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Apr 06 2020

The Ghost of Howler's Beach by Jackie French

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The Butter O'Bryan Mysteries. Angus and Robertson, 2020. ISBN: 9781460757727.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Jackie French has done it again! This is a wonderful piece of fiction for young readers that weaves a story within a historical period of history, making it accessible for those who may have limited understanding of the Depression or of the impacts on life in Australia for the returned veterans from World War I. Butter O'Bryan is the 12-year-old central character (this is not his real name, but nicknames are prevalent in this family!), a young boy whose family is somewhat protected from the worst of the post-war dilemmas, but they too have suffered loss as Butter's mother died in the previous year in the Polio epidemic. Butter lives with his doctor father and aunts in their "Very Small Castle" - the result of their inheritance as children of the 'Jam King'. When Butter encounters three children in the bay close to home it seems at first that he has met a family of ghosts. The mystery surrounding these children continues and slowly they become intertwined into the summer holiday experience for Butter. The solving of the mystery leads to understanding and care, compassion and a future for many families living a hand-to-mouth existence on the limited hand-outs from the government.
The setting of the coastal castle (albeit small) is charming, but the caring nature of Butter's family is delightful as they slowly become aware of the needs of first three children and then many, living just beyond their doors, through a period of dreadful hardship in Australia's past. The Depression and the hardships that individuals faced also highlights the paternalistic society and inherent racism and sexism that now seems so strange. Hindsight reveals why so many social changes needed to occur.
What French manages to do most successfully is to make a page-turning narrative that will appeal to young readers, male and female. With cricket games on the beach, food choices that are all basic 'Australian' fare and the freedom for young characters, mixed with the horrors of pre-antibiotic life and health-care that often excluded the poor, this is an eye-opening story. From the opening line, when a skull is discovered on the beach, young readers will be hooked. At the end of the story is also some background historical detail to explain the 'Make-do' era, the 'Susso' payments or the 'dole', multiple 1930s recipes, and other reflections on 1930s life. For our children of the 'throw-away' or 'instant-fix' era who have many easy solutions to problems, this will be a worthwhile introduction to this history.
I am hoping there will be more Butter O'Bryan mysteries. Themes: Family; Historical Mystery; Post-World War I History; 1930s Depression; Australian History - Fiction; Polio; Mental illness.
Carolyn Hull


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Apr 06 2020

Viper's Daughter by Michelle Paver

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Wolf Brother series, book 7. Zephyr, 2020. ISBN: 9781838933357.
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Set in the period following the Ice-Age, this adventure involves the Forest characters Renn, a mage with links to the Ravens, and her mate Torak - a wolf-brother. While Renn feels compelled to leave Torak in order to combat the influence of her evil mother and protect him,Torak takes pursuit with his wolf pack wolf-brother close behind him in order to bring her back.
Heading north into the even wider vastness of isolation and yet with people groups to connect with along the way, this is a tale of love against the backdrop of traditional cultural beliefs and the demon world. The drama that enfolds reveals ancient culture and survival techniques in a harsh world, but also a tale of the power of love and the influence of ancient understanding on life. Written in a way that reminded me of a Tolkien quest adventure, this is a powerful story and a compelling drama that is unique and quite different from most teenage fiction. At all times there is a sense that the reader is immersed in the challenges of Stone Age existence, and yet can see the power of the ingenuity of the people and the connections with nature (in combination with the fantasy and belief influences that are woven into the story). With a remnant population of Mammoths (called Mammut in the text) and the ability to communicate with animals, this is indeed a story with a difference.
I wish that I had discovered the series before launching into book 7 of the Wolf Brother series! But this is more about missing the wonder of this series and the characters rather than feeling like I have stepped into uncertain territory. This book stands on its own quite comfortably. The use of language is intriguing as expressions are used that convey different understandings of the world e.g. the Wolf's language is spare, but genuinely descriptive.
I am certain though that many will enjoy the other books by Michelle Paver and will enjoy the way she incorporates traditional life from Eskimo, Inuit and Scandinavian culture and weaves these into a traditional but fantasy tale. It almost feels like you are drawn into an ancient (yet fantasy) world in the far northern Scandinavian or North American wilderness. Themes: Fantasy; Stone Age; Traditional Life; Adventure; Good vs Evil; Demons and Spirits.
Carolyn Hull


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Apr 06 2020

Break the fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

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Hodder Children's Books 2020. ISBN: 9781444953244.
(Age: 12+) Gymnast Audrey (Rey) Lee has been on a 14 year journey to become a top gymnast. At 17 she is able to ignore the pain of the herniated disc in her back to make the US national team for the Tokyo Olympics. Her coach, Pauline is like a second mother to her but the coach for the national team, Coach Gibson exerts total power over the gymnasts, always watching for signs of weakness. Also on the team is Emma Shadowsky, Rey's best friend since she was 3, Chelsea Cameron, the reigning Olympic all round champion, and Daniela Olivero. All but Emma have a non-white background and Chelsea comments that 'it can be tough for women of colour in this sport. We're held to a different standard sometimes.' p.45. To achieve her goals, Rey not only has to train constantly but adhere to a strict diet and focus on her performance to the exclusion of all else. Her back injury is chronic, going back five years and she is only able to compete by having regular cortisone injections in her spine. The injury means she will have to retire after the Tokyo Olympics and even then will have issues for the rest of her life, 'But gymnastics is worth it. The Olympics is worth it.'p.65. Training for the Olympics even takes priority over Leo Adams, champion snowboarder and son of one of the gymnastic coaches. They link up after years of following each other online but while the relationship blossoms, he has to stay a discreet distance and not be a distraction. What is a distraction is that Daniela is suspended from the team for allegedly failing a drug test and she then makes an accusation against Coach Gibson for sexual assault. The fallout for the team is that they are interviewed by the FBI, they lose their coaches, are sent to train at another facility and even have to repeat the selection trials in front of independent judges. They all suffer but manage, through the discipline of their training and real teamwork, to rescue their dreams. The detailed descriptions of the gymnastic routines are the main element in this sports novel and the sexual abuse, grooming and victim blaming are handled with care, demonstrating the girls' strengths and endurance, empowering them in the most difficult of situations. A rare teen novel celebrating athletic ability in girls with an extra twist about resilience, it will appeal to middle school students.
Themes: sports, friendship, sexual assault, Olympics.
Sue Speck


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Apr 06 2020

How to be a pirate by Isaac Fitzgerald

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Illus. by Brigette Barrager. Bloomsbury, 2020. ISBN: 9781681197784. 40pp.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. When CeCe wants to join the neighbourhood gang and be a pirate like them, she is rebuffed and told she cannot be a pirate, so she swings her sword over her shoulder and marches off to see her grandfather who with all his tattoos, must know a little about being a pirate. And she is right. Grandfather trawls through his gallery of tattoos, each with a story and each reminding CeCe of the tenacity needed to be a pirate. The first tattoo is of a ship and he tells her that a pirate is brave, overcoming obstacles and forging ahead. Next is a panther and to be a pirate she must be quick to escape danger at any moment. A dancing senorita shows her that she must also have fun, and an eagle reflects a pirate's need to be independent. All of these attributes are necessary to being a pirate, but Grandfather warns, there is one that shines out over them all and it is this one that sees CeCe rushing back to the tree house and joining the boys.
The imaginative use of Grandfather's tattoos underscores the humour in this book. An older man's tattoos are usually hidden by clothing, so to see them standing out proudly will cause a lot of laughter amongst the readers, and to see how he uses each one to tell a story and enthuse CeCe with the skills needed to be a pirate, is simply charming.
Each tattoo creates a new adventure for CeCe to explore, and readers will quickly fill out the story behind each of the the wonderful illustrations. Vibrant and full of movement, readers will be in no doubt about the exploits of a pirate, poring over the drawings to see what pirates do and how brave, adventurous, quick and independent they are. Pirates, Humour, Grandparents, Bravery.
Fran Knight


