Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Kids’ Survival Guide

The Kids’ Survival Guide by Susan Berran (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP ISBN 978192552007

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Subtitled ‘Avoiding “When I was Young” and other Brain-exploding Lectures’, this book is not likely to be purchased by parents but by a certain kind of child. Basically it is a series of addresses by Sam, a country boy with an ‘annoying, diarrhoea pants, little snot-nose sister, Miss Smelly Melly Poop Pants’ who discovers a thick book – ‘Boring Useless Lectures, Lessons, Children’s Rules and Punishments’… BULLCRAP for short, which contains information Sam uses to explore in rants about parents and other adults.

The book is divided into five parts with titles such as Awesome Excuses and Uses, Bending the Rules and Dumb Things Parents Say! In Part One, ‘Boring Lectures That Explode Your Brain, and How to Get Out of Them,’ Sam raves at and mocks parents who he says are always giving ‘mind-numbing lectures where they waffle on about dead-boring stuff’ which the little smart aleck says he already knows. Throughout the book Sam vents his frustration and anger at adults who try to help, guide and correct him.

To tell the truth, as one mature adult to this (presumably adult) review reader, it seems to me that Sam is an obnoxious know-it-all who refuses to listen to the voice of his elders. He hates his sister and treats his (long-suffering, I’m sure) parents as though they are boring, punishing, over-bearing and useless. Who would want such a son?

It’s pretty obvious I’m sure that readers of this review will realise the book doesn’t impress me. But it might – who knows – be poured over and devoured by any child who feels he or she suffers at the hands of adults. The book is well designed and illustrated with black and white, accomplished illustrations.

Monday, 27 February 2017


Florette written and illustrated by Anna Walker (Penguin Viking) HB RRP
ISBN 9780670079414

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

I loved both the front and back covers of this picture book by a well-known Australian picture book creator, but when I opened it, the fly pages took my breath away: they are simply sumptuous, so lovely -- a mass of foliage of all shades of green with the occasional flower or small animal. On the title page, the word ‘Florette’ is decorated with sprigs of greenery and flowers while below it a small child in short plants is offering a plant to a sitting dog.

This is the story of Mae who wants to take her garden with her when her family moves to a new home. However, ‘there was no room among the crowded roof-tops for apple trees and daffodils.’ All around the small child lies concrete and there are no opportunities for her to ‘chase butterflies in the wavy grass.’ Even the park in her new home is filled with ‘tiny stones and empty chairs.’ Following a bird, Mae comes across a beautiful shop filled with greenery, but sadly it’s closed. Outside it, though, she finds a ‘stalk of green.’ She plants this in a jar on a window ledge in her apartment.

In the final double-page illustration the outdoor’s courtyard where children used to play hopscotch and other chalk games, is filled with many pots of leafy plants and children who play and help tend Mae’s new garden. And in the final single page illustration we see the front of the apartment block where windows bloom with vegetation. Mission accomplished!

This delightful picture book shows readers how it is possible to fulfill one’s vision even when it doesn’t seem possible, simply by being persistent and taking a new perspective. It shows too the power of the imagination, the magic of the natural world and resilience in the face of change. Mae’s experience must surely encourage children to ‘green’ their environment no matter where they live.

The text of Florette is simple, the sentences short and sweet: the illustrations, often set with lots of white space are poignant and compelling. This book is highly recommended especially for readers aged 5 to 7 years.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

DK Find Out! Ancient Egypt

DK Find Out! Ancient Egypt by Dr Angela McDonald (Penguin Random House) PB RRP $14.99   ISBN 9780241282779

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

As a child I would have loved to receive this book – and as an adult I’m delighted to read and review it. All Dorling Kinsley books are beautifully designed, researched by experts and full of amazing and fascinating facts – and this book is no exception. 

Fully coloured, this is a small book filled with full colour page spreads (mostly photographs) on all aspects of Ancient Egypt such as boats and trade, gods, artwork, tombs, Pharaohs, soldiers and war, even how to make a tomb -- and much, much more. Take the pages on Food and Drink: the diet for poor people mainly consisted of bread and beer as well as spring onions and nabk (which tasted like apples) but cucumber was a ‘fancy’ food. Rich people on the other hand ate dates, lotus root, figs, honey, yogurt, pomegranates and melons as well as meats, principally beef. We read on these pages that a rich Egyptian called Mereruka had hyenas fattened for a feast!

