Monday, 31 July 2017

See you when I see you

See you when I see you by Rose Lagercrantz, Illustrated by Eva Eriksson
(Gecko Press) PB RRP $15.99   ISBN 9781776571307

Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Rose Lagercrantz is a popular Swedish author of books for children as well as adults. She has received many of the top Swedish literary awards, including the August Prize and the Astrid Lindgren Prize. Eva Eriksson is one of the world’s great illustrators. She has been nominated for the Hans Christian Anderson and other international awards.

See you when I see you is a beautifully illustrated chapter book for children aged 5 to 7.  The quality of the physical book is stunning with a heavy, semi-Matt cover and a good thick presentation which gives this age group the feel of a novella. The large print makes it easy to read and allows for a plethora of illustrations on almost every page. Erickson’s black-and-white sketches are full of emotion, action and character. She brings the characters to life, showing how they relate to each other with eye contact and facial expressions. It is obvious from the affectionate detail of these illustrations that Eriksson was in love with this story. The sheer joy on the faces of children on page 74 – 75 bear testament to this.

Set in Sweden, the story provides a unique snapshot into the life of Swedish children, showing the style of their particular houses and streets as well as indigenous animals such as moose. The names of the children are highly accessible to English-speaking speaking readers – Ella, Dani, Vicki, Mickey but with Swedish place names such as Solna and Skansen adding interest.

The central friendship between Ella and Dani (Daniela) is beautifully told, through the ups and downs, mistakes and misunderstandings and the affection and commitment they have to each other.

The teacher didn’t seem to be angry any more.
“And I thought you were making things up!” was all she said. “There’s still a lot for an old fox to learn.”
“Fox?” Dani looked at her.
“So they say,” answered the teacher.
Dani nodded.
It wasn’t always clear what people meant. But one thing was clear: Ella wasn’t happy. Ella was sad. And Dani was sad too.

Themes of loss and misunderstanding run like a thread through this story, adding a sense of desperation when Ella moves away and Dani’s mother dies. Dani misunderstands her father’s intentions when he falls in love again after losing his wife. Dani’s father misunderstands her friendship with Ella when Dani refuses to have a close relationship with any other children in her class. He doesn’t seem to realise his newfound love is a source of pain for his daughter. Ella’s class teacher misunderstands her need to reconnect with her old friend. Ella herself misunderstands when she realises the treasure the two girls buried is gone not knowing Dani has collected it. She is convinced the friendship is “in jeopardy.”

What is lovely about this story is the natural and very open way it shows conflict in a family in periods of stress. With the death of her mother Dani struggles to cope with the children in her class teasing her and her father’s newfound love. Her friend Ella moving away was the last straw, so finding Ella again on a class trip to the zoo and re-establishing that connection is extremely important to her sense of happiness and well-being. Eventually the adults in her life figure this out too.

Everyone wants a best friend. Everyone has high expectations of that friendship. But sometimes life interferes with what we want and perhaps that is the overall message of this book - when things fall apart there will be someone in your life who understands and is there for you, but you must communicate and trust them with your heart.

The only criticism I have of this book is the complexity of some of the vocabulary used in the text, perhaps due to it being a translation from Swedish. Some of the words are above a seven-year-old’s reading vocabulary, such as knowingly, hurried, meringue, quietened, hesitated. Therefore I would put the independent reading age of this book higher, 8 years+. It would still be a lovely book to read to a young child from age 6 years and up.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

To The Moon and Back

To The Moon and Back by Dianne Bates (Big Sky Publishing)
PB RRP 14.99
IBSN 9781925520293

Reviewed by Kate Simpson

To The Moon and Back is a touching, often sad, but ultimately heart-warming book about adjusting to parental separation. Eight year-old Claire is caught unawares when her mother suddenly uproots her from all that she has known and whisks her off to a new house, a new life and, for Claire’s mother, a new boyfriend. Each time Claire feels that she is adapting to her new circumstances, life seems to throw something else in her way.

Although Claire, the protagonist, is 8, the book is more suited to a slightly older readership if it is to be read independently. For readers in the 8 to 9-year-old range, this could make an excellent story for parents and children to read together. Dianne Bates deals sensitively with the difficult subject matter, which includes brief references to domestic violence. Her characters are well drawn and wholly relatable, creating a moving middle-grade novel for readers who enjoy realistic fiction.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

To the Moon and Back

To the Moon and Back by Dianne Bates (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925520293
Reviewed by Patricia Bernard

First let me say that I could not put down this gentle, sweet book. I read it in three days, enjoying every minute of it. To begin with, its title To the Moon and Back is perfect. It reminded me of how I also said the same thing when my children asked me how much I loved them.

