Saturday, 31 December 2016

Poor Unfortunate Soul

Poor Unfortunate Soul by Serena Valentino (Parragon Publishing)
PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781474846103

Reviewed by Ellie Royce

 This Disney Villains Book follows on from The Beast Within and continues our relationship with the odd sisters and Princess Tulip Morningstar, but it can easily be read as a standalone. Poor Unfortunate Soul follows the formula of telling a recognisable tale from an unknown perspective. In this instance it’s the Little Mermaid told from the point of view of sea witch Ursula. Cast out by her family, the tragic Ursula descends into wickedness becoming the grotesque sea-witch.

This is another thoroughly engaging and endlessly fascinating story. With just enough familiarity to make it accessible, it weaves in new strands and characters, lifting it to a whole other level. Serena Valentino imbues her villains with emotion. We feel for them even while they perform their despicable acts (and there are plenty of despicable acts!) although in the end, justice is done. (They are still fairytales, after all…) It’s suitable for ages 12 years and older.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Busy Izzy and Friends

Busy Izzy and friends by Roxanne Kiely, illustrated by Jeesoo Kim (Busy Ink Publishing) PB RRP $14.99   ISBN: 9780646941042 

Busy Izzy and Newly Truly by Roxanne Kiely, illustrated by Jeesoo Kim (Busy Ink Publishing) PB RRP $14.99   ISBN: 9780994551009

Reviewed by Stephanie Ward

The first two books in the Busy Izzy picture book series introduce readers to the modern world of Green Grass Grove, a "happy and healthy place" with a diverse cast of characters. 

In Busy Izzy and Friends, we meet cheerful Busy Izzy who owns the Nix & Nax store. When her friends come to visit, she offers them healthy snacks and gives them jobs around the shop. When things go wrong, Busy Izzy always knows just what to do and is never too busy to help a friend in need. 

Busy Izzy and Newly Truly introduces readers to Izzy's new puppy who had been neglected by its previous owners. Busy Izzy adopts her spunky new pet from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The story explains how Newly Truly was rescued and cared for by this caring organisation. With a wealth of back matter including notes about how to read a puppy's signals and loads of healthy recipes, this book is packed with information about taking care of pets. 

The Busy Izzy series offers young readers the opportunity to jump into a kid-centric situations (like bike riding, kite flying and caring for a new puppy) while being taught lessons about kindness, safety and health. Often, these messages are overt: 'Safety first, helmets on' or 'We must wear hats and sunscreen'. This approach supports the storyline around Busy Izzy always knowing what to do and sharing that information with her friends. There is also a strong theme of nutrition through the foods and snacks in the story offered as recipes in the back pages of the book. Plus, there are fun sing-along songs -- My 26 BFFs and Busy Izzy Says, to name just two -- both written out and recorded on an accompanying CD that reminds children of all they've learned. 

The bold illustrations show wonderful facial expressions that bring out the concern in Worried Warren and Bossy Bobby's commanding ways. The bright, rainbow colour palette and attention to even the smallest details in the storyline make the illustrations a perfect match for the words.

Australian author, Rozanne Kiely has created a fun series of simple stories that readily appeal to young children. Endorsed by the World Literacy Foundation, the Busy Izzy series goes beyond storytelling to include songs, recipes and games to supplement the lessons and themes in the books.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Gemina: The Illuminae Files_02

Gemina: The Illuminae Files_02 by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $22.99  ISBN 9781925266573

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Drone attacks, double agents, dangerous parasites and damaged wormholes: Gemina is a worthy sequel to the award-winning international bestseller, Illuminae. As per its prequel, the novel is presented as a file comprising communications in various forms – emails, radio messages, tribunal transcripts, instant messages and surveillance footage summaries. (Fans of the flawed artificial intelligence system from Illuminae will be pleased to recognise AIDAN’s input too!)

The Gemina file also contains pages from the private journal of its protagonist, Hanna Donnelly, whose artistic black and white sketches (by bestselling author Marie Lu) grace the pages of the novel throughout. The novel’s creative design truly renders it a work of ‘science fiction meets art’. The text can be mirrored, upside-down, circular … even sideways. There are graphic explosions and artworks comprised of binary numbers. This is a novel that will catch the attention of all your fellow commuters on the train (who will crane their necks, curiously, for a glimpse of the title)!

The Illuminae file explained the atrocities committed by BeiTech on Planet Kerenza. The Gemina file is about BeiTech’s assault on the space station Heimdall and the approaching Hypatia (with Illuminae survivor, Kady Grant, onboard). The story commences with the trial of the BeiTech Industries director (and an immediate dawning on the reader’s part of who was behind the attacks). It is very much the story of two new characters, Hanna and Nik, and their attempts to save themselves during the attack on Heimdall. Plus their station crew. And the Hypatia survivors. Oh and, as it turns out, the entire universe. Easy, right?

