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May 20 2019

Little Frida by Anthony Browne

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Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781406381221. Hardcover, 32 pages.
(Age: All) Highly recommended. Themes: Frida Kahlo, Disability. Resilience, Artists, Belonging, Imagination. Fans of Anthony Browne's wonderful books and fans of the artist Frida Kahlo will welcome this gorgeous picture that pays tribute to the artist's young life. When she was six Frida Kahlo contracted polio and from then on walked with a limp. She was bullied at school and felt lonely and isolated until she went on a journey and met an imaginary friend who could dance beautifully. This figure would feature in her art in her later life.
Browne has used Kahlo's diary entries describing the time she met her imaginary friend beneath a dairy to write a poignant story about Frida's early life. His illustrations, done in the style of Kahlo, are very evocative and tell a touching tale about a young girl's disability and quest for friendship. Browne has won The Kate Greenaway Medal twice and Little Frida could well be another winner of this prestigious award. His illustrations, done in the bright colours that characterised Kahlo's work, are beautiful and will strike a chord in the minds of young and adult readers as they follow Kahlo's flights of fancy when she dons a pair of wings that she has been given for her birthday. The resilience that Kahlo had is inspiring and the richness of her imagination comes across as an important factor in her journey to becoming a world famous artist.
Children are fascinated by the artwork of Kahlo: bookstores keep popular bookmark souvenirs and mugs depicting her self-portraits, so this book will resonate with readers who want to learn more about her life and art. There is biographical information at the back of the book, and a picture of The two Fridas (1939), showing her imaginary friend, gives the reader an insight into her paintings.
This exquisitely produced book with its moving story and superb illustrations will be one that readers will want to keep and return to again and again.
Pat Pledger


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May 20 2019

The greatest book in the world by Matt Porter (Rudolph Wordsmith)

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Ill. by Dave Atze. Ford St, 2019. ISBN: 9781925804140.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Language, Rhyme, Verse story, Bad language, Nudity, Humour. If you love looking for rude words that rhyme with 'bart' and 'snickers' and 'mum' and 'slurp' and 'start', as Rudolf writes his way through this book in four line rhyming stanzas, then this book is for you. Rudolf introduces his book, inviting readers to add the last word of each stanza, carefully picking a word that rhymes. Of course the words that kids will call out, suggest and perhaps think but not say are the rude words that kids adore ('poo', 'bum', 'knickers' and so on) so Matt Porter instantly gets his readers on side and involved with words that are not quite acceptable. What a hoot - kids will love it, as well as adults as they read the book out loud, soliciting the correct words as well as those not quite so correct.
Atze's illustrations show a zany cartoon character for Rudolf, divesting himself of his clothes as the story unfolds. Poor Mum and Grandma the unwilling witnesses to Rudolf's antics. As each page is turned the correct word is revealed, the author often admonishing the reader for the word they thought of, again reinforcing the correctness of language and what is acceptable and what is not. This is a treat for kids discussing acceptability of language, looking at what language can be used and where as well as its appropriateness in particular circumstances.
Almost put off by another fart book, I found that the basis of the story in showing children when and where language can be used is a useful tool for parents and teachers alike in setting standards in their home and classrooms. With a great lashing of humour supported by funny illustrations, this book will be rarely left on the shelf.
Fran Knight


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May 20 2019

The cold eye by Laura Anne Gilman

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The Devil's West bk. 2. Simon and Schuster, 2019. ISBN: 9781481429726.
(Age: 16+) Themes: Fantasy, Road trips, Western, Coming of age. In the sequel to Silver on the Road, Isobel is once again faced with the magic in the land. This time something that is making the earth quake is threatening everything and she must try to set the Territory to rights. Accompanied by her mentor, Gabriel, she rides to uncover what is destroying the land and making the animals and people flee.
The cold eye has a slower pace in comparison to Silver on the road, and concentrates on the gradual growth of Isobel's strength and understanding of her skills and the responsibility that the devil has laid on her shoulders. Isobel is a strong character, and the reader will become immersed in her gradual coming of age. Some more of the tantalising secrets that Gabriel has hidden come to the surface, but Gilman still leaves enough uncovered that the reader will look forward to the next book in the series.
Gilman's real strength is in her world building. The landscape of a strange version of the old West is vividly described and the world of the Territory, its magic, the wards that are used by everyone to contain it and the different people come to life and make for a unique read.
Although slow at times, The cold eye leaves the reader eager to find out more about the quests that Isobel must undertake as the devil's Left Hand and the secret powers that Gabriel hides in the next in the series, Red waters rising.
Pat Pledger