This story is as much about Claire’s mother’s breaking-up marriage and the beginning of her new love affair as it is about Claire who is watching, although not always understanding the change in her mother. Claire loves her father and cannot understand why they now live apart from him. She isn’t keen on sharing her father with his new girlfriend and she isn’t keen on sharing her mother with this new man called Mac, who she will never call father. Claire feels bit lost, especially after her father disappears from her life. How does she fit into these new relationships? What is her place? Why don’t her parents love her the way they used to when she was smaller?

The character of Claire is so well written that the reader begins to identify and care for Claire from the book’s first page. As a reader I worried over how the story would end and what would happen to Claire as she moves from school to school, from best friend to best friend and from house to house. I need not have worried:  the author, Dianne Bates, knew exactly what she was writing about.

This book is unique in its treatment of an all too familiar situation for many children. It certainly is an appealing read for both adults and children, especially those between 8 and 12 years. It offers hope and adventure and I love the ending. This is an ideal book for school libraries. There are many children like Claire and To the Moon and Back offers a soothing, gentle way of them easing into the awkward situation of feeling left out.   

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Fifth Planet

The Fifth Planet by Antoinette Connolly (self published) PB RRP $16.00 ISBN 978-0 9775860-5-9. Copies from

Reviewed by Lucinda Gifford

The Fifth Planet is Antoinette Connolly's sixth science fiction novel for children. The enterprising self-published author has also written "The Cauchemar Series", as well as "A Key To Time". The "Fifth Planet" follows the adventures of Abby and Matthew as, after a dramatic electrical storm, they find themselves on an alien ship destined for the planet of Zorgon. Rather than imprisoning the children, the furry, vegetarian, telepathic alien crew of this space shuttle enlist their help in finding a new planet to inhabit, as their own world is politically and geologically unstable. The fantastical adventures that follow encompass travel to planets in our own solar system (which harbour unexpected surprises), wormholes, and the dark side of our own moon. 

Children who are interested in space travel, science fiction – and even geology – should enjoy this book.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A Cardboard Palace

A Cardboard Palace written by Allayne L Webster, (Midnight Sun Publishing) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN 978-1-92-522725-3

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

The back cover blurb claims this novel to be a humbling story about one boy’s desperation to escape a life of crippling poverty. And yes, the book is definitely this. But it is also so much more. A Cardboard Palace is a deeply engaging, thoughtful and ultimately life-affirming book that captures the reader from the very opening lines where action and characters are instantly present on the page. We meet eleven-year-old Jorge as he’s being clipped over the ear by his nasty boss Bill, while preparing to rob an old man with smiling eyes and a walking stick.

Jorge lives on the outskirts of Paris in a cardboard house, along with an army of child thieves. Stolen from their faraway homelands with the promise of making money for their struggling families, Jorge and the other children from this shanty town are under the control of Bill. Bill lives in an apartment with running water and a soft bed, while the children are forced to spend their waking hours stealing money and wallets from the millions of people who pour through the city centre.

The Paris of Jorge’s childhood is markedly different to the Eiffel Tower tea-towels and glossy travel brochures. The children’s Paris is harsh, dynamic and tinged with danger.

I love that we travel alongside Jorge; feeling the challenge and conflict of hunger, of criminal activity and of being unsafe. We laugh at his wonderful capacity for humour (especially sarcastic one-liners) and broader observations, and marvel at the dreams he manages to hold. We are drawn into this harsh yet remarkably human community where we’re not asked to feel sorry for Jorge, but rather to appreciate the world from his point of view. We see the obstacles in his way and hope that he’ll overcome them.

This is a captivating story that will transport both girls and boys into the action-packed and often seedy underbelly of Paris, a city that holds great sway in the collective imagination. This book is highly recommended.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Song Bird: The Battle of Bug World (Book 2)

Song Bird: The Battle of Bug World (Book 2) by Karen Tyrrell (Digital Future Press) PB RRP $14.95   ISBN 9780994302182

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Weird things were happening around town. Not only had the bees disappeared, but there were storms like never before, a black tornado over the next-door neighbour’s house, a giant sink hole in the main street and, to top it off, Rosie’s sister Raven had gone missing!

Rosie is convinced that Frank, the bully next door, has something to do with the strange events and she is determined to get to the bottom of it. Rosie Bird is a school girl who can transform herself into Song Bird Superhero using her voice to fuel her superpowers. Rosie’s teacher and mentor, Miss Darling (aka Wonder Girl), convinces Rosie to go to the Bug World theme park to look for her sister - ‘Be Brave. Be Song Bird.’

