Saturday, 30 May 2015

Dotty and the Magpie

Dotty and the Magpie by Jackie Wells, illustrated by Dana Brown (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117295

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

There are many, many picture books featuring a theme of self-acceptance. It’s a staple of the genre. Many (dare I suggest most?) of this select grouping also feature animals and—making a big comeback recently—rhyming verse.

 

To stand out in such a crowded field is a feat. But Dotty and the Magpie manages it. Perhaps it’s Dana Brown’s illustrations—certainly the spread of puppy-eyed multi-coloured Dotty with a butterfly on her nose, dreaming of kingfishers, comprehensively won me over.

 

I’m not enamoured of the busy cover but many of the interior illustrations simply glow. They evoke a promise of a happily-ever-after, despite Dotty’s  bout of depression over her plain black and white appearance.

 

Dotty’s deepest desire is to be resplendent with rainbow colours, to be as bright as an emerald hummingbird or a tangerine clownfish. But she’s just an ordinary non-colourful dog.

 

Then one day along comes a magpie. The magpie takes her on a journey of self-acceptance by showing her a world of beautiful, useful and even majestic things that are plain black and white.



Friday, 29 May 2015

Teddy Took the Train

Teddy Took the Train by Nicki Greenberg (Allen & Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781760112134

Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

This picture book with its alluring title and subject is certain to attract young children.
The story tells of little Dot who realises she has left her Teddy on the train after a day out with Mum. Shocked and horrified at first, she soon soothes herself by imaging just what her Teddy is getting up to on the train and how he will find his way home.

The book is written in rhyme and rolls along interspersed with the refrain of and repetition of the title. The illustrations paint an environment inclusive of different abilities and cultures.  The characters though depicted cartoon-like are softened by the warm textured backgrounds.

Young children will be able to relate to losing a treasured comfort toy and Dot’s highs and lows in being reunited with her Teddy.


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

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Hop up! Wriggle Over!

Hop up! Wriggle Over! by Elizabeth Honey (Allen & Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781743319987

Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

From the lovely end papers to the bouncy text, you feel with how much care this book has been created.

A cast of Australian animals creates a vibrant family. Mummy Koala and Daddy Big Red Kangaroo have a big family of little bush children ranging from antechinus to quoll, and they show just how warm and loving a diverse family can be. As in many large families there is always something happening and someone wriggling, hopping, or zooming around. This bunch of lively animals seems to enjoy every part of the day from top to tail.

The story pictures a day in the life of what could be a human toddler, from waking up, breakfast to bath time and bedtime stories. The simple watercolour and pencil illustrations give plenty of room to breathe between large patches of well balanced white space. The illustrations exude the movement, fun and cosy chaos of large family domesticity and are utterly adorable.

The spare text which perfectly compliments the gorgeous illustrations consists mainly of onomatopoeia.


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

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Good Enough for a Sheep Station

Good Enough for a Sheep Station by David Cox (Allen & Unwin)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781743319031

Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

David Cox spent five years as a jackeroo on outback sheep and cattle stations before he became an author and illustrator.

Set in 1940s, the story follows a young boy’s upbringing on a Queensland sheep station. It shows its outback characters and understated humour as told in various anecdotes. The story is full of quirky details from how the boy completes his schoolwork via correspondence to learning stockman’s skills from his dad and learning to drive a truck from a young age.

This picture book documents a way of life that may be unrecognizable to many modern children raised in the city, but the story goes deeper than that; it tells of loss and handing down tradition but also, as David Cox writes in the foreword, it is a story about many kinds of love.

Cox’s fluid watercolour and ink illustrations create a colourful bush world. Dogs run in and out of the pictures as they would in real paddocks and the horses outnumber the sheep. The longer word count makes it a picture book for primary school aged children.

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. www.yvonnemes.com



Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Monster Within

The Monster Within by Darrell Pitt (Text Publishing)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781922182876

Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald

The Monster Within is the fourth book in Melbourne author Darrell Pitt’s popular Jack Mason detective series.

Once again, we are immersed in a magical world of heroes, villains, steam driven transport, mysteries, rescues and adventures. The sharp-eyed detective Ignatius Doyle is on another mission to solve crimes with the help of his two daring young apprentices, Jack Mason and Scarlet Bell.

