Review blog

Click here for link to thhe review blog RSS feed Click here for the ReadPlus Review Blog RSS feed. Copy the link location into your feed reader.


Click here to see all reviews

Aug 19 2018

The mulberry tree by Allison Rushby

cover image

Walker Books, 2018. ISBN 9781760650202
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Supernatural, Friendship, Depression (mental health). When Immy (short for Imogen) and her family, dad, a doctor on sabbatical and mum a cardiologist working for a year at Cambridge, look for a place to live, they have fixed ideas. Wanting a thatched cottage within commuting distance of Cambridge and a garden proves hard to find, but driving past a place called Lavender Cottage, Immy calls the reluctant estate agent to stop, as the place seems to have all the right characteristics. Once inside, the garden with its huge old mulberry tree seems to call her, but when she arrives at school the Monday after they move in, she learns the stories of the place, that girls turning eleven are taken by the tree. As it is her eleventh birthday next month she is a little concerned, but the bullying by the trio of girls is put aside as she and another school newbie, Riley investigate the stories about the tree.
With her father's depression resulting from his perceived part in the death of two people back in Australia, Immy finds it hard to maintain patience with his illness. Her anger boils, and she realises that the tree too has issues and is angry, and she must find out why. Her eleventh birthday looms, with the family inviting friends along for a party in the garden. Many refuse the invitation, shocked at the family's refusal to believe the legend of the tree, but as Saturday looms, the readers' interest deepens.
I loved Rushby's "The turnkey" (2017) with its overlay of the supernatural seeming as natural as any life lived in a cemetery can be, and this book too with its nuance of being able to communicate with the tree and the disappearance of two girls, will hook readers into its world. Classroom ideas are available.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 19 2018

The dog with seven names by Dianne Wolfer

cover image

Random House, 2018. ISBN 9780143787457
(Age: 9-14) Highly recommended. Themes: World War 2 - Australia, Dog stories. Dianne Wolfer's "The Dog with seven names" is set against the backdrop of World War 2 in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia. Creatively told from a dog's perspective, we follow her journey, her different owners and experience her struggles and deprivations and her happiness and her quest to be reunited with her first owner Elsie.
Born the runt of the litter, this little Australian terrier dingo crossbreed, seems destined to die. Young Elsie saves the pup, nursing her back to health, dressing her up, even teaching her to dance. Her first name is Princess. Looming large in the background is 'a thing called war'. The radio's broadcast of the fall of Singapore, then the bombing of Darwin signals changes to the young dogs' life when Elsie is evacuated south and there's no room for her dog.
Herding the station's cattle across the plains to Port Hedland with stockman Dave proves challenging. Dog becomes the Flying Doctor's companion, enjoying flights into the countryside to help sick patients and settles in to life at Port Hedland Hospital. She is renamed Flynn by a very ill girl Beth as she provides comfort for her on a mercy flight to the hospital. Now a military garrison, Flynn finds her life in the hospital grounds both difficult and enjoyable. Chinese cook Lee Wah cares for her, feeding her scraps and names her Gengi-Golden-eyes. The impact of the Japanese bombing of Broome and the huge influx of patients to the hospital, sees the frightened dog providing comfort to an injured Dutch boy. Even Matron is happy for the dog's help. As the war continues, the little yellow dog never gives up hope that he'll be reunited with his first owner Elsie.
Dianne Wolfer's junior novel is imaginatively written and well researched, exploring the impact of World War 2 on the residents, soldiers, families and evacuees in the north of Western Australia. Her characters are realistically portrayed, as we experience the sights, smells, the seasonal changes and the harsh realities of life from the little dog's point of view. "The Dog with seven names" is an excellent class novel for Middle and Upper Primary students, providing opportunities to undertake historical research.
Rhyllis Bignell


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 19 2018

Brontide by Sue McPherson

cover image

Magabala Books, 2018. ISBN 9781925360929
(Age: 14+) Themes: racism, bullying, peer pressure, indigenous youth. Sue McPherson's "Brontide" is a series of interviews of 4 young teenage boys living in Taralune, Queensland.  Sue acknowledges that her interview technique was "at times, clunky, unconventional and embarrassing".  I believe her natural approach encouraged the boys to speak to her naturally and without inhibition.
The boys aged 12 to 17 were interviewed independently but their stories were intertwined in ways they did not know nor understand.  Each child's stability comes from the love they receive from their various different and unique caregivers.  While the boys have had different upbringings they are all faced with the challenge of finding their own path and who they want to be.  
"Brontide" is a thought-provoking, interesting book, which highlights the complexities of growing up in a small urban town whether you are of Aboriginal heritage or white Australian.
This book would be good for older reluctant readers especially boys. 14+.
Ali Martin


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 19 2018

Maximus by Steve Heron

cover image

Ill. by Tash Macfarlane. Serenity Press, 2018. ISBN 9780648146612
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Animal-human relationships, Friendship, Bullying. "Mitch says stuff sucks. His life has been turned upside down since his dad started working FIFO at the mines.
From a messy bedroom to a close footy match; an annoying little sister to incredible Anzac projects; losing friends and losing face, Mitch deals with an explosion of feelings associated with bullying, fighting, suspension, family conflict and his first crush, all in the space of eight days.
Will an encounter with a surprising new feathered friend and the reliability of old ones help Mitch get his mojo back?" (Publisher)
You never quite know where the help or support you need is going to come from. This is exactly what happened to Mitch, as far as Mitch was concerned life sucked and that was just how it was. Through an incredible friendship with the most unlikely character Mitch was able to start seeing life in a different way. He was able to look at things through new eyes, and experience things in a different way. This allowed Mitch to start to enjoy life in a way he hadn't for a long time.
Mitch is a very believable character with family problems that could be happening in any home. This book showed Mitch that there are things that happen that he doesn't understand but still impact on his life, and he learnt the importance of talking about problems with someone to help work through them.
This is a well-written book and I would highly recommend this book to children aged 10+. Resources on the publisher's website include: Maximus class activity, teacher's notes and curriculum notes.
Karen Colliver


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 19 2018

Professor Astro Cat's human body odyssey by Dr Dominic Wallman and Ben Newman

cover image

Flying Eye Books, 2018. ISBN 9781911171140
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. "Professor Astro Cat's human body odyssey" is big, colourful, engaging and full of facts. Each double page offers interesting facts and illustrations about the different parts and systems of the body. Readers can follow Professor Astro Cat as he explains in short, descriptive paragraphs and labelled diagrams what is going on inside the body. Look inside a cell or at the different bones of the body. Read about the medicines humans need as well as ways to be healthy. There are a collection of fun characters supporting Professor Astro Cat as well as their human helper (the author in cartoon form) Dr Dominic Wallman.
"Professor Astro Cat's human body odyssey" is a gorgeous way to learn about the body from a young age. Each double page could be investigated before bed and independent readers can start anywhere in the book. This book is full of technical language which is a great tool for getting children talking and increasing their vocabulary. The double pages could also be read in a classroom when there are a few minutes to spare (great in a Health lesson). The Glossary/Index is also helpful as there are many definitions to support understanding. This text is also good for teaching children about the elements of a non fiction text thanks to its larger format being easier for a whole class to see.
It is highly recommended for independent readers aged 8+ but younger readers will love investigating the illustrations and asking questions (just like Mr 6 in my classroom).
Kylie Kempster


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 19 2018

Baby's first bank heist by Jim Whalley

cover image

Ill. by Stephen Collins. Bloomsbury, 2018. ISBN 9781408891193
(Ages: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Animals, Babies. Utterly crazy and equally hilarious, this is the tale of an errant infant, Frank, immediately distinctive in a black and white Babygro. An ardent animal lover, he has an overwhelming desire for a pet of his own, but his parents won't allow it, stating that pets are too expensive to upkeep. This leaves Frank with only one option and he desperately becomes a bank robber. The issue is this tiny lad is not content with just one animal, and with cash in abundance, within no time at all he has all the pets he ever desired, from a meerkat to a rhino, and the entire house resembles a menagerie.
Until . . . one afternoon his Mum makes a startling discovery!! Frank's deceitful escapade has been discovered and it is now time to make amends. With none of the stolen loot left, what can the family do to raise the funds to repay the bank? And what do they do with all the newly acquired animals? There is only one way to set matters right. I won't say what ensues but will merely add that baby Frank spends some time behind bars.
This pet related preposterous tale will get both children and adults spluttering with glee at the pint-sized criminal mastermind, as wily as the animated film star (Boss Baby). Debut author Jim Whalley narrates in suitably deadpan rhyme while Stephen Collin's witty expressive illustrations will delight young and old alike.
First in a series of picture books featuring Baby Frank and his criminal activities, children will love Frank's logic and naughtiness.
Donna Isgar


