Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Stripes in the forest

Stripes in the forest by Aleesah Darlison, illustrated by Shane McGrath (Big Sky Publishing) HB RRP $24.99 PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: HB 978-1-925275-70-4 PB 978-1-925275-71-1

Reviewed by Anita Howard

This is a powerful story about the last wild Thylacine, the Tasmanian tiger; which aligns with aspects of the Australian Curriculum and appropriate for infant children and older.

The story is told from the perspective of a female Thylacine: as she passes on her fears and hopes for her kind to her young ones as she first finds a mate, produces cubs and then watches them leave. She looks down at a human's camp and ponders why they capture and mutilate her fellow creatures.

Empathy for the Thylacine is created through the questions and thoughts that occupy the female’s Thylacine mind. Primary school children can be encouraged to consider how they would feel if they were this mother or a current creature close to extinction. The reader is left with an uplifting question 'I'm the last of my kind. Or am I?'

This story is accompanied by beautifully rendered landscapes and emotive and skilled illustrations of the animals. Included on the last page are facts related to the Thylacine.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

There’s a Magpie in My Soup

There’s a Magpie in My Soup by Sean Farrar, illustrated by Pat Kan (Big Sky Publishing) HB RRP $24.99 PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: HB 978-1-925275-67-4
           PB 978-1-925275-68-1

Reviewed by Anita Howard

This is a book of nonsense and anticipation that children will enjoy, filled with Australian animals in unexpected places such as a snake in a cake and a cockatoo in a loo.

The format for the book is two full spread pages, with the initial page introducing the animal and object and the following page a reaction between animal and object. These pairs are separated by an individual full spread page of text and illustration.

There are delightful rhyming phrases that children will enjoy repeating and I can imagine action accompanying the text.

The illustrative style of wash and quick, expressive pen work delightfully adds to the mischievousness of the text.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Barnaby and the lost Treasure of Bunnville

Barnaby and the lost Treasure of Bunnville by Robert Vescio, illustrated by Cheri Hughes (Big Sky Publishing)
HB RRP $24.99 PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: HB 978-1-925275-64-3 PB 978-1-925275-61-2

Reviewed by Anita Howard

A story about an eco-friendly rabbit and his desire grow a garden from his collection of seeds. Barnaby is a rabbit which has collected many seeds from his travels. He wishes to create a garden where he lives, in Bunnyville. But the mayor is only interested in monetary wealth and says no to Barnaby's request. Barnaby takes advantage of the mayor’s greed and tricks him and citizens of Bunnyville, using a fake treasure map into digging holes all over the open spaces around the town.

Barnaby drops one of his seeds into each hole. Over time, the seeds turn into trees and plants, bearing fruit and vegetables which he takes to the market to sell. Barnaby tells the mayor and people of Bunnyville that here is the wealth from the ground. Through Barnaby’s achievement, infant children and older will gain an insight into the wealth and value of the earth.

The illustrations are clear, bold and playful. The additional inclusion of the ladybug and her different antics, bring anticipation as you wonder what she will do on the next page.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Alby and the Cat All Holed Up

Alby and the Cat All Holed Up by Leanne Davidson (LJD Books) PB RRP $9.95 ISBN 9780980724134

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Alby and the Cat All Holed Up is the third instalment in this delightful series about a clever guide dog and his mischievous feline friend.
In this book for children aged 5 to 7 years, Alby, Jim and Ellen visit a local school to talk to children about what it is like to be blind and to share their experiences with having a guide dog,

While they are there, Alby notices a familiar face in the crowd, a young boy who previously terrorised him and caused him great distress. Alby is agitated and can’t stop thinking about the boy.

Cat advises Alby to take revenge but in an unexpected turn, Alby gains the upper hand and has to make an important decision. What should he do? Forgive and forget, or make the boy pay?
Leanne Davidson wrote this series based on her father’s experience with guide dogs. Leanne’s dad was blinded in an industrial accident years ago and had a beautiful black guide dog called Duke for 13 years who changed his world.

Leanne wanted the readers, and children in particular, to know how wonderful and special guide dogs are, and the difference they make in the life of a visually impaired person.

