Friday, 30 September 2016

The Glorumptious Worlds of Roald Dahl

The Glorumptious Worlds of Roald Dahl written by Stella Caldwell, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Carlton Books)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781783122158

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

2016 is shaping up to be the year of all things Roald Dahl. It is 100 years since Dahl’s birth and the year the BFG movie was released, among other initiatives from stage shows to re-released books.

A large, hard-covered keepsake, the Glorumptious Worlds of Roald Dahl is a scrapbook of sorts. It is divided into chapters for each of his best-known titles, and full of interesting extras for fans young and old to pour over. There are anecdotes about Dahl and his quirks sprinkled throughout, too. For example, did you know he kept a piece of his own hipbone in his writing hut, post-operation? Or that he ate a bar of chocolate every day with his lunch, and added the foil wrapper to a ball that gradually grew bigger? Perhaps envisaging a certain chocolate factory at the same time?!

The book is written by an English literature scholar, Stella Caldwell, whose amassed facts, letters, overviews and excerpts provide fabulous snapshots of Dahl’s beloved books. An official book authorised by the Roald Dahl estate, the illustrations by Quentin Blake mark its authenticity.

The pages have a thick, matte feel evoking quality and longevity. There’s lots of fun extra features, too, like fold-out flaps and little booklets (like ‘A Spotter’s Guide to the Man-Eating Giants of Giant Country). There’s even an inspiring letter from Dahl himself folded inside an envelope, a little touch of magic for young readers.

This is a wonderful companion title to add to any Dahl enthusiast’s collection, and would make a wonderful gift.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi (HarperCollins) PBK RRP $16.99
ISBN 9780062421906

Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Nadia Hashimi’s first novel for young readers is an emotional and moving coming –of-age story set in Afghanistan against the backdrop of war, its effects and gender inequality.

Obayda is ten years old and has already witnessed the horror of war – her father lost his leg in a bomb blast and refuses to leave his bed. The family, Obayda, her parents and sisters have moved from Kabul to a village closer to family for support while her father recovers – yet his recovery is slow. Hampered by the loss of his job, he has become depressed, depending on extended family for accommodation and food.

Obayda’s aunt has an idea which is believed to change the family’s luck – change Obayda into a bacha posh – a girl pretending to be a boy. A longstanding tradition in Afghanistan, the belief that by bringing a boy into the home, the family’s luck will change – perhaps Obayda’s father’s depression will lift, maybe her mother will become pregnant with a son. Only when the bacha posh reaches puberty do they resume life as a girl.
The village in which the family lives is a different world to Kabul – girls cannot work and the village is run by a warlord Abdul Kaliq.

Obayda struggles as Obayd – wearing pants, her hair cut short – yet it is liberating, too. Freed from chores, and given more meat to eat, s/he is also encouraged to play and explore. At school, Obayd joins the boys’ class and must participate in more physical games at lunchtime.

Luckily for Obayd, he is befriended by one of the toughest boys – Rahim, who reveals himself as a bacha posh as well. Together a firm friendship is formed and Obayd begins to adapt to his new life.
Time passes and as Rahim approaches puberty his mother indicates to him that it will be time to change again to a girl. Rahim, though wants nothing of it: ‘I only want to be what I am now.’

Rahim has an idea – based on a legend which told of the power of walking under a rainbow – girls are changed to boys and vice versa. Convinced of its truth and with the help of Obayd, Rahim is determined to locate a rainbow.  Both girls attempt a long walk to a waterfall, where a rainbow is often to be seen, but their attempt fails and Obayd is in trouble for arriving home in darkness. At school, soon afterward, Rahim does not appear and Obayd begins to wonder what has happened – particularly after hearing that Rahim’s father is mixed up with the warlord.

Obayd’s position as a bacha posh is changed when her mother becomes pregnant: now perhaps her father may also improve.
Yet bad news reaches Obayda that Rahim has been changed back to a girl – Rahima – who has also been married off to the warlord at 13 years of age.
While things improve for Obayda’s family – her father using a crutch that Obayd and Rahim had made some months prior, there is no news of Rahima. School resumes and Obayda returns to her class of girls and begins to form new friendships, just as her mother gives birth to a baby boy. 

