Sunday, 31 August 2014


Caminar by Skila Brown (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9780763665166
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This stunning verse novel is Skila Brown’s conduit for the real life events of the era beginning in 1954 when the first democratically elected government of Guatemala was overthrown. The Guatemalan Civil War raged between 1960 and 1996. It left more than 200,000 people killed or never heard of again. This book is dedicated to their memory.

The setting begins in Chopan, Guatemala, 1981. When the soldiers arrive, they encourage the hungry villagers to betray the ‘communists’ for money. The word communist is unknown there. But they reinforced their message in their language, by hanging a man with the word communist a necklace around his neck.

Carlos is a boy forced to become a man to survive because work made a boy ‘step away from child, and step into Man.’ Later the villages are razed to the ground and people are slaughtered like sheep.  On the day his cousin is born, Carlos’ mother sends him into the jungle to pick mushrooms. ‘I could not see the village. And it could not see me.’ He follows his mother’s orders to set out for the mountains if the soldiers come and ‘in the woods, eyes closed, ears open’ he listens to the slaughter and death behind him as he hides in trees like a monkey. We accompany his travels and fears, his growth and his mourning.

This verse novel is poetic and powerful, heartbreaking and mournful, but stops a breath away from being desolate. The author has used the power of the elements, emotive language and metaphor to portray all that we see, hear and almost smell. The plants, streams and forests must surely be as familiar to her as breathing for they appeared as strong visual scenes before me throughout the book. This is a feast of language of the highest quality; a work of incredible depth.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Goldilocks on CCTV

Goldilocks on CCTV by John Agard, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781847804990
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Award winning playwright, poet and children’s author (a few of his many talents), John Agard is an overall performer of the written word; a master of language. This is reflected in his new edition of poetry which follows his wicked The Young Inferno, which updates to modern, Dante’s magnificent work.

In Goldilocks on CCTV, Agard transmogrifies in a surprising and eloquent way, familiar childhood fairytales into rap, or hip hop rhythm, with a new slant on each tale. He begins by stripping away the original framework of the tale, to build a new one with the same basic equipment for modern verse lovers. Imaginative mixes, wordplay, role reversal, imitation, and re-evaluation of all you read in your childhood takes place here.

Totally magical and creative, he brings the past into the now and assuredly will draw further on the new audiences that are drawn to this modern style. This out-there verse is perfect for performance when captured or spoken in the correct rhyme and rhythm.

The fantastic, bizarre and inventive art/illustrations in black and white by Satoshi Kitamura, are shadows to the clever lyrics/text.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Alexander Altmann A10567

Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail (black dog books)
PB RRP $ 18.95
ISBN 9781922179999
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Alexander Altmann at fourteen years old loses his name and becomes a number at Birkenau. Separated from his mother and sister by the wire fence, he pretends to be sixteen and is put into the men’s section to work.

Shattered at learning his young sister has gone to the gas chambers, and not knowing what became of his parents, he clings to ‘just get through the day’ as a lifeline. He watches as other boys get shot or kicked to death and he is determined not to be next.

When Alex is moved to the extermination camp at Auschwitz, his farm life and experience with horses, places him in the Horse Platoon to care for the animals. The decision to keep to himself and feel nothing for no one is fuelled by the smoke, smell and sight of death that constantly surrounds him. Even the friendship offered to him by the persuasive Isidor, another young horse-handler, is totally rejected.

It takes a new horse, a wild, frightened being, very much like himself, ‘to teach him how to be human’ again. As the Russian troops draw nearer and freedom is in sight, Alexander Altmann reclaims his name, along with many other things that were taken from him.

This deeply moving novel is based on the real life story of a Holocaust survivor. Suzy Zail has built powerful, heartbreaking images of the brutal life in concentration camps. The hunger, inhumanity and deprivation are presented in strong visual narrative. Suzy’s previous novel, The Wrong Boy, set in the same era, was short-listed for the 2013, CBCA Book of the Year Award.  

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Pa Joe’s Place

Pa Joe’s Place by Clancy Tucker (Clancy Tucker Publishing)
PB RRP $25.00 plus postage E-Book $2.99
ISBN 9780646572208
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Boo is a Thai girl, the youngest of seven children and seven years old. Extremely bright, courageous, optimistic and mature in her outlook, she always sees the best in every person and situation. Accepting of her circumstances, she obediently leaves her family, home, best friend and dying father, and sets out on a journey over 1,000 kilometres to Songkhla in the south, to be cared for and educated by Jesuit priest Pa Joe along with his other 155 orphans.

She finds another father, a new family and friends, and the opportunity to become something wonderful and experiences the greatest adventure of her life, which includes helping survivors of a train wreck, catching criminals, and meeting strangers whose lives she touches in significant ways.

