Friday, 31 October 2014

Pig the Pug

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-477-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

This is an absolutely delightful book. Pig is a pug dog who will not share. He is selfish and rude and in the end receives his comeuppance in a most unexpected, humorous and satisfying way.
Told in rhyme which rolls off the tongue smoothly, the sing-song rhythm creates an atmosphere of immediacy and just begs to be read aloud over and over again.

    He lived in a flat
    with sausage dog, Trevor.
    But when was he nice to him?
    I’ll tell you – NEVER.

Young children will identify with the behaviours displayed by both Pig and Trevor, recognising which ones are unreasonable and antisocial.

The illustrations are big and bold and funny. Trevor with his glorious toothy smile will grab hearts immediately, while fat wrinkly Pig with his big eyes and big frown hugs his bowl of food or toys to his chest. It is a story which could be followed through the pictures alone which emphasise the humour of the text on every page. I cannot remember loving an ending to a picture book more and the concept that pigs cannot fly is used so effectively without it feeling like a cliché.


Ultimately a story about sharing and bad puppies coming to a sticky ending, this is such a fun book. I giggle each time I get to the end. Children from the age of three and up will appreciate the humour, the concept and the cheekiness of this fabulous rollicking story.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Last Thirteen : Book 7

The Last Thirteen : Book 7 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-190-9
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.
Sam's search for the Thirteen Dreamers leads him next to the Grand Canyon and to Cody, Dreamer number seven. But as the stakes grow more desperate, so does the enemy. And it is getting harder for Sam and his fellow dreamers to tell friend from foe.
This 7th instalment of the fast paced series is a scramble across America to once again be ahead in the race for the Dreamer’s Gate. Alex has been given his first mission and comes up against Stella's offsider, Matrix. Sam is following his newest nightmare, racing to get to Cody and the next gear while Lora and Eva are racing to save Sam after Eva's dream that he and Cody are walking into a trap.
This group of Dreamers need their dreams and nightmares to guide them, to lead them to the next destination. But dreams are not always reliable, their interpretation not always obvious, they can mean so many different things. And, as Sam and his friends have discovered, expected outcomes can be changed by situations in real time being altered.
Will the Dreamers feel more in control, or more scared for the fate of the world when they uncover what Stella and Matrix are really up to?
This book sits right at the midway point of the series. It is impossible to read at a leisurely pace. Pages packed with dialogue and action, and chapters with changing viewpoints, ending in cliff hangers, all accentuate the sense of urgency. The ambiguity of the dreams and their meanings, along with the swing of allegiances of some of the players, make this an addictive series.
The physical package is attractive as well. Each volume is slim, a different colour and has subtle clues on the cover as to what lies within the pages. The spines, lined up together on a bookshelf, announce the countdown.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The 39 Clues Cahill vs Vespers Book 6: Day of Doom

The 39 Clues Cahill vs Vespers Book 6: Day of Doom by David Baldacci (Scholastic Inc)
HB RRP $17.99
ISBN 978-0-54529844-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Thirteen year old Dan Cahill and his older sister Amy are running out of time. This will be their last chance to save their friends, family and ultimately thousands of people from Vesper One's horrific plot. In a desperate race from Washington DC to deep in the Cascade Mountains, the siblings need to decide who they can trust to keep them safe whilst following the twists and turns - led by fate and Isabel Kabra.
Each book in this popular 39 Clues series is written by a different author, giving each instalment a slightly different feel and this title does feel a little younger than the previous few. This is probably mostly due to the dramatic writing tone and atmosphere that Baldacci brings to Day of Doom, the final instalment in the Cahill's vs. Vespers series. David Baldacci is a writer well known in the adult action/thriller genre and he certainly keeps the action pumped and the reader wound tightly right up to the final denouement.
Another aspect of the writing I enjoyed is the way the recap of characters and events is woven into the beginning of the story. Baldacci has cleverly reminded the readers who is being held hostage, who is on the Cahill's side and how the plot has been progressing, without retelling or going over previous ground. And this recap is needed. By the beginning of this book there are many characters, some of which have switched sides and allegiances countless times.
This is an action packed finale which will keep readers on their toes, unwilling to put the book down.
Day of Doom comes with six clue cards which can help intrepid readers become part of the adventure on line at www.the39clues.com.
After the pages close on this final Cahill vs. Vespers adventure, a new one starts immediately with Nowhere to Run, the first book in Unstoppable, the third series in The 39 Clues.


