Thursday, 30 June 2016

Just the Way We Are

Just the Way We Are by Jessica Shirvington and illustrated by Claire Robertson (ABC Books, an imprint of Harper Collins) PB RRP $14.99        ISBN 9780733331640

Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Author Jessica Shirvington has moved away from her YA writing with her first picture book. Just the Way We Are fills a gap in the picture book market by creating a story which focuses on the varied family units which exist within our communities.

Anna, Chiara, Henry, Izzy and Jack are loved by their families and are perfect ‘just the way we are’. Anna lives in an extended family which includes her grandpa; Chiara’s family is special because she has two dads – this book crosses familial boundaries and reinforces the fact that all families may differ in structure or ‘look’ but they are still inherently the same ‘just the way we are’.

This is also reinforced in the typical activities enjoyed by the families and the children within them – playing tricks on siblings, going to the local fair, camping and the story neatly ends with the families from the street getting together as one.

Claire Robertson’s simple illustrations depict a variety of people from different backgrounds – the inclusion is subtle and is a natural part of the story – clearly mirroring many of our communities.

This is a lovely book to be shared with pre-schoolers and up.


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (Walker Books)
RRP $ 14.99
ISBN 9780763687533

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Cody is a curious and questioning child who loves activity, the universe, and the habits of ants. It’s the first day of summer holidays. Camp is a week away, and boredom has already set in.

Cody meets Spencer, a timid and shy boy staying at his Grandma’s around the corner while his parents are on holiday. He is beside himself with anxiety as he has lost Grandma’s cat, MewMew. Cody is more than willing to help him look for it. 

Things begin happening everywhere around them. They find the cat and start a friendship. Cody’s mum gets a promotion at the shoe shop where she works. Dad, a truckie, has left on a long haul. Wyatt, her super-smart elder brother, is nearly run over by his secret love Payton on her bike. Then Cody is told that Summer Camp is cancelled due to a discovery of toxic chemicals on the property.

To settle Spencer’s fears that the cat will run away again, Cody offers to hypnotize it so it will stay close. This leads to the thought that if a cat can be hypnotized, can Payton be hypnotized to care for Wyatt? When Payton kid sits Cody, she is shown another side to Wyatt by his shrewd sister.

Cody and Spencer’s friendship is by now cemented. She is his protector and he is her impulse stabiliser.

This illustrated chapter book for the 8+ year age group is humorous and clever. Its sequence of events entertains while the dialogue, full of wisdom and warmth, wraps the reader in contentment.

Themes of family unity, the importance of friendship, and thinking before you speak or act, are subtly threaded through the story. There are lots of different situations that weave into one another with the main attention being on Cody’s zest for life and being occupied, and her interest in all living things.

Black and white illustrations visually enhance the story and highlight the entertaining characters. This story is ideal for reluctant readers of both genders. Its issues are evenly divided to incorporate all of the characters in the book and their dilemmas.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (Walker Books)
RRP $ 14.99
ISBN 9780763687533

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Cody is a curious and questioning child who loves activity, the universe, and the habits of ants. It’s the first day of summer holidays. Camp is a week away, and boredom has already set in.

Cody meets Spencer, a timid and shy boy staying at his Grandma’s around the corner while his parents are on holiday. He is beside himself with anxiety as he has lost Grandma’s cat, MewMew. Cody is more than willing to help him look for it. 

Things begin happening everywhere around them. They find the cat and start a friendship. Cody’s mum gets a promotion at the shoe shop where she works. Dad, a truckie, has left on a long haul. Wyatt, her super-smart elder brother, is nearly run over by his secret love Payton on her bike. Then Cody is told that Summer Camp is cancelled due to a discovery of toxic chemicals on the property.

To settle Spencer’s fears that the cat will run away again, Cody offers to hypnotize it so it will stay close. This leads to the thought that if a cat can be hypnotized, can Payton be hypnotized to care for Wyatt? When Payton kid sits Cody, she is shown another side to Wyatt by his shrewd sister.

Cody and Spencer’s friendship is by now cemented. She is his protector and he is her impulse stabiliser.

This illustrated chapter book for the 8+ year age group is humorous and clever. Its sequence of events entertains while the dialogue, full of wisdom and warmth, wraps the reader in contentment.