This deeply moving story is inspired by and dedicated to real people: Boo Nawigamune, and Father Joe Carey who for 50 years, against great odds and with the help of many compassionate and generous people, cared for children he found on the streets of Thailand.  

Clancy Tucker has mapped out a superb social, cultural, and geographical picture of Thailand, and used it as background to his story. Tucker’s intimate knowledge of the country and the people gives an added richness and realism to every page of a story filled with inspiration and love.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Night Sky Dragons

Night Sky Dragons by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Patrick Benson (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 27.95
ISBN 9781406309850
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Co-authored by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, this elegant book with its fine line illustrations in colours of the desert are presented on coloured pages. The story is reminiscent of the age of the Silk Road, and its caravanserais where merchant traders found shelter and safety, and carried more than wondrous wares, silk, and gunpowder.

Motherless Yazul waits for spring, the kite-flying season of warm winds. His grandfather’s workshop is his haven and where he learnt the art of building kites. Here the old man and the boy play games that involve dragons that appear when the gods are angry.

His father is the protector of the han. Business and money, travel and trade are his focus. Yazul will inherit this responsibility. But for now he is mischievous and curious, and prone to getting into trouble. It is during one of these mischievous moments that his carelessness causes his grandmother to drop the dish which tells the history of his people. This is seen as a bad omen. His father punishes him by sending him to the kitchens to work as a drudge.

He misses the changing of the season, but learns about the bandits that have come to attack their han. Finding no way to enter, they wait. Without water and food, it is just a matter of time before the citizens surrender.

It is Yazul’s ingenious idea that drives away the bandits. But there is one more act of reparation for Yazul to undertake before he can be forgiven.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Messenger: the Legend of Joan of Arc

Messenger: the Legend of Joan of Arc by Tony Lee, illustrated by Sam Hart (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 22.95
ISBN 9781406336153
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Joan of Arc was known as the Messenger. Her visions began in 1424 when she was thirteen years old. These visions and the voices of the Saints guided her towards the salvation of France against the onslaught of the English and their Burgundian allies.

In an outstanding retelling by Tony Lee through this graphic novel, brilliantly illustrated by Sam Hart in bold shadowed and bright shades of colour, we relive the legend of Joan of Arc until her burning at the stake in May 1431.

This is an historical fiction novel about faith, adventure, treachery, betrayal and manipulation. It reflects on absolute power and its tragic outcomes, and the position of the Church during the 1400s.

Joan of Arc, now the Patron Saint of France, became a martyr after the verdict of 1431 was overturned by the Church in 1456. Her Beautification took place in 1909, and she was made a Saint by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Prometheus Unplugged

Prometheus Unplugged by Alan Murphy (AvantCard Publications)
PB RRP (Euro11) approx. AUS $16.00 plus P&H
ISBN 9780956173423
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Talented Irish poet Alan Murphy’s latest offering is as surprising and impressive as his last book, Psychosilly. Musical in theme, text, rhyme and rhythm, this collection will entertain teenagers and others that harbour an interest in eclectic lyrics that are as unique and individual as they are.

Subjects range from Ozzie Osborne, fleas at a rock concert, lullaby rap, rock lobsters, scarecrows and so much more. Greek flavour is added to Prometheus Unplugged with Orpheus and Sisyphus Rocks.

This set of 33 poems is filled with endless clever and original thought, imaginative word play, musical language and innuendo, and rock and roll references.

The artwork/illustrations are brilliant patchworks and carefully considered collages of musical appendages. The book is a creative assembly of ideas and words which fall into place perfectly due to the master strokes of this talented artist.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Lost Girl

The Lost Girl by Ambelin Kwaymullina, illustrated by Leanne Tobin (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781921529634
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Multi-talented, author-illustrator Ambelin Kwaymullina follows her outstanding success of the young adult series The Tribe, with the creation of another fantastic children’s picture book. Leonie Tobin’s stunning illustrations in acrylic using earth and nature’s colours set the scenes for this story of a girl lost in the desert.

The girl has wandered away from her family and cannot find her way back. She falls asleep and waits to be found. There is bush food to eat and a waterhole to quench her thirst. The pictures show the child comfortable in her surroundings. She knows the earth and it knows her.

Rich depictions of the natural world, its flora and fauna, rugged rocks, and desert flowers surround her. Things that fly and crawl, striped and winged lizards, and wildflowers appear like painted canvases one after another. These keep the girl in her blue dress company for they are all part of her land.

Her beautiful face fills with concern as dusk falls and the crow flies overhead.  With the full moon above, she follows the crow to the smoke of the camp fires where a place by the fire awaits her.

