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Jul 18 2019

All that impossible space by Anna Morgan

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Hachette Children's Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780734419637.
(Age: Teens) Highly recommended. All that impossible space blends one of Australia's greatest mysteries with the typical drama of teenage girls at an all-girls school. This combination makes conversation about the Somerton man incredibly accessible and presents history in a fun light for teenagers and I would highly recommend it to teenage girls.
Following the start of year ten, one of the most important social years for the girls at St. Mags, the novel's protagonist Lara Laylor is faced with mystery after mystery, the first being new girl Kate who threatens Ash's best friend claim to Lara. How do you manage a new friend when you're so close with someone else? Second comes Mr Grant's history assignment on the Somerton man - a man found dead with no identification on an Adelaide beach in 1948. Next comes the clincher - the disappearance of Mr Grant, easily Lara's favourite teacher. With her sister on her gap year somewhere in Europe and Mr Grant's illness, Lara almost doesn't notice the growing closeness between her and Jos, a friendship blossoming into something new and complicated - something that Lara, let alone Ash, can't comprehend.
Mixing with boys has never been so heady. Distracted and weighed down with the mystery of the Somerton Man, Lara's thoughts are elsewhere, making her the perfect girl for Jos and the boys from St. Johns to befriend. Between rehearsals, boys, and the Ash-Kate cold war Lara doesn't know how to find the answers she craves. Why is nothing ever easy?
Kayla Gaskell


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Jul 18 2019

Goodbye house, hello house by Margaret Wild

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Illus. by Ann James. Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781743311103.
(Age: 3+) Highly recommended. Themes: Change, Moving house, Families. When the young girl must leave the family farm and move to the city she wanders through the house and its environs saying goodbye as she goes. She reminds herself that this is the last time she will see these familiar things. Children will begin to join in with the refrain, 'this is the last time' as the pages are turned. When moving day comes she says goodbye to each, halting a little longer at her bedroom. Readers will sympathise with the young girl as she says goodbye to things she loves, and recognise the emotional pull of the familiar, the things she has grown up with, perhaps recognising the changes that have occurred in their own lives.
Once in her new house, the words are reversed. She looks into each new room, taking longer over the room which is to be her bedroom, saying, 'this is the first time' as she greets the new, the unfamiliar. Readers again will sympathise with meeting something new for the first time, recognising that change is part of their lives.
Ann James' wonderful illustrations reflect a lively young girl, confidently saying goodbye to her old life and taking on the new with aplomb. Readers will connect with her as she opens each door, greeting the altering circumstances, welcoming the difference in her life, accepting the change. Watercolour illustrations form the background of many pages with black outlines used with eye catching effect over the top. Each time she peers through a door, her black and white image opens onto a watercolour vista of her old life and her new. The first end-paper shows a young girl looking out from her farm verandah with boxes packed and stacked next to her, farewelling the familiar, while the last end-paper shows her sitting in a tree, looking out at the apartment houses nearby, the view full full of possibilities.
A wonderful book about change, of accepting and embracing change is distilled into the images and spare text of a young girl's move to the city, by this pair of award winning book creators.
Fran Knight


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Jul 18 2019

Devils unto dust by Emma Berquist

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Greenwillow, 2018. ISBN: 9780062642783.
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Themes: Zombies, Coming of age, Adventure, Western, Dystopian fiction. Adventure galore, a Western setting, zombies, some heartbreak and a great heroine - what more could a reader want to while away a few hours?
Willie is a survivor. She has been looking after her younger brothers and sisters after her mother died from the sickness that turned her into a horrifying zombie-like creature called a shake and her father succumbed to alcohol. When her father steals from a shake hunter in the town of Glory where she lives and she is held responsible for the debt, she knows she will have to find him. With the assistance of two hunters she sets off into the desert on a desperate quest to get the money back from her father.
This was a compelling and easy to read story that blended a story set in the old West with a dystopian tale of sickness gone awry. Willie was an engaging character, capable and determined to look after her family as best she could. Her relationship with Micah her brother and the twins was very relatable and the reader can't help but be drawn to Curtis and Ben, the two honest hunters Willie hired to escort across the desert. Short chapters and humorous dialogue helped to lighten the darkness of the shakes.
There was plenty of action as the shakes tried to attack the small party, and some heartbreak and unexpected twists will keep the reader glued to the page until Willie's quest comes to an end. There is a small opening for a sequel which the reader would welcome. Readers who enjoyed the Western setting might like to read the more complex The Devil's West series (Silver on the road, The cold eye, and Red waters rising) by Laura Anne Gilman, while those who like a road trip might enjoy Tess of the road by Rachael Hartman.
Pat Pledger


