Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Lulu

Lulu by Georgie Donaghey illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn (Dragon Tales Publishing)
PB RRP: $17.95
ISBN 9780992523954

Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

Lulu is a bear with a creative soul needing to be expressed, so she moves from her icy lands to the big city lights. Here she is right at home dancing and singing and being adored by her fans until she realises how much she misses her friends back home. Luckily they know just what to do.

Written in rhyme that doesn’t miss a beat and beautifully illustrated, this adorable bear shows that you can have it all if only you reach for it.


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

Monday, 29 June 2015

Barnabas the Bullyfrog

Barnabas the Bullyfrog written by Em Horsfield, Carol Heuchan and Yolande Bromet, illustrated by Glen Singleton (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117202

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton


The illustrations in this book remind me of Quentin Blake’s work -- they’ve got that flavour and sense of style. But these are bigger and bolder and spread wider across the page.
This is a fun book that begins with a page introducing the characters. Great touch! There’s Max the boy, Maureen the kangaroo, Madge the emu, Arnold the koala, Dean the echidna, Gus the wombat, Borris the goanna, Nosh the nutmobile and of course Barnabas the Bullyfrog.
The story begins with Arnold reading his beemail and exclaiming, ‘No! The bullYfrog is back! He’s blaming bees-es for his sneezes, threatening to attack! He plans to bullYdoze the bees and drive them far out west; demands we meet him at the hive, if we know what is best.’
Yep, it’s rhyming verse again! Generally it scans quite well but it’s probably worthwhile for the adult reader to look it over once before attempting it because the rhythm only works when the emphasis is correctly placed.
Barnabas the BullYfrog is back and he plans to bullYdoze the bees because he’s blaming them for his sneezing. Nosh the nutmobile and his friends have been bullied before, so they rally to the defence of the bees. I’m sure kids will love the picture of Barnabas with his tongue trapped under one of Nosh’s wheels while Dean spreads honey along its length.

Barnabas changes his tune when his sneezes ease at the honey application.


With a mixture of themes on friendship, bullying and the benefits of bees, this is a book for more than one occasion. It is created by Macadamia House and is part of ‘The Nutmobile Series’.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Polka Dot Float

Polka Dot Float written and illustrated by Maryanne O’Flynn (Little Steps Publishing)          PB RRP $16.95                                                                                                                                    ISBN: 9781925117356
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

Simple illustrations executed in bright acrylics accompany this pleasant story about a group of Australian animals.

Polka Dot is an echidna who wants to swim. The black swan is rude and mocking even before Polka Dot makes it into the billabong. The frogs, however, do their best to show her how it’s done. But their efforts are in vain; all Polka Dot can do is float. Determined to succeed, she returns the following day to have another go. By this time, there’s an audience -- Kangaroo, Koala, Bilby and Wombat have all come to watch.

As Polka Dot is about to enter the water, she smells smoke. A fire is raging, heading towards the billabong. Suddenly Polka Dot’s talent is a serious advantage as the animals launch out into the deep, all clinging fast to their floating friend.

This is a book about determination and valuing unexpected talents, even if they don’t seem useful. It would suit pre-schooler and first grade readers.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Samurai vs Ninja: The Battle for the Golden Egg

Samurai vs Ninja: The Battle for the Golden Egg by Nick Falk, illustrated by Tony Flowers (Random House)
PB RRP $9.00
ISBN 9780857986054

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller


If only the Samurai vs Ninja book series was around 30 years ago, then my brother may have spent more time reading about clumsy, fighting, farting ancient Japanese warriors and less time pretending to be one, and practicing the aforementioned unsavoury behaviour on me.

Nick Falk and Tony Flowers have created a striking, fast-paced, snort-inducing book series for early readers, six and up. Beginning with The Battle for the Golden Egg, readers are introduced to samurai leader, Kingyo-Sama and the head of the ninja, Buta-Sama, who are constantly battling each other in the most ridiculous and smelliest of ways. They also happen to be brothers, which will have an instant appeal to young readers who have spent many a day duelling with siblings over the last piece of pizza or the front seat of the car.

