Sunday, 28 February 2016

Johnny Danger: Lie another Day

Johnny Danger: Lie another Day by Peter Millet (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Wow, this is a busy book with so much happening that at times I must confess I wasn’t really sure what was happening. The action is certainly fast-paced with the ultimate goal of the protagonist and friends saving the planet from Weapons of Gas Destruction (there is a major farting antagonist, The Blank Space). The book abounds with slapstick humour and features some wacky secondary character such as Major Pain, Dr Disastrous and Agent Pounds.

Jonathan Dangerfield, boy wonder, aka Johnny Danger, is joined by his spy team, Tim Lee and Penelope Pounds as they head off to a remote Amazonian jungle village to confront old foes. Using crazy gadgets and with numerous references to computers and social media, they also employ bungee bogies in their quest.

This a book for readers (probably boys) aged 9+ years who enjoy adventure and lots of nonsense with battles between secret spies, eccentric and mad villains, and double agents. Oh, and there is also an annoying brother, school scenes and numerous codes to be broken. There is plenty here to engage readers.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City by Will Mabbitt, illustrated by Ross Collins (Puffin Books) PB RRP $16.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This book for readers 8+ years is unique, highly original and very exciting for this adult reader who has been reviewing children’s books for decades as it is so different! One reason is that there are two narrative voices controlling the story. There’s a first person omniscient (eccentric) narrator who takes the reader on a guided tour through the story from place to place, often setting the scene and atmosphere. Here’s the start of chapter five: ‘Oh, it is too much! Avert your eyes from the gruesome spectacle. Close this grisly book you read. Close it at once, I say. AT ONCE! Hand it to a responsible adult to throw upon a bonfire.’)

This narrator is intercepted at times by a third person narrator relating the adventures of the tale’s protagonist, Mabel Jones, whose baby sister Maggie is abducted by magic vines. Sometimes the first voice seamlessly merges into the second voice as the reader is catapulted into a series of awesome adventures that involves creatures such as buzzards and llamas, and places such Offal Stop and the Great Murky River.

Early in the book, as she searches for her stolen sister, Mabel is led into the filthy Hotel Paradiso, a place in the future in the City of Dreams in the Noo World populated with talking animals, all of which are quirky and eccentric and dressed outrageously. Mr Habib, a monkey who runs the Sacred Museum of Beaks, tells Mabel she is in great danger and that ‘only the pure of heart can defeat the dark magic.’

Not only is there rich and quirkily (and often exaggerated) descriptive language and non-stop action in this so-very-different novel, but the book is designed to look incredibly tempting for its young readers with words frequently presented in outstanding font and typeface. The frequent black and white illustrations are as creative as the text; in one section, the reader is even invited to examine an illustration to ‘see’ the book’s outlandish characters.

According to The Times, this innovative book (the second in a series) has ‘a dash of Lemony Snicket’ but in no way is it derivative. I can see it winning awards and young readers telling friends to beg, borrow or steal it. Highly recommended.

Friday, 26 February 2016

The Big Fish

The Big Fish written and illustrated by Pamela Allen (Penguin/Viking) HB with slip cover RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780670078974

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

New Zealander Pamela Allen never seems to fail when it comes to producing an attractive and effective picture book for the younger reader. In this, her latest, she has a fisherman, his wife, two children and their dog setting off to a river to catch a fish. Dad casts off, but while singing a song about his wish to catch a fish, he suddenly finds something biting. It’s big, too. Almost falling in, he calls to his wife to help. Both almost fall in, and you’ve guessed it – one after another the two children try to help. However, the fish tugs them all in. Then they have to get out. Saved by the dog!

This is a circular story with musical language, much repetition, a happy ending, and a last page (and typical) Pamela Allen question for the young reader. It all seems so effortless, and makes for great reading and re-reading with the young reader perhaps joining in with the recurring song. Also appealing are Allen’s illustrations which use lots of pen and ink line work and bright colour and masses of white space. This gives the pages a clean and attractive look.

For more than thirty years, Allen’s picture books have enchanted generations of children around the world. They have garnered a glittering array of top awards and commendations in Australia, New Zealand and internationally. This book is no doubt going to be a classic, well-loved by children aged four and up all over the world.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Tiny Timmy: Soccer Superstar!

