Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Secrets We Keep

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman (UQP) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-0-7022-5421-5

Reviewed by Joanne Pummer

 This novel by Nova Weetman, is highly recommended for all children (9 yrs+), but it's especially relevant for children feeling anger towards a parent who's struggling with depression, mental illness or addiction.

Written in the first person, by eleven year old Clem, the story starts on the first day at a new school, when Clem and her Dad are living in a flat because their house has burnt down. The fate of her mother is a mystery; 'Mum was asleep' is all Clem tells us. This is the hook that entices the reader.

Clem's new friend, Ellie, is inquisitive about the reasons she has shifted schools.  'My mum died,' Clem says. Three words she'll live to regret. Ellie, believing she's found someone who understands, tells Clem her mother is dying of cancer.

We feel for Clem when she has flashbacks of her mother before the fire, in bed, crying, unable to cope with housework, the signs of depression. Ellie's mother dies and Clem is unable to face the funeral.

A turning point comes when Clem receives a letter from her mother and refuses to read it. Clem is angry, believing it was her mother who started the fire, When Ellie finds out she flees in tears, because Clem has lied to her.

I had a lump in my throat when Clem, eventually, between sobs, reveals her shameful secret. She wished her mother had died in the fire because it's easier to talk about a dying mother than one who's unavailable. My tears came at the last page, when Clem sees her mother at the school athletics carnival, with her 'arms out and ready' and Clem says ''Mum''.

Warning: Copious amounts of sugar were eaten by the characters, during the writing of this book.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Beetle Boy

Beetle Boy by M.G. Leonard (Chicken House) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-910002-70-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

After the disappearance of his dad, Darkus is sent to live with his Uncle Max. The police seem to think his father ran away and have given up looking for him. So with the help of his uncle, his two new friends and the strange beetles that live in the dump next door, Darkus sets out to rescue his father.

This story hooked me straight away and I was surprised by just how much I loved it. Darkly humorous, the storyline is quirky and unique, with a huge dose of magical realism which sneaks up on the reader. The characters too, are wonderfully quirky, and though some appear on the surface to be a little clich├ęd, they become less so as the surface is scratched.

Darkus, brave and resourceful, becomes friends with two unlikely kids Bertold and Virginia. They are full of life and jump whole-heartedly into the adventure with him – although Bertold has to overcome his uneasiness with bugs. The ridiculous and horrible cousins who live next door are spectacular in their nastiness, and the vibrantly vile villain Lucretia Cutter has one redeeming feature, a beautiful daughter/fair damsel in distress Novak, to whom Darkus can appeal for help. Even Uncle Max who warned Darkus ‘Adventures are dangerous, Darkus, and villains are real.’ was up for helping the kids rescue his Darkus’ dad.

Darkus, Virginia and Bertold have the ultimate base camp from which to plan their moves. A den buried deep in a heap of furniture on enemy territory, with many different tunnels, escape routes and booby traps. This is the ultimate in cubby houses!

And then there are the beetles which include Baxter, Newton, Marvin and Hepburn. These are beetles unlike any I’ve seen or read about before. Larger than your average beetle, they have the advantage of being able to communicate with humans through body language - but only if the human in question cares to look closely enough. And it’s a good thing these beetles are on the side of good – aka Darkus and his friends – as they can provide a whole army.

This is an appealing book on many levels. The cover is eye catching, reflecting the humour and subject of the story inside, with beetles and insects climbing across the fore edge. Scattered throughout the pages are fabulous little illustrations of the beetles and people as well. It is an adventurous tale of a daring quest, with many nail-biting moments balanced out by very funny scenes.

Beetle Boy is for lovers of danger, quirkiness, beetles and great story telling. It will delight readers from the age of 10 years (but is a solid /lengthy read) and has an entomologist’s dictionary at the end for those who are beginners in the world of insects.

And better still, it is the first of a trilogy. 