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Puppy Playtime 1,2,3

Puppy Playtime 1,2,3 by Celeste Walters and Adele Jaunn (Little Hare Books)
ISBN 978-1-742977-16-4
PB RRP $14.95 
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

On the surface, this picture book by author Celeste Walters and illustrator Adele Jaunn simply rhymes its way up to ten and back, accompanied by cute illustrations of puppies playing. However, that isn't all there is, not by a long way. There's also an element of mystery, education about different dog breeds and a huge variety of verbs. Then (although this reader wasn't observant enough to notice it on the first read through) there's also a 'spot the bone' activity. This is a book with a lot of things to keep young children busy!

Billy the Bitzer has hidden his bone and is worried the other puppies are going to find it. First one puppy comes racing and chasing, then two romping and stomping, up to ten, when Billy the Bitzer is feeling unhappy and snappy. No wonder. So he decides to get rid of the puppies, one by one. First he starts grunting and growling, then hooting and howling, until there's one little puppy, sneaking and peeking … who finds the bone. And it's been in view the whole time.

The different breeds of puppy are depicted beautifully by Adele Jaunn, who also illustrated Baby Bilby's Question by Sally Morgan. A poodle, a collie, a samoyed, a great dane and others. All have joyful, inquisitive expressions on their furry faces. Each page is covered with happy little dogs, always on the move, as puppies are. In fact the illustrations convey movement extremely well and this is a real strength of the book.

Celeste Walters has written several books for young adults and children, including A Certain Music. Puppy Playtime 1,2,3 uses repetition with skill and clever rhyming. Lots of fun for adults and kids to enjoy together, this is a book can that can be re-read, with something different to notice each time.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Little Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood : Pictures by Anna Pignataro, story by Charles Perrault, Retold by Margrete Lamond (Little Hare)
ISBN 9 781921 894879
HB $12.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Once Upon a Timeless Tale is a series of beautifully presented hardback editions re-telling classic stories including Jack and the Beanstalk, The Ugly Duckling and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Little Red Riding Hood starts with …' in the days when wolves could talk and should have known better …' The familiar story, told with a humorous slant, is accompanied on each page by illustrations, full of colour and character. With a red spine decorated with pictures of delicate dandelion seeds, the book feels nice as well as looking it, inviting the reader inside.

In this series, the illustrators are showcased, with only their name on the front page. Anna Pignataro, Melbourne based illustrator and creator of over fifty children's books, has provided  pictures which deserve this attention. Rosy cheeked Riding Hood skips through colourful pages filled with interesting details that will definitely appeal to young readers and listeners. There's even an illustration of the inside of the wolf's stomach containing poor Grandma and Riding Hood and later on, when the woodcutter has replaced them with stones.

This is the traditional story, with no sugar coating at the end, when it comes to the wolf. Little Red Riding Hood is a bit precocious, but in a good way. The best line in the book comes right at the end.
        "'That should teach you,' said the grandmother,' not to talk to wolves.'
        'That should teach the wolf,' said Red Riding Hood,' not to talk to little girls.'"
        And you can't argue with that logic!

This is a great book to introduce a new generation to a story that will never get old. Recommended for children aged five and above.


