Thursday, 31 May 2018

When I’m Shining with Joy by Wendy Mason and Lisa Maravelis, illustrated by Kayleen West (Kids Light Up) PB   RRP $12.90 ISBN 978-0-6482065-0-7

Reviewed by Stacey Gladman

When I’m Shining with Joy is a young children’s book designed essentially to put a face to joy. The authors describe joy as a ‘stable emotion that is a deeper sense of contentment than happiness. Joy allows one’s true self to shine through’ and work through how joy feels like, and how you look with joy in your heart.

On the flip side, it also describes what it feels not to have joy and how it can impact on your life - for example, “when I feel grumpy or sad/ then I just cannot see/ the light has turned off/ and joy fades from me”.

When I’m Shining with Joy is all about teaching children to find the inner joy in themselves. It uses the descriptor of a switch within oneself and using it to turn on the lights to find joy again if life gets you down. 

The story is easy to relate to and a cute way to teach children about inner resilience. The imagery is also sweet and eye-catching; I think the use of bears was a nice touch to tell the story. This is fantastic learning tool for young children, and adults alike who may need a reminder to shine bright.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

When I’m Shining with Peace by Wendy Mason and Lisa Maravelis, illustrated by Kayleen West (Kids Light Up) PB   RRP $12.99   ISBN 780648206514

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Both Australian authors are founders of the Kids Light Up© project, a forum for educational information, which teaches resilience as its foundation. Their picture book series, When I’m Shining with Light, of which this book is a part, emphasises positive values and qualities to help children (aged three plus years) to thrive. Mason is Director of early learning at an independent school in Melbourne and Maravelis is a youth worker and counsellor. Both women are passionate about empowering children to be the best they can be.

When I’m Shining with Peace features an (unnamed) cuddly, clothed girl bear who talks about the role of peace in her life and how it affects her and her relationships with others. The book starts by referring to a ‘PEACE light’ which ‘we all have’, which, when switched on, has positive effects. It’s not stated how to ‘switch on’ the PEACE light but, the story continues, ‘When I’m shining with PEACE/ I’m still and steady.’
The story is related in rhyming text and continues to show readers ways in which inner peace is rewarding, such as having clear thinking, readiness to learn, calm breathing and so on. This allows the small reader to come to an understanding of what peace is. The book also shows the negative: when the ‘PEACE light goes out’, it makes the bear ‘scream and shout’ and want her own way.

One would assume that the child’s carer (parent or teacher, for example) would explain to the child how to create inner peace as sadly the book doesn’t do this.

While the book’s main benefit is in extolling the virtues of having peace so that one can live harmoniously, one of the stanzas is problematic. It reads: ‘When I’m shining with PEACE/ I choose to obey/Whatever you say/ I’ll do right away.’ Who is the ‘you’ to whom this stanza is addressed? One would assume the ‘you’ referred to is a parent, but it could be anyone, including a stranger. Despite this misgiving, one must admire the authors for investing their time and money into a project designed to help youngsters.

The illustrations are clear and attractive with lots of white space allowing focus on the bear character. And, too, the book is typeset in OpenDyslexic font, created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia. The font includes regular, bold, italic and bold italic styles, but it can easily be read by anyone who doesn’t have dyslexia.

There will be 10 books in the series, each of them covering a range of skills, qualities and values important for all children (and adults). The first four books dealing with Joy, Peace, Love and Kindness, were released in March 2018. All books are available through Denis Jones  and There are teachers notes and parents’ tips and notes available through the kidslightup site.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Yay! It’s Library Day by Aleesah Darlison (text), Australian Children (illus.), (Wombat Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN: 9781925563238

Reviewed by Julie Murphy for CBCA Reading Time

Yay! It’s a children’s book about the joy of libraries. Aleesah Darlison’s fun rhyming poem follows a brother and sister’s day at the library. They spend the WHOLE day there and, what’s more, they do it every week with their dad. What lucky children!

The poem is essentially a loving dedication to the diversity of books and stories to be found in a library. Whatever you’re into – fun, adventure, romance, discovery and more – reading a book can take you there. In this story, as the children read all sorts of books, they are transported to fantasy worlds and amazing real-world places. Turn the page and you are under the sea. Turn again, and you’re on top of a volcano. There are also lots of interesting characters to meet, including prima ballerinas and tuxedo-clad elephants.

