Reviews

Terry Denton's bumper book of holiday stuff to do! by Terry Denton

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For those children who love Terry Denton’s sense of fun and humour this re-released Bumper book of holiday stuff to do will provide hours of enjoyment and entertainment. From the start of the book to the end there are so many creative activities for young readers to take part in as well as being able to follow the antics and conversations of bird and horse who travel through and appear on each page of the book. The book begins with the end of year school concert where the class teacher naturally is drawn as the big bad wolf and travels through the Christmas holidays to the new school year where the young artist can design their own sensible school uniform. Beginning the school holidays the reader can create their own holiday to-do list as well as their own holiday to-don’t list. They can decorate the Christmas tree as well as decorate the parents. One very clever activity is several pages designed to explain step-by-step perspective drawings. There are mazes and tick box tasks to complete as well as many drawing ideas to build upon.

A great gift idea for the child who loves to draw and be creative.

Themes Holiday Fun, Puzzles, Drawing, Creativity.

Kathryn Beilby

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Tala the Bengal tiger by Beverley Jatwahi and Sunita Chawdhary

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This is the second in a planned seven title series named Together we can change the world. Each book will feature an endangered animal on each of the seven continents and focus on a different emotional superpower (love, courage, compassion, respect, kindness, integrity and gratitude). 

Tala the Bengal Tiger is set in India (or Bangladesh) and looks at the delicate relationship between humans and Bengal tigers. Veera (meaning courageous) is nine-years old and she loves hearing the story of the tiger that appeared suddenly the moment she was born. "It almost looked like it was there to protect you. I took that as a sign and named you Veera" says her mother. Although Veera and the rest of the villagers fear tigers, the book shows that they have also managed for many generations to live peacefully alongside them. Veera feels a strong need to protect them, especially the tiger that her mother saw on the day she was born. She calls him Tala. The story gives us a little glimpse into village life in this part of the world and some of the factors that are contributing to the endangerment of the Bengal tiger. When Veera is left alone in the jungle she comes face to face with Tala who saves her from a crocodile in the river. "Courage does not always roar. Sometimes is sounds like a gentle voice inside reminding you to face your fears". There is a page of facts about Bengal tigers in the back of the book. The story manages to touch quite a few major themes in an accessible and culturally respectful way.

Themes Endangered Animals, Bengal Tigers, Courage.

Nicole Nelson

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Bella the brave by Rebel Wilson. Illus. by Annabel Tempest

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Bella has a sister Stella who is super confident, but Bella is the opposite. She is too shy to go to parties, too shy to raise her hand in class and too shy to play or talk with other children. 'Bella would watch from the shadows, desperate to take part, But all she could hear was her racing heart'. Many children and adults will identify with this feeling: willing your body or your voice to join in but being frozen with fear. Bella's mum can see this sadness in Bella and decides to try something different. She takes her off to the local girls' choir to help her find her voice and gain self-confidence. At first Bella is wary and reluctant but 'sometimes mums know things and you don't know how' and she gently helps Bella conquer and face her deepest fears. 'Bella, be brave. Time to make a choice. Bella, be bold. Time to find your voice', says a whisper in her head. 

The ending of the story is beautiful in that normalises anxious feelings and butterflies and emphasises that, while these feelings are okay, sometimes we can push through them and feel very proud of ourselves afterwards. This is a wonderfully empowering message that will resonate with plenty of young children and their adults, who might be facing these same 'too shy to try' challenges with their own children. Parents should be wary though, as not all children would respond well to being 'pushed' in this way. The rhyming text is slightly clunky at times but generally reads aloud fairly well. Bold, vibrant, stylish illustrations filled with beautifully patterned butterflies complement the bouncy rhyme.

Themes Bravery, Confidence, Rhyming Story.