This fast-paced, 659-page thriller is bound to leave you wanting more. I’d highly recommend reading Illuminae first – not everything is explained in the sequel. It’s also nice to feel an attachment to the report writers, as well as have an appreciation for AIDAN’s eccentricities! Author team, Kaufman and Kristoff, have written another superbly layered novel, calling on us to analyse the reports in our own way … all the while remembering that we’re only being shown what somebody else wants us to see. The amusing banter between the characters is quite enjoyable … as is the moment when the authors kill off a couple of other bestselling YA authors. (Gasp!)

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

True Stories of Life at Sydney Cove

True Stories of Life at Sydney Cove by Susan E Boyer (Birrong Books) PB RRP $18.95

After publishing 'Across Great Divides: True Stories of Life at Sydney Cove (2013) through Birrong Books, Susan E Boyer, the author, received positive feedback from teachers about its content linking closely with Australian Curriculum history units. In response she has written this young reader edition.

This book will appeal young Australian readers who enjoy learning about their white heritage. The stories bring to life the diverse experiences of people living in the precarious circumstance of Australia's first penal colony. They are relayed through a non-fiction narrative which shows how convict men saw and seized the possibilities of their new position. The book portrays the situation of convict women and their relationships with military men and demonstrates the varied responses of participants to their unique situation. Some settlers succeeded beyond their imagination, some failed disastrously.

The stories also give voice to the dilemma of the Aboriginal people challenged by the unexpected arrival of a completely alien race of white people to their land: Bennelong and his difficult-to-ignore wife, Barangaroo, dealt with their new circumstances in a way they felt would best benefit themselves and their people. On the other hand, the young warrior Pemulwuy had his own ideas about how the white invaders should be confronted. Boorong and Nanberry, two native children taken separately into the homes of white settlers in the aftermath of a devastating epidemic, went on to have fickle yet enduring relationships with their white guardians.

The stories in Across Great Divides, true stories of life at Sydney Cove give the different perspectives of military men who had volunteered for a tour of duty in the remote colony. Marine officers Watkin Tench, William Dawes, George Johnston, Philip Gidley King, and Captain John Hunter left valuable links to past times through their diaries, letters and journals. Arthur Phillip, the colony's first governor, also wrote letters which give us insight into the dilemmas plaguing his mind.

The author has developed free teaching downloads, including listening activities, for use in classrooms and is currently developing a 'Resource Book' for Stories of Life at Sydney Cove, for purchase.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Bear Wants to Know

Bear Wants to Know by Donna Gibbs and illustrated by Janet Trotta (CREMORNE1.COM) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: 978-0-945628-2-1

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This picture book, for 2 to 5 year olds, tells the simple story of curious Harriet and her Bear who asks lots of questions. Harriet invents a game to play with her family so she and Bear can find answers together. The text and illustrations work happily together, so when Harriet says, ‘Bear wants to know what’s far away, Dad,’ her father takes the three of them into the night sky. In a double-page spread Harriet and Bear are in space-suits floating among stars while Dad watches from a rocket ship.

Most of the pages use lots of white space such as when Harriet by Gran to see something that’s tiny and she and Bear are wheeled in a barrow to see some ladybirds. Harriet also investigates concepts such as ‘deep’, ‘huge’ and ‘tall’ with loving relatives showing her. However, when Harriet changes the rules, she finds she is the one with an important question to answer.

Small children will enjoy reading and re-reading this book with their loved ones. The illustrations, in ink line and watercolour wash, are charming and the text’s print size is just right. Both author and illustrator are Australian. The book is available for $14.99 post free from

Monday, 26 December 2016

Aliens and the Unexpected

Aliens and the Unexpected by Rose Inserra (Rockpool Publishing) HB RRP $24.99   ISBN 9781925017489

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The target readership of this book which explores mysterious and strange real life occurrences is readers aged 10 to 14 years. It addresses the question which has been debated for decades: are we really alone in the universe? For others interested in unidentified sightings and in the unexplained, author Inserra, an expert in metaphysics, explores a wide range of strange phenomena, asking such questions as whether or not our ancestors have connections to galactic visitors and why famous ancient sites are built on ley lines and how they might connect to extra-terrestrials.

Inserra has really done her homework and has convinced this reviewer of the existence in both the past and the presence of alien life. She has presented so much evidence that it seems difficult to refute it, though governments have done for many years. To start, the author says that archaeologists had discovered strange skulls with non-identifiable human DNA strands. She formulates the hypothesis that ancient aliens visited Earth in prehistoric times – as evidenced by petroglyphs and rock art showing ‘sky beings’ or ‘spirits from the clouds.’ Early fifteenth century Mayan texts from Mexico talk about ‘beings descended from the sky in flying vessels… white men in flying rings who can touch the sky.’ 