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Apr 06 2020

Australian Children's Illustrated Dictionary

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Dorling Kindersley, 2020. ISBN: 9781760896577. 256pp.
All dictionaries contain lists of words with their meaning displayed. This simple dictionary is targeting younger users, and it has a few features that add some valuable detail to the word meaning. The first pages explain basic grammatical terms in easy to understand language. There are also some dictionary-related games prior to the illustrated dictionary lists and at the end of the dictionary are: lists of abbreviations; a phonetic spelling guide; prefixes and suffixes examples; Facts and figures related to measurement; Australian holidays; Numbers plus ordinal numbers and Roman numerals; symbols and a list of countries in the world.
The presentation of this children's dictionary has Dorling Kindersley's clarity and child-friendly quality. The definitions use language that children will be able to understand (there is nothing more frustrating than needing a dictionary to help understand a dictionary meaning!)
This book will sit well in a classroom or school library as a basic reference book. Theme: Dictionary; Words.
Carolyn Hull


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Apr 03 2020

The astronaut's cat by Tohby Riddle

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Allen and Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760524944. 32pp.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. The image of a cat peering out of the space lab's porthole is mesmerising: at once preposterous and curiously entrancing, it will impel younger readers to wonder about the story inside.
This cat is an inside cat: she spends her time sleeping and eating and playing with her musical ball which looks like Earth. She likes to look out of the window at the astronaut at work, or just look at the rocks. She knows that it will be too hot for her outside during the day and freezing at night and there is air inside the space lab and none outside, and there is some sound inside but not outside, but still she wonders what it would be like. She dreams of being out there, bouncing in the dust, leaping and twirling, higher than ever before. She dreams she sees her ball in the ink black sky and dreams she is on it with its millions of shapes and forms, colours and things to wonder at.
The curious cat reveals the world as she can see it from space: beautiful, colourful, scenic and pristine. But readers will know that it needs care to remain this way. A testament to the fragility of the Earth, Riddle's work is always quirky and mischievous. We can rely on him to produce a story that has layers of meaning and intent, and is deeply satisfying.
His quirky premise that a cat can live in a space lab will quicken readers' imaginations, provoke them to dream themselves of what it would be like for a cat on the moon and initiate thoughts about what it would be like for them to be on the moon.  And within Riddle's sparse poetic lines they will pick up much information about the moon and its treasures.
With his illustrations reflecting an interest with mixed media and collage, readers again will be intrigued, looking for examples of paper cut out, collage, antique engravings and watercolour illustrations of flora and fauna. His mix of techniques adds yet another level of interest to a book which is already endlessly fascinating. Teacher tips and notes on making the book are available. Themes: Cats, Astronauts, Moon, Space travel, Companionship.
Fran Knight


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Apr 03 2020

The night of the hiding moon by Emma Allen

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Illus. by Sher Rill Ng. NLA Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9780642279583.
(Age: 7+) Highly recommended. From the wonderful cover to the last page the luminous quality of the illustrations will entrance the reader. Turning from the bright yellow of the cover the book shows us young Felix, cowering under his blankets, frightened. The pages are now in direct contrast to the image on the front cover: black and dark, menacing and scary. The moon is hiding too from the deafening giants strolling across the sky. But Felix reaches for his torch and uses the light to make a shadow puppet on the wall by his bed and decides to make one his friend, a companion who will support him when the moon is in hiding.
Together they shake off the fear that the night brings, and the puppets display the attributes so needed by Felix to defeat his fears. Together they go outside, bold against the bright light of the torch, emulating the light used behind shadow puppets in a theatre, and bring back the moon from her hiding place.
The night of the hiding moon is a charming story about finding courage in times of great desperation. Many find thunderstorms a source of fear and anxiety, but Felix overcomes this by confronting his fears, finding strength within himself.
Allen's delightful text allows Ng's strong illustrations to present Felix's quest for courage in a way that all readers will understand and enjoy. This tale uses traditional Asian puppetry as the puppets conjured up by Felix and his torch and I love the inclusion of several pages of background information on puppets used in the art of storytelling, particularly in Indonesia, along with templates for making your own shadow puppet. The puppets shown in the information section are from the National Library's collection.
A wonderful read: an exciting story, imparting information about a form of theatre we rarely see while giving children the opportunity to make their own puppets. Themes: Shadow puppets, Fear, Anxiety, Thunderstorms, Moon.
Fran Knight


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Apr 03 2020

Nelson: Pumpkin and Aliens by Andrew Levins

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Illus. by Katie Kear. Puffin Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760893347.
(Age: 6-10) Highly recommended. Can you name two ingredients that would rarely be seen together? In this book, those two ingredients are pumpkins and aliens (purple aliens!). Nelson Hunter is a Year 3 kid who despises vegetables in any form or at any meal. He has elaborate plans to avoid every vegetable that is ever served to him, even creating his very own, under-the-bed compost pile of discarded vegetables. And to add to the dilemma, his grandparents grow vegetables and are liberal in sharing them.
After a bad day when his school presentation lands him in detention for telling the 'unbelievable' story of the Aliens from Despina and his grandparents arrive and he cannot avoid the consumption of pumpkin soup, there are some unexpected consequences . . . Nelson Hunter wakes up with astonishing superpowers. The totally unbelievable visit of the aliens with the potential to wipe out the population of teachers at the school must be dealt with by Nelson, with the help of his best friend Olive and the ingestion of pumpkin!
For every child who has disliked one or all vegetables, this book will be a hit. With extremely quirky events (aliens at school), eating from the under-bed compost and the potential for more superpowers in combination with other vegetables, there will be young readers eager to read this book and the future adventures with Nelson Hunter. What does his Grandma have in mind with other vegetables and how much weirder can his life get?
Gross and delightful in combination and deliberately funny, this ticks all the boxes for young readers.
The cartoon illustrations by Katie Kear are naive and comedic, and predominantly black and white with pumpkin-coloured highlights. Themes: Vegetables; Aliens; Superpowers; Humour; Truth.
Carolyn Hull


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Apr 03 2020

Monty's Island: Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell by Emily Rodda

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Illus. by Lucinda Gifford. Allen and Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760529857. 176pp.
(Age: 6-9) Highly recommended. Emily Rodda always writes with flair and understanding of what children will like. This book is for younger readers for whom a little bit of fantasy and magical nonsense is very appealing. Monty and his miscellaneous 'lucky-dip' collection of animal and human companions live on a rather unusual island. They beach-comb for treasures, avoid the local marauding pirate - Scary Mary, practise magical tricks, laugh with (and at) each other and visit the only sign of human habitation - the Cafe, run by Marigold. An unexpected find on the beach leads to a magical and stripy transformation of all that they see, just before the arrival of Scary Mary's pirate ship with her crew of misfits. The island has some far-fetched creatures including the Argue birds, scatterworms, jinglebees and the Hairy Horrible, all of whom have a part to play in the protection of the island from the destructive talents of the Pirate crew.
This is just a light-hearted and fun adventure for young readers who have moved to independent reading. With characters introduced with a visual introduction by the illustrator with her appealing comic cartoon-like illustrations, the book launches into the not-quite-normal world of Monty's Island. Launching straight into the text of Chapter 1 without spending time getting to know the characters from the visual introduction is not wise, but it does not take long to work out the antics of each of the eccentric island inhabitants. As the magical and comedic adventure progresses, the fun continues in spades (you need a spade to dig up the treasure, don't you?!)
Definitely to be recommended for young readers who need a bit of deserted island escapism. This is book one, with more to come, so we will be able to keep recommending more from this acclaimed author. Themes: Pirates; Magic; Treasure; Fantasy; Deserted Island; Friendship.
Carolyn Hull


