Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Beloved

The Beloved by Alison Rattle (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $15.75
ISBN 97814703798
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Sometimes mothers and daughters don’t bond from the outset. So it is with Alice Angel and her strict mother Temperance, who is from humble origins and wife of the very wealthy Alfred. 

It is 1848 and sixteen-year-old Alice, a rebellious and spirited teenager, is trapped in an unloving Victorian home with a mother who punishes her cruelly. When the book opens, the girl is strapped by the wrists overnight in her bed because she did not want to sleep in her tight corset. Papa, whom Alice loves, is often absent on business but weak when it comes to dealing with his beautiful wife. Alice’s brother Eli sides with their mother who adores him -- until a dramatic turn of events.

Escaping one day from home, Alice witnesses an enigmatic, charismatic man preaching in town. She feels strangely drawn to him, but later at home events conspire against her even more when there is an unexpected family tragedy. En route in a carriage to the madhouse, Alice escapes and eventually finds herself in the community run by the preacher who is always referred to as ‘The Beloved’. At first she feels free and happy but things are to change to such an extent she does not know where to turn.

Sometime it is difficult to find sympathy for Alice as she reacts angrily to situations, but who knows how one might act given such a restrictive life as hers? Certainly her mother comes across as a selfish, self-centred and vicious woman whose aim in life is to fit into the upper echelons of society. The Beloved explores what freedom and friendship mean and how manipulative people can behave when their wants are not met. Full of drama – sometimes melodrama – this easy to read, well-plotted and fast-paced novel is recommended for young adult (and older) readers.

Alison Rattle’s other novels are The Quietness and The Madness.


Monday, 30 March 2015

This is Captain Cook

This is Captain Cook by Tania McCartney, illustrated by Christina Booth (NLA Publishing)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780642278692
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Two highly talented artists have collaborated to create this entertaining and educational picture book for the 3+ year age group. It’s totally captivating from cover-to-cover. The end pages display the chickens from the story accompanied by clever captions. Every page is a new discovery. I loved it! This is another outstanding production from the National Library of Australia.

Mrs Batts’ class is presenting a play on the life of Captain James Cook; from his boyhood on the farm (lots of chickens and two goats are included in the show) to when he sailed away to Hawaii never to return. The story concentrates on his life as mariner, father and adventurer.

For me there were several parts to applaud in this stunning picture book (the comedy of chickens was an added novelty). The delightful, light-hearted text by Tania McCartney sets the mood. Christine Booth’s brilliant detailed illustrations activate the art show.

The story begins with ceaseless activity taking place on the stage. Chickens run amok as children try to catch them with nets. A cast of children act out their parts as they wave to parents in the audience. Everyone is having tremendous fun.

The first image of the audience shows the parents arriving, greeting each other, and the show starting. This is all in colour.

On the following pages, the images of the audience are shadows. Parents share whispered conversation. Babies babble. One baby is thinking of the toy it has dropped. Another has fallen asleep in its mother’s arms. This is where a second story seems to appear, trying not to obscure the stage play, but demanding attention none-the-less.

There is doubt as to how much the parents are taking in of the actual show, for many are distracted by the few children chasing and trying to catch those elusive chickens.

I was impressed by the amount of interaction the book engendered. I had to look carefully time and again, to fully absorb the volume of information contained on each page. This guarantees that children will discover new things each time they open the covers. The rich content will generate questions and answers between adult and child.


At the end is a double page spread with illustrated frames identical to the images in Cook’s Gallery. More information can be accessed along with maps and journals through the NLA on-line. 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Double Trouble: Dinosaur Danger

Double Trouble: Dinosaur Danger by Sarah Fraser, illustrations by Louis Shea (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-376-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Seven year old twins Tommy and Coop are known for their love of  pulling pranks. They collect all sorts of gadgets from a joke shop and use them to play tricks on their family, friends and class mates. But on a school excursion to the museum with Mr. Crotchet, the boys know they will have little opportunity for pranks. The button and knot exhibition is shaping up to be as boring as they expected until they see a sign which reads "Dinosaur Danger! Do Not Enter." Maybe there is a way to pull the best prank ever? Or will they get pranked themselves?
Double Trouble is a new Australian series for boys, pitched to the five plus beginner readers market. The boys are cheeky, funny and full of surprises. Each title is slim, with short chapters, large font, easy words and plenty of pictures.
Louis Shea is well-known for illustrating many children's picture books and this series features his humorous illustrations and expressive characters which emphasise the naughtiness and boy humour throughout.