Rosie decides to take on the challenge and asks her two best friends for help. With Amy and Ben by her side, Rosie sets out on a mission to find her sister and seek some answers. But, of course, it’s not that easy. Firstly, Rosie’s voice is croaky and sore, hindering her superpowers. Secondly, Frank appears at Bug World and Rosie starts believing he is somehow able to block her superpowers. What is Frank capable of? Can the trio save Raven? Can they stop the weird climate changes?

Song Bird: The Battle of Bug World is the second book in the Song Bird series of fantasy chapter books. Karen dedicates this book to ‘all those who deeply care about the Earth and the Environment’. In addition to highlighting environmental issues, this book contains themes of friendship, teamwork and diversity. It is suitable for children 7-10 years old who enjoy hero and villain stories. Teacher notes and children’s activities can be found on the author’s website ( Song Bird (Book 3) is due for release in 2018.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Dreaming Collection

The Dreaming Collection written and illustrated by Queenie Chan, (TOKYOPOP) 2010, PB  RRP $26.99 ISBN 9781427818713

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

This omnibus edition comprises Volumes 1-3 of The Dreaming graphic novel, a mystery-horror story inspired by Picnic at Hanging Rock, for readers 13+ years. The illustrations are fabulous. Each page overflows with action and emotion and  the backgrounds are full of realistic, careful, architectural features. Many teenage girls will love the detail on the Victorian costumes and the manga inspired look of characters.

Less successful is the storyline which has occasional lapses in continuity. Twin sisters Jeanie and Amber arrive at a mysterious boarding school deep in the Australian bush. Here they must pretend they are NOT twins, because the scary ancient principal, Mrs Skeener, doesn’t tolerate twins. Slowly, Mrs Skeener’s secrets, and the secrets of the school, are explained.  Ever since the school was founded, girls have wandered into the surrounding bushland and vanished. The third volume reveals that the disappearances are the work of the Quinkan. These are wicked aboriginal night spirits which lure sleeping children into the bush.  After a dramatic climax, evil is thwarted and the school burns to the ground. But the experience has damaged both sisters and they grow apart.

In an interview included in the book Queenie Chan admits she has taken ‘quite a few liberties with the Quinkan’.  These may not concern the US audience or publishers of the books, but they did worry me. 

Overall, though, The Dreaming looks amazing and has enough suspense to keep young readers eagerly turning the pages.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Fabled Kingdom Book 1

Fabled Kingdom Book 1 by Queenie Chan, (Bento Comics) PP RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781925376029

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Queenie Chan has written and illustrated The Fabled Kingdom Book 1, an intriguing graphic novel that updates fairytales into a modern world.  Its striking cover will draw readers, and gives a glimpse of what will unfold.

The book, which suits readers from 12 years and up, is the first in a series of three, with three central characters, each being based upon the era of kingdoms. It is divided into seven parts that clearly depict the journey of the book’s protagonist Celsia. She is a modern-day ‘Red Hood’ who is training with her grandmother to become a healer in a small village deep in the woods. Things are not all as they seem and before long, Celsia discovers her grandmother isn’t her real grandmother. Thus she flees her village on a quest of self-discovery. Quillon, Celsia’s childhood friend who is entrusted with keeping her safe, joins her, along with Pylus, a loveable faun, whom she meets on a never-ending brick path.  Each character plays their role, but it is refreshing to see a strong female character as the leader and decision-maker.

With unanswered and puzzling questions about her origins, Celsia must seek out her true-born grandmothers who are both powerful queens of magical kingdoms. By uncovering the truth of her heritage, Celsia is able to save the troubled kingdom of Fallinor whose people have been asleep for 60 years. Invasion and politics of the day has kept this troubled kingdom hidden behind a big, black wall of brambles. In her quest, Celsia is finally able to understand her own identity.

Detailed manga-style comic illustrations strongly support the written text and add layers of meaning to the story while the text is imaginative and well-written with a steady pace that is sure to keep readers gripped and wanting to know more. Different fairytales with an original spin appear throughout the story. The Fabled Kingdom certainly won’t disappoint readers of this genre.

Author-illustrator Queenie Chan who has a background in graphic design, is based in Sydney: her first professionally published work was The Dreaming Series. She has also worked with best-selling authors such as Dean Koontz and is well-regarded for her work in the Australian graphic novel and comic industry.