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Apr 03 2020

Sabotage by Shelley Johannes

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Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker book 3. Lothian Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9780734417350.
(Age: 7-10) Recommended. Beatrice Zinker, with her small group of friends, have created a wonderful, but secret, campaign to acknowledge 'special' people within their school community with a certificate of honour. The joy of these awards seems to have sparked a copycat. Beatrice is known for her creative thinking upside-down (and for her break-dancing skills) and in combination with her oldest friend Lenny and their new friend Sam, have made something worthwhile in the community, but the copycat award introduces an element of distrust in the friendship. Beatrice must sort out the sabotage and work out who has copied their awards. Unfortunately, things do not go smoothly and acting like a jellyfish, missing the bus and a trip to the Principal's office create interesting detours in her investigation.
Beatrice's eccentricity and her abilities, both right-way-up and upside-down, make her a charming main character. This is the third book in the series and there are references to the previous books and complications for the young girl. The book could be read easily without having to read the previous books in the series. Quirky illustrations interspersed through the text add comedic detail. This is another series that will engage younger female readers who love a mystery and friendship story, with a hint of humour. Themes: Friendship; Jealousy; Acts of Kindness; Break-dancing.
Carolyn Hull


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Apr 02 2020

Gulliver's wife by Lauren Chater

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Simon and Schuster, 2020. ISBN: 9781925596380.
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Highly recommended. Mary Gulliver, widow of the famous seafaring ship's surgeon, Lemuel Gulliver, has carved an existence for herself as a midwife to women in need, her hard earned income and frugality gradually paying off the debts left by her careless husband. It seems that finally she might manage to maintain her household - herself, her teenage daughter Bess, young son Johnny, and the household help Alice, an escapee from a violent home. It is the early 1700s London; women are completely dependent on men to protect and provide for them. Mary has always to be careful of her reputation, opinion could quickly turn against her, and she could find herself spurned and despised, without anyone to stand between her and the mob - apart perhaps from the steadfast Richard, cousin to her husband, and probably the man she should have married. It seems she has finally managed to work out a reasonable existence, when what should happen but that the long lost husband, presumed dead in a shipwreck, suddenly reappears drunken and dishevelled, and invades their lives.
This is a novel in the style of The other Bennett sister by Janice Hadlow, where the author has picked out a minor character from a classic novel and reimagined the story from their perspective. In this case, Mary Gulliver is a minor character, barely mentioned in Swift's story of Gulliver's travels. Chater has sought to understand what her life would have been like, abandoned for years on end while he sailed the seas, and then suddenly having to deal with a husband returned from the dead, with stories of monsters, little men and tiny sheep. If Hadlow's story of Mary Bennet highlighted the desperate need for women to ensnare a suitable husband and provider in the 19th century, Chater's story reveals the even worse situation in the 18th century where women could be raped, abused, and cast out with nowhere to go.
Centre to Chater's story is the mother-daughter relationship between Mary and Bess. Bess cherishes her memories of her father's wondrous stories and treasures from distant lands. She wants to live his life of adventure and is unappreciative and alienated from her mother's work with suffering women. Mary's desire to protect her daughter from harsh realities means that the two have become distanced from each other, and only with time does Bess come to understand the kind of bravery that Mary represents.
This novel provides a unique perspective on the hidden lives of women in literature, and in history, whilst also exploring the mother-daughter relationship in a way that is relevant to today.
Themes: Women, Mothers and daughters, Abuse, Childbirth, Midwifery.
Helen Eddy


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Apr 02 2020

Dugong magic by Deborah Kelly

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Illus. by Lisa Stewart. Hachette, 2020. ISBN: 9780734419965. 32pp.
(Age: 4+) Recommended. With the vulnerable dugong only surviving within marine parks around Australia's coast, this timely look at the animal and its habits and vulnerability should shake the sentiments of young readers to help them become more aware of how we have had an impact on the lives of these majestic animals who live as long as we do.
The first half of the story shows the birth and early development of a dugong, bonding with its mother, helped to make its first steps within the marine environment, rising to the surface, testing its strengths, finding the right food to eat and how to eat it, learning to hide when predators come along. But it is the human activity that throws them more than anything else. They must avoid the rubbish thrown into the sea, dive down when noisy fast boats skim over the water above, look out for nets that entrap until the dugong calf finds it is alone.
Children will be saddened for the baby dugong, left alone in a sea of danger, but be made well aware that it is unsafe because of our misuse of the land in which we live. The last four double pages offer solutions that will delight the readers, upset by the dugong's plight. This will engage the children in real solutions after reading the story preceding it, and all is followed by a page of information about the dugong, aimed at giving the reader the information they need to better understand the plight of the dugong, half of the world's population of which live in Australian waters. Themes: Dugongs, Pollution, Environment, Vulnerable animals, Fishing.
Fran Knight


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Apr 02 2020

Goodnight glow worms by Aura Parker

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Puffin Books, 2020. ISBN: 9780143792918. 32pp.
(Age: 3+) Recommended. What happens when glow worms must go to sleep? These glow worms, the yellow, red, green, blue and pink glow worms just cannot turn off their glow and lie awake in their beds. In rhyming pairs of lines, Parker tells the story of a group of glow worms going to bed. They lie down, but simply cannot wind down. They try counting to three to no avail, so they call in mum for a goodnight kiss. She kisses their noses, cheeks and toes and off they go to sleep. But yellow glow worm cannot find his blankie so a search is on until it is found and he can quietly go to sleep with his sisters and brothers.
A bedtime story to quieten even the most irascible of would be sleepers, the gentle coaxing rhymes will help with last minute attempts to get them to sleep. The storyline is one that will intrigue but the tale of the timeline to bedtime is
universal, ending with mum's kisses and a final hold on to a blankie. The calming, quiet words envelop the listener, helping them in their trip to snuggling down into their bed for sleep.
Along the path to sleep, Parker includes colours and numbers, subtly introducing basic information at a young age, reinforcing learning these concepts, while the rhyming phrases impel the listener to predict the rhyming word.
Parker's use of mixed media, pencil, watercolour and digital composition will delight the young as they see the humour in the illustrations, carefully watching the little glow worms as they wind down to sleep. The detail will intrigue and the endpapers particularly will engage the readers, following the maps of the glow worm caves. Themes: Glow worms, Bedtime, Humour, Verse.
Fran Knight


