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Nov 30 2020

The boy, the wolf and the stars by Shivaun Plozza

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Penguin Random House Australia, 2020. ISBN: 9781760893453.
(Age: 9-12) Highly recommended. Bo is a young boy, abandoned by his mother at an early age and taken in by an old woodcutter. But to the nearby villagers Bo is looked upon as cursed because he survived a night in the dark without being eaten by the ravenous Shadow creatures that have inhabited the dark since the Wolf ate the stars. Mads feeds and cares for Bo as long as he does his chores. One day, when Bo loses the special powder that he must spread around the oldest tree in the forest, the magical tree begins to die. Unknowingly Bo has unleashed a giant wolf who comes to find Mads hoping to get the keys that will release his brother wolf (who ate the stars). On his deathbed, after fighting the wolf, Mads sets Bo the task of finding the keys and releasing the stars to save the world from the bad magic.
An elaborate quest begins and has so many unexpected twists and turns that it is a difficult book to put down. The story is set in a complex world and the book includes a helpful map and pages that explain the history of the land of Ulv. There are marvelous characters who join Bo on his mission: Bo's best friend Nix, the little fox who seems to be able to communicate with Bo and keeps him safe. Tam, a fearsome Korahku, half bird half man and sworn enemies of the Irin (Bo's people). And Selene, the very imaginative, and orphan girl who is trying to hide her magic powers.
Bo puts himself down constantly through the story and often voices the fact that no-one has ever cared for him enough to miss him. But slowly he comes to realise his anger at Mads, his mother and his situation needs to change for him to be truly happy and have a fulfilling life.
The book has a powerful message for children who need a boost to self-esteem, and it would make a great read-aloud to middle and upper primary students. Themes: Good and evil, Fear, Locks and Keys, Magic, Rejection.
Gabrielle Anderson


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Nov 30 2020

The book collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Vergnaud

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PanMacmillan, 2020. ISBN: 9781529012323.
(Age: Adult) Highly recommended. How do you even begin to describe this book? For most people, Syria is a far-off place in the midst of a war that not many could say what it is about. We just know that cities are being destroyed and its people are fleeing as refugees. President Bashar al-Assad has painted the rebels as militant Islamic terrorists led by Daesh or ISIS. However journalist Delphine Minoui stumbles on an online photograph of the secret library of Daraya, the Damascus suburb under siege by Assad's forces. It shows young men browsing before neatly arranged shelves of books. It is an underground library of books rescued from the rubble of bombs, each book with the previous owner's name meticulously recorded on the first page, in the hope that one day the book will be reunited with its owner. In the meantime, the library is the haven of the young rebel fighters, not terrorists, but idealistic young men who want freedom and democracy for their country. They collect the books and share them; the titles range from the love poems of Nizar Qabbani to Shakespeare, to Saint-Exupery's Little Prince, to American self-help books, to J.M Coetzee and Paulo Coelho. The library becomes a safe meeting place for ideological discussions and English language classes.
Outside the library the inhabitants of Daraya faced the ongoing barrage of barrel bombs, sarin gas attacks and napalm. Minoui tells us the story through snatched moments on WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype, text messages and shared photographs and videos. We get to know each of the young men who protect the library, their passion for books, photography, art, and poetry, and their dreams for a better future for their country.
Daraya falls in the end, the besieged inhabitants beaten by malnutrition and starvation. But Minoui's book remains a testament to the courage of the young men who fought back against a cruel dictator and aspired for a better world.
Themes: Books, Libraries, War, Resistance, Freedom, Syria.
Helen Eddy


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Nov 30 2020

Little Jiang by Shirley Marr

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Illus. by Katy Jiang. Freemantle Press, 2020 ISBN: 9781925816471.
(Age: 8-10) Recommended. After moving from China to the small town of Honeywood, in Australia, Mei Ling Pang and her parents are struggling to fit in. Her father's sight is failing, and her mother's health also seems to be slowly deteriorating. Desperate to find a friend and make her parent's restaurant popular in their new home Mei will try just about anything to help. Then the creepy mortician from the Morgue next door uses a potion to wake the dead and a small boy vampire (Little Jiang) arrives at school and starts to follow Mei around. He has strange clothes, green skin and fangs and seems to be very hungry all the time. He is not the friend Mei so desperately wanted but he seems harmless enough.
Mei has always been able to see the spirits of the dead and speak to them but in her Aunt's opinion she is just cursed. In some ways the ghosts help her and in this case one is particularly helpful. The Peony Princess is a very interesting character, part princess, part giant fox with the ability to change faces and shape according to her needs. When the townspeople start to turn into drooling Chi-sucking vampires (Jiangshi) it is up to Mei, her spirit friends in Ghostland, her parents and the Bagua Master to save the day. A trip to Ghostland with the Peony Princess, some very quick thinking and lots of sticky rice balls save the day in the end.
This book is a great mix of rollicking adventure and ancient Chinese mythology and will appeal to young readers who are already attracted to stories with zombies and other creepy characters. Mei is a character that shows them that having the right attitude and fighting for your beliefs will win over your harshest critics in the long run. The twelve black and white illustrations add important detail and enhance the story for the readers. Teacher's notes are available. Themes: Chinese Folklore, Vampires, Luck.
Gabrielle Anderson


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Nov 30 2020

A Guinea Pig Night before Christmas

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Guinea Pig classics, photographed by Phillip Beresford, sets made and designed by Tess Newall. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020 ISBN: 9781526613561.
(Age: All) Recommended. Guinea pigs photographed in cute costumes are the feature of this rendering of the classic Christmas story The night before Christmas. The publishers have not changed the text of the original poem at all, they have just used the guinea pigs and a cute little stuffed mouse as the"actors" in this story. The detail of each costume is amazing, my favourite being the line of guinea pig reindeers in the centre of the book, priceless.
Many children who saw this book commented that the lead reindeer was not Rudolf, but the publishers have added 'the ninth reindeer' in a cute little cameo at the end of the book with an explanation as to why he doesn't appear in the original poem. There is a brief paragraph towards the back of the book about pets being abandoned around the Christmas season reminding us that we can support local rescue centres with donations in the holiday season. The Guinea Pig actors are also credited at the end of the book.
This book is one of a growing number of adorable titles in this series with some of the other titles including The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, A Guinea Pig Nativity, Romeo and Juliet, Oliver Twist and Pride and Prejudice. A Facebook page "Guinea Pig classics" is also mentioned by the publishers on their website. Themes: Christmas, Guinea pigs, Classic stories.
Gabrielle Anderson