In the section on Children in Egypt, there’s a board game which highlights the dangers these ancient children faced such as falling into the river Nile and being chased by a hungry crocodile, and being stung by a scorpion. If you land on spot 12, you get another go because ‘you’re a natural red-head’ and ‘red hair is rare in Egypt and a symbol of the god Seth.

There are so many unusual and fascinating facts in this entrancing book, all set out in easy to read style with lots of break-out boxes, diagrams, and photographic captions. Learn about mummified dung, secret messages, the importance of the number 10, facts about missing parts, explorers, servants, pyramid building and so much more. Any child reading this book is sure to drive the family mad because they will constantly making discoveries and relating them.

This book is highly recommended for schools and for children, especially those aged 8 to12 years.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Before You Forget

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson (Penguin House) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780143574071

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

There is a lot that 17 year old Amelia wishes she could forget in as she attempts to negotiate difficulties in her life as she works towards her final year 12 in high school. Central to her studies is her passion for practical art where she works under the watchful and critical eye of teacher Ms M. Amelia attempts a self-portrait, made more difficult by problems which escalate in her life.

In no particular order is the disintegration of her friendship with long-time bestie Gemma who slips into such a poor state of anorexia that she is hospitalised. Then there is the deterioration of Amelia’s much loved Dad, Simon, who is clearly not coping. In fact, Dad is acting irrationally, constantly muttering to himself, speaking repetitively, driving dangerously, drinking too much, even urinating in a corner of the lounge-room: before long he is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Mum finds it difficult to manage him as she works full-time, so much of the caring for Dad falls on Amelia’s shoulders.

Amelia’s recurring thoughts of the helplessness of people trying to escape the damage caused by planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre reflect her attempts to negotiate the constantly changing troubles in her own life. With Gemma mostly non-communicative, Amelia turns to friendship with popular and talented artist Poppy who seems to have her act all together. But Poppy, too, comes from a dysfunctional family: her hippy mother reads tarot cards. Happily, she gives Amelia hope with the cards that her future might be more promising than the present. ‘Potential doesn’t mean anything without application,’ she says, which might well sum up Amelia’s future both in art and in relationships.

Australian Julia Lawrinson writes clearly and well. The characters she portrays, even minor ones such as Dad’s dog Hecta, and his eventual carer Rosetta, are all three-dimensional and interesting. The reader comes to really care about Amelia and the problems in her life. She is a strong character who does the best she can under difficult circumstances. And then there’s the cute boy next door – Will, who offers friendship – and the possibility of a romance.

Ultimately this is an ultimately uplifting story which, like life for all of us, and especially for teenagers, is constantly changing as are our family and friendships and circumstances. As the book concludes, Amelia observes that it’s like watching
the tide go out: ‘the waves lose their strength… and the water recedes into the ocean… before you know it… you can swim in the flat water.’ One day her father might not recognise her. And she is able to come to terms with that.

This is a brave book exploring many themes and certainly worthy of attention. Perhaps it will win awards.

Friday, 24 February 2017

100 Women who Made History

100 Women who Made History by Stella Cladwell et al (DK/Penguin Random House) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9780241257241

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Subtitled ‘Remarkable Women who shaped our world’, this is a handsome, thoroughly researched non-fiction book crammed with so many facts and figures presented in a beautifully designed book with hundreds of colour photographs and graphics and with many break-outs. It’s a book which doesn’t need to be read through from page one to the end, but one which can be dipped into again and again. It’s the sort of book a feminist would love and would love giving to children aged from 10 years and up.

I thought I knew my history of amazing women – and yet, reading this book, I have only a small knowledge. Opening at random, I find a double-page spread about two impressive females – one a child, the other a woman. Sophie Scholl was ‘an ordinary student who stood up to the might of Hitler and the Nazis’: she joined the Hitler Youth Movement but soon came to despise the hate-filled beliefs of the Nazis and helped to form the White Rose, a small non-violent movement that carried out a pamphlet and graffiti campaign against them. Sadly, she was sentenced to death for her ‘crime’ and executed. Pole Rosa Luxemburn was a radical, who tried to start a socialism revolution in post-war Germany, but she too was executed (without a trial) for her troubles.

There are dozens of women highlighted here. Some are well known, such as Rosa Parks, Aung San Suu Kyi, Malala Yousafzai, Angela Merkel, Joan of Arc and Catherine the Great. But there are others not so well known – Wu Zetian, Sacagawea, Maria Quiteria de Jesus, Shirin Ebadi, Ellen Johnson Sierleaf and Graca Machel to name but a few.