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Apr 02 2020

The crumbling castle by Brenda Gurr

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The fabulous cakes of Zinnia Jakes series. New Frontier Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9781925594973. 88pp.
(Age: 7-10) Zoe Jones (alias Zinnia Jakes) is a nine year old girl who lives with her Aunt Jam. Her mother, who was a famous pastry chef, has died, and her father, a renowned restaurant critic, is always travelling the world. Since a young age Zoe has had a flair for cake baking and runs a very successful secret cake making business under the eye of her Aunt. Zoe's best friend Addie is in on the secret. Addie is a great gymnast and very good at STEM activities. Zoe is emailed a special order to make a medieval cake for a woman at a medieval fair. The cake will be raffled and the money will go to a worthy cause. Her aunt and her aunt's boyfriend are also learning medieval instruments, to play at the fair. Zoe's cat Coco has special ways of communicating with her, such as paw tapping and tail flicking, and lets Zoe know that her original idea of building a castle from chocolate cake isn't authentic. Zoe does some research and finds a very interesting original recipe. Addie, being a STEM whiz, helps with the design of the castle. However, in order to deliver the cake to her client and remain a mystery, Zoe has to engage in some subterfuge. It isn't all plain sailing for Zoe with an unpleasant teacher and boy bully but in the main it is an upbeat though somewhat contrived story.
The author has included the medieval recipe Zoe uses which is quite a good ploy. This novel has short sentences and is aimed at young independent girl readers. Given the interest we have in celebrity cooking it will certainly have an audience. The main characters are all smart and resourceful, so are good role models for girls. The sparkly colourful cover is attractive. Another book is coming in the Zinnia Jakes series.
Jo Marshall


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Apr 02 2020

Bear was there by Sally Anne Garland

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New Frontier Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9781925594935.
(Age: 3+) When Mouse is born, mother looks after him, showing him how to survive in the forest, warning him of things to avoid.
She shows him the flowers, the tall grass and insects. He feels the breezes and the sun's warmth, but always she reminds him of the danger lurking. When he sees the shadow of Bear in the distance, he rushes back to their home in the nook of the tree. But eventually he grows and must go off to make his own home. He plays in the grass and suddenly Bear is there. But he seems harmless as he only looks and then pads away. Mouse thinks that maybe he is not as scary as he thought.
Winter approaches with its strong winds and icy storm.
Bear crashes through the cold winds to his shelter and Mouse follows. Bear curls up to sleep for the winter, and Mouse curls up near his head, safe and loved.
A story of overcoming your fears, of testing stories told you as a child, this charming tale of the bond between two totally different animals will appeal to younger readers.
While reminding children that there are concerning things to be aware of in their environment, it also tells them to be open to friendship that is offered.
The soft illustrations will charm younger readers, looking for the detail in the background of each page and the way Garland has drawn the bear's fur and the mouse's coat. Teacher's notes are available. Themes: Bears, Mice, Trust, Love, Friendship.
Fran Knight


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Apr 01 2020

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter

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Lothian Children's Book, 2020. ISBN: 9780734419163. 256pp.
(Ages 8-12) Highly recommended. April was left by her mother with a note saying she would be back to collect April as soon as she could, and April has been waiting patiently in foster care for 10 years. April's mother also gave her a mysterious key that April always wears around her neck.
While on excursion in a museum April notices the key matches the crest of the infamous Winterborne family. So, when April accidently sets fire to the exhibit it sets in motion a series of events that sees her living in their mansion called Winterborne House with 4 other orphans. She is desperate to know what her key unlocks and starts a quest to search the house from top to bottom. In her search she unearths the secret of the missing (and presumed dead) billionaire, Gabriel Winterborne, who was the sole survivor of a family tragedy which killed his entire family. She finds the billionaire living below the house and now she is determined to get him to help her solve the mystery of her key and reclaim his inheritance before nasty Uncle Evert makes sure he is dead and claims the fortune for himself.
This is the first book in a series, and this is made obvious as we only get sketchy details of each character in this first story. Each orphan in the book has a special talent that April uses to help her solve her mystery and bring about a positive result for the very uncooperative billionaire. The mansion is peopled with the usual trusty butler, a caring Ms Nelson who runs the Winterborne House and has a long association with the family and a shadowy super-hero who may or may not be an urban legend.
Some threads of the story were left hanging in the end. The disappearance of Ms Nelson at the end of the book is puzzling. Also, the key around April's neck was dealt with in the story and we get to know what it opens, but we are left with no idea why April wore it or why her mother had it in the first place.
It was quite a fast-paced story that moved along well most of the time and I am sure it will leave middle primary readers waiting for the next installment. Themes: Orphans and orphanages, Foster care, Missing persons, Revenge, Mysteries, Friendship.
Gabrielle Anderson


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Apr 01 2020

Teaching writing ed. by Tessa Daffern and Noela M. Mackenzie

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Allen and Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760528928.
Highly recommended. Subtitled Effective approaches for the middle years this new book would appear to be the ultimate repository of everything needed in the teaching of English, i.e. English as a language, its critical appraisal, construction and deconstruction of texts, writing in English, and the analysis of, and responses to, many different kinds of texts. Its richness lies in the work of the 16 contributors, supported by two editors, and would assist any teacher working with the English language in terms of understanding the language in its multifaceted dimensions, building curriculum that would cover all possible aspects of the English language and the examples that would assist the classroom teacher. It is a stunning new work, a text book that is a serious consideration of English as language and communication. I would highly recommend it for any English teacher of both young and older students.
Elizabeth Bondar


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Apr 01 2020

Elephants with headlights by Bem Le Hunte

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Transit Lounge, 2020. ISBN: 9781925760484. 304pp.
(Age: Adult) Highly recommended. When blonde Australian girl Mae meets handsome Indian boy Neel on a beach in India, it is instant romance, leading to a shared life together in Australia, only returning to India for their special Indian wedding. But as Mae steps foot in the family home, there is the inevitable clash of cultures. For this reader, having once had an Indian mother-in-law, the explosive scenes are all too familiar, and very funny. From what she wears, to where she goes, to what she says, everything Mae does is wrong, and Neel is caught in the middle of the battle of wills between his mother and his future wife.
At the same time, another conflict brews between mother Tota and daughter Savitri - for Savitri refuses to consider marriage proposals from any of the suitors suggested for her. Finding a husband for her is not a simple matter as she was born under a cursed sign. But Savitri will have none of it and is intent on making her own life.
India is revealed in all its complexities and chaos - from the headlights for elephants in the traffic, to the contemplation of driverless cars. And of course there is a mystical element, no book about India could be without it - from the mathematical astrologer to the 200 hundred year old guru who looks in his fifties. The curses, the traditions, and the astrological charts all have their place, and somehow infuse the modern world - and eventually people do find love, fulfilment and understanding.
One of the nice things about this story, is the respect for the grandmother or female elder in each family, Dadi in the Indian family, and Dolly in the Australian family. Each of them is the wise woman and peacemaker, the heart of the family. Mae and Savitri, whilst very modern independent young women, each learn from their beloved elder.
There is lots to like about this story. The characters are realistic and familiar, the conflict of generations and cultures is told with a subtle humour, and the mystical entwines with the modern in a willing suspension of disbelief, leading to a heart-warming and satisfying conclusion. Themes: India, Feminism, Destiny, Conflict, Modern vs Traditional.
Helen Eddy