Saturday, 28 March 2015

Double Trouble: Midnight Mischief

Double Trouble: Midnight Mischief by Fiona Regan, illustrations by Louis Shea (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-377-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Twice the fun. Double the trouble.
Tommy and Coop are identical twins. They are very excited as school camp is coming up and these seven year olds know it will be a fabulous opportunity for pulling pranks. They have been to Joking Jo's, their favourite joke shop, for supplies and are ready to pull off some of their best pranks. The only problem is that they have promised Mum and Dad they will behave on camp and not prank anyone.
These cheeky brothers, who have never let something like this stand in their way, work out a way to get around the consequences of breaking their promise (or so they think) and soon there is mayhem at midnight.
But the pranks always get the boys into trouble. And every now and then, they may even be out-pranked.
This new Australian series is well suited to young boys who love an entertaining prank and cheeky fun. The structure and text of the story make this a good series for beginner readers while the entertaining and funny illustrations add to the appeal of these stories, enhancing the 'boy humour' throughout.  


Friday, 27 March 2015

Stand Up and Cheer

Stand Up and Cheer by Loretta Re (The Wild Colonial Company)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780992306922
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

I enjoyed everything about this book from the factual storyline crafted with perfect prose, to the outstanding characters - both bad and good. All my senses stood at attention from the first page to the last. Right from the beginning, a strong sense of time, place, and social conditions is projected.

It is 1934 in Albury situated on the border of NSW and Victoria. Ten year old Jack is passionate about and well-versed on the subject of planes and the history of aviation. When the Great Centenary Air Race from Britain to Melbourne is announced, all he wants is go to Melbourne to see the planes come in. His father, ‘the Voice of the ABC’, is calling the race. It is a time of great adventure and achievement, but also of great poverty due to unemployment.

Mac Robertson, the chocolate king, announces a free trip to Melbourne. The winner must collect the marked wrappers from Cherry Ripe that spell out ‘Centenary Air Race’. Jack sees winning the competition as his only chance of getting to Melbourne.

Jack’s heartbreaking experience with the town’s bully and his stash of wrappers is one of the many sub-stories that make this book so fantastic. Seamlessly knitted to Jack’s story are the disastrous events that cause the Uiver to be blown off course during a fierce storm. Subtly sifted into that is the conflict that occurs in Jack’s father’s working life. This is juxtaposed with his courageous actions that save the plane and crew, and put Albury on the map.

Loretta Re has written a powerful fictional account of a great Australian historical event in such a way, that it is impossible to put the book down. It has so many themes threaded through it that I’m unable to list them all. The writing is full of vivid scenes, and not a single unnecessary word exists anywhere.

I haven’t been so completely absorbed in a book, or enjoyed one so much, in the longest time. It is aimed at the 8-12 age groups but has everything readers of any age want from a story.




Thursday, 26 March 2015

Home

Home by Carson Ellis (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406359428
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

There are many definitions of Home. There are also many places to call home. It might be in a house on wheels, a city underwater, a hollow in a tree, a large apartment building or a tiny house. There are so many options to claim. Don’t forget that there was on old woman who lived in a shoe. There’s one in this book too, along with all her children.

In Home, Carson Ellis’ first complete book, we are introduced to the many places people and animals call their home. She examines the what, who and why of homes around the world, and the different types of living arrangements that depend on climate and country, lifestyle and affordability.

Ellis’ exquisite style and colour choice for her illustrations accentuates her clever and minimal use of words. Darker shades are used than are normally found in children’s books, but this choice serves the theme and text well. There is a large amount of visual information to be found in the illustrations. This book is ideal for an adult to share with a child of 3+, for questions and discussion will be born from the detailed images. It is also a stimulating book for children to imagine and create their own stories with, simply from the illustrations alone.

Whether it is a nest, a boat or a wigwam, a palace, the home of a Japanese businessman, or a Slovakian duchess, home is where you live and are happy.


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Nanna’s Boot Camp

PB RRP $15 eBook $7.99
ISBN 9780987543462
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Nanna’s Storm was Indigenous author and painter Vicki Griffin’s first book. This is her second and certainly not her last, for her heritage inspires her artistic expression.