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 16 2018

A first book of the sea by Nicola Davies

cover image

Ill. by Emily Sutton. Walker Books, 2018. ISBN 9781406368956
(Ages: 3-7) Highly Recommended. Themes: Poetry. Oceans. Emily Sutton is a whimsical, traditional illustrator, whose work is perfectly suited to this earthy, old-fashioned and hearty collection of poems. The author and illustrator have collaborated successfully in the past on Tiny and Lots, and have now put together a hardcover book with over fifty short poems, perfect as a first book of poems for young ones but will also interest junior primary children. The poems are about oceans and ocean life and celebrate the vastness, mystique and intrigue of the great blue world that surrounds us. The book is separated into four categories, as shown within a contents page: down by the shore (Catching a wave, Paddling, Shore crab), journeys (Limpets, Sailor's jig, Blue whale's map), under the sea (Longline fishing, Seaweed jungle, Shipwreck) and wonders (Rockpool, Albatross, Sea people). The poems are helpfully titled so you know what each is going to be about and can pick based on children's interests. They also seem carefully curated to include favourite aspects of young readers (shipwrecks, deadly sea animals, sharks, giant squid, etc.).
The illustrations, beautifully textured and intricately detailed, are perfect and because of the large format and the brevity of the poems, are full partners rather than just an afterthought. While the author and illustrator are English the book isn't identifiably so (except for the poem about big shopping and entertainment piers that are not a feature of Australian beaches). The poems evoke the feelings of being in and around the sea, such as the thrill of catching a wave or searching for shells, but they also provide fascinating information that reminds us of the power and long history of the world's oceans ("The sea has shaped them, rubbing and rolling, rolling and rubbing, for a thousand, thousand years"). They remind us of how to take care of our oceans ("Deadliest of all is the plastic we throw away that strangles, suffocates and poisons"). They inform us of the wisdom of those who live in harmony with the sea ("the old man draws the night sky out in pebbles to teach his grandson the pattern of the stars") and about how man has learned to deal with the wildness of the sea ("From one to twelve runs Beaufort's Scale, to tell ships when it's safe to sail"). There are a wide variety of poem styles, some rhyming but most not.
There are many conversation points within the book and some poems openly encourage children to engage with the book (in "Favourite dolphin" the only text asks "Choose just one? It's impossible to pick!" and shows a plethora of dolphins of different varieties). The big fold-out page for the large humpback whale tells the reader how to sing like a humpback. The last poem, "Happiness", is a reminder of the simple pleasures of the sea ("Sand in my shoes. Salt in my hair. A pebble in my pocket. The horizon in my eyes"). Simple, evocative, glorious.
Nicole Nelson


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 16 2018

Animal Ark: Puppy in peril by Lucy Daniels

cover image

Orchard Books, 2018. ISBN 9781408354049
(Age: 6+) Recommended. Amelia and Sam are back with a new adventure. A poorly puppy is brought into Animal Ark, and nobody knows who it belongs to. Can Amelia and Sam find the owner and save the puppy? Amelia and Sam need all the help they can get but will it be enough?
Amelia and Sam are determined to help this puppy; they are so determined that they even get the help from a news reporter.
This book is well written with large text and it has interesting pictures that help make the story. I recommend this book to animal lovers like Amelia and Sam that want to help out. I also recommend the rest of the series, Kitten rescue, Bunny trouble and Fox cub danger.
I recommend these books to 6+
Grace Colliver, Year 7 student


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 16 2018

Jenna's truth by N.L.King

cover image

Serenity Press, 2018. ISBN 9780648212768
(Age: Teens) Highly recommended. Themes: Cyberbullying. Suicide. Internet - Safety measures. Alcohol and teenagers. Peer pressure. Sexual behaviour. Popularity. Friendship. "Jenna's just a teenager who wants to fit in. The popularity that she wanted though, quickly turns into infamy when two "well-meaning" friends spark a controversy that alters her life forever. What happens when the popular kids are responsible for one of the most painful and humiliating events in your life?
Inspired by Amanda Todd's tragic story of bullying, Jenna's truth is more than just a teen short story - it's a lesson in empathy, self-awareness, and speaking out about what matters." (Publisher)
Jenna's Truth is a good story from a teenager's point of view, talking about teenage drinking, sex, bullying and suicide. It looks at what is going on from the victim's point of view and how she came to make the decisions she did. The difference in this book is that the outcome for the main character is not what you expect.
This book is well written and an easy read and would make a great class novel where the topics can be openly discussed in a safe environment.
This book is very well written and the inclusion of Teaching suggestions and discussion topics makes this book a valuable teaching tool to work with teenagers about these topics.
I highly recommend this book to teenagers and to teachers so they can facilitate conversations about these topics in a safe way.
Karen Colliver


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 16 2018

Cat spies Mouse by Rina A Foti and Dave Atze

cover image

Big Sky Publishing, 2018. ISBN 9781925675344
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Tolerance. Respect. "In this picture book Cat spies Mouse is a fun and interactive story about an arrogant and impatient cat who comes head-to-head with a humble and patient mouse. Mouse, although small, is a game-changer who asks big questions. With each of her thought-provoking questions, Mouse is taking small but powerful steps to make the world a better place. Fun and entertaining illustrations from Dave Atze provide additional depth and cheeky humour to this simple story with a big message." (Publisher)
This is a lovely story about a stuck-up cat and a humble mouse. It has easy to read text. The book challenges norms; just because that is the way thing have always been it does not mean that is the way they should be or that is the way they are meant to be. Mouse is not afraid to question the norms and ask why. Mouse is able to change dog and cat's thinking about what is normal through asking questions. This book fosters discussions about tolerance, acceptance and respect. It also encourages children to ask question about the world around them and how it works.
I highly recommend this book for 4+
Karen Colliver


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 16 2018

The relic of the blue dragon by Rebecca Lim

cover image

Children of the Dragon bk1, Allen & Unwin, 2018, ISBN 9781760297367
(Ages: 9-12) Themes: Dragons. Magic. Thirteen-year-old Harley Spark's decision to take an old Chinese vase left outside the neighbouring auction house is life-changing, the catalyst for magic, mystery and fast-paced adventure. His ordinary safe life with mum Delia, a Chinese Australian whose ancestors came over for the Gold Rush is about to change. Harley's father Ray Spark left the family when he was five because of his international business interests linked to criminal activities.
When Delia smashes the vase to release it from Harley's frozen grasp, Qing, a Chinese girl, is awakened and a feud that crosses continents and centuries is reignited. Delia's smattering of Chinese helps them communicate with Qing and they begin to understand her desperate need to find her lost sisters. A midnight foray to the State Library and a stolen nineteenth century Chinese-English phrasebook further assists in their communication with their visitor who can shape-shift into a beautiful dragon. Harley soon realises that they need his father's special skills, contacts and global transportation to assist Qing.
Harley and Qing are quickly drawn into kung fu fights with evil villains who desperately want the pieces of the rare Chinese vase. Qing's quick-thinking powers, her own martial arts' skills and her ability to summon lightning aid in their escape. Their travels take them to Singapore in search of the second vase secured in a stately mansion. Ingenuity, cunning and stealth are needed to find this treasure. An epic fight ensues, more mystery creatures unleashed as Ray begins to learn more about his father. Qing directs the next phase of their journey, they need to travel on to the Wudang Mountains to rescue her sisters and stop the evil Second Son of the Second Dragon before he destroys their vases.
The relic of the blue dragon is a fantastic, fast-paced action venture, filled with Chinese myths, humour and family dramas. Rebecca Lim's exciting infusion of her Chinese heritage and her understanding of Ancient Chinese history, culture and mythology adds to the excitement. Harley and Qing are given a large amount of freedom, ably supported by Ray Spark and his associates. What an incredible junior novel, perfect for readers who enjoy modern fantasy adventures! What's next for Harley and Qing?
Rhyllis Bignell


