Sunday, 30 November 2014

On a Small Island

On a Small Island by Kyle Hughes-Odgers (Fremantle Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9-781-925-161-168
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

 On a small island, in a gigantic sea, lives Ari. Ari longs for the large ships to stop at his island, he longs to see remarkable things and to have interesting friends.On a small island, in a gigantic sea, Ari has an idea. A dazzling idea. An irresistible idea …

This is a joyful and thought -provoking picture book (the best kind!), and it’s perfectly accompanied by wonderfully unique illustrations. Hughes-Odgers is an acclaimed Australian visual artist based in New York.

The first thing that grabbed me was the colour palette chosen for the illustrations. Cool blues and greens blended with the warmth of reds and ochre. They’re just beautiful colours and his choice of line and texture is just as interesting to look at. There’s something old fashioned about the illustrative style, it reminds me of my grandmothers art deco wallpaper that she had in her kitchen; all those shapes and triangles and patterns.

But Hughes-Odgers style is much more modern and edgy than that. It’s quirky and unusual and there is so much to see in the illustrative detail.The language is rich and enjoyable to read with an entirely satisfying ending. There is a healthy message to children: be the person you want to be and people will come to you.

Apparently, Hughes-Odgers wrote this story in a cafĂ© in New York where was reflecting on the fact that you don’t have to leave home to be creative – you can use your creativity to attract people to your home instead.

On a small Island is definitely a book to take your time with, to pour over and to re-read multiple times, as you’ll always pick up something new in it. I highly recommend it.

Fremantle Press also has some terrific Teaching Resources that support this book in the classroom

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 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, 29 November 2014

The Perfectionists

The Perfectionists by Sara Shepard (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0434-4
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

This is one of those non-put-downable books. It is well written, the main characters are likeable, and the pacing is fast, but I have a problem.

Sara Shepard is the author of many popular books including the Pretty Little Liars series, which I confess to not having read but have heard quite a lot about. Pretty Little Liars has sixteen – yes, sixteen -- books in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I like a series, I don’t mind a little breathing space between books. I like to let the characters have a rest too, especially after a fast-paced book like this one.

But here is my problem. The Perfectionists has a lot of characters, starting with five girls plotting revenge against the school’s most popular boy slash bully; each of those girls has her own group of secondary characters, some of which are crucial to the plot. That is a lot of characters to make mental notes about.

I was enjoying this book immensely; not only are these girls managing to get themselves into all kinds of trouble - most of the time not of their own doing - but there has been a murder. Towards the latter half I found it hard to put the book down. I read faster and faster, needing to know who the bad guy/girl is and if the girls were going to be safe.

Then it ended.

Just like that.

I have no idea if these girls whom I had become so fond of were safe.

Looks as though I will have to wait for book number two; I hope it comes out fast.

The book, if read in a classroom situation, would raise healthy discussion. The serious matters of sex, drugs, bullying, suicide and revenge are raised in this story. The characters are fully formed and each has their own story to tell.

The story obviously gives room for sequels and I am sure each would be an enjoyable read.

 Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of the series ‘That’s not a …’ learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools, a picture book The Bear Said Please, and one local history coffee table book.


The Rabbit and the Shadow

The Rabbit and the Shadow by Melanie Rutten, translated by Sarah Ardizzone (Book Island)
HB RRP $32.95
ISBN 9780994109804
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

From the outset, this picture book tells you it is a story of a rabbit, a stag, a soldier, a cat, a book and a shadow. When the story proceeds, the book is broken into sections with headings, such as the Rabbit and the Stag, the Soldier, the Cat, and so on, each section being like a short story within a larger story.

I found this a difficult book to get my head around so it is definitely not for small children except as a work of (illustrative) art. The story is written in simple sentences that are sometimes quite poignant, such as ‘One day, the Rabbit appeared. There was a slight wind. And a shadow perhaps. Little ones sometimes appear like that. Like the wind. Or sometimes like a storm.’

