Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Castle in the Sea (Quest of the Sunfish 2)

The Castle in the Sea (Quest of the Sunfish 2) by Mardi McConnochie, (Allen and Unwin)  PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781760290924

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The sailing adventures of Annalie, Will, Essie and Pod continue in the second ‘Quest of the Sunfish’ book, as they desperately search for Spinner. The story picks up about three weeks after the foursome escaped from Little Lang Lang Island, armed with the names of four important scientists. This novel focuses on their quest to find and talk to each scientist in the hope they’ll find Spinner. Their journey is highly dangerous. Aside from the ongoing threat of roaming pirates, they need to remain hidden from the Admiralty and, especially, Beckett (who is still pursuing them relentlessly). Then there’s the weather. The book begins with a ripper of a storm that causes two characters to become lost at sea … and the action never loses pace thereafter.

As per the first book, this is a highly gripping page-turner. The chapters are short, and there’s action aplenty. Mardi McConnochie slips in a few more details about the Collodius Process and why the research must be kept hidden from the government at all costs. She also clearly sets the direction for the closing novel in the trilogy, to be released in September 2017 – the foursome must make their way to the final scientist on the list, who lives on a mysterious island with extremely guarded borders. 

McConnochie occasionally offers the occasional recap as to what happened in ‘Escape to the Moon Islands’, but reading the first book is necessary to appreciate the background of the journey. There is also very little focus on the personalities and background stories of Annalie, Will, Essie and Pod in this one. The characters might not seem particularly interesting, or even likeable, without having read the first novel in the series. (The first novel has, incidentally, been shortlisted for the Readings Children’s Book Prize 2017.) The novel should appeal to 9–12-year-olds who like adventure stories, along with readers who have an appreciation and love for science.



Wednesday, 28 June 2017

I Love You

I Love You by Xiao Mao, illustrated by Tang Yun (New Frontier Publishing) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781925059762

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

Little Badger learns how to say ‘I love you’ in five other languages — Chinese, Italian, French, German and Spanish. She spends the rest of the day practising her new words by calling out to everything she loves in her world (including everyday objects and people).

The cheerful illustrations have an earthy palette and a folk-art feel.

I Love You has a very simple storyline with a dose of positive energy. By the time Little Badger gets a good night kiss from her mother you’ll certainly know how to say ‘I love you’ in five more languages, too!

Preschoolers will love learning a few words in another language. This would make a good addition to a themed picture book collection for Harmony Day.



About the reviewer: Rebecca Newman is a children’s writer and poet. When she’s not writing or reviewing, she is kept busy as the managing editor at Alphabet Soup’s website. rebeccanewman.net.au

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Baby Band

Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill, illustrated by Giuseppe Poli (New Frontier Publishing) HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781925059779

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

When a new baby arrives in apartment 8A his crying annoys everyone on level 8. Then he discovers the joy of crashing together pots and pans. In their separate apartments each neighbour contributes their own sound to the baby’s pots-and-pans performance. The formerly reclusive neighbours finally fling open their doors and shimmy to the apartment block’s rooftop to play together in a makeshift band.

Poli’s delightful illustrations include musical quirks for the observant reader. (I particularly liked the treble clef in the street light’s frame, and the manuscript paper on the outside walls of the building.)

The endpapers give us the story in miniature — at the front we see the neighbours at a park, enjoying the day but not interacting with each other. At the end of the book the endpapers show the same park with the neighbours jamming together (including the noisy baby, pan in hand) and dancing.

Baby Band is great to read aloud.


About the reviewer: Rebecca Newman is a children’s writer and poet. When she’s not writing or reviewing, she is kept busy as the managing editor at Alphabet Soup’s website. rebeccanewman.net.au





Sunday, 25 June 2017

Hello to You, Moon

Hello to You, Moon written by Sally Morgan, illustrated by Sonny & Biddy (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781760125462

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

A poetic, rhythmical counting book (but so much more), Morgan’s Hello to You, Moon examines the various creatures which swing, prowl, leap and scurry under the light of the moon.

Each creature featured salutes the moon in their own way, from hooting owls to roaring lions. Each spread progresses from one to ten with an accompanying animal family, as the moon journeys from twilight through midnight to the brightening sky of the following day.

