Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Ogglies Go to School

The Ogglies Go to School by Erhard Dietl (Starfish Bay Children’s Books)
HB RRP $25.99
ISBN 9780994100719
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780994100214

Reviewed by Leigh Roswen

The Ogglies Go to School is the second title in the Oggly series created by author/illustrator Erhard Dietl. The Ogglies are green creatures with big noses, horns and super-strength. The Oggly family live in a rubbish tip and love everything dirty and stinky. One day Oggly-Grandma takes the Oggly twins to school on their dragon, Firebottom (complete with rear-end exhaust pipe). When the human teacher is called away Oggly-Grandma is left to look after all the children. What ensues is a wonderful day of mud and mayhem. But how will the children clean up before Mrs Lucy returns? The Mud-Puddle Song forms part of the text and the music score is included on the last page.

The Ogglies Go to School is a quarto-sized book. On every large spread there are busy colourful cartoon-like illustrations. When children have looked at all the school-children and quirky Ogglies themselves there are still more creatures in the background to discover.

It is a little difficult to put an age-range to this story. The text itself is quite lengthy (over a thousand words) hence would suit an older independent readership of age 7-10. Also there is occasional bottom humour that this age range seems to love. However, younger children (aged 4-6) being read to by a willing and time-enabled adult will enjoy the funny pictures, and the setting which is more like a pre-school than a school.

The Ogglies are bound to become favourite characters. They are weird-looking but lovable, family-orientated but chaotic, fun-loving and happy. The Ogglies Go to School is a scrumptiously rebellious tale and an antidote to notions of cotton-woolling, over-scheduling and vanity.

Reviewer website:

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, retold by Joe Rhatigan & Charles Nurnberg, illustrated by Eric Puybaret (Koala Books for Scholastic)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-141-1

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Alice is a bold girl with a curious nature. Intrigued by a white rabbit with a pocket watch, she follows him down his rabbit hole and finds herself in a magical land full of strange and wonderful creatures.

This modern retelling of Alice in Wonderland pares back the story into a simplified version appropriate to a picture book format. It captures Alice’s mood of careless casualness beautifully.
‘Alice was sitting by the river having an oh-so-ordinary afternoon, when a White Rabbit ran by.’

Rather than attempt to tell the whole story, we are given a slice of Alice’s adventures to follow. We meet the increasingly, urgently late White Rabbit, the Dodo, Mouse, Bill the Lizard and the blue caterpillar sitting on a giant mushroom. But no Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, or Queen and cards. Perhaps there are more books to come.

The vibrant, bold, luminescent and curious illustrations match the zany storyline well. The glossy pages glow with colour. Wide-eyed Alice is surrounded by, not only the creatures mentioned in the text, but also weird and wonderful insects, birds, monkeys. The strange environment of Wonderland is subtle, but if you pay close attention you can make out the faces in the trees and clouds, the appearance of a seal in the island in the lake of tears, and the carrot forest.

As in all good picture books, the text changes in font and size, becoming part of the page layout, emphasising the reading of certain words. 

Alice in Wonderland is a literary classic. Read and loved over the years by countless children and adults, this fun version is the 150th anniversary edition. Join Alice in her own bizarre world where she shrinks, grows and explores the wonders of an afternoon which turns out to be ‘not ordinary at all’.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Bad Guys: Episode 1

The Bad Guys: Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-76015-042-6

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Aaron Blabey is back. And this time he has created a junior chapter book/graphic novel which should be read by everyone between the ages of seven and ninety.

Mr Wolf is sick of being seen as the bad guy. So, along with his somewhat reluctant friends Mr Shark, Mr Snake and Mr Piranha, he sets out to prove to the world that he is a nice guy. And the best place to start is with rescuing a cat. But what if the cat does not want to be rescued by a gang of nice guys with really big teeth who surround the base of the tree? And can they survive Mr Piranha’s constantly bad gas? Can Mr Snake stop swallowing the wrong things? What did happen to Mr Shark’s hat? Are these characters really capable of being nice guys? This first episode of The Bad Guys answers most of these questions and many more in a laugh-aloud roller coaster adventure.

