Saturday, 31 May 2014

Master the Arts! A Kid’s Activity book about Italian Masterpieces

Master the Arts! A Kids' Activity book about Italian Masterpieces illustrated by Tim Fleming (National Gallery of Victoria)
PB RRP $ 19.95
ISBN 9780724103904
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Fully illustrated in colour by Melbourne artist Tim Fleming and published to coincide with the Prado’s Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, this interesting activity book covers eight Italian masterpieces. Works included are by Andrea di Lione, Raphael, Codazzi, Tiepolo, Tintoretto,Titian, Mario Nuzzi, Ligozzi, and Vanvitelli.

Full of wonderful information it encourages children to discover and learn while engaging in the countless activities. It includes fun games, art to complete and challenges. This will awaken an interest in the famous Masters and their work, how they went about it, and what was involved in becoming an artist.

The book is made up of many parts which include the role of an artist’s apprentice and his duties, and how they made and mixed pigments using strange, sometimes disgusting ingredients. There is a section on the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece and Rome, and one on the plague. It highlights the Colosseum and what it meant to be a gladiator.

Ideal for the 6+ age group, both boys and girls are encouraged to use their imagination, creativity and challenge themselves with painting and drawing like the Masters.


The exhibition is called Melbourne Winter Masterpieces: Italian Masterpieces from Spain’s Royal Court, Museo Del Prado and will be showing from the 16 May – 31 August 2014.

Friday, 30 May 2014

First Flight

First Flight written and illustrated by David Miller (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921504570
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton
  
‘Dawn broke as sleepy night animals
snuggled down in their nests.
But laughing kookaburras called Joey,
the little glider, outside.’

And so begins little Joey’s first journey, alone, into the Australian bush. When cockatoos screech close by, he falls from the tree, instinctively spreading his feet and gliding for the first time. Unsure and scared, he hides under a log, staying safe until night falls and his parents find him.  No longer a baby glider riding on his mother’s back, Joey is now able to fly alone.

This is a sweet story of a young glider, alone in the bush, and his first solo flight. With lovely lilting language- and good use of alliteration- we meet some of the animals of the Australian bush such as the lyrebird, blue-tongue lizard and echidna.

Miller’s artwork is delicate and soft, very dream like in some aspects, offering a gentle palette that is very reassuring and soothing. This book is ideal for preschool and early readers and offers a good introduction to some of the animals of the Australian bush.


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Rainforest Lullaby

Rainforest Lullaby by Sally Odgers, illustrated by Lisa Stewart (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-820-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

A hollow log is cool and snug
Echidna's full of ants and bugs
Dozing through the steamy hours
And heavy swish of tropic showers.

An Australian rainforest is full of interesting animals - wombats, cassowaries, tree frogs, devils - and they all have their unique lifestyles and habitats. But at some point of the day or evening they all have to rest. Rainforest Lullaby tells a gentle story about the inhabitants of the rainforest and how they like to sleep.
This gorgeous picture book is by the creators of Bushland Lullaby and is written in the same beautifully rhythmic verse, smooth and gentle, perfect for bedtime reading. Young children will delight in the differing ways the animals curl up to sleep, alone or in groups.
The delicate illustrations, created using watercolour, gouache, rice papers and pencil, are wonderfully textured with soft calming colours and the animals, especially the babies, are very cute.
An attractive hardcover with thick glossy pages, this will withstand multiple reads and little hands. It is a great picture book for the young, from babies to pre-schoolers.


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Knick Knack Bushwhack

Knick Knack Bushwhack illustrated by Mandy Foot (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: 9780734413123
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
An Aussie version of the classic song, Knick Knack Paddywack forms the text of this imaginative picture book that practically jumps with Mandy Foot's amusing illustrations.
Lively depictions of Australian bush animals and birds having a bushwack give small readers plenty to enjoy. Any sense of the normal behaviour of our bush creatures is pushed aside as the dry creek bed becomes a performance arena. Sticks, wooden spoons, tin cans, bottle tops and bottles are some of the instruments wielded by the energetic performers to create a lot of noisy fun.
Mums and dads will no doubt sing these new words with similar gusto to the original as toddlers drink in the scenarios.
This little snake, she plays six,
she plays knick knack with a hiss.
With a knick knack bushwack, though she likes to roam,
this little snake comes gliding home is just one example of the lyrics which will get small fingers drumming and counting.
Along with Mandy's engaging animals and busy backgrounds are strings of musical notes reminding the reader to sing. The maraca-shaking magpies on the frontispiece and endpiece accompanying the musical score are engaging and fun.