Tiny Timmy: Soccer Superstar! by Tim Cahill (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-76015-888-0

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Tiny Timmy has big dreams. He wants to play soccer. He wants to play in the school team. And he wants to become the captain and a super star. But after try-outs he finds he is given the position of orange boy. Coach tells him that if he practices hard he will make the team when he is bigger. So Timmy - with support from his best friend and brothers, and hindrance from Hacker and Studs – attempts in hilarious ways to grow. He becomes faster, stronger and more skillful, but not taller. Will he be able catch the coach’s eye and prove he is good enough for the team when he remains so short?

Written for beginner readers in early primary school, Tiny Timmy is a new series to encourage new readers and increase their enjoyment of reading. Large, easy font, short chapters, loads of sketches and humour make this easy.

Although very male-orientated (there are girls on the soccer team but all the main characters and siblings are male) sporty girls will be engaged by this story as well. The themes of persistence, practice and hard work are universal ones.    

Written by a Socceroos' legend, this is a good book for soccer mad kids who dream superstardom.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

My Sister is a Superhero

My Sister is a Superhero by Damon Young, illustrated by Peter Carnavas (UQP) HB RRP $24.95 ISBN 978 070225398
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This picture book for young readers is the third book in what has proved to be a much-loved series celebrating the diversity of family. The bright cover and fly pages are filled with illustrations of a supergirl (wearing undies over tights) flying in all directions alongside a flying bunny. The unnamed narrator – a brother or sister – imaginatively tells how his quirky sister is totally different to other (ordinary) sisters insofar as his sister ‘races rockets around stars’, ‘punches robots in the nose’ and ‘bench presses burly trolls’. However, the little brother narrator says, the best thing about sister is ‘she reads me stories in the skies.’

Australian Damon Young, whose other books are for adults (about philosophy, exercise and martial arts) writes this fun-to-read book in rhyming verse with lots of alliteration (sisters dancing in denim booging with a band, for example) which is excellent for reading aloud to children from 3 years and up. 

The watercolour illustrations, also by an Australian, Peter Carnavas, who won the 2009 CBCA prestigious Crichton Award for emerging illustrators, are light and bright and full of joyous fun. The final illustration in the book shows a sleeping boy being held in the sky by sister who is urging the reader, with a finger to her mouth, to be quiet – a great way for a parent reading this book to a child in bed to go to sleep.

The two previous books by this talented author-illustrator team are My Nanna is a Ninja and My Pop is a Pirate.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Together Always

Together Always written by Edwina Wyatt, illustrated by Lucia Masciullo (Little Hare Books/Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781742979632

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Best friends Pig and Goat are always together, no matter what happens to hang from the trees in their orchard. They constantly reassure each other, and promise to always stick together. Their different personality traits create a harmonious balance – Goat cheers Pig up with stories, while Pig sings Goat to sleep. Their pact to remain together, always, seems to be working out, until one night Goat is inspired to venture beyond their home.

Pig would rather not leave home, but sticks to their agreement and reluctantly follows. It is clear Pig and Goat now want different things, and they sadly part ways. In their attempt to live apart, each is reminded of the other through memories sparked in nature, depicted beautifully in Masciullo’s gentle pencil and watercolour art.

This is an endearing book about friendship, change and compromise, and about allowing those we love to follow their dreams. The story also demonstrates that when you’re unable to physically be with your loved ones, they can still be in your heart.

Wyatt uses repetition and rhythm to great effect in this heartwarming tale. Together Always would make a wonderful read for someone about to enter a period of change

Monday, 22 February 2016

The River and the Book

The River and the Book by Alison Croggon (Walker books)
PB RRP $ 16.95
ISBN 9781925081725

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Any book by this versatile Australian author is always a journey through unknown territory. Her poetic language and ability to build images with words always leaves me in awe. She’s like an architect that seeks to create something new and challenging each time she puts words together.

In this fable blended with mysticism and fantasy, we meet Sim. Turning fifteen years old, she has become all that was waiting for her. The greatest thing is becoming an Effender, a Keeper of the Book which holds the history of her people and their place. It tells of their past, present and future, and has answers for all questions that are asked of it. The content changes constantly. How this happens is unknown. Although the Book is the village people’s oracle, it can’t prepare them for what is to come.

First the level of the River that has been their life force for generations, begins to recede, sucked away by the channelling of water further north by invaders and developers who plundered the land to plant cotton for massive returns.