Chapter headings such as Cruising for Trouble set the tone for each chapter well, and the text and pictures work hand in hand to create the humour and characters of the story. The humour is dry and sarcastic and the four bad guys have very distinctive, individual personalities. The illustrations of the laid-back shark, a somewhat sly snake and an often car-sick piranha are fabulous. Mr Wolf experiences so many emotions throughout – frustration being a top contender - which are all depicted with a variety of facial expressions that will have the reader in stitches.

I really enjoyed this book. I laughed aloud so often that my family kept asking me what I was reading. Then they devoured it themselves when it was their turn. I hope the next instalment is out soon.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Sad, the Dog

Sad, the Dog by Sandy Fussell, illustrations by Tull Suwannakit (Walker Books Australia) HB RRP $31.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The cover of this picture book for readers aged 6+ years is gloomy, and like the dog depicted, it looks sad. An unwanted Christmas present, the nameless dog is looked after competently by an elderly couple, but they don’t really care about it. They are so disinterested in the dog that when they move house, they dump poor Sad.

Happily, life is not always gloom and sadness; there is always hope. And, into the neglected dog’s life comes a new chance at happiness in the shape of a small boy. Jack cares for his new, adopted pet in the way any pet ought to be cared for and by the end of this story this now lucky dog Sad has a new name.

The author, Sandy Fussell, is well-known for her immensely popular Samurai Kids junior novel series, and other prize-winning novels; this is her first picture book. It’s sure to be a winner. The story is told in clear, simple words that are wonderful for reading aloud, especially by a parent to a child; the watercolour illustrations perfectly match the tone of the story.

Offering hope to anyone is probably the best gift anyone can give another, and this book certainly offers a loveless dog much hope by story’s end.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

The Flyaway Girls

The Flyaway Girls by Julia Lawrinson (Penguin Books) PB RRP $ 14.99  ISBN 9780143308652

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

It is difficult for anyone who is passionate about succeeding but who does not have natural talent. This is the dilemma that ultimately faces Chelsea, the hardest worker in her gymnastics club, who aspires to making the National team and then, hopefully, the Olympics. Chelsea is obsessed with her sport and practices endlessly, often neglecting her relationships, especially with her school friends Rosie and Gemma, both musically inclined. She feels confident of achieving her goal until a new girl joins her squad.

Almost immediately Chelsea sees that Telia, despite not being as technically perfect as she is at first, has more natural talent. Before long Telia overcomes initial problems and succeeds in a way that has Chelsea convinced she never can: Telia even completes a full straight-body somersault, something that Chelsea with all her determination and practice has never been able to do. Chelsea continues to strive but she is conflicted, trying to distance herself from Telia who is friendly and seemingly not as committed as she is.

Anyone who is obsessed about success, in whatever field, can surely understand Chelsea’s jealousy of the gifted newcomer and her frustration at not being able to make the cut. She loves her sport and is willing to do what it takes, but all her work seems to be for nothing when Telia is selected instead of her for the Nationals. Hard work is not enough is the message: one needs the x factor that Telia naturally has.

Should Chelsea continue with her gymnastic career, or give up? In the end, she learns that part of growing up is learning how to accept what gifts one has and to manage the gap between what she wants and what life has on offer.

This novel, aimed at girl readers aged 10 years and up, is very focused on the skills and practices of gymnastics.  It would mostly interest any reader with an interest in the sport or one who aspires to being top of her field. 

Friday, 25 September 2015


Teacup by Rebecca Young, illustrated by Matt Ottley (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-384-8

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Teacup is a beautiful story. It is soft and gentle, with words which almost fade off the pages, yet it tells an enormous story about being displaced, about isolation and about finding a new home.

A young boy sets off in a boat with almost no possessions to find a new place to live. On his journey he watches the waves, the clouds, the stars and the sea creature, all reminding him of what he has left behind.

The illustrations are stunning. They range from grand to simple and use great contrasts in dark and light to create an emotional reaction. They capture isolation, longing and change so well.

The words, also, make this an evocative and beautiful reading experience.
‘And the way the clouds slowly swam into view reminded him of how things can change with a whisper.’