Quoting the story of the lost continents of Atlantis and Lemuria, and other ancient sources, Inserra suggests that aliens bred with sub-human beings to produce modern man. How to explain the advanced technologies evident in the building of Pyramids and the giant statues of Easter Island, for example?

The only aspect of the book which seemed to be unsupported by clear evidence is when Inserra writes about the many varieties of aliens which exist, ranging from the Pleiadeans (blond Nordic humanoids or brunettes) with super technology to the Draconians, muscular and dragon-like who are terrifyingly tall and corrupt and brutal. Other alien species mentioned include the Greys, the Nordics, Lyrans, MIBs, Arcturians and Sirians. If you want to know UFO hot spots around the world, the book names them, and also gives examples of dates and places of claimed alien abductions.

In this fascinating and easy-to-read book, there is a wealth of information which cover unexplained phenomenon such as crop circles, the Bermuda Triangle, time travel quantum physics and more. Perhaps our ancient ancestors did have connections to galactic visitors and modern man does have alien DNA (this, suggests Inserrra, would explain the ‘missing link’ of Darwin’s theory).

The book is well-designed with headings, sub-headings, break-out boxes, and really interesting photos some of which show art depicting UFOs. In The Crucifixion painted in 1350, a UFO is shown in the sky (a man sitting inside a sun-like capsule), and there are two other photos of artwork showing UFO-like features in works painted in the 1500s and 1600s.

Children who are intrigued by the idea of aliens and who enjoy a good read are likely to become totally absorbed by the wealth of stories in  this book. They are also likely to walk around trying to convert others to the fact of life beyond Earth. And, too, they might like to follow up their reading by referring to the bibliography of books, magazines and websites at the end of the book.

Aliens and the Unexplained with stories of bizarre, strange and mysterious phenomena of our galaxy is the second in The Supernatural Series, the first being Witches and Wizards by Lucy Cavendish.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Snot Chocolate

Snot Chocolate by Morris Gleitzman (Puffin Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780143309222

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

‘Funny stories from one of Australia’s favourite authors,’ reads the title page of this collection of nine stories that follow earlier titles Give Peas a Chance and Pizza Cake. Yes, there is certainly humour in the stories, but sometimes, too, the author sneaks in political statements: ‘Trump our dog sits on the floor next to me liking his bottom, which is his hobby.’

The first story, ‘King Ned’, set in the thirteenth century, features a boy who, with his Uncle Vern, always gets up at dawn in a hovel ‘in case the pigs needed a lie down.’ Overnight events have changed in England so that suddenly, to his immense surprise, Ned is proclaimed King. His Lord Chamberlain is a ruthless man: ‘before Ned could say anything else, the Lord Chamberlain’s sword flashed and the heads of two courtiers plopped onto the ground, followed by the thud of their bodies.’ Despite the goriness of numerous beheadings, there is a lot of humour in the story.

Other stories in the book are set in modern times and include the secret diary of a dog, the story of how one slice of bread can make you the most popular person in school, and how to defeat a bully using a demolition ball. One story focuses on pig-nostril gruel, another on a child who lives in a house 'that gets wiped clean more often than a bottom'; the FDC title of one story refers to a Fairy Demolition Contractor who grants a boy wishes to demolish whatever three structures he chooses. The final, title story is told from the point of view of a boy whose chocolate-addicted mother is in court defending her clients accused of hijacking over five thousand Easter bunnies. There she is, ‘a top lawyer picking her nose and eating it.’

As in many of his books, Gleitzman’s stories display a wild and clever imagination. Also, too, he appeals to kids’ basic instincts with numerous references to peeing and pooing: ‘Sometimes life does a poo on your head and you just have to wear it.’ And too, he tells his tales in simple, easy-to-read sentences. There's no doubt young readers with a penchant for gross – and more subtle -- humour will enjoy this book.   

Saturday, 24 December 2016

The Night before Christmas

The Night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, illustrated by Helene Magisson,  (New Frontier Publishing) PB RRP: $24.99 ISBN 9781925059700

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

This picture book features the text of the famous poem with illustrations by Helen Magisson. The text will be familiar to many adults and is easy and satisfying to read aloud.

Magisson’s illustrations have that special Christmas glow, with the colours of a traditional northern-hemisphere winter — candy cane reds, aqua-white snow, and a liberal sprinkling of snowflake dots over everything outdoors. There are illustrative details in the bottom corners of many of the pages to reward the attentive young reader. (I like the wind-up ballerina, and the household cat chasing a wind-up mouse.)