The themes include nature and the Australian landscape, and missing/lost children. A splendid production with a strong Indigenous flavour, it reflects the importance of story, the unbreakable bond between the Indigenous people and their land, and family unity.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Croc and the Platypus

The Croc and the Platypus by Jackie Hosking, illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781922077608
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Jackie Hosking’s first picture book is simply brilliant! I can just see this book walking off the shelves in bookshops, tourist areas and in the luggage of overseas travellers. It’s perfect promotional material. Imaginative and clever rhyming verse with rhythm identical to The Owl and the Pussycat poem, The Croc and the Platypus is a salute to the Australian Outback. 

Croc and Platypus set out on a daring adventure across the Nullarbor Plain in a rusty old Holden ute. With hubcaps ringing and didgeridoo blowing across shearer’s tracks, they come to a shearing shed. The shearers are almost frightened out of their wits by the appearance of the two mates. But the ‘bloke with the sheep’ agrees to sell them a fleece ‘nice and cheap.’

In view of the ‘great ochre pebble in the shape of a hill’, they cook dinner over a camp fire followed by lamingtons for dessert. They set up a tent – a stick with the fleece thrown over, and under the light of the Southern Cross, ‘danced beside Uluru.’

With fabulous full-page illustrations throughout, and Aussie language followed by a glossary for those unaccustomed to our expressions, this book will be snatched up by children for the stunning illustrations, and by parents who love a good old Aussie yarn and a laugh, just like in the good old days.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Eagle Trail

The Eagle Trail by Robert Rigby (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406346664
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A dramatic prologue opens the scene for this action-packed war story. It is northern France, August 1940. Three Andorran mountain guides are taking a Jewish family to safety over the Pyrenees top escape internment by the Germans. Business is brisk for these hard men, but no one can guess what becomes of the people they are paid to accompany.

Paul Hansen has returned to Antwerp to his father and mother from an English boarding school. Although there is a night curfew, food is still available and conditions haven’t yet reached crisis point.

When Paul’s father, a senior manager on the docks, is murdered by German soldiers and his mother taken into custody, Paul too faces grave danger. His friend Jos, a member of the Resistance, makes secret plans to move Paul to safety. Twists and turns create nail-biting tension and increase the pace of the story as things go awry.

Traitors are everywhere and no one is who they seem. Paul finds himself swept up in a fast-moving tide of conspiracy and death. Betrayal and murder is all around him and no one can be trusted. The dangerous Eagle Trail holds the only exit, and Paul is forced to travel with the Andorran guides. Will he come out of it alive?

Lots of drama, journeys through changing landscapes and thrilling adventures create an interesting read about the beginning of WW2 and the French Resistance. The characters, seemingly strong and courageous patriots, kept me wondering who the traitors could be right till the end. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Adaptable Author: Coping With Change in the Digital Age

ISBN  9780987488329
Reviewed by Hazel Edwards

Highly recommended for any author intending to stay published today. Realistic strategies from a range of 40 interviewees, local and international. Reassuring to hear the challenges and solutions by well known, long term writers as well as some more recent professionals. Quality work, keeping up to date with new formats and being willing to try new ways of reaching readers but being 'professional' in outlook were common themes. 

Sophie Masson is an excellent example of an innovative and adaptable author too. Part 3 has a summary of the practical successful strategies for a long career. Re-inventing yourself under a pseudonym is one I'm considering.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


Soonchild by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Alexis Deacon (Walker Books)
HC RRP 27.95
ISBN 9781406329919
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Sixteen-Face John is a shaman that lives north of the Arctic Circle. His wife, No Problem is expecting a baby that she’s named Soonchild, because it should be born soon, but won’t be born until it hears the World Songs that welcome all newborns.

John has lost many of his abilities since he started drinking Coca-Cola, reading magazines with centrefolds in them, and watching television. He sets out on a quest with the help of a strong dose of Big Dream Brew, Ukpika, a benevolent owl spirit, lots of spirit ancestors. He treks through frozen lands and years and is faced with many challenges and awakenings, before he finds the World Songs and returns with them so his child can be born.

This stunning jacketed book is Russell Hoban’s last novel completed before his death in December 2011, and was released by Walker in April 2012. Alexis Deacon’s haunting and mesmerising pencil illustrations pay tribute to Hoban’s most outstanding work.

Soonchild is an expedition into a foreign place; a trek into the spirit world of Inuit mythology, and the buried places of the mind and spirit where one’s deepest thoughts lie. It is frequently humorous, then dark but distilled. It provokes an examination of self as it takes you to places of stillness and silence to reveal the uniqueness of each being.

Every reader will come away with a different opinion of this extraordinary piece of work. One thing that we might all agree on is that profound and thought-provoking philosophical messages weave through the text, that once read, will call you back again and again. I closed the cover agreeing with Patrick Ness’ quote, ‘Hoban is the best sort of genius.’