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Tree

The Tree by Neal Layton (Walker Books)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781406358216

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

It begins with a piece of land for sale. All that’s on the land is a tree. A couple arrive to build their home. They have a design of their house on hand and dreams of the outcome.

But unknown to the couple who must remove the tree to build the house, it is home to families: squirrels and owls and a burrow of rabbits. When the couple begin cutting, the families pour out of the tree in fear of their lives.

Distraught at what they’ve discovered, the couple cease their work. Is there a solution to be found? Can the needs of the animals that have made their home in the tree, and those of the humans be made compatible?

This is a fantastic picture book that reflects on how animals live in harmony; sharing their homes and natural surroundings. It’s a powerful message about humans being conscious of preserving and sharing nature with other living things in a way that accommodates them all.

This delightful picture book for the 3+ year age group has stunning illustrations in vibrant colours, and a strong environmental theme. It will surely initiate conversations at home and in early learning centres around its many important issues.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Emperor of Any Place

The Emperor of Any Place by Tim Wynne-Jones (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780763669737

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Fascinating from the beginning, this dual point-of-view story is extremely powerful, confronting at times, imaginative, and deeply moving. It has many themes woven into it, the main ones being the futility of war and the chaos it leaves behind, family relationships, love, truth and trust. Presented in precise prose, it’s a book not to be missed.

When Evan’s father dies, the boy discovers an unusual book on his dad’s desk and begins to read. Two parallel stories begin, presented in alternating chapters.

Evan’s narrative is in third person. At seventeen, he is now alone in the world except for his grandfather Griff whom he’s never seen because of a falling out with Evan’s dad. Life-long critical stories heard about Griff from his dad built a bitterness and resentment against the old man in Evan. These negative feelings flare when Griff turns up suddenly. A career soldier, his regimented army life leaves no room for admitting or making mistakes, especially his own. Evan is unaware of the significant role his estranged grandfather will play in his life.

The second story is the one Evan is reading from the book. Written by the Japanese soldier, Isamu Oshiro, it’s told in the immediate first person, and begins in July, 1944. It starts as a journal meant to reach his new wife in the case of his death, but evolves into a continuous confession of love blended with his daily existence on the island.

A third voice, that of American soldier Derwood Kraft, shares Oshiro’s narrative later in the book.
Oshiro makes it to the island he later calls Kokoro-Jima, the Heart-Shaped Island. He is badly wounded and expects to die. But he survives amidst the company of flesh-eating ghouls, kept alive by the sheer will to live and return to his beloved. The island becomes his paradise until Kraft arrives. The two begin as wary enemies struggling to survive, but in fact they have much in common. Here we witness a parallel war to the one raging on the opposite island. This takes place between Kraft and Oshiro’s conscience and soldier’s ethics.

Here is a complex and multi-layered story with many parallels. It is a magnum opus, for the great skill needed to blend the portions of this magnificent creation into a fluid read is evident in the stunning outcome. This is a crossover novel suitable for young adult/adult readers.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Phantom Wings Over the North

Phantom Wings Over the North by Desmond O Connor (A&A Book Publishing) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN: 9780994329462

Reviewed by Ellie Royce

At 60 pages this slim volume nevertheless contains a big story. Twin
teenagers Joan and Mark join their prospector uncle Paddy and his mate Bluey for a camping holiday in the outback. But the group discovers more than they expected when they come across a mobile laboratory supposedly scouting for mineral deposits and realise that there is something unusual about the mysterious midnight aircraft flying in and out of the Pilbara.

This story took me back to books like “Swallows and Amazons” where there is so much information to be absorbed while relishing an adventure. With maps and colour photographs adding to the text, I almost felt as if I had visited the Pilbara by the time I finished reading.

Desmond O Connor’s personal experience as a pilot and surveyor shines through, endowing the fiction with authenticity and making for an absorbing reading experience.

Recommended for readers 12 years and up.

