Reviews

We review some of our favourite books ..

Reviews

The Ones That Disappeared by Zana Fraillon

Esra, Miran and Isa are trafficked children. Forced into refugee camps by war and danger, they are tricked into thinking they are on a journey to freedom and safety, only to find themselves slaves to drug runners. They tend plants in the airless basement of a house they are not allowed to leave, supposedly working off their debt but moving ever further away from freedom. Beaten and starved, they tell stories of home, yearning for the day when they will return. When the opportunity finally comes, the children decide to make a run for it, knowing that the consequences will be dire if they are caught. When Miran is injured and caught by police, Esra and Isa take refuge in a riverside cave, determined to find Miran and rescue him. Here they meet Skeet, a local boy with difficulties of his own. Together they form a plan to travel the underground sewers to find Miran and, ultimately, freedom.

The Bone Sparrow as a stand out novel of last year, being awarded many accolades around the world, so it was with great excitement that I picked up The Ones that Disappeared. Human trafficking is a difficult topic, especially in a book for children, but Fraillon has made it accessible and believable. However, I unfortunately found this book difficult to engage with. It was hard to place the setting – were the children Syrian? Have they been trafficked to Europe or Australia? – and the magical realism (the children build a man out of mud, who comes alive to lead them on their quest) felt out of place and unnecessary. That said, her writing is still lovely to read and it is certainly a topic that is worthy of introducing to children and will generate some interesting discussions. Ultimately, it is a story of hope and determination, themes that are always worth reading. Suitable for ages 11+.

by Erin

 

Doodle Cat is BoredDOODLE CAT IS BORED by Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriott

Dreading the school holidays and the ‘I’m bored’s? Never fear, we’ve got a book to cure that dread!

There are so many clever and interesting books to read and enjoy, but I truly think kids love the simple books most of all. Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriot, in their latest book collaboration, have once again nailed a meaningful message through the technique of simplicity.

Anyone who knows children (and you’ve all been one!) knows that they can toggle between a range of emotions throughout the day and boredom is an emotion that gets a really good run!

Readers fell in love with Doodle Cat’s innocence and enthusiasm for life in his first book, I am Doodle Cat. I can guarantee that Doodle Cat is just as lovable in his bored state of emotion.

 ‘EXCUSE ME EVERYONE I AM BORED!

HALLO?

Does anyone even care?

Anyone?’

Doodle Cat leaves us with a question worth pondering: is it a parent’s (or anyone else’s) responsibility to ensure children are constantly entertained, or is something lost on children by taking that away their autonomy?

Eventually Doodle Cat spies a crayon that leads to all sorts of wonderful and inquisitive experiences. It may initially present as a simple, silly book that children will enjoy, but readers see through Doodle Cat’s experience that enduring boredom gives us the opportunity to open our eyes and observe things that might normally go unnoticed, to ponder questions, to experiment, to get creative and find new hobbies and interests to love!

Doodle Cat is Bored is a winner, from the clever endpapers to its hidden humour throughout the pages. It’s perfect for children aged 2-8.

Here are 5 things the book has inspired me to try next time I feel bored:

1. Read Doodle Cat is Bored with the kids
2. Make a list of 100 things you can do with a crayon
3. Put crayons on our dining table and let them spark a creative idea
4. Make letters of the alphabet using your body
5. Find out about pangolins

Review by Jackie

Wonder by RJ PalacioWonder (Movie Tie-In) by RJ Palacio

I have been a huge fan of the book Wonder since I first read it a couple of years ago and could not be more excited about the film, which is due for release in Australia on 30 November (Watch the trailer).

Wonder is one of the most powerful stories a young person will read. It is a story of kindness, tolerance, friendship and identity. It’s a story that encourages us all to question what is ‘normal’ and challenge our perceptions of people based on physical appearance.

August (Auggie) has a facial abnormality and has had twenty-seven different operations to enable him to function relatively normally. But he is severely disfigured so when it comes time for him to attend a mainstream school, life becomes challenging for both him and his family. His perceptions of human-kindness are challenged and it is difficult to believe that he can ever live a ‘mainstream’ life without the distress of bullying and intolerance.

Auggie is made of pretty tough stuff and although it is often harrowing to take this journey with him, it is heartwarming to see him develop friendships and help shape more positive attitudes within his school community.

The tagline for this book and movie is ‘You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out’. It is brilliant and is the perfect writing prompt because it remains a relevant and powerful comment, even without reference to the book. In Auggie’s case, this tagline completely sums up who he is – he stands out because of his resilience, good humour and warmth.

What I love most about this book – and perhaps it’s because it is so topical right now - is that it is a book about ‘choosing kindness’.

For families and classrooms, there is much to discuss and attitudes to challenge. But, start by simply reading this book for the inspiring and heartfelt story that it is. You’ll be in tears but I guarantee they’ll be good tears and they’ll be worth it.

WONDER (FILM TIE-IN) IS DUE FOR RELEASE IN AUSTRALIA IN OCTOBER. PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY NOW

TEACHERS' NOTES ARE ALSO AVAILABLE HERE

 

Review by Kristin

Mr Romanov's GardenMr Romanov’s Garden by Robert Newton

Thirteen-year-old Lexi lives in a housing commission flat in Melbourne. Her beloved father died a year ago in a car accident, while her drug addict mother is often either absent or too high to care what Lexi gets up to. After witnessing the aftermath of a shocking and tragic event, Lexi seeks solace on the roof of the commission building. There she meets, for the first time, an old man people call “The Creeper”. Her sense of compassion overcomes her fear and she finds herself making an unlikely friend in the old man, Mr Romanov. Mr Romanov and Lexi both have pasts filled with tragedy but together, along with Lexi’s best friend Davey, they will go on an adventure to help Lexi fulfil her dream of seeing the Gold Coast.

Robert Newton is a lovely writer whose stories are always filled with heart. Despite her troubled situation, Lexi is a character with courage and kindness, a girl who looks past stereotype and rumour to see Mr Romanov as a person, rather than a scary old man. It is Lexi’s relationship with her mother that I wanted more of, I wanted to explore how the child of a drug addicted mother survives. Lexi is in the difficult position of having a mother she loves and wants to protect, but also knowing that she herself is entitled to have a parent who is capable and present. That said, the story of Lexi and her unlikely travel companions is one of courage, friendship, disappointment and hope. Perhaps Lexi’s story is not yet finished, I would certainly like to read more about her. Recommended for readers aged 10+

Review by Erin

 

Boy and the SpyThe Boy and the Spy by Felice Arena

Antonio is a rota, an orphan, always on the outer and never quite accepted despite having been adopted by Mamma Nina. Life has never been easy but since the war began times have been even tougher. German soldiers roam the streets of the town and rations mean there is never enough food. While running from German soldiers, Antonio seeks refuge in a seaside cave. There he meets Chris, an American spy whose plane has crashed. Despite his initial misgivings, Antonio decides to trust the US solider and agrees to help him. Thus, begins an adventure full of danger, new friendships, gangsters and secret organisations. The war will come terrifyingly close and Antonio’s life will change forever.

This is a nice adventure/war story for upper primary/lower secondary readers. With enough danger and intrigue to keep readers interested, there is also a lot of heart that gives the book depth. Throughout the book is the running theme that family comes in all shapes and sizes and is not necessarily determined by blood. Antonio is fiercely loyal to his adopted mother, protecting and looking after her. He is also a loyal friend who is willing to risk his own safety for others. Set in Nazi occupied Sicily, the historical aspect is lightly touched on but enough to pique the interest of the reader – it is not often that we are presented with an Italian view of WWII. This would also make a great introduction to historical fiction for younger readers. Recommended.

Review by Erin

 

Say Yes

Say Yes: A Story of Friendship, Fairness and a Vote for Hope by Jennifer Castles and Paul Seden

The importance of the 1967 Referendum is explored in Jennifer Castles’ Say Yes: A Story of Friendship, Fairness and a Vote for Hope, illustrated by Paul Seden.  Using minimal language, Jennifer Castles conveys the perspective of a little girl as she anticipates growing up with her best friend, only to realise the limitations her friend faces due to her Indigenous heritage.

“We’re going to be the smartest new kids at school.  We’re going to sit next to each other every day… But the teacher says NO… It’s the law.”

The innocence and powerlessness of a child is the perfect perspective from which to demonstrate the blatantly unjust circumstances that called for the referendum.  The repetition of, “NO”, and the cold, “It’s the law”, sum up the Indigenous Australian people's representation in the Constitution.

Seden’s simple, childlike illustrations echo Castles’ sparse text, while layering effectively with actual historical photographs and documents from the time.  Towards the end, these elements combine to create a sense of the hope and celebration that came with the outcome of the referendum - it’s the joy in the faces of people in the photographs, the words “A good beginning. Yes it is” and two little girls happily sharing ice-cream cones.

The language ofSay Yes makes the storysuitable for children to read with their parents, with scope for many questions about fairness and equality.  The subject matter of the story provides a fantastic basis for classroom discussion, linking to the curriculum at both primary and secondary levels, and is an excellent text to introduce for the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum.

Highly recommended by The Kids’ Bookshop for National Reconciliation Week

 

I'm Australian TooI’M AUSTRALIAN TOO by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh

This is an incredibly meaningful and thoughtful collaboration by two Australians with unique backgrounds and experiences:  Mem Fox who was born in Melbourne but has lived in Southern Rhodesia, Zimbabwe and England before settling in Adelaide, and Ronojoy Ghosh who lives in Sydney but has also lived in India, Indonesia, New Zealand and Singapore. This intentional but creative partnership sends and incredible message to readers and aligns perfectly with the book’s message.

Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh have, almost chronologically, presented the story of Australia and its multicultural fabric, featuring the the effortless rhyme and recurring phrases we’ve come to recognise in Mem’s work.

Mem’s trademark style and Ronojoy’s positive and hopeful illustrations make this a suitable book to read with ease to preschoolers;  in which rich and colourful double-page spreads represent families of different origins and traditions, including Indigenous Australia, Ireland, Italy, Greece, England, Lebanon, Vietnam, China, Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria.

‘What journeys we have travelled, from countries near and far!

Together now, we live in peace, beneath the Southern Star.’

The text and illustrations are not frightening or over-informative, but they are loaded with meaning, making it a wonderful book to use as a springboard for deep discussions with all primary-aged children. The history of migration to Australia is covered succinctly within the 32-page picture book; Circumstances such as war, famine and terrible plights are expressed using single words; Asylum Seekers and Refugees are recognized as worthy of a life in Australia; and questions of acceptance and humanity are asked of our younger generations.

‘Australia Fair is ours to share, where broken hearts can mend.’

Young readers can also explore the physical and human geography of Australia as the text refers to capital cities as places of settlement, and flags, star constellations and iconic landmarks feature in the illustrations.  

Ronojoy has bound the story and book together with clever and evocative endpapers. These, I feel, send the book’s strongest message: that every Australian has something to contribute to our nation and society. Each individual child on the opening endpaper matches an adult on the closing endpaper who is characterized by an occupation- the symbolism of this representing opportunity and success.

I'm Australian Too Endpapers

The hope, I’m sure, in the creation of this book is that children gain greater compassion for individuals and their journeys to Australia, and can acknowledge that every Australian, regardless of background, belongs and has something wonderful to contribute to society.

Highly recommended for home and classroom reading.

Review by Jackie

Everything, Everything by Nicola YoonEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

‘Maddy is allergic to the world. She hasn’t left her house in seventeen years.

Olly is the boy next door. He’s determined to find a way to reach her’

Despite Maddy’s inability to step out into the world, she is a mature and well-rounded young adult who seems to have accepted the limitations of being ‘allergic to the world’. She is relatively content with her life and the relationships she has with her nurse and her mother and her digital connection with the outside world.  It is, as you’d imagine, very insular but she knows no other life.

There is a sadness in the house with the knowledge that her father and younger brother were killed in a car accident when she was very young but her mother, who is a doctor, has focussed primarily on Maddy’s well-being and we sense this has given her some purpose and a reason to move on.

The simplicity of Maddy’s world is rocked when Olly and his family move in next door and Maddy becomes friends from afar with him. So begins her first romantic relationship– albeit via instant message and ‘mime’ through the windows.  Life suddenly becomes extraordinarily complicated and the outside world, more attractive than it has ever been before.

This is a love story; a love story complicated by illness, grief, lies and broken families. It asks questions not just of our main character but of all of us and what sustains us in life -   trust, love, loyalty and survival.

I was hooked on this story from the get go and readers will connect with both Maddy and Olly in so many ways - first love, broken relationships, and the importance of bucket lists. It is romantic and full of hope.

Highly recommended for readers aged 14+

THE FILM ADAPTATION OF EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING WILL HIT BIG SCREENS IN AUSTRALIA ON MAY 18, 2017. Watch the trailer. 

 

Lion: A Long Way Home by Saroo BrierleyLion: A Long Way Home- Young Reader's Edition by Saroo Brierley

Originally published as A Long Way Home is the chronicle of events, nothing short of miraculous, that saw a man cross the globe to reunite with the family he lost decades earlier.

Growing up in a life of poverty in India, Saroo Brierley became separated from his brother at a regional train station when he was just four or five years old.  He found himself lost on a train that would take him miles away to Kolkata. Through instinct he survived weeks on the street there before being taken in by an orphanage who promptly found him a new family and home in Tasmania.

Saroo loved his new family and felt grateful for his life in Australia but he always wondered about his origins and the visions he'd regularly have of another place.  He spent hours reliving visual memories, staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall, poring over Google Earth aerial images, seeking help through social media networks until, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for and he returned to India to reconnect with his family and seek closure on events and circumstances that haunted him for many years. With the help of technology, a task that otherwise seemed futile eventually became possible.

The language has been pared back in this Young Reader’s Edition, and the emotion replaced with a matter-of-fact voice to create a shorter and simpler memoir for young readers.

The book provides an insight into living conditions and social hierarchy in India. It also provides an opportunity for ethical and philosophical debate on a range of topics including international adoption and the effects on individuals, families and cultures, the strength of families and the influence of technology.

This Young Readers’ Edition has been published to tie in with the release of Lion, the major motion picture starring Dev Patel, David Wenham and Nicole Kidman, also providing teachers the opportunity to conduct a comparative study between the memoir and film adaptation.

 

 

School's First Day of SchoolSchool's First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson

In all honestly, I was rather confused by the title of this book at first. On the contrary though, upon reading the story, I realised just how clever this book is for first time school starters.

Often our fears and anxieties are caused by our perception of events.

This book, written by Adam Rex, encourages children to view the experience of starting school from another perspective entirely. The result is a humorous and heart-warming story.

At first, the school is excited to be built. He likes his name and his friend, the janitor, but he starts to feel anxious when he is told children will soon be joining him.

He doesn’t like the way the children open all the doors, drink water from his taps, fill him with garbage or climb all over his playground equipment. He is also heartbroken to hear that some of the children don’t like him and he works hard to get to know them.

Eventually school realises how lucky he is to be a school, with all the sweet children to get to know and all the wonderful things to learn. 

Almost child-like and retro in style, the bold illustrations are also a strength for the book.

Highly recommended and ON SALE while stock lasts!

Review by Jackie

The Song from Somewhere ElseThe Song from Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold and illustrated by Levi Pinfold

The Song from Somewhere Else is another tale from the wonderfully imaginative mind of A.F. Harrold, resulting in a story that is captivating and at times eerie and suspenseful. It’s an apt book for children 8-12 who enjoy speculative fiction.

In the same vein as The Imaginary, The Song from Somewhere Else explores other worlds and other worldly beings, provoking a philosophical discourse for readers regarding the possibility that beings exist beyond the narrow minds of humans. On a more relatable level, the impacts of bullying and characteristics of friendship and happiness are explored through the story and its characters.

Bullied on a regular basis by a mob of unkind school boys, Frank reluctantly befriends Nick: an outcast from school who rescues her from her bullies, and provides friendship and contentment she hasn’t experienced for some time.

Worrying what her peers might think, Frank initially has reservations about her impending friendship with Nick. However, the events of the story take place swiftly over the course of a week, and secrets are quickly revealed between the two new friends. Frank’s eyes are open to other worlds and other worldly creatures, both mesmerising and sinister, when she finds out that Nick was born in another place.  Frank is compelled to evaluate what is important and make decisions that her stomach doesn’t always agree with.

The take-away message of the story is that true friendships can be found in unlikely places and people, and are formed through conviction, loyalty, and by having open and accepting minds and hearts.

Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane JollyTea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen

We've come to love Jane Jolly's historical and rarely-told tales at The Kids' Bookshop. Her research is thorough, her descriptive style is engaging and her chosen themes are suitable for rich and enlightening discussions.

Tea and Sugar Christmas tells a true Christmas story, one that is historically Australian and represents many Aboriginal and migrant workers of the outback.

Tea and Sugar Christmas is a story based on the Trans-Australian Railway train that would travel across the Nullarbor Plain. Its carriages provided groceries, meat, household provisions, medical staff and bank services to workers who lived in isolated settlements. Just once a week settlers could access the train, filling their wheelbarrows with stock to last them the week.

Once a year, the train also carried a very special visitor. One of the locomotive inspectors would dress as Father Christmas, bringing joy and gifts for each of the children who often dressed in their best clothes to meet him.

This story is Kathleen’s. Her anticipation, excitement, joy and gratefulness jump out from the words and illustrations. As readers we are right there with her as she waits for the train in the searing heat and when she first glimpses Father Christmas when the carriage door slides open.  We’re also reminded just how wondrous Christmas is for children, especially children who want for very little.

Black and white pages fold out to reveal exquisite large-scale colour illustrations by renowned illustrator, Robert Ingpen. The book features photos and images taken during the Sugar and Tea Train era. It truly provides a wonderful insight into an interesting aspect of Australian history, and has clear links with the Learning Area of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures Cross-Curriculum Priority outlined in the Australian Curriculum.

Although based on true events, Tea and Sugar Christmas is a sincerely magical story for adults and children alike. 

Highly recommended.

Black Sunday by Evan McHughMy Australian Story: Black Sunday by Evan McHugh

Black Sunday is the latest addition to the My Australian Story series.  Written as a series of diary entries dating between June 1937 and June 1938, Evan McHugh has written a story about the history of Australia’s most iconic surf lifesaving club. The plot builds to the historical recount and aftermath of one of Australia’s largest beach rescues, known as Black Sunday; in which 5 people died and 70- 100 lifesavers worked to rescue between 200-300 swimmers from freak waves that hit Bondi on Sunday 6 February 1938.

Black Sunday is the diary account of David McCutcheon, otherwise known as Nipper, who is a young Bondi local. The story sets the scene of Bondi during the later years of The Depression and reflects the values and society of Australian prior to WWII- a time when women weren’t permitted to be lifesavers, when entertainment took the form of shark-fishing or walking the promenade with your family during the summer evenings and when kids regularly left school early to join the workforce. The happenings in Europe were but mere and confused whispers amongst everyday Australians.

Nipper shares vivid details about his life: his attitude to school, his love of Bondi and Australia, his interests, dreams and daily challenges. Readers become onlookers of his strong relationships with his Grandpa Jack and local friends as well as his strained relationship with his teacher, Mrs Kearsley. They are privy to his thoughts and struggles as he becomes aware of his identity, inspirations, dreams and his place at school and in the world. The plot provides a wonderful comparative study into the lifestyle and challenges faced by young Australians over time.

Written from the perspective of a 12 year old boy, the vocabulary is simple. This, together with the book’s easy-to-read diary format, makes it a good text choice for reluctant readers. But lacking in rich content it is not. It’s an accessible read for all children aged 10-16 based on historical events and information (with more specific facts found on the final pages of the book) that explores domestic and global issues of beach safety, school-leaving age, heroism, gender equality, war, refugees and Aboriginal rights.

Issues presented in the story align with content prescribed in the History and Geography Learning Ares of the Australian Curriculum. The story allows readers to examine viewpoints on actions, events, issues, government policies, societal beliefs and natural phenomena in the past and the present.

Highly recommended by The Kids' Bookshop. 

Story PathStory Path by Madalena Matosa

Story Path offers pre and early readers the chance to experience a ‘choose your own adventure’ book. It encourages interactivity from the reader; brilliant for simply enjoyment but also a feature that makes the book an effective learning resource for use in homes and schools.

Heavily illustrated in bright and bold colours, young readers use their finger to follow a path past a series of quirky and fun images that collectively create a story. From princesses to hot air balloons, space to tropical islands, there is something to engage every child and interest.

Its playful, engaging and tactile nature will quickly have toddlers and pre-schoolers hooked. Young readers will love controlling the story and, with billions of story combinations available, they’ll no doubt want to read it over and over again (something we love here at The Kids’ Bookshop).

Story Path can also be extended to inspire the creative writing of primary aged children, especially those who are reluctant to write. The book scaffolds the structure of a narrative. Regardless of the path chosen, each story involves a setting, a set of characters, a range of events, a change in place and time, a complication and a resolution. On each page is also a series of questions that prompt children to elaborate and add detail to the story that is unfolding.

Whether children take it seriously or create wacky stories where characters and genres collide, handing the steering wheel to children is a powerful way to help them connect to stories.

Highly recommended.

By Jackie

Yong: The Journey of an Unworthy Son by Janeen Brian

Set in the 1850s, Yong is a young boy living in poverty in rural China. After the death of his mother, Yong’s father announces that they will be travelling to the distant country of Australia to try their luck on the goldfields. Fortunes have been made and this could be their chance to provide for their family. Yong does not want to leave, knowing that his elderly grandmother will need his help to raise his younger brothers and sister, but being the first-born son means responsibility and he must obey his father. The story follows Yong, his father and other men from the village as they make the long and arduous journey by sea to South Australia and then on foot to Ballarat.

This is a story that depicts one of the most important times in Australian history, and one of the biggest migrant groups within that history. While very accessible, Brian does not shy away from depicting the hardships faced by Chinese immigrants at the time – the long and dangerous sea journey, racism and exploitation at the hands of white Australians. Yong struggles emotionally with his duty as a son and his thoughts that the journey is foolish and he would be better to return home. Honour is a major theme of the novel and also a large part of Chinese culture – honouring one’s father, family, elders and ancestors. It is a compelling story and a vivid depiction of the Gold Rush era that would be a welcome addition to any unit on the period. The book ends as the group arrives in Ballarat so no doubt there will be more stories of Yong to come. Recommended.

By Erin

 

 

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon

Subhi has only ever known life inside an immigration detention centre. Born in the centre after his mother and sister fled Burma, he wishes he had memories of life outside the camp and, most importantly, of his father. To compensate, Subhi has a vivid imagination that he uses to dream up stories. Life inside the camp is harsh – barely edible food, poor sanitary conditions and mean, sometimes violent, guards – but Subhi makes the best of the only home he has ever known. Jimmie is a young girl living in an all but abandoned mining town in WA. Since the death of her mother, her father has shut down, often going away to work for days at a time and leaving her in the care of her older brother. Rarely attending school, Jimmie has managed to keep secret the fact that she can barely read or write. When she finds an old journal of her mother’s, Jimmie decides to finally explore “the centre”. Sneaking her way in, Jimmie meets Subhi and asks him to begin reading the journal. Together they discover the stories of Jimmie’s family and they both find a friend who will save them in more ways than one.

This is both a confronting and uplifting story of hope and friendship. Fraillon does not shy away from the fact that she has written this book as a political statement – to bring to light the harsh and appalling treatment of refugees in an Australian detention centre. The conditions are shocking to read and will open up many questions from children reading the story. This book reminded me a little of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in that it draws a stark contrast between the lives of two children – one behind a fence, one outside. Though their lives are very different, both share a sadness that is heartbreaking to read as a parent. Subhi’s mother is obviously struggling with depression but is not receiving the help she needs. This is difficult for Subhi to watch and, having no experience of a life of freedom, he does not quite understand how dire life inside the camp actually is. Jimmie’s loss of her mother and the fact that she lives in such an isolated area has created a loneliness that Jimmie does not know how to counter. Her father is obviously struggling with his grief and is unable to parent in an appropriate way. However, it is the friendship of the two children that brings light and hope, for both characters. This is a beautifully written book that will probably raise more questions than answers for young readers. However, it will spark some important discussions and would make a fabulous class text. Highly recommended.

By Erin

The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt

"There is not one country on this planet that does not carry the bloody stain of prejudice and oppression. It's what we tribal humans do, and always will do until we wake up and look in the mirror. "* This beautifully told story is one of racism and prejudice at its core; of loss of innocence, survival and heartbreak but is in equal parts also a story of love and friendship.

Set in 1963, in the Deep South of America in a town aptly named, Dead Water, young orphan boy 'of colour', Pip is 'adopted' by Zachary, to care for his morbidly obese wife, Lillybelle.

This is Pip's story - the story of the unlikely friendship between him and Lilybelle, his friendship with academic and hypnotist Jack Morrow who lives down the road and it is the story of 'first love' between him and a voiceless Indigenous girl, Hannah. In a soul-destroying landscape populated by the horror of The Klu Klux Klan and with racial divide everywhere you look, there are glimpses of beauty amid the devastation - Jack Morrow's reflections on his beautiful home land, the happiness of first-love, the colour and vibrancy in art and the revelation of another world found in the words of a well-crafted book appear throughout. These are quirky characters and a bleak landscape in a period of history that young Australian readers will know little about but they should read it keeping in mind our own history of apartheid and treatment of Indigenous Australians as there are familiar themes indeed.

I'm pleased to say it is a happy and hopeful story in the end! Highly recommended for readers in lower to middle secondary.

*Quote from author's notes on The Hypnotist. 

 

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

As the war across Europe rages, four young people are brought together in Germany in an attempt to escape the Red Army. Joana is a young nurse from Lithuania, travelling across Germany on foot in the hope of reaching a refugee boat. Along the way she has helped the sick and injured to the best of her abilities and has joined a rag tag group of fellow refugees. Florian is on a mission. Having worked in art restoration, he is carrying a dangerous secret. Emilia is a fifteen-year-old Polish girl who was sent to live with relatives in Germany in an attempt to save her life. What awaited her was hardship and cruelty that she could never have imagined. Alfred is a young German soldier. Inflated by his own sense of self-importance, he is determined to serve the Fuhrer and reap the rewards. Their stories converge as all four board the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises freedom and safety. Tragically, the ship became one of the largest maritime disasters in history.

Sepetys writes wonderful historical fiction and this is no exception. I was first introduced to her via her debut novel Between Shades of Gray, a novel that is loosely linked to this one. Based on a true story, Sepetys intimately portrays her characters to bring to life a mammoth tragedy that most people will never have heard of. The characters are relatable and human and impossible to ignore as the tragedy unfolds. It reminds me of the quote “the death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic” as Sepetys’ characters cannot help but bring a human face to an overwhelming situation while also bringing to light a part of WWII that is often left out of the history books. Joana displays enormous courage and selflessness, Florian is resourceful and haunted, Emilia is a child forced to grow up too quickly and Alfred is selfish and ignorant – all will fight for survival, some will succeed, some will not. Septeys has a wonderful eye for detail and the human touches that make a story come to life, this is a beautiful and shocking book to read. While inevitably sad, it is also a story of hope and resilience and the power of the human spirit. Highly recommended.

