Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Toto’s Apple

Toto’s Apple by Mathieu Lavoie, (Phaidon) HB RRP $24.95 ISBN 9780714872513

Reviewed by Stephanie Ward

Meet Toto. He’s a worm. A very determined worm. He wants an apple, but it’s high up in a tree. That won’t stop Toto. He will do anything to get it. Through creative plans and his penchant for art, Toto tries a variety of ideas to get the apple. When Didi shows up and picks the apple, is Toto’s hard work all for nothing? The surprising ending shows that perseverance pays off even if it’s not in a way we expect.

Toto’s Apple tells a unique story aimed at 2 – 5 year-olds. With bold, hand-painted illustrations and sparse text, young readers follow tenacious Toto cheering for him and each of his clever plans. Although commendable, each ends in disappointment, but Toto keeps trying teaching children the importance of commitment and never giving up.  

Author-illustrator Mathieu Lavoie has created a charming, unconventional picture book with an endearing character that is sure to resonate with toddlers. His talent shines as Toto’s emotions are apparent in the slightest changes to eye shape or the direction of Toto’s gaze. So much is communicated in the tiniest details that children can easily recognize. This is a fun, sometimes shocking, sometimes humourous book that is a pleasure to read over and over again.

Monday, 30 January 2017


Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer (Harper Collins Publishers)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9781460753149

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Mara Carlyle’s senior year is more than unusual, full of explosive combustions of the senior students in a suburban New Jersey hometown. No one really knows why this is happening but the FBI rolls in and the seniors become quarantined and isolated, left to feel abandoned and forgotten.

The senior year students randomly blow up and death appears to be around any corner.  Squeezed in between all of this are the usual teenage crushes, groups, school performance, change and the heart-breaking moment you have to say goodbye to the best friend you love and adore.

Mara narrates the story in a smart sassy voice with the no-holds back on teenage language and feelings. The story is witty and funny, full of honest truths about being a teenager in the twenty first century. The characters are a real mish-mash of believable teenage personalities.  No topics are barred and the book is a place where a teenager reader can safely escape to while exploring issues in their world.

The ending brings with it a little bit of wondering but also acceptance of the fact that change is a part of life. Starmer holds nothing back in this bold in-your-face novel about growing up.  His idea is original and holds the reader’s attention.

“If a person invites you to watch a sunset, you go, don’t you? You don’t say jackshit about what’s cheesy or uninspired. So neither will I; I know now that sunsets are glorious things. And this one – this one!- is absolutely invigorating, a fucking gorgeous splash of red on the horizon that marks an end, one I always knew was coming”.

This book is a good read for young adults.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Australia Illustrated

Australia Illustrated written and illustrated by Tania McCartney (EK Books)
HB RRP $29.99   ISBN 979-1-925335-21-7
Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

A gorgeous textured hardcover book, Australia Illustrated is ‘the ultimate visual reference guide to all things Aussie,’ from award-winning author Tania McCartney.
My review copy has been thumbed through and appreciated by teens and toddlers alike. It’s clever, funny and terribly engaging. Special mention must be made of the list of Aussie slang words which beg to be spoken aloud.  

This non-fiction picture book will appeal to the child in everyone. It’s a glorious mish-mash of facts, figures and curiosities beautifully wrapped with the ribbon of McCartney’s distinctive, colourful and endlessly fascinating illustration style. We are told that the pictures are made using watercolour, gouache, ink, mono-printing, digital art and filters. The overall design is colourful and dynamic, cheerfully whisking the reader from one idea to the next. 

There is so much in this book to love. And to ponder. It’s playful and whimsical – with the author’s enjoyment eminently apparent in textural images and visual stories. The pictures cleverly accentuate the text in some places and work as stand-alone observations in others.

I particularly enjoy being made to work a little. The ideas, images, fonts, layout, cultural icons, maps and events are laid out with charming appeal and quirky connections. Although there are predictable ‘patterns’ of structure, within these the surprises are endless. It’s delightful for instance, to discover (because readers of this book will make discoveries) that the icons which open each chapter, are cobbled together from an array of Australiana. The opera house has been constructed from chook feathers, for instance. The Harbour Bridge from coat hangers. And I’ll leave the big merino as a special surprise.

A picture-book that transcends traditional notions of age, gender and reading ability, I suspect that like the icons represented in its pages, Australia Illustrated will be celebrated for a long time to come.