Themes of family unity, the importance of friendship, and thinking before you speak or act, are subtly threaded through the story. There are lots of different situations that weave into one another with the main attention being on Cody’s zest for life and being occupied, and her interest in all living things.

Black and white illustrations visually enhance the story and highlight the entertaining characters. This story is ideal for reluctant readers of both genders. Its issues are evenly divided to incorporate all of the characters in the book and their dilemmas.








Monday, 27 June 2016

Gummshoes Mission #1: The Nobbled Numbskull

Gummshoes Mission #1: The Nobbled Numbskull by E.J. Gore (Coppertop Press) RRP $8.99 ISBN 978-0-9873708-8-4

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe This first book in the Australian series of adventures by the Gummshoe Gang has a big heart. It contains a familiar, important message hidden in the question of just who IS sabotaging the school’s star soccer player (and erstwhile bully) Nits – and why?


We are rapidly introduced to a large cast of characters including the ‘nerdy’ Frankie and Ollie who befriend a younger, also ‘nerdy’ Alex, and welcome him into the Gummshoe Gang. Together and separately, the three deals with challenging situations that are translatable to most school playgrounds.
There’s something for most kids in this story that centres on school and football, with a mystery to be solved and bullies to be thwarted. Unrequited tween love also makes an appearance, and the realisation that things are not always as they seem among children, and among adults too.


Author and primary school teacher EJ Gore’s own mission to equip young people with strategies for social inclusion, dealing with bullies and standing up for the ‘right’ thing, is a generous one that works. The characters recognise and build on their own strengths in a way that opens up possibilities for young readers’ own lives. These skills touch on the ideas of being a good friend, harnessing resilience and solving problems. Gore’s gentle, humour-laden writing style reveals a thorough knowledge of her readership and what will have them entertained. 


After initially having to re-read the opening in order to be clear about ‘who was saying what’, I was transported into the world of the book where I willingly stayed for the duration. There’s a lovely balance between mystery and drama in this story that will appeal to both boys and girls.


The end pages feature a word-search puzzle, and children are invited to become part of the Gummshoe Gang via a website. 
   

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Hell and High Water

Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman (Walker Books)
PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 9781406366914

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The brilliant Buffalo Soldier won Tanya Landman the Carnegie Medal. Here is an equally brilliant and exciting adventure in three parts, about courage, resilience and race, and secrets and truths.

Fifteen year old Caleb is the dark-skinned son of a fair-skinned man. Pa protects Caleb from the racist attacks he frequently faces. All that Caleb knows about his mother is that she died at childbirth. In fact Pa has shared very little about his own life. They are a loving pair that wants nothing more than what they have.

The two make their living by travelling through the country with a wagonload of hand-made Punch and Judy puppets, entertaining crowds.

Pa is set up and arrested for theft. He is taken to jail and condemned to seven years in America. Caleb must reach his aunt Anne, a person he has never heard mentioned before.

In Tawpuddle, Anne lives a frugal life as a dressmaker with her young daughter and stepdaughter Letty, while her husband is at sea. Another mouth to feed is the last thing they need.

‘It’s astonishing what a person can get used to if their circumstances change’, Anne tells Caleb. His sewing skills come in handy when he can’t find work in the poverty-stricken town due to his colour.

When Caleb finds Pa’s body washed up on the beach, slowly secrets and truths are unwrapped.  Caleb and Letty are determined to discover the real story behind the treachery and lies they have been forced to accept as truth. But he is surrounded by corruption and deceit and can find no justice. Who can be trusted when no one is who they appear to be?

Yet his strong sense of right and wrong learnt from his Pa never wavers. His belief in truth as its own reward is what keeps him from giving up.

Tanya Landman has the ability to create characters that readers immediately fall in love with. Their situations are carefully crafted individual storylines that weave into a larger story that continues to expand. Once you’ve read her work, you will never forget it.


Saturday, 25 June 2016

Who’s got a Normal Family?

Who’s got a Normal Family? by Belinda Nowell, illustrated by Miša Alexander (Little Steps Publishing)

HB RRP $24.95
ISBN: 9781925117752

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

Alex had exciting news to tell at school. His baby sister arrived last night. She’s a foster kid, just like him. Everyone claps, except for Jimmy Martin. Jimmy doesn’t like anyone to be happy. ‘You don’t have a normal family!’ he yelled.