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 16 2018

Cyril and Pat by Emily Gravett

cover image

Two Hoots Books (Macmillan), 2018. ISBN 9781509857272
(Ages: 4+) Recommended. Themes: Animals. Squirrels. Friendship. I love Kate Greenaway award winner, Emily Gravett's look at the world. Old hat (2018) shows a variance of the expression old hat as Harbert tries to please his friends not himself, while Again! (2016) had me in stitches with the child asking for the story to be read over and over again. Her perspective on life is delightful, drawing in the readers to a new way of looking.
And Cyril and Pat is no exception. Cyril is the only squirrel in Lake Park, and is lonely. That is until he meets Pat. Readers will quickly see that Cyril and Pat are not the same sort of animal, and will be delighted as the story progresses, other animals trying to tell Cyril of his mistake. But they do everything together: riding the skateboard, frightening the pigeons, hide and seek under the coffee cups littering the park, until one day a child tells his Mum about the rat. Cyril is dismayed and all the other animals reiterate that he should not be friends with a dirty, thieving rat. Cyril is alone and his games are not as interesting any more. One day he is chased by Slim the dog. He is chased out of the park, across the road and into the dark alleyway. Here the dog taunts him, but looking up sees that Pat has returned with a horde of his relatives. The situation is saved and Pat and Cyril resume their strong friendship in the park.
A delightful read aloud, Cyril and Pat has a lot to say about appearance and advice from friends, a big issue amongst smaller people. The funny book will led to many discussions about friendship and what makes a good friend and why we are hampered by thinking about appearance.
Many books offer a similar theme, but few with the humour and fun of Cyril and Pat.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 14 2018

Prize fighter, a novel by Future D. Fidel

cover image

Hachette, 2018. ISBN 9780733639050
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. The first two 'Acts' of this book include the most shocking things I have read for a while. Not that the writing is graphic or extreme, the author avoids giving us details, just as his protagonist wants to avoid the memories, but the story of the depravity to which human beings can descend is truly disturbing. Fidel writes about the forced conscription of child soldiers by Congolese rebels on the rampage, forcing them to rape, hatchet and kill even family and friends. Isa is only in grade 4 when he sees his parents and his sister killed; he and his elder brother Moise become weapons for the rebels, their mission is to kill everyone under the age of eight and over fifteen, and they have to recruit others into the same brutality. In a moment of desperation Moise urges Isa to run, and Isa does, not knowing whether the gunshots he hears have taken his brother's life.
Travelling alone across country Isa ends up yet another child beggar on the streets of Nairobi. But a good deed sees him rescued by a kindly old woman, who helps him register with the United Nations as a refugee.
Eventually Isa is accepted for settlement in Australia, but that is not the end of his loneliness and torment. The boxing skills he learnt from his brother, see him gain notoriety in the boxing ring, but he has to learn how to restrain the violence that remains within him, violence that continues to threaten his relationships with others.
Whilst Fidel's novel is not autobiographical it is obviously based on first-hand knowledge of the horrors of the Congolese civil war. In an ABC podcast, available online, he tells of how he was orphaned as a child and escaped as a stowaway to Tanzania, then after 8 years in a camp, he was accepted as a refugee to Australia. In Australia he has become active in the arts, supporting others from refugee backgrounds. Prize fighter started as a stage play and now is presented as a novel.
Prize fighter rings with authenticity and is a gripping tale of one child's survival through the worst horrors, and his struggle as an adult to break free from memories and make a new life. We can only hope that other refugees are able to achieve the same thing.
Helen Eddy


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 14 2018

Pixel raiders: Space fortress by Bu Bajo and Hex

cover image

Ill. by Chris Kennett. Pixel Raiders book 4. Scholastic Australia, 2018. ISBN 9781760275686
(Age: 8+) Recommended. Read book 1, 2 and 3 before number 4. They have ten challenges to complete each section. Each book has a different section. Pixel raiders: Space fortress is a book that the main characters have to complete challenges to survive, and they battle all types of aliens. The main characters are Rip and Mei. They have to defeat megalave so they can go home to the real world. They start in a space ship, then they have to use the ship in some parts of the books. The ship's called the Space Gum and is a cargo ship that has gum as ammo for all the weapons that the ship has. Rip and Mei make a friend that has already been stuck in the game and he remembers what it was like in the real world. Every thousand points they level up.
The book keeps you interested as each objective is different but builds on from the one before.
The illustrations in the book are really cool. I liked the way the top of each page looks like a computer game screen.
I highly recommend this book to readers 8+
Heath Colliver, Year 7 student


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 14 2018

Every family is different by Maureen Eppen

cover image

Ill. by Veronica Rooke. Serenity Press, 2018. ISBN 9780648230465
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Families. Difference. "Who's in your family? Some children live with their mum and dad, others live with their grandparents or foster parents. Some live in a big house, others live in a tiny apartment. With captivating illustrations, Every family is different celebrates what it means to be part of a family, and reminds us that there's something that's always the same in every family." (Publisher)
This picture book talks about the differences between families and that every family is different but that is ok. It is written in a very positive manner. The illustrations in this book work well with the text. The illustrations are bold and they help make this book a good book to use with young children to start talking about the different families people live in and that there is no one right type of family.
I highly recommend this book for any family. A student resource is available from the publisher.
Karen Colliver


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 14 2018

Barney by Catherine Jinks

cover image

Ill. Stephen Michael King, Scholastic, 2018. ISBN 9781742996226
(Ages: 3+) Highly recommended. Themes: Dogs. Family. Humour. Verse. Cheeky Barney loves everything about the house. He loves the cat food, the greens secretly pushed down to him under the table, bacon, beans, biscuits, cake, candle and just about anything that can be found in the kitchen. He loves bibs, especially the one around the bay's neck, covered in squashed banana. He loves rice and peas spread across the floor. He even loves chilli, although it makes him sneeze.
A delightful rhyming story of Barney and his special place in the family is revealed in this wonderful read aloud, encouraging children to predict what word will rhyme with the end of the previous line, while laughing at Barney's tastes. And the last rhyme, begging a word that sounds like 'tea' will have all readers and listeners sigh happily with the knowledge that every child is the centre of a dog's attention within the family.
Family life is comfortingly displayed throughout the marvellous illustrations by King. Family life from a dog's perspective consists of legs of adults, children, things on the floor and under the table. Barney spots food whenever it falls within his range, and quickly scavenges it into his mouth. King shows an array of things that families and particularly the children do, from walking the dog, cycling, finding your way out of a maze, a family bbq, cooking, watching TV and playing in the garden. The whole wonderfully reiterates family life, underlining the things a family does together, supporting the theme of families for the readers.
Each page is full of household mayhem that a dog creates, filling each page with details to look at and talk about, things that will promote recollections of pets in their own homes and how they affected the family.
This is a wonderfully warm and loving story of family life, sure to intrigue all readers, especially those with a dog.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 14 2018

The loyalty of chickens by Jenny Blackford

cover image

Pitt Street Poetry, 2017. ISBN 9781922080745
(Ages: 12+) Poetry.
Anyone who has had chickens knows the fickle loyalty of chickens, how they will press around 'She Who Brings the Grain' whoever it may be, and the challenge of stepping forward without crushing 'worshippers'. Blackford captures the scene perfectly in her poem 'The loyalty of chickens'. Other feathered dinosaur siblings also feature in this book of poems - currawong, magpies, waterbirds, and the breakfast visitor that steals the tomatoes. But birds are not the only creatures that she describes so well, there are also the tattered cat, the ninja cats, the One True Cat, and the total control fur kid, the polar bear terrier, the lap dogs of Paris, and the rat lodger in the walk-in robe.
Child readers will love 'A brief guide to Australian fauna' - 'koalas have no feathers; dolphins have no fur' etc - the images the poem conjures would make a fun drawing, and could inspire further inventive animal descriptions. Another fun example is the multi-bottomed hoist centipede conjured from the washing on the line.
Adults will find more serious reflections on the creeping dementia of ageing parents, lost love, and the army of farm boys sent to war. I loved 'Polenta memories' - a lunchtime meal offered to a handyman draws out stories from his past in a displaced children's camp after the war, finally coming to Australia, the 'golden dream of peace'.
Blackford has brought together an interesting collection of poems that would appeal to many ages.
Helen Eddy