The book is divided into sections: Clued-Up Creatives, Super Scientists, Inspiring Campaigners, Leading Ladies, Intrepid Entrepreneurs and Amazing Achievers. If you cannot name at least five women in each of these categories, then you are strongly advised to buy a copy and learn about them before passing on the book (though you might very well want to keep it). Highly recommended!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Tommy Bell, Bushranger Book: Shoot-Out at the Rock & The Horse Thief

Tommy Bell, Bushranger Book: Shoot-Out at the Rock & The Horse Thief by Jane Smith, illustrated by Pat Kan (Big Sky Publishing)   PB RRP $14.99                                                                                                                              ISBN 9781925275940 & 9781925520064

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here are two chapter books in the Tommy Bell series where readers can enjoy fast-paced fictional adventures with real bushrangers. In Shoot-Out at the Rock, Tommy is sent to Grandpa’s farm after getting into trouble at school near Uralla. There Grandpa gives him a horse called Combo to use. Together, horse and riding explore a cave: it is here that Tommy finds a bushranger’s cabbage-tree’ hat. Grandpa tells Tommy about a bushranger called Captain Thunderbolt who roamed around Uralla in the 1860s on his horse also called Combo. Thereafter Tommy is transported back in time to find himself involved with Fred Ward who bails up a coach. This turns out to be Captain Thunderbolt himself.

In the rest of the story, author Jane Smith interweaves Tommy’s journey with his family and Combo to a dressage event, with unpredictable ventures in 1850s Victorian goldfields. At the conclusion of this adventure story, there is an historical note about Thunderbolt as well as a question and answer section.

In The Horse Thief, Tommy again finds himself in trouble at school with a new friend. It transpires that Francis is less trouble than the bushranger Tommy meets while wearing his bushranger’s hat which once again takes him back to the gold rush days. Continuing his time-travel adventures, Tommy finds himself involved in a horse robbery, a police chase and a prison escape. This time he is involved, too, with another bushranger -- Francis Christie, a skilled horse rider whose alias is familiar to Australian history buffs – Frank Gardiner.

For readers who like historical facts, there are footnotes again in this book which tell more about Gardiner and his life. The writing in both books is clear and fast-paced while the illustrations that highlight aspects of the narration are stark and simple, with thick black lines reminiscent of wood-cut prints.

These books would suit readers, particularly boys, aged 9 to 12 years.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Reckless III: The Golden Yarn

Reckless III: The Golden Yarn by Cornelia Funke (Murdoch Books)
PB RRP $24.99   ISBN 9781782691266

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Fairytales have long told of magic mirrors and Cornelia Funke’s Reckless series – a story inspired by the Grimm brothers – features one that is a portal to an alternate fantasy world (‘Mirrorworld’).

In The Golden Yarn, Jacob discovers a Rumpelstiltskin-like character (Spieler) in the human world, while trying to hide the legendary crossbow he found in Living Shadows. It seems the Reckless brothers are not the only ones who can cross between worlds … and theirs is not the only mirror.

Funke slowly weaves us through the plots and subplots of this third story in the series, as we absorb the details of the world she has built. First, Kami’en and Amelie’s baby goes missing. Then, the Dark Fairy disappears. Clara is in a Sleeping Beauty slumber so Will is seeking the Dark Fairy. Jacob is looking for Will … with several distractions along the way. He meets elf siblings, ‘Sixteen’ and ‘Seventeen’, who steal faces from mirrors to disguise themselves. He also meets … his long-lost father! Having struck a painful deal with Spieler, Jacob keeps his distance from his true love (Fox), who then falls in love with someone else. We also learn more about Will’s cursed skin from the first book, The Petrified Flesh.

This series will appeal to young adult readers of fantasy, particularly fans of Funke’s prior works (such as the Inkheart trilogy). Reading the first two novels in the series is a must as Funke releases crucial details at different points across the series. There is always a sense that she knows much more than she has revealed! Admittedly, this can either hook her readers or frustrate them.

