Saturday, 29 April 2017

Shearing Time

Shearing Time by Allison Paterson and illustrated by Shane McGrath (Big Sky Publishing) HB RRP 24.99   PB RRP 14.99 
ISBN 9781925520095

Reviewed by Gill Griffin

Seen through the eyes of a child living in the country this tale perfectly captures the author’s happy childhood memories of working together with her family from sunrise to sunset on their annual task of sheep shearing.  Despite the hard work she describes shearing as the best time of the year, 

The wonderful descriptive prose and the colourful illustrations by Shane McGrath make each page resonate with the sound, and smell of shearing.  The sheds rumble and racket whilst machines whir, while a large recalcitrant sheep eyeballs a very determined dog.  The dogs hitch rides sitting on the back of sheep.  The shearers crowd round the kitchen table and enjoy the home cooked food. The book is so alive with written and visual description that the reader feels part of the whole experience.

Shearing Time reflects the experience of rural children and provides an opportunity for early childhood readers to appreciate the lives of Australian country children and to gain a glimpse and understanding of the Australian farming experience.  Inside the back cover the author describes many of the features of the shearing experience.  I had no idea that sheep first arrived in Australia on January 26 1988 with the convicts, and were mainly raised for meat. 

Allison Paterson grew up on a farm, surrounded by animals and the authenticity of her experience clearly shows.  She uses this experience in her other book Granny’s Place and again compiling old family letters  Anzac Sons: The Story of Five Brothers in the War to end all Wars  which was listed for the 2016 Australian Book Industry Awards.

Friday, 28 April 2017

See You in the Cosmos

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (Puffin) PB RRP $16.99  ISBN 9780141365602

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a middle-grade debut novel about a space-obsessed boy's quests in life. All eleven-year old Alex wants is to launch his iPod into space. With a series of audio recordings, he will show other life forms out in the cosmos what life on Earth, his Earth, is really like. Thus the book, instead of being written in chapters, is presented as a series of five to six minute recordings with Alex’s spirited, optimistic and largely innocent voice telling the aliens ‘out there’ about all aspects of his life which is largely complicated by his depressed and unavailable mother, his long-dead father and his absent older brother.

Eleven year old Alex struggles with the big questions. Where do I come from? Who's out there? And, above all, what can I achieve? Determined to find the answers, Alex sets out with his dog Carl Sagan on a remarkable road trip that will turn his whole world upside down. First stop is the south-west high altitude rocket festival (SHARF) where he plans to launch his rocket. From there he travels further, all the time full of joy and optimism and determination. He doesn’t always get what he seeks but he is constantly brimming with a love of life and its possibilities.

Alex is a wonderful, memorable character which is reflected in the voice of this novel. There are many funny and poignant moments, and lots of wisdom from a small boy. Any reader aged 10 years and up is sure to be captivated by Alex and his quest.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

How Many Dinosaurs Deep?

How Many Dinosaurs Deep? by Ben Kitchin, illustrated by Vicky Fieldhouse (New Frontier Publishing) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781925059731

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

Jim is ready to go swimming and has just graduated from the baby pool. He’s anxious about the depth of the middle-sized pool and asks his mother about it. His mum reassures him by explaining that the water would only be up to a Stegosaurus’s knee. While he watches other children in the pool (and works up the courage to go swimming himself) they chat about the depth of various bodies of water — the bath, the big pool, the water near a familiar jetty, the deepest water in all the world — compared to the different dinosaurs he knows. All this dinosaur talks puts Jim at ease and as he jumps into the pool he calls out, ‘It’s just Stegosaurus-knee-deep!’

Children who love dinosaurs will enjoy the bright illustrations showing the obliging dinosaurs stacked up in various water depths. This picture book is a wonderful springboard for discussions with young children about measurement, space, and resilience. And dinosaurs!

At the end of the book there’s an illustrated glossary with interesting facts about the dinosaurs shown in the book.

About the reviewer: Rebecca Newman is a children’s writer and poet. She is the editor of Alphabet Soup’s website and former editor of Alphabet Soup’s print magazine.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise

Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Celeste Hulme (New Frontier Publishing) PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9781925059755

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

Sage Cookson’s parents are television chefs and Sage goes with them whenever they travel to locations to film. Now the Cooksons are off to Crystal Bay in Queensland, and Sage is thrilled about bringing her best friend along.