Recently I made the bold claim that McCartney is well on the way to being a goddess of Australian children’s literature. This offering just about clinches the deal.  

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Stories from Stella Street

Stories from Stella Street by Elizabeth Honey (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9781760292256

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It has been 21 years since readers were first captivated by 11-year-old Henni Octon’s friendly narrative voice, as she told us about 45 and 47 Stella Street and everything that happened. The 1996 CBCA Honour Book for Younger Readers is about the arrival of some lavish, rude and snobby new residents to 47 Stella Street, who disrupt the friendly, down-to-earth culture of the neighbourhood. When their actions start affecting the happiness of the much-loved residents at number 45, the Stella Street kids band together to discover a solution … and also wind up discovering what their new neighbours are hiding.

The sequel, Fiddle-back, is about the Stella Street gang’s summer. Budding writer Henni, types up the story of what happens when they discover an untouched paradise out in the bush … then realise they aren’t the only ones who know about it. The story beautifully demonstrates the importance of preserving our environment and how nature can help people connect and find their place in the world.

A third story in the series, The Ballad of Cauldron Bay, tells of their Easter holiday at a remote beach location. Henni uses her new computer to type up what happens when moody Tara gatecrashes their holiday. Elizabeth Honey beautifully captures the emotions Henni feels at the difficult age of 13. It’s a wonderful story about growing up, about giving people the benefit of the doubt and about helping people change the course of their lives.

Readers aged 8–12 years will love seeing how Henni constructs her novels, playing around with fonts on her computer and interrupting the story with her amusing, handwritten prayers to God. Henni is self-conscious about her writing, often interrupting herself to draw attention to principles of the craft, or to pay homage to her writing idols (such as Gillian Rubinstein and Roald Dahl). The novels are also scattered with Elizabeth Honey’s detailed black and white sketches, adding further humour to the whirlwind events of the stories.

Stella Street fans, new and old, will love this 21st anniversary edition, featuring three books in one. (And those who feel sad upon its completion can always track down a fourth novel featuring Henni –To the Boy in Berlin. Phew!)

Friday, 27 January 2017

Cook in a Book: Pancakes! An Interactive Recipe Book

Cook in a Book: Pancakes! An Interactive Recipe Book by Lotta Nieminen, (Phaidon) HB RRP $19.95 ISBN 9780714872827

Reviewed by Stephanie Ward

In bold, colourful spreads, Pancakes! takes young readers through the process of making the beloved breakfast food. Simple step-by-step directions of an actual pancake recipe instruct children to pour, measure and stir while the ingenious paper engineering allows little cooks to partake in the (mess-less) process. Children ‘pour’ the flour into the bowl by pulling on a tab and turn a wheel to stir the multi-coloured ingredients into a solid-colour batter. A clever round disc can be removed and ‘flipped’ into the pan to finish cooking, then ‘served’ on a plate.

This interactive board book is gorgeous as well as fun. The vivid colour palette and sparse text is visually appealing. Plus, the chance to see the pages change through direct interaction is incredibly enticing to young children aged 2 – 4. In just sixteen pages, children get the chance to actively participate in making the recipe. In addition, a variety of kitchen tools are used in the recipe subtly teaching children about basic cooking skills. 

Created by renowned illustrator, graphic artist and art director, Lotta Nieminen, Pancakes! is the first interactive recipe book and the first in the Cook in a Book series. If the rest are as compelling and attractive as Pancakes! this will be an awesome series to collect for budding chefs or children of foodies. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Little Bear’s First Sleep

Little Bear’s First Sleep by Lesley Gibbs, illustrated by Lisa Stewart (Scholastic Press) HB RRP $24.99    ISBN 978-1-74362-401-2

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Little Bear is ready for his first ‘big, big sleep’. Mum and Dad are settled in their cave, curled up for their long winter hibernation but Little Bear cannot get to sleep. As he tosses and turns, he wonders what the big sleep will feel like. As he sits, wide-awake, in the snow he decides he will have to be brave and put himself to sleep. As he watches his parents sleep he tries snuggling, singing and softly stroking his own ear. Will he ever be able to get to sleep before the soft spring breeze comes knocking on the door?

Little Bear’s First Sleep is a gentle story which will resonate with all young readers who have trouble getting to sleep - along with their parents. Little Bear is brave and determined and solves his own problem while his parents sleep on, illuminating this adorable little bear’s strength and character which children will be happy to relate to.