Perhaps being a bacha posh created some luck after all. We see Obayda’s father recognise her strength and ingenuity, which perhaps being a bocha posh has given her.

The book ends on a positive note – for Obayd and her family -- yet leaves the reader with the unresolved story of Rahima. What is her life like as a 13-year-old wife? How will she cope when she was clearly identifying as a boy? While things have improved for Obayda, the opposite is not so for Rahima.
Hashimi’s first book, ‘The pearl that broke its shell’ is actually the prequel to ‘One half from the east’, yet it is also an adult novel as it explores the life of Rahimi after marriage.
‘One half from the east’ explores the reality of gender inequality in Afghanistan – life as a bocha posh may enable a girl to see her potential and raise her confidence, but what happens when they are required to change again? This would be a valuable book to share with upper primary students – both girls and boys. It is a gripping story, charged with emotion and leaving its mark upon the reader.
I believe it would be suitable for children aged 12 plus years.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

I don’t want to go to bed

I don’t want to go to bed written and illustrated by David Cornish (Harper Collins) HBK  RRP $24.99

ISBN 9781460750582

Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

First introduced to Rollo in I don’t want to eat my dinner, Cornish has delivered the obvious sequel which will again be appreciated by the parents of young children. Just when Rollo’s parents think they have routines sorted, the bedtime issue raises its head.

Rollo uses the usual stalling tactics of needing a story, food, drink and sorting out the monsters. Only when these issues have been dealt with does sleep beckon and Rollo finally succumbs to tiredness.

Cornish captures the mood of Rollo perfectly in his illustrations – from heavy frown to wide mouthed hunger and timid fear. Children and adults will enjoy Cornish’s  illustrations – Rollo’s mouth ‘as dry as a desert’ or his desperate face when needing the toilet.

What will be next for Rollo? I don’t want to go to school, perhaps?
Suitable for children aged 3 years and up.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016


Gwendolyn! by Juliette MacIver and illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton (ABC Books, an imprint of HarperCollins) HBK  RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780733335174

Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Gwendolyn the penguin lives in the jungle and loves the humidity, the glorious flowers and her friends. She spends much of her time encouraging her friends to acknowledge the best of themselves and their surroundings.
So what if Monkey’s bananas are freckled with spots?

In Antarctica, Gwendolyn tells Monkey, penguins often go for days or even weeks without food. Her friend Jaguar says it’s too hot to hunt for food.
Gwendolyn tells Jaguar to look on the bright side – Antarctica is all snow and ice and freezing! At least in the jungle it’s hot and sunshiny.

But when Gwendolyn is asked by Parrot if she has ever been to Antarctica, she realises what she has missed and sets herself on a journey to not only find her way to Antarctica, but to find her own identity.

MacIver deals with themes of friendship and identity within the overriding theme of positivity, which young children will certainly understand and begin to appreciate. The ending is satisfying, with Gwendolyn feeling like a ‘real’ penguin, yet choosing to return to the jungle – her true home.

With detailed illustrations by Terri Rose Baynton, this will be a lovely picture book to share – whether one to one or with a class. It could initiate good discussion about belonging, being positive and proactive – certainly issues to introduce at an early age to promote resilience.
Appropriate for ages 3-6 years.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Two Troll Tales from Norway

Two Troll Tales from Norway retold by Margrete Lamond, illustrated by Ingrid Kallick (Christmas Press) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780994234056

Reviewed by Catherine Bauer

This authentic retelling of two traditional Norwegian folk tales does nothing to make me like trolls or forest witches any more than I did before. Not that this was Norwegian-Australian author Lamond’s intention, I’m sure.

The first tale, The Little Old Lady from around the Bend is the story of a poverty-stricken old woman who, in her younger days, makes the mistake of bargaining with and deceiving a family of trolls. She helps a mother troll give birth and as instructed, smears some balm on the baby’s eyes.  However, she ignores the instruction not to get any in her own eyes. Her reward for helping the trolls is an endless delivery of silver coins. The catch is that she is not to spend, give away or speak of her new wealth and so she continues to live in abject poverty.

