Saturday, 28 February 2015

Ella and Olivia: Beach Holiday

Ella and Olivia: Beach Holiday by Yvette Poshoglian, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-054-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Sisters Ella and Olivia are going to stay at their grandparents’ beach house. Ella is excited; she is seven years old and is looking forward to the holiday. Olivia is not quite as sure. She is five-and-a-half and has only ever stayed away from home for one night before.  But she loves her grandmother and grandfather and she will have Ella and baby brother Max with her. So she bravely waves goodbye to Mum and Dad and Bob, the puppy, and they leave for their adventure in grandparents’ kombi.
Ella and Olivia is a lovely series for 5-7 year olds. Beach Holiday is a delightful story about adventures on the beach. There are good messages for young girls throughout and Olivia's nervousness about being away from home is acknowledged, but not made into a big deal.
The relationship between the sisters and the rest of the family is lovely. When Ella takes her sister’s hand in the ocean, 'Olivia forgets how cold she is and how much she already misses Mum and Dad.'
Ella and Olivia books are gentle stories about everyday life. There’s plenty for young girls to relate to, and the book contains just enough adventure to keep readers involved. The line drawings which illustrate every page make this an attractive book and add to the appeal for beginner readers.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Brumbies in the Mountains

Brumbies in the Mountains by Paula Boer Illus. Rowena Evans (IFWG Publishing)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781925148596
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

In the fifth book in the Brumbies series, Paula Boer brings her gripping story of teenagers Ben Naylor and Louise Hardy and their love of horses, their adventures and challenges to its conclusion. Once again the brumbies are in danger - this time from aerial culling by shooting them on the run.

The story opens with Shadow giving birth to a filly sired by Ben's brumby stallion, Brandy, caught two years ago when the friends were determined to save at least some brumbies from being caught and turned into pet food. Ben has dreams for the future, one of them is building his own stud, and with the arrival of the little palomino filly, Peach, the first step has been taken.

On the first day of the Christmas holidays, Ben and Louise set out for a ride and discover first-hand the devastating results of shooting horses from the air. A dead mare lies covered in flies attracted by the blood of a shoulder wound. Nearby is a foal attacked by ticks and thus too weak to stand. With great effort the friends drape the small filly over Louise's mount, Jake, and then Louise rides ahead on Snip to leave a note for Harry the hermit to come to the farm and give them his expert advice. The incident also needs to be reported to the ranger and hopefully will influence a stop to the aerial culling. Ben's worry that his Dad's health will mean selling the farm and living in town has been pushed aside for the moment. Ben's problems often consume him and Louise bears the brunt of his testy nature. But she understands what pressure he is under, and her readiness to overlook his unkind moments when her own future is uncertain invites the empathy of the reader.

Once again the author's love and experience of horses and knowledge of the Australian bush landscape provides an authentic touch to wrap up her absorbing series. Children who may not have read the previous books will have no difficulty in enjoying Brumbies in the Mountains. The characters of Ben and Louise are fully rounded and the reader engages easily with both.

My impression is that the author's ability to maintain tension and interest which has always been effective, has increased in this concluding book. Solutions to both Louise's and Ben's problems are credibly and smoothly executed. Ben's plight weighs on the reader's heart right to the last chapter, and the final outcome will please and satisfy.

Rowena Evan's black and white illustrations are simple but very effective and I was thrilled to learn what a black sallee was from the helpful glossary. I had often wondered on the drive from the coast to Canberra what a street name, Black Sallee, meant. For those interested, it is a type of eucalyptus tree.

The Brumbies series will stay a long time in the memories of its readers and will provide a valuable source of information for young horse lovers to refer to in the future.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Emily’s Tiara Trouble: The Anti-Princess Club

Emily’s Tiara Trouble: The Anti-Princess Club by Samantha Turnbull, illustrated by Sarah Davies (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $9.99
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is not a typical book from Allen and Unwin as it is pitched more for the mass market and not likely to win literary awards. As its series title The Anti-Princess Club explains, Turnbull’s stories are pitched at girls aged 7 to 9 years in an attempt to help create a new generation of feminists -- a worthy endeavour!

