Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Where’s The Ballerina?

Where’s The Ballerina? by Anna Claybourne, illustrated by Abigail Goh (Quarto Group UK)  HB RRP $19.9   ISBN 9781782404507

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Some of the greatest stories in the world are presented as ballets, but their meaning can be lost amongst young audiences. ‘Don Quixote’, ‘Swan Lake’ … even ‘The Nutcracker’ can seem confusing. When I first picked up this charming, full-colour picture book, I thought it would simply be a look-and-find, ‘Where’s Wally’ style of activity book.  I was glad to discover it was much more than that – it is also a kid-friendly reference guide to ten different ballet productions.

The ballets presented in the book are: ‘Swan Lake’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, ‘Giselle’, ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘La Bayadère’, ‘Coppélia’, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Don Quixote’ and ‘Cinderella’. Two double-page spreads are devoted to each ballet. The first is an introduction. It features a plot synopsis, setting description and full-colour storyboard, accompanied with text, depicting seven main scenes from the ballet. The second double-page spread offers the look-and-find activity for that particular ballet. The illustration for the task is always a scene from that ballet, and readers need to find 5 - 7 hidden characters from that ballet. (For example, for ‘The Nutcracker’, they need to find Clara, The Nutcracker Prince, Dr Drosselmeyer, The Mouse King, The Snow Queen, The Sugar Plum Fairy and Mother Ginger.) As an added bonus, there is always a hidden peacock lurking amidst the scene, along with a ballerina in a white tutu. The answers have been included at the back, and are cleverly presented as darkened stage scenes with spotlights shining on the hidden characters.

This beautifully presented hardcover book is suitable for 5–8 year-olds, and would make a beautiful gift for a child about to start dance lessons or who is generally interested in ballet.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener by Eric Fan and Terry Fan (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781847809391

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Something magical is happening at Grimloch Lane … trees are being shaped into astounding animals overnight, giving the residents a new surprise to wake up to each morning. William, a boy at the local orphanage, is filled with wonder. First, he wakes up to a huge owl. Then, a cat. One day, it’s an enormous dragon, fit for climbing on. Suddenly, the trees look alive … and so do the people. Neighbours unite to marvel. No longer do they walk alone, heads down. They speak to one another. They laugh together. The crowds grow.

One night, William spots the elusive ‘Night Gardener’ and follows him to Grimloch Park. The gentleman knowingly turns and smiles at him: ‘I could use a little help.’ He teaches William his craft and, together, they work all night to create a magical zoo wonderland. The Night Gardener is not there when William awakes, but it seems the entire town has congregated in the park, in awe.

The story closes with a heartwarming message – though the Night Gardener has gone, and the leaves have long fallen from the trees, the people of the town have changed. They find other reasons to come together. And William, who received the man’s garden shears as a parting gift, continues his legacy in topiary art.

This stunning book has been written and illustrated by two brothers, Eric and Terry Fan. The illustrations are breathtaking, imbued with the perfect colours to evoke the text’s emotions. They are black and white at first, but begin to come to life as the Night Gardener works his magic. The topiary trees appear in vivid green hues, showing life against an otherwise drab town. People start to come to life too, slowly receiving colour in their clothes and facial expressions. The seasons are portrayed in realistic hues, with autumn colours, especially, leaping off the page. The entire town finally appears in colour on a striking double page spread near the conclusion. The illustrations are a combination of ink and graphite mixed with digital colours. (The detailed linework reminded me a little of the work of Ron Brooks!)

This story is a beautiful salute to the magic of nature and its power to bring people together. It will suit readers aged 6 and older.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Running From the Tiger

Running From the Tiger by Aleesah Darlison (Empowering Resources) PB RRP $15   ISBN 9780994501066

Reviewed by Wendy Haynes

This is a story of true friendship. When ten-year-old Ebony meets Teena the new girl at school, she can’t believe her luck. A real friend at last. Follow Ebony and Teena as their friendship and trust for one another grows.

Darlison draws on Ebony and Teena’s growing friendship to give the reader a message of how friendship and encouragement can lead to overcoming a difficult family life.

This book for 10 -12 years old girls comes with a warning. It has a purpose of empowering those living with domestic violence. This social issue is woven tastefully throughout the narrative and encourages children to have a voice.

