Thursday, 10 August 2017

Reena’s Rainbow, written by Dee White, illustrated by Tracie Greenwood (EK Books) HB RRP $19.99   ISBN 978-1-925335-49-1
Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

This is a heart-warming story of friendship, diversity and acceptance.

When a deaf girl and a homeless dog form a unique bond at the local park, magic is sure to follow.

Reena’s ears might not work like the other children’s ears do, but her eyes see everything at the playground where she joins in with a game of hide and seek. Her eagle-eye vision picks out every hiding place when she is ‘he,’ but alas, when she herself is hiding her eyes cannot see that the game is over – nor can she hear the calls of the other children. Reena is left alone at the park because she cannot hear that the game has ended.

We feel Reena’s sadness and sense of bewilderment about her own difference when she speaks in sign language to her mother:

‘Why am I different? Reena asked.
       ‘Her mother’s fingers danced back. ‘We are like the colours of the rainbow. We are all different. But when we stand together we are one.’

The idea of us each being a unique part of a larger whole is a simple but effective one that plays out through the story.  By the end of the book Reena, the homeless dog and the other children at the park do all ‘come together’ as one.

Friendly, colourful and joy-filled illustrations work beautifully to bring this story to life.

Reena’s Rainbow, with its clear and simple message, reminds us that people’s differences can certainly be something to celebrate.


Monday, 31 July 2017

See you when I see you

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

Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, 30 July 2017

To The Moon and Back

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

Reviewed by Kate Simpson

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

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


Saturday, 29 July 2017

To the Moon and Back

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Fifth Planet

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

Reviewed by Lucinda Gifford

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

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

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A Cardboard Palace

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

Reviewed by Elizabeth Vercoe

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 24 July 2017

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

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

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

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

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


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

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