The reviewer, Karen Hendriks, is a children’s author and speaker whose

Thursday, 20 July 2017

In my World: ‘Wheels of Fire’ and ‘The Basketball Tree’

In my World: ‘Wheels of Fire’ and ‘The Basketball Tree’ by Carole Lander, 
(Checkword Publications 2016)

Reviewed by Lucinda Gifford

All children whether they live with a disability or not encounter disabled people through school, family and friends. The list of books featuring relatable disabled characters is slowly growing, but we still need more and more children's books where people with disabilities take the lead.  In my World contains two stories where the characters do just that: 'Wheels of Fire' and 'The Basketball Tree'. In both stories, the protagonist is a normal person in a normal situation who just happens to live with a disability – and who overcomes common prejudice and perceived physical issues to achieve their potential.

In 'Wheels of Fire,' the main character Bec describes her alter ego – Rebecca. 'Rebecca' is all the things Bec isn't. She's popular at school and good at sport; her parents aren't divorced and she lives in a big house. Meanwhile, the 'real' Bec is just the 'girl in the wheelchair', overlooked at school and sidelined by her peers.

Despite this, 'Wheels of Fire' is not a 'problem' book. Told with insight and without sentimentality, it is an optimistic story about making friends, being thoughtful, taking time to accommodate difference – and catching thieves! And it adds to the valuable (but still too short) list of books where the main character, while not being defined by their disability, is in a wheelchair.

In 'The Basketball Tree', Sam is a 'little person' who just happens to love basketball, a sport normally reserved for more lanky humans. Sam is no victim. He's a strong-willed and lively boy with loyal friends and a loving family. During the story we meet a 'bully' who turns out to have a few physical challenges of his own, and Sam learns that he's not the only one living with difference.

Both 'Wheels of Fire' and 'The Basketball Tree' are valuable stories about children with disabilities dealing with common events and also having a positive impact on their community.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Goldie Makes the Grade

Goldie Makes the Grade (Little Paws series) written by Jess Black, illustrations by Gabriel Evans (Penguin Random House Australia) PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 978-0-14-378183-7

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Goldie Makes the Grade is one in a series of four short chapter books about the puppies that train to become Guide Dogs and the families who look after them. If I were back in primary school now, I know I would have devoured every one of these! For reviewing purposes I have read just this title in the series.

Author Jess Black has penned all four books, and hopefully illustrator Gabriel Evans has also worked on each. The simple, black and white pencil sketches dotted throughout this story are wonderfully evocative and well-placed to support the narrative. The delightful storyline is engaging and very readable.

Goldie is a fourteen-month old Labrador who is due to leave eight-year-old Abby Agresta and her family soon, to begin her final Guide Dog training.
However, young Abby faces the urgent dilemma of clearing Goldie’s ‘name’ in order to ensure that she will be accepted as a service dog. An unfortunate incident in the Agresta household involving cupcakes, has cast some doubt on Goldie’s ability to control her Labrador eating instincts!

This short chapter book punches well above its weight in terms of providing thoughtful ideas for both individual pondering and further classroom discussion. Without being at all ‘preachy,’ it opens up issues of gender and cultural stereotypes, friendships, loyalty, standing up for what you believe in, self-empowerment and doing the right thing, and, of course, information about looking after a guide dog puppy.

I really enjoyed the fact that although child and dog share a very close bond (Goldie even sleeps on Abby’s bed), the story doesn’t delve into the sadness that the two will feel at the time of separation. It rather focuses on the gifts that will be brought to both Goldie and her future vision-impaired owner.

A section with interesting facts and further information is included at the end of the story. An added bonus is that ‘Buying this book helps me become a Guide Dog!” as claimed by the gorgeous golden Labrador on the front cover.

Both girls and boys of primary school age will enjoy, and be informed by, this book.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Little Witch - Secrets & Spells by Aleesah Darlison (text), Christine Schiedel (illus.), Big Sky Publishing, PB RRP $14.99
ISBN: 9781925520101

Reviewed by Romi Sharp

This new mid to upper primary chapter book series delightfully enchants its readers with a light-hearted storyline of a young girl discovering her true identity as a witch. In this first instalment by award-winning author, Aleesah Darlison, twelve-year-old Courtney and her renovating-obsessed parents uncover old truths and hidden secrets in the house of her late grandmother, Delia.

