Monday, 30 November 2015

Spider Iggy

Spider Iggy written by Aleesah Darlison and illustrated by Sarah Jane Hinder (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-925139-33-4

Reviewed by Peta Biggin

No one ever seems to notice Spider Iggy.  He tries to be noticed and make friends but with no success.  All the while, he dreams of a place filled with colour and light and spiders like him.  Determined to leave his old life behind, he sets off on an adventure to find a place where he fits in.  To find a place he can call home.

Spider Iggy is the latest picture book by award-winning Australian author Aleesah Darlison.  It is a lovely book that encompasses themes of acceptance, belonging and bravery. 

We meet Spider Iggy as he attempts to engage with and befriend those around him.  Despite all his best efforts he is routinely shunned which makes him unhappy - a situation that many young children can relate to.  It is this that drives him to find a place where he belongs; friends that accept him; to follow his dreams.

It’s this message that I particularly love: Spider Iggy remains true to himself and goes in search of where he belongs, rather than change himself in order to be accepted.  It is not an easy journey as he faces many dangers as well as people and creatures that reject him on sight.  He does not give up, and listens as the wind whispers, ‘Be brave’.  This is a great message for young children as they learn how to be a part of the world around them: be who you are, be brave.

Spider Iggy is brought to life by the artwork of Sarah Jane Hinder.  Each full-page illustration is bold and playful.  There is an upbeat quality that lends itself well to the positive message of the story.

Aleesah Darlison is an award-winning author who has published over twenty picture books and novels for children of all ages.  Her stories cover such themes as courage, anti-bullying, friendship and self-belief.  When she isn’t writing she’s looking after her four children or taking her dog, Floyd, for long walks on the beach.  She can be found online at:

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Three Dragons for Christmas

Three Dragons for Christmas by Fiona McDonald, Sophie Masson, Beattie Alvarez, Lisa Stewart and David Allan (Christmas Press)
HB RRP: $21.99
ISBN 9780992283896

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Three Dragons for Christmas is a beautiful 32-page book that is perfect for young readers. It contains three original, heartwarming stories created by different authors and illustrators and featuring everyone’s favourite mystical creatures - dragons.

Come on a journey as you discover whether dragons can really make a toymaker’s luck change or pull Santa's sleigh, or whether a dragon family will get their Christmas feast.

The book has a nostalgic feel to it and the pages are beautifully designed and presented. The style and layout of the book is reminiscent of old-time classic fairytales from years gone by.

The cover features gold-foil stamping and enticing illustrations that will appeal to anyone looking for a lovely book to share at Christmas time.

The stories are creative and well written which makes them enjoyable to read. The book also features numerous black and white and colourful illustrations that enhance the story and appeal to readers. The text is clear and easy to read, and the stories easy to follow.

With Christmas just around the corner, now is the perfect time to pick up a copy of Three Dragons for Christmas. Friends and family would love receive this precious keepsake which is great for sharing aloud or for children who like to read by themselves.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Wow! The Wonders of our World

Wow! The Wonders of our World by Joy Noble and Fiona Johnston, illustrated by Lucy Buxton (Elbon Books)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780994385307

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Wow! The Wonders of our World is a fabulous book full of interesting information that will appeal to young readers and anyone who enjoys learning about how things work.

This lovely book is jam-packed with fascinating facts that will promote curiosity, stimulate thinking and encourage children to ask more questions. Children will learn how certain things work, how they are created and their purpose in this world.

As you flick through the book, you will be amazed at the range and diversity of topics covered including the Brain, Language, Speed, Transport, and Space and Time, to name a few.

The cover of the book is bright and bold, and will entice readers to pick it up. The text is easy to read and the language reader friendly. The colourful illustrations are imaginative and creative, and bring the pages to life. They make this book a pleasure to read.

This is an engaging book that has the potential to expand young minds as they struggle to understand how the world evolved and how they can survive in our ever changing environment.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys learning about the world we live in and to anyone looking to inspire young children to pick up a book. Once they start reading it, they will find it impossible to put it down.