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 13 2018

After the lights go out by Lili Wilkinson

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760297299
(Ages: secondary) Highly recommended. Themes: Armageddon, Dystopian novel, Preppers. When Pru rides into town, to see if others in the small community of Jubilee have also lost their power, she does so with trepidation. Dad is at work, a mine some ten hours drive away, her two younger sisters are left alone at their house fifteen kms from town, and they have all been drilled in their emergency procedure, run to the bunker and lock themselves in.
She must get to Dad, and remembers an old restored Holden in a shed and takes it to drive to the mine. With her is Mateo, sone of the woman contracted to talk about mine safety. Pru must be cautious, he keeps making cracks about preppers, and Pru is one. They find an explosion has ripped much of the mine apart, and that NASA warned of a solar storm which could knock out power. Pru knows this will lead to an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) which will render anything electronic useless. Stuck at the mine with fifteen or so wounded men, Mateo and his mother, and no sign of her missing father, Pru can only think of home where her two younger sisters wait for word, while a young man wanting to get closer to Grace, is riding out there.
Once in their bunker, the three sisters cycle each day to the town to help, not telling anyone of the goods they have stockpiled. But as each day passes, the moral imperative looms large for Pru as she realises that their medicine would help, but her sisters refuse to stray from their father's dictum, that family comes first. Eventually discovered, Pru has a lot of ground to make up to regain people's trust, and just when she appears to be redeeming herself, her father reappears.
This is a riveting read, a page turning thriller which will satisfy all readers. The idea of the prepper has added a variant to post apocalyptic stories such as "Lord of the Flies". There is a facebook page for Adelaide preppers, as well as lots of internet pages selling equipment to those who think the end is nigh.
This book puts into perspective the moral choices that these people will need to make, and on a wider front, the efforts of the west in having access to resources denied the Third World.
I kept thinking about its implications along time after I closed the book.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 13 2018

The promise horse by Jackie Merchant

cover image

Walker Books Australia, 2018. ISBN 9781760650568
(Age: 9+) Recommended. If you are a horse-lover you will relate to the story of Harry. Evocative moments of a growing relationship between a patient horse and a heart sore girl are shown as a grieving family try to ford the emotions left by the death of Harry's sister, Sissy.
Harry's mother is understandably not coping with the loss of her daughter from leukaemia and her maternal guilt at her helplessness is all-consuming. This protectiveness has been transferred to her surviving daughter, as she struggles, sometimes aggressively, with the promise she made.
Now they have moved back to the country where her parents grew up, Harry is eager to own a horse, but the best they can do is borrow a horse from the local horse trainer. Marksman is gentle and patient, a temperament perfect for an inexperienced rider; but at over 15 hands high, he is huge! Harry might be exceptionally tall herself and with her red hair and freckles is agonizingly self-conscious about standing out. On Marksman she will sit higher than other riders her age, so standing out will be even harder to avoid.
Hiding Sissy's voice chastising her and seeing the negativity and fear from her mother, Harry constantly apologises to Marksman for her own feelings of insecurity. With the help of Gran and Pa, Marksman's rider, Lizzie Blackburn, and even the school bully, Billy Johnston, Harry works hard to improve her riding skills so her mother will allow her to participate in the gymkhana.
"The promise horse" is not just a story about the therapeutic affect of animals, it is a cleverly blended story of two powerful emotions, loss and insecurity, in both children and adults. It is an example of the overwhelming challenges we may face and how we can overcome our hardships in many different ways. The promise horse will leave a radiating warmth in your heart.
Recommended to readers 9yrs+. And you might also like similar books such as "The Thunderbolt Pony" by Stacy Gregg, "Dirt" by Denise Orenstein and the series "Horses of the Dawn" by Kathryn Lasky.
Reviewed by Sharon Smith


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 13 2018

Maudlin Towers: Curse of the werewolf boy by Chris Priestley

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408873083
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. Themes: Horror, Werewolves, Teachers, Time travel. "Mildew and Sponge don't think much of Maudlin Towers, the blackened, gloom-laden, gargoyle-infested monstrosity that is their school. But when somebody steals the School Spoon and the teachers threaten to cancel the Christmas holidays until the culprit is found, our heroes must spring into action and solve the crime!
But what starts out as a classic bit of detectivating quickly becomes weirder than they could have imagined. Who is the ghost in the attic? What's their history teacher doing with a time machine? And why do a crazy bunch of Vikings seem to think Mildew is a werewolf?" (Publisher)
This is a well written story. When two young boys Mildew and Sponge find themselves in a school for the not so bright in a gloomy part of England with strange things happening around them they are forced to investigate. The main characters are interesting and funny. They manage to stumble onto a great number of events without meaning to and see things that they don't understand at first. As the story progresses you start to piece together all the happenings and how they fit together. Mildew and Sponge draw you into the story and keep you wondering what they will get up to next, and how they will get out of some of the situations they get themselves into.
The boys find out what happens when they learn that there is a time machine in the school and how time travel is not always what it's cracked up to be.
I highly recommend this book to boys 8+.
Karen Colliver


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 13 2018

Animal Ark: Kitten Rescue by Lucy Daniels

cover image

Orchard Books, 2018. ISBN 9781408354148
(Age: 6+) Recommended. Amelia has just moved with her mum into Welford and she doesn't know anyone except her gran, who they are living with. Can she overcome her homesickness and help her new friend Sam to save the kittens with a little help from others in the village, who they meet throughout their search?
This is a great small book with big text. The pictures add a nice element to the story, they are well designed and makes the story a lot more interesting and visual.
I recommend this book for animal lovers just like Amelia and Sam, age 6+. If you enjoy this book you will enjoy the others in the series.
(Grace Colliver, Year 7 student)


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 13 2018

I love me by Sally Morgan and Ambelin Kwaymullina

cover image

Fremantle Press, 2018. ISBN 9781925591637
(Age: Pre-school) Highly recommended. Board book. Themes: Individuality, Self-esteem. "I love the way my heart knows best. I am me. Who else would I be? I love me! A celebration of individuality and joyous self-esteem, in bouncy, rhythmic prose and riotous colour". (Publisher)
This is a beautifully written and illustrated book. This book is about loving yourself for being you. It is a lovely book to read with small children to teach them that we should all love ourselves just the way we are. It is important to love ourselves and this book promotes positive self-esteem.
I highly recommend any parent to share this book with their children.
Karen Colliver


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 09 2018

Hive by AJ Betts

cover image

Fremantle Press, 2018. ISBN 9781760556433
(Ages: Secondary) Highly recommended. Themes: Future. Dystopia. Bees. Survival. The community is like a beehive, everyone has a role, no one knows what outside is like, and they all worship God, from whom water comes every day. The hierarchy is strict and a judge and her council rule the three hundred occupants.
But one day Hayley sees a drip. She is afraid. Water only comes from God and yet it is coming from the ceiling in the way between living spaces, a place she is forbidden to enter unless a bee has escaped.
She is frightened, things in her world are not as assured as before, she notices things. Chasing a bee, she runs into Geoffrey, one of the uncles and he seems to die from the bee sting. Questions are raised about the bees and their place within the community.
Told that God gathers the dead and takes them to heaven, she sees an aunt butchered and thrown into the hub, the place their meat comes from.
Her best friend Celia is about to be married, a cause for great celebration within the community as it heralds another baby. Hayley has befriended Luka, one of the netters who seems to question as she does, and when Celia is refused marriage as her body has been examined and found wanting, Hayley is put in her place, and she chooses Luka as her bridegroom in the hope they can have three nights of talking without interruption and work out what is going on in the place they live. But someone else knows she is questioning and rather than be deemed mad, he takes action to save her.
This is a riveting read of a place where people have taken refuge after an event which has killed many. But their sanctuary has been severely reduced and stories evolved to explain their survival, stories which justify why they live in such a place, and why God is merciful. But when someone questions, steps must be taken to remove her. Not your usual post apocalypse story, Hive is a stunning read, raising all sorts of issues about survival and the role of story in keeping people compliant.
Amanda Betts is a well known Western Australian author, writer of several of my favourite YA novels, Wavelength, Zac and Mia and Shutterspeed, all engrossing reads with a totally different perspective on life for post millennials.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 09 2018

