Wednesday, 31 May 2017


Twig by Aura Parker (Scholastic Press) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 978-1-76015-706-7

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Heidi is the new girl at Bug School but no-one, not even her teacher Miss Orb, notices her. She is shy and hangs about the edges, blending in with her surroundings. Heidi wishes someone would play with her and become her friend but it is not until Scarlett mistakes her for a twig for her project, that everyone finally sees her. And Miss Orb comes up with the perfect way for everyone to help Heidi feel welcomed and for her to not disappear into the background again.

Twig is a lovely story about gaining confidence in new surroundings, but it is also about being welcoming and accepting of others. Being a stick insect, Heidi does not stand out in the same way as the more sparkly, shiny or brightly coloured bugs and insects, but everyone has their own unique skills to share with a group.

The words used and their layout encourage fun reading out loud. The text is spare, but beautiful and full of movement and bustle.
The classroom was a flurry of counting and colour.

The illustrations, watercolour, pencils and pen, are beautifully enchanting and full of fun detail. They help tell the story, adding much left unsaid in the text. I can see children spending hours poring over the pictures, picking out different insects and activities. Some pages are less busy, especially the ones illustrating Heidi feeling left out, which emphasises the emotion of loneliness. The pages are full of soft colour, colours of nature – beetles, flowers and autumn leaves. Nothing in this story, words or pictures, is jarringly bright. It all flows harmoniously.

I think young children at the beginning of their school journey will identify with either Heidi, shy and trying to fit in, or the other bugs which perhaps need to slow down a little to see who around them may need a little extra help. Twig is a picture book which will appeal to children starting school, to insect and bug lovers and to those who love to ‘find’ items among the illustrations. There is a list of bugs to be found within the detailed end papers.

Twig was included in the recently announced Notables list for the 2017 CBCA Awards – Children’s Book Council of Australia

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Selwood Boys Hit the Road

The Selwood Boys Hit the Road by Tony Wilson, (Harper Collins)  SB RRP $14.99   ISBN 9780733335471

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

The famous Selwood Boys are back in book three of The Selwood Boys series. The Selwood family is going on a holiday to Queensland.  The road trip adventure begins with the Falcon six-seater leaving Bendigo for sunny shores.
‘They were away.
Three suitcases, four boogie boards, two footies, a frisbee, six beach towels, a beach umbrella, two Game Boys and six Selwoods.
At the one-minute-and-twenty-second mark, the boys had their first fight.’

The text is an easy engaging read, with splashes of humour. The antics of the four footy mad boys on the road create many memorable moments.  Troy and Adam are the mischief-making twins who are determined to discover Joel’s kryptonite.  Joel cannot possibly be an all-rounder at everything.  There must be something he’s not good at.  Scooter (Little Scott) joins in the mission in helping his older brothers.

Joel with his cheeky, sneaky antics knows his brothers are doing their best to catch him out.  He manages to keep one step ahead of them until… You see you can’t be good at everything and eventually there is something Joel desperately tries to hide.  You’ll just have to read the book to find out what it is.

This fun-filled story can be enjoyed from seven years old onwards.  It would also make a fantastic read for a teacher to share with a class.  The book is based upon the real Selwood brothers and all the funny things that happened to them.  The Selwood brothers are sports stars that were kids once and it’s interesting to see where their footy journey began in their childhood shenanigans.

Tony Wilson has used a mix of sentences from short to long and this really makes the reader feel like the text is speaking directly to them. Often it’s difficult to find books for sporty readers and this book fills the gap.

Book 1 is Battle Royale, Book 2 The Miracle Goal and Book 3 Hit the Road will be followed by Maintain the Mischief.  The books make a great set to collect. 

Monday, 29 May 2017

Henrietta and the Perfect Night

Henrietta and the Perfect Night by Martine Murray (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $16.99   ISBN 9781760290245

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Fans of Henrietta the Great Go-Getter will be pleased to discover this hardcover book by Martine Murray, featuring five new Henrietta stories.

Henrietta is just as spirited and adventurous as ever: ‘I’m an explorer of life, and that includes trees, bugs, animals and all mysteries.’ In this collection, she practices how to be patient and be a good big sister (‘The Waiting Game’), how to rescue somebody and make a friend at school (‘The First Day’), how to survive a sleepover with the pesky older brother of her best friend (‘The Sleepover’), how to save the school play when the lead gets stage fright (‘The School Play’) and how to adjust to life with a new baby brother (‘The Arrival’). The stories need to be read in sequence to be properly enjoyed, with the title alluding to the final story’s conclusion.

The book is illustrated in full colour by Martine Murray, award-winning author of How to Make a Bird and Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars. Each double page features an illustration to break up the text, making this a great novel for readers aged 5 years and older who are starting to read chapter books. The design is likely to appeal to the age group too, with key phrases appearing in an alternate font of different size or colour.

Henrietta is ‘a Big Thinker’ and her thoughts and observations are highly amusing! The stories are told in first-person perspective, allowing the author to offer fantastic examples of friendship, courage and kindness without seeming to preach these values to her readers. (‘You only need one friend in a room full of strangers to feel perfectly happy.’) Henrietta is, at times, bold and sassy, at other times quiet and afraid, but the range of emotions she feels gives scope to her situations and makes her very real and lovable.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Beware that Girl by Teresa Toten (Bonnier Zaffre) PB RRP $19.99  ISBN 9781471406393

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘… But in the end, the main thing I learned – the best thing – was never to bring a knife to a gunfight.’

