a wall.

Can the Saints find enough energy to stay in step with the Pirates? Can a ball to the face again for Rexx be the Saints’ saving grace? If so, how? And can Maxx Rumble bring his team to victory and take the trophy?

Outrageously entertaining, with its clever word play and with the round-up of the series the best of all, this series is a winner. Michael Wagner’s smart prose teamed up with Terry Denton’s amazing translation of the text guarantees that.

These chapter books are not to be missed by parents searching for reading matter for their reluctant reader. Highly creative with strong optimistic messages in every book, kids who loved the Crazy Relief Teachers series by Matt Porter will love these as well. 

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Hide and Seek: A Woolly Wombat Story

Hide and Seek: A Woolly Wombat Story by Kerry Argent (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $6.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-049-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Woolly Wombat is very good at hiding from his friends; he knows lots of tricky spots. But what happens if his friends don't find him? Will he miss out on the fun?
Hide and Seek is another story based on the classic counting book One Woolly Wombat. Join Wombat and his friends Bandicoot, Platypus and Koala as they explore the concepts and intricacy of friendship... And good hiding spots!
Perfect for beginner readers, Hide and Seek has clear simple text. The entertaining storyline is revealed mostly through the beautifully expressive illustrations.

Simple, funny and wise, books from the Woolly Wombat series are great for young children. The other three in the series are One Woolly Wombat, Best of Friends and At the Beach

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

That Stranger Next Door

That Stranger Next Door by Goldie Alexander (Clan Destine Press)
PB RRP $18.00 Available also as EBook
ISBN 9780992492434
EBook ISBN 9780992492441
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It’s 1954. The Petrov scandal has made the news and the threat of communism casts shadows everywhere. A stranger moves into the empty flat above the Milk Bar next to Ruth and her family. The secrecy leads Ruth to believe that the woman is Eva Petrov. A strong friendship is formed between the two.

Ruth, highly intelligent and a scholarship student, is struggling to follow her own path in life regardless of the rigid restrictions imposed upon her by her family. Her dream of becoming a doctor is unacceptable to Ruth’s mother who sees it as too costly, and ‘who will want to marry a girl who looks at naked men?’ The idea of any kind of friendship/relationship with anyone of a different culture or religion is also forbidden. This becomes an issue for Ruth when she meets and falls in love with Catholic boy Patrick.

Goldie Alexander has created a riveting story with many layers to it. It is told through two points of view by the main characters. This approach gives a close and intimate look into their thoughts which adds mystery and tension, and keeps the pages turning.

The reader is immediately pulled into the era and setting. Its strong sense of place and time, descriptive historical happenings, social and political climate, class distinctions, and post-war prejudices, are plaited into a Romeo and Juliet romance that threads its way through the pages.

Perhaps Goldie Alexander’s best work yet, this book will appeal to a wide range of readers, between the ages of 14-104, due to the many themes and issues covered.

It should be noted that some scenes contain sexual content.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Obelisk Trap

The Obelisk Trap by Margaret Pearce (Kayelle Press Australia)
PB RRP $11.95 E-book $2.99
ISBN – 978-0-9875657-2-3
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Told from Charlie’s viewpoint this middle grade reader sees Charlie, his sister Billie and Uncle William sucked through a portal into The Place of No Name, where fruit and vegetables of every kind are in season 365 days a year and nobody dies of disease. Residents can live forever … so long as they do all that’s expected of them by The Traveller. If not, they risk being ‘Disintegrated, unloosed, unbound, liberated, gone to God, or whatever you want to call it.’

The Traveller, who rules the land, is a parasite. He inhabits a host body and after using up every ounce of life it holds he moves to another. The only thing he fears is young girls. The biological make up of their bodies will kill him if he tries to inhabit them. Consequently, young girls sucked into this land are instantly killed. To keep safe till she can return home, Billie must parade as a male.

Being a feisty type, her less than low key attitude often means Charlie must pull her into line to keep her safe. In their efforts to find a way out, the trio learns more about the land, the obelisk that transports people in, and how they may use it to get home. But everything must be done as secretively as possible, because The Traveller has surveillance set up all around. When they are just about to leave he discovers their plan and tries to stop them.