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Nov 30 2020

The werewolves who weren't by T.C. Shelley

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Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781526600806.
(Age: 10-12). Recommended for mature readers who have read the first book. Follow up to 2019's The monster who wasn't, which is a must-read before picking up this one. This story continues from the events in the first book and there are multiple concepts and relationships that are difficult to make sense of without the earlier background.
Sam looks like a normal boy but has a unique secret. He is half monster and half fairy, hatched only 4 months ago, with great strength and heightened senses. He is adopted by a human family and settles into a human life, including starting at school.
At school he meets three other students who smell nice to him but initially act very oddly. It turns out they have a secret too, one that makes them just as strange as Sam is, and so the foursome quickly form a strong bond.
Then a figure from Sam's past returns and seems to be using fairy dust to subdue and gather up monsters. Sam's friends vanish and new threats emerge as Sam races to figure out what's happening and why. He must weigh up where his loyalties lie and what he is willing to lose, and this sets the scene for a mighty struggle for survival.
This story is quite complex overall, rather wordy in parts (I found myself skipping through some of the longer descriptive passages between action scenes) and full of wonderful detail about various types of fanciful monsters. A younger reader may find this book difficult and/or frightening.
For the mature reader though it has lovely themes of belonging, identity, loyalty and friendship. West Australian author Shelley includes some humour too showing Sam still getting used to human life and speech (at one point he says "mistaken toe" where he means 'wrong foot'). The ending is hopeful and very intriguing, obviously paving the way for book 3 which is due in 2021.
Themes: Monsters - fiction, Gargoyles, Families, Fairies, Relationships, Dogs, Werewolves, Adventure.
Kylie Grant


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Nov 27 2020

How to make a bird by Meg McKinlay

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Illus. by Matt Ottley. Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781925381894.
(Age: children to adults). Highly recommended. How to Make a Bird written by Meg McKinlay is a poignant and striking picture book that would be suitable for readers of any age. The story is of a young girl who creatively constructs a bird from objects she finds in the natural world such as bones, shells and feathers. We see her growing collection of smallish items in an old battered case that she spreads on the floor to choose from in order to enhance her ever-evolving bird. She adds a heart and colour but still the bird sits as cold as a statue. The child knows that to set her bird free she must gather it in to her hands, give it life and gently let it go. This young girl has worked through a design process from the conception of an idea to her final creation. This story shows how even the smallest idea can be transformed into a work of beauty and creativity.
The illustrations by artist Matt Ottley are simply stunning. Muted in tones but steeped in detail they complement the text perfectly. One reading is not enough of this book, there is so much to be gained by poring over each page and searching for more clues to understand the flow of the story. A truly inspiring and gentle read. Teacher's notes are available. Themes: Birds, Ideas, Design, Nature, Imagination, Creating.
Kathryn Beilby


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Nov 27 2020

The Greatest Inventor by Ben Brooks

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Hachette Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781786541123.
(Age: primary) Recommended. This is a quirky story, full of whimsy. Many children already know Ben Brook's books through the very popular Boys who Dare to be Different 1 and 2 and Kids who Dare to be Different. These books do not languish for long on shelves. Brook's new book The Greatest Inventor does not disappoint.
Victor, our hero, is a really good sort. In an unusual beginning the prologue is narrated by the story teller who has writer's block. The writer, lost in a forest in snowy Finland, is rescued by a boy who subsequently becomes the hero of the story. My class of ten year olds were captured after the prologue.
Victor feels that his little village is too boring and safe. He desperately wants adventure. The villagers have hard, honest lives and owe nobody anything. One day the self- styled . . . "greatest inventor ever to set foot in the land of King Marshalla" arrives and attempts to sell contraptions. The villagers won't buy. In anger he casts a malicious spell over the village. Victor must release the village from the spell. He travels with an unlikely companion a talking turtle (tortoise?) called Saint Oswald. As they follow the inventor, they come upon villages that are under the spell of the inventor's contraptions. Other children, intent on rescuing their villages, join them on their quest.
It becomes apparent that other villages have fallen into debt and are doomed to permanent servitude. A monumental battle between the children and the forces of evil ensures. In the end they all go home which is where all good stories should end.
This book is a satisfying, mischievous romp - pure escapism. George Ermos's black and white illustrations enhance the text. The children are grounded in solid values. Sanity is restored to a world that has lost touch with what really matters. Victor realises that he is part of a world much bigger than himself. A delightful, fantastical romp with a message.
Recommended for Primary aged children.
Wendy Jeffrey


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Nov 27 2020

Rise of the Mythix: Mighty minotaur by Anh Do

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Illus. by Chris Wahl. Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760876401.
(Age:10+) Recommended. The second in the series which began with Golden Unicorn, has a heady mix of legends and myths; the unicorn, griffin and minotaur, and also encapsulates a hardy breed of new heroes and anti heroes, as a Soul Collector stalks Kelly's days as her powers develop. The two fought in book one, forcing her to take heed of the powers developing within her and do something about it. A dystopian Australia is under the yoke of a tyrannical ruler, and in this second outing, Kelly must combine all of her wits and skills to defeat him after Kelly's mother is kidnapped. Now Minh is aware that that his body is changing too and so the pair can combine their abilities to protect those they love.
All the daring of Percy Jackson with hints of Lord of the Rings, and many other fantasy stories, the characters in this book are well rounded and combined with good plotting, making it a breeze to read.
Comic book style illustrations by Chris Wahl add to the fun of the book, giving a clear image of each of the characters and what they are doing. And at 200 or so pages, will keep those hooked on the series, well fed.
Themes: Adventure, Dystopia, Tyranny, Future, Myths and legends.
Fran Knight


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Nov 26 2020

October, October by Katya Balen

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Ill. by Angela Harding. Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781526620491
(Age: 10+ ) Highly recommended. October is a girl who thinks of herself as a wild wolf living in the woods with her equally wild father. In the woods she is confident and self-sufficient. She spends her days digging, climbing, running, learning, scavenging, growing food and using her imagination to make up fantastic stories. She does not need the 'woman who is her mother' and the only time she feels out of her depth is on rare trips into town for supplies.
On her 11th birthday October has just adopted a baby owl. She and her father are following their annual birthday ritual when something terrible happens, and suddenly everything is different. October is wrenched out of her wild life. She feels lost and angry in equal parts and shuts down.
It takes time, bravery, love and friendship for October to let new people into her inner circle and become open to finding something to be excited about again.
October's relationship with her parents is a clear theme throughout. Her father is fair, wise and warm as he guides, encourages and protects her. Her connection with her mother is complicated and sometimes ugly, but her mother offers unconditional love along with great patience, grace and kindness.
Katya Balen uses long sentences to brilliantly convey the breathlessness, anger, excitement, bewilderment and imagination of October. The illustrations by Angela Harding show the baby owl maturing, stretching and thriving throughout the story, mirroring October herself.
The end is very moving and satisfying as October comes back to the woods, where nothing and everything has changed.
"Being wild and free is different for every person and every thing and it can be folded into the woods or whirling through the city streets".
Includes a sneak peek at Balen's 2019 middle/upper grade novel, The space we're in.
Themes: Family, Relationships, Imagination, Nature, Fathers, Mothers.
Kylie Grant