By Erin

 

When Michael Met Mina by Randa Abdel Fattah

Mina came to Australia as a refugee when she was only very young. Since then, she has spent time in a detention centre before being given residency in Australia. Her life in Western Sydney has been a happy one, despite losing her father and younger brother before and during the journey. Her mother is happily re-married and expecting another baby and Mina is doing well at school and has lots of friends. Then she is awarded a scholarship to an elite private school on the North Shore and it is too good an opportunity to pass up. The family moves to a suburb where they are, as Muslims, not only firmly in the minority, but often viewed with suspicion and, sometimes, hostility. School is difficult at first as Mina tries to make friends but is confronted with ignorance about her religion and life.

Michael, on the other hand, has lived on the North Shore his entire life. From an upper-middle class family (his father is an architect and his mother a teacher), Michael has rarely been challenged in his experiences. His parents have recently started a new political party, Aussie Values, as they are concerned with, what they see as, the Muslim take-over of Australia. Michael has always just accepted his parent’s views and is happy to support them. After all, they’re not racist, they are good people and what they say makes a lot of sense.

Then Michael and Mina’s paths cross at a rally for refugees, they are on opposite sides. When Michael sees Mina he is instantly intrigued, so imagine his surprise when she turns up at his school. The two are instantly at odds – Mina is defensive and prickly while Michael can’t seem to say anything right. Their budding relationship is further complicated as Michael learns more of Mina’s story and Mina discovers his parents’ political views.

This is a timely book, tapping into many of the headlines that are often printed in papers around the country. Abdel-Fattah is perhaps a little heavy handed, she has a clear agenda, but that is fine. This is an important discussion to have and she uses both her main characters to raise some interesting viewpoints. This would of course make a great class text and could spark some fierce and stimulating discussion among students. Perhaps most interestingly, she does not portray Michael’s parents as radicals or extreme racists. Instead, they are educated and well spoken, highlighting the “I’m not racist but…” attitude. They are happy to eat Afghani food, but want Muslim women to stay uncovered and English to be spoken at all times. An enjoyable and thought-provoking read. Highly recommended.

By Erin

Grandpa's Big AdventureGrandpa’s Big Adventure by Paul Newman and Tom Jellett

Grandpa is teaching his young grandson how to swim because, as grandpa says, how can you ever have a really big adventure if you don’t know how to swim? Grandpa has had many adventures but none compare to the time he swam around the world. Dealing with sharks, tea with the Prince of Whales, watching quiz shows with the fish – grandpa has seen and done it all. But can it all really be true?

This is a completely charming picture book about the tall tales grandpas tell to entertain their grandchildren. Filled with “dad” jokes, the words and illustrations work beautifully together to create lots of humour that will tickle the adult readers as well as the kids. Tom Jellett’s illustrations are always spot on – full of colour and expression. This wonderful celebration of the relationship between grandparents and grandchild quickly became an absolute favourite in our house and is now on high rotation during story time. I sincerely hope we get to read about more of Grandpa’s adventures in the future. Highly recommended.

By Erin

 

 

 

 

Wild PaWild Pa by Claire Saxby and Connah Brecon

 ‘My Pa is not a quiet Pa, a sit-and-read-the-news Pa. My Pa is a Wild Pa’. Wild Pas get up to all sorts of things – like growing peas in crazy shapes, cooking gourmet meals, chasing through the sand dunes and sporting a head of very handsome hair! Wild Pas are lots of fun but even Wild Pa knows when enough is enough and it’s time to clean up.

Another gorgeous book celebrating grandfathers and grandchildren. It is so refreshing to see a depiction of a grandfather who is not old, with grey hair and glasses, pottering in the garden. These days grandpas are energetic and adventurous and it is about time this was reflected in children’s books. This book is heaps of fun, with fabulously colourful illustrations and simple text that will delight young readers. Highly recommended.

By Erin

 

 

 

 

Welcome to CountryWelcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy

Melbournians will be familiar with Aunty Joy Murphy, a well-known figure in Victorian Indigenous affairs who often presents the Welcome to Country ceremony at prominent events. Aunty Joy is an elder of the Wurundjeri People of Melbourne and this illustrated version of the welcome is a beautiful depiction of Indigenous culture and its connection to the land. Lisa Kennedy’s illustrations are filled with earthy tones, soft lines and texture you can almost feel through the page. The flora and fauna leap of the page as children frolic in the river or snuggle up with their parents by the fire. Small parts of the welcome are also written in traditional language, though I couldn’t help but wish this was the case for the whole book – what a wonderful opportunity to introduce young children to one of the local languages. This is a title that should be in every school library, and indeed home, a reminder of the traditional inhabitants of the land and a very special ceremony that acts as a welcome to all. Highly recommended.

By Erin

 

 

The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

Set on the Victorian coast, Finn has survived on his own for more than two years, since the death of his parents from a virus that wiped out most of the population. A hardware store owner, Finn’s father managed to stock a shed with necessities when it looked like things were not going to get better, but Finn has supplemented this by trapping rabbits, fishing for crays and abalone and trading with a local farmer for fresh vegetables. Life has been hard and solitary but Finn is used to it now. The country is roamed by violent gangs and desperate, starving people, but Finn has managed to keep himself hidden away and safe. Until Rose turns up to complicate things. Rose is a Siley, an Asylum Seeker from Afghanistan who was “settled” in Australia as little more than a slave in return for being let out of detention. Life is dangerous and hard for Sileys, especially since the virus. Along with her younger sister, Rose has been locked up and abused but has finally managed to escape, meeting up with Finn when she is on the run from Wilders (one of the violent gangs who believe Sileys are their property to do with whatever they choose). Finn hides Rose, and despite his initial misgivings about sharing his safe place, agrees to help Rose find her sister. What ensues is a dangerous chase and a fascinating look into human nature and survival.

This is a wonderful book that kept me up until all hours in order to find out what will happen next. I love a post-apocalyptic story, particularly when it is set in Australia as this is not all that common. The coastal setting is vivid and Smith does a great job of conveying the desperation felt by survivors while also tapping into the current climate of fear surrounding asylum seekers. He takes these attitudes a step further with the idea of Sileys being used as unpaid labourers and the consequences of such policies. This is not a cheery story, though there is hope, and Rose has been subjected to some appalling acts that, while never spelt out, are all too clear to the reader. Finn is warm, compassionate and kind, a great lead character, while Rose and her sister are fierce survivors who challenge him and rescue him from the loneliness he hardly even knew he felt. This would make an excellent class text for middle secondary and I’m sure it will be popular with teachers and students alike. The only problem? There is clearly another volume to come and I can’t wait to read it! Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

One StepOne Step by Andrew Daddo

Fifteen-year-old Dylan is struggling – with acne, his annoying parents who never seem to pay him any attention, his annoying younger sisters, and with his constant preoccupation with girls. At school he just seems to fly under the radar. The occasional target of the school bully, he manages ok most of the time. And then the English teacher reads out one of his creative writing pieces in class and everything changes. Suddenly Dylan is receiving attention from girls who previously never knew he existed. Could it actually be real? Is there a chance that maybe Dylan could become friends with some of the popular kids? He doesn’t want to believe that there could be an alternative but by trying to play it cool, he only seems to humiliate himself more. As things continue to get worse, is there a limit to what Dylan can survive?

This is a funny and heartbreaking look at how difficult it can be for some kids to survive teenagehood. Dylan is a pretty average kid, flailing around trying to understand his, and other people’s, emotions, deal with family dramas and keep himself afloat at school. There are some genuinely hilarious scenes and some frank depictions of puberty and growing up, but ultimately I found this to be a very sad story. As Dylan is drawn in by one of the most popular girls, the reader cannot help but question her motives as we watch him being drawn into a possible web of humiliation and deceit. Andrew Daddo has perfectly captured the voice and insecurities of a teenage boy and this is a well-written and, mostly, enjoyable read. However, my feeling is that the ending could cause some concern. While I certainly don’t believe that every story needs, or should have, a happy ending, I do think it is important to leave younger readers, particularly those at risk, with some degree of positivity and hope. I did not come away from this book feeling any hope at all. It is an interesting look at mental health in young people, and how what may seem like a small action to one person, can be an enormous (and devastating) event for another. What started as a hilarious look at survival though high school, turned very dark and painful to read, and though treated with sensitivity, I think more care could have been taken when thinking about how the reader would leave the story. With this in mind, it would perhaps be pertinent to think carefully about who this book could be recommended to. Recommended for ages 15+.

Review by Erin

 

BlackBlack by Fleur Ferris

Ebony ‘Black’ Marshall can’t wait to leave the small town she has grown up in, a town in which she has been ostracised since a young age. Having lost three best friends in fatal accidents, the general feeling around town is that she is cursed. As a result, Black has put a wall up around herself; staying quiet, not making friends and not drawing attention to herself. Black doesn’t realise how lonely she has been until the new boy, Aiden, asks her to the formal. Reluctant at first, Black decides to say yes, but when Aidan ends up in intensive care, the rumours turn into very real danger. Black is now the target of a very real campaign by the local Pastor and his followers – believing Black is cursed, they are determined to capture and exorcise her, no matter the consequences.  Should Black run, or stay and fight?

This is a very good psychological thriller that is genuinely creepy in parts. While I did find that certain events were fairly predictable, I don’t think this would deter most teenage readers. The pace is constant and the reader can’t help but want to know what will happen next. The small town setting is wonderfully creepy, as are a number of the characters. This is a really enjoyable, edge-of-your-seat read. Recommended.

Review by Erin

 

 

 

THE OTHER CHRISTY BY OLIVER PHOMMAVANH

The thing I love most about Oliver Phommavanh is the way he reaches out to his readers and gathers them up into his stories– keeping them engaged with brilliant humour, great characters and whacky plots; plots that you’d be forgiven for thinking were ‘over the top’ if they weren’t so close to home.

Oliver is often compared to Morris Gleitzman and I can see why as he takes themes of friendship, family and cultural diversity and weaves them into the everyday. Because, well, these are everyday themes for most kids and we know how important it is for kids to see themselves in the stories they read.

The Other Christy explores the idea of belonging and of identity; of being the 'popular Christy' then turning that idea on its head when ‘popular Christy’ finds herself on the outer and happy to explore unexpected friendships.

At its heart, this is a book about more than that though as Phommavanh explores, on a more subtle level, the anxiety and trauma of being a survivor, of the importance of family and being tolerant of other people's quirks.
This is a book with great heart and warmth. While the reader will laugh heartily throughout, they will also find themselves thinking about their own place in this world, their  heritage and the importance of tolerance and ... baking.

Highly recommended for readers aged 8-13 and ideal for use as a classroom novel for upper primary- lower secondary readers.

For other books by Oliver Phommvanh, visit our Oliver Phommvanh page 

 

 

 
Pandamonia by Chris Nixon and Chris Owen

Next time you visit the zoo, be sure not to wake the panda. He's a bit cranky and if you wake him up it will start a chain reaction of animals losing control in a frenzy of noise and dance. What a wild romp this book is and fabulously fun to read aloud. Chris Owen's glorious illustrations are bright and full of movement, taking up entire pages where animals frolic and play. The text's rhythm and rhyme is perfect and rolls beautifully off the tongue. Children and adults alike will have lots of fun playing with the words, pouring over the pictures and repeating the phrase "don't wake the panda!". Highly recommended.

 

by Erin

 

The Bubble Boy by Stewart Foster

 

Eleven-year-old Joe has lived in the same hospital room his entire life. His immune deficiency means that he is not allowed outside and anyone visiting must go through a rigorous cleaning routine before being admitted into his room. Joe is surrounded by beeping machines that monitor his temperature and heart rate constantly, but this is the only home he has ever known. To break up the monotony of his days, Joe goes to school online, watches TV, plays video games and chats with his friend Henry in America, who is also confined to a hospital room with the same condition. Joe dreams of going outside, of being a superhero like Spiderman, but knows that this is not possible. Then Amir arrives. Amir is a new nurse, recently arrived from India. Despite being quiet at first, he and Joe soon strike up a friendship, albeit an uneasy one. Why is Amir always looking out the window? And what is with his obsession with aliens? Joe can’t figure him out. But then Amir promises Joe that he can take him outside, that he can make Joe a suit that will keep him safe. Joe wants desperately to leave his room but he knows the risks, including possible death. Can he trust Amir? Are the benefits worth the risk?

This is a lovely story, sad but heart-warming. The reader cannot help but feel sorry for Joe, a sweet boy who deals with his confinement with humour and dignity. Despite his constant loneliness and boredom, Joe still aspires to a future that is surely out of his reach. We get the sense that the doctors and nurses who look after Joe genuinely care for him and that the few friendships he does have are important ones. The introduction of Amir is amusing at first, though as the story progresses we begin to wonder what his motivations are. Is he cruel for giving Joe such hope? Is Joe naive for believing him? The suspense and sense of foreboding grows as it becomes apparent that Joe will try to leave his room, we are scared for him but hopeful as well. When I first saw that this novel was being compared to RJ Palacio’s Wonder I was somewhat sceptical (Wonder is one of my favourites). However, it is a worthy comparison and would make an excellent recommendation for readers who have enjoyed Palacio’s novels. The Bubble Boy is a really lovely read, sure to bring a tear at times and will inevitably illicit some cheers as well. Highly recommended.   Review by Erin

 

 

 

You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina La Cour

 

Mark and Kate sit next to each other every day but have never exchanged a word. Mark is in love with his best friend. Having known each other forever, and discovered their growing sexuality together, Mark desperately wants to be the one that Ryan chooses to be his boyfriend, but this is looking increasingly unlikely. Kate is finally going to meet the girl she has had a crush on for ages. Now is her chance, but can she overcome her own nervousness to make it happen? During the first night of Pride in San Francisco, Mark and Ryan sneak out and go to a club for the first time. It is here that Mark is unexpectedly spotted by Kate, who is running away from her first date. For the first time, they start talking and realise that they actually have a lot to offer each other. From here grows a strong friendship as Kate helps Mark through his heartache and Mark encourages Kate to trust herself and take the opportunities that are presented to her.

I’m a big David Levithan fan and I particularly like his collaborations. As with the previous novels, Levithan and La Cour have written a character each, their stories blending seamlessly. The entire novel takes place during Pride Week, and is a joyful exploration of first love and friendship. Levithan’s depiction of Mark’s unrequited love is all too real (who hasn’t felt the sting of that first rejection?) and will tug at the heart strings. Kate’s anxiety about her future is holding her back, making for a somewhat frustrating story in which the reader desperately wants her to make the right decisions. It is clear that the two offer each other a friendship that can’t be found elsewhere, one that is easy and comfortable, no strings attached. What I particularly enjoy about this novel, and those like it, is that this is a depiction of two gay teenagers, without the issues. It is simply a story about love and although it may come across as a little cheesy or saccharine at times, you can’t help but smile as you read it. A very enjoyable read.

 Review by Erin

 

 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

Raymie’s dad has run off with a dental hygienist during the night. No goodbye, nothing. Now Raymie’s mum won’t get up off the couch and Raymie knows that she has to do something extra special to bring her dad back. The opportunity presents itself in the form of the Little Miss Central Florida Tire pageant. If Raymie can win, then her photo will be in the paper, he dad will be proud and will realise what a mistake he has made and come back home. However, to be in the running, Raymie needs to learn how to twirl a baton and this is how she ends up in Ida Nee’s baton-twirling class where she meets knife-wielding Beverley Tapinski (a pageant veteran) and the strange but talented Louisiana Elefante. They are unlike anyone Raymie has ever met but they may just become her best friends.

Set in the summer of 1975, Raymie Nightingale is a funny and touching story of a young girl developing friendships and coming to terms with the betrayal of her father. Eleven-year-old Raymie is shy and reserved, often confused and incredibly hurt. She is easily intimidated by feisty Beverley, with her hot temper and no-nonsense attitude, and wary of Louisiana and her tall tales. Though it doesn’t take long for the two girls to help Raymie discover the courage and self-esteem she needs to come to terms with her father leaving. DiCamillo is a seasoned story-teller and she paints a wonderful picture of a childhood of freedom and unexpected friends. The characters are delightfully quirky – from the outrageous Ida Nee to Louisiana’s tiny grandmother who will go to any lengths to keep Louisiana unknowing and safe from fear. With Beverley and Louisiana, Raymie learns that she is more capable than she ever thought possible and just maybe her dad doesn’t deserve a second chance after all. A beautiful story for fans of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (though for a slightly younger audience) or Cathy Cassidy. Highly recommended for readers aged 10+.

Review by Erin

 

Dreaming the Enemy by David Metzenthen

Johnny ‘Shoey’ Shoebridge is 17 when his date of birth is pulled out of a barrel by a test cricketer on TV and he is conscripted into the army. After three months of training he is sent to Vietnam, a country he has barely heard of, and into a war he knows nothing about. Two years later he is back at home, but far removed from the young boy he once was. Unable to settle, he sets out on the road, heading nowhere in particular and trying to outrun the ghost Viet Cong fighter Khan who haunts his dreams. Along the way he meets Carly, a young woman who is also damaged, and attitudes both positive and negative. Through flashbacks and the imagined story of Khan, we are given an insight into the conditions faced by ill-equipped soldiers and the lack of respect they received on returning to Australia.

Metzenthen is an accomplished author of historical fiction and is always able to get to the heart of his characters and the conflicts they face with humour and sensitivity. As always, Metzenthen’s characters have a uniquely Australian voice, the quintessential ‘larrikin’ and all ‘round ‘good blokes’ who hail from the farms or the bush. Shoey and his mates are no different. They form the strong bonds that men in these situations often do – a serious love for each other that is laced with teasing and joking – resulting in a loyalty that will not waver. Shoey carries this loyalty with him after the war and some of the most touching scenes come when he visits the family of his fallen friends. This is also a commentary on not only the emotional and mental hardships faced by returned soldiers, but the attitudes they faced on their return. Shoey encounters people who welcome him with open arms and thank him for his service and those who abuse him in the street for his involvement, including WWII veterans who refuse to believe that Vietnam was a “real” war. We are also given an insight into the possible experiences of Viet Cong soldiers through the imagined life of Kahn. We see that although Vietnam won the war, its people suffered greatly at the hands of the allied forces ad the country was ravaged in many ways. Dreaming the Enemy is beautifully written, sad and confronting but ultimately hopeful. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

One Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe

Early this year I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Africa for the first time, including an all-too-brief trip to Rwanda. Every time I mentioned to someone that I was going to Rwanda their eyes would fill with concern and they would inevitably say “but isn’t it dangerous?” I, like most Australians, knew little of Rwanda, only that in the ‘90s there was mass unrest and genocide. What I found was a stunningly beautiful country that has undergone an extraordinary transformation into one of the most prosperous, and safest, countries in Africa. So, when I first saw One Thousand Hills I was fascinated to read about a young boy growing up in the midst of the genocide and how this story could be brought to a generation of Australians that have probably never heard of Rwanda.

Pascal lives in the small town of Agabande, in the north of Rwanda, near where tourists come to visit the mountain gorillas. His life is a simple, yet pleasurable one. He is woken by his annoying older brother in the morning to do his chores, he goes to school, church plays an important part in his life and he gets up to the same mischief as most 9-year-old boys. As Pascal goes about his days, we hear rumblings in the background of social unrest. His best friend’s father is uncomfortable around Pascal’s family, on the radio men with angry voices are talking about “killing the cockroaches” and young men with machetes occasionally wander around the town. Pascal thinks all this talk of cockroaches is a bit strange, perhaps there is a pest problem in the area? His parents become increasingly nervous but do not project their worries on their children so Pascal remains blissfully ignorant. Until one night when everything changes. Having been sent on an errand, Pascal returns to find that his parents have disappeared, their animals slaughtered and his younger sister alone in the house. Terrified, Pascal and his sister hide for as long as they can before setting out for the local church where they are sure they will find refuge. Or will they?

James Roy wrote this book in collaboration with genocide survivor Noel Zihabamwe, whose contribution has given the story a certain level of authenticity through the addition of small details that could only be fully realised if you had actually been there. In his blog, James mentions the sound of the tip of a machete being dragged along the bitumen, something that chilled me to the bone. In many ways, One Thousand Hills reminds me of Morris Gleitzman’s Once. Though both are about horror and the loss of human life on a huge scale, it is the childish naiveté of the main characters that was most similar for me. In both stories we are looking on as knowledgeable adults, able to interpret the murmurs in the background of something horrific to come. Pascal and Felix, however, are children going about their daily lives, unable to understand the complexities of the adult world and unaware of the danger that is looming. I think this is a very powerful device for introducing young readers to a story such as this. In many ways, Pascal is just like any boy living in Australia, a reminder that a tragedy like this can happen to anyone. As Pascal learns of the danger around him, so too does the younger reader. It was also a very interesting device for the authors to set the majority of the story in the lead-up to the genocide, not within the events themselves. For this reason, I think the story is very accessible for 10-12 year old readers and would make a very interesting class read/text for upper primary/lower secondary. One Thousand Hills is very well written, heartbreaking, though with moments of warmth and humour. Highly recommended.

by Erin

Where the Shoreline Used to Be edited by Dr Pam MacIntyre and Dr Susan La Marca

Following on from the very successful Things a Map Won’t Show You – a collection for lower secondary – Where the Shoreline Used to Be is a compilation of stories and poems for middle to upper secondary readers.  And what a wonderful collection it is. Shaun Tan opens the collection with a beautiful story titled ‘The Butterflies’, a reminder that in our busy day-to-day lives, we should pause occasionally and marvel at the wonder that is nature.  Arwa Abousamra’s ‘Muslim Footprint’ is an insight into how it felt to be a Muslim girl starting school in Sydney, while Gayle Kennedy’s poem ‘Koori Girl Goes Shoppin’’ is a commentary on blatant racism towards Indigenous people. The collection features a large number of female authors – including songwriters Kate Miller-Heidke and Courtney Barnett – who cover topics as diverse as bullying, love, science fiction and horror. Meg Caddy’s ‘Blue’s Door’ is wonderfully creepy while Leanne Hall’s ‘The Breakthough’ is a verging on Sci-Fi story that had me guessing the whole way through. Shivaun Plozza’s ‘The Point’ is a wickedly funny look at tumultuous female relationships and is a highlight.

However, there are three stories that stood out for me the most.  The inimitable Margo Lanagan has written a story unlike anything I have ever read before (once again!). ‘The Queen’s Notice’ is a story about ants, though it is difficult to adequately describe her language and the perspective she has taken. It is a story about loyalty, devotion, power, servitude and sex. Utterly amazing in the hands of an author whom I find constantly surprising and challenging. Barry Jonsberg’s ‘The Pale Man’ is a terrifying horror story about a boy who is haunted by a ghost/phantom, it’s difficult to know what The Pale Man is. Is he real or a fragment of the narrator’s imagination? What I do know is that you will be watching your wardrobe door when you go to bed!  And finally, Tony Birch’s ‘The Butcher’s Wife’ is a very uncomfortable read about domestic violence and the culture of the bystander. This is sure to spark some very interesting and important conversations.

This collection is absolutely perfect for use in the classroom and a joy to read. The stories, poems and songs are diverse, interesting and challenging and I hope that they encourage readers to explore some further work by the authors included. Highly recommended.

by Erin

 

 

Hattie Helps Out by Jane Godwin, Davina Bell and Freya Blackwood

It’s Dad’s birthday and Hattie’s mum is busy with preparations. There’s the cake, decorations and food. Hattie wants to be a good helper, she certainly doesn’t want to have an afternoon nap.  Mama looks very tired though so Hattie invites her to lie down for a while. Before too long, Mama is asleep and Hattie decides to do all the jobs for her.

This stunning picture book perfectly captures not only the desire for small children to be helpful, but the fatigue that comes with having two small children and a million things to do. Hattie had noble intentions but Mama just needs to get things done and it is often difficult to say no to a little helper without hurting their feelings. Hattie is more than capable though. Her “helping” turns out to be just what Mama needs and the results are delightful. You just can’t go past Freya Blackwood’s absolutely perfect illustrations. Soft and endearing, they could be lifted straight from any household with toddlers. I cannot recommend this one enough. A beautiful gift and a must have for all personal libraries.

by Erin

 

The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

 

Ryan, Harley and Miles were all best friends with Isaac. He was all they had in common. Now Isaac is gone so what does that make them? The Sidekicks explores an awkward friendship between three boys in the midst of their grief for the same best friend. Ryan is a champion swimmer, on his way to the Olympics. But he’s hiding a big secret, one only Isaac knew. It’s eating him up inside but is this the time to be brave and start sharing with other people? Harley is the rebel. A boarder at the school, he comes from a family where he barely speaks to his parents and spends most of his time drinking and experimenting with drugs. Isaac was his ally but could Harley have caused his death? Miles is the nerd. He became friends with Isaac when they started school together but was their friendship real?  Did Isaac really like Miles or was their friendship just one of convenience?

 

This is a wonderful novel that highlights the emotional sensitivity of teenage boys, despite their outward bravado. Ryan’s story of coming out is both heartbreaking and empowering, Harley is the classic class clown with a more serious and complex side, while Miles loneliness is incredibly sad. Underneath it all though, is an unwavering loyalty to their lost friend, and eventually, to each other. Kostakis uses humour and warmth to bring his characters through their grief and paint a picture of the best friend they all loved, but perhaps didn’t know as well as they thought. The characters are completely believable and you can’t help but love them all. Highly recommended for readers aged 14+.

by Erin

 

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

Rosa is not like other ten-year-olds. She’s extremely smart, cute as a button and a psychopath. Her older brother Che is sure of it. Her whole life, Che has kept Rosa under control as much as he can, making sure that she doesn’t hurt anyone. He is not sure how much longer he can keep it up. When the family move to New York City (another in a long list of moves) Che makes a list: he wants to spar, he wants a girlfriend, he wants to go home to Sydney and he wants to keep Rosa under control. When Rosa becomes friends with Seimone, things start to take a turn for the worst. Her games become increasingly dangerous and it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt, or worse. Che just wants to get on with his life; concentrate on his boxing and falling in love for the first time. But he loves his sister and vows to protect her.

This is a very good psychological thriller and everything I wanted Liar to be, but for me didn’t quite achieve. Che is a very likeable character, the typical nice guy: slightly dorky, respectful and romantic. Rosa, on the other hand, is, for lack of a better word, creepy. From her Shirly Temple looks to her habit of watching Che sleep, everything about her is not quite right. Che’s devotion and dedication to his sister is touching and we worry along with him as she seems to become more dangerous. Their mother’s lack of understanding and belief in Che is frustrating to us as readers – how can she not see what is so obvious?! – and we are instantly on Che’s side. But what happens when things start to look a little murky? Is everything always the way that Che sees it? Could things, in fact, be different? I found this novel to be compelling reading and difficult to put down. I loved Razorhurst and feel that Larbalestier has improved yet again with this one. Highly recommended for ages 14+ (there are some sexually explicit scenes).

by Erin

Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

This is the fourth novel from Kirsty Eagar and I was very excited to see its release. Kirsty’s first novel, Raw Blue, was a heartfelt look at the after-effects of sexual abuse. It was beautifully written, moving, funny and confronting. Summer Skin affected me in the same way.

