Monday, 22 October 2018

Max Booth Future Sleuth: Stamp Safari

Max Booth Future Sleuth: Stamp Safari by Cameron Macintosh, illustrated by Dave Atze (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $12.99 ISBN 9781925675368

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Max Booth and his trusty robo-dog Oscar are back for another sleuthing adventure. Stamp Safari is the third book in this futuristic series for young readers.

The year is 2424 and the world is a very different place. There are floating skyburbs as well as the usual ground level suburbs and zoom tubes with aircells that transport people back and forth. Zip coasters move people around the city by looping over buildings and underneath bridges. Max Booth lives on Skyburb 6. Since his escape from the Home for Unclaimed Urchins, he secretly lives in the storeroom of the Bluggsville Museum. Max helps his friend Jessie to identify ancient objects for display in the museum, to earn a little cash.

Max and Jessie become intrigued by a tiny rectangular piece of paper that has a pattern cut into its edges. It has a picture on one side and is sticky on the other.   Unfortunately, the Great Solar Flare of 2037 destroyed the old Internet and its contents, and this patch of paper is too old to easily identify. So, Max sets off with his resourceful beagle-bot Oscar in search of clues to find the origin of this rare and fragile piece of paper.

It isn’t long before Max and Oscar get themselves into trouble and hopes fade for identifying the piece of paper. Max gets captured by Captain Selby (the leader of the Unclaimed Urchins Recapture Squad) and is separated from his beloved Oscar. Max needs to try every trick in the book if he is to safely return to the museum with his dog and the patch of paper.

This humorous book would appeal to children 7+ years old who are beginning their chapter book journey. Atze’s monochrome cartoon vignettes are scattered throughout the book to help young minds visualise the futuristic world that Macintosh has created. If you’re keen for more sleuthing fun after you’ve read this book, make sure you check out the other two books in this series: Tape Escape and Selfie Search.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

His Name was Walter

His Name was Walter by Emily Rodda (Angus and Robertson/Harper Collins) PB RRP $22.99 ISBN 978146071203

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This middle grade fiction book is about a group of kids in a haunted house — what could be better? The reader is led from a story into another story, which at first seems like a fairy tale, but as it goes on, seems more and more real. Emily Rodda, writer of more than fifty books, expertly crafts a tale that moves between the past and the future, and fantasy and reality. His Name was Walter is an adventure, a mystery and a coming of age story, all in one.

The story is from the point of view of Colin, who is new at his school and on an excursion. The bus breaks down in bad weather and four students (and their teacher Mrs Fiori) take shelter in an old mansion nearby. There are creepy stories about the house, but there's nowhere else to go. Colin discovers a book called His Name was Walter and Mrs Fiori encourages the children to read it.
The story of Walter describes an orphan boy who grows up in a beehive and his journey to a town far away where he meets a girl called Sparrow. Colin and the quiet Tara, who is aware of unseen things, are completely drawn in. Grace, a pretty, impatient girl, feels scared for unexplained reasons in certain rooms in the house. Cynical Lucas seems oblivious to it all. But as Walter's tale goes on, the spirits in the house seem to be trying to prevent it from being told.

There are moments of genuine scariness in this story. The power goes off. There's a mysterious locked room. But the scariest is the idea of a 'story' being real. The children realise there was a real town, a real mansion, and that is where they are this night. They must draw on the courage and work together to get through the story, right to the end.

This book is structured so well. I was initially confused as to why Walter would be surrounded by animals who act like people, but this is explained. The characters of the school children are believable without stereotypes and all develop in their own way.

My Name is Walter is a fast-paced and entertaining read for upper primary children.

Saturday, 20 October 2018


Zenobia by Morten Dürr and Lars Horneman (UQP) ISBN 9780702260254 HB RRP $19.95

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This graphic novel is about a young girl who is a refugee from Syria and her dangerous journey away from the war in her country. Through evocative pictures and minimal, well-chosen words, it is a gentle but tragic story that doesn’t shy away from reality. Created in Denmark, where it won a national illustration award, Zenobia deals with an important international issue. It will no doubt will be read by older children and adults around the world.