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Apr 01 2020

The artist by Alison Binks

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Berbay Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9780648397380. 32pp.
(Age: 4+) Recommended. The young boy likes to get up before breakfast while the world is still sleeping. Then he can mix his paints and paint what he sees, the darkness and light, shadows and edges. But this morning it doesn't turn out to his liking, so he puts it aside, calls Young Dog and walks off down the beach, shedding his displeasure. They return to the boat and Young Dog curls up asleep as if knowing the rain is about to come in. When it does the boy can get down to inside painting, copying the bird pictures from his bird book. Sometime Grandma comes to visit and he plays for her on his little electric organ and later goes into town where he takes piano lessons. But he is only thinking of being on the water, painting. He hurries back home and sails to a nearby cove where he squeezes out the paint from its tube and paints a small bird on the beach. He sleeps in his sleeping bag and when he wakes he looks at the picture he drew the day before, and knows today is a new day to paint.
This is a warm and evocative tale of the need to paint, the desire to get what you see down onto paper, of the internal push to capture that moment. With dreamy watercolour images, the story Binks has produced reflects the lives of many
artists, often withdrawing from the world and its distractions, finding a place and a time to be themselves, to work unhindered. In this way Binks celebrates the child who is free of restrictions, who is able to go off at will, taking his paints and paper with him, looking at the natural world around him to find inspiration and love.
Young readers will dream along with the boy of a time when this is possible, of taking off by themselves to muse and create, wonder and adore the environment in which we live. Themes: Art and artists, Sea, Feelings.
Fran Knight


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Apr 01 2020

Mars by Shauna Edson and Giles Sparrow

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Illus. by Mark Ruffle. Dorling Kindersley, 2020. ISBN: 9780241409589. 80pp.
(Age: 9+) Recommended for Science-interested readers. Mars is always interesting. As our closet planetary neighbour, it is worth knowing a little more. This book covers all the important detail about the planet and human exploration of this part of our Solar System. With a section about what we now know as the result of relatively recent visits to Mars, and also detail about what visiting Mars might be like in the future, this is a comprehensive look at the Red Planet.
Because this is a Dorling Kindersley book, it can be relied on for presenting the information in language for young readers that is easily comprehensible. The illustrations include photographs and modern graphic representations in clear formatting that is visually appealing. STEM and astronomy interested young readers will enjoy this journey beyond our own planet. Themes: Mars; Space travel; Astronomy.
Carolyn Hull


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Mar 31 2020

Jump! by Andrew Plant

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Ford St Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9781925804461.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. When little Quig is born into that great city with its overhanging cables and towers of steel, he watches as his siblings jump and dart, leaping off the towers, fanning out their wings to glide downwards, using their tails to hang from, steering with their powerful fins. But little Quig hides from the challenge: his tail is short and stumpy, his fins thinner than the others, and he is frightened by the towers. He climbs up ready to jump but being called Stumpy by the others does nothing to improve his confidence, so he climbs back down again. But one day spurred on by their derision, he takes the plunge and jumps from the highest beam of the Cloud Towers.
A wonderful story about achieving one's destiny, about overcoming obstacles, about proving the bullies wrong, Plant's tale will be a starting point for many discussions at school and at home about bullying and how it impedes the victim.
Plant has created a little animal that children will relate to: he is smaller than the others, less well developed, with fewer abilities. His little face peers out at the reader, his large eyes reflecting the fear he feels. Children will instantly recognise the emotions the little animal is feeling and sympathise with him, willing him to do well.
The wonderful illustrations remind readers of a dystopian world, a world of cables and steel towers, of overhanging beams and rivets, peopled by an array of animals that will cause children to laugh out loud and look more closely at the attributes of these creatures. I love the intricacy of the beams and cables, their intertwining leading to goodness knows where, the creatures with a strange collection of eyes and legs, the bright sunburst looking more like molten steel at a steelworks, than the sun we see every day. The harsh yellow makes an outstanding background for the story of a little creature finding his wings. Teacher's notes are available. Themes: Risk taking, Overcoming fear, Disability.
Fran Knight


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Mar 31 2020

The gravity of us by Phil Stamper

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Bloomsbury, 2020. ISBN: 9781526619945.
Seventeen year old Cal is certain of his path in life, he wants to be a journalist and makes regular online video journals from his Brooklyn home via the 'FlashFame' app. He has gained a substantial following after reporting on elections and has been offered an internship at BuzzFeed News. Home life is often disrupted by his parent's tense relationship and his mother's anxiety so he is shocked when his pilot father announces he has won a place on Orpheus Project, training astronauts for a mission to Mars. The family is required to immediately relocate to Clear Lake Texas and live in a retro styled estate nostalgically modelled on the early Sixties astronaut village. As soon as they arrive they are filmed for the reality show 'Shooting Stars', conceived of to raise awareness about the Orpheus program with the American public to ensure continued funding for the project. Cal retrieves something from the disruption by continuing to post video updates for his half a million followers, interviewing scientists and providing an insight into the background workings of the project rather than seeking out the sensational personal conflicts of the reality show footage. Another plus is that he falls headlong in love with Leon, the son of one of the other astronauts. When a tragedy occurs in the Orpheus project, the 'Shooting Stars' producers try to capitalise on the ensuing grief and suffering, prompting Cal to expose them, highlighting the show's intrusion into their lives.
Working through all the various challenges thrust upon him Cal learns about himself and others, he acknowledges his obsessiveness and need to "fix" things. He learns respect for difference in his relationship with Leon and to try not to depend on others to be happy or sad. He also develops respect for his parents, acknowledging their special skills and abilities. In his personal journey Cal realises his strength in communicating real information honestly to his followers and his continuing success suggests that it is a need felt strongly in today's world.
The first person narration feels authentic as do the social media references. The relationship between the two boys is sensitively portrayed and the brave and intelligent way Cal faces multiple challenges will appeal to senior secondary students. Themes: Mental health, Space, Love, Social media.
Sue Speck


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Mar 31 2020

Pearl the helpful unicorn by Sally Odgers and Adele K Thomas

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Scholastic, 2020. ISBN: 9781760669287. 121pp.
(Age: 5-8) Pearl the unicorn and her friends Olive the ogre and Tweet the bird have several misadventures in this short illustrated novel. Firstly they try to problem solve together and retrieve a kite from a cliff. Next they try to save a dragon from a bog and prevent themselves from being eaten by gobble-uns. Pearl's efforts to use her magic in tricky situations don't always work and they create humorous mistakes. They are good loyal friends who use their special abilities and cooperate.
This book is unashamedly aiming for a young audience of mainly girls who are currently besotted with unicorns and the colour pink. The digitally created illustrations dominate the page and are in black, white and pink. Some pages only have a few sentences and the large font also has random pink words. Chapters make the book very appealing to emerging independent readers. Also short sentences and the simple repetitious text make this very accessible for them. There will be further Pearl books in the series, which means children will be keen to read them.
Jo Marshall


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Mar 31 2020

Peter Rabbit 2 movie novelisation

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Penguin, 2020. ISBN: 9780241415290. 152pp.
(Age: 8-12) Peter Rabbit 2 is a novelisation of the film Peter Rabbit 2. The adventure is set in contemporary countryside England and is loosely based on the famous Beatrix Potter characters. The animals cannot talk to humans but all understand them and the story is mainly from their point of view. Peter Rabbit has been sidelined from author/illustrator Bea's life when she marries Thomas McGregor. Thomas clashes with Peter, who he finds mischievous and annoying. Peter is unable to convince Thomas that he is well intentioned. When Peter meets a roguish friend of his late deceased father, he leaves home for a life of naughtiness. Peter involves his friends and family in a crazy operation to steal food from the town's market and unwittingly puts his animal friends in peril. At the same time Bea is being encouraged by her publisher to make her stories about the animals more saleable, with scenarios involving hoodies, surfing and space travel. She is enticed by the wealth and glamour that big sales may bring but Thomas disagrees with her new direction.
The film is packed full of slap stick, non-stop action and some quite adult jokes, as many children's films are. This doesn't always transfer well into the written word and I wonder if children will be engaged in the story if they haven't seen the film. This perfunctory retelling has occasions where the author has forgotten the child audience. Will they understand phrases like "conflate reality"? Readers who are faithful to the original stories may be horrified by the liberties taken with those dear little animals of Beatrix Potter's books. Ironically the film/book's message regarding the need to be faithful to the author's authentic representation of animals and not sell out to commercialism, is what the film is in fact doing. Film merchandise makes a lot of money and this book is one of many products created for the film's release.
Jo Marshall