Sunday, 26 October 2014

War Horse

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (Egmont UK)
ISBN 978-1-4052-7188-2
PB $14.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

First published in 1982, this special edition of War Horse has been reprinted for the centenary of World War one, with a new introduction by the author. The book was already well known, being the basis of the 2011 Stephen Spielberg movie (nominated for several Oscars and BAFTAs) and a highly acclaimed international stage show. War Horse is a story for children aged 10+ about a horse who goes to war, told from the unique perspective of the horse.  

The story starts off on a farm in Devon where a young horse is bought home to fifteen year old Albert, by his drunken father. There is an immediate bond between Albert and Joey, as he calls the horse, which develops into an unbreakable  friendship. However when war breaks out, Albert's father sells Joey to the army and he is shipped off to the trenches in France. Albert is broken hearted but vows to find his horse again when he is old enough to enlist.

In France, Joey sees battle, injury, death and finds friends on both sides of the trenches. He pulls carts of wounded soldiers and ends up in No Man's Land, where the soldiers stop fighting so he can be rescued. Being a horse, Joey has the ability to understand people no matter whether they are English, French or German, so transcends language barriers. Although in parts a very sad story, eventually Joey is reunited with Albert and the book does have a heart-warming ending.


Through the very effective character of Joey, the concepts and hard truths of war are explored in an adventure type story. The writing has some denser passages and longer words, which may not suit all young readers, but this style fits in with the historical tone. A highlight of this war story is that it is told from such a neutral perspective, which could be an important reason for its continued popularity.  Over a million copies of War Horse have sold since 2007. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 978-1-7429-7830-7
PB $18.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

The comic book cover draws the reader into the world in which the main character, Sarah Albany (known as Alba) is firmly entrenched. Pencil in her hand, her mind wanders between reality and the fiction she draws in her cartoon frames. As the book starts, Alba and her quirky bunch of friends have all just finished secondary school in a town called Eden Valley and face the decision, what next? But the story is not just about this interesting and transient time of young adulthood. It's also about the end of the world, where Eden Valley has been named as the only place to be spared.

Alba lives with her mum in a bakery. Her father is dead and she has grown up with her friend Grady, a boy she is extraordinarily close to, but there is now one big problem between them. Grady is keen to become a lawyer and wants to go to the city to study. Alba doesn't want to make a decision to stay or go, quite happy if time could stand still. Then Ned Zebadiah ('prognosticator, seer and diviner of ancient mysteries') makes a prediction on the internet and it goes viral. Hippies stream into Eden Valley to escape the end of the world and the countdown begins. With the influx of outsiders comes Daniel, a former school mate of Alba's and now soapie star, who looks rather good with his shirt off.  

Written in first person, Alba's voice is strong, distinctive and funny. She gets off the track a bit sometimes, finds it a bit hard to focus on what is going on in front of her, but then cleverly gets back in time to move the story along. The camaraderie between the friends who have grown up together is well described and their reaction to the strangers that flock into their formerly sleepy town. Particularly skillful are the descriptions of Alba's drawing. 'I draw Cinnamon Girl close up and in profile here, her waves of hair billowing behind her and bleeding over the edges of the frames,' and 'I spend some time pencilling her solid legs, one foot in front of the other, resolutely marching through her unfilled frame.' Cinnamon Girl has a mind of her own, and is a good mirror for what Alba is going through in her life.

Melissa Keil's first novel, Life in Outer Space recently was awarded the Ena Noel award and was shortlisted for several other awards including a CBCA book of the year. The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl is Melissa's second young adult book and she has produced another humorous, warm-hearted novel. The story flows well and has characters the reader can be fond of as they struggle with coming of age problems. A bit of a love triangle and a ride on a motor bike and there's a resolution that is both apt and satisfying.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Sandy Feet

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Heap House

Heap House by Edward Carey (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0157-2
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

Set in an alternate Dickensian London Heap House is a quirky and dark read. Definitely, not everyone’s cup of tea.