Ebony loves to run; it gives her freedom from her father and the abundances of chores and responsibilities he saddles her with at home. Both she and Teena among other classmates gain a spot in the zone carnival. With training commences after school Ebony dares to ask her father for permission. As the reader, you can’t help but have empathy for Ebony as she finds herself and strengths.

The climax comes when Ebony gets a chance to slips away with the encouragement of Teena, to compete at Zone level.  This book has a marvellous way of raising a difficult subject.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Secret Science of Magic

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9781760127763

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Secret Science of Magic is Melissa Keil’s third YA novel. A contemporary love story with an over-arching nerdy feel (in the best possible way), it is about Sophia, a maths genius with an eidetic memory, and Joshua, a magic-trick loving, self-confessed slacker. Told via both points of view (see the handy silhouettes at the top of each chapter), we are soon immersed in their inner-most thoughts and fears.

Sophia applies maths and science to all aspects of her life – there’s a theory for everything. However, when it comes to feelings, and magic, it becomes apparent that logic and order can’t figure everything out. Joshua feels a little aimless as the end of high school is rapidly approaching, but one thing is for sure – his feelings for Sophia. Both characters are complex, intelligent and endearing in their own ways, though I did find myself with a softer spot for Josh.

A strength of the story is the dialogue – snappy, sarcastic, funny and super smart, and peppered with pop culture references. The sibling relationships felt very real, as did Sophia’s friendship journey with BFF Elsie. Joshua’s little sister Gillian, sassy and wise beyond her years, was particularly hilarious.

This is a fabulous, engaging YA novel with unique characters, much heart and a love story you really hope happens, despite Joshua’s reiteration that in life, and in magic, timing is everything.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Archie Appleby: The Terrible Case of the Creeps

Archie Appleby: The Terrible Case of the Creeps by Kaye Baillie, illustrated by Krista Brennan (Wombat Books) PB  RRP $10.99 ISBN 9781925563016

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

This slim chapter book tells what happens when Archie has to spend two days with his scary Aunt Ruth.  He’s a boy with a vivid imagination who likes making up stories. She’s a keen gardener who knows a lot about poisons and weird plants. Her husband, Uncle Jock, seems to have disappeared.  

Late at night Aunt Ruth takes food down to something in her deep, dark basement. Archie is convinced she is keeping Uncle Jock down there a prisoner and bravely decides to rescue him. After two failed attempts he manages to discover what is really in the basement. Not his uncle --  who arrives fit and well from a fishing trip -- but a monstrous plant, a Venus Flytrap Gigantus. (Shades here of The Little Shop of Horrors, although this plant isn’t a man-eater.)

Luckily everything ends well. Archie and Aunt Ruth are reconciled and he goes home considering the possibility of another visit.

The carefully chosen language, clear print and short sentences make it an easy read. Newly independent readers will enjoy the building sense of suspense and the humorous way Archie misinterprets events.  The book would also be good to read aloud.

Krista Brennan has contributed a number of delicate line-drawings. There is a mismatch, though, between the pictures of Archie smiling mischievously as he enters the basement, and the descriptions in the text of what he felt: ‘his heart pounded,’ and ‘he shuddered at the thought of going to the basement in the dark.’  

Friday, 19 May 2017

Hotaka: Through My Eyes

Hotaka: Through My Eyes by John Heffernan (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99  ISBN 9781760113766

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

When media attention dwindles, we are left to merely imagine the after-effects of a natural disaster. How does a community recover from such a large-scale event? How do people unite to rebuild lives and towns when, in fact, so many are mourning their loved ones?

This novel, set in Japan, is the first in a promising new spin-off set of ‘Through My Eyes’ books (created by Lyn White) focusing specifically on natural disaster zones. The story is told from the perspective of a boy named Hotaka, and begins on March 11, 2011 – the day the northern coastline of Japan was struck by a tsunami that killed around 16,000 people. John Heffernan, who spent a month in the damaged Tōhoku region of Japan to research the novel, vividly describes the residents’ chaos and fear in a gripping, nail-biting introduction.