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Nov 26 2020

Heroes next door by Samuel Johnson and Hilde Hinton

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Hachette Australia, 2020. 213pp. ISBN: 9780733646362.
(Age: 13+) Recommended. Heroes next door is a collection of 40 true human stories ranging from a short three pages up to ten. The book was written by Samuel Johnson, a high profile actor, who has worked to raise money for a cause called loveyoursister.org. He was joined in the writing by his older sister Hilde. Their sister Connie died of cancer and Samuel led many public campaigns for cancer awareness and research. This book also raises money for this. Unsurprisingly many of the stories are about cancer sufferers and their indomitable spirit, plus the selfless support of people around them. For example Gail who organised the community to throw a wedding for Manda, a woman with a terminal illness. There are also people who have worked quietly for others in their community like Fahim the pharmacist. Or Alison the school principal, who stood by a student called Paige who was on a roller coaster of self-abuse. We hear about those whose work causes considerable personal trauma but carry on regardless, like Dianne the SES volunteer and Simon the firie. Matt's story is maybe more well-known since there has been a lot of publicity about how he engineered the amazing robotic prosthetic hands which are freely given to people without hands. The authors find everyday people with amazing backgrounds and people who shower others with kindness.
Quiet battler stories of terminal illness, suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence all make this very emotional and sobering stuff. I occasionally gasped at the tragedy. However some of the stories tell of how people in adversity turn around these situations. They are told in short unflowery sentences which deliver an impact. There's a lot of Aussie slang and swearing which lightens the tone. A well-chosen story may be useful in secondary schools for discussing values and ethical dilemmas. It is also the sort of book you can dip into for inspiration and remind yourself of the good others do constantly without a need for fanfare.
Jo Marshall


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Nov 26 2020

The dressmaker's secret by Rosalie Ham

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Picador, 2020. ISBN: 9781760982027.
(Age: Adult) Tilly, the dressmaker is back! She is in hiding in Melbourne slaving away for the demanding Mrs Flock at the Salon Mystique, her talents in dress design gaining favour as everyone prepares for the grand social occasion of the 1953 coronation of the new queen. But there are people searching for her - a mysterious man in elegant clothes, a villainous welfare officer, and a whole cast of angry, stupid, venomous people from that horrible country town Dungatar.
The kindhearted cross-dressing Sergeant Farrat is there to help her as always; he and other closet fashion lovers are a source of humour, along with the whole crazy world of the Hippocampus Club. It is an era when single mothers and homosexuals are reviled, and female workers are exploited, but Ham deals with these issues in a light-hearted melodramatic way. The characters are Dickensian stereotypes and the action is farcical, it's all just a lot of fun. More serious attention goes to the clothes!
Having seen the 2015 film The dressmaker starring Kate Winslett, I knew to expect a comedy about revenge, but even so I found it hard to pull the pieces together in this sequel without having read the first book. There are frequent references to unexplained secrets that really demand reading the books in order. But I am sure that readers of The dressmaker will enjoy finding out what happens to Tilly next.
Themes: Humour, Fashion, Cross-dressing, Revenge.
Helen Eddy


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Nov 25 2020

A dog's perfect Christmas by W Bruce Cameron

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Pan Macmillan, 2020. ISBN: 9781529010114.
(Age: Secondary/Adult) Highly recommended. Winstead, a nine year wolf hound becomes aware one day that his Daddy is sad. His owner gets up in the morning with aching bones and crooked fingers, and turns to the pillow next to his where his wife once slept. Their house has been sold to cover the debts her illness accrued, and he is now living with his son and his family. His granddaughter comes in each morning to wake him, but Ello is a taciturn young girl on the brink of becoming a teen, at odds with everything around her. Her three year old twin brothers, Ewan and Garrett cause mayhem within the household, and mum, Juliana cannot wait to drop all three at school and have some time to herself, going to Target for respite. She is meeting her husband, Hunter for lunch and has something to tell him.
Hunter is given a promotion in his office but warned that a lack of success means being fired. He cannot understand his wife's distress at home, and is at a loss to help with the children or his father, Sander, who counts the pills in the medicine cabinet. This chaotic household is very recognisable and the descriptions poignant and very funny. The readers' involvement builds as Juliana reveals she is very unhappy, Hunter's work nose dives into a scrambled mess, Ello's friends bully her and she is saddled with baby sitting Dad's boss' son, newly arrived at school. When Mum is taken to hospital and the diagnosis becomes dire, the family grows together, helped by the stray puppy Ello has found on her walk home from the skating rink. Named Ruby it becomes part of the family, a crutch for the children as they cope with their mother's illness.
This is a beautifully written story of a family and their fractured relationships, repaired by a stray dog which adopts them. And did I mention this story happens at Christmas, adding another layer of stress and the cold in Michigan in December is finger numbing.
Themes: Family, Death, Christmas, Grandparents, Suicide, Pets, Animals, Twins, Anxiety, Michigan.
Fran Knight


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Nov 25 2020

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End by Jeff Kinney

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Penguin, 2020. ISBN: 9780143796084.
Highly recommended. This was read and reviewed by my 10 year old son, who has read most of the others from this series and really enjoys them:
First of all I thought this book was good, because it was funny and a good story.
The story is about the family and they go on a holiday, and they travel to lots of places. While they are at a caravan park lots of bad things happen. One of the bad things is when the bridge to get out of the caravan park is struck by lightning they can't get out. Everyone gets panicked and they buy everything . . . this is very familiar to me because of Covid-19. At the end Manny saves the day as he drives the van to fix the bridge and let everyone out!
I would recommend this book to people who have read any of the other Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I giggled a lot as the pictures are hilarious, they add to the story and with some parts of the story you wouldn't understand the story without the pictures.
I give it 4.5 starts out of 5 - I would have given it 5 stars if there were even more funny pictures.
I think his review says it all. This book was real hit with a 10 year old, and I also think this book would really suit readers who need a bit of extra encouragement. The funny illustrations are a real draw card and keep in line with all the others in the series. A great addition to the series, and highly recommended!
Lauren Fountain