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Pearl-shell Diver

The Pearl-shell Diver by Kay Crabbe (Allen & Unwin) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-76029-047-4

Reviewed by Ann Harth ( )

The Pearl-shell Diver intrigued me from the first page. At dawn on a remote Torres Strait island in 1898 we meet 13-year-old Sario as he and his friend head out fishing in their canoe. They spot a white man’s pearl lugger in the distance, an increasingly common sight, and Sario is uneasy. This white man has his eye on Sario, who is young, strong and a skilled pearl-shell diver.

Many of Sario’s clan are growing old and weak and, with more and more luggers gathering the precious pearl-shells, the Island families are struggling to survive. When the white man returns, not Sario but his father is forced to leave his family and work on the pearl-lugger.

But then, Sario’s mother grows ill and it is up to him and his sister to take her to Thursday Island to find a doctor. Medicine is expensive and Sario has no choice but to find work as a pearl-shell diver on one of the boats. The conditions are appalling and the work dangerous with the constant threat of sharks, jealous crewmen and the crippling diver’s condition called the bends.

The situation unfolds as Sario finds the strength and courage to do what’s necessary to keep his family alive.

Readers, aged 9-13 years, will devour this fast-paced book, experiencing the excitement, frustration and thrill of danger as they follow Sario’s journey. The characters are three-dimensional and believable. Kay Crabbe has integrated the history of the Torres Strait Islands into her story and captured vivid sensory images that bring the area to life.

I would recommend The Pearl-shell Diver as a fast-paced, enjoyable story for children, but adults will enjoy it, too. It can also be used as a valuable and comprehensive history resource for classroom teachers.

Kay Crabbe lives in Far North Queensland. She began her writing career with feature articles for newspapers and magazines before moving into educational material for children. In researching and writing the historical novel, The Pearl-shell Diver, Kay took a journey back in time to the Torres Strait in the 1800s, across treacherous waters traversed by island canoes, pearling luggers and helmeted deep-sea divers. For more information about Kay and her writing, please visit

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Dreaming the Enemy

Dreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen (Allen & Unwin) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9781760112257

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The lives of thousands of young Australian men were changed in the 1960s when names were drawn from a ballot so they could be sent to fight in the war in Vietnam. Johnny (Shoey) Shoebridge, the protagonist in Metzenthen’s latest novel, is a returned Vietnam vet, who suffers PTSD.
The reader is taken inside Shoey’s head as he tries to rationalize his time in war and as he wonders about fitting into post-war life.  Desperately he tries to build his sense of self in the aftermath of a horrific episode in his life when he was ordered to kill. He constantly re-visits the battlegrounds and becomes obsessed with a Viet Cong ghost-fighter called Khan.

Disassociating, Shoey ‘sees’ Khan and others – Thang and Trung – his mind constantly switching from the Vietnam jungle to the present when he is alone in a fishing hut trying to recover. Shoey has, writes Metzenthen, ‘amassed a dose of fury’ and ‘his scars were like armour.’ In ‘the dark pressing reaches of his mind,’ he recalls everything he knew in war from ‘a severed brown hand found after a firefight’ to ‘a smack of a bullet hitting a jaw.’ The reader reaches inside Shoe’s hyper-vigilant mind and roots for him to ‘move on’ which his family and friends urge him to do. But of course it is not as easy as simply wanting to do this.

This confronting book will challenge any sensitive reader. Metzenthen is a fine writer who is skilled at characterisation, writing with flair, elegance and beautifully crafted sentences. This is a deeply moving novel by one of Australia’s top YA authors which is sure to enthrall (mostly) boy readers aged 13 years and up. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Dreaming the Enemy being short-listed for literary awards.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story

Maralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story by Christobel Mattingley (Allen & Unwin) PB RRP$19.099 ISBN 9781760290177

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The first thing to notice about this book is how beautiful it is, like a small work of art from the title page with its background of indigenous pattern artwork  through its almost 200 pages with good quality paper and numerous photographs, black and white and coloured. The typeface is brown, easy on the eye, and the whole design of the book is considered and attractive.

