Thursday, 30 April 2015

If You Find This

If You Find This by Matthew Baker (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781471404528

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

As soon as you read in the first page of this first person narrative that the protagonist eleven-year-old Nicholas Funes has an ongoing relationship with a tree that he believes is his brother, you know this is going to be quirky, and Nicholas weird.  The boy also collects prime numbers and square roots and the text is full of references to them. There is also something which irritated this reader: the words ‘forte’ and ‘piano’ are littered throughout the book to indicate mood. I found them distracting and could not see what purpose they served.

As for the story, Nicholas’ real troubles begin when his Grandfather, a family secret, is let out of prison. The old man confides he has a map to an immense fortune; the problem is that it seems as though he’s suffering from dementia. Fighting off bullies is one of Nicholas’ problems and, too, he’s upset that the family is going to have to sell off their home to solve monetary problems.

What follows next is a series of events that see Nicholas, with two unlikely accomplices, trying to engineer a break-out from a retirement home, making an agreement with a local witch and trying to solve the secrets of his family’s past.

Nicholas is a weird child indeed. I found this story challenging, trying to ignore the fortes and pianos and other oddities. But for a reader aged 11 years and up who enjoys books about strange friendships, weirdness, family secrets and dangerous adventures, then this might be a book for him or her.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Knockabout cricket: A story of sporting legend – Johnny Mullagh

Knockabout cricket: A story of sporting legend – Johnny Mullagh by Neridah McMullin, Illustrated by Ainsley Walters (One Day Hill Publishing)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780992439736

Reviewed by J Wishart

This charming and informative picture book is aimed at middle primary school readers. It tells the story of a young Aboriginal man, Unaarrimin, also known as Johnny Mullagh, who became a famous cricket all-rounder in the 1860s.

The narrative begins with a schoolboy, James, at home on Pine Hills sheep station for the holidays. Cricket was popular and James often played with the shearers at the end of their working day. When Johnny Mullagh emerges from the bush and is introduced to the game by James, the author describes a fictional – but entirely possible – version of the first match Mullagh ever played.

The author has used lively and evocative language to capture the game, with the ‘thwack’ of the bat and balls ‘fizzing’ through grass. Throughout the main story there are also fact-boxes tracing the life of Johnny Mullagh, his trademark batting style, and the development of cricket as a game. At the end, Johnny’s story is summarised again to acknowledge his great talent and eventful life, including a tour of England in 1868, and the difficulties he faced as an Aboriginal player.

The illustrator has employed a painting style reminiscent of artists like Pro Hart to effectively depict the open spaces and broad skies of the Australian outback. The passage of time during Johnny’s re-imagined first match is shown through deepening sunset colours and eventual dusk that descends over the players and ends their beloved game for the day.

The result is a blend of fictional story, facts and artwork, with broad appeal and loads of potential to engage readers.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Anzac Puppy

The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett, Illustrated by Trish Bowles (Scholastic NZ)
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-1-77543-097-1
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

'In the middle of the night, in the middle of the winter, in the middle of a war, a puppy was born.'
Lucy names the puppy Freda but sadly the family cannot afford to keep her so a passing young soldier, Sam, adopts her and takes her with him to war. Sam and Freda become fast friends, comforting each other through harsh times on the battle front, with Freda becoming a mascot for all the young men fighting in the trenches.
The Anzac Puppy is a beautifully written book. It is a story about the realities of war, the hardships, the friendships and love. It has wonderful sentence construction with much internal repetition such as 'The long, cold nights at the front soon turned into long, terrifying months'. This is a lovely story to read.
The illustrations are soft and sensitive, depicting the emotions of people along with the bleakness and isolation of war and the warmth of reunion.
Inspired by the true story of Freda, a Great Dane who was mascot to the NZ Rifle Brigade during World War I, the author has done meticulous research. The facts of this ‘real’ Freda are given in an equally readable illustrated double page spread at the back of the book.
Ending on a positive note, the echoing of the story’s beginning creates a satisfying conclusion which will appeal to early primary aged children, especially dog lovers.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Nanna’s Boot Camp

Nanna’s Boot Camp by Vicki Griffin (Morris Publishing) 
PB RRP $15.00
ISBN 9780987543462
Reviewed by Francine Sculli

When one hears boot camp these days, we automatically think of sweat, tears and lycra. But Vicki Griffin’s Nanna’s Boot Camp brings a whole new meaning to bootcamp, a softer and subtler feeling that oozes the warmth only a grandmother could.  And when it comes to grandmothers, we know that there is wisdom they carry that no-one else does, like a secret society passed on through the generations.