Alby and the Cat All Holed Up is a lovely book about friendship, courage and the power of forgiveness. It a great tool for educating young children about how to behave around visually impaired people and guide dogs, and is highly recommended.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Ruby Red Shoes goes to London

Ruby Red Shoes goes to London by Kate Knapp (Angus & Robertson) HB RRP $19.95   ISBN 978-0-732297-62-6

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Ruby Red Shoes Goes to London is the third book in Australia’s popular and most well travelled series that 4-8 year old children are sure to love.

Ruby the hare loves to travel and this time, wearing her ruby red shoes of course, she’s off to London with its red phone boxes, red letterboxes and red buses.  Maybe she’ll meet the Queen? Maybe she’ll have a delightful afternoon tea?  But there is more to this clever book than travel tales. It warms your heart from the inside out with family love and an understanding of death.  This book shows that we are all connected to the vast universe.  Ruby is full of wonder as she embraces the magic of living in and exploring London.  Most of all, there is gratitude for the place she calls home.

Kate Knapp’s illustrations shine with a whimsical touch that has superbly illustrated the story.  The soft colours have a very English feel and show life in London so well from the trains that run along burrows and swoosh alongside platforms to the hop on, hop off, red buses and all the London sights along the way. There are little snippets of information through the illustrations which help add to the story.  The sheer wonder of Buckingham Palace is so beautifully illustrated with detail.   London looks truly delightful.

The text paints London accurately with descriptive words and verbs -- for example ‘Ruby receives their affections with open arms, so much so that she is soon off-balance and sitting in a joyful pool of corgi cuddles and kisses.’

The book touches upon the topics of adventure and travel, family and friends, the universe, our global connection to the world and so much more.   Ruby Red Shoes is a book to be loved and treasured forever.  It is well worth a read for both children and adults.

Friday, 25 November 2016

The Tales of Mrs Mancini

The Tales of Mrs Mancini by Natalie Jane Prior, and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini (ABC Books) HB RRP $19.99  ISBN 978-0-733335-65-5

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

The Tales of Mrs Mancini’s Cat tells the story of a cat which runs a gorgeous cake shop full of yummy treats, with her friend Filippina. Alongside her passion for creating cakes, Mrs Mancini loves her customers and knows them well.  She can sense when something is wrong and her watchful eyes don’t miss a thing.  With some tail magic Mrs Mancini helps her friends in some unexpected ways.

This little book is a collection of three fully illustrated short stories that intertwine through Mrs Mancini and the cake shop.   The stories would suit the ages 4+ years.  They are based around the themes of friendship and loneliness.  A younger child will enjoy being read the stories that have names that roll off the tongue, like Mrs Mancini, Filippina and Claudette. 

Mrs Mancini is a wise and clever cat that uses just a little magic to help solve friendship problems. You just feel like giving Mrs Mancini a big cuddle.

Older children will love the support of the illustrations and the fact that the tales are three stories in one book that connect. The illustrations are delightful, with soft colours that feel safe and friendly, and have an innocent appeal. The pictures support the text beautifully, just like best friends.  The pastel colours remind me of delicious cake treats and Europe.

Children need to know that their problems can be solved and that they are not alone.  This little book shows simple solutions to friendship problems, loneliness and bullying.  It is recommended for its educational value, too. 

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Ginger Green Play Date Queen: The Only Friend

Ginger Green Play Date Queen: The Only Friend written by Kim Kane, illustrated by John Davis (Hardie Grant Egmont) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN 9781760127855

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Ginger Green Play Date Queen is a fabulous new chapter book series starring a cute little fox. In each book, Ginger has a play date with a different friend, overcoming inevitable challenges and conflict along the way.

In The Only Friend, Ginger Green invites her friend Maya over to play. Problems arise when Ginger’s big sister Violet takes a liking to Maya and wants to play too. When the jealousy escalates and Ginger storms off, all seems lost – until Ginger comes up with an idea so everyone is included.

The story explores jealousy, anger, problem-solving and appreciating different types of families. While Ginger is sometimes annoyed by her bossy big sister and her little sister Penny (who, adorably, insists on being ‘nude’), Maya points out that as an only child, she doesn’t have instant playmates like Ginger does. Ultimately, the books celebrate compromise and friendship.