The Night Before Christmas evokes all the excitement of an old-fashioned childhood Christmas and would be a lovely addition to a child’s Christmas picture book collection.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Somewhere Else

Somewhere Else written and illustrated by Gus Gordon (Viking) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780607078861

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

When Australia’s children’s laureate, author-illustrator Leigh Hobbs says of a book on its cover (as he does on this picture book): ‘Adorable characters, superb artwork and an engaging story… everything a great picture book should be,’ it certainly sets up expectations. So let’s see…

This is the story of George Laurent, a duck which isn’t like most birds: he doesn’t go north or south – he prefers the comforts of home where he enjoys baking ‘the most astonishing pastries.’ Bird friends like Penelope Thornwhistle and Walter Greenburg suggest that he travels, but baking and ironing are what George prefers to do. Come Winter, though, George is alone, except for a visit from Pascal Lombard. It is now that George admits a secret – he is unable to fly. ‘On that important day when everyone learned to fly, he was simply doing something else.’ Pascal, who is a brown bear, decides to teach his duck friend how to fly. Failure!

When the two see a hot air balloon in a newspaper, they are inspired to built one themselves. Off they go to discover ‘the world was bigger and more brilliant than they had ever imagined.’ However, something was missing… And to find out what is missing you will have a read Somewhere Else.

The illustrations in this delightful and charming book are marvellous, ranging from the huge array of different (and fascinating) travelling cases on the fly pages to the first page spread of a wide assortment of birds flying north and south, and on to the story of George. Some of the pages have coloured illustrations with line drawings, while others are full-page collages. The double-page spread of Paris at night, with the Eiffel Tower lit up by a pale cream moon, are simply splendid.

Every page is worth poring over – each is full of interest with so many different artistic techniques. The story is simple and straight forward – there is nothing here that is deep and meaningful, but as well as the adorable characters the Laureate mentions, there is certainly superb artwork. This is a book for readers of all ages.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Meet the Flying Doctors

Meet the Flying Doctors by George Ivanoff illustrated by Ben Wood (Penguin Random House Australia) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780143780687

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

For children who might not know, the Royal Flying Doctor provides emergency and primary health care across Australia. This landscape picture book for readers aged 7 to 10 years tells the story of how the life-saving service was created to become an Australian icon. It begins with the man on the $20 bank note – Reverend John Flynn whose story, starting in 1911 is told from the point of view of a young boy whose life he saved.

A stockman fell from his horse while mustering cattle in the Kimberly region of Western Australia: badly injured, he endured a 12 hour trip to Halls Creek where the postmaster knew some first aid. A telegraph to Perth for medical assistance resulted in the postman being told to perform an operation – his only equipment being a razor and a penknife. The operation was not a success, so a doctor took a thirteen day trip to Halls Creek: by then the stockman was dead. Reading this newspaper story, Flynn contacted a World War 1 pilot; between them they worked out how to use planes to reach the outback to help injured and sick patients.

The AMS – or Australian Inland Mission Aerial Medical Services – which was subsequently formed, used a single-engine biplane leased from QANTAS, to run 50 flights and treat 255 patients in its first year. Because of the lack of a radio, flights needed to be made in daylight hours. Happily, over the years new technology helped outback people contact the service. The aerial service was so successful it expanded to other states in 1934, and of course its name was changed.

As well as Flynn, the book also pays tribute to women nurses who worked with the service – Marie Osborn, and Myra Blanch. These days the Royal Doctor Flying Service has a fleet of 66 planes, operating from 23 bases across Australia. All of this information is told throughout the book, and there is a detailed double-page spread at the back of the book with a timeline about the service up until and including 2014 when the RFDS remarkably assisted more than 290,000 people through emergency visits.

Watercolour illustrations with cartoon-style characters and pictures of biplanes, a map of Australia, from-the-air landscapes and more complement the text. This is yet another Random House ‘Meet the…’ book which includes stories about famous Australians such as Weary Dunlop, Mary MacKillop, Nellie Melba and others.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016


KidGlovz by Julie Hunt, illustrated by Dale Newman (Allen & Unwin) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 978 174238527

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is a graphic novel, both fable and saga, which is illustrated in black and white throughout. Its readership would appear to be for children aged 8 to 12 years, and it might also have appeal for older, reluctant readers.

KidGlovz is a musical genius, a wonder child. His gift is so precious that he is kept under lock and key by his ‘Uncle’ Dr Spin who manages his concert career and has insured his fingers for a six figure sum. Spin also starves the boy to keep him small. It's a miserable life for the boy who just wants to play his own compositions.