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Nov 25 2020

Angels weep by Colin Falconer

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Constable, 2020. ISBN: 9781472132703.
(Age: Senior secondary/adult) DI Charlie George and his team investigate the abduction of a young woman. Time is of the essence if they are to find her alive. Their workload is dramatically increased when there is another young woman taken off the street and orders are to assume the abductions are linked. The budget is stretched and very little sleep is had by the team as they desperately search for the two victims.
The second target is a young woman, Sarah Howlett, married to Danny, an investment banker. She seems to have a great life: handsome successful husband, beautiful home, a young child and a nanny to help with young Ollie. Danny however is controlling, abusive and has lost a huge amount of money trading illegally.
When the first victim is found alive but traumatised, elation is short lived. There is no second victim and there does not seem to be a link to Sarah Howlett, so the team must look with fresh eyes at the evidence they have.
Charlie George is well acquainted with dysfunctional families. He is the product of one. In the midst of his investigation a surprise seventieth birthday has been arranged for his mother who has dementia! His drug addled brother has been flown from Australia and has been billeted with him. He rarely sees his siblings and a family reunion at the care home is the last thing he needs as he struggles with his case load.
Sarah Howlett is hit by a car seemingly escaping from her husband who she claims is trying to kill her. She has injuries not all sustained in the traffic accident and is deeply traumatised. The husband Danny Howlett is nowhere to found and Sarah's father is furious that progress seems to have stalled.
Colin Falconer cleverly contrasts the social divides in London, and takes the reader into the lives of a fascinating range of London society. Most seem to be damaged goods in some way. There are not too many happy families in DI George's circle, including his own. Falconer is able to ramp up the intrigue with some unexpected twists and turns to deliver a thoroughly satisfying read.
Themes: Abuse, Abduction, Domestic violence, Crime, London.
Mark Knight


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Nov 25 2020

The Grinny Granny Donkey by Craig Smith

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Illus. by Katz Cowley. Scholastic, 2020. ISBN: 9781775435976.
(Age: 4+) Recommended. Older children will love this hilarious sequel to The wonkey donkey and The dinky donkey, and will have fun calling out 'Hee Haw' and trying to remember the story as it accumulates along the way. This time the donkey is a grandmother:
There was a sweet donkey who lived on the heath.
She was so funny with her false teeth . . .
And her teeth provide much of the humour in the story as she looses them, sips her favourite brew, dunks biscuits, goes for a walk, puts on her jewellery and plays her banjo. Children will enjoy following the journey of this fabulous grandmother with her glitzy jewellery, smart glasses and most of all her love for her family. By the end of the song, each verse building on the previous one, children will be trying to say 'a grinny granny plunky-plinky swanky clinky-clanky zonky dunky-drinky clunky donkey!' They can sing along to the song, which is available on Craig Smith's website where there are also links to other songs that he recorded.
The illustrations are incredible, the donkey's false teeth feature prominently and the blue coat and strange eyebrows add to the humour. A little butterfly-like fairy can also be seen on each double page spread and will be another feature for the curious child to follow as they read the story.
A celebration of grandmothers, The granny granny donkey will be a hit with children. Themes: Donkeys, Verse, Sing-along, Read aloud, Humour, Family.
Pat Pledger


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Nov 25 2020

Zombierella by Joseph Coelho

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Illus. by Freya Hartas. Fairy tales gone bad. Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781406389661.
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. The perennial fun of twisted fairy tales takes on a new lease of life as Cinderella becomes a zombie after falling down the stairs, slipping on dog poo deliberately left by her fake sisters. Readers will laugh out loud as they recognise bits of the well known Cinderella, turned around for a modern audience with zombies, coffins, skeleton horses, and a vampire prince. A ball is called every three days by the prince, newly arrived in town with his retinue. But Cinderella is left home to clean. Falling on the stairs, she dies, to be revived as a zombie by Death, and given the opportunity to attend the ball. The prince, of course, falls for her, but she slips away. On the third night, her fake sisters become aware of who the beautiful girl is and pour glue on the stairs, stopping her progress. Not to be outdone, Cinderella breaks off her foot to run away, leaving the prince with a foot and ankle to match. The fake sisters do more than cut their toes off to marry the prince, and in the end, love rules and the story concludes most happily.
What a wonderful retelling, I laughed out loud and I am sure the readership will too, especially with the array of detailed very funny illustrations to guide them. A whole array of vampire and zombie paraphernalia dot the pages, intriguing the readers, and the grisly stuff, pulling out Cinderella's guts, or pulling off her foot, for example, is simply grist for the funny bone, goading people to laugh with gusto.
And I was pleased to read the epilogue by the librarian who unearthed these dark, mad tales, that there is more to come.
Walker Books' website gives more information about poet Coelho, and this is the first of a three part series called Fairy tales gone bad. And I loved the wrap around cover.
Themes: Vampires, Zombies, Cinderella, Twisted fairy tales, Humour, Verse.
Fran Knight


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Nov 24 2020

Untwisted: the story of my life by Paul Jennings

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Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760525828. 321p. hbk.
(Age: 12+) Autobiography. Paul Jennings grabs events in his life as a counterpart to stories he has written. The master of the quirky and hilarious short story patches together the trajectory of his life, his learning curve as a literacy teacher and writer with selected elements of his personal life. In addition to his first successful foray into volumes of humorous stories with surprise twists, Jennings has written some of the most memorable scenes in children's novels and excelled at the demanding genre of television script writing.
His own misadventures as a youth, a husband, father and a celebrity provide the origin stories of his narratives. His strained relationship with his father is not atypical of his generation but revealing his dark fantasies to his readers brings us into his trust. To reinforce his objectivity, his self-awareness extends to collaboratively consulting the would-be players in his life story before describing them in print. Equally, he has never been solely motivated by the magical realism and laugh-out-loud comedy of his narratives. He has always tapped into his inner child writing his fears and feelings down to empathise with the sheer vulnerability and the getting (or not) of literacy, life experience and resilience that is every child's journey.
One amusing anecdote from a lecture to Teacher Librarians wasn't explored but he relates a number of experiences from his teaching and book tours. His style is not traditional in categorising the jigsaw pieces of his life, metacognitively casting doubt on his own interpretation literally and sustaining that breakdown of the fourth by alternating fact and fiction. The dictum of Socrates is satisfied by Untwisted i.e. The unexamined life is not worth living. Rather what Jennings has attempted to do in this reflective triumph, is to show that "Our lives are nothing if not lessons to others". Jennings was never going to write his own story unpunctuated by his magical realism that was stranger than life, nor omit real events that were stranger than fiction. Flexibility and innovation is still his lesson and humour is the door to guide disengaged students into lifelong readers.
Children, adults gratefully adored for decoding his stories out-loud, and many a flummoxed teacher librarian will be enchanted by the recounts Paul Jennings has selected in this self-portrait. Oft spurned by elite literary accolades, Paul Jennings preferred popular success. A biography commands substance and the hardback cover pays homage to the breadth of his literary forays via the Round the Twist motif. THE most successful ACTF program to this day, the little lighthouse stands sentinel - a symbol of one of the greatest living storytellers.
Deborah Robins