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Jul 17 2019

Bad crab by Amelia McInerney

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Illus. by Philip Bunting. Omnibus, 2019. ISBN: 9781742994475.
(Age: 3+) Highly recommended. Themes: Fish, Crabs. Retribution, Friendship. When Bad Crab bites his friends, the Fish, the Octopus and Seahorse, they quickly retire to the wall above the Crab and hide behind a concrete ball. He looks up at them and is dismayed. He does not seem to realise that it is his behaviour which has made his friends go away.
Along comes a Lobster and surprisingly it bites him. The Crab's three friends swim down to help him. They attach themselves to him giving him extra oomph and he bites the Lobster back. The Lobster retires behind the seaweed. But Crab sees a Grey Shark approaching and his friends quickly swim back to their hiding place, leaving Crab alone on the sea floor.
But the friends then roll the concrete ball onto the Shark, leaving him defenceless but unable to release Crab from his gigantic mouth. The friends again work together to release Crab from the Shark, and all seems to going along well, but Crab seems impelled to do another bad thing, he rolls the rock onto Lobster.
The wonderful illustrations beg the reader to look more closely: I loved the expressions on their faces and the wordless nature of the book, begging readers to insert their own words on every page. There will be lots of joining in as the book proceeds.
A wonderfully funny tale of deeds coming back to haunt you, this Crab is that naughty child, forever niggling other people, annoying in so many ways and impervious to the fact that it is his behaviour which is not wanted. When people retaliate it is never their fault, but Crab here gets what he deserves, and it is up to his nicer friends to extricate him from that position.
Lots of discussion about responsibility will proceed from this funny look at behaviour, and many will be able to point out instances of bad behaviour being reciprocated.
Fran Knight


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Jul 17 2019

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

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Scribner, 2019. ISBN: 9781471185861.
(Age: 15 to Adult) Highly recommended. Set over the course of a year, each of the twelve chapters examines a month in the lives of different women and their families, all intricately connected by the disappearance of two young girls. This remarkable book takes place on Kamchatka, a remote peninsular in far-Eastern Russia, and is rich with descriptions of the volcanic landscape and tundra with their herds of reindeer. We are given an insight into lives filled with loss and longing, of ethnic tensions and traditional Russian values trying to find a place in the modern world.
While the mystery of the girls' disappearance begins the book and the investigation is interwoven throughout, this actually reads more like a series of short stories, with each focusing on a different woman who has been somehow affected by the event including family members, a witness, and a detective. There are many characters, and it is easy to get them mixed up, but thankfully the author has provided a list of primary characters at the start of the book. This book was not at all what I expected it to be, it is so much more.
Donella Reed


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Jul 17 2019

Roald Dahl's colours illustrated by Quentin Blake

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Penguin Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780241370315.
(Age: 1-5) Highly recommended. Board book. Themes: Colours. Another stunning board book featuring the captivating illustrations by Quentin Blake from Roald Dahl's stories for older children. These will make the book familiar to adults reading it aloud, and will be a fabulous introduction to the world of Roald Dahl for children.
Each of the double page spreads features a coloured background for the colours chosen, pink, red, green, blue, purple, orange, grey and yellow. For example, pink for 'I see plenty of peculiar porky pink pigs' has hilarious pictures of pigs against a beautiful pink background. Of course the famous 'green enomous crocodile hungry for his lunch' features against a lovely lime green background. Only one of the little people racing away from the snapping crocodile has a green shirt and this will be a fun way for the adult to show that there are different shades of green. This is also true of the dark orange coloured fox against an vivid orange background. It was interesting to see the colour grey featured and many children will identify with the idea of a grey suit or grey trousers.
The description of each items associated with the colour is in a bold black print which makes it easy to remember and there is a special touch at the end with a gorgeous lift the flap featuring 'a yellow giraffe with a neck that goes up . . . up . . . up!' Its construction is also very sturdy with hard boards for heavy use.
This is a fun introduction to colours for children and is sure to become a favourite.
Pat Pledger


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Jul 17 2019

Rabbit's hop by Alex Rance

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Illus. by Shane McG. Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760524449.
(Age: 3-8) Recommended. Themes: Friendship, Persistence, Self-Belief. This is AFL player Alex Rance's second book and it features a couple of the characters from his first, Tiger's Roar. Evidently inspired by being a team sportsman, both of his books are about being a good friend, working hard and having fun. Jack Rabbit is the best hopper on Rabbit Island. He is also the best carrot chomper and the almost best zigzagger. All the little rabbits look up to him and he is a perfect role-model: 'If you work hard, be kind, and enjoy yourselves, you will do great things'. Jack loved his life on Rabbit Island but he feels ready for a new challenge. One day a message in a bottle floats over to him. It's his cousin Roo inviting him to come over to Big Island for a new adventure. It won't be easy to get there but with the encouragement of his friend Zigga and remembering his own advice to the little rabbits he decides to go for it. He zig zags across the icebergs and jumps over the waves. He stops to help a whale caught in a fishing net and in return the whale gives him a lift to Big Island. As they get closer Jack begins to worry, 'What if I don't like Big Island? . . . What if I'm not good enough?', but once he arrives, he finds Tiger and becomes excited about the adventure ahead of him. This is wonderfully written and parents and teachers will love the healthy social and emotional messages it contains. I particularly love the repeated mantra (work hard, be kind, and enjoy yourself) and the use of the word philosophy. It is so great for children to know that they have a choice in how they see the world and the guidelines they choose to follow in living their life and interacting with others. It reminds little ones that being good at something is great but being kind, working hard and having fun is much more important. Jack Rabbit is a great role-model; he is talented but he isn't conceited or boastful. He worries and has self-doubt just like everyone, he supports his friends and he is kind to all those around him. The illustrations are bright, crisp and spot on. This is perfect for fans of Tiger's Roar, little sportspeople and all children who aspire to new adventures.
Nicole Nelson


