Tuesday, 31 May 2016


Circle by Jeannie Baker (Walker Books)
HC RRP 29.99
ISBN 9781406338010

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Jeannie Baker is famous for the exquisite collages used to illustrate her work. I always know that when I hold a book of hers, there will be something special waiting for me between the covers. Here, beginning ‘in a place where mud and sand become sea’, we follow the migratory path of the bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri).

The godwits are migratory waders that begin their journey north from Australia, in March-April. In April-May, they stop in the wetlands of the Yellow Sea to feed and rest. May-June sees them arrive in their breeding ground in Alaska. In August the godwits are found along the coast of the Alaskan Peninsula, fattening up for the journey south, as they have by now, lost half of their body weight. They must leave before the Arctic winter sets in. Their 11,000 kilometre journey is the longest unbroken journey of any animal in the world. 

In October-November, the godwits are in their Australian and New Zealand feeding grounds. (See migration map at the back of the book)

This book educates and creates awareness about, not only the plight of godwits, but also other migrating shorebirds and creatures that depend on places to rest and feed.

Unfortunately, many of these resting places are disappearing due to reclamation and development. Circle brings us face-to face with the reality that everything is inter-connected; how all that we do influences everything around us, extending to the other side of the world.

Presented simply, but with a powerful underlying environmental message, Jeannie Baker’s book will hopefully reach into our consciousness and remind us of the constant threats to our planet. I hope it will be widely used as a teaching tool to ignite children’s passion for preserving the environment, as they become familiar with the term, the Circle of Life.

Monday, 30 May 2016


Together… by Emma Dodd (Nosy Crow 2016) HB RRP $15.99
ISBN: 9780857635792

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Together… is a small, beautifully designed padded picture book, perfect for little hands. Emma Dodd partners simple, rhyming text with touching images of a sea otter mother and baby in their ocean home in a story that explores the special relationship between mother and child.

We meet the otters at the end of the day – a special, dreamy, joyful, perfect day – as they reflect on all of the things they did together such as watching the sun rise or the clouds float across the sky.

Dodd’s stylised sea otter illustrations couldn’t be any more endearing. They radiate warmth and love against the silvery green blue ocean and the star-filled night sky.

Together… reminds us to treasure the moments shared with a child and speaks to the simplicity of just being together without the distractions that everyday life can bring.

This is a perfect choice as a bedtime book to share with young children, or a thoughtful gift for a new mum.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Me, Teddy

Me, Teddy by Chris McKimmie (Allen & Unwin 2016)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN: 9781760291334

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Me, Teddy is instantly recognisable as a new picture book offering from wonderfully quirky author illustrator, Chris McKimmie.

In this, his vibrant, joy-filled scrapbook, Teddy – a big, black Labrador – shares his journey from tiny puppy to boofy-headed dog as a much-loved member of the McKimmie family.

He is cheeky, loyal and adorably comfortable as top dog in a house full of humans where he revels in meal times, shoe theft and snoozing on his half of the king-sized bed.

In his own words, Teddy is no goody-two-shoes, but there’s a strong sense that no matter what mischief he might get into, he will always be loved.
His story is a celebration of unconditional love that is sure to resonate with anyone whose family life has been enriched by a treasured pet.

Me, Teddy oozes warmth and humour, and the drawings of Teddy contributed by family and friends enhance McKimmie’s lively collages and further pull the reader in Teddy’s glorious world.

A feel-good read for the whole family and a must for dog lovers.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Two Tales of Brothers from Ancient Mesopotamia

Two Tales of Brothers from Ancient Mesopotamia retold by John Heffernan, illustrated by Kate Durack (Christmas Press) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9780994234049

Reviewed by Catherine Bauer

Long ago, in the swirling mists of Time, there lived a mighty king by the name of Gilgamesh….

What reader, no matter their age, could resist the promise of mystery and adventure conjured by such a tempting opening as this featured in the latest offering from Christmas Press? The publisher was set up in 2013 with the express aim of bringing young Australian readers in touch with a range of rich and evocative legends, myths and folklore from around the world. In this case, it’s the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, located in modern day Iraq, Syria and Kuwait that has given rise to some of the world’s great heroic sagas, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh.

In this thrilling and lively retelling, author John Heffernan brings to life for young readers two tales from the Epic, while the striking work of new illustrator Kate Durack, who took inspiration from ancient Mesopotamian art, perfectly illuminates the world inhabited by the heroic brothers.