Colour and action and whimsical wildlife makes this an exuberant and appealing picture book for toddlers and adults alike. 

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

As I Grew Older

As I Grew Older written and illustrated by Ian Abdulla (Working Title Press)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781921504693
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton
  
Subtitled ‘The life and times of a Nunga growing up along the Murray River.’

With Ian Abdulla’s bright and naïve pictures, this is a history of a Nunga (Aboriginal) family living by the Murray River in the 1950’s and 1960’s. During this time there were very little opportunities for employment for Aborigines, and to survive, most families turned to the ways of their ancestors.

Abdulla describes with honesty everyday moments living on the land by the Murray River entailed such as buying sheep heads to eat, picking grapes to make some extra money, as well as hunting swan eggs to eat and catching rats to sell for their skins. It is a lost time, an important part of not only Australia’s social history but that of the Aboriginal people. 

Abdulla is sometimes described as one of the Australia’s greatest naïve artists, and his artwork helps to bring alive these childhood memories that to the majority of us are totally foreign. Ideal for middle and older primary children, wanting to know about the Aboriginal experience as well as that of Australia’s social history.


Monday, 26 May 2014

Billy is a Dragon: First Bite

Billy is a Dragon: First Bite by Nick Falk, illustrated by Tony Flowers (Random House Australia Children’s)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780857983053
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857983060
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Ta-da! From the exceptional author/illustrator team of Falk and Flowers (Saurus Street series) comes another hilarious series perfect for beginning readers aged six and up.

Nine-year-old Billy has a ‘hurty finger’; it’s been bitten by an odd-looking lizard at Benny’s Pet shop. Billy’s dad peers through his thick-lensed glasses at Billy’s finger. ‘Alien invaders,’ he says as the bacteria charges about inside his wound.

Closer to the truth would be … bitten by a DragON lizard, which mysteriously starts to transform Billy’s body into that of a dragon.

With two allies – Bertha the bulldog and his best friend Jeannie, and one enemy, Bludger the bully, Billy (yes, lots of ‘B’ words), uses his new-found ability to change form as a weapon against the school bully.

The transformation at school is hilarious. ‘My mouth’s turning into a snout. My teeth are enormous. And my eyes have … turned bright red.’ Billy can fly. He can breathe fire. But there’s one thing missing; he can’t be with his family and that’s no fun at all.

After some shenanigans in the family home, Billy is wrestled, netted and taken in the back of the family car to the zoo, where he tries his own version of The Great Escape.

Billy has to find out how to undo the DragON spell. Back at the pet shop where it all began, Benny, the ‘tufty ginger moustached and sticking out front teethed’ owner (hmm … looks a little like a hamster) says, ‘Did you think you were the only shapeshifter in town?’

With short, active sentences, present tense and 1st person, Billy is a Dragon is a sit-down-and-read-me-till-you’re-finished book. The use of descriptive words that are accented in unusual, almost onomatopoeic fonts, such as: weird, sprint, bursting, dissect et al will help new readers to enjoy and immerse themselves in the action. It’s all part of the humour of reading.


Tony Flowers’ quirky illustrations and comically labelled drawings add to the joy and accomplishment of reading. Falk and Flowers are a dynamic duo of creativity. Book 2 – Billy is a Dragon – Werewolves Beware! is the next instalment.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Cuckoo

The Cuckoo by Gary Crew, illustrated by Naomi Turvey (Ford Street Publishing)
HB RRP $29.95
PB RRP $16.95
HB ISBN 9781925000177
PB ISBN 9781925000184
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

The Cuckoo by Gary Crew, illustrated by Naomi Turvey
(Ford Street Publishing)
HB RRP $29.95
PB RRP $16.95
HB ISBN 9781925000177
PB ISBN 9781925000184
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

Before I even opened the pages of The Cuckoo, I was intrigued. The haunting image of animal bones woven amongst Australian natives on the cover made me desperate to read the latest offering from one of Australia’s leading authors for youth, Gary Crew. And from that very first striking image right to the very last page, The Cuckoo kept me captivated and awe.

I was left with one word at the end of my first and second and third readings of this delicate fable: WOW. That’s all I kept thinking, a heavy and heartfelt WOW. But I realise a one word review will not suffice and so I have made my best attempt to put into words what makes this story so beautiful, provocative, striking and captivating.

It is the fable of a young boy named Martin. Martin is the runt of the family, abandoned by his mother and ridiculed by his father and brothers. He seeks comfort and friendship in the native birds, the forests and bush. But one evening, when a pair of eagles collect his brothers with their vicious talons and feed the boys’ bodies to their offspring, Martin’s world changes forever. His father, wishing it were Martin who was taken, convinces Martin it was he who bore the responsibility of his father’s sorrow.