Although Newman was short-listed for the 2016 Crichton Award for New Illustrators, she missed out on first prize. But there is no denying her talent. The KidGlovz realistic illustrations – in soft black pencil and sometimes ink wash – are quite extraordinary.  So, too, is the book design. The illustrative story is framed and presented not only in conventionally, but in a wide variety of interesting ways. Sometimes the story can be read from left to right in a ‘road’ that weaves across the page and back, or in a full or double-page spread, or in a series of unframed illustrations.  Every single page is interesting and shows so much talent. The whole story is told through speech and thoughts, both  presented in bubbles.

Based on her son, Newman’s portrayal of nine year old Kid shows an alone and lonely child who dreams big. He grieves the loss of Lovegrove, his first piano teacher. His guardian Dr Spin is seen (and speaks) malevolently; he’s a true bully and opportunist. A chance to escape comes when Kid forms a friendship of sorts with Shoestring, a tightrope walker and thief, who is keen to make the grade with his Uncle's gang by kidnapping the boy prodigy. 

Plans go awry; the boys make their escape and after playing on a piano disastrously with an injured hand, Kid and his friend end up in a fantastical underworld of giant shepherds, the Brothers Caprine, who live on Goat Mountain and rescue the boys. There's a faithful dog, Hugo, an invisible rope, fortune tellers, dreamers and more. All through his incredible adventures, Kid mourns the loss of his music. ‘I’m nothing without my music. My life is over,’ he says.

The saga continues, but happily all ends with a much yearned-for reunion. Then Kid faces his ‘Uncle’ who has committed fraud. This book has a long and fairly complicated plot but any reader who enjoys a battle of good versus bad is likely to be rewarded.

Published in 2015, KidGlovz won the 2016 Queensland Literary Awards.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Big Bash League

 Big Bash League by Michael Panckridge (Random House Australia) PB RRP $14.99
Switch-Hit Showdown ISBN 9780143782230
Double Delivery ISBN 9780143782193
Captains’ Clash ISBN 9780143782216
Bowling Blitz ISBN 9780143782254

What is Big Bash League you might wonder? Chances are that you are not a huge fan of cricket, for BBL has many followers (see Australian author Panckridge who has already produced some child-friendly sporting books, has his finger on the pulse with a new series of novels suitable for readers 8 to 12 years which tells stories of cricket-loving kids. In the first, Double Delivery, both boys are featured in games that take place in a Queensland oval with cricket-mad twins Millie and Maggie wanting to join in. But of course there’s reluctance with a ‘boys-only’ mentality. Meanwhile, in the caravan park where the twins are staying, things are disappearing, so this book based on cricket games, also serves as a mystery tale.

Switch-Hit Showdown is set in Melbourne with a Renegades fan, Barney, meeting his match in a game against a team, headed by Fifi, which blitzes his. Before the grand final, however, it seems a spy mission is in order.

In Bowling Blitz, talented fast-bowler, Jimmy and his sister Izzy, having just moved from Perth to Adelaide, are huge BBL fans. But Jimmy’s not so fussed about being an Adelaide Strikers supporter. As in the other Big Bash League titles, there is more than just cricket happening: Jimmy has a problem with a kid and his dad from a neighbouring cricket club who are trying to poach him.

The last of these four titles, Captains’ Clash, is set in Sydney, where Fletcher, Jana and their mates are counting down to a full T20 match --their greatest cricket game ever. But brother and sister and their mates first need to settle a score with another team.With decent-sized typeface, chapter headings and illustrations, these stories are easy-to-read and fast-paced, and offer good reading especially to reluctant readers, both boys and girls. For cricket fans the publisher has included notes at the back of each book which offer all-round tips (such as getting fit, good techniques and practice) and bowling tips (grip, run-up (follow-through and so on). There is also in each of the books, depending where the story is set, there are statistics about local clubs: the Perth Scorcher fans, for instance, can read about results, records, team players, strike rates and more.

It’s great to see books – and a sport – which includes both males and females participating. The series ought to do well this summer!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings

Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings by Stella Tarakson, illustrated by Richard Morden (Penguin Random House) HB RRP $27.99
ISBN 97819252324969

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This non-fiction book for readers aged 9 to 13 years is subtitled ‘Strange and Possibly True Australian Stories.’ A durable publication on good quality paper, its contents pages list has six sub-headings which read as follows: Mythical Creatures, Mysterious Locations, Haunted Places, UFO Sightings, Bizarre Disappearances and Strange Happenings with seven or eight articles in each. For an Australian child interested in exploring the strange and unusual in his or her country, there are certainly some very weird stories.