Nicole Nelson

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The midnight girls by Alicia Jasinska

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'The first time the witch asked Marynka to bring her a heart, she was twelve years old.' As the servant 'Midday' to the Red witch, Marynka must do as commanded, competing against 'Midnight', servant to the Black witch. Retrieving, among other things, the hearts of princes for their mistresses to consume, their rivalry grows despite never meeting. Marynka has the companionship of Beata, 'Morning', the servant to the White witch. Until the day they are all sent to retrieve the same heart - a pure heart, the prince of Lechija's heart. Through their mission, the rivals meet, and each has their own reasons for wanting to succeed over the other. Attraction grows though, while their rivalry escalates. As their ambition turns into a magical contest, their attempts on the prince's life draw the attention of the city. With so much at stake, their rivalry could cost them everything.

Set to the tune of a unique dark Polish folktale, this fantasy novel is fast paced, an easy page turner. Told from the perspective's of the two servants, both who are strong female main characters, the story moves smoothly and quickly. With an undercurrent of a female-female romance, filled with friendships and fraught relationships, this is a great read. The banter between the main characters is enjoyable, while the developing relationships feel natural. Essentially a villain versus villain romance, where readers are rooting for the pair to find a way to overcome their circumstances. With a touch of horror throughout the novel with the use of dark magic, The Midnight Girls is a true dark fantasy. 

Themes Fantasy, Magic, Monsters, Enemies, War, LGBTQIA+, Power, Feminism, Romance.

Melanie Phillips

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Killer content by Kiley Roache

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The world of young US social media megastars and influencers, utilising Tik-tok and Instagram to create a name, image and wealth is the setting for this youth-centric drama. Step aside Kardashians! The six teenagers who are at the centre of the drama are all highly successful as creators of content for Tik-tok and other media platforms. Their huge number of followers makes them valuable marketing tools used by organisations willing to pay big dollars for product placement in their online videos. In this vacuous world of wealth, image and partying there is competition to be the most watched. Amongst the six teens (four girls and two guys) who are part of an influencer cooperative-collection living together in a spectacular mansion, there is also romance and rivalry. When their persistent and prolific posting is disrupted by a murder, they are all under suspicion.

The prologue to this story immediately tells us that one of the teens is arrested, but the rest of the story reveals the perspectives of all the characters before and after the murder. Slowly suspects are revealed, and pieces of evidence disclosed, but always the mystery and tension are being tightened before the big reveal. The police in the story do not live in the Insta-world and their inability to understand the language and behaviour of influencer culture comes across as amusing. There is a subtle critique of some of the Tik-tok and social media culture, but it is also implied that it is a powerful youth force. This story feels like it could be inspiration for a TV teen drama and will be enjoyed in the YA world because the social media world is their second home. It is a compelling story and will be enjoyed by readers aged 15+.

Themes Murder mystery, Social media, Influencers, Wealth, Image, LGBTIQ.

Carolyn Hull

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Boss of your own body by Byll and Beth Stephen

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The popular ABC TV musical stars Teeny Tiny Stevies are featured in the Boss of Your Own Body book. This book is a spin-off from one of the many YouTube videos accessible online and reinforces the concept of young children being aware of their own responsibilities and personal choices. The book encourages children to remember that they are not the boss of others, only themselves. The flow of the text was confusing at first but after listening to the song ‘Boss of My Own Body’ on YouTube and exploring the website, it was easier to grasp the meaning behind the book. Familiar scenarios such as supermarket shopping, bedtime, choosing television programs, playing with friends both at home and at school are given consideration. It is also emphasised that sometimes known and safe adults may need to help in situations. The busy and colourful illustrations with diverse characters will add to the appeal of this book and when shared in conjunction with the website and videos will be of value to Early Years students.

For more information visit www.teenytinystevies.com. The official animation can be found here.

Themes Bodies, Consent, Young Children, Social Skills, Relationships, Well-being, Decision-making.