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May 20 2019

Red Waters Rising by Laura Anne Gilman

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The Devil's West bk. 3. Saga Press, ISBN: 9781481429757.
(Age: 16+) Recommended. Themes: Fantasy, Western, Coming of age. In the conclusion to The Devil's West trilogy, Isobel and Gabriel ride to the great river, the Mud River, (aka Mississippi) where Isobel will once again be tested not just as the Devil's Left Hand but as a bone child. With strange threats to the welfare of the Territory, it is up to Isobel to work out what is happening. Meanwhile, Gabriel is increasingly drawn to the waters of the Mud River.
The alternative world of the West has been a great setting for this character driven trilogy, and the descriptions of the Red Stick, its inhabitants and relations with the Native peoples all make for an interesting reading experience. As the settler numbers increase and the American fort across the river grows in size, there are tensions about the Agreement that binds the people and allows them to stay in the Territory. Isobel must arbitrate carefully to help calm the unrest that is developing.
It was unusual to see the strong relationship between Isobel and Gabriel, who acts so well as her mentor, teaching her the skills she needs and ensuring that she takes the lead in solving the problems facing the land. Isobel has developed from a young 16 year old to a confident young woman who is prepared to think through issues and act for the best of the people, while readers will be intrigued by the pull that the water exerts on Gabriel.
The conclusion is complex and well developed, strange and disturbing. Readers will be sure to pursue the novella, Gabriel's road, for a further look at the world of the Territory and Gabriel's quest for peace.
Pat Pledger


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May 20 2019

The City of Guardian Stones by Jacob Sager Weinstein

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Walker, 2018. ISBN: 9781406368864.
(Age: 9-12) Themes: London, Fantasy, Magical realism, Adventure. The City of Guardian Stones is a hilarious, entertaining fantasy caper that takes us deep down into sewers, art gallery and railway tunnels, chasing the dastardly Minnie Tickle stone thief. Hyacinth and her family and friends return for another fantastical quest to save their city from evil forces. Someone is stealing the magical heritage of London; ancient stones are disappearing from underground.
Hyacinth's family are mysteriously connected to the magical rivers that run under the city of London and the stones that hold the ancient secrets of the city. They undertake an epic journey across London, travelling with Oaroborous a giant pig wearing a swimsuit who communicates succinctly with responses written on little cards. They are also assisted by the Coade stone statues which are strategically placed throughout the city, especially the stone lion Hungerford who transports them and assists them in some dangerous situations.
The young girl, her Mom and Little Ben Franklin find themselves locked in jail, stuck in the Lost and Found Office and fighting in magical foggy conditions. Here, Hyacinth's sword and dancing skills utilising her 'Excalibrolly' prove useful fighting Minnie Tickle. Can Hyacinth and her friends stop Minnie from resurrecting the old London Bridge and stop the evil that wants to control the city?
Weinstein's epic story has a surprising array of quirky characters, strange settings and magical moments that takes the reader on a thrilling ride. His world building, architectural descriptions and unique underground places add to the excitement. Each of the main characters learn more about their capabilities, strengths and working together as a team. For added interest, photos and information of the real London sites are included.
Rhyllis Bignell


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May 17 2019

How to rob a bank by Tom Mitchell

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HarperCollins Children's Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780008276508.
(Age: 11 and up) Recommended. Themes: Adolescents, humor, guilt, bank robberies, fires. When I first read the title of this book little alarm bells rang in my head thinking this may not be such a great topic to allow into a teenager's hands. However, the story is more about a young man's need to impress his first love than stealing from a bank. Fifteen-year-old Dylan Thomas is competing with annoying Harry for Beth's affections and giving her a Nepalese candle for her birthday seemed a great idea at the time. But as with many of Dylan's great ideas, his execution never seems to come up to what he's envisaged. The candle smelled awful and trying to get rid of it in a hurry when Beth's mum was on her way to catch him in Beth's bedroom meant throwing it into the bin. Great idea, unless the candle is still alight and causes a house fire.
Things turn from bad to worse when he realizes he has caused such a catastrophe that Beth must move in with her Aunt and go to a different school as the family can't afford the rent for the flat they are forced to live in as a result of the fire. The idea that he could somehow gift Beth the money her family needs gives him the motivation to rob a bank. Watching movies with his dad, who is not opposed to bending the rules when it suits him, has shown him that there are many smart ways out there to get money without having to go into a bank. In desperation to save Beth from her family's' financial woes he decides to try a few out.
Again, his implementation lets him down on several occasions providing the reader with a story that is very entertaining. Dylan is a thinker and is determined to get this right and no unfinished history homework, horrible Saturday job or nasty bank manager is going to stand in his way.
Gabrielle Anderson