Most adults would know about events such as the disappearances of Prime Minister Harold Holt and baby Azaria, the death of Phar Lap and of Lasseter’s Reef. But some of the stories in this book might be unfamiliar. These include the story of the disappearance of the steamship SS Waratah with passengers and cargo between Australia and England in 1909 and the retrieval of ancient African coins on Marchinbar, a remote Australian island, far off Northern Territory’s coastline -- coins over 900 years old. In both stories – and most stories in the book – the author poses theoretical questions which would surely give readers pause to wonder. Is the name ‘Waratah’ a jinx? After all, numerous ships with this name have vanished over the years. Was it Portuguese or Kilwan sailors who brought the coins onto land? Or were the coins washed ashore following a shipwreck? Or, stranger still, can Africans, rather than Europeans or Asians, have been the first non-Indigenous people to visit Australia?

After each of the dozens of stories in Aliens, Ghosts and Vanishings (spontaneous combustion, abductions, UFOs, and more), there are break-out pages which provide extra information. The author has also included the many sources from her research which keen readers can follow up if they wish. There is also a fairly short glossary and credits for images. These images include black and white photos (such as the shower blocks from the supposedly haunted Sydney Quarantine Station, and a camel team sent out to search for Lassiter). The illustrator has also provided green images all throughout the book which appear to be some kind of print, perhaps lino, as well as line drawings, again in green. There is a green border around all of the 280 pages.

Most books of the strange and weird are presented to readers in much more attractive and dramatic and colourful formats. But for the child who has an interest in their country and its strange past, this book provides many hours of fascinating reading.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Molly & Mae

Molly & Mae by Danny Parker, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781742975276

Reviewed by Joanne Wishart

This gentle picture book tells the story of two lively girls, Molly and Mae, who are about to embark on a train trip with family. They have a long day of travel ahead, and the girls busily find games to play, first throughout the station and then the cabin, occasionally managing to get into trouble. The girls’ journey is paralleled in the illustrations by familiar elements of travel, such as timetables and signage along the way. We share the girls’ mercurial imaginings and see their close friendship. When they have a minor falling-out, the station signs are used to add layers of meaning to scenes.

Blackwood’s illustrations – a mix of oil paint and printing on watercolour paper – have a raw yet delicate quality. Her recognisable sketch lines and subtle details provide plenty to delight the eye. The use of sepia tones and hazy visions of countryside from the train window evoke a sense of nostalgia or a tale told from memory, while the sometimes-bumpy journey of Molly and Mae’s friendship is contrasted by the straightforwardness of a journey by rail. The use of signs and symbols, scenes from the journey, and the simple but central storyline, enables a multilayered reading experience.

The girls must learn to solve their own problems as the day goes on. The illustrations give a sense of increasing richness and complexity as the journey progresses, also suggesting change and growth. The promise of new experiences is evoked by the final pages and endpapers, which, in contrast to the journey’s start, show their arrival in the atmospheric city station and the vision of a dramatic skyline. Molly & Mae could be a good book for children to enjoy in anticipation of a trip, or just to prompt dreams about possibilities. 

Budding trainspotters will enjoy the trains and railway paraphernalia. The story’s message about friendship – its ups and downs, but ultimate benefits – should also resonate for readers of all ages.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

2016–17 Big Bash Book

2016–17 Big Bash Book by Daniel Lane (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $29.99   ISBN 9781760291419

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

This highly visual sporting reference guide to the upcoming sixth season of the KFC Big Bash League (BBL) should appeal to T20 cricket fans of all ages. It is the second BBL guide in the series – award-winning sports journalist, Daniel Lane, also wrote one for the fifth season.

Lane covered the tournament for Fairfax Media last year and his wealth of knowledge (and passion for the BBL) definitely shines through in this guide. There is a lot to absorb!

It is presented in a full-colour, glossy, magazine-style layout with a great balance between photographs and text. It opens with an introduction to the BBL, including an article on the farewell to Mike Hussey, and a piece by Adam Gilchrist on the popularity of last season’s BBL.

There are informative, double-page spreads on the eight BBL and WBBL (Women’s Big Bash League) teams. Each section includes statistics, a fifth-season performance summary, a sixth-season prediction and the team’s game draw.

Interviews with eight selected players reveal, amongst other things, their personal mottos (such as ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’). There’s also a section showcasing 32 notable players (‘Big Performers’). The book concludes with entertaining ‘Gobsmacking Moments’ from the fifth season. (Yes, the #WatermelonBoy phenomenon is in it!)

A glossary of cricket terms and abbreviations has been included in the back of the book, along with the T20 rules. The inside front and back cover are marked ‘Autographs’, encouraging readers to take the guide along to the games. (The design might make it a little tricky to find information quickly, during a game. It would be great to have an index of players in next season’s edition, perhaps!)