The story then cuts to 2014, three years later. The entire region is still a construction site. Many people are living in sub-standard accommodation. Hotaka is mourning both his friend, Takeshi, and his grandfather. Haunted by memories of that fateful day he tries to busy himself organising a memorial concert, enlisting the help of his two best friends (Osamu and Sakura). Sakura starts getting fired up about the seawall the government has arranged to build, and Hotaka doesn’t initially understand why. His beloved Uncle Yori explains it better: ‘We’re part of Nature. We can’t shut it out with walls. We have to live with it, not against it.’

Sakura, whose own tragic past is eventually revealed, starts a major community revolt against the wall, against the government and against the construction company. Together with Hotaka, Osamu, and the power of social media, their campaign reaches far and wide … but it seems the corrupt mayor will stop at nothing to silence them.

This uplifting work of historical fiction, targeting readers aged 11–14 years, is a compelling read in or outside the classroom. Its themes cover family, friendship, identity, community and government corruption. A glossary, timeline of events, and list of websites has been included. The novel is a wonderful exploration of the positive community forces at play when disaster strikes, delivering a beautiful message: ‘Sadness is not necessarily the enemy of happiness … for the dark gives the light a place to shine.’

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Things We Promise

The Things We Promise by J.C. Burke (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99  ISBN 9781760290405

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Mum reckoned I was born a pessimist. “Polly Pessimistic” she called me … But it’s true, I can feel it. Sometimes I sense it early. Sometimes it’s not till it’s almost on top of me.’

The school formal is months away but Gemma and her best friend, Andrea, are super excited. Gemma’s talented and semi-famous brother, Billy, has promised he’ll come home from New York to do their hair and make-up. The girls can’t wait … they’re choosing hairstyles, arguing over dress lengths, and counting down the weeks. Gemma is hoping to get the attention of the boy she likes, Ralph.

Enter Polly Pessimistic. Gemma can’t help feeling that something is wrong at home. Her mother won’t admit that she’s stressed out about something … and she flips out when Gemma wants to ring Billy. There’s that niggling comment made by Vanessa, a girl at her school who knows Billy via her modelling work. (What does Vanessa know about Billy’s personal life that she doesn’t?) Then she discovers the death notice for Matt Leong, Billy’s old boyfriend, who died at the age of 25 from ‘a short illness’ … and watches, in disbelief, as her mother crumbles at the news.

In the early 1990s, teenagers wore midriff tops. They watched ‘Video Hits’ and ‘Degrassi High’. They knew who Bob Hawke was. They made phone calls from public phone boxes. And they probably heard the terms ‘AIDS’ and ‘HIV’ a lot. Award-winning writer, J.C. Burke, aptly set her novel in this era to raise awareness of AIDS and the fears, attitudes and ignorance of people during that time. Gemma perfectly summarises the author’s intent when she says, of AIDS: ‘… It’s the way it spreads everywhere. It’s like it’s infected my life. It’s infected me, the way I see people, the way I see the world.’

This stark, powerful novel for young adults is beautifully written and will appeal to a broad range of readers, including adults who grew up in the 80s and 90s. The author, an oncology nurse, writes insightfully about hospital procedures, infection control and home management. The novel will deeply resonate with teenage readers who know what it’s like to preserve a ‘normal’ school life while watching a loved one battle a terminal illness at home.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Hungry Isle: Star of Deltora Book 4

The Hungry Isle: Star of Deltora Book 4 by Emily Rodda (Omnibus Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 978-1-74299-133-7

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

All trades are completed, the contestants have done as much as they can, and it is now time to turn the Star of Deltora towards home. But the magic Staff of Tier has sensed Britta and her companions and is drawing them all towards the Hungry Isle. The shadowy wraiths who dance around Britta are growing in their excitement, becoming more visible, and increasing the tension between the ship’s crew and Trader Mab and her would-be Trader Rosalyn apprentices. What should Britta fear more, mutiny or the King of Tier? Is there any escape from the Hungry Isle?

The Hungry Isle is the fourth book in the wonderful Star of Deltora fantasy series, by popular Australian author Emily Rodda whose writing is varied and prolific. The Hungry Isle is a thrilling action-packed adventure, but it is also evocative and richly richly written.