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Jul 16 2019

A good girl's guide to murder by Holly Jackson

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Electric Monkey, 2019. ISBN: 9781405293181.
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Themes: Mystery, Thriller, Murder, Diversity, Friendship. What a compelling mystery - one that was almost impossible to put down! Pippa Fitz-Ambobi decides to investigate the murder of schoolgirl Andie Bell as her final year research project. Even though the police had closed the case, based on evidence that her boyfriend Sal Singh had murdered her, Pippa has always had doubts and sets about interviewing suspects and family members in an effort to see if she can find evidence to prove his innocence.
In a tightly packed narrative, consisting of entries into her Extended Project report and narrative about what is happening every day, Pippa delves into the secrets of her small town and uncovers some shocking truths about the people that she thought she knew well. Highly organised and intelligent, Pippa, with the aid of Sal's brother Ravi, goes about the investigation in a systematic way that allows the reader to follow the clues and try and work out who did the murder, or if there was a murder. At the same time Pippa's humour helps to lighten the darkness of some of the evidence and there are some very sad moments as well.
There are lots of plot twists that will keep even seasoned mystery readers trying to unravel the truth, and both Pippa and Ravi are people that the reader would like to know. Pippa's view of people begins to change as she finds out things from the past and she is uncertain of who she can trust. And if Sal didn't murder Andie, how dangerous is her investigation?
This is a terrific thriller that will keep the reader on the edge, very unwilling to put it down until the case is unravelled. People who enjoyed One of us is lying by Karen McManus and There's someone inside your house by Stephanie Perkins will be sure to enjoy this as well, and I am really looking forward to more stories by Holly Jackson.
Pat Pledger


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Jul 16 2019

Lunchbox express by George Georgievski

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Plum, 2019. ISBN: 9781760784904.
(Age: 9 - Adult) Recommended. The cover promises 'healthy kids' lunches in 5 minutes' and the book delivers 30 days of kids' lunchboxes, beautifully illustrated with full page pictures of the featured lunches. There is something here for even the most fastidious eater, including some bonus adult lunchboxes that will prove to be really useful as well as recipes for International Fridays.
Right from the helpful Contents page, the reader is guided through this useful book starting with tools of the trade that will be needed to make the lunches visually appealing, including a melon baller and a ravioli cutter to make shapes, as well as other more common tools like a chef's knife and veggie peeler. The $50 shopping list covers 2 children's lunches for one week and ensures that all the necessary ingredients are available for the lunches. Using photos of the Bento-style lunchboxes to contain the food the author has shown what delicious lunches can be made in just 5 minutes. There is also a section of easy to follow recipes for things like breakfast muffins and vegetable doughnuts and a handy index finishes off a worthwhile book.
The colourful illustrations make this a stand-out recipe book that is sure to inspire people to make truly mouth-watering lunches.
Pat Pledger


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Jul 16 2019

Secrets of a schoolyard millionaire by Nat Amoore

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Penguin, 2019, ISBN: 9780143796374.
(Age: 8-12) Themes: Wealth, Millionaires, Money, Humour. What would you do if you found a million dollars? Would you help your family, your friends and classmates? Ten-year-old Tess Heckleston is the middle child in a rather chaotic family, her dad calls their place the Heckleston Hothouse. Tess is an entrepreneur; she's always planning her next business venture accompanied by her best friend Toby. Her small bedroom at the top of the house overlooks their dodgy neighbour Scotty's place and Tess often observes the strange people visiting him. Imagine her surprise when Scotty hides a large bag in her backyard treasure chest, just before the police arrest him!
Tess's choices from this moment on, take us on a wild and crazy ride, with loads of fun and creative adventures. Toby provides a voice of reason; he tries to be her moral compass, questioning her decisions. They need to be careful, to not arouse suspicions as she tries to help others with this windfall. When her younger sister is hospitalised with complications from her diabetes, Tess and Toby decide to spread a little love to the other children in the ward. Donating money is hard, and adults become very suspicious about kids with a large handful of notes.
Tess transforms Kathy the homeless woman who lives in the park, changing her into a look-alike of her mum and they fool the bank setting up an account, depositing the money and begin to share the wealth. Tess organises a home in the park for Kath, hundreds of kids buy Lego sets and build her a haven. Toby's two mums own a print shop and he's a whiz at Photoshop, creating flyers for their schemes and something extra special to help with the final events. Things come to a screeching halt when Tess finds her mum has disappeared, she's locked in the basement of the theatre where she works. Scotty is out on bail and on the hunt for his money. How will Tess and Toby right the wrongs and discover what is important in their lives?
Author Nat Amoore's Secrets of a schoolyard millionaire is written in a humorous, fast-paced style, includes loads of movie references, fun asides and tips for budding entrepreneurs - think puppies. An exciting read-aloud for middle primary classes, opening conversations about Tess and her decisions. Students can open dialogue about the protagonist's rights, responsibilities and ethics.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Jul 16 2019