Soon after they arrive their excitement is dampened when Sage thinks she’s seen Nancy. (Nancy had a run in with the Cooksons in an earlier book). Could Nancy be behind the hundreds of rotting fish on the beach? Is someone trying to sabotage the cooking show? Sage finds herself in hot water — as usual — when she tries to investigate on her own.

This is the third book in the Sage Cookson series of chapter books for early readers. The short chapters have occasional black and white illustrations. Each title in the series includes a themed recipe at the back of the book and this time the recipe is beer battered fish and chips. These books are sure to be popular with readers aged 7 and up, budding chefs, and young fans of cooking shows like MasterChef.

The series also has its own website featuring sample chapters, more of Sage Cookson’s recipes, and activities related to the books.

About the reviewer: Rebecca Newman is a children’s writer and poet. She is the editor of Alphabet Soup’s website and former editor of Alphabet Soup’s print magazine.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast retold by Alex Field, illustrated by Helene Magisson (New Frontier Publishing) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781925059809

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman

This is a retelling of the well-known fairytale in a picture book format. The text of the story is in large clear type with lots of white space. The pared back narrative occasionally feels more like a story summary than storytelling — however, this simpler format might enable younger readers to have a go at reading the story for themselves.

I’m already a fan of Helene Magisson’s work as an illustrator and her illustrations glow with fairytale magic. The use of birdcages and butterflies in the background to symbolise imprisonment and then freedom will delight the observant child reader. The end papers give an extra twist to this element.

Beauty and the Beast is just one title in the Happily Ever After series and will be in bookshops from 1 March 2017. This is a beautifully presented hardcover book.

About the reviewer: Rebecca Newman is a children’s writer and poet. She is the editor of Alphabet Soup’s website and former editor of Alphabet Soup’s print magazine.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 5: Terror at the Talent Show

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 5: Terror at the Talent Show by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781760295592

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It’s another crazy week at Buchanan School in this, the fifth installment in the bestselling Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series. Chase Cooper’s multi-talented cousin, Zoe, is busy organising a school talent show. She is stressed about her to-do list, and asks Chase for some weekend help to set up the school cafeteria for rehearsals. His response? ‘Yeeeeeah, that’s actually right in the middle of my nap, so I’m gonna have to say no.’

Uh oh. As per previous novels, Chase has once again let Zoe down, breaking an unspoken ninja code to do ‘the honourable thing … to help family’. When a strange kid in a hockey mask ruins the rehearsal by setting a penguin loose in the school and destroying part of the unfinished stage, Zoe thinks Chase is partly to blame. If he had’ve helped, the stage would have been properly attached. It’s up to Chase to make it up to Zoe by using his ninja skills to find the culprit, find that penguin and save the talent show.

In each novel, Emerson cleverly builds on the growing list of Chase’s enemies to make it difficult to identify the culprit. In this novel, Jake (a popular, quarterback football player) is less than impressed with Chase’s decision to change the mascot to a moose. Jake joins Wyatt, Carlisle, Olivia and Sebastian as possible suspects in the talent show disaster.

There are some loose ends in the novel that will no doubt leave fans wanting to read the rest of the series. There’s a mysterious ‘white ninja’ character, a noticeable shift in numbers between Chase and Wyatt’s ninja clans, and a foreboding promotion for Wyatt to ‘Vice President of Buchanan School’.

The novel follows the same style as the others, featuring plenty of realistic banter between the students as well as over-the-top humour. The stories require a slight suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part, which won’t be a problem for the target age group of 7–12. In addition to the missing penguin, there is also a delightful group of ‘library zombies’ in this one – a tongue-in-cheek observation by the author on the
growing (over)use of smartphones! (‘Waaaaaaatch this cuuuuuute videeeeeeoooooo’!)

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Big Snow Adventure

The Big Snow Adventure by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Mikki Butterley (Five Mile Press) HB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781760400651

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is another inexpensive picture book in the About Pickle and Bree’s Guide to Good Deeds which aims to gently teach small children how to explore the skills needed to successfully manage relationships with their friends and family.

In this book Pickle and Bree each displays poor manners by not waiting their turn in the ski shop and upsetting their friends Jason and Anna, Reggie and Lucy. Then they refuse to follow the teacher’s instructions about skiing downhill and thus cause mayhem. In a snowball fight, Pickle ignores his friends’ pleas not to throw a huge ball – and he makes Reggie and Lucy disappear.

As a result of the friends’ ignorance of manners, the others don’t want to play with them anymore. ‘Maybe I should have paid more attention to the rules,’ said Pickle. ‘Nobody wants to play with me. I’m a big, blundering, bumbling bear.’ And, says Bree, ‘I’m a pushy, pesky pain the neck.’