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May 17 2019

Queer heroes by Arabelle Sicardi

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Illus. by Sarah Tanat-Jones. Quarto Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781786034861.
(Ages: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: LGBTQ, Difference, Heroes and heroines. Subtitled, Meet 52 LGBTQ heroes from past and present, this brightly inviting book does just that. Each page is devoted to one person who has advocated the LGBTQ cause. From Sappho in Ancient Greece to Krsten Stewart, from Da Vince to Harvey Milk, from Tchaikovsky to Khalid Abdle-Hadi, the coverage is amazing, including people from all continents, ethnic backgrounds and positions in society.
Many will be well known to younger readers, but equally, many will be unknown, informing the reader about people new to them. Readers will love reading about people like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, Sia and Tim Cook, but will be equally fascinated by stories of people like Virginia Wolfe, Vikram Seth, Nobuko Yoshiya and Josephine Baker.
Each of the stories gives an outline of their lives, where and when they were born (and died) and the journey they took in being accepted. Sometimes the article is ended with a quote which for some encapsulates their life's work.
Subhi Nahas for example has a page devoted to him, his portrait surrounded by many flags and we see that he was born in 1988 in Idlib in Syria. Pursued by the military for being gay he fled Syria to Turkey where he became an activist, but as things changed there, he fled again to the USA. Here he set up a group called Spectra Project an organisation promoting the cause of LGBTQ refugees around the world.
Several people like Frida Khalo, for example have two pages devoted to their story. Frida was an artist born in Mexico in 1907 and her work as one of the twentieth century's best artists as well as her work promoting feminism and civil rights have been widely recognised.
Another person, Lili Elbe, born in 1992 in Denmark has had her story recognised through the film, The Danish Girl. She was born a male and fought hard to have her transgender status recognised and to have gender reassignment surgery. Her story is all the more astounding when she was having this ground breaking surgery in the first years of the twentieth century.
A wonderful read, presenting both known and little known activists in this field, the book will be a hit on the library shelves. I read it as a dip in, lamenting the publisher's decision not to include either a contents page or index, limiting its ease of use, but the content easily outweighs this consideration.
Fran Knight


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May 17 2019

The Talent Show by Delphine Davis

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Mermaid Holidays bk. 1. Illus. by Adele K. Thomas. Puffin Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780143796510.
(Age: 6-8) Recommended. Themes: Friendship; Mermaids. This is an easy-to-read Friendship tale involving friends who catch up every school holiday break . . . and mermaids! Each of the four mer-friends has a companion side-kick - a marine creature that often speaks the words of wisdom that they need to hear. In this tale, the mer-girls get together to plan their mer-formance (performance) in the upcoming talent show. Sophia's bossiness gets in the way of a polished performance, creating waves amongst the friends. Will the friendship recover from the debacle? Only the voice of reason from Sophia's side-kick, Smedley, can restore what has been wrecked.
This is a book for readers of easy chapter fiction for girls, not dissimilar to many others written for this age group, but with mermaids as characters. Illustrations are simple comic style which reveals story and character details with hints of humour. There is no great complexity to the plot and young girls will recognise the playground and friendship dilemmas and solutions. There are other books to follow in the series, so this is one to recommend to the young reader discovering chapter books and reading independence. Especially if they love mermaids!
Carolyn Hull