The four children are sent off to Nanna’s boot camp. They expect an adventure but don’t know what they will experience.  Here boot camp takes on a new meaning. A huge boot hangs against the wind at the doorstep. Other dirty boots are piled up outside the tent. What does all this mean? Who owns these boots?

Nanna and the mob wade into the creek. The net comes up full of prawns. They cook them over a campfire and the tale of the boots is heard.

Uncle Joe arrives minus one boot. He claims the other from the wind and hook, and also catches his dinner of prawns. But he comes out minus his boots. They will now wait in the water for the dry season. Another pair of boots is added to the creek by Jacob. Now two pairs of boots await the dry season. That means a return to Nanna’s boot camp.

This simple tale incorporates so much. It talks of family and love, sharing of oral traditions over campfires with the younger mob, and a sense of place and belonging. All this is told in picture book form in a fun-loving way for the 5+ years’ age group. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Last Thirteen Book 11: 3


The Last Thirteen Book 11:3 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-194-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.

In this, the eleventh instalment of the globetrotting, action packed adventure The Last Thirteen, Sam finds himself searching for the next Dreamer and her gear in the Australian Outback.  The eleventh Dreamer is someone Sam knows well and this time, in the search which takes him below Uluru, Stella and Solaris are hot on his heels and closer than they have ever been. After losing a friend in the most recent stage of the search, Sam is determined not to lose another in Australia. It will take great skill by Sam and the Dreamers to manipulate their own dreams to keep their enemies at bay and win the gear for themselves.

Meanwhile, captured by pirates, Alex, Hans and Dr Kader have their own battle to win before they can continue on their quest. Alex's relief at being rid of these pirates cannot quite overcome his anxiety about Han's true motivations towards Antarctica, the next gear and the Dreamgate.

Shiva discovers that Stella's headquarters are at the nuclear disaster site of Chernobyl in the Ukraine, so Lora, Xavier and a team of the remaining loyal guardians plan to storm the hideout. But is this a trap set by their enemies?

Once again the three storylines are told in alternating chapters, sometimes intersecting, but always thrilling and integral to the central plot. The closer we get to the end of the race, the more intense and nail biting the adventure gets.

With only two more instalments to go, readers (10+) will be reaching for the next in the series without pausing for breath. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Imagine a City

Imagine a City by Elise Hurst (Omnibus Books for Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-009-5
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Imagine a train to take you away is the first line in a beautifully magical journey into a land of fantasy. The words are few, just a sentence to every double page, but deeply evocative, ‘A world without edges’. Each sentence stands alone, and is part of the bigger picture of the story.  If you take the text alone, it is a lovely poem.
The black and white illustrations are stunning. They draw the reader even further into a fantastical place, where bears hold up bridges, paintings do not end at their frames, fish fly through the sky carrying passengers and stories escape from the pages of books.   Among the whimsical fantasy of the story are a boy, a girl and their mother, whose appearance on each page gives a consistency and solidity to a story which otherwise may have flown away.
Along with the juxtaposition of real and imaginary, are the contrasted concepts of past and present, large and small.
There is so much to see in every wonderful picture. This story will engage and expand the imagination of readers, boys and girls, from three to adults. 
It’s a city like you've never seen before. Get ready to explore!


Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780763669638
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This stunning collection follows the evolution of poetry through time and objects. The introduction gives an historical overview of the changing periods of poetry. Beginning from the Early Middle Ages, 400-1000 and ending in Contemporary times, a great many objects are used as a single theme or themes in every poem.

Great preparation and research has been conducted to compile these 77 pages of poems by a variety of authors from all over the world. Included are Rumi, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, William Wordsworth, Robert Burns, Tennyson, and many that are not well known names, but whose poetry is highly commendable.

As in all collections, there are always poems that stand out from the others for some related reason or other. The Death of the Hat by Billy Collins, which comes close to the end and is the title poem, is clever and thought-provoking. It speaks of times past and habits lost. Stick and Hat by Emporer Le Thanh Tong from the Renaissance Period offers wisdom and insight into the use of two common objects and their versatility.  Boxes and Bags by Carl Sandberg, Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath, and An Hymn to the Evening by Phillis Wheatley are also poems  I’ve chosen for their specific messages.