When the girl sees the troll wife stealing from a local bakery, the trolls learn she had stolen some of the magic eye balm and the troll wife spitefully blinds her in one eye. The girl then gives one of her coins to a beggar, causing her stock of silver to immediately turn to a pile of dry leaves. The moral is not to disregard instructions.

The second story, The Golden Ball of Yarn, is the tale of a woodcutter who works in the forests and one day is bewitched by a forest witch, a Huldra, who attracts his attention with a golden ball of yarn. From time to time the Huldra would spirit the man away. The man later marries, but still the Huldra tries to trick him and steal him away. In order to escape, the man sails to another land. The moral is not to be tempted by seemingly attractive offerings.

Each of these stories is aptly complemented by Kallick’s rich and detailed drawings that invite the eye to linger on the page. Here is another classic offering from Christmas Press that will leave young readers wanting to explore more enchanting international folktales.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

They All Saw a Cat

They All Saw a Cat written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books) HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781452150130

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

This is author/illustrator Brendan Wenzel’s debut picture book, and it’s made a major splash - think a bidding war, a New York Times bestseller list spot (in the picture books top 10), and rave reviews from all over.

A cat ‘walked through the world’, and is viewed very differently by the animals (and child) it encounters. A fascinating exploration of perception, it reveals through vibrant illustrations the way in which creatures like a bird, a bee, a mouse and a flea view the cat. We see a terrifying demon-like cat through the eyes of the mouse, and an endless forest of cat hair via the flea. The wildly different takes on the cat opens up ideas around how we see others, how they might view us, and how everyone’s unique experiences shape the way they see the world.

Rhythm and repetition are used to great effect, and the illustrations are nothing short of stunning. The cover, with its effective use of white space and simple yet striking cat image (with a glossy contrast) is pure picture book eye candy. The text is deceptively simple at times, with layers of meaning able to be extracted and contemplated, the greater the age of the reader. A captivating book destined to become a classic.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Eleanor, Elizabeth

Eleanor, Elizabeth by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press) PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 9780994234070

Reviewed by Catherine Bauer

This touching, evocative and thrilling tale of family, belonging, growing up and the Australian bush is as enjoyable today as when first published 32 years ago. With a new forward by the author and simply rendered black and white line drawings by Alvarez, Eleanor, Elizabeth is set in 1959/60.
It’s the story of 12-year-old Elizabeth and her family, who relocate to a remote farm that was home to her grandmother, Elizabeth. 

Eleanor struggles with the new situation, including unwelcoming classmates and an equally harsh climate. An abandoned schoolhouse sits among the farm’s old outbuildings. It’s full of webs, old junk and dark corners and when Eleanor decides to explore one day, she discovers her grandmother’s diary, written when she was just 13.

Through the diary, not only does Eleanor get to know her grandmother and the commonalities they share, but she learns about Elizabeth's special haven - a cave. It’s a spot that becomes a refuge for Eleanor, her brothers, and a new friend when a deadly firestorm sweeps the area. The fire is a dramatic high point and one that’s vividly conveyed as we follow Eleanor as she leads her small band to safety against many odds. The story ends with a gift from Eleanor's mother - a diary. It’s a fittingly touching gesture and one that brings the story to a satisfying end. 

In Gleeson’s new foreward, the now acclaimed author describes that she was suffering homesickness in northern Italy when writing her first draft of what was to be the first of her many awarded children’s books and novels.  It’s a fact that clearly influenced her vivid rendering of the Australian environment, as does Gleeson’s  revelation in the forward that she was impacted by her mother’s retelling of old family stories of regional settlement.

Eleanor, Elizabeth is more than a first novel; Gleeson says that its acceptance and success gave her the confidence to continue as a writer.
Christmas Press is to be congratulated for reissuing this Australian children’s classic under its Second Look imprint. Just as it did when first published in 1984, the story is sure to delight and resonate with a whole new generation of young readers.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth

Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Celeste Hulme (New Frontier Publishing) PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9781925059748

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

Sage Cookson is an ordinary girl. However, her parents are television chefs and their TV show takes the family all over Australia. Sage has a knack for finding adventures while her parents are busy with their TV commitments.

In Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth the Cookson family travels to a bakery on Harmon Island, off Tasmania, to film the latest episode of the TV show. After meeting the bakery’s owners — sisters Babette and Bettina — Sage enjoys sampling the pastries and breads.

Then disaster strikes. Bettina’s emerald ring goes missing and she thinks Sage is the thief. Sage decides to find the ring and clear her name. While her mum and dad are in front of the cameras, Sage searches everywhere inside and outside the bakery. Eventually the ring turns up in the last place anyone expects …

This is the second book in the Sage Cookson series and these quick-paced early chapter books will appeal to readers aged 7+. Chapters are short and each features a black and white illustration as a hint about what will happen next.

Extras: There’s a recipe for beef and mushroom pies at the end of the book. The series also has its own website featuring sample chapters from the books, more of Sage Cookson’s recipes, and activities related to the books.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Smart About Sharks

Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey (Walker Books) HB RRP $27.99
ISBN 9781909263918

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Get ready to learn everything you ever wanted to know about the fascinating world of sharks in this beautifully illustrated compendium.
Smart About Sharks is overflowing with detailed information and fascinating facts that will answer every question you ever had about the most feared and misunderstood creatures of the sea.

Did you know that sharks can detect electrical currents from other creatures? Or that the average shark has 40 to 45 teeth? These are just some of the amazing facts featured in this wonderful book.

Smart About Sharks covers topics such as what sharks eat and how they hunt. It also takes a look at the more unusual species of shark including the carpet shark, frill shark and pyjama shark, and features a scaled diagram that compares the sizes of different sharks.

This book is the brainchild of talented, award winning illustrator Owen Davey, who has managed to create an incredibly informative reference book that is also a pleasure to read. It is his second book devoted to a single animal. Last year he released the popular Mad About Monkeys, an illustrated guide to the world’s 250 species of monkey.

Smart About Sharks is perfect for readers of all ages. It is a beautifully designed book and will be a fabulous addition to any library.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Adventures of Pipì the Pink Monkey

The Adventures of Pipì the Pink Monkey by Carlo Collodi, retold and expanded by Alessandro Gallenzi, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Alma Books) PB RRP $­19.99
ISBN 9781847495594

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Lovers of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio will be thrilled to see this beautiful fairytale translated into English for the first time. In fact, Pipì, a mischievous monkey with a passion for copying humans, is a lot like his famous wooden predecessor:

‘*I won’t do it again,” he added, looking up with eyes that said the exact opposite.’

Pipì breaks a promise to his father and leaves the safety of the forest. When a crocodile bites off his tail, he feels too ashamed to go home. A series of crazy adventures ensue, leading him to Master Alfred, a boy who wants Pipì to be his personal servant. Pipì promises to stay with him, but sneaks out of the house that night to bid his family farewell. Ticklythroat, an evil bandit with a promise of his own to keep, catches him.

Just as Pinocchio’s nose returned to size when he stopped lying, Pipì got his tail back when he kept his promise. But though Pinocchio got his wish to become a real boy, Pipì decided he’d rather stay a monkey.

The story of Pipì was written immediately after Pinocchio and is connected to it in a few ways – some obvious, others less so. Readers will no doubt recognise the mischievous monkey’s dishonesty and disobedience, along with the zany adventures. Appearing in both stories is the Turquoise Fairy, who guides Pinocchio and Pipì with her wisdom. The greatest connection lies in the character of Master Alfred though, who (in one giant clue) even reads ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi’ to Pipì. Though not explicitly stated in the story, an amusing letter by Collodi to his fans (included in the back of the book) reveals Master Alfred to be Pinocchio himself!

The endearing illustrations by Axel Scheffler (illustrator of The Gruffalo) are immediately recognisable. Inside, they appear classically, in sepia, though Pipì is delightfully coloured pink throughout. The book includes a section at the back with background information about the story, a list of famous fictional apes, a short quiz and a glossary of ‘monkey language’. This story will appeal to children aged 8–11 years, though any fan of Pinocchio will appreciate it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

An A–Z of Creatures

An A–Z of Creatures written and illustrated by Karen Allen (Little Steps Publishing) PB RRP $16.95

ISBN: 9781925117738

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

I’m not sure it was intentional but there are three pages in this book about animals that it’s possible for the reader to colour in: the legendary unicorn and the X-ray of a triceratops and the gorgeous dragonfly.