A Rabbit is befriended by a Stag. A Soldier also befriends Rabbit; these two then meet up with Cat. Next, Book is attacked by Soldier, after which meets Stag. At this point there is a flashback with Rabbit and Stag discussing the nature of their love and the fact that nothing is forever. There is much more, but to be frank, although I loved the simplicity of the writing, I really didn’t fully understand what the story is about. Perhaps, I decided, because Rabbit appears to be the central character, it is about it learning life’s lessons. And perhaps the moral of the story is contained in a sentence on the final page: ‘This is the story of a Stag who doesn’t feel anxious anymore and a Rabbit who has grown up.’

The illustrations – and there are many of them, usually contained within a vignette, although there are full-page illustrations -- appear to be watercolour. They display a distinctive artistic style with ample use of golden yellow and bush green. The cover, showing Stag embracing Rabbit, is quite lovely.

 Trying to make sense of the story, I came to the conclusion that author Rutten uses all of the characters symbolically – the Rabbit as child, the Stag as parent, the Soldier and Shadow as life threats, the Book as one’s search for meaning, the egg as life to come, the Cat... not sure what it represents. It would be interesting to discuss this book and what it’s about with someone else who has read it, too. All I can do is to recommend it to you if you like a book which is out of the box, very different from a mainstream picture book.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Being Jack

Being Jack written by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Cathy Wilcox (Harper Collins)
PBK RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780732296148
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

We first met Jack five years ago in I Am Jack, when, as an eight year old, Jack experienced bullying. In the years (and books) that have followed, Jack has endured his father leaving, dealt with the bullying at school, acquired a stepfather when his mum remarries and works out a relationship with stepbrother Leo.

Now in Year 6, family and school life appears to have settled, with Jack enjoying his photography and sharing a love of surfing with Rob his stepfather. The bullying issue however, again raises its ugly head, this time directed at Jack’s friend Christopher and Jack is forced to relive his experience and find a solution to help his friend.

When Jack and Christopher witness dirty play in a football scrum at school, they know that something must be done about the bullies once and for all. Bullying and unfair play are not Jack’s only concern though, as he is soon to turn thirteen and questions about why his father left and his lack of contact begin to niggle. How will he find a father who may not wish to be found? If he finds him, what effect will this have on his mum?

Susanne Gervay again has written a story that is heartfelt and honest. We feel Jack’s fear, his doubt and worries. The perfect ending to the series, we are left confident that Jack is resilient and confident to take on the challenges of adolescence. Suitable for children aged 9+ years.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Big Question

The Big Question  by Leen van Den & Kaatje Vermiere, translated by David Colmer (Book Island)
HB RRP $28.00
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The illustrations in this picture book are fantastical, like being inside a beautiful dream crowded with animals, people and landscape. You want the dream to go on and on! Some of the pages seem to be created from paper collage, others have painted images; there are wax rubbings and inked drawings – so much to look at and take in. The cover shows a harlequin leaning on top of an elephant’s head, surrounded by all manner of creatures from a French poodle to a pink pig on an armchair to a monkey holding a small windmill. The entire story appears to happen on the landscape of the elephant’s hide.

At the start of the story, elephant has something on her mind, a difficult question, a big question. At the annual meeting (chaired by an anxious ant) all of the creatures gather to find the answer. The question really is a biggie: How do you know you love someone? The mouse declares its love for the elephant, Snow White talks about what loves does to a person. And so it goes on, each creature endeavouring to give his or her answer. Meanwhile, there are gorgeous illustrations – two otters kissing, flamingos beak-to-beak, gibbons reaching out lovingly for one another, and so on.

 This sumptuous book was made possible with financial support of the Flemish Literature Fund; it was first written in Dutch and translated into English, then published in New Zealand. It’s not really a book for young children; its appeal is more to those with a romantic soul. My only quibble with the portrait-shaped book is that it is over-sized; librarians and others will find it difficult to fit onto shelves. Despite this, it is certainly recommended!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Infinity Ring book 6: Behind Enemy Lines

Infinity Ring book 6: Behind Enemy Lines by Jennifer A. Nielsen (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-54538701-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Dak, Sera and Riq are this time transported to Scotland 1943, right in the middle of World War II. They will need to get close to the enemy, the Nazi Party and Hitler, to convince them that (false) papers recovered from a dead British airman are credible. If this allied plot fails, Hitler, and the SQ will win the war, again.   
But Hitler is not the only evil these time travellers are up against. Tilda reappears and she has her heart, and future, set on destroying the trio. Their Square breaks, Dak has his first remnants (an unsettling and often physically painful feeling that something is missing), and for the first time, all three children must run solo missions. They are split, in three different countries, with no guarantee of re-uniting.

