Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Rescue Ark

The Rescue Ark by Susan Hall, illustrated by Naomi Zouwer (NLA)
PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 9780642278104
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It’s the children that discover the pollution and damage to the environment, and therefore to the habitats of many Australian wildlife. They decide to build an ark and travel around the country, collecting two of each species to protect, until their homes are cleaned up.

We follow the trail the children take around Australia with their ark, on a map which indicates where each of the twenty animals represented, can be found. The delightful, detailed illustrations of each animal pair are presented within circles, giving the impression that the reader is looking through a window. This is set against a coloured background.

Stunning plates from the National Library of Australia’s collection are included at the end with an informational block that carries a description of each animal, how they live etc, if they are endangered, critically endangered, or vulnerable. This is followed by a List of Illustrations with the archive details included as always.

This is another outstanding production from the NLA that again, both entertains and educates. It promotes awareness of the environment and the need to protect our endangered native species. These subtle persuasions come wrapped in the entertaining sing-song rhyming verse of the animals went in two by two that will stay in children’s minds.   


Monday, 29 September 2014

To This Day: For the Bullied and the Beautiful

To This Day: For the Bullied and the Beautiful by Shane Koyczan, illustrated by 30 various artists (Walker books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781925081510
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Through tears, I read this poem and examined the illustrations on bullying and its detrimental lifelong effects. Consumed by sadness, with a heart pounding and filled with sorrow for all the people, especially children, that have been victims or perpetrators of bullying, I tuned into the YouTube video of the spoken edition of To This Day. Over twelve million hits and growing, this poem in all its forms, continues to make an impact on people worldwide.

I watched it twice then went into Shane Koycznan’s site to uncover any other work. Words fail me. I have been inspired and profoundly affected alongside the countless others, by his courage and commitment to his fight against bullying.

Shane was bullied unmercifully as a child. These painful experiences gave birth to this book. A spoken word poet, he admits that ‘writing was a way to escape my real life, a way to cope with cruelty and indifference.’

Illustrated by 30 artists, this book is extraordinary and powerful in every sense. These words have been life-changing for many readers and listeners. Included are testaments from several of the contributing artists on their experiences with bullying. To This Day is seen as one of the most influential books on this heartbreaking issue that continues to plague so many people all over the world.  

Bulling facts from bullying.org and bullingstatistics.org

Sunday, 28 September 2014

There Will Be Bears

There Will Be Bears by Ryan Gebhart (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9780763665210
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is a coming of age story that has many themes. It’s an exciting adventure filled with life lessons and the powerful bond between two generations of men. Filtering through are sub stories on friendships, relationships between siblings, between the old and young, all held together with strong threads on family unity and love.

The story focuses mainly on the relationship between teenager Tyson and his best friend, grandpa Gene, a war veteran. The setting is the rugged western Wyoming.

Tyson has been promised an elk hunt with roughneck Gene for his thirteenth birthday, and it’s time for the promise to be fulfilled. He will finally have something to post on his Facebook page, impress Karen who is an experienced hunter, and get his former best friend Bright back for betraying him to impress the popular group.

But kidney failure gets Gene moved into a retirement home to be cared for properly and things are postponed temporarily.

Tyson and Gene secretly scheme to realize their dream before it’s too late, regardless of the outcome. What sets out to be a life-changing trip turns into a fight for life when the two meet up with the bear Sandy, who has already killed several people.

There’s not one boring moment in this poignant and meaningful debut novel. The description of the natural world is like a reel of film playing before your eyes. The author is definitely writing about familiar and much-loved areas and experiences of his own, as everything is cleverly detailed and crystal clear to the reader.

A note of caution: there are scenes referring to the slaughter of animals that some readers might find confronting.


Saturday, 27 September 2014

Breakfast Served Anytime

Breakfast Served Anytime by Sara Combs (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9780763667917
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It is school holidays and Gloria sets out for ‘geek camp’- a camp for gifted students. All electronic equipment (except phone) is left behind so is best friend Carol, and her beloved grandma that has just passed on. With her grief, Gloria carries her scant belongings and a journal and pen, and joins the four student study group ‘Secrets of the Secret Word.’ All these elements will be instrumental to her metamorphosis.

It is Gloria’s narrative voice that allows us an intimate view of her feelings and thoughts.

Raised in a privileged environment by her single dad who has encouraged her to think and decide for herself, Gloria is open to all cosmic signs which she sees in everything around her. When she first sets eyes on the blue butterflies, she accepts them as a sign that camp will produce significant outcomes.

And it does. Valuable friendships, life lessons, and love reach out to embrace Gloria from unexpected places. She learns that everybody hides something, and that sharing parts of yourself can be equally comforting to the giver and the receiver.