To play or be played, that is the question. Kate needs some serious social credibility and a secure place to live in order to forge her path to Yale University. She’s living in sub-standard accommodation across town and working as many hours as she can, outside of school, to support herself. She attends her elite high school by scholarship – and by inventing an address. Hiding a terrible secret, she is desperate to change her fate and keep her promise to her dying mother at all costs … she will go to Yale, no matter what it takes or who she has to use to get there. With everything she has been through, it is no wonder she is mentally unstable.

Then there’s Olivia. Do we feel sorry for Olivia? Also hiding a secret about her past? So lonely and desperate for friendship – real friendship – that she falls prey to Kate’s manipulative charms and invites her to come and live with her?  Or does Olivia have her own, dark agenda that puts Kate at terrible risk?

As this dark and thrilling novel twists and turns, the reader will question which of these girls deserves their sympathy. Teresa Toten, award-winning author of The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, cleverly uses short chapters with shifting perspectives to keep her readers on edge. The chapters alternate between Kate and Olivia, though Kate’s chapters are always in first-person perspective and Olivia’s in third. The chapters are always dated. The opening is set in the future, describing the two girls in a hospital scene. It is not clear which girl is barely conscious, and which is keeping vigil by her bedside. The answer is, of course, revealed in the conclusion of the book. The final chapter is deeply disturbing, suggesting that the victim is still not safe. The book might, therefore, leave the reader quite unsettled! 

Beware That Girl is YA fiction, suitable for readers aged 14 – 17 years. The publisher suggests it might appeal to fans of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars. It raises themes of friendship, physical and psychological abuse, and mental health conditions in general. A film adaptation is in production.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie written by Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Frau Isa (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99   ISBN 9781847809612

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘When Marie was a little girl, she made a vow to herself … she was going to be a scientist, not a princess.’

The ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series showcases high-achieving women in history, all of whom acted on their childhood dreams. They are beautifully presented, hardcover, biographical picture books that target readers aged 5 – 8 years.

This title, about the gifted Marie Curie, explains how she was not allowed to study at university in her home country of Poland because she was a woman. Fortunately for the rest of the world (who would one day benefit from her scientific discoveries) she packed her bags and moved to France where she ‘soon became the best maths and science student in Paris’.

The book goes on to talk about her husband, Pierre, and their Nobel Prize winning discovery of radium and polonium. It also applauds her strength after Pierre’s sudden death, and the hard work that lead her to her second Nobel Prize. The text ends on an uplifting note, showing the many other girls whom she inspired, queuing up to study at the Radium Institute at the University of Paris.

Marie Curie’s story is conveyed in simple text, with only 1–3 sentences featuring across each double page. There is a longer biography included at the end of the book, featuring four black and white photographs.

Frau Isa’s illustrations are lightly textured, in a gentle watercolour palette. They offer deeper meaning to the text, both informatively and emotionally. For example, the text never mentions Marie’s connection to the development of x-rays, but the pictures show an injured soldier being x-rayed.  And when Marie accepts her second Nobel Prize award, the illustrations reflect her grief in both her facial expression and in a silhouetted empty chair in the first row.

The final picture, showing a full-colour Marie Curie sitting on a pile of books amongst a row of bemused (rather drab-looking) gentlemen, is a definite feminist celebration of Marie’s achievements in a male-dominated field.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie written by Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Elisa Munsó (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99  ISBN 9781847809599

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

When Agatha Christie was a young girl, she would read lots of books with her mum … and she always offered ‘a better idea for how the story should end’! It seems she was always destined to be a writer, as showcased in this title in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series that highlights successes of high-achieving women in history.

Agatha’s wartime nursing experience taught her much about poisonous concoctions, and her imagination ‘wouldn’t stay quiet’. After the war, she began to write her own stories – great, murderous thrillers that hooked her readers immediately. She invented the great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and many of her books became stage productions.

This hardcover picture book conveys Agatha’s story in simple text targeting readers aged 5–8 years. Each double-page spread features no more than 1–3 sentences. A longer biography appears at the back of the book, featuring four black and white photographs. It mentions the success of And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, detailing how her particular writing style made her ‘the queen of mystery’. It also mentions her baffling disappearance in 1925 – a personal mystery that sparked a nationwide search!

The illustrations by Elisa Munsó are black and white, with selected splashes of red – especially striking and appropriate for a writer of murder mysteries! (I particularly loved the page showing a black and white cemetery, featuring the headstones of some of her murder victims, with an elderly Agatha looking on in her bright red coat.)

Other women featured in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series include Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel Maya Angelou and Marie Curie. This terrific series of books is definitely aiming to empower children (particularly girls) to follow their childhood dreams and make a difference in the world.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

The 12th Dog

The 12th Dog by Charlotte Calder, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Hachette Australia) HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9780734416919

Reviewed by Brook Tayla

The delightful memories that this book brought up make me smile.
The 12th Dog is the classic Aussie kids’ street or backyard cricket match story – simple but fun.  Charlotte’s words take us on a sweet journey of the annoying ball thief who is finally recognised for his great cricket playing skills. Tom Jellett’s illustrations are adorable – especially the expressive, realistic faces the dog pulls throughout the book.

When I was growing up there were many games of cricket played in the street and dogs made really good fielders – but occasionally one would take off with the ball and there would be a stream of kids chasing the dog down the road to get the ball back.  From memory the dogs always outsmarted and outran all of us, which ended the game unless another ball could be found!  

At one stage we had a ball crazy dog named Snoopy that the neighbours used to borrow for their backyard cricket games.  They put him to the test one day in a match that lasted five hours – he didn’t let them down!

This is a really great book that both children and adults will enjoy and hopefully it will get lots of you playing cricket with your dog – they make the best players…..and the best memories!

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.

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.