Behind Enemy Lines is the sixth book in a 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.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Juicy Juicy Green Grass and Other Fun Songs

Juicy Juicy Green Grass and Other Fun Songs [with CD] by Peter Combe, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-064-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The four songs in this picture book are catchy, fun and wildly silly. They are also about things preschool children are often fascinated with and will relate to well - the postman, sheep, traffic lights and the transformation of tadpoles to frogs. The silly humour will hold great appeal for pre-schoolers.
In Juicy Juicy Green Grass, a hungry sheep fantasises about eating fresh green grass, Summer’s been so dry, turned you into brown. Will you come back? Juicy juicy green grass.
In The Silly Postman, the postman starts off by putting a letter in the letterbox on Monday, but on Tuesday he puts in a frog, and then each day after that he puts something just as inappropriate in the letterbox.
Tadpole Blues tells the tale of a tadpole’s confusion as he starts to grow legs, and Red Says Stop is a catchy tune about traffic light colours and what they mean.
The bold illustrations by Danielle McDonald make every page pop. They are bright with prominent coloured backgrounds. They are uncomplicated with wonderful characterisations, from the hungry sheep with his tongue hanging out to the confused tadpole/frog.
The accompanying CD is performed by the author, Peter Combe, whose timeless songs have been entertaining children for two decades. These are silly ditties about common things and will have everyone singing along instantly.


Monday, 24 November 2014

Follow the Firefly

Follow the Firefly by Bernardo Carvalho (Book Island)
PB RRP $18.00
ISBN 9780994109828
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Cute and engaging: these are the two words that came to mind as I turned pages from the front to back of this wordless picture book. The story, Follow the Firefly, starts with a question, ‘Excuse me, have you seen a flashing light?’ and moves onto a scene of a campfire around which sits a variety of animals. On the right-hand side page is what looks like an electric bulb with a golden end. This is the firefly which moves through the book, from different parts of a forest wherein there are different animals (such as gorillas), and on to a town with busy streets. In the final picture, the firefly has discovered – and fallen in love with – an amber traffic light.

But that’s not all, folks! There’s yet another book! Turn the pages from back to front and you follow a rabbit in Run, Rabbit, Run! Doubtless a small child would have noticed what I missed: in every one of the firefly story’s pages, there is a white rabbit. His story can be ‘read’ as well. He leaves the town and returns – pursued by a dog -- to the campfire by the end of his story.

I really liked this book! It’s so much fun and it’s sure to be ‘read’ and ‘re-read’ countless times by children aged 2 to 6 years. The artwork is unique and distinctive with Carvalho using full-page vibrant watercolour washes and paintings. There is a real naivety to his animals and especially to his people that put a smile on my face. The pictures of the town are chaotic, compared to those of the various landscapes, which include forest, jungle and wetlands.

Book Island is a New Zealand publishing house which describes its company as ‘home to stunning picture books in translation.’ It is wonderful to see books which are so different! Highly recommended.



Sunday, 23 November 2014

EJ Spy School: Deep Water

EJ Spy School: Deep Water by Susannah McFarlane, illustration by Dyani Stagg (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-92193-164-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Swimming day at school is coming up and 8 year old Emma Jacks does not want to go. She is scared of deep water. Luckily for her she gets a call from SHINE, the top secret agency where she is training to be a spy. As EJ10, she takes the mission tube and zips off to another spy class - at the beach. If she wants to earn her underwater spy badge she is going to have to face her fears of the deep water after all.
EJ10 is trained in underwater spy work with the help of Bubbles the dolphin. Then they set off to clean rubbish which is polluting the sea. But when Bubbles is trapped, is EJ10 ready to dive deep to save her new friend?