The lyrical prose is like a gift to the reader of something valuable. The warmth and the depth of the book’s content is obvious from the first to the last page. I felt I was sharing all of Gloria’s life; a shadowed observer yet part of everything she did and felt.

Friday, 26 September 2014

The Chronicles of the Knights of Katesh Book 2: The Summoning of The One

The Chronicles of the Knights of Katesh Book 2: The Summoning of The One by Royce Bond (Morris Publishing Australia)
PB RRP $20.00
ISBN 9780992505202
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Andy was just a teenage boy going to high school, forced to face his bullies daily, until the day the eagle with the black talons came to him. Now he has the life essence of the knight Methelgin inside him and he has become a Knight of the First Order of Katesh. He has gained great powers and fighting skills. He is believed to be The One that the warriors have been waiting for.

A long and dangerous quest begins for Andy. Maligor the wizard must be defeated, and the orb of power reclaimed in order to save the known universe.

But Andy’s transition from school boy to warrior holds other adjustments to those of simply tapping into and using his new abilities. His role as leader is one of great responsibility, especially after he learns the secrets regarding his lineage. Although he is determined to honour the role thrust on him, can he succeed when nothing and no one is ever what it seems? Especially Princess Katarin, the wind walker.

Royce Bond has created a fantastic world. Its characters and settings, the enemy demons and unnatural species that he has designed with great imagination thrill and excite. Powerful, courageous and intelligent female characters blaze their way through an action packed storyline, with battle scenes equal to a Hollywood movie.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Billy Slater: Banana Kick

Billy Slater: Banana Kick by Patrick Loughlin, illustrated by Nahum Ziersch (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780857982667
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857982674
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

What a great concept for a series for young boys who love their sport. You don’t have to be a footy player to engage with the Under 11s Ravens. Each book follows the story of one of the team members. In this 2nd book of this new series, it’s Junior Taafuli’s turn. ‘At ten years of age, Junior was already five foot five. His hefty Samoan build had earned him the nickname Mount Taafuli.’

Despite his size, Junior is a quiet kid. Author, Patrick Loughlin, describes Junior’s running abilities in vivid phrasing – he came ‘steaming in through the middle of the forward pack like a Spanish bull let loose on a crowd of tourists.’

As the Ravens play more games, the opposition’s parents constantly sledge Junior because of his size. He is so dejected he thinks himself a freak. Even his teammates join in by making mean comments, ‘he’s on a seafood diet: see food and eat it.’

Billy Slater, the famous Australian fullback, is once again centre field when it comes to the kids’ training and wellbeing. In a preface to the book he reveals that when he started out in football, he ‘didn’t have the natural strength or size the other players had,’ so he had to find other skills. With boys reading this they will understand that like Junior, they each have their positive areas.

There is a lovely interlude throughout the book where the reader gains insight into Junior’s supportive and strong family. His father works at the fruit markets and his mother is a nurse and a wonderful, traditional cook. When Billy Slater organises for the boys to swap junk food for healthy food to give them energy, despite his size, it’s Junior who comes up trumps.

But there’s more to Junior than his physicality. During a confrontation with the team bully, Junior is at tipping point. Surrounded by the team who are chanting ‘Fight! Fight!’ he could have pummelled the bully into the ground, but he surprises everyone by rapping about being who he is.

With its punchy use of language that rushes the plot through each chapter, there’s always something of interest. The enticingly colourful cover and the black and white illustrations scattered throughout give just enough of everything. At the end of the book Billy Slater gives his tips on healthy eating and on how to perfect the game-saving Banana Kick.

As the whole team is profiled, who will be the next player in the spotlight in Book 3?

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Astrologer’s Daughter

The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim (Text Publishing)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781922182005
Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald 

Melbourne based lawyer Rebecca Lim is the author of 14 books for kids and Young Adults. Her Mercy series involves the main character as an angel. Her Total Girl books are for younger readers about fashion and friends. This book, The Astrologer’s Daughter came out in July 2014. It follows a theme of astrology in a tangle of genres- mystery, thriller, adventure and love.

Lim cleverly drops us into the streets of China Town in inner city Melbourne - into the life of young Avicenna Crowe who is alone in a tiny apartment after her mother, Joanne mysteriously vanishes. We learn that Avicenna and her mother have moved around a lot and that Joanne had been stalked in the past. One side of Avicenna’s face is scarred from a house fire. Her father died in that fire. 

Just like her mother, Avicenna has the gift of reading the past, present and future. They are not really fortune tellers and they are not strictly psychics. They use astrology- a method that’s based on plotting a client’s birth information on a circular chart a bit like a clock face. 