The wraiths swooped around him, wild in their mourning, bright as exotic birds in the rainbow light. Their grief had made them daring. The king knew     he had to quell them.

Britta and her companions continue to grow throughout the series. As secrets are uncovered, intricate webs of untruths are picked apart.

Britta, Jewel and Sky were all characters I wanted to keep reading about when the story ended. In fact, I wanted to follow their lives beyond the pages of this book, even though the ending was totally satisfying with a wonderful twist I did not see coming.

The Star of Deltora is an absorbing and spellbinding series for middle grade readers. Its occasional links with other series by Rodda are subtle but add a depth to the stories and will delight Rodda fans when they come across them.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Fix-it Man

The Fix-it Man written by Dimity Powell, illustrated by Nicky Johnston (EK Books) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-925335-34-7

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Grief, love and loss are a natural part of life and The Fix-it Man broaches them all. In the hands of Dimity Powell and Nicky Johnston, the treatment of this often challenging subject is accessible, masterful and most importantly of all, age-appropriate.

A young girl believes her dad to be the king of fixing things. After the death of her mother, both the child and her father discover that broken hearts are not as easily repaired as damaged toys or cracked teapots.

The media release calls this, ‘A hopeful story of life, loss and love,’ and it is definitely that. It is also a celebration of what children do so well – living in the moment. It is important to note that this is a book for everyone, not just those who are moving through the challenges of grief and loss. It’s divine.

What is not spoken out loud through the text is delicately conveyed through detailed pen and wash illustrations. Together the text and images work in tandem to create a colourful, uplifting and profoundly affecting narrative. I particularly love the snippets of rhyme which provide an unexpected change of pace at significant moments.
The ability of this work to travel into sadness and move through to the other side with joy is remarkable. Every element of this picture book has been explored deeply, to create a work of strength and hope.

The story, with its subtle directives for dealing with grief and loss in young children, cuts to the heart of what it means to live and to love. Reading this book actually warmed my heart.This is a simply beautiful picture book for 4-8 year olds.

Substantial teachers’ notes from the author are also available.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Looking Up

Looking Up by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Aska (Fremantle Press) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925164572

Reviewed by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

Award-winning WA author Sally Murphy’s latest junior fiction release about a boy who receives an unexpected birthday surprise is sure to become a read-again favourite with young readers.

Pete is desperately hoping for a telescope for his tenth birthday. There’s nothing he wants more. But when a card arrives in the mail from the granddad Pete didn’t know he had, it changes everything.

There are questions Pete wants answered. Mum won’t explain so he decides to find out for himself who this mysterious grandfather is and see if he can become part of their life.

Murphy writes with insight and warmth about family relationships. All her characters are vividly drawn and come to life on the page. From the opening lines I was seeing events unfold through Pete’s eyes, yet also feeling a strong empathy for Mum and her estranged father.

Readers aged six to eight years will have no difficulty connecting with Pete, who loves stargazing and solving mysteries.

Aska’s full-page mono illustrations accompany each chapter and complement the text beautifully. My favourite is Mum and Pete lying hand in hand on the trampoline, deep in discussion about recent events. 

Murphy’s verse novel Pearl Verses the World won an Indie Book of the Year award in 2009, was made a Children’s Book Council of Australia Honour Book in 2010, and won a Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award (Best Book for Language Development, Upper Primary) in 2010.

Her book Toppling won a Queensland Premier’s Literary Award and a Western Australian Premier’s Book Award in 2010. It was also shortlisted for a Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Award in 2010 and was made a Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book in 2011.
Looking Up deserves to garner the same level of critical acclaim and reader popularity.

Teaching notes are available from 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Olivia’s Voice

Olivia’s Voice written by Mike Lucas, illustrated by Jennifer Harrison (Midnight Sun Publishing)    HB RRP$26.99   ISBN 9781925227192

Reviewed by Stefan Nicholson

Olivia’s Voice is a beautiful combination of photo-realistic art accompanied by simple storytelling to describe one day in the life of a young and obviously happy girl named Olivia. It is clear she is happy because her face radiates an enthusiasm and inwardly happy nature that shines through in all the outstanding illustrations.  The brief story line describes her daily activities and interaction with her mother, her friends and her music teacher. Her life appears normal, but the reader knows that all is not as it seems: Olivia is not like many of her friends.

