Friday, 30 October 2015

Lulu Bell and the Magical Garden

Lulu Bell and the Magical Garden by Belinda Murrell, illustrated by Serena Geddes (Random House)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9780857985644

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

I must admit, I have had this book in the review pile for a while (and the pile has been high of late) but I couldn’t forget about it as I knew I would love it.

Belinda Murrell has created such a loving, whimsical character in Lulu Bell that I wish I knew her as a 10 year old. She and I would have been kindred spirits in our search of little adventures and love of animals. This sweet chapter book for younger readers aged 7-10 years truly embraces all that being a kid should be about -- friendship, animals, family, community and creativity.

This was the first of the Lulu Bell books that I had read, however I was not restricted in getting to know the characters. Younger readers will enjoy collecting the book series and identifying with many of the adventures that Lulu Bell has. As a mum of a 10 year old girl I’ve observed that the voice is very strong and could quite easily be one of my daughter’s friends.

In this story Lulu Bell and her school chums charge themselves with repairing the school vegetable garden after a wild, destructive storm. The school cannot afford to fix it immediately, so instead Lulu and her cart-wheeling cohort decipher a plan to fund and repair the garden with the help of their families and local community. It conveys in the idea that making a difference, teamwork and selflessness can actually be fun as well as rewarding.

The setting is very Australian and the mood is bright, cheerful, sunny, loving and nurturing. It wouldn’t surprise me if this story prompted its young readers to take on similar activities. The strong but simple sentences with these familiar settings and characters would also appeal to reluctant readers, particularly those who love animals and nature.

As a parent, I love that there is a lack of modern technology and materialism referenced in the book, and the soft illustrations from Serena Geddes enhance the story to give the full sense of Lulu Bell’s jolly world. It is luminous without being too sugary.  

Belinda Murrell is also the author of the Sun Sword trilogy, The Ruby Talisman, The Locket of Dreams, The Ivory Rose and The Sequin Star. Serena Geddes had previously worked in Disney animation and now illustrates the Lulu Bell series, the Totally Twins series and Why I Love series among many other titles.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Lion and the Bird

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc translated by Sarah Ardizzone (Book Island) HB RRP $23.95  ISBN 9780994109873

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Originally published in French, this simply told picture book is written and illustrated by an internationally award-winning Canadian illustrator and author of children’s books. It is a tale of the relationship between a lion wearing dungarees and a lost bird. In the first wordless double page the reader sees Lion on an autumn day working in his sparse garden. Above is a flock of birds but one of them unfortunately falls: it is found by Lion still alive but injured. Lion tends to the bird while the flock disappears.

In very few words, and often in wordless pages, one ‘reads’ the story of how the unlikely pairing of the two main animals becomes a close relationship. There are even blank pages to indicate the long passing of (a snowy) winter, and of of time. Finally, a flower appears on the snow and as does the flock of birds in the sky. The now healed bird returns to his flock and the Lion continues a solitary life – until autumn returns. 

This cyclic tale is very gently told in minimalist text and illustrations which are stark and almost na├»ve-like. The story doesn’t leap out of the pages but instead has a feeling of seeping into the reader’s pores to become embedded there long after the final page is closed. The themes of friendship, patience, loneliness and change are the hallmarks of this poignant and uplifting story.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Something Extraordinary

Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton (Simon & Schuster)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN: 9781481403580

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Everybody wishes they could fly. In this children’s picture book, the boy in the story makes wishes and then imagines them coming true. He wishes for flavoured rain, musical steps, a bushy tail, even fangs. But these wishes can’t come true. But what if you wished for something real and you got it?

This is Ben Clanton’s fifth picture book. It’s about the magic of wishes, the hope that comes with wishing, and imagining the wish coming true. Inspired by the author/illustrator’s own imaginative thoughts, they became real wishes when he turned them into this book.

The text is not the driving force here. It’s the story the illustrations portray that is the most fascinating. Rendered in watercolour and pencil, I loved the boy’s face the best, so expectant and innocent. It looked like someone familiar, but not. The consistent use of earthy browns and soft green for the first part of the book with the wishes is magnetic. Then, when the real wish is made, colour creeps gradually onto the page.

