Wednesday, 21 March 2018

In the Dark

In the Dark by Carole Poustie (Celapene Press) PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781925572001

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Ish is a thirteen year old boy who spends his summer holidays with his mum and sister at his gran’s house ‘up near the Murray [his] favourite place in the world’. He and his older sister, Molly, have also planned to spend a week of their holidays with their father, who moved to Sydney after separating from their mother.

Ish’s plan of fishing every day on the Murray, with his dog Lucky, comes to an abrupt end shortly after arriving. He and his sister become grounded, after a careless accident, and must spend most of their days at the house. Soon after being grounded Ish finds himself in hot water again when he enters his gran’s forbidden old cellar and comes across a letter. The letter is not addressed to him, however, he chooses to open it and the contents immediately changes his world.

It seems that their parent’s separation has put a strain on everyone’s relationship. Molly is rude and disrespectful and has trouble relating to anyone. Ish is resentful towards his dad for moving away. The children’s mother and their gran also have trouble connecting at times. Will time with their father in Sydney help smooth things out? Or will the letter Ish found change relationships forever?

In the Dark is a middle fiction novel suited to those who like drama and suspense. It has themes of family, friendship, loss and dishonesty. The story is written in the first person by Ish, a nickname given to him at birth. Throughout the story Ish writes poetry, a passion he shared with his late grandfather. Not only does he use it as a way of expressing himself but it is also a way of keeping a beautiful connection to his grandfather. In the Dark is Carole’s second novel for children.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Mackenzie Tanaya and the Faerie Key: An Epic Adventure for children

Mackenzie Tanaya and the Faerie Key: An Epic Adventure for children written and illustrated by Josh Reid (Fernhill Clockwork Story Factory) PB RRP $5.99

This is a slim (34 pp) book which is the first in a serial novel for readers aged 7 to 9 years. As the author says, Charles Dickens first published The Old Curiosity Shop as a weekly publication until all episodes were complete. Reid hopes to do the same thing, hoping that the finished novel manuscript will be taken by a publisher. As he progresses towards publication, he also hopes for readers to provide him with feedback.

The book starts with a double page spread of the five characters who appear in Episode #1; they are the hero, Mackenzie Tanaya, her Nanny and Poppy, Chess the family dog and best friend Annie who lives over the road. In the first chapter ‘Every Story has a Beginning’ we read that before this story begins, Lilith, the Dungbeetle Queen, is the Destroyer of Worlds. She has almost destroyed the world of Faerie. ‘Only the power of the Silver Tree saved them in those days, by locking the doors, and forging a golden key.’ Now, however, Faeries is once again in grave danger…

After the prologue, the story shifts to Fairy Meadow school which is where the reader meets school girl and protagonist Mackenzie and her BFF Annie, both aged ten. At home, where her grandparents live while Mum and Dad are at work, Mackenzie decides to explore her back garden with Chess. While there, she is knocked into shrubs when a chook flies at her. This is no ordinary part of the garden: it has a magic path. From it, she slides downwards. And this is where the first book in the series ends.

Reid has spent all this episode introducing the characters and setting of the story so there is very little action until right at the end. Now that Mackenzie is in an alien place, one assumes that the next book will be action-packed. Episode #2 is titled Cold, Wet, Muddy and Miserable. This book and the third are already published and can be obtained from

The illustrations in the book are all paintings in thick, mostly primary colours. The picture of the chook attacking Mackenzie towards the end of the book is particularly effective.

Thursday, 15 March 2018


Missing by Sue Whiting (Walker Books Australia) PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 781760650032

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

‘In the dead of the night we run away.’ From the very beginning of new middle grade mystery Missing by Sue Whiting, we’re drawn into 12-year-old Mackenzie’s plight. Her bat biologist mother is missing – last seen on a field trip in Panama. And now, Mackenzie and her father are boarding a plane to try and find her.

The clever structure of this story sees each chapter veering between ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ as Mackenzie puts together the pieces of what may have happened. Mackenzie’s inner journey is one of denial and determination as she clings to the idea that her mother might still may be alive.

The writing is tight and compelling, with a strong and relatable voice in Mackenzie. The real places in the story, from the southern Sydney suburbs to the streets of Panama, are vividly brought to life. As you hurtle towards the end of the story (and yes, this is a book you’ll want to devour in one go), the tension and emotions intensify until the stunning final scene.

Based on the startling statistic that nearly 38,000 people are reported missing each year in Australia, Missing is a heartbreaking yet hope-filled exploration of the ones left behind.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure

How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure by Kaye Newton (Linland Press, January 2018) RRP $12.36 for paperback, $7.99 for eBook. ISBN - 978-0692986370

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This guide includes lists of books that hook children on reading, advice on managing book time vs screen time, and tips on how to make the required reading for school more enjoyable. It is targeted at parents, grandparents, librarians, teachers, and anyone who wants to promote reading to children. The reader’s motivation for writing the book began when her own children were eleven and fourteen: neither of them read books for pleasure although they had been avid readers when younger. Both, along with their friends, preferred to spend their free time playing Xbox Live, texting and skimming social-media sites.

Of course, the answer is obvious: give them books rather than electronic gadgets and insist on reading. However, in today’s world that’s not how it works. Thus it was that Newton, an American mom, set out to lead her screen-loving children back to reading for pleasure.

Her book is divided into two parts: Part One is understanding reading motivations and challenges while Part Two is titled ‘Carrying out a reading challenge.’ Newton explores subjects such as understanding the types of readers and promoting reading, introducing reading for pleasure and finding the right book that will hook a teenager. She examines reading rewards and whether they work, making reader ‘the most interesting activity in the room’ and more. Early in the piece she states that reading experience changes for teens when they are required to meet testing standards and to read informational texts and textbooks. To substantiate these claims, she quotes figures that show that 53% of nine-year-olds versus 17% of 17-year-olds are daily readers.

To hook readers, Newton, following the Kids and Family Reading Report that ‘nearly three-quarters of both books and girls say they would read more if they could find more books they like’. Thus, she says, ‘finding the right book is key to getting an adolescent hooked on reading.’ Probably the most important chapter in her book is devoted to listing books for interests and age groups. For instance, for teens wanting to read and escape and experience exciting worlds, she would recommend books such as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Maximum Ride, or Harry Potter. There are many books listed with brief synopses given of each book.

Doubtless Newton managed to finally get her teens hooked on to reading using her various methods. For any parent (or teacher) keen to increase reading activity, this book has many ideas which they might like to implement.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Quark’s Academy

Quark’s Academy by Catherine Pelosi (Lothian)

PB RRP $15.99

IBSN 9780734417800

Reviewed by Kate Simpson

“No parents, pets or soft toys allowed.” Quark’s Academy is the story of three young science whizz kids, Augustine, Celeste and Oscar, who are invited to spend a week at the prestigious Quark’s Academy to compete in the Best Invention Competition and win a prize of unspecified riches. But as the week progresses, it becomes clear that the academy is not what it seems and more is at stake than the offered prize money. It’s a sparkling and delightful debut from Catherine Pelosi, bursting with imagination and adventure.

Quark’s Academy is to science and invention what Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory is to candy-making. It’s packed full of fun, futuristic and sometimes downright outlandish inventions like jet packs, weather makers and an invention to combine the DNA of different animal species: fancy a lion mixed with an antelope? An anaconda crossed with an elephant? Anything is possible at Quark’s Academy.

With strong male and female protagonists, this book will appeal to both boys and girls aged 8 and up with a taste for fun and adventure. And if they weren’t science fans before they read the book, they will be afterwards.