Wednesday, 31 December 2014


Plenty by Ananda Braxton-Smith (Walker Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781742032429
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The immensely talented Ananda Braxton-Smith delights us once again with her unique voice with new work for teenage readers. She addresses themes such as family ties, memory, and the place of story in children’s lives as promoter for understanding others, and one’s self.

Ten year old Maddy and her family are moving from the only home she’s ever known to the country area of Plenty. It’s where her grandmother lives alone, in the early stages of dementia. Maddy can do little other than be angry at her parents for taking her away from everything familiar, including all her friends.

When Maddy reaches Plenty, everything beautiful that surrounds her appears ugly in comparison to what she left behind. When she meets her grandma Mad, she begins to thaw. Stories of Mad’s life and a similar interest in orchids fill empty spaces in Maddy created by the move.

At school, when Maddy is seated with the Sudanese refugee Grace, then coupled with her on a project, her world begins to reshape. The story of Grace’s life and her family’s struggle through change and adaption helps Maddy count her blessings and view her new and changing life with acceptance.

With clever wordplay and a prose style all her own, Braxton-Smith has created a moving and thought-provoking novel that will appeal to all ages. I loved every page of this book that I couldn’t put down until the last sentence.  

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Emily Eases Her Wheezes

Emily Eases Her Wheezes
by Katrina Roe, illustrated by Leigh Hedstrom (Rhiza Press) HB RRP $19.99                                             
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

It’s said that Australian children have one of the highest rates of asthma in the world so this picture book should find a way into many homes. Like most small children, Emily the Elephant is full of energy but she’s an asthmatic. Numerous factors bring on breathlessness – air pollution, dust, having a cold and chilly weather. These times the little elephant is side-lined and must watch her playmates or remain indoors. As well, when she’s coughing and wheezing, she has to use her puffer (which the illustrator has sensibly shown is used with a spacer). The one exercise in which she succeeds is swimming, an activity decided by her friends, Marty the Monkey, Gemma Giraffe, Zac the Zebra and Little Lion Luke. The implication of Emily’s swimming is that her lungs grow stronger and stronger as a result. The outcome is that she enters – and wins -- a swimming race.
At the end of the book there is a three page note to parents and carers about asthma. This is followed by two sets of fly pages. Yes, it’s important for parents to know about the effects of asthma on a child, but is a children’s picture book the place to impart such information? I would have preferred more development in the story – perhaps showing Emily’s asthma getting so severe she needs medical attention. This would give a parent sharing the reading of the book an opportunity to prepare his/her child for a visit to a GP or to hospital. Children should be aware of preventative medication (not mentioned in the book) and how important it is in the treatment of a disease which can be deadly if not correctly monitored.
Other than the wasted fly pages, this is a well-designed book with colourful illustrations and text printed on gloss paper. The cover which shows Emily in a swimming costume and equipped with her inhaler, is eye-catching. This book would best suit children aged 4 to 6 years.

Monday, 29 December 2014

This Shattered World

This Shattered World, Book 2 in the Starbound Trilogy, by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner (Allen & Unwin)
YA RRP $18.99
ISBN 9781743319703
Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

This Shattered World is the second sci-fi romance novel in the Starbound Trilogy and set in the same universe as These Broken Stars. We meet Captain Jubilee Chase, leader of the Trodairi on the planet Avon where she is admired, respected and feared by all. We also meet Flynn Cormac one of the leaders of the planet's rebels, smart, charismatic, and prefers to solve problems without violence.

Soldiers and rebels are fighting for control over the planet. The rebels, also known as the Fienna, are long ago decedents of the Irish and fight for a better life for their people. Outsiders, including the soldiers, don't last long on Avon as they are vulnerable to the Fury, a sudden state of violent behaviour, though for unknown reasons Captain Lee is immune.

Avon is a low-tech planet hindered as by its atmosphere and Avon is little more than a swamp. Flynn knows the planet should have advanced further through the terra-forming process and wants to know why this hasn't happened. He also wants to know more about a mysterious facility he has discovered in the swamp.