This would make a brilliant bedtime story for babies through to pre-schoolers, with much to engage, including rhyme, action and animal noises. Sonny and Biddy’s graphic illustrations with an overarching purple palette are the perfect, vibrant accompaniment to the text.


Saturday, 24 June 2017

Once Upon an ABC

Once Upon an ABC written by Sophie Masson, illustrated by Christopher Nielsen (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781760128432

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Sophie Masson’s Once Upon an ABC is a stunning ode to folk and fairytales. For every letter of the alphabet is a character from stories past, ranging from the highly recognisable to the more obscure.

There’s Rapunzel and Jack in the Beanstalk, the wily old wolf from Little Red Riding Hood (as G for Grandma, of course!). The Ugly Duckling and Puss in Boots make an appearance, as do mythological creatures such as a Pegasus and Nymph. Certain inclusions may leave readers scratching their heads – Y for Yggdrasil, anyone? However, ensuing discussion and bookish research may open young readers’ eyes to a whole new world of stories and characters they weren’t otherwise familiar with.

Told in an engaging rhyme, this is an ABC with a difference – a collectible homage to legendary tales. Nielsen’s illustrations pop with primary colours and have a timeless, retro style. The endpapers are a typography-lovers’ delight.


Friday, 23 June 2017

One Little Goat

One Little Goat written by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Andrew Joyner (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781742976921

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

‘My daddy bought a little baby goat, a little baby goat my daddy bought’ begins this cumulative tale with echoes of There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. A cat eats the goat, who is bitten by a dog, who is hit by a stick and so and so on, as the tale becomes increasingly more mayhem-filled. The repetition as the story builds has a musical quality, and would have children repeating along in no time.

The ridiculous antics of the characters are humorously depicted via Joyner’s cartoon-like illustrations, full of action and with very expressive faces throughout. Even the suggestions of violence (think chopping and burning!) are reduced to nothing more than frivolity with Joyner’s clever touch. After a fun turn of events where a tall, dark stranger is revealed for who it really is, the chaos subsides until the story comes to a satisfying, full-circle conclusion.

There is a real old-fashioned, nursery rhyme feel to this story, as it is based on a traditional Hebrew song dating back to the 17th century. The words retain a timeless feel, while the illustrations bring a contemporary sensibility.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Clare’s Goodbye

Clare’s Goodbye written by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781760127527

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Clare and her siblings Rosie and Jacob are about to move house. Rosie and Jacob insist on saying goodbye to everything, from their tree-house to the place their pet bunny is buried, but Clare refuses to participate. Clare’s sadness is apparent in her silence, as well as through Pignataro’s touching, charcoal illustrations, like the image of Clare with her back turned as the removalists cart their furniture away.

It’s hard not to feel for her – the youngest child, and the least likely to process a big change. The stark emptiness of the rooms highlights the finality of the move, and allows Clare to bid farewell in her own, special way. The illustrations convey a childlike innocence and evoke much emotion, with a moody grey palette tinged with colour reflecting the poignancy of the story.

This is a touching tale about the difficulties faced in saying goodbye and moving on, and the importance of allowing little ones the space and time to cope with change.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Our Last Trip to the Market

Our Last Trip to the Market written by Lorin Clarke and illustrated by Mitch Vane (Allen and Unwin)  HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781925266962

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Markets are great, aren’t they? Oh, the atmosphere! The incredible smells! Fresh foods! Now imagine sharing your trip to the market with six kids in tow … hmm. Perhaps the word ‘last’ in the title refers not so much to the most recent trip, as it does to the Last Ever.

This entertaining picture book, with hilarious full-colour illustrations by Mitch Vane, is sure to strike a chord with frazzled parents everywhere. The mother in this story is, shall we say, super upbeat. She is not at all daunted by the fact that she’s daring to take six kids, including a toddler and a couple of preschoolers, out grocery shopping. She’s happy, and positive and full of bright energy as she takes in the sights. Her kids, meanwhile …

One is stealing a juggling ball from a busker, another is knocking over a pile of doughnuts. Two have stolen a wheelbarrow. One is digging through a sack of lentils. Another has found some sparkly glue.