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May 16 2019

The bug collector by Alex G. Griffiths

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New Frontier Press, 2019. ISBN 9781925594539.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Insects, Grandfathers, Collecting, Hobbies, Environment, Museums. When his Grandfather takes George to the museum on his favourite day of the week, Sunday, Grandfather takes the lead, pulling him past the dinosaurs, whales and mammoths to a place he likes best of all, the smallest creatures in the museum, the insects. George becomes hooked on these marvellous creatures and can talk of nothing else. He creates a backpack with all the necessary equipment and goes out to collect insects. At first it is very difficult, as the insects seem to know when he is about to net them, but he soon develops skills that see him net and trap a whole array of the insect world. He is very proud of his achievement, looking at all the insects in their finery in glass jars and bottles in his play house, but when he climbs down the ladder to go back home, he feels very alone. It is very quiet, there are no insects buzzing around the garden any more, no small creatures to look at and admire; they are all gone.
Next day in the garden he notices that nothing looks quite right: plants have wilted, trees are losing their gloss and there are no insects to be seen. Grandfather realises that George has taken all the insects from the garden and he explains just how important insects are to the health of the environment they live in. George goes immediately to his play house and opens all the doors and windows, bottles and jars to let the insects out and back into their world.
A life lesson is learnt by all in an easily explained picture book which will evoke tons of discussion in the classroom, and all insects that venture in will be watched with glee. The humorous illustrations fit the bill, with Grandfather in his tiny hat, and Darwinesque beard, George with his backpack and ever present cat, and an array of insects on every page.
I love the ease with which Griffiths outlines some basic information about the role of insects in our world, sure to be much thought about in classrooms.
Fran Knight


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May 16 2019

Gone by midnight by Candice Fox

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Crimson Lake bk. 3. Bantam, 2019. ISBN: 9780143789154.
(Age: 16+) Recommended. Themes: Crime, Detectives. Ted Conkaffey is back with his partner, Amanda Pharrell, in a suspenseful, locked room mystery. Following on from the success of the first two books in this series, Crimson Lake and Redemption Point, Fox once again writes an engrossing story that keeps the reader guessing right until its thrilling conclusion. Four young boys had been left alone in a locked room, while their parents dine downstairs. When one of the parents checks on the children, they discover one of them is missing and no trace of his whereabouts can be found on the CCTV of the building. Conkaffey and Amanda are brought in by the parent of the missing child and begin to investigate what has really happened that night.
Lovers of mysteries and police procedurals will really enjoy this story, trying to follow the clues and work out just what has happened to the young boy. Amanda's abrasive personality and quirky dialogue brings some welcome relief to the story, and Fox's exploration of the joys and responsibilities of parenthood adds depth to the mystery. Ted is supposed to be caring for his daughter Lillian, at the time of the investigation, and has to call on his friend to help childmind while he leaves to follow leads, and Sara, the mother of the missing boy, is fighting her ex-husband for custody. The background of the crocodile infested Crimson Lake in Northern Queensland, Amanda's bikie friends and her stalker all add colour and vitality to a clever and well written book.
Ned Kelly award winning author, Fox, gives enough background for this to be read as a stand-alone crime story, but new readers would find that the first two in the series are well worth pursuing.
Pat Pledger


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May 16 2019

Adventure Duck vs Power Pug by Steve Cole

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Illus. Aleksei Bitskoff. Orchard Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781408356838.
(Age: 6+) Recommended. Themes: Superpowers, Humour, Good vs evil. Imagine a meteor lands and the impact creates a surge of energy that transforms animals nearby into over-charged versions of themselves with powers that defy reason . . . and that is the premise to this book. When an ordinary duck, living an ordinary life in a local duck pond, (A Duck, self-named as Adventure Duck) becomes the recipient of this excessive burst of 'super' and supreme influence, he also gets to team up with a mind-reading egg (with Eggstra-sensory Perception) and a striking Neon Zebra to bring their evil nemesis, Power Pug and his sidekick, Apocalypse Cow, to their knees.
This book does defy reason, but the extremely quirky characters with their bizarre powers are entertaining. The story is filled with mildly amusing puns and expressions that will appeal to young readers. With a second book to follow, ready to incorporate Adventure Duck's talents, young readers who enjoy humorous stories will be recommending this book to their friends.
This is not great literature, and the illustrations are suitably eccentric, but kids will be laughing as they read and will enjoy the super-charged hapless superhero.
Recommended for readers aged 6+.
Carolyn Hull