What really sets this picture book apart, however, are the illustrations. Each is by a different Australian child. This was the result of a call-out by the Wombat Books team in the form of an illustration challenge. This competition invited all young artists to illustrate a page of their choice from Darlison’s text, which was accessible via the Wombat Books website. What a great initiative!

Rather than the wide range of illustration styles making the book appear disjointed, it succeeds in portraying and highlighting the diversity of the books described in the text.

Yay! It’s Library Day is a great book for encouraging a love of language, art, books, stories and libraries in young readers.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Spy within a Ruby

Spy within a Ruby by Stefan A. Nicholson (Envirosupport) PB RRP $18
ISBN 978-0-9804604-9-0

Reviewed by Stacey Gladman

Spy within a Ruby is the perfect book for those who love a little crime and mystery in their life.

The story centres around the Mayfair Mews hotel, where 16 year-old Eric lives with his parents who run the hotel. Eric and his childhood sweetheart Ruby - who unfortunately for him, hates him, as she hates life in general - get recruited by MI6 operative James Batholomew Watt, AKA Roger Davis, to perform a secret mission.

Living within the Mayfair Mews Hotel, Eric is a prime candidate to gain access to hotel guests - specifically two - who happen to be Russian and Chinese spies who are negotiating to buy classified defence from the Cigar Club.

He decides to enlist Eric to help keep an eye on the guests after deciding any of his fellow operatives would be uncovered in their espionage attempts. The agreement starts of well, with Davis questioning his decision to ask two teenagers for help in a situation of national intelligence. “All I am asking is that you note the time of day these people come and go…but only if you happen to notice…note no deliberate spying on them…and maybe if you can tell me who picked them up…or a car registration. Absolutely no more than that! Do I make myself clear?”

Unfortunately, the warning could have been too late for Ruby, who is shortly after abducted as a bargaining chip of sorts against Davis. Surprisingly, it’s the very people that the pair are spying on in the first place who attempt to come to Ruby’s rescue, but the questions is, will they make it in time to save Ruby?

From exploding boats, to suspense and international secrets, Spy within a Ruby has it all. I would recommend for those who like to think about their stories and try and predict the plot.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Cinnamon Stevens Ghost Light

Cinnamon Stevens Ghost Light by Pauline Hosking illustrated by Kat Chadwick
(Lilly Pilly Publishing) PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-0-646-98111-6

Reviewed by Stacey Gladman

Cinnamon Stevens Ghost Light is the second book by Pauline Hosking introducing young detective Cinnamon and her two best friends Cossy and Meera.

The three young girls attend school together in Mount Dandenong. The story follows a number of directions which all end in a ghostly connection with a once great actress Adelaide Glendenning from Walhalla.

Cossy, a young actress gains a role in a performance of Macbeth which begins the story and the links with Adelaide, when she thinks she sees the ghostly apparition of Adelaide in the theatre.

A change of school excursion to the home and resting place of Adelaide sees Cinnamon’s thirst for figuring out crime surface when classmate Snowy is attacked while on a nighttime - walk through the cemetery.

A second mystery emerges as ghosts continue to be seen at the theatre where Cossy’s play will be performed and then things take a turn for the more dramatic when damage to sets and costumes. The girls attempt to get to the bottom of the situation, but it appears both mysteries could be linked.

Will Cinnamon find out who attacked Snowy, or will the mystery go unsolved? Will Cossy get her big break on the stage? They were questions which kept me reading, I guess you will have to read the book to find out for yourself.

I loved the themes of friendship and determination to find the truth from the three protagonists that really shone through in this story. Faced with a mystery, they showed strength and courage - traits to be admired by young readers.

There were also more serious themes to the book which I felt were introduced and dealt with quite well - including racism against Meera who is half Indian descent and bullying. The girls stuck together as friends and found a way to help Meera overcome the difficulties she faced at school.