The guide will make a worthy companion in the lead-up to, and during, the sixth-season of the BBL (20th December, 2016 – 28th January, 2017).

Friday, 16 December 2016

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks by Gina Newton (NLA Publishing) PB RRP $29.99  ISBN 978 0 642 278883

Reviewed by Allison Paterson

From the author who brought us Blossom Possum comes an attractive addition for the shelves of books depicting our awesome Australian animals, this time an attractive and informative non-fiction book published by the National Library of Australia.

Marine biologist and zoologist, Dr Gina Newton, has drawn both on her own knowledge and the research and expertise of others, including the resources of the National Library, to create a visually appealing and well-designed book brimming with fascinating facts and fabulous photos.
The design is exceptional, being divided into seven habitats featuring 120 iconic animals from fifty selected national parks across Australia. 

Descriptions of the habitats commence each chapter and are supported by images of the included national parks within the habitat type. Next are details regarding the animals, including distribution, conversation status, interesting facts and striking images. The diversity of wildlife is clear as the animals have been chosen from the range of taxonomic groups.

Accessibility of information is well supported by a variety of colour-coded keys, diagrams, maps, break-out boxes and thorough indexing. The endpapers also provide a national park map which is useful for the reader. An error has been carefully camouflaged in the copy I have received by a sticky piece; it may prove tempting to the young reader to explore what lies beneath.

Amazing Animals of Australia’s National Parks is an excellent choice for young wildlife enthusiasts in the mid to upper Primary years and a useful addition to the school library with teacher notes also being available on the NLA website.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Shiver Me Timbers!

Shiver Me Timbers! by Oakley Graham, illustrated by Nina Caniac
(Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 978-1925520002

Reviewed by Anita Howard

This is the tale told in a rhyming text of a fearsome pirate crew , including a chorus of ‘rolling waves and the words ‘ho ho ho’ repeated on each double spread. 

In a book for young children who will love to listen to the story told aloud, Captain Black and his pirate crew go looking for treasure in a swashbuckling, sea shanty adventure on the high seas. The story highlights aspects of the life of pirates from obedience to Captain Black, chores, doing a poo overboard, giant octopus and the demise of Captain Black. Details such as these are followed at the end of the book by facts about pirates of the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

The placement of the text is sometimes used to emphasise an action, for example, the words, ‘He likes to use his whip,’ is curved and swirls across the page. The vibrant illustrations are full of movement, with an interesting use of different pictorial formats and emotional communication often shown through the pirates’ body language.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Alison Lester’s Wonderful World

Alison Lester’s Wonderful World by Alison Lester (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9781760293130

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

I’ve managed to stay detached from the adult colouring-in craze, but it turns out I just hadn’t met the right colouring book. This breathtaking collection of black and white pictures by Australian Children’s Laureate, Alison Lester, has me rushing out to buy a set of pencils, pronto. Oh, but isn’t it for children, you say? Sure it is – for children aged 4 to 100! Fans of Alison Lester’s work (ahem, yours truly) will delight in the opportunity to -- dare I say it -- live vicariously, by personally recreating the beautiful spreads we loved in Magic Beach, Kissed by the Moon, Noni the Pony and Imagine.

There are fantastic tips from Alison for budding artists that make this more than just a colouring book. The endpapers are collages of Alison’s works, annotated with suggestions like ‘always leave a little bit of white in eyes to make them sparkle’ or ‘you can colour smoothly or roughly’. There’s also an introductory section, ‘My Drawing Tips’, with some background info on Alison’s love of drawing. She demonstrates the effect of different mediums by illustrating the same bird with a biro, paint brush, wax crayon, charcoal, etc. She encourages readers not to ‘stay inside the lines’, but to add their own drawings in amongst the pages.

Some will open up their favourite Alison Lester book and set it up beside their picture, copying the colours and textures as best they can. Others will completely reinvent the spreads with their own interpretations. Regardless, it is wonderful that she has offered us a chance to do so … and shared some of her artistic secrets too!

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days by Stephen Michael King (Scholastic Press) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 978-1-76015-906-1

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

When Turtle woke to play with his friend it was raining and when he knocked on Snail’s shell, he did not come out. Turtle tried to entice Snail out with all the fun tricks Snail usually loved: dancing, juggling, spinning, but still Snail stayed inside his shell. So, as the rain continued, day after day, and Snail continued to stay inside his shell, Turtle waited patiently and built a wonderful surprise for his friend.

