Monday, 31 March 2014

EJ Spy School: The Race

EJ Spy School: The Race by Susannah McFarlane, illustrations by Dyani Stagg (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-92193-153-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

In the first Spy School book The Test Emma Jacks was recruited to work for Top Secret spy agency 'Shine'. In this story, The Race, she is an agent in training. Her first spy training lesson is in fitness and EJ10 is unsure of how she will go in a difficult looking obstacle race. Will she make it around the course in her allotted 15 minutes? And does she have time to rescue a baby duckling along the way?

Based on the bestselling EJ12 Girl Hero series, EJ Spy School is for younger readers, 5 plus. In The Race Emma is introduced to spy gadgets and the fabulously fun way she gets from school to emergency missions.

Written especially for beginner readers, The Race incorporates short chapters with large text broken up by black and white illustrations and a simple storyline with no plot deviations. Already popular, the exciting world of Emma and her friends on Shine Agency missions, is now accessible to a younger readership who I’m sure will love these books as well.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

EJ Spy School: The Test

EJ Spy School: The Test by Susannah McFarlane, illustrations by Dyani Stagg (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $3.99
ISBN 978-1-92193-152-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Eight-year-old Emma Jacks is worried about an upcoming maths test at school. She loves school, and maths, but the thought of a test makes the worry butterflies fly around in her tummy. What she is about to discover is that by passing the test is she will be recruited for a secret spy school, Shine Agency.

Based on the popular series EJ12 Girl Hero, EJ Spy School is for younger readers. The Test introduces readers of 5 plus to Emma Jacks, her friends Elle and Hannah, and the Shine Agency. Short chapters and large text broken up by black and white illustrations make this a good first chapter book for young girls.

Emma Jacks has already proven to be a popular character for young girls. The exciting world of student spies – code cracking, animal protection and special missions with friends – will continue to provide adventures for fans of this series. And now younger children can join in at the beginning, growing up alongside EJ12.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Rainbow River

Rainbow River by Our Community of Children and Adults (Kids Own Publishing)
PB RRP $20 + GST
ISBN 9781925077087
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Rainbow River is a rhyming tale about three friends – the bird Rainbow Polly, Ezza the fox, ‘a fabulous beast’ named Coconut Bird, and their great adventure. As they travelled along the river that flowed to the sea, they saw the multi-coloured beauty of nature.  Some stones were simply stones, but others weren’t what they seemed. The day was filled with discovery and the happiness of being with friends.

With a strong Indigenous background, and a Rainbow River Map Key, this stunning book is filled with incredible mixed media and collage illustrations alive with colour and meaning. The river theme was inspired by the song Rainbow River by Vashti Bunyan. But the book ‘is by a unique group of friends who meet…to create artwork and make stories together’. This book is available on line from

Friday, 28 March 2014

Donkeys Can’t Fly on Planes: Stories of survival from South Sudanese refugee children living in Australia

Donkeys Can’t Fly on Planes: Stories of survival from South Sudanese refugee children living in Australia (Kids’ Own Publishing)
RRP $20
ISBN 9780987429032
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

If you have ever wanted an insight into the lives of refugee children to see what they think and feel; here is the opportunity. These 25 stories told by children, are raw brave, and honest and pure as only a child’s voice can be. Painful at times, always evoking deep emotions, these delicate pieces of children’s lives are offered willingly to be shared with other children, and hopefully, to encourage tolerance and understanding in all people.

The stories are not bedtime reading. They are tales of war, lack, loss and separation – of family, country, culture, and all that’s familiar. They are also about new beginnings, opportunity, and reunion amongst many other things.

The illustrations are created with recycled and natural materials of all sorts upon earthy coloured pages of fine quality paper. This book is wholly created by children for children, as are all books published by Kids’ Own Publishing.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Loser List: Jinx of the Loser

The Loser List: Jinx of the Loser by H.N Kowitt (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-545-50794-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Danny Shine is jinxed. He made one accidental catch at the baseball game and now the whole school hates him. The Roller Coaster at the school fair breaks down while he’s riding and the everyone thinks he’s a jinx. Danny knows he’s made top of the loser list when the school bullies offer to protect him from the rest of the school, for a price of course.

The more Danny tries to break the jinx curse, the more trouble he causes. Just when he thinks he has hit rock bottom, Danny is partnered with popular baseball captain, Luke, for speeches. Luke has a fear of public speaking and Danny knows he’ll have to coach Luke through this for a win or he may as well change schools.

Jinx of the Loser is a humorous look at the middle school from the unpopular side of the fence. The illustrations and handwritten text give it a more personal feel and it is similar in tone to the Wimpy Kid Diaries just for younger audiences and without the family emphasis.

Aimed at grades three to six, it is a light read for beginner readers, and will be mostly enjoyed by boys.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Here In The Garden

Here In The Garden written and illustrated by Briony Stewart (University of Queensland Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780 7022 5010 1
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Pets play a special role in a child’s life as they love the child unconditionally. But sadly, every child who has loved a pet will one day have to deal with the loss of their dear friend, playmate, confidante and partner-in-crime. Briony Stewart has captured the essence of a child’s wistful heartache beautifully. The story follows the bittersweet memories a boy has of sharing his garden with a fun little rabbit.

Briony Stewart’s words and illustrations bring the cute bunny to life – then gently remind us that he is no longer with his loving owner.

Written sparingly with a light touch and a lack of sentimentality, this book focuses on how the bereaved child rebuilds his love of the garden he and his much-loved pet once shared and played in, now that he is there alone.