Funke has revised and re-released The Petrified Flesh, retaining the original story but adding more depth to her characters. (The portrayal of darkness and light in her characters is definitely her forte, with her writing beautifully depicting the hesitation in their actions.) The second novel, Living Shadows, has also been re-jacketed. She is currently working on a fourth book in the series.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Great Barbie Disaster

The Great Barbie Disaster by Tania Ingram, illustrated by Christina Miesen (Omnibus Books) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-124-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Dad wants to make a barbeque. He comes from a long line of barbie builders and thinks shop bought barbies are for wimps. The trouble is Dad’s not very good at building things. The Great Barbie Disaster is a very funny story about all of his attempts to construct the perfect backyard barbie and what goes wrong – very wrong – each time.

There’s nothing more Aussie than a backyard barbie in the summer and this story captures the essence of summer and family. I related strongly as my father was a backyard builder and I suspect there are lots of kids out there who have watched or helped as Dad constructed a chicken coop, barbeque, cubby or outdoor furniture with varying degrees of success who will relate to this tale as well.

Part of the Mates series, this title is filled with the humour, Australian culture and entertaining storylines these Great Aussie Yarns are known for. Written for the eight year old age range, short chapters, large varied font and illustrations - which break up the text, filling the pages with colour and appeal - make this a perfect tale for beginner and young readers. The text is clear and uncomplicated and explains concepts such as the waste station within the story.

The voice of the girl who narrates the story is engaging. She is laid-back with just a tinge of sarcasm, but clearly loves and admires her Dad.

Using soft colours, the illustrator has created pictures which echo the humour of the words, enhancing the story and adding the enjoyment of the reading experience. These pictures, large and small, fill the pages and bring the characters to life.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Pig the Winner

Pig the Winner by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic Press) HB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-76015-428-8

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Pig the Pug and his good friend Trevor are back. This time it’s Pig’s need to win at all costs that is highlighted. And as always, it is up to Trevor to save the day, and the Pug, but does this long suffering sausage dog get any thanks? Well, no, not really. But Pig does learn his lesson and the two dogs emerge as close as they were in the beginning.
Pig the Winner is a hilarious look at fair play and sportsmanship. 

Told in rollicking, rhyming verse which is a joy to read aloud, this cautionary tale will be an instant hit for those, young and old who have already fallen in love with these two dogs, and for those who are meeting them for the first time.

Trevor would say to him
‘Let’s just have fun.’
But Pig would reply –
‘It ain’t fun till I’ve won!’ 

The illustrations support the tone and humour of the story. Bright, glossy pages feature fabulous expressions on the two friends, taking the meaning of the text a step further. 
Fabulous fun for three year olds and older, Pig the Winner is the third Pig the Pug book. Each is as enjoyable as the last.

Aaron Blabey is a multi-award-winning author/illustrator and his genius is not in picture books alone. The Bad Guys is a very funny graphic novel series for middle grade readers which I would highly recommend as well. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Visions of Ichabod X

The Visions of Ichabod X by Gary Crew, illustrated by Paul O’Sullivan (Harbour Publishing House) HB RRP $24.99    ISBN 9781922134547

Reviewed by Allison Paterson

With all the intrigue that is synonymous with the writing of Gary Crew, The Visions of Ichabod X is a picture book which mixes the past with the future to convey a powerful and significant message of environmental sustainability. Narrated in the hypnotic voice of the ageing caretaker of Raven’s Eye Cemetery, the tale begins as he explains how one headstone has always puzzled him, that of Ichabod X.  This stone, which commemorates the short life of the gypsy child Ichabod, shows no signs of the wearing of the elements, despite the decay of others and that of the crumbling church that sits in the grounds. 

Years before, so the caretaker reveals, the mysterious boy had appeared to warn the man of the perilous future of the earth. The boy leaves behind him curious contraptions, his “aids to see the future”. As mysteriously as Ichabod appears, he never returns. From this point,  the reflections of the caretaker and his drawings, what he imagines Ichabod could see, continue wordlessly to an ending which challenges the reader to imagine and reflect.

The illustrations are equally as intriguing as the text. Steeped in sepia tones to create a sense of vintage combined with steam punk images, Paul O’Sullivan enhances the tale and provides a deeper level of meaning for the engaged reader. Exploring the symbolism is absorbing and a catalyst for discussion. Biblical references are significant and are not confined to Ichabod (the Book of Samuel), the raven (perhaps the all-seeing God’s messenger) and the old man’s biblical quote of, “There is a time for everything…”. The oak tree and oak leaf represent endurance, wisdom, strength and significantly, new life. 