This is a beautiful picture book story showing the warmth and importance of loyal friendship. Turtle is exactly the sort of friend everyone would love to have, one who stays true until you feel like coming out of your shell.
The words used are simple, full of movement, full of repetition and a joy to read aloud. ‘He added shapes and blobs of paint. Everything looked spooshy and bright and runny and wet’ The shapes and blobs of paint are dotted about the pages, twining in and out of the pictures, which moderates the speed and the rhythm the story is read at: ‘He gathered, ripped, bent, chewed ..’ with the author-illustrator providing space for the reader to stop and look at the illustrations.

The illustrations are instantly recognisable as belonging to King. The pages have a glow about them, even through the rain, with leaves forming frames around some pictures, and the detail of little animals among the foliage. The wonderful quirky character of Turtle comes out in his expressions, his hat and his beautifully patterned and brightly coloured shell.
Snail too, even though he is mostly curled up in his shell, has a sense of character shining through in the lean of his shell, in the way single raindrops seem to find his back, and through Turtle’s interaction with him.

A sequel to Snail and Turtle are Friends, Snail and Turtle Rainy Days is a subtle look at depression, and we can all help those who are feeling a little down and out at times.

This is a gorgeous picture book for a snuggly read with preschoolers. It will promote discussion about friendships and how we can help each other.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily

The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781760293826

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

First there was Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, a romantic tale of how two teenagers met and fell in love via a series of challenges in a Moleskin notebook hidden in a bookshop. Now we have this festive, amusing sequel that checks in on the adorable couple twelve days ahead of Lily’s favourite day – Christmas Day.

Turns out that, one year on, things are not going so well. Lily is sad and withdrawn. Her grandfather’s recovery from a heart attack has been slow. Her brother, Langston, is moving out. Her parents are considering a move to Connecticut. She feels disconnected from her boyfriend, Dash, whom she loves but doesn’t believe the feeling is mutual. She is also indifferent to Christmas itself this year, raising alarm bells with Langston who promptly calls Dash for help. They need to capitalise on her favourite time of year to reach out to her somehow.

Co-writers Rachel Cohn and David Levithan (who brought us Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) have a playful, complementary writing style with an unusual technique – their books aren’t planned at all. Each writes a chapter from a particular character’s perspective. Once a chapter is written, it is sent to the other who then picks up where the story left off:
‘What happens along the way is usually a complete surprise to us as writers’. (Cohn)

The result, in this case, is a whimsical, hipster-esque, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy set in New York City at Christmastime. Each chapter is written from the perspective of either Dash or Lily, and is dated to help readers keep track of the flow of events. 

The first twelve chapter titles are comically twisted to reflect the true-love offerings in the carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. There are several references to pop music that will be appreciated by the target audience (15 years and older), including an invented hip-hop track so annoying that it made me groan and roll my eyes whenever it was referred to. (Now that’s great writing!) This is an entertaining read with a touch of absurdity … and lots of Christmas fun!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Natural World

Natural World by Amanda Wood & Mike Jolley, illustrated by Owen Davey (Murdoch Books) HB RRP $35.00
ISBN 9781847807519

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘… over millions of years, since life appeared on Earth, each animal and every plant has evolved to look, behave and procreate in the way that gives it its best chance of survival …’

This information book, the first in the ‘Curiositree’ range, provides a compilation of 67 highly visual charts to help readers understand this connection.

The ‘Editor’s Note’ quotes Albert Einstein and Mark Twain, citing natural curiosity as a way for humans to peacefully co-exist with nature. To spark the curiosity of the book’s target audience (7 years and up), it has been compiled in a way that allows the reader to begin at any page they like. The chart margins include arrows propelling readers forward or backward through the book to other charts of relevance. This is great for people who don’t necessarily want to read the book from start to finish, allowing them to forge their own discovery path.

Most of the charts are double-page spreads, rich in text. Each chart is colour-coded with marginal icons. Yellow charts are about natural habitats (eg ‘Life in Tropical Rainforests’). Orange charts are about plant and animal species (eg ‘Butterflies and Moths’). Blue charts are about wildlife adaptations (eg ‘Super Spines’). The hardcover book, with thick matte pages, features three ribbons in corresponding colours to help readers bookmark their journey.

The book includes a comprehensive index, and a helpful introduction with a diagram showing how to use the book’s arrows. There is a contents page listing the chart titles. It might have been helpful for the contents listings to reflect the chart colours, but it is also nice to discover these when flipping through the book.

A lovely feature of this title is the dust jacket – it unfolds into a large, glossy poster (‘Brilliant Birds’) that will look great on the wall!

The illustrations by award-winning Owen Davey have been created digitally, but are surprisingly detailed and textured.

There is lots of information to absorb in this book, both in illustration and in text, making it a great reference for understanding how nature is connected … and indeed for encouraging one’s curiosity!