This is a difficult topic for a book for young readers, but I think the author has managed it. I believe it would appeal to a wider age-range of readers than most picture books do, because the theme is not hammered as it may be in a more wordy text. The simple phrasing and soft illustrations carry the subject matter well.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Captain Underpants Super-Silly Sticker Studio

The Captain Underpants Super-Silly Sticker Studio by Dav Pilkey (Klutz)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-022-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Captain Underpants Super-Silly Sticker Studio is both a sticker book and an activity book. Packed with stickers that glow in the dark, stickers to colour in (with the textas provided with the book), funny gags and things to do, this book will keep kids entertained for hours. The glow in the dark stickers will be especially appealing for Dave Pilkey fans as the messages change when the lights are switched off.

As well as the recognisable illustrations, Pilkey’s brand of humour is evident in activities such as using charts to find silly names for your friends and creating characters by swapping heads and bodies. The characters are all from Captain Underpants books and kids will have great fun colouring, sticking and leaving glow in the dark messages in the bathroom.

For all fans of Dave Pilkey whatever the age.

Monday, 24 March 2014

CRUNCH The Small White Shark

CRUNCH The Small White Shark by Charlie Olsson, illustrated by Ryan Jones (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN – 9781921928635
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Though life for a small shark in a huge ocean may seem simple to us, it isn’t all too safe. This book uses facts to introduce Crunch, a very young great white shark, and show what a day in his life can be like. Varied vividly illustrated scenes show the environment, dangers and habits relevant to this species and a simple world map in one spread highlights where the species is found.

Each double page spread includes white text across the top to tell readers specifically about Crunch, as well as a ’Shark Bite’ – a yellow rectangle with a shark bite in the corner. The bites, packed with interesting information about the species, are sure to enthrall young readers. While these bites suit the targeted readership of 8-12 years perfectly the text in white will be easily understood by younger readers, giving the book wide appeal and great longevity.

The white text tells how Crunch lives his day, keeping out of reach of threatening creatures while himself snatching life from others so he can eat. Using humour to tell readers that sharks don’t learn by going to school, it then places perspective on the fact by showing how the ocean is the classroom. A bloody feeding frenzy where a hammerhead is chomped brings home this reality most powerfully.

There’s lots in both the information and illustrations that is sure to get kids thinking about many aspects of sea life and will, no doubt, encourage conversations, sharing of knowledge and perhaps even questions that may lead to further investigation. All in all this book works on many levels and is sure to be a hit, especially with young nature lovers.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Big Book of Dinosaurs

The Big Book of Dinosaurs by Robert Irwin (Random House Australia Children’s)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781742750958
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Young readers may have already devoured the many books in the Robert Irwin Dinosaur Hunter series where Robert and his best friend Riley time travel back to the age of the dinosaurs. To complement the fictitious story lines, dinosaur fans can find out even more about the most famous and obscure dinosaurs that roamed the earth in The Big Book of Dinosaurs.

Starting with its green, dinosaur-skin-textured cover through to its soft-focus pages with their earthy-frames, there’s interesting information to absorb and enjoy. The layout is impressive and the illustrations are so animated I can almost imagine the horned, armoured, frilled and parrot-beaked Albertaceratops strutting off the page and onto my desk. It’s a book waiting to be dipped into by young, inquisitive minds.

The reader is taken on a prehistoric adventure with Robert through the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Robert counts down his 10 favourite dinosaurs with pictures, fact files and dino-paws containing snippets of intriguing info.

Robert gives out Dino Awards for those having the: most teeth, weirdest body, longest claws and most armour. There’s even an award for the best Hollywood dinosaur. He visits the world’s renowned fossil sites and museums of natural history. There’s a good section on the Australian Age of Dinosaurs.

Dino fans might also like to draw their own mighty creatures of the Mesozoic era like Robert has drawn with all their spines, armour, jagged teeth, scales and feathers. And if you’re still not sure of something, there’s a handy glossary for that last minute fact check.

Robert Irwin Dinosaur Hunter – The Big Book of Dinosaurs is a great addition to any young dinosaur fan’s collection. Recommended for 6 and up.

Saturday, 22 March 2014


Surfacing by Nora Raleigh Baskin (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406347937
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Maggie is different. She unwillingly attracts people who have secrets to tell. But they all withdraw from her after their confession. She also keeps a secret about what happened on the day her sister Leah drowned. Her parents have been at each other’s throats since their daughter’s death, and life at home is unbearable for the teenage Maggie.

Maggie has strange ways of dealing with her traumas although she has her competitive swimming to escape into. Her favourite escape is into lucid dreaming. This leads to the loss of true love and the further damaging of her teenage life. This last is greatly juxtaposed with the fact that her sister died while swimming.

Maggie must wade through all her guilt and surface to start life again. Can she find her way up?

This is a poignant and moving coming of age story about loss and facing life’s blows. It is told intermittently in the voice of Leah, but mainly in third person narrative. The prose, poetic and strong, moves up and down like water in a pool, then surfaces like the book’s title.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Eye of Minds

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner (Doubleday Children's)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780857533142
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781448174195
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

There’s a blur between virtual reality and reality in James Dashner’s first book in the YA Mortality Doctrine series. It follows on the rather racy heels of his New York Times bestseller, The Maze Runner.

Dashner is an expert. He’s an expert in fast prose, graphic descriptions and the technical world inhabited by gamers. He’s an expert in what a lot of young adults want to read.

I’ve had many experiences in sensory deprivation tanks. Pull the lid down on your coffin-like capsule, hear your heartbeat, hear your blood rushing and let your imagination soar.

Sixteen-year-old Michael is a gamer, coder and hacker; one of the best in the virtual reality world. His wealthy parents spend most of their time overseas, leaving him in the care of a nanny and his highly expensive VirtNet system. He spends a lot of time in his ‘Nervebox’ or ‘Coffin’ where ‘thin icy strands of NerveWire inserted into his skin’ along with the elements of ‘AirPuffs and LiquiGels’ immerse him in the shared virtual world nicknamed ‘the Sleep’. Every physical experience is possible: fighting dragons, flying spaceships.