Jess is in her second year of Uni. Staying at Unity College, she is enjoying the uni life of studying, partying and independence. This year she is out for revenge. Last year, one of her friends was humiliated by the Kings College boys and Jess and her mates are going to get even. Her target is a blonde, rugy-playing Kings boy. Sexist pig, arrogant, and quick enough to keep up with Jess (this does not happen often). The first rule is that for Unity girls, Kings boys are out of bounds. But what happens when Jess starts to fall for him?  He is everything she hates but she finds herself unable to turn away. The two embark on a somewhat backwards relationship of sexual exploration and emotional vulnerability.  Perhaps the Kings boy is not all that he seems.

I loved this book for many reasons. Firstly, feisty college girls who refuse to be taken advantage of and shamed. The event in question is a horrible one, but Kirsty explores that idea that everyone deals with the aftermath differently – where one girl would call the police (or at least the college dean), another may just want to forget the whole thing ever happened and use living her best life as her revenge. Secondly, I loved that Jess is completely in control of her own sexuality and is not afraid to show it. Too often in young adult novels, girls don’t want sex/regret sex/are shamed because of their sexuality. In Summer Skin, Kirsty shows that girls often want sex just as much as boys, and there is no shame. This book is sexually explicit in parts, but not gratuitously so. Jess’ relationship is a learning curve for her, one she is not afraid to explore, though her libido and emotions are ultimately tied together, something she struggles with at times. This is an exploration of relationships, of falling in love and being challenged by the person you are with.

Where a book like Judy Blume’s Forever introduced readers to a first-time sexual relationship, Summer Skin looks at what comes next. New independence can be confronting for young adults – there are expectations and, seemingly, no limits for the first time – and this can be difficult to navigate. They choices made are not always the best. Girls are curious and this could be a book that they talk about and pass onto their friends, read in secret in the library. Highly recommended for readers aged 16/17+.

Read more about Summer Skin in Kirsty’s blog.

Review by Erin

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood 

In a novel that explores some big teen issues – friendship, belonging, identity, cultural diversity and family - Fiona Wood has successfully written a story that is at once ‘every day’ and extraordinary.

Van Uoc Phan is a 16-year-old student on a scholarship at an exclusive private school in Melbourne. Her family lives in housing commission apartments and together with her best friend, Jess who lives next door, she juggles part-time work, study, friendship and family commitments like any other teenager.

Her Vietnamese background is ever present – in the food that she eats, the job that she works, the restrictions that are placed on her as a teenager and the community in which she lives but it is never more present than when she is urging her mother to tell her story; a heartbreaking refugee’s story.

There’s a ‘bad’ boy – and we love a ‘bad’ boy! Billy Gardner is hugely likeable and in stark contrast to Van Uoc, comes from an affluent family. As their relationship unfolds it is of course fraught but it is fun too and as readers we are totally invested in seeing it work despite the cultural and social hurdles.

In so many ways, Billy’s life is no less complicated than Van Uoc’s –  despite vastly different backgrounds, he too faces parental pressures and carries the burden of expectation from family, school and friends; he battles with his identity and his ‘chosen’ pathway, and challenges the norms within the home and community in which he lives.

The story of Van Uoc’s mum’s journey to Australia is poignant and an important thread to the story offering us both cultural perspective and an understanding of her identity and background. It raises the much bigger question of refugees and the journey they have taken in a bid to seek asylum. In a very broad sense, both Van Uoc’s and her mum’s stories are of assimilation and acceptance.

There is so much to love about Cloudwish – it is at its core a love story; a story of cultural paradox and a heart-warming story of ‘against all odds’.
Set against the culturally diverse landscape of Melbourne, Cloudwish challenges us to believe that there are no rules when it comes to acceptance, tolerance and friendship… oh, and that Jane Eyre can be a fantastic role model and mentor!

by Kristin

 

Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie

Sixteen-year-old Clancy doesn’t fit in the dead-end town of Barwen. With, what she sees as, a not-quite-normal family, a love of Nature Club and a debilitating crush on the local bad girl, Clancy is feeling like a major freak. When her father is involved in a car accident that kills two local teenagers, Clancy’s family has to deal with the hostilities of the local townspeople. Then Nancy comes along and Clancy may finally have found someone she can be friends with.  The trouble is, it’s been so long since she has had a genuine friend that she’s not quite sure how to do it. Couple that with the fact that the unattainable Sasha may finally be showing some romantic interest and the possibility that her dad may go to jail and Clancy really has no idea what she’s doing.

This is a very polished novel for a first-time author. Currie has created a slightly snarky, yet endearing voice in Clancy, perfectly capturing the confusion, heartbreak and excitement of being on the cusp of adulthood – wanting to have it all figured out but realising that you actually  know nothing. The small town of Barwen is quintessentially Australian and reminded me of the setting of Melissa Kiel’s Cinnamon Girl, while the general feel of the novel reminded me of Vikki Wakefield’s All I Ever Wanted – these are worthy comparisons. Watching Clancy throw herself at Sasha is excruciating, yet that thrill of being close to someone you have admired from afar would be familiar to most of us. This is a coming of age story that is gritty and raw. There are no nice, neat endings, just like in life, and the characters are not perfect.  This makes it all the more compelling and enjoyable to read. I look forward to Currie’s next novel. Highly recommended for 14+.

Review by Erin

 

Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

The Zeroes are a group of teens with extraordinary powers, though not always “super” so don’t call them heroes.  Their powers set them apart, and often get them into trouble, and unite them as a team. Ethan, a.k.a Scam, has a second voice, a voice that has the ability to tell the person listening anything they want to hear, often with startling accuracy and brutality but not always truth. Ethan’s learned to use his voice to great advantage, but sometimes he can’t control it and he ends up in dangerous situations – like in a car with a drug dealer or chatting to an armed man in the middle of a bank robbery. Now Ethan’s on the run from Russian mobsters and the cops and the only people who can help him are the other Zeroes, friends he alienated last summer when he opened his mouth and the voice let loose. Can the team put aside their differences to rescue their former friend?

I had high expectations for this book and I was not disappointed. This is an action-packed and highly enjoyable ride, a super hero story with a difference. I loved the idea of super hero powers that are not always easily controlled and could possibly be seen as a hindrance rather than an asset. Along with Ethan we have Bellewether, who can charm any crowd; Flicker, the blind girl who can see through other people’s eyes; Crash, who can destroy any electronics; Mob, who can hold a crowd in the palm of her hand and control their energy; and Anonymous, a boy no-one can remember. Together they make a rag-tag team of wannabe heroes who often cause more destruction than intended. Their powers are complicated and not always welcome and this is what gives the story some depth among all the action. And there is plenty of action – drug money, Russian mobsters, kidnapping, near death experiences, car chases, all guaranteed to keep you reading. Usually, when a novel is written by more than one author, it is relatively easy to see where one author ends and the other begins.  However, I was completely fascinated by how seamless the writing in this novel is, there is no division between writers and I would be very interested to know the process through which the book was written. At nearly 500 pages this is a wonderful, chunky book for teenagers who like to sink their teeth into a good read over the holidays. I eagerly await more in what is set to be the trilogy. Highly recommended for readers 12+.

Review by Erin

 

My Dog Bigsy by Alison Lester

Alison Lester's books are just divine, and this one is no exception. A little girl awakes in the morning and listens as her beloved dog, Bigsy, does the rounds of the farm, talking to all the animals. He chases kangaroos, has a chat with the chickens, gets frightened by the pig and eventually makes his way back home for breakfast and a rest in bed after all the excitement.  Pre-schoolers will love making all the animal noises and mimicking Bigsy's various barks. The illustrations are gorgeous - bright and textural with a sense of humour and cheekiness.  An absolute must-have for children under 4 and heaps of fun to read aloud. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

 

 

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Anne was a girl of thirteen. She got taken from an orphanage by the Cuthbert family. She did lots of funny things like dye her hair green and lots more. My favourite characters were Anne Shirley, Matthew Cuthbert, Mirilla Cuthbert, Gilbert Blyth and Dianna.

Review by Orvokki Briton, aged 9

 

 

 

 

The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan

It is difficult to describe this book as it is unlike anything I have seen before.  Shaun Tan is an incredible artistic talent and this book showcases his ability as a sculptor and photographer.  Tan has taken his inspiration from fairytales, choosing short paragraphs from well-known, and some not so well-known, stories and creating one illustration.  As usual, Tan’s artwork is not what you would expect – they are sometimes dark and eerie, whimsical and beautiful and always intriguing. Assigning a recommended readership is almost impossible as the audience is probably fairly niche. There will be teenagers and adults who love art for whom this would be the perfect gift. More than anything, this is a celebration of an artform and a great talent. This is not a book of fairytales, and certainly not for the very young, it is almost more like an exhibition. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

 

 

 

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief by Catherine Jinks

I love historical fiction and there is something in particular about Victorian London that I really enjoy.  Twelve-year-old Teophilus Grey, or Philo, is a linkboy on the streets of London – he lights the way home for patrons who are walking home in the dark from various pubs and coffee houses. No one knows the streets like Philo and he makes it his business to collect information, passing it on to his Fagin-like master, Garnet Hook, who runs a network of spies from his sick bed. When local crooks start mysteriously passing out, with no visible signs of assault, the word on the street that there is a demon involved. Then crime-wave hits the area and Philo is sure the two are connected.  With his new friend Mr Paxton, a navy doctor, Philo becomes determined to get to the bottom of things.

This is a wonderful mystery story that reads like a combination of Dickens’ Oliver and Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord. Jinks has the skilful ability to be able to put the reader in the middle of her setting, you can almost feel the cobble stones underneath your feet, and she presents a cast of characters with vivid descriptions of everything from voices to clothes and wigs. For an inexperienced reader, this may be a big ask as Jinks does use a lot of colloquial language (though there is a glossary in the back, and a cast of characters). However, it would be perfect for good readers who like a bit of a challenge and are tired of dystopia or fantasy. Highly recommended for readers aged 10-14.

Review by Erin

 

 

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

Ten years ago, I read one of the most memorable, powerful and unsettling books ever imaginable, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. John Boyne’s new novel for young adults, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, tells a very different, yet equally extraordinary story about the horrors of war from the perspective of a child.

Pierrot is 7 years old, and after the tragic deaths of his parents, is sent to live with an aunt he has never met, in a country far from home in a mysterious house at the top of a mountain. But this is no ordinary house, it is the Berghof, Hitler’s country retreat, and the year is 1936.

Pierrot is living in a dangerous and terrifying new world, and we follow his sad and disturbing transformation from a lonely, frightened and innocent young boy into a brain washed, proud bully, full of hatred.

Intriguing and disturbing, the book tackles many big issues, such as the power of propaganda, domestic abuse, the impact of Hitler’s philosophies, bullying, betrayal and corruption.

Boyne expertly weaves his fictional narrative around historical facts, and provides a subtle yet essential moral message about the importance of telling your true story, and that pretending innocence is the worst crime of all. 

by Del

 

Ugly by Robert Hoge

“Robert Hoge was born ugly. Real ugly.” Born with a large tumour in the middle of his face and with deformed legs and feet, accepting Robert was an immediate challenge for his parents. Without the benefit of ultrasounds in the early 1970s, Robert’s looks came as a huge shock to his parents and doctors. Robert’s mother was initially unable to even look at her child, and could not entertain the idea of taking him home.  We now know that she most likely suffered from post-natal depression and, sadly, it was several weeks before she was even able to visit her baby in the hospital, let alone pick him up. With four other children already at home, the doctors tried to convince Robert’s mother that she would be better off leaving him in a home as it was possible that he was mentally disabled as well as physically. Robert’s father, however, was not convinced and although he agreed to leave the decision up to his wife (who would be Robert’s primary carer) he was willing to give Robert a chance. Slowly, Robert’s mother began to emerge from her depression and the other children were allowed to see their brother for the first time. As children often do, they accepted their brother for who he was and when a family vote was held, they all agreed that Robert should be allowed to come home. So begins the story of an adventurous, funny and endearing child who faces his challenges with courage and determination. Robert underwent several operations to make him look more “normal”, with varying success, and it was determined early on the he had suffered no brain injuries as a result of the benign tumour. Before long, Robert is able to attend a mainstream school with his siblings and although some activities are out of bounds for him (playing rugby), others are not (going on camp) and he uses his humour to find his place in the school and make friends. Bullying is always present, sometimes worse than others, but Robert tries to stay positive and prove to himself and others that he is just as capable as everyone else.

Adapted from Robert’s adult autobiography, this is the story of his early years, from birth to high school.  Reading about Robert’s mother’s depression broke my heart as she was obviously a caring mother who did not know how to cope with a very difficult situation.  It cannot have been easy for Robert to have had conversations with his mother about this time and I am impressed by how he seems to have accepted and forgiven the possibility that he was almost sent away from his family. Robert has the most wonderfully funny and warm voice and it is impossible not to like him. This is a must read for primary aged children as it highlights the importance of acceptance in a voice that is easy for them to relate to. Most of all, however, it shows that sometimes adults behave worse than children and that perhaps children should be given more credit for attitudes towards people who are different from them.  This is a wonderful book about family, friendship, determination and growing up. Highly recommended for readers aged 8+.

Review by Erin

 

Flyaway Girls by Julia Lawrinson

Eleven-year-old Chelsea is the hardest working gymnast in her group.  She loves gym and dreams of making it onto the Nationals team. When Telia arrives, her natural talent is obvious, but surely she couldn't be better than girls who have been training for years? Chelsea likes Telia immediately but finds herself becoming jealous of the attention Telia is receiving and the effortless way she performs.  As Chelsea becomes more and more focussed on being accepted by the Nationals team she finds herself becoming distant from her school friends and being mean to Telia. Chelsea doesn't like the girl she is becoming but how can she help it? Why doesn't anyone else see Nationals as being as important as she does? How can she be friends with Telia when Chelsea is feeling jealous? Add to this her dad moving out and Chelsea has a lot to deal with.

This is a lovely story that explores the nature of friendship at that difficult pre-adolescent age when kids are beginning to develop their own interests. Chelsea is highly focussed and finds it difficult to understand why her school friends are not as interested in gym as she is, though she fails to show the same level of interest in their hobbies. She also finds it difficult to understand her feelings for Telia - how can she feel so jealous and like Telia so much at the same time? Friendships between girls can be difficult and Lawrinson touches on the nastiness that can occur in an environment like a gymnastics team. It is also an interesting look at the levels of commitment required by kids who want to excel at an elite level. Lawrinson is a lovely writer and her characters are pitch perfect. 10-year-old girls who enjoy real-life stories will certainly enjoy this one and will find much to relate to in the characters. Recommended.

Review by Erin

 

 

Find Me a Castle by Beci Orpin

What a fabulously clever book this is!  Find Me a Castle is a look-and-find book that plays with words, numbers and shapes.

“In the toybox can you find

A ‘c’ for cat and twelve pink lines?

A piece of string, some building blocks,

A bridge to cross and one stray sock?

How many eyes can you see?

Look closely, there are ten plus three.

A hexagon, a bouncing ball,

Crayons to draw things big and small.”

An illustrator, designer and artist, Orpin has created a highly colourful and endlessly enjoyable, interactive picture book. Despite being filled with detail, her illustrations are uncluttered and bright. I’m usually wary of rhyming text, as I don’t think many people can pull it off, but this text rolls off the tongue beautifully and is clever enough to engage children from ages 3 or 4, without being too difficult. It perhaps wouldn’t work as a bedtime story as I’m sure parents and children will want to spend far too long pouring over the illustrations trying to find all the objects, not to mention hidden castles and other quirky bits and pieces. This sure to keep kids of all ages occupied for hours and would make a wonderful introduction to books like The Eleventh Hour.  Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

This is a graphic memoir detailing a summer spent at camp in Appalachia during the late 90s. Maggie is from Atlanta. At fifteen, she has never kissed a boy, loves the Backstreet Boys and loves the laid-back atmosphere of the camp where three generations of her family have spent their summers. That is, however, until a brief and innocent moment of contact with one of the counsellors, Erin. Maggie’s never had feelings for girls before but she finds herself hopelessly in love for the first time and is in agony as to what to do about it. Maggie turns to the rifle range, where she throws herself into her newfound talent for shooting. When it seems that Erin might return her feelings, both Maggie and the camp find the situation far too difficult to understand. Rumours start flying and Maggie is pulled aside by another counsellor and told to keep her feelings to herself or others might see her as a predator. This is, after all, a place for good girls. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is mentioned and Maggie is thrown into confusion and self-doubt. Unfortunately for her, what happens on camp, stays on camp.

I really wanted to love this graphic novel – the concept, after all, is refreshing and I am always happy to see more books/graphic novels representing the LGBT experience of young people. However, it just left me feeling a bit disappointed and rather sad. Firstly, the illustrations are not fabulous. They are somewhat childlike and lack depth. At over 250 pages, this is not a short book, but not a lot really seems to happen. It does give the reader an insight into some of the prejudice faced by, in this case, a gay girl within an unforgiving environment – devoutly Christian, mainly white, middle class families where girls are encouraged to uphold their ‘honor’. The ridiculous rumours and hurtful “advice” (ignore it and it will go away) given by the camp counsellors is, unfortunately, not uncommon and although this is a true story, I wanted it to end positively. Maggie is left in a kind of limbo, there is not even a kiss for her to remember, and it left me feeling very sad for her. On the positive side, these representations are always welcome, and life does not always include a romantic kiss, but I’m not sure if this experience was worthy of an entire graphic novel. There will, however, be some teenagers who will find that this is the right book for them, at the right time, and that is never a bad thing.

Review by Erin.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief is the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. This series was written by, American author, Rick Riordan and was published on the 1st of March 2006 by Disney Hyperion Books.

 In a world where gods and goddesses have existed since the dawn of time, who have now begun to have children with mere mortals, you’ll find the daring and most noble hero Percy Jackson... failing miserably in school. Burdened with dyslexia and ADHD, Percy struggles to pass 6th grade and it doesn’t help that mythical creatures seem to follow him wherever he goes. Just when you thought that things couldn't get any worse for the boy, he suddenly finds himself amidst a crisis that threatens the very existence of all that we know. Zeus' lightning bolt, a weapon strong enough to overtake even the gods themselves, has been stolen and Percy’s the main suspect. Together with his friends, Grover and Annabeth, Percy must find the real thief and return the bolt to Mount Olympus before Zeus wages war on all of them. And he only has ten days to do it.

 Although this book is targeted for a younger audience, I devoured every single word of this fantastic story. I’ve always been interested in Greek Mythology. I’ve wanted to learn more ever since I saw Disney’s Hercules. Without having to do the tedious research, I was provided a fascinating and highly entertaining glimpse into the world of Greek Mythology through Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief.  

 Percy Jackson is the kind of character that you can’t help but relate to. No matter how hard he tries and how good his intentions are, he can’t help but mess everything up. Everything that can go wrong does and will. He thinks he’s nobody special until he finds out he’s the son of none other than Poseidon, one of the “Big Three” gods. Percy has become one of my all time favorite fictional character. His voice is one of funniest I’ve read in a while. His witty comments and comebacks had me in fits of laughter in the late hours of a school night. Riordan’s character developing talents weren’t lost in his other characters either. Brilliant Annabeth and ever loyal Grover are equally as lovable and authentic as Percy. Their different personalities complemented each other well, making for an admirable new trio of brave young heroes.

 Rick Riordan is a natural story teller. He writes in a way that children can easily understand and enjoy and would make them choose a book over a video game. At least that was the case with my younger brother. We both agree that The Lightning Thief is a captivating tale. Older and younger readers alike will delight in the thrilling action scenes, hilarious lines, and the adorable hints of romance. I personally liked the way Riordan wrote the prophecy. It was very clever. Bits of the prophecy were easy to figure out while some left you feeling just confused as the characters do. He also did a sensational job with portraying how the gods are like in the modern era. He gave them personalities of their own, making the novel all the more compelling.

 The only negative I can say about the book is, since it’s geared more towards younger readers, I found it slightly lacking in depth and underlying themes. I wouldn’t have minded that, let alone noticed, if I read this when I was in Year 5 or 6. For this reason, I initially recommend this book to kids aged 8 – 12 who like Greek Mythology and especially people who are fond of the likes of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Readers with ADHD or dyslexia will also be inspired by the main character. It is still a phenomenal read even if you don’t fit into one of those categories. When my cousin told me to read the book, I went into it not expecting much. I thought it will be a mediocre middle grade novel I’d forget the day after I finish reading it. Never have I been so glad to be proved wrong. From its hilarity to its extraordinary world, everyone can find something to love in a novel as striking as Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. I certainly did.

Review by Kyla Perez, Year 9, Vermont Secondary College

 

 The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Mikey and his friends are about to graduate high school. But in Mikey’s town, nothing is ever straight forward.  There was the zombie plague and that time all the vampires made a heap of teenagers fall in love with them, and all other kinds of supernatural events that the kids of today don’t even know about. Mikey just wants to finish school, maybe gather the courage to confess his love to Henna and then move onto college. Most people aren’t the hero of the story, they’re not the ones saving the world, they’re the ones trying to get on with their lives while the school blows up around them. Again.

Set against the backdrop of a fairly typical young adult paranormal story, The Rest of Us Just Live Here follows the kids who are not the heroes, the ones we never hear from. Mikey is torn between looking forward to the rest of his life and wanting everything to stay the same. He is fiercely protective of his sisters – Mel, his older sister who battles with anorexia, and Meredith, who is only ten years old – and has a strained relationship with his politician mother and alcoholic father. Mikey himself is grappling with OCD, his unrequited love for one of his sister’s friends and of course, dealing with the fact that his best friend is part God. Mikey’s story is occasionally punctuated with events tied up with the “Indie kids” – the kids who always seem to be at the forefront of the paranormal story, trying to save the world – through brief glimpses into strange blue lights, the occasional tragic death or even an explosion. But this is the story of a normal teenage boy, trying to figure out who he is, where he is going and how to navigate love, sex and friendship. It is a sensitive look at mental health and the effects that non-committal parents can have on their children. Ness is a wonderfully read-able writer, his characters are interesting and flawed and I found this to be a very original concept. Mikey’s story is not an unusual one, but setting it against the invasion of the “Immortals” asks the reader to consider characters from different angles, to remember that most of the time life is pretty ordinary and that’s ok. The frankness with which Ness discusses mental health, sex and parent-child relationships is refreshing and a nod to the fact that he sees his readership as intelligent and their experiences growing up worthy of acknowledgement. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

Talk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer

16-year-old Will has been living on a yacht with his father ever since his mother left a year ago. Feeling betrayed and heartbroken, Will refuses to answer any of his mother’s emails and has tried to be supportive of his dad, even though his father took him away from his home in Tasmania to sail the east coast of Australia. Twelve months on and Will is ready to go home , even more so after  he meets Summer online. Not only do Summer and Will share the same love of teenage sailor Jessica Watson, but Summer is from the exact same town in Tasmania as Will. The two hit it off online immediately so when Will’s father announces that it is time to return to Tassie, Will can’t wait to meet Summer in person. Summer is only relatively new to Tasmania, having grown up in Brisbane where she was taken out of school because of extreme bullying.  Summer is excited to have met Will online but is not keen to meet in person. Summer is deaf and the internet is an escape for her, a place where her deafness is not the first thing that people notice. She is not ready for Will to know about her deafness just yet and is hugely taken aback when he turns up on her doorstep. On realising that Summer is deaf, Will feels confused and a little betrayed.  Why would she lie? And how is he supposed to communicate with her? Embarrassed and not sure how to react, Will decides that he and Summer can’t possibly be friends, it just wouldn’t work.  But the more he sees her around town, the harder he finds it to ignore his feelings. Will decides to take a chance and enrol in an Auslan course and gradually the two begin a tentative friendship.

This is a really lovely story with a beautiful Australian setting.  Summer’s deafness is not treated as a disability, though it is confronting for several characters in the novel, not least of all Will and his best friend Cully, who just can’t understand why Will would be interested in a deaf girl.  Through Will, and Cully in particular, we see how deaf people are subject to stereotyping, and in Summer’s case, bullying.  Summer is an average teenage girl who does not let her deafness hold her back.  This is also a story about grief – Summer and her family are grieving for the loss of her father eight years ago, while Will is grieving for the loss of his relationship with his mother. Both teenagers confront their sadness and overcome some difficult physical challenges to become an important part of each other’s lives. Lomer’s writing is beautiful to read. Her characters are interesting and relatable and her depiction of the wild Tasmanian coast is evocative. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy the likes of Fiona Wood or Barry Jonsberg.

Review by Erin

 

Sister Heart by Sally Morgan

“Annie” has been taken from her mother, her home and everything she knows and loves. Bundled onto a ship with a priest as her guardian, she is taken from Western Australia to the east coast where she is deposited into a home for Aboriginal children. Here she is given a new name, is expected to learn how to read and write, to speak only English and learn her place in society, most probably as a house maid from the age of fourteen. Annie is understandably terrified and hearbroken. How will she ever get home when she doesn’t even know where she is? How will her mother find her when she has been given a new name? Life in the home is harsh. Food is minimal and barely edible, the work is harsh and the punishments harsher, but for Annie there is hope.  Here she meets Janie, a sister-friend.  Janie takes Annie under her wing and provides love and comfort and much needed words of advice.  But when influenza sweeps through the home and Janie becomes ill, will friendship be enough to save her?

Sister Heart is a heart-wrenching story of the stolen generation. Told through beautifully written verse, Annie’s story is one of confusion, loss and fear. Annie is literally abducted while her mother is away from the mission, thrown onto a boat and told she must be grateful for the opportunity. As a child, she doesn’t know where her home is, let alone where she is taken or how to get back to her family. We know now that children like Annie very rarely ever found their families again and this makes the story all the more sad. However, though the tears there is laughter as the girls form a strong bond and help each other through their daily struggles, of which there are many. This novel is easy to read but, through the use of minimal words, provides a confronting picture of life for the children who were stolen from their parents. It could easily be read by readers aged 10-12 but would perhaps be more appreciated by older readers. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

Dancing in the Dark by Robyn Bavati

This book is about a girl called Ditty, who wants to learn ballet more than anything, but is forbidden by her strictly religious parents.When she starts to dance in secret, she has to keep her two worlds apart. But for how long can she keep her new life hidden? The story is very intriguing and mysterious. Even if you aren't really into dancing, the prologue will have you hooked instantly. I'd highly recommend this for 11-15 year olds.

Review by Olivia, age 11.