So, what’s the catch?  No, I’m not giving that one away to spoil the end of the story or indeed the reader’s careful unravelling of the plot by observations, which eventually lead to the answer. There is also the warm feeling you will get reading Olivia’s Voice.
This book shows children accepting differences between each other and within oneself through simple observation and acceptance. Did I mention that Olivia plays the drum? She does but that is only another small clue.  

This book is suitable for readers over the age of six years. The superb illustrations are created using crayons are photo-realistic which is why this book is marketed as a children’s picture book. 

Stefan Nicholson is a writer, composer and book reviewer with an MA in writing from Swinburne University.  and may be contacted by email:

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hooray for Birds!

Hooray for Birds! by Lucy Cousins (Walker Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780763692650

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Beautiful birds in exuberant colours take centre stage in this fun-filled book by Maisy creator Lucy Cousins.
Hooray for Birds! is a beautiful, interactive book that encourages young children to flap their wings, swoop through the sky, and tweet and sing like a bird. Children are invited to go wild and have fun as they imagine the kinds of adventures they could go on if they were busy little birds.
This clever book provides children with the opportunity to learn about our feathered friends in an enjoyable way. Although the animals are not named, the description that accompanies each picture allows readers to guess the type of bird featured. This gives parents a chance to interact with their children and teach them about these amazing creatures.
This book is a masterpiece in layout and design. The cover is incredibly appealing with its bright, bold colours and the illustrations are simply divine. The large pages and font will appeal to young children. It is recommended for readers aged 2 years and over.
Hooray for Birds! takes children on an exciting, entertaining journey that ends at night when it is time for everyone to get some sleep. It makes this book a great bedtime read as it not only encourages children to use their imaginations but to also get a good night’s sleep.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines by Prue and Kelly Mason, illustrations by Tom Jellett (Walker Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781922244635

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Can you imagine what the world was like before we had aeroplanes? Imagine how long it took to get anywhere and how isolated we were from the rest of the world.

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines shares the stories of 10 brave Australians who took to the skies and changed aviation forever. These Australians had vision and courage, and it is thanks to them that we can travel through the air.

The authors were inspired to write this book after they bought a vintage plane in 2000. Both licensed pilots, they started researching the history of their purchase and were intrigued by what they uncovered.

This book is overflowing with interesting facts about aeroplanes and aviation, and is not only interesting to read but also highly informative.

Did you know that women weren’t allowed to fly until 1927, even though men were permitted to fly 15 years earlier? Well, after reading this book you will have lots of impressive facts to wow your friends and family with.

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines is one of the most visually appealing books on the market. It is beautifully designed with fun illustrations from Tom Jellett and archival photography of each of the Australians featured.

It is a wonderful educational tool for children and is great for classroom discussions. It features "Did You Know" sidebars, three amazing facts about each of the people featured and friendly, informative text that is enjoyable and entertaining to read.

This book is perfect for readers aged 9 years and over, and is a brilliant gift for young readers interested in aviation and Australian history.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Rock Pool Secrets

Rock Pool Secrets by Narelle Oliver (Walker Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781922179357

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Lift the flaps and discover the amazing hidden treasures hiding in the rock pools. At first glance there is nothing much to see but rock pools are full of secrets that only the most observant eyes will uncover.

These gorgeous creatures can hide away in crevices and seaweed, and often go unnoticed camouflaged against the rocks. Take a peak under the flaps and see how many marvels of the sea you can find. 

Readers will be introduced to a selection of creatures which live in rock pools. Get acquainted with the colourful crabs, tiny shrimp, sea slugs, goby fish and turban snails showcased in this lovely book.

Rock Pool Secrets features beautiful linocut artwork by award-winning author/illustrator Narelle Oliver. The colour palette is bright and will appeal to young readers while the big, easy-to-use flaps will ensure that even the youngest of readers will be able to get involved.

Play peak-a-boo with the sea creatures or have fun counting the number of creatures you can find on each page. This book offers hours of endless fun for parents and children to share.

The text is clear and simple to read, making it suitable for children aged 4 years and over. There is also a glossary with information about the different creatures found in rock pools which makes this book a wonderful educational resource for both school and home use.