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Come On, Let's Play!

Come On, Let's Play! illustrated by Cheryl Orsini (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: 9780734415509
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
This delightful in-house picture book shows the fun a family can have while staying at home. Cheryl Orsini's colourful and merry illustrations in water colour and gouache support the sparce but meaningful text as mum and dad and the kids play games together.
Mum and Dad's bed is transformed into a fort with all the pillows and blankets, and pancake-making for breakfast using eggs from the back-yard hens is presided over by Dad and the kids. Mum happily sips on tea to await the treat, then its hide and seek, picture painting and dressing up for a show to make the day extra fun.  All children will relate to these activities which have been tested for generations.  I liked the illustration of Dad pretending to be a hatstand and the two older children counting to a hundred before hunting for their parents.
After dinner, there's just time to play rocket-ships and have stories read with the whole family sitting on the couch before its bedtime. The children are soon asleep after their busy family day.
This picture book is warm and comforting for kids and parents alike. In a busy world how often parents would like to be able to spend a whole day having fun with their precious offspring! Maybe this book will be the inspiration they need. 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Brumbies in the Outback

Brumbies in the Outback by Paula Boer, illustrated by Rowena Evans (IFWG Publishing)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN: 9781925148312
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Brumbies in the Outback is the fourth book in Paula Boer's stunning Brumbies series, and like its predecessors, combines an enthralling storyline with real life experiences of brumbies and other equines in their Australian setting. The two main characters in the novels, Ben and Louise, are now two years older, and the author has matched her writing to their more mature ages of sixteen and fourteen years.
The two friends have enjoyed many brumby related-adventures and former townie, Louise, has worked hard to increase her level of horsemanship. However, when she is persuaded by Ben to come with him to his Uncle Graeme's million acre cattle station out west for the school holidays, Louise is challenged in ways she did not expect.
In the past Ben happily shared his farm and horse knowledge with Louise, but suddenly Louise finds herself sidelined by the close relationship Ben has with his feisty, patronising cousin, Jacinta. Ben seems oblivious to his cousin's hostility towards Louise which is relentless, and at times he, too, adds to the discomfort Louise is experiencing. Nevertheless, she does her best on a borrowed horse to herd cattle into the yards and on to the transport trucks, and gamely tackles other tasks involved in the operation of a cattle station.
Louise is constantly confronted with new situations which test her riding skills and showcase her ignorance. One such instance, when she is charged by a bull, is life threatening. Ben is less than understanding, and all reader sympathy goes to Louise who often wishes she had said no to Ben's invitation. She is stuck in a difficult situation but is determined to meet every challenge headlong. It is Uncle Graeme who proves to be the most support.
The level of tension Boer brings to her story is commendable. Not only is the reader drawn into the scenarios with all the attention to detail which has become the author's trademark, but one's sense of justice is well and truly sparked. At the same time, young readers are given an underlying lesson in patience, perseverance, forgiveness and courage in the persona of Louise.

Rowena Evans has enhanced the pleasure of the unfolding story with her apt black and white illustrations and maps. The author herself is responsible for the charming cover photo, and once again the Glossary at the commencement of the book offers further opportunity for readers to learn more about horses, cattle and other relevant subjects. There is no doubt that this series will continue to delight lovers of horses and the bush.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Riddle Gully Runaway

Riddle Gully Runaway by Jen Banyard (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9-781-922-089-885
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin
Pollo di Nozi is a reporter-in-training and the local super sleuth of Riddle Gully. She definitely has a nose for news but occasionally she does get things a little bit muddled up. So it’s just as well her heart is in the right place.
Pollo can smell a mystery from a mile away and when things start to go missing in Riddle Gully, Pollo can’t resist the challenge to solve it. With Shorn Connery, her sheepish sidekick pet and her best friend Will by her side, Pollo is determined to track down the thief.
Unfortunately, Pollo is quick to point the finger and accidently implicates the Mayors nephew, Benson.

With determined zeal, Pollo strives to redeem herself for getting it ‘wrong’ and whilst restoring Benson’s reputation, setting the record straight. What follows is a series of hilarious mishaps, typical of Pollo Di Nozi’s adventures. But that’s why we love her!

Riddle Gully Runaway is a story that skips along. It’s fast-paced and funny, packed with action, false leads, adventure and mystery, in the fight to clear Benson’s name and find out who the real thief is.

It was quite sad in places as Benson’s had a bit of a rough family life but he’s a forgiving and brave character and Pollo, as her charming self, with Shorn Connery and Will, definitely comes through with the goods and a thoroughly satisfying ending.