Well, that made Alex so sad. Even his mum’s hugs didn’t cheer him. But Mum made a good suggestion -- to search through his class photo album to find someone ‘normal’.

One by one, Alex realises there’s no one at school who has a normal family. Perhaps Jimmy Martin comes closest, but his dad’s left home — so does he count? Suddenly, Alex realises why Jimmy doesn’t want anyone to be happy; it’s because he’s not happy himself.

Thus next day, he shares two secrets with Jimmy: (1) where the best lizards live and (2) what his mum said about ‘normal’ families.

This is a perfect book for anyone to share with a child who has worries about their family structure. It’s delightfully illustrated. Although the publisher recommends 3-6 years as the target audience; I felt it was slightly older, perhaps the 4-7 years old bracket.


Friday, 24 June 2016

A Show for Bonnie

A Show for Bonnie by Helen Bock, illustrated by Lexie Watt (Little Steps Publishing) PB RRP $14.95ISBN: 9781925117622

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton 


A tender, gentle air pervades this story of moving on from sadness and loss.

Bonnie’s pups had left the farm and she was grieving for them. Sammy came up with a plan—and, with a bark, gathered all the different animals to perform tricks and songs, routines and moves. The pig, pony, geese, cow and even the squeaking barnyard mouse all get in on the act. Sam’s kindness and the animals’ friendship brings delight back into Bonnie’s life. 


The muted colours of the delicate illustrations perfectly complement the text in this picture book for pre-schoolers.



Thursday, 23 June 2016

My Nanna Nelly Will Tour the Illawarra Tomorra


My Nanna Nelly Will Tour the Illawarra Tomorra by Sean Williams, illustrated by Karen Mounsey-Smith (Little Steps Publishing)
PB RRP $16.95ISBN: 9781925117547 


Reviewed by Anne Hamilton 


The opening page was so impressive with its rhythm and rhyme I was sure I was in for a treat with this very different ‘tour guide’ of the region south of Sydney.

 ‘We’ll play mahjong by a billabong in Gerringong,’ promised a feast of sound and visual treats.


 Well, subsequent pages aren’t quite up there with the consistent, rhythmic flow but the rhyme is still top notch. Imagine a suitable rhyme for ‘Isabel Boulton’s Chair’, Kiama Blow Hole and Bellambi Reef. It’s all there!
 

Although this book is targeted at 3–6 year olds, I imagine older children might enjoy it too. The specific mention of places-to-go and things-to-do in the Illawarra region clearly sets the book apart regionally, perhaps making it difficult to market elsewhere. 


This is a book to share and enjoy with children touring the Illawarra. The illustrations are joyous and exuberant. The last page has eight photographs; I would really have liked to have seen a map as well.


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Francois the Fearless Circus Peg

Francois the Fearless Circus Peg written and illustrated by Carrie Webster (Little Steps Publishing)                       HB RRP $24.95 ISBN: 9781925117714 PB RRP $14.95 ISBN: 9781925117691 

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton Francois is a peg (of the very old-fashioned, wooden, household washing type) and a performer in a travelling circus. On Monday he does a cannonball act. On Tuesday it’s a tightrope act. On Wednesday, it’s flips from an elephant’s trunk. On, day by day through the week, Francois has a regular routine of death-defying stunts. Francois the Fearless has a secret: actually he’s not so fearless!
 With mainly red, white and blue illustrations throughout, in mysterious dark grungy shades, there’s perhaps a tribute to Francois’ cultural background lurking around. This is a rhyming story about fear, courage and friendship for 3-6 year olds. An excellent addition to the fun text is the activities and teacher’s lesson plan at www.francoisthefearless.com



Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Flossie the Fairy

Flossie the Fairy by Nancy Watson, illustrated by Natasha Farrar (Little Steps Publishing)

PB RRP $14.95
ISBN: 9781925117684
Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

Delicate pastel illustrations enhance a subtle story of death and new beginnings.

Flossie is a tiny, invisible fairy who delights in the contents of an elderly lady’s rose-red handbag. There are mirrors and make-up to use for dress-ups; pockets to live in without drawing suspicion. Flossie is entranced by the music Mistress plays on her electric organ each day.