It first appears in the trees in varying shades of green. It’s followed by brown musical notes that come from the birds behind the trees. These begin to fill the page. Then more colour is added with the appearance of flowers beneath the trees. Then the wish becomes something extraordinary with the nest of baby birds, more coloured musical notes, and lots of floral coloured bushes surrounding the tree.

Who needs words? These last wordless images left me speechless. This delightful book ideal for the 3+ years age group, comes with a  stunning jacket depicting a large image of the boy, with a small image of the bird behind him.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Jo-Kin Battles the It

Jo-Kin Battles the It by Karen Tyrrell, illustrated by Trevor Salter
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780994302106

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Blast off on an exciting adventure with Josh Atkins (aka Jo-Kin) and his trusty sidekick, nerdy Sam Jones (Sam-Wich). The adventure begins when the fearless duo win the Super Space Kid contest and set off on a mission to save the galaxy from a deadly alien called the IT.

The battle is on when the IT kidnaps Captain Astra and Jo and Sam must find a way to save the galaxy before it’s too late.  Along the way, they must survive entry challenges, successfully master high tech gadgets and battle creatures trying to destroy them.

This excellent book is perfect for middle grade readers aged 7 to 10 years. The storyline is creative and will hold the read’s attention from the moment they pick up the book. The characters are well-developed and likeable. Readers will relate to them and enjoy going on this journey with them. 

Jo-Kin Battles the It is the latest release from award-winning resilience author-teacher Karen Tyrrell. Over the years Karen has released a number of empowering books dealing with issues that affect us all.

This book embodies many of the elements required to produce a great story but it also deals with important topics such as resilience, team building, bullying, self-esteem and friendship.

The cover of the book is graphically enticing as it is brightly coloured and features interesting images that will appeal to young readers. The illustrations inside the book add a nice touch and break up the text.

This is a brilliant book and is definitely worth a read. It is action-packed and humorous, and will leave the reader wanting more.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Frankie DuPont and the High Seas Heist

Frankie DuPont and the High Seas Heist by Julie Anne Grasso, illustrated by Alexander Avellino (Julieannegrassobooks)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780994321602

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

This exciting new chapter book is the latest in the Frankie Dupont series. The book follows the adventures of Frankie as he sets out to solve another crime, even before it is committed. This time the story takes place on a luxury cruise liner filled with chocolate sculptures, devious chocolatiers and more twists and turns than you can imagine.

The lively adventure sees Frankie and his friends set out to solve a mystery on board the ship by following a trail of clues and investigating suspects using DNA tracking machines, famous chocolate recipes and a trusty dogs nose.

Frankie DuPont and the High Seas Heist is perfect for middle grade readers aged 7-10 or anyone who enjoys a well-written book filled with fun, laughter and intrigue. Readers will learn the value of friendship, teamwork and perseverance and how anything can be achieved if they don’t give up.

Julie’s writing is fast-paced, animated and creative. And although this is another installment in the Frankie DuPont series, it is an original and entertaining story that will have readers dying to turn the page.

The cover of the book is enticing as it is brightly coloured and features cool images to hook young readers. The text is easy to read and the sentence structure clear and concise. The illustrations add a nice touch and break up the text.

Frankie DuPont and the High Seas Heist is an excellent book that starts strong and manages to maintain the readers interest throughout. It is a smart, well-written adventure and the perfect book to encourage kids who dont love reading to give it a go.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

My Dead Bunny

My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen, illustrated by James Foley (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781922179593

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

In time for Halloween comes the story of Brad the zombiefied bunny in rollicking rhyming verse. It all starts one night when the boy and his two friends are watching a Zombie movie. Bunny Brad obviously bored, decides to gnaw through the electrical cord with obvious results.

Naturally the boy is broken-hearted at the loss of his pet. He’s told by dad about Bunny heaven but needs to see for himself if bunny’s all right down there in the dirt. So he digs him up with traumatic results for the family.