Then Jane Watson arrives to photograph and write about their remote village and ancient lifestyle. Nothing is ever the same again for Sim. Jane steals the Book, and with the Book gone, life is meaningless to Sim.  She sets out on her first journey away from home to get the Book back and regain her lost place in life. She tells her story of that journey, what it cost her, and the things she gained from it.

The powerful prose in this imaginative novel is scintillating. Strong underlying themes on Human Rights, destruction of the landscape through greed, and countless other current issues are woven into this magnificent piece of work. Alison Croggan as always is impressive and thought-provoking with another outstanding piece of work for young adult (and adult) readers that should not to be missed.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Irina: The Trilogy

Irina: The Trilogy by Leah Swann (Xoum Publishing)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-921134-84-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Irina is a princess, stolen at birth, raised by wolves and destined to save the kingdom. Following her own path rather than what is expected of her, Irina remains true to her loyalties and what she believes is right. She is a feisty character with great loyalty, honesty and courage. And at the heart of the trilogy lies the belief in trusting your own instincts and finding individual pathways through life.

This is a beautifully written story, with fairy-tale qualities of battles, quests, wise women and evil magicians. It is new and unique, yet it feels comfortingly familiar. The characters are drawn with strength and life; they are real and likeable, filled with quirks and weaknesses. The villains are satisfyingly mean and the adventure perilous in a well constructed world.
In true fantasy style, the conflict between good and evil is the centrepiece of this story and the journey is an exciting one. There are princes, princesses, wild woods, dragons, and magic all captured by engaging story telling. This is a tale worth telling and one that is already loved by many.

The chapters are short, which not only quickens the pace of the story, but makes it accessible to younger or less confident readers. Little silhouetted illustrations of animals – wolves for book 1, birds for book 2, and bunnies for book 3 – break the chapters down even more. It is an engrossing read for the 8 – 12 age range.

Irina is the full set of The Ragnor Tilogy; Irina the Wolf Queen, Irina and the White Wolf, and Irina and the Lost Book. 

Saturday, 20 February 2016

My First Day at School

My First Day at School by Rosie Smith & Bruce Whatley (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-296-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Sparsely worded, My First Day at School by the popular team of Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley, is a colourful, bright and cheerful picture book. The illustrations offer a fun twist to the words, each page showing a different baby animal on their first day of school. ‘I dress myself’ has a picture of a centipede with socks on all his feet while ‘finger paint’ has a picture of an octopus.

Each double spread has a different coloured background - all soft pastels with adorable baby animals - showing the action of the text with no extra detail to confuse the sentiment of the words.

This is a gentle, sweet and cohesive story which will engage young children. It may also help with any anxieties about child care or pre-school by presenting a sense of the fun and friendship.

Thursday, 18 February 2016


Ralf by Jean Jullien (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781847808189

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Although Ralf the dog is small, he is quite long. At times this causes problems and his owners get a bit cross with him for taking up so much space. He gets upset when they tell him to get out from under their feet. The only place that seems to be safe is stretched out in his kennel. But it’s lonely being alone. It’s harder being a long sausage dog.

On one of the days when Ralf’s in his kennel stretched out and in nobody’s way, with thoughts flooding his mind, he smells smoke. He rushes to the house to investigate but gets his backside stuck in the dog door.  He pulls and pulls. An amazing thing happens. Ralf stretches and stretches himself through the gap. He must get help. But no one wakes although he licks and barks.

Luckily the fireman understands what he’s trying to communicate. Can Ralf, now a much stretched out dog, be the family’s saviour?

This delightful book is about the unswerving loyalty and dedication of animals for humans, even when they are chided for getting underfoot. It will resonate with readers who have pets that demand attention and love being constantly close to humans.

The illustrations in bold lines, strong colours and simple drawings resembling children’s art, will draw readers of the 3+ age. Beautifully presented, it’s another publication from Frances Lincoln, famous for their outstanding children’s books.

I Am Bear

I Am Bear by Ben Bailey Smith, illustrated by Sav Akyuz (Walker Books)
HC RRP $27.99
ISBN 9781406359251

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Is this a rapping picture book? You may well ask. This is the first of its kind that I have come across. It has a free music video to it that you can listen to and hear the rhythm with which the book must be read. I understood it better after hearing it sung.