The story is told from both Flynn's and Lee's perspectives interspersed by short, dream segments often featuring Captain Lee as a child.

The romance between Flynn and Lee seems impossible; Jubilee's had a tragic history with rebels during her childhood and Flynn is learning to live with the execution of his sister by the Trodairi. Lee and Flynn are pushed together in a quest to save the lives of citizens, rebels and soldiers. Their strong physical attraction increases into something more as they are forced to see each other as real people and not the caricatures they had expected.

There are many fights to be fought, hardships to endure, and many intriguing mysteries to be solved. This was a good read, though the plot took its time to develop.

Tarver and Lilac, the main characters from These Broken Stars make a brief return but are not the focus of this novel which may have surprised and possibly saddened some readers. This Shattered World could be read on its own, but the return of the whispers and the involvement of the LeRoux company and what may follow in the next novel make it worthwhile reading These Broken Stars first.

Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner (author of the Skylark trilogy) have made some great world building choices including an emphasis on the connection to culture, doing away with gender inequalities, and acceptance of same sex relationships.  The divide between rich and poor is still strong and the main cause for conflict. The authors' collaborative effort has been built over many years of writing together, and its shows.

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, 28 December 2014

Little Rhymes for Little People

Little Rhymes for Little People by John Westlake, illustrated by Sophie Scahill (Published by John Westlake)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-0-646-92462-5
Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

In this new release, John Westlake has created a collection of rhymes that aim to educate children about animals of both land and sea and their environments. Suited to children aged three to seven, Little Rhymes for Little People features 21 rhymes written about animals from all over the world including Australian natives.

Each rhyme brings the reader closer to the animal by depicting a relationship between them and people, with the narrator an active participant in each scene.  This gives a gentle portrait of animal behaviour and their characteristics.

The bright illustrations by Sophie Scahill enhance the rhymes through a collage of texture and layering, giving them a somewhat 3D quality and bringing the animals’ habitats to life, at times in a humorous context. Zebras in disguise, a tea drinking leopard and a parachuting kiwi bird will entertain young readers as each page is unveiled. The illustrator has employed various colour palates that reflect a specific animal or environment. These are presented as full colour pages opposite their corresponding rhyme.

Each rhyme is short, in simple to read text, allowing the reader to move quickly. The illustrations support further discussion or reflection. There are opportunities for young children to identify pets or animals they may have encountered on visits to animal parks or sanctuaries. Little Rhymes for Little People is a light-hearted interpretation of animal life that can integrate with other pre-school environmental awareness. 

Little Rhymes for Little People is available now and available through Woodslane distribution.

Jaquelyn Muller is an author and publisher of the Elizabeth Rose picture book series. Jaquelyn is an author champion for the Let’s Read early childhood literacy program. She conducts literacy and publishing workshops for children from kinder to upper primary.


Saturday, 27 December 2014

Christmas Wonderland: Ella and Olivia

Christmas Wonderland: Ella and Olivia by Yvette Poshoglian, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-055-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

‘Ella and Olivia love Christmas. They love the smell of the tree. They love waking up early on          Christmas morning. They love giving and receiving presents.’
Christmas is just around the corner so Dad and Uncle Stu have a surprise for Ella and Olivia that is going to be big, bold and very, very bright. 

Christmas Wonderland is a Christmas title which captures the funny tale about a friendly neighbour Christmas decoration battle. The excitement of getting ready for Christmas shines through this story.  Ella, 7, and Olivia, 5, help Dad and Uncle Stu decorate the front yard, sing Christmas songs with Mum and wait excitedly for the Christmas street fair.  Of course baby brother Max and their puppy dog Bob share in this excitement with the rest of the family.

Written for beginner readers, the text is simple. Short sentences and chapters encourage reading and the sweet illustrations help make the book appealing and manageable. The writing is evocative too.
    ‘‘Into the tree we’ll wind flashers and blinkers and winkers,’ cries Dad.’

The Ella and Olivia series is a lovely family focused series with stories well suited to the five plus readership age.