And so Martin runs, seeking solitude in the valley. While roaming the valley, Martin discovers that the birds he had once befriended had self-sacrificed themselves to the baby eagles. Martin decides to take on the persona of an eaglet, covering himself in feathery down and honey sap, and determined to begin again. Raised in the eaglet’s nest, Martin’s body grows as sleek as the eagles that nurtured him. One day, he takes off, his wings soaring through the sky. But it is there that he spots his father on the edge of the cliff, crying of his loss and his arrogance and the hardness of his own heart that drove everyone away, even Martin. His sorrow and remorse touches Martin and he swoops down, collects his father and flies toward the sun.

The Cuckoo is so undeniably rich in folklore and morality that it is near impossible to remain untouched by its strong messages of independence, forgiveness, loss and family. And while these messages are strong in their own right, it is Crew’s language that truly captures the reader. Every word, every sentence, every dot of punctuation is poignant and unforgettable. It is poetry that sings and soars like the eagles in the story.

And one must not forget the illustrations of Naomi Turvey, which make this fable even richer and deeper with illustrations so delicately crafted with black and white ink and the soft hues of pink and blue pastels that look washed with watercolours. Her illustrations are simultaneously telling and alluring.


This book will be remembered for years to come and is an important tale for teaching people about the hardship of love and loss, and human beings capacity for forgiveness. It is absolutely WOW. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Rivertime

Rivertime written and illustrated by Trace Balla (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74331-633-7
Reviewed by Ann Harth 

After reading Rivertime, I felt like hopping in a canoe and paddling down the nearest river for a few days. This picture book will take you on a joyful and meandering journey on the Glenelg River in Victoria.

10-year-old Clancy takes a 10 day canoe trip with his Uncle Egg. Although Clancy misses his screens and technology at first, he gradually begins to appreciate the challenges, beauty and peace that fill each day. He spends his time perfecting his paddling, spotting wildlife, learning camping skills and, when his arms get tired, making a sail for the canoe. Clancy swims with the local kids during the day and, in the evening, their families join him and Uncle Egg to share music, stories and a campfire. As the time slips past, Clancy merges into the rhythm of the river and develops a bond with nature that will follow him home.

The layout and format of Rivertime invites the reader to slow down and look around as each page contains Clancy’s first person narrative as well as speech bubbles to offer a closer look at the characters’ personalities. Trace Balla’s illustrations also give this book a gentleness that bolder colours and stronger lines would not have captured. The detail she includes encourages the reader to slow down and look around as the reader will want to see everything.

Children from 8-12 will enjoy Rivertime but I wouldn’t limit its ability to reach any age. This is a story that celebrates nature, people and the importance of protecting our natural environment. The parallels between the visual aspects of this book and its story work well to offer a rich experience.

Trace Balla is a woman with many talents and interests. As well as writing and illustrating picture books, she is an art therapist, animator and works in computer illustration. She also facilitates art workshops that incorporate a variety of techniques, many of which use natural or recycled materials. For more information about Trace Balla, please visit http://traceballa.yolasite.com/.

Ann Harth is a published children's author and writing tutor at Australian College of Journalism. She loves to read and is committed to creating children's literature that inspires, entertains and triggers a tiny twist in the mind. Her latest middle-grade novel, The Art of Magic, was released in 2012.


Friday, 23 May 2014

I Have a Dog (an inconvenient dog)

I Have a Dog (an inconvenient dog) written and illustrated by Charlotte Lance (Allen and Unwin Children)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74331-781-5
Reviewed by Ann Harth (www.annharth.com )

Charlotte Lance has done it again. She has created a gentle, humorous story from a familiar slice of life. Young (and not-so-young) pet-lovers will be captivated by this book as they identify with the familiar trials of owning an exuberant dog.

I Have a Dog (an inconvenient dog) will touch the hearts of many as they follow a young boy through a day with his dog. They will laugh at the inconveniences of messy rooms, chewed toilet paper and ruined clothing and feel the warmth and convenience of unconditional cuddles during scary movies and bedtime.

Charlotte Lance’s simple, repetitive language tells the story while her detailed illustrations enrich the experience and invite the reader to inspect these lives more closely. The combination works together to capture the humour, exasperation and tenderness of the relationship between a boy and his pet.

Children from 3-6 years old will devour this book and, by the time they close the back cover, the meaning of the word ‘inconvenient’ will be imprinted on their minds. If they are pet owners, they will giggle at the familiarity of the fluffy white dog’s antics and if they don’t have a dog, they will want to.