Award-winning author Christobel Mattingley, a white woman from Adelaide, honours the legacy here of Yvonne Edwards, a highly respected and community elder who was born near the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) at Ooldea in 1950. The artwork is Yvonne’s, and so is the country shown in the photos. Yvonne’s mother was one of the Anangu family while her father was white (a walypala). Her Aboriginal name was Tjintjiwara and her mother tongue was Pitjantajara. As her child she learned how to carve artifacts, skin rabbits, make damper and draw in the sand. And, too, she learned the stories of the Dreamtime.

However, the Anangu family was told to leave by the white people and sent to the country of another Aboriginal family. Meanwhile, at an Anangu place called Maralinga, white people were planning something which would cause long, slow and painful dying to Yvonne’s husband and two of her sons. Maralinga, of course, was the site of atomic bomb testing.

In clear and obviously well-researched fiction, Mattingley relates Yvonne’s story from her birth through her upbringing. Like many indigenous children, she was taken from her family for a while, but then returned to the Lutheran mission. When the girl was pre-pubescent, the atomic testing – almost 100 kilotons of explosives – occurred near the mission. It went on from 19653 to 1957 with elderly people dying and some blinded. More personal disaster occurred for Yvonne when her first born son was taken from her by Welfare: it would be 20 years before she saw David again.

This beautifully written and designed book is sure to be of interest not just to young readers, but for anyone with an interest in the life of a woman whose life and those of her clan was affected by decisions made by ignorant white people. Maralinga cast a very long shadow, but throughout her life Yvonne triumphed, finding her gift as an artist in her later years. In 2012 after a turbulent life which included the loss of close family, Yvonne died at the age of 61. Happily a copy of Maralinga: The Anangu Story was brought to the hospital for staff to see what an important person they were caring for.

Mattingley met and befriended Yvonne six years before her death, but had to wait for two years after her friend’s death, as is Aboriginal custom, before she could write her book. It is a moving tribute to a wonderful woman.

Friday, 22 April 2016


Rockhopping written and illustrated by Trace Balla (Allen & Unwin) HB RRP$24.99 ISBN 9781760112349

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

From its front cover and then onto its fly pages and title page with numerous illustrations of Australian flora and fauna, it’s obvious this graphic picture book is about venturing into our country’s bush. First, though, Balla acknowledges the cooperation of a number of Aboriginal organisations which gave her permission to include cultural references. Indeed, throughout the book Balla has chosen to use Jardawadjali/Djab Wurrung place names followed by English names in brackets. The story is set in Gariwerd (the Grampians) and acknowledges those clans whose country it is.

The first page starts with a boy and a man lolling in a boat wondering where the (Glenelg) river water comes from and the man responding, ‘How about we go and find out something, kid?’ Thus it is that Uncle Egg and ten year old Clancy spend some time organising for a long walk and then the beginning their trek. The story is told in comic book style with lots of small and detailed illustrations showing things such a spread of what they take with them and later the vast wilderness. On the trek, which Clancy often finds strenuous and tiring, there are many adventures and some misadventures, such as when he falls off a rock onto an outcrop.

Throughout the story the reader checks out the many plants and animals along the way, all of which are labelled. Clancy communes with nature up close and from afar and learns much from being still and observant. On day five, he and Uncle Egg come upon the river which has Clancy wondering about the history of the place – of gold-miners, Chinese gardeners, squatters, bushrangers, and of course, natives who lived off the land.

There is a lot of writing in this book which isn’t story text; Balla thanks many people who collaborated with her to create the book, including numerous Indigenous peoples. It would take days to read every single word and examine all of the illustrations. The drawings in this book are wonderful and will reward the patient reader with many hours of discovery and learning. No doubt Clancy and his uncle’s adventure will resonate with children who enjoy bushwalking with their families, and might even inspire them to take an extended walk.