Up to something by Katrina McKelvey

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Illus. by Kirrili Lonergan. EK Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781925335705. 32pp., hbk.
A sign on the door of the hardware store catches Billy's eye - it's for a great billycart race! It doesn't matter that Billy doesn't have a billycart because he has heard his Dad banging, drilling and sawing in his shed so many times that he is excited about what they could build together. He is even more excited when his Dad agrees and they begin work together. But excitement turns to disappointment when his dad appoints him as his 'special helper' fetching and carrying the tools and materials, rather than using them. And even though he gets promoted to 'assistant' because it sounds more important, the duties don't change and Billy is soon bored with menial tasks like the sweeping his dad gets him to do. He had dreams of them working side by side, building something magnificent. But as he sweeps he has an idea and while Dad is busy measuring and sawing, Billy is doing the same . . .
Billy's story is that of so many youngsters - wanting to get in and be like their dads but being assigned to the sidelines - that it will resonate with young readers who are more interested in making and doing than watching. Lonergan's gentle illustrations that are so rich in detail echo the relationship between Billy and his dad offering a story that could be a lesson for dads about not underestimating the talents and skills of their offspring.
From a STEM perspective there is plenty of scope to explore creating plans for billycarts, but if readers look carefully at the elements of Billy's cart they might be encouraged to look at everyday objects differently. What else could a laundry basket or an old pair of roller skates become? Lots of scope for creative thinking embedded in a story that is just a joy to read in itself.
Barbara Braxton


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Jul 15 2019

A grain of hope by Nicola Philp

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Illus. by Aldy Aguirre. Publishink Press, 2019. ISBN: 9780648348641.
(Age: 5+) Recommended. Themes: Refugees, Dogs, War, Abuse. Picking up a small publisher's book is always fraught for a reviewer. Sourcing that book can be difficult for a librarian with limited time so other considerations necessarily inform the review. But this one is worth seeking out.
The story presented in A grain of hope is told in a different way, its illustrations arresting and the whole evokes a poignancy unable to be shaken off.
On each side of the double page a story is told. On the left hand page (verso) is the tale of a dog, Dok, while the right hand page (recto) shows the tale of a child, Hanan. Each page reflects the changes in the lives of Hanan and the puppy. After a warm comforting childhood for both, Dok must learn a new house, away from its mother, while Hanan is aware that her family is troubled.
As time passes, Dok tries to avoid the pain inflicted upon her, while Hanan learns of the deaths of some of her family.
Their stories come together as a van arrives for them both: Dok is taken to an animal rescue facility, while Hanan and her family try to escape the war around them.
The abuse of the dog on the verso is contrasted with the increasing touches of war on the recto.
After this the comparison between Dok and Hanan is even more confronting. The dog is treated well, staying in its cage until a kind generous family comes and adopts her. While on the recto, Hanan is being transferred from one boat to another in the arms of her mother, until they are put behind bars in a detention facility with no idea of what is happening or where they will go.
The situation for Dok and Hanan are now reversed.
Readers will understand the message of the book without prompting: that we treat our refugees less than dogs. Both Hanan and Dok have similar stories until the end, when one is taken into the heart of the family, and the other relegated to life in detention.
Our obligation to take refugees into our country has been relegated to a political act by our governments, unwilling to compromise. This situation is presented in many books published recently (Room on our rock, Mediterranean, Boy at the back of the class, Wisp, Waves, Displaced etc) telling of the refugee impasse in Australia and A grain of hope fits well with these to encourage readers to look outside their own safe home and welcome those who do not have one.
Just as the story is different, so too are the illustrations. This artist from the Phillipines uses a wash of water colour to give his drawings an extra sadness. They have an ethereal quality, some almost lost on the page, which makes them memorable and underlines the pathos of Hunan's dreadful situation.
Readers will instantly empathise with Hanan's situation, being handed over the side of a ship, found by a Navy patrol boat and then relegated to a position behind bars, her misery plain for all to see.
Fran Knight


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Jul 15 2019

A nearly normal family by M. T. Edvardsson

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Macmillan, 2019. ISBN: 9781529008135.
(Age: senior secondary to adult) Recommended. Themes: Sweden, Crime, Family. The Sandell family seems to have it all. Adam is a pastor in the Church of Sweden, Ulrika is a successful lawyer and their daughter Stella is a vibrant student and athlete. There have been the usual ups and downs, as there are with families, but they are looked on by other residents in the small provincial city of Lund as a model of success.
Things take a lurch into the unexpected and unknown when Stella is taken into custody for the murder of Christopher Olsen. The story unfolds from the points of view of Adam, Ulrika and Stella and gives very different insight into each individual and the dynamics of this 'ideal' family.
Adam's recount is the first, and as a reader, I found this man hard to empathise with. His interference with the case and distrust of the lawyer defending Stella began to annoy me so much I almost gave up on the book. It was Stella's account that turned things round. Her character formed by the narrative of her father gave the impression of a selfish, spoiled teenager full of angst and rebellion. As her side of the story is slowly and at times reluctantly revealed an empathy is developed. Her strong friendship with Amina is at the centre of the web of emotion and loyalty which Edvardsson brings to life.
Stella who is 18 at the time of the murder has been involved with Christopher Olsen an older man at 32. Chris is a wealthy, successful businessman the son of a professor of law at the local university. There is some uneasiness about his treatment of women when it is discovered a former girl friend, Linda Lokind, has made a complaint to the police about Olsen. The investigation came to nothing and its Linda's reputation and state of mind which has come into question.
The final voice is that of Stella's mother Ulrika. It is the shortest narrative but one which gives the greatest insight and perhaps shows the greatest understanding of Stella and of Amina.
The Sandell family was not the one any of its members wanted. Adam wanted a perfect image projected to his congregation as a reflection of his role as loving father and husband. He is a controller and in the end not open with Stella or Ulrika. Stella is a complex character and she feels guilty about her behaviour and reactions to her parents but is unable to express them. She has many secrets she keeps from her family and even some from Amina. Ulrika feels guilt being the working mother working away from her family so often, but also feeling excluded from the bond which Adam and Stella formed as a baby and into her childhood. She too has secrets.
This novel was involving not least from the dynamics of the family, but also the community in which they live. The Swedish police and judicial system is an interesting contrast to the US or British with which we are far more familiar. Edvardsson's resolution is not entirely unexpected, but the master mind behind it all is more of a surprise.
Mark Knight