Michael lives his life in ‘the Sleep’; he finds ‘the Wake’, where real people live, boring.

Gamers are being found brain dead in their ‘Coffins’ accompanied with the coding ‘Kaine was here’. Kaine is a rogue gamer and cyber terrorist who is hiding in ‘the Sleep’. Michael and his closest VirtNet friends Bryson and Sarah are recruited by the VNS –VirtNet’s security to use their coding and hacking skills to track down Kaine. They battle Hot Zones, Weak Spots and antimatter called KillSims as they follow Kaine’s trail to his lair.

Be warned. There is violence. There are issues of suicide. The clever twist at the end comes entirely from left field.

Fans of The Matrix, Inception and Neuromancer will love this thrill seeking, mind-bending techno ride, as along with Michael, Bryson and Sarah, they navigate this most dangerous ‘game that wasn’t a game anymore’.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Poppy

The Poppy by Andrew Plant (Ford Street Publishing)
HB RRP $26.95
PB RRP $16.95
HB ISBN 9781925000313
PB ISBN 9781925000320
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

The Poppy is a war story close to home, but a war story largely untold. Poetic language wraps around this historical story, delivering a picture book that is full of importance and remembrance and tells of the soldiers who have given up their lives to protect people and places.

The Poppy is an ANZAC story. Andrew Plant tells of the desperate night counter-attack in the small French village of Villers-Bretonneux in 1918. On this night, Australian soldiers fought hard to protect the village and its people, stopping the enemy breaking through and pushing them back. It was one of Australia’s greatest victories, as soldiers succeeded in recapturing the village from the Germans. But it was also a victory, like many in war, which came with great loss. Hundreds and hundreds of soldiers, mostly Australian, died holding the line, their blood shed across the fields.

Plant tells the story beautifully. He tells of the battle, but he also speaks of the unbreakable bond forged between Australia and France during the battle. Statues, crosses, woodcarvings of Australian plants and animals and many unnamed plaques of all the unknown soldiers, pepper the landscape and dot the hills. The children of the village know the stories. Australian and French flags fly side by side. These stories are painted throughout the pages; bright and vibrant illustrations lyrically depict the village resurrected after the war.

Plant’s language is accessible, simple in its retelling but poetic in its delivery. The visual imagery he creates with his words is impeccable, like the vision of the poppies and their petals that “turn the fields red where once they were stained with the blood of the fallen.”

The Poppy is a book of remembrance and togetherness; a book about the sacrifices that are made in war and the people that never forget these. It’s a book perfect for primary school readers and one that belongs in the history section of every library. With ANZAC Day fast approaching, this book will be an imperative read in schools across Australia.  

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

My Nanna Is A Ninja

My Nanna Is A Ninja by Damon Young, illustrated by Peter Carnavas (University of Queensland Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780 7022 5009 5
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

This is a colourful, lively picture book celebrating the special bond children have with their nannas.  A great story to read aloud with its rhymes and rhythms, it describes the unique antics of the child’s own Ninja nanna, dressed in her black outfit and doing the cool things Ninjas do.

But other Nannas are not forgotten - the three non-Ninja nannas are anything but conventional and certainly do not suffer in comparison to the Ninja nanna. The Nannas’ various eccentric, adventurous and fun activities would resonate with preschool-aged children everywhere. The author was inspired by a book describing somewhat conventional grandparents which were utterly unlike those he knew. So he created a funky set of nannas instead that grandmothers everywhere will appreciate him for.

Carnavas’s illustrations burst with colour and movement, and feature cute details about each of the four nannas described such as their pets, which although are not mentioned in the text, add a level of humour and intrigue that a child will have lots of fun following.

This is the first picture book by Young. Let’s hope it’s not his last.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


Jonathan by Peter Carnavas, illustrated by Amanda Francey (New Frontier Publishing)
HB RRP A$24.95
ISBN 97811921928611
Reviewed by Rose Davies

Jonathon is a beautifully illustrated, full colour picture book for the 3- 5 year old age group. This is one of those books that is a pleasure to read to younger children as it has plenty of opportunity for sound effects  as we move through the story.

Jonathan disguises himself as various creatures.  ROAR! calls Jonathan the lion.  SNAP!  he calls when he’s dressed up as a crocodile.  GROWL! calls Jonathan when he is dressed in a blanket like make believe bear. Jonathan tries to scare Dad, his sister and Mum, but no one is interested.

Jonathan goes for a walk, he meets to his surprise a friendly dinosaur, so they team up to go to Jonathan’s house to see if they can scare anyone there this time. BOO! says the dinosaur when the front door is opened by Dad, Mum and his sister. The family scream, then flee the house. Jonathan thanks the Dinosaur and tells him he can go now when suddenly the dinosaur says BOO! The dinosaur takes off what turns out to be a costume and reveals…it’s Jonathan’s grandad!

He didn’t scare Jonathan!!

A simple story, a happy ending, this is a lovely book for parents, grandparents and early readers to read and enjoy.

Rose Davies is an established non-fiction author of environment and nature books for adults. She also writes freelance for several publications, runs a consultancy business focussed on community nature and environment education. She’s also been writing reviews for a variety of publications for over 25 years.  

Monday, 17 March 2014

There, There

There, There by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Ivan Bates (Koala Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-072-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Little Hansie Bear loves to play outdoors. He plays imaginary games, and games by himself or with others. Unfortunately Hansie is a little clumsy and manages to hurt himself a bit. But Dad is never far off, with a kiss, a hug and a few words of comfort and Hansie can go back to playing. When Dad hurts himself, Hansie knows just what to do.