 

 

 

Freedom Ride by Sue Lawson

It's 1965. Robbie Bower is fifteen and living in rural NSW with his father and grandmother.  Born in another town, he moved to Walgaree as a young child after the death of his mother and has felt like an outsider his entire life.  His grandmother is a severe woman who projects an outward facade of order and moral decency but likes nothing more than gossiping with her friends. His father, a war veteran who works at the local bank, believes that everything, and everyone, has their place. He likes to come home to a beer and a cigarette, reads the paper, goes to the RSL on a Friday night and to church on Sundays. For Robbie, life is always the same. He is polite and respectful, constantly dodging his nan’s vicious tongue and biding his time until he can leave the town. He knows very little about the town’s Indigenous population. He knows that they live either at the Station, the Crossing or the tip. They are generally not welcome around the town, but are somewhat tolerated. White people are served first in the local shops, blacks are not permitted in the pool or the RSL. They’re dirty and uneducated.  It’s just the way things are and Robbie has never really thought about it. Then Robbie meets Barry. Recently returned from the UK to take over the local caravan park after the death of his father, Barry is progressive, worldly and kind.  He takes a liking to Robbie and invites him to work around the caravan park.  During a summer when Robbie feels lonely – his only two friends have chosen to take up with the local bully – the offer is a godsend.  Robbie is embraced by Barry and his mother in a way he never felt at home. When Barry hires a local Aboriginal boy, Micky, Robbie learns first hand that all his preconceived ideas were untrue. In many ways Micky is just like him and the boys strike up a friendship, though never outside of work. It is not long before word gets around that a “darkie” is working for Barry. Holiday makers begin leaving the park, threats are made and violence ensues. Though racist remarks and views are often expressed in his home, Robbie is still shocked to witness how Micky is treated in person and starts to question everything he thought he knew.  Tensions reach boiling point when the Freedom Riders come to town. The Sydney University students are traveling around the country in an effort to highlight the living conditions of Aboriginal people and extreme prejudice they face every day.  They are less than welcome and as Robbie begins to align himself with their cause, he becomes witness to the violence and hatred spouted by the so-called decent people he has known all his life.

Freedom Ride is one of the most powerful books I have read in a long time.  Lawson does not shy away from the ugliness of racial hatred, choosing to include words like “boong” and “nigger” as they were common vernacular at the time.  She makes it clear that this was apartheid by another name and the hatred felt by the white population in towns such as Walgaree was violent, explicit and deep seeded. Robbie is a wonderful character – kind, respectful and decent, though lonely and often afraid. At a time when children are seen and not heard, Robbie falls victim to the so-called “good intentions” of his father and grandmother and must piece together truths from snatches of adult conversation. He also shows courage and learns some tough lessons about the reality that others are living.  This book is uncomfortable to read in that, unfortunately, there is still much truth in some of the views that are expressed. It will no doubt shock many teenage readers and offers a huge amount of discussion in terms of Australian history, activism and current and past race relations.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Review by Erin

Frankie and Joely by Nova Weetman

Frankie and Joely are best friends.  As with many teenage girls, they love each other fiercly but their relationship is somewhat volatile. Every summer Joely spends a week with her country cousins in rural NSW, this year she has invited Frankie along for the first time. At fifteen, Frankie is independent, beautiful and confident. Her neglectful mother is more concerned with her latest boyfriend than the whereabouts of her daughter so Frankie is keen to escape. On meeting Joely's cousins, Thommo and Mack, it is immediately obvious that they are taken with this girl from the city and tension arises. At first, Joely thought inviting Frankie was a great idea but as she attracts more and more attention, Joely becomes jealous and begins to think maybe she made the wrong choice.  Enter Rory, local play boy. Both girls fall for him, unbeknownst to each other, and their relationship is further strained. As the temperature rises the girls' friendship is tested. Will they still be 'Frankie and Joely' at the end of the week?

Frankie and Joely is an honest and engaging look at relationships between teenage girls, growing up and loneliness. I sometimes found myself wondering why the two girls were friends at all, it seemed that much of the time they didn't really like each other all that much. However, it is apparent that their friendship goes deeper than their surface gripes, they save each other from loneliness and give each other a form of comfort that is lacking in both their homes. Joely is young and somewhat naive. She desperately wants to be mature and confident, like Frankie, but finds that she doesn't know how.  Rory's attention makes her feel special and attractive in a way she has never felt before, blinding her to the boy's less than noble intentions.  It also serves to fuel her jealousy of Frankie, who seems to have everything figured out. Frankie, on the other hand, may seem confident but takes great pains to hide how deeply unhappy she is with her mother. From observing her mothers steady string of boyfriends, Frankie has learned to use her overt sexuality to her advantage and is used to attracting the attention of men and boys. Unfortunately, this also often attracts the ire of women around her. Frankie desperately wants to be liked and included and her relationship with Joely provides this for her. Ultimately, this is a story about navigating that very difficult time of adolescence, trying to fit in and find people to connect with. I initially found the writing style of switching perspectives a little difficult to follow (at the beginning, the girls come across as very similar) but as the story progressed I found this less of a problem. Weetman has created a very familiar relationship that I am sure many teenage girls will relate to and the Australian setting (in the stifling heat of the county) is almost a character within itself, it is so beautifully drawn. Highly recommended.

                                                        Review by Erin

Risk

Risk by Fleur Ferris

On the back of the excellent comments from a school principal about her experience of reading Fleur Ferris’ Risk, I decided to have a quick dip into the book yesterday over my lunch break. Well, I finished reading it at about midnight last night, and had a fitful night’s sleep afterwards. This book was most certainly gripping, and the story of seemingly innocent online behaviour that goes tragically wrong was heart-wrenching in its authenticity. This story should be read by every teenager with online access, and by every parent who believes their children are safe in their online behaviour. As the mother of two girls, I was chilled by what I read, and how little I knew.

 Sierra and Taylor, two fifteen-year-old girls, meet Jacob Jones in a chat room. Both are smitten, but it is the more outwardly confident Sierra who takes it further. She can’t believe how much they have in common, how hot he is in the photos he sends, and how amazing it is that he lives right there in Melbourne, just like her! She plans an after-school date with him, with Taylor covering for her. When she calls to say he is wonderful and she is going to spend the night with him, Taylor and her friends can’t believe her selfishness.

 But then she doesn’t come home.

 It takes two full days for Taylor to realise something is wrong, and the seriousness of what has happened hits her hard when police, crime squads and detectives are immediately called in. The fallout is immense, painful to read, and devastating for all of the characters.

 Fleur Ferris is a former police officer and paramedic, and the authenticity of this story is clear. She knows what she is writing about, and she does it very well. The characters are believable in their naivety and the way they never once consider that what they are doing has risks involved. It is possible to imagine your own children, or even yourselves at a younger age, making the same mistakes. As a parent, this book made me question how much we tell our kids about danger. We want them to keep their innocence, and once they have the knowledge that such evil can exist in the world a little bit of that innocence is taken from them. But the need to arm them with the tools to manage themselves in an online world is critical, and we can’t avoid it or shy away from it.

 My one disappointment with this book was that there is no information at the end of the story about what to do if you find yourself involved in this type of environment. I would have loved to see some guide for readers to how to manage themselves online, a key list of what to look out for, and the information that you should never share with ‘friends’ online. Obviously you get a strong sense of this through Sierra’s and Taylor’s stories, but a quick reference to wrap up these important points would be an excellent inclusion.

 I highly recommend this book to young people thirteen and over, and to their parents and teachers. If you have never heard of a proxy box like me (and I think I am technically literate) and never visited a chat site, then you should make it your job to find out more. As another reader said, forewarned is forearmed.

 Review by Bron

Taylor and Sierra are best friends. They’ve known each other forever and do everything together.  Sierra’s always been a bit wild, pushing the boundaries and the limits of her parent’s patience.  Taylor is a bit fed up with Sierra’s selfishness and always coming off second best.  One night the girls are playing around in a chatroom when they happen upon Jacob Jones. He seems sweet and interesting so when he private messages Taylor, she can’t believe her luck. Usually it’s Sierra the guys go for but Taylor is more than happy to lap up the attention.  They send photos, talk about all the things they have in common and before long, Taylor is head over heels. It’s not until Monday at school that Taylor learns that he was also messaging Sierra and the two have planned to meet up the following Friday.  Taylor is heartbroken and angry at Sierra.  Why does she always get what, and who, she wants? Taylor’s a little uncomfortable with Sierra meeting Jacob but agrees to cover for her anyway.  When Sierra calls on Friday night to say that she will be spending the night with Jacob, Taylor is still uneasy. But this is Sierra, she can take care of herself and this is not out of character.  When she still doesn’t show on Saturday, Taylor is sure Sierra is just being selfish and spending time with her knew guy. But two days turns into three and Taylor realises that she has to break her silence.  Before long, the police are involved and Jacob is exposed as a fraud, an internet predator. What follows is an agonising wait for news, heartbreak and grief. And a very real lesson for Taylor on the dangers of meeting someone online.

Fleur Ferris is a former police officer and paramedic, all too familiar with the world of online predators and this comes across is the story very well.  Risk is a frightening read, especially for parents, and hopefully for teenagers. Taylor is young and naïve. Chatting with guys online is something she does all the time and nothing she has ever worried about. It is difficult to believe that with all the warnings out there, they idea that Jacob could be a predator never enters either Taylor’s or Sierra’s minds.  But that is exactly the point. The girls are swept along by his very sophisticated game, designed to draw them in, and they live in an online world where everything is shared without a second thought. The grief felt by Taylor, her friends and Sierra’s family is heartbreaking and should serve to remind teens that their actions have an effect on the people around them. The writing is not the most polished I have read, and I do worry that this steers the story towards the somewhat melodramatic. However, the message is clear and I think that teenage girls, in particular, will be captivated by the story, which can only be a good thing. Highly recommended for 13+ and all parents and teachers.

Review by Erin

Coco Banjo

Coco Banjo is Having a Yay Day

It was a lovely story about a girl called Coco who saves her friend Narianna from getting sent home from school. I think this book is perfect for kids aged 6 to 8. I like the way it was so creative, mixing the words and pictures together. The first few pages were tricky to read until I got used to the style of the words being part of the pictures. I liked the funny pictures. Coco Banjo is a very exciting little girl, always so happy and looking great. I would like to read more stories about Coco Banjo.

Reviewed by Camille (Aged 6)

 

Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle

After the recent death of her brother, Lucy's life has been turned upside down. A good student and a champion swimmer, Lucy loves the business of her life.  But now eveything has changed.  Her friends are distant, she can't concentrate at school, her mother won't get out of bed and the thought of going in the water terrifies her. Lucy is lost, but most of all, she can't understand why Cam, a seasoned surfer, would enter the water in the dark of night and never come back. Lucy becomes drawn to Steffi, a former friend, who is wild and artistic, like Cam. Partying with Steffi helps her to forget, but also introduces Lucy to Evan, the new boy in town. Evan is cute and obsessed with music and it is not long before the two begin a relationship, the first serious one for Lucy. With Steffi and Evan, Lucy starts asking questions about how Cam died.  Was it really an accident?  Did she really know him as well as she thought? Slowly she begins to learn the truth and heal her broken family.

This is a beautiful and accomplished first novel from a powerful new Australian voice.  The coastal setting is perfect and wonderfully drawn, you can feel the heat of an Australian summer. Lucy is heartbroken and flawed and the pain felt by her family is palpable.  This is also an exploration of depression - there is the mention of Lucy's mother having suffered from depression previously, and the possibility that Cam shared the same affliction - and the difficulties of a child having to look after a parent who is not coping. It is also romantic and the awakening of Lucy's feelings for Evan are lovely to read and a welcome respite from the grief. I devoured this book, not wanting to leave the little coastal town and the characters who inhabit it. Highly recommended, particularly for fans of Melina Marchetta, Fiona Wood or Simonne Howell.

by Erin

 

 

 

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

Magonia is the debut novel by Maria Dahvana Headley and has been compared to both John Green and Neil Gaimain.  Headley has previously worked on the novels of Gaimain as an editor and this book would certainly be enjoyed by his fans.  Comparisons to John Green are misguided, however, though his fans may well enjoy this novel. Fifteen-year-old Aza is literally drowning in air.  Her whole life she has been plagued by a mystery lung illness that means she constantly struggles to breathe and was not expected to live as long as she has. When Aza sees a ship in the sky, and hears someone calling her name, she puts it down to a side effect of her multiple medications. The only person she tells is Jason, her best friend, the only person who will believe her. Soon enough Aza's illness catches up with her and she is gone from our world, and rescued by another.  Aza is a Magonian, part of a mythical bird-like species who inhabit the skies on trading ships. On Earth, Magonians struggle to breathe, to live. In Magonia Aza is strong. Stolen as a baby and hidden on earth, Aza has an important role to play in Magonia as the daughter of the ship's captain. Aza soon learns that a war between Earth and Magonia is coming, but who can she trust?  On Earth, Jason has lost the love of his life but he doesn't believe she is dead. Will he find her again?

Magonia is a beautifully written novel based around a highly original concept. Adventure on the high seas will never be the same once you have read about pirates who sail ships through the skies. There is just enough romance - not so much that the story becomes sentimental - and a good dose of action. This book would be ideal for readers of urban fantasy, particularly for fans who love the likes of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor. I would have liked the author to go into a bit more detail about Magonia itself, the idea is intriguing, but I can't help but think that perhaps there is another book coming. This book is heartbreaking, funny and intelligent. Highly recommended. 

Review by Erin

 

Ill give you the sun

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

When I was first given the manuscript of this book, I was assured that it would be one of the best books I would read all year. Well, it certainly is the best book I've read this year by far. I’ll Give You the Sun is the gripping and heart-wrenching story of twins, Jude and Noah, both caught up in the passions and heartache of their own lives. Once inseparable, we learn that something tragic has happened that has left the twins not speaking. Jude, once the life of the party is now a recluse and Noah, once introverted and tortured, has given up the art he loves to hang out with the popular crowd.

 
The story is brilliantly told by each twin in turn, and jumps backwards and forwards through time, revealing the secrets the twins are keeping from each other and exploring their mammoth misunderstandings and jealousies. Nelson tackles some huge issues, such as grief, love, sexuality, jealousy, infidelity, and bravery. Her characters are larger than life, yet strangely representative of us all. Family relationships are explored with all their complications exposed.
 
The book is passionate, engaging and uplifting, and thankfully, has a satisfying ending as I would have been shattered if it had been otherwise! 

Review by Del

 

Our Baby by Margaret Wild and Karen Blair

What a wonderful picture book creator Margaret Wild is!  Our Baby is a glorious celebration of babies from different families and the relationship between this particular baby and their older sister. This book features babies going to cafes, riding bikes, dressing up, throwing food and generally being adorable. Karen Blair's beautiful pencil and water colour illustrations are soft sparing and depict so much joy in family life.  Best of all, it is so wonderful to see an Australian book depicting families that include different parenting roles (single mum, gay parents, mums and dads) and bi-racial children. Having children within just such a family, this book is a treasure. Sure to become a classic. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

The Pause by John Larkin

Seventeen-year-old Declan seems to have everything going for him.  A great family, close friends, he’s nearing the end of school and is in love with a beautiful girl.  When his girlfriend, Lisa, is whisked away to Hong Kong by her overbearing mother, Declan is heartbroken and doesn’t know how to cope.  Plunged into depression, Declan sees no end to his agony and does the only thing he can think of to end his pain – tries to commit suicide. It soon becomes apparent that Declan’s depression is derived from childhood trauma, an event that he thought he had gotten past but now realised has had a major effect on him his whole life.  What follows is Declan’s recovery and realisation that life has so much more to offer, that death was not the answer and people around him are more than willing to help.

This is an interesting and important book. In a note to the reader, Larkin states that he has drawn on his own experiences of depression when writing and this comes through in the story.  If you have not suffered from depression, it can be difficult to imagine how all-consuming it must be. Larkin gives an insight into how difficult it may be to recognise, let alone treat.  Declan is a lovely character - a loving son and loyal friend – who brings moments of humour to the story, this is not a “dark” read.  Rather, Larkin is obviously trying to impart on the reader that life will always get better and that there is always much to live for. If this book finds its way into the hands of just one teenager who chooses to “pause” rather than act on their despair, then it is well worth while.  A great starting point for the discussion of mental health with teenagers, and a lovely read. Recommended for 14+.

Review by Erin

 

 

Johnny Danger by Peter Millett

JJohnny Danger
I think Johnny Danger is a great book. I loved the plot and the theme. It is a funny book with lots of exciting parts and a good story board. I think Johnny is a good actor when he needs to be and that is all the time. Luckily he is armed with an arsenal of crazy weapons such as a bubble gum parachutes and booger bombs. DR Disasterous is so funny he is consantly calling on his number twos and mister Henry his teddy bear making everybody laugh. Overall I think this book deserves 7/10 stars.

Reviewed by Aidan, aged 10

 

 

Meet the DullardsMeet the Dullards by Sara Pennypacker

Meet the Dullards is a delightfully deadpan picture book about the Dullard family – Mum, Dad, and their three children Blanda, Borely and Little Dud. Mr and Mrs Dullard like the least amount of excitement possible, and revel in all things dull, safe and boring. One of their favourite pass times is watching the paint dry. But when they move house to try and find somewhere a little less exciting for their children – who are showing distinct signs that they want to break out of their dull world – they are confronted by bright wallpaper (that needs painting over in beige) and other charmingly un-dull experiences. One of the best lines from the book is when a highly animated neighbour is told “Please don’t use exclamation marks in front of our children.”

This is a picture book for slightly older readers, who will appreciate the subversive nature of the text and pictures, and understand the desire to break out of conformity and experience life in light and colour. It is great fun to read the words, and then ‘read’ the picture which is often telling quite a different story, as the excitement of life peaks through the dull veneer the adults have tried to put on everything. The more they try and ‘dull’ the curiosity and excitement out of their children, the more it leaks out until in the end the children break away and LIVE!

Highly recommended for children of all ages. My ten-year-old loved it as much as her younger sister. Very clever stuff.

 Review by Bron 

Cinnamon GirlThe Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

Creative, intelligent, thoughtful young women. As a mother of two young girls, I am always seeking books that show women in all their guises – as people who can be political, artistic, honest, disloyal, good, bad, and all the things in between.

And that is why I mentally applauded Melissa Keil as I read Cinnamon Girl. Alba is a terrific character for so many reasons. She is flawed for sure, as all the best book characters are. Who wants to read about perfection? She is also struggling with decisions about her life and the path it should take, as she deals with the fall-out from losing her father and the thought that her best friend is about to move away and begin his life without her. And now the world might be just about to end, just as icing on the cake. As her town turns into something reminiscent of a Woodstock festival in what people believe are the final days on earth, Alba starts to make some decisions about the people around her and the life she wants to live.

Alba also has the thing I love most about great fiction for young adults – a super group of friends, all who look out for each other and show that they care through the things they do and say. These are real people, too, wholly formed characters who fill the pages with their energy. They make mistakes, they aren’t black and white, and they are unsure of what their future holds, but they are taking the leap anyway.

I have only good things to say about this book. I highly recommend it for readers aged 14 and over. This could be the last day on earth. You really should spend it reading!

Review by Bron

 

 

Penelope PerfectPenelope Perfect: Project Best Friend by Chrissie Perry

I liked this book because it is funny and I think kids seven and over will like it. The best thing about Penelope is that she learned you don't always have to be perfect.

Review by Beth, aged 7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper Planes by Steve Worland

Paper Planes is one of the most successful Australian movies of late but when I read that this was a novelisation of the flim script, I was a little wary. It turns out that my fears were unfounded, this is a very well written adaptation. Twelve-year-old Dylan lives in outback WA with his father, a loving but troubled man who is trying to come to terms with the death of his wife, Dylan's mum. When a substitute teacher introduces Dylan's class to the art of the paper plane, it turns out that Dylan has quite a talent.  A talent that may just take him to the World Junior Championships in Japan. Could this be Dylan's key to rebuilding his relationship with his dad? Along the way he makes an unlikely friend, confronts a bully and leaves his small town for the first time, all with warmth and humour.

This is a lovely story that was a joy to read.  Dylan and his father's grief is heartbreaking but you can not help but admire Dylan's determination to find joy where he can. He's a lovely character, smart and kind and the sort of boy any teacher would be happy to have in their class. Dylan's decision to face his bullies, and the ways in which he does so, set a great example.  There are also several secondary characters who bring much humour to the story, including Dylan's grandfather who made me chuckle several times.  This would make an excellent class text for upper primary-lower secondary and a very enjoyable read for 10-14 year olds who like a bit of realism rather than the fantasy that seems to dominate the age group. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney

Greg is back and funnier than ever in book 9 of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, The Long Haul. The unfortunate events in this book made me laugh out loud, but I won’t tell you what they are because I don’t want to spoil the story. The usual suspects are here with an arsenal of funny new characters including Beardo the pig and Beardo’s kids. 

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.

Review by Aidan (age 10)

 

 

 

 

New Boy

New Kid by Nick Earls

We all know the pain of being the ‘new’ kid, whether it is at school, at a new place of work, or in a new club or town. They all know a secret language that signifies them as belonging, and we are yet to learn the phrase, or the look, or the way of being that will make us cross the line from ‘new’ to acceptance. Nick Earls has examined what it means to be new in his latest novel for upper primary readers, New Boy.

For Herschelle, whose family have arrived in a small Brisbane town from South Africa, the experience of being new is raw, and real, even as it holds a level of humour. Herschelle speaks differently, he doesn’t know the lingo required of the schoolyard, even his name makes him stand out as different. With great insight, Earls delivers Herschelle’s story with a real understanding of what it means to try and break into a new school when it seems everything else is conspiring against you. As he tells us at the end of the novel, the author himself came to Australia from Northern Ireland as a nine-year-old, and even now he recalls that sting of embarrassment he felt at not knowing the right words to use in the right situations.

For Herschelle, as well as being new, there is an undercurrent of racism that is present in the bullying he suffers at the hands of Lachlan, the class tough guy. Herschelle is amazed to think of his treatment as racism, after the overt racism he has been witness to in his former life in Cape Town. He thinks being white rules him out of contention for being a victim of racism. I was reminded of the way Morris Gleitzman, through the innocent eyes of a child protagonist, is able to reflect those adult behaviours that we often fail to see in ourselves. This same characteristic is present in Herschelle in his astonishment at what is happening around him.

And things come full circle. When another new student comes to One Mile Creek Primary, Herschelle is able to act as a bridge to help them find their way through the barriers of race, language, and social acceptance. It is a moving part of the story, and one that will hopefully resonate with young readers.

I highly recommend this book for upper primary readers. It would make an excellent novel to read as a class, with some terrific springboards for discussion.

Reviewed by Bron

 

Love Bomb

Love Bomb by Jenny McLachlan

This lovely bit of frothy teen fiction hit all the right buttons for me and is bound to be popular with girls thirteen and over.

Betty lives with her father and her pet cat – her mother died when she was just a toddler and she has no memories of her other than the music her mother played with her group the Swanettes. Betty has inherited her mother’s musical talent, and when the ‘hot’ (that overused term) new boy Toby asks her to audition for his band she has great hopes that he might be her first kiss! As readers we can see Toby for what he is, a troublemaker who has no real regard for Betty, but it takes some time and the true support she receives from her real friends for her to see through his Mr Nice Guy act.

The book is peppered with letters her mother wrote for her to read at critical stages of her life: her first kiss, her first broken heart, her first true love. Although this is a little overly saccharine, it works well as a plot device in helping Betty to look critically at her situation and see it for what it is. Betty’s father has a new ‘friend’ and although Betty hates the idea at first, her realisation that Toby is less than perfect comes as she realises that Rue is probably not as bad as she first thinks. This growing maturity of the main character is enjoyable to read, and Betty is a likable character because of it.

The school settings are realistic, and her friendships are authentic. She does put herself into a couple of situations where there is risk-taking, including vandalising and alcohol, but it is handled sensibly for the most part and not promoted as being a very wise choice.

I recommend this for teen readers who like romance, friendship and family drama.

Review by Bron

 

BirrungBirrung the Secret Friend by Jackie French

Barney Bean came to Australia from England with his convict mother on the Second Fleet.  Life has been hard, especially since his mother’s death, but Barney is well used to surviving.  A resourceful and loyal 10-year-old, Barney has been caring for Elsie, a young girl who doesn’t speak. He doesn’t know who she is or where she came from but he is determined to keep her safe. When they are discovered and taken in by the first clergyman, Richard Johnson, Barney is wary at first.  However, Richard and his wife are kind and willing to house, clothe and feed Barney and Elsie in return for decent work. It’s the most comfortable Barney has ever been and he soon grows fond of the caring couple.  In the household there is also Sally, the cook, and Birrung, and adopted Aboriginal girl. Barney is instantly taken with Birrung, her kindness, her laughter and her beautiful smile. But beneath Birrung’s smile is a deep sadness. Treatment by white settlers is harsh and despite the kindness of the Johnsons (and their desire to “civilise” her) Birrung longs to return to her Aboriginal family.

The story of Birrung and the Johnsons is a true one and vividly brings to life the struggles of the early settlers.  Food and medicine were scarce, law and order even more so.  The story does not shy away from the treatment of Indigenous Australians at the hands of the British but does present it in an age appropriate way for the young reader. Conflicts are touched upon and we feel heartbroken for Birrung, a young girl whose heart still belongs in the bush despite her willingness to stay with the Johnsons. Perhaps most shocking is the depiction of the “Death Ships”, the third fleet rife with disease and the ill-treatment of the convicts on board.  At only 135 pages, including some extensive notes from the author, this would make an excellent addition to middle-upper primary studies of early Australian settlement and could easily be read aloud in class. There will be more to come in the series. Recommended.

Review by Erin

Flirty Dancing by Jenny McLachlan

When a National dancing competition called Starwars is announced Bea can’t wait to enter with her best friend, Kat. But when Kat decides she will dance with the school bully, Pearl Harris, she is stuck with no one. That’s until Bea Nan signs her up for dance classes and Bea finds a new partner, Ollie Matthews, Pearls boyfriend.

Bea learns a quick jive and multiple aerial moves as she dances her way up in the ranks. But the dancing isn’t the only competition she has on her hands. A major fight breaks out between Bea and Pearl, as Pearl and her dance group also complete each level of Starwars.

An intriguing novel wrapping dance and romance in to a hilarious story line. Recommended to 12-15 year olds who enjoy the comedic side of romance.

By Faith Howland, aged 13

 

 

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

Eleven years ago Apple’s mother, left their home in England for America to be a famous actress. Ever since Apple has patiently waited with her Nana for her mother to come home. But when she does return, it isn’t as great as Apple had hoped for. Her mother and Nana fight often and her mother has brought someone back from America who is more lost than Apple herself. Apple finds a new relationship with everyone in the story and begins to see life through the eyes of others and how it really is.

A heart-warming story covering solitude, fear, war, love and disappointment, each named for the respective parts, described through poetry. Apples journey of learning who she truly is touches all of us in the spot where it matters. The heart. A powerful yet beautifully written novel recommended to 12+. Even adults will find the beauty in this transforming novel.