Super short and with only three chapters, the Ginger Green Play Date Queen series offers a wonderful introduction to the world of chapter books for newly independent readers, with lots of repetition throughout. That the illustrations depict the characters as little foxes (which isn’t mentioned in the text) adds a charming point of difference.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

There is a Monster on My Holiday Who Farts

There is a Monster on My Holiday Who Farts by Tim Miller, illustrated by Matt Stanton (ABC Books) HB RRP $24.99   ISBN 978-0-733334-65-8

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

The Monster who Farts is back, so get your passports ready for some hilarious fun!  This story is cleverly written and illustrated for children, and might I say adults, too.  Co-creators, Tim Millar and Matt Stanton, not only know their young audience well, but their approach is fresh and original. 

A family trip around the world: who could possibly be the unexpected, extra passenger? A farting monster of course! This embarrassing problem becomes obvious when on the plane to the first stop, Japan, there’s unexpected turbulence. The reader is left guessing.  Is the farting monster responsible or is it someone else?

The colorful illustrations with comical facial expressions and gassy puffs entertain and delight, but also add cheeky fun to complement the text.  For example, the Mona Lisa’s smirk is turned to a look of smelly distaste.  The author and illustrator tango dance together briskly to tell this fart tale.

The reader travels with the family from country to country, and points of interest in the simple text provides extra fun. For example, ‘The Leaning Tower of Pisa finally topples -- ‘because there’s a monster on my holiday who farts.’

Subjects such as family, travel, culture and geography make this story so much more than a just simple fart tale.  This is one of those books that a child will want to visit again and again, as laughter really does make the world go around.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Graces

The Graces by Laure Eve (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9780571326808

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Wouldn’t you ever be tempted?’
‘… Black magic?’ he teased. ‘Nah … Those kinds of things always have consequences …’

When lonely River moves to a new town mid-term, she forms an obsession with the three Grace siblings – the twins, Thalia and Fenrin, and their younger sister, Summer. Everybody says they are witches. There are those that keep well away from them, and those that follow them like puppy dogs. River wants more than their attention – she wants to become one of them. She is living with a dark secret that she believes magic can fix. She’s also attracted to Fenrin. She forms a close friendship with Summer, hoping to learn all she can from the Graces, despite the warning she’s given by social outcast, Marcus: ‘when you do something they don’t like, your life is going to go very wrong’.

The novel is described by the publisher as a cross between The Craft (movie) and The Secret History (Donna Tartt). Readers will also draw comparisons between Stephenie Meyer’s Cullen family (Twilight) and the Grace family. The Graces is slow-paced in terms of action, but it builds up to a dark and gripping climax with an inevitable plot twist. Its constant sense of foreboding makes the book hard to put down. The protagonist, River, is very secretive – not just with the other characters in the book but also with the reader, who might therefore find it hard to form a connection with her. She is not always likeable. I don’t believe she is supposed to be. The author challenges us to decide for ourselves where our alliances lie: will we also fall under the spell of the Graces? (I love the hidden message on the spine of the book!)

Other than witchcraft, the book also covers themes of broken friendships, broken families, bullying and unrequited love. It will appeal to readers aged 12 – 16 years. The author, Laure Eve, has previously written two fantasy novels. She concludes The Graces with much remaining mystery around the parents, Esther and Gwydion, and also takes the story in a new direction. Fortunately, she also leaves us with a promise for a sequel in September 2017.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Return of the Dinosaurs

Return of the Dinosaurs by Bronwyn Houston (Magabala Books) HB RRP $17.99 ISBN 9781925360370

Reviewed by Brook Tayla

There’s a lot to really like about Bronwyn Houston’s latest picture book. The first thing is that she addresses the question we have all contemplated at some time: ‘What if dinosaurs still roamed the Earth today?’  Dinosaurs may have died out but our curiosity about them never has. This ‘factional’ book presents a fun story based on the prehistoric creatures that actually inhabited Broome, Australia in the Cretaceous Period and places them back in our time where they get to do things like go to the movies!

