Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Ice Monster


The Ice Monster by David Walliams, illustrated by Tony Ross (Harper Collins) PB RRP $22.99
ISBN 9780008297244

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

The Ice Monster is a middle grade fiction novel set in London in 1899. The protagonist, Elsie, is a kind-hearted 10-year-old orphan who has lived at Wormly Hall: Home for Unwanted Children all her life. After being constantly and severely mistreated by the iniquitous old Mrs Curdle, who manages the orphanage, Elsie decides to escape to ‘anywhere but here.’

Elsie then lives on the streets and fends for herself. Her new-found freedom, and sneaky tricks, allows her daily access to the National History Museum to relish in the wonders of the world. Big news soon hits London that an Ice Monster will be arriving from the Arctic to be exhibited at the museum! Elsie sees its photo on the front page of the newspapers and feels an instant connection as it looks ‘lost and alone’’an orphan’’just like me’. She follows the news daily until the perfectly preserved woolly mammoth, found frozen in a huge slab of ice, arrives. Elsie immediately and unequivocally adores it.

Elsie comes up with an idea to bring the prehistoric creature to back to life.  With the assistance of a newly found ally (Dotty the museum cleaner) and an egocentric museum Professor they put their strategy into action. A hilarious adventure and plenty of mishaps ensue, including a list of entertaining characters and some enemies intent on foiling Elsie’s plans for ‘Woolly’.

481 pages including 78 chapters may, at first, seem overwhelming for younger readers, however; with a quick flick through the pages they’ll soon discover lots of monochrome pictures, big spacing between lines and plenty of onomatopoeia in large bold font throughout the book. The Ice Monster is highly recommended for children aged 8+ who enjoy humorous adventures. For those of you familiar with Walliams work and curious… yes, Raj makes an appearance!

Friday, 28 December 2018

Rodney


Rodney written and illustrated by Kelly Canby (Fremantle Press) PB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781925815320

Reviewed by Julie Dascoli.

“Come and play,” screeched the monkeys.

“We can see the ocean from our homes, come up and take a look,” sang the birds.

Poor Rodney dreams desperately to be high above the trees but he is a turtle. His efforts to climb the trees result in disappointment and has him feeling very, very small. It’s not until he wanders sadly off and leaves his friends behind that something happens. His surroundings begin to change. As this happens, his friends, his perception of himself and his place in the world changes, too.

This story made me smile. Straight away I fell in love with Rodney and felt empathy for his plight. I was so happy when he realised his happiness in a different environment and comes to understand that size is just a matter of perspective.

Kelly Canby has created a beautiful story in a simple, thoughtful way both with her words and pictures. The message is subtle but powerful, perfect for children aged 3 to 5.

The illustrations seem to be very different to Canby’s other works in that they are hand-painted and then cut out and made into collages. This gives this 32-page, read-aloud picture book a 3D effect. The green and brown of the grass and the trees with the animals entwined in the leaves and splashes of colour everywhere else is visually appealing. The satin finish hard cover also gives Rodney a luxurious feel. 

Kelly Canby, born in England, came to Australia as a small child, (That means we claim her as ours now.) She now has over a dozen published books to her credit including, The Hole Story which was a big hit, selling all over the world.

Canby is very busy in the children’s literature world: when she is not illustrating or writing, she is on the committee of the Children’s Book Council of Australia. WA branch and on the Shaun Tan Award for Young Artists’ judging panel. She is also The Regional Advisor for SCBWI, WA and is an active blogger, and Instagramer with over 3,500 followers.

Canby is available for primary school and book shop visits: you can contact her through her publisher, Freemantle Press.

“Rodney” will be a welcome addition to any kindergarten or community library
and indeed any home collection.


Sunday, 23 December 2018

Cool Poems


Cool Poems by Kate O’Neil, illustrated by Christina Booth (Triple D Press) PB RRP $25 ISBN 780994349996

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Despite having written and published her poems for numerous years, this is Australian Kate O’Neil’s first solo collection. It is especially for students who enjoy words, who love rhythm and rhyme. The collection is divided into seven sections with subject headings ranging from ‘In Australia’ and ‘Speaking Your Mind’ to ‘Play’ and ‘Light and Dark’.