In the first story, The King and the Wild Man, readers meet the brave, fierce and frightening Gilgamesh, King of Uruk. Two parts god, one part human, Gilgamesh is a tyrant whose people fear and resent him. One day the gods decide to teach the power-mad king a lesson and they create another man-god to rival Gilgamesh. The result is the rough and wild Enkidu, fashioned from a piece of clay.

News of this wild man living, who lives in the forests, reaches the king and he sends his army out to capture and deliver Enkidu to him. But the wild man is far too strong for the soldiers and easily evades capture.

After a disturbing dream, King Gilgamesh is told he will meet his brother – a star, born from the heavens, and one who will never let him down. ‘Together you will fight evil,’ the king is told.

Meanwhile, the wild man Enkidu arrives in the city to overthrow the cruel King Gilgamesh and the pair battle one another in a violent struggle that lasts all day and into the night. Finally, the king overwhelms the exhausted wild man and just as Gilgamesh is about to deliver his fatal blow, he realises that the wild man Enkidu is the brother from his dream, arrived to light his way. The king vows to change his destructive ways and the pair agree they will now unite ‘to fight against evil wherever it may be’.

In the second story, Brothers Battle the Beast, the pair does just that when they set out to vanquish the ferocious horned Bull of Heaven, Humbaba, who has been terrorising the villages of Uruk and countryside. The brothers set forth with specially made weapons and armour, in a chariot drawn by four magnificent war steeds.

The man-god brothers and Humbaba meet in a dramatic and furious life-or-death battle, featuring snorting, roaring, stamping hooves and roars that ‘shake the trees to their roots’. Eventually Humbaba is vanquished and the warriors stand in ‘a soft golden light’ that shimmers through the leaves of the forest.
Heffernan’s treatment of these epic tales results in a truly magical pair of stirring, page-turning stories that will engage and delight all ages.

Durack’s rich illustrations and Heffernan’s tight and descriptive text combine to produce what is a great introduction to the epic sagas of ancient times that also include lessons about good versus evil and the ties of family.

A great read, highly recommended.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Three Magic Balloons

Three Magic Balloons as told to Julianna Margulies and her Sisters told by Paul Margulies, illustrated by Grant Shaffer (Piccolo Nero) HB RRP
ISBN 9781863958370

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Julianna Margulies is a world-famous award-winning actress. The story re-told in this picture book by her brother was one originally told to her and her two sisters when they were children by their father. It’s a story about three children who every Saturday go with their dad to the Children’s Zoo in a city park (probably Central Park in New York). Dad offers them money for a treat, but instead they choose to buy foods for the animals. One day, a mysterious man gives them a small reward for their kindness – a different colour balloon for each of them. At night they dream that their respective beds – to which their balloons are tethered – float through the sky where they meet three angels who grant them wishes.

It must have been wonderful to have such a loving father who was also a storyteller. But would this picture book have been published if written by an unknown author? I wondered this as I found this story sweet and sentimental but not memorable. It also contains Americanised words which might not be familiar to Australian readers.

Nevertheless the story has a certain charm and the illustrations are bright and amusing. The story’s message is: ‘Magic is everywhere; you just need to know where to look’ – which, after all, is a great message for anyone. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Chook Doolan: the Newest Pet

Chook Doolan: the Newest Pet by James Roy, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford (Walker Books)
PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 9781922244949

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A new illustrated chapter book series for the 5+ year age group introduces the lovable character, Simon ‘Chook’ Doolan. He has been named Chook, because he’s chicken (as in not very brave). Chook has two pets: Flexy-Lexi the cat, and Bruce a goldfish he inherited when his cousin moved overseas.

It’s ‘bring a pet to school’ day. Chook’s mate Joe doesn’t have a pet, so Chook tries to find him one for the day. This is a big step for the not very brave Chook, even if it isn’t successful.

When Chook takes Bruce to school with the idea of sharing him with Joe, to their delight, there is an amazing development.

This is the first of the series written by the award-winning James Roy. Talented illustrator Lucinda Gifford has created delightful and expressive characters in pencil, ink, crayon, marker and watercolour, to complement Roy’s text. The series is produced in bright, different coloured covers. The first two titles are available now with two more due in August.