Jen Banyard has extensive Teaching Resources that support this novel engaging learning about English Language, Literature and Literacy. The notes also suggest that the book can be used as a springboard for discussion about family relationships, teenagers, journalism, local government, and the understanding that people are not always as they might at first appear.

This is Jen Banyard’s third book and it’s a well-written, humorous and suspenseful read for readers of middle fiction (10 – 12 years). I thoroughly recommend this book!
Neridah McMullin is the author of five books for children. Her latest book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to Me'. It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story that’s being endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also just happens to love footy).

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Crashing Down

Crashing Down by Kate McCaffrey (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9-781-922-089-854
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

Crashing Down is an engaging, insightful and realistic read for teenagers and adults alike.

This story is fast paced and fun and McCaffrey uses common turns of phrase that are engaging and accessible to today’s teenagers. Her writing voice and narrative is strong and genuine and written in an Australian cultural context that we would all understand.

Lucy is in Year 12 and under pressure to succeed. The last thing she needs is an intense boyfriend. So Lucy innocently breaks up with Carl at the school dance. She admits it wasn’t great timing with exams coming up, but it felt like the only way to keep her dreams on track.

Things haven’t been great with her and Carl for a while now and she knows this is the right thing to do. She feels completely smothered by him and his expectations of the future are so very different to her own. All he can talk about is living locally, with no plans of university, settling down and having kids.

Unfortunately some good decisions can have bad consequences.

Carl leaves the dance angry and hurt and stoned. Driving recklessly, he crashes his car, badly smashing up not only himself but also his best mate JD.

After coming out of his coma, Carl is a changed man. As a result of his brain injury, he’s angry and paranoid and acting completely irrationally. And he can’t remember breaking up with Lucy. She doesn’t want to hurt him so she keeps up the pretense.

Everyone is extremely upset and then McCaffrey throws in a curve ball that will send you into a spin: Lucy is pregnant. She tells Carl she doesn’t want to keep it and he has a brain aneurism! His parents then slap an ‘injunction order’ on Lucy to stop her from having the baby aborted.

Wow, this story has got it all. It’s fast past with a winding plot and complex characters. Even so it raises some valid questions about how these situations could be handled.

Crashing Down is written in a distinctive and engaging style and is thoroughly recommended to Young Adult readers.

This is Kate McCaffrey’s second novel and now I’m going to track down her first book to read!

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

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Last Viking Returns

The Last Viking Returns written by Norman Jorgensen with illustrations by James Foley (Fremantle Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921888106
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

The Last Viking Returns is a fun and adventurous book about being brave and looking after your siblings.

Josh is as brave as a Viking warrior and not a lot worries him. But when Josh’s youngest twins go berserk (meaning they are an absolute handful and are out of control), Josh, Grandpa and Nan are at their wits end.

To get them out of the house, Grandpa suggests they visit ‘Viking World’.

‘Viking World’ is theme park about all things Viking. There’s Viking food (Bjorn Burgers – hilarious!), sideshows such as the ‘Hammer of Thor’ and the show stealing act of a Viking kings funeral re-enactment, which involves a Viking longship being set aflame.

Well, the twins clear off and of course, they appear on the longship just before it’s about to be set on fire to be sent to it’s fiery grave.

Parallel to this story, is another. Thor is up in Asgard (Viking Heaven) looking down and watching Josh. He can see that Knut (Josh’s Viking name) and the twins are in trouble but at the same time Asgard itself comes under attack from a fire-breathing dragon called Fafnir.

Knut saves the day thanks to the ‘Hammer of Thor’ and it all ends satisfactorily well.

There’s a very cool section that goes with the story that gives all sort of information about Vikings. There’s also a lot of detail in James Foley’s illustrations. Every time you read this, you will pick up something new. The emotion on Josh’s face is so real, his twins do look like they are going ‘berserk’ with the mess they make and Josh’s little dog Wolverine is wonderful.

Norman Jorgensen’s words and James Foley’s illustrations perfectly compliment each other. As with all good picture books, the words allow room for the illustrator use artwork to expand and add meaning to the story.

There are wonderfully creative Teaching Resources available on Fremantle Press’s website and on Norman Jorgensen’s author website relating to the story, children will have a ball applying the rune alphabet write their own secret messages and codes. The illustrator James Foley has a blog called, and this also gives a fascinating look at his journey in creating the artwork for this picture book.

This is a highly recommended read for primary school readers.