With a highly visual tone, Nick Falk has cleverly downplayed the battle sequences using unusual and hilarious ways to convey the frustration and competition between the two main characters. Paths of wasabi planted in underpants, stinky seafood careering over walls in moments of attack and tickling feet as a form of torture go hand in hand with nonsense name calling.

What this over-exaggerated phrasing creates is a wonderful procession of alliteration and tongue-twisters which is such a valuable reading tool for younger audiences. The use of Japanese terms and glossary at the back of the book also enrich the variety of the text and opportunities for learning.

Descriptions of the era, costumes, architecture and armour are cleverly enhanced by Tony Flowers’ comic styled illustrations that maintain the interest of the reader, in the way I remember The Adventures of Asterix

Nick Falk is the author of the Saurus Street and Billy is a Dragon book series’ and the picture book, Troggle the Troll. As a specialist in Japanese influenced illustration, Tony Flowers was awarded a prize from the Oshima Picture Book Museum in Toyama, Japan, for his hand made pop-up book Gaijin Holiday. He has also illustrated six books in the Nick Falk Saurus Street series.


The series continues with The Race for the Shogun’s Treasure and two more instalments are due for release in July 2015.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Juvie

Juvie by Steve Watkins (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781406358629

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Sadie is part of a fragmented family. Her father lives alone shut away from the world in her grandmother’s house with his hoarded collection of newspapers. He neither speaks nor opens the door. Her mother works two jobs to make ends meet.

Her sister Carla, a single mother, lives a decadent life. When she becomes involved with drug dealers one night while drunk and out of it, her last chance of staying out of jail vanishes. She stands to lose her child as well. The thing is that Sadie is with her.

Sadie envisions her family life disintegrating entirely and her niece in care. There is only one decision that will save them all. That is to take the blame for Carla. But instead of community service for a first offence, she gets time in Juvie.

In Juvie, Sadie is allowed to have nothing at all. It makes her feels like she is nothing too. No one is what they seem. Can Sadie survive the choices she made?

Can this be the awakening that Carla needs to finally leave the drugs and drinking alone and improve hers and her daughter’s life? Or has Sadie’s sacrifice been for nothing.

This is a well-written book with an interesting storyline full of conflicts and challenges for its characters. We are the choices we make and this book is an example of exactly that. Strong prose and lots of action keep the pages turning. Themes of family unity, forgiveness, love and sacrifice are juxtaposed with those of irresponsible actions and their cost, to create a riveting read for young adults.


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Once Upon a Timeless Tale: The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Once Upon a Timeless Tale: The Twelve Dancing Princesses written by The Brothers Grimm (retold by Margrete Lamond), illustrated by Anna Walker (Little Hare Books/Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $12.95
ISBN 9781742974019

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Twelve Dancing Princesses is part of Little Hare Books’ new Once Upon a Timeless Tales series, introducing classic folk and fairy tales to a new generation of readers.

The tale centres on the mystery of a King who finds the party slippers belonging to his twelve princess daughters ripped to shreds each morning. The King is baffled, as the princesses are locked in a chamber overnight. He declares that the man who discovers what the princesses are getting up to can select one for a wife. A succession of boastful princes try their luck at observing the princesses all night, yet each fails, until a wounded soldier hobbles into town and is presented with an invisibility cloak and some helpful pointers from an old lady.

What happens next is a series of fantastical scenes, revealing the secret goings on of the princesses, beautifully illustrated by award-winning author/illustrator Anna Walker. The wordless double page spread on pages 12 and 13 of the princesses in their evening wear finery is truly enchanting.

Despite the current trend for fractured fairy tales, these versions stick closely to the original storyline. Old-fashioned language, like declaring someone a ‘silly goose’ is used, likely to charm the intended readership and perhaps evoke a giggle. The harshness of the fairy tales of old the in the form of heads being lopped off is also retained. This version ends on a more uplifting note than the original though, leaving the fate of the princes (that the princesses had been dancing with) open-ended rather than cursed.