Bear is cheeky and naughty. He steals honey from the hive and squirrels from the trees. His magical ability extends to catching piles of fish, and disappearing. Policemen with donuts aren’t exempt from this trickster’s net. He loves to play, and paint. And when it’s time to pay for the trouble he’s caused, he’s gone!

It’s a debut book for Ben Bailey Smith, aka Doc Brown the rapper, actor and much more. It is in rhyme and has an astonishingly good sound to it both when read and sung. His clever use of words is similar to a juggler tossing balls. They come and go fast, leaping from one page to the next.

The illustrator has done a fantastic job portraying the cheeky bear. He’s translated the text perfectly with thick bold lines, vibrant colour, soulful expressions, and full page artwork.

I found this book highly entertaining, funny, clever and highly attractive in presentation. Kids will love it.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Billie’s Yummy Bakery Adventure

Billie’s Yummy Bakery Adventure by Sally Rippin, illustrated by Alisa Coburn (Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781760124458

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Billie B Brown arrives at kinder hungry and a little cranky. Luckily, there’s some baking going on, however Emily’s manning the bakery and won’t let Billie or Jack join in. Teacher Amy subtly helps the situation out by pointing out some hungry toys and encouraging teamwork, so the children start to bake some delicious treats.

This is when my favourite part of the Billie’s Adventure series takes place – the illustrations (which are vibrant and action-packed) reveal the bakery transforming from a cardboard stand to a fully imagined patisserie, complete with live frogs, robots, matryoshka dolls and more as customers. However, when jealousy and competitiveness brew between the kids, things start to go wrong. The baked goods turn from ‘fantabulous’ to disastrous, when Billie adds a whole packet of magic mix to her cake in order to out-bake Emily. It explodes everywhere, causing the customers to flee.

Billie comes up with a solution to create a new cake, encouraging collaboration with the other kids. This is another feel-good story from a fun series that bridges the gap between picture books and short, illustrated junior fiction. Emotional highs and lows and age appropriate conflict are found in a scenario blurring the lines between what’s real and imaginary – just like the life of a pre-schooler, really!

Bear Make Den

Bear Make Den by Jane Godwin, Michael Wagner and Andrew Joyner (Allen & Unwin 2016)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN: 9781760110017

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Meet Bear, a lovable, can-do kind of a guy sporting a broad smile and a pair of blue overalls. Bear has a simple plan to build himself a den. He has a reference book that tells him how to go about it, but he also has a problem. No matter what he does, his den just never feels done.

Something’s missing from Bear’s new home, but it takes him a while to figure out exactly what…

Bear Make Den – a new picture book from Jane Godwin, Michael Wagner and Andrew Joyner – will delight readers and listeners alike as Bear leaves no stone unturned in trying to solve his problem.

He crafts bespoke furniture, bakes swoon-worthy cakes and paints his walls with fine works of art before he finally realises exactly what his den needs.
He yells into the seemingly lonely woods: “DEN NEED BEARS!”, and when his new-found bear friends arrive in droves to share his hospitality, Bear finally feels satisfied that his den is done.

I’m always blown away by the deceptive simplicity of a good picture book and this creation is no exception. The language provided by Godwin and Wagner plus Joyner’s vibrant and playful illustrations enhance Bear’s journey and the happiness and warmth he finds in companionship.

When read aloud, I have little doubt that Bear Make Den will be a hit with pre-schoolers as they guess what Bear might try next and simple, rhythmic language and effortless appeal make this a terrific choice for encouraging new and reluctant readers.

Monday, 15 February 2016

The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 17.95
ISBN 9781406354386

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Lennie’s sister Bailey has died suddenly and she isn’t coping with this loss at all. Her greatest comforts are her clarinet and her worn copy of Wuthering Heights in which she scribbles poems in the margins. Lennie’s mother has been out of her life for sixteen years and Gram and Uncle Bill are all the family she has left.

The wild, gypsy looking Joe Fontaine invades her life on her return to school after a month’s absence. This begins when Lennie finds Joe in her place at band practice.

Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend and almost fiancĂ©, is grieving too. Two people grieving for the same person are drawn together in a tempest of emotion that threatens to blow out of control.

Lennie has also been grieving all her life for the loss of her mother who left and took all traces of herself with her. It is as if she had never existed. Lennie tries to console herself by writing her feelings on random scrap pieces of paper that she scatters everywhere.