The text is lovely to read, combining Little Bears thoughts and actions beautifully with the illustrations.
Maybe it would be soft like his mother’s fur.
He waited with his legs curled high.

Evocative words create a calm tone for the story which is mirrored in the illustrations. Soft brushstrokes and pencil bring movement and expression to the pages. Little Bear is adorable. The muted colours of winter at the beginning, contrasts with the fresh bright colours of spring at the end, and both are highlighted by the dark pages in between while the bears are in the cave. But even here, a circle of glowing light surrounds Little Bear, making the dark cosy.

The illustrations also bring strongly the emotion of isolation bear feels when he is awake, alone, then the connection with family when he snuggles in to sleep.
This is a lovely bedtime story for four year olds and older, particularly perfect for those who struggle to sleep.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Marvin and Marigold: The Big Sneeze

Marvin and Marigold: The Big Sneeze by Mark Carthew, illustrated by Simon Prescott (New Frontier) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-92505-965-6

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Marvin the Mouse has a cold. This causes quite a problem for all those around him, especially for Marigold, his next-door neighbour. Marvin’s sneezes cause everything in Marigold’s house to clatter and crumble. So Marigold needs to come up with a solution. And quickly, before Marvin leaves.

The Big Sneeze is a delightful story told in lyrical rhyme. Although there are perhaps, more words than many picture books for this age, it is so rhythmic and fun to read aloud it’s hardly noticeable. The light-heartedness and meter of the words had me almost singing each page.
She built her house strong.
She built her house long –
With a bed made of feathers and sticks.

The illustrations match this bright, breezy, funny story. With the cracks and crumbles in everything around the two mice, the mice’s attire and the occasional subtle detail – like a cat’s tail glimpsed though a window – the pictures add to the enjoyment and comprehension of the story being told. And the twist at the end is told wholly by the illustration.

This is a picture book full of appeal and well suited to four to eight year olds. Older readers will also gain enjoyment from reading it aloud to their younger audience. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Stories of Life at Sydney Cove

Stories of Life at Sydney Cove by Susan E Boyer (Birrong Books) PB RRP
ISBN 9781877074493

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Susan Boyer, who has a passion for Australian colonial history, is the author of more than twenty non-fiction books including Across Great Divides. This current title is a young reader edition of that book. It is evident that Boyer has thoroughly researched her material: all of the white people in the stories that make up this book for children aged 9 to 13 years really lived at Sydney Cove at the time of the first settlement.

The structure of the beginning of this book is different to most books for children insofar as the first five chapters that follow an explanation of the historical background of the book, focus on different people who were part of the First Fleet. Chapter One, for instance, tells the 1787 story of 13-year-old John Hudson, an orphan,  who having been in the workhouse and then worked as a chimney sweep, was accused of burglary and sent to the new colony on board the ship Friendship. In May of that year there's another 13-year-old, Elizabeth Hayward on board Lady Penryhn for stealing from her factory employer: she meets Isabella Rawson twice her age whose baby dies on board.

When Captain Phillips and his men land at Botany Bay there is a clear and involving account of the interchange between natives and the First Fleeters. One really emphathises with the natives' total astonishment at encountering white people for the first time. Further on, in Sydney Cover (now Circular Quay) there's a clear and identifiable account by Lieutenant Ralph Clarke (told partly by the book's author and partly in Clarke's own words) of the man's impressions of the new, alien country. Here is a soldier who volunteered for the journey but who now wishes he hadn't. 'And so,' writes Boyer, 'with such a mixed collection of people, each with their own plans, personalities and attitudes, Governor Phillip had to build a colony.'

As work progresses building the new settlement, the author uses maps and original material to inform the reader. Occasionally, too, the book has maps and black and white illustrations, the sources of which are shown in the back pages. The text has frequent original material interspersed in, but integral to the narration.

Boyer's tale is interesting, absorbing and well told; characters introduced in the early chapters come into the later story of the settlement's development. The book finishes when Governor Phillip sets off in December 1792 on board Atlantic with the natives Bennelong and Yemerawane bound for England. What on earth would the natives think of English people and their houses, he wonders.

In the later pages, as well as a list of British in Stories of Life at Sydney Cover (and their occupations and interest and adventures) there is also a list of Aboriginal people in the book. This is a comprehensive and fascinating piece of research and the author is to be congratulated on her achievement.