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May 16 2019

Boy oh boy by Cliff Leek

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Illus. by Bene Rohlmann. Quarto Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781786033291.
Themes: Masculinity, Activism, Racism, LGBTIQ. Subtitled 'From boys to men', inspired by 30 coming-of-age stories of sportsmen, artists, politicians, educators and scientists, Boy oh boy is a collection of biographical entries to highlight the way that different young men from around the world have expressed their strength, individuality and their influence in the world. The variety of expressions of what it is to be a man is deliberate in showing that there are many ways to do this. From Nelson Mandela, Mohammed Ali, Gandhi to Prince and LeBron James, there are many examples of activists, politicians, musicians, artists and sports stars that have changed the world in some way. Many of the men will be unknown to young readers, but do make interesting reading. There are also individuals whose fame has also given them opportunity to serve and impact the world and a number of LGBTIQ individuals whose stories of overcoming discrimination are told in this collection.
Illustrated with a Pop Art style bright design for each bio page, there is a youthful and non-realistic representation for each man depicted. This is ironic for a non-fiction biography and perhaps will attract some, and dissuade others from reading this book and may make it difficult to be used as a reference book.
Carolyn Hull


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May 15 2019

Follow after me by Allison Marlow Paterson

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Big Sky Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781925675580.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: World War I; Romance; War; Family history. This is cross-generational story involving both a World War I story and a contemporary coming of age drama and romantic tale. It is compelling, romantic and sad, and yet also has heart-warming qualities. In 1916 we hear of the young girl Evie, whose boyfriend, Tom, goes to war with four of his five brothers. Sadly, only two of the young family members will return home. The heartbreak for one family is intense, and for Evie the uncertainty is also heart-rending. In a time when letters provide an opportunity to share one's heart, Evie and Tom share their lives and love despite the separation of war.
Generations later, these letters and their insights into the past, with the other family communications from the brothers, are rediscovered by Lizzie's family in an abandoned and slightly ghostly family home. Lizzie is encouraged to read the letters, but is going through some personal turmoil and contemporary challenges. Her friendship choices, social media, school and romantic life have taken a twist that threatens to create her own dramatic conflict with potentially disastrous consequences. A social encounter involving alcohol and a potential sexual assault reveals the danger to which poor choices can lead. A gentle fellow student and a protective older brother prove to be her heroes and more trustworthy than her new friends. As these two story threads are woven together, the author reveals the intensity and dangers that impact relationships can have similar elements across the generations, but the stresses of the times are quite different. Both storylines are gripping and the insights into the Anzac soldier's life are compelling.
Allison Marlow Paterson has based her World War I story line on her own family history detailed in her non-fiction work, Anzac Sons. Because of the truths of the circumstances from her own ancestry, this story resonates with tragedy. The facts of the war are well-detailed from her own research, and using her own family records and information from the Australian War Memorial. The setting of both generational tales in rural Australia is also revealing. The modern storyline incorporates many modern dramas - sexting, the dangers of choosing the 'wrong' friends, social media dilemmas, and the misunderstandings across generations. Lizzie's school visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra is a turning point in the book and for anyone who has visited, will remind them of the solemn experience.
This is a very readable book, and will stay with the reader for some time. Romantic and sad; confronting and gentle . . . and worthy of recommendation. Highly recommended for those who love social history, aged 14+.
Carolyn Hull


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May 15 2019

A quiet girl by Peter Carnavas

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University of Queensland Press, 2019. ISBN: 9780702260025.
(Age: 4-8) Highly recommended. Themes: Sounds, Listening, Personal characteristics. Peter Carnavas's distinctive illustrations have a calming, soft and peaceful quality perfectly suited to the themes of this book. His previous publications, including The Children Who Loved Books and The Elephant, tend to encourage treading lightly on the world and stopping to appreciate the world around us, and A Quiet Girl is no exception. Mary is a free-spirit and the house seems to be full of things that she has made out of rubbish: bird feeders, wind chimes, pots and vases. She is also very quiet: she walks quietly, talks quietly and thinks quietly. 'Because Mary was quiet, she heard things nobody else heard. A dragonfly buzzing through the air. The soft sigh of the sleeping dog next door'. The problem is, Mary is so quiet nobody hears her. 'Use a nice, LOUD voice', says her dad over the racket of the blender. 'Speak up, honey', says her mum over the roar of the hairdryer. But she just can't do it, so instead she becomes quieter and quieter until it almost feels like she isn't there and the illustrations show her gradually lose colour and disappear. The story ends with Mary and her noisy family sitting down together and listening 'for all of the small wonderful things that lay hidden in the world'. It is beautiful to see them all entering Mary's world for a little while and it highlights the importance of recognising and appreciating differences and personal characteristics; she is different to the rest of her family, but that is okay. Mary's gentle interaction with the world encourages the reader to take note and revel in the wonder in the world: 'the smell of freshly cut grass . . . the tickle of the breeze ruffling her hair'.
This book is a little reminiscent of Margaret Wild's recent The Sloth Who Came to Stay in its message to slow down and enjoy the little things around us, but it is also about taking note of those children who are quieter and sometimes get lost or misunderstood in the ruckus of everyday life: a beautiful and thought-provoking message for all teachers, parents and noisy friends.  Teacher notes are available.
Nicole Nelson