This somewhat gruesome tale for the 8+ years age groups will appeal to boys with a skewered sense of humour or a bent towards zombies and such. Its clever use of words combined with outstanding digitally created illustrations that accentuate the text, will have them in stitches. Not your traditional children’s picture book, but a none-the-less superb production. The expressions on the character’s faces run in perfect sync to the text.  Presented mostly in black and white except for the scenes with Brad the bunny, it is an entertaining read which I can see being passed around under desks at school.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s Takes Charge

 The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s Takes Charge by Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, illustrated by Kerry Millard (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN9780143307471

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is the third in the series set in an Australian wilderness forest that focuses on the adventures of Daisy, a finger-sized fairy who has recently earned her wings. 

In another gentle and charming story, the reader learns how Daisy helps her musically talented older sister, Maggie, get ready for a concert. Maggie is to go into a Songbird Duet with the magpie Melody, so Daisy, trying to surprise her, decides to embellish a beautiful black dress made by Aunt Acacia with corella feathers. Unfortunately, this proves to be a disaster – but aunt steps happily steps in to remedy the problem.

Just before a performance, Daisy’s friend Pea – a recurring fairy character in the series – introduces her to musicians including Boronia, Grebe, Lark and Ash who are all to perform as well. As events progress, Daisy is forced to use her wand to smooth events which threaten to spoil the rehearsal. Then, when Grevillia -- Boronia’s overzealous mother -- threatens to sabotage Maggie's duet with Melody the Magpie, Daisy has the chance to save the day and redeem herself.

Once again, the Australian bush setting brings a unique aspect to the story and the characters are real and lovable, and unlike many book series for children – they are memorable. 

For a reader aged 6 to 9 years, especially a girl, this book is a page-turner with lots of action and adventure. The whimsical ink sketches by one of Australia’s leading illustrators capture the delightful tone of the book. Highly recommended.

Counting Lions: Portraits from the Wild

Counting Lions: Portraits from the Wild by Katie Cotton, drawings by Stephen Walton (Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781847807212

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

With a moving Foreword by actress and staunch wildlife crusader Virginia McKenna, this magnificent counting book goes from one to ten. The operative word here is numbers, and that word demands attention be given to the declining numbers of animal species around the world. Whether it’s for trophy hunting, souvenirs of their animal parts, or their capture for pet shop trade (and the list goes on), an increasing number of wild animals and birds are being killed each year for financial gain. Man fails to see their importance in ‘the creation and protection of the natural world.’

The stunning black and white drawings speak volumes. The orange text informs and educates.

The expression on the lion’s face will cause an emotional shift in the reader. Mother and child gorillas ‘breathe the same breath’ and the two now together, will soon become singular entities. The three giraffes are such peaceful animals. With their head in the clouds they can see forever as they traverse the grasslands.

Four tigers: a mother and her cubs. She will sacrifice everything to protect them. But can she protect them from hunters and poachers? Five elephants wander together on an endless journey towards food and water.  Six Ethiopian wolves stay within their boundaries, safe but not. Seven penguins make a family of parents and children in the frozen Antarctic environment. Eight turtles, who know the water better than anyone, return to the place of their birth to lay their eggs in the sand.

Nine macaws discuss their day, ready to spread their wings if necessary. Ten zebras drink at a waterhole. Their eyes and ears ever alert for the dangers that lurk just beyond their sight and hearing.

The end of the book has miniature pictures of each animal accompanied by their protection status and approximately ten lines of information about their family groups, size, and other statistics on them.

These magnificent drawings are not for children alone to adore. This book is for coffee tables; to generate thought-provoking discussion about these and other endangered animals, and to bring about changes in human thought about who and what we really are.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Elephant Kitten

Elephant Kitten by Margaret Evans, illustrated by Sophie Norsa (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117394

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

Towser the kitten is a gift to Toby, a tow-headed boy who wanted an elephant. When Toby goes to answer the door, Towser escapes the family room and goes exploring. His adventures take him from room to room while he reflects on what he’d do if he really was an elephant. Finally he comes face to face with a kitten which mimics his every move. Perhaps it’s fortunate he’s not an elephant or there’d be a lot of broken mirror around!

The easy, fluid style of the illustrations generally complements the text beautifully. However one or two have busy, muddy backgrounds that (at least in print) detract from, rather than enhance, the story.