The writing style through out is relatable to the intended reader age of nine and above and was an easy read that draws in the reader. The pictures, which were drawn in a  style which made you feel like you were reading a young girls diary really helped add to the scene and I think would add to the appeal for the intended age group as well.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The Adventures of Jellybean by Bill Condon and Dianne Bates (UQP)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978070226000
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Adventures of Jellybean is a junior fiction novel about two great friends, Rory and Trang, united in a quest for the ultimate sounding pet – a goat.

All things goat features quite heavily throughout. Jellybean’s story effortlessly weaves in interesting facts about goats, potentially fuelling young readers desires for a pet goat of their own! After much preparation and anticipation from the boys, Jellybean arrives, but she causes a little more trouble than they imagined. However, with the comfort of Bitsa the dog and a whole lot of love, Jellybean’s story is a heartwarming one.

In addition, the friendship between Rory and Trang is truly endearing. Contrasts between their families and backgrounds (sausages on the barbeque at Rory’s versus Trang’s grandma’s pho) offers a wonderful depiction of multicultural Australia and the joy of embracing other’s differences. There are a several ups and downs within the friendship; however it’s strong enough to overcome any perceived slights – a realistic depiction of friendship dynamics for the primary school set. The inclusion of four-year-old Luna, Rory’s little sister, adds a lovable young female character to the cast, and as in real life, the young characters interact not only with their peers, but family members and neighbours of all ages.

This would make a wonderful book for newly emerged readers to tackle; those just moving beyond shorter chapter books, perhaps aged six to eight. The story has a classic, innocent type feel likely to not date the book in a few years’ time.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Cloud Conductor

Cloud Conductor by Kellie Byrnes, illustrated by Ann-Marie Finn (Wombat Books) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN: 978-1925563344

Reviewed by Lucinda Gifford

Suitable for children aged 4 to 7 years, this picture book by debut author Kellie Byrnes uses poetic language, and soft, collaged illustrations to sing the joys of daydreaming. Cloud Conductor reminds us that imagination can take us anywhere, especially if our bodies need to rest.

Frankie is an active, lively girl who loves to be outside and, in quieter moments, to sit and contemplate the clouds. When a long illness restricts her to her room, watching the moving, changing skies out her window allows Frankie's imagination to wander, gives her hope, and shows her a way to connect with others.

This sensitive story will inspire young imaginations, and could be a useful tool for teaching children the beauty of being in the moment, and taking time to observe nature.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Sam’s Surfboard Showdown

Sam’s Surfboard Showdown by Allayne L. Webster (text), Amanda S. Clarke (illus.), Scholastic Australia PP RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781742991894

Reviewed by Heather Gallagher

This easy-to-read chapter book focuses on a sporting competition; a relatable topic for middle primary students. Protagonist Sam Sumner is the best at most things at Robe Primary School – he’s the best cricketer, the best Nippers kid, the best mathematician and (according to his own assessment) one of the best-looking boys. But when new kid Finn Hester comes to town, Sam finds himself challenged on all these fronts. When a Nippers competition is announced with the winner receiving a surfboard signed by the legendary Mick Fanning, Sam becomes obsessed with beating Finn and winning.

The book is co-written by step-sisters Webster and Clarke and is part of Scholastic’s program of diversity in literature, featuring Indigenous creators and characters in contemporary Australian stories. Clarke, an Aboriginal artist, has created an attractive beach-themed dot painting cover complemented by decorative chapter headings and dinkuses throughout the book.

Aboriginal culture is backgrounded in the story with Sam’s Dad employed by the local council, working to protect the land and honour the original landowners, the Boandik people. I particularly liked all the aunts and uncles who appeared to cheer Sam on in the big race. The sub-plot about Sam and Finn’s mothers indulging in a little competitive baking was a lot of fun too – would’ve liked to have been one of the kid tasters!

I was curious to see how this tale would resolve given Sam’s desperation to win takes up most of the story. Without giving away the plot, the ending is both surprising and satisfying. Having had sporty children in the target age group, I know this idea of winning and losing in competitive sport can be a huge issue. (It’s not easy to forget the heartbreak that followed the third consecutive grand final loss for my daughters under 11s basketball team!) It’s great to see a story that shows you can grow and change and that winning isn’t everything.

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