This is a magical tale that will likely captivate 5 to 8 year old girls, and stays true enough to the Brothers Grimm original without being nightmare-inducing.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Last Thirteen Book 12: 2

The Last Thirteen Book 12: 2 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-195-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.
2 is the penultimate book in this adventure series about a group of children, the thirteen chosen Dreamers, who are prophesised to save the world.
As the world plunges further into chaos – nightmares plague the general population - the media attention on the Dreamers and UN protection makes it harder for Sam and his friends to do what they need to in order to ensure the Dreamers’ Gate stays hidden from Solaris, Stella and all those who would use it for power and dominance.
Sam and Eva leave Australia to search for Alex, the twelfth Dreamer, who is lost somewhere in Antarctica. With a powerful storm closing in, and Stella, Hans and rogue guardians searching as well, it is a dangerous version of hunting for a needle in a haystack.
But Alex has made an amazing discovery under the ice which will lead them closer to the end of the race. If only they can get out alive with betrayal all around.
This fast-paced series The Last Thirteen is an edge of your seat thrill ride with plenty of suspense, action and cliff-hangers. The series needs to be read in order, but these slim volumes are written for speedy reading and each will be consumed with pace. With only one to go, the conclusion is very close.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Flying High

Flying High by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Craig Smith (Omnibus Books for Scholastic)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-070-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Larni has trouble at school with her reading and writing. It makes her feel dumb and she thinks that she cannot do anything well. But these holidays she is flying north to stay with her grandparents and Larni is very excited about this visit and being away from school. While she is there, Gran teaches Larni to do something she is very good at.
Flying High is the latest title in a series based on indigenous characters, families and cultures. Each title explores familiar themes and situations which all children, not only those with an indigenous background, will relate to. These two authors cleverly create stories which are firmly based in indigenous culture, yet are still universal in theme and content.
Close and loving family bonds are central to the story as Larni slowly learns that she does have her own unique skills. Her confidence grows throughout the book. The characters are strong and appealing and the soft illustrations help to tell the story and enhance the subtle humour which makes theis story all the more unique.
Flying High is a warm and entertaining chapter book which is very readable for early primary children and contains plenty to hold the attention of the slightly older middle grade readers.


Monday, 22 June 2015

KY!

KY! By Clancy Tucker (Clancy Tucker Publishing)
PB RRP $25.00 (including postage)
EBook $3.99

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Rida is caught between two cultures. She is the only Muslim girl at her school, and she wears glasses and a hijab. She also loves books so is classed as a nerd by her peers. This mixture leaves her open to ridicule, emotional and physical bullying, which she is afraid to report. It also sees her isolated from the rest of the students.

Then she meets Ky, a Cambodian refugee who also loves books. At last Rida has a friend.

On a day when her two tormentors are pursuing her, she runs into a house where an old man is tending his garden. This rose garden becomes a haven; somewhere she can hide from the bullies, read and feel safe until she can get home. The man will also play a significant role in Rida’s future.

It seems she’s always running – to get away from bullies, to get to safety, or to reach home. When Mr Conan the sports master asks her to run in the inter school sports, she accepts. She learns that Ky has leukaemia and is seriously ill.

Rida has tried to fit in at school; not be so nerdy. She stops reading during recess, becomes a part-timer in not wearing her hijab during school hours. If she wins the race, will people like her more? Or will that be one more reason to dislike her?

Inspired by Ky’s presence and despite her grave illness, Rida wins the 400 metres and the relay wearing her hijab. Their school gets the trophy, and all the differences that were obstacles disappear. She is now one of them and the school’s hero with respect and acceptance.

This poignant and inspiring novella, Clancy Tucker’s first short novel, uses the backstory and generous dialogue as a gateway into awareness about the lives of refugees. The reasons they embark on treacherous journeys to reach a safe country and a possible future without fear and threat of death are told through the children’s voice and experiences. It also focuses on the endless possibilities for children’s lives, no matter what their origins, to be turned around when opportunity is made available to them.

Other themes, and there are many in this excellent story, cover cancer in children, hope, kindness and love, family unity, and how people are more than their external appearance or specific beliefs.


Sunday, 21 June 2015

No Means No!


No Means No! by Jayneen Sanders, illustrated by Cherie Zamazing (UpLoad Publishing 2015)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN: 9781925089226

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Sadly, we live in a society where sexual predators exist.
We can’t always be there to protect our children, but we are in a position to empower them to understand their rights with particular regards to their body, and to encourage them to speak up if they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable situation.