But all is not lost! Billie is ‘sacrificed’ and as The Traveller attempts to take over her body, which he thinks is male, he is destroyed. Before the trio leave they ask if any of the remaining inhabitants wish to leave with them. Without The Traveller around, those who live in The Place with No Name say it’s peaceful and question why anyone would want to return to a place where wars still exist.

The action and dialogue in this story is easy to follow and moves things along quickly. It takes readers into a world that, on the surface, seems different to ours, with simple explanations where needed to ensure clarity. It will, hopefully, encourage readers to reflect on issues of segregation, surveillance, and discrimination.

Happy Birthday, Hugless Douglas

Happy Birthday, Hugless Douglas by David Melling (Hodder/Hachette)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN: 9781444913262
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

David Melling's adorable illustrations of Hugless Douglas never fail to appeal. In this fifth story about the brown bear, Douglas finds his birthday party is not all he hoped. His two small and very presumptuous cousins, Felix and Mash, set about ripping it apart, literally. They take over, opening his presents and commencing to play with them, including the biggest - a doctor's trolley. But at last Douglas takes a stand. He is determined to enjoy his birthday. He grabs his new pogo stick and begins to bounce. But after a few bounces the pogo stick breaks, sending him tumbling and hurting his leg.
There are plenty of bandages and instruments to fix him up and his friends swing into action. His two naughty cousins are much kinder and very soon Douglas and his friends are enjoying themselves, eating and playing doctors. Douglas soon announces it is his best birthday party ever.
David Melling has produced lively, colourful double page spreads of the party scenarios and Douglas's cute and varied animal friends. They are full of fun and humour and toddlers will have a great deal to absorb and giggle about.

The text, in large, often highlighted fonts, supports the illustrations and there is only one double page spread where I think the text about Felix and Mash playing with the trolley is misplaced. I loved the zany cake-and-balloon sandwiches floating above the guests, and the concept of everyone playing doctors and covering each other in bandages as a party game is an original touch. Happy Birthday, Hugless Douglas is well worth adding to the collection of picture books about this endearing bear.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Maxx Rumble Soccer Book 2: Shocker!

Maxx Rumble Soccer Book 2: Shocker! by Michael Wagner, drawn by Terry Denton (black dog books)
PB RRP $ 9.95
ISBN 9781922244819
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The second round of the Soccer Knockout Competition begins after the Stone Valley Saints manage to defeat the Kreepy Crawlies. Now they are up against the Outhouse Rodents and need to win this match to get into the Grand Final. The Rodents’ captain, Boofa, is a subversive captain of cheats. But his twin sister Jennifer takes the cake.

Rexx’s tummy is telling him that things are going to happen. He has no idea that they are going to happen to him, as his heart betrays him when he catches sight of Jennifer. Her flattering ways debilitate Rexx and her rocket kick has the Rodents ahead and the game almost won.

Can Maxx shake Rexx out of his love spell before they’re destroyed? How can the Stone Valley Saints catch up, with Boofa and Jennifer wearing them down emotionally? What tactics are left to them with the minutes ticking away?

More laughs, action, and deviousness as the teams battle to get into the Grand Final. The names of the characters in this series are entertainment in themselves. The point-to-point descriptions of play are fantastic, and the language clever. Again Terry Denton has surpassed himself with the characters and their expressions that add humour and mischief to the story. Look out for Book 3 – Grand Final.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Best of Friends: A Woolly Wombat Story

Best of Friends: A Woolly Wombat Story by Kerry Argent (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $6.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-048-4
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop
Woolly Wombat and Bandicoot are best friends. They live together, eat together and have fun together. But sometimes, as most friends do, they also get cross and fight with each other.
Woolly Wombat is an endearing character. He and Bandicoot have a relationship which is just like a sibling relationship. Any child with a brother, sister or close best friend will probably relate strongly to this tale of friendship, fighting, and making up.
While this is a simple concept and story line for beginner readers and young children, the beautiful, expressive illustrations also portray a little more going on. These clever pictures enhance humour in the story and engage the reader further.