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Mar 30 2020

Amnesty by Aravind Adiga

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Picador, 2020. ISBN: 9781509879045.
(Age: Senior secondary - Adult) Highly recommended. Forever on edge, scared of being caught, Danny is an illegal immigrant living in Sydney. Not a boat person seeking refuge, the usual stereotype Australians associate with the term 'illegal immigrant', Danny is one of the others - coming from Sri Lanka by plane, on a student visa, then realising his course was a "ripoff", he dropped out, and disappeared. So now he is illegal, a man without rights. He lives in the storeroom above a shop, paying Tommo, the exploitative shop owner, half the money he makes cleaning apartments as the Legendary Cleaner, carrying his vacuum cleaner on his back.
We gradually learn there is a reason Danny fled Sri Lanka - it is to do with the lump on his arm and the memory of an interrogating police officer holding a cigarette. The fear of being sent back keeps him always wary, intent on mastering Australianness, golden streaks in his hair, and Aussie slang on his lips. But things start to go horribly wrong when there is a murder in one of the apartments he cleans and he is the only one with any idea of who the murderer could be.
Thus he faces a dilemma: should he contact the police and tell them what he knows about the secret affair between the murdered woman and the 'Doctor'? But then the police will work out that he is illegal, and he will get deported, back to the danger that he never wants to face again.
The events of the book all take place within one day; the clock ticks as Danny and the murderer draw closer together and Danny vacillates between making the call or making a run for it.
With little descriptions of people and places, the white people watching him, the knowing looks that pass between the legal brown person and the illegal one, the nervous twitch that the cleaner finds hard to control, the dreams and memories that come into his mind, and his constant state of tension are all masterfully and vividly created by the author Adiga. It is a tension that carries the reader from one moment to the next, and in the process a whole other world is revealed to us, the underworld of the person with no identity card, no passport, no rights.
The title Amnesty comes from the knowledge Danny has that there was once a politician, Malcolm Fraser, who, on Australia Day 1976, offered amnesty to prohibited immigrants who had overstayed their visa. Maybe there is a chance that he might be offered amnesty in exchange for dobbing in a killer? What do you think?
Helen Eddy


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Mar 30 2020

Wildfire Rescue by Candice Lemon-Scott

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Eco Rangers book 3. New Frontier, 2020. ISBN: 9781925594904.
(Age: 7+ years) Highly recommended. Eco Rangers Wildfire Rescue by Candice Lemon-Scott is the third book in the well written Eco Rangers series. Given the 2019-2020 summer Australia endured with fires in every state, the book is very topical re the dangers faced by Australian wildlife to survive the peril of bushfires. For younger readers this is an insight into the threats faced by wildlife with burn injuries, breathing in too much smoke, losing their habitat and being unable to find food.
The Eco Rangers, Ebony and Jay, are best friends and neighbours who are helping out local vets Dr Tan and Dr Bat with finding injured animals that need immediate care. While searching for injured wildlife they discover a possum covered in ash and with burnt feet. As they prepare to take the possum back to the clinic they stumble upon signs that there are campers in an area that is not open for camping. After settling Mira the now-named possum with the vets, the two Eco Rangers are keen to discover who is camping in the burnt bush and why. While collecting foliage to feed Mira they stumble upon a rock cave where two young campers are hiding out. Eventually the four meet up and face more danger when they themselves are threatened by a wildfire near the campgrounds.
This book is an exciting and very readable story that will entertain young readers as well as older more reluctant readers. In the story there are all the elements that appeal to children: independence, nature, animals, danger and mysteries to be solved as well as parents who support and encourage the Eco Rangers in their environmental pursuits. Themes: Themes: Conservation, Friendship, Environment, Wildfires, Mystery, Australian wildlife, Adventure.
Kathryn Beilby


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Mar 30 2020

TC and the Curse of the Exploding Doll by Dave Hartley

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Illus. by Peter Baldwin. Omnibus Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781742991887.
(Age: 7+ years) Recommended. TC and the Curse of the Exploding Doll by Dave Hartley is the second novel featuring TC and his best mate Lockie. The boys live in Warner Creek, a small country town in Australia, and spend their days either accidentally creating mischief or trying remedy the mischief they have made. Added to this mix is a gang led by a Year 6 boy Mason who constantly bully TC and Lockie and make their life difficult. After the first three pages of TC and the Curse of the Exploding Doll, the reader knows the setting, the characters and the plot and is in for an action-packed adventure featuring a Chloe Doll, an angry sister, a forbidden waterhole and a mysterious bunyip. When the local paper reports on the possible sighting of a bunyip at the waterhole, TC asks Nan and Pa about the sighting. They are genuinely afraid of the bunyip and order TC to stay away from the waterhole.
The author gives a detailed explanation of bunyips to his readers and Pa tells TC "they are part of our land and should be left alone in peace." Of course Nan and Pa do not realize that TC and Lockie have already lost a doll in the waterhole after completing a science experiment and there are severe and embarrassing consequences for Lockie if the doll is not replaced by the end of the week. The boys begin collecting tyres to earn a significant amount of money to buy a new doll and stumble upon a secret that Mason and his gang are putting together. Needless to say TC with the best of intentions falls prey to a dangerous situation and is rescued by Pa and Uncle Albert.
The illustrations by Peter Baldwin complement the text perfectly.
This is a humorous and enjoyable read that boys in particular will relate to. Themes: Boys, Friendship, Bunyips, Aboriginal Culture, Danger, Bullies, Humour.
Kathryn Beilby


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Mar 30 2020

Death in a desert land by Andrew Wilson

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Simon and Schuster, 2019. ISBN: 9781471173486. 385pp.
(Age: secondary/adult) Recommended. 'Death in a Desert land is not authorised by Agatha Christie Ltd' is written under the author's name on the title page, leaving readers in no doubt about what to expect when the pages of this book are opened. And Christie fans will not be disappointed; all the tropes are presented here: a small group of people in a strange but close situation, clues hidden in plain sight, chance remarks holding clues, an exotic location, several people with hidden pasts and so on, crowding into these 385 pages. At times I thought 'oh no not another one', but I read to the end, hooked by the story, its sweep of odd and unlikely characters and the background at a dig at Ur.
Agatha Christie has been sent by her friend, Davison at the Foreign Office to sniff out some of the background of the people at the dig, a rag bag mix of archaeologists, a rich American patron with his wife and daughter, helpers, a priest, a secretary, a photographer and now Agatha. The death of archaeologist, Gertrude Bell two years ago was deemed to be suicide but new evidence has the powers that be involved and Agatha has joined the party. But of course her investigations into the background of some of the odd group see her having a small passion for the photographer only to find that he like the others is hiding a secret. But another murder has occurred, and when Davison joins the dig to investigate, things hot up.
A mixing bowl of everything Christie, the woman is exposed as vulnerable to the charms of the young man after the blow of her husband's desertion and divorce. Hints are given about her early life, the infamous weekend that she disappeared, the state of her married life and her writing career. So for those who love a good whodunnit, crowded with red herrings, throwaway sentences that bristle with meaning, a living desert and a dig as a setting, then this is a wonderfully engrossing read when told to stay indoors.
And like any good crime novel, is one of a series, the first two emblazoned on the back cover, with a taste of number 4, I saw him die, given at the conclusion of Death in a desert land. Themes: Crime, Agatha Christie, Archaeology, Ur, Murder.
Fran Knight