Friday, 27 November 2015

The Decorating Disaster

The Decorating Disaster by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Mikki Butterley (Five Mile Press) HB $14.95 ISBN 978176006 7229

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Part of a series called Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds, this is a beautifully presented and designed – and very reasonably priced – picture book for young readers. The series is centred on two delightful but different friends, the highly spirited, opinionated girl Bree and the slow, plodding Pickles the bear. In this book, Pickle and Bree, who live together, decide to redecorate their house.

As with any home-restorations, there are disagreements. One wants wallpaper, the other paint. However, when the two decide to work separate, more problems arise. Pickle is daunted by sticky wallpaper which results in him becoming wrapped in it! Bree, whose paint is a pea-green, gets stuck on top of a ladder – and calls for her friend. However, a compromise is soon reached and the friends even clean up together when the jobs are done.

This is a book which extols the virtues of teamwork. It cleverly and subtly shows how listening to the other person’s point of view and working together to brain-storm can result in shared ideas that lead to success. It invites readers to accept that sometimes others have different ways of doing things, that there is no one way of get something done. Overall, the discovery to be made is that friends can be friends even when they are totally different.

Aimed at children aged 5 to 8 years, this well-written picture book with lively and appealing illustrations, has more text than most so it would be ideal for an adult to read and discuss the story. To sum up: Reynolds and Butterley’s book is entertaining, educational and uplifting. It’s also highly recommended.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Birthday Party Cake

The Birthday Party Cake by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Mikki Butterley (Five Mile Press) HB $14.95 ISBN 9781760067236

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Pickle is a big brown bear, Bree is a tiny girl and both are best friends who live in a double-storeyed house (Pickle in a ‘cave’ under the stairs). Like all friends, they sometimes have misunderstandings and disagreements which is the basis of this book for readers 5 to 8 years which is one in a series.

In this book, Bree is happy and ready for fun, but Pickle is grouchy. When Bree finds the big bear making a honey cake for his friend Jason’s birthday, she realises that there’s no invitation for her to the party but Pickle reassures her she’s welcome. Bree makes a three-layer chocolate cake while Pickle’s honey cake is lopsided. At the party, Pickles and the birthday boy play Bear Bump and are not really interested in Eyespy, but they give in. When Bree’s chocolate cake is not what Jason wants, Bree (who has been practicing) triple-somersaults into the cake and then pours honey all over it. Later, Bree is scorer for Bear Bump, and she teaches Pickle how to somersault.

The relationships in this book are basically about people making compromises. Sub-titled Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds, the story reminds young readers that although people (and bears) are different, it is possible, by working hard, to find solutions when there is some kind of incompatibility. At the back of The Birthday Party Cake the author has included a list of ways in which children can settle differences with others – such as accepting others’ points of view and listening to what they have to say.

This is a lovely book with a bright and breezy text that gets its message across without seeming in the slightest didactic. The full-page illustrations with colourful backgrounds and delightful pictures set indoors -- sometimes featuring small break-out pictures (such as Bree somersaulting and the bears tummy-bumping) -- are joyful and full of fun. All in all, this is a delightful book for parents to share with their young children.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Making Mindful Magic

Making Mindful Magic written and illustrated by Lea McKnoulty 
PB RRP $14.95 

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This picture book is quite different from the norm insofar as it doesn’t tell a story and it has no characters, except for the reader. Through its calm text and muted coloured illustrations, its creator invites the reader – young or old – to develop the habit of mindfulness. In the back of the book she describes mindfulness as a practice which makes one more grounded; and, too, it brings inner calm and clarity of thought which leads practitioners to live authentically and happily. All of which sounds like a very sensible recipe that could possibly lead to not only personal peace, but community and even national and international peace!

The mindful experiences include sitting quietly or meditating -- living in, and appreciating the moment. Alternatively, one is encouraged to ‘take as long as you can’, great advice for anyone trying to multi-task and consequently getting stressed. The focus here for the reader is to concentrate on one activity at a time, until it is finished.

In gentle, simple free verse, each page narrates a way of being mindful, whether it is following a bird, walking barefoot on grass, taking the time to enjoy the mightiness of the heavens (finding stars) or watching waves. Exploring one’s creativity – ‘paint’ – helps heal the mind, not worrying about the product but becoming ‘lost’ with paint, brush and paper.