Rock Pool Secrets is an engaging and entertaining book and is highly recommended.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Gorinjas - the beginning

Gorinjas - the beginning by Mark Lancaster, illustrated by Inma Vassar (Moshpit Publishing) PB RRP $13.50   ISBN 978-1925529715

Reviewed by Stacey Gladman

Throughout life we face adversity and challenges: the real challenge is how we deal with them. Gorinjas - the beginning introduces the reader to two young characters - Gonga and Jemma - with a twist. Both Gonna and Jemma and all characters in the book are gorillas. Much like humans, the gorillas attend school and have their own problems to deal with, such as bullying.

Gonga and Jemma have been bullied throughout their lives. A chance sighting of a legend among the gorillas - Shintu - sets them on a path to self-discovery through martial arts. Shintu was himself trained in martial arts by monks and begins to teach the two young gorillas the intricate nature of martial arts.

The fast-paced action story has everything for young readers aged eight to 12 year-old including martial arts, secret tunnels and life lessons. The story flowed well throughout, with readers getting a good sense of understanding what was happening without stagnating for young readers. A more serious undertone of determination and hard work pays off in the end for Gonga and Jemma, with the pair eventually coming face to face with their bully, but will their training be enough?

The book is written in easy-to-read chapters, interspersed with monochrome drawings throughout at key scenes which add their own element to the story experience. The idea of writing from a gorillas point of view is interesting and comes across well, which I believe helps the reader relate to the central characters.

Gorinjas - the beginning appears to be part of an ongoing series and I can see young readers wanting to read on and find out what adventures Gonga and Jemma go on next. The book has the potential to be used as a learning tool on how to deal with adversity in a non-violent manner and how to learn about the inner peace and calm that martial arts is centred around.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

There’s a Crocodile on the Golf Course

There’s a Crocodile on the Golf Course by Rachel Barnett (Holus Bolus Books) HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978 0 9946468 3 5

Reviewed by Stacey Gladman

There’s a Crocodile on the Golf Course is a bright and colourful children’s picture book - both in text and images. Croc, the aptly named Crocodile, is a golf fan and is trying to get a hole in one.

Unfortunately for Croc, his golf game leaves a lot to be desired and with a swing that is “downright silly”, his friends Goanna, Quoll and Frilly are trying to help him out. At times he loses his patience as his ball goes wild - or even lands in a plover’s nest which sees Croc running for his life.

But in the end, hard work and a little bit of perseverance and help from his friends goes a long way and Croc manages to hit a hole-in-one. The story uses the comical idea of a crocodile playing goal to instill some key messages in young readers about patience, friendship and perseverance. The story is written in a clear way, with easy-to-read sentence structure that utilises Australian slang - like mozzies and midges to give it a quintessential Australian feel which I think helps set it apart in the children’s book sector.

There’s a Crocodile on the Golf Course is set on the Alyangula Golf Course, where a large crocodile can often be spotted swimming the beach along the course - or even closer for unsuspecting golfers on the second hole. The bright Australiana theme lends itself well to the story and is eye-catching to draw the younger readers in.

Overall, this is a fun tale that will have kids and parents enjoying reading along together. I feel young children will particularly enjoy the bright illustrations, with  Australian wildlife really starring in this tale.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Labyrinth: find your way through 14 magical mazes

Labyrinth: find your way through 14 magical mazes by Théo Guignard (Quarto Publishing Group UK)  HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781847809988

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘The king has laid down the red carpet for his royal guest. Can you find the way to his throne? On the way, look out for: someone looking out of a window; a roof with a crescent shape; a clock tower; a lady in a violet dress, and two pairs of sentries on guard.’

This amazing hardcover collection of geometric mazes by Théo Guignard is a true feast for the eyes as well as the brain. Young readers (aged 5 and over) will enjoy solving the mazes and finding the hidden items in each double-paged spread, whilst adult readers will appreciate the book as an eye-catching compilation of artwork.

Guignard is a renowned French graphic artist, best known for his film and television animations. His style, a calculated positioning of kaleidoscopic shapes and patterns, evokes a powerful depth of field that gives his work a 3D feel. Forget your concept of a basic maze … this book is, indeed, a collection of challenging labyrinths, each progressing in difficulty.