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Jul 15 2019

How to build the perfect cubby house by Heath McKenzie

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Scholastic Australia, 2019. ISBN: 9781760152673.
(Age: 4-8) Recommended. Themes: Families, Cubby Houses, Diversity. Heath McKenzie (illustrator of Andy Lee's Do Not Open This Book series and author/illustrator of a whole swag of picture books) has created this happy celebration of family and togetherness. Despite this being a depiction of one family, it incorporates cultural diversity in such a way that every child will see themselves and their own family represented. The family tree in the endpapers shows how this big, varied family fits together (with a same sex couple, a single mother, couples of different skin colour and cultural/religious heritage). The dedication also shows Heath's big and intricate family tree, which obviously inspired this book. The story is structured as an instructional 14-step plan to building the perfect cubby house: '1. Have a plan, 2. Listen to others, 3. Allow plans to change, etc.'. The first page shows a young child and his dad starting work on a little cubby, and on each subsequent page a new family member enters and gives their opinion on what else the cubby house needs (e.g., a garage for bikes, a movie room, a secret lair, a kitchen, a library). By the time we get to step '13. Celebrate your hard work' the monstrous, multi-levelled cubbyhouse is threatening to fall down under the weight of all the additions. When it does, all that is left is the little cubby house that we started with, but that is okay because 'the perfect cubby house only needs to be one thing . . . a place where everyone is . . welcome'. This is a great story that ultimately highlights the beauty of families as places of belonging, even when everyone has their own individual differences. The busy illustrations are fun and messy (much like families themselves) and the use of speech bubbles means that the story is appropriately told through the varied voices of the family members.
Nicole Nelson


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Jul 15 2019

Alice-Miranda keeps the beat by Jacqueline Harvey

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Alice-Miranda book 18. Penguin, 2019. ISBN: 9780143786030.
(Age: 8-12) Recommended. Themes: School life, Fund-raising, Festivals, Mystery. Jacqueline Harvey's extremely popular Alice-Miranda series returns for the eighteenth time in Alice- Miranda keeps the Beat. Alice-Miranda and her friends are returning to their school, Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies, after enjoying a barbecue lunch with Jacinta's mother. As they walk through the village, they see smoke rising from the restaurant Fattoush and the apartment above. With Mr and Mrs Abboud and their children trapped inside, Alice-Miranda and Millie run into the blaze, searching for the children. Selflessly Alice-Miranda rushes up to the smoke-filled attic to rescues the babies. The fire leaves the family homeless, without anything. Alice-Miranda who's been secretly taking music lessons, comes up with a fund-raising music festival to help.
Back at the Academy, tension amongst the staff rises, notes demanding work above and beyond their normal duties upset the teachers, even Dervla who manages the stables is under extreme pressure. With the arrival of a young new teacher with inspirational ideas, the established staff feel threatened. Has the power of being in charge gone to Miss Reedy's head? Of course, Caprice is up to her usual selfish ways, she wants to headline the music festival. Alice-Miranda and her friends rise to the challenge, with the support of the village, their families and supporters to make The Fields Festival a rousing success.
Jacqueline Harvey's special style of weaving mysteries and secrets into her middle grade novels, certainly keeps the readers guessing. Each thread is beautifully woven throughout, and we discover why Zara Abboud was missing at the fire, the real reason Jacinta's absent father returns and the true identity of the new teacher. All the much-loved elements are here, pony rides, delicious food (except for the problem scrambled eggs), community spirit, new babies and close friendships. Combined with Alice-Miranda's sense of fair play and supportive nature Alice Miranda Keeps the Beat makes another delightful addition to the series.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Jul 15 2019

Nits! by Stephanie Blake

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Gecko Press, 2019. ISBN: 9781776572243.
(Age: 4+) Themes: Nits, Classroom behaviour, Friendship, Humour. A disarmingly simple text tells the reader of the friendship between Simon and Lou. Simon loves Lou but she loves Mamadou. Simon is quite upset at seeing Mamadou kiss Lou, but when Lou begins to scratch at the nits in her hair, her friends, including Mamdou, desert her. But not Simon. He assures Lou that her mother will fix her problem, and kisses her. And so Simon gets nits as well.
Simply told the story shows how easy it is to get nits, and tells readers what to expect when they get them. The story reiterates that there is nothing to be afraid of and tells readers that their mothers will be able to get rid of them for them.
The simple clear illustrations underline the straightforward message contained in the book, and will appeal to the target audience of early primary readers.
Astute teachers will use this book as an introduction to the prevalence of nits within school communities and take the opportunity to encourage preventative action as well as showing the children how they can be managed.
Fran Knight