Here is what McKnoulty writes on the page titled ‘go walking in nature’:
‘A track leading somewhere/ The somewhere doesn’t matter/   on-the-way discoveries matter…’                                                                                                                                         
Each double-page spread featuring one mindfulness activity is accompanied by a subdued pastel illustration. The quality of the pictures varies but some are very appealing, such as a child’s bare feet on grass with a cloudy sky background, and a lone bird in a tree. It seems the book’s creator follows her own advice of creating for the experience, not for the product.

Making Mindful Magic is a book which can’t be rushed. It sets out to, and succeeds, in making the reader take her time. One can open at any page and follow that activity or move on to another activity. Or a parent might like to check out the back pages where suggestions are given in prose on how to apply the practices to one’s child.

This charming book is recommended for anyone, child or adult, who wants to remedy a life that is too busy and stressful

The book is available from selected bookstores and Lea McKnoulty’s website

Monday, 23 November 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.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s New Wings

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s New Wings by Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, illustrated by Kerry Millard (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN 9780143307471

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

In Daisy’s Quest, the first exciting, event-filled book in this series of chapter books for readers 7 to 9 years, Daisy gained her feathery new wings. Daisy finally feels like a true fairy but she will need all the strength, bravery, resourcefulness and persistence she showed in that quest in order to learn how to fly.  First, though, Daisy needs bigger dresses in order to accommodate her wings, so Mum’s sister, Aunt Acacia, a seamstress, gets to work. First she takes her niece into the forest to point out potential dangers for a flying fairy – webs, thorny bushes, snakes and currawongs. 

Then Daisy – with the help of her best friend, the beetle Vu, needs to build up her shoulder muscles, which requires lots of exercise practice.
Like other young children learning a new skill, Daisy needs to learn patience and how to deal with disappointment and frustration. Her first attempt to fly, encouraged by her fairy friend Pea, results in a fall from a tree branch. Luckily, Dad, who is a healer, is able to help Daisy to recover. Kerry Millard, the illustrator, who faithfully captures the spirit of the Wilderness Fairy’s stories, has beautifully captured, in simple lines and wash, many tender moments in the books, including one of a tearful Daisy being consoled – and encouraged – by her aunt after this first failure.

Learning ways of moving – from hovering to gentle fluttering to powerful flapping – Daisy gains concentration and focus. Her first solo flight is wild and unpredictable but ultimately successful. The next book in this wonderful series will surely be about Daisy’s attempt to find her ‘Calling’.

In this – and the previous book – the author Jodie Wells-Slowgrove – has created a whole new world which is fantastical and yet utterly believable. She has captured the atmosphere of forests which are so familiar to Australians. Even within Daisy’s life her close-knitted family seems real as they gather together to dine on lilli pilli cake, roasted seeds, native cherries and wattle seed damper. 

The books give readers insight into the lives of native animals and their habitat. At the end of this book there are notes purportedly from Daisy about how to make bush music, about Sydney Green Wattle and Nelli, a ladybird which are featured in the story.

This series is sure to find a strong following with children who appreciate page-turning adventures and characters which one can care about.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s Quest

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s Quest by Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, illustrated by Kerry Millard (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN 9780143307471

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

As a child aged 7 to 9 years I would have read this book and taken it to bed with me every night. And, too, my imagination fired, I would have gone into the bush time and again looking for the Fairy Wilderness in hopes of catching sight of Daisy.

Daisy at the start of this book series, of special appeal to girls, is a wingless fairy waiting for the Fairy Queen to grant her wings. Her older sister Maggie has wings and a Calling (she is musically gifted); Mum’s Calling is horticulture and Dad’s is healing. Armed with her magical wand and travelling shoes, Daisy now goes with her special friend, the beetle Vu, on the quest for her wings. She has numerous encounters along the way, first with a Monarch butterfly that leaves her a Telling Tube which is opened by a Painted Lady butterfly following advice given to her by Pea, an awkward winged fairy.