Unknown to her, Joe has been collecting these life entries and it is through these pieces of scattered information that he learns what he needs to know about Lennie. But her emotional ties to Toby have to be cut before there is any hope for Lennie and Joe to move forward.

Deeply moving, highly emotional and beautifully delivered, this is a book not to be missed. It’s about love, loss, grief and restoration of hope. 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Walker Books)
HC RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780763665135

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This is the second book about the double life and adventures of Princess Magnolia, aka the Princess in Black, and her trusty unicorn steed Frimplepants, aka Blacky.

Filled with excitement at the array of food to be found at brunch with Princess Sneezewort, Princess Magnolia and Frimplepants are dreadfully disappointed when the glitter-stone ring gives out the monster alarm. But nothing takes priority over a challenging battle with monsters!

Duff the goat boy is in trouble. His paddock is invaded by bunnies which have exited the underground where monsters dwell. They are eating the grass which his goats need to graze. Princess Magnolia sees no threat, only cute little bunnies until they devour all the grass, then the trees, then everything in sight. Hordes of them appear and seem to increase.

What can be done? Can the Princess in Black draw on her strategies when fighting monsters to end the cute bunny attack before everything is eaten, including the Princess herself? Or will it be the courageous and resourceful Blacky who finds the answer?

The extraordinary call-outs the Princess in Black and Blacky face will appeal to many younger readers. Some will love the bits about the bunnies having to eat lizard scales, toe nails and monster fur. But the visual aspect of the book alone will win and keep its readers following what happens next. This chapter book series has stunning illustrations and is presented with a magnificent jacket. This is what will initially draw attention to it on the shelf. Ideal for 6+ readers.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Now you See Me, Now You Don’t

Now you See Me, Now You Don’t by Silvia Borando (Walker Books)
HC RRP $17.99
ISBN 9781406364217

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This superb wordless picture book for age 2+ is a seek-and-find book that will absorb and entertain beginners. Its eye-catching cover in teal is followed by vibrant full- colour pages. There are animals on every page but with each turn of the page, one or more are missing. The reader embarks on an adventure to discover which are missing from the page they are viewing. The only clue is a pair of eyes. The game is to whom do they belong?

There is a choice of elephant, crocodile, mouse, chicks and a mother hen, rhino, trees, a rabbit, a bird and a cat.

Counting can be encouraged in this educational journey through the animal parade. I can see very young children carrying this attractive book under their arm to bed for story time.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Near, Far

Near, Far by Silvia Borando (Walker Books)
HC RRP $17.99
ISBN 9781406363180

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Released simultaneously with its companion book, Now You See Me, Now You Don’t, this very attractive wordless book for the very young offers joy and fun from its bright orange front and back cover to everything in between.

A crocodile, bird, rabbit, mouse, hedgehog, and rhino are the characters that fill and empty the vibrant coloured pages. It is a different game this time. Parts of the animal are shown on the page and the reader must guess or work out, which animal the part belongs to. These characters can be related back or forward to the ones in the companion book.

Silvia Borando has designed and created these books with developing minds as the target audience.  Interactive and entertaining like its partner, eye-catching colours are again at play and both books promise to bring a smile to the faces of early learners in a simple and challenging educational experience.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Snowy Night

Snowy Night by Tilde Michels, illustrated by Reinhard Michl (Starfish Bay Children’s Books)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780994100221

Reviewed by Leigh Roswen

Snowy Night written by Tilde Michels and illustrated by Reinhard Michl is a picture book told in verse.

Peter lives in a cottage near the forest. One stormy night a rabbit, then a fox and finally a bear come knocking on his door seeking shelter. Can all these natural enemies spend a peaceful night together? And who should they fear the most? This is a tale of kindness and cooperation with a thoughtful twist at the end.

This is not simply a rhyming picture book it is a verse story with over 20 stanzas of 2-10 lines each. It would be a joy to read aloud to 4 to 8 year olds. The text is not so suited to independent reading due to the long word count and the fluency required to keep the rhythm flowing. The story is clear and the concepts not difficult, so it is an ideal text to introduce a child to poetry.

Perhaps there are times the rhyme is a bit clunky but this can be forgiven because the verse never fails to move the clever plot along. In the hands of a good reader children will not notice this at all. There are also parts when the verse is beautiful and bouncy and would be a delight to read aloud:
Meanwhile the snowflakes keep on tumbling,
The wind keeps howling, roaring, rumbling,
The strongest trees are bending, breaking,
The little house is shivering, shaking.