Kathryn Beilby

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No hearts of gold by Jackie French

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We are introduced to Kat Fitzhubert “Some girls were not born to be good” p.12, Titania Boot “some girls were born to be useful” p.28 and Lady Viola Montefiore “some girls were born to be loved” p.26, who board the Salamanca in March 1849 bound for Sydney. During the long voyage they develop a strong friendship which endures after they land in Sydney, Kat to an arranged marriage with Zebediah Markham, Titania to start her own business and Viola to a life of luxury with her guardian Major Nash until coming of age in four years’ time. Suprisingly Kat settles in to her new life with a good and loving farmer husband and Titania finds no barriers to setting up a successful business supplying the many ships passing through Sydney Harbour. Viola wants for nothing but is bored with Sydney society and a bit aimless, her main pleasure, maintaining her friendship with the others. It is a turbulent time in Australia with extremes of drought and flood, bushrangers and gold fever and the three support each other through hard times and good. Each chapter is from one of the character’s point of view as Viola’s coming of age approaches. One of the more interesting characters is Titania’s neighbour who works as a prostitute. Overall I didn’t bond with the women and the story became overly complicated and morally confused.

Lovers of Jackie French’s women’s fiction and Australian historical novels will find this a good read.

Themes Colonial Sydney, Friendship, Goldrush.

Sue Speck

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Jacqueline : a soldier's daughter by Pierre-Jacques Ober and Jules Ober

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This story is based on the author’s mother’s memoir telling her experiences during WW2 from when she was age 7. Told through miniatures, beautifully crafted, lit and photographed, we have a child’s eye view of events as they unfold. They laugh about school gas mask drill, looking like “little pigs”, then her father rides off to war but brings her a puppy when on leave. Jacqueline is delighted as she longs for a sister and is lonely. As the Germans invade France the changes are terrifyingly quick, with no words to describe them. There are many casualties but when her puppy is one of them Jacqueline grieves. They discover her father is held prisoner in Troyes and her mother bravely rides a bike 300km with Jacqueline to rescue him. At times it is hard to know who to trust; they are helped by German soldiers and have to be wary of French informers, Jacqueline is scared and confused but she is also resilient. The story follows the family from France to Algiers and on to Germany as her father takes on various military roles. Jacqueline, her mother and father survive the war and there is an unexpected happy ending supported by photographs at the end of the book of Jacqueline and her best friend Hildegard celebrating 75 years of friendship.

This book uses the same format as The Good Son, exquisitely modelled dioramas with individually created figures given emotional impact by their poses, lighting or the point of view. Colour is used effectively, for example in contrasting sunny, undamaged Algiers with the grey devastation of post war Germany. Text is minimal and matter of fact, in keeping with this being a child’s story, the dioramas fill in the detail. The French version of the book has won a 2021 prize for best photography book for young people. There are teacher resources on the publisher’s website and more information about the [Photo]graphic novels on the Little Soldier Stories website. Less confronting than The Good Son, children of any age would find Jacqueline engaging. A must for any middle school study of this period of history and graphic design or film study students would find it interesting.

Themes War, History, Resistance, Family.

Sue Speck

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You'd be home now by Kathleen Glasgow

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The sign on the highway leading out of Mill Haven says “Leaving so soon? If you lived here you’d be home now!” It is near an encampment of homeless people society seems to have abandoned. Mill Haven is home to 16 year old Emory who is injured in a car crash on her way home from a party. The driver Luther Leonard is also injured but in the back seat her brother, Joey passed out on heroin smothers Candy Montclair who is dead.  With his drug habit revealed, Joey is packed off to a rehabilitation centre by their efficient, lawyer mother and their father throws himself even more into his job as an ER doctor while beautiful, confident older sister Maddie, home from college, spends time with Emmy. Joey has never fitted in with the parents’ expectations and Emmy has taken emotionally exhausting responsibility for covering up for him while being ‘the good one’. She blames herself for keeping his drug habit secret, allowing it to become out of control. Joey’s drug dependence can be traced back to overuse of prescription painkillers so Emmy’s parents discourage her use of them to manage the pain in her knee. On top of this, when Joey comes back from rehab she is expected to supervise him. Worried and in pain her only comfort is her secret intimacy with popular Gage, from next door. “Standing so close to him feels electrical, bolts of heat and light that erase the pain in my knee, my thoughts of Joey” p. 64.