I was attracted to this book because it reminded me of Edward Gorey’s characteristic dark pen and ink comics. I struggled at first with the Dickensian language, and managed to muddle up the characters, finding it difficult to get my head around the story. Once I settled though and found my way, I enjoyed it. The creepiness of the story combined with the language made me forget that it's meant to be a middle grade book. In fact I counted a few swear words in there. I do think you'd have to have a real book lover on your hands for the intended audience to get to grips with this story. It is for a patient reader.

Carey has created a strange Gothic world. Heap House and its inhabitants are isolated from the city. The Iremongers find treasure in the rubbish (heap) that keeps growing. The heap acts as an ocean and sweeps people and things out to oblivion when a storm blows in. Clod, the main character, isn’t quite like the rest of his family, he hears objects whisper and recently they’ve not just been saying names. Every Iremonger has a 'birth object': an everyday household object that they must keep with them at all times, or else they will die. Clod has an unusual talent: he can hear birth objects speak names. His own birth object, a universal bath plug, says "James Henry Hayward". Clod is seen as strange for this talent and has therefore grown up to be rather unpopular. One day he meets Lucy Pennant, an orphan who has been brought to Heap House to be a servant. When she arrives, strange things begin to happen and Lucy is blamed for them. She and Clod must find out what is happening in order to clear her name and save her from bloodthirsty Iremongers who hate all outsiders.

If you like Howl’s Moving Castle, Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Events and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, then this book could be for you.

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



Thursday, 23 October 2014

Jumble Cat

Jumble Cat by Archie Kimpton, illustrator Kate Hindley (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-4714-0278-4
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy
  
Jumble Cat is a wicked romp of a story full of … well, wickedness. I can imagine boys 8 – 12 years rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter whilst reading this book.

Archie Kimpton’s Jumble Cat is fart humour with finesse. His way with words is nothing short of captivating. Not only are his words as poetically jumbled as the Cat but the way he describes certain characters is almost naughty.

The main character Billy Slipper is normal enough in a Cinderella kind of way but oddly enough, his best friend is a ninety something year old woman. Together they befriend a foul mouthed jumbled–up cat and win thousands in prize money only to have it stolen. They embark on an adventure scaling castle walls, stealing and crashing his monstrous mother’s car, so they can rescue the grungy rude cat from a demented taxidermist.

 Archie’s writing is a delight to read, and quite often I put my hand to my mouth in a No, he didn’t just say that kind of way. This excerpt is Billy’s mother Phillipa Slipper:

“Believe it or not, Phillipa Slipper was in a good mood. She was always in a good mood after her course. ‘Do you know what I learnt this evening?’ She twittered excitedly. ‘How to kill butterflies. Do you know the best way to kill a butterfly?’ She didn’t wait for an answer. ‘You could try a fly swatter, but you might leave a terrible mark on the wall. So you can either suck them out of the air with a vacuum cleaner, or if that doesn’t work, try catching them in a jar, put the lid on and watch them suffocate. Simple! And no mess.”

Jumble Cat is Archie Kimpton’s first book and I daresay not his last. The layout of the book is clean and easy to follow. Each black and white illustration is strong and gives a less confident reader a well-deserved rest.

Young readers will enjoy this book and I very much enjoyed this book. I look forward to reading more by this author.

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




Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Bridie’s Boots

Bridie’s Boots by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Sara Acton (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921504723
Reviewed by Vicki Thornton

For her fifth birthday Bridie is given a pair of gumboots wrapped in rainbow paper. She loved these boots; they were the best boots ever.

When it rained they kept her feet dry as she crossed wild rivers.
When the sun came out she twirled on tiptoes and splashed in puddles.

Bridie wore her boots all that winter, but then the weather warmed and she put them away. For days, weeks, months and almost a year.  And when winter returns her boots won’t fit. She’s grown out of them, but now is the time to send them on an adventure of their own.

To someone, somewhere, on the other side of the world.

This is a charming story of a little girl who dreams of adventures, and when her boots no longer fit, she sends them on an adventure too. To a little girl on the other side of the world, who will love them just as much as she did.