This book, like the three other Woolly Wombat stories, is fun and attractive. The slimness of each book, the themes explored and the simplicity and sparseness of the words used make them perfect first readers.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Maxx Rumble Soccer Book 1: Knockout

Maxx Rumble Soccer Book 1: Knockout by Michael Wagner, drawn by Terry Denton (black dog books)
PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 9781922244802
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Round one of the Soccer Knockout Competition is at hand. It’s Maxx Rumble’s team, the Stone Valley Saints against the Kreepy Crawlies - said by coach Beckham to be geniuses. But these geniuses use crafty ideas and secret weapons like Peli the pelican. He seems to be classed as a part of nature and there’s nothing the Stone Valley Saints can do about it.

Rexx gets the ball in the face right at the start and needs his good luck charm, teddy, which he stuffs up his jumper. Peli scores and the Crawlies are ahead. Can Rexx’s brilliant idea be the game-saver they need? Will teddy be the secret weapon Maxx’s team needs to get into the next round?  

Terry Denton’s drawings are priceless! The language is spot on, and the laughs are endless.

This is a no-holds-barred soccer game full of excitement, devious shots, brilliant brain work and lots of fun. Aimed at boys of the 8+ age group who are interested in physical activity, this chapter book series will crack them up and draw in reluctant readers easily. The first of three books, I advise parents to buy all three together  as they will be digested quickly.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Wimpy Shrimpy

Wimpy Shrimpy by Matt Buckingham (Koala Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-102-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Down at the bottom of the sea lived a little shrimp. And this little shrimp was a bit of a wimp.’

Shrimpy is too scared to play with his friends. He is worried he will get lost in hide-and-seek, worried the ball will squash him during a game of catch or that his legs will get tangled during hopscotch. His friends encourage him to join in but nothing will convince him. Until one day something does happen.

This story identifies the anxieties many young children have. As young children begin to step into the world by themselves, at playgroup or kindergarten, the possibilities of things that can go wrong are endless. The courage it takes for most of them to become involved in social groups is enormous. And this is all explored in a light and humorous way.

The illustrations are bright and playful. I love that some pictures are close up and some further away, encompassing more. Shrimpy’s loneliness and isolation is emphasised so well in this manner.
This is a tale told well. It has a nice structure, with a repeated refrain. Kids will enjoy chanting “Oh, don’t be wimpy, Shrimpy!” over and over again. And when the worst that can happen does, it is unexpected, but perfectly logical.

The story has a satisfying solution which should be a confidence booster for any young children with similar fears to Shrimpy’s. A great read for three to six year olds.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Lego Movie: The Official Movie Handbook

The Lego Movie: The Official Movie Handbook (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-0-545-62462-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Emmet, a happy construction worker, lives and works in Bricksburg which is a well-constructed Lego city. It is a tidy and ordered place, with everything built according to the instructions. Then one day, something happens to challenge Emmet’s views.

Is it really so important to always follow the rules and stick solely to instructions? Or is it possible sometimes to branch out and construct with any Lego bricks lying around and use imagination?
Can Emmet help Wyldstyle and Batman defeat President Business and stop his evil plot to glue their world together? What will he tell Bad Cop, the meanest most ruthless policeman in all of Bricksburg when he asks Emmet: “How did you find the Piece of Resistance?!” And what is that strange red Lego piece anyway?

This fun movie handbook tells the story of the Lego Movie in full glossy colour. Formatted as a graphic novel and based on the screenplay by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller the book introduces many Lego characters, buildings and vehicles that kids will probably recognise from their own Lego boxes at home.

With 19 short chapters, large, clear text and wacky humour, this book is good for young fans of Lego and the movie. Suitable for beginning readers and older.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

At the Beach: A Woolly Wombat Story

At the Beach: A Woolly Wombat Story by Kerry Argent (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $6.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-050-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Woolly Wombat is back at the beach in his yellow hat. This time he is having fun with Bandicoot, exploring the sand and surf.
The colourful, soft illustrations enhance the humour in Wombat & Bandicoot's predicaments. The reactions on their faces are just delightful.
There are only 55 words in this 'first reader' and they are cleverly used. Concepts of opposites are explored through the hot day, cold water, and being over and under the waves - where Wombat encounters a 'big fish’ (a friendly looking shark).
The Woolly Wombat Stories are light and friendly. Pre-school aged children will find much amusement among these pages but so will slightly older children, early primary, as they learn to read. Simple words, straight forward concepts, lovely pictures and clever humour combined with a small slim book will attract beginner readers wanting to read independently, in the same way as Paul Jennings Rascal the Dragon books did.

