Friday, 31 March 2017

Blue and Other Colours

Blue and Other Colours with Henri Matisse (Phaidon) HB RRP $14.95 
ISBN 9780714871325

Reviewed by Stephanie Ward

Matisse’s bold use of colours has inspired many artists. In Blue and Other Colours, his collages are brilliantly paired with playful, read-aloud text that draws the child’s attention to specific colours. With a back page full of interesting facts about Matisse’s art and life, parents and carers can expand upon the simple colour lesson introducing children to the artist and his art.

Through simple statements matched with Henri Matisse’s famous art, young readers are introduced to the world of colours. One piece of artwork per page and simple statement such as ‘Ooh, blue and green!’ puts the focus firmly on the colours within the images. Matisse’s abstract cut-outs and range of vibrant colour palette, learning the world of colours just became even more engaging.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

This is Banjo Paterson

This is Banjo Paterson by Tania McCartney, illustrated by Christina Booth (NLA Publishing) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780642278982

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

This beautifully simple narrative celebrates the life of the great poet and author Andrew Barton Paterson. Tania McCartney and Christina Booth have cleverly combined forces to make this educational picture book engaging and relatable to a young audience. The text is nonfiction while the illustrations depict a parallel fictional story.

The dreamy endpapers set the scene for this inspired outdoor adventure. In a typical suburban backyard, a small group of resourceful young children recreate the events and experiences of Banjo’s life through their imaginative play. Throughout the journey we discover how this talented Australian got his nickname, his many boyhood interests, the people who influenced him and the many and varied jobs he undertook.

The children’s re-enactment of Banjo’s life story is illustrated using a combination of single page images, double page spreads and vignettes. The playful illustrations provide entertaining rhyming dialogue, via speech and thought bubbles, as well as humour scattered throughout.

This book is equally appealing as a bedtime story or read aloud in the early years’ classroom. It can be a great conversation starter about poetry and a natural introduction to Banjo’s work. A detailed biography, photos and some renowned verses can be found at the end of the book.

If you like this book you may also like This is Captain Cook by McCartney and Booth.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack by Mark Greenwood (Puffin Books) PB RRP $12.99 ISBN 9780143309260

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is one of a series of books for children which investigate Australia’s extraordinary past with history mysteries. Other books in the series include The Last Tiger, Lasseter’s Gold and The Lost Explorer, all written by Greenwood who describes himself as ‘a history hunter.’

This book, Diamond Jack, began when Greenwood saw a wartime photo of five men and a bullet-riddled aircraft. One of the men, wearing a stained singlet, was known as ‘Diamond Jack’ – actual name Jack Palmer. Investigating, Greenwood discovered that the men had been sent on a mission to locate a mysterious parcel.

However, Diamond Jack’s story in this book begins in 1942 in Broome, evacuated after the Japanese attack. Jack, master of an old pearling lugger, was a beachcomber along the Kimberley coast. Setting off with two Aborigines in his boat, he came across a plane which had been shot down at Carnot Bay. There was no sign of any survivors but inside the plane, the beachcomber found a wallet stuffed with thousands of diamonds.

Earlier that month a Dakota aircraft, piloted by a Dutchman, Captain Smirnoff, had left the Indonesian Bandung airport, heading for Broome on a desperate midnight escape, taking refuges to safety. With Broome emptied of people, Smirnoff flew away but was soon attacked by a Japanese fighter jet. His plane finished up descending and landing on the beach. Some of its occupants died, some went for help.

The mystery surrounding the crash was the missing diamonds worth, in today’s figures, over 25 million dollars. Jack Palmer eventually handed them in to the authorities, but not all of them: thousands were unaccounted for. It would appear Jack gave many of them away and might even have kept some for himself (in his old age he was mysteriously wealthy.) In a court case, outlined in this book, Diamond Jack was found not guilty of theft. What happened to the rest of the diamonds is not known to this day.

Of particular appeal in this book is a series of (mostly) fuzzy photographs of real-life people, such as Palmer loading supplies on the wharf at Broome, the army investigation team at the crash site in April 1942 and Captain Smirnoff. The story is simply written with facts intermingled with fiction to give an engrossing tale. At the end of the book is a timeline of events for the history buff, ending in Diamond Jack’s death in 1958. The author has also provided a list of websites, online newspaper articles and book references.