‘Twelve houses, two-hour intervals with midnight at the cusp of the fourth house, noon at the cusp of the tenth…. Fill the interior with a map of the heavens as it was at the exact time, date and place of birth…’

I found the explanations of this process interesting but, to be honest, beyond my understanding. The police investigating Joanne’s disappearance are also sceptical of this gift and suspect foul play leaving young Avicenna desperate to find her own answers.

She decides to read the charts for her mother’s clients and conduct her own investigation. Her search takes her into dangerous territory- some unsavoury people and desperate clients all linked to the violent unsolved murder of a young girl.

Throw in a love triangle between Avicenna, her school friend Simon Thorn and a rich, handsome client and you have a compelling story with a thrilling, action packed plot. You will need to read the book to find how Lim expertly weaves all these elements together.  I would recommend it to kids 14 years and over.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Spark

Spark by Rachel Craw (Walker Books)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781922179623
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Evie’s mother has recently died. She now lives with her aunt Miriam, her mother’s twin. She has so much to contend with: her grief, the incredible change in body and mind that she doesn’t understand, and her feelings for her best friend Kitty’s twin brother Jamie, that have resurged with his return.

Priming, Spark, Kinetic Memory Transference, Harvest, and Stray, is language that belongs to the Affinity Project. Evie has to learn about all this and what it means. Her altered DNA from an inherited synthetic gene has kicked in and the strange feelings that overwhelm her can now be explained. She has become a Shield, and the protector of her best friend Kitty from the unknown Stray that has threatened her life.

As Evie must fight her fears and doubts about this new person she has become, and the responsibility that goes with it, while countless scenarios unfold around her. Secrets about her family come to light in rapid sequence. Life becomes an emotional battleground as she seeks to uncover the Spark’s identity, and unravel her tangled feelings.

Mystery, suspense, romance and intrigue fill the pages. Spark is the first of a riveting trilogy. It contains all the elements of a perfect mystery thriller, spiced with a sizzling attraction between the two main characters that zaps like an electrical charge on the pages. The fantastic characters and their individual lives and dilemmas create a page-turning frenzy. You’ll love the bad characters as much as the good. I can’t wait for Book 2: Stray and Book 3: Shield, which are coming soon.


Monday, 22 September 2014

Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance

Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406337983
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Author/illustrator Birgitta Sif earned my lifelong interest in her work with her exceptional debut picture book, Oliver. Now, with its theme of freedom and natural ability verses self consciousness, this delightful story has increased my devotion.

Frances Dean dances all the time; to the sound of the wind, to the birds singing and to the music in her head and heart. It’s when other people are around that she forgets how to dance. This causes her great sadness. It’s when she sees another girl in the park singing along with her radio regardless of all those around her, that she ‘is reminded in her heart how much she loved to dance and dance’. Can she find a way to share with others what dancing means to her?


Sif has used the natural world, in particular birds and creatures of the woods and parks, to support her theme. The delicate and highly detailed illustrations carry additional stories separate to the one being told through the text. Each page is an adventure into the drawings; a journey of discovery for children to translate in their own way. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Billy Slater: Try Time

Billy Slater: Try Time by Patrick Loughlin, illustrated by Nahum Ziersch (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780857982469
Also available as an ebook ISBN 9780857982476
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

This is the first book in a new series for boys 7+ who not only love footy but who play any team sport. At the core of each book is the guidance of legendary Billy Slater, fullback for the Melbourne Storm, Queensland Maroons and Australian Kangaroos.

Each short-chapter book tells the story of one of the players of the Under 11s team, the Ravens. This time it’s Josh’s story. His dad’s away, his mum is busy with the new baby and his greatest supporter, his grandad, is embarrassingly over-the-top when it comes to cheering from the sideline.

Josh is so nervous about his first footy game that he dreams he’s forgotten to wear his uniform. He’s running for the line with the ball in his Superman undies.

Every boy who has ever had to get ready for footy will be excited by the descriptions of the pre-game preparations: footy boots, shoulder pads, mouthguard – check! And they will recognise the ‘herd of elephant-sized butterflies’ stampeding in their stomachs.

Josh is on the small side and he’s constantly worried that he will let the team down. In the first game of the season he ‘felt the hard yellow hide slide into his grasp as he dived for the line.’ He lost the ball. ‘Then came the sound that would haunt him for days: a single loud, long BOOOOOOO!’

Enter Billy Slater, friend of Coach Steve and footy hero to the boys. At their footy practices Billy homes in on what each boy needs. He takes Josh aside and says, ‘the yips are when you worry so much about not being able to do something that your body forgets how to do it.’ This is not a didactic series but blends the reality of playing football with the wisdom of those who have done it all before.