Each of the stories is narrated by ten-year-old Emily Martin who writes about the ordinary adventures of herself and her three friends, Bella, Grace and Chloe.  Unlike the sort of girls their parents seem bent on raising, these girls are not interested in being ‘princesses’ but are more interested in geology, mathematics, science and athletics. Each of them has current and future life ambitions. Emily, for instance, wants to enter the district athletics’ carnival but her beautician mother instead forces her instead to do ballet.

The girls take their problems to the only adult prepared to listen – Chloe’s grand-mother. When they need to raise money for their endeavours, Yiayia suggested they make and sell baklava – which they do. They also form the Anti-Princess Club and (with some family help) build a (pink) tree house headquarters. Thanks to Yiayia’s intervention, Chloe’s problem (of not wanting to work in the family restaurant but to be an accomplished scientist) is solved. Grace’s athletic success turns her parents around. Then Emily’s mother enters her (and her younger sister) in a beauty pageant. At the last minute Emily rebels, wiping off all the make-up Mum has caked on her face; on stage she also makes a feminist speech against fairytales. Remarkably she incites the audience to chant ‘no more princesses!”

Oh that a child’s problems could be so easily solved! The motives behind this story are admirable, but the plot and the characters seem contrived to suit the author’s intentions. The writing is easy to read and the book is likely to be enjoyed by the average girl reader.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The Umbrella

The Umbrella by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert (Book Island)
HB RRP NZ$26.99
ISBN 9780994109859
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Book Island which published this wordless picture book is a New Zealand-based publishing house with a bold dream of enriching children's and adults' lives in the English- and Dutch-language market. It does this by bringing unique stories from Europe to New Zealand, and then designs (and sometimes translates) and prints beautiful high-quality books.  Buzz Words has previously reviewed three books from Book Island and found all of these books to be of a high standard.
The front fly pages shows a small black dog watched by a cat as it discovers a red umbrella on a windy, autumn day. When the dog opens up the umbrella on the title page, he is pulled along and then (turning the page) he is whirled up into the leaf-filled air, a farm house (and the cat) far below. 

The rest of the story shows the dog high above clouds, flying above the savannah (and watched by African animals), into a desert, across a turbulent sea (the umbrella  as his boat) and into a jungle. Along the way he encounters danger – a half-circle of alligators, sea creatures (including a mammoth whale) and a village of natives who hurl spears at him. Luckily, the dog is rescued by a pelican which deposits him in a polar region. The journey continues as the dog passes seals, polar bears and a sky full of bats.

Eventually the dog and his umbrella are returned to whence they came. There the cat is still waiting; in the final fly page the dog is shuffling off, leaving the umbrella for the cat to find (and perhaps to have its own adventure).

As with all good picture books for young ‘readers’, there is plenty to see and talk about in this book, especially if a parent or other carer is sharing the book. At the end, the question might be ‘where will the cat and umbrella go next?’ The illustrations are colourful and accomplished with lots of energy and details for poring over. Many of the views are taken from above the land, looking down at the landscape (rivers, jungle, ocean and so forth). A wordless book like this allows much scope for a child to invent story and to use his imagination to extend the visual text. This book would likely appeal to children aged one to three years of age.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Seeds of Friendship

The Seeds of Friendship by Michael Forman (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406356502
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This stunning book with its clever use of serene shades of blue, tells the story of change and adjustment from a child’s view. It also reflects on the importance of community activity, and how colour and creating gardens can have a marked influence on people’s lives.

Adam has moved from a suburban home to a high rise apartment in the city. The stories his parents tell him each night are what connect him to his old life. He draws and hangs pictures on the walls of the animals that were part of that life.

Grey buildings and grey cement playgrounds are what he sees from his window. The children at play are the only colour to be seen.

Shy and new, he creates animal images on the frosted glass above the inner staircases and sees snow for the first time. The grey becomes white.

The apartment children build a snowman and Adam finds the courage to join them. He builds a snow elephant. The children join in. They unite to create a zoo of snow animals and new friendships are formed.

Adam’s first day at school is the birth of a grand beginning. Seeds are sown - not only of friendship, but of the living kind. Gardens and green growth areas begin to expand across the grey, and colour fills the surroundings in a previously overcast world.