Also with this first reader series is One Woolly Wombat, Best of Friends, and Hide and Seek.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove

You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove by George Ivanoff, illustrated by James Hart (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780857983831
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857985453
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness
With its manga-inspired cover The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove is the first book in this new series called YOU CHOOSE … aimed at boys seven years and up.

In the vein of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories of the 80s (devoured by my chapter-book-shy sons), George Ivanoff is on to a winner with this latest addition to his 70+ children’s books.

The scenario is fast and furious. You are on a beach holiday. You find an old map … aye me hearties, a Pirate Map! While your parents read on the beach you wander over the cliffs and find a tunnel leading to …

No. You’re going to have to go down that path yourself; I’m heading back to choose another scenario.

The opening pages are full of promise: treasure, pirates, Dead Man’s Cove and One-Eyed William who had a ‘huge ruby in his deformed empty eye socket.’

Ivanoff has speckled the stories with interesting characters. Who could resist Professor Wagner with his ‘mismatched eyes – one small and squinty, the other wide and staring.’ In the museum there’s the ‘tall woman with spiky blonde hair’ who ‘looks as if she’s been sucking a lemon,’ and what’s a pirate story without a macaw named Mr Fibuli and a town mayor who speaks pirate-talk.

Fun puns run amok in the town: Toys Argh Us, Long John’s Silverware and Shiver Me Timbers Hardware.

There are numerous pathways for the reader to explore. Each path choice is about a page in length, which makes for quick, fun reading. The stories are totally plot driven and each page number is superimposed with skull and crossbones for added effect.

With 19 endings, there are plenty of scenarios to follow. Will you discovery the secret stone, that when pressed, opens into a cavernous pirate graveyard filled with Indiana Jones-like booby traps? Can you escape fast enough not to be skewered by a spear?

Black and white etchings of coins, treasure chests and maps smatter the pages as ‘you’ the reader make the decisions and take control of the storyline. The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove is a swashbuckling start to the series.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Infinity Ring: Cave Of Wonders

Infinity Ring: Cave Of Wonders by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-54538700-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

It is the year 1258. Europe is cloaked in the Dark Age while the great city of Baghdad has become a centre of learning for scholars, merchants and explorers. It is in this foreign Arab world, that Dak, Sera and Riq must now navigate the narrow alleyways and exotic spice and rug markets to identify SQ Agents from Hystorians and fulfil their next mission. They must prevent a great library, The House of Wisdom, from being destroyed by the enemy.

In their ‘own time’, the children's world is being split apart by cataclysmic events, caused by rips in history. It is up to them to travel time, repairing these gaps where they can. Along their journey Sera, Dak and Riq are helped by Hystorians, custodians of true history. But there are also SQ Agents at every turn, desperate to prevent the children from setting history straight.

Cave of Wonders is the fifth book in the time travelling, multi-platformed adventure series, Infinity Ring. Each book is written by a different author and continues the adventure undertaken by three children in an effort to save the world. There is a top secret clue, hidden inside the cover of the book, which may be opened at the conclusion of the story. This clue gives access to a new adventure awaiting the reader on 

This fast paced, time travelling adventure series is a good one for eight to fourteen year olds.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Bush Book Club

The Bush Book Club by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Ben Wood (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-014-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