It’s a shame that the publisher did not print the book on better quality paper. But young readers aged 8 to 12 years are not likely to be too fussed about this.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Gus Dog Goes to Work

Gus Dog Goes to Work written by Rachel Flynn and illustrated by Craig Smith (Working Title Press) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781921504884

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Sheep dog, Gus, does much the same thing every day. He has his breakfast, hops into his owner’s ute and goes to work with him. One day, though, he wakes to an empty bowl. What’s more, his owner, Tom, seems to have left home without him! What follows is a warm and witty tale of Gus Dog’s mischievous trek around town to locate Tom. And perhaps to find some breakfast.

Tom has taught Gus Dog several colloquial expressions that come in handy on his adventures: ‘gidday, getup, getdown, come’ere, getoutovit, gohome and goodboy’. (There is some fantastic alliteration with the letter ‘G’ in this book!) Gus Dog goes to school, rounds up people’s chickens and sheep and forages through some garbage bins. He receives tirades of abuse from people around town and is never really sure what he has done wrong, but he certainly recognises some of their words. He even learns a new word, mongrel, after it’s said to him a couple of times. Somewhat confused, he good-naturedly trots off elsewhere each time he is berated.

Eventually, Tom finds him and Gus Dog gets to hear a far more comforting expression: ‘goodboy’. The author cleverly contrasts the use of the phrase ‘gohome’, also, subtly showing how it can be interpreted positively or negatively in different situations.

Popular author-illustrator team, Rachel Flynn and Craig Smith, have published several books together and have a complementary style. Smith’s illustrations – a combination of pencil and Corel Painter – are superb, as always. The rustic colours throughout the book perfectly reflect the dustiness of rural Australia. Gus Dog has a comical appearance, to match the humour in the text, and a soft expression in his eyes that makes him very endearing. Whenever Gus is being spoken to, the language appears in speech bubbles within the illustrations. Gus Dog’s journey is beautifully reflected in a wider view in the endpapers, where sepia-toned pictures offer an additional picture revealing Tom’s path. (Smith’s illustrations in the story itself also reveal the reason why Tom disappeared.)

This simple story reflects on the power of language, while observing country life, pets, working dogs and animal behaviour. At around 800 words, it’s a great length for lower primary school students aged 5 years and up.

Monday, 27 March 2017

The Secret of the Black Bushranger

The Secret of the Black Bushranger by Jackie French (Harper Collins Children’s Books) PB RRP $14.99    ISBN 9780732299453

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Award winning author Jackie French has been writing a secret Australian history series and this is the third book in that series.  Readers from the ages of 7 years and on will enjoy this book that is very well researched yet easy to read.   The book contains both the actions and opinions of real people as close as possible to the historical records. French’s writing voice speaks very clearly to the reader and really does open the door into our colonial past as if she has been there.  It is entertaining story and very engaging.

What is fascinating about this story is the central character Black Caesar (John Black) who really did exist and became Australia’s very first bushranger.  He arrived in Australia from England and was never free so he fought for his freedom and became a thief.  French has cleverly filled in many gaps with fiction as very little is known about Black. She shows the human side of the times and the hard way of life in a young penal colony.

The story travels well because it is interwoven with the characters that met and interacted with Black Caesar.  The story is told from the viewpoint of Barney Bean, a young English boy who features centrally in book one in the series, Birrung and the Secret Friend and book two Barney and the Secret of the Whales.

‘The giant man looked down at me with those brown eyes. ‘If I show myself in daylight, boy, they chain me up again.’ His voice was so deep, deeper than any other I had ever heard. He drew himself up even taller. More stars vanished behind him. ‘I am John Black Caesar. I will not be a slave.’

The book allows the reader to decide if the actions of the characters are right or wrong.

History is now part of the Australian primary schools’ curriculum so this book will be a handy resource; online there are also teacher’s notes available.  Anyone with an interest in Australian history will love this book and gain a good picture of our harsh early beginnings.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

The ABC Kids Book of Places to Go

The ABC Kids Book of Places to Go by Helen Martin, Judith Simpson & Cheryl Orsini (Harper Collins Children’s Books) PB RRP $24.99  
ISBN 9780733334283

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

The creators of The ABC Book of Cars, Trains, Boats and Planes and The ABC Book of Seasons have come up with a book that introduces its young readers to Places to Go. This latest book allows for reader interaction and discussion in a fun simple way by sharing places that the child goes to. Then it broadens a young reader’s knowledge by introducing places that are afar.  The concept that the world is full of fun and exciting places to explore is a wonderful introduction to a world beyond our own backyard. 