Throughout the tale, the clocks, and timepieces, both broken and intact suggest to the reader that time is running out. There are so many layers to peel, with the “unlocking” of colour being a symbolic transition to a series of wordless double-page spreads that delve deeply into the conflict between nature and the industrialised world.

I continue to return to The Visions of Ichabod X and each time I am delighted to make a new discovery. This is a text for the late primary years and up. It is a thought-provoking tale which will challenge the reader to explore their own perspective on the future of the earth. 

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Timing the Machine

Timing the Machine by Gary Crew, illustrated by Paul O’Sullivan (Harbour Publishing House) HB RRP 24.99    ISBN 9781922134530                                                                         
Reviewed by Allison Paterson

Where is H.G. Wells’ legendary Time Machine? Still travelling into the past, the future, or lost somewhere in the here and now?
Will Enoch find out?
Take the journey with him.

Based on H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895), this is a picture book of intrigue from Gary Crew and Paul O’Sullivan, the creators of the thought-provoking The Visions of Ichabod X

Upon a class visit to the museum, Enoch ignores the final closing message and chooses to explore the chambers revealed by the towering, broken doors through which he alone has entered. A shadowy creature is lurking and Enoch, dazed from a fall, remains unaware of its presence as he follows the light to what he thinks will be safety. Ultimately, it leads him to an astounding discovery. Framing the mysterious and captivating narrative are quotes from The Time Machine which combine with an intriguing, somewhat menacing extra-terrestrial element.

Illustrated in steampunk style using pencil and digital colour, the images enhance the text and ask many questions of the perceptive reader. The layout features a range of techniques from sparse text to double-page spreads and filmstrip frames which are in keeping with the projector image on the title page. The fascinating use of light and shadow adds to the mysterious tone, including a moment when light falling on the boy’s face reveals cat-like pupils which later return to their human form. The clever endpapers feature Queensland’s Glasshouse Mountains and are not to be missed!

As we expect from Gary Crew, the reader arrives at an inclusive ending with questions begging to be answered. Timing the Machine is both a mesmerising and thought-provoking picture book for older readers.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Beaky Malone: World’s Greatest Liar

Beaky Malone: World’s Greatest Liar written by Barry Hutchison, illustrated by Katie Abey (Little Tiger Press) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781847156730

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Beaky Malone is a self-confessed Olympic-level liar. He tells so many crazy lies he drives his family completely mad, particularly his sister, Jodie.

On a road trip with extended family and ever-present dog Destructo, Beaky’s lies are bigger and more elaborate than ever. Just when Jodie reaches breaking point, she and Beaky are sent out in search of fish and chips. Instead, they come across the mysterious Madame Shirley’s Marvellous Emporium of Peculiarities, home to the world’s only truth-telling machine. After Beaky’s shoved inside, it and *gasp* it actually works, Beaky can tell nothing but the truth. At this point, the story really ramps up the fun factor, with Beaky revealing everything from gross personal habits to his canteen lady crush.

This is a super fun read for mid to older primary school aged readers who appreciate a bit of sarcasm, and will understand references to Instagram and the like. The outrageous truth-telling capers don’t stop at the end of the book though – a second title in the middle grade series is due out in January.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Remind Me How This Ends

Remind Me How This Ends by Gabrielle Tozer (Harper Collins Children’s Books)  PB RRP $17.99   ISBN 978000734285

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

This is one of those books you just can’t put down: you are hooked from beginning till end. Tozer is past winner of the prestigious Gold Inky Award and has produced a rip-roaring read on so many levels.  This book delivers in a rad way for YA readers and adults, too.  

It is so much more than just a boy meets girl story, touching upon so many themes:  love, friendship, change, grief, parents, the end of school, university, travel and survival.  Staying true to yourself proves to be the hardest challenge of all. 

Milo is smart and clever but since finishing high school, he hasn’t been able to make a decision about the next step to take in life.  He is left behind while his cohort is off at university, travelling and working. Milo is frozen with the inability to make a choice.  He is stuck at home, in a small town working in his parent’s bookshop feeling pressured not to waste an awesome UAI and feeling like a loser.

Sal his girlfriend is living away at uni, studying and partying hard.  The gap between Milo and Sal widens more and more each day. Quirky Layla has suffered a great loss in life. She is back in town, hoping to find the grounding and healing that she needs. Milo’s older brother Trent is the loser of the family and is secretly pleased that the golden boy of the family is losing his halo.   The characters are believable, annoying and lovable.