Jayneen Sanders, an experienced primary school teacher, counsellor, editor, author, publisher and mother, has recognised the need for resources that assist parents, carers, teachers and child welfare professionals in talking to children about such issues.

No Means No! follows the release of Sanders’ Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept (UpLoad Publishing 2013), illustrated by Craig Smith, which dealt with a little boy being touched inappropriately by a trusted caregiver and keeping it a secret.

No Means No! treads more lightly than its predecessor, but the message is still loud and clear. Cherie Zamazing’s illustrations create a bright, cheerful feel as Sanders manages to cover difficult issues in a non-confronting way, teaching children and caregivers about boundaries, respect and consent.
Sanders’ plucky central character knows how to say no.

For instance, she chooses not to kiss Auntie Jeanie, but to give her a high five. She chooses not to play tickling games with her cousin, but to play catch. And she chooses not to accept her mother’s offer of help to wash her private parts at bath time, but to do it herself.

Sanders’ character never comes across as rude or difficult, but rather assertive and confident. She never fails to speak up with regards to personal boundaries and this is consistently respected by the family members and friends she encounters.

The story is appropriately set at home and school, where young children spend much of their time. 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept

Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept by Jayneen Sanders, illustrated by Craig Smith (UpLoad Publishing, 2013)
HB RRP $22.68
ISBN: 9780646546230

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Jayneen Sanders’ picture book Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept tells the story of Sir Alfred, an endearing and brave little knight. Sir Alfred is small and innocent, and conveyed perfectly by illustrator Craig Smith. He comes from a broken family. His mother works hard cleaning Lord Henry’s castle, and after school, Lord Henry offers to look after Sir Alfred while his mother finishes her cleaning.

Sir Alfred and Lord Henry have such fun together until one day Lord Henry touches Sir Alfred inappropriately and refuses to stop when Sir Alfred asks him to. Lord Henry warns Sir Alfred that if he tells anyone about their “tickling game” his mother will lose her job and it will be his fault.

As the story progresses, Sir Alfred changes. He becomes quiet, introverted, frightened and sick with worry. His attempts to stay away from Lord Henry fail until one evening his mother hears him sobbing in his bed and reminds him that ‘some secrets should NEVER EVER be kept’.

Wrapped in the warmth of his mother’s love, Sir Alfred discovers that speaking up and sharing his terrible secret is the right thing to do.

This is a difficult story to tell, but an important one. It is a disturbing reality that sexual offenders are more often than not known to their child victims, and, according to Sanders’ website, an astounding one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn eighteen.

An experienced primary school teacher, counsellor, editor, author, publisher and mother, Sanders has recognised the need for resources that assist parents, carers, teachers and child welfare professionals in educating and empowering children to speak up, no matter what.


This book includes a useful Note to the Reader and a set of Discussion Questions. It is recommended by the author that it be read to children by a parent or caregiver. Suitable for reading with children from pre-school and beyond and a recommended school library resource.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Pause

The Pause by John Larkin (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780857981707
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857981714

Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Youth suicide -- a hush … hush topic, a brave topic to write about, a necessary topic to write about.

How many of us have been personally touched by suicide? I have, twice, so it was with hesitation that I began to read.

This YA story is Declan’s story. He is 17 and in Year 11 at a selective high school. He is witty, sensitive, a literature wiz and head over heels in love with Lisa. One problem is that Lisa has a Tiger Mother, who Declan nicknames The Kraken. A kraken who beats her daughter when she strays from her mother’s warped ways. A kraken who confiscates her daughter’s phone and sends her away from Declan to live in Hong Kong with her aunt.

Although there is a parallel plot of Declan and Lisa (a bit like Romeo and Juliet), it is primarily Declan’s story as he wonders if his ‘brief flicker of existence might have meant something.’

Something dark happened when Declan was 6, something that has been buried so deep in his psyche that when he needed inner strength, it was too fragile to cope.

The narrative moves back and forth, like a mind in chaos, until we as the reader are standing with Declan, wracked with emotional pain, on the platform as the train approaches. He intends to end the pain.