The opening page brings readers right into the story and sets up enough intrigue to make one want to read on. The balance between visual and verbal text works well; the narrated text feels like a casual conversation and Bronwyn’s extremely detailed and bright collages, and on edge-to-edge double-paged spreads which engage readers to be participants. There are extra bits and pieces to find in Bronwyn’s artwork and she interplays a dual text element with dinosaur comments and questions.  Observing the scale of the dinosaurs and their surroundings is intriguing, too.

I think there was an opportunity to present more interesting end papers with this book and sometimes the main text and the extra ‘dinosaur dialogue’ felt misplaced as I prefer primary text to always prelude secondary text, however these are small factors that do not take away from the book’s appeal.

The book ends with an information page about Bronwyn Houston and the dinosaurs that lived in Broome, including a map, which ties this factional story together neatly and gives readers plenty to think about and perhaps research, and of course there has been plenty of fun and mischief along the way.

Brook Tayla writes a blog called and would love you to drop by, read some reviews, leave a comment and subscribe.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Mozzie with a Sharp Snozzie

The Mozzie with a Sharp Snozzie, written and illustrated by Irina Goundortseva  (Big Sky Publishing) RRP $24.99 HB & $14.99 PB
ISBN 978-1-925275-96-4 (PB) ISBN 978-1-925275-77-3 (HB)

Reviewed by Anita Howard

A mosquito admits that he didn’t always like being a mosquito.  There the story progresses to a time when Mosquito asks three beautiful butterflies, ‘Can I flutter around with you?’ The Butterflies respond: ‘You are not good enough for us. You are ugly and boring.’  Mosquito flies away. He soon comes across a beautiful flower. With the flower wrapped around his body he goes back to the butterflies, in the disguise as a beautiful butterfly and is accepted.

The butterflies and the mosquito are caught in a butterfly net and taken back to a room. Here Mosquito becomes a hero as he escapes from a holding jar and stings the thumb of the person who was about to stick a pin in one of the butterflies.

Finally, the butterflies are happy to fly with mosquito as a mosquito and mosquito is happy to be a mosquito.

Delightful depictions of the mosquito and creative use of different illustrative formats are evident in this excellent story, which is about looking at identity and encouraging children to find their strengths as individuals.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

When the Lyrebird Calls

When the Lyrebird Calls by Kim Kane (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99ISBN 9781741758528 

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

 While cleaning out an old cupboard at her grandmother’s house, Madeleine discovers a secret compartment with some antique items. Her grandmother, Mum Crum, suggests she take them to the local museum (Lyrebird Muse), an old mansion that once belonged to the wealthy and powerful Williamson family.
 Mum Crum explains how lyrebirds mimic sounds and teach their offspring to replicate them, thereby making these precious birds ‘keepers of our history’. Little does Madeleine know that when she hears a lyrebird’s call at the museum, that very afternoon, she’ll be transported back in time to the year 1900 (around six months before Federation). Until she can figure out how to get home, Madeleine needs to somehow unassumingly fit into a world where women are powerless and unable to vote, where Aboriginal people are mistreated and racism is rampant and where children are ignored or viewed as unimportant.
 The story is mostly set in country Victoria, with a few scenes around Melbourne and its inner suburbs. Women’s suffrage is a key historical theme in the book and so most characters are, aptly, female. There are the four Williamson girls (Bea, Gert, Charlie and Imogen), their mother (Bella), Elfriede (their mother’s cousin), Nanny, Aunt Hen and Anna. Through Madeleine’s eyes we get a fascinating understanding of feminism in 1900. Most of the women conform to their expected role, but some prefer to challenge it.
 Fans of Playing Beatie Bow will enjoy this historical time travel story, targeted to readers aged between 10–13 years. Madeleine’s story is a little different to that of Abigail Kirk in that she does not undertake a major personal journey of self. Instead, despite the challenges of acting ladylike, hiding her sporting skills and having to manage a dreaded corset, Madeleine’s steadfast character remains a comforting modern-day contrast to the girls of 1900. This allows the author to highlight the significance of this important historical era.
 Kim Kane, award-winning author of Pip: The Story of Olive, has delivered another great story with writing that is fluid and easy to read. The characters are strong and likeable and there’s even an unpredictable plot twist. It’s a novel that can be enjoyed and read over and over again!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

My Silly Mum

My Silly Mum by Monique Mulligan, illustrated by Veronica Rooke (Serenity Press) HB RRP $22.95 ISBN 9780994526557

Reviewed by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

This delightfully warm and funny picture book is guaranteed to add smiles to story time - and quite likely giggles. There's a generous sprinkling of humour throughout this child- and parent-friendly debut title from Monique Mulligan.