This is Balla’s second book, the first, Rivertime, winning the Readings’ Children’s Book Prize, the Wilderness Society’s Environment Award and short-listings in three other state and national book awards. This one, too, is sure to win awards. Suitable for readers 6+ years.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Milo: A Moving Story

Milo: A Moving Story written & illustrated by Tohby Riddle (Allen & Unwin) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9781760111632

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

‘Milo led an ordinary life. He lived in a solid kennel in an okay part of town and had few complaints.’ Thus begins this new picture book by well-loved Australian book creator, Tohby Riddle. Milo is an anthromorphised dog with friends and a job as a messenger which takes him across town.

One night Milo has a dream which leaves him unsettled and gruff with his poet friend Snombo. That day a ‘largish rabble of moths fluttered by’ followed by other odd things. When Milo awakens the next day, he discovers his kennel has moved and is now perched on a ledge of a skyscraper. Enter a bird named Carlos…

This is an odd book which has a kind of surreal feel about it. It ends strangely, too, with this reviewer not sure what the ending means. Is this a story about the power of dreams, about the effect of dreams and of change or the value of strangers and of friendship? Perhaps it is all of these things. What is for sure is that this book captures one’s attention.

The illustrations, which use darkish tones throughout, are eye-catching and worth studying from the fly pages where Milo is pursued by this dog friends to those pages where Riddle incorporates photos, such as of ancient buildings. The views from the top of the skyscraper of the city below are excellent! It would seem that the images are created by computer and yet they seem natural and enchanting.

Towards the end of the book, Milo, back in his old home territory, thinks ‘Isn’t life a mystery?’ Just like this book!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

This is a Circle

This is a Circle by Chrissie Krebs (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780857988058

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

My love of rhyme is not a secret, but rhyme with bug-eyed goats in boats and pant wearing foxes on boxes gets me giggling every time.

I was immediately taken back to Fox in Socks when I first read This is a Circle by new author Chrissie Krebs. The nonsensical imagery and unexpected turns that I encountered when I first read one of my all-time favourite Dr Seuss stories came flooding back as I skipped through Krebs’ glorious pages. 

Krebs is both author and illustrator of this romp and although well suited to younger readers, my ten year old and I thought it was a hoot. But of course it is not just the bears, goats, cats and foxes dressed in primary colours that are eye catching, but the repetitive elements of the story that grow and interchange with each other to give context to shapes and surroundings.

The hardback with a peephole in the cover is always a drawcard for younger readers and the larger font for the frequently used words will aid slightly older children who are learning to read.

Cartooned themed illustrations together with rhyme give this a pacey feel that by my third read through, I was reading faster and faster to see how tongue tied I would get. 

This is the first book by Chrissie Krebs. Her second book, There’s Something Weird in Santa’s Beard, is currently under construction.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Mysteries of Corkuparipple Creek

The Mysteries of Corkuparipple Creek by Susan Pease, illustrated by Olivia Pease (Little Steps Publishing)
HB RRP $29.95
ISBN: 9781925117592

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

This lavishly produced hardcover volume with gold-embossed cloth spine and ribbon page marker is a uniquely different offering in children’s books.


With sly overtones of Alice-in-Wonderland — is the first story in the book all a dream? — it mixes a significant environmental message with oodles of toilet and bum humour! It’s also got echoes of Narnia in that a great deal of time spent in one place is next-to-nothing back home.


There’s a dream-like wackiness to the characters — the Slurp-it-Downs and the Gulp-a-Waters are particularly memorable for their incessant throwing of insults and devotion to the art of the unsubtle putdown. These are races of strange critters who live on the banks of Corkuparipple Creek in the Aussie bush and who, in the best fairytale tradition, are only visible to selected folk.


Ten-year-old Jo encounters them one day while brainstorming a subject for an essay exam. One of the first things she sees is the Slurp-it-Downs and Gulp-a-Waters making snot glue — which later turns out to have healing, restorative properties (a chapter not to be read on a queasy stomach, to be sure!)