The story is based on a real-life experience when the author’s kitten was spooked by his own reflection. The fun, imaginative elements are based on her father’s interpretation of the kitten’s elephant-like heart and soul.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Danny Best:Full On

Danny Best:Full On written by Jen Storer, illustrated by Mitch Vane (Harper Collins) PBK RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780733333330

Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

If you are a fan of WeirDo, Wimpy Kid, Big Nate or even Captain Underpants, you will enjoy Jen Storer’s latest series featuring nine year old Danny Best.

Brilliantly illustrated by Mitch Vane, this compilation of five stories is packed with appeal to young boys. Danny and his pals Fab (Fabrizio), Sticks, Clancy, Mae, Dylan and Pugsley the dog don’t solve mysteries or rescue small children. Storer’s characters play games of cops and robbers, and make obstacles courses and racetracks for bike riding. These stories delight in the daily play and activities of kids – or perhaps the play that kids should enjoy.

At the end of each story is a fun quiz – possibly a kid’s version of a comprehension? The book is also filled with other interesting bits about Danny and the other characters – for example, a record of all the (mostly) disgusting things that Pugsley has done, a list of what Danny collects and even a story by Danny himself.

Younger children aged 7 and over will delight in the antics of Danny and his friends, but it is also a book which could easily be shared in the classroom, prompting some similar story writing and illustrating.

Bound to be a hit.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Wombat Wins

Wombat Wins written by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (Harper Collins)
HBK $24.99
ISBN 9780732299576

Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Mothball, everyone’s favourite wombat returns in French’s latest adventure, again featuring the illustrations of Bruce Whatley and set against a sporting backdrop.
Mothball, in her never ending search for carrots, joins in a school athletics carnival, where her obvious lack of training is not a hindrance as she races the ‘small humans’ to the finish line. Using her wombat digging skills, she has only one thing on her mind. 

Next stop a swimming carnival, then a rugby game where Mothball dodges a horde of black boots in a scrum and tackles the ball, depositing it near the goal posts, winning again.

Finally she spies a shopping bag and the best prize is won – not carrots after all.

Suitable for pre-schoolers and up.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Cats on the Run

Cats on the Run by Ged Gillmore PB RRP $19.95 (print), e-book $2.99 ISBN ISBN: 978-0-9941786-0-2 (print); ISBN: 978-0-9941786-1-9 (e-book)

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Why did Scholastic Australia preorder 6,000 copies of this self-published book for its book fairs and book club? Most likely, despite the words ‘pee,’ ‘poo’, and ‘bum’ that appear often, this chapter book for readers aged 8 to 12 years is laugh-aloud funny, quirky and original.

Gillmore’s first book is the first in a series of books following the adventures of two cats, Tuck and Ginger, as they try to escape the evil clutches of a pair of foul-smelling witches, Rodney and Janice. The two live in a high rise apartment with kidnapped cats Ginger, ‘a streamlined ebony athlete’ and Ginger, ‘a flabby middle-aged mog’ until the two (often warring) cats escape.

Gillmore uses an unusual omniscient narrative voice to relate this story; it’s an opinionated storyteller with personality, who speaks with heaps of sarcasm and wit, and plenty of asides to and questions of the child reader. Here is a sample: ‘You really don’t want to be found by a witch, did you know that? And do you know why? Because witches just loved children. Mostly they liked them fried, but Rodney and Janice preferred them grilled because it’s a healthier way of cooking with less cholesterol.’  

The author also employs frequent invented words like ‘bennyhoo’ and ‘bendyway’ (instead of ‘anyhow’) and phrases that make one chuckle (‘hoochie baroochie’, ‘whoopee doobie bingbats’ and ‘phutty-phutty-churg-churg’. Sometimes he uses a word like ‘hermetically’ and then tells his reader to ‘look it up’ before proceeding with the tale-telling. Often he writes very funny alliterative sentences. His writing is full of energy and humour as his story moves from the cats’ adventures to their pursuit by their former owners. The question under-riding the story is: will Tuck and Ginger be able to overcome their differences and work together to save their lives as they flee from their hell-bent captors?

Although the book is very thick (almost 250 pages), it is so different from any other book for middle-grade readers and with so much humour (too much ‘bum gas’ and ‘poo’ though for this adult reader), that it’s sure to be a hit. One can imagine that young readers will be hanging out for the next book in the series. Do we perhaps have another Andy Griffiths waiting in the wings?