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Jul 12 2019

To the Moon and back by Bryan Sullivan with Jackie French

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Angus and Robertson, 2019. ISBN: 9781460757741.
(Age: 12-Adult) Highly recommended. Themes: Space Travel; Moon landing; Astronomy; Space History; Science History; Technology. This edition of To the Moon and Back has been released in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the first landing of humans on the moon. The book details the involvement of Australian Space Tracking technicians in enabling the world to see the Apollo 11 astronauts take their first steps on the moon's surface. Bryan Sullivan was one of those technical experts. In an era when the experts involved had 'fix-it' and 'can-do' expertise (sometimes self-taught), and computers were relatively rudimentary beasts, the miracle of the moon landing seen through the eyes of one of the Aussies involved is great reading. With updates that acknowledge the involvement of women in the space industry in its early years (as an example, reference is made to Katherine Johnson and the female experts of the Hidden Figures movie renown); essentially though, this is a book that gives insights into the Australian contributions to the Space History related to the exploration of the Moon. The book does not just describe the history, it also inspires readers to consider Astronomy as a field of study and to view the discoveries beyond our planet in a new light. Young and older readers will look at the moon differently and will also be more critical of Space History as seen in movies (note: The Dish was a great Australian film, but it did not accurately record the location of the Tracking station involved in conveying the images of the Moon Landing. A reminder that movies are not necessarily 'truth'.) With Jackie French's finesse and writing skill, this book is very easy to read and hard to put down.
This is definitely a book worth recommending to another cohort of readers, particularly those with STEM interests.
Highly recommended for readers aged 12 - adult.
Carolyn Hull


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Jul 12 2019

The rest of the story by Sarah Dessen

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Balzer and Bray, 2019. ISBN: 9780008334390.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: Family, Friendship, Self-perception, Class structure, Anxiety. Sarah Dessen does it again - The rest of the story has all her wonderful hallmarks, beautiful writing that grabs the reader straight away, a feel good look at a difficult family life, a swoon worthy but slow romance and a clever view of class structure and wealth.
When Emma Saylor is sent to spend the holidays at North Lake with her grandmother and cousins, people she hasn't seen since she was a small child, she finds things difficult. Here she is called Saylor, the name given to her by her dead mother, while at home she is called Emma by her father and other family members. There are unknown cousins to become acquainted with and Roo the boy who had been her best friend when she was little. Roo is the key who helps her find out about her mother and her past.
Emma is a character that the reader will immediately identify with. It is easy to relate to her feelings when she arrives at her grandmother's house. She has to navigate family shoals while coming to grips with the fact that there are two communities at North Lake. There is the working class group at North Lake, where her mother grew up and where her grandmother runs a motel, and there is the rich Lake North resort, where the wealthy spend their holidays. There is Roo, the caring boy, who lives on the working class side and the rich boys who stay at the resort. And there are all the stories that she finds out about her mother who died when she was ten and the side of the family that she didn't know about. Who is she - the Emma from the rich family who stay at the resort, or Saylor, the girl who helps her cousins clean the motel? And can she overcome her anxiety especially about driving?
Dessen is one of my favourite authors. I love her characters and even though she often explores complex family and personal situations, she always leaves the reader hopeful of a good outcome and better understandings as her characters grow and develop. Her books are ones that fans will want to revisit and The rest of the story is certainly one that would richly repay a reread.
Pat Pledger


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Jul 12 2019

Dream Riders : Frankie by Laura Bloom and Jesse Blackadder

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Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781760650513.
(Age: 10-12) Recommended. Themes: Horse-riding, family relationships, friendship, bullying. Laura Bloom and Jesse Blackadder's Dream Riders series focuses on an alternative riding school the Pocket of Dreams, where riders learn to relate with their horses in a more natural way. Each middle grade novel explores the lives of a young teenager who is finding their own identity, overcoming personal struggles, building relationships, friendships and their horse-riding abilities.
Frankie's families have moved to Mullumbimby for a tree change, her parents have separated and her Mum lives with new partner Vivian and her daughter Elise. Dad isn't coping with the marriage breakdown and Frankie is caught in the middle. She excited about Mum's promise of her own horse, but the reality doesn't quite match Frankie's dreams. Zen is a rather tubby pony with a windy problem. Frankie's first encounters with the girls at the local riding school are difficult, the elite riders are snobby, putting both Frankie and Zen down. She must join the beginner's class and struggles with her disappointments.
When Kai a close friend comes to stay with Mum and Vivian, Frankie's unsure of his actions and their relationship goes through some ups and downs. Life is tough on both the home front and in school where Frankie is bullied by the snobby girls from the riding school.
When Frankie meets Shannon the owner of a unique equestrian centre, she learns new techniques to connect to her pony Zen and begins to understand herself better. As she creates and organises the Dream Riders' club, Frankie's relationships change, and she comes to value her family and new friends.
Laura Bloom and Jesse Blackadder's Frankie explores current issues from family breakdowns, same sex couples, peer pressure, addiction to technology and bullying. A great novel for readers from ten who enjoy animal stories and teenage life with real and relatable characters. Teacher's notes for the series are available.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Jul 12 2019