The drawn illustrations in this book are a standout and complement the story on every page. The soft textures of fur and cloth and the facial expressions of each character are depicted beautifully. The middle spread of Peter and all the animals asleep in the house is just gorgeous.

This is a cosy bedtime book, like a lullaby, it is meant for settling and snuggling. It also has a message about cooperation in times of need, about honesty and human responsibility.
Reviewer website:

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Stick and Stone

Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry, Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (Koala Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-74276-167-1

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Stick and Stone is a deceptively simple story about friendship and kindness which will delight young readers. Using few words, this picture book cleverly depicts the importance of friendship, celebrates difference and presents a subtle anti-bullying message without being at all moralising. The story is told well through both the text and illustrations.

The gentle, warm rhyming text is sprinkled with humour - “You rock, Stone,” says Stick. – often leaving the illustrations to tell the story. Friendship and fun shine through on all the pages.

The pictures have a softness about them, yet use lots of colour and boldness. The illustrator has captured the energy, emotion and personalities of Stick, Stone and Pinecone, which enables readers to relate to these normally inanimate objects and become involved fully in this adventure.

This is a fun, easy to read book with a clever numeracy twist and truly shows that ‘Friends who stick up for each other rock’!

I like picture books which make use of the end papers to subtly expand the story. This book is a great example, using black and white sketches to show the beginning of Stick and Stone.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

A Single Stone

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781925081701

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Everyone is obedient to the words of the Mothers that direct their lives. All they know is the world inside the mountains created by Rockfall, a time when the mountains shifted and land was swallowed by water.

Jena leads the line of girls that have been physically ‘adjusted’ so their bodies are pliable enough to wriggle through the crevices of the rocks that form the periphery of their village.  This is a place where females are more important and necessary than males, for these thin and pliable female bodies tunnel for the flakes of life-giving mica which keeps the population alive during the harsh winters.

Jena accidently discovers many truths hidden from them all.  The Mothers have kept their dangerous secrets well. She learns about the ‘ripening’, enforced to manipulate the premature birth of babies. This guarantees the abnormally small stature necessary for the preservation of the line.

She also discovers that there is an Outside, and everyone has been lied to.  Will the people believe her if she tells them the truth? Can she gather the courage to make her way through the mountain one last time?

This highly creative novel covers issues of gender, body image, the abuse of power by persons in positions of authority, and how easy it is to view people as disposable.

Written in scintillating prose filled with rich metaphors, this imaginative and well-crafted story is for the 12+ age group.

Monday, 8 February 2016

The Bunyip in the Billabong

The Bunyip in the Billabong written by Elaine Ouston (Morris Publishing)
PB RRP $13.99
ISBN 9780994246301

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The first in a new chapter book series called ‘Bush Tails’, The Bunyip in the Billabong tells the story of Matthew, an eleven year old boy who is enamoured of his grandfather’s tales about the elusive bush creature, the bunyip. His grandfather describes the bunyip as a large, walrus-like animal, with long black hair and a bloodcurdling howl that lives in a cave by a waterhole.

When some lambs go missing on their remote, rural property, Matthew is convinced it must be due to the bunyip. Matthew’s father mocks his belief in this supposedly mythical creature, yet his spritely grandfather supports Matthew, suggesting they camp by the billabong to be sure.

When Matthew hears strange sounds and sees ripples on the water’s surface, he’s more and more certain it must be a bunyip. On a subsequent trip with his older brother bearing scuba diving gear, Matthew discovers the truth.

The book’s traditional rural setting and characters are reminiscent of a bygone Australian era, with echoes of bush poetry along the lines of Waltzing Matilda evident. Matthew’s endless curiosity and determination would resonate with readers, and his grandfather and brother’s support is truly endearing. This is an entertaining story with enough mystery and rising tension to keep a primary school-aged reader hooked.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Hijabi Girl

Hijabi Girl by Hazel Edwards and Ozge Alkan, illustrated by Serena Geddes (BookPod)
PB RRP $15.00 eBook $5.00
ISBN 9780994358356

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Melek , which means ‘angelic’ in Turkish, is a multi-skilled girl who wears a hijab. She is not what her name claims. She is talkative, quick-thinking, a problem-solver, loves to-do lists, and has a Hijabi Barbi and a great imagination.