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Alfie’s Lost Sharkie

Alfie’s Lost Sharkie by Anna Walker (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-992-9

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Alfie, the engaging little crocodile who loves to procrastinate, is back! This time it is bedtime and he cannot find Sharkie. How’s a little crocodile supposed to sleep without the right toy to cuddle? Once again, it’s up to a clever father to find a way around the distractions, keep things going and get his tired son bathed and in to bed. ‘Let’s see if he is in the bath.’, ‘He might be hiding in your pyjama drawer.’

The text in the story is dialogue; bold font for Alfie and normal for Dad. The pictures provide all the other clues for the story, the search for Sharkie. These ink and collage illustrations are full of colour, shape and imagination and the text looks like strips stuck on, blending the words and pictures seamlessly.

 Alfie’s Lost Sharkie is an engaging and fun story which will be enjoyed by preschoolers and their adult readers. Children will respond to the humour and relate to many aspects of Alfie’s behaviour. Every parent will recognise Alfie’s stalling tactics and applaud Dad’s gentle way of dealing with them.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Coco Banjo has been Unfriended

 Coco Banjo has been Unfriended written and illustrated by N.J. Gemmell (Random House)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780857987358

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

The day Emma Chippendale decided to sit with Sally Haggerty on the bus to my grade three excursion to (the old) Parliament House in Canberra, was a dark miserable day in my then extremely short life. This was tragically relived upon reading Coco Banjo has been Unfriended.

There may be 30-something years separating myself from Coco Banjo, but the inconsolable dismay at being ditched by your best friend, is not restricted to a generation I’ll have you know.

This gorgeous graphic novel comes alive with the images working in harmony with the relatable characters that every kid experiences in primary school, right down to the cranky headmistress, who declares fun punishable by times tables and the hoity-toity mean girls hell bent on creating more misery than a soggy egg sandwich.

Coco Banjo is an off-beat little girl with a career mum who works away, so she pulls in the attention of readers with her flowery terminology and whimsical personality, however she is relatable as she grapples with the everyday challenges of being a girl in middle year primary. Clothes, sleepovers and school camp room allocations are interwoven with embarrassing parent behaviour and a repressive school dictatorship destined to quash the creativity of any ten year old.

A variety of fonts and graphics cleverly break up the text, which make this book perfect for reluctant and voracious readers alike. The pages come alive with punchy dialogue and comical illustrations in the same way that the My Life, Treehouse and Wimpy Kid book series’ have embraced the modern graphic novel.

At the root of all the chaos of Banksia Bay Public, is Coco Banjo’s commitment to positivity and kindness with enough mischief (or as I like to all it creative thinking) to get her out of trouble.  She is an empathetic character and the friend we all need through the monkey bars of life. The very Aussie backdrop is a tribute to our lucky way of life and Gemmell has shared her love of Australian culture in the scenes she has created.
The first book in the series was released earlier this year with Coco Banjo is Having a Yay Day and the third book is set for release next year with Coco Banjo and the Super Wow Surprise. Nikki Gemmell is the author of four novels for adults. Her other children’s titles include the The Luna Laboratorium and the The Icicle Illuminarium.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Song of Delphine

The Song of Delphine by Kenneth Kraegel (Candlewick Press)
HC RRP 24.95
ISBN 9780763670016

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Delphine is a servant girl, a friendless orphan who lives and works in the palace of Queen Theodora. She is alone and lonely. The one thing that brings her comfort is the ability to sing. When she does at night all her loneliness drifts away on song.

When Beatrice, the Queen’s niece, arrives at the palace, Delphine believes at last she will have a friend her own age. But Beatrice, unkind, spiteful and a trouble-maker, makes Delphine’s life more miserable than ever.

Delphine’s songs travel on the night air across the Savannah. A herd of giraffes respond to the loneliness and desperation in the child’s voice and move toward the sound. Their heads in Delphine’s window beckon her and she goes with them. There is a whole new and wondrous world outside the palace that Delphine can savour, and she fills her empty heart with scenes of beauty and nature.