This book would suit 2-6 year olds and it also fits in nicely with the school curriculum so teachers will find the book a handy resource.

The fun, simple language in the book uses questioning to bring out the enquiring mind of the child.  This interacts well with the illustrations that delightfully show places and allow the child to share what they know and find.  The illustrations are detailed and the colour palette draws the eye without being too busy or hard. The more you look, the more you can explore.

I like the way the text shows but doesn’t tell the place. Here’s an example: ‘There are many different places to visit at the shopping centre. Scissors snip – click, clack –cutting hair front and back! Up and down between the shops, the escalator never stops. Hooray! Hooray! New shoes today! Stepping out to walk and play.’ 

This book is a worthwhile tool to create bonding as the child and parent can really spend time discussing and exploring.  It can also allow for talk about places to visit and explore as a family.  Or perhaps it can allow talk about where grandparents or relatives live or maybe travel to. The world globe can be looked at and a child may choose a faraway distinction or a local one that is unknown to learn more about and explore.

So many places… 
Special things to do…


Saturday, 25 March 2017

Bone Gap

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780571332755

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’ need not apply to this one. I was drawn to this book as soon as I saw the cover, and I wasn’t disappointed. Cornfields, beehives and a dark horse … I couldn’t figure out how it all fit together, but I knew I wanted to find out.

This alluring novel is best described as magical realism – it is a little fairytale-like, at times, and starkly realistic at others. It targets readers aged 14–18, and raises themes of family, love and self-worth.

It is a highly original, unusual tale set in a town called ‘Bone Gap’, where ‘the bones of the world’ are ‘a little looser’ and where people can simply fall away and disappear. Finn O’Sullivan is a handsome teenage boy who the locals are fond of, despite declaring him nutty. They call him ‘Sidetrack’ and ‘Moonface’ because he won’t look people in the eye. Finn lives with his older brother, Sean, whom the town adores. 

When a young, beautiful girl called Roza appears in their barn, she charms the entire town with her beauty and playfulness. Then she is kidnapped and everybody is devastated. Finn was there but he can’t describe the kidnapper. Locals know that Bone Gap is full of magical ‘spaces one could slip into and hide’ … perhaps Roza simply disappeared as mysteriously as she arrived.

Finn is frustrated that nobody believes him – especially Sean, who was in love with her. When a magical horse appears in their barn one night, it leads Finn to Petey Willis, the beekeeper’s daughter, whom the townspeople taunt for her erratic appearance and behaviour. Finn and Petey fall in love, and she uncovers a remarkable truth about him. When Roza’s kidnapper turns up, Finn realises he himself needs to slip away from his world in order to find her.

Laura Ruby treats us to insights from Sean, Petey and Charlie Valentine (the town veteran), but the majority of the novel is told from Finn and Roza’s perspectives. She expertly overlaps the slow, mystical setting of Finn’s world with Roza’s frantic attempts to escape her captor. The effect creates a very gripping novel, making it a well-deserving winner of the 2016 ‘Michael L. Printz Award’.

Friday, 24 March 2017

The Smuggler’s Curse

The Smuggler’s Curse by Norman Jorgensen (Fremantle Press) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9781925164190

Reviewed by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

The Smuggler’s Curse is a swashbuckling adventure that delivers a rollicking good read guaranteed to keep young readers glued to the pages throughout. This not-so-young reader was captivated from the opening lines by the tale of a boy sold to an infamous smuggler in the closing days of the nineteenth century.

The adventure unfolds through the boy’s eyes and Norman Jorgensen captures his young narrator Red Read’s voice beautifully. He also draws a vivid picture of life in colonial times. History comes alive for the reader as Red is caught up in life-threatening encounters with cutthroat pirates, head hunting guerrillas and the forces of nature when he joins the crew of Captain Black Bowen’s ship The Black Dragon as ship’s boy.

Jorgensen has set his gripping tale of smuggling and piracy off the north-west coast of Australia, with the ship sailing from Broome and travelling to South East Asia. Historical detail is woven seamlessly into the story, which has clearly been well researched.

There is some violence in the book but there’s also a liberal sprinkling of humour and a strong element of warmth underpinning the relationships between the Captain, his crew and young Red.