Charlotte Lance is the creator of A Very Super Hero. She writes and illustrates her own books and illustrates for others. She also has a children’s t-shirt label, BOYGIRL, and exhibits her illustrations. For more information on Charlotte Lance and to see a selection of her work, please visit: http://www.charlielance.com.


Ann Harth is a published children's author and writing tutor at Australian College of Journalism. She loves to read and is committed to creating children's literature that inspires, entertains and triggers a tiny twist in the mind. Her latest middle-grade novel, The Art of Magic, was released in 2012. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Miaka

Miaka by Anne-Louise Channon, illustrated by Beatriz Martin Vidal (Windy Hollow Books)
HC RRP $25.99
ISBN 9781922081315
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Here is a work of art that will entice collectors of exceptional picture books. It comes highly recommended.

Anya lives happily with her seamstress mother, farmer father, and pet bird, Miaka somewhere in the frozen countryside of Russia. The long freeze destroys their crops. Summer stays away that year and the next. Then father dies. Money runs out and so does the food after Anya’s toys are sold for firewood. Weakened by hunger, mother is forced to send Anya to live with the baker and his wife in the village.

But charity is not available. Anya must work hard in return for food for Miaka and herself. The bird grows strong and fat.  When the girl overhears a conversation that rocks her world, she is forced to make a drastic decision.


This is a haunting story about the bond between human and animal, and sacrifice that comes at the ultimate price. Anya’s emotions are portrayed incredibly well through the stunning, full page illustrations. The colours are dark like the theme. The only brightness exhibited is the girl’s hair and the bird’s feathers which carry messages of their own for the reader to interpret. 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Annie’s Snails

Annie’s Snails by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Gabriel Evans (Walker Books)
PB RRP $11.95
ISBN 9781921720635
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Annie loves the glistening snail trails that lead to her beloved pets. She collects snails, takes them to her cubby house to play with, and names them. But can snails live in a plastic ice cream container?

Annie discovers many things about snails, their needs and their environment. A lesson is learnt when she has to make a major decision about freeing them so they can live.

This story is a terrific example for young children on rules about keeping living things in confined spaces. It is presented in three short stories ideal for early readers. Its outdoor theme encourages play in the natural world and will certainly create discussion about how things in nature live and survive.


The delightful black and white illustrations reflect Annie’s dilemma beautifully alongside the sorrow and acceptance of her final decision.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood by Alison Jay (Koala Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-071-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

This is the story of Little Red Riding Hood. As far as versions of this classic fairytale go, this retelling doesn’t stray too far from the path. Like the girl herself, this tale strolls through the wood, is momentarily distracted by the wolf, and then continues on towards grandma’s house where trouble is waiting in the form of The Big Bad Wolf with his big ears, big eyes and big teeth. Little Red Riding Hood is saved by a brave woodcutter, Grandma is let out of the wardrobe and they all live happily ever after.

However...Little Red Riding Hood does live in Fairytale Village. And it is here, according to the prologue, ‘where stories happen every day’. These stories happen in every picture, in every scene in this charming, engrossing picture book. If you look closely in the illustration where Little Red Riding Hood is picking flowers for Grandma (at the wolf’s suggestion) you may see Puss in Boots asleep up a tree while his boots rest at the foot of the trunk. You may see Hansel & Gretel in the distance, or the Three Billy Goats Gruff crossing a bridge. And many of these stories are continued on throughout the book.

It is a treasure trove of characters for young children who know their fairytales. The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Enormous Turnip, Henny Penny, Jack and the Beanstalk, the Gingerbread Man and the Frog Prince are among those who make an appearance. A child could spend hours spotting and following different fairytales through this story.

Jay’s illustrations are lovely. They are colourful and busy but not over-detailed. Despite the amount going on in each picture, the scenes are uncrowded and calm, allowing young children the space to easily see all the stories within. The crackled appearance of these illustrations makes them seem like old oil paintings.


This is a picture book which blends the experience of pictures and text perfectly. And it gives young children who do not read yet the chance to ‘read’ their own story in the pages. It is a fantastically entertaining book.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Out of the Egg

Out of the Egg by Tina Matthews (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 15.95
ISBN 9781921529559
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A reissue of the award-winning Out of the Egg precedes the much anticipated new release by Tina Matthews, Waiting for Later, due in May. Matthews’ work is full of imagination and surprise. Here, her outstanding black and white woodcuts interspersed with the restricted use of red and green alone, create a dramatic background to her own retelling of the Little Red Hen story.