Moth by Isabel Thomas

cover image

Ill. by Daniel Egneus. Bloomsbury, 2018. ISBN 9781408889756
(Age: All) Highly recommended. Themes: Moths. Evolution. Adaptation. Camouflage. STEM. Industrial Revolution. Survival. Pollution. Hope. This amazing book shows within easily understood language supported by the most powerful of illustrations, the ability of an insect to adapt to the blight of man's impact upon the world. A small moth, called a peppered moth because of its black and white speckled appearance, lives near trees where it can hide amongst the patchy lichen from its predators. During the Industrial Revolution, factories spurted out coal dust, ash and soot, covering the trees with black smoke. The peppered moth was no longer able to survive because it had nowhere to hide, but the darker ones did survive, and a shift in their numbers occurred, with more dark ones being born, while lighter ones were rarely seen.
Children reading this book will easily absorb the ideas presented: evolution, predators, camouflage, adaptation, Industrial Revolution, pollution, while marveling at the ability of this small insect to adapt to a rapid change in its environment.
Egneus' illustrations are wonderful, evoking the peace of the environment in which the moths lived, showing them flitting amongst the trees, taking shelter on the lichen covered trees, a hungry fox or owl taking some for their meal. Contrast this with the blacks, greys and browns of the same area covered with the detritus of the Industrial Revolution. No reader can be in doubt about the effect this change had on the moth population.
And within the text, the reader is told about how this little insect adapted to that change, while the illustrations show the larger number of black moths filling the pages.
When people realised what damage had been done, efforts were made to clean up the environment, and so there are many more speckled winged moths appearing - another change, this time signifying hope.
Isabel's words sing with truth, reflecting her background in genetics and evolution at Oxford University, while Daniel's illustrations display a confidence with illustrative techniques which can be seen across a variety of fields.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 09 2018

Girl on wire by Lucy Estela

cover image

Ill. by Elise Hurst. Puffin, 2018. ISBN 9780143787167
(Age: 7+) Recommended. Themes: Confidence. Courage. Determination. The girl hesitantly watches from her perch in the upper reaches of the buildings. She is unsure and stands there for hours, just looking at what she must do. Finally she steps out onto the wire stretched before her leading her across to the building in the distance. She curls her toes around the wire, and pushed forward, inching her way across the wire. The wind whips around her and when she allows herself to look down she sees how impossibly high she is. Unsettled she drops to the wire, calling for help, and a response comes from the other side, telling her that she is there, waiting for her but she must traverse the wire herself.
The illustrations in this book like those in Adelaide's secret world (2016) are strangely fantastical, recreating an almost mythical place which is nearly as we know it but not quite. It is a place that seems just out of reach with its swirling winds and leaves, the indistinct buildings an the ghostly faces peering out.
The illustrations form a breathtaking backdrop to the tension within the story of a young girl setting out on life's journey and overcoming obstacles on her way through life. She must keep going, despite the pitfalls and diversions, knowing someone is waiting for her.
Her courage is there for all to see.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 09 2018

The other wife by Michael Robotham

cover image

Hachette, 2018. ISBN 9780733637933
(Ages: Senior secondary-Adult) Highly recommended. Themes: Crime. Thriller. Family relationships. Those familiar with Robotham's novels will be eager to read his next Professor Joe O'Lloughlin episode. It certainly does not disappoint! His writing flows and leads the reader on but does not take the audience for granted.
Joe's life is turned upside down when his father is taken to hospital after a fall down stairs. He is in an induced coma and his outlook for recovery is bleak. On his visit to the ICU he discovers the first of a number of bombshells about his father. The first is that the person at his bedside is not his mother but his other wife of twenty years.
In trying to find the 'real' William O'Loughlin, retired eminent surgeon, distant and disapproving father, possible bigamist and leader of a double life, Joe delves into lives that he knows nothing about. His relationship with the police deteriorates as they try to persuade him to let them investigate without interference.
Ruiz as ever acts as a stabilising influence, gathering information and providing protection when needed. All his preconceptions about his family even his childhood memories seem as if they need to be recast or at least viewed from a different perspective. His own family is also vulnerable as he charges head on with finding 'truths'. His daughters, especially Emma, are fragile after the death of his wife six months before and much is left up to Charlie who has stepped in to take on some of the household duties.
Of course there is his Parkinsons which is beginning to play a larger role in the life of Joe O'Loughlin.
Joe finds the truth eventually, but not before family memories are reviewed and found wanting, old friendships are lost and his father's image is changed and tarnished, but for the better or worse he is not sure. He discovers that his father was at least human not a distant and perfect icon.
Mark Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 09 2018

Alpacas with maracas by Matt Cosgrove

cover image

Scholastic, 2018. ISBN 9781743816349
(Ages: 4+) Recommended. Themes: Alpacas. Verse. Rhyme. Read aloud. We met Macca the alpaca in a book of the same name, where he had to deal with a bully, Al the shaggy alpaca. Now Al and Macca are the best of friends, and have decided to enter a competition, a talent quest.
But what to do. Everything they try seems to end in tears: Al gets his head stuck in the harp strings, and his nails break the top of the drums, while Macca finds the noise of the symbols a little overwhelming. They try out a rock band but everyone else wants them to stop. They keep on trying lots of other pieces of musical instruments as well as stage acts like a choir and a dance sequence with little success. The readers will be highly entertained seeing their antics, and breath a sigh of relief when they find something they can play together with some dexterity, the maracas. The pages following are a delight, showing the two alpacas playing the maracas as if they were born to do it. They wriggle their bottoms in time with the beat, play around on the stage and eventually win a prize. Not quite the prize the reading audience will think they deserve, but one which rhymes with blast. The rhyming couplets carry the story, inviting young readers to predict the rhyming word, and learn some of the pairs of lines as they read.
The laughter filled pages invite further inspection by the readers as the vibrant, colourful spreads reflect a variety of movements, music and fun. A great read aloud.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 09 2018

Waterhole by Fiona Bell

cover image

University of Qld Press, 2018. ISBN 9780702259999
(Ages: 11+) Sunny is home from boarding school - the first school holidays since her mother died in a single-car accident. She clashes with her stepfather and secretly blames Kevin, who is working alone on their farm in North Queensland.
Sunny is overwhelmed by glimpses of her dead mother, and as a result, believes a missing local teenager to be dead. She is interested in Matthew, who is older and has an unsavoury reputation, at least according to another boarding school student, Zara, who befriends Sunny to relieve her holiday boredom. Sunny and Zara both briefly work part-time jobs at Leanne's takeaway.
Leanne is invested in helping both Kevin and Sunny cope in the wake of her best friend's death but Sunny's problems mount as Kevin seems to be a person of interest in young Dylan's disappearance. Should Sunny tell someone about her visions or leave town and a burgeoning romance, to try to find her biological father?
Younger readers may identify with Sunny and her expressive oversharing narration, but for the more well-read, this ghost story will seem somewhat old fashioned.
Deborah Robins