Next, Daisy faces danger when she is trapped under water by waterlily pads, but once again she is helped by nature in the form of a water nymph. The persistent and brave Daisy goes on, but in her final struggle to succeed, she uses kindness which in effect results in spoiling her whole mission. Eventually the hapless fairy child meets Queen Jasmine. But although she failed the task, does Daisy still get rewarded for her courage, persistence and kindness?

This is book full of exciting, fast-paced adventure with frequent cliff-hangers. It is also full of magic and secrets, peopled by characters who are genuine, three-dimensional fairies that one cares about. Daisy faces disappointment and frustration, but she remains full of hope and joy. At the front of the book is something many children love – a map showing places where action happens and where people in the story live. During her quest the reader can consult the map as she ventures with Daisy into the Australian wilderness which is full of familiar – and not so familiar – flora and fauna. 

The end of the book offers interesting notes for the reader – in this case how Daisy gets her name (from the Golden Everlasting or Paper Daisy), also how to make Lemon Myrtle Cordial (featured in the story), and about the endangered beetle for which Vu is named.

It is so good to see a book about fairies that young readers can engage with and who are Australian to boot. Most readers of this first book in the series will be hanging out for the next – will Daisy successfully learn how to fly? Highly recommended.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party  by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 17.99
ISBN 9780763665111

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Princess Magnolia is anticipating the perfect Princess party. She’s put a lot of work into this perfect day and as she waits for the guests to arrive, her glitter-stone ring warns her of a monster attack. Princess Magnolia has an alter ego that surfaces when she gets into the broom closet and slides down the chute as the Princess in Black!

Even her trusty steed has a secret life. His metamorphosis takes place in the hollow of a tree that leads to a secret passage. He enters as Frimplepants and exits as Blacky.

Twelve Princesses are on their way to her party. In fact, they are at the gates. With her magic sceptre she fights the goat-eating monsters, and quickly jumps on Blacky and flies back to the party.

But each time they start to open the presents, Princess Magnolia’s ring goes off and off she goes giving some excuse for her sudden departure.

Will the smart and observant Princess Sneezewort catch her out? With all her monster battles raging, will her perfect Princess party have a happy ending?

Pink and frothy, funny and entertaining, these girlie thirteen chapters are ideal for 6+ readers. It can be read all at once, or picked up and put down. The illustrations are gorgeous and so is the bewitching Princess Magnolia. It is beautifully produced with a jacket cover and ideal for a special gift.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Footpath Flowers

Footpath Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 27.99
ISBN 9781406362084

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

I love wordless picture books. They are like a search-and-find experience; a voyage of discovery. They allow the reader scope to expand their imagination and translate what they see.  It’s almost a create-your-own-story. If an adult feels this way, imagine how much children will get out of this book.

A girl is out with her father. He appears to be oblivious to what is going on around him. The girl seems to be just a tag-along.

She though, is alert and observant. While he is walking blindly towards his destination and talking on his mobile, the girl is taking in the world around her.

She collects colourful flowers growing from corners of the footpath, beneath poles where bikes are tied, from cracks in the walls and footpaths. She looks at coloured bottles, and sees the beauty in small things. Her bunch of flowers grows.

Till this point, the illustrations are all in black ink. The only colour is the girl’s coat and hood which is bright red, and the flowers which she clutches in her hand.

They enter a park. The trees are stark and bare. The girl sees a dead bird. She bobs down to look at it and places some of the flowers on its chest. Here the scene changes and colour enters the picture while the father and child are presented in dark shadow. The bird is in full colour. She has given the bird something of herself along with the flowers.

From this point on there is a great shift in the girl and the man. Colourful watercolour images spill onto the pages. They pass an old man sleeping on a bench. The girl leaves him flowers. She stops to pat a dog on the way and places flowers in his collar.

They are close to home. The change in the man is extraordinary. He has come home to his family. A woman waits at the door.  Children are in the yard. A baby is asleep in a pram. Flowers are everywhere.

The girl looks up at birds flying in the sky. She seems to be remembering the bird in the park. She’s holding one last daisy in her hand and appears to be overcome with sadness. All the things she’s encountered including the flowers are small like her.