There, There is a lovely story for the very young. Hansie’s games are simple, everyday activities which children will relate to – hide and seek, digging holes, swinging. And the relationship between the small bear and his father is a close loving one. The role reversal at the end between the two is touching.

The illustrations are soft. Gentle colours fill the pages behind the writing, continuing beyond the pictures. Wind, swirling leaves and bending grass bring the feeling of constant movement, not only of the young active bear, but also of the world he inhabits. Looking closely into the pictures, readers will discover other creatures who appear throughout the story such as the duck family who follow Hansie about. There is much in these deceptively simple pictures to discover.

And the sense of family at the end is strong, through both the words and pictures.
“Ouch!” he [Dad] said, as Mum pulled out the thorn. “We are definitely not having a good day!”
Hansie cuddles Dad and says, “There, there, we’ll be alright now.”

Sam McBratney is the author of the very popular Guess How Much I Love You, and this story has the same strong emotional tug with a dreamy quality which makes it perfect to read to preschoolers. The repetitive element to the storyline and the gentle caring nature of the characters, along with the beautiful illustrations will make this a popular bedtime reading choice.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Choose your own Ever After — How to get to Rio

Choose your own Ever After — How to get to Rio by Julie Fison (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB $14.95 RRP
ISBN 9781742977744
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

A different spin on the idea of choosing your own adventure, is a series aimed at 10 to 14 year old girls, where the reader gets to make decisions about her 'ever after'. Based around the character's relationships with girl friends, cute boys and family, this story plays out various scenarios based on choices the reader makes as she goes along. Will the main character Kitty ditch her 'besties' and go to the beach with the popular Persephone and buy lots of bikinis? Well, in this book, the reader can decide, as she is in control.

Kitty MacLean is a secondary school student about to go on holidays, either camping with her friends Izzy and Mia or staying in a beach house near Rio, the boy she has a crush on. It is forty pages before the first choice, and each outcome has a similar number of pages dedicated to it before the next decision. So unlike some choose your own adventure books, where a choice is made at the end of every chapter, this is a little slower moving.

In contrast to some choose your own adventure books, no choices result in the death of the main character, which is probably just as well! In fact, having read through all of the endings, they're all pretty good. If Kitty doesn't end up with Rio,  she has some hope of ending up with him. It's not at all moralistic — for example even when Kitty lies about spraining her ankle and then does sprain her ankle, she is taken to the doctor by, you guessed it, Rio!

The idea of empowering girls to be in control of their own destinies is an admirable one. There's a lot of well written dialogue in this book which is quite fun and natural. The characters, who were likeable, did lack some substance but this could be due to restrictions of the 'choose your own ever after' format. Choose your own Ever After — How to get to Rio is a light, easy read, aimed at a very particular age group and sex, hopefully encouraging them to read some more.  

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Blog Tour: Meet Marmalade!

A New Friend for Marmalade by Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie, The Five Mile Press 

Drum roll, please! Here he is, Marmalade, the loveable cat featuring in his second book, A New Friend for Marmalade (The Five Mile Press). Welcome to Buzz Words Books Marmalade and thank you for disturbing your nap time to answer Seven Purry Questions:

1. Favourite Movie?

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

2. Favourite Book?

Cat in a Hat

3. Favourite TV show?

Purrfect Match.

4. What is your typical day?

Read fan emails. Take a nap. Eat sardines. Take a nap. Do public appearances up and down the street. Take a nap. Practise my cat walk twirl, in case I’m offered my own fashion label. Take a nap. Play with Ella, Maddy and Toby. Take a nap. International feline stars need plenty of beauty sleep.

5. Has fame changed you since your starring role in A New Friend for Marmalade and A Year with Marmalade?

I can’t go out in public anymore. Dogs always chase me for autographs. I spend forever grooming myself in case the purrparrazzi snap my photo. But I do get upgraded when I stay at the boutique cattery, so it’s not all fur balls.

6. There is a Beyonce doll, a Jennifer Lopez doll and now a plush toy, Marmalade. How did you feel about the likeness?

My legs are longer in real life, but apart from that it’s purrfect.

7. Do you have a personal mantra?

No matter how famous I become, I’ll always keep my four paws on the ground. Especially if Toby, Ella and Maddy aren’t around to rescue me.

Please don't forget to enter the competitions below to WIN books, manuscript assessments or even a chance to jump the slush pile and land on an editor's desk!

Pet contest for all ages!
Marmalade the cat is full of personality. Do you have a pet with personality? Win a piece of artwork by Heath McKenzie. Send along a photo of your personality-plus pet to, or upload to

Random book giveaways!
Just leave a comment on one of the posts in the blog tour, comment on facebook, or even email Alison letting her know you want to enter the competition to win A New Friend for Marmalade.

Jump the Slush Pile!
Option 1 - Win a free pass to a Children’s editor’s desk
Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials CB. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Option 2 - Win a free pass to a Non-fiction commissioning editor’s desk
Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials NF. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Win a Manuscript Assessment!
Option 1 - Win an assessment of Chapter One of a chapter book with Dee White
A wonderful opportunity to have an assessment by the fabulous mentor extraordinaire, Dee White.
Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials DW. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

Option 2 - Win a free picture book assessment by Alison!
Just comment on this blog post or any other blog during the A New Friend for Marmalade blog tour and add the initials PB. The more you comment, the more chances you have to win the draw.

A New Friend for Marmalade is available now in Australia at all leading bookstores and online. Published in Australia by The Five Mile Press. Released March 2014. Published in the USA by Little Simon. Released July 2014.

A New Friend for Marmalade

A New Friend for Marmalade by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Heath McKenzie (Five Mile Press)
HC RRP $ 14.95
ISBN 9781743466599
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

After the extraordinary success of A Year with Marmalade, another new adventure is here with Marmalade the cat, and best friends Ella and Maddy, carrying themes of friendship and tolerance.