Graphic descriptions? Yes. But they are in Declan’s mind in those nanoseconds of decision -- the nanosecond of The Pause. That short-long time to decide to live or to die, ‘… crying because I don’t think I’m worth anything …’

With time out in a psychiatric hospital, Declan starts to think about life.  He thinks of the ‘wreckage’ he would have left behind ‘in that moment of pure insanity …’ It is through the kindness and understanding of strangers in his ward, in their own dire personal situations, that Declan begins to heal.

Through Declan’s breakdown, ‘I went nuts. It happens. It happened to me. It can happen to anyone …’ his friends are given quiet permission to be open and frank about themselves.

The positive message is how this experience empowers Declan to own who he is; that he has choices to make and responsibilities to others, but mostly to himself. He learns that life is bittersweet, but you can cope, and that once you open yourself to others and their lives you realise that people are not worth dying for, they’re worth living for.

John Larkin is a brave writer. The Pause is personal. It’s as much Larkin’s story as it is Declan’s story. As you read, you come to understand that the heart and soul of John Larkin becomes the heart and soul of Declan. It is a story of hope and the beauty of relationships … because of one essential concept … pause.

Larkin’s previous novel, The Shadow Girl, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adults.


Faraway Friends

Faraway Friends written and illustrated by Russ Cox (NewSouth Books)
HB RRP $21.99
ISBN 978-1-63220-408-0

Reviewed by Peta Biggin

When Sheldon’s next-door neighbour and best friend moves away, he is desperate to go visit.  So, with the help of his dog Jet, he builds a rocket ship and takes off to the stars.  When the rocket ship falls apart, Sheldon finds a surprising source of help and a potential new friend with his new neighbour Rubin.

Faraway Friends is the latest book from American author/illustrator Russ Cox.  A sweet story about friendship and adventure, it primarily deals with a young boy’s attempts to deal with his best friend moving away from the neighbourhood. 

On seeing the “Jupiter Moving Co” truck leave, Sheldon decides that his friend has moved to Jupiter and a rocket ship needs to be built so he can visit. With his dog, Jet, he builds a rather rickety rocket from various items around the house and, with the help of a lot of imagination, they take off for the stars.  It’s a short trip, however, as the rocket falls apart before they make it to Jupiter.  Looking over the fence at them is what appears to be a pair of alien eyes.  To their surprise, the eyes belong to their new neighbour Rubin who helps with the repairs to the rocket ship and joins them as they take off again.

This is an energetic and fun story about friendship that also comes with a hint of adventure; it would make a great read-aloud book.  Visually, each page is filled with big colourful illustrations.  With a mixture of full-page and cartoon-style panels, there is enough detail and variety to entertain any young reader as they flip through each page.

Russ Cox was raised in the backwoods of Tennessee, where he spent his time drawing, whittling and throwing dirt clods at his cousins.  He has taught classes at Pennsylvania College of Art and Design and he runs his own studio, Smiling Otis Studio, where he specialises in illustration for the children’s book market.  She can be found online at: http://www.smilingotis.com/


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Stories for Simon

Stories for Simon by Lisa Miranda Sarzin, illustrated by Lauren Briggs (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780857987440

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

Stories for Simon represents more than just a beautifully conceptualised picture book, but a foray to discuss social and cultural issues, mutual respect and the importance of reconciliation and positivity in looking forward. 

Lisa Miranda Sarzin and Lauren Biggs have created a respectful contemporary reflection on Australia’s Stolen Generations that balances delicately between fiction and non-fiction.

Written under the mentorship of Bidjigal Elder, Vic Simms, Sarzin and Biggs skilfully explain the story of Simon who, through a gift of a boomerang, comes to understand the history of the Stolen Generations, the significance of reconciliation and the lessons that all future Australian children can learn in order to pave a harmonious, meaningful society.

Simon’s passage is told in a contemplative, well-researched tone that sees him interacting with his family, school and a boy named Vic who is able to introduce Simon to his own family’s history as part of the Stolen Generations. Each relationship reinforces Simon’s understanding of reconciliation and the significance of Kevin Rudd’s apology on behalf of Australia in 2008. 