Strong messages for children and adults are found in this layered story of change and adjustment, creation and friendship, and how ‘from little things, big things grow.’ Superbly illustrated by the author for the 5+ age group, the emotive artwork tells a story of its own. This book is a journey of discovery. With themes hidden everywhere, it’s a wonderful book to be shared by child and older person.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Nobody’s Perfect

Nobody’s Perfect by David Elliott, illustrated by Sam Zuppardi (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406359442
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The boy knows that he’s not perfect without being told. All the people in his world have imperfections. His friend Jack, the dog that sleeps on his bed and his loud little sister all have imperfections. So has his mum who has made him sit on the naughty step.

But the perfectness of their imperfection is what makes life interesting, exciting, challenging and fun. That ‘messy, loud, stubborn and show-off’ is imperfection, well – nobody is perfect!

This delightful book is a celebration of life and its imperfections. Filled with colour, movement and a strong message about being individual and free especially during childhood, this is ideal for the 3+ age group. It can be shared between adult and child or any other combination of readers.

It has an eye-catching cover which reflects the contents of the book perfectly. The illustrations are childlike, expressive, and joyous, with watercolour and pencil art that children can immediately relate to. The double-page spreads are priceless, for they portray most children’s rooms, before and after a clean-up.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Elizabeth Rose on Parade

Elizabeth Rose on Parade by Jaquelyn Muller, illustrated by Kathryn Zammit (Jaquelyn Muller Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780646921266
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Following I Love You 5 Lollipops, Elizabeth Rose and her extraordinary and talented family are back again with more circus entertainment on parade. The delicate watercolour illustrations, superb cover and end pages by Kathryn Zammit, add to the elegance that is this ensemble’s trademark. There are also additional exciting and daring performers introduced to readers.

In clever rhyming verse we are introduced to the talents of the clown, dog, showgirl, strongman, stilt walker, and the hoop-throwing Gypsy. But none of those, or the elephants, cannon man, lion, high walker, fire blower or the acrobats can ‘excite or amaze like Elizabeth Rose.’ She is the star that shines around and above all the other circus performers, regardless of their abilities.

This delicious publication is as soft as fairy floss, as gentle as love, and as refreshing as a cool icy-pole on a hot day. Delightfully presented, it promises to be the main feature on any young girl’s book case due to its attractive and sparkling characters. It is an ideal book to be shared and examined together with an adult at bedtime, for the 6 months to 6 year age group.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Tortoise and the Hair

Tortoise and the Hair by P. Crumble, illustrated by Louis Shea (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-528-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Tortoise is ready for his big day. He is going to play guitar on the big stage, in front of everyone. He is very excited about it until he discovers that his favourite wig is missing. Will he be able to perform without it?

This picture book is the story of the journey made by Tortoise's hair, a twist on the classic Hare and Tortoise tale which children know so well. The wig makes its way from bear, to zebra, to monkey and several other animals before being spotted by Hare, who then tries to get it to his friend Tortoise in time for the performance.

'He ran from the cafe clutching the hair,
“Tortoise will need it, I’ll get it there.''’

Is Hare fast enough to save the day? And does Tortoise really need saving in the end?

Shea's illustrations are fabulous, vibrant and luminescent with glowing colours which seem to leap off the page. I love the detail and character he draws into animals - the hippo with her mudpack, Bird at sunrise in her hair roller and Tortoise's sparkly leg-warmers.

I found the rhythm a little awkward and not easy to read aloud, but after a few reads this smooths out. Children will engage in the progression the wig makes from animal to animal and the ending, both in the text and illustrations, is great.

Tortoise and the Hair is a fun and playful book. Young children will enjoy the story and older ones will delight in discovering all the detail of the pictures.

Friday, 20 February 2015

The Invisible Tree: Peace

The Invisible Tree: Peace by Kirrily Lowe, illustrated by Henry Smith (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $18.99
ISBN 9781-925139-143
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Polly has found herself in the middle of a storm.  Coming to her aid is a prince called Peace.  He stays with her, keeping her calm and safe until the storm passes.  Polly learns the importance of finding peace within herself – that it will not only help her through chaotic, scary times but allow her to help others.

Peace is the third book in The Invisible Tree series written by pastor Kirrily Lowe.  Each themed book aims to encourage personal attributes in young children; this edition focusing, as the title suggests, on finding inner peace when faced with difficult and stormy situations. 