But one day, the music stops. The light, airy atmosphere of the house falls into grey gloom. Strangers come to tidy up the house, throw out things, remove the furniture. They toss the rose-red handbag out in a box of unwanted items for the council truck to pick up on its garbage run.

Flossie leaves the rose-red handbag behind when a little girl comes by and takes a birdcage from the discard pile. Darting into the birdcage, Flossie comes to a new house where she is welcomed by a whole troupe of toys.

This story for 3-6 year olds presents a story of a difficult life transition without either cloying sentimentality or raw facts.






Monday, 20 June 2016

Penelope the Mountain Pygmy Possum

Penelope the Mountain Pygmy Possum by Gordon Winch, illustrated by Stephen Pym (New Frontier)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-92505-959-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Penelope is a Mountain Pygmy Possum which lives in the Snowy Mountains in Australia. She hibernates throughout the winter in her home under the boulders while her mate Percy and the other males spend the cold months further down the mountain where snow and ice do not reach. When spring arrives, Penelope hungrily snacks on Bogong Moths, but then her thoughts turn to Percy and she wonders why he has not made his way back to her yet.

This is a lovely story which finds the balance between make-believe and fact. It is a story about with these tiny endangered marsupials the impact humans have on their environment. But it also a hopeful story which shows that, with a little thought, humans and animals can exist together well and demonstrates how these little animals help to keep the environmental balance in check.

Even though this story contains a clear message, this is not a wordy picture book. The simple writing style makes it a good read aloud. It an easy story for young children to follow and they will empathise with plight of Penelope, Percy and all their friends. And the expressive eyes of the Pygmy Possums will make children fall in love with these adorable little creatures.
Beautiful soft muted illustrations give the story gentleness. The colour palette enhances the Australian setting and emphasizes the quiet humour in Percy’s brightly striped socks or the unexpected shock of the yellow bulldozer.

Penelope and the Mountain Pygmy Possum will make a nice bedtime story for 4 to 8 year olds. The happy ending sees a reunited Penelope and Percy at the end of ‘The Tunnel of Love’, snacking on their Bogong Moths ‘with a crackle and a crunch, a chomp and a munch.’


Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Dog Emergency

The Dog Emergency by Sally Morgan, illustrated by Craig Smith (Omnibus Books)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-135-1

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Dog Emergency is a new title in a series based on indigenous characters. In this story brothers Dillon and Ryan help an injured dog and hope they can keep him. Unfortunately Mum is still upset over the recent death of their old dog Buster. She has said there will never be another dog; it’s too upsetting when they die.

But the boys are determined to find a way to keep him. Maybe if they can raise the money to pay for the dog’s surgery? This plan seems to be working until, just when they think they have enough money, the dog’s owner reads the lost dog signs and comes to the nursing station to claim him.

Authentic voices and interesting characters with a hint of mischief come through the text strongly, as does the outback, small Australian town setting.
Short, with uncomplicated words, humorous illustrations, an appealing layout and light but universal themes, this is a great chapter book for early readers from the age of 8 years old.


Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Detective Dog

The Detective Dog by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie (Pan Macmillan)
HC RRP $ 24.99
ISBN 9781509801596

Reviewed by Ramona Davey

What can I say? Julia Donaldson does it again. The Detective Dog is a fun read aloud rhyming picture book about a dog that always has his nose on the job, even if it is wondering, “Who did the poo on the new gravel path?” or “How did the spider get into the bath?”

Detective dog Nell also likes to listen to children read stories to him at his owner 6-year-old Pete’s school. Until all the books go missing one day. Detective dog could smell something was up.

All is solved in the end when they discover the book thief just loved reading books and only meant to borrow them and it seems he had no idea about libraries. This part of the story felt a bit odd for me as an adult but kids may think this is strange.

Children will love following the dog that is following his nose throughout the book in the colourful watercolour and pencil crayon illustrations by Sara Ogilvie. The classroom scene and the double page library scene are my favourites as is the chase through the town. There is so much to see on each page.

As a mentor text for rhyming writers this reads with ease and is worth studying.

Detective Dog is perfect for the 3-6 year old detectives.












Friday, 17 June 2016

On the River by Roland Harvey (Allen & Unwin) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781760112455

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

With a sub-title, ‘Come with me from the mountains to the sea’, this picture book for children aged 5 to 10 years, is another offering from talented Australian Harvey who has already produced the bestselling At the Beach series which also include On the Farm and In the City – now seven hardback titles.