Despite the delicate nature of the text, Stories for Simon is united with the evocative illustrations by Lauren Biggs. The use of strong primary colours is unexpected and presents a new way of documenting Australian stories which are typically reliant on warm hues. The pages related to the telling of Aboriginal Dreamtime and Simon’s own dreams are whimsical but graphically strong.

Stories for Simon is the first picture book for both Sarzin and Biggs yet all their royalties will be donated to the GO Foundation, an educational initiative to support Indigenous Australian children founded by 2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes and his cousin Michael O’Loughlin.

School libraries will find this an essential part of their collection. The prospects for discussion and project work around reconciliation themes are extensive, while inspiring children to contemplate what Australia they wish to create. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Alana Oakley: Mystery and Mayhem

Alana Oakley: Mystery and Mayhem by Poppy Inkwell (Big Sky Publishing)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 781925275124

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Energy, madcap mayhem and eccentric personalities are the main features of this novel pitched at girls aged 11 to 13 years. The two main characters are 12 year old Alana and her journalist mother Emma, each of whose stories are told in alternating chapters. Alana, whose father died three years earlier, is dreading the approach of her birthday as catastrophes seem to be their hallmark (note: dancing llamas and juggling fire-breather). Meanwhile, Alana begins Gibson High School with her besties, an Aboriginal girl Maddie and Sophie, who is the only girl in a family of five sons and no father. On the first day of school the three girls meet up with a new Muslim girl, Khalilah, whom they quickly befriend.

Mum’s friends Ling Ling and Katriona are also a colourful duo, fashionistas who seem determined to undermine Emma’s attempts to interview the mega-famous rock star sensation Slam Guru. Emma’s exclusive opportunity goes awry when the singer freaks out at seeing Katriona, who has stalked him overseas (not that she sees this as a problem.)

At school during her first lesson, a valuable charm goes missing which sets Alana and her mates on a quest to find out who has (probably) stolen it. Non-stop action ensues as the hunt goes on and Alana and her gang try to negotiate school hazards such as their Nazi-like physical education coach and over-the-top nurse. Then there’s Emma who seems destined to date what might be a mass-murderer she’s met online. Over-hanging all the non-stop escapades is Alana’s fear of her upcoming birthday and what might go wrong this time.

The author has set this fast-paced, sometimes melodramatic tale in Sydney’s inner suburbs and there is a convincing sense of place as the characters traverse areas such as Redfern and Newtown. The book’s characters, on the other hand, are so wildly different from the norm and their antics so exaggerated that the reader simply has to go along for the ride and accept that life in the extended Oakley world is quite outrageous.

Each of the chapters is given headings which foretell what’s to come – such as ‘Tattoos, chooks and botched translations,’ ‘Intense. Insane. Same-same lah!’ and ‘Treading the fine line between fun, Fun and no fun at all.’ 

This book is certainly very different to the usual fare for teens. 

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Warlock’s Child, Book 1: The Burning Sea

The Warlock’s Child, Book 1: The Burning Sea by Paul Collins & Sean McMullen
(Ford Street Publishing)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1925000924

Reviewed by Francine Sculli

The Burning Sea is the first book in the latest six-book fantasy series co-authored by well-known authors Paul Collins and Sean McMullen. And it wastes no time in plunging us deep into the thrilling adventure with Dantar and his sister Velza, our two main protagonists who, by command of their Dravinian Battle Warlock father, have landed themselves on aboard the fleet on its way to invade the Kingdom of Savaria.

Dantar is serving as a cabin boy, one of the lowest ranking roles on the fleet, constantly concerned that he is one of the few without magical abilities. While Velza, a shape-casting warrior, has found herself in the male dominated ranks as an officer in a tenuous role. The two of them despise each other and the power play and family tension ripples through the book as the drama unfolds.

But everything they know is about to change.

The fantastical, medieval world around them is in the midst of darkness. It’s a place governed by magic and roamed by dragons, but everything has been turned upside down. In a time before, the Dark Hands misused the powers they had created. The dragons intervened, breaking up the human magic into four parts, allowing only the dragons to have complete control of all four parts simultaneously. Now, in an attempt to reconnect the four powers, the Dravinian Emperor ordered war against Savaria.