Author’s notes tell us the book is based on the American classic “Our Town” and a desire to write about the current opioid epidemic, this is a lot to ask from a first person narrative but Emmy’s protective love for her brother stands out as she navigates life and all its complications.  Fans of Glasgow’s Girl in Pieces will love this book. Sexual exploration, death and drug abuse make it suitable for upper middle to young adult readers.

Themes Drug addiction, Family, Mental health.

Sue Speck

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King of battle and blood by Scarlett St. Clair

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Princess Isolde of Lara is fierce, independent and fine being unmarried at 26 years old. Preferring to ride, fight and protect her people, she is not concerned with pretty dresses and being a lady. While she thought she might marry one day, she had begun to view her future as queen as a solo affair, requiring no king. That is, until her father surrenders to the Blood King. Somehow she becomes engaged to the Blood King, Adrian, the most feared vampire in their world, who is slowly conquering all the nations of Cordova through vicious battles, with his army of undead. But maybe her getting close to Adrian will be beneficial, perhaps she'll succeed in ending his reign. That is, until she realises that her intense attraction to him leaves little room for assassination attempts. And there's something going on in the Cordova, something sinister...

Definitely a book for older readers, this paranormal fantasy is full of action, sex, swearing and high strung emotion. This fantasy world has been well created by Scarlett St. Clair, full of paranormal monsters and idyllic fantasy scenery. The first of a new series, Adrian x Isolde, the author has created an interesting thread that will be continued throughout the series - the right amount of intrigue to get readers hooked. Fantastically paced, the story has the right ebb and flow for readers to be able to pick up where they left off easily. As graphic sex scenes occur frequently through the book, along with regular swearing, the book should be in senior fiction, or restricted to older readers. Ideal for fans of Sarah J Maas' series Court of Thorns and Roses.

Themes Paranormal, Vampires, Fantasy, Enemies to Lovers, War, Kings and Queens, Revenge.

Melanie Phillips

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Click: A Click graphic novel by Kayla Miller

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Olive is excited when her fifth grade teacher announces an end of year talent show but is soon disappointed when the rest of the class form groups and don’t need her. Olive has lots of friends and is popular but it seems she is no-one’s best friend and doesn’t “click” with any group. At home, normally bubbly Olive is sad and withdrawn and her mother tries to help, but it is her eccentric Aunt Molly who, with the help of some old videos, helps her realise that finding her own voice and believing in herself is more important than just fitting in. Ultimately Olive’s talent for being a friend to many allows her to imagine a role for herself and gives her the confidence to carry it out.

Author illustrator Kayla Miller’s fun and relatable story is told using bold lines and bright colours with a cast of diverse characters and few words. The stand out quality of the illustrations is in the range of nuanced emotions expressed, especially when the groups are working together, both in body language and facial expressions, something that could be discussed in a class setting. There are three other books in this series and extended material is available on the author’s web page.

Themes Friendship, Family, Cliques.

Sue Speck

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Serendipity : Ten romantic tropes, transformed by Marissa Meyer ed.

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A fan of Marissa Meyer’s stories (Gilded, Cinder, and Scarlett) I picked up this anthology when I saw that she was the editor and was intrigued by the idea of ten romantic tropes. Then I saw the names of some very well known YA authors including Sandhya Menon, Julie Murphy and Elizabeth Eulberg as well as some new to me authors to explore and I was hooked.

Serendipity is a diverse collection of stories, told by a diverse set of authors, with something for everyone. I went to Marissa Meyer’s story 'Shooting stars', with the trope of ‘One bed’ first, and enjoyed the story of Misty and Roman and their awkward coming together. I loved 'The surprise match' by Sandhya Menon with its trope of The Matchmaker, as the humour and easy style was very enjoyable. Elise Bryant was a new author to me, but one I will follow up as 'Zora in the spotlight' was a delight to read, with descriptions so vivid that I can still picture of a flash mob in a school gym. I was also captivated with the descriptions of stunts in cheerleading in 'Liberty' by Anna-Marie McLemore, with its Makeover trope.