Beginning at the end, the reader is not lulled into a sense that this book has a happy conclusion. Rather, the story is about how Amina got there and who she was. There are three stories in one and they are depicted by different colours. Amina’s present at the start is full colour. When she remembers her mother back in Syria in the past, the illustrations are in shades of brown. And the story of Zenobia, a great warrior queen of Syria, is in purple and orange. The colour changes are very effective in indicating time, but also in changing the mood of the story.

The first words are after ten pages of pictures, which strengthens their impact. Then at the end of the story there is no need for words again – this is quite powerful.  The story of Zenobia, told by Amina's mother, helps to make the book a bit less bleak. Zenobia acts as a source of strength and comfort for Amina after the ship wreck, even when everything is going wrong. Also Amina's memories of playing hide and seek and cooking with her mother, are very touching.

For children learning about refugees Zenobia clearly depicts how people like Amina have no choice but to leave. And while it is a very hard topic, it is important for children to understand what is happening in the world. Still, some younger readers may find it upsetting.

This graphic novel is the ideal format to depict war and desperation in such a quiet but emotive manner. Zenobia is an important and haunting read for upper primary school upwards.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Twelve Angels Weeping

Twelve Angels Weeping by Dave Rudden, illustrated by Alexis Snell (Penguin Random House) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN: 9781405938273

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

‘Every light casts a shadow. And every story needs a villain.’ During the Doctor’s travels to the limits of time and space in the TARDIS – a time machine that is ‘bright and blue and shining in the grim darkness’ – the renegade Time Lord has encountered a slew of adversaries. From the reptilian Silurians and Ice Warriors to the rhino-like Judoon, each race proudly displays its unique brand of brutality like a badge of honour.

Teen fans of the long-running television show Doctor Who will enjoy sinking their teeth into this collection of twelve thrilling tales. In a refreshing twist, each story focuses on a classic villain (rather than the Doctor) and expertly augments the expanded universe of the franchise. While it is helpful to be aware of the characters and the various guises of the Doctor when reading the stories, it is not essential – sci-fi buffs with no prior knowledge of the show will quickly become engrossed in the futuristic action.

Dave Rudden immerses himself brilliantly into the vast world of Doctor Who, intriguing readers with a Cyberman who sees a ghost girl; the origin of Strax the Sontaran, who later works alongside the Doctor; and a Zygon plan to turn a glorious glass city into shards that will grind ‘into the meat of the universe’. Humour and horror drip from the pages in equal measure, surprisingly tempered with a lot of heart. With a dozen battles between light and dark to savour, this is one book that teenagers won’t want to ‘Exterminate!’

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Just Flesh and Blood

Just Flesh and Blood by Jane Caro (UQP) PB RRP $19.95 ISBN 978 0702260018

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Australian Jane Caro has won many national and international awards for her creative endeavours and has written numerous books including the prequels to this, her latest YA title in the Elizabeth 1 trilogy (Just a Girl and Just a Queen), both UQP titles.
In Just Flesh and Blood, she continues the life of Elizabeth, who endured a perilous childhood to take the throne as Queen of England. 

Now, four decades later, having withstood political upheavals, wars and plots against her life, she contemplates her successes and failures and ponders all she has relinquished – love, marriage and family – for power. As she is dying, Elizabeth recalls her first love, Robin Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester who was her playmate and became her master of horse on her accession. (Many consider he was her one true love.) There are many more memories which makes this a slow-moving book, not one bristling with action: after all, it is Elizabeth’s final chapter.

As with all books which are well-researched, the book contains a bibliography for those who want to read more about the great queen’s life and accomplishment. Also, very helpful at the end of the book, is its Cast of Characters, with, in order of appearance, the names and birth and death dates as well as a short potted history of those who appear in the book which begins with the death of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry V11, who was executed by him for treason and adultery.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The Tales of Mr Walker

The Tales of Mr Walker by Jess Black, illustrated by Sara Acton (Puffin Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780143793076

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Sub-titled ‘a hotel dog with a nose for adventure’, this is a beautifully designed and presented book which would suit children aged 8 to 11 years who enjoy chapter books. There are four mini books between the covers: Mr Walker at the Park, Mr Walker and the Mystery Guest, Mr Walker and the Garden Surprise and Mr Walker Finds a Home.