One of the first poems in the book under ‘Happy Living Things’ was a short free form  poem with a fine image that sticks in my mind. This is in ‘Slug’, where O’Neill writes, … ‘how is it that your/loathsome taper/makes this/exquisite/tracery of silver script...’. Beautiful! I urge you to get your hands on this book, so you can read poems like this with such memorable imagery. Another short poem in the same section is ‘To a Leech’, the first line of which reads, ‘You’re no prince in disguise’.

In the section, ‘In Australia’, there are poems about being barefooted, eating mangoes, climbing mountains, paragliding and cockatoos. Subject matter throughout the book is wide-ranging and includes school rules, blowflies, Cocky’s Joy, beating the blues and blind man’s bluff. Some poems, like ‘The Cynic Route’, ‘Gargoyle Guile’ and ‘Man and Moonshine’ are more suited to mature readers, but there are plenty of fun poems sure to be enjoyed by younger readers, such as the prima donna selection, ‘The Kid from Camdenville’, ‘Bare, Bare Black Sheep’ and ‘Classy Darcy’.

Happily, too, there’s a variety of poetic forms from rap to couplets, quatrains to free form. A few of the poems use the rhyming scheme of well-known poems. And, too, the poet uses speech within poems such as in ‘Bedtime Boogie’ and ‘Bedtime’.

Booth has done an excellent job of illustrating the collection with black and white line and wash pictures. Stand-outs are the gargoyle illustrating ‘Midnight Feast’ and the big-headed cat about to pounce on the unsuspecting bold mouse.

If you’re looking for a collection which will be rewarded by dipping into and reading fun, serious and thought-provoking poems for your reader aged 9 to 14, this book is highly recommended.


Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Scapegoat


Scapegoat written by Ava Keyes illustrated by Aleksandra Szmidt (Little Steps Publishing) RRP $14.95 (PB) ISBN 9780648267461

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This bright and cheerful looking picture book covers a subject not so happy – family bullying. This is Ava Keyes’s debut picture book, partner-published with Little Steps Publishing. In rhyming prose, the story unfolds of Scapegoat, who is blamed by his family for everything that goes wrong. Illustrations by Alexsandra Szmidt add character and humour to balance the more serious topic of the book.

Scapegoat is a young goat who keeps getting into trouble. His brother Marco is fun to play with, but when he is naughty, it’s Scapegoat who gets told off. In fact, even when the parents do something wrong, Scapegoat is blamed for that as well. It is at school that Scapegoat’s friends realise what’s going on at home and the impact this is having on Scapegoat. They talk to the teacher, who then approaches the parents about it.

It is an interesting topic as most books about bullying deal with what happens at school, so this is a kind of different side of things. The book could be used by teachers for kids when they suspect it might be happening at home. The resolution of the story is more about the child believing in themselves than the parents changing their behavior, which could be empowering for someone in this situation. While the rhythm of the rhyme is not always consistent, using animals to represent children lifts the story and makes it more fun.

Scapegoat could be read aloud by adults, who can then explain the concepts to children or read independently by kids who like the illustrations. Scapegoat is a niche book with a definite purpose for kindergarten and lower primary school children.


Monday, 17 December 2018

Learn with Ruby Red Shoes. Counting book and Alphabet Book


Learn with Ruby Red Shoes. Counting book and Alphabet Book by Kate Knapp. (Harper Collins publishers) RRP $13.08 PB 978-1-4607-5691-1

Reviewed by Julie Dascoli

Ruby Red Shoes is a white hare who loves to learn. Hop along with Ruby and her chickens as they learn how…

Kate Knapp’s Learning with Ruby red shoes counting book and Alphabet Book are a lovely addition to her vast body of works in the Ruby Red Shoes story collection.
This experienced and esteemed children’s author and artist from Brisbane, works from her design studio, Twiggseeds. As well as books, Kate produces stationary, cards and prints and more all by hand, using pencil, ink and watercolour.
Kate has created beautiful, hard cover books for two to seven-year olds. The gorgeous satin finish and small size is perfect for this age group to browse alone or as a read aloud, bed time story.