The peaceful air of dreamy contemplation – along with the tree growing in a teacup – make me think of Michael Leunig's work, subtly exploring what it means to be a refugee.

From the wonderful front cover, to the soft and ‘barely there’ end papers, this is a visually appealing picture book. And with many layers to the tale it tells, this is a rich, subtle, satisfying story infused with great hope. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Vietnam: My Australian Story

Vietnam: My Australian Story by Deborah Challinor (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-76015-042-6

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

It is the late 1960’s and young Davey Walker can see change happening everywhere. He is starting high school, his brother Tom has been drafted to fight in Vietnam and his mother is acting a little strange. But the surf is still great, and so with his new surfboard, his two best mates, and plenty of new pop songs to sing on the way, Davey spends as much time as possible biking to and from the surf beach.

Vietnam is the fictional diary kept by thirteen year old Davey between September 1968 and January 1970. It is not a story about the Vietnam War, although letters home from Tom with brief descriptions of the war are included in the pages, but rather a picture of Australian culture during this time. And this was a time of social change, anti-war protests, surf-culture, space exploration and music.

I particularly loved the record Davey kept of the songs which were at the top of, or climbing the charts. Davey’s comments about whether it was a song his father liked/hated, his sister loved or his mates were into, really helped form the characters in the story. As music was a very important part of this era, these inclusions gave the story a strong 60’s atmosphere as well as clearly showing the changing face of popular culture.

Diary form is an intimate way to tell someone’s story, but you do have to connect with the diarist for it to work well. It wasn’t hard to connect with Davey. He is involved with family, a loyal friend and a bit of a ‘lad’ - but he is also a complex character, very compassionate and a thinker, trying to make sense of what life has thrown up. After his brother Tom comes home from Vietnam – minus a leg courtesy of a land mine – Davey has to tell his mother Tom is not coming back to live at home.

She said, ‘He’s not our Tom any more, is he?’
I didn’t really know how to answer that. My Tom was probably always different from her Tom. So I said, ‘I think he still loves us.’

The writing is very good. The people, their motivations and their relationships, feel solid and realistic. There is a good balance between social issues, Davey’s inner life and action in the pages of his diary. There is also a good balance between the ups and the downs. While some parts of life turn out great for Davey, other parts are very sad. It did touch a chord with me and there were tears.

My Australian Story is a really solid series and a great way for teenagers and preteens to learn about different periods in Australian history.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Caravaggio (Signed in Blood)

Caravaggio (Signed in Blood) Mark David Smith (Tradewind)
PB RRP $23.95
ISBN 9781896580050

Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

The blurb on the back cover hooked me in as soon as I read it.
Fifteen-year-old Beppo, an indentured servant in Rome, is accused of murder. The only person who can help him is one of the most celebrated artists of his day – Caravaggio.

Straight away I had the scenario for this Young Adult novel in my mind: two protagonists - a teenager on the run and a Renaissance artist. I was quickly swept into the intrigue of medieval Italy.

Beppo’s mother has died and he is indentured to a man with ‘the rough chiselled face of an unfinished statue … a bloated pig of a master,’ who is in the wine trade - a cover for the darker and illegal book trade.

When Beppo’s master is murdered, Beppo is accused. He escapes the ‘polizia with the help of an acrobatic dwarf.

While on the run through the backstreets of Rome, where children gamble and play archaic games of tennis, Beppo stumbles into a street brawl. Caravaggio is defending himself with a sword and mortally wounds his opponent.

Now two are on the run. With the help of Caravaggio’s patron, the Cardinal, they escape to Naples. Pursued by bounty hunters, Beppo is exiled from Rome and Caravaggio is given the death penalty.

While this is a fast-paced story of bandits, crossbows, swords, pirates and prison breaks, it is also the story of how the great artists of the Renaissance worked. Beppo becomes Caravaggio’s servant and learns of his craft as he purchases supplies of ‘linen canvas and wood slats from the shipyard; chalk and walnut oil from the apothecary; lead white from the smith; pigments from the dyer; and an assortment of mirrors …’ Such detail adds layers of richness to the bones of the narrative where, for the painting of a Lazarus scene, a dead body is delivered – ‘A loosely wrapped corpse lay within. The linen shroud afforded a glimpse of papery, grey skin.’