All the animals in the bush love to read. They read in different places and about different things, but they all have reading in common. All, that is, except Bilby. He hates to read. He cannot sit still long enough and so Bilby is the only animal not in the Bush Book Club.
This is a wonderfully worded story. The rhythm of each page and the overall structure is satisfying to read aloud. For instance, the stories Crocodile reads make him cry. 'He sniffled and snuffled, sobbed and sighed.'
The illustrations which are bright, lively and humorous, do more than just accompany the text, they enhance the story. While the Bush Book Club meets Bilby plays on his own. 'He did a headstand. He did a handstand. A somersault. And two cartwheels.' All of these actions are accompanied by a single picture of his action. Then, on the facing page, 'He sighed. Now what?' Bilby looks small standing in front of the closed book club door, empty landscape surrounding him. His loneliness is instantly recognisable.
This effective text and illustration combination is used beautifully to illustrate the beginning of Bilby’s also interest in a book; with the pictorial focus shifting from the movement of his body to the pictures in his head.
I have a child who would rather wriggle and jiggle, twiddle and fiddle, flip and flop than sit still and read a book. But I know that if she can sit still long enough, with the right book, her imagination will be caught and she will be lost in the world between the pages. This is exactly what Bilby discovers and it is wonderful that he makes the journey all by himself. In a big, squishy, yellow and white spotted, comfy reading chair.

This is a story which will be loved by preschool children and their parents. It captures the joy of reading and shows why Margaret Wild is such a popular Australian author. 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

One Woolly Wombat

One Woolly Wombat by Kerry Argent (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $6.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-047-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

First published in 1982, Kerry Argent's One Woolly Wombat, is a classic Australian counting book, and has now been republished in a smaller format as a 'first reader'. Filled with Australian animals and themes, such as gum nut tea and Aussie Rules football, this is a charming book with a bouncy rhythm and lovely rhyme.
From one woolly wombat lounging back in a stripy beach chair, all the way to fourteen slick seals  heading off on a fishing trip, this is a fun book. I love that this book counts all the way up to fourteen. This is unusual in counting books.
The illustrations are light and bright; employing a gentle humour young children will love. The Australian animals are full of character and with some of them spilling outside of their borders the playful energy shines through on every page. The words are entertaining and clever, with a smattering of alliteration.
              Eleven dizzy dingoes twirling with their paws
              Twelve crazy cockatoos counting on their claws
One Woolly Wombat is joyful to read aloud. Younger children can count the objects on each page and those a little older can easily memorise the lines of the story and use the book to start their reading journey.

There are three other Woolly Wombat stories, all in the same 'first reader' format which make up a nice set for children wanting to read independently.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Big and Small

Big and Small by Elizabeth Bennett, illustrations by Jane Chapman (Koala Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-105-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Big and Small are two friends out on a walk one bright and sunny day. They are having a great time together on their picnic but sometimes Small gets stuck. “A little help, please!” calls Small. Big is always happy to help and no matter how many times this refrain is repeated, Big steps in to rescue his little friend.

I fell in love with this book as soon as I opened it at the first page. It is filled with such beautiful and vibrant colours. I want to roll in! The easy friendship, their protectiveness and joy in one another and the comfortable relationship they share shines though in every picture and every word. And the simplicity of the story and message it conveys is perfect for young children.

The illustrations are amazing. Happiness bounces off each page with glowing colours soft and bright all at once. The colours of the bear and mouse seems to change depending on the background they are standing against and their expressions, not just in their faces, but in their whole bodies as well, are fabulous.

So much of the story is conveyed in the pictures but much is in the wonderful text as well. The words are big and bold and visual. They bounce along pages, wander up tree trunks and nearly get squashed beneath the two rolling friends. It also has lovely rhythm and rhyme, and is delightful to read aloud.

This is an attractive picture book for two to five year olds, happy, playful and rhythmic. And is one of my favourite picture book reads of the year so far.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Spirit Animals Book 2: Hunted

Spirit Animals Book 2: Hunted by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-999-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Hunted, the second book in the Spirit Animals series, follows Wild Born, where the four young heroes of Erdas - Connor, Abeke, Mailin and Rollan - found the ‘Granite Ram’ talisman, the first of the lost talismans they are searching for. Now they are back at Greenhaven, an island fortress which serves as the headquarters of the Greencloaks, guardians of Erdas. Here they train hard to come together as a team and bond with their spirit animals, the Four Fallen Great Beasts.

But when word is sent that the next Great Beast, Rumfuss the Boar has been traced to a remote castle in the wilds of Eura, the children must set off in a hurry before the Conquerors learn of the location and beat them to the talisman. Rumour is growing also, of the Devourer using Bile to force bonds between his followers and spirit animals.  And that this unnatural bonding gives humans more control over their animals, making them even more powerful.