Monday, 23 January 2017

The Silent Owl

The Silent Owl by Clemency Pearce, illustrated by Sam McPhillips (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925520019
Reviewed by Anita Howard

The hand-crafted illustrations made from everyday items which are full of personality beautifully illustrate the story of an owl which, for an unknown reason, will not make a sound.

This is a fun story told through rhyme, of forest animals, mice, fox, badger, bats, a squirrel and a stag that all take turns in trying to get Owl to speak.

In the end, the owl produces a collection of musical instruments which it plays whle the animals comment on how cleaver the owl is -- and then the owl winks.

As a story, but also as a stimulus for creativity in the use of the found object, this picture book is appropriate for two year olds to 11 year olds.

The Silent Owl was a finalist at the People’s book prize.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Doodles Activity Book

Doodles Activity Book by Ludo Studios (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $16.99   ISBN 9781760295448

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Draw, Snap, Send, Laugh’ … simple, right?

This interactive activity book is a fun accompaniment to the Australian, Emmy-Nominated TV show, Doodles, currently screening on ABC ME. The idea is that kids use the prompts in the book to draw a picture, take a photo of their creation, and upload it to the Doodles website. If their picture is chosen, Ludo Studios (creators of the show) will turn it into a micro-movie and screen it on TV.

With 176 pages of activities, divided into various topics, there is bound to be something that sparks the imagination of budding artists. Sections are titled: Monsters, Aliens and Space, Robots and Technology, Magic and Fantasy, Dinosaurs, Superheroes and Make Your Own Movie. There are also blank ‘Whatever-You-Like’ pages for freeform drawings.

All pages with the ‘Draw, Snap, Send, Laugh’ icons at the bottom can be uploaded to the website if desired. In and around these drawing activities are plenty of other tasks too. There are find-a-words, join-the-dots, fill-in-the-blanks and spot-the-differences. There are those with a modern flavour, for example tasks requiring kids to use emojis to complete a text message. There are some wonderful creative writing exercises included as well.

The design of the book is fantastic and sure to appeal to the target age group (5–12). The front cover is a collage of real drawings by kids, labelled with their names and ages. The activities, by Daley Pearson, are written in a very kid-friendly voice and are quite funny. For example:

‘Robots need a place to live too! Build a house for this robot to live in … unless you want this robot to be homeless. Wait! Do you want this robot to be homeless?’

The amusing activity prompts are perfectly complementary with the whimsical outlined pictures by Francis Stanton, begging for some colour.

It is not necessary to upload pictures to the website, of course. However, kids of all ages and abilities are encouraged to have a try, with an introductory note reassuring them that ‘there are no good or bad drawings’!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who?

Digby and the Yodelayhee… Who? by Renee Price, illustrated by Anil Tortop, Published by Create It Kids HB RRP $22.95

ISBN 9780992345754

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The fly pages one sees when opening this picture book are simply lovely peachy-pink colours covered with musical notes and sounds. This is appropriate really, for the story is about music, specifically that made by a number of children who play instruments such as sticks, double bass, drums and keyboard. But what most attracts Digby’s attention about the music being played is the extra loud sounds of yodelling.

Followed by his musical friends, Digby uses his noise-o-meter to track down and find the offending noise. When a door is opened, there is Maisie on stage with a microphone and huge amplifiers filling the room as she yodelayhees repeatedly. In a gloriously colourful scene, Digby and his mates, including Maisie, play their instruments and jive happily.

In the last act of this joyous story, the children hear another sound: ‘rumble gurg.’ They follow its source and finish up having more great fun.

This simple, engaging story is full of energy and fun. The illustrations are most attractive with colour which glows from the pages. A special bonus at the end of the book is a song written by the author in collaboration with her husband, Aaron Hipwell. A recording of the song can be downloaded via the QR code featured in the book.

The book is sure to be enjoyed by children aged 3 to 6 years.

Friday, 20 January 2017

A World of Information

A World of Information by Richard Platt, illustrated by James Brown (Walker Books) HB RRP $29.99   ISBN 9781406370843

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

The first thing you notice about this book is the stunning cover that immediately catches your eye. The next thing you will see is the incredible artwork littered across every page of this magnificent book.