Readers of the series will remember that the main character, 14 year old Jack Mason grew up in a circus family. After a tragic accident Jack is orphaned and sent to live in Sunnyside Orphanage in London. The orphanage is anything but ‘sunny’ and Jack is relieved when he is offered an apprenticeship with the very eccentric detective called Ignatius Doyle.

Enter feisty, red headed, strong-willed 15 year old Scarlett Bell- who originally comes to ask Ignatius Doyle to find her missing father. She ends up becoming a second apprentice detective. Together Jack and Scarlett make a formidable team. 

In The Monster Within a lawless organisation is carrying out terrorist attacks on the streets of London. Their chief suspect is The Valkyrie Circle- a world wide suffragette society who is apparently headed by someone called Lady Death.

At the same time there are sightings of a dangerous monster living in the sewers, terrifying people and eating cats.

Are these sinister events connected?

Pitt is very good at creating intriguing plots with excellent endings. I enjoy the way he pulls everything together in clever and surprising ways.

I recommend this series kids 9 years and over who like to read stories packed with action, mystery and adventure.

I think fans of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Foul, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events will also enjoy Pitt’s breathtaking stories. 

The Firebird Mystery, The Secret Abyss and the Broken Sun are Pitt’s first three books in this series. Stay tuned for book five, The Lost Sword, which will be published later in 2015.
  



Monday, 25 May 2015

Space Mash: Wheelnuts! Craziest Race on Earth #3

Space Mash: Wheelnuts! Craziest Race on Earth #3 by Knife & Packer (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-724-2

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Buckle up! In Space Mash, the latest book in the Wheelnuts! series, readers - and racers - must be able to handle zero gravity racing, showers of meteorites and hungry aliens. Warren 'Wheelie' Wheelnut has taken his third challenge out into space and this race is about to blast off! 
The now familiar teams have transformed their cars into rockets and are ready to tackle even the most unexpected challenges such as zero gravity playing havoc with Campbell's moustache, making it float and covering his eyes. Rust Bucket 30000 has the greatest advantage as these robots are used to flying around in space and they have just purchased the perfect weapon for cheating. It’s hard to see how any other team is going to beat them.
Wipeout and Dipstick the two villains are hanging around as usual in their disguises  trying to disrupt the racers and the mid-race challenge - Hey Dude There Are Robot Ants In My Space Underpants - will have most racers yelling "I'm a Wheelnut, get me out of here!"
The wacky, slapstick  humour, the vibrant colourful illustrations and the action packed racing crammed with crazy, cheating, dirty scoundrels continues in this series and is a fun and entertaining read for seven-year-olds and older.
At the end of the book is a Space Mash board game which can be detached and played. Choose your team and get driving!


Sunday, 24 May 2015

Spooky Smackdown: Wheelnuts! Craziest Race on Earth #2

Spooky Smackdown: Wheelnuts! Craziest Race on Earth #2 by Knife & Packer (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-723-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Multi-billionaire Warren 'Wheelie' Wheelnut has gathered contestants for a second extreme race. This time, the unique racetrack is in Spookytania, and promises to be the scariest racetrack on Earth. 

The rules are simple - there are no rules - and the teams waiting for the signal to go will take full advantage of this. The Wheel Deal, the Flying Nappy, the Rust Bucket 3000, the Supersonic Sparkler, the Jumping Jalopy, and the winner of the last race, the Dino-Wagon, all plan to cheat their way to the finish line.

As well as racing and dirty trick playing, the teams must complete a challenge somewhere along the way. In Spookytania, this challenge is the Room of Super-Mega-Help-I-Want-My-Mummy-Terror and all the teams are faced with ghosts so personal and terrifying (the robots from the Rust Bucket 3000 have a rust demon haunting them) that they do not last long at all in the challenge room.

Despite the fierce competition, there are times when the racers need to team together. Wipeout and Dipstick, the villains of the piece, are never far away and would love to destroy the race.

Spooky Smackdown is a short, colourful and fully illustrated chapter book, which will entertain readers of all ages. The illustrations are reminiscent of the Wacky Races cartoon, as is the storyline. Tongue-in-cheek humour, slapstick scenarios and jostling action make for a fun read for those who appreciate a silly sense of humour.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Stand Up and Cheer

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

Reviewed by Francine Sculli

In Stand Up and Cheer, a part of Australia’s lesser-known history has been turned into an incredible novel by writer, Loretta Re, magically weaving the elements of a gripping read with the historical threads that put Albury and Australia on the map.