Friday, 26 December 2014

EJ Spy School: Hide and Peek

EJ Spy School: Hide and Peek by Susannah McFarlane, illustration by Dyani Stagg (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-92193-165-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

It’s nearly Christmas and Emma Jacks loves everything about this time of year, especially Christmas secrets. Emma is very good at keeping secrets. She has a secret identity; Agent EJ, spy in training for SHINE.
One morning close to Christmas, Emma and her friends Hannah and Elle arrive at school early as their class is leaving on an excursion to Christmas Town to visit the Giving Tree. But before they can leave, Emma’s spy watch beeps and she knows she will not be going on the excursion. Emma is disappointed, but a good spy knows she must do her job and soon she is rushed off on her first official mission.

EJ’s mission is at the Giving Tree, Shadow is planning to steal the presents destined for underprivileged children, so she gets to see it after all as well as earning her Spy School disguise badge.

This story emphasises the giving side of Christmas. There is a code to crack, lots of Christmas disguises and plenty of the gadgets reader have begun to expect. This, and the whole EJ Spy school series, would make a great first chapter book for beginner readers from five years, with its large text, simple vocabulary, short chapters and active storyline.
The sweet illustrations break up the text and enhance the storyline and young readers can try to spot EJ when she is in her disguises.

This is the sixth book in the EJ Spy school series.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

The Arrival

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978 0 7344 1586 8
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Shaun Tan's stunning 128-page wordless picture book, first published in hardback in 2006 with sales of over 500,000 copies worldwide including 60,000 in Australia, is now available in paperback. The imaginative and haunting pictures will no doubt attract the attention of art lovers and readers alike, for in this book, the old adage, "A picture paints a thousand words" is truly confirmed.

The Arrival is the story all refugees and immigrants will relate to, especially those travelling to a country whose language and lifestyle is completely foreign to them. The differences have been demonstrated by surreal images of strange creatures and modes of transport. The black, white and sepia tones of the illustrations add to the atmospheric effect, and readers will no doubt be stirred emotionally in various ways as they study the pictures and the meaning behind them. The story is broken into 6 chapters which relate to each step the man who has made the journey takes.

Glimpses into the man's fears and loneliness and memories of the beloved wife and daughter he has left behind; the kindness of others towards him and the stories of their own lives; the friendships he slowly forms; the correspondence written and then the opportunity to return home and tell his family of the new country which is their future are a few of the impressions I gathered as I studied this amazing artist's work.

The Arrival has won many awards including the WA Premier's Prize 2006, CBCA Picture Book of the Year and Australian Children's Book of the Year for Older Children in 2007. Shaun Tan himself was awarded in 2011 the Dromkeen Medal for services to children's literature and the Astrid Lindgren prize, the world's richest children's literature award.

This fascinating and moving picture book is worthy of a place on both adult's and children's book shelves, a book to which a reader will be drawn time and time again.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Digby's Moon Mission

Digby’s Moon Mission by Renee Price, illustrated by Anil 
Tortop (Create It Kids)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780646927718 
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Digby’s Moon Mission taps into the timeless childhood desire for a ‘mission’, aided by a group of eager accomplices.

Digby Fixit wonders, ‘Why is the dark so dark?!’, and notes the moon’s slight size: ‘Banana-thin. No more than a sliver’. He concocts an energetic plan with the aid of his friends to cook some food, fling it up to the moon and fatten it up, restoring its roundness and therefore its glow.

Price diverts from prose to rhyme as the children prepare the food, segmenting this activity from the main narrative. Tortop’s illustrations convey humour, action and fun, and it is pleasing to see the diversity of real life reflected in Digby’s friends. The addition of Digby’s expressive little cat throughout is a charming touch.

The double-page spread displaying a determined Digby measuring the moon as it grows larger each day is a favourite, and will no doubt touch adult readers. Digby is convinced his plan is working, and it nods to the innocent wonder of childhood.

The story’s conclusion reveals the aftermath of the moon’s feast, and uses humour that will appeal to young readers of three to six. Overall, the story embraces teamwork, creative problem-solving and determination in an engaging way.