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Nov 24 2020

Christmas is murder: a chilling short story collection by Val McDermid

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Sphere, 2020. ISBN: 9780751581775.
(Age: Secondary/Adult) Highly recommended. In a few pages, award winning crime writer McDermid is able to create a scenario, characters and a crime, enticing an already enthralled reader to keep going, wanting to see where the story heads. Twelve short stories all framed by Christmas, are tantalisingly brief, but each is complete in itself, dealing with a murder, and sometimes making a point along the way. In 'A wife in a million', a detective investigates a series of murders: someone is spiking condiments at supermarkets with arsenic, while her unemployed partner scans the papers each day searching for work. It is her suggestion that brings the investigation to a close.
Another tale reprises the Holmes' stories as Watson and Holmes go to Sarajevo to stop a killing (not the one you think!). In another a young girl unsure of whether Santa Claus is real or not, pushes a burglar down the stairs on Christmas Eve, after she finds him with her Christmas presents. In 'Happy Holiday', DCI Jordan and Dr Tony Hill solve a murder, while another story has a couple cycling through Scotland, finding a remote folly, and after her partner is killed, she lures the driver to the folly to exact revenge.
Settings are so different: the Scottish Highlands, Scottish towns, various castles, lochs and coastlines, while the characters inhabit many guises. A thoroughly involving set of stories, sure to keep readers amused and absorbed over Christmas.
Themes: Short stories, Christmas, Murder, Investigation, Crime fiction, Scotland.
Fran Knight


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Nov 24 2020

Kay's anatomy by Adam Kay

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Illus. by Henry Paker. Penguin Random House, 2020. ISBN: 9780241452943.
(Age; 9+) Recommended. Kay's anatomy is a comedic anatomy book with the revealing subtitle: A complete (and completely disgusting) guide to the human body. Written for the youthful audience who loves humour with everything in life and enjoys the bizarre and disgusting aspects of the human body - from the top of the skull to toe nails via every gross fact in between. Adam Kay studied Medicine so information in the book is factual, however it is heavily laced with jokes, humorous asides and quirky illustrations. With a focus on the questions that kids would like answered and on bodily secretions, noises and smells, there is something to learn or something to laugh at on every page, including reference to Covid 19.
This is the kind of book that kids will read from cover to cover and laugh at every page. Fortunately, they will also learn a lot about human anatomy in the process. Illustrations are extremely amusing cartoons that will attract the visual learner and will draw them to the well set out information. Note: The book explains the reproductive system in a simple but thorough way with clear illustrations and explanations for a young audience. I enjoyed the humour and the clarity of the information for young readers, but kids will love all the snot, fart and vomit references and every other disgusting piece of information.
Themes: Human anatomy; Humour.
Carolyn Hull


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Nov 24 2020

This one is ours by Kate O'Donnell

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UQP, 2020. ISBN: 9780702260285.
(Age: 14-18) Recommended. Leaving behind her Australian family and childhood friend, Crow (the slightly activist-realist in her life), Sofie has the opportunity for a 6-month exchange program in Paris, the city of love, art, history, revolution and so much more. Her exchange year has her placed within a family who share her love of the Arts and self-expression. The daughter, her Parisian 'sister', also introduces her to the world of protest as the younger generation look at injustice and climate change within the city known for Revolution and Renaissance. As a student who is immersed in the city with so much atmosphere and history, Sofie explores her own art, walks through Paris and finds romance with more than just her surrounds. All the time she remains connected to Crow via technology, and their shared friendship keeps her thoughtful, grounded and linked despite time zones. Forced to think deeply as she translates her experience into French and explore what is really important in life, she makes meaning and art, joins in the fight for change, and grows in maturity.
With so much French language dotted through the text, this book will be loved by French language students and also lovers of Art movements. The story opens eyes in a glorious exploration of seeing the world differently and learning to find your voice and grow in understanding of the important things in life. Sofie is brave and the exchange experience at the age of 16 is portrayed as a wonderful journey of personal discovery. Wandering with Sofie through Paris is a joy for the reader, and the first-love romance with the charismatic Olivier will appeal to readers who enjoy romance stories. Well written and insightful and set within contemporary France, this book can be recommended for readers aged 14+. Teacher's notes are available.
Themes: Coming-of-age, Paris, Exchange programs, Art, Romance.
Carolyn Hull


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Nov 23 2020

I follow you . . . until you are mine by Peter James

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Pan Macmillan, 2020. ISBN: 9781509816286.
(Age: Secondary/adult) Highly recommended. Set in Jersey, James' latest thriller is most unsettling. Dr Marcus Valentine is a distinguished gynae-oncologist, a leader in his field and looked up to by both his colleagues and patients alike. He is also an obsessive man - time is important and everything has its place.
While driving to work he almost runs a woman down. A woman who reminds him disturbingly of his first love. Georgie Maclean becomes a preoccupation which rapidly turns to an addiction.
Peter James is able to knit the lives of Georgie, her partner Roger Richardson and Marcus Valentine into an increasingly volatile dance. Valentine believes he is in control but he has to take ever more complicated steps to keep his passion secret.
After a plane crash involving Roger, Valentine takes charge of the surgery to save his life but deliberately omits to take care of a small problem which will eventually end in his death.
Georgie is also pregnant, a long awaited precious event. Valentine would also like to be rid of that troublesome addition. He does not wish to be saddled with another man's child. As his fixation with Georgie becomes more delusional he really believes that they will live together in a blissful loving partnership.
As James' narrative moves on the pace steadily increases as does the suspense. He has been able to paint the Dr Valentine as a pompous, self-opinionated sociopath a thoroughly dislikable character, while the reader's anxiety for Georgie and Richard steadily mounts as the story unfolds. A thoroughly satisfying page turner. Highly recommended.
Themes: Crime, New Jersey, Obsession, Thriller.
Mark Knight


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Nov 23 2020

The wolves of Greycoat Hall by Lucinda Gifford

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Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760651596. 224pp.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Deciding where to go for their next holiday, the Greycoats of Morovia are startled to find that wolves are being reintroduced into Scotland. With Scottish paintings on their walls, they know they have a family link and so decide to catch the train as soon as they can and make their way to Scotland, where the last wolves were seen in 1680. Once in Aberdeen they spy a castle and ask to visit it. They would love to buy it for themselves, but the price is more than they can afford, and beside which a developer  has offered to buy it to build a group of expensive villas to attract the wealthy to this quaint village by the sea.
The local conservation society is appalled at this plan but apart from putting together a petition, seems there is little they can do. The developer plans to dig up the sand so destroying birds' nests, raze much of the castle, pull down trees and build a helipad for the rich to arrive. All sounds gross and the Greycoats agree. Boris is reading a history of his family and notices the similarity between the castle in the book with the one where they are staying, so saves the day, revealing it to be a place of significance and therefore to be protected.
A funny look at a wolf family overcoming prejudices against their kind and proving that wolves do indeed belong in Scotland, and saving an historic site and protecting a bird colony as well.
Themes: Wolves, Humour, Scotland, Conservation, Heritage.
Fran Knight