Readers will find their own favourites and perhaps all the poems will fall under this heading for some. No poetry enthusiast will be disappointed with the selection Paul B. Janeczko has chosen. Illustrations in watercolour and ink support each poem and add beauty to the rhyming and non-rhyming verse presented in this production for the 8+ age group (which includes adults of course).


    

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy (Allen & Unwin)
YA Speculative Feminist Anthology RRP$16.99
ISBN 9781743319789

In late 2012, Australia and India were rocked by violent crimes against young women. In Delhi, thousands protested against rape. In Melbourne, thousands stood vigil in memory of a young woman raped and murdered while walking home. The fate of all young women, what they should fear and what they can hope for, were hot topics in the media around the world. Out of that storm rose the idea for this anthology. (From the introduction)

To see a collection such as this, written specifically for young people with its feminist message by contemporary authors who crossed cultural boundaries  and set in exciting alternate and dystopian worlds and different realties hit all the right notes for me.

The anthology includes seventeen works of fiction, including a play and six graphic stories written by twenty-two authors and illustrators and set in dystopian or fantasy worlds and sometimes in distant galaxies.

Contributors were given the added challenge of working in collaboration with a partner from the other country on which they give an insight in brief notes at the back of the book.

My favourite stories include ‘Cast Out’ by Samhita Arni, ‘Cat Calls’ by Margo Lanagan and ‘Memory Lace’ by Payal Dhar; I also was immersed in the graphic story by Isobelle Carmody through the illustrative style of Prabha Mallya. In 'Cast Out', girls showing signs of magic, even in self-defence, are cast off in the ocean to die a gruesome death. The main character also finds herself in this position, and what she finds will change her life as much as it has been saved. 

Reading the inspiration behind the story which was based on conversations between Samhita Arni and her Australian counterpart, Alyssa Brugman, on feminism and consumerism gave an insight into how this story came to be. Brugman’s story ‘Weft’ is a very different, thought-provoking story showing the main character’s reflections while she is in the process of buying a full head of hair.

This is a strong contender for my favourite anthology of the year!


Yvonne Mes is a children's author. Her first picture book, Meet Sidney Nolan (Random House) is scheduled for release in October 2015. www.yvonnemes.com

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Spires of Kurrong

The Spires of Kurrong by Malcolm Wells (Morris Publishing Australia)
PB RRP $20, EB RRP $4.99
ISBN 978-0-9942463-1-8
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Spires of Kurrong is a sci-fi/fantasy novel aimed at the YA market. It is set in an alternative universe in a continent divided, with a population inhabiting twin domed spires set atop extinct volcanos. For generations they have been unaware of the population and happenings on the planet’s surface, led to believe that it is inhabited by Daemons. However, when doomed lovers Markus and Filona risk everything for a new life on the surface, they soon uncover more about the two communities, unravelling everything they have been taught to believe.

The novel spans some big themes, from race, class, war, morality and the interesting inclusion of the drug trade, to loyalty and deception. For such an all-encompassing novel, it feels as though more evocative description is warranted at times, and there is a lot of telling the reader rather than showing. The second half of the narrative appears to move at a pace too fast to really develop some of the new characters who are introduced. Filona appears frustratingly naïve at times, and it would have been interesting to learn more about her and the tensions that would inevitably ensue in her and Markus’ relationship, which is glossed over at times. Overall, Wells has created an ambitious novel with a compelling premise.


Thursday, 19 March 2015

10 Clumsy Emus

10 Clumsy Emus by Ed Allen, illustrated by Wendy Binks (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-639-3
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ed Allen continues his 10 Green Bottles spin-offs with this title featuring a very wacky bunch of emus. These emus roller-skate, play musical chairs, visit the zoo and even try to tidy their rooms. One by one, they drop out of the picture, until only one emu remains. Then they all reappear for a last sing-a-long. This title has a particularly satisfying ending.

The emus in this story may be clumsy but the rhythm and rhyme are not. It is such fun to read this book aloud and it will be enjoyed, not only by preschoolers, but by their older readers as well. The words flow and the situations the emus end up in will be recognisable to all.

Four clumsy emus tidying their room
Four clumsy emus tidying their room
And if one clumsy emu should sneak away too soon,
There’ll be three clumsy emus tidying their room.