Though the mother briefly pauses in her market merriment to discipline the children (‘Please give that back to the man’), she never loses her cool. Why would she? She’s at the market! The glorious market! The story keeps its rhythm as she continues on her way, buying far more things than she intended. The only time she expresses any anxiety is when she realises they’re running late for Grandma and Gramps. As market-goers and stall-owners watch the family, horrified by the trail of destruction they’ve left behind, good old mum suggests they’ll get to the car faster if they ‘stomp like a pack of wild boars’. Why not? Off they go, ‘stompity stomp’, but not without a couple more mishaps on the way. Just when I start to doubt the mother’s neverending patience, the story ends with some sweet revenge on her part. Phew!

Lorin Clarke has written a fantastic story made highly amusing by its unpredictable rhymes and funny caricatures. There is much to see in the illustrations and Vane perfectly captures the children’s cheeky expressions (or innocent curiosity). I particularly loved the gleam in the mother’s eyes on the last page.

The story is suitable for children aged 2 – 5 years … and parents. Of course, parents


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

King of the Outback

King of the Outback written by Kristin Weidenbach, illustrated by Timothy Ide (Midnight Sun Publishing)    HB RRP$26.99   ISBN 9781925227246

Reviewed by Stefan Nicholson

King of the Outback is a jewel of an Australian children’s book with many facets to contemplate.  It is also a picture book, a book of Australian history, a biography, obviously a non-fictional work but absolutely a delight to read.

It is the life story of Sir Sidney Kidman who left home at thirteen with five shillings and a one-eyed horse, then ended up owning the largest cattle station in Australia.
It is tempting to imagine how primary school children will approach this book. 
Some will look at the first few pages and then work through the book admiring the stylised pen and ink illustrations of people and animals surrounded by the colours of the bush. The watercolour palette is perfect.

Other children will read the unravelling story on each page and immerse themselves into the story through the corresponding illustration.

The expressions of the people and the brown landscape match the late nineteenth-century Australian country with its harsh dusty ground, the solid civic buildings and the fashionable clothing evident on the streets of the town.

King of the Outback is also an ideal reader for parents and teachers to read to younger children whilst showing them the illustrations – I like looking at some of the people hidden in the crowds!

You can almost hear the sounds emanating from the illustrations, enhanced by the use of an unusual selection of fonts and embellishments – font size, bold, curved, etc.  I think that this arrangement of text is designed to keep the readers’ attention away from staring at the illustrations for too long instead of moving along with the story. 

The text is simple and effective.  It gets the story told interspersed with many interesting facts and events like the impressive rescue of the town’s people from scared, rampaging cattle during Sid’s seventy fifth birthday rodeo. 

This book should make for excellent classroom discussions as this era of Australian history comes to life in thirty two pages. But don’t let any child walk out of the classroom with fifty cents and a ‘see you all later’.



Monday, 19 June 2017

Friends

Friends by Teena Raffa-Mulligan, illustrated by Veronica Rooke (Serenity Press) PB RRP $12.99 ISBN 9780995410411
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Written in rhyming verse that could easily be sung if it had music, this clever, delightful little picture book for a 3+ years age group, reflects on just what friends are. It conveys ways friends care for one another and what they do to show it, regardless of their differences. Ideal for reading and listening to, it can be used as an introduction to poetry for the young.

An interesting collection of Australian wildlife comes together. Koalas and cockatoos, a snake and a kangaroo, a bear, bee, and possum are part of the large menagerie that carries the story. Strong, bold lines and vibrant colours make each page a stage production thanks to Veronica Rooke’s carefree interpretation. The text is free-flowing in large font set out in a thoughtful and child-friendly design. The characters are happy, playful and animated as friends are when they get together.

It’s a picture book for the very young to learn and recognize our Australian creatures while listening to verse. Friends, conveys a strong message about the role friendships play in people’s lives.


Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Australian Animal Atlas

The Australian Animal Atlas written by Leonard Cronin and illustrated by Marion Westmacott (Allen and Unwin)  HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9781760294144

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Where, in Australia, might you find a red-headed honeyeater? What’s the wingspan of a gum moth?  Is there such a thing as a legless lizard? This 48-page reference book is jam-packed with information on 176 species of Australian animals.

The information is separated into habitats, with a selection of 16 animals per spread. The list of habitats is quite extensive and impressive: Deserts, Mangroves, Mallee and Acacia Scrublands, Waterways, Forests and Woodlands, Seashore, Rainforests, Heathlands, Tropical Wetlands, Alpine and Urban. Each habitat is introduced with 1–2 paragraphs describing its unique features, climate conditions and importance to the ecosystem. Each is accompanied with a small map of Australia, colour-coded to show the locations of that habitat. 