Everything Matthews produces is extraordinary. Her creations/books are works of art. Strong messages are always carefully woven into her prose. In this layered tale, the Red Hen exhibits generosity of heart and forgiveness, as she shares with others what they would not share with her. Beautifully presented and thought-provoking, this book will interest collectors and lovers of fine children’s books.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Fire

Fire by Jackie French, illustrations by Bruce Whatley (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-817-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Jackie French and Bruce Whatley have once again produced a beautiful, evocative and powerful picture book where text and illustrations blend together creating a moving experience. Fire is a simple story, told in smooth rhyme, of a bushfire, hungry and intense, sweeping across the land. It speaks of the brave fire-fighters, the affected people and the cyclical nature of our earth.

The words used to tell the story are not only poetic and evocative, but they also create a build up in the intensity to match the flames. As the fire increases in power, short, sharp text controls the reading speed, increasing the urgency:

   Time to run, to try to flee
   Gulping smoke and singed debris.

Then, as the emergency lessens, so too, the text calms and softens:

    Riches are a loved one’s hand
    Safety from the flame-fed land.

The words themselves force you to slow down.

The illustrations are amazing. The way the fire has been captured, with flicks of paint adding to the swirling ash and dirtiness of the landscape, creates a tense atmosphere. Whatley’s illustrations capture emotions, the panic, the claustrophobia, choking fullness of the fire and the poignant grief and despair of the aftermath.
The ending, full of hope and regrowth, balances the story nicely. As does the cockatoo, through whose eyes we see the beginnings of the fire, and the beginnings of the recovery.

This story would be suitable for four year olds and older. The rhythm and the way it sounds when read out loud is very engaging and exciting. It is intense, but not scary and the language is easily accessible for them:

  Fire trucks, a barricade
  Arched hoses of the fire brigade
  Holding the red monster back
  Facing each high blazed attack.

For young and old, this picture book will encourage many important conversations - fire, living in the bush, and the cycles of nature, among others. I would encourage older children to read it too. Fire shows beautifully how poetry, words and images can create incredible emotion. And anyone who has been close to such an experience (and bushfires are not uncommon in Australia) will relate to this story.


Saturday, 17 May 2014

Rabbit’s Hide-and Seek

Rabbit’s Hide-and-Seek by Ruth Paul (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781922077349
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Rabbit and his friends are in the forest playing hide-and-seek. Rabbit counts as Duckling, Hedgehog, Mouse, Red Panda and Bushbaby leave the basket on the patchwork quilt to run and hide.

“Ready or not, here I come!” One by one the friends in their hiding places are found by Rabbit until only Bushbaby remains. They search everywhere. But where is Bushbaby? What will bring him out of his secret hiding place? When he finally decides to show up, the others are nowhere to be found. Now he must search for them.

This is a delightful story of friends having fun and enjoying play outdoors with a few surprises thrown in. The gorgeous illustrations in soft colours and created in pencil and digital media, depict the friends delighting in each other’s company. The superb end pages, replicas of the patchwork quilt depicted in the story, are supremely eye-catching in varying pastel shades.

A fantastic production from cover to cover, it will delight readers in the 2+ age group.


Friday, 16 May 2014

Goodbye Grandma: helping young children cope with bereavement

Goodbye Grandma: helping young children cope with bereavement by Melanie Walsh (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Death is the most difficult thing for children to cope with or even understand. ‘What does dead mean?’ ‘Where do people go when they die?’

Many adults have been asked that question. This thoughtfully produced book about the inevitable for every living thing is a great tool for when words and thoughts fail.

The book is designed with cut outs that form frames, and pages cut in different shapes. The paper is thick with bold lines, brilliant colours and illustrations that focus on the point being made, or the question being asked and answered. The text is subtle and satisfying.

Created entirely with the child’s reception in mind, it gives an adequate explanation in simple language, to the harder questions that children throw at us.

It also addresses the adult reaction to death. Loss, like grief, is an ageless issue. At a Wake, adults share their memories and the things they knew about the person that’s passed. Children can see that older people too, feel the same way as they do.  The book also stresses the importance of remembering.

I found this a fantastic resource and one that should be included in Libraries and schools, for there are few books that handle the issue of bereavement so well. Another outstanding book on this subject is Shona Innes’ Life is Like the Wind.