This is the first time I’ve seen Wendy Binks’ illustrations and her emus are endearing. With their wild hairstyles and popping eyes they each have a sense of style and personality. It is easy to follow the fate of a specific emu through the pages. The bold colours and humour will attract young readers and the front cover gives a fabulous taste of the emus inside.

Other titles in this series include 10 Funny Sheep, 10 Silly Wombats, 10 Green Geckos and many more. These fun books are an entertaining way for young children to learn their counting – forwards and backwards.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Harold & Grace

Harold & Grace by written and illustrated by Sean E Avery (Fremantle Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9-781-925-162-295
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin


Harold & Grace is a beautifully illustrated story about the power of friendship.

After a terrible storm, one slimy egg and one silky egg survive on a ‘lonely leaf growing on a tiny tree beside a little pond’. When the eggs hatch, Harold the tadpole and Grace the caterpillar quickly become unlikely best friends.

But when Harold starts to grow fins and spends more time swimming, Grace can’t join in the fun. Then one day, Harold remembers to visit his old friend at the lonely leaf, but finds that she’s gone, and only a small, silky sack remains.

Wherever could Grace be? Harold feels the full impact of his neglect of Grace and how they had grown apart.

However, Sean E Avery, cleverly brings them back together in a most humorous and thoroughly satisfying way.

I can’t help but think how much fun this picture would be in the classroom for both Pre-School and Primary students, perhaps up to Year 4 students.
It’s ideal for schools to explore both the Sustainability cross-curricular priority and Biological Science units. Project skills can be honed by the children researching the different species of butterflies and frogs that are native to Australia, as well as gaining an understanding of the life cycles of a butterflies and frogs. Harold and Grace could easily form the basis for an integrated learning unit on the theme of ‘ecology’ that could last an entire term.
The artwork is a humorous fusion of drawing and digital, the mainstay of colour palette being limited black and white tones with splashes of colour throughout.

Sean E Avery is a very talented sculptor and artist and there is no doubt his work is unique.

This is a highly recommended read for pre-school and middle primary school readers.

Neridah McMullin is the author of six books for children. Her next book is about a horse in a bushfire to be published by Allen & Unwin in 2016. Neridah loves family, footy and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also happens to love footy). www.neridahmcmullin.comwww.neridahmcmullin.wordpress.com


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Dropping In

Dropping In by Geoff Havel (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9-781-925-162-233
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

Dropping In is such an enjoyable read; I have to admit it had me from the blurb. From the language to the storyline, it’s a thoroughly satisfying middle reader.

Sticks and Ranga live on the same street, go to the same school and love the same things – skateboarding and PlayStation. When new kid James arrives in his wheelchair, Sticks isn’t sure they can be friends. But Sticks quickly discovers they have a lot in common. Cerebral palsy stops James from doing some things but it hasn’t dulled his sense of humour – and he’s pretty brainy, too. The only thing James can’t do is join Sticks and Ranga when they go skateboarding – or can he?

Three mates, a beat-up old couch, a couple of skateboards and a steep hill … what could possibly go wrong?

Yes, what could possibly go wrong? Alarm bells! So, this scenario sets it up beautifully for an engaging read and you will not be disappointed.

The skateboard language throughout is accurate and entertaining and Geoff Havel’s voice is authentic. It does covers some pretty serious issues such as disability, bullying, ADHD and domestic abuse but it manages to do it with an honest and engaging narration, keeping the tone light.

The characters are original and relatable and it’s one of those stories you just want to keep on reading.

Dropping In offers middle-grade readers a fast paced, feel-good introduction to some seriously important subjects.

This is a highly recommended read for middle primary school readers.

Neridah McMullin is the author of six books for children. Her next book is about a horse in a bushfire to be published by Allen & Unwin in 2016. Neridah loves family, footy and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also happens to love footy). www.neridahmcmullin.com www.neridahmcmullin.wordpress.com



Monday, 16 March 2015

Is the Secret Safe?

Is the Secret Safe? by B. Cashel-Smith, illustrated by Jasmine Hobbs (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117325
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

An unusual book in so many ways! A chapter book of over 100 pages is not normally targeted at pre-schoolers and early primary readers. This is definitely a chapter book for confident, persistent and independent readers in that age group.