The girls decide to build a cubby house while Marmalade keeps an eye on their activities. Toby from across the road scooters over and their pink cloth is swept off its stick poles. They try again. This time they build an elaborate sandcastle city. But here comes the disruptive Toby again.

It seems that catastrophe follows where ever Toby goes, for that’s not the end of it. The incident with the tap follows, which scares Marmalade into a tree. How will they ever get him down?

Toby shows that he has good ideas and proves to be very resourceful. After finding the ideal solution to getting Marmalade down, Ella, Maddy and Marmalade discover that new friends are found when you least expect it.

The illustrations by Heath McKenzie are delightful. His impressive style of minimal colour to the pictures is very effective. It allows the characters individuality and expression, while accentuating the main features of the story.

Friday, 14 March 2014


Rawr! by Todd H. Doodler (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-545-51118-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Being a dinosaur is tough. Dinosaurs can be too big for the school bus, too big for hide-and-seek and are often scary without meaning to be. But there are advantages to being big. And Rawr! is really just a dinosaurs way of saying hello.

Rawr! is especially for the very young dinosaur lovers. Its thick strong pages will survive many a toddler and the soft dinosaur on the front of this hard cover book will be a hit with little fingers. The bright, eye-catching pictures are very cute and attractive for the young. They also reinforce simple concepts, such as a big dinosaur not being good at hide-and-seek.

This story is also about not quite fitting in, and scary stuff that isn’t perhaps quite so frightening after all. Good things for children to be learning, even from a young age.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Blog tour: A New Friend for Marmalade

Buzz Words is thrilled to be joining the blog tour for Alison Reynolds and Heath McKenzie's new book, A New Friend for Marmalade (The Five Mile Press). On Saturday 15 March, none other than the star of the show, Marmalade himself, will be popping by to answer seven purry questions.

There are also plenty of competitions with the chance to win books, manuscript assessments and more.

Find out about the book, its characters and creators at these other great kids' lit sites throughout March.

11th Dee White – Review and Post
11th Chris Bell – Post
12th Angela Sunde – Interview with Heath
12th KBR – Book giveaway
13th Boomerang Books – Post with Dimity Powell
14th KBR Guest post
14th KBR Review
14th Sally Murphy – Meet my book
15th Buzz Words – Interview with Marmalade
17th Ask the Bean Counter – Mr X
17th Pass-it-on Post and Review – Jackie Hosking
18th Ask the Publisher – Kay Scarlett

My Daddy Ate an Apple

My Daddy Ate an Apple [with CD] by Craig Smith, illustrated by Scott Tulloch (Scholastic NZ)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-77543-200-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

There’s a classic joke that was a favourite in our house for some time. What is worse than finding a worm in your apple? A: Finding half a worm.

This very silly book (good silly) explores exactly this idea. When Zebra’s daddy eats an apple he accidently eats a worm as well. And the consequences are not too good for poor Daddy.

Kids are going to love the funny story, sing-song lyrics, and fabulous illustrations which enhance the humour. The worm - it was a fuzzy one, a buzzy one, a great big fat juicy one –also stars in many of the pictures and has as big a personality as the daddy zebra. The picture of the worm hanging on to Daddy’s tonsils before being swallowed is very funny. I also love the trip to hospital on the elephant ambulance, and the nurses (monkeys) taking Daddy’s x-ray, and ... I could go on. The illustrations are delightful.

The words fit cleverly into a well-known tune and kids are going to love how Daddy’s stomach ache is resolved. Craig Smith plays the guitar and sings the song on the accompanying CD and will keep young children happily entertained and engaged. Smith is also the author of the wildly silly and very popular The Wonky Donkey.  

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Famous Five: Five and a Half-Term Adventure

The Famous Five: Five and a Half-Term Adventure by Enid Blyton, illustrated by Jamie Littler (Hodder/Hachette)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781444916256
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Several of Enid Blyton's ever-popular Famous Five stories have been re-vamped in a series of Colour Reads with up-to-date, zany illustrations while retaining the original texts. Five and a Half-Term Adventure heads the list of eight stories which, for the first time, appear in individual full colour volumes.
The four children, Julian, George, Dick and Anne plus Timmy the dog, are staying with Aunt Fanny at Kirrin Cottage for a short half-term holiday. It is glorious weather so they decide to take a picnic lunch and walk along the cliffs to a spot above the beach, hunting for berries and nuts on the way. Aunt Fanny warns them to take care of the time so they get back before dark.
The day unfolds slowly as the children and Timmy enjoy their outing, but eventually it is apparent that Julian's watch had slowly come to a stop and it is much later than they thought. There is a train station not far away so they decide to catch a train home and save time.
When they come into the town, Timmy suddenly runs into a hall which is holding a dog show. As it is for pedigree dogs only, Timmy is given short shrift and after George grabs him, they have to run for the train.
A couple in their carriage holding a baby wrapped in a very grubby shawl attracts Timmy's interest and he jumps up to sniff. The children find his behaviour odd as he never has shown much interest in babies before. At the next station the children take him into another carriage as the couple were not at all happy to have Timmy pawing at the shawl. The children suddenly notice the man and woman with the baby leaving the station.
Back at Kirren Cottage Aunt Fanny tells them a news snippet about a baby Pekingese being stolen from the dog show. The reason why Timmy was interested in the baby suddenly dawns on the Famous Five. But will the baby Pekingese be found?
This Colour Read is the perfect introduction to new readers of Enid Blyton's classic adventure tales. The text which sparkles with highlighted words to add further reading pleasure has been broken into short chapters and Jamie Littler's striking pictures are splashed on every spread. Altogether, these small novels are bound to attract new fans of the Famous Five.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Saddle Club: Horse Sense/Horse Power

The Saddle Club: Book 2: Horse Sense/Horse Power by Bonnie Bryant (Random House Australia Children’s)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9780857980649
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Book 2: Horse Sense/Horse Power continues the stories of the three main characters of The Saddle Club: Carole, Stevie and Lisa. Once again there are two stories per book, so that sense of loss that you feel when you finish a story turns to joy when you have another fully formed tale to read at the flick of a page.