Luckily the others are forgiving and when the six of them go kiting downhill, Pickles and Bree take their turn so all have fun together.

This is a simply told, sweet story which offers a message to youngsters without being preachy. One can imagine the child reader and parent talking about taking turns in order to be a good friend. In the back of this book, as in all of the Pickle and Bree books there is a full page ‘Guide to Good Deeds’, a list of reasons for and outcomes of following rules which the parent (or teacher) can discuss. Great for ethics teachers in particular!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

The Playground Meanies

The Playground Meanies by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Mikki Butterley (Five Mile Press) HB RRP $14.99 ISBBN 9781760400644

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The first two things I noticed about this picture book for young children is how inexpensive it is and how beautifully produced. On the cover it reads, ‘All about being kind with Pickle and Bree’ which is what this book and others in the series is all about – teaching children how to have happy and productive relationships with others.

Pickle is a loveable bear and Bree is a high-spirited girl; they are best friends. In this book they appear in a playground to witness two grey bears hogging the equipment. The bears, Howard and Gracie, make fun of Pickle’s feet, also those of his friend Jason. It’s only teasing but both bears feel unhappy. The verbal bullying continues. ‘It isn’t nice to feel there’s something wrong with you,’ Jason says. Pickle roars his displeasure.

At the picnic in the park, there’s more tormenting about the bears’ feet. The two think about using their feet to smash the food but Bree reminds them that basically two wrongs don’t make a right.  Happily, in an incident a few moments later, Jason’s big foot saves a situation. It’s then that the teasing bears apologise.
And of course the four have fun playing together after that.

Being mean is never the answer. Of course. This is a lesson that small children (and big) need to learn. That’s what this book and other books in the series is about: using simple, humorous narrative to gently demonstrate a lesson about the value of good manners.

The book is beautifully illustrated with bright, full page illustrations showing the personable characters interacting with one another. Small children aged 4 years and up are sure to be thoroughly engaged by story and illustrations.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book by Will Mabbitt illustrated by Ross Collins (Penguin Books/Puffin)  PB RRP $16.99 ISBN9780141362939

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

I couldn’t wait to review this, the next children’s novel in the Mabel Jones series as I absolutely loved the last one, Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City. (There’s also the first book, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones). Generally I don’t much care for fantasy books, but Will Mabbitt is such a good writer that genre doesn’t matter – story does and so do his characters.

For a start, there are 31 short and quirky chapters, also a map at the front of the book (kids – and I – love maps in novels!) and then Chapter One title The End, followed by the words ‘Not long after you’ve finished reading this sentence, the whole hooman race will become extinct.’ But (of course), not Mabel Jones ‘who skipped the fate the rest of you will suffer, by virtue of being snatched from the present and pulled deep into the footure: a footure without hoomans.’ But maybe – just maybe – Mabel can stop it happening…

Breath-taking, isn’t it? And it's very funny, laugh-aloud and very witty. By now (and we’re not even on to Chapter two), I’ve been snatched by the story, engrossed and sucked in. I’m sure, too, that readers aged 8 + years will be, too.

Before long Mabel Jones is on her way to the city of Otom in search of the legendary Doomsday Book, an ancient document that might save you and me, the book's readers. But! Otomo is a dangerous place, packed with soldiers, spies and stinking rebels which Mabel has to overcome – that and the dreaded Grand Zhoul.

If Mabbitt could illustrate, his pictures would be exactly like those Ross Collins produces – attention-grabbing, idiosyncratic and very funny. There are plenty of Collins’ black and white line illustrations scattered throughout the book along with lots of typography – words and phrases of all sizes which again jump out to engross the reader.

Full of vigour, surprises, humour that is sometimes laugh aloud, other times simply witty, this is a book I’d give to any child, but especially to a reluctant reader because once they started reading, I could pretty much guarantee they’d be reluctant no longer. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Ducks Away

Ducks Away by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek (Omnibus Book)
HB RRP $19.99   ISBN 978-1-76015-851-4

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

A mother duck is taking her five ducklings for a walk when a gust of wind blows one little duckling off the bridge and into the water below. One by one, as these curious little ducklings peek over the edge, they tumble into the water also, until the mother duck is left by herself wondering what to do. Her babies suggest she jump to join them, but it’s a long way down. What is Mother Duck to do?