Neridah McMullin is the author of two books for children. Her next book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to me!'. It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story that’s being endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy, and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also loves footy!).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Incy Wincy Spider

Incy Wincy Spider illustrated by Karen Erasmus (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: 9780734415493
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
This in-house picture book has extended the well-known action song and turned it into a lively story. Where else did the Incy Wincy Spider shelter other than the water spout?
Children often scream at spiders, but Karen Erasmus' large-eyed Incy Wincy is very cute and benign sitting in a splash of water on the cover, with legs like liquorice spaghetti. The red of Incy Wincy, the dark turquoise water shooting out of the black spout on a lime-green background is bright and eye-catching.
Young readers will enjoy looking for Incy Wincy in many familiar places: on a beach umbrella, the toilet seat, and a chair are a few examples, and will empathise with him as he survives lots of scary adventures. Grandpa sweeps Incy Wincy off the verandah, the cat threatens him, Aunty Joan nearly flushes him down the toilet, and he gets washed clean in Mum's washing machine, not forgetting a narrow escape when the dog jumps on the bed where he is lying. Perhaps almost being sucked up by the vacuum cleaner is his worst plight.

Although the new text is not as rhythmic or snappy as the original verse, it nevertheless provides a good storyline with plenty of interest and excitement. Incy Wincy demonstrates the determination of real life spiders which are found in so many places around and in the home. Karen Erasmus's illustrations are delightfully executed and it isn't hard to guess where Incy Wincy is found at the end of the tale.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Wombat Jumped Over the Moon

Wombat Jumped Over the Moon illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: 9780734415554
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
This great in-house picture book is bursting with lively Aussie bush animals having fun and games on a sunny day. With only one piece of delicious cake left over from their picnic, each of the animal friends decide to do tricks with the best one winning the cake.
Kookaburra does a triple somersault and twist; Echidna dances to Kangaroo's fiddle music; Emu does the hula hoop with three hoops and there are more tricks to follow. There is much applause each time and Wombat is worried. Will his trick stand a chance?
By the time it is Wombat's turn, night has fallen. Wombat's trick is based on the rhyme, Hey diddle diddle but instead of the cow jumping over the moon, Wombat launches himself off a rock to seem as if he is jumping over the rising moon. It is a wonderful trick which makes all the animals laugh, and they decide to share the cake, eating it with spoons.
Creagh's animal interpretations are always humorous and appealing; often dramatic. The background washes in eucalyptus grey-greens and vivid sunset colours; the dark brown of the rocks; the star studded velvety skies, all add a a touch of Aussie magic. The text flows in curves along each spread, with many words highlighted for emphasis. I found the front and end piece illustrations striking, with the animals shown as a line of silhouettes above a chocolate earth performing their tricks against fiery evening skies.

Wombat Jumped Over the Moon, Creagh's fourth title, will prove a popular choice for young readers.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Where’s Wally: The Totally Essential Travel Collection

Where’s Wally: The Totally Essential Travel Collection by Martin Handford (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781406356465
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This Where’s Wally collection is a fantastic travel companion for any age. All seven classic adventures are here together in one book to entertain, challenge, and occupy the mind during short or long journeys. It invites readers to begin by finding Woof, Wenda, Wizard Whitebeard and Odlaw, also twenty-five Wally watchers hidden amongst the crowds.There are hours of search-and-find occupation, and at the beginning of each adventure, is a checklist on a fold-out page. The covers hide six fantastic postcards to use or keep.

Wally is setting out on a worldwide hike equipped with all his gear. From beaches to ski slopes, camp sites to railway stations, and through different eras all over the world, there are new things to find and learn about. Adventures with invisible monks, unfriendly giants, gobbling gluttons, carpet flyers, nasty nasties, and lots more ghoul to drool about and enjoy, fill every page. From the bottom of the sea to the underground, and from the Land of Wallies to Hollywood, try searching each scene with a magnifying glass to find all the hidden things that can sometimes be missed.

At the end of the journey the party/celebrations begin. Flags of 18 countries are flying. Six flags have something wrong. Have fun finding what it is.

New and old Wally fans of all ages will have a terrific time with this flexible compact book. No one will say ‘I’m bored’ with this in their lap.

Monday, 11 August 2014


Trouble by Non Pratt (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978140634769
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Fifteen year old Hannah is pregnant. Although she’s been giving it away, she’s always been careful – except that once. She knows who the father is, but pretends not to.

Her best friend Katie moves away from her into the popular crowd of nasties when Hannah needs her the most. Her parents are freaking out because she’s decided to keep the baby. Gran is the only one on her side.

Aaron is the new history teacher’s son. He’s moved schools again, and everyone thinks it’s because he’s gay. Nothing could be further from the truth. He’s an observer; quiet and contemplative, and carries the weight of guilt for something undisclosed until further along in the story. But he is different, and Hannah shows an interest. He offers to be known as the father of Hannah’s baby and she accepts. But Aaron becomes more to her than a default father for her baby.