A World of Information is a treasure trove of knowledge. It is overflowing with fascinating facts and figures that will expand young minds and teach them about the world. Readers will spend hours flicking through the pages, soaking up all the information in this veritable feast for the eyes.

This clever reference book covers over 30 diverse topics including time zones and tectonic plates, the human eye, the periodic table of elements, organs of the body, and the solar system.

Do know how much clouds weigh? Do you know the anatomy of the human skeleton? How about the structure and atmosphere of planet earth? These are just some of the answers you will discover in this stylish and informative tome.

A World of Information is the brainchild of celebrated author Richard Platt who has managed to create an engaging fact-filled book that both children and adults will enjoy reading. The illustrations by James Brown are captivating and contemporary, with a charming retro feel that will engage and enthrall readers.

Although it is recommended for ages 7+, this book is perfect for anyone who loves to learn. The fact that it is so aesthetically pleasing makes it a wonderful gift for every occasion and a great coffee table book.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Little Brother

Little Brother by Patricia Bernard, illustrated by Rizaldy Valencia (Blake Education) PB RRP $10.95
ISBN 9781760200909

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a book in the Sparklers’ series which aim to educate and entertain readers aged 6 to 9 years. Little Brother certainly does this and does it well. Set in Malaysia, it tells the story of a small Sabahian boy, Latif, who goes on an adventure with his pet Little Brother to find a home for the orang-utan in a rehabilitation centre in Sepilok.

As it progresses, the fast-paced story takes Latif (and the reader) from the boy’s family longhouse, where Little Brother and other orang-utans have wrecked a plantation nursery, to Kota Kinabalu. There Latif and Little Brother are photographed by tourists who give the boy ringgits so he can afford to catch a bus to Sepilok. On the bus Latif meets an Australian girl Kendra who aims to sponsor an orang-utan at the rehabilitation centre.

The book employs coloured illustrations -- both drawings and photographs -- on every double-page spread so young readers can see aspects of Malaysia from banana plantations to markets to cityscapes. To further inform and educate the reader, there are pages at the end of the book which contain a map (and flag) of Malaysia, facts about the country and a glossary. There is also a story analysis (orientation, complication, resolution) and a short comprehension.

Other books in this series set in south-east Asia and written by Australian Bernard include Goat Girl and Garden Boy, Emilio and the Volcano, and The Talking Hands Guesthouse.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Beginning Woods

The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill (Murdoch Books)
PB RRP $16.99   ISBN 9781782690900

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here? What is the best way to live?’

These are ‘Accursed Questions’ and, in the sinister world built up by debut author Malcolm McNeill, searching for the answers to them might just make you Vanish.

Max Mulgan, abandoned in a bookshop as a baby and raised by foster parents, is plagued by these questions. He has vivid dreams of his real parents, and is consumed with the thought of finding them. Around him, adults are randomly Vanishing, much to the bewilderment of leading scientists. Only one, Boris Peshkov, comes close to solving the mystery.

He connects the Vanishings to a place called the Beginning Woods (a dark, fairytale, parallel version of the current ‘World’) and he knows Max’s background is somehow related. Max, meanwhile, immerses himself in Storybooks, desperate to learn more about his past. When the powerful Professor Courtz calls for book burnings, Max’s anger and thirst for self-identity grows and he finds a way to cross over to the Beginning Woods. Finally! He can try and figure out where his birth parents are … only it seems his destiny requires him to complete another quest first. And it involves hunting a dragon.

The novel would suit young adults (and adults) with an advanced, sophisticated passion for fantasy stories. It is unique, highly original, and deeply analogous with life itself, taking a strong stance on the importance of imagination. (As if in affirmation of this, the novel itself demands a generous imagination on the reader’s part!)

McNeill has built a detailed, complex fairytale world with an array of familiar archetypes (witches, dragons and wolves) combined with not so familiar (Shredders, Kobolds and Wind Giants). The story is not fast-paced, requiring some perseverance on the reader’s part. Those that follow the story through from start to finish will be rewarded with a truly satisfying ending though, which presents a wonderful sense of order being restored and life moving forward.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Wilderness: An interactive atlas of animals

Wilderness: An interactive atlas of animals written by Hannah Pang, illustrated by Jenny Wren (Little Tiger Press) HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781848575066

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

A beautifully presented, hardcover non-fiction book, Wilderness provides a fact-filled overview of the world’s animals, perfect for readers aged five to eight.

