Friday, 31 July 2015

Silly Squid!

Silly Squid! by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Cheryll Johns (Koala Books)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-096-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Silly Squid is a picture book packed full of poems about Australian sea creatures. Inside its pages you get to meet all manner of characters which frolic in or under the waves. From the Leafy Sea Dragon to the Penguin to the Whale, these animals are explored in poetry and explained by prose fact which is written around the edges of each page.

The poems are fabulously fun. I did not trip over any awkward rhymes. Each one has a great rhythm, which makes reading them out loud a joy.  They all differ in form, length and tempo, which really make this collection sing. They are each individual and some of them short enough for young children to memorise.

Pitched perfectly at the preschool age, these humorous poems will entertain children and also teach them about undersea animals. The illustrations are bright and vibrant and based on the environment and colors of these sea creature’s homes. 

This is a great book for any young child who likes the sea, animals or poetry and would be a fun way to introduce poetry to those not yet indulging. A really great addition for any young person’s library!


Thursday, 30 July 2015

Gus the Asparagus

Gus the Asparagus by Kaylene Hobson illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn (Dragon Tales Publishing)
PB RRP: $19.95
ISBN 9780992523992

Reviewed by Yvonne Mes

The Green family (made up of a selection of adorable vegetables) love their peculiar little Gus the Asparagus just the way he is. But when Gus starts school it becomes clear that Gus doesn’t quite fit in and doesn’t understand the rules. And now Gus no longer wants to go to school.

Mum takes Gus to the Doctor who diagnoses him with ‘Asparagus Syndrome’. There is relief when everyone finally understands why Gus is different, and how they are able to support him.

This is an attractive book; the illustrations by Ann-Marie Finn, featuring vegetables with googly eyes are fun and strangely endearing.

The page where the vegetables at school are having a rolling competition and Gus tries to roll lengthways made me laugh and it illustrates perfectly just how differently Gus thinks. 

This short picture book has relatable characters for those families who live with a child with Asperger’s syndrome, and especially for the child itself.

The story, inspired Kaylene Hobson’s own experiences, however, is not a story of woe, instead it uplifts and recognises and accepts the eccentricities of the asparaguses’ around us.


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
Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Fiery Phoenix by Jess Black (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925059441

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Eve and Oscar have become friends and constant companions, after sharing the experience in the desert of Panthor after Eve had summoned the power of the unicorn.

In the second book of the Keeper of the Crystals series Eve finds a tiny crystal phoenix in an Odditorium which once again, leaves an imprint on her palm.
A powered illuminated light appears just before a torrent of water sweeps Eve and Oscar away.

Everything is dark around them. Eve, who loses sight of Oscar, allows herself to be helplessly taken along by the water. Suddenly, she connects with something solid and clings to it.

The force of the water sends her down a river surrounded by jungle on either side. A log with Oscar clinging to it brings them together, and they manage to haul themselves to the bank by grabbing onto overhanging branches.

A tiger confronts them, with the boy Slate close by. The children must find his people’s sacred fire spirit. Its song is what brings the sun up to warm the land of Griffid, the tiger jungle. Eve knows that her magic power has brought her to this place where tigers and people live in harmony together for that purpose.

But where is the phoenix? Eve and Oscar’s quest is to bring the magical bird back to them as soon as possible. It is losing its feathers and each feather dropped starts a fire that destroys more of the landscape.

Can the children negotiate the maze of caves at Merden by following the imprint on Eve’s hand? Will the bird, like its legend, rise from the ashes reborn, to bring the sun back to its people?

This fantasy adventure with magical powers at play is now moving at a faster pace. The question of what Gran has to do with the magic crystals was born in the reader’s mind at the end of the last book, and fed in this one. It has generated an interest that expands beyond the story and a longing to find out what secret Gran is hiding.

Eve and the Mermaid’s Tears is due in October. Full of mystery and adventure, this exciting series is proving to be an addictive read. It is highly suited to the 7+ age groups. It carries subtle environmental themes, addressing the importance of nature and its survival through people, plants and animals living together harmoniously.





Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Zombiefied

Zombiefied written by C M Gray (HarperCollins)                                                             PBK $14.99 ISBN 9780733334214
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Benjamin Roy is an 11 year old with a passion for zombies – movies, video games and zombie comics take up most of his leisure time. Together with his best friend and sidekick Sophie, they spend many afternoons after school doing their own brand of ‘homework’, immersed in their zombie games and movies.

After Ben is knocked down by the school bully Tank, he escapes to the boys toilets to wash his scraped knee, things take on a mysterious turn however, when Ben stumbles on a secret doorway at the back of the toilets. Just when he is about to investigate, one of the teachers Mr Slender, startles Ben from behind and he falls down for the second time that morning, grasping a wooden shelf in an attempt to save himself. Not only does the secret doorway then disappear, but he is given an afternoon detention for his trouble.

Ben confides in his friend Sophie and together they try to find the secret doorway, but are unsuccessful. Later when he is again at her house Sophie’s dad, a writer, overhears them talking and calls Ben to the kitchen where he tells Ben he has known about the secret doorway, warning him not to investigate further. Was Sophie’s dad spying on them? Ben’s suspicion is aroused and as he leaves for his house, he can’t help but look inside the bus that Mr Knight used as a study to write. Slipping in via the back window, Ben is intrigued to find corkboards lining the walls with notes and pictures of zombies. Surprised to learn that Mr Knight was interested in zombies, Ben is astonished to see a plan of the school. He could even see the staircase which led to the hidden room. It had been marked with a red cross!

Now Ben is undeterred to find out more about the secret doorway and hidden room, which had obviously been an interest of Mr Knight. Maybe he was intending to write a book about it, but Ben was determined to find out.

Ben does investigate again, joined by Sophie and is successful in locating the secret to the hidden doorway. It leads to rooms filled with cages of rats, another with dogs and the last for ‘Homo Sapiens’. One cage is even labelled ‘Benjamin Roy’.
Ben and Sophie are horrified to learn that mild mannered teacher Mr Crumpet is responsible and has an evil plan. Corvus, Mr Crumpet’s raven attacks Ben, digging his talons into his skin and begins pecking at his neck. Ben is forever changed – he now craves to eat meat.

Here, the story becomes a little gruesome, with Mr Crumpet encouraging Ben to kill his friend Sophie and eat her. Then the dogs are let loose and turn on Mr Crumpet, devouring him.

Ben saves Sophie and they escape to the waiting arms of their parents, yet Ben has changed. Suddenly everything flashes blue and he seems to have the power to look inside people’s bodies. Corvus, the raven follows Ben and his parents home where Ben is greeted by his brother Michael, who tells Ben he thought his brother was lost forever. ‘No such luck,’ Ben replies. ‘I plan on being around forever’.

This story contains simple illustrations and larger print – giving the impression it has been written for younger readers. As the story reaches its climax with Mr Crumpet urging Ben to kill, however, it takes a more sinister turn, before ending on a lighter note with Ben’s acceptance of himself as a zombie.


It is obviously the first in a series devoted to Ben’s zombie adventures and I believe children aged nine and above would enjoy reading it – hopefully without any nightmares!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Hunter’s Moon

Hunter’s Moon by Sophie Masson (Random House)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780857986030

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

Sophie Masson’s retelling of the Snow White mythology in Hunter’s Moon was one I longed to immerse myself in. It sat patiently ready for my holiday north and as soon as we left the freezing tarmac, I unsociably planted my nose in it (husband, kids - go entertain yourselves).

I eagerly consumed the opulent then perilous tale of Bianca Dalmatin, heir to the Ladies Fair department store empire and stepdaughter to the beautiful but sinister Lady Belladonna. Presented into society at the Duke’s ball by her controlling stepmother, shy and lonely Bianca soon finds herself the subject of a murderous plot involving herself and her much loved father.  The fleeting kindness of Belladonna’s faithful servant that spares Bianca, catapults her on a quest to find out the truth behind her father’s death and her stepmother’s treacherous plans.

The mythical European inspired Faustine Empire creates scenes of rich architecture, tactile landscapes and mystical creatures. The majesty of the first few chapters illuminates a grand stage reminiscent of the late 1800’s, but then extremes of a sophisticated society and mystical backdrops, forced me to release my expectations and let the imagery unravel naturally.