With its plethora of footy action, quick pace and short-burst sentences, the climax is exciting indeed. The black and white drawings create a visual connection for the reader. There is added value in the players’ profiles at the back of the book as well as handy footy tips on tackling and catching a pass.

Try Time is about having fun, working as a team and self-belief regardless of ability or background. It’s the whole footy package. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

My dog doesn’t like me

My dog doesn’t like me by Elizabeth Fensham (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5017 0
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Poor Eric! All his life he’s wanted a dog of his own. And now that he has one – Ugly – it seems that the dog just doesn’t like him. Ugly won’t obey him, especially when they’re out on walks together. Ugly doesn’t follow him or play with him or even pay him much attention. Ugly likes everybody in the family more than Eric, which is particularly depressing considering his obnoxious older sister scores higher than Eric in Ugly’s esteem.

Eric just wants to know what’s wrong with his dog. And so do his family, who threaten to remove Ugly unless Eric learns to control him. But help is at hand. With his grandfather’s and friends’ assistance, Eric gradually discovers that much of the problem lies in an entirely unexpected place – with him.

As the narrative unfolds, Eric learns to take responsibility for his dog, which means doing unpleasant things when he doesn’t feel like it, and to persist with them. Eric slowly starts to reconnect with Ugly and realises that relationships take time and effort, but the rewards are great!

A charming story for children over 7. It clearly illustrates a boy’s learning journey; that the most valuable things in life are those you earn.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’s Underwater Adventure

Snugglepot and Cuddlepies Underwater Adventure by May Gibbs (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-928-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

On a hot summer's day Snugglepot and Cuddlepie visit the beach for the first time. The sand is very hot under their feet and they seek shade in an empty shell, not knowing it is the home of Mr Hermit. Mr Hermit very kindly helps them to the water’s edge and from there Snugglepot and Cuddlepie embark on a wonderful underwater adventure were they befriend the Fish Folk and meet the beautiful Princess Obelia.


Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’s Underwater Adventure is another of the sweet, safe adventures of May Gibbs’ endearing gumnut babies. Here it is repackaged into picture book form, bringing this classic Australian story and its characters to the next generation.   

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Gigantosaurus

Gigantosaurus by Jonny Duddle (Koala Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-101-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

When young dinosaurs go out to play they need to keep an eye out for danger, especially the hungry Gigantosaurus.
     His feet go STOMP!
      His jaws go CRUNCH!
      In the blink of an eye
     you'd be his lunch!


But what happens when the dinosaur on lookout, a mischievous Bonehead, decides to play a prehistoric version of the boy who cried wolf?
This is a noisy book in the best of ways. It has a rollicking rhythm, beautiful rhyme and is full of thuds, stomps, burps and other fabulously loud sounds. It exudes energy and humour and has the feel of The Three Little Pigs about it. From the first page it just begs to be read aloud.
When Bonehead calls out that the predator is on its way the young dinosaurs run to hide.
     They ran!
     They hid!
     They shook with fear!
     The Gigantosaurus was coming near!
And when, after many false sightings, Gigantosaurus really does appear, the page folds upwards to become double the height to accommodate the truly huge and awe inspiring meat eater.
Some of the dialogue is in speech bubbles (which still carry the wonderful rhythm and rhyme) and these bubbles become part of the playful illustrations. The picture on the front cover conveys the characters of the dinosaurs and hints at the role each one will play in the story. These characteristics remain consistent throughout the illustrations.
At the end of the book are two pages with pictures and factual explanations of the dinosaurs throughout the story. This is written in the same tone as the story and will keep dinosaur mad pre-schoolers who want to learn a little about these prehistoric animals happy.

This is such a fun book. It is fantastic to read and there is so much detail in the illustration to keep kids and their adult readers coming back again and again.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Freak Street : Meet the Piratesons

Freak Street : Meet the Piratesons by Knife & Packer (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $10.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-670-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Piratesons are just an average, everyday family. Average, that is, for families who live on Freak Street. Some of their neighbours include the Supersons, the Werewolfsons and the Zombiesons. The Piratesons, who live in the middle of a pond with their pet piranha Phlippers, are Mr and Mrs Pirateson, Polly, Pattie and Paxton.

When Patty removes a board of the bottom of their ship to make a skateboard, their home springs a leak. While fixing this problem, Mr Pirateson uncovers a long lost treasure map and so despite Patty’s entry in the City Skate Bowl Grand Opening, it is time for the Piratesons to embark on a treasure hunt.

Full of illustrations, this is a fun book for young readers. The amusing antics of the Piratesons land them in trouble and it takes the special skills of every family member to get them out of the situation and back home safely.