At the start of the first story, Mr Walker, a golden Labrador dog, is being driven by Tracy to the Park Hyatt Hotel where he is to take up the position of Guide Dog ambassador of a park. The dog has no idea what an ambassador is, but he is welcomed to the hotel first by Thomas then by Henry Reeves whose family lives in a hotel apartment and who befriend him.

All four books are told from Mr Walker’s point of view as he gets to know guests – all wealthy and privileged, some famous -- and embarks upon adventures within the hotel whose employees include Chef Remy, housekeeper Meraj and Omid on the front desk. Always eager to help, Mr Walker always identifies people by their smells, including a mysterious man who is discriminated against but who turns out to be quite different from what he first appears.

This is a gently-told story with much charm and no real dramas which is likely to appeal to readers who prefer a ‘quiet’ story. Mr Walker is lovable even though he acts in typical dog fashion at times which gets him into scrapes.

The watercolour illustrations fit the mood of the story while the text is in large font which makes for easy reading. Royalties from sales of this book go to Guide Dogs Victoria.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Dragon Apocalypse

Dragon Apocalypse by D.C. Green (Ford Street) PB RRP $18.99 ISBN: 9781925272680

Reviewed by Jeffery E Doherty

Dragon Apocalypse is the third book in D.C. Green's City of Monsters series. One of the quotes on the back of this book reads, “Nothing you've experienced will prepare you for this.” That is seriously true. And having not read the first two books in the series made it three times as true. In the first two chapters we meet a formidable ogre bodyguard, a harpie, a giant talking skunk and a vampire – and they are by no means even close to the strangest characters in the story. 

The heroes of this story are the Dead Gang and they have a mission to save the last Dragon, who has been poisoned and is hiding out on the Isle of Giants. They must reach the island and defeat two separate armies of monsters and cyborgs intent on the dragon’s demise. To make matters worse, the health of the dragon is linked to that of the world. So, the stakes for success are certainly high.

D.C. Green’s writing is fast paced, visual and eccentric, with a unique tapestry of slang dialogue and humour that takes some getting used to. But once you do, the story flows and the crazy-weird cast of characters come into their own. I would recommend reading the first two books in the series before attempting this book. I did end up enjoying this book much more than I thought I would. In the beginning I struggled to work out the story-line and the characters, but by midway through I had caught up and the story thundered by at a break-necked pace.

This series would suit readers from about ten years of age and up into the young adult market, especially those readers who like their stories fast and quite a bit weird.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Ho! Ho! Ho! There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Christmas Cake

Ho! Ho! Ho! There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Christmas Cake by Hazel Edwards, illustrated by Deborah Niland (Puffin Books) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN 978 0143790679
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Australian author Hazel Edwards had a best-seller, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, in 2005 and since then she has produced various incantations of the book which is targeted at pre-schoolers. Now here’s the latest with the oversized pink hippo complete with a Santa hat getting ready for Christmas.

A curly blonde-haired boy is told by his father that there’s a man fixing roof tiles, but the boy knows the truth – there’s a hippopotamus up there getting ready – as is he – for Christmas. The hippo is making a cake and icing it, then he’s making a list for Santa (just like the boy). Before long the hippo is dancing a cake dance. 

At the same time that the boy and his family are decorating their Christmas tree, the hippo on the roof has a disaster – he accidentally sits on his Christmas tree ‘with his big wobbly bottom'! However, hippo is clever, and fixes it so it looks as good as new. Niland’s full-page, colourful illustration on this page shows a tree resplendent with goodies such as carrots, apples, cherries and cakes (donuts and lamingtons, of course!)

The rest of the book has the boy and the hippo on the roof preparing for the big day (gingerbread, card-making, wrapping gifts, stringing fairy lights) until finally the boy’s family all dress in Santa suits (as does the hippo). On Christmas eve there’s Carols by Candlelight, and of course stockings and food for Santa and his reindeer. When Christmas Day arrives, there is happiness and discovery for everyone.