It is these extremities of setting that force young Bianca out of her protected life to find the inner strength to navigate betrayal and look beyond her upbringing to learn the true sense of trust, loyalty, sacrifice, determination, family and self.

Uncovering the references to the well-told Snow White tale was an entertaining addition to the reading experience. The huntsman, magic mirror, poisoned apple, glass coffin and seven dwarfs have all been cleverly intertwined through the story in unexpected ways that will give the younger reader a spark with each discovery.

Hunter’s Moon has all the appeal of romance, action, magic and a fabulous frock or two which has been brilliantly constructed to not overwhelm or confuse readers in the early teens.  It is the fourth book in the series by Masson that retells famous fables. Moonlight and Ashes, Scarlet in the Snow and The Crystal Heart, take the skeletons of Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to a new and wondrous level. The trick is to work out which one is which?


Monday, 27 July 2015

The Last Thirteen Book 13: 1

The Last Thirteen Book 13: 1 by James Phelan (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-196-1

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

13 books. 13 nightmares. 1 destiny.
                        
This is the final installment in a thirteen part action thriller which takes Sam, the Thirteen Dreamers and readers around the world in a battle to save civilization from Solaris and his evil intentions.
Events seem to have come full circle when the players end up back in Egypt, where the race began in earnest for Sam and his friends. This time however, there are shocks in store. Loyalties are destroyed and, in the final push to keep the Dream Gate from falling into the hands of Solaris, lives may be lost.

For those who are already immersed in The Last Thirteen, this final book answers questions asked throughout the series. For others, start with 13 and follow the countdown to 1. This is a series which must be read in order.

Each book in this series for readers over 10, is short, exciting and has edge-of-seat drama often ending in cliffhangers - making it an addictive and speedy read. Strong female characters, both heroes and villains, ensure that girls will enjoy The Last Thirteen as much as boys.

Check in on-line too at www.thelast13.com  and have fun with the VIP Access, e-newsletters, access code breakers and many more features.


Sunday, 26 July 2015

Snow Day

Snow Day by Sam Usher (Koala Books)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-116-9

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Imagine the excitement off waking up to a world covered in snow. When this happens for one little boy he is impatient to go outside and play, but Granddad is SO slow at getting ready. What if they miss all the fun?

This is a beautifully simple story about the frustrations of waiting and of the joyful surprises which may be just around the corner. Some things are definitely worth the wait.

The language of Snow Day is straightforward and flows in a deeply satisfying way. As Granddad slowly gets ready…         
          'I said, "Don't forget the snow!'
          And he said, “Don’t forget your scarf!"

This exchange forms part of the rhythm of the story, as does the wide, white expanse of snow which starts off clean and fresh, but is slowly filled with footprints, then people, then neighborhood dogs as the young boy sits on his front steps waiting for Granddad.

The crisp, clear illustrations evoke feelings of a sunny but cold day, just what’s required for the perfect snow day. And it is through these pictures the surprise is slowly revealed.

This is a happy book, full of wonder, imagination and fun. And being a large, sturdy hardback it should be up to countless.



Saturday, 25 July 2015

Wolves of the Witchwood: The Impossible Quest #2

Wolves of the Witchwood: The Impossible Quest #2 by Kate Forsyth (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-407-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

After freeing a unicorn from the gloomy castle of Lord Mortlake, four frightened children flee into the dense and foreboding Witchwood. Tom, Quinn, Elanor and Sebastian - the four prophesized to free the kingdom - are surrounded by the howling of wolves, alone and unsure about what to do next. The existence of the unicorn by their side is proof that the mythical beasts they seek are definitely real – or at least one is. But where can they begin the search for a griffin, a dragon or a sea serpent?
The appearance of the wise witch Wilda seems to be a blessing, but can she really be trusted? And will the horrific bog-men, agents of Lord Mortlake, find the children in the depths of these dark woods?
Wolves of Witchwood is the second in an exciting new fantasy adventure series for middle grade readers. The action is fast-paced, but the storyline itself is steeped in magic and old world atmosphere. The four children are solid characters with realistic intentions and are easy to spend time with. As the story progresses, they change, grow and learn to use and harness the power of their magical gifts, make better decisions and learn to work together as a team.
There are many surprises waiting within the pages but they are logical and you can always see, in hindsight, that of course that was going to happen. The suspense builds well with cliff-hangers at the end of short chapters, causing the reader to speed up, keep pace with the action, and reach for the next book in The Impossible Quest series.