Each section of the book comprises four pages. The first double page spread (which opens with the habitat information) includes a large look-and-find illustration. The margins feature small pictures of 16 animals that are hiding in the main picture. Each of these animals is described in further detail on the double page spread that follows. The font is on the small size, as a result, but the writing is great – Cronin has focused on lesser known facts about each animal and perfectly summarised these with an entertaining caption beneath each species name. For example, the caption for the spotted cuscus is ‘smelly chest’, and the paragraph beneath explains how smelly oil from the male’s chest is rubbed onto tree branches to mark out a territory.

The illustrations by botanical artist, Marion Westmacott, are in full-colour and look extremely realistic – some almost photographic in quality! The endpapers feature a lovely trail of animals, first wandering into the book and later wandering out. The pages of the book are glossy and white throughout, which really helps lift the illustrations off the paper and bring the detail to life.

The book will appeal to kids who love Australian wildlife, particularly those aged between 6 and 12. It would be a great addition to the classroom shelf, especially beside existing collaborations by the same author and illustrator.


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers X Marks the Spot

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers X Marks the Spot written by Kate & Jol Temple and illustrated by Jon Foye (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781760291945

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Jimmy Cook is, to put it simply, an explorer. Actually (if you can excuse his modesty), he’s pretty much ‘the greatest explorer that ever lived’. After he discovered the third grade, in the first book in this series, he was rather inspired by the historical feats of  ‘the other Captain Cook’. In this, the second ‘Jimmy Cook’ story, he has found a humungous dinosaur footprint … so now he’s busy digging away to find its bones. And give it a name. (‘Jimmyosaurus’ anyone?)

Much to his teachers’ annoyance, Jimmy seems to have developed quite a team of student diggers at the school … especially since he found that map marking X for treasure. Forget the dinosaur, he is about to discover something better … something real. Can he get to it before that show-off, Alice Toolie, does?

Jimmy records his daily adventures in his journal, noting always the weather that day (eg ‘hailstones the size of rhinoceros beetles’) and drawing a picture to illustrate his inventory (eg the ‘arm of a robot toy’). The inventory and weather observations don’t always have any bearing on the story, but are amusing introductions to each chapter. The journal entries are interspersed with funny black and white penciled illustrations by Jon Foye. Almost every page features an illustration, making the design highly attractive to readers aged 7 – 10. 

The three talented creators behind this book have released four children’s books together including I Got This Hat, the book selected for National Simultaneous Storytime in 2016. Their complementary styles work well together, offering the right blend of humour and action, with a dash of nonchalance. Jimmy’s innocent observations about his world are laugh-out-loud funny. Can’t wait to see what he discovers next!


Friday, 16 June 2017

The Blue Cat

The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781760292294

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘“If that cat could speak,” she said, rolling her eyes to the ceiling, “imagine the stories he would tell.”
Personally, I felt I would rather not know.’

The blue cat appeared around town about the same time as Ellery did, according to the narrator, Columba. Ellery is a new child at her school, a European refugee who doesn’t (or doesn’t want to) speak. The blue cat is thought to have come from one of the navy ships at the wharf. Was it tossed overboard, or did it flee? Columba and her next-door-neighbours, who have befriended the cat, can only guess at the cat’s background as they quietly contemplate the atrocities it has probably seen. (‘… His body shakes when he’s asleep with secret anger dark and deep.’)

The mysterious blue cat disappears after hearing the blast of noisy sirens for the practice air raid. Columba bands together with Ellery, and her resourceful classmate Hilda, to search the streets of Sydney. But as the story transcends into a haunting alter-reality, we are left to ponder whether Columba is searching for a blue cat … or whether she’s searching inside herself for the answers to the meaning of the war.

Award-winning Dubosarsky combines her lyrical style with historical documents to tell this fascinating, fairy-tale like story of the friendship between a boy and a girl in Sydney, 1942. Her writing beautifully captures the innocence of children caught up in a war, starkly contrasted, for example, against a documented government order for ‘Enemy Aliens’ or a black and white photograph of Hitler at the Eiffel Tower.