This is a joyous, even scrumptious book with page after page of bright illustrations that reward the reader with multiple readings. It will especially appeal to any child who is super-excited as he or she anticipates all that Christmas Day will bring, and who is involved with family in preparing for the big day. The text is easy to read with large font and simple sentences. Certainly this is a great book for a small child’s Christmas stocking!

Sunday, 14 October 2018


Billie by Nicole Godwin, illustrated by Demelsa Haughton (Tusk Books)
HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780994531414

Reviewed by Brook Tayla

The author’s intent is very clear in this book – to show the beauty of the natural world in which all animals should live happily and peacefully, compared to the hardships that they actually face every day because of humans.

‘Billie’ presents readers with many scenarios that underwater sea creatures face.  The protagonist is Billie, a bottlenose dolphin, who just wants to spend her days playing joyfully in the surf, but instead, sets about helping animals affected by human intervention.  She does things like free animals from nets and releasing them from fishing lines. 

There is something new to discuss on each page, even after multiple readings – Demelsa Haughton’s illustrations are part of the reason for this.  Although the illustrations are bold and clear, they are layered with extra visual information.  The colour palette used is beautifully calming and maintains a sense of peace that everything is under control. (Even if as adults we know the truth is problematic)

Nicole Godwin is both an author and an animal activist. She is on a mission to save the animals suffering that we currently have on the planet and she is doing this by writing books that start the conversation with children.  Her books introduce children to facts and encourages them, as not only readers, but as people, to think differently about all creatures in the hope of a better more conscious future. Her mission statement reads:

                     ‘We create children’s books that give a voice to those who
                     yelp, roar, moo, oink and trumpet.’

There is a double-page spread at the back of the book that gives readers facts about dolphins and the hardships faced by creatures living in the ocean – a lot of food for thought.

Brook Tayla writes a picture book review blog at and would love you to drop by, read some reviews, leave a comment and subscribe.  Brook also offers editing services for beginning and emerging writers.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Just Flesh and Blood

Just Flesh and Blood by Jane Caro (UQP) PB RRP $19.95 ISBN 978 0702260018

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Australian Jane Caro has won many national and international awards for her creative endeavours and has written numerous books including the prequels to this, her latest YA title in the Elizabeth 1 trilogy (Just a Girl and Just a Queen), both UQP titles.

In Just Flesh and Blood, she continues the life of Elizabeth, who endured a perilous childhood to take the throne as Queen of England. Now, four decades later, having withstood political upheavals, wars and plots against her life, she contemplates her successes and failures and ponders all she has relinquished – love, marriage and family – for power. 
As she is dying, Elizabeth recalls her first love, Robin Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester who was her playmate and became her master of horse on her accession. (Many consider he was her one true love.) There are many more memories which makes this a slow-moving book, not one bristling with action: it is, after all, Elizabeth’s final chapter.

As with all books which are well-researched, the book contains a bibliography for those who want to read more about the great queen’s life and accomplishments. Also very helpful at the end of the book is its Cast of Characters, with, in order of appearance, the names and birth and death dates as well as a short potted history of those who appear in the book which begins with the death of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry V11, who was executed by him for treason and adultery.

Friday, 12 October 2018

The Book of Answers

The Book of Answers by A.L. Tait (Hachette Australia) PB RRP $14.99     ISBN: 9780734417695

Reviewed by Jeffery E Doherty

The Book of Answers is the second book in the gripping Ateban Cipher by A.L. Tait. It follows on from the first book in the series, The Book of Secrets.

Gabe and his companions must journey across the country to a remote mountain citadel to learn the secrets of the mysterious book he has been tasked to protect. They also need to find a way to rescue Merry and Gwyn's father from the executioner and to help their new friend, Eddie - Crown Prince Edward - to help prove he is the true prince. However, the king is gravely ill and the traitors who have put a look-a-like in Eddie’s place are hot on their heels and hunting them every step of the way.  

The remote fortress of Hayden's Mont does bring answers to Gabe and his companions, but not to the questions they were seeking. The stakes for the main characters have risen dramatically from the events in the first book and the group must re-evaluate their priorities in their life or death race to foil the traitors.