‘I rattle through the boring stuff – eighteen, from Durnan, Sal’s boyfriend of two years, doing the long distance thing while she’s studying in Canberra – to disguise the fact that I don’t have answers for most of her other questions.’

This is a summer that starts in a tangled mess and ends leaving the reader wanting to know more about what happens in the lives of these teenagers.  Keep your Fingers and toes are crossed and hope that Tozer writes a sequel to Remind Me How This Ends.

This book would be suitable for ages 14+ years.  Definitely, put it on your hit list for 2017 for teenage readers.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Lily in the Mirror

Lily in the Mirror by Paula Hayes (Fremantle Press) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925163872

Reviewed by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

From the minute I started reading Lily in the Mirror I was won over. This chapter book for middle readers has heart, humour and charm. It also has magic, mystery and a family secret for Lily to unravel when she goes to stay with her grandfather.
Her paranormal investigation of the ‘Rosy Room’ at Grandad’s house leads to the discovery of a magical mirror and the excitement of finding a new and unusual friend who needs her help.

Lily, who loves words, Grandad’s ganache cake, and all things dark and mysterious, come vividly to life through the pages of her journal. She’s an absolute delight as she documents her family life and her Rosy Room discoveries.

Paula Hayes’ writing is fresh, lively, original and insightful. There’s plenty of humour throughout yet this book also deals sensitively with the impact of a grandparent’s dementia on a child.   

I highly recommend it for mid to upper primary readers and every grownup who is a kid in disguise. I do hope I meet Lily again soon in the pages of a new adventure.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Saving Jazz

Saving Jazz by Kate McCaffrey (Fremantle Press) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781925163582

Reviewed by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

Award-winning YA author Kate McCaffrey explores cyber bullying from a new perspective in her latest release that should be essential reading for every young person in this age of widespread social media use.

Saving Jazz is a powerful story about the devastating consequences of a group of teens’ drunken behaviour at a house party. When it goes viral no one’s life will ever be the same.

Told through a series of blog confessions by Jasmine - Jazz - Lovely, I found it at times confronting and disturbing but so compelling I couldn’t put it down.
For Jazz, the choices she and her friends make one night will change the direction of their future. As she writes in her first blog post, ‘The worst thing about regret is there is no way to undo it. No way to go back in time and make better choices.’

The admission at the start of Post 1 sets the scene for a gripping read: ‘I am a rapist.’  From there, Jazz reveals with raw honesty the lead-up to and aftermath of a shocking incident that leads to consequences Jazz and her friends Annie and Jack could never have imagined.

McCaffrey has a gift for capturing an authentic teen voice. Her previous titles -Destroying Avalon, In Ecstasy, Crashing Down and Beautiful Monster - have all garnered awards. Saving Jazz is the follow-up title to Destroying Avalon.

It should have a place on every high school English reading list. Teaching notes are available from the publisher. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Flying through Clouds

Flying through Clouds by Michelle Morgan (self-published)
PB   RRP $18.99   ISBN 9780995386501

Reviewed by Bill Condon

Flying through the Clouds takes readers on an entertaining ride with 14-year-old, Joe Riley, a boy who author Michelle Morgan first introduced in her successful 2014 novel Racing the Moon (Allen & Unwin).  Joe is a rebellious lad with an impetuous streak that often lands him in trouble, but Morgan skillfully counterbalances this with glimpses into his inner thoughts that show him to be good-natured.

The book is set in Australia during the early 1930s when the country was in the throes of the Great Depression. However, Joe’s mother and sister have plenty of sewing work to do, and his father is an illegal bookie and debt collector. Unlike much of the population, the Riley family doesn’t appear to be too unfavorably affected by the Depression. This isn’t a criticism of the author. No doubt there were those who coped with adversity better than others, and it could be said that it’s to Morgan’s credit that she took a less obvious approach than other Depression stories have taken.

Joe’s dad is a hard man, who is quick to discipline his sons with a strap, or a backhander. He is also a heavy drinker. Not, it would seem, an ideal father, but once again Morgan manages to show his good side, and it’s great to see that, as in life, the characters in Flying through Clouds have positive aspects, as well as negative ones.

Morgan has done a brilliant job in researching this era. Fact after fact comes tumbling out, but none are boringly presented; instead they are seamlessly woven into the narrative. Through the course of the book Joe joins the Boy Scouts and takes a flying lesson, his first step to becoming an aviator, just like his hero Charles Kingsford Smith (Smithy). As Joe learns, so does the reader; in-depth knowledge about the Scouts and flying add an extra layer of reality to Joe’s often daring escapades.