The story targets 10–14 year-olds but will likely appeal to a wider readership, especially lovers of literary historical fiction. This powerful reflection on war will settle quietly in your heart and linger, long after the final page.






Thursday, 15 June 2017

Fluffy Chick

Fluffy Chick  by Rod Campbell (Pan Macmillan Australia)  PB RRP $14.99  ISBN 978-1-5098-3435-8

Reviewed by Bev Murrill

A beautiful little book for pre-readers and toddlers, this delightful little story of Fluffy Chick, who lives on a farm, is typical of the genre in this series.

Each page is full of brightly coloured pictured and one character on the page has an aspect of its body that can be stroked, touched, and rubbed, to give a sense of what that animal’s skin or fur may feel like.

Little ones always love this kind of book, replete as it is with early learning opportunities to find out more about the world around them. Mums and Dads too find this an easy read with lots of laughter and encouragement to make the noises these animals would make.


This book is a must for any family with littlies who want to explore their world. 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Diary of an AFL Legend

Diary of an AFL Legend written by Shamini Flint and illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN 9781760295141

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Nine-year-old maths extraordinaire, Marcus Atkinson, is (shall we say) a good sport. (Not to be confused with the phrase ‘good at sport’.) He has so far bitterly sucked at cricket, track and field, basketball, tennis, soccer, swimming, taekwondo, golf and rugby. Yet there he is, at the opening of the tenth novel in this popular series, buried ‘under an AFL pack’. Oh Marcus. 

Let’s blame his perfect cousin (Spencer) who should really know better by now, right? Marcus progressively messes up the rules of the game in his special, flawlessly uncoordinated way. Despite his father (the self-help book novelist) having a philosophical conversation with him about the pursuit of happiness, he stubbornly refuses to give up. There’s no way he’s going to let Spencer down. When Spencer and his father secretly come up with a way to help Marcus miss an important game, believing they are doing him a favour, Marcus finds a way to turn up anyway … and puts on quite a show.

This latest installment in the (non) sporting series for 7–11-year-olds is chock full of hilarious, face palm moments that we’ve come to love and appreciate from Shamini Flint. The format of the book matches the others. The story is told via diary entries, each highly illustrated with the amusing black and white cartoons of Sally Heinrich. (The majority of the text actually appears in speech bubbles within the illustrations.) The narrative in the diary entries connects to the text in the speech bubbles, so there is perfect flow between the two. For example, Marcus writes ‘I asked Dad …’ and then we see a cartoon of Marcus and his father with the question in the speech bubbles. The diary entries also feature the odd ‘post-it note’ from his sister, supposedly reading and annotating without his permission.

The ending was great – very credible and totally in line with Marcus’ character and, er, his sporting prowess. Shamini Flint has once again provided an entertaining read with a clever way of inadvertently teaching her readers the rules of a sport.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Lucy’s Pet Dilemma

Lucy’s Pet Dilemma by Kate Bennett (Celapene Press) PB RRP $14.95 ISBN 978-0-9924414-7-0

Reviewed by Margaret Warner

Most children, at one time or another, want to have a pet. Parents know that caring for a pet encourages responsibility, awareness about the needs of living creatures and a sense of compassion.

Lucy has had two pets plus a pet rock. Unfortunately, she forgot to feed her goldfish and they died then she overfed the budgie, she abandoned her pet rock and re-homed it in the garden and she’s not very fond of the family dog.

When Lucy’s second best friend, Charlotte asks her to take her pet mouse, Albertine since she can’t take the mouse with her when she moves, Lucy is desperate to show her parents that she can now be a responsible pet carer. They agree on a two week trial and Lucy does try extra hard and all goes well until the pet mouse accidentally escapes. The way in which Lucy deals with Albertine’s temporary escape indicates to her parents that she is definitely becoming a much more responsible pet carer and also brings an unexpected bonus to Lucy.

Lucy’s Pet Dilemma is 42 pages long with six chapters and suitable for independent readers aged six plus years. The cover by illustrator Jenny England will attract young readers and the interspersed small b/w illustrations break up the text which makes for easier reading.