The stories will leave readers satisfied that they have learnt something about the tropes in Romance writing. All the stories were feel-good, with happy endings and all were easy to read. They got me out of a reading slump and left me smiling! What more could a reader want?

Themes Romance, Diversity.

Pat Pledger

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Broken spear by Robert Cox

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Described as “one of the most tragic figures in all Australian history” Kikatapula, otherwise known as Black Tom Birch, was a heroic leader of the Aboriginal resistance to the colonial invasion of Tasmania. He fought long and hard, but when he finally came to see the diminishment of his people, he became an aid, if half-hearted, in gathering people together to follow George Augustus Robinson in the hope of a sanctuary offshore.

Robert Cox has gathered every bit of available evidence to piece together the life story of Kikatupula, an intelligent and highly skilled warrior, who with his mastery of English, was able to move in both worlds, the Aboriginal and the white oppressors. From an early age he won the care and protection of a significant society figure, Sarah Birch, whose intervention often ensured his rescue from the worst punishments. But that relationship was not enough to keep him from joining his people in the many fierce attacks on the settlers destroying his country.

Unfortunately it is a sad story, but one that should be remembered for Kikatupula’s leadership and heroism in a war that devastated the original inhabitants of Tasmania.

Themes Aboriginal peoples - Tasmania, Frontier conflict, Kikatapula (Black Tom Birch).

Helen Eddy

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The stoning by Peter Papathanasiou

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Detective Sergeant Georgios Manolis is sent to investigate the murder of a young teacher in an outback country town. It is a brutal death by stoning, and so of course suspicion falls on the inmates of the nearby detention centre, labelled the Brown House. But all is not as it at first seems, and there may be more to the crime than the local police are willing to consider.

Papathanasiou is to be commended for his well researched expose of the heart destroying conditions of an Australian detention centre, the dehumanising approach of the prison guards, and the simmering tensions of the community in which the centre is planted. Added to that there is entrenched racism and bigotry, something that Manolis, of migrant descent, and his Aboriginal offsider Sparrow, are only too aware of.

It is an intense gritty story of hard people and harsh conditions, and the mystery has an intriguing twist that surprises at the same time as it draws together threads that go back a long way into the past. This debut crime novel could easily be the brilliant beginning of a compelling series.

Themes Asylum seekers, Detention, Crime, Outback Australia, Police corruption, Murder.

Helen Eddy

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Where's George's dinosaur: A Lift The Flap Book by Peppa Pig

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George loves dinosaurs and little children who also love dinosaurs will happily read along as George, Peppa Pig and the family all try to find George’s missing dinosaur toy. This engaging book has enormous appeal, not only because of its familiar characters from the television show, but because of the bright foil cover, the lift the flaps and the hard-wearing thick board pages.

When George cannot find Mr Dinosaur anywhere, everyone goes to look for him. They look behind the flap in the den, but it is only a helmet, then Mummy Pig asks where they have been that day. They all troop off to the Zoo, the train, and the castle, lifting flaps on the way. But Mr Dinosaur is nowhere to be found. George is distraught and starts to cry but when it is time for bed, Mummy Pig pulls back the covers and there he is!

Children and adults will recognise the familiarity of losing a beloved toy and how upsetting it can be. Toddlers will be reassured that lost toys can be found and will feel happy that George finally has his dinosaur, helped by a loving family and friends along the way.

They will love spotting the tiny details in the pictures that look like dinosaurs and then seeing what is revealed behind the flaps and roaring out “Dine-saw. Grrr!” with George as they search. The bright colours of the illustrations and the familiar places shown in the illustrations are also very appealing.

This is another book in the Peppa Pig series that would happily become a part of a toddler’s little library.

Themes Board book, Dinosaurs.

Pat Pledger

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