Caravaggio also teaches Beppo about the finer arts of swordplay ‘thumb down, in, up, out’, which stands him in good stead as he learns the skills needed to become a squire and later, perhaps, a knight.

Just like Shakespeare’s Renaissance play, Romeo and Juliet, with its swordplay and feisty youth, Beppo falls in love with Dolcetta, the daughter of a courtesan. There’s even a balcony-climbing scene where the forbidden romance culminates in Beppo ‘kissing her on the lips.’

With its twenty short chapters, first person point of view and smattering of Italian words, teenage readers will feel at one with the character of Beppo. A bit like asides in a play, Beppo’s innermost thoughts are written in italics. This also keeps the reader in the moment and within the action.

Author, Mark David Smith, has written a swashbuckling novel that is sure to win the imaginations of teen readers. As a form of epilogue, Smith provides historical notes about Caravaggio. What a wonderful foray into life in medieval Italy. Indeed, I would like to see this Italy that Smith has painted with such vivid imagery.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

I Wanna Be a Great Big Dinosaur

I Wanna Be a Great Big Dinosaur by Heath McKenzie (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-600-9

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

What does it take to be a great big dinosaur? T-Rex knows. And he can teach little boys all about roaring, and stomping, and eating. But maybe one little boy can teach T-Rex all about being a boy.
This imaginative romp takes the readers through the activities which occupy a boy – and a dinosaur- over one fun day.
The text forms part of the appealing page layout of this picture book, with changes of size and strength. The words bounce among the colourful and humorous illustrations. I especially enjoyed the page where the dinosaur discovers that there is more to food than just meat.
Inside the front cover is a realistic picture of dinosaurs in the prehistoric era which is repeated at the back of the book but with a young boy’s addition. The touches of tie-ins to the story are very clever.
Can a dinosaur really play soccer? Is a dinosaur any good at video games? Read this playful picture book to find out. A great book for preschoolers, particularly those with a love of dinosaurs.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Cyclone Fever

Cyclone Fever by Sally Morgan, illustrated by Beth Norling (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-103-0

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Danny listens to the weather alert about Cyclone Thelma and hopes it will not ruin his day off school. It is only graded a Category One after all, no real threat. Gran is being a little over-anxious with all her preparations. But due to a couple of ‘deals’ – which Danny  is confident he will come out on top with – he helps Gran tape the windows, prepare food and round up batteries.
Then, as Cyclone Thelma gains power, Danny and his family are grateful for Gran’s intuition and action.
Cyclone Fever is another title in the fabulous Australian Mates – Great Australian Yarns series. Short chapters, easy to read and full colour illustrations which do not diminish the strong and unique stories are a feature of all the titles in the series. This story is about a natural disaster which is not uncommon in the north of Australia.
Cyclone Fever is just as much about family and community as it is about cyclones – the preparation, the storm itself, and the aftermath.
Sally Morgan has written many great early reader’s chapter books featuring indigenous families and communities which are relevant to all Australians. This is another interesting, entertaining and amusing story for junior readers.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Daredevil Duck

Daredevil Duck written and illustrated by Charlie Adler (NewSouth Books)
HB RRP $21.99
ISBN 978-0-76245-456-3

Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Meet Daredevil Duck.  He is the bravest duck in the world.  Well, at least he wants to be.  In truth he is afraid of everything so all he can do is dream of being brave while the other ducks make fun of him.  Until one day he needs to actually be brave and to his and everyone’s surprise he is.  From then on his life becomes very different because now, deep down, he knows he is Daredevil Duck.

Daredevil Duck is the first picture book authored by English illustrator Charlie Alder.  It is a story about facing and overcoming your fears and would be most suitable for pre-school or early school-aged children.