This latest book’s fly pages are filled with valuable information showing maps of Victoria and surrounding states, with place locations and detailed labelling and short stories relating to them. For instance, the entry for Jeralderie (Victoria) says, ‘Nothing to do with the Murray except that New Kelly crossed it all the way here to rob the town. Also the birthplace of Rosalie Ham, author of The Dressmaker, a novel and major film.’ There are easily hours of reading and site-finding on these opening pages before one even reads the rest of the book!

A talented line and light watercolour wash illustrator, Harvey has cleverly ‘hidden’ himself in each of the pages that follow. The story starts with a four paragraphs of text which locate the story at the headwaters of the Murray River where ‘this story begins.’ The headway of the river is at a place called Cowombat Flat. The reader then follows the Murray with stories told of events which happened at various down-river sites. Here’s where you’ll read of Banjo Paterson as travellers move eventually into Lake Hume (which holds six times as much water as Sydney Harbour). All of Harvey’s pages are filled with detailed illustrations showing people, animals, boats (such as paddle-steamers and house-boats), and more as the Murray is explored. Finally, after many kilometres, the 'river's waters open to the sea.'


There is so much to read here, both in words and visuals, that this is a book which will reward (adults and children) the reading countless hours of learning and enjoyment. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Moving House by Bingbo, illustrated by Huangying (Starfish Bay Children’s Books)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780994100252

Reviewed by Leigh Roswen

The Moving House, by Bingbo is a picture book about a squirrel who decides to move out from his tree hollow. He finds a few good spots to build his new house, but alas, these are occupied by other animals. Finally, Squirrel decides to settle on a lovely smooth rock. To his surprise the location of his house keeps changing from the sea to the mountains and finally the middle of a lake! What is this rock that squirrel has built on?

This is an innocent and gentle story which is suitable to read to 2-6 year olds. The repetition of certain phrases, will help this age group readily familiarise themselves with the text:
This is a nice place to build my new house! I think I’ll live here.

The blurb says, ‘The Moving House’ gives an interesting take on the stressful activity of moving house. But it is too fanciful to be of any therapeutic value in that regard. This is not a criticism – there should be books that a purely fun.

Bright and simple watercolor illustrations by Huangying compliment the story. Different illustration layouts add a beautiful variety to the book. There are entire double and single page spreads as well as smaller pictures of squirrel against the white page.

This is a fun and pleasant book with a delightful twist at the end which I imagine children will enjoy even on repeat readings.
Reviewer website: www.leighroswen.com


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Other Side of Summer

The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale (Random House Australia
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9780143780113

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Living in England, the Jackman family is grieving the death of teenage son and brother, Floyd, a gifted guitarist. Central to the story is his younger sister, Summer, who feels alone and angry. Her mother is in a state of depression, her sister Wren is uncontrollably nasty, and their father is trying his best to hold everyone together. As if Floyd’s loss and Mum’s ‘disappearance’ aren’t enough, there is further loss to come – the loss of home when Dad, an Australian, decides to move the girls to his homeland. And too, there is the loss of Summer’s closest, long-time friend, Mal.

Summer doesn’t outwardly express her fierce underlying anger or her continual internal talk of and to Floyd. She even keeps her cool when the new Australian neighbours impinge on the Jackman family, offering unwanted friendship and family BBQs: at school she keeps her distance from others, especially an Asian girl who is trying to befriend her.

However, after some time she makes an unlikely friend, a needy boy who (literally) drifts in an out of life and who seems magically connected to a guitar which Floyd once owned and which Summer treasures.

Emily Gale writes clearly and convincingly with lots of memorable language, but this is a difficult book. Throughout it is always a sense of unhappiness and lack of hope. While Wren changes dramatically in Australia and becomes much easier to live with, Summer seems determined not to make the most of her situation, always living in a past that mostly includes her dead brother. Thus it’s the novel’s content which is the problem, rather than the story-telling and characterisation.


Nevertheless, this book will possibly appeal to teenagers, especially girls aged 14+ years.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Gary

Gary by Leila Rudge (Walker Books)
HC RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781925081695

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Racing pigeons are travellers. Gary is one of them, but he never travels because he can’t fly. He has to be content with collecting mementos, maps, tickets, and flight path and waypoint information to fill his scrapbook. He listens to the other pigeons discussing their journeys. He records this information perched in the loft, to experience a travelling life in absentia and dream he is part of it all.