In Horse Sense, each girl has a mission at Pine Hollow Stables. Carole’s is to be at the birth of a foal, Stevie’s is to plan the games for the gymkhana and Lisa has to work out the rules for The Saddle Club.

As usual, the delightful, sensory descriptions of riding and jumping lessons position the reader in the saddle.

There is trouble ahead for The Saddle Club members when a new French girl, Estelle, joins. It takes a while for Carole, Stevie and Lisa to find out that Estelle is the ‘ultimate pretender.’

Meanwhile, the mare Delilah goes into labour. It’s a challenging situation as the three girls are alone at Pine Hollow Stables. Through combining their skills of nurturing, creativity and organisation they rise to the challenge and help the foal to be born.

To buffer the stories, there’s a great article on the logistics of transporting horses to the Olympics. It’s a compelling package of fact and fiction.

In the second story Horse Power, the gymkhana gets underway as Carole, Stevie and Lisa work to create the best horse-riding games. Two new characters are introduced. One is Stevie’s brother Chad, who takes riding lessons to be near Stevie’s best friend Lisa, his latest crush. Will their first date be a dream or disaster? In the layering of the story, the three girls have another problem to solve, why has the champion rider Kate Devine, the latest member of Pine Hollow Stables, lost the joy of riding.

Bonnie Bryant’s writing creates not only multiple plot lines, but her style is so personal that young readers 9 – 12 will feel that they too are part of The Saddle Club going through their ups and down, jokes and squabbles.

Monday, 10 March 2014

She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain

She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain [with CD] sung by The Topp Twins, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Scholastic NZ)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-77543-172-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

This is a fun song, sung with great enjoyment and gusto by The Topp Twins on the CD which comes with She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain. Most young children will have fun with the beat and country twang and the repetitive nature of the song makes it easy for kids to learn and sing along to.

Much of the fun of this book also comes from the illustrations and the antics of the animals who are anticipating her arrival- a very cheeky looking girl with bright red curls and blue striped pyjamas. Jenny Cooper has illustrated two other Topp Twin recordings – Do Your Ears Hang Low? and There’s a Hole in My Bucket – and brings the same lively amusement to She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain as she has to these previous picture books.

Preschool children are going to be saying ‘Read it again, Mum’ and ‘Play it again, Mum’ many times over.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Stella’s Starliner

Stella’s Starliner by Rosemary Wells (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781406353532
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

By the side of the road stands the Starliner. It’s where Stella lives with her mum and dad. They love their beautiful and comfortable silver mobile home that shines. They enjoy the pleasure of a visit from Books on Wheels, lots of reading, good friends and baking. Stella is happy in her shiny home. At least she is until the group of weasels come by and start making fun of it.

What happens when your eyes see beauty and others make fun of what you see? Usually it makes you question if what you have is really worthwhile.

Stella learns that what she has is special. Her home looks out onto a forest. She can see the sky and stars, and hear the wind. In the Starliner they can travel, see so many places and things; meet new and different people.

The new children they meet at their next destination adore Stella’s home. They long to explore the ‘secret places’ hidden in the Starliner and try out all the comfortable furniture.

This story is a wonderful example of how envy can make people belittle others. Some see with the eyes and some with the heart. Perception is everything. It’s an interesting theme to a delightful story with foxes as the main characters. It can be useful in a two-sided discussion at home or in class, about the importance of not being influenced by other people’s negative opinions.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Song of the Golden Hare

Song of the Golden Hare by Jackie Morris (Frances Lincoln/Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781847804501
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

I confess that I’m a passionate fan of Jackie Morris’ work. Her art is beguiling and there is a sense of complete union with her subjects reflected in everything she creates. She seems to become one with nature. Everything she sees stays with her to be turned into something unforgettable for the world to enjoy.

Song of the Golden Hare is a singular and breathtaking book. The poetic prose tells of a family that adores hares. Their magical song is sung once in fifty years when a new queen is to be chosen. When others are setting their hounds on them for sport, the family is dedicated to keeping the old queen safe to ensure she will cross to the Island of the Golden Hare.

But the boy longs to hear the song of the golden hare; to catch the sound and play it on his harp. This is the tale of when the hares moved and the children followed from east to west, to catch the song of the golden hare. The boy ‘listened with his ears… and with his heart’. He wanted to replicate the sound, but he had left his harp at home.

But as with all invaluable things, someone wants to own the golden hare’s pelt.

With tears in my eyes I end this magnificent book. Not since Margaret Wild’s Fox have I been so deeply moved by a picture book. It is a stunning work of art in every sense.

After writing this book ‘Jackie discovered there is a real island off the shores of Britain… Rathlin Island, where golden hares can be found. It is believed that there are only two of them’.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Midnight: the story of a light horse

Midnight: the story of a light horse by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frane Lessac (Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781921977718
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This narrative non-fiction picture book tells the tale of Lieutenant Guy Haydon and his beloved horse Midnight. The mare was born at midnight, thus her name. Guy trained her and together they travelled to Cairo by ship where they were separated when the horses are left behind. Guy leaves for Gallipoli. What happens next is a deeply moving truth about the love between a man and a horse. Their coming together at Beersheba is unforgettable.