Told through the eyes of ten-year-old Jack, an eager aviator enthusiast, we are taken on a wildly rich journey where we grow close to Jack’s family and learn the many lessons this book offers. But let’s start from the beginning. Set in Albury in 1934 during the Great Depression, a time when aviation and the radio were the people’s greatest entertainment, we meet Jack, his brother Arnie and their parents. Jack’s mother inherits some money from a deceased family member. His father, the town’s radio presenter and voice of the ABC – convinces Jack’s mother that purchasing a car would be the best way to spend the money. The family travels to Melbourne to make the purchase right at the time that Mac Robertson – the Chocolate King – announces the ‘Great Centenary Air Race’ that will see aviators from all over the world fly from England to Melbourne to celebrate the centenary, and that he’ll be giving away a trip to Melbourne to see them land at Flemington Racecourse for anyone who collects all the letters on his Cherry Ripe wrappers.

This sparks Jack’s obsession with the race and his desperate desire to see the planes. But he is far away and has little chance of making it back to Melbourne for the race, especially after the town bully, and son of his father’s obnoxious boss, Pat O’Reilly, tears up the wrappers he has collected. Little does Jack know, this great race will change his life forever when the giant Dutch plane, Uiver, loses its way in the storm en route to Melbourne. Jack and his family are faced with a tough decision: do they break all the rules and attempt to save the plane?

Stand Up and Cheer is not just a story about Albury’s place in aviation history. With so many subplots running through its veins, this is equally a story about family, bravery and what it means to stand by your values. Loretta has created an intriguing world beaming with strong characters and a strong voice that carves a clear picture of this era in history. With its captivating writing style and incredible detail, adults and children alike can pick up this book and get lost in its pages.


Friday, 22 May 2015

The Eagle Inside

The Eagle Inside by Jack Manning Bancroft, illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft (Little Hare Books/Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781742974699

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Jimmy the little honeyeater is off to flying school, and soon feels intimidated by the other noisier, larger birds. Wracked with self-doubt, Jimmy is targeted by a mean cockatoo which further destroys Jimmy’s self-esteem with his taunts. It takes a kind yet strong eagle to lead Jimmy to realise his inner strengths, and help him recognise that size is no barrier to success.

The rhythmic, descriptive language flows well, aided by alliteration in parts. Action and a soaring sense of self are evoked beautifully: ‘He dodged and weaved, ducked and dived, swerved and skimmed without touching a thing’.

The narrative is accompanied by dramatic full-bleed images in Bronwyn Bancroft’s inimitable illustration style. Blues, greens and browns feature prominently, reflecting the book’s natural setting, with strong lines contrasting with dot and leaf motifs. Each page is a visual feast, beautifully carrying the text and cementing this mother-son creative duo as one to watch.

Bronwyn Bancroft has had a long and successful career as an artist and children’s book creator; however, this is Jack Manning Bancroft’s first foray into children’s books. He is best known as founding the aboriginal mentoring program AIME at only 19 years old, and at 29 is its CEO and a NSW Young Australian of the Year recipient. The story is based on Jack’s experiences at university, where a mentor helped him nurture his own strengths.

The Eagle Inside is a tale of inner-strength, courage and self-belief, and the power of having someone to believe in you.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Those Pesky Rabbits

Those Pesky Rabbits by Ciara Flood (Koala Books for Scholastic)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-144-2

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Bear was perfectly happy living by himself in the middle of nowhere. Then one day a family of rabbits built a house and moved in next door. Those Pesky Rabbits is a fun story about a grumpy bear and his new neighbours who constantly want to borrow, share, and include him in their activities and lives. All Bear wants is to be left alone.  Or does he?
This thoroughly enjoyable picture book shows the power of kindness, community, consideration for others and generosity of spirit.
A nice sense of rhythm is created with the repetitive nature of the story - the knock, knock of the rabbits at the door and the bear’s grumpy answers - make the story just right for preschool aged children and enjoyable for their adult readers. There is a wonderful echo of the beginning in the ending. It is the same yet completely different, giving a real sense of closure.
The illustrations are gorgeous and give fabulous characteristics to the animal's personalities. They also provide much to look at - follow the journey of the mouse throughout the pictures.
Those Pesky Rabbits has a lovely and important message, and is told in a gentle, amusing way. Skilfully and entertainingly written, this picture book will be a hit with young children. The last line may well become a phrase children say with relish at the end of the story each and every time this picture book is read to them.
This is an impressive debut from author-illustrator Ciara Flood.