Jorgensen is an award-winning author whose books for young people have won critical and popular acclaim both in Australia and overseas.
He is a consummate tale teller and has delivered this latest release in inimitable style.

The Smuggler’s Curse is sure to be a favourite with 9-14 year olds who enjoy a ripping yarn told well. It would also be a great addition to the classroom for its perspective on life in colonial times. Teaching notes are available from the publisher.    

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Complete Adventures of Figaro and Rumba

The Complete Adventures of Figaro and Rumba written by Anna Fienberg and illustrated by Stephen Michael King (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99   ISBN 9781760292997

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The highly imaginative tales of Figaro and Rumba are written by Anna Fienberg, author of the Tashi books, and accompanied with full colour pictures by the talented Stephen Michael King. Both books in the series have been published together for the first time in a colourful, eye-catching paperback.

Figaro (an excitable, adventure-seeking dog) and Rumba (a sensible, musical cat) have been the best of friends since they met in Cuba. The first story, Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile Café, is driven by the characters’ desire to get on ‘the Very Fast Train’. They seem destined to keep missing it though, with one zany adventure after another. The story is fast-paced, enticing readers to keep turning the pages to find out whether Figaro and Rumba ever do get on the train. Eventually, they meet a sly, Cuban crocodile who gains Rumba’s trust. It’s a good thing Figaro’s instincts are on high alert though, because something just doesn’t seem right.

The second story, Figaro and Rumba and the Cool Cats, is far more musical in nature. (You might find yourself tapping along to an imaginary Cuban beat!) Rumba seems quite at home singing with the Cool Cats, but Figaro is bored. The cats just want to sing all day and he can’t join in because their leader, Marta, does not like his singing. Plus, he’s feeling disturbed about that grey monster he keeps seeing. When he meets another like-minded adventurer, Dora, they sneakily take Marta’s car and go exploring. Their adventure doesn’t go smoothly though and, in trying to fix things, Figaro winds up meeting the ‘monster’, joining forces with Rumba again, and discovering a musical talent he never knew he had.

These entertaining stories about friendship are great for 5–8 year-olds. The chapters are short, with lots of dialogue. Much humour is provided in Figaro and Rumba’s banter, along with their dog and cat-like differences. King’s comical illustrations are naturally complementary, appearing on almost every single page. Fienberg’s writing is superb. The Cuban accents are perfectly portrayed, and there are some great alliterative lines like: ‘Isn’t he a rascal, a ruffian, a rogue and a reptile?’ The ending is terrific, both closing the stories and alluding to further adventures.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Exploding Endings

Exploding Endings - Books 1(Painted Dogs and Doom Cakes), 2 (Cursed Pants & Cranky Cops) and 3(Dingbats &Lollypop Arms) by Tim Harris, illustrated by Ryan Perno (Harbour Publishing House)
PB RRP $14.99
Book 1 ISBN 978-1-922134-57-8
Book 2 ISBN 978-1-922134-69-1
Book 3 ISBN 978-1-922134-70-7

Reviewed by Joanne Pummer

Short Stories With Big Twists - that's how author Tim Harris describes his trilogy of short stories called 'Exploding Endings'. Each story is told by a child narrator in the first person about contemporary family life in suburban Australia. All are extremely whacky and sure to illicit laughs and groans in equal measure from Primary School children.
Book 1 begins with a list of the top 79 excuses for being late. Book 2 begins with a list of the top 79 excuses for talking in class and the third book begins with the top 79 excuses for not doing your homework - just the kind of subversive humour that children relish. Jokes, riddles and 'knock knocks' appear between stories, recipes and 'Page Wars' - the ongoing war between the right hand page and the left hand page, named (appropriately), 'lefty' and 'righty'.
A recipe for Murphy's Chocolate Cake has 43 steps and a Prep time of 204 days 2 hours and 17 minutes. Step 42 is 'Forget about it and go to the beach instead'. Step 43 is 'Get eaten by a shark'. Ryan Perno's black and white illustrations, which are little more than zany emojis in Book 1, become more sophisticated in the books that follow.

The final story in Book One (‘Psycho, Sweet Tooth Seagull’) ends after two chapters with 'to be continued'. This is a hook, bound to induce readers to buy the next book. Cleverly, Tim Harris repeats the first two chapters of 'Psycho Sweet Tooth Seagull' in the second book so each book works as a stand-alone story book as well as part of a series.