All this is what makes Nanna’s Boot Camp a simple and lovely tale that celebrates this very essence. And it brings a whole new meaning to the teens that visit Nanna’s boot camp one holiday. Apprehensive at first, the teens are confronted by the storm brewing in the sky and the large tent set up with boots piled up outside its doors. But the smell of damper wafting through the air and the warmth of Nanna’s voice eases them into the experience.

Nanna guides the teens through an experience they won’t get anywhere else – catching prawns in the creek at dusk, guided by the light of an old kerosene lamp, and cooking by the angry flames of an outdoor fire pit. It  is here, by the fire, that they uncover the story of the boots and the particularly large single boot they are all mystified by, as Nanna passes on the tales of all the mobs that have come before them and lost their in the muddy banks of the creek. This presents a beautiful moment, as the traditions of oral storytelling seep through the pages. The teens meet owner – Uncle Joe – who ventures off for more fishing in the creek, only to re-emerge barefoot and proud to say that his boots will rest there until the dry season comes. The teens leave Nanna’s boot camp endowed with knowledge about the creek, fishing, boots and the seasons.

Nanna’s Boot Camp is written in simple language and is a simple story to follow. There were moments in the story where I wanted to know even more about the traditions of the land, but this is a great entry-level text to expose children to the wonders of living off the land and the traditions that go with it. Nanna is a strong character and her presence is felt, driving the book with an equally strong Indigenous storytelling element that is brought to life with Vicki Griffin’s colourful and dynamic illustrations.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Mapmaker Chronicles: Prisoner of the Black Hawk

The Mapmaker Chronicles: Prisoner of the Black Hawk by A.L.Tait (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780734415790
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Prisoner of the Black Hawk is the second book in The Mapmaker Chronicles series.  Verdanian, Quinn Freeman, is the mapmaker for Zain, captain of the Libertas, one of three ships taking part in a year-long race to map the world. Already the crew of the Libertas which includes Quinn's friend, Ash in the guise of a boy, has survived the first leg of their voyage. They have contended with sea monsters, been threatened by murderous natives and the terrifying Gelynions who are in fierce competition with the Verdanians, and experienced treachery from the captains of the other ships. The fear of the unknown remains. Will they eventually fall off the edge of the world into the open jaws of Genesi, the dragon?

There is much at stake for all three ships. The captain of the ship judged to have the best map will be highly rewarded and honoured by the king of Verdania. The recompense for the winning mapmaker has induced all the mapmakers to strive to win, and it is inevitable that unethical tactics will be employed by the Libertas' rivals in order to succeed. Quinn discovers how underhand these tactics can be when the Northern boy, Kurt, who was rescued from the Gelynions and taken aboard the Libertas, betrays him to Odilon, the richest captain in the race. As a result Quinn is delivered into the hands of the Gelynions and held captive on their ship, the Black Hawk.

A.L. Tait has unleashed a terrifying adventure in which the reader despairs of Quinn. Not only is he suffering at the hands of the Gelynions, but another threat arises from bloodthirsty pirates. However, with great skill, a plausible and thrilling way forward is created by the author, using the talents, courage and determination of Quinn and the loyalty of those aboard the Libertas. The story unfolds in such a gripping way that I found this second book in the series almost impossible to put down and read 95% at one sitting.

This series is a great read by an Australian author and children will be transported to a world of action and human endeavour in a most exciting and satisfying way. It also demonstrates that fact can be woven into fantasy and be anything but mundane. Book Three will be eagerly awaited.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

A Rose for the ANZAC Boys

 A Rose for the ANZAC Boys by Jackie French (HarperCollins, 2010)                              
PB RRP $15.99
ISBN: 9780733331787           

Reviewed by Elaine Harris                                                                                                                                             This month we commemorate the centenary of the fateful landing at ANZAC Cove: a campaign made up of political and military blunders, bureaucratic bungling and months of wasted lives and needless tragedy. No-one doubts the horrors of those unimaginable months with little water and less organization. Yet however odious comparisons may be, historians past and present (including many who were there) insist that although Gallipoli was horrendous, the Western Front was so very much worse. 