I enjoyed this story. It was well-written and believable, and Joe is a very likeable character. Read it for its accurate depiction of Depression-era Sydney. Read it for a rattling good story; it’s highly recommended.

 Flying through Clouds can be ordered from bookshops and educational and library suppliers from 2 April or from www.michellejmorgan.com.au

Bill Condon’s latest novel is All Of Us Together (About Kids Books, 2016).

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom by Booki Vivat
(Harper Collins)  PB RRP $14.99  
ISBN 978002663665

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Debut author Vivat has creatively written a fun, engaging book that has a strong voice for a young reader. This book would suit 8-12 year olds.  Vivat’s clever doodles and illustrations sparkle and show emotion with honesty and warmth. They show the dramatic Abbie Wu as a loveable, honest and likeable character.  How can you not like Abbie Wu’s open heart?

Vivat’s original style of writing speaks clearly to young readers in their own language.  The story moves at a lively pace with a fun sense of humour.

‘Not all adults are that honest. On the way home from back-to-school shopping, Mum made a surprise stop at Antonia’s and offered to buy me a pastry. But, turns out, the pastry was a trap! Let’s talk about school.’

The themes of change, finding your ‘thing’ and fitting in are popular with middle grade students.  School is a big deal at this age, and making subject choices and fitting in is very important.  Abbie is a middle child too so she is stuck in the middle of everywhere.  Being in the middle makes you invisible.

Abbie Wu is dramatic and everything is always a crisis: ‘I am guaranteed without a doubt 100% doomed.’

Vivat shares pieces of herself in her character Abbie Wu who just makes you smile.  Once you start reading this book it’s hard to put down.
Frazzled will have leave young readers wanting more of Abbie Wu. I wouldn’t be surprised if a series is written about Abbie Wu.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Fancy Pants

Fancy Pants by Kelly Hibbert and Amanda Graham (Raising Literacy Australia Inc) PB   ISBN 9780994385352

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

A picture book for children aged 2 to 6 years, this is a debut book written by a primary school teacher and an illustrator who has produced over 100 books and has been short-listed for the CBCA Book of the Year awards. It is one of a number of books produced by The Big Little Book Club which distributes free books to parents to improve children’s literacy.

In rhyming text, this story tells of dingo who ‘wore his coat with pride/while dancing with delight’ in the northern desert sands. When the Outback Dance is held near Bunyip’s Bluff, Dingo bemoans the fact that he has no pants to wear like the other ‘animals in fancy pants’. These animals -- emu, wombat, kangaroo et al –offer to sew pants for dingo when none will fit him. Finally he is beautifully outfitted in multi-coloured attire with fringe, baubles, and a decorate belt. Finally, dressed appropriately the dingo frolics with ‘his pants so fancy’ under the Southern Cross with a multitude of animals.

This is a simple story, nothing deep and meaningful with bright, cheerful illustrations that is sure to amuse children aged 12 months to three years.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Little Chicken Chickabee

Little Chicken Chickabee by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Danny Snell (Raising Literacy Australia) PB

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is another well-designed and well-crafted picture book commissioned by The Little Big Book Club to distribute to parents with the aim of raising literacy in Australia among small children. Attractive painted full-page illustrations and strong repetitive lines introduce the reader to mother hen on her nest in a box with four chickens which have just hatched. Each of the chicks said ‘cheep’ but the ‘last little chicken said… ‘Chickabee!’

Yes, there’s always someone who doesn’t conform! Every time each of the chicks says something (repeated by the others), the last little chicken only says ‘Chickabee.’ When Mother Hen says, ‘No’ and this is repeated by its siblings, the Little Chicken sets off to see the world. Along the way it meets other animals – such as a horse, a cow and a duck – each of which tell him that chickens ought not to say ‘Chickabee’. When the chick asks why, Duck says, ‘It sounds as if you don’t want to be a chicken, that’s why.’

Back home goes Little Chicken, but it still doesn’t fit in. So once again it ventures into the wide world where it meets a range of machines the sounds of which is imitates. Finally it meets a pig which goes with it back home. There Little Chicken is finally accepted by Mother Hen, even though it still hasn’t conformed.