Themes of confidence, being brave, family and community are blended together to create a lively story for early readers. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Chook Doolan: Rules are Rules

Chook Doolan: Rules are Rules by James Roy, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford (Walker Books) PB RRP $7.99
ISBN 9781922244932

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Chook Doolan is scared of everything. That’s why he’s called Chook, for chicken, because he’s not very brave. He always walks to school with his brother Ricky. Today Ricky is sick and Chook must go to school by himself. Dad can’t drive him as he’s running late, so he gives Chook some rules to follow for his own safety.

But Chook takes the rules literally, and without meaning to, upsets all his friends in his community. Can things get worse?

Joe, his best mate, comes up with a brilliant solution to rectify the damage done.

This is a brilliant series for early readers which carry themes of family and community, and being brave when attempting things for the first time. Each book has a specific problem Chook must address, and young readers will easily associate with his feelings of insecurity and fear. They will also applaud his successes and the way he keeps trying no matter how difficult he finds the challenge.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Phantom Wings over the North

Phantom Wings over the North by Desmond O’Connor (A&A Book Publishing/ Short Stop Press) PB RRP $ 19.99
ISBN 9780994329462

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Part of the Australian Adventure Series, this compact pocket book of 64 pages is a fast-paced and exciting adventure set in the outback Pilbara region.

Paddy is an experienced prospector. He is alert and observant. That is why he is suspicious about the mobile laboratory staffed by men from Eastern Europe, about which little is known. Who are these men, and what is their real reason for being in this part of the Pilbara?

Paddy is also uneasy about the sounds of aircraft flying at night, especially when there’s a full moon. He discusses his concerns with best mate Bluey as he hates enigmas. He is also dedicated to the protection of flora and fauna of the region.

These concerns coincide with an arranged visit from his twin niece and nephew. They are to spend a holiday with him, learning about and putting into practice gold prospecting under Paddy’s direction, with Bluey as second man for safety.

‘Move around purposefully’ is Paddy’s advice. And the twins do, discussing any abnormalities with each other. When things don’t add up, Paddy and the twins investigate. What they uncover is an unexpected and horrifying act against the wildlife of the area.

Here is a fantastic fiction adventure that gives the reader lots of information about prospecting and the Pilbara region; and the importance of its flora and fauna. It’s told in an instructive tone without being didactic.  As an added background story Bluey is badly hurt and is saved by the Flying Doctor Service. Attention is called to the threat on the area’s wildlife by well organised international illegal traffickers that stop at nothing for monetary gain. I look forward to reading more stories from this interesting series.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra

Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra by Karen Tyrrell (Digital Future Press) PB RRP $14.95                                                                                                           ISBN 978-0-994-30213-7

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

The second book in the Super Space Kids series sees reluctant hero and erstwhile Super Space Kid Josh (aka Jo-Kin), called upon to step up and save not only his Commander’s younger sister and other Super Space Kids, but the whole of planet Earth. It’s a bit of a bummer though because it’s only recently that Josh has FINALLY been seen as a cool kid at school, and he doesn’t want to leave for outer space. The timing’s pretty terrible for a face-off with the evil Lord Terra and his stinking sidekick, Prince Poison…

This inter-galactic romp has everything: tough choices, talking cars that fly, heroic boys and girls, kidnapping, battles with formidable foes and dissention among internal ranks. There’s action-a-pace, annoying siblings, dodgy friends, heart-stopping adolescent moments of infatuation and, of course, planets made entirely of food.

Jo-Kin vs Lord Terra contains a smattering of many issues that will be familiar to its 7-12 year old readership, touching on ideas of doing the right thing, standing your ground, teamwork, friendship, problem solving and resilience. There’s a lovely light, humorous touch throughout and although one or two rogue words have escaped the editorial process, overall it’s a happening and pacy read (although I have to personally admit finding it hard to get into – middle-aged woman that I am!). With enough computer game terminology to engage both boys and girls, it’s also appropriate for reluctant readers. 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Secrets We Keep

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman, (UQP)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5421 5

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kasmer

It’s been six weeks since a fire burnt down Clem’s home and now her Mum and her old life are gone. The few things she has managed to salvage are tainted by the smell of the fire and painful memories of losing her mum. Clem and father can now no longer afford to stay in the neighbourhood and are forced to move into a tiny flat so they can be closer to her father’s work and Clem’s new school.