Veronica Rooke's fresh, lively cartoon-style illustrations add an extra dimension of fun to Mum's embarrassing antics and introduce a couple of extra characters to amuse young readers.The layout of the hand-drawn text on the pages is an integral part of the book’s design, along with the inclusion of some speech balloons.

My Silly Mum is a wonderfully warm-hearted celebration of the love between a mother and child and is sure to remain a popular choice on the family bedtime reading list. However, its appeal is not limited to a pre-school audience and children in the early years of primary school will also find it entertaining and readily relate to the eye-rolling and face palming a parent’s behaviour can cause.

Colouring sheets, a write-your-own-story activity and finger puppet characters from the book are available from the publisher.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Gus’s Garage

Gus’s Garage by Leo Timmers, illus. and original text  James Brown (Translation) Gecko Press NZ, 1 Sept 2016, 32pp., $16.99 (pbk),  ISBN 9781776570935

 In the opening of this story, Gus the pig appears to be a bit of a hoarder, with all sorts of bits and bobs stacked beside his garage – old fridge, bathtub, armchair, drums, tyres and the like. But as his animal friends come to his garage for help, it becomes apparent that Gus is an amazing engineer, devising incredible creations from his stash of junk to modify his friend’s vehicles for their comfort.
The illustrations in this book take centre stage. Painted in acrylic, the full page illustrations are rich both in colour and humour. There is so much fun to be had in the visual narrative, from Gus’s amazing creations to many smaller quirky details that will have children poring over each page and guessing what Gus might use next.
This is a beautifully balanced book, with Gus’s garage on the left of every page and his friends driving their vehicles up to, and away from the garage on the right side of alternate pages. Subtle illustrative changes mark the passing of time, like the sky darkening and Gus getting greasier as the day progresses, and the addition of a different bird hiding amongst the junk. At the end, Gus is left with a handful of things –will he be able to help himself after helping everyone else? Children will love the hilarious conclusion.
The text is sparse, allowing the illustrations to shine. Originally published in Belgium, the English language translation by James Brown features simple, short rhyming couplets and a repetitive refrain that perfectly match the humour of the pictures.
A showcase for recycling, inventiveness, engineering and friendship, this book is highly recommended. For ages 3-8 years.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

All of Us Together

All of Us Together by Bill Condon (About Kids Books) PB RRP $14.99
IBSN 978-0-9945428-0-6

Reviewed by Kate Simpson

Set in Australia in the Great Depression, All of Us Together is a touching coming of age story by multi CBCA short-listed author Bill Condon. Times are tough in small town Australia during the 1930s. Like many fathers, Daniel’s dad is forced to leave his family and seek work wherever he can find it. Before he leaves, he seeks a promise from his son:

‘I’m dependin on you to keep our family in one piece. You and Addie. I’ve no doubt she’s up to it, but are you?’
         ‘I think I am.’
         ‘You only think?’
         ‘No. I know Dad. I promise I won’t let you down.’

It’s one thing to make a promise, but quite another to keep it, and Daniel is only 12 years old. How can he keep his word when the family’s situation is going from bad to worse and his best friend seems to only want to drag him deeper into trouble?

Although it is set in the Great Depression, All of Us Together has a sense of timelessness that separates it from more traditional historical fiction books. It is an emotive, character-driven tale that is more interested in Daniel’s responses to his troubles than to the troubles themselves. Above all, it is a story that will feel completely relevant to Condon’s 8 – 12 year old readership, whether or not they have ever experienced poverty or the absence of a parent.

All of Us Together is a story about growing up, washing off the naïveté of childhood and seeing the world as it really is. It is a story about learning to make the right choices, instead of the easy ones.

A great choice for primary aged children, who may, like me, be hoping for a sequel.