Friday, 24 July 2015

The Memory Shed

The Memory Shed by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Craig Smith (Omnibus Books for Scholastic)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-034-7

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Annie is helping her grandmother to clear out an old shed in the back yard. They sort objects for a garage sale, in order to make way for a new shed to be built. But it would seem that the old shed is not happy about this. As Annie tries to guess what is in the shed it looks as if Grandma is changing her mind about knocking it down. Will Grandma and Annie listen closely enough to hear the long forgotten, dusty old things which hold many childhood and family memories?
The Memory Shed is another title in a series of early readers chapter books based on indigenous characters. This is a familiar story with twist. It emphasises the importance of listening and the value of family histories as Grandma creates wonderful stories for Annie about how life used to be.
A touch of mystery and a sprinkle of humour make this an enjoyable story with the bond between grandmother and granddaughter forming the core of a tale about family and memories, both keeping them alive and creating new ones.
The soft illustrations on every page enhance the stories and character personalities, adding to the appeal for young readers.
It’s heartening to see the inclusion and continuing growth of indigenous culture in mainstream publishing.
A lovely read for 6 year olds and up.





Thursday, 23 July 2015

Don’t Push the Button

Don’t Push the Button written and illustrated by Bill Cotter (NewSouth Books)
BB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-49261-964-2

Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Meet Larry. This is his book.  There’s only one rule in this book:  don’t push the button. The big, red, all-too-inviting button.  When the temptation gets too much and the button is pushed, things get a little crazy.  Getting everything back to normal is not easy but would it be such a bad thing to press the button again?

Don’t Push the Button is the debut picture book from American author/illustrator Bill Cotter.  Aimed at and ideal for pre-school aged kids, this is a playful and fun book. 

The storyline itself is pretty simple and the illustrations, although bright and colourful are also not excessive.  The novelty comes with the way the reader is invited into the story and to interact with the book; not with tabs or textures but with the actual book – shaking it, pressing the illustrated button.  It is a great way to engage young children, making them and the book itself an active part of telling the story.  The board format will also ensure that it is robust enough for energetic young hands.

Bill Cox is a children’s author/illustrator from the United States.  After completing studies in art and illustration in Baltimore, he taught both art and music in New York.  Eventually he put two and two together and started creating books.  He returned to his hometown where he spends his time drawing, playing music and daydreaming.  He can be found online at: http://www.cotterillustration.squarespace.com/



Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Fiery Phoenix

Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Fiery Phoenix by Jess Black (New Frontier Publishing)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925059441

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Eve and Oscar have become friends and constant companions, after sharing the experience in the desert of Panthor after Eve had summoned the power of the unicorn.

In the second book of the Keeper of the Crystals series Eve finds a tiny crystal phoenix in an Odditorium which once again, leaves an imprint on her palm.
A powered illuminated light appears just before a torrent of water sweeps Eve and Oscar away.

Everything is dark around them. Eve, who loses sight of Oscar, allows herself to be helplessly taken along by the water. Suddenly, she connects with something solid and clings to it.

The force of the water sends her down a river surrounded by jungle on either side. A log with Oscar clinging to it brings them together, and they manage to haul themselves to the bank by grabbing onto overhanging branches.

A tiger confronts them, with the boy Slate close by. The children must find his people’s sacred fire spirit. Its song is what brings the sun up to warm the land of Griffid, the tiger jungle. Eve knows that her magic power has brought her to this place where tigers and people live in harmony together for that purpose.

But where is the phoenix? Eve and Oscar’s quest is to bring the magical bird back to them as soon as possible. It is losing its feathers and each feather dropped starts a fire that destroys more of the landscape.

Can the children negotiate the maze of caves at Merden by following the imprint on Eve’s hand? Will the bird, like its legend, rise from the ashes reborn, to bring the sun back to its people?

This fantasy adventure with magical powers at play is now moving at a faster pace. The question of what Gran has to do with the magic crystals was born in the reader’s mind at the end of the last book, and fed in this one. It has generated an interest that expands beyond the story and a longing to find out what secret Gran is hiding.