Apart from being a sweet and fun story that deals with an important life-lesson, this is visually a very enjoyable book.  Charlie Adler’s illustrations are colourful and lively and children will love seeing how Daredevil Duck discovers his true mettle.  There is also an interactive element with the inclusion of lift-the-flap, fold-out and uneven pages at various points throughout the book.  It would make a great read-aloud book but the interesting presentation will also encourage young readers to flip through the pages on their own.

Charlie Alder is an English illustrator and coffee lover.  Her books include Toot! and Express Yourself.  Daredevil Duck is her first author/illustrated picture book.  She lives in Devon, England with her husband and young son who is the inspiration for her book.  She can be found online at

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Lola’s Toy Box: The Patchwork Picnic

Lola’s Toy Box: The Patchwork Picnic by Danny Parker, illustrated by Guy Shields (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9781760124366

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Patchwork Picnic is the first junior fiction title in the Lola’s Toy Box series, by the author of picture books Tree and Parachute, Danny Parker. The chapters are interspersed with charming illustrations by Guy Shields, who recently worked on the redesign of literary magazine Kill Your Darlings.

When Lola’s mum is clearing out the family’s junk-crammed garden shed, Lola and her brother Nick are asked if they would like to keep any of the unwanted objects. Nick ‘pushed past her’ and immediately began to make his demands known, setting the scene for a realistically turbulent sibling relationship.

Lola sees magic in the jumble of old furniture in the shed’s shadows, and sets her sights on a large wooden box. In order to escape domineering Nick, Lola and her toy Buddy hop inside it. They emerge out of the box to find themselves on a hillside where Buddy begins to talk, and a magical journey in a kingdom of toys begins.

When Lola learns of the battle between the Plastic Prince and the Great High Bear in a place called Nevercalm, readers may recognise parallels with Lola’s own struggles with Nick. Lola draws on an inner-strength to challenge a threatening bear, and agrees to partake in a button test to prove to the toys she is trustworthy. Her adventure demonstrates her problem-solving skills, something readers may take heart from and be inspired to apply in their own lives.

Themes of resilience, courage, loyalty and kindness emerge in this magical tale that deals with issues many children may relate to. Lola is a strong female character who shows it is possible to be kind and stand up for yourself at the same time. And with a magic toy box now in her possession, there are more adventures in store for Lola and Buddy – in fact, three more titles in the series are already available.

Friday, 18 September 2015

The Fairy Ring OR Elsie and Frances Fool the World

The Fairy Ring OR Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9780763674953

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Mary Losure is the author of the brilliant non-fiction work, Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron. She’s back with another intriguing piece of non-fiction for the 10+ year-old age groups, with the story of the two girls who claimed to have seen and photographed the Cottingley fairies.

Frances Griffiths was nine years old when she moved with her parents to Cottingley in Yorkshire to live with her cousin Elsie Wright, who was almost sixteen. It was 1920 and her father left for the Great War. Elsie had left school at thirteen and a half, and worked at a meaningless job. She was a daydreamer, bad at school and always criticized by her highly talented father. The only thing she was good at was drawing and painting. The two became best friends.

Because Frances went to an exclusive school in Bingley and not to the local one near her home, she never got on well with the local children. She spent most of her time alone exploring the valley that ran off their home and playing in the beck.

It is during one of these solitary jaunts that she sees a little man about 18 inches tall dressed in green, walking along the bank. Later she would see more of these little men, then fairies.

When she finally told Elsie and their parents, the girls were teased mercilessly. They set out to prove them wrong by photographing the fairies. How they went about it is unbelievable. So was born one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th Century.

This highly interesting book tells the story that fooled many famous people into believing that the Cottingley fairies were real. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who had a passionate interest in the spirit world, fairies and gnomes, and the Theosophical Society were drawn into a web of deceit that was never confessed to till the girls were quite old.

Did Frances actually see something? Elsie’s part in it all questions that.  But her greatest achievement in life may have been that she persuaded educated and famous people, into believing that what they saw was real.

This is a great read and for anyone who loves mysteries and non-fiction. Whether it was true or not is left to the reader to decide.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Verity Sparks and the Scarlet Hand

Verity Sparks and the Scarlet Hand by Susan Green (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781922244895

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Here’s another sparkling and riveting Verity Sparks’ mystery. She’s my favourite heroine; a girl who is clever, optimistic, fearless, logical and compassionate.  She has a sharp mind and several secret gifts.  The Scarlet Hand is set in Castlemaine, Victoria, in the 1880s. Verity is now fifteen years old.