Millions of lives lost, millions more ruined, damaged or altered beyond all comprehension.  It is impossible for any of us to know how we would react in those circumstances, only hoping such tragedy would bring out the best in us.
Five years ago, in preparation for a radio interview, I dipped into the award-winning YA novel, A Rose for the ANZAC Boys by Australian Children’s Laureate Jackie French, covering as much as I could in the time allowed, (conducing several interviews each day sometimes leaves little time for a full read) and devoured all the notes at the back of the book.

The author and I both shed tears during the interview and the book has been on my Must Read list since that date. We also corresponded during Jackie’s writing of the book and on one memorable occasion she mentioned almost casually in an email, “I’ve just blown up a hospital tent.” When she submitted the manuscript to the publisher, the initial reaction was, “Don’t let Jackie change a word.”

Last month I did it -- read the entire book in less than 24 hours, sobbing unashamedly throughout. Don’t be fooled, though. This is no sentimentalised, girlie weepy. A teacher colleague of my husband’s read it to her year 5-6 class in 2010 and for the first time held her  reluctant reader boys spellbound.

This book tells it all without jingoism or bitterness against any enemy; without an examining of rights and wrongs - except the smugness of the hierarchy who gave the orders while living the high life behind the lines. (It happened.) We meet soldiers, nurses, ambulance drivers, orderlies, a chaplain, Turks and Germans, and many, many people who just wanted to do their bit, including our three female protagonists: Midge, Anne and Ethel. It takes you to railway station canteens dispensing sandwiches and cocoa, casualty clearing stations, ambulance runs and the fear, mud, Blood and gas of the trenches.

Through the story and without any sense of being taught anything, we also learn something of the class system and attitudes of the day, roles and perceptions of women and the determination of those kicking against the traces, often against all odds.
Yet, like the best books worth remembering, while plumbing the depths of tragedy, the book ends on hope: leaves you not only with a sense of the future but also a view of it decades later from the perspective of the descendants of those involved. It sheds a light on the annual ANZAC Day parades and services and why these ceremonies still hold meaning which ought never to be de-valued, sensationalised or forgotten. 

As for historical accuracy, Jackie French wept her way through many letters and diaries of the day, living as closely as anyone ever can the experiences of those who were there.
This is not a new book but a timeless one worth reading or re-reading this year.    

Friday, 24 April 2015

If You Find This

If You Find This by Matthew Baker (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781471404528

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

As soon as you read in the first page of this first person narrative that the protagonist eleven-year-old Nicholas Funes has an ongoing relationship with a tree that he believes is his brother, you know this is going to be quirky, and Nicholas weird.  The boy also collects prime numbers and square roots and the text is full of references to them. There is also something which irritated this reader: the words ‘forte’ and ‘piano’ are littered throughout the book to indicate mood. I found them distracting and could not see what purpose they served.

As for the story, Nicholas’ real troubles begin when his Grandfather, a family secret, is let out of prison. The old man confides he has a map to an immense fortune; the problem is that it seems as though he’s suffering from dementia so whether or not he has one is problematic. Fighting off bullies is one of Nicholas’ problems and, too, he’s upset that the family is going to have to sell off their home to solve monetary problems.

What follows next is a series of events that see Nicholas, with two unlikely accomplices, trying to engineer a break-out from a retirement home, making an agreement with a local witch and trying to solve the secrets of his family’s past.

Nicholas sure is weird indeed. I found this story challenging, trying to ignore the fortes and pianos and other oddities. But for a reader aged 11 years and up who enjoys books about strange friendships, weirdness, family secrets and dangerous adventures, then this might be a book for him or her.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

My Holocaust Story: Hanna

My Holocaust Story: Hanna by Goldie Alexander (Scholastic)
PB RRP $16.99                                                                                                        
ISBN 9781743629673

Reviewed by Hazel Edwards

Tragic but historic WW11 circumstances are a special challenge for authors and for readers, especially those books with the word Holocaust in the title. But Hanna's story has the feisty spirit of a young girl gymnast who courageously balances war-time deprivations with her Jewish family in the Warsaw ghetto and still helps others.