The Book of Answers is an excellent second addition to the Ateban Cipher series and is sure to be a hit with both girls and boys who love a great adventure story. The mix of female and male lead characters makes the story more interesting. Gwyn's stubborn confidence and young Midge's mysterious connection with animals, compliment Gabe and Eddie's determination. The companions will all have to build their trust and work together if they are to succeed in their quest.  This book is full of adventure and intrigue and would ideally suit readers 8-12 years old.   

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Australia Illustrated

Australia Illustrated by Tania McCartney (EK Books) PB RRP $32.99 ISBN: 9781925335880

By Anne Helen Donnelly

The book starts out with three adjectives to aptly describe our nation: big, beautiful and diverse. The messages in this book are primarily conveyed through bright and quirky illustrations. It lists all things uniquely Australian, and all the things we love about our home, from a child’s focus.

After the bold introductory statement, the book goes onto show native and endangered Australian animals, iconic and bush foods, precious rocks, sport we love and play, swim wear, slang (one of my favourite pages, as after 38 years in Australia, I’m proud to say I am familiar with all of them), various weather around our continent and famous Aussies.  

Each state is then explored, starting with New South Wales. There are landmarks, popular attractions, famous eats and all things each state is best known for and their pride and joys. One of my favourite pages is the Great Barrier Reef page, with different schools of stunning fish intermingling – just like the real thing!

An engaging visual reference guide to all things Australian. Great for natives as well as those wanting to take a glimpse into our culture. Recommended for ages 4 – 8 year olds.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Jacaranda Magic

Jacaranda Magic by Dannika Patterson, illustrated by Megan Forward (Ford Street Publishing) HB ISBN:9781925804003   RRP $24.95 PB ISBN: 9781925804010   RRP $16.95

Reviewed by Brook Tayla

The flowers falling from the jacaranda tree sparks the imagination of five bored friends with nothing to do in this newly released picture book.

 The story, written in rhyming verse, weaves its way through a multitude of scenarios that the children imagine as they play on and around the jacaranda which is in full bloom. Childhood freedom and fun is presented, reminding readers of all ages of the simple joys of life that can be created just by using your imagination.

Award winning illustrator, Megan Forward, has portrayed the story in watercolours that give off a day-dreamy feel - inviting readers into the imaginary worlds that the children make up and explore.

This is a great book to read to children to remind them that we have the best time when life is simple, creative, spontaneous and playful – especially when we share those times interacting with family and friends - and often the best times are in the outdoors. It’s also a great book to have on hand if you hear the ‘bored’ word.

Brook Tayla writes a picture book review blog at and would love you to drop by, read some reviews, leave a comment and subscribe – you can do that here: Brook also offers editing services for beginning and emerging writers.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Invisible Jerry

Invisible Jerry by Adam Wallace, illustrated by Giusepe Poli (EK Books) PB RRP: $24.99 ISBN: 9781925335781

Reviewed by Anne Helen Donnelly

People didn’t notice Jerry. Nobody waved to him, said sorry if they bumped into him, laughed at his jokes and he was never picked for sport. It was as if he was invisible. Jerry didn’t want to stand out, but he did want someone to notice him.

One day, Molly came along. Molly was interested in Jerry. She was interested in what he thought, she would share things with him, she said sorry if she bumped into him and she laughed at his jokes. Molly made Jerry smile, for the first time in a long time.

As Jerry’s confidence grows, he becomes strong enough to be someone else’s Molly. To notice and care about others who feel invisible. First it was Paul but then there were others. And so, Molly’s acts of kindness and friendship continued to spread.

This is a quiet and gentle story, championing for the shy introverts who, even if not noticed, have a lot to give. It also shows how kindness can spread like a wonderful contagious disease. The soft illustrations suit the story and there is a good use of colour to portray the tone of the story’s undulations. Recommended for ages 4 – 8 years.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Elbow Grease

Elbow Grease by John Cena, illustrated by Howard McWilliam (Puffin Books) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9780143794400

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This picture book is ideal for machine-obsessed boys aged 4 to 8 years as its pages are filled with illustrations of highly modified cars and trucks that take part in a demolition derby. Smallest of these vehicles is Elbow Grease who is undeterred by his size and wants to take on his brothers Tank, Flash, Pinball and Crash who are tougher, faster, smarter and braver. What Elbow has in spades is gumption and pure determination. His aim in life is to have his picture displayed on a garage poster as champion in a monster truck grand prix.