Things change one day when Gary falls from his perch with his travel mementos into the travel basket. He ends up in the city, far away from home. Can clever Gary utilise his collection of maps, mementos and information to navigate his way back?

This is a terrific story about dreams and the longing for adventure. It shows how while we are longing to experience what others do, others are longing for an experience like ours.

The illustrations are outstanding. Intricate details add information to the story that isn’t covered by the text. Mixed media is used to create the drawings. Delightful and soothing soft colour shades carry us from cover to cover. The end papers and title pages share the reveals. I loved the whole package; adored gorgeous, clever Gary, and admired his innovative ideas. 


Monday, 13 June 2016

Desert Lake: the Story of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre

Desert Lake: the Story of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre by Pamela Freeman, illustrated by Liz Anelli (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.99
ISBN 9781921529436

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

This beautifully illustrated book begins with its eye-catching cover - front and back. It’s another book from the award winning Nature Storybook series. 

Colours immediately draw us to the red earth of the dry desert of central Australia. The end pages depict the fossils and waiting plants and insects hidden deep beneath the lake’s surface. The title pages are the colour of the desert sky; a singular blue owned by the area. Without boundaries, it floats above the salt white cover of Lake Eyre. Countless birds are imprinted on the background, all travelling in the same direction.

The layout is presented in double spreads. Full page illustrations, carry the narrative story in large text at the top, and the facts in smaller text at the bottom; two stories in one. Mixed media is used to create the illustrations.

Lake Eyre is the largest salt lake in Australia, situated in northern South Australia. Life sleeps beneath its salt crust. It waits for the rain.

The torrent comes from the north, flooding the riverbeds.

Everything awakens and Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre fills with pulsing life.  Birds of all kinds set out, and prepare to nest at the Lake. Animals come to drink. Flowers blaze as colour floods the area.

When the rain is gone, the river starts to dry up again. Frogs and shrimps bury their eggs deep in the soft lake floor. The birds leave. The sun returns the lake to its dry state until the next rain falls.

Stunning in every way, this book is breathtaking in its beauty and highlights Lake Eyre before and after the rains. Text and illustrations are perfectly blended.  A visual feast, this book is a collector’s delight. It will also be snatched up by tourists. Libraries and schools will want it as part of their collections for use as a valuable reference and teaching tool.


Sunday, 12 June 2016

The White Cat and the Monk

The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781406372977

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Reading the origins of the poem retold in this picture book for all ages, is just as delightful as reading the story. The poem was discovered in the margins of a manuscript in a monastery in Austria. It is said to have been written around the nineteenth century by an Irish monk. There is also an Irish version of the poem to be discovered.

The monk has dedicated his life to learning. His days are filled with study and discovery. He has a roommate, a white cat called Pangur who is as dedicated to his pursuits as the monk to his. Mouse-catching is Pangur’s occupation.

One does not bother or interfere with the other. They each search for something. One finds his prey, while the other finds the ‘light in the darkness’.

Exquisitely illustrated images are by the talented and expressive Sydney Smith of Sidewalk Flowers. The hand-lettered text is ideally suited to the classical presentation. Its themes reflect the natural world occupied by animals, and the internal world that occupies the monk.


Saturday, 11 June 2016

Our Stories: Protest in Australia

Our Stories: Protest in Australia by Sue Lawson (Walker Books)
PB RRP $ 17.99
ISBN 9781922244543

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Change and how it influenced the history of Australia is another title from the excellent Our Stories series. The various forms this change took, mainly through protest in one form or another against injustice of every kind, and in the name of democracy, are documented here. There are seventeen entries not including the Introduction, Conclusion, Glossary and Index.

The entries begin with the 1804 convict uprising known as the Castle Hill Rebellion, or The Battle of Vinegar Hill. The Rum Rebellion is followed by the miners’ revolt at the Eureka Stockade and end at the Saving Whales entry.

The rallies, strikes, and petitions against unjust laws cover the Shearer’s Strike, the Wave Hill Walk Off, Freedom Ride, Stolen Generation, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Mabo and Land Rights, Women’s Suffrage, Aboriginal Vote, conscientious objectors and the Vietnam War, and Sorry Day.