The book is divided into two separate but interconnected stories — Corkuparipple Creek and Worlds Apart. The second tale is largely set in Scotland and involves dark elves, time travel and (spoiler alert!) a bunyip who saves the day. It’s only in the second tale that it becomes likely the first story, which ended on the possibility that Jo’s initial adventures were all a dream, did really occur. There are some anachronisms in the book such as the use of ‘miles’, instead of ‘kilometres’.


Kids who love lots of references to things coming out of different body orifices will probably enjoy this huge volume with its full-colour illustrations throughout and its bright centrespread.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Raymie Nightingale

Raymie Nightingale by Kate Di Camillo (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 19.99
ISBN 9781406363135

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Ten year-old Raymie’s father has left without saying goodbye. He has run off with another woman and she is broken at being fatherless. Her mother just sits and gazes into space. Raymie has a plan to bring her father home. If she wins the baton-twirling competition, she will be in the papers, and her dad will see her and possibly return.

There are two other girls in Ida Nee’s baton-twirling class --  Louisiana Elefante, daughter of two trapeze artists drowned at sea who lives with her eccentric grandmother. The other girl, Beverly Tapinski, is the daughter of a cop who lives in another city. All three girls have only one thing in common - their fatherlessness.

Louisiana is prone to fainting spells as she has swampy lungs. She is determined to win the competition to get the prize money to avoid being sent to the county home when her grandmother is no longer there. Beverly doesn’t care very much about anything, but she can twirl a baton.

These three girls become bound together by their mutual loss and loneliness, and all their questions that remain unanswered.

Deeply moving, philosophical and thought-provoking, Kate Di Camillo, two time recipient of the Newbery Medal, always produces spectacular work. She captures the purity of child characters’ voices and thoughts, and leaves the reader enraptured by the strength of insight and emotion that pours through her work without it being sentimental.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Witch’s Britches

The Witch’s Britches by P. Crumble, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford (Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-76015-153-9

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

What would happen if it started raining magical underwear? Ethel, a young witch, is about to find out. A gust of wind steals her britches from her washing line and blows them off towards the park. Can Ethel catch up to them before too much magical damage is done?

Crumble is very clever with humorous rhyme. Her stories always have great imagination and silly situations which children love. The Witch’s Britches is a funny story with a catchy rhythm.
Each week she washed her britches with care.
Her magic relied on clean underwear.

The vibrant illustrations add to the fun and it is through them that the personalities of Ethel and her cat emerge. Along with the colour and movement, there is plenty to see in the pictures when you look closely; the seasons changing outside the window, what people are doing before the magic undies hit, and many other subtle details.

This is a story which will engage preschool children, hit their funny bones and be read many times.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Nellie Belle

Nellie Belle by Mem Fox (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-76027-410-8

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Nellie Belle is an adventurous dog who likes to have fun in the yard, on the street and at the beach. She loves to meet people and other animals. But maybe not all animals...

Children will happily follow the wanderings of such a cute puppy dog and relate to the places and actions.

A lovely rhythmical tale, full of repetition, this story is perfect for the very young and reading aloud.
Is it fun in the street,
Nellie Belle, Nellie Belle?
Is it fun in the street,
Nellie Belle?

The illustrations are playful and full of bright colours and happy faces. Although there is variety in the sizes of the pictures, the layout too follows a repetitive pattern, with a clue as to what is coming up next. This helps to build anticipation.

I especially love that after the climax the story unwinds, going back on itself until Nellie Belle is back where she started -- at home. This helps to make it just right for reading at bedtime.

Nellie Belle is a new book by Mem Fox, a highly respected and award- winning picture book author and is based on a beloved pet Fox once had.