The EJ Spy School series is written for beginner readers. The text has large font, basic words and short chapters. The content is exciting, mission based and mostly focusses on overcoming fears, environmental concerns and rescuing animals. There are plenty of fun spy gadgets too.
The pictures are sweet and often used in the place of text – to illustrate what is worn underwater or to show EJ’s spy profile. Young girls will love this series.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Sandy Feet

Sandy Feet by Nikki Buick. (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5315 7
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

For most teenagers, the thought of an extended Australian road trip with family and no access to electronic media would be sheer torture. Hunter is no exception. But as the story unfolds, we find that he is not just a self-absorbed adolescent and this story is so much more than the ‘live a simpler life to reconnect with family’ theme that is so overused it is now a clichĂ©.

Hunter has had a lot to cope with. Grief, his mother’s mental health issues, a sister with special needs and a new step-father and baby half-brother suddenly entering his life, on top of having survived an accident in which others were killed.  The journey is presented to him as a chance for his new blended family to bond and recover from past wounds, but Hunter gradually suspects there is more to it than that.

As the story unfolds Hunter learns that the adults in his life have lied to him. He still resents his father for abandoning them when he was younger but also misses him deeply following the tragic accident. Buick has skilfully adopted the voice of a young adult male; the resentment tempered with humour, whilst keeping the self-pitying to a realistic minimum.

This is ultimately a story about parents learning to have faith that their children can make healthy decisions for themselves, and that running away never solves anything. Along the way, Hunter learns to deal with his longing and grief in tandem with his own growing self-awareness and eventual forgiveness for the adults in his life, who are as flawed as he is.



Thursday, 20 November 2014

Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc)                                                                                                              PB RRP $14.99                                                                                                                                        ISBN 9781863956925                                                                                                                            Reviewed by Dianne Bates

When I heard Alice Pung talking on radio about her life, she was so interesting and articulate and amusing that I knew I had to buy her latest book, which is this. However, the book is an enigma to me. For a start, Black Inc is known for publishing only adult novels. So I don’t know where this book fits into its list. It’s not a typical YA novel though the narrator, Lucy Lim, is aged fifteen and writing about her year as a scholarship student at a prestigious girls’ college. What the problem for me is the style and sophistication of the narrative. The writing is excellent; overall I enjoyed reading the book. But I’m curious to know what teenage reader would make of it.

Throughout the book, Lucy addresses what seems to be a close friend, Linh. It was only towards the end of the story that I realised that Linh is her Chinese name, Lucy her westernised name. The whole of the novel is about Linh’s navigation, and eventual transformation – from her working-class roots in Stanley (‘a place of bogans’ where people are generally poor) to Lucy who experiences learning (not all academic) in a wealthy school where girls take their elevated status for granted. Lucy’s home life stands in stark contrast to that of the young women at Laurinda which appears to be dominated by what she calls ‘The Cabinet’. This is a trio of teenagers who prove to be nasty and spiteful but who give the outward appearance of conforming and seem to be an asset to the school and its principal, Mrs Grey who seems to be under their thrall -- enough to say that the trio’s mothers run the Alumnae Association and make massive donations to Laurinda.

Throughout the book – and this is really at its heart – Lucy is constantly self-analysing and making judgments about this alien world in which she finds herself.  She is quiet and truthful and tries to fly under the radar but the principal constantly sees her as not fulfilling her potential. At home she sees her parents struggling to put food on the table (eating meals from newspaper on the floor). Her mother runs an at-home business sewing clothes while Lucy is often left to care for her beloved little brother, The Lamb. At school she is befriended by a teacher, Mrs Leslie whom she admires and who is kind to her – but the rub is that the woman is mother of one of The Cabinet.

Matters come to a head when The Cabinet traumatises a woman teacher they detest and later cast aspersions (in the form of sexual innuendos) on a caring, effective male teacher. Lucy, whom The Cabinet has pretended to befriend, removes herself from the group, but in the end she makes her feelings known. And thus changes appear in the school ethos.