Supported by a popular website, www.freakstreet.com.au where kids can ‘join the freaks’ or learn more about the all the families on the street, Freak Street is a humour-based readable and accessible series for six to nine year olds. Heavy, glossy, colourful pages make this an attractive book to read and suitable for both genders. There are fifteen books to collect.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Forevermore

Forevermore by Cindy Miles (Chicken House)
PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 978-1-908435-92-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ivy's mum has remarried and her new family moves from Charleston, South Carolina, the only home Ivy has ever known, to the remote Scottish Highlands. Ivy’s new stepfather is a laird and lives in a huge castle, Glenmorrag, on the rugged coastline. Ivy is expecting her life to change, but what she is not expecting is a ghost. And falling in love with someone who lived two hundred years ago was certainly not in her plans.
Forevermore is a wonderfully gothic tale with all the classic elements from this genre. From the brooding crumbly castle perched on top of a cliff high above the sea, to the evil presence trying to harm Ivy, along with a mysterious but attractive ghost, a sinister grandmother and a feisty independent heroine.
Ivy is great character. She is independent, but doesn't reject help and friendship when it's offered and has a realistic mix of bravery and caution. She is unsure if people will think she's crazy if she talks about the ghosts at the castle so is wary of mentioning them while making an effort to fit in, both at home in the castle and at her new school where she feels very different.
The use of music (Ivy is a beautiful and dedicated violinist), helps to weave an uneasy atmosphere around the castle. In my head it is always twilight at Glenmorrag and bright and sunny away from the castle, such is the skill of the creation of this eerie presence wrapping itself around the castles inhabitants.
This is a suspenseful story of ghosts and love. The mystery element is gripping, but the greatest strength is in the characters and their relationships; first love, friendships and family bonds.
This in an absorbing book and would suit thirteen to fifteen year olds.


Monday, 15 September 2014

Sports Carnival: Ella and Olivia

Sports Carnival: Ella and Olivia by Yvette Poshoglian, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-052-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ella and Olivia are sisters. Ella is seven and Olivia is five. They live with Mum and Dad, baby brother Max and puppy dog Bob. Ella and Olivia are very excited. Their school is going to have a sports carnival day and they are training very hard for it with Ella's friend Zoe. Even Mum and Dad are training hard as they are part of the purple team the sisters are in.

Will the purple team get enough points to beat Zoe’s green team and the other two teams? Ella and Olivia would love to win the grand prize, a trip to the Slip and Slide Water Park.

The Ella and Olivia series is pitched to 5 plus beginner readers and Sports Carnival is a sweet story which this young readership will adore. The sisters have a lovely, but realistic, relationship and they are feisty and interesting without being naughty - the cheekiness is left up to Bob the puppy.

The illustrator creates fun characters that are friendly and lively. These pictures break up the text which is clear and easy to read with short sentences and short chapters.


A constantly growing series, there are plenty of titles for young girls to read and enjoy.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly

The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly retold by Bronwyn Davies, illustrated by Pixie O’Harris (National Library of Australia)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780642278517
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Bronwyn Davies retells the original story by Pixie O’Harris of The Fairy Who Wouldn’t Fly, one of the classics from the National Library’s Marcie Muir Collection of Children’s Books. Themes covered include being different, conquering your fears, discovering your own individual gifts, adjusting to other’s expectation while staying true to yourself, and working together to bring about change.

It sounds a lot, but the story is so perfectly arranged that one theme rolls into another naturally.

The Fairy-who-wouldn’t-fly doesn’t want to be like other fairies. She enjoys lying in her spider web hammock and watching the world go by. So she is banished from Fairyland to the Woodn’t until she learns to comply with the rules.

In the Woodn’t everything is different. Lots of living things don’t do what is expected of them. Trees grow their own way. Kookaburra doesn’t laugh. Frog doesn’t like hopping. Bee won’t join the hive. Bat refuses to fly at night, Glow-worm won’t shine, Spider won’t spin, and Flower’s petals won’t close at sunset. How boring it all is.

The Fairy-who-wouldn’t-fly begins to imagine how it would feel to fly. At first, her attempts fail, but with perseverance, she discovers joy and achievement in flight.

When a very young boy is lost in the forest, the fairy enlists the help of the group to return the boy home. In a show of unity, they all reclaim their abandoned talents and learn many things about themselves they didn’t know.

The exquisite original illustrations are accompanied by additional pictures from NLA’s collection. Davies has breathed new life into an old favourite for another generation to enjoy and learn from.


The presentation, as usual, is of the highest quality. The book comes with a gorgeous jacket and the valuable information is found in the List of Illustrations. This is another gem for collectors and lovers of unique children’s books, regardless of age.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Devil and his Boy

The Devil and his Boy by Anthony Horowitz (Walker Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9781406357684
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Anthony Horowitz believes that teaching history to children has to be fun. In The Devil and his Boy, he has chosen the year 1593 and Queen Elizabeth 1 to prove that learning history can be an exciting adventure.