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Nov 23 2020

The heartsong of Wonder Quinn by Kate Gordon

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University of Queensland Press, 2020. ISBN: 9780702262821. 177pp.
(Age: 10+) Recommended. Wonder Quinn lives in the archives of a cold, rustic school for girls called Direleafe Hall. Here she is completely ignored by her classmates and teacher Ms Gallow. She is a lonely, solitary girl whose only companion is a crow called Hollowbeak. Wonder longs for a friend and with the new school year a new student called Mabel Clattersham arrives. Wonder and Mabel instantly become friends and support each other in difficult times. We learn that Wonder's mother has died and Mabel has overly protective parents. Mabel also has a quirky list of seven things she wants to do, such as steal something. She also exacts revenge on the bully Georgiana Kinch. It becomes obvious to Wonder that Mabel is seriously unwell and is growing worse as she tries to cross the tasks off the list. By the end of this tender story there is a major reveal. I actually reread the book thinking I must have missed something!
This is a short fantasy and is simply written with large font. It has a delightful jacket and some large illustrations by Rachel Tribout, plus it comes with a real black feather bookmark. This format is a little deceptive and not really suitable for younger readers. The audience needs to be reasonably sophisticated because the subject matter has great emotional depth, dealing with love and particularly death. I found myself stopping and contemplating sentences such as, "You make marks as big as earthquakes in the lives of those who love you, but you disappear without a trace. You were here and you were not here, all at once." The characters themselves are symbolic. Hollowbeak represents reality and a pessimism that limits risk taking. Mabel is the joy and optimism that leads us to take risks in spite of inevitable death. Wonder is hesitant but drawn to Mabel's example of choosing to truly live life and striving to be true to yourself. It is recommended for confident readers 10+ years. Teacher's notes are available from the publisher.
Jo Marshall


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Nov 23 2020

The book of not entirely useful advice by A.F. Harrold

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Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781526618016. 121p.
(Age: 9+) Recommended. Poetry, Nonsense. Penned by English poet, A.F. Harrold, young children are rewarded with chunks of snappy rhyme and sometimes bonus glee. The foreword advises us not to follow any of the bad advice, thereby writes the author, making this a useful collection. Delicious extras make the anthology evermore useful: a searchable index, contents and a glossary of 'Knots of the world'. Not to mention interactive blank canvases for the reader's own drawings or poems; plus an advice generator - customize the template to build your own Advice-A-Tron animated by a roll of the dice.
Aesthetically, our interest is sustained by the cute animations of A.F. Harrold, several animals and selected children. Mini Grey throws in a colourful parrot saying "Bum" twice - double the hilarity. A.F. Harrold rounds his text with an afterword including some final advice not attached to poems such as: "You are not alone. We all feel like that sometimes."
But what of the poetic advice? Not letting the broccoli drive the car seems too obvious followed by such nonsense lines as "Always keep an onion handy, They're great for self-defence" and poems entitled "Gravy is Not Perfume". But this closet poet throws in the odd serious gem to groom his young readers to appreciate the paradigmatic insertions in poetry.
Roots
It's a good picnic
to which you need carry no food,
simply slip off your shoes,
let your toes grow down,
rooting around,
deep into the soil,
supping and sifting,
and you palm up your hands
and drink
the sunshine.
The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice is a library must and would engage lower/middle school readers on a lazy afternoon in: drawing or writing - or simply learning to be still and more self-aware. With poetry, less really is more.
Deborah Robins


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Nov 23 2020

Old man emu by John Williamson

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Illus. by Simon McLean. Puffin Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760898793.
(Age: 5+) Recommended. For fifty years, singer songwriter John Williamson has been entertaining us with his wild and witty songs.
Old man emu was his first hit in 1970 and it is fitting that it be published this year to honour John's debut appearance on New Faces, when he sang this song and won the competition, launching his career.
Everyone can sing along - I cannot imagine there are many people out there who cannot hum along to this song, even if only the last line, about running the pants off a kangaroo! All readers will find it hard not to sing along as this is read out to them, and their voices will sing out as they attempt to drown out that of the person reading the book. As they listen to, read or sing along they will hear of a range of Australian animals the emu encounters: kookaburra, cockatoo, kangaroo, dingo, galah and wedge tailed eagle, all adding to the fun of the rhymes he makes in the song, and the journey they all take.
This book makes an indelible introduction to a range of Australian animals for young readers, allowing them to sing along and enjoy the rhymes, encouraging them to predict the rhyming words, and discern the attributes of each animal represented. The silly look on the emu's face is endearing, and McLean's lively illustrations will evoke a legion of followers, as they spy different things on each page, and then pour over the endpapers covered with line illustrations.
There are videos of this available on Youtube. But the one of John Williamson and Simon McLean reading the book is wonderful.
Themes: Australian animals, Emu, John Williamson, Humour, Verse.
Fran Knight


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Nov 20 2020

The Erasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

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Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760525057.
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Wilkinson writes powerful stories that challenge thinking and explore unusual situations. In this psychological thriller we see the story unfold through Cecily's eyes as she wakes up on board a bus with no memory of her past life, but with some recognition of past learning. Her entire identity seems to have been wiped out from her consciousness. It is not long before she discovers that her fellow passengers are in the same situation. With small flashes of recognition and connection they try to establish who they are and why they are together. While in this strange identity fog they are required to submit to ethical tests and challenges that then play out before their eyes. Slowly, the degree of difficulty of these ethical choices ramps up to the extreme and all the passengers on board must fight for what they think is right. The twists in the tale and the control and manipulation upon the bus traveller's lives are revealed in a masterful way and the reader is carried along in the fast-paced ride wondering whether they should cheer for Cecily or deride her for her choices - whether personal relationship choices or her desires to escape.
This is an amazing psychological thriller that explores the choices people make and the motivations behind the bad choices that they make. Do bad choices imply that someone will always be bad? The characters in this story are all flawed in some way, and the power of the narrative is in making them likeable and relatable despite their failings. From the Senator and her son, to the lesbian computer hacker, the tattooed tough guy, and the bespectacled arsonist, all become linked in a plot to change them for the better. Cecily though seems the hardest to change. With small glimpses into the past through alternate documents woven between chapters Wilkinson has created a very powerful ethical drama and a science-fiction psychological thriller. This book does require some maturity to read. It is compelling but also disturbing and occasionally violent. But it is so unique and intriguing that mature readers will enjoy the 'roller-coaster' adventure. Teacher's tips and author discussion video are available on the publisher's website.
Themes: Memory and amnesia; Behaviour Modification; Ethics; Psychological thriller; LGBTI.
Carolyn Hull