This beautiful book by award-winning poet JonArno Lawson is illustrated by the highly talented Sydney Smith whose talent is obvious from the stunning cover and end papers. It tells of the joy found in random acts of kindness; in the small things around us, and the way children find beauty in the simplest things. It’s ideal for the 4+ years age group, adult and child sharing and discussion; and for collectors of outstanding picture books.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Alison Jay (Koala Books)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-114-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Twelve Days of Christmas is a classic Christmas carol which most people know well. On each of the twelve days of Christmas, a man buys a gift for his true love, each one getting bigger and more extravagant.

The counting and the repetition within the lyrics make it perfect for a picture book but the absolute delight (and cleverness) of The Twelve Days of Christmas is the illustrations. There is so much to marvel over on so many different levels.

At first glance they are old-fashioned paintings; beautiful, glowing scenes, cracked with age. But the closer you look, the more you see. From the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations in the town to the quieter, but still active, country life, there is so much going on around the man and woman as they walk through the story.

Every page provides a clue to what the next gift will be – on the page before ‘six geese a-laying’ two geese float on the river as the couple cross a bridge. Hidden away on every page is Father Christmas, and he is not always easy to spot!

Also hidden away on most pages are little humorous scenes – such as a policeman chasing a turkey down the street – and links back to precious gifts. And I’m sure much more that I have missed. These are illustrations which can be studied for great lengths of time.

So many themes of Christmas are included; families, carolling, gifts, and parties. This is an engrossing book for quiet contemplation as well as for reading to young ones during the December preparations.

The Mapmaker Chronicles: Breath of the Dragon

The Mapmaker Chronicles: Breath of the Dragon by A.L.Tait (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780734415813

Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

The third and last book in The Mapmaker Chronicles brings to an exciting conclusion the adventures of Verdanian, Quinn Freeman, mapmaker on board the Libertas, one of three ships vying for the prize offered by the king of Verdania for the best map of the world. A.L. Tait has skillfully recapped the previous two books in such a way that children reading Breath of the Dragon will enjoy it as a stand- alone title.
The story opens with Quinn and his fellow voyagers, Zain the captain, Ash his friend who masquerades as a boy, Tomas, and the rest of the crew all weak and close to starvation. The ship reaches a desolate landfall where no tree or sign of life is apparent other than a mountain belching smoke. Despite their lack of confidence, the only way forward is to explore and hope some form of life and therefore provisions will be discovered. A boat is launched from the Libertas and thus new adventures begin.
A strange group of dusty, goblin-like men shovelling out dirt and rocks on the mountain side, stop their work as Quinn, Tomas and Zain appear. They look blank as Zain then Quinn try various languages to communicate with them, but it isn't until Tomas speaks in Prate - the pirate language - that comprehension appears on the mob's faces. Egunon, one of the sand goblins (as Quinn calls them) steps forward and says he is in charge. Tomas introduces Zain as Hayreddin, a compatriot of the notorious pirate, the Golden Serpent, from the Black Hawk where Quinn was once held captive. 
The mention of the Golden Serpent has a dramatic effect on Egunon. He quickly offers hospitality. But treachery threatens and the crew are fortunate to escape both the sand goblins and the might of the erupting volcano with its heat and stifling air the strange goblins call "dragon's breath". But escape they do, taking with them provisions and a sack of stones that Quinn thinks valuable and he is soon proved right. The contents of the rocks should give the Libertas extra credit towards earning the king's prize.
With food in their bellies, everyone is strengthened except for the old cleric who is still weak and ill. The cleric is the only one to know Quinn has two maps and the genuine one is hidden in his cabin. But will the confidence held in the true map prove to be misplaced?
There are more challenges ahead before the mapmaker and those on board the Libertas can return home: capture by marauding Deslonders, serious injuries and imprisonment for Zain and clashes with their rivals to name a few. Perhaps one of the more intriguing problems is Quinn struggling with loss of memory recall which is impacting on his capabilities.
I found the depth of the hatred and revenge Quinn feels towards Ira, at whose hands he suffered so much, a shock. Despite a welcome benefit from the fight which ensues, I am not a fan of these emotions and was pleased to find the author balanced this scenario later with the calm of Zain's mature, adult approach and wise influence on Quinn when a great injustice is done to the Libertas' crew. It is good for young readers to see that patience and restraint is preferable to violence.
The author brings her series to a satisfying conclusion with plenty of interest and unexpected events to surprise the reader right up to the last pages. The Mapmaker Chronicles showcases a vivid imagination and gift for storytelling which marries fantasy and reality together to great effect and is bound to be a favourite series on the bookshelf.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Our Love Grows