By Faith Howland, aged 13

 

 

 


A Small Madness by Dianne Touchell

It has been years since I read a book within a couple of days but this one I could almost literally not put down.  I found myself reading at the breakfast table, while feeding the baby, at the gym and staying up until 1am just so I could finish it. A Small Madness has received high praise from a number of sources – booksellers, reviewers and teen readers alike – and I have to say that I agree with all of them.  There is nothing particularly original in the subject matter – teen pregnancy – but Touchell draws her characters so beautifully, and transitions between them all so effortlessly that the story is utterly compelling.

Rose and Michael are seventeen and in love.  It is the first relationship for both of them. Both are “good kids”- they attend church, are respectful to their parents, do well at school, have a bright future. When they decide to have sex for the first time it is, not unusually, a somewhat spontaneous decision. Although both know the risks, protection is an afterthought, as it is for a few times after that.  But the chances are low aren’t they? Surely it couldn’t happen that quickly.  In the moment, it just never seemed that important.  So Rose is genuinely confused when she discovers that she is pregnant and deeply hurt by Michael’s cold reaction. She almost immediately throws herself into the depths of denial. The lengths she goes to to hide, deny and even try to end her pregnancy are shocking. Her oldest friend, Liv, is the only one other than Michael to know about the pregnancy but Rose unceremoniously ends their friendship in an attempt to hide the truth. As Liv watches Rose lose weight, skip class and become bitchy and shrill, she suspects the truth but feels powerless to help. Michael has everything going for him.  His strict father has mapped out the future and a baby certainly does not figure.  So he is somewhat happy to go along with Rose when she insists that there is nothing to worry about, there couldn’t possibly be a pregnancy.  Gradually, however, he can no longer deny the truth, though he tries his best to do so.

This is a story of mental illness brought on by desperation.  Rose’s desperation is palpable and incredibly sad.  It is also a story of denial, not just by Rose but, in some respect, by all the characters.  Rose’s mother is a woman who only sees what she wants to see, despite what is in front of her.  Michael’s father, a stern man who rules his house with an iron fist, has chosen a certain path for his son and refuses to see any deviation.  Michael’s mother denies her subjugation out of fear.  The characters are frustrating, shocking, sad and compelling. This is not a cautionary tale, as so many books about teen pregnancy are, but there is much to be learnt. Desperation and fear are powerful motivators. Highly recommended for 15+.

Review by Erin

 


Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Payal Dhar and Anita Roy

As soon as I heard about this collection I was eager to read it.  All female authors, speculative fiction and collaborations between Australian and Indian writers and illustrators – what’s not to love?  It did not disappoint.  This is a fabulous collection from some accomplished writers.  Here you will find science fiction, dystopia, fantasy and alternate realities. Narratives, graphic stories and even a play-script. Some authors have chosen to write alone while others are collaborations.  Justine Larbalestier’s  re-telling of Red Riding Hood takes place in a dystopian future, where venturing outside is a rare occurrence and the Big Bad Wolf is a predator of a different kind. Samhita Arni’s Cast Out tells the story of women and girls who are banished because of their use of magic, but banishment is not all it seems. Margo Lanagan’s wonderful Cat Calls sees a group of leering men put in their place by teenage girls, and the solidarity of some boys. There are also several stories that flip the idea of gender oppression on its head.  These are stories of empowerment that are not only enjoyable to read but provide much to think about and discuss.  Did Ophelia really try to drown herself?  The answer may surprise you.  This would make a wonderful addition to any middle secondary classroom but I especially implore teachers of boys to use it with their students.  Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Australian Girl: Meet Marly by Alice Pung

It's the early 1980s and Marly is trying to fit in at her local primary school.  Having arrived as a refugee on a boat from Vietnam as toddler, Marly is still seen as an outsider, though she has managed to make some friends at school. When Marly's cousins arrive from Hong Kong she is intially excited to have some more kids in the house but when they start at the same school, unable to speak English or make friends of their own, Marly struggles between being loyal to her family and keeping the friends she finally has.

Alice Pung is a lovely writer who obviously draws on her own family's experiences of settling in Australia durin the '80s. Alice does not shy away from the casual, and sometimes not so casual, racism that Marly and her cousins endure every day and expertly depicts how difficult it is for Marly to reconcile the hurt she feels and her desire to fit in. Marly is a plucky girl and there are quite a few laughs - I particularly liked the scene where the children receive "bowl haircuts" from Marly's uncle. This would be a great springboard for discussion in the classroom about cultural differences, racism and how difficult it can be for new children to fit in at school. Recommended for 8-12 year olds.

Review by Erin

 

 

 

 


All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

This book has been causing a stir among booksellers, reviewers and readers alike not just for its beautiful writing but also for its tough subject matter.  Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the school belltower. Finch has flirted with the idea of suicide for some time.  Feeling that he is a constant disappointment to his pro-hockey player father and unable to confide in a mother who is heartbroken after her marriage breakdown and therefore uncommunicative, Finch has become a master of disguise when it comes to his depression.  Violet is still reeling from the death of her sister in a car accident some months ago. Popular and beautiful, to Finch’s weirdness and penchant for random acts, the two would normally never have anything to do with each other.  However, on this day, Finch talks Violet down and the two strike up an uneasy friendship. Violet never intended to end her life, but nor is she coping with living it. A school project brings them closer together and Finch forces Violet out of her comfort zone and on the road to healing. But can Violet help Finch?  Constantly reinventing himself, Finch is an enigma and a deft hand at convincing the people around him that he is quirky, not mentally unstable. As the two fall in love, they begin to break down each other’s emotional barriers and truly be themselves. But will their relationship be enough to save Finch from himself?

This is a very powerful and beautifully written story of first love and depression. Surprisingly, it is not as dark to read as you would anticipate.  There are actually several times where I chuckled away to myself, not to mention several tear-jerker moments.  The aspect that struck me hardest was how clever these teenagers were at hiding their depression from the adults in their lives, particularly the counsellors. They become adept at telling people what they want to hear, and frankly (as a mother) this terrifies me. As a reader, you cannot help but particularly feel for Finch, who is virtually ignored by his mother and physically assaulted by his father. Violet is a sensitive, intelligent girl though trying to emotionally fix someone when you yourself are struggling is virtually impossible.  This story is heartbreaking, but so very important.  Depression is not trivialised or easily fixed, it is raw and real and the author has done a wonderful job of treating her characters with respect. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

 

 

SGISG

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts and illustrated by Christian Robinson

Sally McCabe is my hero.

It is not easy to stand up to bullies or to instigate a change of attitude but that is exactly what this wonderful, feisty, albeit small, character does.

With a gentle hand, author Justin Roberts shows young readers how it can be done. His rhythmical text together with Christian Robinson’s quirky, colourful illustrations makes this the perfect shared reading opportunity and a springboard for discussing some important issues around identity, friendship, kindness, bullying and about resolving issues with confidence and integrity.

‘…. On February third at eleven twenty-nine, Sally stepped straight out of the lunchroom line. She Said, “I’m tired of seeing this terrible stuff. Stop hurting each other! This is enough!” ‘

This lovely hardback book is a salute to children who find their voice, who stand up for what they believe in and could easily be used to talk about conflict at a higher level too.

‘…how the world could transform and a change could be made by the smallest girl in the smallest grade.’

I salute you Sally McCabe – you could teach a few grown-ups in power about behaving with kindness - and look forward to seeing what wonderfully positive action you instigate next.

 

 


Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson

 A girl runs out of the forest with no name and no idea who she is.  She only knows that she wants to find Pennyroyal Academy, an elite training school for princesses and knights. Here she is given the name Evie and, along with her fellow enlistees, learns to battle witches and dragons. She must also learn to navigate the new world of friends and enemies, and of course boys. At Pennyroyal Academy Evie will learn the true meaning of what it is to be a princess and some surprising truths about herself and her family. Can she muster the courage needed to go to war with the kingdom’s greatest enemy, witches?

I wanted to love this book, there are some fantastic ideas within the story - a girl with no memory, a kingdom at war with witches, princesses who are trained to fight rather than be rescued – but unfortunately I felt that it somewhat fell short.  It felt too much like a wannabe Harry Potter for my liking as there were a lot of elements that were very similar; for example, the enchanted forest that surrounds the Academy (not dissimilar to the one around Hogwarts), trees that are almost exactly the same as the Whomping Willow and our young protagonist who enters the Academy with no idea of the world in which she is about to become immersed. The idea of princesses who are trained to fight in battle was really appealing, though the fact that their chief weapons against witches are courage and a pure heart left me a little cold (though they are of course noble attributes). I wanted some action, for the girls to really get in there and do battle, like the boys who are trained to slay dragons. Although they go through some rigorous training, their role is still somewhat passive, though they are hailed as heroes. I also felt that there were several plot holes that were not satisfactorily resolved.

However, young readers may not be as picky as I am, even if they are big Harry Potter fans.  This is still an exciting and interesting read with some great qualities.  It’s a different take on the fairytale story and it is always refreshing to read about princesses doing it for themselves. 10-14 year old readers of fantasy should find a lot to enjoy.

Reviewed by Erin

 

 


Clariel by Garth Nix

I am a massive fan of Garth Nix who, I believe, is one of Australia’s most underrated writers of fantasy. His Old Kingdom trilogy is one of my favourite series so I was thrilled to see Clariel released.  Set 600 years before Sabriel, Clariel is the daughter of one of the most noble families in the kingdom, with a direct genetic link to both the King and the Abhorsen. When Clariel’s family move to Belisaere she finds herself at the centre of a plot to overthrow the current king. Her parents want to marry her off to a killer and she becomes involved in the capture of a free magic creature that is on the loose. Clariel wants nothing more than to return to her beloved forest where she wishes to live out her days in solitude but first she must learn to control the magic inside of her and save the king.  But can she resist the trappings of power?

Lovers of fantasy will enjoy this story of intrigue, power, betrayal and magic. Clariel lacks the evocative scenes of the trilogy involving trips to the underworld and I did feel that it wasn’t until about half way through that the action really picked up.  However, Nix is wonderful at world-building and his writing is always a joy to read. This series is fantastic for readers wanting to move onto something more difficult than Harry Potter, it may be a challenge for some but it is definitely worth it.  Recommended for 14+.

Reviewed by Erin

 

 

 

 


Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaimain and Lorenzo Mattotti

Neil Gaimain turns his hugely talented hand to another fairytale in this re-telling of Hansel and Gretel. Unlike The Sleeper and the Spindle, this version is more in line with the original tale and also contains a brief history of the story at the end of the book.  Illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti, this is a dark and disturbing tale. The story is familiar, Gaiman’s words are beautiful to read (as always) and Mattotti’s illustrations are haunting.  I have always believed that this is not a story for young children, it is terrifying in many ways, and as with The Sleeper and the Spindle (you can read my review here), many of the nuances of this telling would be lost on younger readers.  Slightly older readers, however, will enjoy the tingle up the spine and the creepy illustrations. It is also a beautiful object, a hard cover, large format illustrated book. Highly recommended for 12+, though good readers aged 8-12 would enjoy it too.

Reviewed by Erin

 

 

 

 

 

 


The New Small Person by Lauren Child

Elmore Green is a very happy only child. He has his own room, with all his own things in their proper place. He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants and no one will bother him.  Elmore is adored by his parents and relishes being the centre of attention. Then a new small person comes along.  Everyone likes the small person, even though it doesn’t do much, perhaps a little bit more than they like Elmore Green. As the small person grows bigger it begins to encroach on Elmore’s space.  It sits on his things, follows him around, wears his favourite costumes and licks his jellybean collection.  Then one horrifying day, the small person moves into Elmore’s room. However, when Elmore has a nightmare, the small person climbs into his bed and chases away the scaries.  Perhaps having a little brother is not so bad after all.

From the creator of Charlie and Lola, this is a gorgeous read about siblings and welcoming (or not) a new baby. Elmore is a quiet and particular child and the ways in which the relationship between the boys grows is simply adorable.  As usual, Child’s illustrations are gorgeous and her text a joy to read.  This has been a big hit in our house. Highly recommended for ages 2+.

Reviewed by Erin

 

 


Ten Little Pirates by Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty

Of all the books my kids received for Christmas (and there were a lot!) this has been the stand out winner. Ten Little Pirates couples fabulous rhyming text with bright, colourful and humorous illustrations to create a book that is heaps of fun to read aloud. Ten little pirates set out looking for adventure and gradually, one by one, they all meet with disaster – big waves, canons, sharks, giant squids, mermaids – until only one little pirate is left drifting all alone (don’t worry, they all come back). It wasn’t long before my toddler was joining in on the rhymes and counting down the pirates.  An unexpected result of reading this book is that my toddler seems to have (very basically) grasped the idea of subtraction. The numbers counting down in the corner of each page have helped him learn to predict what happens when one is taken away.  This is so much fun to read and there have been several sittings where we have read it multiple times.  Highly recommended.

 

 

Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Ross Montgomery

I would recommend this book for anyone who loves dogs or action stories, particularly for children aged between 8-14 years. This book is full of unpredictable courses of action and really cool twists. If you have a great imagination, read this book because you'll love it.

The main part of this book is about Alex and the hundreds and millions of dogs that he finds. This book is full of adventure and some of the twists were a bit difficult to follow, even though it was so interesting and easy to read and I didn't want to put it down.

I think this book is well written because it was easy to read and understand but there were some spelling mistakes.

I think that Ross Montgomery is a great writer and should continue writing kids books! If you enjoy this story, you might like to read another book by Ross Montgomery called The Tornado Chasers.

Review by Trey-Kai Bamford, aged 12

 

 

 


Earthfall by Mark Walden

Sam believes he is the only one left on the world. Over eighteen months ago the whole world went quiet, the entire population of Earth became brain washed. All except Sam, well that’s what he thought.

Sam has only survived by living under London, in the sewers. The surface is dangerous due to the creatures roaming the city, Drones, Sam calls them. After a near death experience with a pack of Drones, Sam finds himself face to face with a girl. The girl calls herself Rachel and leads Sam to an underground hideout filled with people, teenagers mostly, who all have clear minds and didn’t have their brains wiped months before.

Sam learns to survive with his new family and prepares to defeat the enemy. Will he save the world, or will everyone be trapped in their daze forever?

Earthfall is an action-packed novel that will keep you up all night, eyes glued to the page. Sam’s thrilling adventure is a must for readers aged 12-14. With a gripping story-line and dramatic characters Mark Walden has impressed readers all over the world. Earthfall provides a vivid picture while still allowing the reader to use their own imagination. This is the reason I highly recommend this book to those readers who love an adventure.

Review by Faith, aged 13

 

 

 

 

 


Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Sydney’s Surry Hills, or Razorhurst as it was known, in the 1930s is vastly different from the gentrified area it is today. Rundown buildings with no plumbing or electricity house poor Irish Catholic families, gangsters and prostitutes. Two competing mob bosses, Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson, run the town with money and violence. It is also frequented by street urchins, homeless children who skulk around the lanes and find shelter in abandoned houses. Kelpie is one such urchin.  Having been on the streets virtually her whole life, she is small and wiry from malnutrition and able to hide anywhere in order to avoid the authorities who would put her into welfare.  But she is far from alone. Ghosts have kept Kelpie company since she was small, leading her to kind people, food and shelter, even teaching her how to read.  They are her friends but also her torment.

Dymphna also sees ghosts but has learned to ignore them.  As Glory’s ‘best girl’, Dymphna is the city’s most well-known, and highly paid, prostitute. The murder of several previous boyfriends has earned her the nickname ‘Angel of Death’ and it is over the body of her current man, Jimmy Palmer, that she meets Kelpie. Dymphna appoints herself as Kelpie’s unofficial guardian but her life is also in danger. Glory and Mr Davidson both want Dymphna, for different reasons, and she must find an ally if she and Kelpie are to survive.

Razorhurst is somewhat of a departure for Justine Larbalestier, whose previous works have involved modern-day urban fantasy. This novel does have paranormal aspects, obviously in the form of the ghosts seen by Dymphna and Kelpie, but this felt more like an historical exploration of Sydney than anything else.  And a fascinating exploration it is.  The setting is raw and gritty.  There is no shying away from the realities of life in one of the poorest parts of Sydney – large families living in abject poverty, disease, loss, murder and prostitution.  Dymphna’s story is a confronting one; orphaned in the most horrible of circumstances as a young child, she enters Glory’s ‘business’ as a very young teenager, not shying away from the fact that this is what she has to do to survive in an unforgiving world. The cast of characters is diverse and reading their backstories is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the novel. Above all, this is just a cracking good read with lots of action and danger.  Due to some strong language and violence this would be most suitable for 14+ readers. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

 


Can We Lick the Spoon Now? By Carol Goess & Tamsin Ainslie

This has become a firm favourite with the 2-year-old in our house.  I first saw this book read on Play School and was immediately taken by the lovely text and the endearing story.  One lazy day, when the kids have run out of things to do, the family decide to bake a cake.  Encouraged by the promise of licking the spoon when they’re finished, the children mix and sift with enthusiasm and eventually create the perfect chocolate cake. However, it seems that a cheeky dog also has his eye on the finished product.

This is a joy to read. The softly rhyming text and repetitive phrases have encouraged much interaction with my toddler.  In fact, the phrase “not yet!” (said in response to the often asked “Can we lick the spoon now?”) has become a bit of a catch-all response in our house – “Angus, it’s time for dinner.” “Not yet!”  The illustrations are adorable and children will have fun keeping an eye on the mischievous activities of the family pet.  And as a bonus, the chocolate cake recipe is included in the back. Highly recommended. 

Review by Erin

 

 


All I Ever Wanted by Vicki Wakefield

There are certain rules that Mim lives by, the first being that she will not turn out like her mother.  Days away from her seventeenth birthday, Mim is working on getting out of the deadbeat suburb she’s grown up in.  If she can stick to the rules (no drugs, no alcohol, no tattoos) then she might have half a chance.  But the rules are becoming harder to live by and people are not always what they seem.  With two brothers in jail and a mother who won’t get off the couch, Mim is sent to pick up a “package”. On the way home the package is stolen by the boy Mim has coveted for years and she must retrieve it at any cost.  Drawn into the underbelly of her family’s reputation, Mim finds herself making new relationships with people she had never expected and reassessing the ones she thought she knew.  Her life is about to change.

This is in turn both a heartbreaking and uplifting novel. Mim gives us an insight into poverty and despair, the opportunities that are afforded some and not others.  Mim is smart and determined, biding her time until she can leave this life behind and begin the one she was meant to have.  However, before she can leave she must acknowledge the people around her and the role they have played in making her who she is.  This is a difficult lesson for Mim to learn and she of course makes mistakes along the way.  Mim is beautifully flawed and while she does not always make the right decisions (who does?) the reader will inevitably come away wanting the best for her.  Recommended for 14+.

Review by Erin

 

 

 

 

 


Wildlife by Fiona Wood

Sixteen-year-old Sibylla has never been terribly popular.  Reserved and serious, she does well at school and abides by her parent’s rules. Constantly reminded of how boring she is by her “best friend” Holly, she jumps at the opportunity to appear in a perfume ad organised by her god mother.  After the billboard goes up over the summer, Sibylla becomes significantly more popular and finds herself at a party kissing the much sought-after Ben.  To complicate matters, the year 9s are heading off to their private school’s bush campus for a whole term.  Everyone expects that Ben and Sibylla are together, especially Holly, but is it really what Sib wants?  And what does being with Ben really mean? Tagging along with his friends? Keeping her opinions to herself?  Sex?  Sib is not quite sure.

Enter Lou.  Still reeling from the death of her boyfriend, Lou has changed school just in time for the bush retreat. Determined to keep to herself, Lou wants nothing to do with the rumours and bitchiness that surrounds her.  Her heart is broken and although she wants to keep her past to herself, perhaps this is the opportunity she needs to open up to some new friends.

Fiona Wood is a lovely writer.  Her characters are real, all can be found in any Australian high school.  The relationship between Sibylla and Holly is all too familiar – the nice girl who hangs around with an obvious bully because they have been friends for so long.  As frustrating as it is to read as Sibylla goes back to Holly time and again, it is a scenario that would be all too familiar for many readers.  However, that said, Sibylla is a strong character in so many ways, smart and opinionated.  What struck me most about this novel, and Sibylla in particular, is the frank representation of teenage sexuality, without being explicit.  Yes, Sibylla is smart and well educated in all matters of sex (her mother works in sexual health) but she is not shy about the fact that she wants to lose her virginity, albeit on her terms.  She is caught up in Ben, highly attracted to the point where she is not sure she can trust her own judgement when she is with him.  It is refreshing to read a young adult book that acknowledges the desires of young women without becoming a cautionary tale.  This is a novel about friendship and change, grief and love. Highly recommended for 14+.

Review by Erin

 

 

 


The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell

The Sleeper and the Spindle is a beautifully produced version of the Sleeping Beauty story. We open with three dwarfs, on their way through the impassable mountains to find a gift for their queen. On their journey they hear rumours of a sleeping plague moving from town to town. It renders all unconscious and seems to be coming from a kingdom close to the Queen’s. Apparently a princess was cursed, to prick her finger on her eighteenth birthday and fall into an eternity of sleep.  But there are no princes in this story, all who have tried to save the princess have failed. Perhaps a Queen will have better luck?

This is a beautiful, surprising and dark retelling of a well-known story. No names are used for the characters but we soon realise that the Queen in question is in fact Snow White. Though she is preparing to be married, the Queen sets out to find the sleeping princess and release her from the curse that is making its way across the mountains. The Queen is brave and cunning and makes a wonderful change from handsome knights on noble steeds. When the princess is eventually found the story takes another surprising twist and all is not as it seems.  And what of the Queen? Perhaps adventure is more appealing than a “happy ever after” ending. Chris Riddell’s illustrations are haunting and full of detail, hours could be spent pouring over them.  This is also a gorgeous package – hard cover, a black and white illustration of the sleeping princess adorns the front, covered by a frosted jacket with gold detailing – it would make a beautiful gift for a teenage bookworm. This is not a book for young children, much of the meaning and language would be lost on them, but readers 14+ will love this story with a sting in its tail. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 

 

 

 


Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

18-year-old Darcy Patel has just written, and sold, her first YA novel. In a flurry of inspiration, she wrote the novel in a single month and sold her trilogy for a six figure sum – every novelists dream! Now she has decided to forgo university (much to the disapproval of her parents) and move to New York where she will live off her advance and work on the sequel. Her first few weeks are a blur of author parties, new love and noodles at midnight but soon the realities of a grown-up relationship, looming deadlines and a dwindling bank account set in. Darcy is afraid to believe the hype – what if her first novel was a fluke?  Surrounded by YA superstars (including a thinly veiled John Green character) Darcy is not so sure she can keep up the pretence of being a “real author”.

In alternating chapters we are presented with Darcy’s novel, Afterworlds. Lizzie survives a terrorist attack in an airport by faking death, so well in fact that she wills herself into the afterworld, the place between life and death. This is the place where lost spirits wander and where Lizzie learns that she is in fact a Psychopomp – a leader and guide of the dead. This is a great responsibility but she is not alone. Helping her is a fellow spirit guide Yamaraj, a very attractive spirit guide at that, who is torn between his feelings for Lizzie and his need to protect her.

I am a big Westerfeld fan and this novel does not disappoint, it’s one of his best.  This is essentially two novels in one and neither story disappoints. There is a certain perception of glamour that surrounds the publishing world and it is interesting to read a first-hand account, and a relatively honest one, of the dizzying highs and crushing lows that come with the territory of being a debut writer with huge expectations placed upon them. For those readers who love Westerfeld’s usual speculative fiction style, Darcy’s novel fits the bill perfectly. It has just the right amount of reality and paranormal activity while also giving us an insight into the writing process as Darcy works her way through rewrites.  Funny and engaging, Darcy is delightfully young and naïve and very relatable. YA tragics will also enjoy trying to guess who all the author characters are based on (there are apparently several big names who make an appearance).  Huge fun and highly recommended for 14+ readers, though good readers of 12-14 (particularly if they’ve enjoyed the Uglies series) would certainly enjoy it too. 

Review by Erin


I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo! by Jill Esbaum & Gus Gordon

This is fast becoming a favourite in our house.  Nadine is a boastful cow, proudly telling her friends that she is afraid of nothing. Wanting to prove her wrong, Nadine’s friends dare her to go into the deep, dark woods.  Well, what choice does she have? Nadine finds that she has all sorts of fun in the woods but when her friends head home without her, Nadine’s fears reappear.  When Nadine accidentally stumbles across her lost friends and leads them home she is hailed a hero. Should she confess to being afraid after all?

Esbaum’s story of Nadine is hilarious and heaps of fun to read. Accompanied by Gus Gordon’s fabulous illustrations and this is a sure-fire winner.  My 2-and-a-half year old just loves the rhyming text, joining in and pointing out details in the illustrations.  It’s a rollicking read and lots of fun. Highly recommended for 2+.

Review by Erin


The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss

Sixteen-year-old Pearl’s mother has recently died during childbirth. Now there’s only the little sister, The Rat, as Pearl refers to her. Pearl can’t help but blame The Rat for their mother’s death and now nothing is the same – not the rundown old house they recently moved in to but never had a chance to renovate, not Pearl’s relationship with her step-father (the only father she has ever known) and not her best friend.  Pearl wants nothing to do with anyone around her, no one can make the pain and loneliness go away.  But what if her mother is not really gone?  What if she is still here, checking in and encouraging Pearl to re-join her family and friends?  Pearl knows it’s crazy but she is not ready to let go.  When The Rat comes home from hospital and Pearl’s interfering granny moves in, Pearl no longer feels welcome. But is there a small possibility that she may be able to forgive The Rat after all?

This is a heartfelt story of grief and growing up. I have to admit that at times I found Pearl overly selfish and unreasonable – then I remembered that she is a teenage girl who has lost her mother, the hardest thing she has ever been through and while her actions still seem childish, they are somewhat understandable.  Pearl feels displaced and betrayed, unable to admit to everything she is feeling and finding it hard to connect with those she loves. The journey through her grief is difficult and sad to read but we watch has Pearl evolves and matures. Furniss’ writing is lovely, with a subtle touch of humour that is welcome in such a sad story. ‘The Year of the Rat’ will appeal to girls who enjoy bitter-sweet stories, such as ‘Love, Aubrey’. Recommended for 12+.

Review by Erin


Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor is the new kid in town. Having just moved back in with her mother and multiple siblings after her stepdad kicked her out, she’s determined to make the best of things.  With her mop of unruly red hair and mismatched clothes, she can’t help but stand out at her new school and soon attracts the attention of the cool kids, who of course begin to torment her.  Park likes to fly under the radar.  Black t-shirts, headphones and comic books, he keeps to himself most of the time.  When the two are somewhat thrown together on the bus, neither wants anything to do with the other.  However, over time, Eleanor and Park slowly begin to realise that they have more in common than previously thought.  As their relationship develops, they both find someone they can love and trust without judgement, but can love really overcome all obstacles?