They are rhyming stories, with cheerful rhythm and rhyme. I can clearly imagine children asking for these stories again and again, and memorising the verses.
The examples for each, either letter or number is refreshingly different. Such as A is for angels rather than the usual apple and the numbers relating to the antics that Ruby and her pet chickens get up to is also refreshing. I also liked that the numbers go up to twelve instead of stopping at ten.

The illustrations are sweet, gentle, cartoon drawings in pastel shades, giving the books a very old-world appearance.

Ruby’s chickens, which feature a little more heavily in the Alphabet book, have cheeky, endearing expressions on their faces. (How is that even possible on a chicken?) This made me smile.

I think Learn with Ruby Red Shoes Alphabet Book and Learn with Ruby Red Shoes Counting Book would make a lovey addition to any library, at a kindergarten, home or community.



Saturday, 15 December 2018

Bruno The Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush


Bruno The Boisterous Blue Dog from the Bush by Robyn Osborne, illustrated by John Phillips (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP 24.99 ISBN 9781925675504

Reviewed by Claire Stuckey

Bruno is a boisterous blue dog from the bush who shares a very distinct outback lifestyle with Bob. This is a very alliterative tale which celebrates mateship and relies on colloquial language of the Australian bush.

Reminiscent of Footrot Flats books and comics, the illustrations may entice adults to share the title and children to pick up the book. Once introduced in their bush setting, the story continues in the city after Bob wins " a few bucks " on the races and travels around Australia only to realise that "the bush no longer seemed bonzer." After some high living in the city complete with butler, Bruno begins demolishing the apartment so "Bob blew his block " but the pair reconcile after Bob's accidental fall from the balcony. The buddies return to the bush once more somewhere near Bandywallop.   

With so much alliteration I wonder how children will cope with the text, although parents may find the text dated, with teams like ‘bully beef’ and ‘Bonox’. The story requires some intonation to achieve the intended humour so that teachers and librarians may find the book useful to encourage reluctant readers.   

This book is difficult to recommend for a specific age range as it is a picture book with text and concepts suitable for an older reader perhaps 7-10 years.



Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Rainforest Feasts


Rainforest Feasts by Carolyn Eldridge-Alfonzetti, illustrated by Heather Charlton (Wild Eyed Press) PB RRP $15.50 ISBN 9780648161127

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

What do the critters of the rainforest get up to when they wake up at night? Feed their hungry bellies, of course! This colourful book of rhyming verse explores the eating habits of a variety of rainforest creatures.

The book comprises a series of vignettes rather than a narrative plot. The unusual selection of animals and insects Eldridge-Alfonzetti has featured, including crayfish, native rats and glow worms, distinguishes the book from comparable titles.

The watercolour illustrations are bright and colourful while still conveying a sense of the night-time forest setting. Each spread shows the featured rainforest creature and its prey, often in the act of capturing or eating the meal. Some critters are rendered with a greater sense of character and likeness than others, and not all are perfectly consistent throughout. Nevertheless, young children will enjoy the double-page spreads.

The final spreads will particularly enthrall young audiences, with a challenge to find all the featured creatures in both a daytime and night time setting. This book would form an engaging yet relaxing part of any young child’s bedtime routine and is particularly suited to 3 to 8 year olds. With its large, bold illustrations and many springboards for discussion, it would also fit well into a junior primary classroom.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Achievement


The release of a Christmas anthology, It’s Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas embraces a wonderful collection of festive stories and poems.

Margaret Joy Gibb’s poem ‘The Magical Fairy Wish’ and story, ‘The Musical Christmas Tree’ captures the family and magic that the season brings.

Editor Michelle Worthington encouraged and supported all the writers and this book raises money for bicycles for trainee teachers in Tanzania. There was a special book celebration at the Grand View Hotel, Cleveland, USA.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Maximus


This is an extract from Maximus, a middle-grade novel written by Steve Heron, released in 2018 by Serenity Press. Maximus is available through www.steveheron.com, some bookstores, online bookstores etc.