Monday, 12 June 2017

Spellslinger

Spellslinger by Sebastien De Castell (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781471406119

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Kellen is almost sixteen years old and rapidly approaching his magical trials. Will he become a mage of Jan’Tep, like his powerful father Ke’heops? Or will he instead be declared an unmagical ‘Sha’Tep weakling’, destined only to serve a mage? The pressure is on. His younger sister, Shalla, has already sparked magical bands in multiple disciplines, but Kellen has none.

Desperate to avoid the shame of being declared Sha’Tep, Kellen passes his first trial by tricking his opponent into believing he is performing a spell against him. (‘Magic is a con game.’) Shalla pronounces him a cheat and then casts her own spell against him, hoping he’ll find some magic within to shield it. He doesn’t – and she nearly kills him. Fortunately, a mysterious stranger (Ferius Parfax) saves his life.

Ferius, whom the townspeople suspect to be a Daroman spy, empathises with Kellen and continues to look out for him. When Kellen discovers the shameful truth about the Jan’Tep people, and becomes a victim of their cruelty, he turns to Ferius – and a smart-mouthed squirrel cat, Reichis – to help him escape and find his own destiny instead. But who exactly is Ferius, and why is she so keen to help Kellen?

Spellslinger is the first YA fantasy novel in a new set of six books by Sebastien De Castell, author of the Greatcoats series. He describes the book as being set in the same universe as his Greatcoats series, but on a different continent – one ‘more akin to the American frontier’. The dark, western feel makes it quite a unique, magical story! The novel is fast-paced, told in first-person perspective, and broken up into four parts representing Kellen’s magical trials.

Essentially, it’s the story of a teenager trying to find himself. It’s about how he stands up to those who shame him, and finds his own direction in life. Kellen stops striving to become a Jan’Tep after he learns that ‘there’s no amount of magic in the world that’s worth the price of a man’s conscience’. With the support of Ferius and Reichis, he is ready to assume his place as the ‘Spellslinger’; a role that Ferius predicts ‘might just change the world’. Kellen leaves behind a trail of allies and enemies that will no doubt make the forthcoming books rather action-packed!


Sunday, 11 June 2017

Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake

Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake by Rob Lloyd Jones (Walker Books) PB RRP: $14.99   ISBN: 9781406361445

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok     

Join Jake Atlas and his twin sister, Pan, on a thrilling journey through the Egyptian desert as they search for their missing parents, and try to save them from being turned into mummies by an evil dead.

One day Jake is a simple schoolboy with terrible grades and a bad attitude. The next day, he is a member of a super high-tech treasure hunting team, working with shady tomb robbers to locate his parents.

On the surface, the Atlas family appear to be quite normal. But Jake is hiding an addiction to stealing, Pan is concealing her genius for fear of being bullied, and the siblings can't stop fighting – with each other or with their parents, stuffy professors of Ancient History.

Everything changes the day Jake and Pan discover the truth about their parents. They are suddenly thrown into an unknown world, full of mystery and intrigue.

Jake's quick thinking in tricky situations comes in handy as it helps them get out of tight spots, while Pan's intelligence and photographic memory enables the pair to solve the clues along the way. Jake and Pan end up working together, and eventually come to understand one another.

Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake is a riveting page-turning adventure by award-winning author Rob Lloyd Jones. It is action packed and will keep readers intrigued from the moment they open the book.

It is recommended for readers aged 9 and over, and is highly recommended.





Saturday, 10 June 2017

Catch the Fox board game

Catch the Fox board game (Crown & Andrews and Goliath Games) RRP $39.95 http://www.crownandandrews.com

Reviewed by Di Bates

Voted the best new game at the 2017 London Toy Fair, Catch the Fox is a hilarious game where players have to stop a greedy fox from stealing chickens. He can lose his trousers at any moment, and when he does, the players have to rescue as many chickens as you can. The first to collect 5 chickens wins!

Catch the Fox is great family fun and suitable for 2 to 6 players. The game is easy to set up and no batteries are required. Inside the game box is a 20 centimetre high plastic fox whose underpants must first be retrieved from under his feet: you then pull the pants up over his lower half, raise his hands and you’re ready to begin.

To start the game, the player who makes the best clucking sound rolls the first die. Then he or she places as many of the small plastic chickens as indicated on the die into the fox’s pockets. Next the player has to push down on the fox’s head. This is a game of chance as sometimes after pushing on the head nothing happens and the next player rolls the die.