Nothing goes to plan. On their way to battle the dragon Dravaud hovers in the air over the Dravinian fleet, convinced there is a dragon egg aboard the Invincible. He burns one of the fleets down to the ground. While putting out fires on board, through the speaking tubes Dantar overhears a conversation that he shouldn’t and unearths a traitor on board. He is convinced it has something to do with Meslit, the water wizard, who disappears in a cloud of ash. Dantar senses he is developing protection against heat and fire and harbouring magical tendencies far beyond his imagination. Velza loses her ranks as an officer. Much to her disgust, Dantar rises through the ranks throwing her world off kilter. As they near the shores of Savaria in the final pages, and more strange occurrences happen, Velza still finds it in her heart to rescue him as he goes overboard, giving Dantar his first taste of being part of a loving family unit. As readers, we are left hanging right there with the siblings, wondering what will happen next and with a sense that their bond will grow in future books as they are forced together to unwrap the deep mysteries and questions that have arisen.

The Burning Sea is an action-packed book with just the right amount of wit, characterisation, worldly carvings, mystery and plot twists to keep older primary school readers engaged and wanting more.


Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Toast Tree

The Toast Tree by Corina Martin, illustrated by Fern Martins
(Magabala Books)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 978-1922142689

Reviewed by Francine Sculli

In The Toast Tree writer Corina Martin has passed on the wildly imaginative and rich oral Aboriginal storytelling history of her own family, and in its pages she has carved a magical world where believing is everything. Inspired by her own childhood memories, Corina honours her grandparents in the most wonderful of ways. In much the same way that they kept Corina and her siblings believing the toast tree was real, Corina will have generations to come searching for the toast tree after reading this precious tale.

And who wouldn’t want to believe something so special?

Everyday Ella and Mia’s grandfather comes home from work with a special treat. They wait eagerly for him at the gate, itching to see what he pulls out of his lunch box. Without fail, he takes out two golden-brown pieces of toast, dribbled in honey and with a taste like no other. They beg him to tell them the story of the toast tree. He speaks of its magic resting and growing in the sand dunes, and its bright green leaves from which the toast hangs, setting alight the girls’ imaginations.

The next day, curious and wild with adventure, the girls go in search of the tree. In the sand dunes, they find nothing but a bush with beautiful green flowers shaped like birds and filled with a cream that tastes just like honey. But when their grandfather sees the girls picking the flowers, he is very sad and explains to them that there will be no honey left for the birds. It is only he who can pick toast from the tree or the magic will stop. Not wanting the magic to stop, the girls agree to let the toast tree grow and leave it in the hands of their grandfather. Their curiosity remains, but never do they find the tree, only its gifts their grandfather brings for them.

This beautiful story is made even more magical by the by Fern Martins’ watercolour illustrations, which vividly evolve with each turn of the page. Their deeply rich colours and details give life to this story and life to the family that share it.

The Toast Tree is a deliciously sweet and simple tale that will have anyone, of any age, pleading to have it read to them over and over again. This book weaves themes of family, memories, childhood, storytelling and imagination, and a little of its magic will go a very long way.


Saturday, 13 June 2015

Bush Rescue: Pup Patrol #2

Bush Rescue: Pup Patrol #2 by Darrel and Sally Odgers (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-300-8

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

James and Stamp are on the road again but this time they are joined in the Fourby 4WD by new friend Ace, a mixed breed of Terrier with no manners. It is up to Barnaby Station Stamp Of Approval - Stamp for short - and his master James to teach Ace how to behave.
But before they can travel too far a new arrival flies in through the window and perches on the seat next to Ace. Stamp is happy to talk to someone new but Ace is not so sure about Daisy Ado the Cockatoo so James decides on a detour through the next town to find her owner.
In town, there is a smell of smoke in the air and the local vet asks James and Stamp to help look after all the animals being brought in by worried owners as a bushfire moves closer. Will the town have to evacuate? Can they find Daisy Ado's owner in time?
This is a lovely new Australian series for young readers and animal lovers. The adventure and excitement is balanced by the humour and the really likeable, engaging characters. Each animal in the story has a wonderful name along with their own unique personality. In this emergency situation there are all sorts of animals together who wouldn't usually mingle and it makes for fabulous and humorous conversation.
More difficult words or dogisms are printed in bold and can be found in Stamp’s Glossary at the end of every chapter. Many challenging words within this story are words which relate to emergencies and bushfires.
Great for early readers (6 years and over),  Bush Rescue is filled with lovely black and white illustrations including adorable pictures of Stamp the Border Collie and Ace, the Terrier. The gentle humour is often in the play between animal and human, or the talk amongst the animals. The relationship between Stamp and his master James is a lovely one. 
There is a sensible, rather than sensational, approach to bushfires, safety and pet care. The Australian flavour feels comfortable within the setting, story and language.