‘Everyone was laughing, including Maddy. I turned around to see what was so funny and saw my footy boots hanging in the rafters.

So, that’s what they were laughing at. I could see Jason laughing the most. The hot lava bubbled inside of me as their laughter fuelled the fire. This time I couldn’t hold it in. I erupted like Mount Vesuvius.

My arms swung around like a mad octopus. Somehow my fist connected with the closest person, Jason. Thwack! I felt the awful impact of flesh on flesh. His head wrenched sideways. He did a half pirouette and crashed to the ground as if someone had pulled a rug out from under his feet. Everyone gasped in shock.

I didn’t mean it. It just happened.

Everything seemed to freeze, except me. I took off.

I ran like a fugitive and hid behind the undercover area where I thought no one could find me. I curled up in a ball, put my arms on my knees and slumped my head on my arms. I was in big trouble. Kids got suspended for hitting other kids, even if they didn’t mean to.

How was I going to talk my way out of this? Everything officially sucked.

Why am I such a loser?

Dad’s words materialised in my brain: We don't solve problems with our fists, we use our words. Lately his words hit harder than fists’.


Saturday, 1 December 2018

Issue 286 December 1


(Request a free sample of Buzz Words here)




The latest issue of Buzz Words – 1 December 2018 -- is jam-packed and oozing at the seams with children's literature goodness.

Here are some of the things you'll find inside the latest issue:
  • 11 children’s and educational book markets to investigate (Australian and overseas) plus a profile of the Australian children’s book publisher, Dirt Lane Press
  • 7 Opportunities and Events
  • 3 Writers’ Festivals and Conferences
  • 11 competitions (plus numerous announcements of award winners). We also reminder readers of the inaugural Buzz Words Short Story Prize with prize-money of $1,500, to be judged by Bill Condon, Dianne Bates, Cathie Tasker and Jackie French which closes on 31 December
  • The Inside Scoop with author Stefan Nicholson
  • A profile in Book Creator of American children’s author, Paula Danziger
  • Spotlight on YA with YA author Zana Fraillon
  • An interview with award-winning children’s author, Janeen Brian
  • In Who’s Who in children’s books, a profile of Susannah Chambers, Commissioning Editor of books for children and young adults at Allen & Unwin.
  • A profile of children’s author Catherine Bauer
  • Our new section titled Resources offers 10 ways to improve your writing
  • A new section called ‘The Secret’ which shows the secret to finishing a book                                    
  • and then there’s the usual segments of industry news, useful websites, have your say, and classifieds.

Princess Hayley’s Comet


Princess Hayley’s Comet by Rebecca Fung; illustrations by Kathy Creamer.
(Christmas Press) RRP $13.99  ISBN 978 0994 528 070

Reviewed by Julie Thorndyke

Debut author Rebecca Fung has taken a fun idea, punning on the name of the famous Halley’s comet, and produced an enjoyable and original story for young readers.

Princess Hayley’s Comet is a slim little book with an engaging cover and the promise of an active storyline. The cover illustration by Kathy Creamer is attractive in bold primary colours and the dynamic swirling path of the golden comet looks appropriately regal. The expressions on the faces of the king and the princess give a hint of the plot.

The first page plunges straight in to the crux of the story: “Dearest Hayley,” asked the King. “What would you like for your birthday?”

A princess with everything she could ever wish for, the soon-to-be-ten-year-old Princess Hayley asks for a comet.

Although set in a traditional, generic fairy-tale castle, this story does introduce elements of science fiction as the narrative unfolds. Some basic information about real comets is embedded at the beginning of the story. The princess obtains information about comets from her book Simple Astronomy. She wonders about the personality of a comet:

Hayley was sure the comet was independent, exciting and adventurous, and the more she felt that, the more she adored it.”

The comet symbolises Princess Hayley’s own personality, and her desire for adventure and exploration.

The idea of capturing and riding a comet (without being burned to ashes) is unrealistic. However, Fung manages to pull this absurd situation off, the reader suspending disbelief and going along with the story. Afterall, the fairy-tale genre does not set up an expectation of realism.