Delphine wants to stay with the herd but knows she must return. Then the giraffe mistakes her window and puts her into Beatrice’s. It’s a photo on the bedside table that makes Delphine see past the cruel side of the other girl. They have something in common and this makes Delphine reach out in compassion and song to that commonality.

This is a moving story of loneliness and grief that addresses how emotions are often displayed in children’s misbehaviour. An excellent picture book, it can be used to generate class or any other adult/child discussion about feelings and emotions of anger and unkindness, and why and how they affect people the way they do.

Beautifully illustrated in watercolour and ink, this book will appeal to the 5+ year age group. Kenneth Kraegel is the author and illustrator of King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Alana Oakley: Mystery & Mayhem

Alana Oakley: Mystery & Mayhem by Poppy Inkwell (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99 
ISBN 9781925275124                                                                                                                              
Reviewed by J Wishart

This debut novel by Philippine-born Poppy Inkwell is the first in the Alana Oakley series aimed at 11 to 13 year-olds. Alana has just turned 12 and finished primary school. Her father passed away three years earlier, but Alana lives an eventful life with her mum in Marrickville, Sydney – all of which is well-evoked by the author’s animated narrative. 

For its target age-group, this book is interesting in that it strongly features adult characters – albeit somewhat comical ones – with alternate chapters following Alana and her friends, then switching to focus on Alana’s groovy and young-at-heart mum, Emma – including her teen-dream job as an investigative journalist.

This dual narrative makes for a varied and lively read and enables layering of action-and-consequence that adds to the complexity and reader satisfaction. There is rarely a dull moment as Alana deals with new friendships, her first days of high school and a stolen jewellery item. Meanwhile, Emma has problems scheduling an interview with a famous and reclusive rock star around the interference of her mischievous friends, who also act as Emma’s self-appointed – and opinionated – personal stylists.

The text is filled with familiar popular-culture references and a slapstick humour that edges towards questionable in a couple of instances, but overall rollicks along and provides plenty of entertainment. The characters are likeable, diverse and fun and the narrative offers positive messages about responsibility, acceptance, friendship, support and loyalty.

Slightly wacky and sufficiently charming, Mystery & Mayhem would make a natural progression for those who enjoyed series such as ‘Go Girl’ as younger readers. As well as this, the series has the potential to appeal to older readers who still enjoy a bit of tween-age escapism.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Ollie and the Wind

Ollie and the Wind by Ronojoy Ghosh (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780857988485

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

When I first picked up Ollie and the Wind, the title immediately created intrigue. How does a little boy have any impact or influence over something as infinite as the Wind? The concept for early childhood readers would certainly be enough to pique curiosity.

The first picture book for Random House from Sydney based author and illustrator Ronojoy Ghosh, does not fail to deliver a quirky and heart-warming story of Ollie who lives on an island with a tiny community of people.  Immediately the illustrations convey much of the loneliness experienced by Ollie with sparsely placed houses and vegetation but the colour and Ollie’s personality give the book instant appeal.

Ollie must try to understand why the wind has decided to fly away with his hat then his scarf. He tries to search and contain the wind to demand his belongings be returned, but on discovering that the wind is untameable, he must think differently about it and how it must be dealt with.

The images are not complex but the openness created by Ghosh and the full bleed of colour allows for a sense of the outdoors. The text is styled simply and in line with the illustrations and offers restrained support to the story rather than becoming part of the imagery which can be common with a lot of picture books.

The illustrations are enhanced through texture and the colour palette of blue and greens communicate the smells and sounds of a seaside location while the primary colours attributed to Ollie and his possessions, give movement and focus to the story.

There is an obvious environmental element to this book in how wind lives around us, but I also thought that there was a feeling of discovering friendship in unexpected ways as Ollie learns to enjoy the wind.

Ghosh is an award winning advertising art director and is due to release another title next year for Random House titled No Place Like Home

Sunday, 11 October 2015


Platypus by Sue Whiting, illustrated by Mark Jackson (Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.95
ISBN 9781922077448

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Story and information are so tightly wound together in this stunning book it is hard to separate one from the other. That’s why the text is written in two sizes. The story is in larger font and the additional information is in smaller text.