The Queen is sixty years old. She has secrets about her past that she wants answers to. The wizard, John Dee, is the only one that can give them to her.

Tom Falconer, a thirteen year old orphan, is a slave to a heartless couple. When the stranger, Sir William Hawkins comes to take him away, he has nothing to lose. Things go wrong and Hawkins is murdered by Ratsey, a notorious highway man. Tom escapes towards London, and is saved from death by the thief Moll Cutpurse.

These main characters’ lives are twisted together in a thrilling mystery that involves Tom’s real identity. The story includes the young William Shakespeare, the Rose Theatre, and a troupe of mysterious actors who are not what they seem. All this is plaited in with conspiracy and betrayal in the Queen’s court.

I sped through this terrific mystery novel. Readers of all ages will learn a vast amount about early England, people’s way of life and early death, poverty, and how orphans were used and abused by unscrupulous people cloaked as protectors, to make money.

Fast-paced and absorbing, the talented Horowitz has made history interesting and entertaining just as he set out to do.



Friday, 12 September 2014

Rainbow Magic: Selena the Sleepover Fairy

Rainbow Magic: Selena the Sleepover Fairy by Daisy Meadows (Orchard Books/Hachette)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN: 9781408330739
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

This Early Reader edition has been especially designed for younger fans of Rainbow Magic books, with an easy vocabulary and full colour, beautiful illustrations to encourage independent reading. The book has been divided into three story chapters.
Rachel and Kirsty, who are friends of the fairies, are going with their school to have a sleepover in the National Museum. On the way, their coach stops at a service station and the children stretch their legs. The two friends notice a cloud of purple fairy dust and sure enough, a fairy appears. It is Selena the Sleepover Fairy who is very unhappy because Jack Frost’s servants, the goblins, have stolen three of her objects vital to ensure a happy sleepover. She needs to recover The Magical Sleeping Bag, The Enchanted Games Bag and The Sleepover Snack Box as quickly as possible and return them to Fairyland. The girls offer to help Selena find them.
Daisy Meadows has created an enchanting storyline which maintains interest to the end. There is plenty of action and excitement as the girls set out to recover the lost items. Kirsty and Rachel are used to being transformed into fairy-size by a wave of a wand, and they are very good at solving problems and dealing with nasty goblins. Jack Frost gets his comeuppance, too! With such fun characters, it is no wonder that the Rainbow Magic series holds small girls in thrall. I was impressed by the full colour illustrations which add a lot more oomph than black and white drawings. The large font text is also a plus.
With each of the original stories available as Early Readers, junior fans of the series will be delighted at the feast of reading in store for them.


Thursday, 11 September 2014

Buffalo Soldier

Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781406314595
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Many things inspire artistic and memorable works like this one. Strange things, personal things, and things we’ve seen, read or experienced. Tanya Landman was mistaken for a boy until the age of fourteen. She was also inspired by the real life of the slave, Cathy Williams, who disguised herself as a man to become a Buffalo Soldier.

Landman courageously explores the notion of freedom and its complexity; the misuse of absolute power and its corruption, and the blood lust of the war era. She thrusts the history of man’s inhumanity in our faces and says, ‘I dare you to look.’

All the characters in the book regardless of colour, class and position in life, have things in common. Each group has ranks; there are levels of authority in place with orders to be obeyed without the option of choice. This common thread is an important element in the story.

The young slave girl Charlotte becomes Charlie O’Hara to join the army; her only means of survival after being freed. We travel with her from just before the Civil War until the removal of the last Apache from their reservation. This gut-wrenching and desolate content is explosive and heartbreaking. The injustices experienced by slaves and Indians at the hands of soldiers are painful. I had to stop frequently and set the book aside due to the overwhelming sadness that engulfed me.

But these dismal components share the space with a moving love story. Past all the slaughter, ugliness and desolation of war crawls love. Unexpected and uninvited, it surprises Charlie and with its power, and changes the look and feel of everything she’s part of.

This is an outstanding book that will be returned to again because of its superb narrative voice, confronting yet undeniable truths, and strong historical content. A brilliant piece of work based on history, it is one of the best books I have ever read.

Caution: this book contains highly graphic and disturbing scenes.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Swim That Rock

Swim That Rock by John Rocco and Jay Primiano (Walker Books)
HC RRP 24.95
ISBN 9780763669058
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis
  
Jake at fourteen years old has experienced a growth spurt of eight inches from one summer to the next. Self-conscious of his height and uncoordinated, he is seen as a freak. His dad disappeared months ago while qhahogging and is presumed drowned. Because his body was never found, Jake believes he will come home. While his mother struggles with depression, their mortgaged family diner is under threat of repossession by the local loan sharks if the repayment in not made on time.