Thursday, 15 May 2014

Shimmer

Shimmer by Jennifer McBride & Lynda Nixon (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9-781-922-089-434
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

When I first saw Shimmer, I wasn’t too sure about it as I admit I have a slight aversion to glittery book covers. Well, I’m so glad I took the time to (not judge a book by it’s cover – literally) and go beyond that cover and read it. Here’s a little excerpt:

‘I will not go!’ Kora folded her arms and looked away from her father.
‘It is not a choice, Kora.’ The Emperor placed a hand on her shoulder. ‘All genies of royal birth must go.’
She shrugged off his hand. ‘I know that, but why now?’ Amurru stood quietly by Kora’s globe. She strode over to him. ‘Tell them, Amurru,’ she said, jabbing a finger in the air towards her parents. ‘It is madness to send my away now.’
Amurru’s yellow eyes blinked slowly. ‘To learn how to rule you must first learn how to serve.’
She stomped her foot. This was ridiculous. …
… ‘Enough. I will argue with you no more.’ The Emperor signaled to Amurru. ‘You will leave immediately, Kora. I command it.’
The air around her began to stir. Her father’s command had activated her globe and she was being pulled in against her will. She took one last look around at her home and then glared at her parents.
‘I hate you,’ she spat. ‘I hate you both!’

Shimmer is a story about an angry, teenage genie empress, called Kora, who is sent to live on earth (Panda Rock in Western Australia, thank you) by her parents. She has been sent against her will, so that she can learn to serve before she learns to rule. She’s also been sent away to be protected against an evil half-human/half-genie, called Vennum (yes, a cool name) who is waging war against her home planet and wants to kidnap her because she’s the most powerful genie to be born in centuries.

After arriving on earth Kora meets, and is ‘harnessed’ her newfound master, a boy by the name of David. By asking her to help him find his soldier father, who is missing in action in Afghanistan, and by him agreeing to risk his life to help her own endangered family, David and Kora team up together and take on the world. Fast- paced and funny; it also has it’s touching moments.

Shimmer suggests that working together is more productive than being individuals and as a result there are wonderful themes of friendship and understanding as well as a cracking adventure that’s engaging and entertaining.
Shimmer is a beauty. A coming of age book, but absolutely fun to read for upper primary to early secondary school students. While Shimmer may be targeted towards girl readers, there is enough in this story for boys to get their teeth into.
I’m always fascinated by writers who can collaborate and believe that Jennifer McBride and Lynda Nixon have done an amazing job. I can’t wait to see what they write together next!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Ahmed and the Feather Girl

Ahmed and the Feather Girl by Jane Ray (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781847803535
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Following her stunning illustrative work Greek Myths of Sally Pomme Clayton’s text, Jane Ray has created a fairytale all her own.

Ahmed is an orphan boy who lives and travels with a circus. Hard work is familiar to him. He finds a golden egg and watches as it grows and hatches. A girl child is born and Aurelia becomes the feature for a larger circus audience. As she grows, feathers sprout from her body. People flock to see the feathered child in a golden cage.

Ahmed and Aurelia form a special bond. When feathers fully cover her, Aurelia begs Ahmed to set her free. This is not easy. But he does so, and she flies into the clouds.

Each night Aurelia visits the boy in his dreams and leaves behind a coloured feather. These he collects till he too has a cloak of feathers, which will lift him up into the sky.

This tale can be deconstructed as carrying themes of child abuse and deprivation for monetary gain. Or it can be left alone amidst its beautiful illustrations, reflecting fantasy and childish innocence alive and well, threaded with themes of friendship and freedom, and the longing for a new life.



Tuesday, 13 May 2014

A is for Awesome

A is for Awesome by Dallas Clayton (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780763657451
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

I love this superb rhyming alphabet. It’s so uplifting and offers so much I want to share it with the world. But on my children’s book shelf it goes because it is dedicated to ‘you’. That means me because I have the book. Therefore, all that’s in it is directed at me. ‘A is for Awesome and Amazing’ I can be that at times. ‘C is for Confident, cool and collected’ – I’m rarely all of them together. ‘J, Just remember you’re never alone’– my favourite.

I know it’s my book and I can be selective. But I love the fact that it is full of optimistic, positive, and motivating reinforcement. Just what I needed and it’s come at the right time.

Each page is a pastel coloured platform for a carnival of colourful illustrations, all starting with the letter displayed. Think of all the words of any length you can make with one letter as a thought- provoker. Think of all the words that start with that one letter.

This book encourages children to learn the alphabet so they can create words, have fun and play with letters any way they want. Just like writers do.

Thoughts, ideas, words and illustrations are by Dallas Clayton. I think I’ve said it all.