The story is inspired by the folklore of the Haydon family of horse breeders at Bloomfield Station in the Hunter Valley, NSW, where Midnight was born. Mark Greenwood’s sparse and precise text is beautifully complemented by his wife, Frane Lessac’s illustrations. These are presented in full page colour. This team of creators has done justice to a story that is one of the many about Walers that became legendary in the Australian Light Horse.

These books are invaluable to lovers of historical events. They inspire research on the topic and excite the mind and heart. They take readers - regardless of age - on a journey back through time, and open doors on reality and the history of our country.

At the end of the book, the photos of Guy and Midnight, and information on the Charge at Beersheba which includes a map, bring the story closer to the reader.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Saddle Club: Horse Crazy/Horse Shy

The Saddle Club: Book 1: Horse Crazy/Horse Shy by Bonnie Bryant (Random House Australia Children’s)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9780857980632
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

The Saddle Club is a hugely popular series for girls aged 9 – 12. In its new format of two stories per book, young readers will fully immerse themselves in all things horsey.

The series follows the lives of three girls on the cusp of adolescence: Carole (obsessed with horses), Stevie (tom-boy and practical joker) and Lisa (loves school and learning). They make an awesome team as their love of horse riding at their beloved Pine Hollow Stables brings them together to form The Saddle Club.

Throughout the series, readers follow these three girls, plus many extra characters, through adventures, rivalry, gymkhanas, friendship problems and family dramas. There are some tough issues and personal obstacles, but through teamwork and loyalty, the girls’ bond of friendship grows even stronger.

At the conjunction of both stories, there’s an interesting segue into the reality of the horse world, with a short piece about how horses took part in the Olympics 2700 years ago, as well as interesting facts about show jumping and dressage.

Book 1: Horse Crazy/Horse Shy

Stevie has a problem. Her parents won’t pay her fees to attend the Mountain Trail Overnight Camp unless her grades improve. Studying seems too hard for Stevie so she decides instead to do odd jobs and earn the money herself. That is until things start to go wrong. It is Lisa who comes up with the compromise that has been in front of their eyes all along. Meanwhile, Lisa, who is new to the stables, has parent problems. She’s doesn’t want to be a rider, it’s her mother’s ambition, but ‘Lisa knew that once again, she would just do what her parents wanted her to do.’ All Lisa really wants is to ‘escape into her homework.’ When Carole’s favourite horse, Cobalt, has to be put down, she retreats into herself as her own story of the loss of her mother weaves through. Carole becomes horse shy and doesn’t want to ride any more, until she gains her emotional strength from her best friends.

The joy of these stories is that you don’t have to own a horse, or even go horse riding. Through the descriptions and horse vocabulary such as: tack rooms, bridles, grooming, saddle soap, breeches and phrases like ‘rise and sit with the beat of the horse’s hooves’ young readers can connect to the world of The Saddle Club.  And if the opportunity to go horse riding comes about; readers will be off with a flying start.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The One and Only Jack Chant

The One and Only Jack Chant by Rosie Borella (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74331-138-7
Reviewed by Ann Harth

The One and Only Jack Chant grabbed me from the start. The prologue introduces Jack as he practices his routine on the back of a circus pony in the big top. He is enjoying the thrill of competence and connecting with his horse when the circus master challenges him to learn a spectacular but dangerous feat.

We leave Jack at the circus and land in Tranquil Banks Nursing Home where 16-year-old Amber is showering a difficult resident under the scrutiny of an assessor. She passes the test and lands a full-time job as an aide during her gap year. Amber is good at her job and treats the old people with warmth and respect. She forms friendships with her co-workers and they do their best to keep the residents happy, safe and fed with little help from the stingy owner.

Jack re-enters the scene, mysteriously appearing at the nursing home. He comes and goes without warning until Amber finds him camping beside the river on her family’s property. He seems to be everywhere and come from nowhere, recalling little of his haunted history. His strange clothing and odd accent do little to shed any light on his past.

Amber is captivated by Jack, wanting to believe he is simply a boy recovering from a traumatic event but knowing there is more to his story than it seems. To add to her confusion, when Amber touches Jack she is sucked into his thoughts and finds herself immersed in his memories – feeling, seeing and experiencing them as though she is inside his skin. As time passes, Amber learns that Jack is on an important mission but the details are vague, even to Jack.

The situation unfolds with as many twists and turns as a roller coaster and had me guessing until I reached the unpredictable climax.

Readers, aged 13-16, will devour this book as they will identify closely with Amber and enjoy the emotional ride that Rosie Borella has created. The One and Only Jack Chant is a book to revisit many times to find the subtle hints that point toward a stunning ending.

Rosie Borella has written and edited non-fiction for many years. Writing fiction is a more recent venture and her short story, Eternity, was included in the Tales from the Tower Collection. She writes at home in rural Victoria. The One and Only Jack Chant is her first novel.

Ann Harth is a published children's author, freelance editor, ghostwriter and writing teacher at Australian College of Journalism. She loves to read and is committed to creating children's literature that inspires, entertains and triggers a tiny twist in the mind. Her latest middle-grade novel, The Art of Magic, is now available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done

Timmy Failure: Now Look What You’ve Done by Stephan Pastis (Walker Books)
HC RRP $17.95
ISBN 9781406356342
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

After the worldwide success of Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, fans have been eagerly awaiting the next book in the series. The second instalment finds Timmy more determined than ever to make his Total Failure Inc. the most successful detective agency in the world. In his pursuit of greatness through the building of an empire, he tries to win a detective competition with the Grand Prize of $500.

Believing himself to be the smartest person in the world, Timmy is undeterred by obstacles or ‘mendacity’.  He believes that ‘when you’ve lost hope, find it’. While monitoring his partner Total the polar bear for laziness, and refusing to acknowledge the existence of his nemesis Corina Corina, who is a threat to him with her own detective agency, Timmy has his eyes on the prize. Will he succeed in what he sets out to do, or will all the chaos that is his daily life, stop him?