Our Love Grows by Anna Pignataro (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-626-9

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Beautifully soft, in both words and illustration, Our Love Grows is a picture book about growth and the loving bond between mother and child. Every young person will recognise the desire to get bigger as baby panda Pip asks, ‘Mama, when will I be big?’
The affection and love in the mother/child bond is evident as Pip’s mum answers his question in a way that feels like the singing of a lullaby, encouraging him to look out into the world as well as inward toward himself. She introduces the concept of change and growth in a gentle, loving way.

Children love to hear about when they were ‘little’, and love to see how they have grown and changed. This story plants the child firmly within the environment which surrounds them and points out the growth which happens around them as well - trees growing, stars expanding...

The delicate watercolour and pencil illustrations are calm and quiet and the text rhythmical,
   Flowers bloomed and petals fell.
   Pinecones tumbled down, as well.                                  

making it a beautiful bed time read.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Underneath a Cow

Underneath a Cow by Carol Ann Martin, illustrated by Ben Wood (Omnibus Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-088-0

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The animals on the farm are out and about far from their homes when a storm approaches. As big fat raindrops begin to fall, Lally the rabbit is the first to be invited by Madge the cow to shelter underneath her broad body. There is plenty of room at first, but as extra animals join, it gets more and more squishy. Will visitors keep arriving, or will the rain stop before it gets too crowded? And is Spike the hedgehog one animal too many?

Underneath a Cow is a delight to read. The names are wonderful and the banter between the animals is gorgeous. When mother hen’s chicks get excited they bounce about like crazy little dodgem cars. This annoys the dog.

‘Madam!’ Robinson snapped. ‘Do something about your children, please!’
‘They’re only playing,’ said Cackalina. ‘Don’t you ever play?’
‘Not in somebody’s ear. No,’ Robinson replied.

There is a lovely rhythm to the story, with an animal added to the crowd under the cow each page until the storm hits it heights. Here, the calm and brave Madge encourages them all to sing, to keep their fear away.

The personalities in the story are enhanced by the fabulous illustrations, the unflappable cow, the fearful rabbit and the silly chicks – including one little black one who looks like he’d be a handful. Inside the cover – both front and back – is an aerial picture of the farm showing what they were all doing before, and then after, the storm.

This is a really enjoyable and engaging picture book. Both the words and pictures are highly entertaining and it is a story which could be read many times over with pleasure.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Vanilla Slice Kid

The Vanilla Slice Kid by Adam Wallace and Jack Wodhams and Illustrations by Tom Gittus (Ford Street Publishing) PB RRP $14.95  ISBN 978-1-925272-02-4

Reviewed by Kate Foster

It was my absolute pleasure, to read and review this terrific little book -- with the help of my ten-year-old son who fell instantly in need with the title. We love fun. We love silly. We love escapism. And The Vanilla Slice Kid delivered on all three counts.

The story is about a young chap with a special talent called Archie Cunningham, who just wants to belong and be loved. He's born to a cruel cake-munching mother, and a dad who does what he can to provide for his cruel wife. Neither parent ever actually wanted Archie; that is until he was tickled by the midwife and produced two tiny cupcakes from his palms and fired them at his mum.

Hidden away from the world – no school, no friends, and forced to make cupcakes for Cunningham’s Cupcakes – Archie grows up not knowing any different. This is until the tax department discover his parents aren't interested in paying taxes and then find out Archie's never been to school. So at twelve years old, Archie finally gets to be a normal boy.

However, after just half an hour into his first day, Archie breaks his promise to his parents when he's picked on and produces two vanilla slices from his palms. He's quickly recruited by his kind teacher, Mr Tomkins, and taken to The Centre.