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot 4: Vs. The Mecha-Monkeys From Mars

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot 4: Vs. The Mecha-Monkeys From Mars by Dav Pilkey, Illustrated by Dan Santat (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $10.99
ISBN 978-0-545-63012-2

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ricky Ricotta and Mighty Robot are in trouble again. This time they have wrecked the family car by using it as a skateboard for the gigantic robot. Now they need to find some way to pay for the damage.
But before they can, they are caught up in the plans of another villain, the mean little Major Monkey. This evil monkey would love to enslave earth's inhabitants. He is lonely on Mars and has no one to talk to, or more importantly, no one to be mean to. But he has been watching the heroic deeds of Ricky Ricotta and Mighty Robot and knows he needs to outsmart this pair or his evil plan will end in the same manner as the previous ones. He needs to set a trap...
This fourth Ricky Ricotta follows the last three adventures with Ricky and mighty Robot up against evil creatures from other planets who want to take over earth. Short, fully illustrated and easy to read, this series is great for young and beginning readers who want a fast, action-packed and humorous read. Both the text and illustrations are fun and the imaginative villains,  mini-comic fight scenes and alliterative text make an entertaining read.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Our Baby

Our Baby by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Karen Blair (Working Title Press) HB RRP $24
ISBN 9781921504

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Both the author and illustrator of this new picture book for very young children are award-winning. The reasons for this are once again demonstrated in their exceptional craft in Our Baby. The text starts with ‘Some babies have a mum and a dad’ and proceeds to relate the different kinds of families babies are born into. Then there are the types of babies there are (some with … ‘snotty noses, tiny shrimp toes, tufty hair, dandelion hair, gummy smile, or one tooth.’) We read about the lives of babies, what they do, where they go, what they like, how they behave. The narrator is a baby’s young sister whose parents are bi-racial – mum white-skinned, dad dark-skinned. At the end of the story they curl up – mum, dad, baby and sister – in bed. ‘We are lucky, lucky, lucky to have our baby!’ declares sister on the last page.

Thus the book is an ode to having a baby in the family, whatever kind of family one has. Wild has a gift for language, with the words of this book tripping along lightly, making obvious the joys of being a baby and having a baby. Her simple sentences and joyfulness is complimented by Blair’s delicate and engaging watercolour illustrations set in lots of white background. We see a baby wrapped in a dad’s arm while Dad drinks coffee in a café and baby drops crumbs to pigeons at his feet. In another illustration, the little narrator’s dad reads a book to baby while sister sits at a school desk, also reading. Then there are babies rolling, dancing, crawling and bouncing; babies playing, ‘dropping things in the toilet, or building a tower of bricks.’

Yes, the best word to describe this book is ‘joy.’ The story can – and should – be read over and over again, the lively and amusing pictures looked at frequently, too. This lovely book is sure to be a hit with parents who have small children and babies. And with pre-schoolers whose teachers share the book with them.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Bogtrotter

Bogtrotter by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Judith Rossell (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
ISBN 9781921977558

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

When you don’t know what or who or why, just try - something new.

Bogtrotter’s life was predictable; even boring to say the least. He did the same thing every day. A question from a frog changed his world.

The first thing he notices is the flower between his toes.  Hope can be born through one flower. Hope makes you daring. You feel you can speak to others. Sharing words can bring a smile to your lips. A smile can make you happy. Happiness makes you notice things around you.

Bogtrotter still didn’t know what or who or why. Why did all these things come into his life?  Then he saw the frog again. The frog’s ‘why not?’ made the Bogtrotter think.

This is a brilliant and thought-provoking picture book for all ages. It dares you to move out of your comfort zone; to try new things. It encourages the discovery of everyday life and its joys, and uncovers the freedom this discovery brings.

With stunning watercolour illustrations in shades of green and blue throughout, I loved this book. The daisy chains on the end pages seemed like a metaphor for all these themes that joined together. This inspiring book is full of hope and the possibilities that come with change.