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May 15 2019

Fart Monster and me: The birthday party by Tim Miller and Matt Stanton

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HarperCollins, 2019. ISBN: 9780733340208.
(Age: 5-9) Themes: Birthday parties, Humour. This is the third book in the Fart Monster series (The Crash Landing, The New School). It uses simple language, perfect for newly independent readers. The content will also be appealing and relatable, even for slightly older children, making it a great series to try with struggling or reluctant readers. The series is wonderfully Australian, full of toilet humour and reflective of the everyday life of a typical Aussie kid. For those not familiar with the previous titles in the series there is a helpful prologue introducing Ben and his green fart monster who crash-landed in his yard. Luckily (and unluckily) Ben is the only one who can see the fart monster, so someone else is forever being blamed for his stench.
In The Birthday Party, Ben's whole class have been invited to Chris's birthday party and the fart monster is there too. There are plenty of party games and lots of farts being blamed on the dog. If you take out the constant farting this would just be a story of a kid going to a birthday party but add the farts in and it gives it a little more oomph. It's silly and repetitive but the jokes are just right for the target audience and it is a perfect length, layout and text for beginner readers. There are black line illustrations throughout showing the hideous fart monster, which will help to keep readers engaged.
Nicole Nelson


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May 15 2019

Me and my sister by Rose Robbins

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Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760524456.
(Ages: 3-8) Themes: Autism, Differences, Siblings. Me and My Sister indirectly and gently looks at what it's like to live with a sibling with autism. It doesn't label the sister as having autism but her brother points out things that make them different (she doesn't use many words, likes different foods, can be rude to people, goes to a different school, doesn't get told for things that he would get in trouble for, doesn't always like hugs). The book also highlights things that they like doing together or that they can help each other with (listening to music, comforting each other, reading together, laughing together). The brother acknowledges that he doesn't always understand his sister or how other people respond to her, which is a common issue with siblings of children with autism and other disabilities. It shows the highs and lows common in any relationship, but the love between the two is clear.
The illustrations are warm and cheerful and it is a nice change to see a female depicted with autism in a picture book as it is commonly boys that feature. The author (based in England) has a brother with autism and she teaches autistic young children; this knowledge and understanding of everyday life with a person with autism is obvious and the tone of the book is empathetic and loving. This could be used as a general book about accepting difference in others but it will be much more appealing and meaningful to those who have a family member with autism.
Nicole Nelson


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May 14 2019

Baby business by Jasmine Seymour

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Magabala Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781925768671.
(Sge: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Aboriginal themes, Country, Babies, Smoking ceremonies. When a child is born, the women of the Darug community take the baby into the bush, gathering paperbark leaves, the leaves from green bushes and termite mound mud to prepare a smoking ceremony. This ceremony welcomes the new child into the community, making sure it will know things about the environment into which it is born and ensuring that it will follow the path of the community's laws. Warm smoke from the fire tickles the baby's feet making sure it is connected to Country; smoke winds its way to the heart ensuring the child knows it is cared for by Country; the smoke reaches the hands reminding the child that it takes only what it needs; smoke reaches the mouth and tongue keeping the language and songs of the ancestors alive and smoke reaches the ears making sure it will listen for the song of the bees, the baby's totem.
Each facet of the baby's life is mentioned in the smoking ceremony, passing on the laws that will make sure it survives just as its ancestors have for millennia.
This beautiful book shows a ritual as old as time - that of welcoming a new child into the community. All readers will be able to relate to this act be it in a church, temple, home, Country, as laws are passed on, customs reinforced, responsibilities outlined.
The book's digital illustrations, are simply stunning. The figures move through a wonderful landscape, with browns, greys and white predominant in the background, and keen eyes will notice specific plants and animals on the pages. The women's group collect their materials as they go, sitting in a semi-circle around the fire as the smoke curls up around the baby. They are all part of its growth, each taking part in its education into the community, the family a strong part of the child's development.
Darug words are used throughout the text, and many readers will work out what each word means as they read, and there is a glossary at the back of the book for those who need it.
Jasmine Seymour is a Darug woman from the Hawkesbury area of NSW and aims to make people aware that the Darug community is still there through her work. I hope this is the first of many stories from her.
Fran Knight