The large type face, easy reading and accessible stories make these books suitable for all children from newly independent readers (7 years and up ) tackling their first chapter books to eleven year olds, reluctant readers included.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 4: A Game of Chase

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 4: A Game of Chase by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9781760295585

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It’s another crazy week for Chase Cooper at Buchanan School, and it all starts off with the chess piece and anonymous note he finds in his locker. Somebody, who goes by the name ‘Jovial Noise’, threatens to expose his ninja identity if he doesn’t play along with their game. Er … what game? Chase is getting tired of the crazy behind-the-scenes activities at his school. (At one stage, he humorously dwells on how many years of therapy he’s going to need after he completes just one year at the school! He also blames James Buchanan, the school’s namesake and one of America’s most controversial presidents, for the madness.)

It seems Jovial Noise is out to sabotage the school science fair … by destroying people’s projects. The game of chess certainly becomes ‘a game of chase’ when Chase has to connect the chess pieces and clues together in order to save people’s science projects. Then Chase himself is framed for Faith’s ruined project and he knows he needs to find the real culprit, fast, before more projects (and friendships) are destroyed. Is it Carlyle? Wyatt? One of the red ninjas? Or that new hall monitor, Sebastian?

This is another fast-paced, entertaining read in the bestselling Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series by Marcus Emerson. There are lots of laugh-out-loud scenes, including a very funny conversation about ‘meese’ (the supposed plural of ‘moose’)! I particularly love how this series overturns the idea of a fist-fighting ninja and replaces it with a ninja who instead focuses on empathy, bravery and (above all) doing the right thing.

‘If you know me then you’d know I don’t fight no matter what,’ I said.
‘You don’t fight with your fists’ … ‘you’re a very strange ninja.’

This amusing series of books for 7–12 year-olds is definitely out to empower kids who want to deal with bullies … without getting physical. 

Monday, 20 March 2017

I Love You

I Love You written by Clemency Pearce and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (Nosy Crow)  HB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780857638793

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘When you feel so very small, when no one seems to care at all, what can make you ten feet tall? Three little words …’

This sweet story, told in verse, is based on feelings. Originally published as a hardcover book (Three Little Words), it is now presented in a board book format – perfect for the target age group of 2–4 years. It gives children examples of situations where they might feel ignored, upset, frustrated or shy. It reassures them that in any situation, their parents will be there to comfort them and offer those three little words to make them feel better: ‘I love you’. 

There is a lovely, gentle question/answer pattern to the story that makes it great to read aloud. Children will enjoy chiming in with the phrase ‘I love you’ upon each turn of the page. The author cleverly describes how the phrase can be used in different situations by changing one adjective each time. If the child is feeling small, the answer lies in three ‘little’ words. If the child has lost a race, there are three ‘winning’ words that can help. Feeling left out? Perhaps three ‘sharing’ words will do the trick. If they’re feeling shy, three ‘friendly’ words are what they need.

The ending of the book suddenly changes the pattern of the story by describing five situations where others might not be feeling happy. It helps show children how to empathise with others by suggesting four special words to help them through … ‘I love you too!’ 

The illustrations are colourful and expressive, warm and affectionate. Animals are shown in, first, a negative situation and then a positive one. Beardshaw has used a combination of coloured pencils, watercolours, and overlaid stencils to great effect.

Toddlers and preschoolers will no doubt be enticed by the simple language, repetition, lively pictures … and those seven cutout love hearts on the front cover that they can stick their fingers through!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Hug This Book!

Hug This Book! by Barney Saltzberg, illustrated by Fred Benaglia
(Phaidon) HB RRP $24.95 ISBN 9780714872841

Reviewed by Stephanie Ward

In this delightful picture book, children are invited to imagine all the things you could do with their very favourite book. From reading it upside down to giving it a hug or sharing it with friends, young readers involve their book in an array of situations. There’s almost nothing you can’t do with a book and nowhere a book can’t go!

Sometimes silly, other times thoughtful, the story is both humorous and sincere as it explores the love of a book. With easy-to-read rhymes and appealing retro illustrations, Hug This Book! is a story to read over and over again.

Saltzberg creates a heartfelt ode to books with his clever, whimsical rhymes. While Benaglia’s illustrations are bold and colourful putting the book and its readers at centre stage.