The book is divided by habitat, from ‘On Safari’ and ‘Sea Search’ to ‘High Mountains’ and more. The book is illustration-heavy and interactive, with pop-ups and lots of flaps to lift, revealing fascinating facts about quirky animals and diverse eco-systems. A particularly fun spread is ‘Trek to the Poles’, with animals from the Arctic at the top, and those from the Antarctic upside down at the bottom, encouraging readers to flip the book around.

While the book is broad in its overview, a unique aspect is its focus on lesser-known creatures. From the pale-throated sloth to the red-lipped batfish, kids will delight in discovering the world’s animals beyond the usual suspects. The book would make a great gift, and would also be a handy resource for school projects.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Making Up

Making Up by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781760128999

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Making Up is a short board book consisting of a tale extracted from Ormerod and Blackwood’s picture book Maudie & Bear.

Feisty Maudie takes offence when Bear laughs at her dancing. Bear explains he is laughing with her rather than at her; however, Maudie is quite a strong-willed little character and doesn’t accept this. Bear is gentle yet persistent in attempting to coax Maudie out of her bedroom and make amends, until he finally comes up with an idea to bring them back together.

The contrast between petulant Maudie and patient Bear captures the irrational moments of the toddler and preschool years. It also suggests the endless love of a parent or carer, even in the face of difficult behaviour. Maudie is a flawed and very real character, who reflects the emotional highs and lows experienced by the two to five year old set, the book’s target market. Blackwood’s gentle illustrations capture the moods evoked in the story beautifully.

Other books in the series include The Bike Ride, with further titles to come in 2017.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Penguin Problems

Penguin Problems by John Dory, illustrated by Lane Smith (Walker Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781406375992
Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Penguin Problems is the story of a grumpy, yet loveable penguin which spends his days whinging and whining about his conditions.

Penguin lives in Antarctica but instead of relishing in the beauty and freedom of his surroundings, he constantly complains about how difficult life as a penguin can actually be.

He whines about the cold, the snow, the sun, the noise, his waddle, and the fact that the ocean is too salty and inconveniently full of predators. And can you imagine how hard it is to find your mum in a big crowd of identical penguins? Well, it’s almost impossible, according to Penguin.

One day while Penguin is busy complaining, a clever walrus offers him a more balanced view. Walrus tries to make Penguin realise that things aren’t as bad as he thinks. He encourages Penguin to focus on the good things in life and to remember how much he is loved.

Just when it seems like Penguin concedes with Walrus’ point of view, Penguin’s cranky old ways resurface and readers are once again reminded about why life in Antarctica is so terribly difficult.

This hilarious picture book is the first collaboration for John Dory and Lane Smith, a four-time recipient of the New York Times best illustrated book award.  It is delightfully witty and face-paced, and is overflowing with quirky illustrations that will put a smile on the face of anyone who reads it.

Penguin Problems is perfect for readers aged 3-8 years but even adults will find themselves laughing out loud when reading to their children. It is a delightful, fun-filled book and a wonderful bedtime read.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson (Walker Books) HB RRP $27.99   ISBN 9781467789035

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

This book is a nonfiction narrative about a time in history we would sooner forget. It is the true story of 6-year old Nagasaki atomic bomb survivor, Sachiko Yasui, and her long journey to find peace.

On August 9, 1945 Sachiko’s life was forever changed. At 11.01am she was playing outside with four other children when an atomic bomb exploded half a mile away. Moments later those children were dead and her country was left in total devastation.

In the days and months that followed, Sachiko lost family members to radiation sickness, her hair fell out and she woke up screaming in the night. She found strength and understanding in the writings of Helen Keller, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr, which influenced her eventual decision to speak about this horrendous event.
When writing this book, author Caren Stelson had unprecedented personal access to Sachiko, conducting hours of in-person interviews, which enabled her to create a personal and moving history.

It is a story that is at times difficult to read but it also a story that needs to be shared, as it not only offers a remarkable new perspective on the final moments of World War II but also the horror and aftermath that ensued.

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story is a beautifully presented work, overflowing with stunning photographs and short essays on topics such as ‘Racism and War’ and ‘Long-Term Effects of Radiation’. 