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May 14 2019

Willow Moss and the lost day by Dominique Valente

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Illus. by Sarah Warburton. Starfell bk. 1. HarperCollins, 2019. ISBN: 9780008308391.
(Ages 8-12) Recommended. Themes: Magic, Witches, Time, Fantasy. Dominique Valente's debut fantasy novel conjures up a magical world, filled with witches and trolls, controlled by an evil time spell. In the village of Starfell everyone has a magical talent, some are more exciting than others. Unfortunately, Willow Moss has a simple one, she can find lost things, wooden teeth, lost glasses, and the townsfolk line up and pay a spurgle for her help. Then powerful witch, Moreg Vaine, requests that Willow accompany her on a quest to find the missing day - Tuesday. The pace picks up as Willow leaves her home town with her carpet bag and Oswin, a very opinionated kobold (a green furry cat-like creature) and ventures out into dark forests and magical towns. Journeying by broomstick, they are guided by the Storypass, and stopped by the menacing Brothers of Wol, Moreg who want to rule the world. Danger lurks at every turn, who can they trust, where will their journey take them?
The young witch grows in confidence as she travels far from home. Feathering the dragon joins the travellers transporting them up to Cloud Mountain, meeting a forgotten teller (not fortune teller) Nolin Sometimes, who reveals more of the mystery to them.
The impact of losing a weekday seems insignificant, until Willow thinks about all the births, deaths, special appointments and events that are lost, as history's course is changed. One young witch and her quite sarcastic sidekick Oswin the kobold finds hidden strengths, learn resilience and find courage on their dangerous mission.
Dominique Valente's imaginative world building, cast of unusual crazy characters, fun conversations, humorous and dangerous encounters and fast-paced actions make Willow Moss and the lost day an exciting and enjoyable novel. Middle Primary students will enjoy diving into this magical world, overflowing with witches, wizards, trolls and monsters. What's next for Willow Morse and her caustic kobold?
Rhyllis Bignell


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May 14 2019

Don't let go by Harlan Coben

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Cornerstone, 2017. ISBN: 9781780894249.
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Themes: Mystery, Revenge, Secrets. Best-selling author Coben writes a compelling thriller about the death of two teenagers, Leo and his girlfriend Diana, who were found dead on train tracks. Nap Dumas, Leo's twin brother, now a detective in New Jersey, has never been convinced of the official verdict especially as his girlfriend Maura disappeared at the same time. When her fingerprints turn up in the case of a suspected murder, he is even more determined to find the truth.
Coben is a master at keeping the suspense going in a tightly woven plot that kept me reading until the twist at the end of the book. Nap Dumas was a complex and interesting character, and the exploration of his first love of Maura, adds to the plot. His investigation of secrets, those of his high school friends, his colleagues and the government and the notion of revenge make for a highly readable story, and the short chapters and crisp dialogue make it a quick read as well.
I had not read books by Coben for many years but will seek out more books written by him. I really enjoyed this suspenseful, tricky stand-alone story. A great read for lovers of mysteries and thrillers.
Pat Pledger