Engaging, simple and satisfying, this charming book will appeal to book-lovers of every age.

Phaidon also provides a wonderful activity pack for early learners aged 3 – 5:

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The Travel Bug

The Travel Bug by Benjamin Gilmour, illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock (Random House Australia) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780143780137

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The protagonist of this story is a no-name ‘strange little bug’ which identifies other creatures in the landscape, such as earwigs, weevils, flies and fleas, but his own kind of species is a real mystery. With his blue suitcase packed, he buys a round-the-world ticket and gets on board the back of a cricket to search for an find his identity.

The reader can plot the bug’s journey on the map of the world found on the fly pages, starting in Japan and then heading to Afghanistan. As he travels, he meets other bugs such as scorpions in Kandahar which are feasting, musicians in Spain, and ‘a spider in tartan’ in Scotland. There are numerous other countries featured in this story told in rhyming verse which include jungles and cities. In New York the bug meets with a professor with is -- finally -- able to put a name to him.

The charming flat colour and black line illustrations that accompany the written text make use of patterns, many of them like those found in zentangles.

This is a simple story with a twist at the end which is sure to be enjoyed by small readers up to the age of 6 years.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Lion: A Long Way Home

Lion: A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley (Penguin Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780143784760

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

By the time this review appears here in the Buzz Words’ blog, the story told in this book for readers aged 9 to 12 years, will have been seen by thousands of Australians in cinemas where it has screened as a major motion picture.

At the age of five, Saroo Brierley became lost on a train in India. Unable to escape the carriage he travelled in alone, he spent many hours until he arrived in a foreign city where he had to survive on his wits. After numerous adventures he was taken to an orphanage in Calcutta from which he was adopted by the Brierly family in Tasmania Australia. Despite being happy in his new home, Saroo kept memories of his mother, sister and two brothers but he could never remember the name of his home town. He spent hours staring at a map of India in his room and when he was an adult, working in his adoptive father’s business and with an Australian girl-friend, he began to pore over satellite images on Google Earth seeking out landmarks he remembered.

By looking at train tracks leading into Calcutta, Saroo was able to restrict his search zone to ‘only’ 962,300 square kilometres – over a quarter on India’s landmass, in which lived 345 million people. How on earth could he be expected to rely on his memory at the age of five and yet find four family members nearly 25 years later? The incredible thing is that Saroo succeeded by eventually being able to locate childhood sights of an overpass, a bridge over a river and a train station!

This is a fascinating book because Saroo’s life story is fascinating – and certainly inspirational, showing readers how it is possible to achieve success through relentless perseverance. Saroo is reunited with his mother, brother and sister. He learns that the night that he disappeared, so too did his teenage brother Guddu (who he was to find out had been killed). On seeing him, his Indian mother called out ‘Sheru’ – even his first name was mispronounced differently!

This is a simply told story of winning against immeasurable odds and is sure to be enjoyed immensely by keen readers.

The Story of Australia

The Story of Australia by Robert Lewis in association with the National Museum of Australia (Random House Australia) PB RRP ISBN 9780857983145

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a beaut book to gift to anyone interested in Australia’s history from its earliest and first Australians to post World War II Australia. At 410 pages, it covers white discovery and colonisation, the changes brought about by population expansion and gold discovery, the creation of the nation, Australia and the First World War, the roaring twenties and the Second World War The stories are told under coloured sub-headings and in frequent break-out boxes with full-colour and black and white photography, maps and diagrams.

In the section called ‘Creating a Nation’, there is a section on Australia before Federation, with separate stories about Henry and Louisa Lawson, the introduction of time zones in Australia (1895), opposition to Federation, political differences, how Federation was achieved, the Australian Constitution and much more. At the end of the chapter is a double-page spread table comparing Australia’s constitution to that of America and Great Britain. Break-out boxes include information and photographs of Alfred Deakin, Charles Kingston, Catherine Helen Spence and Andrew Inglis Clark. Every section is like this – crammed with vital and often entertaining stories.

Throughout the book there is much valuable and comprehensive information, but sometimes it makes for dry reading, especially for young people who are targeted in the book’s introduction which tells how ‘The Story of Australia has been written with a close eye on the Australian Curriculum.’