Tien, the new girl at school, is Vietnamese. She loves drawing pictures that ‘tell stories faster than words’. Melek knows about standing out and being different, so she helps Tien settle in. She also has a generous and forgiving nature, saving Zac in the pool, who then insists he was just pretending to drown.

Zac makes fun of Melek and her hijab. He’s a show-off, full of excuses and has a pet rat called Rattus Rattus which he frequently smuggles to school. But the possibility of change hovers around him. Lily is keen on dressing up and things from the past.

These are the four characters in this story, set in a mainstream school. Many schools have Book Character Parades. Librarian Ozge Alkan became co-author with Hazel Edwards to create this book after young students’ requests for a book with a character wearing a hijab. There wasn’t one to be found, so Hazel suggested Ozge write her own.

This new title is suitable for the 8+ readership. It’s a chapter book for independent readers finding their stride. It allows children to step into other people’s shoes, and view the world through their eyes. It also has good examples on how to fit in when you are different. It comes with excellent Teacher Resources, Ideas and Activities, cultural resources and What These Words Mean at the back of the book. These can also be accessed at:

Olivia's First Term: Stage School

Olivia's First Term: Stage School by Lyn Gardner (Nosy Crow)
PB RRP $16.95

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

There are other books in this series about Olivia, daughter of Jack and sister to Eel, whose family has a circus background. Olivia is skilled in tightrope walking, which is her passion. Thus she is sorely disappointed when Jack takes her and Eel to enrol in a stage school. The school is run by the girls' maternal grandmother, Alicia Swan, who has previously cut all ties from her daughter and son-in-law. Now Olivia's mother is dead and Jack is desperate for his girls to have a home. Alicia accepts the girls into the school and Jack departs. The story then proceeds, telling of life for Olivia and Alice in Swan's Stage School.

This is an odd book insofar as the narrative viewpoint shifts constantly throughout the story. It's almost as much poor, talented Georgia's story, spoilt, rich, bitchy Katie's story and enthusiastic, gifted dancer Eel's story. Their stories, and the stories of other students such as the school captain Aeysha and Olivia's friend Tom are played out throughout the book.

As I read Olivia's First Term, I had a sense of reading a book by Enid Blyton. The story's characters are all 'types' with jealousies, infighting and occasional kindnesses depicted from the numerous students of the school. Olivia struggles to fit in as she has no stage talents: instead she rigs up a tightrope and finds joy from walking on it in secret. Meanwhile, Eel flourishes and is chosen to dance in front of the Queen, and Jack attempts to renew a relationship with the girls' grandmother.

An average read, the book is easy to read and would most likely maintain the interest of a reader aged from eight to twelve years.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Return of the Fox: Further Adventures of a One-Eyed Chook

Return of the Fox: Further Adventures of a One-Eyed Chook by Pat Clarke, illustrated by Graeme Compton (Little Steps Publishing)

HB RRP $24.95
ISBN: 9781925117585

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

This book is an unusual hyrid: it’s an illustrated chapter book presented in over-sized hardcover format. It’s the size of a picture book for early readers, making it about twice the usual dimensions of a chapter book. It’s of substantial length (76 pages) with a high level of vocabulary but curiously directed at preschoolers.

Compton’s illustrations, particularly of Clancy the goanna (my favourite), are a treat. Despite the title, the fox doesn’t appear until almost half way through the story. The earlier part is taken up with a description of the friendship between Elvis the eagle and Sheila the chook. Elvis is shot by some car thieves while trying to prevent them from setting fire to a stolen car – an action that could start a bushfire and result in huge loss of animal life. Sheila is hurt while getting down from a perch. They both wind up being sheltered and nursed back to health by Ma Taylor, a strange old lady who lives in the forest, and takes care of a menagerie of different birds and animals.

It’s hard to keep up with who’s who in her zoo, though Dulcie, the traumatised hen whose speech is peppered with EGGscellent and EGGxaggerated, mannerisms is a bird memorable for her eccentricity.

Rufus the fox hears a rumour that Elvis has died and, although he promised in an earlier story never to return to Goonoo Forest, decides to advantage of the opportunity. A chook for dinner would go down nicely! Or so he thinks.

Older children may enjoy this barnyard tale with its focus on courage and friendship.