The detailed full page illustrations created with mixed media draw the reader into the water world of the platypus, one of the few venomous mammals in the world. The full page illustrated sequence is broken only twice. Once it shows two pictures on one page of platypus emerging and submerging. The second is at the end where platypus snuggles into his burrow after long hours of foraging.

Male and female habits are exposed. Parenting methods, nesting habits, and how the nestlings are protected are revealed. Hints on their personal grooming and their fat storing tails are also uncovered. Earthy colours, tangled tree roots, shapely rocks and running water fill the pages.

This is a superbly visual book on the life and habit of the ‘puzzling platypus’. It is the kind of book parents and family want to buy for their children. It will mesmerise them as they read and learn about these fascinating mammals.  Overseas visitors will want to take this book of incredible beauty home with them. Schools and libraries should rush to get this on their shelves.

Mark Jackson has done an outstanding job translating Sue Whiting’s text. The covers, end papers and everything in between is of the highest quality. It is suited to the 6 - 100 age groups, and for discerning collectors of magnificent picture books.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Birgitta Sif (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406362381

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Icelandic author/illustrator Birgitta Sif continues to impress with every new piece of work she produces. In this stunning book, writer and illustrator are a magical combination.

In this perfect collaboration, Birgitta breathes life into a meaningful story with cats as characters, and Crumb as the main one. The themes of shyness and fear and how they can be overcome by kindness and support, are approached with tenderness, insight and humour. The pages are filled with delightful images, full of colour and humour, and the easily recognized strokes and detailed drawings that are the unique trademark of this talented illustrator.

Miss Hazeltine has opened a home for all cats – strays and others that suffer from fear and shyness. They pour in. Some are brought there by their owners. The cats’ fears stem from countless sources such as birds, mice, noise, and wool. Others fear the dark or the light. They fill Miss Hazeltine’s every corner. She confesses to them that she too, has fears: of mushrooms and owls.

The days are filled with lessons on how to overcome their insecurities. The cats practice and repeat what they are taught: how to hold their tails, and arch their backs, and meet new friends. But going out into the world to use these skills takes great courage.

One day the milk runs out, and Miss Hazeltine goes to get some but doesn’t come back. What has happened to her? What will happen to them if they don’t find her? Are the cats brave enough to face the outside world? Has Crumb gained the confidence to lead the cats out of the house, into the dark in scary places in a search for their beloved Miss Hazeltine?

This fantastic book with its eye-catching cover is aimed at the 3+ years age group, but there will be lots of adults reaching for this story filled with endless possibilities.

Friday, 9 October 2015

IckyPedia: A Dictionary of Disgusting New Words

IckyPedia: A Dictionary of Disgusting New Words by Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins Aka The Listies (Puffin) PB RRP $14.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

What on earth are ‘bookers’? Only one who delves into this self-acclaimed ‘gross and wonderful world’ will learn that bookers are what your book gets covered in when you sneeze on it. Similarly a nose-go zone is a place too smelly to visit. And a unipsycho, being a crazy person on a unicycle, is best avoided. Yes, there’s lots to learn in this seriously weird paperback which is sure to be on the reading ‘have to’ list by wacky kids aged 8 years and up.

Icky-Pedia is sure to have been a designer – and an illustrator’s -- nightmare being chocker-block full of many different typefaces, cartoons, comic strips, photographs, black and white and grey illustrations, break-outs and more.

Boring this book is not! You know from the two vomiting guys on the front cover (and the realistic raised flies on the swamp of vomit) to the first entry, a quote by Jane Austink (‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a bum in possession of some gas, must be in want of a fart’) exactly what to expect. But it’s not just vomit, farts, nose droppings and other body excretions that excite junior rebels; the book has some factual -- albeit hidden -- information,. For example, in the ‘E’ section of the dictionary, under the entry ‘Did you know’ and the introduction: ‘Australians like to celebrate things by ENBIGENATING them’, there’s reference to The Big Pineapple on the Queensland Sunshine Coast and The Big Poo in Kiama, NSW (and there – to prove the point – is an illustration of Kiama’s (sic) The Big Potato – though this big thing is actually located in Robertson, to the west of Kiama.)