Friday, 15 April 2016


Conductoid by M.B. Lehane (self published)
ISBN 9780994489401

Reviewed by Kel Butler

Jack is a daydreamer, living most of his life in a universe all of his own making. He doesn’t care much for the routine of everyday life, preferring to exist on the periphery of his own imagination, most of the time. Little does Jack know that this other universe he drifts off to in the middle of class or at the dinner table, is actually his reality.

As Jack’s daydreams become more explicit, merging fiction and reality, he starts to question his sanity. His fantasies appear to be simultaneously ruining his life and giving him his greatest adventure yet. It’s not until he is visited by a mysterious hooded figure and forced to save people from freakishly dangerous situations, that he starts to learn the truth about himself and the world’s he inhabits in his fantasies. Jack isn’t just a daydreamer, he’s a Conductoid.

A Conductoid uses the power of daydreams to access alternate dimensions and unimaginable powers. Shifting from one form to another in order to save lives and defeat dark forces. Pretty quickly, Jack realises balancing his new life as a hero with his life as an average school boy is going to be impossible. Thus he recruits the help of his best mate Ty and twin sister Phoebe to help him master his new identity and hide his double life.

Conductoid is a long, challenging read, driven by some very interesting ideas, which I feel get lost in a too much detail. Jack is a well rounded character, who also goes on a journey of personal growth and discovery as he explores his new reality. His relationships equally evolve as he is forced to find a deeper connection with his sister and put complete faith in his friend.

Due to the detail and complexity of the novel I wouldn’t recommend this for anyone under the age of 13.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016


Frankie by Shivaun Plozza (Penguin Random House) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN 9780143573166

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

On the front cover, Melina Marchetta describes the book’s protagonist as ‘a gutsy character with a lot of heart.’ Certainly Frankie Vega is gutsy; she’s also full of vitriol, so much so that when the book starts she stands accused of viciously (and inexplicably) attacking a fellow school student and breaking his nose which earns her a suspension. Abandoned by her mother, Juliet, Frankie lives with her aunt Vinnie who runs a kebab shop and who is forever giving her niece a second chance.

As the book starts, a teenage boy turns up claiming to be Frankie’s half-brother. From then on, Xavier comes and goes until it’s obvious that he’s well and truly missing which involves Frankie in a search with him, aided by Nate who has secrets of his own.

This is a fast-paced, action-filled story full of cool (and oppositional) attitude with authentic, snappy dialogue laced with much bad language. Frankie is a character who some teen readers are sure to empathise with, but she’s a difficult girl; adults, such as her aunt, psychiatrist and principal, find almost impossible to deal with. Certainly she’s rude and brutal and honest.

This gripping and dark novel about searching for the truth, finding yourself and falling in love, ends with a bang, certainly not a whimper. Many teenage girls in particular will relate to this debut novel by Australian Shivaun Plozza. 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Rhyming Plays for Primary Days

Rhyming Plays for Primary Days by Ann Budden (RIC Publications) PB RRP $34.95 ISBN 9781863119573

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This handy A4 page book is a collection of plays suitable for middle to upper primary students. Each play, written in the pantomime tradition, is based on a familiar fairytale or story, all with either a fun twist and a moral or a message such as the value of sharing or it’s not good to brag. It’s a well-thought out book in many respects. Plays can be adapted to accommodate varying cast members, for example the narrator’s role can be taken by a chorus of speakers, so it’s possible to cater for an entire class. As well, there are comprehensive teachers’ notes which provide play performance information such as how to use the plays in the classroom. At the back of the book is a glossary and vocabulary lists
At the beginning of each play, the cast is listed along with costume or prop suggestions as well as other helpful information such as stage set-up and points for discussion. Every play employs a narrator who sets the scene and also links scenes within the play. On each page there is a black and white cartoon illustration of one of the play’s characters. In keeping with the user-friendly nature of the book, the pages of all of the plays are printed on one side of the paper so that the book, if so desired, can be dismantled and pages photocopied to give all cast members their own script.