Eve and the Mermaid’s Tears is due in October. Full of mystery and adventure, this exciting series is proving to be an addictive read. It is highly suited to the 7+ age groups. It carries subtle environmental themes, addressing the importance of nature and its survival through people, plants and animals living together harmoniously.

Sarah, Misty and Scribbles’ Journey to the House by the Sea

Sarah, Misty and Scribbles’ Journey to the House by the Sea written by Jacqueline Johnson, illustrated by Frances Español (Partridge Publishing)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 978-1-48282-990-7 

Reviewed by Peta Biggin

Sarah the ragdoll, Misty the toy rabbit and Scribbles the teddy bear all have different problems with their eyes and none of them can see very well.  They keep bumping into things and falling down stairs causing other toys to make fun of them.  Sarah, Misty and Scribbles were very sad because they couldn’t join in with any games.  Some of the toys saw their sadness and decided to help them – ensuring that their world was safe and accessible.  After that, Sarah, Misty and Scribbles were happy again and always thankful for the help of their friends.

Sarah, Misty and Scribbles’ Journey to the House by the Sea is the debut picture book from Australian author Jacqueline Johnson.  It is a gentle story that has been written to raise awareness and understanding about vision impairment in younger children. 

Sarah, Misty and Scribbles are struggling to cope in their surroundings as they are unable to see properly.  Adding to the difficulty of their situation is the lack of understanding they receive from some of the other toys – both regarding the nature of their impairments and the challenges they are facing.  They feel isolated and alone.  However, not all of the toys are indifferent and they work together to provide the trio with everything they need to be able to re-join and enjoy their world.

This is a lovely story that covers a lot of ground: how vision impairment can seem to those who do not have to live with it; the sort of attitudes that young sufferers can face; and the type of tactics and tools that people need to be able to interact successfully with the world around them.  Telling the story from the perspective of those with impaired vision allows the reader to develop empathy and understanding; important qualities that should be nurtured in young children.

Frances Español’s full-page illustrations are fun and colourful; with subtle features to reflect the mood and little details to support the intention of the story.
Sarah, Misty and Scribbles’ Journey to the House by the Sea is sweet book with an important message.  It would be a valuable resource for parents and teachers that want to encourage discussion and awareness of vision impairment.

Jacqueline Johnson has a Bachelor of Arts, a Postgraduate Diploma in Education and a Masters in Special Education.  She currently works as an Orientation and Mobility Instructor and through this role she has developed a better understanding of the complex issues surrounding vision impairment.  She can be found online at http://www.sarahmistyandscribbles.com/.




Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Panther

Panther by David Owen (Corsair 2015)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN: 9781472116420

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Panther by UK author David Owen is a brave and honest portrayal of the impact of depression on a family through the eyes of teenage protagonist, Derrick.
We first meet Derrick in a dark alley. He’s rummaging through garbage bags in search of junk food disposed of days before, which he intends to eat for comfort and punishment.

We soon learn that his sister’s depression is causing Derrick’s world to crumble around him. He’s bullied, he’s lonely and his family is being consumed. He blames himself and sees it as his responsibility to find a way back to the life that existed before the depression took over.

A panther rumoured to be roaming Derrick’s south London suburb becomes his obsession. He sets out to catch the beast, convinced that doing so will ‘fix’ his sister and restore normality. But does the mysterious panther even exist, or is it a metaphor for depression itself?

Derrick’s misguided, sometimes disturbing behaviour, can make it difficult to like him. His humour contradicts an often grim reality as he struggles to come to terms with his sister’s illness.

In his debut novel, Owen shares his unique perspective as both an observer and a sufferer of depression, shining a light on the impact of mental illness for all involved.
With Beyond Blue reporting that one in sixteen young Australians currently experience depression and one in four a mental health condition, novels such as Panther present a significant opportunity to stimulate discussion and foster understanding for sufferers and loved ones alike.


Suitable for a young adult and adult readership. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

The Songbird Café Girls: Mollie Cinnamon is not a Cupcake

The Songbird Café Girls: Mollie Cinnamon is not a Cupcake by Sarah Webb (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781406348354

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Flora Cinnamon has just landed her dream job as television presenter for a new holiday show, and needs to travel for two months. She sends her thirteen year old daughter Mollie, from their home in Dublin to the isolated Little Bird Island with a population of just 200 people, to stay with her great granny Ellen (‘Call me Nan. Everyone does’). The island was once the home of Red Moll, the famous Irish pirate queen whose ruined castle lies close to the Songbird Café, the island’s meeting place.