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking first-love story. Eleanor comes from a broken family, an abusive step-father and poverty that often leaves her without basics such as toothpaste and shampoo.  We are shown the lengths Eleanor will go to in order to hide her situation and keep the peace at home, despite the fear she feels. She is a sad and courageous character and we come away from the novel wanting nothing but the best for her.  Park is a wonderful example of a decent and kind young man.  His loyalty to Eleanor is palpable though we are also shown his sadness as he struggles to live up to the ideal held by his father. That said, Park’s parents are loving and supportive and his home life is a start contrast to that of Eleanor’s. All this aside, this is also a genuinely funny novel with parts that are uplifting.  Rainbow Rowell is fast becoming an accomplished writer of YA literature that will appeal to fans of John Green. Highly recommended for 14+.

Review by Erin


Tim and Ed by Ursula Dubosarsky & Andrew Joyner

Tim and Ed are identical twins. "Same ears. Same eyes. Same feet. Same head." They're the same in every way and can't understand why there are not two of everybody.  After a particularly trying day, Dad announces that Ed will be spending the night with Aunty Pim. The boys are reluctant at first, and miss each other terribly, but lots of fun is had. When Ed returns home the next day, Dad assures them that although they look the same, they are both special in their own ways.

We are HUGE fans of this writer and illustrator team in our house.  Tim and Ed is absolutely gorgeous.  Dubosarsky is a wordsmith who makes all her books a joy to read aloud, while Joyner's illustrations are funny and adorable, as usual.  This is a lovely story about siblings, but also about finding independence. My toddler has been wanting to hear this story back to back for the last few days, a definite winner. Highly recommended.

Review by Erin

 


What Milo Saw by Virginia Macgregor

What does Milo see? Because of an eye condition that will see him one day go blind, he sees everything through a narrowed hole, causing him to focus on the things that others don’t notice. His senses are heightened and his mind is sharpened to the beauty, dishonesty and unfairness of the adult world.

There is a simple gentleness to this story, almost an old-fashioned tone, which makes sense when you consider that a good deal of the narrative takes place inside Forget-Me-Not, a nursing home where Milo’s beloved gran is sent when his mother can no longer cope. Milo’s father has left with The Tart and their new baby, and his mother is struggling to get back on her feet both emotionally and financially. When she brings a boarder, Milo’s father’s cousin, in to live in Gran’s room, it is almost more than he can cope with.

Milo’s sharp senses alert him to the poor quality of care the residents of Forget-Me-Not are receiving, and it becomes his personal mission to find a way to expose the evil being done by Nurse Thornhill. Milo also befriends Trippi, the chef at the home who is sleeping rough while trying to find his young sister, left behind when he managed to escape his Syrian homeland. With the help of Trippy and Al, the boarder Milo begrudgingly accepts, the residents of Forget-Me-Not, and a cast of other secondary characters, Milo sets out to close down Forget-Me-Not, get Gran home, and have everything back to the way it was in time for Christmas.

There is so much going on in this book – relationship drama, the plight of refugees, the impact of dementia on the family and carers, parental responsibilities, and that is just what shows at the surface – and yet it never feels overburdened with issues. There is a wisdom to Milo that goes beyond his nine years, but that never makes him seem precocious. His desire to do good is so catching that you completely go along with his story even when, at times, things seem just a little too neat.

I highly recommend this book to readers 15 and over. There is some (very little, really) adult content, but all delivered through the pinhole vision of a nine-year-old so nothing that your mature readers will not handle. And there is so much goodness there for them to take away that this story is well worth the journey.

Review by Bron


Jodie: This is the Book of You by Randa Abdel-Farrah

Three best friends Jodie, Rania and Deyana can't believe what they have found in the school library.  It is a mysterious book that writes itself, just for them. They believe it is a ghost trapped inside the book. Jodie's life is already difficult enough with her father in a new relationship after leaving her and her mother. Jodie finds it hard to get used to her new step sister Samantha and her step mother Clara. Jodie stays with her father and Clara on weekends and stays with her mum on week days.

My favourite character was Jodie because I felt like I could relate to her feeling stressed and worried about her father in a new relationship, even though my mum and dad have never split up before. I really liked how Jodie never gave up on herself. I think Jodie was a good character because it's good to have a strong character in a book like this one.

Even though this isn't the style of book I like to read I would still recommend it to other girls 9-11. This book would be great for girls who like mystery and drama in their books.

Review by Gabby, aged 10


Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare


Tessa Gray travels to London after a request of her brother but what she does not know is that her brother is not waiting for her on the other side. She finds herself captured in the hands of the dark sisters until, one day, a knock on her prison cell door sounded. On the other side was a young man. He helps her escape and pulls her into his own world. The world of shadow hunters. Soon they find themselves challenging the Pandemonium Club, led by the magister who casts a dark shadow over everyone's life. But what is the magister's link to Tessa?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book (and the other two in its series). In fact it is my favourite book series ever. It holds suspense, action, danger and romance and I honestly don't believe it could have been written any better. Cassandra Clare is an incredible author and has the power to make you weep and laugh and feel an urge to be pulled into her fantasy worlds. Her characters are pure genius and her plot lines even more so-she is truly a writing god!

Review by Ruby, aged 13


The Candymakers by Wendy Mass

The Candymakers gripped me from the minute I picked it up. It had parts that made me laugh out loud, and parts where a voice in my head said "WOW! What will happen?" As I read, I tried to predict what was going to happen. This mysterious book is about a boy called Logan, who was born and is living in a candy factory known as 'Life is Sweet'. It runs in the family of candymakers to win the annual confectionary competition. Will Logan fulfil his dream of becoming a candymaker?

Wendy Mass' style of writing is truly gripping. She uses the 'show, don't tell' strategy to give The Candymaker its mystical touch. I would suggest this book to strong readers, aged 8 - 12. I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Review by Elly, aged 9 and 3/4

 


The Year it All Ended by Kirsty Murray

Kirsty Murray has captured the essence of life in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century in her latest book The Year it All Ended. Opening as the story does on Armistice Day, 1918,  there is a strong sense of the excitement the future holds for Tiney and her sisters, the Flynn girls, with their young men finally returning from the Great War. But very early on there is tragedy for the family, and they begin to fracture and fall away from one another, although Tiney does all she can to hold them together.

Tiney’s desire to honour the grave of her brother Louis, who died in France on the battlefield, leads her to Europe, and from there the story grows and changes from that of a young girl into that of a woman learning about life, love and loss.

The writing in this book is really lovely – it is refreshing to read something so authentically true to the period in which it is set – and the stories of each member of the Flynn family are genuine and honest, gentle and almost quaint in their telling. This is a fascinating time in Australia’s history and I think Murray has done a wonderful job in weaving the story with great historical accuracy.

With themes of women and war, peace and conflict, and the strength of family, this book promises to appeal to readers aged 14 and over, and is a wonderful introduction to a time when Australia was still growing as a young nation, recovering from war and moving forward into an era of uncertainty and change.

Review by Bron


Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

Twins Justine and Perry have quite a history. Their mother walked out on the family when they were just four, and their father has recently lost his battle with cancer, leaving Justine as the sole carer for Perry, who has a brain condition that causes him to have trouble mixing and communicating with people. Together they have shared the first nineteen years of their lives. Now Perry is ready to move to an assisted care home leaving Justine to her independence for the first time in her life. But is it what she wants? And is it really what Perry wants either?

This novel is thoughtfully written in its portrayal of the dynamics between these siblings, whose reliance on one another has created a unique relationship. The novel is set predominantly in Canada, where they have travelled to create the perfect ’memory’ before everything changes forever. And unbeknownst to Perry, where their estranged mother has been living for many years. Justine has begun a tentative exchange of letters with her, and this is their chance to meet her and see if she is able to become a part of their lives once again, and repair the damage done so many years before.

Interspersed through the chapters are excerpts from their father’s journals, written to each child through the years from the day they were born until the day he died. This helps give the reader some insight into Perry’s condition, and also some more perspective on Justine’s development and how she has become the adult she is.

I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing here, either in the way the characters connected with one another, or with my connection to the story. I felt oddly removed as a reader from their journey, when what I wanted was to connect to their experience and become a part of it.

I liked this book overall, and enjoyed some of the characters we met along the way, especially the lovely cab driver who makes an immediate connection with Perry, and has an understanding of the world Perry inhabits.

Recommended for readers 13 and over.

Review by Bron


The Pearl of Tiger Bay by Gabrielle Wang

Annie is a city kid but one day her family move to a seaside place called Tiger Bay.  As Annie runs up to her doorstep she sees the name engraved Captain Starr, an ancestor of her father.  

Annie explored the seaside town for a bit and met the Mayor of Tiger Bay, Mr. Wriggly.  Mr. Wriggly tells Annie about the history of this once amazing and beautiful Tiger Bay and about how The Pearl Hotel was once a home to many superstars and royals.  A mysterious old lady called Madam Oklina lives there and she has not spoken to anyone in thirty years, not since her little girl Bea mysteriously disappeared on the Toes- a large cliff.  Since then Madam Oklina trapped herself in the old and rusted Pearl, never seeing anyone.

The hotel is falling apart and the council wants to knock it down.  Annie decides to raise the money to save the hotel with the help of a young Chinese kid called Jin Chen. Jin introduces Annie to a boy named Dash, a great artist whose room is a jungle!  The walls are painted top to bottom with greens and animals stare at you.  Together they start a dance school for the many children who live in Tiger Bay but will all go as planned

 This book is a good book for all readers, both confident and not so confident readers up to the age of 12 years. 

 Written by Arwen, age 10


A House of Her Own by Jenny Hughes

 Audrey has decided she is much too big to share the house with Dad, so decides it is time to find somewhere more suited to her needs. Together with Dad, they decide a tree house ‘almost as high as the sky’ will be just the thing, and so Dad begins building her the tree house of every little girl’s dreams. Audrey is quite clearly the apple of Dad’s eye, and the cubby he builds for her shows his love in every nail and every piece of rope. It has a spiral staircase with a banister for sliding, a hanging bathtub for snorkelling, and everything else in between.

The love between father and daughter is clear in every picture. The table is set for two, and we can see that it is just Audrey and her dad in the house. Even the way Audrey features in every picture on the wall tells us clearly that this child is loved and cherished. And it doesn’t seem too much of an imposition for Dad to spend his day building this dream house for his daughter.

But when it is time to say goodnight, Audrey thinks of all the reasons why staying on her own might not be such a good idea after all. Her tummy might grumble and wake the birds, or it might rain and wash her away in a flood. At Dad’s suggestion that there might be just enough room for her in the house after all “even if you are twice as big as you were yesterday”, Audrey rushes up the path and the final image is of Dad carrying Audrey into the house as dusk settles in.

The tree house will wait for her until tomorrow.

This is a delightful picture book for Dads (and mums) to share with their children. Highly recommended for 4+.

Review by Bron


Stuff Happens: Sean by Will Kostakis

Good stuff and bad stuff happens everywhere every day to everyone. For Sean there was good and bad stuff at his new school.  This story is a rollercoaster ride of emotion from the start. Whilst reading this book, I wanted to know if Sean would survive without his old friends? Would he make new friends?

I found the characters very well described and it felt like I was there with Sean going through some difficult times. Like Sean, I moved from Perth to Melbourne 6 months ago, so I could understand some of the emotions he was feeling. This story was great from the start. I loved this book but I wanted it to continue. I would love it if the author wrote another book about Sean.

I’ve heard that there are 3 other books in the Stuff Happens series and I can’t wait to read them!

8/10

Review by Aidan aged 10


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This is a very mature, sophisticated book, reminiscent of The Great Gatsby for its setting (around the Massachusetts / Martha’s Vineyard area), and The Talented Mr Ripley for its characters and plot. It has the wonderful feel of stories about old money, families with skeletons in their closets, and characters with secrets and lies that they carry with them throughout the story.

This book tells of the Sinclair family, steeped in wealth, and of the Liars, three cousins and a ring-in who spend their summers on the families’ private island, Beechwood. Gat, the ring-in, is not a Sinclair, and he is never allowed to forget it, although to the Liars he is just one of their group. He joins them in Summer Eight, and by Summer Fifteen Gat and Cady (our protagonist) are about as in love as you can be at fifteen years of age.

There is a wonderful sub-plot that follows through the story of the Sinclair family. Grandparents Tipper and Harris have vied their daughters off against one another for years, and the three daughters work hard for their inheritance, trying desperately to show their love. None of them have any career to fall back on, they always just assumed the money would be there. All have failed marriages, and children to support.

The Liars are all dealing with their own issues, which build and fester throughout Summer Fifteen, and the ramifications of that come to a head in disastrous ways. The drama that unfurls over that summer when the liars are fifteen is not delivered to us until close to the end of the novel, although we know that something major happened. Cadence is found curled in a foetal position on the beach at night, in her underwear, having no memory of the summer before. It is clear PTSD but we, along with her, have to piece together the events of the summer as they come to her, two years later, when she first returns to the island.

The twist in this book is EPIC and I didn’t see it coming at all. The depth and complexity of the book will make it a fascinating text to study, and the characters, plot development, and issues raised are all very meaty. There is a lot to get out of this book, even just as a pleasure read.

I highly recommend it for both teachers and general readers over 14 years of age. Definitely worth your time.

Review by Bron


The Candymakers by Wendy Mass

In a town called Spring Haven, four 12 year old children have been chosen to compete in a candymaking contest. Logan, the candymaker's son; Miles, allergic to pink and rowboats; Daisy, the happy, super strong, high jumping girl and Phillip, the boy who is always writing down secrets.

The book is broken into parts and each part is from a different child’s perspective. I think that in the end it made the book easier to read and understand. The main setting for the story is the ‘Life Is Sweet’ candy factory. This is where the children have to come up with their recipe and name it. I think this book is full of mystery and fun. This is a great book about making friends and candy. I have already recommended this book to some of my friends.

I rate this book five golden stars, suitable for people aged nine to ninety-nine.

Review by Kiera Erenboim, aged 9.

 
Crystal Bay Girls: Quincy Jordan  By J
en Storer

Quincy Jordan is a fourteen year-old girl. She lives with her parents in Sydney, Australia and attends a private girls school. When she grows up she wants to follow her fathers footsteps and become a surgeon. All is looking hopeful for Quincy. She scores perfect marks at school and has great friends. One evening everything changes and Quincy's parents marriage is jeopardised. After a sudden shock Quincy and her mother move to Crystal Bay with Aunty Tess and Quincy's cousins.

Quincy must learn to cope with this sudden change if she wishes to pursue her career as a surgeon. All Quincy wants is to return to Sydney and get her old life back. That is until she meets the school rebel - Harris, designs costumes for the musical Grease and builds a strong connection with her cousin Esme. What will happen when Quincy is put in charge of costumes for the year eight production of Grease? Will Quincy become 'crystallised'?

 'Quincy Jordan' is a well written book, as it gives the reader an insight as to what impact change can have, both positively and negatively. Whether you're going through a rough patch yourself or you just want some enjoyment, this book is great for you. Quincy Jordan is: smart, witty, bold and creative - not someone you would want to mess with! I would recommend this book to any girl who loves a good girly book with a twist.

 Review by Charlotte Abbott, aged 13


Girl V the World: Sophie Bennett Saves the Planet by Meredith Badger
 

 
Sophie Bennet’s life is different from the other kids at her school. She is a passionate supporter of animal rights, a vegetarian, lives in a straw bale eco-friendly house and supports second-hand over new and disposable. She is an only child in a family of activists.

But things begin to change for Sophie when she stays for a week with her neighbour Daphne, and her children, teen Eliza and young twin boys. Their lives are the complete polar opposite of Sophie’s, and the time spent with them, and hanging out with a new group at school, leads Sophie to question whether the way she lives her life is her choice, or something she does because of how her parents live their lives.

This story of Sophie finding out who she really is is a very realistic one. Sophie considers whether she is a vegetarian because she wants to be, or just because that is how things are done in her house. Should she shave her legs like other girls her age, or is she suffering from peer group pressure? Is her passion for animal rights her own passion, or her mums? All these questions lead Sophie to try new things, break out a little, then decide exactly who she wants to be. Along the way, some new friendships – and romance – develop for Sophie, and she is able to help others learn about themselves. Sophie is a likable character with a strong will and who is motivated to help others and the world around her.

This book is part of a wider series Girl V the World by several authors, all with strong female lead characters and interesting, school and family based stories.

This is a relatively short book at 128 pages, and will be enjoyed by readers aged 10 years and over. I recommend it for young readers who understand what it is to be a little left of centre, who walk to the beat of their own drum, and who have strong beliefs of their own.

Review by Bron

I have not got used to my new mum.
Even though I love her
(I absolutely love her),
I miss my happy,
painting,
dancing,
gardening,
smiling mum.

This gentle little book, written as a verse novel, tells the story of Amber and her family, and how after her mum’s accident, she stops being the mum she has always been to Amber, and becomes different. Different to her old self. Different to Amber’s friends’ mums. Different to the mum Amber wishes she could still be. Amber’s life changes dramatically – a mum who is like a different person, a new house, a new school, and an aunt who lives with them full time.

In simple language that young children will connect with, Sally Murphy has told a very difficult story. Change can happen to families in many different ways, some very dark, and how children adapt to that change can be just as varied. Amber feels embarrassment at how different her mum becomes after a serious car accident, and how she deals with those feelings demonstrates the power of resilience, and how empathy and understanding can come from places we least expect. This is a very positive, uplifting story that will move readers to think about what it means to be ‘different’.

Lovely line illustrations accompany this sweet story, and this book will be well received by children six years and over.

Review by Bron

My Funny Family by Chris Higgins 

My Funny Family is all about a little girl called Mattie who is trying to grow tomatoes at school with her bossy friend Lucinda. Mattie is always worrying about things that probably won’t happen. The other characters in the book are Mattie’s Dad, Mum, Grandma and Grandpa, a crazy auntie and her brothers and sisters - especially Stan and Anika. They are two people but everyone thinks of them as one person called Stanika because they are always together. Lucinda’s parents don’t like each other any more and Mattie worries that her parents might stop liking each other too.

The story is interesting and funny and I really liked it because in the end they created a vegetable garden with beans, sweetcorn, carrots, rocket, lettuce pumpkins and everybody is happy. This is a great book for anyone who likes reading funny stories about complicated families. I give it nine and a half out of ten.

Review by Sally Hunter, 8

 
Wilderness Fairies: Daisy's Quest by Jodie Wells-Slowgrove
 

 This story is so magical that when Daisy started the quest I felt that I could fly with her and climb treacherous waterfalls, make the most beautiful butterflies, open secret letters and then finally receive the prettiest wings I could ever wish for. This tiny world contains mystical characters. I loved exploring with Daisy and seeing what magical mischief she got up to on her quest. This book kept me occupied for only two nights because I couldn’t put that wonderful story down.

 Review by Zali Elliott, 8

 

 
 

 This story makes a stunning sequel to the other books. I had never heard of Lee Bacon before so I was a little skeptical but he turned to be a very good author. This book has an amazing storyline in which you think you know the end and then you get the surprise of your life. It is a mystical story with shadowy characters. There are so many twists and turns that you jus can’t put the book down.

I only have one problem with the book. The descriptive language is kept to quite a minimum. The storyline holds its shape though, even though the book does not paint the most vivid picture. Great ideas in the story which sums up to make a great read.

Review by Lachy Elliott, 12

 

My Life As An Alphabet is not the sort of book I would normally pick up as I usually read historical fiction or animal stories. I have seen it in my school library but just haven’t been interested. So when my mum showed me the book I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But I found I couldn’t get my nose out of it! It’s a heart-warming story about 12 year old Candice Phee, her parents, her religiously confused fish, Douglas from another dimension, her dead sister Sky and her rich Uncle Brian.

 Candice is… different. She doesn’t like speaking to people she is not comfortable with, so she writes notes instead. Candice doesn’t like her pens and pencils to touch each other in her pencil case so she made a divider for them. Her little sister had died of sudden infant death syndrome (sometimes known as ‘cot death’) and Candice blames herself. Even though the baby’s name was Frances, to Candice she was ‘Sky’ because when she looked into her eyes, it seemed the sky was the limit.

 Anyway, the story begins with an English assignment in which Candice must recap her life, writing a paragraph beginning with each letter of the alphabet. For example, Chapter One is “A is for assignment”. Candice takes the reader on the journey of her chaotic life. She is on a mission to reunite her family and bring peace to her world, and will go to great lengths to do so, even risking her own life.

 I would recommend this book to people from maybe 12 onwards. It requires a lot of thought and understanding. If you enjoy stories about real life situations and comedy I would HIGHLY recommend this book. If you have read and enjoyed The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time by Mark Haddon and Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz then you will probably like My Life As An Alphabet, which is written by Barry Jonsberg.

Review by Annabel Hunter, 11

Imagine waking up in a rickety old elevator, only remembering your first name. Thomas experiences this very thing and so much more in The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

Thomas arrives in a strange place known as the ‘Glade’, a farmland run by a group of about sixty teenage boys who were sent there two years earlier, thirty  at the beginning and one a month after that. The boys are known as ‘Gladers’.

Surrounding Thomas’s peculiar new home is a giant, seemingly insolvable maze crawling with hideous creatures called Grievers. The Gladers don’t know who sent them or why, or what lies at the end of the maze – or even if there is an end. Thomas knows he’s different. He knows he needs to become a ‘Runner’ - someone who runs through the maze, mapping it out and trying to find an ending.

When things in the Glade become even stranger, the Gladers work to discover where they came from.

Read this book and you’ll join Thomas and his new friends Chuck, Minho and Newt on their epic quest to escape the Glade and most of all, to find out why they’re there. This book is one of the most gripping books you’ll ever read. You will never want to put this book down. Definitely 10/10.

I’m currently reading the sequel to the book, The Scorch Trials, the second of the four book series, which are bound to be classics. A must for The Hunger Games fans.

– Review by Ben Hunter, 13.


Invisibility by David Levithan and Andrea Cremer

It seems that David Levithan cannot put a foot wrong when it comes to writing quality teenage fiction. In Invisibility he has teamed up with Andrea Cremer, author of the Nightshade series, to write a book that is both a modern-day love story and a wonderful introduction to speculative fiction.

Stephen is invisible. I know, I thought that at first too, but because it just is you really get used to the idea very quickly. He has been that way since he was born, and no one has ever seen him. It is a curse that was placed on his mother before he was born, and that is all he has ever known. Then one day Elizabeth comes along, and see can see him. Not just in a metaphorical sense, although that is true also, but she can literally see him as flesh and bone.

As their relationship develops, they learn more about the curse, and discover that Elizabeth is a spellseeker, one who can see a curse that has been cast by a cursecaster. And that is why she sees Stephen. His curse was cast by his grandfather, one of the greatest and most evil cursecasters to ever have lived. And if they are to remove Stephen’s curse they must track him down.

As one who doesn’t normally ‘do’ speculative fiction, I was hooked with this story. The authors were able to subtly shift the reader’s perspective to the point where I was immersed in the world of curses and magic without noticing how I got there, but definitely enjoying the ride. This is a book that will have strong appeal to teen readers twelve and over, especially those who enjoy speculative fiction, but not only them. Readers who enjoy strong plot, characterisation and setting will also be able to appreciate it, and may find themselves looking at the next spec. fiction that comes before them with a different eye. And of course those readers who already appreciate the nuances of fine spec. fiction will hopefully enjoy the change of scenery in this ‘real world’ setting.

Recommended for readers 12 and over.

Reviewed by Bron


Young Samurai: Ring of Sky (Book 8) by Chris Bradford

The Ring of Sky is about Jack Fletcher (main character) who is being hunted down by the Shoguns samurai. In Japan, he is known to be a Gaijin. His mission is to cross Japan so he can take a Dutch ferry back to England, were his lonely sister (Jess) is waiting.

The Ring of Sky was set in Japan in the year 1615. I found there was some spectacular vocabulary. There was a lot of Japanese names and towns that I found quite hard to pronounce.

The bit I probably liked the most was how Jack’s friends were so loyal and willing to risk their lives so Jack could get back to his sister in England and the way Jack was so confident and determined to succeed.

The thing that could be improved is the length. I found it a bit too long. The book ended in suspense, the story was left open to continue into the next book. It finished before he got to England.I would say this book is an adventure book because Jack is being hunted down by the Shoguns samurai and nearly got killed numerous times!

This is book eight of the Young Samurai series. If I had read all the other seven books of the series, I probably would like and understand the book a bit better. It’s just not the type of book I would normally read. I like to read action and adventure & even though this is an adventure book, I don’t like it. There was just too much fighting and too many emotional moments for me.

At the end of the book, I found pages of a Japanese Dictionary, which was to help understand all of the Japanese words in the story. This would have probably helped me to understand the story a bit better, if I had found it before i had read the book. I think it would have been better if this was at the start of the book.

By Aidan Bailey (10)


Gods and Warriors
 by Michelle Paver

Gods and Warriors is an excellent novel for grade 5 readers. It is packed with action, as well as detailed views to this amazing storyline, overflowing with countless problems. When a problem is created, the main character solves it, but there is always another problem to take its place. For example, when the crows, a black cloaked army are chasing the main character, he climbs a tree to hide, but the trunk snaps and he falls. Or in the middle of the ocean he is stuck on a plank of wood, and a shark comes and attacks him. And of course the changing perspectives really help you picture the feelings of the characters.

Overall, I believe Gods and Warriors is an amazing book and I would recommend it to anyone.

By Jem Satilmis


Lyka and the Secret Forest

When dad showed me the book at first it wasn’t what I expected. It some how reminded me of teletubies and the heart on the title made me think it was for a young girl. I started reading the book not expecting much but about 2 chapters in I was hooked. Chapter by chapter it pulled you in to a great little series about a robot with a big heart on a mission to save a little planet called Ahmee. On this challenge she faces many hard decisions, challenges and fights. The pictures were great with lots of great characters with bits of action and a thriller.  I finished the book and loved it. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an easy fun read. I’m really looking forward to the next book in this series.

 PS: Dad doesn’t think apps and books mix.

Review by Ryder J. Fowler


My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg

 Sometimes books come along that just make you want to smile at people in the street.  And there are characters you wish you knew in real life, just because they would make the world a happier kind of place. My Life as an Alphabet is my feel-good book for the year (so far), and twelve-year-old Candice Phee is the character I would most love to meet.

 Candice’s teacher sets her class an English task – to write about themselves with a paragraph from each letter of the alphabet. Candice decides that twenty-six paragraphs will not be nearly enough to tell about her life, and so she decides that many paragraphs will do a much better job. And so we learn about her and her world. Candice’s mother suffers from quite severe depression, no doubt heavily affected by the death of her youngest child, Candice’s little sister. Her father carries the bitterness of a business decision that saw his brother prosper while he didn’t, and her only friends are her goldfish, a penpal who has never returned her letters (but who she continues to write to anyway), and Douglas Benson from Another Dimension, a new boy to school who believes he has come through a wormhole and is desperate to get back to his world.

 Candice carries the responsibility for these people’s happiness, but it is not a burden for her. She cares for them all deeply, and finds a way to show them all - even her teacher and the sassy Jen Marshall from her class are not immune to her charm. She is loyal and true and a shining example of real goodness that isn’t saccharine or overbearing. Her plans to ‘fix’ the problems of the people in her life (and even her goldfish) affect real change, and it is a joy to share the journey that she takes to make that happen.