But things aren't quite as they first seem (are they ever?) After much analysis to discover why his cakes are constantly changing and growing, Archie is delivered some dire news. He has to escape The Centre. Fast. Before he explodes. But who can he trust to assist him? Since his vanilla slice incident at school has gone viral, the world has gone cake-crazy.

The Vanilla Slice Kid is heaps of fun. It brings smiles aplenty. Although the General stole the show for me with his hilarious recounts of how he lost most of his body parts, the characters are wonderful, the story chaotic, and the end result satisfyingly positive. Sometimes life calls for nothing more than light-hearted, entertaining belly-laughs; not every book needs to teach children a heavy life lesson. And The Vanilla Slice Kid is perfect for this. I will certainly be looking for other books by Adam Wallace and Jack Woodhams. 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Wesley Booth Super Sleuth

Wesley Booth Super Sleuth by Adam Cece, Illustrated by Michael Streich (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-101-6

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Wesley Booth’s reputation at Hub Hill Primary is in jeopardy. He is a super sleuth. But if new girl, Cassidy Strong, beats him to the solution of the crime wave gripping school, Wesley may be left in her shadow. And to make matters worse, his traitorous best friend seems to like her. How’s a boy supposed to solve a case when his mum keeps confiscating his case notes and grounding him? Will his new – and incompetent – assistant be of any use? And what is going on in the family? Maybe his geologist Dad has told one rock joke too many.

Wesley Booth Super Sleuth is a fun read. Boys especially, will enjoy the antics of Wesley as he navigates his way through school, sibling disagreements, friendship upheavals and parents who just don’t understand why detective work is more important than school work!

Humorous black & white illustrations scattered throughout the chapters add to the story and appeal of the book.

This book is aimed at the 8 years plus range and I think upper primary students (or younger children with high reading skills) will enjoy it the most as, at 264 pages, it is not a quick read.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig

Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig by Polly Faber, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 17.95
ISBN 9781406361438

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Mango is a girl who is good at many things. She loves to play chess and is good at karate. She is learning to play the clarinet but needs more practice.

Her life would be lonely if she didn’t have so much to learn and practice. For Papa spends every moment of every day in his study balancing books. It is on a Wednesday that Mango comes across an Asian tapir named Bambang lying on the road, blocking the traffic that everybody thinks is a pig. Being good at things helps her to persuade him to come with her. He has run away from tigers and ended up in the big and busy city.

This is the start of a beautiful friendship between two lonely people that become three when they meet George, the grubby boy up the tree that loves toffees.

There are problems to face and solve. Persuading people, especially Collectors of Unusual Things that Bambang is not a pig, is very hard. But harder still, is finding a bath big enough for Bambang, persuading him to stay indoors when Mango is at school, and trying to find him when he wanders off.

This is a delightful story in four parts for the 5-7 ages. The illustrations are by Clara Vulliamy, daughter of Australian writer and illustrator Shirley Hughes. The book is ideal for bedtime reading in small portions. It is luxuriously presented in purple and grey colours alone, with purple framed pages alternating throughout the book, and a jacket identical to the cover. Themes of friendship, acceptance and kindness move like a mist within the entertaining storyline.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Australian Kids through the Years

Australian Kids through the Years by Tania McCartney, illustrated by Andrew Joyner (National Library of Australia)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780642278593

Reviewed By Anastasia Gonis

This impeccably constructed book by Tania McCartney and Andrew Joyner celebrates the cultural diversity of Australia. It focuses on Australian children through the years as it educates and informs readers about the shifting and evolving periods of Australian history. It starts from the 1800s and ends at 2000 and beyond.

The layout of the book follows a pattern. Two children are introduced in each era. They then appear in a double spread that reveals them in their daily environment. We progressively learn about the children’s life and living conditions, the food they eat, the way they dress, what they play, their educational opportunities and later what they are reading.

Indigenous Australians are first in the book.  Their relationship to the land, and the reverence they hold for it is of paramount importance to their life.

Mid 1800s and brings the convict era. Children work hard and schooling is rare. It is followed by the Gold Rush which brings the Chinese to the Goldfields. Tents house the gold diggers and their families. The dress code has changed slightly and Hotels begin to appear. Thousands of Irish immigrants make Australia their home.  Most children are now getting an education and living conditions have improved significantly.