What gives this story the edge is the compassion and pacing, which does not make it overwhelming for the reader. It is extremely well researched and clearly evokes place and time showing, for example, the starving food smuggler gangs of children via the sewers, the secret schools in the ghetto and the random cruelties and kindnesses.

History has not been sanitised here and yet there is compassion for all caught on both sides, even the starving peasants who betray others. And, too, there's hope. Locals prepare to hide children and refugees. Readers are left with the question of how they might have acted in similar circumstances.

This is a highly significant novel and one I'd recommend for readers aged 12 years and upwards. It is also an excellent book to set for class discussions.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France

Two Fearsome Fairy Tales from France retold by Adele Geras, illustrated by Fiona McDonald (Christmas Press)
HB RRP$19.99
ISBN 9780992283841
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The fly pages of this new book by Australian publisher Christmas Press are wonderful; in black and white they show a scene which feels almost as though it is going to suck you into the story to come. 

The first story is the English author’s retelling of the well-known tale, ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Like most re-tellings, the language is sparse, old-fashioned and straight-forward, relating how a merchant father promises his youngest and most beautiful daughter to a beast set on revenge. Belle is aghast when she first sets eyes upon the beast and declines his many offers of marriage. There is, of course, a twist at the end of the tale and when Belle finally agrees to a betrothal, she releases a spell cast by a wicked fairy.

The story of Bluebeard is the second story in this lavishly illustrated book with all its text set in illustrated frames and with full-page coloured pictures and occasional black and white sketches. Like the beast in the first story, Bluebird has a dreadful appearance – and a young woman, in this case his (unnamed) Bride. ‘His beard was of a dark blue as deep as oceans and flowed from his chin to his waist like a tumbling waterfall of hair. But he dazzled her with gifts and soothed her with kind words.’ On the eve of his departure on business, Bluebird gives his bride the keys to the palace saying that one room is not to be unlocked ‘if you value your life.’

Does the young woman use the silver key? Of course! And what she finds is horrifying. This sets in chain a series of consequences and frantic actions. 

This story was, for this reviewer, much less predictable than the first.
This is another handsome production from Christmas Press joining other retold tales such as Two Tales of Twins from Ancient Greece and Rome (Ursula Dubosarsky) and Two Trickster Tales from Russia (Sophie Masson). Its appeal would be for children aged 9+ years.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

My Life and other Massive Mistakes

My Life and other Massive Mistakes by Tristan Bancks, illustrated by Gus Gordon (Random House)
HB RRP $15.99
ISBN 978-0-85798-529-3
Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

Warning: Do not attempt to read this book in church, during a board meeting or if you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome; and you’re kidding yourself if you expect to be able to sneak in a few pages while waiting in a doctor’s surgery; you are likely to be politely redirected to the psychologist down the hall!

Because it is not just the laughing, giggles and chortles that are likely to draw odd glances from onlookers, but your contorted facial expressions that may also breed concern for your mental state. Yes, thanks to Tristan Bancks’ latest book in the My Life series, you are likely to find yourself alone on bus seats and in elevators (oh hang on; I see what he did there)!
My Life and other Massive Mistakes is a chapter book, however when teamed with illustrations from the brilliant Gus Gordon it transforms into a vivid out of control billy cart ride (and we all know how those end).  The short story nature of the chapters will appeal to 8 – 12 year olds and those who find longer form stories more painful than picking a broken nose.

Each chapter is its own hilarious tale recounted by Tom Weekly, a primary school revolutionary hell bent on mischief and taking down any administration within a 15 minute recess, but in a disarming loveable, larrikin kind of way.

Similar to the appeal of the Wimpy Kid or Treehouse books, the My Life series contains many fun ponderings along the way, including Nine Reasons Why Sloppy Food Should Be Banned and 15 Things You Won’t Hear Your Mum Say Anytime Soon.

Essentially the book conveys a sense of living life to the fullest and embracing creativity, which is what childhood should be. I remember a time when my younger brother embraced his creativity when he decided to make money by selling statues of dead cane toads, but not before storing them in the freezer and giving my mother a nasty surprise when she took out the frozen chook for a Sunday roast! I think we all know someone like Tom Weekly.

In addition to the My Life Series, Tristan Bancks has also released the Mac Slater, Coolhunter books. His YA novel Two Wolves was recently shortlisted for the 2015 CBCA Book of the Year Awards for Younger Readers.