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 07 2018

Boy swallows universe by Trent Dalton

cover image

Fourth Estate, 2018. ISBN 9781460753897
(Age: 16+) Recommended. Violence, gore and extreme language. Eli and August are two brothers growing up in 1980s Brisbane and for the most part, their world and daily life experience, depicted amazingly well by the author, is instantly recognisable to those who recall the era. Perhaps not every aspect however, given that they live amongst heroin dealers and are exposed to unspeakable acts of violence inflicted as punishment and to eliminate competition.
August is the eldest, who abruptly ceased speaking years before and communicates only by invisible 'air writing' and facial expression. Eli yearns to be a newspaper reporter and develops the capacity to recognise a story at an early age. Whilst their parents undertake relatively small scale heroin deals and yearn to make the score which they believe will allow them to escape the trade, the brothers are watched over by a retired criminal Slim Halliday. Famous decades before, Slim had wasted most of his life in incarceration, much of it in solitary confinement, for the murder of a taxi driver and subsequent prison escapes.
In viewing the bleak plight of these boys who grow up in a threatening environment, surrounded by people who are either hopeless or dangerous, the reader is caused to recognise the inevitability of a life's course. Major crime is never excused or glorified in this novel, however the author crafts characters who perform according to a script determined by their parentage, geographical location, limited opportunity and exposure to sinister criminals who manipulate and exploit.
The story demands consideration of what goodness remains in people who are undoubtedly criminal, sometimes ruthlessly bad and perhaps even murderers. Do acts of kindness counter previous misdeeds? Can the worst criminals be considered 'good' if they are on your side?
Mysterious elements prevail throughout the tale and Eli follows his nose and summons what limited help is available to him in a bid to discover the truth.
I found this story to be very sad. Whilst vicious violence and cruelty is pivotal to the story, there are many poignant and moving moments. Little boys yearn for family stability and for their broken mother to be happy after stumbling from one miserable situation to the next. At the same time they enjoy a typically childish delight at the prospect of a Paddle Pop whilst existing insecurely in poverty.
Touching and amusing moments temper what could be a depressingly grim novel which is unmistakably exciting and captivating.
Rob Welsh


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 07 2018

Charlie by Ronojoy Gosh

cover image

Puffin Books, 2018. ISBN 9780143785026
(Ages: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Lions. Appearance. Zoos. Illustrator of highly acclaimed picture book I'm Australian too (Mem Fox) and author of several picture books, Ronojoy has developed a wider use of his skills after many years in advertising. In Charlie, a lion who loves good food and art and the beach, finds that when he takes the bus somewhere, people are afraid of him and shy away. He does not like to frighten people so decides to wear a disguise. This he does with much success, going to the beach and the art gallery and into restaurants without a qualm. In the art gallery he is able to stand next to many portraits of people with a disguise such as his, while in art classes he is able to hold his own with the other participants. At the aquarium, he feels sorry for the penguins so knits them all a coat. His stomach begins to grumble while he is out watching stars and he goes to a fine restaurant where he eats a splendid meal, while afterwards he needs to find somewhere to wash his disguise now full of the remnants of his meal.
Back at the Zoo for the night, he is satisfied that all has gone well, he has had a terrific day and looks forward to new adventures tomorrow.
Readers will enjoy watching Charlie's antics as he dons his disguise and begins to do things that lions certainly do not do, laughing with him as he tries to blend into the groups of people. His disguise is seen in different places in the book so will cause readers to seek them out, while classes may like to make the disguise themselves and wear it while reading.
Discussing disguises, children may make the link to being different and blending in, of the disguises we wear each day so that we do not stand out.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 07 2018

The mapmakers' race by Eirlys Hunter

cover image

Gecko Press, 2018. ISBN 9781776572038
(Age: 8-11) Themes: Perseverance. Adventure. Map drawing. Eirlys Hunter's The mapmakers' race is set in a harsh mountainous environment where a new railway line needs to be built. The alternate world has mechanical horses and luggage-carrying clouds and nefarious characters who will use any means to win the 28 day race and the prize money of five hundred gold guineas.
The Santander family are desperately poor; their father, an explorer and trail finder, has disappeared and mapmaker Ma and their children desperately need to win the prize-money. Unfortunately on their train trip to Grand Prospect where the race starts, Ma leaves the rail carriage to search for Joe who's filling the water flasks and she misses the train. Sal, Joe, Francie and little Humphrey decide to enter the race anyway. All their possessions are on board, and they believe Ma will catch up along the way. With Carrot the parrot along for comic relief, this arduous undertaking that will test their skills of survival and their support of each other. Sal is a skilled mathematician great at calculating, Francie's special skill is her ability to project into the upcoming environment and map the upcoming route. Fortunately, they meet a knowledgeable local lad, Beckett, who helps the family; he's skilled with animals, a great cook and has wilderness experience.
In this fast-paced adventure the children overcome many natural forces, fighting tough conditions, encounters with bear, bees, a bat-filled cave, dangerous river crossings and cliff falls. Ingenuity, inventiveness, dogged determination, bravery and support of each other are qualities that assist the family to push through. Francie's maps with places named by the children are key elements that illustrate their twenty-eight day journey.
Eirlys Fowler's descriptive and exciting narrative is suitable for middle primary students. Her world-building adds depth and interest, what can a mechanical horse do, what advantages are there to clouds carrying luggage? Complemented by Kirsten Slade's pen and ink sketches and maps, this story is a great adventure, with strong non-stereotypical characters.
Rhyllis Bignell


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 07 2018

Sleep by Kate Prendergast

cover image

Old Barn Books, 2018. ISBN 9781910646229
(Age: 3-6) Recommended. Themes: Animals. Sleep. Kate Prendergast's non-fiction picture book uses vivid illustrations to show where animals rest and sleep. Her bright close-up paintings use a colour palette reminiscent of 1960's children's books with swirls, dark shading and patterns of oranges, reds, yellows and greens. Each animal is shown asleep, some at home, in the barn, in the field or nests. Whilst creating this engaging book, Kate discovered the plight of most of these animals facing destruction of their habitat by humans. As you share this story with a young audience, take time to discuss the different ways animals rest or sleep, how and where this occurs and why sleep is important to both animals and humans.
Harvest mice sleep curled up in their nests, whilst snails sleep in their shells atop a resting tortoise. Bats sleep during the day and fish sleep with their eyes open. Take time to wonder about the places, physical conditions as you share the easy to read facts, sometimes with added notes that accompany the close-up illustrations. Prendergast includes 'Some Amazing Animal Facts' just right for starting to engage with scientific facts and for researching. Discover facts about cathemeral harvest-mice, mobs of meerkats sleep in heaps, giraffes that sleep for only 20 minutes a day and hibernating bears.
Sleep by Kate Prendergast is a factual picture book, a great resource for pre-schoolers and junior primary classes developing an awareness of the needs of living things and beginning to investigate how the environment supports life.
Rhyllis Bignell


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 07 2018

The Red Fox Clan by John Flanagan

cover image

Ranger's Apprentice: The Royal Ranger book 2. Random House Australia, 2018. ISBN 9780143785903
(Age: 12 - Adult) Recommended. Genres: Adventure and fantasy. This story is about a group of military men called The Rangers. In this group a Princess called Maddie is being trained as a Ranger and has just finished the 3rd year of a four year apprenticeship where she just about passes as the top ranger in her year.
She returns to the Royal Castle for the break and to relieve her boredom she goes exploring. Whilst exploring she discovers some of the castle's secrets.
Meanwhile the King, her father, has left the castle to find and destroy a local rebellious group called the Red Fox Clan. This group has risen because the laws on the succession to the throne have changed to allow women to ascend to the throne.
They first challenge the King in the provinces and then challenge the castle itself.
The story comes to a climax when Maddie saves her father against the forces and she discovers who the Red Fox is from behind his mask.
One of the major themes to come out of this story is loyalty to the Rangers and their code of honour.
I would recommend this book to anyone in the age group of 12 to Adult
Chris Mills (parent)


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 03 2018

Leave taking by Lorraine Marwood

cover image

University of Queensland Press, 2018. ISBN 9780702260117
(Age: 11+) Recommended. Themes: Death, Leaving home, Family, Connections. "Toby and his mum and dad are leaving their family farm after the death of Toby's younger sister, Leah. Together, they sort through all their belongings and put things aside to sell or throw out. It's a big task, and Toby doesn't want to leave the only place he's called home. As his last day on the farm approaches, Toby has a plan - a plan to say goodbye to all the things and places that mean something special to him and Leah, from the machinery shed and Pa's old truck to the chook house. With the help of his best friend, Trigger the dog, he learns what it means to take your leave." (Publisher)
I found this book to be quite moving and at one time I even had tears in my eyes. Do not be fooled by the cover - it is certainly not a read for the younger audience. I would be recommending if for students aged 11 and up. I am not sure if it resonated with me so much because I grew up on a farm and know the strong attachment one can have to the land or the fact that Toby was having to deal with the death of his younger sister. It evoked real emotion discussion the memories one can have attached to physical things. The journey that Toby takes around the farm is attached to so many happy memories associated with his sister and shows one that although someone is not physically with us anymore, it is so important to hold onto happy memories. The story was written in verse which I am not normally a fan of but I really enjoyed it. It touches on themes such as leaving, death, family and connections.
Kathryn Schumacher