Many pre-teens will relish the notion of fortuitously stumbling across a magical world of witchcraft they never thought possible. For Courtney, her journey is somewhat complicated as she grapples with feelings of isolation, self consciousness and new discoveries without the support of her parents, particularly her secretive father who masks his pain from the past. But upon unearthing a dusty spell book in her grandmother's attic, we see Courtney challenging her own fears and insecurities. Despite having never met her, Courtney finds a powerfully spiritual connection with Delia, through (somewhat haphazard) experimentation with the book, and via her wise and loyal talking cat, Ink. We watch as Courtney transitions from an inquisitive girl to a more mature, emerging witchling. Darlison neatly evolves the protagonist's strength and growth as she develops relationships with a surfer boy, Justice, and with her Dad by empowering him to understand and to forgive.

Independent readers aged 8 - 12 years will instantly feel a part of the sensational discoveries of potions, secrets and blossoming friendships. The aspect of complex family relationships is presented through realistic and age-appropriate scenarios, never too heavy, providing opportunities to discuss the importance of family unity.

Secrets and Spells contains a wonderful concoction of magical delight; a pinch of mystery, a splash of humour and a dash of young romance, entrancing its audience from start to finish. I'm looking forward to discovering how Courtney's self image and identity further develop, and how she unleashes her evolving power in the next instalment of Little Witch.

This review first appeared in Reading Time  Republished with permission 

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Whirlpool

The Whirlpool by Emily Larkin, illustrated by Helene Magisson (Wombat Books) HB
ISBN 9781925563047

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

‘I think it’s important for kids to know that it’s okay to feel a range of emotions,’ says author, Emily Larkin. ‘It’s okay to feel lonely, sad or uncertain—but these times don’t have to last.’ This lovely picture book is aimed at helping primary aged children navigate their way through the ups and downs of life.     

The hero is an adorable polar bear cub. In the early pages the cub feels brave and adventurous. The illustrations are correspondingly bright, happy and fun. Then, for really no reason, the cub becomes sad and feels lonely ( ‘…Without warning the world seems closed. No one wants to know you.’)  The pictures here are navy blue and grey, with lots of wide empty spaces on the page.  A positive connection with nature and the support of family helps the little bear regain a sense of hope.

Helene Magisson’s pictures compliment exactly the gentle, emotive story. There are a number of recurring images for adults and children to discuss. What does the key signify? Why are the colours in the family photo brighter at the end of the book? How does the tree in the photo change? What does the bear’s scarf represent?

The text, generally, is clear and unambiguous. One sentence might confuse young readers (‘Only doubts are within your grasp’) but could, perhaps, offer  another chance for discussion.

Included is a useful page of Notes for Parents, Teachers and Carers written by a clinical psychologist. This adds to an understanding of the theme - that the emotional roller-coaster, described as ‘The Whirlpool’, is a normal part of life’s journey. 

Sunday, 16 July 2017

An elephant living in the house (and other pet stories)

An elephant living in the house (and other pet stories) written by Sharyn Bajerai
Available as an e-book                                                      Kindle -
ePub -

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

An elephant living in the house is one of three short stories about pets, available in this online anthology by West Australian writer Sharyn Bajerai. The other stories are titled Matt’s pet tarantula and Lee.

Each of the stories contains easy-to-read dialogue and interesting facts about the featured animals…

In the first story, Olivia wants an elephant for a pet but pesky old Mum and Dad say no. So what’s a girl to do but steal one from the zoo and keep it in her bedroom? Soon however, Olivia discovers that elephants aren’t all that easy to hide - or to look after - because they eat so much! An entertaining twist at the conclusion, after Olivia has returned the elephant to the zoo, is quite delightful.

The second story is also about a child keeping a pet in his bedroom – this time a pet tarantula. Although he doesn’t ask his parents about keeping the spider, Matt’s a ‘responsible’ pet owner who finds the correct foods for Wolfgang to eat, and also creates a proper habitat so that the spider has places to hide and moult. When the spider foils a home invader, the jig is up and happily, Matt’s allowed to keep Wolfgang.

The third story is about a mistreated greyhound who is found and helped by a young boy who takes her to the nearby animal shelter. Through watching the greyhound’s interactions with other abandoned animals, the boy is able to convince the shelter to keep the dog as a ‘helper’ so he can visit her.

These stories variously contain appealing and entertaining ideas that explore the notion of longing for something impractical, of looking after other creatures, of taking responsibility for actions.

One little aside is that I was surprised that the idea of ‘screaming like a girl’ was included - but that’s just me taking umbrage!

With illustrations to break up the text, each story in the compilation consists of four chapters and has a satisfying, sometimes surprising, conclusion.