The full-page illustrations seem to be computer-generated, making the vehicles and scenery seem life-like with gleaming duco, city lights, and a racing circuit which is quite spectacular as it shows a race in progress. Elbow Grease is taking part in the Grand Prix, but despite being ‘bashed and smashed and eve caught on fire a little bit’, he keeps on trucking. A storm arrives mid-race and poor Elbow is terrified of lightning; he’s cold and tired, too. At the end of the race (and the book), he says (in speech balloons), ‘What do you mean “The End”? … Never Give up! Never quit!... Never say “The End”.’

Lots of fun and action and bright, captivating illustrations, this book is sure to be carried everywhere by small boys wanting their parents to read it again and again.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Max Booth Future Sleuth Stamp Safari

Max Booth Future Sleuth Stamp Safari by Cameron Macintosh, illustrated by Dave Atze (Big Sky Publishing) RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781925675368

Reviewed by Wendy Haynes

Cameron Macintosh brings the third instalment of Max Booth Future Sleuth to his readership of 8 to 10-year olds. Max and his trusty companion Oscar a Beagle bot head off in search for some answers to a sticky object Oscar found. What is it?

Set in the future, 2424, Max lives in Skyburb 6, in fact he lives in the Bluggsville Museum thanks to his friend Jessie. Max helps Jessie identify object from the past.

This chapter book takes the reader on a fun journey back to when tennis was a popular sport, and stamps were used to send parcels and letters. It is a great way to reengage a child’s imagination and in turn building on how life is full of possibilities. Well placed illustration by Dave Atze, help form the story and give the reader a glimpse of what Cameron imagines into a well told story.

The author reminds us of the value of money, the possible changes in transport to come, electricity all underground and junk yards full of vehicles.

On his journey to discover what the sticky object (the stamp) is used for, Max escapes the clutches of Squad Captain Selby but with the help from Jessie and an old friend Brandon, Max saves Oscar and finds out the mystery of the sticky object.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Crafty Science

Crafty Science by Jane Bull (Dorling Kindersley) PB RRP $19.95 ISBN 9780241353455

Reviewed by Claire Stuckey

This bright hardcover publication continues the useful and factual format of the non-fiction DK range. Parents and librarians recognise this long-standing range that continues to provide clear and concise information in a durable format. Building on previous publications it contains past, and new science projects that focus on STEAM, the science and technology components of the UK and Australian curriculums.

Each project contains bright step by step instructions with a framed "What's the science?" paragraph in simple text explaining the concepts as well as an equipment list. As with all the high-quality DK information range this title by award winning author contains a contents page, rear index and glossary. 

Although this title repeats many well-known projects the updated format with additional STEAM links provides a great title to use at home. the variety of projects will engage a range of interests. A valuable addition to public and school libraries it also would aid Home-school or distance education families. Aimed at middle and upper primary ages, many of the projects require adult supervision and planning to purchase resources.  

The only small issue in this new title is the use of dark red and green text boxes for some of "What's the science?" paragraphs which might be difficult to read for children who have colour blindness.  

Friday, 5 October 2018

The Puffin Book of Summer Stories

The Puffin Book of Summer Stories (Puffin Books) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9780143793540

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Featuring eight favourite picture book stories by well-loved Australian authors, this beautifully presented, heavy (and thick) collection makes an ideal gift, especially with Christmas coming up.

The classic books included are: Summer by June Factor and Alison Lester; Max by Marc Martin; Grandpa and Thomas by Pamela Allen; Castles by Allan Baillie and Caroline Magerl; My Hippopotamus is on our Caravan Roof Getting Sunburnt by Hazel Edwards and Deborah Niland; Seadog by Claire Saxby and Tom Jellett; There’s a Sea in My Bedroom by Margaret Wild and Jane Tanner, and Eve and Elly by Mike Dumbleton and Laura Wood.