The story is told in rhyme and is easy to read, making it a great read-aloud book for pre-schoolers or early primary children.  The concept of the series has been based on a biblical scripture however the overall tone of the book is not particularly religious.  Although there is one reference to God, the book is written in such a way as to make it accessible to all children.  The personal attribute of Peace is personified and appears as a young prince, coming in to save Polly from panic. 
As with the previous books, Henry Smith has created the illustrations for Peace and they are lovely.  Throughout the book, he has combined hand-drawn pictures with collages of newspaper, writing or wrapping paper – creating a visual texture on every page.  The collage theme also extends to the presentation of the text with seemingly random words being presented as if cut from a newspaper or magazine.

Kirrily Lowe is a mum to three boys and a pastor together with her husband Tim at the C3 Church City Campus in Darlinghurst, Sydney. She is passionate about filling young lives with great values in a fun way.  The Invisible Tree is her first series of books.  Subsequent books planned are: Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control.  She can be found online at:

Henry Smith is a graphic designer and film maker from the production company Taste Media.  His work ranges from handcrafted claymation films to drawings and designs. All of the illustrations in The Invisible Tree series were created from recycled & hand-made papers.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Possum Games

Possum Games by Michelle Worthington, illustrated by Sandra Temple (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-925139-13-6
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Late at night on a rusty tin roof, just near an old mango tree, the possums compete in games of skill.  Riley has always wanted to join in, but he is not a fast runner, a high jumper or a strong thrower.  Until one particular noisy Possum Games night, Riley discovers he has some amazing skills after all.

Possum Games is a lovely book about finding your talents and a gaining sense of self.  It is told from the perspective of Riley who just cannot keep up or compete with his other possum friends.  He is slow and clumsy and often left out by the other possums.  It’s only when the humans start throwing green mangoes at the noisy group of possums that Riley learns that he can do something well; he can dodge.  Not only is he good at it, he’s better than anyone else!

This book demonstrates a situation that most children (and adults) can relate to: feeling inferior to those around you.  Despite his best efforts, Riley just isn’t as good as his friends.  It lowers his self-esteem and causes him to remove himself from the games being played.  When, by chance, he discovers he does have a talent, he not only finds the respect and admiration of the other possums but, more importantly, of himself.

Sandra Temple’s illustrations are fun and lively.  The possums have lots of personality and present as a great blend of cartoon and realism.  With possums throwing, jumping and skidding down rooves, there’s plenty of action from page to page.

Michelle Worthington was born in Brisbane and currently works and lives in the Redlands.  Winner of the 1988 Little Swaggie Award and other Australian poetry competitions, she has been published in numbers local and international poetry anthologies.  She has written several books for children including The Pink Pirate, Each The Same and Yellow Dress Day.  She can be found online at

Sandra Temple has been a professional artist, illustrator and author for more than thirty years.  The winner of many prestigious awards, she has paintings in private, corporate and government collections nationally and internationally.  She can be found online at

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

My Gallipoli

My Gallipoli by Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $29.99
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a timely picture book for older readers with the centenary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli Peninsula this April. The first page after the title page shows a map to indicate where Anzac Cove is located, with a magnified section that takes in places such as No Man’s Land, Lone Pine and Wire Gully. The narrative comes from the viewpoints of men (and women) involved in the battle.

To start the story, shepherd, Adil Sakin, whose village is north-east of Anzac Cove, speaks from Anzac Cove in November 1914 where he says army men came to his village speaking about the Great War. Adil announces his intention of fighting for the peninsular which has belonged to his family for hundreds of years. Then the story moves to 25 April 1915 where Midshipman Peter Burch RN is waiting in a boat to be landed on Anzac Cove. Burch tells how shooting started even before soldiers reached shore and how many died.