This is an entertaining series of stories that will appeal to both boys and girls.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Don’t think about Purple Elephants

Don’t think about Purple Elephants written by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones (EK Books) HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-1-925335-48-4

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

The title page of this delightful story features a tiny purple elephant sporting a fez, a handbag and twirling a hula hoop on its trunk. So begins Don’t think about Purple Elephants, an engaging picture book whose fundamental message is one of empowerment.

Sophie is a young girl who loves friends, school, riding her bike, baking cakes, reading books… but sometimes she worries. And these worries often visit at night, leaving her feeling tired and out of sorts the next day. So Mum comes up with a great idea:

‘I know,’ said Mum. ‘Go to bed, close your eyes and DON’T think about purple elephants. No cute little purple elephants, no big purple elephants at the circus. No purple elephants at all.’

And of course, the moment Sophie lies down she can’t help but imagine itty bitty purple elephants everywhere, and so snuggles into a purple-elephant-infused sleep.

Worry and anxiety are becoming more of a cultural fixture as society grows ever more complex, and this offering from Susan Whelan and Gwynneth Jones gives a delightful, practical means of easing the worries of bed time anxiety. It’s a bonus that the book is captivating and amusing.

I love Jones’ animated pictures which somehow manage to be both dreamy and full of detail at the same time. The combination of words and illustrations is seamless and wonderful. In the middle section, black and white illustrations are cleverly used to reference Sophie’s worry and anxiety, with splashes of colour defining the cause of her anxiety.

This is a helpful, engaging and highly recommended book.
Teacher’s notes are available and the book is also available in hardcover.

Friday, 14 July 2017

The Leaky Story

The Leaky Story written by Devon Sillett, illustrated by Anil Tortop (EK Books) HB RRP $24.99    ISBN 978-1-925335-39-2

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

This is a charming story about a book sitting… and sitting…  just waiting to be read. It then takes matters into its own hands by springing a leak which grows bigger by the second, eventually turning into a raging sea.

Young JJ is playing happily with his toys, and is the first to notice that the book is leaking when water rains down from the shelf. Initially JJ’s parents refuse to believe that anything out of the ordinary is happening, as they sit comfortably in front of the television.

“… But a couple of stubborn imaginations would not stop the leak. The drip drips grew into plop plops. Puddles filled the living room.”

In a similar vein to the much-loved picture book ‘A fish out of water’, this small leak that begins with a ‘drip, drip’ eventually turns into a full sprung ocean complete with sea creatures, boats and pirates – all in the living room of the Blossburn family.

There is a great deal of life and fun contained in both the text and illustrations of this book. Many of the images depict words leaking out of the pages, and so provide an extra layer of challenge for children who wish to piece together the letters within the images. I personally, particularly enjoyed Mum on a small island in the lounge room, holding at bay a menacing pirate (who’s in the water) by keeping one foot on his head. She’s also terrorising another dangerous creature with a rolling pin. Ten out of ten!

The use of language is wonderful too. The author doesn’t talk down to the readership and uses appropriate words such as ‘curious’ and ‘sated’ within the natural flow of the narrative.

Author Devon Sillett is currently completing a PhD on children’s picture books, and illustrator Anil Tortop works as illustrator and animator. Together they have created a book which will delight and captivate readers who take the plunge and wade through this story (see what I did there!).

This is a book to capture the imagination and be revisited -- definitely one for exploration. It is recommended for children 4-8 years.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A Pocketful of Rhymes

A Pocketful of Rhymes by Max Fatchen illustrated by Kathy Creamer (Second Look) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780994528018

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

What a wonderful idea it was of Australian publisher Christmas Press to introduce a second imprint to re-introduce children’s books which were popular in their day and/or which have gone on to become classics. Hence this collection of poems, his 13th book, written by Max Fatchen, first published in 1989 by Omnibus, is now given new life with an introduction by award-winning author/poet Janeen Brian, and illustrations by Kathy Creamer.

Fatchen (1920 – 2012), a children’s writer and journalist who published more than 20 books over his career, including poetry collections, was much-loved and granted numerous awards including the Centenary of Federation Medal. His poems were widely anthologised in Australia and overseas. In her foreword, Brian says her late friend ‘has a poet’s second sight, which helps us to look at life, and particularly nature, with fresh eyes.’ Reading these poems which have quirky – and often humorous – ways of looking at situations, one has to agree with Brian that they ‘bounce with joy and fun and questionings’ and are ‘a testimony to the man himself.’