SP proposes to Drucilla, Verity’s governess in front of everyone and she is so embarrassed that she goes to stay with the Leviny family in Castlemaine for a while. Verity and family are also invited to stay with Papa’s dear friend Nicky Petrov in Castlemaine. Secrets are revealed and strange and unusual events awaken Verity’s curiosity, and her gifts once again come into play.

During her stay, Verity sees a woman that looks identical to the photo of her mother. Who is Della Parker and why is she following Verity around? Della gives Verity a fan that belonged to her mother. This starts a series of mysterious visions that Verity must examine, and a new investigation begins.

Drucilla and Nicky’s wife Helen are abducted and held for ransom. Who are the abductors and what significance does the scarlet glove have? Verity’s gift is creating too many questions. Will she be able to draw on her courage and gifts and shuffle the pieces into place; to sort out the puzzle and save her friends?

As always, delightful morsels of information are left to tantalise the reader. There is more than one story happening in each of Verity’s books, which are joined together by some common thread. As Verity is trying to solve her mystery, the reader is simultaneously trying to piece together their own little puzzles.

Susan Green’s writing is crisp and sharp. Nothing superfluous can be found. It’s fast-paced, with a strong narrative voice that keeps the reader on their seat, turning pages. I can never put a Verity Sparks book down unfinished. I’m always hooked from the first page. This thrilling mystery adventure is ideal for the 10+ age group.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Ophelia: Queen of Denmark

Ophelia: Queen of Denmark written by Jackie French (Harper Collins) PBK   RRP 
$16.99   ISBN 9780732298524                                                                                                                     
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Following on from her interpretation of Juliet Capulet, Jackie French now presents another imaginative view of one of Shakespeare’s female characters – Ophelia from ‘Hamlet’.

Usually presented as the tragic maiden betrothed to Prince Hamlet, French presents us with an alternative view of Ophelia, which certainly proves a useful accompaniment to Shakespeare’s play.

King Fortinbras’ ghost presents himself to six-year-old Ophelia and tells her how his kingdom was lost to a man who tricked him into betting his kingdom on a sword fight. He must now roam the world until avenged. ‘Revenge is a dish that sits bitter in the stomach, even if the first taste is sweet.’

Fortinbras tells Ophelia the qualities of a good queen and tells Ophelia that she would make a good queen, thus sowing that desire within the girl. Ten years later she is on a path to achieving this after the death of King Hamlet and in her developing relationship with Queen Gertrude and Gertrude’s son, Hamlet.
When Hamlet discovers his new stepfather Uncle Claudius murdered his father he is set on a path of revenge, enhanced by his pretended madness – a cover to protect his own life.

Ophelia is unsure of Hamlet’s sanity and his love and a series of deaths occur, beginning with Ophelia’s father Polonius, the Lord Chancellor.
If Hamlet is able to feign madness to divert his suspicious uncle, then Ophelia can do the same – even faking her own death.

With the deaths of Hamlet, Ophelia’s brother Laertes, the king and queen, we are left with a final scene of hope – of Ophelia becoming Queen of Denmark after all with the new King Fortinbras. The story has turned full circle, the throne restored.

With Shakespeare’s play as the background, French overlays another story, one which celebrates the ingenuity and power of women. The book resonates with history and within it French weaves titbits of cheese recipes and references.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read, which lends itself easily to student book club or class study. Readers of I Am Juliet and Ophelia will certainly look forward to French’s continuation of the series in 2016 with The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gent and Third Witch in 2016.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Emu’s Halloween

Emu’s Halloween written by Anne Mangan, illustrated by David Cornish (Harper Collins) HBK RRP $14.99   ISBN 9780732298906
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Poor Emu was having a Halloween party but couldn’t seem to come up with some scary ideas. Luckily, Cockatoo overheard his dismay and rallied the other animals to help.