This well structured and beautifully written first novel addresses adolescent sexuality and behaviour. It covers themes of fitting in by becoming someone you are not, friendship, family unity and love.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Rain Door

The Rain Door by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406343816
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

First published in 1986, this edition of The Rain Door follows the release of Russell Hoban’s new work, Rosie’s Magic Horse, which was published posthumously soon after his Soonchild, both through Walker Books in 2012.

On a hot summer day in London, Harry sees the rag-and-bone man pass by. He follows him and his wagon, and his magical words that Harry couldn’t comprehend, through the shade shape of the rain door. A voice urges and warns at the same time, about what he should expect on the other side.

Harry is ready for adventure, and rain. On the other side is the rag-and-bone man’s collection of oddities scattered everywhere. What does this magical place hold for Harry?

In an imaginative and thought-provoking adventure about the other side of reality, Harry has a lion, a dinosaur, a horn that goes GAHOOGA  and lots of rain to contend with. Will he be able to get back home, and how? Quentin Blake’s easily identifiable watercolour and pen art beautifully translate the text with coloured swirls of fascination and magic. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Miss Emily

Miss Emily by Burleigh Muten, illustrated by Matt Phelan (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 19.95
ISBN 9780763657345
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Almost everyone knows the poet Emily Dickinson. In this verse novel, we get an insight into her private life and her incredible enjoyment of life which she shared with her nieces, nephews, and their friends with whom Emily spent a great deal of time in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Theirs was a world of make-believe and imagination. Filled with adventure and daring, the story portrays a freedom and way of life unknown to children of today. Play and invention, and the art of storytelling fill the pages. The properness of the era, the regard one person had for the other, and the gentility of life one hundred years ago is strongly represented.

The story is told from the point of view of the youngest member of the group Mac Jenkins, son of Pastor Jenkins, a close friend of Emily’s. Mac later became a writer and wrote several books on Emily Dickinson.

This is an adventure filled with delight and memories. Emily takes her band of young friends on a secret midnight excursion to see the circus arrive by train. Dressed as Amherst gypsies, the outing becomes a play, as do most of their get-togethers. The real gypsies discover the group and draw them into their circle for an added experience. They slip back into the night as quietly as they came, trying to keep their outing a secret.

But a fall causes Mac to sprain his ankle and their escapade is uncovered. Instead of punishment, the Pastor takes the children to the circus. It becomes a night to remember.

It is beautifully told in perfect prose by the gifted Burleigh Muten, a member of the Emily Dickinson International Society, and stunningly interpreted by the highly acclaimed author-illustrator, Matt Phelan. Their collaboration has created a collector’s delight.

The characters in the book were real people. A short biography in the historical notes at the end allows us to learn something about their lives. Included is a rich bibliography. 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Mary’s Australia - How Mary MacKillop Changed Australia

Our Stories: Mary’s Australia - How Mary MacKillop Changed Australia by Pamela Freeman (Walker Books)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 9781922077905
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Our Stories, the wonderful series published through black dog books, presents the life of Mary Mackillop beginning from the time she was seven years old, until 1909 when she died. It is juxtaposed with the history of Melbourne’s settlement; its progression, growth through population expansion, social and economic change, and the effect of white settlement on the Indigenous people.

Learning about Mary’s life, her strength, determination and her unshakable faith, is inspiring. She worked very hard as a child to support her family when for years her father was unable to get work. As a young woman, all she wanted was to join the order of nuns in Penola, but took up the option to ‘bring education to the far-flung towns of the Australian bush.’ It would take years for her to fulfil her dream of becoming a nun.

Mary Mackillop became the founder and head of the order of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the first religious institute to be founded by an Australian.

This 32 page book rich in Australian history and culture, is a superb resource for educational and reference purposes. Its images from the SLV, the wonderful  presentation, illustrations in pen and ink, and colour fitted beautifully into the text, present an expansive history of our country from the goldfields to Federation and beyond. It includes a Glossary and Index of word definitions and references at the end.  

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Boy Who Climbed into the Moon

The Boy Who Climbed into the Moon by David Almond, illustrated by Polly Dunbar (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406354331
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

David Almond’s work always carries strong, thought-provoking messages. Here, his delightful yet complex story of the lonely, shy child Paul carries mixed themes and a great deal of optimism and hope.

Young Paul’s world is dull. People at school think he’s strange. He lives in the basement flat of a high apartment building with his mum and dad. On a day when he can’t face school and is alone with his sadness, he decides to go the top of the building and touch the sky.

Leaving his apartment takes courage. But he meets Harry the Harrier, Mabel who is Molly, Clara, and Clarence her dog, and Molly’s brother, Benjamin who due to his shyness, spent many years with a paper bag over his head. The strangeness of these strangers makes Paul feel very comfortable. He embarks on an adventure with these curious, mixed-up people, to prove his strange theory that the moon is really a hole in the sky.