Nan’s house, Summer Cottage, is modern and beautiful, not the run-down shack that Mollie imagined. She is introduced to the girls in her class. But they see her as a city girl; stuck up, with fancy ideas, and someone to be excluded from their group. They are nasty and vindictive towards her, especially the leader of the group, Lauren. She’s a liar in whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt in the presence of others, but aside shows her true colours. Mollie finds herself in trouble due to Lauren’s fabrications and Nan decides to home-school her.

A new man in Flora’s life makes her more muddle-headed than usual, and Mollie is temporarily marginalised. Determined to fill her time, Mollie helps Alanna, the young owner of the Songbird Café. She begins a tentative friendship with Lauren’s twin brother Landy, who is nothing like his sister, and is definitely not fooled by her false personality. Mollie also finds that her family has kept many secrets. She begins to hear of things that have been left unspoken for years that impact her life.

The old Mollie sheds her skin. She finds herself becoming involved in the island’s problems when the Café is facing closure and Alanna can’t make her payments. There are strings left hanging to be picked up, for this delightful and highly enjoyable adventure continues in Book 2: Sunny Days and Moon Cakes. This fantastic novel has outstanding characters and themes such as the importance of family, finding a sense of belonging and identity, and the need of have somewhere to call home.


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Harriet Clare: Boys Beware

Harriet Clare: Boys Beware by Louise Park, illustrated by Marlene Monterrubio (Hinkler Books)
HC RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781488926792

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This new notebook style, interactive series for girls of the over 6 age group, is full of fun and attractive in appearance and presentation. Harriet invites girls to draw in her Secret Notebook #1, share ideas and responses to thoughts and problems through entries, and create illustrations to put into the spaces left for the reader’s participation.

The notebook is full of colourful and creative drawings, lots of swirly images and colours, outrageous costumes, (even on the dog) and fluffy language that’s full of the kind of funny and exaggerated repetition that girlfriends use between one another.

Harriet has broken up with her bestie Indie over an issue of her clumsiness, and she’s looking for a new BFF, but at the same time would love to get back with Indie. An opportunity arises. Indie’s birthday is coming up and Harriet seriously wants to buy her something that she really wants and will like. Perhaps this way, her former BFF will reconsider their relationship. Ideas are encouraged from the reader.

Harriet is a keen skateboarder. A competition is coming up and the prize money will secure Indie’s present. Boys better beware as Harriet is determined to win.

There has been an influx of these diary/notebook style books for girls recently. They vary in quality of content but it’s often said that if a child is reading words, that’s better than not reading at all. This is an ideal book for difficult readers and is visually attractive with its bold covers, creative illustrations, and interactive options. 


Saturday, 18 July 2015

Ballet Backflip: Ella Diaries #2

Ballet Backflip: Ella Diaries #2 by Meredith Costain, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-864-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Ella is back with her second top secret diary. Grade 5 is not the easy year Ella was hoping for but when she gets to her ballet class all her worries are forgotten. That is until the role she desperately wants in the ballet performance is given to another dancer. Can she keep dancing or should she give in to playground pressure and join the gymnastics classes which Peach has convinced everyone to join? Even Ella’s traitorous BFF Zoe has given up ballet for gym.
The Ella Diaries is a series which will appeal to many young girls. Handwritten, the i’s are topped with hearts and there are many words that are emphasised and scribbled out. Ella’s spelling - Don Tay instead of Danté - and the sketches and diagrams, especially of gym and ballet moves make this feel like a real diary belonging to a ten year old – a very passionate one. I have a daughter who had to choose between ballet and gymnastics and I recognise the agonising decision.
Social issues are hard to navigate as young girls grow up. Fitting in becomes more important than standing out as individuals at this age. It takes strength to follow your own passions and go against the majority as Ella is discovering.
There is much to identify with in Ella. Girls between seven and eleven will get swept up in the pages of Ella’s diary as she jots down her secret thoughts, tries to keep her cool in the face of changing relationships and find the bravery to try new things.