With Echidna dressed as Dracula, Koala as Frankenstein’s monster and Kangaroo as a zombie, the party was sure to be a success.

As a team, the animals set to work making a witches brew, dips with pretend flies, cutting out paper ghosts and bats to ensure a thoroughly scary party.

David Cornish’s brilliant illustrations are the perfect complement to this rhyming tale. 

It gives an Australian flavour to a usually American holiday and will be a hit in the lead up to Halloween. The party game and craft ideas enjoyed by the animals could also be replicated easily, should families or even a class decide to hold their own Halloween party.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

The little book of Australia’s big things

The little book of Australia’s big things written by Samone Bos, illustrated by Alice Oehr (Chirpy Bird/Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781760125547

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The little book of Australia’s big things offers primary school-aged readers a little bit of everything, from facts and jokes to recipes and craft activities. It casts a spotlight on ten of Australia’s beloved ‘big things’, spanning tourist sites from the better known Big Banana to the more obscure Big Penguin (which is actually found in a Tasmanian town called Penguin, who knew?!).

This is a book readers can easily dip in and out of. It is divided into sections for each ‘big thing’, containing a photo of the real thing, illustrative depictions, and a map of Australia marking its location. There’s a brief rundown of key facts, perhaps a joke or two, and then the interactive fun begins.

Each ‘big thing’ has a page containing a pop-out picture to cut out and assemble. It’s a shame these aren’t perforated, as it means chopping into a beautifully designed book. The jacket of the book contains a panoramic scene of Australia where the pop-out ‘big things’ can be pasted. Other fun activities within the pages include instructions on how to teach a galah to talk, and how to grow your own pineapple from an old pineapple top (hint: much patience is required!).

Readers will delight in the vibrant illustrations and fun-packed pages on this most endearing Australian topic, all things ‘big’. If children have visited one of the sites they will no doubt love to learn more about it, and for those they haven’t seen, requests for road trips may ensue. As the book mentions, there are over 150 ‘big things’ in Australia, so there’s sequel potential for this highly engaging non-fiction title.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Suri’s Wall

Suri’s Wall by Lucy Estela and Matt Ottley (Penguin/Viking) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN9780670077755

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Suri would appear to be an orphan living in an orphanage in a walled town. A much taller child than her counterparts, she is friendless but finds comfort as she brushes the stones of the encompassing wall with her fingertips. ‘The wall was Suri’s only friend and the touch of the stones gave her warmth.’

One day, finding herself taller, Lucy finally sees over the wall. It is then that one of the orphans, Eva, befriends her and asks Suri to describe what is beyond the walls of the town. What Suri describes is not written by revealed by Ottley’s exquisite painted illustrations. There is a golden arch, a peacock, butterflies, a harbour filled with ships and much more. Now that she can see beyond into another world, Suri is finally befriended by the orphans and continues with her storytelling. Towards the end of the book a soldier says to Suri, ‘They will find out, you know.’ Who the ‘they’ is remains a mystery, but surely it must be the higher powers that guard the town.

The theme of this book would seem to be that one becomes popular and a leader by having a wider vision of the world. And that this can be a threat to some who would prefer the lesser beings to remain imprisoned. The only way out of imprisonment is to see beyond, into the future. One wonders, though, would a child reader understand this? What would a small child make of this book, one wonders.

What does make this book memorable are the illustrations. When the setting is inside the imprisoned (walled) world, the mood of the watercolour pictures is gloomy, but the artist’s palette sings with colour and detail when Suri’s visions are revealed. Towards the end of the book the children hear a booming sound – perhaps it is a signal of disaster to come; it’s difficult to imagine what it might be and there is nothing to indicate what it is. In the final page, Suri simply continues describing the world beyond.

It’s also difficult to tell what age group this book is targeted towards, but the reading level indicates that a child 8+ years ought to be able to read it.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Mum Goes to Work

Mum Goes to Work by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Leila Rudge (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781921529825

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It’s morning. The childcare centre is a-buzz with activity as parents drop of their children and head off to work. Lunchboxes and backpacks are handed over. Hugs are exchanged and goodbyes said. It’s the most hectic time of day because mum goes to work.