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Winter Horses

The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781406359831
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Elegant in its approach to its themes, this stunning piece of work will remain unforgettable. It focuses on the tragedy of war and man’s inhumanity during wartime towards to all living things, but specifically on the classed as endangered species - Przewalski’s (pronounced ‘shuh-VAHL-skeez’) horses.

It is summer, 1941. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic is being invaded by the Germans. Max is ordered to leave the Nature Reserve where he has been caring for the animals there for forty years. Included are the almost extinct Przewalski’s horses. He is ordered to kill them all so the Germans can’t use them for food. He has no intention of obeying. 

Fourteen year old Jewish girl Kalinka is alone on the frozen Ukrainian steppe. Her family is all slaughtered and she is dying of hunger and cold. Hiding in the woods close to the steppe, she is befriended by the pair of wild horses. Cunning and clever, their instinct for survival is as strong as the girl they become close to.

The old man and the girl are drawn together by various circumstances and the need to survive. To save the last of the wild Mongolian horses, the courageous Kalinka must make the dangerous journey to safety through frozen landscapes with the Germans hunting her and the horses.

Philip Kerr has drawn on historical facts to give authenticity to this unique subject which will send people to Google for more information about Przewalski’s horses. This almost extinct breed of wild horse, never tamed by humans, was brought back (although still classed as endangered) by captive breeding programs and today can be found all over the world. They can be seen at Werribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria.

We get an intimate view of the natural surroundings through cinematographic scenes created with words. This brilliant well-researched book is deeply moving and highly informative. With various sub-stories and themes beautifully intertwined into one another, it is an unforgettable adventure into the human heart. It also challenges the definition of duty, obedience and conscience.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Wild Boy and the Black Terror

Wild Boy and the Black Terror by Rob Lloyd Jones (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781406341409
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Darker and more dramatic, this sequel to Wild Boy draws us into Mayfair in West London, 1842. Wild Boy the circus freak and his best friend Clarissa Everett have been hidden away by their guardian Marcus these last months after they helped him catch a murderer. This was due to Clarissa’s nimbleness and Wild Boy’s perceptive observational skills, which have become finely tuned assets to the children.

There is a great and sinister threat to all of the surrounding area which includes the Palace and Queen Victoria. A dark pervading presence that carries horrible symptoms has begun to envelope everyone. Its mysterious power causes past memories to resurge and its terror grotesquely transmogrifies the victim. This all consuming blackness in body and soul ends only in death.

Wild Boy and Clarissa are called upon to use their detective skills and particular gifts to track down and destroy this dark monster. Will they succeed? Can they do so before Marcus succumbs to the black terror? And what role, if any, does Wild Boy’s nemesis, Augustus Finch, play in this frightful story?

This is a fast-faced, heart-pounding mystery of great proportions suited for the 12+ age group, although it’s listed as 9+. Scary and graphic at times, its gothic horror will appeal to readers of this genre. It has a pit full of suspects, and just when you think you’ve guessed who the culprit is, another more convincing choice appears. It will be read in one sitting for there’s no way it can be put down before the last page.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Ride, Ricardo, Ride!

Ride, Ricardo, Ride! by Phil Cummings, Illustrations by Shane Devries (Omnibus Books for Scholastic)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-073-6
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ricardo loved to ride his bike. His ‘silver handlebars sparkled like fresh snow in sunshine’ while his father watched on, clapping, saying, "Ride, Ricardo, ride!" Then one day the shadows came. And life was never the same again.
This stunning picture book, set in a war-torn European village, engages all the senses. The smell of the wildflowers, feel of the wind and the quiet stillness which transforms into the endless drone of marching military boots. The text evokes imagery while the illustrations add substance to the story.
Every sturdy glossy page glows. As the ‘shadows’ mar everyday living, this glow adds eeriness, where previously it made everything shine.
The use of the shadows and what they represent is very effective too. The line ‘In the darkest of one of these nights, Ricardo's father went out and was lost to the shadows’ takes the breath away.
This is picture book writing at its best. There are not many words, but each is vital and creates emotion and pictures. The illustrations are just as spectacular, images and colour filling every page.
Ride, Ricardo, Ride! could be read to preschool-aged children, neither the war nor soldiers are mentioned directly. It is a beautifully uplifting story, but be aware of the menace of the shadows, the war-torn streets and the implied death of Ricardo's father.
The ending, with Ricardo putting his bike back together, piece by piece, as many would their lives after the war, is wonderful.
The text, illustrations and layout all combine together to create a beautifully appealing picture book. It would be a great addition to any bookshelf and one I would highly recommend to anyone wanting a story about the war and its impact for younger children.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Escape From Wolfhaven Castle: The Impossible Quest #1