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 03 2018

The strange fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold

cover image

Random House, 2018. ISBN 9780451480477
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Noah Oakman, is the classic anti-hero if ever there was one. To avoid the labour of time-consuming choices, he wears his own daily "uniform" - a t-shirt emblazoned with the name,"Bowie". He spends much of the book making the most of a back injury to avoid swimming training, which to his parents equates to a college scholarship.
Being a concise history, the book begins by reconnecting with his two best friends, twins Alan and Val, who drag him along to a party. After meeting Circuit, who attempts to hypnotize him, things get surreal and the central quest begins. Genuinely trying to find explanations for the changes and coincidences he experiences over the coming weeks, he doesn't know whether he is suffering from paranoid delusions or is onto something revelatory. Allusions to The Matrix foreshadow the answer.
Noah takes his readers on a comical and poignant mission to confront his obsessions and coincidences and discover how they are related. What happened to youtube's Fading Girl? Who is OMG (Old Man Goiter)? Hypocritically, Noah resists watching the film, "Breakfast at Tiffany's with his younger sister Penelope, who has her own obsession with Audrey Hepburn.
Noah's complex frustrations reach fever pitch until Alan is seriously injured and Noah gets a grip on reality. Paramount is already busy turning Noah's adventure into a film as evidenced by the official trailer.  "The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik" is compelling reading, written by an edgy YA writer who knows how to keep us turning pages.
Deborah Robins


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 03 2018

Minecraft: The Crash by Tracey Baptiste

cover image

Century, 2018. ISBN 9781780897776
(Age: Teens) Bianca (the main character) is never one to plan ahead: she, like most people nowadays is 'act now deal with consciences later,' but on top of that she's a bit of a scatterbrain so most of the time it's 'act now have someone else deal with consequences'. When Bianca and her best friend Lonnie are in a car accident that Bianca might have caused she is incapacitated. After gaining full consciousness, she is introduced to a VR version of Minecraft and finds new friends and finding Lonnie in an apparently broken skin while attempting an 'End dimension run'.
This book is the 2nd in a series, and the first one is a good read as well. I will tell you that both books are not related apart from being the first Minecraft series to be sponsored by Mojang and being in the same series. They are part of a Mojang sponsored program to get people of all ages reading.
The whole idea of the 'End dimension run' is Bianca trying to run into her past, to before the car crash happened and it is also seen through flashbacks that Bianca really depends on Lonnie to help her with everything, plus that the car accident is a result of her being a scatter brain. Bianca tries to slip into her past with Lonnie (whose skin is glitching and has her stuck as a villager) but you cannot run into your own past.
Bianca feels guilty about causing the crash and tries to complete Lonnie's plan for the 'End run.' However, thanks to this new VR version of Minecraft you can control your skin with your mind, but it also means your deepest darkest insecurities will spawn mob's most of which will try to kill you. Her guilt about causing the crash and her obsession about completing the 'End-run' manifests into an Enderman with a white scar which is the same as the other car she crashed with. This Enderman will postpone the 'End run' and attempts to stop the 'End run'.
One more thing, the ending is too obvious. I mean a good book hints at a spoiler, but this book does it excessively. So much that ANYONE can guess what it is. This is a HUGE spoiler and that is just not okay!
Dante C. (Student, Year 7)


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 03 2018

White rabbit red wolf by Tom Pollock

cover image

Walker Books, 2018. ISBN 9781406378177
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Themes: Twins, Mental illness, Bullying, Genetic engineering, Spies, Murder Revenge, Deception. What starts off as a book about a boy with extreme anxiety issues quickly develops into a rollercoaster thriller. Peter Blankman must overcome his terror and panic attacks to solve the near-fatal stabbing of his mother and find his missing sister. He uses mathematics (his mild super power), to suppress his anxiety and to solve the issues at hand. Who wanted his mother dead? And why has his twin sister disappeared leaving him on his own? There are murders, torture, missing persons, spies and highly questionable genetic engineering involved in this fast-paced story. Peter must unravel the past to come to terms with what is happening in the present. There are twists and turns and deceptions that shock and leave you questioning what is real.
I enjoyed reading this book, it was a page turner, dark and disturbing and left my pondering the life of the mentally ill and our understanding and treatment of them.
I would recommend this for senior high school students (14+) who enjoy a somewhat dark story.
Joyce Crawford


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 03 2018

Duck! by Meg McKinlay

cover image

Ill. by Nathaniel Eckstrom. Walker, 2018. ISBN 9781925381535
(Age: 3-6) Recommended. Themes: Ducks, Farm Animals. Duck races around the farmyard, annoying all the farm animals by shouting 'Duck!' The noble, tall horse who is busy swishing his tail doesn't like Duck's rude interruption and is cross with the bird's loud exclamation. He races around, jumping on the cow's back, disturbing the wallowing pig, making each animal more and more angry. No-one will listen to his warning. When Duck finally changes his one-word exclamation, the animals finally realise that they should have listened to him.
Meg McKinlay's charming story is a delight to read aloud, with the repetitions, exclamations and animal descriptions perfect for audience participation. 'Don't be ridiculous! You are a duck and he is a horse and I am a cow . . . you have funny webbed feet and I have these fine cloven hooves.' The animal characteristics will stretch the reader's vocabulary, making for some engaging discussion. The author's extended play on one word is fun and surprising.
Nathaniel Eckstrom's autumnal illustrations are the perfect visual narrative, foretelling the disaster about to strike the farm. Duck's frustrations are evident, in his frantic movements, his wide-open beak, pointing wings and final addition of the bucket hat are delightfully portrayed. The other animals are shown with their more boastful sides, eyes closed, sneering and grumpy mouths. There's even a reference to a famous children's novel in the final scenes, something wonderful to discuss with a preschool or junior primary class!
"Duck!" by Meg McKinlay is reminiscent of the tale of Henny Penny and her falling sky and is a fun and surprising story that will be read over and over again.
Rhyllis Bignell


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 03 2018

Stink: Hamlet and Cheese by Megan McDonald

cover image

Ill. by Peter H. Reynolds. Candlewick Press, 2018. ISBN 9780763691639
(Age: 8+) Themes: Humour, Shakespeare themes. Given the choice of staying home with his sister Judy, or going to Shakespeare camp, Stink takes the camp with his friend, Sophie of the Elves. She tells him that it will not be anything like what he imagines, and seduces him with tales of swordplay and cursing, enough to whet his appetite for him to take on the role of a sprite. But his arch enemy, Riley Rottenberger is being a Sprite, too, so things are about to happen that not even Stink could have predicted.
All good fun with lots of puns and mock speeches, and lots of information about Shakespeare and his plays to engage younger readers.
This is the eleventh novel about Stink and his adventures all of which are humorous, engaging and very readable.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 02 2018