It is a wonderful educational tool for children as it will not only teach them about world history but also help them understand why this atrocity can never, ever happen again.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Rain Stones

Rain Stones by Jackie French, (Harper Collins) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781460753170

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

The 25th anniversary edition of Rain Stones was recently released. It is Jackie French’s debut book, a collection of five short stories that have a unique Australian flavour. The stories, with a strong environmental theme, show a great love for our country. The imaginative and thought-provoking writing draws primary school aged readers into a world of adventure and freedom.
'Rain Stones tells of the hardship of drought and the desperate need for water: our hard dry land can be a tough place to live in. ‘Afternoon with Grandma’ touches on Alzheimer’s, dreams and determination.  ‘Jacob Saw’ warmly shows there are ways to see other than with one’s eyes.  ‘Dancing with Dinosaurs’ cleverly imagines the rolling hills of Canberra as dinosaurs come to life in their nightly dance. In ‘Dusty the Dragon’ a magical dragon is hidden in a sleepy bush valley.

There is a touchingly warm afterword from French about how her writing journey started and about the inspiration for each story.  The first story,  ‘Rain Stones’, French says, written out of a desperate need for income as well as to express her passion for writing.  Needless to say French’s talent shone through and her writing career took off.

Today’s children will enjoy the stories as they still manage to connect and touch readers.

The book is handy for teachers looking for stories that are distinctly Australian to share in their classrooms. These stories will surely lead to much discussion about what it means to be an Australian.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite written by Janet A. Holmes, illustrated by Jonathan Bentley (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781760124229

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Daisy spots a yellow kite dancing in the sky. She ventures over a hill to discover it belongs to a boy called William. The two meet, and William teaches Daisy how to fly his kite. Daisy runs and runs with it, and ‘She does not look back once’.

This beautifully illustrated picture book contains an intriguing premise of taking something that’s not yours, and the emotional fallout. The reader is taken on a journey from the depths of Daisy’s despair to joy in the final scene. Friendship, forgiveness and owning up to your mistakes are all cleverly conveyed. Scenes portraying Daisy’s guilty feelings are suitably darker in colour, and then brighten as she attempts to convey her remorse to William.

The story has quite a unique feel – taking something that’s not yours (whether accidental or not) is a childhood experience I’ve not often seen touched upon in picture books.

As a bonus, Blue Sky, Yellow Kite contains a colour print of one of Bentley’s beautiful scenes of Daisy and the kite, wild in the wind.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

One Minute Till Bedtime

One Minute Till Bedtime: 60-second poems to send you off to sleep, Selected by Kenn Nesbit, illustrations by Christoph Niemann (Little, Brown and Company) HB RRP $41.95  ISBN: 978-0-34121-9

Reviewed by Bill Condon

This is a dipping-in kind of book, in which there is a treasure to be discovered on every page. A quality production, it’s made sturdy to last through dozens if not hundreds of happy readings and even comes with a slip-on jacket. 

The first thing that must be noted is that the poems in this collection are child-friendly. They are about mums and dads and grandparents, about lovable pets and the funny things they get up to. They traverse topics such as the school bus, the first day at kindergarten, rainbows, armadillos, bath time, and dandelions. In fact, with 164 poems, each cleverly illustrated, One Minute Till Bedtime
touches on a great many subjects that are sure to leave a smile on children’s faces as they drift off to sleep.

Several well-known writers are featured in the book while some are poets who have been around for a long time, but I’m pleased to say, are still very much at the top of their game. These include such luminaries as Jack Prelutsky, Colin West, and Michael Rosen, to name just a few of many. It is also heartening to see such a strong representation of Australian poets. I counted fifteen whose names I recognised, too many to list, but again, to name only a few, take a bow, Dianne Bates, Edel Wignell, Janeen Brian, Mark Carthew and Teena Raffa-Mulligan.

The book is divided into six sections, each one beginning with a poem by Kenn Nesbitt, America’s Children’s Poet Laureate from 2013 to 2015. While the sections are not named, Nesbitt’s opening poem ably sets the scene for what is to come. As befitting a book with this title, there are number of poems concerning sleep. It’s difficult to choose a favourite from such an impressive line-up, but to give a small example, here are the final lines from Good-Night Poem, by Ralph Fletcher:
Tuck your covers
snug and tight.
Tuck the good
into the night.

One Minute Till Bedtime is highly recommended.

Australian author Bill Condon has written several books for children and young adults including his latest novel for 8 to 12 year olds, All of Us Together (About Kids Books). Bill has always had a special affection for poetry.