Escape From Wolfhaven Castle: The Impossible Quest #1 by Kate Forsyth (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-406-7
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Tom is a kitchen hand, trained to scrub pots in Wolfhaven Castle under the watchful eye of his mother, the castle's cook. But after Lord Wolfgang ignores a wild man’s warning the castle is attacked, leaving Tom on the outside alone with Elanor, the lord's daughter, Sebastian, a knight in training, and Quinn, the witch’s apprentice. It soon becomes clear that it is up to these four children to fulfil an old prophecy to save Wolfhaven castle with their friends and family who are held prisoner inside.
Escape from Wolfhaven Castle is the first book in a series of five which mixes fantasy and adventure in an action-packed quest, which will enthral both boys and girls in equal measure.
The characters are strong, likeable and believable. They don't know each other at the beginning of the journey and often have disagreements about the best way to achieve the quest - or even if it is actually a quest - but it is this newness that helps the reader get to know the characters as the children grow into their relationships.
Medieval in feel, and darkly ominous, the story follows these four children as they desperately try to outrun frightening bog-men and pursue treasures held by griffin, unicorn, sea-serpent and dragon – even though they do not fully believe in the existence of these mythical creatures.
Although dark and a little scary in some places, the structure of the traditional quest, and the age and motivations of the characters makes this series suitable for nine year olds and up.

This fast-paced adventure is hard to put down and I was eager to pick up the next one as soon as I closed this first book.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front

Anzac Sons: Five Brothers on the Western Front by Allison Marlow Paterson (Big Sky Publishing)
HB RRP $24.99 PB
ISBN 9781925275148

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is an impressive-looking book for young readers, from its striking cover and internal design to the internal text which is broken up into chunks of information presented as postcards, newspaper clipped or letter texts, or in break-outs. Most books for young readers focus primarily on Gallipoli (in keeping with the 100th landing of the Anzacs this year). But this covers the Western Front. Further, it is a unique story, being the tale of five Australian brothers all serving in WW 11 and, too, it is told by the grand-daughter of one of the three surviving brothers.

Photographs, maps, letters and facts tell the story of the Marlow boys – George (Geordie), twins Allan and Percy, Charles (Charlie) and Albert, four of whom enlisted in the 38th Battalion. They were among over 330,000 Australians who served in the First World War, more than 60,000 dying.
Researching meticulously through over 500 letters (some unpublished), maps, and other war memoriam, Paterson tells the story of the family’s background that led to the five brothers leaving their family farm in Northern Victoria headed for the battlefield. Interwoven with personal stories (sixth brother Jim turned away due to poor eyesight, Charlie getting his teeth fixed in order to enlist), Anzac Sons tells of the war both in a broader sense, but also how it affected those left behind in Australia (such as the Marlow parents, Charles Senior and Sarah).  

We follow the progression of the war from Australia to the Somme and on to Fromelles, later to places like Pozieres. In break-out boxes we read of causalities and see photographs – black and white and coloured – of interesting places and events. There’s Charlie and Pearl, for instance, on their wedding day prior to Charles leaving for overseas, unaware his new wife is expecting. (Later we see Pearl with baby Eva, both gorgeous looking Marlows!)

There’s so much information in this book that is compelling and fascinating and so full of heart that any reader – children six to teens (and over) -- will want to linger over the written and visual texts. At the end of the book is a sub-heading, ‘We Will Remember Them.’ This book is a valuable way of personalizing war through one family’s sacrifice, but showing, too, how Australia’s sons and daughters participated with great bravery despite horrendous odds. It’s a book that ought to be in every school library, and hopefully too in many home libraries.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Lily the Elf: The Midnight Owl

Lily the Elf: The Midnight Owl by Anna Branford, illustrated by Lisa Coutts (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 7.95
ISBN 9781925081053

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Children’s fears and insecurities are the themes that Anna Branford has chosen to address in this first book of her new series for emerging readers. It introduces Lily the Elf and themes of imagining, overcoming fears, and learning to be brave.