Here are a few examples of entries under the letter ‘K’: KANGAROOSTER (the rarely seen half kangaroo, half rooster. Can be identified by its call, ‘Hopadoodledoo!), KISSEMBOWELL (to suck someone’s guts out through the act of kissing. See also PSYCHOPASH), and KINGPONG (a fart that smells exactly like a giant stressed-out gorilla). You must surely get the idea by now!

Will this book sell a heap for Penguin Books? Mmmm… it’s difficult to tell. What parent is going to want to have his or her child reading aloud all the disgusting entries in Icky-Pedia, perhaps at the dinner table? Or should one ask instead, what parent wants his or her child to simply read? And will librarians want to bring more warty, farty, bummy and other gross stuff into their schools? It all remains to be seen.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

How Turtle Got His Shell and Other Stories

How Turtle Got His Shell and Other Stories by James Vance Marshall, illustrated by Francis Firebrace (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 19.95
ISBN 9781922077219

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This collection of Dreamtime Myths, legends and folklore is amazing. The content focuses on the environment and nature, and how important it is to care for the earth and waterways. The stories are written in a way that will inspire children to focus on caring for our world, while they simultaneously learn the legends of our Indigenous people.

Compiled of ten stories in addition to several random pages on selected subjects, each story is followed by a page of information on the main object. For example, after the story of Why Young Koalas Cling to their Mother’s Back we learn about koalas: their main features, what they eat, their natural habitat, why their numbers are declining, and how they can be protected.

How Animals First Came to Australia heads the line. The information that follows tells us ‘why the animals of Australia are unique.’ It continues with the greed of a frog named Tidalick and his outcome, and about the vindictive Purrah, who stole the Desert people’s water and tried to hide in the clouds.

Learning about the role bees (there are 20,000 species) and flies (122,000 species) each with a specific role to play will change your perception of these two insects forever.

The title story of How the Turtle Got Its Shell is a legend of love and punishment for disobedience. The young Yiddiki, while out hunting, discovers a log that becomes the didgeridoo. A seemingly insignificant frill-necked lizard has the power to stop the drought, but can’t get anyone to listen to him.

There is a wonderful tale on how the Murray River was created and the last legend refers to Why the Stars of the Southern Cross Shine so Brightly.

All the stories are mesmerising. There is a rich Glossary at the end followed by two pages of Aboriginal Symbols and their Meaning.

The illustrations created with acrylics are outstanding. Rich earthy brown, ochre, black, green, blue and red represent the trees, rivers, sky and the people so beautifully. There are full-page illustrations without text, pages interspersed with text, and text decorated by art. Full of vibrant colour, this attractive book is a valuable learning tool for students of the 9+ age group, and those interested in Indigenous culture.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

My Secret War Diary by Flossie Albright

My Secret War Diary by Flossie Albright written by Marcia Williams (Walker Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781406331998

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The tremendously successful Archie’s War documented WW1 through the eyes of Archie as a child. Now Archie’s daughter, Flossy, has compiled her own diary about WW2. It covers 1939–1945.

Archie has joined the army and left nine year old Flossy to care for her baby brother. Flossy’s mother died after Boo was born.  They live at Honeysuckle Cottage on an estate in Dorchester with Great-Uncle Colin, who is head gardener. Flossy loves to draw and is given the diary to document the war and to keep her occupied and literate. The pages are filled to overflowing with drawings that share her life, and the lives of her friends and family. There is also fold-out family tree.

This is a marvellous scrapbook/diary. Its wealth of information is collected from many different sources. It’s compiled of statistics, local information, fold-out letters from home and overseas, newspaper cuttings, posters, photographs and maps. It relays the fears, thoughts, feelings, and extraordinary challenges faced during those difficult years, many from the point of view of children. This allows readers of the 9+ age groups to relate to the characters’ experiences, and learn about the war with interest.

Flossy’s humorous tone makes it a cheerful narrative, despite the sad happenings. Each historical entry magnifies the courage, resilience and resourcefulness of the children left behind to do adult work, knit for the soldiers, and to grow food to keep themselves alive. The power of the Women’s Land Army and the countless other women’s associations is never understated. Neither is the role the nurses played.

I found this a valuable book. I enjoyed every word and it is visually stimulating, educational and entertaining. It’s something children will love and return to over and over.