Sunday, 17 May 2015

I Don't Like Koala

I Don't Like Koala by Sean Ferrell, Illustrated by Charles Santoso (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-149-7

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Adam has a problem. He does not like Koala. But no-one will listen to him so Adam has to solve this problem all by himself. How can he get rid of Koala?
''Adam puts Koala away.
Away is a lot of different places.'
I Don’t like Koala addresses a universal childhood problem - an unwanted gift, the stuffed toy that will not stop staring. It is the language of the text, the illustrations and the subtle humour which transforms this seemingly straight forward tale into a highly entertaining and fun story.
The illustrations are fabulous. They are soft and matte which keeps the tone light. Even the dark is blues and purples rather than black. Koala is not made to look menacing. He has the same expression all the way through the story. It is Adam's face which reveals the terribleness of Koala. And Adam is a very expressive boy, his face tells the story.

This story is fun to read with an unexpected twist at the end to make every parent smile.

Friday, 15 May 2015

All Fall Down: Embassy Row #1

All Fall Down: Embassy Row #1 by Ally Carter (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-894-2

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Grace has come to live with her grandfather in the place where she spent her childhood summers, Embassy Row. But Grace sees life differently now. Her mother is dead and no-one will believe her when she says it was murder, they just think she is crazy. Her grandfather is perhaps the most powerful ambassador in the world so Grace must tread carefully in her determination to prove these claims and find the killer. On Embassy Row politics and diplomacy are the priority as here, countries stand shoulder to shoulder and one wrong move could bring the whole row of dominoes tumbling down.
Ally Carter is the author of two best selling-series' for teens - Heist Society and Gallagher Girls - and All Fall Down should be another success. Well written and fast-paced, the espionage and intrigue feels fresh, possibly because the setting - among the embassies of the world - is a new angle. The characters are likeable, especially Grace, and they feel real. The mix of nationalities and cultures is interesting and stereotypes are not always conformed to.
There is a touch of romance and the themes of loyalty, diplomacy, and self-belief add weight to what is essentially a fast-paced thriller.
This is a story for older teens (14+) and will keep them hooked and eager for the next instalments.


Thursday, 14 May 2015

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot 3: Vs. The Voodoo Vultures From Venus

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot 3: Vs. The Voodoo Vultures From Venus by Dav Pilkey, Illustrated by Dan Santat (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $10.99
ISBN 978-0-545-63011-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ricky Ricotta and Mighty Robot are not allowed to watch television. They have arrived late for dinner for the third time in a week and Ricky's parents have decided to ban TV until the two friends can learn to be a little more responsible. Little do they know it is a very good thing not to be watching television this particular evening.
On Venus, an evil vulture has been hatching a plan to get off the horribly hot planet and make a permanent move to earth. And when his Voodoo Ray was beamed down and picked up by the TV signals, everyone on earth was hypnotised by Victor Von Vulture – all except our two heroes who could not watch television.
And so his evil plan to get earth's population to bring food to him and his Voodoo Vulture army appears to be a smashing success! Only two people stand in his way: Ricky Ricotta and Mighty Robot, who must hatch a plan of their own to stop the vile vulture.
This is the third book in the action-packed, funny Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot series for young readers. The alliteration and imaginative silly humour is entertaining to read and the bright glossy illustrations enhance the frenetic pace of events while mini-comics and flip-o-rama's add to the craziness of the book's plot.
Towards the end is a great illustration of the jail which is starting to fill with all the villainous masterminds from previous books that Ricky and his robot have thwarted.
I'm sure there will be plenty more. 


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Yelling Stones


The Yelling Stones by Oskar Jensen (Hot Key Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN: 9781471404115

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

I must confess to having never read a book about Vikings until Oskar Jensen’s The Yelling Stones arrived in my mailbox, but now perhaps I could be tempted to read another.

In his debut novel, Jensen successfully blends historical facts with fiction, adding a princess and a poet to the mix and shaping a year teeming with adventure, magic, turbulence and change.

Set in the Viking court of Jelling, Denmark, in 958 AD, Jensen describes the journey of Princess Astrid and the ambitious poet, Leif. At fourteen, Astrid and Leif come from different worlds, yet it falls to this unlikely pair to unravel the visions sent by The Yelling Stones – three witches turned to stone while screaming a spell – and to save Jelling from a powerful force conjured to help abolish the old, mythological ways of the court.
Astrid and Leif’s friendship develops with humour and compassion – Astrid’s strong-will and determination complementing Leif’s patience and thoughtfulness.