The style is equally unusual and features significant sections of authorial intrusion via direct address to the reader from a wise old rabbit narrator. This kind of feature is not currently in vogue, probably because it needs to be handled with exceptional humour and subtlety to pass muster with the tech-savvy kids of today. In addition, the grammar and punctuation surrounding the dialogue, while not wrong, is certainly different with its frequent run-ons.

Those minor reservations aside, this is a rabbit-warren of a book that romps along in a nostalgic style, reminiscent of the golden era of late nineteenth century children’s literature. The story is perky and unexpected, and follows the adventures of George and Matilda, who, having encountered Oscar, the son of the Easter Bunny, are invited to the secret town of Bunny-Hop. Jumping into a bush and down a dark hole, they come to an old door with an Easter Egg handle.

The Easter Bunny is crosser than a hot-cross bun when he sees them. Oscar has endangered the secret location of Bunny-Hop. Worse still, he’s lost the Easter key – the key that can open any door anywhere to allow the Easter Bunny access to any home to deliver chocolate eggs.

Oscar denies all knowledge of the disappearance of the key.

It soon transpires that a wicked duo of hares want to take over and replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Hare.

Will they succeed in their dastardly scheme? Can Oscar stop them before it’s too late? What role will George and Matilda play? Why does the fairy helper keep fainting when she’s needed? And is the secret of Bunny-Hop safe?

For the answers, turn to Is the Secret Safe? The book also contains simple recipes. Its lustrous illustrations will appeal to fairy fans.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Goldilocks

Goldilocks by Robyn Press, illustrated by Caitlin Miller (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117271
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

Goldilocks wants to set the record straight. No doubt you’ve heard about the time she was charged with break and enter, damaging goods and terrorising bears. The story currently circulating is nothing more than a jumble of half-truths and distorted rumour.

Here you may judge the facts for yourself:

Mrs Bear wanted to spruce up her home in preparation for the visit of her in-laws. The old home was looking a bit tired and rundown and Mrs Bear hadn’t had time to do it herself due to a long hibernation. So she hired an interior decorator, Goldie of Goldie’s Golden Homes, who promised her a golden result.

However, Mrs Bear was concerned about Mr Bear’s reaction, both to a suddenly golden cottage as well as the financial cost. She decided the best way to proceed was to present him with a fait accompli, so she took Mr Bear for a long walk. Once they’d left Goldie let herself in and set to work. All went well, bar a slight accident or two, until Mr Bear arrived back unexpectedly just as Goldie was lying down to check the new mattress she’d bought to help Mr Bear’s bad neck.

Goldie proclaims her innocence in rhyme all the way through this flamboyantly illustrated picture book, splashed throughout with bright yellow gold.

Hi, they call me Goldilocks; you’ve likely heard my name.
I’ve been inside a fairytale, that’s where I found my fame.


Saturday, 14 March 2015

How Santa Arrived at the North Pole

How Santa Arrived at the North Pole by Fred Strassberg, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN: 9781925117271
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

This is an unusual offering for so early in the year — but ready in time for Christmas in July!

Santa, I learned to my surprise in this illustrated chapter book, had many difficulties as he began his career in delivering Christmas cheer.

After an aromatic disaster involving sleigh-hauling skunks from the Catskills, followed by a major miscalculation with their brown bear replacements, (something to do with winter hibernation), Santa packs up his toys, his elves and Mrs Claus and relocates from the good ole US of A to Africa.

Elephants. Large flappy ears. Good for flying. Tick, tick, tick. Yep, the idea works a treat until they land on the first roof. And there is no more roof. Not much house, either.

Off to Australia. Kangaroos. A little ripper of an idea. With a bound, they are off. And all is well until that long hop to England. Santa feels a little green, instead of red, and throws up indelicately in a fireplace while delivering gifts.

Back to Africa. It doesn’t take long to decide that crocodiles from the Nile are a bad idea for hauling sleighs. Camels sound perfect -- until they get upset, and spit all over Santa.

Finally, Santa lets Mrs Claus loose with a globe. She plunks down her finger - and the rest, as we all know, is history.

The bright cartoon-like illustrations in this fast-read chapter book lift the storyline. With a light, deft touch in the grossness stakes, it will appeal to boys still at the age to enjoy all the farts, vomits and spitting.