This is a vibrantly hued and intricately patterned alphabet book of a wide range of creatures—some extinct, some common to the Australian bush, some found far away and some lost in the mists of legend. 

Although the book advises it’s for a target age group of 3–6 years old, I have no doubt that older children and adults will enjoy this vivid and informative bestiary.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Cassowary’s Gift

The Cassowary’s Gift by Pam Skadins, illustrated by Kathryn Lovejoy (Little Steps Publishing) PB RRP $16.95
ISBN: 9781925117578

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

After another — yes, another! — sign appears in the rainforest about protecting the cassowary, the birds and animals all wonder why it’s so special. The pitta, the quoll, the wallaby, the brush-turkey, the scrubfowl want answers and they aren’t backward in pursuing them. Just why is the cassowary such  a V.I.B.? (Very important bird.)

Although the cassowary is notoriously reclusive, they decide they’re going to keep after it until they’ve got it to give up its secret.

Now, there are some 3–6 year olds who are going to love the answer. It’s poo! The cassowary’s scat fertilises the forest and keeps the cycle of life going. The music is given for the cassowary’s song as he describes his ‘gift’ to the world.

I’m a big fan of poster-edge style art so I really loved the finely executed illustrations.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Charlie’s Adventures in Hawaii

Charlie’s Adventures in Hawaii by Jacqueline de Rose-Ahern, illustrated by Sophie Norsa (Little Steps Publishing) PB RRP $24.95
ISBN: 9781925117721

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

There’s just one thing wrong with this picture book. There wasn’t another in the series to go out and buy as soon as I got to the end. Seriously, I was bowled over by the heart-warming charm of this touching story and its lively illustrations—which include a map in a pocket on the inside back cover. Being ‘wowed’ by a travel adventure is not something I expected to happen when I first dipped inside its covers. Maybe it was the word game that was the drawcard. I’m always a sucker for a story that involves wordplay and this one involves a bit of detective work as well!

There’s an aspect of a treasure hunt to the story. As Charlie goes to different parts of the island, he’s taught about significant Hawaiian words. Words like ‘unity’, ‘humility’, ‘kindness’. Once put together, their first letters spell out ‘Aloha’ and his adventure becomes one of learning what makes up the Aloha spirit.

Although the target audience is suggested to be 3–6 years, I suspect the concepts might be better directed to an age group just a tad older, maybe 4–7 years.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Enigma Diaries: Forgotten Future

The Enigma Diaries: Forgotten Future by Lynda A Calder, illustrated by Johanna Lum (Little Steps Publishing) PB RRP $19.95
ISBN: 9781925117660

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

About halfway through this book, I realised it was a sequel: Hidden History is the first in this series. Any time travel book is a complex endeavour when the characters are moving back and forward between particular zones, but the storyline became even more difficult to follow with the introduction of characters who have a backstory in the previous book that wasn’t thoroughly spelled out. 

The opening is explosive, intriguing and a tiny bit confusing. Time parallelism is occurring even before it’s made clear it is. No doubt this would have been obvious to a reader of Hidden History but I didn’t quite pick it up immediately.  The Nephilim appear at Stonehenge during the summer solstice, ready to subjugate humanity, perhaps even obliterate them with their god-like powers. News reporters are waiting, alerted by the World Wide Web that this gathering on Salisbury Plain will be like no other. 

By the time James bows to the Nephilim, fifteen-year-old Cassandra Reid knows it is already too late to save the world from the unfolding disaster. Chronos has sent a time device two hundred years into the future, readying the planet for the return of the greater Nephilim brood.

Cassandra accidently winds up in the future herself when she goes to the beach with her friend Peony. There she has to escape the Nephilim, but also to get back to the past. Her time-twisting adventures as she meets up with old friends, new allies—and encounters herself in disguise—take her through to the far future and back into the past.