The last book Fox and Horacek created together was Where is the Green Sheep? a delightful picture book full of humour, quirky characters/sheep, colour and entertainment. Ducks Away is just as enjoyable and engaging.

This simple story is perfect for the very young. The illustrations are entertaining and colourful, yet simple, with nothing distracting from the central storyline. It has a comfortable, story-telling voice, with repetition in the story structure as well as a repeated, rhyming refrain quacked by the mother duck.
‘What shall I do?
Where should I go,
With four on the bridge
And one below?’

The numbers in the refrain change each time another duckling falls, adding a new dimension to the traditional counting book.

Mem Fox is one of Australia’s best loved story tellers for the very young and with this new twist to the ‘Five Little Ducks’ classic it is easy to see why. This is a wonderful book to read to babies, toddlers and preschoolers at bedtime - or anytime of the day. The ending satisfyingly tips the mother/child bond on its head and sees the ducklings giving mum the confidence she needs to make the leap from the bridge.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Seven Signs, Book 1: Skyfire

 The Seven Signs, Book 1: Skyfire by Michael Adams (Scholastic Australia) PB RRP $7.99   ISBN 978-1-74362-801-0

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

The Seven Signs is a new explosive and action packed series for middle grade readers by Australian author Michael Adams. Skyfire kicks the series off with the seven winners of the mysterious DARE competition all meeting for the first time and receiving amazing prizes. But this group of 15 year old geniuses are about to discover that there is something sinister lurking beneath the glitter, wealth and prestige of the award. That something will not only put their own lives in peril, but also the lives of those close to them. Will their combined intelligence be enough to solve the cryptic ‘signs’ being texted to them? And is there a connection between these signs and the shocking public attacks which are throwing whole countries into chaos?

By combining thrilling adventures, edge-of-your-seat action, exotic locations and unshakable friendship bonds, this series promises to deliver the same satisfying ‘teens save the world’ experience as The Last Thirteen series. The seven central characters are all likeable, not perfect and quirky enough to be interesting. Once you suspend your disbelief enough to allow for the post apocalyptic world which includes Space Skimmer ultra fast-jets, driverless taxis and other futuristic advances, it is not a big leap to fifteen year-olds who can save the world. And within this context, they do act in a believable way.

Jumping from character to character and location to location, keeps the action tight and constant. This is a book to speed-read cover to cover, with cliff hangers making it hard to put down. Skyfire is a thrilling read, perfect for adrenaline junkies and lovers of mystery, good versus evil plots and epic races to save the world.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Trouble Tomorrow

Trouble Tomorrow by Terry Whitebeach and Sarafino Enadio (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99   ISBN 9781760291464

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Remember, if you want a door to open, education is the key.’

When you’re 15 years old, though, trying to find your next meal, self-improvement takes a significant back-step to self-survival.

Obelujo, whose name means ‘trouble tomorrow’, is a Ma’di boy living in South Sudan, not at all interested in joining the Rebel army. The first time they raid his village, he and his family hide. The second time, they are forced to flee in different directions. Obelujo’s father secures a place for him in a good boarding school before he leaves. ‘It is very important not to break your education,’ he tells Obelujo, who respects ‘his father’s wishes’ as ‘law’, despite his feeling of dread at leaving his family. 

He immerses himself in his studies, while fighting off visions of his family’s fate. When he awakens to the sound of gunshots one night, he joins the crowd of people running for their lives. What follows is Obelujo’s uplifting, courageous story of survival. It includes a risky trek through a wild jungle, a terrifying capture by the Rebels, and a daring escape. It details his life in two refugee camps, where people’s starvation leads to violence at any cost (even murder). As Obelujo’s own hunger grows, he finds himself struggling to remain true to his Ma’di values. He begins to act aggressively and steal food. When Obelujo takes up an opportunity to study Agriculture, his life begins to change. The basic course leads him to a voluntary teaching position, and (later) a paid one. He joins a church choir where he meets and falls in love with Malia. He completes a Peace Education course, and learns that if he wants to change the world he must start with himself.