Friday, 17 July 2015

Double Dare You: Ella Diaries #1

Double Dare You: Ella Diaries #1 by Meredith Costain, illustrated by Danielle McDonald (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $6.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-863-8

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

This is the top secret diary belonging to Ella, who is just starting Grade 5. Instead of being the best year ever, it seems to be going from bad to worse. First her BFF Zoe does not show up at school, and then she is made to sit next to her worst enemy Peach. No matter what Ella does, Peach is in her space.
Peach does everything she can to make Ella and Zoe’s lives miserable, especially when everyone starts to play the double dare game. Can Ella figure out a way to get out of a particularly mean dare without losing too much face?
This series will appeal to girls in lower to middle primary. Handwritten to create a young girls diary, the i’s are topped with hearts and there is much scribbling out, as well as sketches, diagrams, exclamation marks, and large font to emphasise the drama of a grade 5 girl’s school life. Exploring issues such as friendship, bullying, playground crazes and insecurities, young girls are going to relate to and enjoy reading about the daily drama of Ella, Zoe, Peach and their friends.
I have only one slight reservation with Ella’s Diaries. I have to assume this Ella is a grown up version of Ella from the Ella & Olivia series even though it is a different author. All the names are the same – BFF Zoe, sister Olivia, dog Bob – and both series have the same illustrator so she even looks the same. But Ella feels like a different person. The relationship between the sisters is different; there is no lovely family bond, and Ella seems harder, more sarcastic and less warm. These changes and hard edges, however, could be relevant to adolescence and growing up quickly.
This is a small quibble, and only in light of my reading of the former series, this issue aside, they are thoroughly enjoyable books. My eleven year old daughter was totally engaged by this series and I think young girls will love to follow Ella and Zoe as they grow up.


Thursday, 16 July 2015

Heroes of the Wild: The Whale who Saved Us

Heroes of the Wild: The Whale who Saved Us by Nicola Davies, illustrations by Annabel Wright (Walker Books)
PB RRP $11.95
ISBN 9781406356106

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Suki is a young Inuit girl in trouble at school after hitting a boy who released a scathing attack on her older brother Levi, who has now run away. Suki and Levi are one of the many young Inuit caught between the old world and its teachings, and the new electronic age. Without jobs and no hope, many come to a bad end.

Levi and the preacher’s son try to commit suicide due to their feelings of hopelessness, but Suki’s mother doesn’t tell her this. She simply says he’s in trouble and she is going to him. Suki is sent to her Granny Jaiku whom she hasn’t seen in years, at Whale Bay in the Arctic Circle.

She initially feels like a stranger. In no time, there is a shift in her opinion as she experiences the challenges of the old life with Granny and her brother Noah. Seal hunting, fishing, how to clean and prepare her catch, and eat raw fish instead of take away. She also learns about the sled dogs which many people have stopped keeping due to motorised transport, how to feed and harness them, drive the sled, and build an igloo.

She also finds out about Levi. Grief-stricken, she wants to go to him but knows she can’t.

She slips into life at Whale Bay as if she was born to it. The language comes back to her from childhood. It slips into her mind as if it had never left, but waited unused like her interest in life, which now reawakened.

Suki wishes she could share all the beauty and the zest for life she’s discovered in Whale Bay, with Levi who now lies in a coma. Noah produces an old tape recorder and a brilliant idea. Will her voice have the power to reach into Levi’s mind and bring him back from his faraway place? Is the sighting of the first bowhead whale for years, a sign that Levi will live?

In the following weeks, the recordings flow to Levi’s bedside without result. Could the sound of the bowhead blow be strong enough to save the now dying Levi as it has the almost dead Inuit community?

The story’s main theme is the power and force of love and nature, to move far beyond human understanding and create miracles. It’s about roots and identity and claiming who you are, while focusing on the effect of hopelessness on both people and the environment with the bowhead whale as the centrepiece. Aimed at the 7+ year age group, The Whale that Saved Us is for all ages. Its rich Inuit background information, defined words and six pages of facts about bowhead whales, calls attention to the over-hunting of whales on the Inuit communities and their environment. Look out for the other titles in the Heroes of the Wild series.