Sara Acton’s soft and delightful illustrations add to this story of passing time and passing things on.  The simple addition of a seed being planted, then watered, flowering then dying back to nothing is a great visual of the passing of time.


Recommended for pre-schoolers,  this would be a good book to read before that ‘yearly toy clean out’.  Keeping the notion that someone else, somewhere in the world, will love your boots – or your toys - just as much as you do.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Where are Santa's Pants?

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

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

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

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

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

 
Where are Santa's Pants? by Richard Merrit (Little Hare)
ISBN 978-1-921541-50-6

PB $9.95 RRP

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Augustus and his Smile

Augustus and his Smile by Catherine Rayner (Little Tiger Press — Hardie Grant Egmont)
ISBN 978-1-84506-283-5
PB $14.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Augustus and his Smile is an endearing story about a tiger which goes looking for his smile. Writer and illustrator Catherine Rayner captures the essence of the main character from the very first picture on the cover: the friendly face of a tiger (Augustus) with a blue butterfly on his nose. Open the book and paw prints on an orange background lead you, the reader, to the first page.

The story is a simple but important one. Augustus is sad and travels to different places to cheer himself up. He goes under some bushes, to the top of the trees, to the crests of the mountains, the bottom of the oceans and through the desert. All the while, to the observant reader, his smile is growing. It isn't until he is caught in a shower of rain and sees himself in a puddle, that Augustus notices this, too.

At the back of the book are some tiger facts, including information about the endangered Siberian tigers (the kind of tiger Augustus is). Contact details are included for the World Wildlife Fund, for those interested in helping. This is a lovely book to enjoy reading aloud and has a good message about finding happiness in the world around you.

 UK children's author Catherine Rayner has shown a great talent for drawing animals in her previous books, for example Harris Finds his Feet (about a hare) and Sylvia and Bird (about a dragon). With his wistful face and ready smile, her newest character Augustus is impossible not to become attached to. Preschool children will want to read this book over and over, just to see the tiger's happy face. 

Boy21

Boy21 by Matthew Quick (Headline/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99 EBook $9.99
ISBN: 9781 4722 1290 0
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie
Matthew Quick has embarked on a dark and quirky story set in a poor North American town where drugs, filthy streets, and danger abounds.
Finley's life is no bed of roses. His mother died when he was just a kid and he lives with his Dad and Pop, an invalid with no legs who ever-mourns the loss of Finley's grandmother. He attends Bellmont High and the highlights in his life are basketball and his girlfriend Erin who also attends the school. She is a significant member of the girls' basketball team. Her older brother Rod assumes the role of protector and has a fierce reputation among the white and black residents of the town. The reader quickly gets the impression that it is a place you only live in if you have no choice. Both Finley and Erin have dreams of using their basketball prowess to give them tickets out.
The Coach burdens Finley with the job of companion to recently orphaned Russ, a high-profile high school basketball player from L.A. who copes with his trauma by claiming to be a space alien, Boy21. Finley is given information about Russ which he is not allowed to divulge to anyone. Finley speaks very little in any case, due to his own negative experiences, but he is not happy when he realises Russ plays his starting position in the basketball team. Right now Russ does not want to play basketball and Finley has been tasked to encourage him back into the game. If he is successful, he may have to forfeit his place and number in the team as Russ is also number 21. Surely that is too much to sacrifice.

Boy21 is an insight into lives that are oppressed by shadows of the past and which threaten them still. But it also shows how families battle along together and that some sacrifices are worth it. Quick has tackled a number of emotional and external problems to reveal a deep understanding of the way young people are affected by trauma and how friendship can help turn things around. Finley and Russ's story reflects the concept of keeping on in difficult circumstances and may encourage readers who are also finding life impossible. Boy21 demonstrates that things are never static; at some stage there is a breakthrough, often when you least expect it.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor

Frankie Dupont and the Mystery of Enderby Manor by Julie Anne Grasso, illustrated by David Blackwell and Samantha Yallope (Julieannegrassobooks)
PB RRP $10.00
ISBN 978-0-987372-54-3
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy
  
First impression of this chapter book was that it would be perfect for boys age 7 -10. The cover illustration of our young detective Frankie, in front of a mysterious building, surrounded by ‘clues’, invites the reader to open the cover and investigate for themselves. I was reaching for this book over others in my ‘to read’ pile and I am sure the cover would have a similar effect on kids.