The boy at the back of the class by Onjali Q. Rauf

cover image

Orion, 2018. ISBN 9781510105010
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Friendship. Refugees. Bullying. Resilience. Tolerance. This is a really enjoyable story about 4 young friends at school who are intrigued by the mystery surrounding the new boy in the chair at the back of the class. They have many questions, but it is hard to find the answers; the boy Ahmet goes into 'Seclusion' in break times, and after school he is collected by a woman who doesn't seem to be his mother. He doesn't even seem to speak English. He is unlike anyone they've had in class before, a strange brave boy with the eyes of a lion. The friends gradually discover that Ahmet is a refugee child from war-torn Syria, and in his long trek across sea and land to find safety he has lost all family.
Learning that Britain is about to close its gates to refugees from Calais, the four children hatch plans to help Ahmet find his family before it is too late for him ever to be reunited with any of them. They come up with 'The Greatest Idea in the World'. But nothing ever goes smoothly, there are school bullies to contend with, and a bid to get help from the Queen leads to an amazing escapade which gets the attention of all the newspapers.
The story is narrated by a nine year old, and because the author does not give away whether it is a girl or boy speaking, each reader will identify in a way that suits them. And although the underlying subject matter is serious, the story has a lot of humour, particularly in revealing the thoughts and ideas of the nine year old friends. Drawings of their plans by illustrator Pippa Curnick add another element of fun.
Author Onjali Q Rauf is the person behind the 'Making Herstory' campaign for women's rights and prevention of abuse and slavery of women. She is also involved in delivering emergency aid packages to refugee families. The boy at the back of the class is her first novel, and is a wonderful way to draw in the interest of a young audience, helping them to understand issues that they can't help but overhear in the news and in adult conversations. The story is a great adventure, with themes of friendship, tolerance and understanding towards others.
Helen Eddy


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 02 2018

It looks like this by Rafi Mittlefehldt

cover image

Candlewick Press, 2018. ISBN 9781536200430
(Age: 15+) Recommended. The cover reflects LGTBQ+ themes in one glance - rainbow silhouettes of two youths. Thankfully, neither the title nor the writing defines the narrator and main character. Fifteen year old Mike has a gentle temperament. He has three friends, counting his sister, Toby, and two burgeoning geeks, Jared and Ronald. He is not into sports until a basketball player at his new school invites him to hang out. His father would like to see him on a sports team, but he likes to draw. Interestingly, Mike is largely responsible for the daily well-being of his younger sister and the family dog, all of whom are less enthusiastic about church than their devout parents.
Even though he likes going to church on Sundays about as much as his unruly sister, Mike is resilient and grateful - he doesn't sweat the small stuff, and is just trying to make it through adolescence in the Bible belt, reasonably unscathed. He's an artist - observant of details and mindful. There is a genuine naivety, at least on Mike's part, about his burgeoning friendship with Sean Rossini, the jock, whose parents are members of the same church as his own family. Mittlefehldt draws out Mike's self-discovery so slowly that we could mistake his debut novel to be autobiographical, but in the acknowledgement to his family, we learn that the author was by contrast, tremendously supported by his family.
So what does it look like for Mike and Sean? For one brief moment it looks like the novel's opening sunrise, written by a boy in love for the first time. But very quickly a dysfunctional bully named Victor, uploads a film of the boys making out to YouTube and tips off both dads. Not merely unsupportive, one father is physically abusive and the other sends his son away to a Christian camp where "conversion therapy" is considered a treatment for homosexuality. Thus for the most part, it looks like: secrecy, cyberbullying, public shaming, ostracism and inevitable tragedy. Whose choices were responsible? Not the choice to love and be loved. Indeed, Mrs Pilsner, Ronald's mother, assures Mike, "You did nothing wrong. Ever, in any of this..."
Readers will be drawn to Mike and his inner circle of friends, more so than Sean whose character is not fully developed, making him ostensibly a ghost from the beginning. Despite the modern format and the omission of speech marks, the book will seem anachronistic to those who are savvy about LGTBQ issues, but for those young adults and parents living in peevish backwaters, It looks like this will be serve as both a cautionary tale and a strong indictment of Christian hypocrisy.
Deborah Robins


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 02 2018

Are you my bottom? by Kate and Jol Temple

cover image

Ill. by Ronojoy Ghosh. Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760631642
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Bottoms. Animals. Research. When the little panda steps out of his bath, something is missing. There is a hole where his bottom should be, so he sets out to find it. The following pages with their four lines of rhyming lines will delight younger readers as the panda asks a host of other animals if their bottom belongs to him.
Readers will squeal with pleasure as the panda picks the most incongruous of animals to see if they are wearing his bottom. He talks to a lemur, a giraffe, a blue feathered bird, a moose, a baboon and his dad, all to no avail.
Readers will love the rhymes, predicting the coming rhyming word, and getting into the rhythm of the stanzas, as the adult reads it out loud. With rereading many children will pick up their favourite lines to learn and read out as they are approached. They will learn all the different words for bottom: butt, bot, rear and behind, and shriek with delight as they get to the last page trying to work out what rhymes with flummox.
As a way of diffusing the snickering that surrounds the word bottom, this is a sure winner, making the absurd readable and invoking lots of laughter. And all without the poo/bum words that some authors seem to think is necessary in a book for younger readers.
Ghosh has received awards for his work in advertising, but his passion remains in children's books, where he was amongst the CBCA Notables for I'm Australian too by Mem Fox.
Fran Knight


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 02 2018

The magic spell by Linda Chapman

cover image

My secret unicorn series. Penguin, 2018. ISBN 9780241354223
(Age: 6-8) Themes: Horses. Pets. Fantasy. Linda Chapman's My secret unicorn series has been republished for a new generation of girls who love horses, unicorns and magic. These simple, easy to read stories are great beginning chapter books with realistic pencil sketches by Biz Hull. They capture the imagination and show that special relationship between a young girl and her first pony.
When young Lauren Foster moves to Granger's farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains she finally knows her dreams will come true. Her parents have promised her a pony and she can barely wait to pick one out at the horse and pony sale. He brother Max has his own ten-week old bundle of energy, a Bernese mountain dog, now it is Lauren's turn. She has a favourite story written especially for her when she was three, "My Little Pony" all about a beautiful snow-white pony looking for a perfect owner. Now she's nine it's time for a real pony!
A scruffy, grey pony captures her heart at the sale, and with the help of her Mum they purchase everything they need to look after Twilight. A chance encounter at the local bookshop opens Lauren's eyes to the fantasy world of unicorns and she starts to wonder if her new pony is something extra-special.
Linda Chapman's quick-paced story, delightfully weaves the fantasy world into Lauren's everyday life. My secret unicorn is just right for young horse and unicorn enthusiasts.
Rhyllis Bignell


BUY IT ON booktopia

Aug 02 2018

Unofficial Minecraft STEM lab for kids by John Miller and Chris Fornell Scott

cover image

Quarry Books, 2018. ISBN 9781631594830
Apparently, 74 million people play Minecraft each month, one of those is Miss 12 who is now hooked on coding, and many of whom are in schools where the game is being used in many scenarios as part of the everyday learning experience. For some time, the teacher librarian networks I belong to have been peppered with queries about how it can best be used and so a book that specifically focuses on its use in the science, technology, maths and engineering strands will be of great value to teachers whose students are clamouring for these sorts of experiences but whose personal knowledge and skills of the game are not as developed as those of those they teach.
Beginning with a thorough explanation of what Minecraft is, how it works, how it can be used and played and purchased so that parents and teachers understand its value both in school and beyond - the book's focus is 'to connect the Minecraft player(s) in their life with STEM learning... to help bridge the gap between game-play and engaging STEM concepts" - it moves on to six themed quests, each of which presents four labs, which, in turn, have two parts - an out-of-game activity that requires hands-on exploration and an in-game building and crafting activity.
Quest 1: Pistons, Rails, and Redstone
Quest 2: Construction Zone
Quest 3: The Sky is Not Your Limit
Quest 4: Rocks, Minerals, and Gems
Quest 5: Cycles in Science
Quest 6: Engineering Challenge
In terms of the quality of content, Miss 12 would probably be a better reviewer than I, but in her absence, this review by a Minecraft expert suggests that it is "outstanding" and gives a comprehensive tour of the contents and layout. The credentials of the authors also convince me of its authority. However, as a non-Minecraft person who wears a teacher's hat, it would seem to me to be the perfect tool to not only capture an audience who prefer gaming to reading but also to use its user-friendliness to explore things not necessarily intellectually or physically in the teacher's toolbox. Added to that is this article which shows that onscreen adventures are leading children to discover their origins in print.
I'm beginning to see what all the conversations have been about and why there is such excitement about this game that demands so much more of the student than pressing buttons or manipulating levers.
Barbara Braxton


BUY IT ON booktopia

Archived Blog Entries