Monday, 14 November 2016


Footloose by Kenny Loggins, illustrated by Tim Bowers (Murdoch Books)  HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781633221185

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Ahh, the things that zoo animals get up to once the gates are locked at night! Many a story has been written about after-hours animal antics and now, there’s a song too. Take it from the one and only Kenny Loggins … if there’s a full moon, then you can be sure the animals are losing their blues and cutting footloose!

Loggins has rewritten the lyrics of his catchy, chart-topping 1984 hit, Footloose (co-written with Dean Pitchford). A CD of the newly recorded version is also included with the book, so kids can sing along and dance with the animals in the story.

Tim Bower’s bright, vivid illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the story. The visible paintbrush strokes create some great texture in place of flat colour. The animals are all dressed-up in their dancing finest. I love the hippo in her cowboy hat and boots – a subtle nod to the movie Footloose movie perhaps, for which the song received its Golden Globe Award nomination. Kids will enjoy tracking the little sub-story in the pictures too, for it seems not all the visitors left the zoo that day …

In a note at the back of the book, Loggins notes that he wanted to perform ‘Footloose’ and create a dance party for his granddaughter, hence the inspiration for a children’s version of the song. It is targeted to kids aged 2–6 years. Adults who know the original lyrics will have a bit of a chuckle and appreciate the way in which they have been modified. The names from the original song are characters in the book – Jack is a zookeeper, Louise a chimpanzee, Marie a lemur and Milo a wombat.

I had a go at reading this as a narrative but didn’t make it far – you definitely need to sing it. (The challenge will be to not accidentally sing the original lyrics, once you get going!) It’s fun and bouncy so put on the music and go with it … and get out your dancin’ shoes if you’re game!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Day of the Dinosaurs

Day of the Dinosaurs written by Dr Steve Brusatte, illustrated by Daniel Chester (Murdoch Books) HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781847808219

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The first thing you’re likely to notice about this great, large-format reference book is the bright colours used to depict the dinosaurs. Fluorescent-like shades of pink, green, yellow, blue and red adorn the pictures throughout. A publisher’s note asks that you ignore your preconceptions of dinosaur colours, since nobody really knows what they were anyway, and instead enjoy a much brighter look at the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous eras. The illustrations are artistic, drawn digitally but with overlaid pencil lines for texture.

The factual information is well-presented via different methods. There is an actual narrative that features you, walking through the scenes depicted in the illustrations. It’s a great way to encourage readers to follow the book through from start-to-finish, rather than just dip in and out for information!

You’re enjoying your stroll through the Cretaceous, but a rustle from the bushes makes you jump back in fright. You have good reason to be scared. The biggest, scariest and nastiest predators of all terrorise the Cretaceous.

There are also charts, breakout text boxes, and figures illustrating the scale of the creatures respective to an average-sized person. Mostly, the information appears in brief paragraphs beside the pictures, targeted to kids aged between 8 and 11 years.

The book is introduced with a timeline and a dinosaur family tree before it flows through in a linear fashion to four sections – Triassic, Early-Middle Jurassic, Late Jurassic and Cretaceous. Each section presents information relevant to that era within the following headings – Herbivores, Predators, Life in the Seas, Life in the Sky, Field Notes: Diet, Weapons and a Dinosaur Close-Up. The design of the book incorporates consistently placed headings and icons, making the sections easy to find when flicking through the pages. An index has been included also. 

The narrative closes quite dramatically, with the reader needing to escape the asteroid hitting the planet. Although the day of the dinosaurs has ended, ‘the day of the mammals is beginning …’

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Billie B Brown’s Animal Hospital Adventure

Billie B Brown’s Animal Hospital Adventure by Sally Rippin, illustrated by Alisa Coburn (Hardie Grant Egmont) HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781760126902
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Billie B Brown is back in another dynamic adventure for the 4 to 6 year old set. This time, Billie arrives at preschool with a hurt knee. Teacher Simon quickly diverts her attention to a sick teddy, spurring Billie and sidekick Jack into action. They pile into their cardboard ambulance, which morphs into a real one in a puff of coloured clouds, transporting them to an animal hospital.