Friday, 12 June 2015

Farm Rescue: Pup Patrol #1

Farm Rescue: Pup Patrol #1 by Darrel and Sally Odgers (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-299-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Farm Rescue is the first book in a delightful new Australian series featuring Stamp - short for Barnaby Station Stamp of Approval - a Border Collie pup, and his master James, who are travelling around the country in the ‘Fourby’ 4WD.
As the story begins, so does the rain. It rains and rains and rains. The Fourby gets very muddy, James's hair is getting wet and Stamp starts to smell like damp dog. There is so much rain that they decide to seek shelter at nearby Pepper Plains Farm.
High and dry with the folk at the farm, James enjoys dinner with the Peppers while Stamp makes friends with Rusty the farm Collie in the barn. Rusty is worried about the sheep and is unsure if his master is aware of the impawtence of moving the flock away from the rising water. Can Rusty and Stamp alert the humans to the danger and save the sheep?
Pup Patrol is a new series by the creators of the popular Jack Russell and Pet Vet series. Told from Stamp's perspective, the language is playful with words such as pawsimistic and pawlite with Stamp's Glossary at the end of every chapter explains these dogisms, as well as farm related terms and any other words which may be new to a beginner reader.
Dog and puppy stories are always popular and the engaging characters, humour, excitement and bravery make this an appealing series. Short chapters and really sweet black and white illustrations add to the ease of reading for lower primary aged children. Readers will get caught up in the adventures of Stamp and James as they travel, meeting people and facing the challenges provided by the Australian landscape such as floods and bushfires.


Thursday, 11 June 2015

Soon

Soon by Morris Gleitzman (Penguin Viking)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780607078875

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Soon continues the story of Felix whose story has been related in a series of books, OnceThenNow and After which follow the Jewish boy’s experiences of World War 11. These novels have won numerous awards for the Australian author and are pitched at readers in upper primary and early high school.

Like the earlier books about Felix, Gleitzman writes in first person present tense which helps to contribute to the danger and immediacy experienced by the thirteen-year-old boy who lives in Nazi-occupied Poland post war. In this novel, Felix is living in a hidden shelter with an alcoholic adult, Gabriek, who has numerous rules for survival. Felix has fallen foul of Gogal, a gang of murderous men who roam the streets in trucks so the boy is always on the look-out for them – and, at one stage, is captured by the them.

Felix has numerous escapades in his search for food in the bombed city in which he lives. He is befriended by Anya, (a girl who originally holds a gun to his head) and finds himself responsible for the life of a small baby. Anya introduces Felix to a kind doctor who is in charge of an orphanage and who encourages the boy in his quest to become a doctor, too. He lets Felix loose in his library which is a blessing to the boy who loves reading.

Every chapter in the book starts with the word ‘Soon’ after which follows a fast-paced exploit (or series of exploits), usually with a cliff-hanger ending. Gleitzman writes in a clipped fashion with words that an average reader can understand. His main character is likable, quirky and real. One can see why his books are popular. Here is an example of the book’s text:

‘Lights. Voices. Rough hands on me.
I open my eyes.
And yell.
It’s not a dream.
A burning torch, blinding. My clothes undone. Men standing over me, three or four, pointing, faces twisted with hatred, shouting.’

The book is filled with dangerous events like this, with the text gripping and written in staccato, like a person trying to quickly gulp in air in order to survive. In the book’s postscript, Gleitzman says that Felix’s stories come from his imagination but are based on his readings of many books about ‘people who lived and struggled and loved and faced death in that terrible time.’

To find out if Felix survives, it is recommended that one read this book.