 Candice’s story also shows that ‘being on the spectrum’ is just a label. It doesn’t define the person she is or the experiences she has, and neither does it affect the way she approaches life.

 I really cannot speak highly enough of this book. I recommend it for really capable readers ten years and over, but I think it will resonate most with eleven and twelve year olds.

 Review by Bronwyn

 Teachers’ notes available


Loyal Creatures by Morris Gleitzman

Loyal Creatures is an example of Morris Gleitzman at his very best.  With its slow-burning delivery, this book does what all Morris’ best work does: it tells you a jolly good story while at the same time it’s sneaking up behind you and taking your heart in its hands. That way when you come to the end, probably sobbing like I was, you wonder how you have been so affected. Surely it was just a fun read wasn’t it? I was just laughing a minute ago, wasn’t I?

 Frank is just fifteen in 1914 when he and his Dad sign up, along with their horses, to join the Light Horse. It is the gift of a white feather, and the coffins of two of his father’s best mates, that push his father to decide. But for Frank it is his love for Joan that takes him to war. It is the idea that somehow he has to prove himself to her family, to measure up in their eyes. And with his beloved horse Daisy, he knows he stands a pretty good chance of coming back a hero. As long as he can stay clear of the Turks and the Huns he should be fine, he thinks.

 But when his father is sent to Gallipoli, Frank finds himself fighting his own war, with Daisy beside him all the way. And this is truly war we are reading about. Gleitzman has not spared his readers from the horrors of war, and when Frank has to make decisions about life and death, we are there with him as he fights to maintain his own sense of right and wrong in a time and a place our young readers cannot fathom.

 And always we are told of the loyal creatures, the horses who fight and die right alongside their owners. This is their story too, and it is told simply and very beautifully. The author obviously has a love of animals that comes through in his writing, and the sorrow he feels when a horse dies is clearly felt in each word.

 This is really a fine book, and I recommend it to readers aged ten and over. Just be aware that this is a story of war. Be ready for lots of questions. There is death and pain, and there will certainly be tears. But like all beautifully told stories, the journey is worth it.

 Highly recommended.

 Review by Bronwyn


Our Island by the children of Gununa, with Alison Lester and Elizabeth Honey

What a gentle, understated piece of writing is Our Island by the children of Gununa, with Alison Lester and Elizabeth Honey. In soft and lyrical prose, Lester has put into words the rhythmic passing of time on Mornington Island, in the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland. In true collaboration, Lester and Honey have made this picture book with the children of Mornington Island State School, and the illustrations on every page, done in crayon and food-dye wash, show the love and pride the children have for their island home. Even the endpages are gorgeous, reminding me of the drawings my own children have done after holidays at the beach, full of shells, crabs and sea stars, sitting on a beautiful sand-yellow background.

Dugongs, pelicans, brolgas and other native Australian creatures feature on every page, along with the Morning Glory, a cloud formation that can stretch for up to a thousand kilometres. Mornington Island is apparently one of the few places this natural phenomenon can be seen.

This quintessentially Australian story is elegant in its simplicity, and beautiful in its representation of life in this remote part of the country. It will help to bring the story of island life to many children for whom a place like this is a figment of their imagination, and it will no doubt be held up as a source of immense pride for those children who call Mornington Island home.

Suitable for very young children and up. Highly recommended.

Review by Bronwyn


Max by Marc Martin

Marc Martin is making a name for himself as an illustrator of note here in Australia, winning the CBCA’s Crichton award (for best new illustrator) in 2013 for A Forest and releasing a book each year since. He recently attended the Bologna Children’s Book Fair where he wowed the world with his contemporary and award winning illustrative style.

Marc’s most recent picture book, Max, is a touching book about friendship and loyalty; about survival and the enduring nature of these themes in our lives and is perhaps my favourite to date. While he has retained the bold illustrative style of previous books, there is a real warmth about the illustrations and the text. 

“Max and Bob are old friends. Max helps out in Bob’s shop and in the evenings they go fishing together. Until one summer when everything changes…”

When Bob has to move away from the fish and chip shop he owned by the beach for reasons GFC related, Max sets out to find him again. Happily, he does, their friendship is renewed and they continue to fish and eat hot chips together.

Max could simply be read and enjoyed as a book about old friends or it could be read as a story with more complex themes; themes that touch on urban development, the changing landscape both physical and economical and the impact of change on both people and the environment. Marc Martin uses his illustrations as a device to showcase the changes in that journey but without a heavy hand.

Schools will enjoy the opportunity to cover cross-curriculum priorities around English and Literacy, The Arts and Sustainability.

There is so much to enjoy about Max and so much to discover on each page but what I loved most about it is that it is a hopeful story  - a story where friendship and hot chips are the winners …. against all odds!

Don’t miss sharing Max with your young readers – we highly recommend it for readers aged 2-10.


Saving Thanehaven by Catherine Jinks

This book was wonderfully engaging right from the start. As the book progressed you began to understand the characters and setting in more detail and that just brings you in more. The  ending sums it all up with the flourish of a beautiful twist and the epilogue works extremely well. I enjoyed reading this book because it never has a predictable chapter and always left me wanting more! 9/10 

Review by Lachy Elliott.
 
 

 


Joshua Dread by Lee Bacon

Joshua Dread is a kid with a power nobody knows about, except his parents, his two best friends (Milton and Sophie), and the most famous superhero in the world, Captain Justice. There’s action, adventure and a lot of weird stuff. The funniest bit of the first story is the firebottomed rompers who shoot fire out of their butts!

 In the second Joshua Dread story, the scariest part is when we hear the description of Vex, who has some robotic parts.

 I recommend this series for people (even older people might like it) if they like adventure and action and a laugh.

 Xavier, aged 9

 
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Identical twins Cath and Wren have always done everything together. But now they’re starting college and Wren has decided that she needs to step out on her own, “meet other people” - she wants to party, meet boys and be her own person.  Cath can’t understand why – they’ve always been together, why should they be apart now? It seems she doesn’t have a choice and she finds the prospect of independence terrifying.  Cath has always been a homebody and would rather bury herself in writing fanfiction for her favourite Simon Snow novels that go out to parties. On entering her new dorm, Cath is confronted by a less than friendly roommate and a cute, but irritatingly happy, boy, Levi, who seems to hang around far too much. Can Cath find the courage to open herself to new people and experiences…and a new boy?

On face value this seems like a fairly typical teen romance novel, when in actual fact there is a lot more going on – an absent parent, a fragile parent, the dangers of binge drinking and hard partying – though none of this is heavy handed.  Rainbow Rowell has created a novel that is funny, endearing and romantic without being sentimental.  At its heart it is a story about sisters – how different life is for identical twins who are always thought of as a single person – and the difficulties of striking out on your own for the very first time.  Cath is insecure (sometimes annoyingly so) but we see her gradually learn to dare to be herself and invite others in to her world, and occasionally venture out into theirs. Of course, Levi is suitably charming and attractive and will have teenage readers wishing he were real and the American dorm setting is one that many readers will be familiar with from various teen movies/books. This book was a bit of a slow burn for me but there is much to like and I have no doubt that teen girls will love it. Recommended for 14+, particularly fans of John Green and Sarah Dessen.

Review by Erin


The Simple Things by Bill Condon 

Sometimes it is the simple things in life that help us to understand the more complex goings on in our world. Sometimes the things that seem like they are going to be the worst – like visiting an elderly Aunt you don’t even know – can actually turn out to be the things that end up meaning something to you forever.

That is how it is for Stephen in The Simple Things by Bill Condon. When his parents take him to visit his great-aunt for three weeks, leaving his beloved dog at home, Stephen thinks this is going to be the worst time imaginable. Aunt Lola is grumpy and gruff, and is forever correcting his speech, pointing out his flaws and generally expecting too much of him.

But as the holiday progresses, Stephen finds himself drawn more and more to Aunt Lola. She has a wicked sense of humour (when she reveals it) and loves cakes, can’t stand unnecessary adult chat, and likes to tinker and potter in her shed, working on her family tree. She encourages Stephen to use his imagination. She invites him to be daring, to take a chocolate without knowing what will be inside! At the heart of her love for him is her desire that he just be a kid, get out and enjoy all of life.

Stephen also befriends Mr Smith, the elderly man next door, and his granddaughter Allie. Allie loves to climb trees, go fishing, and generally explore the world. She is the perfect antidote for Stephen’s city ways. There is also a secret to what happened between Aunt Lola and Mr Smith, and why they aren’t on speaking terms anymore. When this is revealed, it brings a new level of seriousness to the book.

There were two points of contention for me in the book. The first was this issue between Lola and Mr Smith. It turns out Mr Smith drank quite heavily and Lola had to ask him to leave her home and not return. The second issue arose close to the end of the book. It is revealed that Aunt Lola had a baby out of wedlock at seventeen, in 1951. She explains to Stephen that to have a baby out of wedlock back then was a very shameful thing, and her parents had made her adopt the child.

Until then I had felt that the book was just right for readers eight and over. But these two points made me reconsider that. Handled as delicately as it is, these two issues may even fly over many young readers’ heads, but I think it is important to point out that they are there, and that it may require some conversation to help explain them to some more innocent readers.

The happy outcome of the book is that Stephen comes to love and appreciate his great Aunt. He has also been able to bring about a truce between Lola and Mr Smith that seems a truly happy one.

I think this book would appeal to readers nine and over, and will also be suitable for group reading, perhaps in a classroom. It is very accessible, making it great for older reader/lower ability situations.

Reviewed by Bronwyn


Joshua Dread: The Handbook for Gyfted Children by Lee Bacon 

Joshua Dread is a boy with special powers. His special power is spontaneous combustion and lightning charges. Throughout the book Joshua Dread uses his spontaneous combustion in different situations such as when cloud monsters attack. He throws tofu (Zombie food) at the cloud monsters and the tofu fries in his hand. Joshua Dread has two friends called Milton and Sophie.

In this book it is up to Joshua to find his parents and all the other super villains with the help of his friends Sophie and Milton.

How will Joshua get his parents back and all the other super villains back?

The main theme in this book is that if you believe that you can do something it can be achieved and everything is possible. I liked this book because I like action stories.  The author, Lee Bacon uses description really well so you could visualize the story easily. I recommend this book to people who like action and adventure books because Joshua Dread travels around Sheepsdale a lot and there’s a lot of fighting. Each chapter ends with a question which makes you want to read the next chapter in the book.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Jonathan


The Brothers Quibble by Aaron Blabey 

I am a big fan of Aaron Blabey - his characters are quirky, his stories funny and touching and his illustrations always outstanding - but I have to say that this one is quickly becoming my favourite.  Spalding Quibble is the king of the castle (obviously indicated by the crown he wears all the time).  An only child, he is used to being the boss.  Then, to his utter dismay, his parents introduce a new baby brother.  This is perhaps my favourite line:

'Spalding didn't understand, he felt a bit delirious.  He took his mother by the hand and said "You can't be serious."'

What then occurs is Spalding's calculated attack on his parents and sibling in an attempt to get rid of poor Bunny.  He terrorises his family for months on end, driving his poor parents to distraction and making Bunny's life hell.  But then, ever so slowly, as Bunny grows and learns to walk and talk, it becomes obvious that despite the mean treatment, Bunny loves his brother like no one else.  Over time, Spalding learns that perhaps being a big brother is not so bad after all and the two become firm friends.

This is a wonderful read-aloud story.  The rhyming text is just perfect - a great rhythm that rolls of the tongue and lots of opportunities to use expression.  And the illustrations are hilarious and a joy to pour over.  It's a classic story about siblings and one that many of us will relate to. I can't help but wonder if perhaps Blabey was a usurped elder child himself.  My 2-year-old (soon to be a big brother himself for the first time) has loved this one from the first reading and insists that we read it over and over.  A great recommendation.  Highly recommended.

Review by Erin


Do You Dare? The Bushranger's Boys by Alison Lloyd
 

I was working at Penguin Books when the hugely popular Our Australian Girl series was first published.  One of the most frequent questions I was asked was "When will there be a similar series for boys?". It seems that although boys enjoyed the OAG series, there was still some stigma attached to reading such "girly" books.  Well, now that question has been answered.  The Do You Dare? series is a companion series to OAG. Set during the same time periods, these are stand alone stories of adventure, friendship and overcoming hardship.  The series opens with Alison Lloyd's The Bushranger's Boys, set in 1841.

Jem is the son of a former convict. His father desperately wants to buy his own land but is constantly thwarted by the wealthy Captain Ross, a hard man who owns the majority of land (and people) in the area.  Captain Ross promises to give Jem's dad a chance to purchase land but only in exchange for Jem going to work on his farm.  Jem is horrified when his father agrees but knows he has no choice.  Captain Ross' cruelty is obvious from the start and Jem harbours a deep hatred for the man, vowing to one day take his revenge.  Life on the farm for workers is hard but he soon makes friends with Alfie, the cook's son and a local Indigenous boy, Tommy.  It is not long before Alife and Tommy let Jem in on a secret - a bunker they have built in the bush, well hidden and overlooking the whole area.  It is while they are at this bunker that the boys run into William "Jackey Jackey" Westwood, a notorious bushranger who robbed Captain Ross at gunpoint recently.  Knowing that the man is dangerous, the boys are terrified, but he agrees to treat them kindly if they provide him with food while he waits for his lame horse to heal.  Jem agrees, knowing that although he risks a severe beating should he be caught stealing, this is also his change to get revenge on Captain Ross.  When a substantial reward is offered for the location of West, Jem must make a decision - do the right thing and hand him over and ultimately collect the reward, or protect a man who has shown him kindness and may not be as bad as his reputation suggests.

This is a great adventure story for 8-12 year olds. Lloyd does not shy away from the harsh realities of life during the time and there are some interesting opportunties for further investigation for kids whose interest may be piqued.  It also would make a great read aloud story for grades 3-6 or even as a bedtime story for parents to read with their kids (particularly if you have a reluctant reader).  I look forward to reading more in the series. Recommended.

Review by Erin


Forever Clover: Abbey Spells Trouble by Jenny Young

Here is a series young girls are really going to enjoy. The Forever Clover girls are six friends who look out for each other and share the ups and downs of life. The girls are around grade four, although I think the books are perfect for grade one and two readers. In Abbey Spells Trouble, Abbey accidentally finds herself in possession of the class spelling test, the day before the test is due to be held. With the help of her best friend Matilda, Abbie is brave enough to tell the teacher and the test goes ahead successfully. Abbie’s mother and teacher both praise Abbie for her honesty and integrity in not looking at the list, which turns out not to be for her test anyway!

These simple stories are very school and friendship-focused, and will have wide appeal to girls who have enjoyed Billie B Brown and other series at this level. Sentences are short and text is not overly challenging, and with less than sixty pages, these books are very achievable for those readers new to chapter books. There are six books so far in the series, and the Forever Clover range includes swap cards and a collectors’ folder (which my almost-seven-year-old has and loves) so it would appear that this is a series that is hitting its target audience – at least in my house!

As a humorous aside, when we finished the book my daughter asked me when we would get to the part where Abbie spelled T-R-O-U-B-L-E! She enjoyed learning about the play on words in the title, so there was a lesson there for her as well as a bit of fun.

Recommended for readers six years and over.

Review by Bronwyn


I Was Only Nineteen by John Schumann & Craig Smith

Using the words of the iconic Australian song by John Schumann, this is a haunting representation of the Vietnam War for younger readers.  Craig Smith’s illustrations are beautiful, as always, simple yet evocative and an appropriate representation of the subject matter for the age group.  The story follows a young man’s experience of the Vietnam War while interspersing this with the now grandfather’s relationship with his grandson. The first endpapers show the grandfather sitting on the couch with his grandson, relaying his story, whith the last endpapers show the two marching on Anzac Day. A note from the author gives an insight into the writing of the song, its inspiration and the impact it has had on Australian culture – a valuable resource.  Most children will not be familiar with this song, but that is not a problem – this book is the perfect opportunity for schools to combine poetry, song-writing, history and visual literacy and there are endless activities that could be created around the text, perhaps even a whole unit.  A fabulous addition to any classroom, of varying age groups. Highly recommended.

By Erin


Racing the Moon by Michelle Morgan

 Life is pretty darn good for Joe Riley. Sure, it is the Depression. But it is also the year Bradman made 334 against England, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge finally met in the middle. Joe is a boy with a positive outlook at a time when life could be seen to be anything but positive. He is about to go into high school, he has a tidy little business selling eggs for double his money, and he is the undefeated champ of the Glebe Billycart Derby. Throwing the race will bring in another tidy little sum for Joe and his best mate Harry, junior bookmakers following in Joe’s dad’s illegal footsteps. The only shadow in Joe’s life is the risk of getting caught, and also the threat of his father’s drunken violence towards himself and his mother. When he finally does get caught, his parents decide to send him to St Bartholomew’s - a Catholic boarding school of Dickensian proportions. And from there Joe finds himself at The Farm, a reform school in the country where he finally finds sanctuary.

 This book was reminiscent of a Ruth Park story in the way it captures the inner-city larrikinism of Sydney in the 1930s. Joe’s older sister Noni is lipsticked and nonchalant, while his little brother Kit looks up to him with the adoration only a younger sibling can show. Joe makes good friends at St Bart’s, who help him to survive the predatory advances of one of the masters, Brother Felix. This sexual abuse is dealt with in a very simple, almost undramatic, way by the author, and although it is distressing for Joe, he seems to have a strong sense of standing up and protecting himself. He defends his mother and stands up to his father’s violence, he stands up to Brother Felix’s abuse, and he stands up to Lance, the bully he meets at The Farm. I don’t mean to downplay the abuse; it is real and it is hard to read, coming as it does with our knowledge of the evils done by some within the Catholic school system over the past century. But the author has written it to be something Joe gets through and moves on from, perhaps internalising his pain and ‘getting on with things’ in the way people did then.

 The description of life at The Farm was for me one of the most enjoyable parts of the novel. The farm is truly self-sufficient. Cows need to be milked each morning, milk separated for butter and cream, chickens plucked for dinner, and wood cut for hot water. There is true irony in Joe being punished by being sent from St Bart’s to The Farm, when in fact he sees it as a joyful change. It is hard work, but the food is wonderful, the water hot, and the sisters who run the farm are caring and kind. It is at The Farm that Joe makes peace with the things that have troubled his past, and learns to appreciate the simple things life can offer him. Joe returns home having grown from the year away, but still with the larrikin strong in him.

 I believe this book will be enjoyed by children aged 12 and over, especially boys who I think will appreciate the sparseness of the writing and the lack of overt emotion in this year of growth for Joe.

  Review by Bronwyn


Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks

Twelve-year-old Ben has always wanted to be a detective, his dad even calls him "Cop".  Then one afternoon real police officers turn up at the front door looking for Ben's parents. Shortly after they leave, Ben's parents arrive in a flurry of activity - the family is going on a holiday and must leave immediately.  Ben is confused and a little wary but goes along with the story.  It does not take long for him to realise that something is wrong, his parents are in trouble, and he is determined to find out the real story. But what happens when he learns the truth? If they are in trouble, should he turn them in? Or should he protect his family?

This is a gripping mystery story in which a young boy is given some heavy responsibilities by some irresponsible parents. Ben is determined and protective of his younger sister, against a father who is sometimes physically and emotionally abusive. Unable to understand why his mother does not stick up for her children, Ben is losing patience with her and beginning to embrace his own independence as an almost-young adult.  We are, however, often reminded that he is still a child - often uncertain and frightened. As the family takes refuge in a remote mountain shack, Ben becomes increasingly aware of the strange situation the family is in and the decisions he must make in order to protect himself and his sister. Ben is faced with a difficult moral dilemma and one that could provoke some interesting discussions in the classroom.  This gives some extra substance to what is already a fast-paced and sometimes dramatic thriller, great for reluctant readers and more able readers alike.  Recommended for competant readers aged 10-12 and perhaps more reluctant and lower level readers aged 12-14.

Review by Erin

The Tinklers Three by M. C. Badger (illus. Leigh Brown)

 Was there ever a handier plot device in a children’s book than parents who work in a travelling circus? For Marcus, Mila and Turtle Tinkler – the stars of The Tinklers Three – life is just one fun adventure after another. Of course, every household needs rules, but with rules like “You MUST eat cake on SATURDAYS” you can tell from the outset that these three children are living the fantasy life of children everywhere.

 In A Very Good Idea, Marcus begins his day by wondering if he can reach the door of his bedroom without touching the floor. With a tightrope walker as his father, this is a pretty simple goal. So with Mila egging him on, they decide to attempt to make it all the way across town to the clock tower, without touching the ground, and all by dinner time.

 I found this a thoroughly engaging little book. The simple plot line means it will have strong appeal to readers as young as six, while the mature writing will make it accessible to older readers as well. Very simple black and white illustrations help to create a wonderful image of the three children scampering across the city, and every time it looks like they may be in a bind, Marcus and Mila are able to reach into their backpacks and pull out just the right tool to get them out of trouble. Cross bow, circus glue, lunch (yak cheese, anyone?). All very Mary Poppins. In fact the setting of the story reminded me a little of a Mary Poppins kind of world, and what child wouldn’t want to escape into such wonders?

 I strongly agree with the blurb, which tells me this series is full of ‘the limitless possibilities of childhood’. In our world of increasing helicopter parenting and overbearing safety for children, it is just delightful to meet the Tinklers, who inhabit a world of pure imagination and child-centric freedom.

 Highly recommended for 6+ readers.

Review by Bronwyn


Meet the Anzacs by Claire Saxby & Max Berry (illus.)

This is the fourth in Random House's Meet... series and a worthy edition. This wonderful series introduces famous Australians, giving brief biographies alongside beautiful artwork.  Meet The Anzacs is a fairly brief account of the beginnings of the Anzac legend. The story details the beginning of WWI and the recruitment of the soldiers who would eventually end up at Gallipoli. There is a sense of excitement as men sign up to go to war, followed by bewilderment and boredom as they spend a considerable amount of time in Egypt. Aimed at primary school aged children, the story ends before the soldiers actually reach the shores of Gallipoli - the event that one could say was the defining moment in the Anzac legend.  However, considering the intended age group, perhaps this is an opportunity for teachers/parents to either choose, or not, to elaborate on the battle.  The artwork is beautiful - textured canvas paintings that beautifully represent the expanse of sea and desert in double page spreads.  This is a great edition to an Australian history unit for middle to upper primary, perhaps even in to lower secondary and is an accessible introduction to Australia's involvement in WWI. Recommended.

by Erin


Racing the Moon by Michelle Morgan

The depression has hit Joe Riley's family pretty hard.  However, in 1930s Sydney, there are opportunities to be taken and 12-year-old Joe is determined to make something of himself.  Running around town, he delivers eggs from his Uncle's farm, making a tidy profit, and helps out with is dad's illegal bookmaking business.  Joe can't seem to keep himself out of trouble and despite their circumstances, Joe's parents manage to save enough money to send him to St Bartholomew's - a Catholic boarding school on the other side of the harbour.  Joe is devestated and finds himself among a culture of cruelty and bullying, particularly at the hands of the Brothers themselves.  Expelled from St Bart's after an encounter with Brother Felix, Joe is then sent to a reform school in the country - the Farm.  Life is basic and tough but here Joe makes close friends and learns the value of hard work.  Turns out that it may not be quite as bad has he expected.

This is a quintessentially Australian story.  Joe is a knock-about kid, cheeky and adventurous, with an eye for trouble and a good heart.  Unfortunately, the adults in Joe's life are not particularly stable or caring.  As with a number of fathers mentioned in the story, Joe's father is physically and verbally abusive; his mother, while caring, is obviously beaten and broken, unable to defend her children from their father's temper; and there are several instances of implied sexual abuse by Brother Felix (this is not explicit but it is present).  This is in all likelihood a fairly accurate description of the harsh life children of the time were expected to endure, however there is a lightness and humour to aspects of the novel.  There is also a sense of freedom and adventure that most kids these days do not get to experience in their own lives.  This would make an interesting class text for year 7.  For ages 12-14.

Review by Erin


Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf

Mike Klingenberg is not exactly popular.  He doesn't have any friends and while he's not a total loser, he has become the one thing he never wanted to be - boring.  He flies under the radar and often wonders if anyone even notices he's there.  Mike's had a crush on the gorgeous Tatiana for years but of course he's never spoken to her.  Then Andrej, or Tschick as he becomes known, arrives and he's seriously weird.  He seems to turn up to school drunk, looking like he's been in a fight and he never talks to anyone.  Of course, this makes him interesting to everyone, though not interesting enough to be accepted.  Over the school holidays Mike's father announces that he's going away on a "business trip" with his mistress, while Mike's mother is in rehab (a place she has been many times before), so Mike is left to his own devices.  And then Tschick turns up, unannounced.  They've never spoken before so Mike can't understand why Tschick is on his front doorstep, but the boys are the only ones to not be invited to Tatiana's infamous birthday party and Tschick thinks it's time to do something about it.  The two boys take a road trip in a stolen car, a journey that leads them across Germany where they encounter crazy hitchhikers, deserted towns, a truck full of pigs and some serious trouble.  One thing is for sure, Mike will never be called boring again.

This is a classic road trip story, the difference being that the car is being driven by two fourteen-year-olds.  Mike is your fairly typical nice boy who never gets into trouble, but nothing interesting ever happens to him either.  The fear of being boring is probably quite a common one that many kids can relate to.  Mike's home life, though quite wealthy, is actually quite sad - an alcoholic mother and a father who is obviously unfaithful - but Mike takes it in his stride as it is all he has ever known. Tschick, however, is a bit more intriguing.  Over the course of the novel we learn bits and pieces about his life but we are never quite sure which parts are true.  His most important role is to challenge Mike to be brave, to take chances and have an adventure.  Risk taking is a rite of passage for teenage boys and this novel would work beautifully to begin discussions around this theme.  There are harsh consequences for some of the boys' actions, most of which are unintentional.  At its heart though, this is a story about friendship and being able to look beyond rumour and speculation.  Recommended for 14+.

Review by Erin


Crystal Bay Girls: Quincy Jordan (Book 1) by Jen Store
r

Sunny day. Cold drink. Feet up on the back deck reading the latest Jen Storer book, Quincy Jordan. This is book one in the new series by Storer, Crystal Bay Girls. And guess what? I read it in pretty much one sitting, and loved it! It was a great mix of family drama, new schools and new friendships, mystery romance, and even a school production to round things off!

When Quincy Jordan suffers through her parents’ (very sudden) marriage breakdown, her life is thrown into sudden turmoil. Her father moves out, and the long-lost aunt she has never met moves in, kids and dog in tow. Luckily she can rely on her best friend Jules to help her cope with the changes to her world. Then her mum drops a bombshell: they are leaving Sydney and returning with her Aunt  to Crystal Bay, the ‘hippie-dandelion-land’ she dreads. Leaving her all-girls’ school for the local high school (with no uniform, urrghh) and leaving her bestie Jules for a tribe of cousins she has never set eyes on. Quincy just knows it is going to be a nightmare.