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Nov 20 2020

To sleep in a sea of stars by Christopher Paolini

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Pan Macmillan, 2020. ISBN: 9781529046519.
(Age: Adult/Young Adult). Highly recommended. Christopher Paolini, author of the much beloved young adult Eragon series, appeals to a different target audience with his adult debut To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. This is a science fiction novel of truly epic proportions. At almost 900 pages, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a serious (and weighty) undertaking that may intimidate some fans. However for readers determined to tackle this behemoth, an enjoyable space opera awaits.
Kira Navarez is a xenobiologist living approximately two hundred and fifty years in the future. Happy, newly engaged and working in her dream occupation, her life is interesting and fulfilling. Kira is completing an assignment on the moon of Adrasteia when she uncovers an ancient and mysterious relic. What she has found will have consequences that will change her life and the galaxy as she knows it forever. Kira has discovered that humans are not alone in the universe and that she is now at the centre of a war for the very survival of her species.
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a hugely complex and multi-layered story. Paolini worked on the novel for almost a decade before its release, a fact that is evident in the level of world-building and characterisation achieved. It will tick the boxes for any fan of hard science fiction as well as those who enjoy action, adventure and many, many human emotions. While certainly not a quick or always easy read, this novel highly recommended.
Themes: Space, Space Travel, Planets, Astronauts, Aliens, War, Solitude, Identity, Humanity.
Rose Tabeni


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Nov 20 2020

Noah Wild and the floating zoo by Alexander McCall Smith

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Bloomsbury, 2020. 120p. ISBN: 9781526605542.
(Age: 7+) Adventure. The scene is set for a classic children's book. There are no responsible parents, only eccentric aunts and uncles. Noah & Hattie are living happily enough with Aunt Smiley when their pirate Uncle Loafy, having closed his Zoo, invites them to help re-locate his last four wild animals to their homelands.
Monkey Robertson, Henrietta Alpaca, Mrs Roo, a tiger called Ram and four humans, set sail on a magnanimous quest, investing time and money to ensure the well-being of all species. After the practicalities of fixing the Ark and the obligatory storm, the expansiveness of travel is a steady learning curve . . . and as always they're dogged by the enraptured reader.
The author ponders many different versions of the nature vs nurture conundrum: Mistaken identity is a thing. Upbringing counts. Sometimes genetics and animal natures are insurmountable. And when the roguish Monkey Robertson proves incapable of rehabilitation, we must accept that he is a higher species trapped in the wrong body.
Children's authors sometimes write best-selling adult literature. Alexander McCall Smith has proven the reverse is also possible. In future, adults may not draw parallels to Noah Wild's musings when compelled to turn the pages of The Life of Pi, or when shedding tears at the treatment of lab animals in We are All Completely Beside Ourselves but Smith's brushstrokes on an early literacy canvas will have played a part.
Deborah Robins


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Nov 20 2020

Whose bones? by Chihiro Takeuchi

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Berbay Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9780648785163.
(Age: 3+) Highly recommended. A most amazing book to read and reread, impelling readers to look closely at the illustrations, urging them to ask questions. Each set of bones is changed into an animal, bird or human when the page is turned. Children will be eager to recognise the being from the bones, while over the page shows the animal and its bones all arranged together. Readers will eye off the number of hands, piece together the bones that may be the back bone, look for the skull and so derive some idea of what it may be. All questioning, all enticing, all making those thought processes work overtime. Children will be made more aware of the skeletons that make up vertebrates of the world, make observations about their own skeletons, look for pictures which give more information, tantalised by this book and the openings it offers.
The single hued pages give a clear image of the bones, firstly paid out like a puzzle, then put in their correct order with a similar image of the animal beside it. The colours used accentuate the bones encouraging young readers to look more closely, and be
in awe of the artist who is able to cut out such shapes with accuracy. Again younger readers (and others) will be enthusiastic to try out their own skills.
The pages for vertebrates: snake, lion, crocodile, koala, elephant, flamingo and whale follow the same pattern, and these are followed by a double page with six more to puzzle over. At the end of the book is a double page with information about each of the vertebrates shown, and I love the end papers, with the human skeletons at one end and a filled in version of little people at the other.
This is a book which will inform and delight, introducing younger readers to the idea of vertebrates and their skeletons, encouraging a lifelong interest in science.
Themes: Vertebrates, Animals, STEM, Humour.
Fran Knight


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Nov 19 2020

School rules are optional: the grade 6 survival guide by Alison Hart

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Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760525712.
(Age: Years 4-6) This is the first novel from new author Alison Hart, and what a great entry into the literary world she has made!
The story follows Jesse and his friends as they step into their first day of year six and their final year in primary school. Very quickly Jesse tells us about his terrible start to the year (lost jumpers, terrible teachers and possible school captaincy) and you begin to wonder if this is how the story will continue . . .
I gave this book to my year 4 son and his first questions was "I wonder if this will tell me what to expect in year 6?" He read this book quite quickly and was engrossed in it from day one! He told me that he could imagine lots of the things happening and thought the camp sounded particularly fun! He liked how it was written from Jesse's perspective and said that over the course of the book he could 'hear' him reading it in his head. His only criticisms were that he thought no one who was a prep teacher would ever teach year 6's and that in this day computers would never blow up on a hot day!
I enjoyed the way that both the teachers and students were portrayed. The teachers were shown as real people who care for their students but are also flexible and work with a variety of students needs. Students are diverse and Alison shows how the final year at primary school is one of change; friends, hormones and attitudes!
As a first novel, Alison Hart has really excelled. I liked the way she writes and the story she has told. It is a story that kids can relate to, which makes it even better in my opinion!
It is funny, with laugh out loud moments. A great book for students from years 4-6.
Teacher's tips are available on the publisher's website.
Lauren Fountain


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Nov 19 2020

Shadow Sands by Robert Bryndza

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Kate Marshall book 2 . Little Brown, 2020. ISBN: 9780751572759.
(Age: Adult - Senior secondary) Recommended. Kate Marshall and her offsider Tristan Harper are back in another exciting adventure. The duo first appeared in Nine Elms and continue with their successful sleuthing in Shadow Sands. When Kate and her son are diving in the Shadow Sands reservoir, Kate finds the body of a young man floating above the sunken village. The body has extensive injuries and even though he is identified as a swimmer capable of going to the Olympics, the authorities deem it to be an accident. When the victim's mother contacts Kate, she and Tristan gradually uncover the fact that people have been disappearing from this area for years. Then a young lecturer from the university disappears and the hunt is on.
Bryndza has the happy knack of writing in a very easy to read style, with engaging characters that are relatable. Kate is a recovering alcoholic, who only sees her teenage son Jake in holidays. Both must deal with the fact that Jake's father is a convicted serial killer. Meanwhile Tristan has some personal issues to deal with as well. Both Kate and Tristan come across as highly intelligent and capable, and the reader will enjoy all the clues that they pursue.
The setting of a reservoir as the dumping ground for bodies is unusual. Add a very thick fog that rolls in over the land and a desolate, empty old club which was the last place some of the victims were seen and readers can expect to hold their breath. A rich and powerful local aristocratic family raises issues about class and the wielding of power and influence.
The case is concluded with some surprise twists and turns, and heart-stopping moments and readers can expect to see Kate and Tristan in further investigations.
Pat Pledger