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Mar 30 2020

Extraordinary by Penny Harrison

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Illus. by Kate Wilson. New Frontier Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9781925594911. 32pp.
(Age: 3+) Many books extol the virtue of being extraordinary, of reaching for the stars, of fulfilling your potential, but what if we take stock of this and look for the extraordinary in the everyday, look at the stars for sure, but do not forget what is around us and under our feet. This book reveals that the ordinary is just as extraordinary, the time we share with friends and family, the walks we take in the woods, the time out camping with the family, snuggling into a comfy chair by the fire to read a book. All the things suggested do not blaze and boom, trumpet and bloom, but celebrate the quiet moments of life, the everyday, the ordinary. By stopping and taking account of things around us we can feel the breeze on our cheeks, see the flutter of a bird's wing, see the flowers bloom, watch the moon through the night, watch out for the moment, the magic in the everyday.
The best moments in life are those we share with friends and family. They may be ordinary, simple, unremarkable but they are moments we will remember and share.
Readers will scan the cute and luminous water colour pages by New Zealand illustrator, Katie Wilson, peering at the detail included on each page, checking off the things they do with their families and friends, recognising their simplicity but also the part these moments play in our lives, bringing us together. Teacher's notes are available. Themes: Friendship, Family.
Fran Knight


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Mar 27 2020

Heart and soul by Carol Ann Martin

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Illus. by Tull Suwannakit, Scholastic 2020. ISBN: 9781742999920. 32pp.
(Age: 3+) Highly recommended. This disarming tale of the relationship between a dog and his owner will thrill all readers as they follow the warmth of the bond between the old man and his rescue dog, to separation then reconnection.
When Charlie plays his trumpet, the dog, Louis, sings alongside him, the two engrossed in the heart and soul of the music and their friendship. But one day the old man becomes ill and is taken away in an ambulance. The dog is left, and wanders the streets, finding scraps to stay alive. One day he hears a familiar sound and finds a  trumpeter playing on the streets. He begins to sing along with the busker, and people stop and put money in the busker's hat which they have not done before. The man is thrilled with the double act and takes Louis home with him to his share accommodation. Together they play in the town and their notoriety comes to the attention of the matron at the nursing home. She asks them to play on Christmas Eve, and in the home, Louis finds a surprise.
Martin's lovely story will connect with children on many levels - an animal story will always melt their hearts: the dog once abandoned at a rescue home finds a home only to lose it, the relationship between the old man and the dog engenders warmth and understanding, the reunification at the end a cause for celebration.
Suwannakit's delightful illustrations ground the story, showing a wonderful old man and his dog, keeping their hearts and souls together with music. Watercolour, pen and ink present a soft edged series of illustrations, never sentimental but full of feeling that readers will love. The tender relationship between the dog and Charlie is stunningly portrayed, readers will be able to feel the dog's head on their shoulders and share in their joy at reuniting. Themes: Dogs, Rescue homes, Nursing homes, Old age, Music.
Fran Knight


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Mar 27 2020

The golden cage by Anna Castagnoli

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Illus. by Carll Cneut. Book Island, 2020. ISBN: 9781911496144. 56pp.
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. European fairy tale, The golden cage, is a captivatingly dark story of a selfish princess, spoiled and indulged, illustrated in the most amazing of painterly drawings, full of detail to entrance the eye. Valentina has a sumptuous garden which she fills with cages displaying unique and exotic birds. To fill her cages she sends her long suffering servants across the known world to bring back something absolutely peerless for her cages. A servant failing in his duty has his head chopped off, so it is paramount that they search high and low. Sometimes they are able to fudge the edges, so when she wants a coral beaked bird, they find her one that has a red beak, but in the main when she dreams up another unknown bird they must try and find it for her. But now she wants a talking bird, to put in her golden cage, not a parrot that recites but a bird that will converse with her. One month she cuts the heads off 100 servants when they fail her. She is the blood princess.
She finds she is running out of servants and getting new ones is proving to be costly. She begins to sell her hundreds of pairs of shoes and multi crocodile belts and even some of the rare birds. A servant comes to her suggesting that he will find a talking bird for her but she must be patient and he makes her give him several promises.
The end of this unusual tale of obsession comes quickly as the princess waits, bereft of her possessions, in a garden devoid of the grandeur it once had. The end piece tells the reader that there may be several different endings, impelling the reader to perhaps suggest one for themselves.
This wonderful large format picture book would be a delight to share and discuss with classes, evoking the horror of some nineteenth century tales.
The painterly illustrations are intense, taking up the large pages, full of interest and variety, the eye often drawn to the princess, so obsessed with her idea of perfection, living in a cage of her own making. Many parallels could be drawn by readers about obsession or the accumulation of material  possessions or how power is misused.
Book Island's mission is to make stunning world class picture books available to English-speaking readers.
This internationally-acclaimed example of European literature has won numerous prestigious awards, including the Flemish Culture Prize and White Ravens Award, and was also nominated for the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis. It deserves a place in every library to be read and reread, discussed, pondered and pored over. Themes; Fairy tale, Birds, Obsession, Selfishness.
Fran Knight


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Mar 27 2020

Freefall by Jacqueline Harvey

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Kensy and Max book 5. Puffin Books, 2020. ISBN: 9780143796985.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Kensy (Kensington) and Max (Maxim) Grey are the grandchildren of the rather magnificent and wealthy Cordelia Spencer, a woman of amazing talents. Recently Kensy and Max have discovered that Cordelia is more than a media mogul, and in fact she powerfully leads a significant espionage group that Kensy and Max have joined, utilising their well refined talents for subterfuge and problem-solving. In this story they also have Curtis as a companion and potential recruit for the Spy Group, Pharos. The three children join Cordelia travelling across the world from the Spencer mansion, Alexandria, to Cordelia's New York substantial residence complete with secret rooms and incredible technology and engineering. There are secrets at every turn, and the children are struggling to work out who can be trusted, particularly as they were recent targets of an evil plot and their lives continue to be at risk as they find themselves in the midst of a continuing chase for an evil contact who is connected to their families. In the midst of all this drama, Curtis seems to possess talents that make him a useful asset.
This is an action adventure with risks and fast-paced twists and turns with amazing young protagonists as the heroic stars of the spy-based narrative.
Jacqueline Harvey has created an amazing and compelling story, and with a significant dossier at the beginning giving all background detail needed for new readers, this can be enjoyed by readers returning to the series and those who discover Book 5 as their first adventure into the series. This is the kind of book that will be loved by young readers who love action adventure.
Girls who have loved Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose may try and keep this series from their male classmates and friends, but it is definitely a series that boys will appreciate and love too. Themes: Spies; Adventure; Trust.
Carolyn Hull