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Brumbies in the Snow

Brumbies in the Snow by Paula Boer Illus. Rowena Evans (IFWG Publishing)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN: 978 0 9923020 7 8

Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Book Two in the classy 5-book Brumbies series finds former town-girl Louise, and Ben, who lives on a nearby farm, hard at work training the brumbies they rescued six months ago from a cull in the mountains. Honey is Louise's mare, and Brandy, Ben's spirited young stallion. The teenagers regretted not being able to save more, but the brumbies that had been herded into a pen escaped. Louise and Ben are sure their nasty neighbour Robert Smythe-Waters had opened the gate. As it was, Honey and Brandy were only captured with the assistance of Old Harry the hermit and his extensive knowledge of brumbies and the bush. Gradually the two unbroken horses are being trained for riding and soon the teenagers intend to saddle them and get them used to this new sensation.  

It is winter now and snow has arrived but despite the weather Ben and Louise set out on Ben’s horses, Snip and Ned, and take the brumbies with them on lead ropes. This proves a challenge for Ben and then, when a tree branch breaks with a loud crack, Honey's lead slips from Louise's hand as the frightened brumby gallops into the trees. Despite Ben telling her not to try and find her, Louise couldn't bear to chance losing Honey completely. She ignores Ben and surges ahead, leaving Ben to return home.  
The search is futile and Louise finds herself and Ned in a perilous situation. Narrowly avoiding an avalanche, she comes across a black stallion she recognises as part of the brumby pack Honey came from. It is injured and desperately needs help. Ben's worry about Louise and his anger that she ignored his instructions are swept away when Louise arrives back with the news about the stallion. But any plans to get to the stallion and put it out of its pain have to go on hold. Two people are missing in the snow and the ranger needs all the help he can get. Finding Honey also comes second to humans in need. 

Paula Boer's setting of countryside overwhelmed by snowy conditions ramps up the tension in the story. Her attention to detail, e.g., brushing horses' hooves with Stockholm tar to prevent snow from balling up their feet; a white rainbow of frozen crystals to delight Louise; the snow bridge across the iced-up Dalrymple River and the training steps Ben and Louise have yet to take to break in their beloved brumbies demonstrate her vast experience of horses and the High Country in winter. Brumbies in the Snow is packed to the brim with exciting scenarios. The teenagers discover more about Old Harry and also themselves when, challenged by their circumstances, they discover inner strengths. By the end of the book Ben has achieved one of his dreams and Louise's horsemanship is continuing to develop by leaps and bounds.

Illustrated simply with black and white drawings but with great impact by talented illustrator, Rowena Evans, this second book is a thoroughly enjoyable continuation from Brumbies. Young horse-lovers will relate immediately to the characters and look forward to reading the third. All five books in this brilliant series are now available.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

1931 Tough Times

1931 Tough Times by S. Mitchell (Puffin Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9789143398910

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

If you’re a child aged 8 to 12 years who wonders what it would have been like to live in Australian during the 1930’s Depression, this is the book for you. The historically fictional story, part of the Do You Dare series, is set in Melbourne where Tom Parker and his mates, the Daredevils, enjoy playing cricket in the Fitzroy alleyways. Tom’s Dad, who works in a boot factory, loses his job which has everyone worried as employment lines are long and work is scarce. Dad invests the last of his money – the rent money – on Phar Lap, racing in the Melbourne Cup, but unfortunately this is a race in which the great horse is unplaced. This losing bet places the family is peril as the rent man threatens to evict them. On top of this, Dad gets drunk and then there’s no money at all. A determined Tom feels it is up to him to find the ten pound that’s needed to save the family. For this, he decides he needs the help of his mates and the family dog, Fungus.

Tough Times is an appropriate title for this novel that manages to capture the spirit of the 1930s. Historical details ring true so the reader becomes immersed in a world where people suffer through adversity but do so with hope and hard work. Tom’s hopes hinge on Fungus being successful in a competition offered by MacPherson Robertson (of chocolate fame and one of the richest men at the time in Australia).

Time and again there are exciting action scenes where cheerful characters and not-so-likable ones, interact with one another. The themes of friendship, loyalty, self-belief and hope are woven into a story which rings true, a time in Australia’s history that helped to establish the nation’s character. Boys in particular are sure to enjoy this uplifting, engaging and past-paced yarn.