In eleven chapters liberally sprinkled with black and white drawings, the book is accessible, dynamic and inviting to primary school children, and offers both visual and textual surprises on each page. The size of the book is appropriate for child hands and the text is well-spaced and not at all daunting.

Princesses are standard fare in children’s literature. How does Hayley compare with the stereotype? She has a benevolent father, the king, ready to grant her every wish. (The Queen is not mentioned.) Princess Hayley has a collection of exotic birthday presents including polar bears, golden treehouses and diamond tiaras. She has servants to assist her in everyday life at the palace. But unlike many princesses, she isn’t isolated or lonely.

With two “equal best” friends, Ned and Cara, Princess Hayley is a well socialised and resourceful character. When the King’s Advisors say that a birthday comet is impossible, she actively devises strategies to catch her own comet.

Kathy Creamer’s illustrations reveal a princess who wears plaits with her crown, and boots with her regal robes, that are a sensible calf-length for active movement.

If there is a moral to this enjoyable tale, it is that girls are capable, interested in science and don’t need the help of male authority figures to achieve their goals.
A great addition to every little princess’s book collection.


Friday, 30 November 2018

Ara the Star Engineer


Ara the Star Engineer by Komal Singh, illustrated by Ipek Konak (Page Two Books, distributed by Newsouth Books) HB RRP AU$24.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This book has two important features going for it: one is that is shows numerous females and people of colour in positive working roles and the other is that it is about computers and numbers. 

The author is a woman in technology who was challenged to write this book when her four-year-old daughter proclaimed, ‘Engineers are boys.’ Singh, in an author’s note at the front of the book, says research shows that girls start doubting their STEM intelligence (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) by the age of six. Hence this picture book hopes to redress this.

The story begins with Ara, and her robotic assistant Dee Dee who explore the STEM world. Ara starts with telling the reader that the word ‘googol’ (meaning a number with a hundred zeros in it), was name by a nine-year-old. To figure out how many googols of stars there are in the sky, Ara and Dee Dee, travel to Innovation Plex, where they meet Kripa in the Data Centre who shows them now to use a computer to solve problems. Another woman tech whizz the two meet is Parisa who uses algorithms to solve problems. And so, the story moves on – to Coding Pods, and X-Space – as more interesting information is revealed.

This is a an inspiring, inclusive, whimsical way to learn about computers and technology from real-life trailblazers. The women at the centre tinker-and-tailor, build-and-fail, launch-and-iterate, and in the end discover an amazing algorithm of success -- coding, courage, creativity, and collaboration. The women mentioned in the book, by the way, are real: their biographies appear at the end. And, too, there’s a notebook with activities and information about women trail-blazers (like programmers Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, and NASA’s space investigator Katherine Johnson).

If you would like to inspire your budding computer, maths or science child, this is certainly a book which should do the trick! The book is filled with colourful illustrations to pour over which show workers in coding pods and other interesting work spaces.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Stories for kids who dare to be different


Stories for kids who dare to be different by Ben Brooks, illustrated by Quinton Winter (Quercus) HB RRP $35.00 ISBN 9781787476523

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Sub-titled ‘True tales of boys and girls who stood up and stood out’, this is one of the most interesting, fascinating and absorbing non-fiction books for children I’ve read in years – and I’ve read many. The sub-title is misleading, though, as the accomplishments of many of the heroes featured occurred when they were adults, but the book, equally devoted to the exploits of males and females, tells of childhoods, often deprived and of people who overcame poverty, physical problems and more. However, the design of the book with typeface often on overly-dark pages, does it a disservice. But truly, the stories are wonderful and certainly inspiring, even for adults as well as children aged 9 to 13 for whom the book is marketed.

Bjork, Dr Seuss, Whoopi Goldberg, Andy Warhol, Gertrude Stein, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Lady Godiva, Yvonne Goolagong and Dr Seuss are people most adults are familiar with and whose stories they know. But this book of 100 (or more) people from countries all over the world include amazing achievements in all fields from astro-physics to medicine, ballet to civil disobedience.