A profound exploration of happiness, and how beautiful it can be when you’re different, this story touches on human feelings and how others see you. It also explores fear that can be as debilitating as silence, finding courage to do what seems impossible, being brave, and learning that helping others also helps you.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Hunt for the Golden Book

The Hunt for the Golden Book by Geronimo Stilton (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-0 545-64649-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Geronimo Stilton is the editor of The Rodent's Gazette in New Mouse City. He loves his job, but what he loves even more is writing adventure stories. Unfortunately, when it comes to the crunch, he is a bit of a scaredy-mouse but luckily he always has plenty of friends and family to help out.
In The Hunt for the Golden Book, Geronimo's passions collide when Grandfather William decides there needs to be a huge party to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Geronimo's first published book. And furthermore, Grandfather William wants Geronimo to write a new book especially for the occasion.
As with Geronimo's previous adventures, this does not turn out to be as simple as it may seem and soon Geronimo and his friends are racing across the country to recover a laptop and discover a saboteur.
In this special hardcover edition is a bonus story. A mini mystery called The Lake Monster. In this story Geronimo, with the help of Thea, Benjamin, Bugsy and the delightful Petunia Pretty Paws, is on the hunt for a photo of the Lake Monster for his newspaper. He must out scoop his number one enemy Sally Ratmousen, editor of the Daily Rat.
Geronimo discovers there is something decidedly fishy going on in the lake and clues left in many chapters mean readers can be involved in solving this mystery.
As always Geronimo Stilton books are an amusing read. Colourful pictures and text, short chapters, hidden clues, and lots of crazy word play and slapstick comedy make this series a great one for reluctant readers and younger readers who want a bit of light relief. It’s a book they can read quickly and have fun with. There are so many to choose from as well, in many different variations: Thea Stilton books, Cavemice, the fantasy series and the newly released Spacemice.

Suitable for six year olds and older there is a book for every taste.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Classics: Tales from Grimm

The Classics: Tales from Grimm by Antonia Barber, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain (Frances Lincoln)
HC RRP $ 27.95
ISBN 9781847805096
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Popular author of The Mousehole Cat and many other children’s books, Antonia Barber has retold 9 classic fairytales by the brothers Grimm. Companion to the gift edition of Tales from Hans Christian Anderson by Naomi Lewis, and published at the same time through Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, it is presented in an almost identical format with an outstanding jacket.

The stunning end pages are the first thing you see when you open the cover. It’s a welcome into the world of the imagination made immortal by these storytellers. The equally stunning illustrations transform the text into a visual feast to drag you back to your childhood when mystery, surprise and awe awaited on every page.

This collection contains favourites made new, but with a taste of the old flavouring the tale through Antonia Barber’s retelling. They include The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel, Briar-Rose, Rapunzel, Little Red-Cap, The Golden Goose, Snow White, Sweet Porridge and the Elves and the Shoemaker, one of my favourites.

This gorgeous publication to own or gift, has many full page illustrations. Some smaller ones are placed at random within the text, others at the top or bottom. A creation of great beauty, this book of fairytales suits all ages. It can be read alone, read to younger children, or enjoyed for its beauty and content by older lovers of fairytales. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

Mates: The Ugg Boot War

Mates: The Ugg Boot War by Kylie Fornasier, illustrated by Tom Jellet (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-86291-999-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Jake is dreadfully embarrassed by his Dad’s Ugg Boots. In fact Jake must have the most embarrassing Dad in Australia. It is especially humiliating when Dad wears them with boxer shorts and nothing else and chases the garbage truck down the street. Ugg boots are ruining Jake’s life and he knows he has to do something to stop his father from going out in public with those horrible things on his feet. Maybe if the boots disappeared Dad would find something else to wear.

This is a very funny story about Jake and the inventive ways he goes about solving the problem of his father’s embarrassing habit. Of course it backfires in a spectacular way.

I really enjoy all the books in the Mates - Great Australian Yarns series. The Ugg Boot War is another wonderful title. From the expressive text which brings the characters vividly to life; ‘My Ugg boots have gone missing. You two are part of my search party. No one eats or sleeps until the boots are found.’ to the fabulously amusing illustrations, this is a story young children will enjoy.

The humour is gentle and universal and the Australian element (comfortable rather than clich├ęd) is unmistakable. The dog who retrieves shoes, the old cubby house in the backyard which hasn’t been used for years (sitting like a mini haunted house), the Ugg boots themselves, even Dad chasing the garbage truck down the street, are all such a part of the Australian landscape.

With six chapters, relatively simple words and colourful pages, it will extend beginner readers giving them a great chapter book they can easily engage with.