Lily lives with her dad in a tiny house under a bridge. Her granny lives in a flat at the back of their house.

Lily can’t sleep. All she hears is the spooky questioning hoot of the owl. To both her granny and dad, the sound is a welcome one. But their encouraging words don’t help the tiny Lily. Granny suggests an adventure. Perhaps seeing the owl face-to-face would change things for Lily.

Lily prepares herself by practising at being brave. Will reading a scary book, going into a dark cellar or jumping off a high toadstool make her braver? She dresses brave. In the mirror she looks brave. Will these things help?

It’s the feather that granny shows her and the story connected to it that opens up other possibilities for Lily. The themes weave through the simple text accompanied by black and white illustrations that depict the loving family and the close relationship they share. A happy, embracing story with a message that things imagined, are not always what they first seem.

Delightfully delicate like the tiny elf, this story promises readers, mainly girls of the 5+ age, a new and interesting character that becomes involved in challenging adventures with a positive outcome. This will surely create as strong an interest in younger readers as the highly successful Violet Mackerel books did for an older age.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Lily the Elf: The Precious Ring

Lily the Elf: The Precious Ring by Anna Branford, illustrated by Lisa Coutts (Walker Books)
PB RRP $7.95
ISBN 9781925081046

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Lily the elf lives with her dad in a house below the bridge. Her granny lives in her granny flat behind their house. They are a loving and caring family. Today Lily is faced with a new dilemma. She awakes to find what appears to be a paddling pool in her yard. Granny tells her it’s a human ring. Lily has been taught that elves must return lost precious things to humans. But she wants to keep it.

After playing in her pool, Lily discovers a glass gem is missing from the ring when she tries to polish it. While Granny suggests they fill the space with coloured foil, they hear voices. A mother and her anxious child have come to the bridge in search of the lost ring. Lily hears that it is the girl’s favourite possession, although not of much value.

Lily knows the feeling of losing something special. Will she return the ring as she should, even though she really wants to keep it?

Anna Branford’s warm and engaging tone is ever present. Her work carries subtle ethical dilemmas, a temptation, and a positive resolution. There is a strong sense of fairness, and of right and wrong in her stories. They always present opposing views of the same story which encourages a choice or decision. Lisa Coutts’ illustrations are carefully considered and complement the text perfectly in watercolour and pen and ink.

I am a fan Branford’s work, and believe this series will initiate discussion about important themes; in class and at home with adults. For young readers of the 5+ age group who enjoy Lily’s adventures, her other titles, The Wishing Seed and The Elf Flute are also listed as being available.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones (EK Books imprint of Exisle Publishing)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921966699

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

‘Sometimes Sophie worried.’ That opening sentence immediately had me questioning; what does she worry about and why? I had to find out.

Sophie is a thinker. While she is busy, she thinks about the games she plays, and all that she’s currently occupied with. But in the still of the night when activity stops, she begins to worry. She worries about every what if…? she can think of. Sleep stays away from all the questions clogging her mind. Her days are frequently sluggish and unproductive due to her restless nights.

Despite all the family trying hard to help Sophie, nothing changes behind her closed eyes. She continues to worry until her mother gives her something else to think about.

 Susan Whelan is a writer, Managing Editor of Kids Book Review, and a ‘passionate advocate for children’s literature.’ Her publishing debut is impressive. She approaches the theme of worry in an imaginative and sensitive way.

Gwynneth Jones gives Whelan’s text a detailed and insightful translation in media of ink pen, colour pencil and gouache. Her vivid, visual portrayal of the text is highly individual. While keeping the expressions on the faces of the children authentic, she has created them in a more simplistic form than those of the adults. Sophie and what she is doing, thinking, and feeling is always the main focus.

I love the fact that the cat, or some part of it, is used on many of the pages. It’s like a game of seek-and-find in addition to the main story. The same device applies to hands (and paws). They appear without the rest of the body, expressing something of their own (or perhaps simply as part of a game). This has quite a fantastic effect on the whole presentation; a stand-out factor. With its stunning cover and delightful end pages, this captivating production can easily be used as a resource for children and adults to explore this theme together.