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Mar 27 2020

Ben Braver and the Vortex of Doom by Marcus Emerson

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The Super Life of Ben Braver book 3. Allen and Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760631703. 320pp.
(Ages 7-10). Recommended. A funny, fast-paced adventure that will appeal to many middle Primary readers especially those who have read Emerson's other series, Diary of a 6th grade ninja. This is the third book in a series which started with The super life of Ben Braver and then Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding kid. The book begins with a brief explanation of who Ben Braver is and how he came to be at a school for children, who all have superpowers, when he is just an ordinary kid and it all has to do with time-travel. The story revolves around an attack of the school by some ex-students who believe they have been abandoned and ignored by the school after they graduate. They are determined to kidnap and kill the Founder of the school, Donald Kepler, and they will destroy the world to try to do it.
After the introductory chapter the story becomes quite complicated as the characters go back and forth through time to the 'Outside' and to different times in their lives to work out ways to save Kepler and the world. Ben teams up with a misunderstood alien and although he finally has superpowers Ben's encounter with a very kind Super-hero on the streets teaches him that having superpowers is not as straight forward as he first thought. His relationship with the other characters is tested and he begins to appreciate how important teamwork is when solving problems.
There were elements of the story where reading the other books would have helped in understanding all that was going on, so I would recommend reading these books in sequence. The illustrations and small cartoons scattered through the story were very well done and enhanced my understanding of the plot very well. Themes: Time-travel, Courage, Heroes, Villains, Boarding schools.
Gabrielle Anderson


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Mar 26 2020

The ruin by Dervla McTiernan

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Cormac Reilly book 1. Harper Collins, 2018. ISBN: 9781460754214.
(Age: Adult - Senior secondary) Highly recommended. After reading the review of The scholar (2019) I decided to start with the first book in the series and I was not disappointed. Right from the beginning when a very young Cormac Reilly finds the body of Hilaria Blake in her decaying mansion and takes her children, 15 year old Maude and 5 year old Jack to the hospital, the reader is plunged into a story of suspense and murder. Twenty years later the body of Jack turns up in a river, an apparent suicide but Aisling Conroy, his partner is convinced that he did not die by his own hand. Then Jack's sister Maude shows up determined to prove that there was foul play.
There are many twists and turns and a couple of sub-plots to keep the reader guessing. The politics of the police station are explored as Cormac is given the cold case of Hilaria Blake's drug overdose to investigate, rather than the death of Jack while both seem to be connected. Shunned by the members of the force, he has to plough his way through poorly filed evidence, not knowing whom he can trust.
The plight of children left to suffer abuse at the hands of people who should care for them is another major theme that threads throughout the story. Aisling's conflict between her difficult job as an emergency surgeon and her pregnancy also adds depth to the story.
All the characters were deftly drawn. Cormac is determined, the policewoman assigned to domestic violence and missing children cases conscientious, and Fisher, the young policeman who is Cormac's offsider is an intelligent and enthusiastic side-kick. Aisling's job is high pressured and well described while Maude's decision to leave Jack when he was five tugs at the heart strings.
This series is one that will be welcome by lovers of mysteries - well structured, tense and crowded with great characters. People who enjoyed The lost man by Jane Harper are sure to like the ruin.
Pat Pledger


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Mar 26 2020

Wild, fearless chests by Mandy Beaumont

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Hachette, 2020. ISBN: 9780733643033. 224pp.
(Age: Adult - Older adolescent) Mandy Beaumont has created a most powerful and disturbing collection of stories about women. The treatment, in both sexual and physical abuse, the repression, hurt, and nastiness inflicted on women is vividly described. Often horrendous in its impact on the characters, and literally creating a response that is challenging, it would be impossible to read this collection and to go on with everyday life without wanting to change a society that is seriously almost beyond bearing.
Stories of abuse can evoke memories for so many women, whether it be physical, verbal, sexual or a combination of abuses. In these stories there is no choice for a reader to disregard what is happening, with the suggestion of such powerful evidence. The writer's intention is clearly that we must hear and understand what is happening to women, so often, in this world in which we live.
This is a small but monumental book with a distinct and very powerful call to action by both women and men, to no longer hide what is happening today, and what has happened to so many women in the past. It is clear that we are called to support Mandy Beaumont's call to action, to speak out loud, to bring this issue to the world, to no longer hide it or to be given a panacea of family care and medication that recognises only the issue or the offence but does little to re-create a life that has so often been violated in the extreme.
Not suitable for young readers, I would suggest, because of the awful, and very disturbing emotional nature of some of the offences and the terrible repercussions on the women. This is certainly a suggested read for adults and older adolescents, both male and female. Beaumont makes it clear that what has gone on for centuries, extraordinarily still continues to happen in this supposedly informed, caring modern world. She is making it clear that the issue of abuse of women is so vital, it should be spoken of, loudly and truthfully, if we are to care lovingly and decently for the young women growing up in our society.
Elizabeth Bondar


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Mar 20 2020

Australians all love Easter eggs by Colin Buchanan

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Illus. by Sarah Hardy. Scholastic Australia, 2020. ISBN: 9781743834794. 24pp.
(Age: 2-6) Recommended. Australians all love Easter eggs is a cute rhyming story written by Colin Buchanan and illustrated by Sarah Hardy. It tells of poor Bunyip Creek, a town too far for the Easter Bunny to visit. The animals of this town decide enough is enough and that they are going to work together and help get the chocolate eggs delivered in time for Easter Sunday. They do everything they can and get the bunny there on time, so the animals can wake up to the delicious delivery for the first time.
I liked this charming little story, which has 'Aussie mate-ship' as an undertone just with animals instead of people! The rhyme was easy to read and flowed nicely, the text is positioned mainly on a white background, and the characters are drawn with emotions on their faces.
The illustrations really make this story, with pencil drawings of cockatoos carrying the Easter Bunny over the lake, crocodiles carrying baskets of eggs on their backs, koalas bush walking with backpacks full and my favourite - the echidna, lizard and possum filling the baskets!
I think this would be a great story to add in to an Easter book collection, or as a gift to a younger child (2-6 years). I give it 4 out of 5, and look forward to reading this to Miss 5 at Easter time.
Lauren Fountain


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Mar 19 2020

Bluey: Easter fun! A craft book by Bluey

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Penguin Random House, 2020. ISBN: 9781760896898. 24pp.
(Age: 3+) Recommended. There are lots of activities in this craft book that will keep young children (and their older siblings) engaged over the Easter holidays. Fans of the Bluey TV series will love this book and will want to try many of the activities in it. It has a useful section on how to use the book and a list of things that the user will need as a holiday craft kit, in the introduction. A hint on checking the back of the pages before cutting out is also useful as is the warning to slow down and relax.
The activities are well thought out and there is a wide variety to suit the interests of different children. The Easter treasure hunt sends kids out outside to explore and then bring the items inside, and could be used at any time. Cut-outs include a Bob Bilby mask and a sturdy Easter basket with Bluey peering over the top. There are some pages to be coloured in, a join-the-dots page and a Hide-and-Seek page where the reader has to find ten Easter eggs. There is even a recipe for Shadowlands cupcakes, which is written in clear instructions for both the ingredients and directions. Some children may want to create their own Easter garden and many will love Bandit's Easter jokes and the opportunity to draw their own pictures.
This book will be a boon for parents during the Easter holidays and would also provide ideas for teachers of young children.
Pat Pledger


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