On her first day of school Clem meets Ellie and in an effort to fit in, Clem lets a secret slip about what happened to her mum which she immediately regrets. As Ellie’s mum is in hospital dying of cancer, Ellie immediately bonds with Clem over common ground of losing a mother. This connection places Clem in the awkward situation of coming between Ellie and her oldest friend Tam who becomes jealous of Clem. To Clem’s credit she is able to put herself in Tam’s shoes and wonders how she would feel in the same situation.

Clem is helped through her struggles by her ever optimistic father who works at the botanical gardens and wears a big jacket that Clem buries her face in so she can smell his earthiness. Maggie, the neighbour in the flat upstairs, provides a refuge for Clem, offering tea, freshly baked treats and also a sense of purpose by giving her the job of feeding and caring for the fish whilst Maggie is away for work.

Clem is a runner and the track is where she can be her true self, it is where all her problems float away. It is interesting to watch how Clem learns to recognise, and return to, the things in her life that bring her joy (such as running). But will Clem continue to run from her problems? Or will she find the strength to face the truth about what really happened with her mum and the fire?

Reading this book brought back strong memories of my own primary school experiences; the emotions, school yard dynamics, politics and rivalries. My eleven year old self was right there beside Clem on her first day of school peering into the school playground.

And I’m out here. Looking through holes in the wire, wondering how I’m going to do this.

Nova Weetman does a beautiful job of shining a light on what it’s like to feel lost and having to fit into new surroundings when everything familiar is gone. This is a wonderfully relatable book that has strong appeal for middle grade readers. When I closed the book there was a real sense of sadness not only that the story had come to an end but that it had been resolved so beautifully.

Elizabeth Kasmer is a Sunshine Coast based writer of children’s and young adult fiction. www.elizabethkasmer.com

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Two Acrobats

The Two Acrobats by Jeanne Ryckmans, illustrations Pierre Ryckmans (Piccolo Nero) HB RRP
ISBN 9781863957892

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a small (13 x 17 cm) illustrated book about best friends Basil and Frederick (one a short man, the other tall) who work together at the Winter Circus in Paris. Both are world famous trapeze artists who work seven nights a week, 365 days a year. However, after eating two dozen snails at a birthday party, Basil is hospitalised. This causes problems for Frederick and the circus (‘the show must go on!) The result is a comedy act which involves the circus strongman and the French President.

This is a slight but quite enchanting story; however, the publishers have used text in hand writing, which might be difficult for young readers who are used to typed font. The illustrations are comic, the illustrator using black pen outlines and coloured pencil.

If they can read it, the book is suitable for children aged 7+ years.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Game Theory

Game Theory by Barry Jonsberg (Allen & Unwin) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781760290153

Australian Barry Jonsberg has won a swag of literary awards for his numerous books for children so one comes to his latest YA book, sub-titled I Have Your Sister with high hopes of a great read. Notwithstanding Jonsberg’s credits, I was somewhat disappointed but I do give him credit for his storytelling prowess and ability to write.

The book’s protagonist Jamie Delaware is a mathematically-gifted sixteen year old high school student with an obsession with Game Theory – the strategy for prediction based on any given facts. When his older sister Summerlee asks him for numbers to use in Lotto, he gives a random set, not expecting any positive result. The numbers in fact result in Summer winning first prize – of over seven million dollars. Wild and unpredictable, Summer divorces herself from the family and goes on a drug and alcohol-fuelled spree. Sometime later Jamie’s beloved younger sister Phoebe is kidnapped. It is here the story really begins.

The kidnapper makes contact with Jamie via his mobile phone, not just once but numerous times, his/her voice distorted. The police are called in. For me this is where I almost gave up on the book. Jamie is constantly self-analytical; everything has to be pondered and dissected. He gives full descriptions of everything he sees and experiences, including his thoughts on Game Theory. Nothing is left for the reader’s imagination. At one stage Jamie says, ‘You think I’m full of shit... Over-complicating.’ Der, yes. The reason I continued reading is to find out if Phoebe is rescued. And to a lesser extent to find out who the kidnapper is, for Jamie is determined he knows who it is, thanks to Game Theory.