This confronting, heartwarming story is the true story of co-author, Sarafino Enadio, who migrated to Australia and is currently studying a Masters in Teaching. Terry Whitebeach is a writer and historian who travelled to South Sudan with Sarafino to witness the effects of the civil war. The novel is aimed at 13–18-year-olds and, given its topics of immigration, refugee camps, peacekeeping and the Sudanese Civil War, would make fantastic classroom reading. Sarafino’s enlightening story will definitely linger in your heart, along with a greater respect for the plight of refugees.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Bold Journey

Bold Journey by Clancy Tucker (Clancy Tucker Publishing) PB RRP $15.00 plus $3.00 for postage Australia
ISBN 9780994601025

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

The story begins in 1954, when the Agnelli family set out for Australia on an Assisted Migrant Scheme. The positives and negatives of their decision are cleverly woven into a delicate and moving story of migration, with themes of friendship, family, bullying, assimilation, and the huge impact the kindness and generosity of strangers can have on people’s lives.

Cat Ginelli and ‘Fozzie’ Agnelli have been friends since childhood after meeting on the ship. Their years of friendship, togetherness, learning, discovery, and shared grief, is slowly transformed into something powerful, but unspoken. While life leads them along different and distant paths as they grow, the emotional ties between them remain unbroken.

Will they finally come together at the official function put on by Amnesty International, or will the story of their life together end due to those words unspoken?

The struggles and challenges the Agnelli family face are the struggles of every migrant family of the post-war years. The courage and determination of they have to adapt and succeed reflect the characteristics of migrants of that era, and many of those of today.

Through his work, Tucker again seizes the opportunity to bring into focus, issues that he is passionate about. He addresses the humanitarian need of countries ravaged by war and poverty, with the intention that it will ‘stir the conscience’ of his readers, and the world in general. He makes reference to the Vietnam and Korean wars and their futility in a significant way.

This is an interesting and well-constructed novel which is historically valuable, in that it reflects on the how and why, Europeans left their homelands for a better life, what they found, and what they did with what they had.

Clancy Tucker has created lovable characters and moving scenes. He has presented a wide view of migrant life. All this is folded into a story of love, hope and sacrifice. Suited for ages 8-80 years, it also shows the multi-faceted lives of post-war Australians through dialogue, varying voices and points of view.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler

The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $14.9   ISBN 9781760293017

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Henry Hoobler’s mother suggests he make a little room for his worries by acknowledging them. Henry can’t help but wonder, though …‘Couldn’t he be good at making a tiny bit of room for the worry, without giving it the whole house?’

This heartwarming story is about an anxious boy called Henry, aged 8 or 9, whose worries often prevent him from enjoying himself. The upcoming family camping trip at the beach, for instance, terrifies him. Then he makes a friend who shows him what life can be like when you’re open to adventure, and he winds up having a very different summer to the one he expected.

By the end of the summer, Henry will have learnt how to work through some of his niggling anxieties and fears. He’ll realise that oceans don’t always bring tsunamis, that camping trips don’t necessarily include snakebites and that stingrays (barbless ones named Heathcliff, anyway) can be friendly. He’ll learn about self-confidence, especially in the face of older siblings. He’ll learn how to stand up to people who tease him … and forgive them. He will set out on a daring, nightly expedition to rescue a toy pony. He’ll meet a bold, adventurous girl – Cassie – who’ll inadvertently motivate him to find his courage. And he’ll not only learn to ride his bike without training wheels, he will ride it like she does – freely and fearlessly. No wonder it’s a grand, genius summer!

Lisa Shanahan, the award-winning writer of My Big Birkett, has created a touching novel that will appeal to readers aged 7–11 years. Henry’s family members and their camping holiday dynamics are so believable that it might feel as though you’re observing them all from a neighbouring tent! Their alternating feelings of frustration, sadness and support for Henry’s emotions are very realistic. I particularly liked the way Henry’s anxieties crept up on him, rather than being the central focus of every scene. 

The book covers themes of family relationships, friendships and anxieties. By the end of the story, armed with a new friend, a powerful bike and a firm sense of adventure, Henry adopts Cassie’s philosophy in life: ‘the best things always happen on the way to somewhere else.’ 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Jinny and Cooper: Revenge of the Stone Witch

Jinny and Cooper: Revenge of the Stone Witch by Tania Ingram (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780143308997

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is the fourth in a series of chapter books suitable for readers 7 to 10 years. The narrator of this book is Jinny (short for Jinnifer) while Cooper is her scruffy, teleporting and talking guinea pig – a very greedy one at that with a preference for junk food.

During the school holidays too-polite Katie comes to stay next door to Jinny which is nice at first but soon Jinny is feeling jealous. Even brother Tyrone (who calls himself Super Booger) thinks Katie is ‘super awesome’. More trouble arrives when Miss Morgan moves into the nearby house last occupied by a witch: is the new neighbour a witch, too? (In the previous book, there is an adventure about a teacher who is a witch living in this house.)