The book draws on the National Museum’s rich collection of 200,000 objects, images and artefacts – some of which are displayed, for example Phar Lap’s heart, political handbills, an instruction booklet that shows how to draw caricatures of political leaders of the second World War, a 1885 British Doulton porcelain kangaroo umbrella stand and much more.

The story of our country finishes with ‘Australia in the Future’, informing the reader that on 15 September 2000, an estimated 3.5 billion people watched Australia present itself to the world during the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Sydney. The page is illustrated by a painting titled ‘Land Rights’ by Eunice Yunurupa Porter, 2011.

At the end of the book there is a three-page selected bibliography, a comprehensive index and four pages of image credits. This book is likely to be an essential history resource for homes and libraries.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The kids’ Survival Guide

The kids’ Survival Guide Avoiding “When I was young” and other brain-exploding lectures by Susan Berran (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925520071

Reviewed by Anita Howard

Susan Berran communicates directly to her readers through the voice of a primary aged child. This voice is littered with cheeky, of beat humour and at time outrageous suggestions that kids might think of but never say. The protagonist lets the readers into his secret ways to survive, boring lectures from parents; excuses; bending the rules; dumb things parents say; getting out of things with games that you never lose and sucking up.

A wonderful book for reluctant readers and could be used to generate classroom conversations related to difficult parent/child relationships. As these topics are present in a non-threatening and at times disrespectful manner, that many children enjoy.

Susan Berran’s cartoon style illustrations successfully communicate and at times exaggerate the same energy, mood, and message as the text.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Dusky Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld (Chronicle Books) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9781452146980

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here are two #1 New York Times Bestsellers in this one boxed set. The books – both board books with rounded corners are titled Steam Train, Dream Train and Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. What is most unusual is that both of the books, obviously intended for very small children, are quite text-heavy whereas most board books are light on text. Both books use rhyming verse and full-page coloured illustrations.

Steam Train, Dream Train is the story of a steam train travelling through the country at night so all of the text is printed white on dark backgrounds. All of the crew are animals with monkeys, for instance, putting cargo on board when the train stops. Kangaroos have fun ‘… they get to work and have a ball!/Then with a bounce, a pounce, a leap/three boys jump in… and fall asleep.’ Elephants fill up the tankers, and when ‘The train car’s packed,/The crew sits back/and chills with/a midnight snack.’ Different parts of the train are mentioned which should help young readers learn, though the American ‘caboose’ is used instead of ‘carriage.’

In Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Sit, heavy machinery is building a road so machines such as cranes, cement mixers, dump trucks and bulldozers are mentioned. They work during the day, but at night, ‘No more huffing and puffing, team/It’s time to rest your heads and dream.

Obviously parents of small children buy plenty of these books so there is certainly a big market for out of the ordinary board books.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Our Dog Benji

Our Dog Benji written by Pete Carter, illustrated by James Henderson (EK Books) HB RRP $19.99   ISBN 978-1-925335-33-0

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

This picture book pays homage to Benji, a much-loved family dog who happily gorges on daffodils, bones, avocadoes and any morsels passed to him under the table. 

“Every morning, he hurries to the kitchen in case the fridge suddenly exploded overnight.”

Benji’s young owner is much more selective than his canine friend about food. He can’t quite understand that Benji doesn’t seem to care what he eats.

As we travel through the engaging text with its gorgeous, detailed, duotone illustrations, we see Benji’s exploits both at home and further afield. His adventures are warm, funny and totally relatable. I particularly love the page where the family find him sitting on a builder’s knee, sharing homemade sandwiches.

Through the course of this charming book we watch as the tables turn and the child becomes a little more adventurous about eating.

A delightful hardcover book, Our Dog Benji is an endearing tale that will appeal to children and adults alike – and to lovers of food, dogs and whimsy.

Our Dog Benji is available from and wherever good books are sold. Best URL to link to is

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 3: Rise of the Red Ninjas

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 3: Rise of the Red Ninjas by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)  PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9781760295578

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

A rival ninja clan – the Red Ninjas – is out to make Chase Cooper’s life impossible in this, the third novel in the Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series.

It all begins when a fast-moving, red-hooded thief steals Chase’s backpack right off his shoulder. In a panic, Chase goes after him, desperate to get back his ninja suit, science project … and that little love note to Faith. The red-hooded thief disappears in what can only be described as a notorious ninja move. By the end of the day, copies of the love note are plastered all over the school and Chase has earned the nickname ‘lover boy’.