Astrid is a staunch supporter of her father – King Gorm’s – court and her place within it, but soon realises that in times of feud, her own family is not beyond using her as a pawn to further their plans.
Jensen’s characters are full and interesting and I found the simplicity of his descriptions appealing. Astrid’s oldest brother and heir to the throne, Knut, became a favourite of mine after this endearing first impression: ‘He looked like he sounded: big, brown and shaggy’.

Alongside the traditional feasting and drunken debauchery associated with Vikings, Jensen introduces hungry wolves and bears, witches, trolls and a powerful winged beast as the story flows through the seasons with their rich, magical undercurrents.

The line between man and beast is often blurred.

Acknowledging the potential difficulties younger readers may have with the Norse language used throughout the novel, Jensen has included a useful quick reference key to important characters and some commonly used words; however, I never found the language distracting or misplaced.
Jensen also includes an historical note about the true events and people of Jelling, which helps to bring a degree of authenticity to the story. I enjoyed the fact that you can actually visit The Yelling Stones.

Although recommended for readers nine years and older, The Yelling Stones does contain some animal sacrifice and a draugur (or awakened corpse), so I would suggest a slightly older readership with an interest in magic, mythology, adventure, friendship or historical fiction.



Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Our Baby

Our Baby by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Karen Blair (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24
ISBN 9781921504

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Both the author and illustrator of this new picture book for very young children are award-winning. The reasons for this are once again demonstrated in their exceptional craft in Our Baby. 

The text starts with ‘Some babies have a mum and a dad’ and proceeds to relate the different kinds of families babies are born into. Then there are the types of babies (some with … ‘snotty noses, tiny shrimp toes, tufty hair, dandelion hair, gummy smile, or one tooth.’) We read about the lives of babies, what they do, where they go, what they enjoy, how they behave. 

The narrator is a baby’s young sister whose parents are bi-racial – mum white-skinned, dad dark-skinned. At the end of the story they curl up – mum, dad, baby and sister – in bed. ‘We are lucky, lucky, lucky to have our baby!’ declares sister on the last page. Thus the book is an ode to having a baby in the family, whatever kind of family one has. 

Wild has a gift for language, with the words of this book tripping along lightly, making obvious the joys of being a baby and having a baby in one's family. Her simple sentences and joyfulness is complimented by Blair’s delicate and engaging watercolour illustrations set in lots of white background. We see a baby wrapped in a dad’s arm in a café while Dad drinks coffee and baby drops crumbs to pigeons at his feet. In another illustration, Dad reads a book to baby while his sister sits at a school desk, also reading. Then there are babies rolling, dancing, crawling and bouncing; babies playing, ‘dropping things in the toilet, or building a tower of bricks.’

Yes, the best word to describe this book is ‘joyful.’ The story can – and should – be read over and over again, and the lively and amusing pictures looked at frequently, too. This lovely book is sure to be a hit with parents who have small children and babies. And with pre-schoolers whose teachers share the book with them.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Billie’s Great Desert Adventure

Billie’s Great Desert Adventure by Sally Rippin, illustrated by Alisa Coburn (Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781760124434

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Billie’s Great Desert Adventure is part of Sally Rippin’s new picture book series, featuring a younger Billie than in her well-known and much loved Billie B Brown junior fiction series.

Here, Billie attends ‘kinder’ or preschool. She excitedly arrives at kinder on a rainy day wearing her duck boots, anticipating puddle jumping and outdoor fun, only to learn she must remain inside. Barricading herself in a pile of cushions, Billie realises the possibilities they hold for creative play when Jack (of Rippin’s ‘Hey Jack’ series) arrives on the scene, excitedly interpreting the cushion pile as a cave. The two then embark on a magical adventure that references Aladdin, complete with treasure, thieves and a magic carpet ride. Reflecting the boundless imaginations of preschool-aged children, the story immerses the reader in a fast-paced, fantastical journey, only ending when Billie and Jack emerge from their cushion cave in time for an all-important snack.

Alisa Coburn’s vibrant illustrations have a timeless, retro feel, and help bring the story to life. The expressive faces of the characters reveal a gamut of emotions from fear to elation as Billie and Jack devise a way to thwart the thieves, further bring the reader along for the ride.