Paint with magic by Sandi Wooton

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Illus. by Pat Kan. Big Sky Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781922265098.
(Age: 4-8) Themes: Painting, Sea Animals, Rhyming Story. This is a first picture book for poetry writer Sandi Wooton and her poetic story is the perfect accompaniment to Pat Kan's vibrant painted illustrations. This was previously published as a poem in the NSW School Magazine but it suits a printed book format really well. The cover is particularly enticing, cleverly using sea creature features and a paint brush to create the letters of the title. The story begins 'I sat in my room on a cold rainy day, trying to think of a fun game to play. I grabbed my new paintbox from under the table. 'Paint with Magic' it said on the label.' After painting an octopus it shouts out to the artist, 'Hey you, with the paintbrush . . . I've only got seven. You've left off one arm.' There clearly is magic inside this paint! From there it continues with the octopus helping the artist to paint a complete underwater scene. We never see the artist, apart from a pair of hands, so it is easy for the reader to put themselves inside the story and will hopefully inspire them to be creative in their own artworks. This is a great celebration of imagination and the freedom that painting brings. Children will love how the octopus and the artist work together to create the scene and how the artist wrangles back control by painting in a shark!
Nicole Nelson


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Jul 12 2019

Kisses in your heart by Sonia Bestulic

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Illus. by Nancy Bevington. Big Sky Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781925675924.
(Age: 2-7) Themes: Love, Comfort, Emotions, Rhyming Book. Similar to The Kissing Hand, this Australian publication reminds us that we carry the ones who love us wherever we go and can draw on that love for strength and courage. The sun is going down and the young girl in the story is getting ready for bed. Mum places kisses gently on her heart and tells her 'My dear no matter where you go, listen closely, you must know. Those kisses carry my love inside, hold your head up, glow with pride. Whether I am near or far, my love burns like a happy star.' The little girl feels warm and happy, and explains that sometimes she feels scared, sometimes sad, worried or lonely but then she feels the kisses in her heart and knows that they carry love inside. There is some beautiful imagery in the text and illustrations that do well at reflecting the girl's emotions (a starry love heart burning strong and warm, the girl scared and cold like a stone). This is a perfect book for young children who struggle with separation, as parents and caregivers will be able to use the language of the book (placing kisses on the heart, these kisses carry love inside, etc.) to comfort and reassure them.
Nicole Nelson


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Jul 11 2019

Young dark emu, a truer history by Bruce Pascoe

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Magabala books, 2019. ISBN: 9781925360844.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Non-fiction. Pascoe's revelatory book Dark emu, black seeds has now been made into a simplified illustrated hardback version for younger readers - allowing a younger audience to also learn of Pascoe's research into the agricultural practices of Australian Aboriginal people. Pascoe draws on historical records and artefacts to piece together a picture of Aboriginal settlement before the arrival of Europeans, and contrary to the long held view of the 'hunter-gatherer' existence that suited the colonialists' idea of an 'empty' land, he reveals the existence of Aboriginal farming and land care, permanent settlements with houses and storage buildings, and complex aquaculture management systems.
Teachers will welcome this book as an excellent example to show students learning how to research primary sources for their projects. Pascoe includes extracts from many original nineteenth century colonial diaries and reports, and he revaluates the artwork of colonial artists who showed cultivated fields in their paintings, once dismissed as an English romanticising of the Australian landscape. He urges the putting aside of preconceptions and interpreting with a new eye the original materials. 'It is a different way of looking'. Thus the so-called 'humpy' was actually a substantial construction that could accommodate many families, the 'lazy' fisherman had actually engineered an ingenious fishing machine, and fire was not a threat but a useful tool for tilling and cultivating pastures.
Pascoe has collected the evidence to present the case that the Aboriginal way of life actually met all the criteria of an established agricultural society that lived in harmony with their environment. This is not what the colonialists wanted to see, in their quest to occupy new land. And it is evidence that was destroyed as they took possession, and introduced their livestock.
This is an important book in the study of Australian history - it provides a new perspective to be read and discussed. It needs to be on every teacher's reading list and in every school library.
Helen Eddy