Julie Anne Grasso’s story of young Frankie and his search for his missing cousin Kat has many twists and turns, the ending is of course satisfying, but not at all expected. The setting for the story, Enderby Manor, is a strange building filled with strange characters and bumbling Inspector Cluesome whom I assume will be a consistent character in future Frankie Dupont stories. The story is written in a way that children will relate to. The lyricism in the text will sound wonderful to a read-a-loud ear and will capture a confident reader’s imagination.

Julie’s writing is flavoured with recognisable smells, sounds and sights and is a delight to read. “Frankie took a bite and his whole mouth tingled with delight as though his taste buds were giving a round of applause.”

The layout of the book is clean and easy to follow. The illustrations are a big part of the book and keep the story flowing nicely giving affirmation to the younger reader who may be a little unsure. Each black and white illustration is strong and appears to be full of life and colour.

Young readers will enjoy this book and I very much enjoyed this book. I look forward to reading more by this author.
  
Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of The Bear Said Please picture book and the series ‘That’s not a …” learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.




Sunday, 19 October 2014


The Healthy Harvest by Emma Martin, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $14.95

ISBN: 9781925117431

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

 

I’d have said it was Mission: Impossible.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A fresh, zesty look complements a simple storyline.

 

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

 

Graeme Compton’s graphics enhance

A fun but firmly factual foray

Into the five food types we need each day.  

 

The Healthy Harvest by Emma Martin, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $14.95

ISBN: 9781925117431

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

 

I’d have said it was Mission: Impossible.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A fresh, zesty look complements a simple storyline.

 

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

 

Graeme Compton’s graphics enhance

A fun but firmly factual foray

Into the five food types we need each day.  

 

Karana: The Story of Father Emu


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

Karana is the tale of a father emu hatching and raising his chicks. This Indigenous story is told by Uncle Joe Kirk, a Wakka Wakka elder, and the emu holds much significance in the Wakka Wakka culture. He symbolises the father figure who nurtures the whole family.

Each page is filled with soft illustrations, expressing the togetherness of the emu family and the simplicity of life lessons while rhyming couplets create an engaging and lively story.

    Up she jumped and wandered away,

    While Karana sat on those eggs for thirty-two days.

    He sat there alone in the rain and the heat,

    With no water to drink and no food to eat.

So many facts about emu’s and chicks are imparted throughout the story as Karana teaches his chicks about when the waterhole is safest, where the best protection is, what foods to eat and how to swallow stones to help with their digestion.

Children will relate to learning about life through the care and teachings of families and the overriding message is of love and the father/children bond.

    ‘These are my chicks. I love them a lot...

    I will stay with them NO MATTER WHAT!’

This gentle story about love, families and the cyclical nature of life is strongly Australian in narrative and illustrations. It is a lovely read aloud book for the very young.

 

 