Suspicions are aroused when a cloaked woman is seen digging in Jinny’s front garden at night. Who is the woman? Jinny and Tyrone discover a series of knotted strings where the woman dug. This is a clue which they follow – only to find that Miss Morgan was the culprit. She reveals much information to the children about a coven of witches and lets it be known that there is mischief afoot. Who is the real witch?

With Cooper’s help, the children find themselves in the home of elderly Mrs Goodfellow, Katie’s grand-mother. Females are turned to stone! Can the salt and potatoes – said to ward off witches – help save the day? And how does Cooper work to prevent more trouble?

There are lots of possibilities in this story which are sure to have young readers guessing, and too there is a lot of humour. The action moves quickly and the characters, especially Cooper, are idiosyncratic and engaging. 

Friday, 14 April 2017

Jinny and Cooper: My Teacher’s Big Bad Secret

Jinny and Cooper: My Teacher’s Big Bad Secret by Tania Ingram (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780143308751

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Readers aged 7 to 10 years who’ve discovered the Jinny and Cooper book series, no doubt will have eagerly been awaiting this latest book of the adventures of Jinny, a girl, and her guinea pig, Cooper. This story starts when, after years of begging for a pet guinea pig, Jinny goes with her mum and brother Tyrone to a pet shop. There are plenty of beautiful, shiny guinea pigs for sale, but the shop-keeper has a dirty, scruffy pig under the counter which he’s keen to let go. (Wonder why? Mmm…) Mum is in charge so when she’s offered freebies to go with the guinea pig, a bargain is grabbed and Jinny is forced to take on this particular one.

At first Jinny names the guinea pig ‘Frizzy’, but a few days later, to her and Tyrone’s astonishment, said pig starts talking, telling them that his name is Cooper. This is no ordinary guinea pig, folks! Not only does he refuse typical guinea pig food – carrots, lettuce and the like – but he’s a glutton for anything sweet or any junk food. And there’s more: Cooper is able to make himself invisible. He can teleport, too! All of this leads to misadventures throughout this book and the book that follows.

Child readers will love the fact that Cooper is so determined to go to Jinny’s school that he makes use of his magical powers. But once there, Cooper becomes convinced that Jinny’s kind, elderly teacher, Miss Bunney, is a witch. Sorry, there is no spoiler alert in this review; suffice to say that Cooper turns out, through misadventure, to be the hero of the tale.

A teacher as a witch? Seems politically incorrect at a time when society is trying to show women in a good light. But kids don’t care – many fantasise about their teachers’ private lives. Some schools might not want a chapter book about witches in their library (but Roald Dahl’s The Witches was immensely popular). Each to her own…

My Teacher’s Big Bad Secret is a fast-paced, easy to read book with feisty child (and animal) characters (but not so nice adults). Having a talking pet is a dream of many children and thus this book is likely to find a happy and wide readership.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

There’s a Magpie in my Soup!

There’s a Magpie in my Soup! written by Sean Farrar and illustrated by Pat Kan (Big Sky Publishing) Kindle Price $4.73 
ISBN 9781925275681

Reviewed by Gill Griffin

A magpie in your soup!  A cockatoo in the loo! A big black snake in your cake!  This is just the beginning of a rhyming journey with familiar Aussie animals popping up in the most unexpected places.

There is a possum in a pie, and a tadpole in a cup of tea.  The idea of the cockatoo emerging from the loo with knife and fork and asking for food is sure to catch the imagination of younger readers. For each animal there is a warm and witty rhyming description which includes the author’s reaction at the sight of these unexpected creatures in familiar places. 

This is the first book by Sean Farrar, and Pat Kan’s illustrations complement the rhyming pages beautifully.  Her drawings are full of expression and very funny.  The use of the black ink make the drawings look spiky and alive with each animal having their own personality.  The wash of soft colour is very effective, enjoyable to look at and brings light and definition to the characters.

This is a simple picture book designed for reading out loud with large pictures which match the verse perfectly.  It is an easy read-out-loud book and small children will soon learn the names of Australian animals and the strange places they decide to visit which are  totally different from their natural habitat. 

There’s a Magpie in my Soup book celebrates Australian animals in an endearing, light hearted and entertaining manner. 