Jake learnt a lot from his dad and is determined to use that knowledge to keep what is left of his father’s life, dreams and memories alive. This determination leads Jake to accept work salvaging and qhahogging at night from a man known only as the Captain, and who knows everything about illegal fishing and avoiding capture. The money pours in, but can Jake make enough in time to save the business?

This is an enjoyable, uplifting and humour-filled story about family, hope, friendship, community, and quahog fishing. The story is set in Narragansett Bay, New England and propelled by fantastic characters, such as Gene, and Jake and his best mate Trashman Tommy, the king of recycling. Its strong prose is illuminated by the unique sub-stories woven through the main storyline like delicate lace.

I learnt a lot about quahogs of which I knew nothing, and the illustrations positioned on the inside of the covers and on the end pages, gave complete clarity to the fishing references.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Haunting of Lily Frost

The Haunting of Lily Frost by Nova Weetman (University of Queensland Press)
PB/HB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5015 6
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a genuinely spooky story that doesn’t rely on violence and gore for effect.

Teenager Lily’s life is turned upside down when her family move from the city to an old house in a country town. Strange things start to happen whenever Lily enters a small room in the attic – a room which becomes her bedroom. Odd sounds, plummeting temperatures, letters marked on the floor, a presence in a room. Has Lily’s imagination gone wild, or is something supernatural happening?

In between questioning her sanity, Lily has to juggle normal adolescent concerns, with missing her bestie and trying to fit-in at the new school high on the list. This is complicated by the fact that she has a striking resemblance to the girl who used to live in her house. A missing girl. A girl with secrets.  A girl whose place she seems to be taking.

Her classmates seem to know more about it, but some are overtly hostile to Lily’s presence. Baffled by her classmates’ reactions, Lily is determined to discover the secret. Did the unhappy girl run away or did something sinister happen to her? And how is she connected to the mysterious happenings in the room. Author builds the tension page by page to the nail-biting climax.


Don’t read this story when you’re alone.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Tribute

Tribute by Ellen Renner (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0031-5
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4714-0032-2
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

I must say I was hooked from the opening lines and first few paragraphs.

Swift. I named her for the bird. When she first came I saw something small and drab: that spent hours huddled in the corners of my father’s house…  I took her by the hand which is forbidden. I named her for the bird I loved most, and we ran through the marble halls together.

I read late into the night, enjoying the story, wanting to know what would happen to the characters I had become so fond of. This is the story of Zara, a young mage. She lives in a world where magic is power and the non-magical are slaves. Technology and literacy are forbidden, and each commoner must give up their first-born child to the mages and lifelong enslavement as servants and soldiers - these are the Tribute children.

Ellen Renner author of City of Thieves and Castle of Shadows, has woven a lively story entwining loss, a blossoming love, and action. The world she has created is recognizable and comfortable, the magic believable and the names of people and objects easily pronounceable, her turn of phrase is often beautiful. Tribute had a satisfying ending with no loose threads BUT as the reader I had unanswered questions that I am sure lead into another book.


The perfect blend of fantasy and romance, with enough bloodletting to satisfy any male reader.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Blog Blast! Tottie and Dot

Tottie and Dot by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling (EK Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921966491
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Tottie and Dot are the best of friends who do everything side by side.

The gorgeous girls nibble apricot sandwiches, sip marshmallow tea, boil speckled eggs, water their blooms and fluff up their angel feather pillows. Their lives are in sync.

But one day competition sneaks in to forge a wedge between the two girls. The wedge grows wider and wider until something has to give. And in dramatic style! Fortunately, it is not their friendship which comes out on top and the girls once again are content in each other's company.

This book is delicious. Tania's McCartney's delectable text is a pleasure to read out loud. The fantastical lengths the girls go to in an effort to out-do each other are outrageously enjoyable yet simultaneously portray a sense of chaos and impending doom. Among other things, Tottie ups the ante with 'scattered strawberries', a roller coaster and a ski slope while Dot resorts to a lemon-drop tree, flamingos and has even 'cooked up a circus'.

Tina Snerling's illustrations do the words justice and more and in true picture book fashion expand on the text. Readers will pore over the pictures, making new discoveries on each reading. The retro colours hark back to the essence of the story that all we really need is  a good friend to share our time with and all else is superfluous.

Tottie and Dot is a book that will be enjoyed by children, parents and all of us who love beautiful creations.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Chook Chook: Saving The Farm

Chook Chook: Saving The Farm by Wai Chim (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780 7022 5316 4
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Mei and her delightful pets Little and Lo return for the third chapter of their adventurous life together. Although the story features characters from the two previous stories, this book can stand on its own.