Although the cover suggests a New Adult audience, this book is more suited to avid Middle Grade readers and the lower end of the YA spectrum. 

Friday, 16 September 2016

Mr Chicken Arriva a Roma

Mr Chicken Arriva a Roma written and illustrated by Leigh Hobbs (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781925266771

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The iconic Leigh Hobbs character is back and, this time, he’s on a Vespa!

Having dreamt of ancient Rome since he was a baby, Mr Chicken sets off to explore the country, hiring a guide named Federica to show him around. The story wastes no time paying homage to all the Roman sites you’d expect – the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, the Mouth of Truth … and Rome’s chaotic traffic. Mr Chicken, er … Signor Pollo, even goes to the Vatican but doesn’t find the Pope anywhere near as interesting as gelato. (Children – and adults – will delight in discovering via the pictures just how gelato-obsessed this chicken becomes!)

The story is full of all the humorous antics we’ve come to expect from Mr Chicken, who turns into a pasta twirling extraordinaire and takes a dip in the Trevi Fountain. He also falls asleep in front of a popular biting tourist attraction and thereby becomes the tourist attraction. There is even a salute to Roman history, and to Signor Pollo’s childhood dreams, with a very funny dream about a familiar-looking Julius Caesar and some Roman gladiators.

Australian Children’s Laureate, Leigh Hobbs, has once again created a very funny story about the chicken with a penchant for travel. The writing works wonderfully – there is humour in the way it contrasts the illustrations, but also in the text alone. For example, we read that ‘Federica’s family was having him for dinner’ … gulp! (Fortunately not as a meal, for those of us who are hopeful for another title in this series!)

Readers are treated to the colourful, entertaining endpapers we love about this series. There’s a list of useful Italian words, a Frequent Flyer card and an amusing compilation of selfies from his trip. Amidst the whimsical illustrations of Mr Chicken on his travels are the most exquisite drawings of Rome I’ve ever seen. The detail in these sketches is divine.

Is there anything this man cannot draw?!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Fail Safe

The Fail Safe by Jack Heath (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781925266078

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Fero and Cormanenko are back! Bestselling author, Jack Heath, has delivered an exhilarating sequel to The Cut Out. Readers of the first book will be expecting another page turner, another late night … and they won’t be disappointed.

The novel begins with Fero helping his ‘parents’ move boxes of potassium iodide into an underground bunker. He has had a bit of time to process Cormanenko’s startling revelation at the end of The Cut Out. Though it pains him to play the role of an unsuspecting son who is loyal to Kamau, his feigned ignorance is keeping him alive.

The pace of the novel is a bit different to the prequel, in that the action scenes are interspersed with Fero’s sudden flashbacks to life as Troy Maschenov. The author cleverly keeps the reader in suspense but uses the scenes from the past to drive the story forward, often in a different direction.

Repelled at some of his memories, Fero’s loyalty to Besmar and to Vartaniev quickly deteriorates. He turns to Cormanenko, an equally disillusioned agent working on a powerful plan of her own. ‘I need you to be my fail safe’, she tells him, and though Fero thinks he understands what she means, it is not until the end of the story that he truly learns.

Fero’s character development in this novel is completely plausible. I was impressed with the way Jack Heath allowed Fero to find himself without the narrative ever lagging in action.

This novel will appeal to readers aged 10 and up. Its themes of war (and its senselessness), border control, immigration, government deception and the power of social media make it an interesting novel for class discussion. Though the beginning of the novel briefly summarises what happened in the prequel, I would definitely recommend reading The Cut Out before starting this one. (Better to lose yourself in the story without trying to piece together what has already taken place!)

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Penelope Perfect: Quiz Questions and Complicated Crushes

Penelope Perfect: Quiz Questions and Complicated Crushes by Chrissie Perry (Hardie Grant Egmont) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781760126933

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

In the fifth instalment of the Penelope Perfect series, Quiz Questions and Complicated Crushes, Penelope is perplexed when crush fever takes hold.