Will teenagers like this well-written and very different book? I really can’t say. It’s not an adult novel or even a cross-over novel -- therefore it must be for teenagers. I would love to have some teen opinions!



Where are Santa's Pants?

Where are Santa's Pants? by Richard Merrit (Little Hare)
ISBN 978-1-921541-50-6
PB $9.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Where are Santa's Pants? is basically Where's Wally? with a Christmas theme. The introduction explains the predicament : Santa has lost weight (he's been dieting) and now his pants keep falling off. The reader's job is to find Santa's pants on each page —he's got a few pairs in different colours. Also there to find, are the reindeer and a lucky sixpence, if you're extremely observant.

There's a reason this book is recommended for kids five and over — these things are not easy to find! The illustrations are packed with colour and detail so it will keep the children quiet for some time as they search for the various objects. Each page has a theme which has something to do with Christmas, starting with the North Pole, the beach, the ice rink and the department store, to name a few. The last page is a vibrant looking apartment block, where different people are celebrating the festive season in their own unique ways.

There's quirky humour such as a giraffe in a taxi, a mermaid watching a Christmas concert and two snow people getting married. There's someone who looks like Wally on one page as well. Kids can have a lot of fun while getting into the Christmas spirit. For those who get stumped, or even those who want to cheat, the answers are on the last few pages. Small versions of the previous pictures are dotted with circles showing the location of the pants and reindeer.

This is a reprint of Where are Santa's Pants? which was originally put out in 2010 and reprinted in 2011. Available now as well is a follow up book called Where is Santa's Suit?  also illustrated by Richard Merrit.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Alien Wizardry

Alien Wizardry by Antoinette Conolly 
PB RRP $25
ISBN 9780977586042
Reviewed by Sandra Park

Author Antoinette Conolly was compelled to write Alien Wizardry as the readers of the Cauchemar Trilogy would ask her what happened next. Alien Wizardry is the first book in a sequel trilogy and once again Zachary travels to Cauchemar. He is called to the magical world by his friend Mactavish, a ginger cat and Zachary’s previous travelling companion who remained in Cauchemar and is now a powerful wizard. However, one of the most powerful wizards, Malfactorius, is intent on destroying Cauchemar through an ancient prophecy.

According to the prophecy, though, alien help will save the world. And that is where Zachary and his new cat companion Taffy come in. Through the powers of a magical stone, they travel back to the Cauchemar and link up with old friends and new including Magenta the witch, Bijour the dragon and Ulysses the unicorn to thwart the prophecy. They travel to lands which have the most unusual inhabitants such as musical instruments and walking flowers. It is in these lands that the solutions to the prophecy are found and they are linked to the senses. However, it is the final sense that is the most difficult to work out. It is only at the very last, when it seems that Malfactorius has indeed triumphed, that they work out the final sense – a sense of humour! 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

State of Grace

State of Grace by Hilary Badger (Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 9781760120382
PB $19.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

 By the co-creator of the Zac Power series, State of Grace is a young adult book about a girl called Wren who lives with a group of other teenage creations in a paradise, not unlike the Garden of Eden. Wren spends her time swimming in the idyllic lagoon, hooking up with her friends and worshipping their creator, Dot. Despite this perfect world, Wren begins to have flashbacks to another life in a different world. She tries to fight it, as she wants to get to 'completion night' and be chosen, but when a boy called Dennis arrives from outside, everything changes.

This is a story where things become clearer as the book progresses, but it is obvious from the outset (to the reader, at least) that things are not as they appear. The little world Wren lives in is actually a trial for a drug called Grace, given to a select group of people with depression and other psychological problems. The world created uses religion for happiness and a sense of purpose. Blaze is the only other person apart from Wren who questions the reality of the world they live in, as he also experiences memories of another life.