However, unexpectedly the pants sometimes fall down (and disappear), and of course all the chickens scatter! All players – each using only one hand – have to try to gather the fallen chickens. The chickens gathered must be then put into the ‘coop’ provided for each player. Each coop has five empty spaces: the first player to have five chickens in his or her coop is the winner!


This is an easy-to-play game which makes it ideal for a family activity with Mum, Dad and children aged 4+ years. Alternatively a group of up to four children can play the game with minimum supervision. Ideal for school holiday activity.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Pop the Pig® board game

Top of Form
Pop the Pig® board game (Crown and Andrews, Goliath) RRP $29 http://www.crownandandrews.com

Reviewed by Di Bates

Pop the Pig® is an international preschool classic that is adored by millions of children. It's said to be the #2 best-selling new kids’ game of the last five years in Europe and the US!

Inside the colourful game box is a roly poly plastic pig with a wide mouth and a fat belly. The game starts by the first player rolling the die. The number on the die corresponds with a number on one of the plastic burgers. The burger is then ‘fed’ into the pig’s mouth and the player pumps the pig’s head according to the number on the die (and the burger). The next player continues and so on. As players roll the die and pop a hamburger into the pig's mouth, the pig’s belly gets bigger and bigger. The more players pump pig’s head, the more his belly grows until . . . pop!  Kids love the suspense as they watch his belly grow; the player who makes his belly burst loses the game.

This is a very child-friendly game as it has no batteries and is easy (and fun) to play, even without adult supervision. Children can quickly reset this game with one pump of the pig's head and experience consistent belly-busting game-play each and every time. Players aged from 4 upwards can engage in the game, with 2 to 6 players. Play time is 30 minutes or less so there is not likely to be any boredom – or squabbles, come to that.




Thursday, 8 June 2017

Bruno - Some of the More Interesting Days in My Life So Far

Bruno - Some of the More Interesting Days in My Life So Far by Katarina Valckx, illustrated by Nicolas Hubesch (Gecko Press) PB $19.99 ISBN 9781776571253

Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

The cover of this graphic novel to suit readers aged 5 to 9 years is very appealing with its simple cartoon style architecture and a small black cat, Bruno, as the main character. In some ways the content of this book is rather adult in its sentiment. To me it feels like the sort of story a parent would tell a child at the end of a trying day.

All the characters in this story are animals, with Bruno’s best friend being a horse called Ringo, his other friend Gloria being a shop keeping cow, Georgette the turtledove and his nemesis “the Dreadful Gerard” who is a grey wolf.

Six different days are examined in this book, the first being: A peculiar day, followed by, A rainy day, A day when the power went out, A stupid day (that ends pretty well), A much less interesting day and An almost perfect day.

Bruno is a rather compassionate little fellow who rescues smaller animals from a dire fate such as a tiny fish being forced to drink milk and nearly dying because it’s kept out of water. Bruno defends his little canary friend Tweety from an intimidating crow by letting out his ‘inner lion’ and roaring ferociously.

When Bruno’s friend Gloria calls him over to help her with a tiny problem – a canary flying around inside the shop he assesses the situation immediately:

“At Gloria’s, I saw the canary right away. He was all crestfallen.”

Hilariously, Tweety speaks but mixes up his words. Bruno is the only one who seems to understand him.

 “Caramel for the bridges,” Tweety said.
“You see? He talks nonsense.”
“Would you like to come on a picnic, Tweety?” I asked.
“Motorcoach,” Tweety replied, with a faint smile.

These stories are powerful in their simplicity with themes of friendship, compassion and awareness of differences. It reads more like an allegory or parable rather than a true story. Bruno has a matter-of-fact way of stating reality as he intuitively deals with the elements of his day, such as a car full of wild boars making a nuisance of themselves, or the situation where he had to let out his inner lion. After misunderstanding a situation with a raccoon and a crate of carrots, Bruno realises he can’t save everyone and always do the right thing.

“So much for helping the poor. I didn’t become a hero after all. At least, not that day. But I’d done my best and that’s not bad. (Ringo told me that to cheer me up.) Georgette suggested we go and get ice cream. The last item on my list! It’s not as easy as it seems to have a perfect day, but good ice cream helps a lot. Yum.”