As the story progresses, other characters embroiled in the battle speak of their personal involvement. There’s a private from the Turkish army, a nursing sister on a hospital ship, a Ghurkha from Nepal (fighting in the British Army), an Australia chaplain, a New Zealand Private, and so on. One of the best-known narrators is Australia’s official war correspondent, C.E.W. Bean. Everyone who speaks, tells of the war from his or her perspective. The narrators speak from places such as Suvla Bay, Cape Helles and No Man’s Land. Each entry is prefaced by the place and the date. Towards the end of the battle we see a crippled soldier in Melbourne, a lieutenant charged with identifying and reburying remains of Allied soldiers, several cemetery scenes and Australia’s war artist, George Lambert, at work in Anzac Cove. There is no sense of victory, as there never ought to be with any war.

Without doubt a great deal of commendable research has gone into covering all of the various aspects of the battle which is unveiled with each narrator. There are also three end pages of notes with commentaries and illustrations of those real-life characters that appear in the story, and of geographical landmarks, etc. In addition, there is a bibliography, which includes another Working Title Press title by author Ruth Starke (An Anzac Tale, 2013).

The illustrations use charcoal sketches and watercolour depicting those aspects which are highlighted in the narrative, such as a nurse tending a soldier by lamp-light, men digging graves, soldiers exhausted in the trenches, men on furlong. It’s a real-life, comprehensive view of those hard, bloody days.

What I most like about this book is its interesting and well-written multi-narrative viewpoints; this is not just about Australia’s role in the battle, but an overall view. What I didn’t particularly like in this otherwise handsome production was the smallish typeface. For sure there is a lot of text employed, but for some readers aged 9 to 12 years, the font size might be too small. 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Half a Creature From the Sea: A Life in Stories

Half a Creature From the Sea: A Life in Stories by David Almond, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781406354348
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In this magnificent collection, part autobiographical and partly created from life experiences, David Almond is at his stunning best. He plaits his life and background into stories inspired by what he believes in, regrets doing, and people and places that indelibly stamped themselves into his psyche during his strict Catholic childhood. In pure poetic prose, he draws the reader into fantasy and ghostly areas with a flair that only a polished and gifted writer can do.

The eight stories are pieces of things he knows intimately. ‘My mother says that all things can be turned into tales.’ He is a true example of writing what you know and turning it into perfect prose.

The emotive themes are thought-provoking and brilliant in their presentation. They are hope, faith and its challenges, the disturbing brutality of bullying, how easily young people succumb to peer-pressure and do bad things against their nature, being different, and standing up for what you believe. All these bring together a string of unforgettable reads.

Although ideal for readers of all ages, this exceptional acquisition for any bookcase is directed at the 11+ years’ age group. 

Monday, 16 February 2015

Thelma the Unicorn

Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-580-4
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Thelma the pony and her friend Otis the donkey live contentedly in a field. Well, Otis is content. Thelma wants to be different... She would very much like to be a unicorn.  But, becoming a unicorn and being famous do not turn out exactly as Thelma has imagined. Maybe she would be happier as her old self again?

The rhythm and rhyme is pleasant - without lines which sound forced - and rolls off the tongue easily. The text is clear and straight-forward with pure even rhyme, perfectly suited for the pre-schoolers who will enjoy this book.

'And that was when she saw it.
A carrot on the ground.
It gave her such a great idea,
She squealed and jumped around.'

The illustrations are delightful and full of colour.  In one, Thelma flicks through a magazine in a sun-lounger on the deck of a yacht called 'The Fairy Princess'.   In another, she’s hounded by paparazzi and fans.

This fun story about finding out what really matters in life will appeal to young girls – especially with its unicorn, its pink and glitter, and its fantasy of fame.

Aaron Blabey wrote one of my favourite picture books of last year, Pig the Pug, and Thelma the Unicorn carries a smilar humour and likeable characters.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Motive Games 2: Death Down Under

Motive Games 2: Death Down Under by LD Taylor (Rhiza Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-925139-18-1 
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

In Canada, Phil Roland is a hero. He saved his dad’s company, Motive Games; solved his dad’s murder; and exposed a Mafia ring.  However, he soon finds things spinning out of control while attending the E3 East gaming show in Auckland.  It was supposed to be the big break for Motive Games.  Instead he is the focus of unwanted media attention, hackers and threats of ruination from Australian mega-distributor PFG.  It’s when a PFG executive turns up dead that Phil finds himself in the middle of a mystery that may mean the end of Motive Games and all his dreams

Motive Games 2: Death Down Under is the stand-alone sequel to Motive Games from Canadian author LD Taylor.  Having not read the first book, I was concerned that I would feel at a disadvantage.  This was certainly not the case.  There are enough references to the events of the first book to ensure that the reader feels like they are reading a self-contained story.