There are readers who like to be told everything, and others who prefer to fill in gaps in the story. For those who like the detailed picture, this is, as the back cover says, ‘a brilliant, page-turning novel from a superb storyteller.’ For the others, be warned. This book is suitable for readers 13+ years.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Dance, Bilby, Dance

Dance, Bilby, Dance by Tricia Oktober, author and illustrator (Ford Street Publishing) PB RRP $14.95 ISBN 9781925272147

Reviewed by Kate Saunders

Dance, Bilby, Dance by Tricia Oktober is a delightfully simple picture book, delivered effortlessly and very Australian in essence. 

Bilby wants to dance. He sees other wildlife -- the willy-willies and the moths --  twirling, whirling and pirouetting around him, and he wants to do the same. So, when Bilby catches sight of his shadow beneath him, he practises until he too can flutter like a leaf and prance like an emu. That is until his shadow becomes so big it changes into a bunyip!

Simple illustrations, smooth and perfect word choice, and cute characterisation make this book a pleasure to read, and even better to take outside and enjoy. This book teaches early learners that wildlife is there at one’s fingertips and that we can be one with it. It will absorb, educate and  provide an appealing, tangible freedom that extends beyond any virtual world.

This is a charming picture book for preschool children.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Chooks in Dinner Suits

Chooks in Dinner Suits by Diane Jackson Hill, illustrated by Craig Smith (Museum Victoria) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781921833380

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Sub-titled ‘A tale of big dogs and little penguins’ this picture book was inspired by a true story about a town’s efforts to protect their population of Little Penguins (or Fairy Penguins). In 1999 there were 600 penguins and 350 burrows on Middle Island, Victoria; mostly due to death by foxes, by 2005 there were no active burrows and only four penguins left. This project, a world-first and called Middle Island Maremma Project, saw a Warrnambool man train two Maremma dogs to become penguin guardians.

Told in third person past tense, the picture book text tells how civilisation arrives near Middle Island and how gradually the penguin colony is decimated. Then a character named Swampy Marsh is introduced. Swampy becomes acutely aware of the penguin problem; when he presents his solution ‘... (At first) the townsfolk aren’t convinced. Some laugh.’  When they change their minds, Swampy picks his two protective and loyal dogs Mimi and Max who have long protected his chooks to go onto the island where they then protect the penguins from intruders such as dogs and foxes. Problem solved when the colony begins to repopulate!

The author says she wanted to help with the project and ‘thought a picture book would be a good way to promote the project nationally.’ This book certainly works to do this. It is beautifully illustrated by well-regarded illustrator Craig Smith who uses watercolour pictures to help tell the story. As well, there is a page at the end of the book which relates the Maremma story; it also includes a website with more information on the project.

This book will certainly not only tell the penguin-saved story, but will help readers, young and old, to see how a mammoth effort made by small groups of people (and individuals) can help to protect and restore their environments.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Boy Who Went to War: Jim Haynes’ true WWII

The Boy Who Went to War: Jim Haynes’ true WWII by Dawn Meredith (Amazon Books)
PB RRP $21.00
ISBN 9781517707729
Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

The Boy Who Went to War is the story of Jim Haynes, a 91-year old war veteran who has lived an amazing life. Jim was working as a 13-year old butcher’s apprentice in Nottingham when WWII began. He was desperate to join the Royal Navy but it wasn’t until he turned 16 that his parents agreed to let him go.

As a teenager, Jim witnessed extraordinary acts of cruelty, bravery and compassion. He saw ships blown up, picked up survivors of the Tonsberg Tarifa just as they ran out of water, saw a WRN (Women's Royal Navy) buried at sea, saw King Farouk's bombed palace in Alexandria and so much more.

At 19 Jim joined Special Forces fighting Japanese marines in the jungles of Malaya. Towards the end of the war his job was to transport emaciated men, women and children from Japanese prison camps to safety.

In 1945 when the war ended, Jim was only 20 when he made another life changing decision. He decided to start a new life in Australia, leaving behind his entire family and sweetheart Olga in England forever.

As a result of what he witnessed as a young man, Jim has struggled with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) throughout his adult life. But Jim just picks himself up and keeps going every single day.

Dawn Meredith spent five years interviewing Jim, collecting photos and writing his story. The result is a wonderful book that is well written, informative and enjoyable to read. The captioned photos add interest and help keep the reader engaged.

Although Dawn wrote this book specifically for children, to show them what life was like during the war, it is perfect for all age groups. It is a fantastic book that readers will find hard to put down.