Sean Farrar already has another book in the pipeline which gives an unusual twist to our unique Aussie creatures. There’s a Koala in my Kitchen which is due to be released 2017.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Beauty and the Beast – A Colouring Book

Beauty and the Beast – A Colouring Book  by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (1685-1755), llustrated by Walter Crane (1845 -1915) Designs and additional illustrations by Eliz Huseyin, Ian Cuncliffe, Lydia Coventry (A Macmillan Classic Colouring Book) PB  RRP $24.99 

ISBN 978-1-5098-3936-0

Reviewed by Bev Murrill

This is a colouring book illustrating the story of Beauty and the Beast with quotations from the original story. Colouring books have become immensely popular over the last few years, but you would have to go a long way to find a colouring book as beautiful in picture and words as this one. Delectable pictures and stunning designs are drawn in ornate detail. Just looking through the book makes one itch to pick up a pack of colouring pencils and get going.

Quotations interspersed through the book only serve to encourage interest in the story and is being released in perfect timing for the new movie coming this year with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the starring roles, which will add to its popularity.

This is a book for connoisseurs of colouring rather than small children who are still working on their colouring skills. Modern designs that draw their inspiration from ancient books form a perfect blend of old and new. Teenagers, more likely girls but easily suited to boys as well, will love the beauty and grace and pure femininity of the illustrations. It is also a wonderful book for adults who are looking for colouring-in therapy as a break from the madding crowd. It would be very easy to get lost in this magnificent, beautifully designed book.

If you’re a colouring-in fan, this book is not to be missed.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Marge and the Pirate Baby

Marge and the Pirate Baby by Isla Fisher (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781848125933

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Did I tell you that our babysitter is only the size of about seven biscuit packets stacked on top of each other?’

Sweet little Marge, whose rainbow-coloured hair and flamboyant behaviour burst from the pages of Isla Fisher’s debut novel (Marge in Charge), is back for a new trio of babysitting adventures. The stories once again star Jemima Button and her little brother Jakeypants, but this time they include their troublesome baby cousin, Zara. (Marge dubs her the ‘pirate baby’ for her love of shiny things, for the way she takes people’s things without asking and because she drinks from bottles all day!)

Each story is narrated from the first-person perspective of Jemima. The first is about Zara’s antics around the house, the second takes place at the local swimming pool, and the third focuses on a family wedding. The stories feature a list of rules from Jemima and Jake’s parents … followed by a funny interpretation from Marge. For example, ‘No rude words’ becomes ‘No rude words, unless we are in battle at sea, or your parrot poops on your shoulder.’ Marge uses her quirky style to get the kids to do exactly what she wants … like tackle a ‘code brown’ nappy situation, or face their fears at the pool. She even naps on the job while the kids madly put the house back together before their parents come home. The children are happy to do whatever it takes to keep Marge’s antics a secret … or else their parents might never call her back. (‘We both love having Marge look after us, even if it means we have to look after her a bit sometimes, too.’)

The three stories average around 55 pages each and are illustrated with Eglantine Ceulemans’ complementary black and white caricatures. The font style throughout the book is playful and varied, featuring lots of breakout lists of ‘handwritten’ rules, song lyrics or thoughts.  The presentation, combined with the story itself, make the book well suited to the target age group of 7 to 9 year-olds.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Fear the Drowning Deep

Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn March (Sky Pony Press) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781510703483

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a debut novel by an American author. Set on an island in 1913, it is about sixteen-year-old Bridey Corkill who longs to leave and see the world; the farther from the sea, the better. When Bridey was young, she witnessed something lure her granddad off a cliff and into a watery grave with a smile on his face. Those haunting memories are dredged to the surface when a young woman is found drowned on the beach. Bridey suspects that whatever compelled her Granddad to leap has made its return to the Isle of Man.

Soon, people in Bridey’s idyllic village begin vanishing, and she finds an injured boy on the shore, an outsider who can’t remember who he is or where he’s from. Bridey’s family takes him in so he can rest and heal. In exchange for saving his life, he teaches Bridey how to master her fear of the water; in the process, he steals her heart.

However, something sinister is lurking in the deep, and Bridey must gather her courage to figure out who or what is plaguing her village, and find a way to stop it before
she loses everyone she loves.

This is a well-written book which is sure to be enjoyed by readers aged 11 years and over.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky by Robert Newton (Penguin Books) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN 9780143309307

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Robert Newton came to public attention when he won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for his children’s novel When we Were Two. This is his eighth book for children.