It’s a social disaster as Chase tries to do some damage control to save his friendship with science partner – and secret crush – Faith. But the two of them have become the laughingstock of the school thanks to a new clan of ninjas, the red ninjas, who are out to humiliate Chase. Faith is mad at him, Zoe is mad at him. His best friend Brayden has been framed for theft … and Chase doesn’t have the courage to help him.

It is not necessary to have read the first two books in the series, because Emerson provides a recap at the beginning. However, readers of the first two books will immediately guess that Wyatt is behind all the trouble in this book.

The Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja stories are very entertaining reads for 7–12 year-olds. (This third novel has a highly amusing reference to the original version of The Karate Kid that sadly might be missed by younger readers though!)

Zoe remains the ever-so-cool cousin who takes the moral high ground to keep Chase in check, but there’s a difference in this third book (and it’s not just in the page length). Though Chase wins victory in an absurdly funny roller-skating spectacle of ‘Shoot the Duck’, justice is not served at the end. Rather:

‘… sometimes people get away with what they’ve done.’

Of course it cleverly indicates that this means war, thus setting the climax for the next book in the series.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 2: Pirate Invasion

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 2: Pirate Invasion by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9781760295561

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

“It’s not that anyone is against me … It’s just that nobody is exactly with me.”

So says Chase in this, the second book in the popular Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series, which begins with ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’. New kid, Carlyle, has Chase’s guard up. Why does he still talk like a pirate when it’s no longer funny? Chase’s ninjas are bored and restless. Now that Wyatt isn’t leading them, there’s no more stealing, no more action. Chase has them all learning ninja moves … but nobody really knows what they’re training for (including Chase). Carlyle seems to be wooing everybody with his funny pirate talk … including Zoe. It turns out Carlyle is the leader of a secret band of pirates, and is secretly recruiting Chase’s ninjas. He is also seeking to avenge his cousin’s expulsion from the school.

The fast-paced story builds up action in the lead-up to the school ‘Dance Til You Drop’ event. The student who raises the most sponsorship money gets to choose a new school mascot, and Carlyle has convinced his growing legion of pirate fans to hand their sponsorship money to him. Once crowned winner, Carlyle is going to change the school mascot to a buccaneer.

Can pirates really trump ninjas? Does Chase even have the willpower to stop them? Poor Chase. It seems the more he tries to disappear, the more he stands out. After a talk with his dad, Chase decides to revolt against the crowd and stand up for what he thinks is right … in an absurdly funny obstacle course showdown.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny from the very first page, where Chase draws his self-portrait (‘Ladies, please remain calm’). I’m never quite sure where Emerson is going to take the story next, but I can be assured it will be an entertaining journey! The dialogue in this book is hugely appealing to the age group (7–12), with lots of kid slang. (For example, Zoe’s cry of ‘Oh em gee!’)

The novel concludes with Chase learning another lesson in leadership, Zoe demonstrating her family loyalty, and Carlyle planting a rumour that good old Wyatt is set to return.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Songlines - The Sentinels of Eden

Songlines - The Sentinels of Eden by Carolyn Denman (Odyssey Books) PBK RRP $23.95  ISBN 978-1-922200-60—0

Reviewed by Stacey Gladman

Songlines is an enchanting story set in regional Victoria which leads to Eden - a hidden secret world. Songlines is very much steeped in Aboriginal heritage which unfolds as the reader meets leading character Laine, a young girl who lives on a sheep property with her Aunt. Laine has a secret, but she doesn’t even learn the true nature of her biblical heritage until a mining company threatens her family land.

Before long it is revealed Laine is a Cherub, a person with special powers, charged to guard the gate to Eden. Laine must battle with her soul-mate - Bane - by her side, who she has spent much of her life despising to protect the gateway to Eden. Twists and turns keep the reader interested, including learning that Laine’s mother is alive, and Noah’s mother isn’t what she appears to be.

Songlines, set in an everyday Australian background, is not only relatable to the reader, but it utilises engaging central characters in Laine, Noah and Bane. It is very much a quest for discovery and truth about Laine’s heritage as well as a struggle to stop a large company conquering a piece of Australia. The story line flows very cleanly and is engaging enough to keep the reader wanting more.

This innovative and book will best suit young adults as they are sure to relate to the characters and the feelings evoked throughout the story. Songlines left me wanting more: has Laine made the ultimate sacrifice to save Eden?