In many ways Bruno represents the best in all of us, the inner coach who spurs us on to be optimistic about life and to do our best despite failures. I think this book is suitable not only for children but perhaps for adults too. There’s a really nice message here – an acceptance of what life throws at you and encouragement to hold onto simple faith in the goodness of things.

“That day, the power went out on my street. At night, so as not to be in the dark, I lit candles. It was very pretty. Since they don’t happen very often, I really like days when the power goes out.”


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

The Lost Kitten

The Lost Kitten by Lee, illustrated by Komako Sakai (Gecko Press) HB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9781877579554

Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

I have to say out of the three books released by Gecko Press this one is my favourite, simply because the illustrations are so stunningly beautiful. Komako Sakai uses a palette knife on board, with layering of simple opaque, pastel colours contrasted with charcoal greys and sparse Matisse-like black outlining, but the most stunning thing of all is the rendering of cats and kittens. This artist has an amazing ability to, with a few strokes, show the angular lines of a cat’s body as well as the softness of fur.

The story follows a little girl named Hina, who finds a skinny, scruffy kitten on the doorstep one day, behind which sits a mother cat and two other kittens. The understanding is that the mother cat is asking them to take care of her baby. At first Hina is unappreciative of the tiny cat saying “if we’re going to have a kitten I’d rather get a cute one from the pet shop.”

Her mother gently shows her how to care for the kitten, cleaning it with a soft wet towel, wiping the goo out from its eyes. Hina softens towards the creature and is drawn into the spell of wonder at its tiny life.
Hina stroked the kitten as gently as if she were touching butterfly wings. The kitten seemed to like it. Hina slipped her hand under its tummy and lifted. It was so soft and light. When she held the kitten, its tummy moved in and out and it purred deep in its throat. “Even though it’s so tiny,” Hina said, “it’s alive.”

As Hina learns to understand the kitten and its instinctive ways such as lapping up milk with its tongue and hiding under cupboards she also learns how to care for it, providing a bed and a collar with a bell and thinking up names for it.

But as her mum leaves the house to go and get food for the kitten Hina realises it has disappeared and she panics. It reminds her of a time when she was lost while shopping with her mother. The fear she felt on that day she now ascribes to how the kitten must feel, for she is sure that it is lost too.  Hina searches for the kitten and promises to be its friend. She persists, realising how much it means to her. As she puts on her coat to go searching outside she finds it at the bottom of the cupboard curled up with a sweater. The cat is thus named Sleepy and so begins the friendship.

The gentleness of the story, translated beautifully from Japanese, is very touching. Somehow the artist manages to convey the harshness of life as a wildcat with the softness of the kitten’s fur and the progressive softening of Hina’s heart. It’s a beautiful book and in hardcover edition is a comforting heirloom. Suitable for ages 2 to 5 years.



Tuesday, 6 June 2017

That’s Not a Hippopotamus

That’s Not a Hippopotamus by Juliet Maclver and illustrated by Sara Davis
(Gecko Press) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9781927271964

Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

For ages 3 to 5 years, That’s not a hippopotamus is a brilliantly illustrated and very clever picture book. Davis’ characterisations of the children, and in particular the teacher, are genius.

When a class of very young children go on an excursion to Don’s Safari zoo they are intent on finding a hippopotamus which eludes them for most of the day. Ranger Don leads them on a ridiculously funny adventure as they fly across the pages kicking up dust, laughing, screeching with fear or delight and having a wonderful time in search of the hippo. During their adventure they manage to come across Ibex, giraffe, zebra, elephant, warthog, boa constrictor, a selection of reptiles, a hilarious collection of birds hiding in a forest scene and a walrus until eventually the hippo sneaks up behind and dressed as a tourist.

Davis’ colourful illustrations on white background are perfect and the children’s facial expressions and individual little characters are a delight. The harried spinster-like teacher survives being strangled by a boa constrictor and rubbed up against by a friendly warthog.

Maclver’s rhyme flows beautifully providing just enough hints for Davis to explore a variety of animals. I particularly like the background stories on each page.
“A missing hippopotamus!
Need a hippo–spotter, Miss?
Good thing we’re here, the greatest band
of hippo–hunters in the land.
I see him, Miss! He’s very quick!
I’ll chase him with my pointy stick!”

Maclver and Davis are an exceptional combination. I’m sure this story will be read over and over and delight the reader and listener every time.