 The language of this world is very effective: 'sungarb' for clothes, 'tatas' for breasts, 'dotly' for good and never using remotely negative words, just putting a pre in front, such as prenormal (different), prehealthy (sick) and prelight (dark). The revelation of the drug is not until right at the end, so most of the book has a rather creepy undercurrent, especially when Gil, one of the creations, tries to take charge and make new rules. A group called the Circle who is against the Grace trial also surfaces at the end, and there is action as they help Wren (real name Viva) and Blaze (real name Luke) escape to the real world. Viva gradually remembers the pain in her past and is able to live with it.

Like popular novels Divergent and The Giver, this is a young adult story about a utopian world, which turns out to be not as good as it seems. It's also about facing reality and the benefits of doing that. These are interesting concepts to explore and the well written State of Grace should go down very well with the readership.

Elizabeth Rose on Parade

Elizabeth Rose on Parade by Jaquelyn Muller, illustrated by Kathryn Zammit (Jaquelyn Muller Books)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780646921266
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

A follow-up to Muller’s first picture book I Love You 5 Lollipops, which was released in 2013, Elizabeth Rose on Parade features a short but sweet rhyming narrative. Readers are introduced to a cast of circus performers, from a posing strongman to an elaborate showgirl, yet none ‘delight or enchant like Elizabeth Rose’. The joyous and carefree protagonist parades, juggles and cartwheels through the pages, and appears happy and content with who she is.

The story is more character than plot heavy, taking the reader on a simple journey through a cast of performers in a travelling circus. The action of the circus parade is effectively conveyed through the imagery, until the delightful conclusion featuring Elizabeth Rose sprawled on a heart-shaped patch of grass.

Zammit’s beautiful illustrations strengthen the story with their nostalgic, vintage style. The charming, candy colours echo the sweet nature of the narrative, and will likely captivate preschool-aged readers. The pastel-striped endpapers featuring whimsical circus props add to the visual feast. Astute readers can also try and spot the recurring lollipop motifs hidden in each spread.

The book is ultimately a celebration of individuality and the carefree magic of childhood. Despite all the pomp and flair of the circus performers, Elizabeth Rose stands out just for being herself.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Healthy Harvest

The Healthy Harvest by Emma Martin, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN: 9781925117431
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

I’d have said it was Mission: Impossible.

The task, should anyone have been foolish enough to accept it: write a children’s picture book in rhyming verse about the five food groups. Combine educational imperatives with an appealing story.

Ok, the mission was not without its minor hiccups. Intrepid rhymester Emma Stuart stumbled over occasional rhythm—but that it worked at all seemed almost miraculous. There were a couple of awkward sentence constructions to accommodate the rhyme scheme. And Harry Harvester’s friends were mostly male.

But these minor quibbles aside, The Healthy Harvest is admirable in all the right ways.

A fresh, zesty look complements a simple storyline.
Harry Harvester introduces the reader to the five food groups with the help of his friends—Alfie Apple, Carly Carrot, Charlie Cheese, Wally Wheat, Sammy Salmon and Tommy Takeaway. In the course of the story, the reader learns about the five different food groups, food sources, what nutrients are and how they benefit health.

Graeme Compton’s graphics enhance
A fun but firmly factual foray
Into the five food types we need each day.  


Pandora Jones: Deception

Pandora Jones: Deception by Barry Jonsberg (Allen &Unwin)
PB RRP$17.99
ISBN 9781743318126
Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

Deception is the second novel in a three part series. In the first novel Admission we learn that a virus has wiped out most of the world's population.  Pandora wakes up disorientated in the grounds of The School where teenage survivors from around the world have been brought together.

Every teenager is encouraged to develop a skill or ability in order to contribute to the new world and everyone is trained in survival skills. Pandora's special skill is rather unique, a kind of sixth sense, which allows her to find lost items but as the novels progresses this develops into something stronger.

Pandora tries to adjust to life within the isolated grounds of The School but  discovers there are many secrets kept from the group of teens by the few surviving adults.

While in Admission Pandora gets close to her team mate Nate, hinting at a developing romance, in Deception the focus shifts to Pandora and her tough ass-kicking team mate Jen. The girls who are opposites in many respects, and without much affection for each other, grudgingly learn to rely on and earn each other's trust with Jen finally sharing some of her personal story. 