The books in the Spirit Animals series are all written by different authors. Hunted is by Maggie Stiefvater, author of many popular fantasy novels for children and teens. She continues the quest of the children and its many threads with great skill. The writing is fabulous and evocative, with the relationships - both between the four children, and with their animals - coming to the fore.

As the children grow they are tested. Themes such as loyalty, trust, rules and leadership are all explored within the context of an exciting adventure story where it is the children themselves directing the path while still learning where they need to accept adult help.

The Spirit Animals Series will suit middle school readers mostly, between grades five and eight and is Scholastics’ new multiplatform release. Read the book, and then discover on-line the action role-playing game, complete with a spirit animal of your own, at

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

That Car!

That Car! written by Cate Kennedy, illustrated by Carla Zapel (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74331-095-3
Reviewed by Ann Harth 

That Car! is a beautifully illustrated picture book that stimulates the imagination and illustrates the world of wonder that can be found in an old car.

When a family of five moves to a farm, the children find an ancient automobile in the barn that belonged to the old woman who lived there. Dad moves it out under a tree and the kids are free to play. The car becomes a magical vessel that carries them all over the world. They visit the Queen, climb Mount Everest and photograph rare and fascinating animals on an African safari.

Told through the eyes of one of the children, That Car! illustrates the unlimited imagination of young minds while highlighting the precious memories of an old woman. By the end of the book, the woman’s past and the children’s make-believe world are married and the car remains an integral part of the home.

In this age of technology, screens and passive play, That Car! is an important book. The story shows innovation on the part of the characters, while exposing a world of imagination that welcomes anyone who enters. Encouraging a fertile mind using nothing but an old car will invite young readers to explore their own worlds with an open mind and an eye for the fantastic.

That Car! is written in first person with age appropriate and simple language. The illustrations are fanciful and intricate and the reader will enjoy studying each picture for details that enrich the story. This book will appeal to children aged 3-7.

Cate Kennedy has won many awards for her adult fiction including, in 2010, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards People’s Choice award for her novel The World Beneath. Her poetry and short stories have claimed much attention and she has also written a travel memoir titled Sing and Don’t Cry. That Car! Is Cate Kennedy’s first children’s book and I hope she writes many more.

Carla Zapel is well-known for illustrating Jasper and Abby and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle written by Kevin Rudd and Rhys Muldoon. She is an illustrator and graphic designer currently residing in Brisbane but has also worked in Sydney, Canberra and London.

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.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Tinklers Three — the perfect pet

The Tinklers Three — the perfect pet by M.C.Badger and illustrated by Jon Davis (Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 978 1 7429 7627 3
PB RRP $12.95
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The fourth in a series about the Tinkler family, this story follows on from 'A very good idea,' 'The coolest pool' and 'An excellent invention'. The latest book deals with the Tinkler children getting a pet, which was never going to happen in a predictable, normal way. As one of the children says, 'These pets are OK for other people … but we are the Tinklers and we need something different.'

The Tinkler family consists of Mila, the oldest girl, Turtle the youngest and in between is a boy Marcus, who we are told early on, is 'not that normal either'. In fact as their parents are away at the circus, this is a very unconventional family, where the kids do exactly what they want. The only time this is a problem, is when they run into a 'Worried Adult', but the kids have devised their own methods of dealing with this.  

The Tinkler children have different ideas about what they want as a pet,  and none of them are very practical. Turtle wants a camel and Mila hilariously tries a pet teenager for a while (which turns out to be quite expensive). It is only when they run into the Splatleys, the family they are not friends with who live in a nearby flat, that a solution to the pet dilemma presents itself. Everyone is happy — Marcus and his sisters get a dog to play with, and the dog doesn't have to play Ludo with the Splatleys every night.

As chapter book for early readers, this quirky little story is fun to read. Imaginative illustrations appear at least every couple of pages and interesting words are written in different fonts and designs, further breaking up the text. It's bright and quick paced and the humour is very effective. Also good for reading out loud, this book would be suitable for readers aged six and up.