Be prepared to audibly gasp as you turn the pages. There is so much to see! Wind yourself through the rooms of the ‘magical mansion’, a maze formed by interlocking cubes with varied numbers of doorway options to confuse your path. Or try your luck at making a path through the dragon’s lair by selecting the appropriate staircases, tunnels and underpasses to guide your way. Help the police hunt down a red robot by sorting through the mess of overlapping roads – a definite workout for the eyes! There is also a castle scene, a beach, a town and a factory, amongst others.

As you progress through the book, the overlapping of shapes becomes far more intense to suit the difficulty level. I imagine people of all ages will find satisfaction in solving these mazes. The book has become quite a favourite in our household, and captures the attention of visitors too. Thankfully, for those of us that simply ‘give up’, an illustrated bird’s eye view of the answers has been included!

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Secret Cooking Club

Secret Cooking Club by Laurel Remington (Chicken House) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-910655-24-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Scarlett is sick of being the butt of everyone’s jokes at school. One of the stars of a mummy-blog that her mother writes every week, Scarlett can’t tell her mother how she feels about her personal life being broadcast for all. Rather than being anonymous (as her mother believes this blog to be), everyone knows Scarlett is the blog’s star. Feeling more like a victim than a star, Scarlett retreats into her loneliness until one evening she discovers the neighbour’s deserted kitchen, with ingredients left out just waiting for someone to cook.

Scarlett then begins a magical journey of discovery. Cooking, friendship and family bonds are all explored along the way and Scarlett discovers that some things are worth fighting for, worth the hard work.

This is an absorbing novel for middle grade readers. Cooking, a popular subject currently, takes centre stage as Scarlett learns to create and have confidence in the kitchen. She is an enjoyable character to spend time with, and one who grows and changes throughout the story.

I liked how friendship was portrayed in this story, not just between friends Scarlett and Violet, but also between the old lady and the girls, and between the family members. I particularly enjoyed the different view presented on the ‘mean girls’ clique. It was refreshing to see such a perspective on social interactions without resorting to stereotypes and laying blame.

Scarlett is a girl with inner strength and a heart in the right place. She knows the difference between right and wrong but is not always sure how to go about achieving it.

Although there is a boy in the Secret Cooking Club, this is really a book that girls will enjoy, especially those who love their cooking with a splash of mystery and a dash of romance.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 7: Scavengers

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 7: Scavengers by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $12.99   ISBN 9781760295615

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘“We will destroy you for rejecting our invitation, but not with bruises or black eyes …”
“It’s your legacy we’re after,” the boy said.’

Chase doesn’t think his enemies can get much worse than pirates, red ninjas and wolf packs. Then he meets a new breed of kids operating behind the scenes at Buchanan School: the ‘Scavengers’.

Sebastian lost his title of President at the end of the sixth book so … guess what? It’s election week! Chase is super proud of his cousin, Zoe, and best friend, Brayden, for running in the campaign. Then he gets ordered by the elusive Scavengers to join their clan as well as run in the election himself. They want to assert their control over the school by ensuring a Scavenger wins the presidency, and they plan to help him win. Chase is annoyed. Who do they think they are? When he angrily tells them he would never run against his cousin, nor join their ‘creepy little gang of rubbish pickers’, they furiously tell him to prepare for ‘a whirlwind of disaster’. And they’re not wrong.

To get revenge, they enter Chase into the presidency campaign themselves. They then create a stealthy, ‘smear’ campaign that first angers Zoe and Brayden, then the whole school. Chase has never felt so hated, but the Scavengers have threatened to turn on his friends if he tells people who is behind the campaign. In true ninja style, there’s no way Chase is going to let them threaten his honour: ‘Things have got better, and I’ve changed. I didn’t want to get lost in the crowd anymore.’

Fans of the series will love this latest installment, which definitely shows some character growth and maturity. The story is action-packed and fast-paced. There are new characters to meet – Naomi, one of Chase’s ninja sidekicks, and Melvin, the school reporter. There are plot twists and betrayals, and there are discoveries … for not only will readers learn who the leader of the Scavengers is, but they’ll also find out who the mysterious white ninja is!