It’s difficult to focus on only a few heroes when all here are remarkable… but the Edelweiss Pirates, teenagers who undermined Nazis (by acts such as posting anti-slogans and putting sugar in petrol tanks) during Hitler’s reign of terror, were certainly brave. So too was Witold Pilecki who defended Poland against the Russians and volunteered to be arrested and sent to Auschwitz death camp to expose the horrors there, transmitting messages to the resistance and to the British authorities, becoming the first person to alert the outside world of the Nazis’ atrocities.

Someone who was heroic in 2018 was Emma Gonzalez, a teenager who organised March for our Lives, a peaceful protest in America in support of new gun control laws following a mass killing in her school – she managed to mobilise almost 2 million people! Muslim Loujain Al-Hathloul drove a car and made videos in Saudi Arabia at a time when women weren’t allowed to drive (they couldn’t vote until 2015 and still aren’t allowed to open their own bank accounts). There are dozens more stories. I was inspired to follow the lives of some depicted here, such as the Inuit artist, Kenojuah Ashevak, 18 year old Hannah Herbst who has invented a small machine called BEACON which uses wave action to create electricity and black ballet dancer Eric Underwood who became the star of The Royal London Ballet and had a ballet shoe named after him.

Throughout the world, where there are injustices, strong men and women (and sometimes children) emerge to remedy wrongs. In our evermore hectic and overwhelming world, Stories for Kids Who Dare to be Different is refreshing proof that dreams do come true and that it is okay to be different.

This is an inspiring read for any young person, particularly those struggling to find their place in the world and who want to know about the lives of those heroes who have led the way, changing the world for the better as they go. 

Highly recommended.


Wednesday, 28 November 2018

A Miniature Christmas


A Miniature Christmas edited by Beattie Alvarez (Christmas Press) RRP $24.99 PB ISBN 9780648194514

Reviewed by Wendy Haynes

This is jam-packed with Christmas goodies. As the title suggests, the stories delve into many miniature worlds. Beattie Alvarez has done a wonderful job compiling twelve illustrated stories bringing with them Christmas, imagination and the wonder of magic.

Suitable for 7 – 10-year olds this book could be read to a younger audience. Each story brings a sense of the Christmas spirit, the magic of genies, goblins, Fuchsia fairies, the delight of miniature Christmas scenes, toy apps, trees brought to life, the charm of Christmas decorations, elves tugging on your ear, a take on Peter Pan at Christmas, and small creature pulling together to make Christmas great.
There is a story here for everyone.

Some of the authors include Dianne Bates with her story ‘George the Genie’, illustrated by Sally Heinrich.  George is summoned by an unsavoury character, and the wishes he is asked to grant go beyond his moral being. So George and the rest of his clan concoct a plan to teach Bernie Blister a lesson.

‘Christmas with the Fuchsia Fairies’ text and photographs by Kathy Creamer, brings your imagination to life. When Rosie Dimpleberry finds water sprite Tinkle crying, she along with the rest of her friends find a way make Tinkle’s Christmas special.

‘A Mouse Christmas’ by Natalie Jane Prior, illustrated by Amy Bogard, tells the story of Marigold the mouse who lives under floor board under the stove, with her mother and two siblings, Star and Silas. Being mice they sleep all day and venture out at night when the black and white dog, and the humans are sleeping. Marigold gets caught up in the wonder of the Christmas food and though the dog tries to sniff her out, at the stroke of midnight they share a special moment of what Christmas really means.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Tiggy and the Magic Paint Brush: A Musical Show

 Tiggy and the Magic Paint Brush: A Musical Show by Zanni Louise, illustrated by Gillian Flint (Hardie Grant Egmont) RRP $14.99 PB

9781760685690

Reviewed by Wendy Haynes

Tiggy and her friends Felix and Poh are back and this time Tiggy is about to perform in a musical show in which she is the star. But after practicing perfectly at home and now at the hall with her friends, this time, Tiggy’s voice sounds more like a frog than her own. What should she do? She is worried she will let everyone down and races to the bathroom.

Then she gets an idea. With the help of her magic paintbrush, she conjures up a nightingale: together they sing so beautifully, but no one can understand it. Maybe a whale can help, but they need water. Perhaps a Parrot can sing in her place but his voice is too harsh. What will Tiggy do? Then she has the best idea of the day.