As in the previous novel a lot of attention focusses on escape attempts from The School. When they finally do escape, it is certainly a worthy thrill ride, needing perhaps a little suspension of disbelief from the reader.

 Though the first two novels raise plenty of questions that need to be answered,  the novels are a satisfying read. Deception's twist at the end is even bigger than the first novel making it long wait to the final in the series due out in May 2015.

 If you love your dystopian YA combined with strong female characters, and a world where teenagers have to fend for themselves battling their wits and strength against uncertainty and possibly evil adults, you won't be disappointed. This is an easy read that keeps you guessing while staying engaged with the story line and the main characters.

If you read this book recovering from a bad flu, as I did, and with cases of Ebola rising, the start of Admission with its violently dying population and frequent gruesome flashbacks to the pandemic in Deception, the novels can be a little confronting.

Jonsberg is not new to the YA novel and I was glad to see his My Life As An Alphabet receive multiple awards.

Yvonne Mes is a children's writer and illustrator. Her first picture book, Meet Sidney Nolan (Random House) is scheduled for release in October 2015.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Karana: The Story of Father Emu

Karana: The Story of Father Emu by Uncle Joe Kirk, with Greer Casey and Sandi Harrold, illustrated by Sandi Harrold (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-313-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Karana is the tale of a father emu hatching and raising his chicks. This Indigenous story is told by Uncle Joe Kirk, a Wakka Wakka elder, and the emu holds much significance in the Wakka Wakka culture. He symbolises the father figure who nurtures the whole family.
Each page is filled with soft illustrations, expressing the togetherness of the emu family and the simplicity of life lessons while rhyming couplets create an engaging and lively story.
Up she jumped and wandered away,
While Karana sat on those eggs for thirty-two days.
 He sat there alone in the rain and the heat,                                                                                                                                                                           With no water to drink and no food to eat.
So many facts about emu’s and chicks are imparted throughout the story as Karana teaches his chicks about when the waterhole is safest, where the best protection is, what foods to eat and how to swallow stones to help with their digestion.
Children will relate to learning about life through the care and teachings of families and the overriding message is of love and the father/children bond.
‘These are my chicks. I love them a lot...
  I will stay with them NO MATTER WHAT!’
This gentle story about love, families and the cyclical nature of life is strongly Australian in narrative and illustrations. It is a lovely read aloud book for the very young.



Hurry Up Alfie

Hurry Up Alfie by Anna Walker (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-991-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Sometimes getting ready to go out can take time. Alfie’s dad can be a little impatient, “Hurry up, Alfie!” But this time it seems that Alfie knows better than Dad, just what clothing is required for a day out in the park.
This is an energetic and engaging book about the procrastinations of one child, and the patience and exasperation his father. It is a scenario many parents – and their children – will recognise and is told with simplicity and humour. It is a joy to read.
I love Walker’s illustrations; they are busy and lively as Dad tries to keep up with his little crocodile who whizzes around on his scooter, tries to do headstands, and plays with the cat. The details are quirky with lots of little surprises and the pictures portray a beautiful relationship between the father and son.
Hurry up Alfie is a warm story which will be shared with many laughs between parents and pre-schoolers.


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers

Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic Inc.)
PB RRP $10.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-180-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers takes readers back to the end of the last book where Tippy Tinkletrousers was crushed beneath the foot of Zombie Nerd Harold leaving a squishy, red stain. In this book it is revealed that misdirection was employed and in between the foot lowering and the squishy stain a whole novel’s-worth of action occurred. This book is the hilarious explanation of the complicated series of events, time travelling exploits and cloning of Big Tippy, Mega Tippy and Supa Mega Tippy which went on.
Confused? Great!! Pick up this book and get lost in the action, humour, revenge and fabulously funny drawings, cartoons and flip-o-rama’s created by Dav Pilkey.
This is the tenth epic novel featuring George, Harold and Captain Underpants. It will be loved by boys (and some girls) from about seven years old. Fans will also be thrilled to know that DreamWorks Animation is currently in production for a feature film due to be released next year.