All the stories feature the outdoors, mostly by the sea, and all are set out so that the reader can appreciate the wide variety of story-telling and illustrations. What a wonderful diversity of artwork there is, from Alison Lester’s detailed wash and pen pictures of an Australian family indoors and out on Christmas Day to Pamela Allen’s watercolour pictures with lots of white space with a grandfather and boy enjoying the seaside. After Allen’s pages come full-page very colourful pictures of a huge hippopotamus, so familiar to young readers, eating cake, this time while on family holiday. This contrasts with the more delicate colours with wash and line of Caroline Magerl’s rendering of a fanciful and imaginative story of a girl and boy creating a magical story on the beach and in the sea. Then there’s the realistic, beautifully realised beach illustrations by the equally talented Jane Tanner in Margaret Wild’s story where a boy imagines a sea in his bedroom.

There are so many excellent illustrations in this multi-story book which is sure to become a family favourite to be read and re-read by children aged 6 to 11 years, who will, no doubt, hand the book onto their children in the future.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Jacaranda Magic

Jacaranda Magic by Dannika Patterson, illustrated by Megan Forward (Ford Street Publishing) PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781925804010

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Jacaranda Magic is a picture book that delightfully captures the beauty of imaginative play and the enchantment that nature so brilliantly provides.

The tale begins with five young friends sitting under a jacaranda tree pondering what to do. They are stuck for ideas until nature beautifully intervenes. The children’s imaginations are soon ignited when a cool breeze causes the purple bell-shaped blooms to rain upon them. The small flowers transform into a variety of props including genies, butterflies and asteroids. The large tree branches become abodes, vehicles and vessels for their lively outdoor adventures.

Jacaranda Magic is beautifully written in verse and accompanied by gorgeous soft pencil and watercolour illustrations, predominately in double-page spreads. This playful picture book is likely to engage children aged 4-6 years old. It would be equally suitable for the early years’ classroom or read as a bedtime story at home. This tale would sing to the heart of any early childhood educator. Let’s hope that the magic of open-ended imaginative play is never lost.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018


Bruno the Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush is Robyn Osborne’s latest book. It was published by Big Sky Publishing and is available as a paperback ($14.99) and a hardback ($24.99).

Barefoot Bob and Bruno the blue dog live together in a broken-down barracks surrounded by the beautiful Aussie bush. Although they don’t have much in the bank, they are the best of buddies and life is bonzer. Then one day Bob hits the bonanza, and everything changes. Without a backward glance, Bob and Bruno move to the big smoke. But is this fancy new life better than the one they had in the bush? An alliterative tale which celebrates mateship and introduces young readers to the quintessential language of the Australian bush.

My Dog Socks (Ford Street Publishing, 2017) is another book written by Robyn which has won a number of  award stickers: it is a 2018 CBCA Notable Book and was shortlisted for the 2018 Speech Pathology Book of the Year.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

We Are Together

We Are Together by Britta Teckentrup (Caterpillar Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781848576582

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The first thing one notices about this picture book for children 4 to 6 years is that it has peek-through pages, including on the hard cover where there are ten children of different colours and nationalities: two of them appear in the cover cut-out. As one opens and reads each page, another child appears and then another until all ten children are together again.

This reinforces the book’s theme that ‘on our own, we’re special… But when we join up… together we’re a team.’ In each of the richly illustrated pages, children can be seen outdoors in changing weather – cloudy skies where they fly kites, golden sunset, autumn winds and so forth. On every double-paged spread is a quatrain in rhyme. For instance, one says, ‘We may travel alone/free as birds in the sky, /But flocking together,/we soar and we fly. When there’s a storm, the verses say, the children can splash through puddles ‘till the sun shines again.’ Another page has the lines, ‘If we all sing together, one voice becomes a choir’.

The whole book shows the power of being sociable and becoming part of ‘one big happy crowd!’ which is one supposes, the whole purpose of bringing children (people) together in our society so it will function happily.