This book is another delight for children aged 4 – 7 years old and the series helps children image new ideas and that anything is possible. As usual the illustrator Gillian Flint has added depth to the story with her vibrant pictures throughout the book, looking forward to the next one.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Tiggy and the Magic Paint Brush: A Birthday Party Trick


Tiggy and the Magic Paint Brush: A Birthday Party Trick by Zanni Louise, illustrated by Gillian Flint (Hardie Grant Egmont) RRP $12.99
ISBN 978176068683

Reviewed by Wendy Haynes

The third book in the Tiggy and the Magic Paintbrush series, A Birthday Party Trick brings with it a birthday party Tiggy is so excited about. You see, the thing she is so excited about is that a REAL Magician is coming to her party. But when at the last minute the magician rings up sick, Tiggy has to spring into action and devise a way she and all her friends still get to enjoy a magical birthday.

With the help of her magic paintbrush Tiggy conjures up Paulo the Great but the problem with Paulo is that none of his tricks works -- that’s not until he disappears. Tiggy looks high and low for Paulo the Great, and eventually finds him, but now he is too small.

This fun instalment suitable for ages 4 -7-year olds is splashed with colour by the talented illustrator Gillian Flint. Join Tiggy on her birthday and discover as she does that a birthday can be just as magical without a magician.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Liberty


Liberty by Nikki McWatters (University of Queensland Press) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9780702260292

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

Born in different eras, three young women share a common bond – the ‘bloodline of the sisterhood’. Jeanne Laisné discovers her ‘blood of iron’ in 1472, when she overcomes her poverty-stricken background to emerge as the heroine of Beauvais during a fierce battle. In 1797, Betsy Gray becomes embroiled in a rebel alliance that is desperate to free Ireland from English rule, and she is determined to fight with every last breath in her body.

Fiona McKechnie’s rustic naivety is destroyed when she heads to university in Brisbane in 1968 and is faced with the realities of the Vietnam War and conscription. When she discovers the Systir Saga, a book containing the names of Jeanne and Betsy, as well as all the other ‘women who were the threads that were sewn together with stitches of time and blood to make up the garment’ that is her, Fiona draws strength from her sisterhood to stand up for what she believes in.

Liberty is aimed at the YA market, and its underlying girl-power message will appeal particularly to teen girls aged 14 and above. Inspired by historical people and events, award-winning author Nikki McWatters takes three discrete story strands and skilfully braids them into a single compelling tale. While some of the dialogue is a little laboured, Nikki’s use of evocative similes and metaphors adds stunning dimension and colour to the narrative.

Passion, action and courage course through the book like the flood of feisty women whom Jeanne leads into battle. As the three protagonists proactively seek liberty in life and love, female readers especially will identify both with their empowerment and with their mantle as girls ‘who might just change the world’.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

The Crocodile Who Found His Smile


The Crocodile Who Found His Smile by Hancy Pancy, illustrated by Ann Snell (Austin Macauley Publishers) PB RRP $26.99 ISBN: 9781787107243

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

Crosby the crocodile is ‘not a happy chap’. He longs to find a friend on the river, but nobody wants to play with him. Uncle Gnarly Nose ‘smacks his big, strong tail’ at Crosby, and then a bird ‘flaps her sleek black wings’ as she flies away from the lonely croc. Even Crosby’s mum is too busy to swim with him. Little does Crosby know that his mum and dad have planned a big surprise for him – a new brother and sister with whom he can have fun. Now he ‘has the biggest smile … [and] is a happy crocodile’.

Created by the Australian pair HancyPancy and Ann Snell, The Crocodile Who Found His Smile is a delightful picture book for kids aged three to seven years. As HancyPancy’s rhyming text follows Crosby’s search for a playmate, it gently introduces young readers to real-life details about crocodiles (including what happens during territorial disputes). For older children keen to know more about saltwater crocodiles, HancyPancy has added extra information in verse form at the end of the book, such as they’re ‘three times faster than the fastest man’.