As the family prepare for their Chinese New year celebrations, their joy is shattered by the news that village is threatened by plans to demolish it to build a freeway through it. This is the only life that Mei and her neighbours have known, the place their forebears have lived and worked for generations. They love and cherish their town even though the bureaucrats sneer at its backwardness.

Readers will cheer as Mei stands up to the truly nasty deputy director and tells him to leave them alone. But her courage seems to be for nothing. All around them, villagers are giving up, selling their properties and leaving.

Mei and her brothers hatch a plan to save their village by getting it registered with the National Preservation List of Traditional Villages – a process which involves demonstrating its cultural uniqueness. Will the chooks help – or hinder their attempts? 

Chim’s story weaves details of the daily life in China, such as the joy of Chinese New Year and the associated customs, and demonstrates that it is the little details, the things we take for granted, that define us and make our lives unique.

A fun read for younger children. I wonder if Chim plans a fourth instalment.

Friday, 5 September 2014

You Choose: Mayhem at Magic School

You Choose: Mayhem at Magic School by George Ivanoff, illustrated by James Hart (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780857983848
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857985460
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Whereas Book 1 in this You Choose … series fired readers’ imaginations by plunging them into the world of pirates and buried treasure, Book 2, Mayhem at Magic School, takes readers on a rollercoaster of all things magic.

Prolific, inventive author George Ivanoff, continues to use his fast-paced, humorous and interactive style to entice readers seven years and older to dive into the magical adventure and decide their fate. Ivanoff knows what kids want and writes as if he’s one step ahead of them, teasing them this way and that.

From the opening sentence where a ball freezes in mid-air as you stare at it, you are the protagonist. You are in control of the situation and you have discovered that you have magical powers.

It’s an exciting scenario for any young reader. Suddenly, in class, a bunch of white rabbits appear. Did you make that happen? The other kids think so and call you a ‘freak!’

Along this 16-storyline path to magical adventure Ivanoff uses short, action-packed scenarios smattered with graphic novel style illustrations featuring you.

There are lots of questions at each story intersection. ‘Where will you go?’ ‘Where will you sleep?’ ‘How will you get food?’ And the biggie … ‘Who will you meet in the magical mansion?’ None other than Chang Lee, the great Master of Illusion who offers you the chance to be his apprentice and learn everything he knows …

OR

Choose the other path where you find out you belong to a long line of enchanters, which means, you’re off to Magic School.

With an enchanted scroll ‘equivalent to an iPad’ and a red ancestral jewel that creates magic even if you don’t want it to, there are heaps of hazards in store. It’s time for you to get lost … in the magic of the adventure.


Thursday, 4 September 2014

B is for Bedtime

B is for Bedtime written by Margaret Hamilton, illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Little Hare)
ISBN 978 1 921894 34 3
HB RRP $24.95 
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

B is for Bedtime gently works its way through the alphabet, describing the gradual process that is a child going to sleep. Using the 'A' for awake, the alphabet goes through things a child would notice, like 'F' for fingers, 'M' for moon and 'I' for insect until it reaches the last one: Zzzzzz! Each pair of letters has a rhyme, and this flows particularly well, for example,' L is for Lullaby … dum di-di dum' (rhyming with Mum).

The very cute illustrations show a rosy cheeked child which could be a girl or boy (this could widen the appeal to readers). Pictures have the appearance of home-made collage, with lots of different patterns such as polka dots and stripes in soft colours. The small brown and white spotted dog on almost every page is a great addition, providing humour.

The alphabet is a nice structure to hang a bedtime rhyme on, giving a sense of movement through to the end — that is sleep! Moving towards the letter 'x', never an easy one to rhyme with, I was pleased to read 'X for relaX now I'm facing the wall.' It's nice to be surprised by an unexpected bit of text.

This lovely book could become a favourite for little ones going to bed. Adults will also appreciate the way the rhymes read so well out loud. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Scary Night

Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes, illustrated by Stephen Michael King (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921504631
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

Once upon a scary night,
three friends set out on a journey.
Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake, Pig with a parcel.

But where were they going in the dead of the night,
tip-toe creeping in the pale moonlight?
It was a mystery!

This cute story tells the tale of three friends, Hare, Cat and Pig journeying out one scary night. They encounter snapping crocodiles and roaring grizzly bears on their way. 

Were they scared?
Did they shake?
Did they hide? You bet they did.

Did they give up?
Of course they didn’t!


This book not only has charming rhyme and repetition, it gently tells children that it is okay at times to be scared. To shake and even scream (love the double page spread when all three ‘let it rip’).  As long as you don’t give up.