The prologue of this latest novel for readers aged 10 to 13 years ends with the words, ‘…on the cold September I turned thirteen and met the Creeper everything changed.’ Someone throws a Jack Russell belonging to Creeper off the top of the commission tower where Lexie lives which puts things into motion. Life is indeed bleak for Lexie whose single mother is a heroin addict and there are bullies in her high rise grey apartment block.

Lexie and her bung-eyed friend Davey befriend the Creeper, an elderly isolated Russian named Sergei Romanov. After cleaning his grotty apartment, they help him establish a garden on the tower top (Mr Romanov’s garden). Lexie’s life dream is to go to Surfers’ Paradise which her deceased father used to talk about. Eventually this happens, but much more does, too.

There are many dramatic and unpredictable moments in this novel with a few laugh-aloud scenes as well. It’s fast-paced and the three main characters are vividly depicted as are some secondary characters such as the Indian grocer Ramesh. Being alone so often, Lexie has created an imaginary friend, Miranda, who is pasted on her fridge and to whom she speaks quite often. This didn’t ring true for this reader. Sometimes, too,  especially at the beginning of the book, there’s a lot of bleakness and unsavouriness: the grey surroundings of the tower, a woman fries a placenta and then eats it, Mr Romanov carries away the dead dog’s mushy remains and Lexie fishes for its collar in the rest of the remains.

Eventually, after an exciting trip towards Surfers’ Paradise with Davey and Mr Romanov with lots of twists and turns, there’s an unexpected change in travel plans. This section involving a police officer didn’t seem feasible to me, and the tail end of the book seemed rushed, but there’s no doubt many young readers will enjoy this mostly well written book.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Ruby Redfort: Blink and You Die

Ruby Redfort: Blink and You Die by Lauren Child (Harper Collins Children’s Books) HB RRP $19.99  
ISBN 978000734285

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Award-winning English author Lauren Child has written the last book in her thrilling Ruby Redfort series. Blink and You Die is the sixth book in the fascinating world of super sleuth extraordinaire Ruby Redfort.  

Both boys and girls who are into code-cracking puzzles, reading maps and who also love a mystery to solve will find this book a perfect read. Readers enter the fictional world of secret agent Ruby who lives as an ordinary child in an ordinary world… until you look closer and scratch the surface.  All is not what it seems. Readers from 8 to 14 years would enjoy entering a children’s world full of mystery and becoming a secret agent.

The Count is a dark figure who wants Ruby dead. He is always lurking in the background shadows.  You can feel he is there but you can’t see him.

‘And one should always, in the words of Mrs Digby:
Fear the wolf that other wolves fear.’

Ruby knows to trust no one at Spectrum the spy agency, but characters who offer love and support surround her such as Mrs Digby the ever-faithful, rock-solid housekeeper who comes to Ruby’s rescue. Then there is Clancy, her bestie who is not a secret agent, but the most honest and reliable friend a girl could ask for. Hitch is the house butler, but really like a bodyguard to Ruby and a secret agent, too. He says, ‘Jeepers, kid relax a little. Anyone would think you were about to meet with the Grim Reaper.’

Without giving too much away, although there is evil around, Ruby is surrounded by goodness, too.  All is revealed at the Eye Ball.     

The story is set in the 1970’s back in the day before iphones and Internet so it is not as easy to source information.  The skills of note-taking and observation are crucial to solving the mysteries but you need the skill set of a genius master code cracker. ENTER RUBY’S WORLD IF YOU DARE!


Thursday, 6 April 2017

At the Zoo I See

At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button, illustrated by Robyn Wells (Magabala Books) HB RRP $9.99   ISBN 9781925360455

Reviewed by Brook Tayla

I have a newly acquired attraction to board books.  From a literary viewpoint I have seen them evolve and become much more focused on the importance of both visual and written language and At the Zoo I See by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells displays this.

In this book we are introduced to nine animals that could be seen at the zoo – a mix of native and exotic animals; a macaw, a quoll, a jaguar, an anteater, a wombat, an elephant, a lion, a gorilla and a cassowary.

What makes this book work is the combination of the adjectives used for each animal and the expressive illustrations -- they just made me smile and enjoy this book so much more. Written text is extremely important because it introduces children to infrequently used words and word combinations and the visual text confirms this and gives a secondary view of the meaning – Joshua and Robyn have synergized this well.

And all this is contained within a few pages of a board book suitable for children from newborns up to kindergarten age.  

Brook Tayla writes a blog called and would love you to drop by, read some reviews, leave a comment and follow by email so you get to receive all the latest reviews.