But where do mums go? What work occupies them all day between dropping off and picking up their little ones again? What’s more, what do children do throughout the day while their mums work at all these important roles? We get a look into the lives of so many different mums at work or study, juxtaposed with all the activities that fill a child’s day at childcare.

This book is ideal for children from 3 years old and up will be entertainment for every child that has asked their mum what she does at work. Maybe they can find their mum’s job among the many here. Mums also get an overview of their child’s hours away from them.

Themes cover learning skills, the importance of play, friendship, interaction with others and more. The entire book is alive with curiosity and discovery due to the detailed illustrations and their layout. These are beautifully designed and presented, and created by mixed media, including watercolour, coloured pencil and collage. The end pages are eye-catching. These too, can be a source of name-the-picture play.

Mum, Goes to Work should be in all homes with children, schoolrooms and libraries. It will generate lively discussion between adult and child about working mothers in general and their roles, particularly in classes of pre-schoolers and first graders.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Escape from the Overworld

Escape from the Overworld by Danica Davidson (NewSouth Books)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-634501-03-3

Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Eleven-year-old Stevie doesn’t feel like he belongs in the Minecraft world.  He’s very good at building or fighting – even though his father is great at these things -- a legend, in fact.  Then one day, Stevie discovers a strange portal.  Stepping through, he finds himself in a new and weird world, our world.  He meets Maison, a bullied girl his own age who loves to build and create.  Stevie wants to learn all about this new world but when Maison takes him to school they discover that the portal has allowed more than just Stevie to come through.  The school is getting attacked by zombies, creepers and giant spiders from the Minecraft world. Together they must save the school and this world from the monsters that have been unleashed.

Escape from the Overworld is an unofficial Minecraft adventure by American author Danica Davidson. It’s a fun, fast-paced chapter book that leverages off the hugely successful computer game.

The characters are likeable and easy to relate to, both dealing with feelings of rejection, inadequacy and a sense of loneliness.  This, in part, is what helps them to bridge the obvious gap between them, become friends and work together when danger presents itself.  It is this friendship that also what helps them confront and deal with their own individual problems and become stronger.

While enjoyable just on its surface there are several sub-plots around bullying, friendship and acceptance.  Although not explored to their fullest extent, they do provide authenticity and some depth to the story. 

There is a lot of explanation throughout the book to reduce the need for an intimate understanding of Minecraft, but it would certainly be an advantage if the reader was familiar with the game.  On the other hand, for the young enthusiast, this is a successful blend of the game and an exciting adventure story that also touches on important issues facing kids today.

Danica Davidson is a professional writer from the US who has written for about fifty different magazines, newspapers and websites. Escape from the Overworld is her first unofficial Minecraft book with a sequel, Attack on the Overworld, currently available for pre-order.  She can be found online at:

Wednesday, 9 September 2015


Book by David Miles, illustrated by Natalie Hoopes (Exisle Publishing)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781939629654

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

There is one general theme in this most perfect and stunning book. That is that a book can be your greatest companion in life no matter what. It can fill the empty spaces in your life. It can take you to places far beyond reality. It never lets you down. You can always turn to it when you want or need some special company. In all your varying moods, it’s the one constant thing.

I could wax lyrical forever but words fail me. They sit before my eyes but won’t come out through my fingers.

This book is a rare and grand visual feast in every sense. It is magnificent in design, layout, breathtaking detailed illustrations, content, text and theme. It is a collector’s book; a book lover’s dream.

I have to share what is written about the author. “David Miles makes books for a living. He reads books, writes books, sells books, thinks about books, drives to books, sleeps to books (but doesn’t eat books)”.  Only a person like this could have created a book like this. This is his second children’s picture book. But it took a special kind of artist to translate all that he had to say into pictures.

About the illustrator: “Natalie Hoopes was born with a head full of ideas. She decided that the only way to get them out was to be a painter.” Evidence of their love of what they do is here, documented forever. It’s available to all those bibliopoles whose heart pounds to the sound of words and turning pages as mine does. This is the most creative book I’ve held for years.