Rippin’s foray into picture books allows a greater exploration of language than the conventions of her read-alone junior series’ both allow. It introduces the 3 to 5 year old set to the worlds of Billie and Jack, paving the way for a love of reading and an eventual confidence to tackle the Billie B Brown and Hey Jack novels. Interestingly, Billie’s earlier dismissal of reading books when she arrives at kinder is counteracted by Coburn’s strategic inclusion of imagery of opened books strewn on Billie’s and Jack’s cushion cave. Just like the kids’ adventure, the books look to be Aladdin-inspired, hinting at the inspiration to be found within their pages.


Billie’s Great Desert Adventure is a charming story that perfectly captures the heightened imaginations of young children.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Mutant Mosquitoes from Mercury

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. the Mutant Mosquitoes from Mercury by Dav Pilkey, Illustrations by Dan Santat (Scholastic Inc)
PB RRP $10.99
ISBN 978-0-545-63010-8

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

In this second adventure, Ricky Ricotta and his friend Mighty Robot are back in action. Ricky sees mutant mosquitoes attack Squeakyville from his school window but the teacher will not let him leave to save the earth until he finishes his maths test. Luckily, Ricky is a whiz at maths. With his robot friend, Ricky must battle evil mosquitoes which are sick of living on their hot planet of Mercury, and want to take over Earth for their home.
Thin, colourful, and glossy, the short chapter and easy text will attract young boys who are looking to extend their reading to chapter books. And the action, with animal-like alien monsters will keep them hooked. Comic style pages enhance the action in the battle scenes and the illustrations.
Created by the author of Captain Underpants, and illustrator Dan Santat, the Ricky Ricotta tales are filled with action, aliens, heroes and flip-o-ramas, which will appeal to lower primary readers and younger Captain Underpants fans.


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Meet Banjo Paterson

Meet Banjo Paterson by Kristin Weidenbach, illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-85798-008-3

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller


While lurching at a copy of Meet Banjo Paterson, I was immediately reminded of my grade 4 public speaking performance of Clancy of the Overflow, (that and Jack Thompson’s blonde moustache). As our English teacher’s comb over floated celestially above his head during enthusiastic rehearsals, we were blithely unaware of the man behind the poem; the boy then the man who was to become Banjo Paterson.

Meet Banjo Paterson is the seventh book in the Meet… series from Random House, a collection of non-fiction picture books aimed at uncovering the people behind Australia’s most well-loved and infamous icons including Ned Kelly, Mary MacKillop, Captain Cook and Douglas Mawson. 

Kristin Weidenbach and illustrator James Gulliver Hancock, set the scene for a young Andrew Barton Paterson (Banjo), a boy who lived and loved the Australian bush, particularly horses and bush life. Weidenbach’s evocative tone creates a clear description of what life was like in the second half of the 19th century. 

This is contrasted beautifully with the backdrop of the industrial revolution and the cities where Banjo worked as lawyer in later in life. His love of the Australian outback and fascination with Bushmen is translated as a lasting vehicle of Australia’s heritage.  

James Gulliver Hancock’s illustrations enrich the palate of colonial Australia with muted hues and the use of black chalk to portray a coal and campfire society. The colours including deep reds and purples are indicative of those naturally found in banksias and wild lavender. While the stylized art is a rich collage of Australian bush imagery, the typeface is clean and easy to read, so as not to detract from the overflowing pictures. The font reinforces the non-fiction nature of the book and is interwoven with excerpts from Paterson’s poems and stories such as Waltzing Matilda and Mulga Bill’s Bicycle.

I love that Weidenbach’s retelling of Banjo Paterson’s life creates a vibrant and engaging experience while the timeline of his life at the back of the book gifts insights about the man rarely known. The Man from Snowy River is part of Australia’s DNA, however I was unaware that when it was released it sold out within a week and broke Australian publishing records (without the aid of that internet thing). As an educational tool teachers will love the way it can inspire further research on the life and times of the man but as an example of writers impacting their community.

Kristin Weidenbach’s previously published non-fiction book Tom the Outback Mailman won the 2013 CBCA Eve Pownall Award. James Gulliver Hancock has an extensive background in advertising, animation and technical drawing. Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers is his compilation of profiles detailing interesting facts about famous historical figures presented as highly stylized infographics.