This is an action-packed, murder-mystery set within the world of computer gaming.  There is a good pace maintained throughout without too much violence.  There is only the barest hint of romance; certainly a book geared towards teenaged boys rather than girls.  There are also plenty of references to servers, hackers and online games for those technology or gaming inclined readers.

The lead character, Phil, can probably best be described as a whiz-kid.  He is also a teen that, by virtue of his experiences in the first book, has had to grow up fast.  He is loyal, intelligent and resourceful.  He is aided by his best friend Oliver and a quirky, ex-detective called Turpin.  Together they are a determined team that will not rest until the truth is uncovered.  They are not modern James Bond figures though – indestructible and all-conquering.  They are afflicted by their own fears, physical ailments and emotional baggage; and they work to overcome these as they endeavour to protect their friends and the future of Motive Games.

Above all, I enjoyed the minor characters.  There is a wide range of personalities and eccentricities that not only provide variety to the story but also help to bring out the humour, emotion and tension throughout the book.

Overall, I found this easy to read and very enjoyable.  It reminded me somewhat of the Conspiracy 365 books, but for an older reader, and would suit any teen who enjoys that style of storytelling.

LD Taylor began her career as a marketing writer for the 3D graphics and animation software industry.  Before her family’s immigration to New Zealand, she decided to spearhead a family project that would combine her teenage sons’ interests in video games with her own in mystery novels.  The result was Motive Games which won her the Caleb Prize in the Young Adult category. Motive Games 2: Death Down Under is her second book.  She can be found online at:

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Magpie learns a Lesson

Magpie learns a Lesson by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Tania Erzinger (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-059-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Magpie and Brown Falcon are friends. Brown Falcon loves Magpie's singing, but secretly Magpie is jealous of Brown Falcon's flying abilities. This jealousy makes Magpie so cross that he decides to play mean tricks on his friend. Brown Falcon puts up with these tricks for a while until Magpie goes too far.  How will Magpie feel when he loses his friend?
This is a simple story about jealousy and friendship, told with lovely Australian flavour. The illustrator, Tania Erzinger, has depicted the animals and bush of this country beautifully. The painted pages capture the browns, greens and blues of the Australian bush wonderfully.
The word count in this book makes it more suitable for primary aged children than pre-schoolers. The concepts also, of envy, teasing and loyalty, are well suited to those beginning to navigate the school playground.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Violet Mackerel’s Formal Occasion

Violet Mackerel’s Formal Occasion by Anna Branford, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 19.95
ISBN 9781925081091
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

My favourite girl character Violet Mackerel is back again. I adore the delightful interpretation of Anna Branford’s work by Sarah Davis. She is so familiar with every aspect of each character’s personality that there’s not an emotion that she can’t portray perfectly. I know these character’s intimately, the illustrations boast.

Best friends Violet and Rose are at the park twig-digging. Rose finds something and brushes the dirt away like archaeologists do. It’s a locket. Nicola, Violet’s sister, experienced at jewellery making, gives her expert opinion on how to clean it. The girls decide to share the locket, but are preoccupied with the original owner and their loss.

Rose’s grandparents are visiting from overseas and plan to take the girls out for morning tea somewhere special. It is a formal occasion so they must dress up in their best clothes and comb their hair in a special braid to look elegant.

Violet still worries about the owner of the locket and their feelings of loss. Rose’s grandparents relate a story about a ring they lost years ago while young. They all discuss theories on things lost and found. They imagine who could have found the ring. Perhaps it had been someone who couldn’t afford one and needed it for their loved one? Possibilities are suggested. The girls decide to prepare a letter and bury it where the locket was found in case someone returns to search for it.

When mum’s basket of knitted things gets lost after she rests it on a seat for a moment, the theory of losing small things comes into play again. Violet and Rose find lots of ways to cheer mum up with their thoughtful and creative gifts, stories and theories on who may have found the knitted things, and what they could have been used for. They prepare a delightful formal occasion for mum as well, which proves to be the icing on the cake.