In ‘Rudolph to the Rescue’, Santa’s reindeer boast of their respective abilities; poor Rudolph doesn’t compare favourably, but of course when Santa needs a leader on the foggy Christmas night, Rudolph is just right for the job. At the end of this play is music – and lyrics – for a song to be sung by the whole cast.

‘Goldi Meets the Three Bears’ is set ‘way out in the Australian bush, where the eucalyptus grows.’ The ‘bears’ are actually koalas who tell Goldi, ‘We’re cute and cuddly marsupials! We’re koalas! We’re not bears!’
All of the plays such the two mentioned here employ gentle humour, and of course they are all to be spoken in rhyming verse (easier than prose for cast members to remember their parts).

This book ticks all of the boxes when it comes to providing the classroom teacher with a bunch of fun plays which are sure to be enjoyed.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Mister Rainbow

Mister Rainbow by Clancy Tucker (Clancy Tucker Publishing)
PB RRP $15.00 plus $3.00 postage ($6.00 for overseas post) E-book $3.00
ISBN 9780646938943

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Multi-talented Clancy Tucker’s second novella calls attention to environmental polluting, issues facing return soldiers specifically those of the Vietnam War, and the bonds of friendship. These three themes are strung cleverly together to form an adventure story with a fishing background. Clancy, a vigorous champion of disregarded causes, again presents points of importance through a strong narrative.

Dead fish have been found floating in the river and the EPA is collecting samples of the water. Toby and Maddie are fishing partners and this is cause for concern as they have just lost a friend to what the locals are calling Mill Flu.

Toby is smart and resourceful; curious and an adventurer. There are places that are out-of-bounds to the two children because they hold dangers. Toby is careful but is challenged by limitations. On one of their fishing trips they venture into a forbidden area with traumatic results.

Johan Bolt is an old loner. Few people know anything about him as he lives in an old shack close to the river with minimal material possessions. It is to him that Toby runs for help when Maddie falls into the river and Bolt saves her life. They keep this happening a secret, but Maddie becomes seriously ill as a repercussion of ingesting polluted water.

A string of events brings the three characters together after Toby finds Bolt unconscious behind the shack, and with quick thinking, saves the old man’s life. He discovers secrets about Bolt that have been kept for years and that leave him ‘gob smacked’. His ingenious mind is always turning up new and sensible ideas. This, combined with his discovery about Bolt, will change all their lives for the better.

A terrific read that skips along quickly. It will suit reluctant readers, mostly boys, and others from 8-80 as the chapters are compact and the story fast-paced, intense and full of action. All Clancy Tucker’s books can be purchased via his daily Blog. : or through Morris Publishing Australia All the photographs on covers and within the books are taken by Clancy Tucker.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

I Am Doodle Cat

I Am Doodle Cat written by Kat Patrick and illustrated by Lauren Marriott (Scribe) HB ISBN 9781925321258

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Doodle Cat is a big squarish solid red creature featured on every page dancing, playing drums and showing its love of sun-baking, and hugging trees and its friends. Most pages show lots of white space but now and again there are colours other than red, for instance where there are many examples of things Doodle Cat loves, such as fish-shaped biscuits, toy mice, birds and a 20-metre ball of string. Most pages there is a picture of the cat with a simple one sentence text – ‘I love lentils’, ‘I love baths.’ 

The penultimate double-paged spread shows dozens of other cats of all different sizes, shapes and colours. In the final spread are lots of facts that pertain to certain sections of the book. For example, Doodle Cat has said ‘I love farts’ so that there is a paragraph which tells the reader that ‘the average person produces  a litre of farts a day.’ There are also facts about fractals (a never ending pattern that looks the same at any size), trees, friends, the ocean, stars, difference and me (‘I love me’). The last sentence invites the reader to start a list of all things ‘you like best about yourself.’

What this reader liked most about this book were the double-page red-coloured fly pages with a pattern of dozens of cats in all kinds of poses.

The readership of this book is most likely anyone who adores cats, but it’s appeal other than that would seem to be limited.