Monday, 12 May 2014

The Adventures of Stunt Boy and his Amazing Wonder Dog Blindfold

The Adventures of Stunt Boy and his Amazing Wonder Dog Blindfold by Lollie Barr (Pan Macmillan, 2014)
PB RRP $14.99
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
The first sentence in this novel for children aged 8 to 12 years states the book’s premise in a nutshell: ‘Someone was out to get my dad.’ William John Stoked (aka Stunt Boy) is convinced his father, a stunt driver in their family circus, has been set up to fail. At the start of the book dad is lying seriously injured in hospital; Stunt Boy sets out to find out who has sabotaged dad and why.
The first couple of chapters are like the bike Stunt Boy rides – it’s revving up its engine. There is a lot of telling – about the narrator’s sister Jem, his best friend Benny, his dog Blindfold, the Stoked Stunt Circus and the family’s nemesis, Barry Chesterley who runs a circus on the other side of town. The difference in the two circuses is that only humans perform in Stocked, but Chesterley’s circus offers animal acts. Can Chesterley be trying to steal Stocked’s performers and sent dad’s circus broke?
After the slow first chapters where not a lot happens, the book takes off like Stunt Boy’s bike, rip-roaring along with adventures filled with gripping incident after incident as Stunt Boy, Benny and Blindfold investigate strange goings-on. Chesterley proves to be a nasty piece of work, even capturing the two boys and putting them in a cage next to a lion’s den. But, trained by the age of 12 to pick locks, (and to perform a remarkable number of Houdini-like tricks), Stunt Boy is able to release them. All stuff of a boys’ own adventure novel!
One of the things I liked best about this book is its faithful and loving portrayal of Blindfold as boy’s best friend (as well as his human mate, Benny). Blindfold is as real as a fictional dog can be and his relationship with Stunt Boy is convincingly realised. Also helping Stunt Boy in his quest to bring bigger crowds to the ailing Stoked Stunt Circus is Stunt Boy’s hero, the teenage motorbike superstar, Caleb Calloway. But not all – or everyone – is what they first seem to be.
At the heart of this book are the themes of friendship and loyalty set against a very interesting background. It is obvious from her attention to detail and the conviction in this book, that author Lollie Barr has a sound knowledge of circuses and their peoples (in fact, she was once a member of the Spaghetti Circus in northern NSW). The narrative voice Barr gives Stunt Boy is boy-like, full of energy and enthusiasm. As her publicist says, it’s a ‘fresh, funny and exciting new voice.’
It’s likely this book will gain a healthy following, especially among young readers who enjoy real life action with a protagonist they can relate to.


Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Last Thirteen Book 4: 10

The Last Thirteen Book 4: 10 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-187-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.

After letting Solaris get away again, Sam and the Academy are even more determined to find the remaining 10 Dreamers. And Sam will need their help if he’s to have a shot at saving the world. But with more traitors emerging, and many different factions splintering, it becomes even harder for Sam and the other children to know who they can turn to for help.

This time the setting is Paris and it doesn’t take Sam long to locate the 10th Dreamer. It’s not easy, however, to convince her of her part in the Last Thirteen. Her parents are Enterprise Agents. Can they be trusted? 

With the Council of Dreamers infiltrated and torn apart, Guardians defecting and the destruction of both Enterprise Headquarters and the Academy Base, Sam’s world is collapsing. All this brings some positives though. The Da Vinci links get stronger and more certain, the Academy and Enterprise Agency make moves to work together a bit more and against all hope, one of their old friends may still be alive. Once again, the end leaves readers at a cliff hanger, this time with Sam and Zara in an impossible situation facing new enemies.

This is a really gripping series for lower high-school aged children. This series has a serialised single storyline which will continue at the rate of one book a month until the conclusion is reached in the thirteenth book. If you have a look closely at the montage on the cover you will be able to spot all thirteen Dreamers, their clues and the locations of their ongoing search. Also check out www.thelast13.com, an online companion page with VIP Access. There are 13 prizes to win with each book release, e-newsletters, access code breakers and many more features.


James Phelan is an Australian author who has written adult thrillers as well as the Lachlan Fox series and the Alone trilogy for older teenagers.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Ava Anne Appleton: Up and Away

Ava Anne Appleton: Up and Away by Wendy Harmer, illustrated by Andrea Edmonds (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-181-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ava Anne Appleton and her family, including dog Angus, are on an adventure. They have packed their belongings into a motor home, The Adventurer, and are off to explore Australia. And although Ava was slightly anxious about the whole idea she is settling into the journey and beginning to be more open to the adventures she encounters.

In Up and Away, ‘The Adventurer’ stops at Kardinya, an historical homestead. Here Ava discovers how people lived in the pioneering days, learns that Kardinya means sunrise in local Aboriginal language and sees that there is always a new friend around the corner.