Sunday, 12 April 2015


Loveability by Dannielle Miller and Nina Funnell (Angus & Robertson)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978 07322 96469

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Subtitled An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships, this book has been co-authored by two women with an impressive list of credentials in relationships and writing – and more. To read this book is to hear the voices of great-aunts who’ve been there and done that and have lots of valuable advice for someone who hasn’t. It’s a comprehensive book that includes quizzes, questions and answers, compatibility tests and (according to the cover) ‘the ultimate true love checklist.’ To make the book more appealing, there is a variety of typefaces, break-outs and lots of headings and sub-headings.

Chapters deal with situations such as having crushes, body image, friendships, sex and power, how to heal heartbreak and more. There is a substantial list of resources at the back of the book such as useful websites, organisations and books as well as end notes that allow the reader to check out specific sites if needed.

It’s difficult to imagine a more comprehensive book on the subject so dear to a teenage girl’s heart and life. As founder/publisher of Mia Freedman says, ‘an empowering advice book… brilliant and about time. Should be compulsory reading.’

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Thunderstorm Dancing

Thunderstorm Dancing by Katrina Germein & Judy Watson (Allen & Unwin)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781743314593

Reviewed by Yvonne Mess

From the lyrical, flowing language to the gorgeous illustrations, this was a sumptuous read. A little girl is worried about an approaching thunder storm which soon breaks into full force. The storm is gleefully received by her family. Each family member represents a part of the storm;

‘Lachlie is the lightning
flicking and flashing
tricking and dashing
crackling zap!
sizzling snap!’

The use of lyrical language, with its alliteration and internal rhyme make for an exciting and poetic text.

The girl’s anxiety is the thread that runs through the story, though in the end she adds in her own unique way to the family’s exuberance and delight in the weather.

The illustrations show lively playful characters full of charisma including the family pets. The brushstrokes and line work are loose and fluid. I loved the complementary shades of green and red sustained throughout and the cute end papers.

The illustrations not only complement the text, but extend it. Each family member is depicted in turn as larger than life natural phenomena to suit the mood of the scene.

There is a wonderful sense of a loving family which consists of parents, a set of grandparents, and three children. You get the sense that perhaps the family is visiting the grandparents at their seaside home, or the family is on holiday together but most of all how much they enjoy each other’s company.

What could be considered as a quiet story is swept up in the noise of the storm and the family fun it generates.

Yvonne Mes is a children's writer and illustrator. Her picture book, Meet Sidney Nolan (Random House) and Oliver’s Grumbles (Dragon Tales Publishing) are scheduled for release in October 2015.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope

Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf (Puskin Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781782690351

Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

Stubborn, smart, and impulsive, 13-year old Oksa suddenly develops special powers at the same time as a star-shaped mark appears on her stomach. She is going to need her developing powers when she discovers that she is a Gracious, princess of Edefia, and member of a small group fleeing from harm and now locked outside the realm of Edefia. As the last hope of her people, Oksa gets plenty of opportunity to test her new powers when the evil Ocious, also locked in the outside world, needs Oksa to get back in.

Luckily she is not alone; she has a caring but over-anxious father, her grandmother who is also a Gracious, a very normal and unsuspecting mother, her best friend, Gus, and a range of magical creatures with a very high ‘Dobby’ quality, and even more magical family members.

There are potions and lotions made from plants brought in from Edefia such as anxiety-stricken plants prone to fainting. Every self-respecting Edefian has a Granok-Shooter, able to shoot a variety of magical beans with a range of spectacular spell-like effects and soon Oksa has her own arsenal.

The story is action-packed, there are mysteries to be solved, there is a school, there are bullies and villains and life and death situations, and loyalties and magic. Does this remind you of something?
I couldn’t help but to compare it to Harry Potter which only got stronger as the book progressed. No wonder this story was a big hit with readers when it was originally self-published. It was the fans, apparently looking for the new Harry Potter, who demanded this book be recognised.

This is the first book in a six-part series which has now sold over half a million copies in 27 countries and was written by two Strassbourg librarians.

This female Harry Potter set in a elaborate fantasy setting is sure to delight and enthral young readers.

Yvonne Mes is a children's writer and illustrator. Her fpicture book, Meet Sidney Nolan (Random House) and Oliver’s Grumbles (Dragon Tales Publishing) are scheduled for release in October 2015.