The Story of World War One

The Story of World War One by Richard Brassey (Orion/Hachette)
PB RRP $12.99
EBook $12.99
ISBN 9781444010855
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Richard Brassey's explanation of World War I is an entertaining and informative picture book children will find captivating. The heartbreak of slaughter has been omitted in his colourful and precise illustrations but there is plenty of action and insight to glean. He uses topics throughout the book, e.g., The Home Front and the Role of Women, and Weapons and War Machines, and the text is supported by maps and cartoon-style strips together with fact boxes. I found the Trench Warfare double spread showing a section of trench layout and why it was constructed that way absolutely fascinating. Information about trench foot, shellshock and even the trench coat which later became a popular item of clothing were among the other interesting snippets included in this section.
There is a naivety in Brassey's drawings which reflects the innocence of the times. Never again in war would opposite sides down tools to play footie together in no-man's land on Christmas Day as they did in 1914. The text gives a concise, easy to understand explanation of the events leading up to, during, and the ending of the Great War, and reflects the courage, resilience and decisions, often unwise, of those involved. His side facts which include why the poppy is worn on Remembrance Day give a wonderful balance to the more sobering events. The prediction that only one in ten English girls would marry because of so many young men being killed thankfully did not become a reality.

The Story of World War One is a timely release to co-incide with the centenary of the opening year of the event. My impression is that children will have a much better grasp on this period in history, and appreciate the significance and sacrifice of those who fought for freedom because of the skill and creative talent of the author. 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Elephants Have Wings

Elephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Ford Street Publishing)
HB RRP $26.95
HB ISBN 978-1925000399
PB RRP $16.95
PB ISBN 978-1925000405
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

When writer Susanne Gervay and illustrator Anna Pignataro teamed up a couple of years ago to deliver the impeccable book Ships in the Field it was evident that their union was destined to bring deep thought on important topics to the picture book world. Their latest offering, Elephants Have Wing, cements them as a powerhouse duo, bringing something different to the page.

Elephants Have Wings, is a beautiful tale rich with the tapestries of ancient storytelling, spirituality and mythology. Placed in the Asian-Indian region, the book starts with two children asking their father to tell them the story – their grandfather’s story. The father commences, telling the wide-eyed children how their grandfather sent him and the other children out one night to look for “the secret”. All of the children saw different things and argued about who is right and who is wrong, until the grandfather came out and circled his light through the night, revealing a majestic elephant and showing that all the children were right but wrong at the same time.

The two children ask their father to tell them what their grandfather’s secret was, but he tells them that they must discover it themselves. The children spur each other on, willing on the vision of the elephant, who takes them on a journey through the air, over the wilderness, red desserts and snowy peaks, and through the sparkling stars to another place, high and faster and farther away. Bringing them home, only when the children have learnt their grandfather’s secret: “Everyone is different, but we’re the same, too. The elephant is in all of us.”

In many ways, this is a complicated picture book that explores rather esoteric themes, often difficult to articulate. What Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro do so well together, is bring these themes to life in a magical way that taps into children’s natural ability and openness to journey through the terrain of social inclusion, spirituality, unity, empathy and understanding. With roots in the ancient story of the blind men and the elephant, Elephants Have Wings is a wildly imaginative tale that is multifaceted. While younger children can lose themselves in the imaginative and magic journey of the children riding on the back of the elephant, older children can lose themselves in the mythology and modern importance of this tale.

And like Ships in the Field, Susanne has penned effortlessly poetic words that take us right through the sparkly stars with the children and Anne’s illustrations perfectly compliment this poeticism with pages of expressionistic watercolours and collages, whimsical in tone, that capture the peace, serenity and ethereal nature of this book.

A must read for those with a thirst for something different, unique and beautiful.


Friday, 17 October 2014

Poppy Cat

Poppy Cat by Sara Acton (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-016-8
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Poppy is a playful cat, a copy-cat, and this is just perfect for her young owner. She and her little girl spend the day doing things together but sometimes Poppy can be a little mischievous.
I love Sara Acton's picture books and this one is no exception. The companionship between the girl and cat are brought out wonderfully in the simplicity of the story, the gorgeous illustrations and the way the words roll off the tongue. 'Poppy is a copy cat. She follows me wherever I go.'
This would make a lovely bedtime story with it’s gentle nature and lovely rhythm. Also with the way the story 'holds' the day - beginning with the girl and cat rising to dress and ending with a calm cuddle; the little girl’s pink spotted pyjama's making lovely bookends to the story.
Acton's illustrations are painted and messy, giving a sense of movement and fun, but with gentle colours, not hectic. She doesn't fill the page with colour, but let's her pictures wander to any part of the page. A cheeky feather in the corner of a page teasing Poppy, or the delightful picture of a small cat followed by little blue paw prints after an incident with paint. This is a picture book where words and pictures come together to create the story a child experiences.
I think young children will respond to this book immediately, with affection and the intimacy that comes from relating to, and living in, a story.