This fantastic book is better than the first in my opinion. Stephan Pastis seems to have delved deeper into Timmy’s psyche in Now Look What You’ve Done, although the same confusion reigns and laughs galore are created by the extraordinary play on words of which Pastis is a master.

Timmy is an inspiration. He never gives up. He believes that all things are possible without a doubt, and his self esteem is unshakeable. The sophisticated language invites all ages into the book, and the expressive illustrations add interest to the story.

Monday, 3 March 2014

A One-Eyed Chook Called Sheila

A One- Eyed Chook Called Sheila by Pat Clarke, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)
HB RRP A$24.95
ISBN 9781925059014
Reviewed by Rose Davies

A chapter book for the 5 to 12 age group, this hard back has very expressive almost cartoon-like drawings of the personalities and key scenes by Graeme Compton. Graeme is an award winning wildlife and portrait artist with a passion for illustration and cartoons and it shows. 

Sheila, a white chook, wears a black eye patch over her right eye because one day on the farm she just managed to escape a hovering eagle, who unfortunately took her right eye. Sheila’s friend Carol the Christmas turkey, has just been gobbled up by a greedy fox, before Christmas! Is chicken his next course, she wonders, now there is no turkey? 

Sheila is worried because her eye laying days are long gone, so she may be next for the chopping block. Along with chook friends Zelma and Louise, the trio hatch a plan to escape from the farm and run away before there are any other dramas or they are some one’s dinner. Their white cockatoo friend will distract Rex the rooster while the three make their escape.

Unfortunately all does not go well. Rufus the fox sees them and comes after them, just as he is about to pounce an eagle swoops from the sky and picks up Shelia from behind and soars into the sky towards his nest. He does not eat her but instead has a polite chat, tells her he is very lonely interested in eating her but rather. would she come and live with him. He apologises for pecking out her eye by accident and chasing her chicks then introduces himself- Elvis, the wedge-tailed eagle. Meanwhile Shelia’s two friends have run for their lives from the fox, flapped their wings  and flown off a cliff, swum in a river and are now in a forest where they meet all sorts of new friends including an owl, koalas, goanna, kookaburras and a Mallee fowl. 

Sheila tells Elvis she’s very worried about her chook friends.  He takes her in his claws and flies out over the forests to find Shelia’s two friends. The chooks are eventually reunited. While they are chatting, the old fox coming up behind Sheila and just as Rufus the fox is about to pounce on Shelia for the second time, Elvis swoops from the sky and picks up the fox, rather than Sheila in his claws.  Elvis takes the fox far, far away so he cannot get back to chase the farm and forest creatures again, or is it going to be far enough???? 

This is a fast-paced gripping story with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. Friendships are built, there’s team work, respect, fun, adventure, excitement and a happy ending!

Rose Davies is an established non-fiction author of environment and nature books for adults. She also writes freelance for several publications, runs a consultancy business focussed on community nature and environment education. She’s also been writing reviews for a variety of publications for over 25 years.  

Sunday, 2 March 2014


Fearless by Cornelia Funke (Chicken House)
PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 978-1-906427-26-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Treasure hunter Jacob Reckless has managed to save his brother, but now faces death because a fairy curse has been burnt into his heart. The only chance he has to save himself is to find a treasure no-one has ever before found. Up against him is the fiercest rival he could imagine and even with the help of Fox, his beautiful shape-shifting friend, Jacob knows he may not succeed.

And so begins a search like no other, a test so great Jacob must push himself to the limit, with the stakes high and the prize being his life. But will he lose Fox’s life in the process?

This is a story like no other I have read. I did find it confusing at first but this is probably because I had not read the first book in the series. The writing is rich and evocative, the atmosphere dark and grim, and the world amazing and imaginatively constructed. I loved that so many fairy tales drifted in and out, such a mix of creatures with roots in diverse cultures. Many lesser known myths and legends make appearances or serve as a base for the tales and adventures related.

The Mirrorworld series is a very rewarding read for lovers of fantasy from the age of 11 and up. Start with Reckless, then read Fearless.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Lilli and Shadow in Trouble

Lilli and Shadow in Trouble by Laura Dudgeon and Sabrina Dudgeon, illustrated by Sally Morgan and Tracey Gibbs (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9-781-922-893-359
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

The Waarda Series are wonderful little books. In Waarda, Nyungar is the word(s), for talking and sharing stories. Edited by Sally Morgan, the stories are designed to support the literacy needs of Indigenous children in primary school by making books available to them written by Indigenous authors. At the same time, it will introduce non-Indigenous children to the richness and depth of Indigenous storytelling. The stories in the series are adventurous stories that are easy and logical to read, fun, interesting and diverse. There’s a lot to learn in these little books. I did!

Lilli and Shadow have met before but are reunited in an exciting new adventure – only this time it’s Shadow that needs Lilli’s help. Someone, or something has taken over Shadow’s home in the big old mango tree and without his home Shadow is fading fast. With Nan to lends them a hand, and together they must find the best solution for everyone. I love Nan’s no-nonsense, firm but practical approach to life. She’s a very re-assuring character, always cheerful and she just knows how to handle things in life.

There are some beautiful themes represented in this story: the themes of family, cooperation, safety as well as the benefits of having a positive attitude. The grey lead sketched artwork throughout is gentle and fun, revealing Shadow and Glog, putting the whole story into perspective. There is also a map of Australia, showing Bardi country in the Kimberly in Western Australia where Laura and Sabrina Dudgeon are from.

The Waarda series is an exciting new Indigenous children’s series, ideal first chapter books for new readers.