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Jul 11 2019

Detention by Tristan Bancks

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Puffin, 2019. ISBN: 9780143791799. 240pp., pbk.
Highly recommended. Sima and her family are pressed to the rough, cold ground among fifty others. They lie next to the tall fence designed to keep them in. The wires are cut one by one.
When they make their escape, a guard raises the alarm. Shouting, smoke bombs, people tackled to the ground. In the chaos Sima loses her parents.
Dad told her to run, so she does, hiding in a school and triggering a lockdown. A boy, Dan, finds her hiding in the toilet block.
What should he do? Help her? Dob her in? She's breaking the law, but is it right to lock kids up? And if he helps, should Sima trust him? Or run?
Whatever decisions are made will change their lives forever.
With the rise and spread of nationalist, right-wing conservative governments around the globe, xenophobia is alive and well in communities and countries around the world. In Australia it is always a hot topic particularly around election time and especially since former prime minister John Howard declared, 'It's about this nation saying to the world we are a generous open hearted people, taking more refugees on a per capita basis than any nation except Canada, we have a proud record of welcoming people from 140 different nations. But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come' in an election speech just weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Centre buildings in 2001.
Having just had another federal election with the rhetoric of asylum seekers, detention centres and people's rights claiming a lot of media space and votes, this new book from Tristan Bancks is very timely. In it, through the students in the Reading Superstars class and their teacher Miss Aston, he asks the questions that need to be considered about the plight of refugees, particularly as much of what the children say is the echo of their parents' perspectives. Bancks says he has tried to tell the story as 'a human one, rather than a political one' and he has achieved this as the reader becomes very invested in the plights of Simi and Dan and constantly wonders what would they do if they were either of those characters.
In my opinion, the greatest power of this book is in the hands of a class teacher reading it aloud and discussing the issues as Miss Aston does while she and her charges are in lockdown. That way, a range of points of view can be explored and explained, taking the story to a whole new level, rather than being an individual read that throws up questions but for which the reader doesn't seek answers. And that teacher should be prepared to answer the inevitable, 'What would you do if you were Miss Aston?'
Books for this age group are rarely the focus of reviews on this blog, but I believe that this is such an essential read as part of any study about migration and refugees, it deserves all the publicity it can get. Superb. Teacher's notes are available.
Barbara Braxton


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Jul 11 2019

No baths week by Katrina McKelvey

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Illus. by Cheri Hughes. Big Sky Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781925675429.
(Age: 3-7) Themes: Bathing, Pets, Play. This is a fun, colourful adventure about Ben and his best mate Bandit (his dog) and their mission to avoid the bathtub for an entire week. The best part about this is the unstructured, messy, creative, outdoor play that Ben and Bandit engage in without an adult hovering by and directing the action. In addition they live in a big old house surrounded by space and lawn and a cow over the next door fence. Mum is patient and fun, caring for them, while at the same time letting them be independent. They finger (and paw) paint their secret hide-out, they explore forbidden and dirty places like under the house, they bake dog biscuits (even snail-flavoured ones), dig to the very bottom of the sandpit, make sticky mud pies and a mud slip and slide. At the end of each day they come up with a way of getting clean that doesn't involve the bath (the sprinkler, the mobile dog wash, even the car wash), each one with humorous results. They are running out of ideas when Mum suggests the hot, steamy dishwasher . . . that has Ben and Bandit running for the bath! Ben's unbridled spirit is obvious as he announces that next week is go to bed late week! There is a definite message for parents about giving kids freedom and access to creative and outdoor unstructured play (Ben even wears a t-shirt that says 'Art is Education') and the depiction of this play in the funny, busy illustrations will thoroughly entertain and engage young children.
Nicole Nelson


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Jul 11 2019

Hey baby! by Stephanie Warren Drimmer

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National Geographic Kids, 2019. ISBN: 9781426329319. 192pp., hbk.
'In every corner of the Earth - from the Arctic to Australia, from ocean depths to mountain tops, from dry deserts to lush rain forests - tiny tots are learning to find their way in a big beautiful world.'
But these are not human babies - they are animals of all shapes and sizes and each has its own life story, some more complex and demanding more attention than a human baby. Using the most stunning photos, this is a collection of pictures, poems, stories, folktales and information from Nature's nursery that will introduce young readers to the diverse creatures of this planet. Grouped according to habitat such as mountains and plains, forest and streams, oceans and seas, each creature has a short fact box giving the name of the young, its home and its food as well as other information, and each section also has a Tot Lot which is a group of eight creatures with not quite so much detail but adding to the wonder of the variety of fauna that shares this planet with us. Many have a story or even a classic poem to accompany them, such as 'The Legend of the Pink Dolphin' or 'The Duck and the Kangaroo' by Edward Lear to further engage the young reader as this is a book to be shared or read by an independent reader.
An investment in a child's learning.
Barbara Braxton


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Jul 11 2019

My real friend by David Hunt

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Illus. by Lucia Masciullo. ABC Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780733334894. 32pp., hbk.
Rupert is William's imaginary friend, a role he is quite happy to have because they do so much together. Make music, paint pictures, play games . . . it's all great fun except for two things. He never gets to choose the game and be the hero, but worst of all, that William will stop imagining him and he will fade away. And one day, William breaks the news to him . . .
Told from Rupert's perspective, this is a charming book for early readers who are familiar with imaginary friends. As Rupert contrasts his life with William's, there is a lot of humour in his observations and sometimes Rupert's life in the imagination seems more fun. Poignant though his comments are, there is always the expectation that this story will not end well for Rupert but Masciullo's clever mixed-media illustrations soften the blow and his appearance as the shadow on William's new friend's skateboard is masterful, suggesting that William might not quite have let go yet.
Friendships, real and imaginary, wax and wane over time as circumstances and situations change and this is a celebration of that. Rupert is a vital part of William's childhood, as imaginary friends are for many children, and the letting go as social circles widen can be painful. It validates those imaginary friends of the young readers and opens the doorway for discussions about the difference between the two and the place they have in our lives. It is a way of encouraging those still rooted in their immediate concrete world to start viewing things from another perspective, particularly through Rupert's weariness of always being the victim or the loser!
Teacher notes to guide the discussions are available.
Barbara Braxton


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