There are dozens of children shown – colourful and happy – in the bright fly pages both ends of the book, and on the final page. This would make a marvellous book for pre-school teachers to present to their students, and for parents trying to make their children function happily in the world.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Waiting for Chicken Smith

Waiting for Chicken Smith by David Mackintosh (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN9781760501761

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This story is set on a beach where a child stays in the same cabin every year with his family. Every year, the child’s friend Chicken Smith stays on the beach, too, with his dad and his dog, Jelly. But this year Chicken hasn’t arrived, and this is a worry because there’s lots of usual things to do with him – ride bikes, share milkshakes, walk to the lighthouse with sandwiches and hunt for whales through Chicken’s binoculars.

There’s so much that the narrator and Chicken have shared in the past. But now Chicken’s cabin looks different – the windows are shut; the grass is long, and Chicken’s bike is missing. The boy’s sister urges him to go to the cliff-top with her while he’s waiting, and there, for the first time, the boy sees a whale. Without his holiday friend, the boy and his sister, Mary Ann (named on the last page) get to spend time together, possibly for the first time while on holidays.

The illustrations in this book by Australian author and illustrator, David Mackintosh, are dramatic and wonderful, from pencil drawings to silhouetted shapes (such as a bicycle frame and a lighthouse on a cliff with a red wash and golden moon). Every page rewards the reader with astonishing pictures that immerse one and make one want to be creative, too.

This is a stunning book which evokes so much of the temporary and often intense friendships children make in their lives. It is not usual to have a story about the end of such a holiday friendship, but the author/illustrator celebrates it and shows the reader that sometimes, though friendships end, there are always happy memories. And new experiences to be had. This book is highly recommended for readers 5 to 8 years.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

My Storee

My Storee by Paul Russell, illustrated by Aska (EK Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781925335774 

Reviewed by Dianne Bates
To get published, a manuscript must pass the ‘gatekeepers’, those adults who assess the story, often looking for what is ideologically unsound. Should a book with incorrect spelling all through it, pass the test? Apparently, the publisher, EK Books agreed with the words on the cover of this book, ‘Just because you can’t spell doesn’t mean you can’t write’. Some adults, like this reviewer, believe that the words in a book help a child learn how to spell.

This quibble aside, this is a book which most children aged 5 to 8 years are likely to enjoy because they, like the book’s protagonist, struggle with spelling as they attempt to write stories. The boy in this book is kept awake because he knows ‘a grand adventur (sic) is always (sic) waiting four (sic) me at the end ov (sic) my pencil’. He imagines stories about dragons, his teacher being eaten by a ‘gruesome ogre’, detectives, robot, aliens and more. However, at school, he says, there are too many ‘riting (sic) rulz (sic)’ and with all the rules his imagination suffers. Teachers, he says, cover his writing with red pen and change his meanings with the result that at school he doesn’t like to write.’

A new teacher with new teaching methods is the solution to the boy’s problem. The last sentence in the book reads, ‘So I picked up my pencil and wrote.’

The illustrations in My Storee are colourful and joyous, filled with cartoon characters such as live pencils, surfing mice and unicorn detectives, so they are sure to be enjoyed by child readers.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

All the Ways to Be Smart

All the Ways to Be Smart by Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys (Scribble) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781925713435 

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

‘Every hour of every day, we’re smart in our own special way’ reads the penultimate page of this rhyming picture book for readers aged 4 to 7 years. The aim of the book is to show the reader ‘how smart you are the whole day through’ which is certainly good for young egos.

Presented in mostly greens, oranges, blues and browns, the book shows children interacting with a host of beings, some other children and some monsters and some people like pirates, witches and clowns.

Numerous children, such as a red-haired boy, a brown girl, a boy wearing glasses and numerous others are shown being smart in numerous ways. These include being talented in arts and crafts: ‘Smart at drawing things with claws/facts about the dinosaurs’, and in treating other people humanely: ‘Smart is kindness when there’s crying’.

Basically, the book is a list of ways in which children can be smart, presented in rhyming couplets. It would read well aloud and allow small children to feel that they are accomplished as they recognise the skills which they already possess.