Pre and post War life is addressed. An increase in migration and decimal currency are stamped on Australia’s history. Big hair and bright clothes, Ninja turtles and Atari herald great changes and shifts in the life of children. This prepares them for the electronic age. And the rest is history.

This book for the 5-8 years age range is a valuable asset for schools, libraries, and tourist facilities as are most of Tania McCartney’s recent books. Andrew Joyner’s fantastic illustrations complement the text perfectly, bringing to life the past and how children’s lives changed significantly for the better with the passing of time. The excellent end papers reflect the contents as do the magnificent covers in vibrant colour.

As usual, the NLA has played a large part in this beautiful production. Black and white photos from the archives enhance the List of Illustrations from the National Library that appear with details of their origins and other significant information. 
The old is blended with the new as modern coloured illustrations sit beside the old photos.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Penelope Perfect: Very Private List for Camp Success

Penelope Perfect: Very Private List for Camp Success by Chrissie Perry (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781760120254

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

This is the second Penelope Perfect novel by the author of the Go Girl series, Chrissie Perry. The narrative is punctuated with pictures and playful font, adding some elements of interest to key scenes. The series’ star is Penelope Kingston, a classic over-thinker who is anxious about all the important things in a primary school child’s life, like navigating friendship groups and dealing with playground conflict.

Penelope demonstrates a high level of self-awareness, and realises that her nervous feelings and angry outbursts need to be kept under control. There’s a lot of self-analysis at the beginning of the book as Penelope grapples with her worries, including writing herself a list of behavioural instructions to ensure her upcoming trip to a school camp goes smoothly.

The initial focus on her neuroses detracts somewhat from the narrative; however, the second half the book takes a more enjoyable turn as the reader is transported to the world of school camp and a cast of schoolkid characters. Penelope faces the ups and downs of mean girls and friendship alliances before it’s time to face her ultimate school camp fear – tackling an intimidating, high swing challenge. The book comes to a satisfying close as loose ends are neatly tied up. Penelope demonstrates inner growth and a realisation that sometimes, expectations of perfection need to be loosened a little to achieve ‘success’.

This is a fun read for the 7 to 10 year old female market, featuring anxieties that many children of this age would relate to. Despite the book’s heavy focus on tackling insecurities, the characters, plot and tension draw the reader in, and ultimately reveal an increasingly relatable and likeable Penelope who you can’t help but cheer for.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Sian: A New Australian

Sian: A New Australian by D. Luckett (Omnibus Books for Scholastic)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-039-2

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

It is 1910 and ten year old Sian is the youngest in a large Welsh family. The unlucky 13th child, her mother died giving birth to her and her harsh father seems to care little for her. Her older sister has always looked after her, but with Olive’s impending marriage and move from the family home, there is little escape from a miserable existence in a sunless coal mining town. That is until Olive and her new husband whisk Sian away to a new life in Australia.

From the first page, Sian’s voice was one which shone. Although life was dreary, Sian never felt sorry for herself and throughout the story, no matter what life threw at her, she remained upbeat, self possessed and independently confident. Her wonder and interest in everything surrounding her was infectious and on the journey to Australia she had so many new experiences. When stopping in Ceylon for the ship to take on more coal Sian saw an elephant.

‘I’d only ever seen them in pictures, and pictures don’t tell you how they curl up their trunks and that they set their feet down carefully, as if they don’t want to break anything.’

Fabulously written, the setting, whether in Wales, or Sydney, or Darwin, became as much a character of the story as the people. Life in Darwin in the early 20th century was particularly fascinating.

Factually based, this engaging read is a great way to connect with our history and learn about some of the experiences Australia’s early immigrants. Tying in with the Australian Curriculum this is a historical novel perfect for upper primary and lower high school students but advanced younger readers from 8 years of age would enjoy the story as well.

Hooked from the very beginning, I was swept away by Sian, her story, and the evocative writing. Sian is part of a relatively new series A New Australian and I look forward to reading more.

Also in this series: Bridget, Kerenza, Teresa, Frieda, May Tang.