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May 14 2019

Shauna's great expectations by Kathleen Loughnan

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Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760631574.
(Age: 16+) Shauna is on an Indigenous scholarship to Oakholme, a prestigious boarding school. She's in her final year and she's excelling at French and Maths, and dreams of going to Paris with her equally smart friend Jenny, before going on to study journalism at Uni. She has a great group of dorm friends, dubbed the 'ethnics' by rich country girl Keli, who gives them all a hard time. Keli has mastered the art of covert racist taunts and seems to have all the teachers' approval.
I thought the novel gave a particularly insightful expose of the frequent ineffectual response to bullying in schools despite the good intentions of teachers and the espousal of an anti-bullying policy. Shauna and her friends just have to swallow their anger, occasionally managing a smart retort.
Things start to become more complicated for Shauna at school. She's asked to mentor the latest scholarship recipient, Olivia, who is full of attitude and clearly doesn't want anything to do with her. And she discovers that her summer romance with country boy Nathan has brought its own complications...
When Shauna finds that some of her dreams are going to have to go by the wayside as she takes on the responsibility of an unplanned teenage pregnancy, the tone of the novel is strongly pro-life rather than abortion, and the drama is how to get the school to accept a pregnant student. Shauna's ambitions change, she is proud to be a good mum, friend and student, but how she is going to achieve her further study is left unclear. It seems to be enough that she has chosen her own path and has the support of family and friends.
The strength of the novel lies in its affirmation of friendship, and working through relationships to better understanding, even with the most difficult people. The friends' conversations and conflicts will resonate with many YA readers. However I am not sure why the author took on the persona of an Aboriginal girl - is this an authentic voice, or a device to distinguish this book from other school stories? You can read about Loughnan's views in the teaching notes available online.
Helen Eddy


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May 13 2019

Wilam: a Birrarung story by Aunty Joy Murphy

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Illus. by Lisa Kennedy. Black Dog Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781925381764.
(Age: 4 - adult) Highly recommended. Themes: Yarra River, Melbourne, Aboriginal history, Environment. The stunning acrylic illustrations that cover every page will entice readers to pore over every detail, looking out for examples of the environment through which the Birrarung (Yarra) River flows from the mountains to the sea. Keen eyes will spot birds and animals, trees and different forms of forest, insects, flowering plants, houses, bridges and cities. The river flows through all of these, wrapping itself around both the modern world and the past, speaking for both cultures which inhabit this place, joining them together in a way both startling and fresh. Wilam (home) is home to all, and this inclusive story tells of the river, encompassing everything and everybody along its shores. Indigenous and non Indigenous people populate its banks, each as proud as the other of the river and recognising it as home.
Some of the pages are framed with scenes from the modern world and those of the past, reflecting Indigenous people and their skills, linking them with modern skills shown by bridges and roadways. Told in English and Woiwurrung the language of the Wurundjeri people of the area now known as Melbourne, the authors, Aunty Joy Murphy and Andrew Walker grew up in Wurundjeri country along the Birrarung (Yarra) and both hold dear a responsibility towards this environment. They worked with Lisa Kennedy, an illustrator working out of Melbourne. Her links with the Marybyrnong River and its reclamation are evident in the work she has done for this book, highlighting the shared aspects of regeneration.
As Woiworrung words are used throughout the book, a wonderful glossary ends the book, with a smaller version of each page given with the words and their translation into English shown. Children will readily accept the different words as they read, learning some of the repeated words (Wilam, Birrarung, Waa and Warin, for example) with ease.
This beautiful book adds to the growing number of books encapsulating our Aboriginal heritage, demonstrating our shared history and culture. Each page resonates with meaning, begging to be looked at closely while pondering the enormous time span represented by this river's being home to so many, in the past, now and into the future. Teacher's notes are available.
Fran Knight


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May 13 2019

Making friends with Alice Dyson by Poppy Nwosu

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Wakefield Press, 2019. 264 pages, pb. ISBN: 9781743056127.
(Age: Teens) Recommended. Making Friends with Alice Dyson is a story about growing up, growing apart, first loves and getting to know those around you. It is a story about Alice who is in her final year of high school and is focused on her future. She studies hard, she never gets in trouble and nobody bothers her. That is until a bizarre situation happens with the school's so-called troublemaker, that ends up with her being the centre of attention. Her! Alice the textbook nerd, Alice the nobody. No one ever pays her any mind, and she likes it that way. So why won't he just leave her alone so she can go back to her normal self? From there, things just get more complicated and messy.
Poppy Nwosu writes a story that is driven by teenage emotions, feelings, gossip and drama, and characters that are young and emotional and really capture what teenagers can be at heart, both the good and the bad parts. Parts of the story are not given to the reader right away; the author teases bits of information then skips ahead to something else. This is a good tactic to keep the reader interesting and engaged. While this may seem like a bad idea to some, she makes it work well to further the story. Two important points I think the author is able to get through in this story are that sometimes realizing you love someone isn't clear at first. For the most part, it's messy and confusing but in the end it can be worth it. And lastly, that people can change a lot during high school, or even during just one year, but if you value someone's friendship don't let their changes push you away.
I would recommend this to teenagers.
Kayla Raphael


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