This perfectly crafted story has thought-provoking themes. Apart from the priceless value of family and friends, it has amazing alternate and almost profound ways of looking at things that get lost by reversing them to think about the finders of lost things. Ideal for the 5+ age group but also enjoyed by many adult fans as well.

I love the way new and unusual words are highlighted in bold and varying text to accentuate their individuality and newness. This encourages young readers to use their dictionaries or question the meaning of the words.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Possum's Big Surprise

Possum's Big Surprise by Colin Buchanan and Nina Rycroft (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-742839271
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Flossy the Possum is trying to get home as fast as she can. But other bush creatures keep surprising her along the way. Undeterred, Flossy keeps going until she reaches home, where the biggest surprise of all is waiting for her.

Possum's Big Surprise is uplifting and fun. The text is constructed to create a wonderful build up to the big surprise at the end and has a rollicking rhythm which just begs to be read aloud.

'Off in a flash and a tumble of grey,
Flossy the Possum was up and away!
She dashed past the wattle, golden and green,
Flossy the Possum ran nimble and keen.'

The illustrations have a sense of movement which echoes the rhyme; the pictures and words working beautifully together to bring the story to the reader. The artist has created lovely Aussie animal characters and an observant reader will notice clues along the way to the end surprise.

Young children will take great delight in the 'eye spy' element of this book. The repetitive nature of the story, along with the rhythm and illustrations will keep them coming back again and again. 

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

One Rule for Jack

One Rule for Jack by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Craig Smith (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-033-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

If there is one thing Jack hates more than showers, it’s the jobs Mum gives him on Saturday mornings. They always need to be finished before he is allowed to go hang out with his mate Thommo. Jack knows how to get out of chores. It’s just that somehow all his efforts seem to be backfiring.
And then Dad gives him the worst job of all. Surely his plan cannot fail here.
Australian indigenous culture is quietly but firmly present in this story.  Yet the book transcends race.  This is a story every young boy, or girl, will easily relate to. Who wants to be sweeping the patio or washing the dog when their mate is waiting on a sunny Saturday morning?
One Rule for Jack is a gentle, funny, tale. There is a lovely family atmosphere - with Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle Joe living next door. And the lesson Jack learns comes across naturally without being preachy or moralising.
Jack is an engaging narrator, giving tips to the reader throughout. 'Okay - here's a pro tip. Inside jobs are the hardest. One parent is usually hanging around. If you're not careful they can catch you out.'
The cheeky sense of fun is carried in the illustrations as well. The look on Jack's face as he manoeuvres a plunger into the toilet is priceless. And the way his mother and grandmother gather around to help him solve his problems reinforces the closeness of the family.
Smith's soft black and white pictures illustrate each page of the book and help to create an easy and enjoyable story for beginner readers. The short chapters, large font and straight-forward words and sentences make this an accessible story for young primary aged children, while the humour and storyline speaks to every child.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

My Family: Going Fishing

My Family: Going Fishing by Robyn Osborne, illustrated by Colin Stevens (Big Sky Publishing)
PB RRP $15.25
ISBN 9781922132567
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is the second picture book in the My Family series wherein a conventional family has a series of adventures. Last time it was camping, this time it is taking to sea in a boat for a fishing expedition. Dad is now the family motivator with four family members – Mum, Morgan, Condon and Nikky – reluctant to take up her latest idea of family ‘fun,’ all offering excuses. Twin brother Morgan seems to have the most valid excuse – seasickness. But Dad prevails and soon the family is trapped in a small red speedboat boat (all wearing life-vests) with things going overboard (like Morgan’s breakfast!) There’s even Nikky’s dog onboard – for a while.

As with the first book, most of the family members experience some kind of small disaster. Dad continues with his tally-ho attitude and soon things (not necessarily fish) are being caught.
The typeface of this paperback is large and easy to read but from time to time words are printed in bold. Not sure why as this doesn’t serve the book in any way. The illustrations are brightly coloured and there’s a nice sense of movement in a double-paged spread of the boat at sea surrounded by seagulls. This book would be of most interest to a new reader.