Penelope finds the concept of crushes a ‘Great Mystery’. She feels confused when her older brother Harry sits squished on the couch with the neighbour she dubs ‘Annoying Ava’. Her brother’s acting very strange all of a sudden - didn’t he think Ava was annoying, too? When Penelope arrives at school the next day, mean girl Rita Azul flaunts her latest boy band crush, and makes it quite clear that Penelope just doesn’t get it. At least Penelope has her platonic friendship with nature-lover Oscar, until she notices he’s acting a little strangely, too.

Penelope tries to make sense of the crush phenomena in her own, very methodical way. She develops a quiz to determine whether someone definitely has a crush or not (a fun addition at the back of the book). Along the way, she realises some quite strange feelings of her own.

Throughout the story, Penelope grapples not only with crushes, but her strong emotions. She tries to contain her outbursts, though in her quest for perfection, they sometimes boil over. Angst aside, there’s lots of humour throughout, from Oscar’s earnest search for a rare beetle as Penelope tries out her quiz, to discovering that crushes may even extend to old people’s homes. This is a fun read that explores the sometimes confusing feelings of the pre-teen years, with big doses of fun and heart.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Cat Wants Custard

The Cat Wants Custard By P. Crumble, illustrated by Lucinda Gifford (Scholastic Australia) HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 97 1 76015 578 0

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Kevin the cat has a craving. He wants custard. But how is he going to get his ‘waiter’ to bring him a bowl of glossy, golden custard? He is not too proud to go through all sorts of antics to get what he wants. But what does he have to do to get his human to understand? Spell out custard with his body? Maybe he'll just have to get it himself.

This is a book to make you smile. It made me laugh aloud in many places, especially thinking of the cats I know. I'm sure if I could hear their thoughts, they would be just like Kevin -- aloof and sarcastic.

I've got chicken and gravy ...
...and I've got some nice sharp claws to scratch your leg.
A tin of sardines?
Really? I should go about with fish breath?

This is a picture book which relies on both text and pictures to bring it to life. The text is spare and to the point, often in speech bubbles, and goes perfectly with the illustrations.

These are very bold and very bright, and like the text, spare without unnecessary detail. They express the frustration of Kevin so wonderfully, while we only ever see a glimpse of his human, a pair of legs or a hand.

This is such a fun book to read aloud and children as young as three will love the dry humour and demands of Kevin the cat - possibly recognising a tiny bit of themselves in him.

Monday, 12 September 2016

I Spy Dad!

I Spy Dad! by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Chantal Stewart.  (New Frontier Publishing) PB RRP: $14.99 ISBN 9781925059649

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

A little girl spies all kinds of dads playing with their children:

“A rowing dad
a mowing dad
a snip-snap sewing dad.”

None of these dads belongs to our narrator — where could her dad be? She keeps looking and the list of dads grows longer until she spies her own dad at the end of the book.

Stewart’s artwork is a great match for the rollicking rhythm and rhyming text. Lively illustrations show families from a variety of cultural backgrounds having fun together.

This is a new paperback edition of a picture book favourite, and the companion to I Spy Mum! by the same creative partnership. Perfect for three to six year olds and a joy to read aloud.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

This School is Driving Me Nuts!

This School is Driving Me Nuts! by Duncan Ball (Christmas Press – Second Look publishing) PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 9780994234032

Reviewed by Kel Butler

When I first received This School is Driving Me Nuts!, the re-release of Duncan Ball’s plays, I pulled it out at the breakfast table, recruited my partner and the kids and started reading them together as a family. Each of us played many zany roles, quickly reducing each other to tears of laughter and causing my son to announce in that moment that he wants to be a comedian! Now that’s what I call a success story.

In this collection of plays, Duncan Ball delights with his wickedly funny use of language and character, providing something for everyone. From a comedic monologue to a play the entire class can get involved in. Duncan Ball has tuned right into the minds and imaginations of primary schoolers everywhere, getting down to their level of grossness, throwing tons of mischievous cheek and taking the everyday pun to a whole new level.

This School is Driving Me Nuts! offers hours of engagement on a group level, making this book the perfect companion for every primary school teacher and teacher-librarian. It is a fantastic way to introduce kids to theatre and plays whilst making reading time even more fun.

Highly recommended in the home and at school.