This is a charming series. The story is infused with Harmer’s lovely gentle humour and Ava is very easy to love. She faces her fears and is learning to see life through different perspectives. There is a fabulous scene when Ava and Bonnie fly kites as a storm approaches:

  ‘I love the flat country the best!’ shouted Bonnie. ‘It’s where you see the biggest sky, ever!
  It takes up almost all of the view.’
  Ava had never thought of it like that before, but it was true. Out here the sky really was  
  tremendous!

While the words are easy for young readers, the text is well written, evocative and not simplistic. The attractive soft illustrations which appear at least every couple of pages break up the text and make the reading lighter. This will be read by girls from seven years and up. It is a great chapter book to extend beginner readers but may also entice older reluctant readers. It could even be a bedtime book, read aloud to younger children.

This is a series where the main character is an engaging one, easy to relate to and entertaining. The concepts of family, friendship and a sense of adventure shine strongly through in every chapter. This is the second in the series which is sure to continue. Jump on board with The Adventurer and join Ava on her journey. 

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781406348088
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This extraordinary and mesmerising generational saga carries themes of love, loving, betrayal, and human weakness. We travel from France to Seattle with these sharp and escalating emotions that belong to the Roux family, throughout their search for happiness.  

On the night that Ava Lavender was born, all the birds in the neighbourhood acted strangely. Her being born with wings seemed to have been preordained in some way. It is Ava’s search for identity and a way to fit into a normal life that appears to be the major story. But it’s not only about Ava. It is about all the women of her family tree; all the loves they lost, and what they became because of these loves and losses. With them come all the myths and stories attached to these fractured lives, and the heartbreaking climax of how they finally came together again.


To try to encompass all that is in this book in a review is impossible. It’s hugely imaginative and deeply moving. Compiled of so many layers and sub-stories, any attempt to describe it hardly does it justice. It’s magical realism at its best. First time author Leslye Watson has created a masterpiece of beauty and fascination, and one of the finest pieces of writing, research and creativity that I have ever read.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Billy That Died With Its Boots On and Other Australian Verse

The Billy That Died With Its Boots On and Other Australian Verse by Stephen Whiteside, illustrated by Lauren Merrick (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 19.95
ISBN 9781922077431
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Here is proof that poetry is alive and well. In my opinion, there isn’t enough of it around, so I’m overjoyed when something like this comes along. We ought to have a ‘return to poetry’ revolution and get our children reading more of this entertaining and valuable genre.

Each poem is a short, well crafted story in verse; full of interest and simultaneously educational. The Sash tells how Ned Kelly saved the Shelton boy from drowning and was given a green sash as thanks. Simpson and His Donkey gives a salute to this historical and heroic event, and The Fire, told through a terrified child’s eyes, is about a family fleeing a bushfire.

Stephen Whiteside has written over 1000 poems for adults and children. His work is meant to be read aloud and in this collection, there are two poems at the end for performance. Short and long, wide and narrow, every poem is a careful construction.


There are so many themes and subjects included here. Not a boring word can be found in the 154 pages of 65 poems listed under 15 categories. These poems are clever, insightful, humorous, moving and highly readable. This book is a good investment that will gather interest over and over again.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Last Thirteen Book 3: 11

The Last Thirteen Book 3: 11 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-186-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.

11 is the third instalment in this fast paced thrilling series for early teens. This book picks up with Sam speeding out of Rome after discovering the surrounding German Guardians were traitors (just like the Egyptian Guardians).

In this book the storyline starts to branch out a little. As well as Sam’s journey, we also get to follow the actions of Alex, who is now with the rival agency Enterprise, and the adventures of Eva and Gabriella back at the Academy. Both Alex and Eva are beginning to dream more and are hopeful that they may still be revealed as members of the Last Thirteen.

It’s not long before another dream/nightmare guides Sam to Germany on his next mission to identify Dreamer 11. Here he meets with Dr Dark, his former dream therapist, and learns more about his genetic background. He also reconnects with Xavier, an old friend and Dr Dark’s son.

In an unexpected twist, Sam and Xavier begin to co-dream with leads them to some answers  but also towards the explosive ending at the Berlin Zoo, where another face-to-face meeting with Solaris sees Sam lose the puzzle piece he fought so hard to find.

The more complex and tightly packed the plot of The Last Thirteen becomes, the more exciting and involved the reader becomes. Start at 13 though, this is a series which needs to be read in order.

This series has a serialised single storyline which will continue at the rate of one book a month with 13 and going backwards until the conclusion is reached in 1, the thirteenth book. Also check out www.thelast13.com, an on-line companion page with VIP Access. There are 13 prizes to win with each book release, e-newsletters, access code breakers and many more features.


James Phelan is an Australian author who has written adult thrillers as well as the Lachlan Fox series and the Alone trilogy for older teenagers.