The action ramps up as a series of animals are brought into the hospital, where Billie is the doctor and Jack is the nurse. Billie rewards each one for their bravery during their treatments, and receives gratitude in return. When her own bandage falls off, Billie feels overwhelmed, until she has her signature ‘super dooper idea’ – she can make a bandage herself. 

Overcoming obstacles, taking charge of situations and being brave are the key themes contained within a fun story, where Billie’s imagination comes to life.

The Billie B Brown ‘Adventure’ series is so beautifully presented, with their hardcovers, unusual size (mid-way between a chapter book and picture book), and vibrant illustrations. This one is sure to have major child appeal, with its cast of animal characters and reassuring ending.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum

Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum by Gregory Funaro, illustrated by Adam Stower (Alma Books) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781846884092

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The crew of the Odditorium (a flying, magical house) are in hiding after their stand-off with Prince Nightshade in the prequel (Alistair Grim’s Odditorium) wrongly depicted Alistair Grim as the villain. In this, the sequel, the crew of the Odditorium needs to clear Alistair’s name and, incidentally, save the world, by defeating the real villain (Prince Nightshade). The task isn’t easy – Prince Nightshade’s suit of magical armour cannot be pierced with any old magical item. The mythical sword, Excalibur, is the only blade that will, er, cut it. This adventurous quest leads them on a gripping, underwater adventure to Avalon … complete with a dangerous banshee, hostile witch and a good dose of sea monsters.

This amusing story is set in Victorian England and narrated in first-person perspective by 12-year-old Grubb, who likes to directly address the reader. He’s quite a likeable character – still the quiet, unassuming, kind-hearted chimney sweep from the beginning of the series. The first novel revealed that the talented sorcerer, Alistair Grim, was his father. This second book in the series reveals the true identity of Prince Nightshade, and adds some more clues about Grubb’s mother.

For readers new to the series, the first chapter includes a brief recap of the events from the prequel. It also provides details of the Odditorium, its crew and its sources of magical energy. (In Grubb’s voice: ‘… I best back up to the beginning. Otherwise you might get confused and abandon this adventure altogether.’) As per the first book, there are lots of characters, and lots of magical items (Odditoria) to keep track of. Therefore, the book includes a helpful glossary of both.

The chapter openings feature black-and-white illustrations by the award-winning Adam Stower. The whimsical caricatures complement the text perfectly, without interrupting the story.

The book will appeal to fans of magical fantasy, aged 8–12 years, who will no doubt be thrilled to learn that Gregory Funaro is busy working away on the next book in the Odditorium series!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up

101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up by Bianca Schulze (Quarto Children’s Books) PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 9781633221697

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

There’s no shortage of online lists of the ‘best children’s books’ to read -- but it is just so nice to see the titles celebrated in this full-colour, kid-friendly guide!

Founder of the successful website ‘The Children’s Book Review’ (, author Bianca Schulze has compiled a great collection of modern and classical children’s fiction from around the globe. There are stories like The Giving Tree, Where the Wild Things Are, Bridge to Terabithia, The Graveyard Book … about 101 stories, to be exact! (More if you count the books listed in the complementary ‘What to read next?’ list against each title.) I was also pleased to see some Australian fiction in there – Whoever You Are, Hating Alison Ashley, The Magic Pudding and The 13-Storey Treehouse.

The design of this book is sure to appeal to the age group (8–12 years). The layout is magazine-style, with full colour pages. There are breakout boxes with quotes from the books or with fun facts. The icons down the side of the page note basic info – target age, genre, publisher, publication date and page count. There is a brief description of each book, written in a friendly, non-condescending voice -- with just enough of the plot to pique one’s interest! Each book entry includes an empty journal space for readers to mark whether they’ve read the book, give it a rating, list their favourite character and write notes.

The colourful, cartoon-like illustrations by Shaw Nielsen are delightful and literary figures (such as Harry Potter, Pippi Longstocking and Peter Pan) are immediately recognisable. The book includes a double-sided, pull-out poster of most of the characters also. Kids will have fun matching up the Nielsen drawings in the poster against the book entries in the guide.