Friday, 13 March 2015

Emilia Mouse

Emilia Mouse by Elisabeth Hardy, illustrated by Sophie Norsa (Little Steps Publishing)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN: 9781925117288
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

How did the cat-and-mouse band come about? How did traditional enemies overcome their differences and unite in harmony (in more ways than one)?

This is the story of Emilia Mouse who discovered a treasure trove of musical instruments hidden behind a wall of boxes. Blowing the trumpet, she awakens the cats that have a hidden sleeping spot in the wall of boxes. With a flying leap, they’re after Emilia. In desperation, she thrusts the trumpet at one of the cats who grabs it with his mouth -- and finds fabulous music coming out. The other cat wants to join in. Soon cats and mice are converging on them all, wanting to be part of it all. As they pick up the different instruments and start to play them, Emilia steps forward to lead the band.


This is a warm and attractive hardcover story with eye-catching illustrations.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Last Thirteen Book 10:4

The Last Thirteen Book 10:4 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-193-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.

Beginning in Japan, where Sam and Issey were rescued in dramatic fashion in the last book, the action quickly moves to Cambodia. It is here Sam has dreamed the tenth Dreamer will be located. It seems that many of the world’s leaders are now united behind the Dreamers in the race to save the world, but rather than making the task easier for Sam and his team, the effect of increased exposure makes it harder for them to move about with the stealth and speed they need to stay under the radar of Stella, Hans and Solaris.

While Sam and Poh - the tenth Dreamer- evade poachers and bandits among the ruins of Angkor Wat in the search for the next gear, Alex is facing problems of his own. Heading for Antarctica with Hans and Dr Kader, their vessel is under fire, with missiles from an unknown source bearing down on them.

Meanwhile, it is time for Eva to enter the Dreamer Doors tournament with Zara and Xavier. Although nervous, Eva has confidence in her team and her destiny. Once inside the arena, however, it becomes apparent there is something very wrong. Can she find the right door and escape before it is too late? Can the rest of her team?

The Last Thirteen has a serialized story line which does need to be read in order, from 13 to 1. 4 is therefore the tenth book in this series, and ends in the customary tense cliff hanger with the knowledge that there are only 14 days left to save the world.

This is an action packed, addictive series for children 10 years and up. With its strong females characters - heroes and villains - girls will enjoy it at least as much as boys.

There is also an on-line companion page, www.thelast13.com, with VIP Access, e-newsletters, access code breakers and many more features.


Wednesday, 11 March 2015

My Australian Story: Convict Girl

My Australian Story: Convict Girl by Chrissie Michaels (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-015-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Convicted for theft, young Mary Beckworth is transported in 1801, with her mother, to Australia. A spirited girl, Mary is determined to make the best of her new life as a convict, whatever obstacles it may bring. Working first on Quaker's Row sorting fleece, then as a nanny for Judge Atkins, and finally as an assistant to Commander Baudin on the French exploration ship the Géographe, Mary overcomes her problems with bravery, level-headed decisions and a warm heart. She is an interesting and enjoyable character to spend time with.
Whilst not ignoring the harsh realities of convict life at this time, the story does not dwell on them. It focuses rather, on the hope and possibilities of Mary's life, making it a story which is perfectly accessible for readers from middle primary school and up. Mary’s convict years are during a time of great exploration and expeditions, the establishment of the growing colony in New South Wales, and the occasional convict uprising.  This is an exciting part of our Australian history to read about.
The historical notes at the end of the book give an idea of how much of the story is fact. Mary Beckworth was a real person in Australian history, as were many other characters in this story. Most of the events described in her (fictional) diary, such as the Irish uprising, the tension with France, the attempted escapes and the return of Judge Atkins' wife, are all based on fact. Actually, after his wife’s death in 1809, the Judge married Mary's mother, who had been his housekeeper since 1801.
Written in diary form in a chatty, intelligent voice, this intimate account is easy to get caught up in. It covers the years from 1801 to 1803, and incorporates many aspect of Sydney’s early penal colony. Reading this story, and others like it, is a great way for children to explore Australia’s historic past.
Other titles in the My Australian Story series include The Hunt for Ned Kelly by Sophie Masson, The Bombing of Darwin by Alan Tucker, Our Don Bradman by Peter Allen, Voyage to Botany Bay by Chrissie Michaels, The Phar Lap Mystery by Sophie Masson and many more.