Monday, 16 May 2016

What could it be?

What could it be? by Sally Fawcett (EK Books) PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-925335-02-6

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

This is an unusual picture book catering to the wide age range of 3 to 12 year olds which is written by primary school teacher Fawcett to unleash creativity and inspire thinking outside the square. Told through the voice of a young boy, it explores the shapes and colours in his everyday world.
The endpapers immediately had me hooked, transporting me to memories of childhood with corkboards displaying hand-drawn pictures held up with coloured drawing pins.

The reader is invited to participate directly with What could it be? A shape is introduced through a delightful interaction with Max and a specific aspect of his daily life, such as a hexagonal spider’s web or a circular snail shell. Then we are invited to locate that shape within a new and detailed illustration. Interaction between the illustrations on the page and the real world is encouraged.

Clever design allows this book to speak to the broad 3-12 age group. Younger children will identify the obvious shapes, while older readers will be challenged to investigate the illustrations more deeply than is immediately obvious. With plenty of content to ignite creative conversation, it’s a wonderful starting point for further activities and investigations into shape and colour.

This is a lovely book for sharing between parents and children, or for older children to explore by themselves.
Teacher notes and online activities for further exploration are offered.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Iris and the Tiger

Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall (Text Publishing) PB  RRP $16.99
ISBN   9781925240795

Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald

How would you feel if your parents sent you all the way from Melbourne to Spain to secretly spy on your great-aunt because they were plotting to inherit her estate?

This happens to twelve-year-old Iris. She finds herself spending ten days in the mysterious, sprawling Spanish property of ‘Bosque de Nubes’ with her eccentric Aunt Ursula, Se┼łor Garcia (her driver, Marcel), her gardener, and a maid called Elna.

From the outside, the house looks magnificent- a white two-story mansion with lots of windows, six columns at the front, arches everywhere and ‘waves of plaster along the roof that looked like cake icing.’  But Iris quickly discovers it’s cursed by a strange magic. The walls are dotted with weird ‘Surreal’ paintings. Aunt Ursula’s late brother, James, had been a famous artist.

There is one painting in particular which fascinates Iris. It is called, ‘Iris and the Tiger.’ Iris viewed it in the gallery in Barcelona, but where was this mysterious tiger? Iris befriends Jordi - the gardener’s son- and they embark on a wacky adventure to find the truth behind her uncle’s mysterious paintings and to discover who would ultimately inherit Aunt Ursula’s estate.

On the way they discover magical beasts, ghosts, a five legged shadow hound, a car with feet and some unscrupulous property developers who want to build a theme park on Ursula’s land.

Leanne Hall is a Melbourne author of two YA novels. She won the 2009 Text Prize with her novel, This is Shyness. In 2012 she followed that with a sequel Queen of the Night. Iris and the Tiger is her third novel and her first story for younger readers in the 9 to 12 years age group.

What I particularly liked about this book was that although there are lots of mysterious and impossible things going on, Leanne Hall has managed to ground the story in the real world. She cleverly weaves in information about surrealist art and leads the reader on a quest to discover the truth through the use of her vivid imagination.

The text is complimented beautifully by Sandra Eterovic’s cover art and black and white chapter illustrations.

I recommend Iris and the Tiger to kids who like to escape into mystery stories laced with magical realism.

Teacher notes are available at the Text Publishing website.    

Saturday, 14 May 2016


George by Alex Gino (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-545-81254-2

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

George knows she is a girl. She doesn’t correct people’s misconceptions about her gender. Kelly, her best friend, accepts George as she is, as does her family. But when George auditions for Charlotte in the primary school production of Charlotte’s Web’ she is informed by the teacher that the role is only given to girls. And George was born a boy.

George does want the rest of the world to see that she is a girl, but she is not sure if she is quite ready to share her true inner self. She will need bravery, strength and the support of those close to her.

This is a beautiful and unique story of growth and blossoming awareness. There are no dramatic moments, or exploration of ‘issues’, just a simply told story of what it is like to be a transgender child in a conservative world. It shows the struggle Mom goes through to understand her child, the unquestioning acceptance of best friend Kelly and her brother Scott, and how the school helps George.

It is important for children to read about lives, emotions and problems which may differ from their own. It is also important for children who are facing these feelings to have access to literature in which they may recognise themselves and their feelings. This story addresses questions about transgender in a fast middle-grade read which is entertaining and non-confrontational. 