Luckily for readers, we can see beyond the pain that Quincy feels and know that there might be more to Crystal Bay than she realises. To begin with, there is her cousin Esme, who is the same age and has very similar interests. And Harris, the boy-next-door who Q (as she is referred to for much of the book) takes an instant liking to.

The romance between Quincy and Harris is the one thing that unsettled me about the story. The kids are in year eight, and yet there are several references to Harris’ ‘broad’ chest and his tattoo, and the worldliness of the kids alarmed me a little. There is one point where Q draws a comparison between her relationship with Harris and her parents’ marriage that I struggled with. Am I just showing my age? Quite possibly.

I especially enjoyed the school production of Grease. Now I really am showing my age! I loved the way the kids were shown to be working together, the commitment to their particular area of work, and the way Quincy’s involvement helps her to broaden her ideas about her future. The culmination of their hard work, show night, is full of drama too, making it a pivotal scene in the story.

There is a very strong visual presence to the book too – I can just imagine it as a beachy teen movie. The café that a lot of the story centres around, Foxy Brown, has that beach-shack thing going on, and is a perfect stage for a lot of the drama between the kids to unfold.

All up this was a snappy beach story, perfect for long days at the beach – or on the back deck!

Recommended for ages 12 and over.

Review by Bronwyn


Go Girl: Class Captain by Rowan McAuley

This book was about two best friends. They both ran for class captain. They were both very excited and it was hard to get nominated because everybody in the class was raising their hands and screaming out ideas. One of the boys wanted everybody to vote for him. When Holly got nominated her friend Lily felt really sad. Holly was expecting to see a happy, proud grinning face but instead she saw a really sad, angry face. Lily was concentrating to sharpen a pencil rather than show she was very upset.

My favourite part of the book was when Lily walked up and shared her ideas with the class. It was funny because she was very nervous and so she made a mess of it.

Holly thought that Lily wasn’t her best friend anymore but then they worked it out in the very end and became best friends again!

I give this an eight out of ten. Girls six years and over would like this book.

Review by Beth, age 6.


Sunday Chutney by Aaron Blabey

My new favourite book is 'Sunday Chutney' by the fabulous Aaron Blabey. Like Blabey's other delectable characters (Stanley Paste, Charlie Parsely) Sunday is just a little bit odd. She is the daughter of flighty, socialite parents and her unsteady lifestyle has seen her develop a love for some endearingly absurd things - her ophthalmologist who treats her lazy eye and monster trucks among them. What Sunday doesn't like is the first lunchtime at a new school.
Blabey is a master at provoking empathy in his readers and children of all ages will love spending time in Sunday Chutney's world. It is just as much a favourite of my almost 3 year old as my grade 6 students - both request it over and over.
Review by Bree Hurn

 


Chu's Day by Neil Gaiman

I’ll be upfront about this...Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors. I read everything the man puts to paper.  I especially love that I can share my favourite author with my children. And we all love Chu. Chu is an adorable panda (who doesn’t love a panda?) with a big sneeze that causes mayhem and hilarity.

This book has few words but a funny, simple storyline that makes me laugh out loud. I love reading it because I can be theatrical in my recitation...my sneezing can be very loud and we fall about the couch. It is also simple enough that my almost four year old can ‘read’ it himself. The illustrations are stunning and we spend a lot of time looking at them and wondering about the animals in the story and what their facial expressions mean.

This book has no special message or moral, no takeaway learning for your child...it’s purely a fun, imaginative, creative book that makes you laugh and enjoy book time. We can’t wait for the next Chu adventure to add to our book collection.

Review by Amanda Dibley


Mr Gumpy's Outing by John Birmingham

Summer holidays are coming soon. If you are not off abroad and if it’s not raining, this has got to be the best time of the year for picnics and day outings. So get your picnic hamper and Frisbee ready, it’s time for a day out.

Mr.Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham is a classic and so is my edition of this book – a first print, March 1974. Anyway, this is how the story goes:

Mr Gumpy lives in a house by the river. One summer’s day, he decides to go on a ride in his boat down the river. Just as he sets off, some children ask if they can come along, too. From there on, every page you turn, somebody else asks to join the boat ride. There is a rabbit, a cat, a pig and many more that jump aboard. Mr Gumpy welcomes everybody but insists that they all have to behave and keep still.  After a while, Mr Gumpy’s boat is full of little and not so little passengers all keeping still, sticking to the rules. However, at one point or another, the excitement gets too much for his passengers, they can’t keep still any longer and the boat tips. They all manage to swim ashore and dry off in the hot sun before walking back home with Mr Gumpy for tea.

The illustrations are delightful. Precise, full of expression and warmth, you can really feel the summer’s day. This book is a must-have, it has won many awards and I would happily give it another one. (2 years +)

Review by Tatia Gruenbaum


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice is one of my absolute favourite books and I was so excited to be reading it to my family.  There is such a joy in reading this novel, his play on words and logic is just brilliant. Both children and adults will delight in this story, as children enjoy the silliness of the story whilst adults will laugh at the humorous puns and enjoy the deeper imagery.  Alice in Wonderland is a strange phenomenon, as we are all aware of the story and characters, regardless of whether we have read the book or not.  Not many other books have touched us at this level.  I have many copies of Alice and love everything Alice.

It is always a delight to travel with Alice to the strange land of Wonderland, where animals talk and nothing is as it seems.  Alice is a remarkable young girl who questions everything that is going on around her and finds this world quite nonsensical, which annoys her because rules are rules.  The book is filled with many rhymes and songs and puns.  My children loved my rendition of "Beautiful Soup" and were saved from some more of my fabulous singing when I realised that Scottish band Franz Ferdinand had covered "The Lobster Quadrille" for the latest movie version of Alice.

The Queen of Hearts is still my favourite, as everyone in Wonderland is terrified of her and always afraid to contradict her or it will be "Off with their head".  Even the poor King is terrified.   I would so love to be like her, just for a short while anyway...I imagine myself ruling over my household and everyone doing as I wish, just to keep me happy...Bliss...

If you haven't read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, please do.  You will be delighted in this gorgeous book, to step outside our logical, rule filled world for an adventure where very little makes sense and in the end you realise that whilst it is nice to visit Wonderland for a short time, we all must grow up and return to our world of rules and order.

We also read Alice Through the Looking Glass, a novel I had only read once before.  It is quite hard to follow, jumping around like in a dream and not a touch on its predecessor, in my opinion, which is a classic after all.

Of course at the completion of the novel we then watched a movie version. We chose the Disney animated Alice, as I think the new Tim Burton version is still a bit too scary for my kids.  It was quite apt to choose this version, as Disney have hodgepodged the two books together, so we recognised lots of scenes from Through the Looking Glass.

Review by Kym Hoffman


Joshua Dread: The Handbook for Gyfted Children by Lee Bacon

The concept of the story was interesting. By the first page I was hooked! Later on the characters were more evolved and really completed the story. I give this 9 out of 10.

Review by Micheal, aged 13

Stay Well Soon by Penny Tangey

This book was about a girl named Stephanie. She is horse mad and she daydreams everyday about her dream horse, Atta-Girl. But when Stevie's brother Rhys is suddenly taken to hospital and admitted with cancer, there is less money for the family. Things become even harder when Lara, a girl at hospital also suffering from cancer, is expected to die.

Will Stevie be able to cope with her friends, family, and her new phobia of death?

I highly recommend this book for mature nine- to fourteen-year-olds.

Review by Elly, aged 8.

 


Quest of the Gods series by Dan Hunter

This series is good because it's got good gods, bad gods, heroes, pharoahs. It has temples, fortresses, the Nile, farmers. The main hero is Akori who is the last of his family and has royal blood in him. It's about Akori rescuing the gods in the first half of the series. But I don't know yet what the the other half in the series is about. My favourite part is that Akori gets items when he frees the gods, like the Khopesh of Horus, the Ring of Isis, the Shield of Sekhmet, the Scarab of Anubis, and the Talisman of Ra. Akori uses them to help him on his quest to free Ra, Anubis, Isis, Sekhmet and Horus. This series would be good for 7-12 year olds, probably boys and girls, because there's boy and girl gods and there's boy and girl heroes.

Review by Xavier, aged 8.

 

 


Extra Time - Morris Gleitzman

When 13-year-old Matt is discovered impressing the livestock in an Aussie country town with his remarkable soccer skills, he's offered the chance of a lifetime – a try-out at one of Europe's biggest and most glamorous soccer clubs. His younger sister Bridie goes with him as his manager and tells us their story – warts, goals and all.

I’ll confess from the outset, I’m a big Morris Gleitzman fan. And I’m a fan because I love the way he creates and nurtures his ‘child’ characters - they are vulnerable, funny, empathetic, independent and kind. But I’m also a fan of the way he gets inside the head of his characters and imagines the view of the adult world from their perspective. It isn’t always a great view and mostly that’s where his stories begin.

In Extra Time, Morris writes about the idea of what it means to climb to the top of your game (literally), the sacrifices you make, the people you meet and the pressure on both players and families. Bridie, our main protagonist is protective and feisty and takes no prisoners when it comes to Matt and his potential premier league career.

But subtly Gleitzman weaves the back story through the more accessible main story. It is the family’s story and deals with the notion of grief and the impact of death on a family.

A ‘heavy’ theme for a children’s book but Gleitzman has a deft touch and it doesn’t weigh down the lighter themes within the story. Indeed, it is a vehicle for the author to talk about hopeful and positive aspects of the way we lead our lives and the opportunities that are on offer. And without being terribly didactic about it, it is an opportunity for children to think about, talk about and perhaps manage grief or the possibility of grief, within their own lives.

Extra Time is a book about hopes and dreams; about love and loyalty. It is a story of the importance of family (including crazy love-struck uncles) and friendship and I loved every page.

It is ideal for readers aged 8-13  and while it isn’t essential that you love soccer, the sporting theme is a great way to lure reluctant boy readers to the book. 


The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta): The Missing Mongoose (book 3) by Ursula Dubosarsky and Terry Denton

It is very descriptive writing and it’s about two guinea pigs in Buenos Aires who solve problems. In this book they go looking for a missing mongoose. I liked it when they found the mongoose. He looked funny. I liked the mixed-up letters that were written on his collar. The puzzles are hard but fun.

Reviewed by Beth, age 6.

 

 


The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray

After her sister has a life-threatening accident in Paris, Lucy is sent to stay with her Aunt Big for the summer holidays.  Reluctant to be away from her family, Lucy dreads sharing the big old house with the gruff woman she hardly knows, far away from civilisation, in a hidden valley. Unable, at first, to see the beauty in her surroundings, the house does not hold the same magic for her as it did for her older siblings (Lucy is the youngest by a number of years).  That is until she one night discovers the paintings in the front room.  Each wall is adorned with elaborate paintings of the valley during the four seasons.  Lucy is woken by someone calling her name and on following the sound, she finds that one of the paintings has come to life. Beckoned by curiosity she walks through the wall, and into the valley of the 1930s.  Here she meets three children - April, Tom and Jimmy Tiger - who take her to be a holiday-maker and embrace her as one of their own.  April learns to ride horses, battle bush-fires and floods and forges friendships that will change her life.  But who are these children and what connection do they have with her?

This is an absolutely beautiful story. Set in the Australian bush, Murray's writing is so evocative that I wanted to step through those paintings myself.  The three children of the 1930s represent a simpler time, when children could roam the bush and have adventures without being constantly watched by their parents. There is an almost Narnia-esque feel about the idea of walking through a wall and into the past and this hint of magic is just enough to make the story feel believable. Lucy is a lovely girl with strong ties to her family and a good heart.  Watching her relationship with Big grow and evolve is a particular pleasure.  Most wonderful of all is this opportunity given to a 21st century girl to explore her own sense of courage and curiosity as she confronts her inhibitions, embarks on adventures and forms relationships she will never forget.  As with most Kirsty Murray books, this one will be enjoyed by boys and girls alike, but will be a particular treat for girls aged 10-12.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Erin


Girl Defective by Simone Howell

"We were like inverse superheroes, marked by our defects." And what a motley crew they are, the characters that haunt this book. Not just the Martin family, Spy, Gully and Dad, but the smart-mouthed, broken Nancy, the brooding Luke, Evil Eve the local cop who wants another chance at love, even the Fugg with his beer shine and bag of tricks. Every one of them was a character about who I would have liked to know more, which to me is a sign that a book has worked on several levels.

I must admit to taking pleasure just from the descriptions of the St Kilda streets. The author clearly knows and loves every gritty laneway and smelly canal bank, and they waft off the page gloriously. Bill's record store is reminiscent of the most loved vinyl store in literature (at least for me!), Championship Vinyl from Nick Hornby's High Fidelity.

And pre-1995 songs are peppered throughout the book too, nothing too mainstream but obviously showing us the sort of deeply musical man Bill is. It is hard to imagine Bill with Sky's bizarre estranged mother Galaxy, but he does the best job he can of parenting two fairly troubled kids while holding down a pretty solid drinking problem.

This is a modern-day, grungy kind mystery. No lashings of ginger beer and jolly good times for this lot. While Gully is busy solving the mystery of the 'bricker', Sky and Luke chip away at the life of Mia Casey, the mysterious girl who haunts the cover of the book, and how she spent the last days before her death. Hers is a sad story, told in bits and pieces by different characters throughout the book, and in the end it is Mia that seems to link them all in some way or another.

This isn't a book for the faint-hearted, with drugs, alcohol and sexual references throughout. These people are all damaged in some way, but that is what makes the story come alive. It definitely jumps off the page. I just noticed in the author notes that Simmone Howell is a screenwriter. Now it all makes sense.

Recommended for 15+ readers and adults who enjoy reliving their misguided youth.

Reviewed by Bronwyn


Where Are You, Banana? by Sofie Laguna & Craig Smith

This is a delightful story about friendship and rescue.  When dad brought a puppy home one day, an infant Roddy took one look at him and uttered his first word, “Banana!”.  He has been known thus ever since.  Roddy and Banana do everything together – Banana pulls Roddy on his scooter and sleeps on the end of his bed.  Banana is not, however, allowed to visit Aunt Celia’s house because of her chooks.  On returning from Aunt Celia’s one day, Banana is nowhere to be found.  A search is mounted and a daring rescue must be undertaken.

What a gorgeous story.  Roddy’s love for Banana is palpable and expertly displayed through wonderful illustrations by Craig Smith.  Smith’s style is bold and colourful and the illustrations work perfectly with the text.  All small children with pets will understand and connect with Roddy’s concern for Banana and will cheer him on as he tries to rescue his beloved dog from a drain.  I tried reading this to my fifteen-month-old but it was a bit too long to hold his attention – best kept aside for 2-year-olds plus I think. I’m sure it will become a firm favourite in time though.

Reviewed by Erin


AFL: My First Words
& AFL: My First Numbers

I have to admit to being a bit dubious about these books until I saw them.  My mind was completely changed when I saw the finished product – clean, bright, colourful, fantastic illustrations.  My fifteen-month-old started with the small format books (to be released as a “little library” later in the year) and was instantly taken with them.  They are small enough for him to carry around and “read” on his own, but he often toddles up with them, wanting to be taken through the pages.  The larger format books are sturdy board books, perfect for resting on the lap of your little one so they can turn the pages.  I am a convert, they are a fantastic idea and we’re looking forward to more in the range becoming available.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Erin

 


The Whole of My World by Nicole Hayes

Two years after the death of her mother, fifteen-year-old Shelley has started at a new school with the hope that this will bring a new beginning. Desperate to escape the silence that surrounds her grieving father, she becomes immersed in the world of AFL – a game she has always loved.  The girls at her new school are less than welcoming but she finds a kindred spirit in Tara who, although not exactly friendly, shares her love for the same football team.  Together they join the cheer squad and attend team practice and games every week. Here Shelley comes to the attention of one of the team's quieter players, new recruit Mick.  In his 30s and married with children, they bond over being the “new kids” and build a friendship that Shelley begins to rely on.  However, Shelley can’t seem to understand why everyone else seems to think their relationship is inappropriate.  They’re just friends…aren’t they?  Her best friend Josh doesn’t understand and she finds it more and more difficult to be around him since that terrible day.  It is only through football that Shelley finds any solace, but what happens when the season ends?

It is great to read a story about a girl who loves AFL, a sport usually dominated by the boys.  Shelley’s grief is heartbreaking, as is that of her father and we see how easily it is that their relationship could fall apart as a result.  Shelley is young and naïve – having loved playing football since she was a young child, she feels betrayed by her body, once athletic but now becoming womanly, and unable to reconcile the attention she receives as a result.  She is not emotionally mature enough to understand why people, especially her father, do not approve of her friendship with Mick, or how it may look from the outside.  However, the year over which the story takes place sees Shelley’s eyes open in many ways.  Football brings her to life, gives her a “family” of sorts and something to belong to.  Being from Melbourne, I loved reading the footy scenes and recognised the area in which the book is set, but at the heart this is a story about grief and the relationship between a father and daughter.  An impressive debut.  

Reviewed by Erin


The Runaway Hug by Nick Bland & Freya Blackwood

This beautiful picture book, from the author of The Very Cranky Bear, is sure to become a family favourite.  Who could resist giving their little one a big hug every time Lucy passes hers on?  Blackwood’s signature pencil and watercolour illustrations perfectly depict family life as Lucy races around the house in her orange onesie.  Winner of the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award, it is simply charming and one you will love reading at bedtime again and again.

Reviewed by Erin

 

 


Troubletwisters by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

It was a great book. It was about twins who have special gifts.  One has the power of darkness and night. The other has the power of sun and sky. There was something evil that was called The Evil  - that's actually what they call it in the book. It could take control of animals and humans and it tried to take over the twins that were called Jack (Jackaran) and Jaide (Jaidith). They had to fix the East Ward to complete the barriers of the town which were at east, north, south and west. They made a new East Ward.  I thought the book was great because it had someone who could fly and someone who could shadow walk.

Reviewed by Xavier, age 8.

 


Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near

Fairytales for Wilde Girls is a very accomplished first novel from an exciting new Australian author.  The publisher is classifying this book as “bubblegum-gothic” (bubblegum implies light and fluffy, which this story definitely isn’t) and it certainly has all the hallmarks of Gothic fairytales, complete with ghosts, witches, mermaids, death and tragedy.  Seventeen-year-old Isola Wilde (named for Oscar’s sister who died at the age of nine) has always seen the world a little differently.  A Child of Nimue, she sees the fairytale world that exists alongside our own – trolls, fairies, unicorns, both good and evil.  Having learnt at an early age that she must keep these sightings to herself, Isola has gained a reputation for being strange.  Constantly surrounded by her “brother princes”, fairytale creatures and ghosts who have sworn to protect her, Isola is consumed by a protective love for her mother whom, it is implied, suffers from depression and rarely leaves the house.  For comfort, Isola turns to the French fairytales she idolises and the woods she has grown up in and adores.  It is while she is walking through these woods that she comes across a dead girl in a cage.  It is not unusual for Isola to see dead people, some of her closest friends are ghosts, but this one is not friendly.  The dead girl turns up at Isola’s window, night after night, threatening to drive her mad, or worse, and Isola must use all her courage and power to stop her before it’s too late.

This is a beautifully written novel – dark and mysterious, and keeps you on your toes.  The setting is wonderfully gothic, with modern twists that remind you that the story is taking place in the present day, though it would be equally at home in a book of Grimm’s Fairytales.  At its heart, it is a story about grief and depression, about what happens when you try to supress the person you are and the importance of friendship and love.  A thoroughly enjoyable novel, highly recommended for 14+ girls in particular.

Reviewed by Erin


Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn by Belinda Murrell

This delightful little book was aimed perfectly at the 5+ readership, and pressed all the right buttons for my six year old. Parties, mermaids, stray ponies and unicorns, all with craft, cake decorating and catastrophes thrown in! Being new to chapter books, we appreciated that chapter lengths were around 6-8 pages, making it perfect for bedtime reading, always with something exciting to get to the next night. Illustrations on every page spread also helped explain the plot. Some issues in the story showed great problem-solving skills by the characters, which led to some interesting discussion about what we might have done in the same circumstances. Lulu’s family were very ‘real’, with a cute but pesky little brother and some troublesome pets. I can highly recommend this book to share with your younger children, and we look forward to reading the next in the series, Lulu Bell and the Fairy Penguin.

Reviewed by Bronwyn

The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (And Alberta): The Perplexing Pineapple (Book 1) by Ursula Dubosarsky and Terry Denton

If you have a problem-solver in your home, this will make the perfect book to enjoy together. With a cast of guinea-pigs (an underutilised animal in literature!) this little ‘casebook’ helps to solve a mystery that plays out on the streets of Buenos Aires, in the shadow of the famous Obelisco. Alberta, a private detective of sorts, travels to Buenos Aires to help her cousin Coco, chief of police, solve a case that includes floating fruit, maniacal laughter and bank robbers. Peppered throughout the book are codes that require a sharp young mind to crack, including rebus, anagrams, simple maths puzzles, mazes and cryptic word challenges. My six year old needed a fair bit of assistance with all this, but for those who love puzzles this will be a cinch. We enjoyed the drama and mystery, and look forward to The Looming Lamplight and The Missing Mongoose. Recommended for 6+ readers.

Reviewed by Bronwyn


Factor 4: The Awakening (Book 1)

Factor 4 The Awakening is a great book for ages 7+.   It's about four kids - Ian, April, Tara and Zaf.  They got caught in an explosion that caused their life to change.  I loved it because it had some adventure, didn't have too much but it didn't have too less. It was great.  You'd like this book if you like Hercules Champion of the World, because it's a little book, not too much to read, and exciting too.

Reviewed by Xavier, age 8.

 

 

 


The Medusa Project by Sophie McKenzie

Scientist William fox implanted four babies with the medusa gene a gene that gave them psychic abilities. The babies names are Nico, Ketty, Ed and Dylan what will happen when their psychic abilities kick in? what will happen when other  people find out ? will they get betrayed by the ones who help them or love them. Brilliant you can’t stop reading!

Reviewed by Nick O’Leary, Age 10

  

 


Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

Sam is a geek, and perfectly happy to be so.  He's not popular, hasn't had much experience with girls, but that's ok because he's just biding his time until he finishes school and can leave it all behind.  Enter Camilla.  She's lived the high life in London and New York, is gorgeous, quirky and instantly fascinating to everyone at school.  Sam is determined to ignore her until she, inexplicably, starts to take an interest in him.  But of course, Camilla is not everything she seems and goes to prove that popularity is not always a cure for loneliness.  This is a very accomplished first novel.  It's funny and a little bit romantic, the voices are spot on and the setting, inner-city Melbourne, is fantastically drawn.  You can't help but chuckle away to yourself as you read it and it is so fun to read that you can't help but want to turn the page and continue.  A very enjoyable rom-com for teenage boys and girls alike.

 


Cherub series by Robert Muchamore

The Cherub range is great for age’s 10+. They are action books about boys and girls who are orphaned and ends up working for an organization called Cherub , which only children work for. There are two series of Cherub books about different children. These series are real page turners which keeps you guessing. They are gripping books with a bit of everything. I find the books to be well written and incredibly suspenseful.

Every book is different and exciting. The first series has twelve books and is about a young boy named James Adams who goes from being a couch potato to a trained agent. Follow James on all his adventures from his start as a raw recruit to the thrilling twelfth book, Shadow Wave.

The second series is about a young boy called Ryan . So far there are only two books in this series but there is a new one coming in 2013 called Black Friday and I have the feeling that this will not be the last one! If you want to immerse yourself in a world of action and adventure give the Cherub series a try!

Reviewed by Dante, Age 9

Our Australian Girl

Our Australia Girl is about a girl called Ruby. She lived in the fascinating world of Pounds and Shillings. I enjoyed this book because it takes you back in the time of the depression. My favourite character is Ruby because she was very brave about everything, all the time. I would recommend this book to confident readers aged 8 - 12.

I hope OAG lovers enjoy this book.

Reviewed by Elly, Age 8

 

 


Billie B Brown

Billie B Brown is a great series that I love. It is about Billie and her friend Jack and their adventures.  They are great books for kids aged 6 to 9.  They are good for kids starting to read chapter books because they have short chapters and some pictures.  Billie gets into scrapes and muddles and I love reading how she gets out of them. I can never put them down!

Reviewed by Allegra, Age 7

 

 

 


Wonder

By R.J Palacio

Going to school for the first time is difficult enough without the pain and embarrassment of being inflicted with an extreme facial deformity.  Auggie has been home-schooled his whole life, but on entering grade 5, his parents believe attending a local school would be more beneficial.  Despite being used to the staring and taunting he has always received, Auggie is understandably nervous.  We follow Auggie through his sometimes excruciating, and at times sad, first year of school as he makes friends and confronts bullies.  Through the eyes of his family and friends we find a boy who is just like any other – bright, cheeky and longing to fit in, knowing that he probably never will. It is difficult to know where to begin praising this novel, there is so much to love about it.  At times it is brutally sad but this is equalled by moments of joy and genuine laughter.  It is not possible to read this novel and not question your own actions – how many times have you whispered or stared, not realising that someone has noticed?  How would you react to seeing a face like Auggie’s?  It is a time-honoured message, don’t judge a book by its cover, and Auggie is the perfect character for demonstrating it.  Hopefully, anyone who reads Wonder will come away wanting to show a little more kindness.  This would make a fabulous read-aloud novel for upper primary aged children and would instigate some very interesting discussions.


Today We Have No Plans 
by Jane Godwin/ Anna Walker

  Jane Godwin and Anna Walker have become a formidable partnership in the world of beautiful children’s books and Today We Have No Plans is sure to be    popped on the bookshelf housing your ‘classic Australian children’s books’.

This is a book that is going to speak to children and grown-ups alike because we all organise our family lives around a range of activities including sport, music lessons, play dates, family commitments and of course, the regular daily chores that mean we eat, sleep, wear clean clothes and get to school and work on time! I feel tired just writing all of that!

Importantly, we all understand that lovely feeling of having nothing to do and nowhere to go – the days when we ‘have no plans’.

Godwin has nailed the ‘busyness’ of life and Anna Walker’s illustrations capture the very essence of families, their routines, the chaos and the serenity.

We recommend you share this book with all the children in your life – it is ideal for sharing with children aged 2-6 and is a lesson to us all about ‘quiet time’.

And if you like this title, you might also like All Through the Year by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker


Captain Underpants and the Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers 
 by Dav Pilkey

Need something to keep boys aged 6-10 reading? Captain Underpants ticks all the boxes for boys using humour, relevant themes and a fantastic superhero to capture their attention and keep them turning the pages. And the best thing of all? There are numerous titles in this series and boys love a series because they don’t have to think about the book they’ll read next – it’s an ‘easy’ and ‘straightforward’ reading experience.

This latest instalment from Dav Pilkey lives up to all expectations – a superhero who is thoughtful and funny and totally engaging.

If your boys like this series, they will also like Roald Dahl, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and David Walliams new book, Ratburger.

 

Further Suggestions

Filter your search by Age: 6-8, 8-10, Gender: Boy and Theme: Humour.