Monday, 9 February 2015

My Family: Going Camping

My Family: Going Camping by Robyn Osborne, illustrated by Colin Stevens (Big Sky Publishing)
PB RRP $15.25
ISBN 9781922132550
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The back cover blurb of this picture book for children six to eight years describes a family’s adventures while camping as an ‘entertaining romp.’ However, for most of the large family there is no entertainment and certainly no romping. It’s Mum who is most enthusiastic as well as the book’s unnamed narrator. As with most families, there are compromises so with a bit of bribery, Mum manages to persuade Dad and her three other children to join in.

Disaster occurs when Dad and the kids forget their essentials. More disasters happen with camping equipment but Mum jollies everyone along. However, soon  insects cause problems so of course there aren’t many happy campers. As they are all packing up tents and airbeds, etc. something happens which makes the adventure all worthwhile.

This is a simple story with watercolour illustrations which will especially appeal to children whose families take camping holidays.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Circus Ship

The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Author and illustrator Chris Van Dusen’s brilliant new book is created with rhyming verse and full page illustrations using caricatures. This is a fantastic tale inspired by a real happening in 1836, with the Royal Tar, a steamer sailing to Maine with 103 passengers and a complete circus.

Animals like people, never forget kindness or brutality. This strong theme flows throughout this beautifully created and designed book.

The Circus Ship steams through the fog towards its destination. Although the Captain suggests they drop anchor and wait for visibility to clear, the grumpy circus boss demands they keep going. The ship unfortunately smashes against something unseen. The terrified animals end up with some swimming for their lives, and others clinging to bits of debris as the ship sinks.

Cold and frightened, the animals come ashore at a village. They hope it’s a haven of safety. But at the sight of animals coming and going, the villagers are filled with terror.

It is in the evening that things shift. A shed catches fire. A child is trapped inside.

The circus tiger that had ‘jumped through flames a thousand times’ did what he had been trained to do, and the child is saved. ‘The tiger’s risky rescue changed everybody’s mind.’ When the crabby circus owner appears and wants the animals to put them back to work, they are nowhere to be found.

This stunning book is a work of art in every way. Everything is alive on the page. The striking colour of the illustrations in gouache, both characters and settings, create a feast for the eyes. They must be looked at in silence. The rhyming text must be read aloud for maximum pleasure for it is music to the ears.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Shaun the Sheep Movie: The Great Escape

Shaun the Sheep Movie: The Great Escape (Walker Books)
PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 9781406359664
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Here’s another brilliantly funny story about Shaun the Sheep, leader of the flock at Mossy Bottom Farm released simultaneously with Shear Madness.

One of Shaun’s brilliant ideas finds him in the Animal Containment Centre. It is the area where Trumper, the city’s animal warden locks away all the strays. It houses tough, crazy and creepy animals. There are also the quiet and lonely creatures who long for a home. No captive has ever escaped. Their only exit from this environment is through adoption.

But how did Shaun end up there?

It was on the day that Shaun had convinced the flock to take a day off. After putting the farmer to sleep with his clever manoeuvring, Shaun and the sheep started partying. Messy and dangerous methods were used as entertainment and for food preparation.

When Bitzer is taken to his master’s caravan by Shaun, he tries to wake him. A series of unfortunate events occur. The caravan rolls downhill and crashes to a stop against a pole. This causes a lamp to drop on his head and, dizzy from the incident, the farmer is taken to hospital in an ambulance.

This is similar to what happened in Shear Madness, but has a different beginning and an alternate ending.

Bitzer goes to find his master. Dogs aren’t allowed in hospitals, so he hides in a laundry trolley, and is mistaken for a doctor until he sees a skeleton and goes for its bones. This leads to his capture by Trumper.

Back at Mossy Bottom Farm the sheep are hungry. They travel incognito to the city to find the farmer. They too, experience a great adventure which includes restaurants, posh menus, burping and a great escape. But Shaun is trapped by the sleeve of his jumper which unravels and he is literally exposed for the sheep he is. Trumper adds another stray to his collection.

How will Shaun and Bitzer escape from Trumper’s clutches? Are the sheep capable of any plan without their leader? The alternate end blends the two stories of the memory-deprived farmer with the hard-hearted Trumper to form an exciting and entertaining read.

The highly expressive illustrations speak as fluently as the text. This series is for early readers and the sheep’s crazy adventures always provide laughter and fun.