‘Sing a song of poetry/A pocketful of rhymes’ are the first lines that lead into this easy-to-read and delightful collection of poems, each one of which offer ‘a slice of verse!’ Many of the poems, though not all of them, use rhymes, but all have rhythms that engage one so that the lines often cause one to recite them aloud. Topics are child-centric from ‘Welcome Aboard’ (‘A truckload of  cattle?/Why no, the school bus!), to ‘Camp Crazy’ (two words on each line), to ‘Say Cheese’ (where a group of children are being photographed – and of course, ‘you…you little wretch…/YOU MOVED!)

Raised in Adelaide Plains of South Australia, Fatchen often writes about animals and country with poems such as ‘Late Gossip’ (‘Small, lively birds with feathered zest/…chatter in a final flight…), “Magpie Mayday’ (‘With terrifying swooping/Aerobatic magpies come,/Swiftly looping-the-loop’ and ‘Does this Sound Fishy?, about a gigantic cod caught on the Murrumbidgee. There are also lots of short, pithy and witty poems in this collection about aliens landing in a school yard, a boy with dirty fingers, a girl playing her school recorder and sports day. And much more.

Printed on good quality (will never go brown) white paper, the pages are frequently illustrated by Creamer with engaging black and white line and wash pictures that are sure to appeal to young readers. There’s an illustration, for instance, of a droning teacher, a Frankenstein-like brother in bed and the back view of a naked girl (accompanying the poem ‘Just Look at your Clothes!)

Here’s the last stanza of this poem:
          ‘Do stop all the flurry
          A silly old worry.
Our clothes we will always get torn in.
          So let’s all go nude
          And be terribly rude,
Just wearing the skin we were born in.’

Thank you Second Look for reminding oldies what a wonderful writer Max Fatchen was, and for introducing a new generation of readers to his work. This book is highly recommended for children aged 7 to 10 years; in fact, it’s ideal for anyone who loves polished and entertaining verse.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Daddy and the World’s Longest Poo

Daddy and the World’s Longest Poo by Brydie Wright (Lulu Publishing Services) PB RRP $15.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

With its title and cover picture of a man seated on a toilet, it’s obvious from the outset that this picture book is not going to be a work of literature. Told in rhyming verse, it starts with a boy saying, ‘I have a daddy who does the world’s longest poo. Do you?’

Dad is not trying for the Guinness Book of records; rather this is the story of an unnamed boy searching for his missing dad but ‘dad is as quiet as a mouse.’ Eventually there’s a picture of the boy opening the toilet door (despite the KEEP AWAY sign) to see Dad on the bowl with his pants down, shushing him.

Dad is hiding from mum. (After all, where’s a man to go to get some privacy?) The boy says, ‘But why does he hide from Mummy/while sitting on his bummy?’ A few pages along there is a thick stretch of poo issuing from the toilet, wrapping itself around the boy. Mum says to her son, ‘One day when you’re a daddy, you’ll know exactly where it’s at.’

The book is illustrated with cartoon characters with strong, bright backgrounds and the text pages bordered with black dashes. As a picture book, it’s obviously meant for small children and could be of interest to those with scatological tendencies. 

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Ori the Octopus

Ori the Octopus by Anne Helen Donnelly (Self Published) PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 9780646962207

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Ori the Octopus is fun picture book written for preschool aged children. The text is simple and the illustrations are bright and bold with cartoon-like characters. The first page invites children to join in the actions of Ori and his friends during the story, and sets the tone for a playful reading experience.

Ori is a friendly octopus who likes helping his sea creature friends. When it’s Sally Starfish’s birthday he decides to make a cake for her. ‘Mix, mix, mix the cake.’ What starts off as a simple act of kindness slowly becomes a difficult task as his friends drop in, one by one, to ask for Ori’s help or attention. He does his best but soon realises that, even with eight legs, unfortunately he can’t assist everyone. Eventually things go wrong, and the tasks get muddled up. Fortunately for Ori, none of his friends like to see him tangled so they all pitch in and work together to get everything done. Then, at last, they can celebrate Sally’s birthday!

At the end of the story there are notes for teachers and parents, offering discussion points for a young audience. Following this are three pages of Ori the Octopus puppets to cut out. These puppets are a great inclusion, as re-enacting the story is excellent for young children’s language development and to consolidate their understanding of the book. If children are still keen after their puppet show, there are many more activities to download from the author’s website ( including dot-to-dots, mazes, spot the difference, matching and counting activities.