This is a compact history of change linked to major events. Its valuable resource material can be used at home and in class for the 8+ year age groups. The easy to follow presentation makes learning or refreshing any aspect of Australia’s significant history accessible, particularly that part which relates to social and political causes for change.

The pictures, posters and photographs that draw us back in time, are resourced from archival material from the major State libraries around Australia. This series can be collected, and referred to time and again.


Friday, 10 June 2016

Go Home, Cheeky Animals!

Go Home, Cheeky Animals! (Allen & Unwin 2016)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN: 9781760291655

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Too Many Cheeky Dogs collaborators, Johanna Bell and Dion Beasley, are back with Go Home, Cheeky Animals!

At Canteen Creek in Australia’s top end there are cheeky dogs everywhere.
Grandpa says the cheeky dogs will keep the other cheeky animals away, but when the big rains come and a gang of goats move in, the cheeky dogs do nothing. The sweaty season brings a drove of donkeys, the cool winds bring a herd of horses, the dry grass brings a bunch of buffaloes and the dry soaks bring a caravan of camels.

The whole family tries to make the cheeky animals go home – Dad flaps his arms, Aunty waves a big stick and sister chucks her thongs – but nothing seems to work. It’s not until the big storms come and the cheeky animals go crazy that the cheeky dogs finally get fed up and growl “Go Home, Cheeky Animals!” in their loudest, angriest voices. And they do.

Beasley’s depictions of the cheeky dogs and animals breathes a sense of fun into a story that embraces family, place, nature and the flow of the seasons in a remote Indigenous community.

Bell’s language is descriptive yet sparing. It partners nicely with Beasley’s expressive, humour-filled illustrations. Even the end papers are a treat.
And when the seasons come full circle and those big rains come again, there’s a sense those cheeky animals will be back, and those cheeky dogs will be waiting…

This picture book set in a remote Indigenous community is a rarity and this gem aimed at three to six year olds has all the makings to inform and delight.


Thursday, 9 June 2016

Let’s Play!

Let’s Play! by Hervé Tullet (Allen & Unwin 2016)
HB RRP $22.99
ISBN: 9781760292980

Reviewed by Jade Harmer

Let’s Play! is not only a fun title, but offers an enticing invitation to pick up Hervé Tullet’s latest picture book and discover more. 

It strikes me that you don’t just read a Tullet creation, you become part of one. In this case, you quickly become yellow dot’s playmate and travelling companion as it overcomes its boredom while travelling across 30 unique double page spreads with boundless energy. With your help, yellow dot conquers lines and squiggles, invents games and finds unexpected ways to tackle spooky or unpredictable situations.

Tullet creates a uniquely collaborative play experience that’s packed with fun and humour. Primary colours pop from white pages, and the sense of constant motion that Tullet creates helps yellow dot bounce all the way through to the completion of its journey.

It’s no surprise to me that Tullet’s picture book, Press Here, was also released in App format. His work is well suited to the interactive nature of an App and Let’s Play! is no exception.

This is a truly refreshing adventure to enjoy and revisit with children from two years up and a fabulous choice for reluctant readers with a taste for adventure.


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Counting through the Day

Counting through the Day written by Margaret Hamilton, illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Little Hare Books/Hardie Grant Egmont)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781760124526

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The sweet opening line ‘One cuddly teddy on a brand new day’ sets the tone for this rhyming counting book for the very young. Told from a child’s perspective, it captures the heightened imagination and sense of wonder of early childhood. Snacks, backyard adventures, rest time and craft are all covered during a well-rounded day full of discovery.

An unusual aspect of this book is that the counting rapidly accelerates beyond twelve, leapfrogging from hundreds to thousands to millions, highlighting the enormity of the outside world (raindrops! stars!). The image of the protagonist (who is pleasingly gender-neutral looking) and their pets gazing out at the night sky hints at life’s endless possibilities. The story then culminates in one special thing, drawing the child back into their secure, inner world.

Pignataro’s gorgeous illustrations perfectly complement the text, alternating between energetic moments and contented scenes, and reflecting the loving bond between child and carer. The busy endpapers alone would keep a young reader mesmerised, spotting all the animals and objects from the child’s day.