This is a delightful, heart-warming story about acceptance which mirrors the story of a small child which ventures into the world with all of its differences, but is always accepted by its family and friends. Children aged 2 to 5 years are sure to be enchanted by this simple tale. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Baby Dance by Katrina Germain, illustrated by Doris Chang (Raising Literacy Australia Inc) HB
ISBN 9780994385321

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This book was sponsored by an Australian organisation with an early intervention literacy campaign educating parents to read to their children from birth. The Little Big Book Club was officially launched in 2005 and in the following year, 20,000 families across the state with a baby aged 0-12 months were given the first free 'reading pack for babies'.

A board book with rounded corners for babies to handle safely, Baby Dance has one or two lines on each page starting with ‘Baby hears, baby beat/Baby steps, baby feet’. Its first pen and wash illustrations are of a wombat, followed by other Australian animals such as a cockatoo, anteater and marsupial mouse. Each of the actions described is something any baby does, such as yawning, peeping, waving and blinking. Thus a parent reading to his or her baby can perform the actions as the words are read aloud – a great bonding experience!

Simply worded, designed and illustrated with lots of white space, this is an ideal book to share with a child from birth to two years.

The Amateurs

The Amateurs by Sara Shepard (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781471405266

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

What really happened the day 17-year-old Helena Kelly disappeared? Did somebody take her, or did she choose to leave? Helena’s body was found four years later, not far from her family home, but the police couldn’t solve the murder and eventually closed the case. Aerin, Helena’s younger sister, seems to be the only one fighting for answers. Now aged 16 years old, she feels disengaged with the world (and her parents) but masks her depression by distracting herself with whatever means are available at wild teenage parties. At home, her sister’s death is all she can think about. She finds herself logging on to a website called ‘Case Not Closed’, and posts a desperate plea for help in finding her sister’s murderer. That’s how she meets Seneca, Maddox and Brett, amateur sleuths who want to help (each for their own reasons).

They team up together, each bringing different knowledge and ideas to the case. It isn’t long before the threats and attacks begin. Somebody in town knows they’re investigating, and they’re keen to scare them away. They believe the attacks mean they are getting closer to the truth … but perhaps the truth is even closer than they realise.

This is a gripping, cleverly written murder mystery for readers aged 12–16 years. There are plenty of plot twists and developments that drive the story forward, making this novel difficult to put down. It is the first in a new series of books by bestselling author Sara Shepard, who wrote Pretty Little Liars. The novel ends with quite a major plot twist, so I’m sure readers will be keenly awaiting the sequel (due to be published around the middle of 2017). The main characters are well developed, strong and likeable, each of them interesting for different reasons. It will be great to learn more about them as the series progresses.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017


Trollhunters written by Guillermo Del Toro and Daniel Kraus, illustrated by Sean Murray (Allen and Unwin)  PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781471405181

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘There are times when you have to do the right thing, no matter how scary.’

Meet Jim Sturges Junior – high school outcast by day, brave ‘Trollhunter’ by night. Jim lives with his dad, a terrified, overprotective man who has been that way since his big brother went missing 45 years earlier. His extreme anxiety and strange behaviour doesn’t exactly help Jim in the popularity stakes at school, where he struggles with bullying, unrequited love and being athletically inept. At least he has a best friend, ‘Tubby’ … though their friendship is about to be tested.

Jim’s Uncle Jack had been the last of 190 kids to go missing in the ‘Milk Carton Epidemic’ 45 years earlier, and things have been pretty quiet in San Bernardino, California, ever since … until children start to go missing once more. It turns out the Sturges’ family name is connected with a long history of troll hunting, and Jim is going to learn his destiny the hard way – by encountering a troll in the flesh.  

This fantasy adventure story is targeted to kids aged 12–18, and will likely appeal to fans of Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant books. Even readers who don’t normally read fantasy will find elements of the story to relate to, given it’s grounded in a realistic high-school setting. The novel can be rather gory – there are detailed descriptions of human flesh being eaten, and internal organs spurting – but I found the gruesome scenes were often pleasantly offset with some extremely amusing writing! (This book also has, hands down, the best tirade of back-to-back Scottish insults in a single paragraph that I have ever come across!)

The novel has been written by an award-winning duo – well-known director, Guillermo del Toro, and Daniel Kraus, author of several fantasy novels. There are a handful of full-page black and white illustrations also, rich in detailed linework, by Sean Murray. The book is the inspiration behind the Netflix ‘Trollhunters’ series by DreamWorks.