Ann Snell’s vibrant illustrations bring the story to life. She channels the Impressionist artists of the nineteenth century, with her bold strokes of colour adding a unique dynamism to the scenes. Light dapples exquisitely across the river’s cerulean surface, and the subtle change in hues as day turns to evening is entrancing.

Children who adore animals – especially reptiles – will fall in love with Crosby the ‘curious croc’ and enjoy the clever blend of fact and fiction throughout the narrative. And, if they look carefully at the lively images, they might spot an elusive little frog on each page!

Friday, 23 November 2018

Around the world with Gramps


Around the world with Gramps by Carolyn Eldridge-Alfonzeeti, illustrated by Teresa Lawrence (Celapene Press) RRP PB IBSN:978-1-925572-15-5 

Reviewed by Julie Dascoli

Today, Lucy’s Gramps is wearing a tasselled cap, a white shirt, his red knitted waistcoat, a pleated tennis skirt, long johns and a fat pom-pom attached to each of his slippers. Today they are studying Scotland.

Every Friday of the school holidays, Lucy stays at her Gramp’s house while her mum goes to work. As a retired Geography teacher, Gramps takes great delight in surprising his Granddaughter with the country they will study on that day. He greets them at the door in a costume, plays music from the country of choice and explores the globe in the morning. In the afternoon they cook food from the chosen country and do a craft activity.

All this has been fun over the years but now that Lucy will soon be going to high school and has a cool friend, Briony, she would rather not go to Gramp’s house any more but hang with Briony at her Grandma’s house. Mum won’t hear of it.

Everything changes one day when Lucy’s mum receives a phone call to say Gramps is in hospital having had a mild stroke. After contemplating her life without her gramps Lucy’s next move surprises us all. Especially Gramps.

Carolyn Eldridge-Alfonzetti is a renowned and award-winning author of poetry for both children and adults, countless short stories, articles, a picture book and so much more. She has done herself proud with this one as well. Around the world with Gramps is a mindful, sweet story for children around maybe 6-9-year-old, (and old ladies like me.) It would be ideal for a read-aloud or for an independent reader. The ending bought a tear to my eye

The recipes at the back of the book are a novel addition: I’m sure readers will give them a go.

The illustrations for Around the world with Gramps are by Teresa Laurence. They are grey scale sketches depicting the characters beautifully.  I especially liked the expressions on the character’s faces. 

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Lucy Newton, Little Witch


Lucy Newton, Little Witch by Phoebe McArthur (Christmas Press) PB RRP $13.99 ISBN: 9780648194507

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

What’s a young witch to do, with her mother out of the house (again) and her favourite doll in danger of losing an arm? Despite a ban on using magic (established due to Lucy’s apparent penchant for dangerous escapades), Lucy Newton can’t stop herself. She breaks into her mother’s study to find her spell book, looking for a simple spell to reattach her beloved doll’s appendage.

Predictably, things go south quickly and in increasingly outrageous ways, as Lucy soon finds herself facing a rapidly-growing slime-drooling slug – with no idea what to do next. Enter two wonderfully crafted secondary characters, the sentient spell book – which suddenly starts offering advice – and the neighbour’s sassy black cat. While the protagonist Lucy does little more than bounce from bungling to helpless to panic-stricken and back again, the book and cat give humour, spark and attitude to the story.

McArthur builds suspense effectively. The story kept my 4-year-old assistant book-reviewer on the edge of her bed, terrified for poor Lucy facing the revolting slug. The plot is fast-moving and fun, and will entertain the target audience of 6 to 9 year olds. While elements of the story orient towards girls, with a female protagonist and a dismembered doll creating the initial crisis, boys should get right into the chaos, slime and destruction as well.

Newly independent readers will enjoy the numerous black-and-white illustrations, line drawn by McArthur. The pictures pick up the significant elements in the story in charming vignettes. While there is a detailed and expressive illustration of the cranky old witch-next-door, some of the illustrations of Lucy lack a strong sense of character.

This is a fast-paced fantasy from first-time author McArthur, which will appeal to young readers who enjoy a little magic or a lot of mess.