A beautiful book for toddlers and up.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

I Don’t Want To Eat My Dinner

I Don’t Want To Eat My Dinner written and illustrated by David Cornish (Harper Collins)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780732298746
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

David (D M) Cornish is already known as the author of the ‘Monster Blood Tattoo’ series and I Don’t Want To Eat My Dinner is his first picture book. Also illustrated by the author, it is the story of Rollo who finds eating a bore. He would much rather be kicking a ball, playing with his dog or trucks.

The story and illustrations begin predictably, however, once Rollo starts to chew something changes in the illustrations and in Rollo. Tasting something hot, Rollo’s tongue bursts into flames and a tomato fire truck arrives to douse the raging fire. Although Rollo still proclaims he doesn’t want to eat his dinner, his imagination begins to take hold and he is transformed into a diplodocus, ready to eat a forest of trees which in reality are pieces of broccoli.As dinner and the book progess, we see Rollo’s shouting subside – the text becomes smaller as Rollo’s imagination continues to help him clean his plate until it’s time for dessert.

Simple text and brightly captivating illustrations will make this book a welcome addition in overcoming difficult mealtimes. It has the added advantage of inspiring the imagination of young children as they conjure alternatives for the food on their plates.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The House of Puzzles

The House of Puzzles by Richard Newsome (Text Publishing)
PB RRP   $16.99
ISBN   9781922147301
Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald www.wendyfitzgerald.com.au


What would you do if your great aunt suddenly died in London and left her 30 billion dollars to you? Just imagine – it all was to go to you. Surely that much money would shield you from any world problems: right? Wrong.  


But this is exactly what happened to Newsome’s main character, twelve year old Gerald Wilkins in The Billionaire’s Curse. Gerald should not have had any worries for the rest of his life.  However there is a catch- Gerald’s Aunt Gertrude also left a secret letter that instructed Gerald to find her killer and see to it they were punished. One other problem- whoever killed Aunt Gertrude is now chasing Gerald.


The Billionaire’s Curse is the first book in Newsome’s Billionaire Series. It won the inaugural Text Prize for YA and children’s writing in 2008. I very much enjoyed the quirky characters and the action-packed plot.  


 In August 2014 The House of Puzzles was launched. This is the fifth book in Newsome’s very popular Billionaire series. Once again I was swept up in the twists and turns of this fast mystery thriller.  


In The House of Puzzles we are led from the Louvre in Paris to a school camp in the frosty Scottish Highlands and finally on to the Billionaire’s Club ‘House of Puzzles’ in New York. At the school camp in Scotland we reunite with Gerald and his friends Ruby Valentine, Sam Valentine and Felicity Upham.  Straight away they are thrown into an intriguing string of dangerous situations and mysterious puzzles. 


Will these four friends be able to complete the challenges of the Triple Crown? Can Alex Baranov charm Ruby? Will Sam crack the bizarre code of the Voynich manuscript? Who can save Professor McElderry from the evil Sir Mason Green? Will Gerald and Alex survive a night together inside the Billionaire’s Club House of Puzzles in New York? Will anyone find the infamous perpetual motion machine? Why do so many people want it? And exactly what does the stolen painting- Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People have to do with any of this? These are some of the questions that kept me reading this book to the end.


I recommend The House of Puzzles to kids 10+ who like thrilling fast-paced plot-driven stories packed with adventure, intrigue and mystery. The other books in this series are The Billionaire’s Curse, The Emerald Casket, The Mask of Destiny and the Crystal Code.