This 40-page paperback offers themes of friendship, kindness and teamwork. This book is suitable for children aged 2 to 5 years.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Phantasmagorical Phobias

Phantasmagorical Phobias by Michelle Path PB Available on Amazon published by Rowanvale Books RRP $10.57 
ISBN 9781910832189

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Australian author Path has creatively written an engaging book with a collection of short stories that delve into fears and how they affect our lives and how the characters manage to overcome them. Path’s clever use of fairy tale, pirate and cowboy and girl characters opens a menagerie of fears that impact greatly upon each character’s ability to function within their world. Imagine a witch who is afraid of toads or a dragon that can’t breath fire.  I like the fact that the book uses short stories so that they can easily be visited and revisited over and over again.  Teachers will find this book a useful resource in their classroom due to the stories having an educational slant.  This book would be suitable for 8-12 year olds.

Path’s style of writing engages young readers with a little old world charm, and a touch of the modern day too.   The stories move along easily with a mix of short and long sentences.  The vocabulary used has a sprinkling of new words that will expand the younger reader (including the title).

‘Chika’s words hurt Jiro. The dragons’s wings drooped and he hung his head. He began to cry. The macaque did not care. He was too intent on his own selfish desires. He ran off into the forest in search of the orchard, leaving Jiro alone with his grief.’

Path is an independent author who is clearly following her passion to write for children with sixteen books published to date and more to come.  She is clearly determined to spread her writing wings.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Magic Fish Dreaming

Magic Fish Dreaming written by June Perkins, illustrated by Helene Magisson (GumBootsPearlz Press) PB RRP $17.99   ISBN 978-0-980731-18-7

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Magic Fish Dreaming is a beautiful book of poetry, inspired by the people, creatures and country of Far North Queensland. To travel to FNQ through this delightful book of poetry is, quite simply, a treat.

Perkins is a Papua New Guinean Australian writer with a PhD on the topic of Writing Empowerment. She and illustrator Magisson have captured and delivered a series of age-appropriate vignettes that traverse clever, captivating poetry alongside divine pictures.

From dancing in the storm to finding ‘giggle poems,’ from discovering a secret fishing spot to glimpsing the flicker of a gecko, the ideas in this book encourage children to take time, to create space, to cultivate patience, to watch, to wait… to dance…
‘Storm Dancers’ –

She said, “I’ll dance with you,”
as the cloud’s violent sneezes caused
a flood in her garden.

He said, “I’ll dance with you
One of those anti-rain dances
But we can’t dance too long
‘cause we don’t want drought.”

The text and illustrations intermingle, to weave their magic not just through the core ideas of the poetry, but in and around the very pages themselves. With gorgeous and sometimes surprising messages delivered in a unique and unselfconscious manner, this is a book that emanates joy in every reading.

Instant gratification, armchair travel and lightning-fast images and sounds are a way of life in 2017. Rich, nourishing books like this one that bring conversation and evoke spirit of place, country and critter not just one time but over and over again, are on a different space-time continuum.

This book is recommended for children of all ages (even really old ones!).

Magic Fish Dreaming

Magic Fish Dreaming written by June Perkins, illustrated by Helene Magisson (GumBootsPearlz Press) PB RRP $17.99   ISBN 978-0-980731-18-7

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

Magic Fish Dreaming is a beautiful book of poetry, inspired by the people, creatures and country of Far North Queensland. To travel to FNQ through this delightful book of poetry is, quite simply, a treat.

Perkins is a Papua New Guinean Australian writer with a PhD on the topic of Writing Empowerment. She and illustrator Magisson have captured and delivered a series of age-appropriate vignettes that traverse clever, captivating poetry alongside divine pictures.

From dancing in the storm to finding ‘giggle poems,’ from discovering a secret fishing spot to glimpsing the flicker of a gecko, the ideas in this book encourage children to take time, to create space, to cultivate patience, to watch, to wait… to dance…
‘Storm Dancers’ –

She said, “I’ll dance with you,”
as the cloud’s violent sneezes caused
a flood in her garden.

He said, “I’ll dance with you
One of those anti-rain dances
But we can’t dance too long
‘cause we don’t want drought.”

The text and illustrations intermingle, to weave their magic not just through the core ideas of the poetry, but in and around the very pages themselves. With gorgeous and sometimes surprising messages delivered in a unique and unselfconscious manner, this is a book that emanates joy in every reading.

Instant gratification, armchair travel and lightning-fast images and sounds are a way of life in 2017. Rich, nourishing books like this one that bring conversation and evoke spirit of place, country and critter not just one time but over and over again, are on a different space-time continuum.

This book is recommended for children of all ages (even really old ones!).