The more children can read stories such as this one, the more inclusive our communities have the potential to become. Perhaps the power of such stories is that they open up difficult conversations, paving the way for greater understanding and acceptance.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Grover McBane: rescue Dog – Book 1 Grover finds a home

Grover McBane: rescue Dog – Book 1 Grover finds a home By Claire Garth (Piccolo Nero)
RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-86395-813-4

Reviewed by Ramona Davey

I don’t have a dog but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Grover is a very lovable character. His owner mistreats him. You don’t read about the mistreatment but you get a very good sense that Grover has had a tough time. He is a bag of nerves and very hungry. When he escapes, he gets picked up and taken to an animal shelter, which we know as readers, is a good thing. But Grover doesn’t know that. All he sees is unfamiliar territory and the possibility of being sent back to his horrible owner.

I love the way the author Claire Garth has let us in to Grover’s mind in her writing. We feel his fears and ultimately joy.

This book is the first in a series. I am not sure if they have to be read in order but this one is definitely a great place to start.

Throughout the book there are realistic black and white sketches by Johannes Leak, which are a perfect choice for this story.

An enjoyable chapter book with a heart-warming story for 7-9 year olds or anyone who likes to read about rescued animals.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Cow Tripped over the Moon

The Cow Tripped over the Moon by Tony Wilson, illustrated by Laura Wood (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74392-353-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Almost every child (and adult) must know the story of the cow jumping over the moon. But I bet no-one knows how many attempts it took to get it right. The Cow Tripped Over the Moon is a very funny version of this famous rhyme, featuring all the original characters –Cow, Dog, Cat & Fiddle and of course, Dish & Spoon.

         But what they don’t say
         In the songs from that day,
         Is the cow didn’t jump it first time.
         It seems a moon clearance
         Takes great perseverance,
         So back to the scene of the rhyme...

When rhyme works well in a picture book it is a joy to read and this one is close to perfect. There are no dodgy words, or strange sentences, nothing is sacrificed for the rhyme. It has a rollicking rhythm which adds to the joy of reading this story aloud and fabulous humour in both words and pictures.

         Moon attempt 3: 10.12pm
         Hey diddle diddle
         The cat and the fiddle
         The cow jumped under the moon.
         Her run-up was slow,
         She was never a show,
         And the fiddle was way out of tune.

The wonderful illustrations glow under the moon’s light. They expand on so much of the story. The gang sit on the barn roof, gazing at the moon and concocting the whole escapade. The characters all help Cow train and the story builds to the penultimate page which echoes the text beautifully and conveys the emotion of the moment with a glorious picture of Cow, just before her last jump attempt. We see the determination on her face, her eyes filling with water, cape (towel) flowing from her shoulders, and the gang behind shouting encouragement – all with the glow of sunrise at their backs

This is an entertaining read, fun for toddlers, children and adults alike. And underlying the laughs is a strong message of perseverance, teamwork and supportive friends.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Embassy Row #2: See How They Run

Embassy Row #2: See How They Run by Ally Carter (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-1-76015-357-1

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

See How They Run takes up where All Fall Down left readers hanging. Grace has discovered who killed her mother. But instead of helping her to move on, it has devastated her.

Grace is still angry and confused. About her past, about her family, about her friends, and about the role she must now assume. She must make decisions about which secrets to reveal and which ones are even more dangerous if they come to light. On top of that, she now needs to trust the one person she has spent her life believing was her greatest enemy if she wants to get through the next few weeks alive.

This is another fast paced, action adventure from popular teen author Ally Carter. Full of intrigue and suspense, it is hard to put down and the twists the story takes are mostly unexpected.

Set on the fictitious island of Adria, the use of the unique concept of Embassy Row, allows for an intertwining of countries and alliances in a way I have never come across before. I love that Grace move between America and Russia by climbing the back wall, or go next door to Israel, or secretly party in Iran (an empty and unused embassy).
But also, there is a delicate balance in their lives here. How often can the diplomats down play their children’s activities before they become international incidents? Can Grace the American Ambassador’s granddaughter, have a relationship with Alexi, the son of the Russian diplomat?

This is an entertaining, fast read for teens. It is filled with secret societies, murder plots and misplaced alliances. But it is also a book which raises questions about loyalties, trust, politics, power and mob mentality.