The books are presented by age (though there’s an author note explaining that they can be enjoyed by readers of any age). It is also possible to search for the books by genre, making this a great reference for kids and parents who aren’t sure what to read next.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy - Shoot-out at the Rock

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy - Shoot-out at the Rock by Jane Smith, illustrated by Pat Kan (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 978-1-925275-94-0

Reviewed by Anita Howard

This is an enjoyable story about the history of Australian bushrangers that will spark the interest of children aged 7 years and up.

The story begins with a disengaged Tommy who has failed his history test; he is kept in over lunch to read a boring history book, and misses his chance to buy a special donut. When Tommy notices a boy eating his desired donut, he kicks him and steals the donut, then he runs away from school. His distressed parents announce he will spend the whole of his upcoming school holidays working on his grandparents’ farm. This is not how Tommy had planned on spending his holidays.

Farm life is not as tough as he expects and he is provided with Combo, a horse, for the duration of his stay. The discovery of a cave and an old bushranger’s hat during one of his rides is the pivotal event that sends Tommy from the contemporary farm life into the life and times of Captain Thunderbolt, an Australian bushranger.

This section is fast-paced, as Tommy appears at moments such as a shooting between police and the bushrangers.Tommy’s first-hand experiences in Captain Thunderbolt’s world soon changes his attitude to stealing, violence; and history.

This is the first of a series of books, where Tommy, with the help of the old hat, travels back to the world of the Australian bushrangers.

Sprinkled with bold illustrations, and concluded with historic notes about Captain Thunderbolt, the story is followed by a fictional interview with Captain Thunderbolt.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Atlas of Miniature Adventures

Atlas of Miniature Adventures by Emily Hawkins, illustrated by Lucy Letherland (Quarto Children’s Books) HB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781847809094

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Big things get a lot of attention’ …

… So this pocket-sized reference book instead sets out to celebrate the ‘mini marvels’ around the world. It features tiny animals and plants, tiny model villages, tiny toys and tiny countries.

The information is presented by continent. Each section opens with a double page, highly illustrative map, featuring small icons to depict the locations of the small wonders unique to the region. The icons are accompanied with some brief, explanatory text. There is a small inset showing the continent’s location on a world globe. Some selected small-scale wonders on the map are presented in more detail in the pages that follow. (Curious readers will no doubt go away and research the others!)

There is an interesting selection of miniature marvels presented in extra detail, such as Berlin’s glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course, South Korea’s tiny teddy bears, San Francisco’s itty-bitty postal service and Australia’s desert goby fish. These double-page spreads always feature two insets – one showing a map with the item location, and another with either a fun fact about the item, or a useful illustration to show the item’s scale.

The book closes with a fun ‘Can You Find?’ section, featuring miniature picture cut-outs and prompting readers to go back through the book to spot them.

Lucy Letherland’s coloured ink, detailed illustrations in this book are fantastic – there is so much to look at on every page. (Even the endpapers are a feast for the eyes!) This is a great educational book for readers aged 7 and up.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Cheeky Animals

Cheeky Animals written and illustrated by Shane Morgan (Magabala Press)
HB RRP $9.99 ISBN 9781925360431

Reviewed by Brook Tayla

This board book for very young readers is narrated in a simple and happy way. The protagonist is a traditional, indigenous Australian who finds himself in funny and playful scenarios with a variety of Australian animals.

The text uses rhyme and repetition to engage readers, with couplets that begin with ‘Look at the....’ which introduces the reader to each animal and ‘See the....’ which shows the protagonist engaged in a funny way with that animal. 

The illustrations bleed from edge to edge and on each double spread there is a scene which is boarded. I would have preferred it to be more consistent with the left side that introduces each animal, but this does not take away from the story. Shane Morgan uses a simple, desert colour palate with simple but expressive drawings.  The animal smiles when they trick the protagonist are cheeky while at the same time endearing.  The illustrations have a cartoonish feel about them and could be seen as a child’s very first and basic introduction to comic books and graphic novels.

I love the size of Magabala board books because they are perfect for little hands and laps and they are also light weight and durable enough for multiple re-reads.

This board book will bring smiles to those who read it and I’m sure will lead to discussions about what other animals would do. This is a great book for extended adaptations.

Brook Tayla writes a blog called and would love you to drop by, read some reviews, leave a comment and subscribe.