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Nov 19 2020

Disgusting McGrossface on holiday by Rove McManus

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Scholastic, 2020. ISBN: 9781760973827.
(Age: 4-7) This is the second book by well known Australian comedian Rove McManus (he is both the author and illustrator). Disgusting McGrossface is a green, stinky, grumpy looking monster who joins his human family on a beachside holiday. He partakes in lots of yukky activities such as paddling in the sewer, using a dirty nappy as a hat and making a sandcastle toilet. The family obviously aren't too happy with his holiday list, but seem to tolerate it nonetheless.
I think this story is reasonable, and can almost hear Rove's familiar voice in my head as I read it.
I read this to my 6 year old who is right at the peak of finding anything gross hilarious - so this book was well received. She thought that Disgusting McGrossface was very funny, gross and (in her words) "probably the stinkiest monster in the whole world!"
The illustrations are bright and colourful which are generally engaging for readers/listeners from 4-7 years old and highlight all the horrid things that happen on this disastrous holiday.
The rhyming is good, with some predictability for younger listeners, and there is also multiple highlighted words (in bold) for the reader to add vocal interest and flare.
I would recommend this picture book for children who love going on holidays and love anything gross!
Lauren Fountain


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Nov 04 2020

Santa Jaws by Mark Sperring

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Illus. by Sophie Corrigan. Bloomsbury, 2020. ISBN: 9781408897812.
(Age: 2+) Highly recommended. Shelly the shark is all set to make this Christmas a very festive one. She turns her cave into a Santa grotto and invites the little fishes to come in, but they are very wary and swim away. However, Sid the squid is very excited as he has not met Santa before:
. . . today's my LUCKY, LUCKY day.
Golly, whizz and gee!
For guess WHO's meeting Santa Claus?
Yes, me! Yes, me! Yes, me!
When he swims in finds that it is Shelly the shark in her diving Santa suit. Can he trust her?
This is a hilarious read aloud, from the creators of Mince Spies. The cadence of the rhythm and rhyming words make a rollicking read and young children will love to sing out the 'Yes, me!' And 'I am!' refrains along with Sid. The person reading it aloud can also make the story lots of fun by coming up with voices to suit the two main characters, who each have their own characteristics. Readers will identify with Sid and his desire to meet Santa, while relating to Shelly who has no friends and is not trusted by anyone. She is a misunderstood creature, and it was lovely to see Sid working with her to bring joy to all the sea creatures.
Illustrations are cute with lots of fishy details to examine and giggle over. Sid the squid with his long pink tentacles and big black eyes is a hoot. The double page spread where he realises that there was not a real Santa in the cave is hilarious, showing Shelly's gleaming white teeth and little Sid's tentacles bunched together. Newly independent readers will love to give this one a go as well with the illustrations complementing the narrative.
A fabulous fun Christmas book, it is perfect as a bedtime story as well and has become a firm favourite with my little grandson.
Pat Pledger


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Nov 04 2020

Tinsel: The girls who invented Christmas by Sibeal Pounder

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Bloomsbury, 2020. ISBN: 9781526619273.
(Age: 8+) Highly Recommended. Tinsel: The Girls who Invented Christmas is a cleverly written book by Sibeal Pounder, author of the popular Witch Wars and Bad Mermaids series. What if history had it all wrong and Christmas and the Santa story was really begun by two young girls? This very exciting and humorous story brings in traditions of Christmas that readers of all ages will relate to. Blanche Claus lives under a bridge in London of long ago when poor orphaned children struggled to survive. She has no inclination or resources to embrace the festive season and would prefer to sleep through it. However on one special evening she is given a magical red bauble by an old woman. In the bauble she sees a surprising image and this begins her journey. She finds an abandoned horse she names Rudy and promises to care for her forever. While riding Rudy she meets Rinki, another orphaned child, and they share a mince-pie picnic. They lose touch but eventually find each other again and the mince-pie picnics become significant to the storyline. Blanche, disguised as a boy, becomes one of the best carters in the docks. She meets Captain Garland who entrusts her with a precious box which she delivers to his home not realizing Rinki is now living there with her two dads. Given their earlier impoverished circumstances Rinki and Blanche make a promise to try to provide a present for every child on Christmas Day. The evil neighbour Mr Krumpus and the three jealous carters play important roles in trying to thwart everything the two girls' attempt.
Throw in elves named Carol, a larger than life fir tree, a young cook called Santa, a new home in the North Pole, a magical sleigh and you have an entertaining story full of adventure and magic. An enjoyable and exciting read. Themes: Magic, Fantasy, Adventure, Good Vs Evil, Friendship, Christmas Traditions, Humour, Loyalty.
Kathryn Beilby


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Nov 02 2020

Rudie nudie Christmas by Emma Quay

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ABC Books, 2020. ISBN: 9780733338342.
(Age: 3+) Recommended. Following Rudie Nudie (2012) which was shortlisted for the CBCA picture book award, comes another look at that time between bath time and bed time, when many kids allow their bodies to be left uncovered. The fun of prancing around the house unencumbered is given full rein in this second book, now devoted to Christmas. The first Christmas book I have seen this year, this one is buoyant and fun filled as the two dance around the house, happy and carefree preparing for Christmas.
All the fun of Christmas is mentioned, encouraging children to view the customs of Christmas in western societies: wrapping presents, following a star, singing carols, putting up decorations, hanging their stockings for Santa to come by.
Each joyful page shows a happy family bathing their children, following them through the house, decorating the Christmas tree, making gingerbread, playing hide and seek, underlining the family features that are celebrated at Christmas around the world.
All readers will delight in the drawings of the two children, high spirited and energetic as they romp around the house, playing with their parents, finally wearing themselves out and going to bed, waiting for Santa to come calling.
The fun of the book is just one aspect of this multi layered offering from Sydney based Quay. It will enable classes to discuss what is important at Christmas time, encouraging children from different cultures to join in and learn why these aspects are celebrated. And of course, the verse form, encourages younger children to predict the rhyming word, making them more aware of the beauty of language. A cute opening story for Christmas, one of many that will follow, but this one will stand out.
Themes: Family, Christmas, Nudity, Verse.
Fran Knight


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