Reviews

Butterfly Girl by Ashling Kwok and Arielle Li

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Olivia has only butterfly friends. She sits in her garden as often as she can, talking to her friends as they flutter around her. On rainy days she waits for the sun. She cannot imagine life without her friends. But one day her parents pack up the house and they move to the city. Mum tells her that she will not need her butterflies as she will make new friends.  She waits for her new friends but no one comes up to their apartment. She thinks and thinks and decides to make something to attract her butterflies. She builds a garden on her balcony.

Her neighbours want to attract butterflies too. So she helps them build their gardens.

With so many gardens in the apartment block butterflies come too. Now Olivia has her butterflies and new friends as well.

A delightful story of taking steps to solve a problem, the story also promotes environmental concerns as insects including butterflies and bees are becoming less prevalent as the cities reduce the environment in which these animals thrive.

The gorgeous illustrations shows Olivia and her gardens. The first few pages show Olivia amongst her home garden with trees and lots of butterfly attracting flowers, then the pages show the move, with lots of cardboard boxes filling the rooms. The next pages contrast markedly with the open fields she has left behind, as they drive though a smoggy city full of buildings and cars. Children will easily see the differences between the environments Olivia lives in. After she builds her balcony garden still the butterflies do not come, and the next illustration of the apartment building with its single balcony of growing things shows why.  It is only when the neighbours do the same thing that butterflies return and so Olivia becomes the butterfly girl. The last endpaper shows children ways of attracting butterflies to their gardens: find a sunny spot, add a dash of colour, don’t forget the water, don’t forget rocks and add some sparkle.

Themes Friendship, Gardens, Butterflies, Environment.

Fran Knight

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The door of no return by Kwame Alexander

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Alexander’s The Door of No Return is the first of a trilogy of books that each explores a particular period of African history. Set in 1860, this historical fiction shows the rich culture of the Ghanaian people in their homeland, before they were abducted and enslaved in America. Alexander describes it as about the 'African part of African-American'; it is a counterpoint to the history that the conquerors tell.

Kofi is an extremely likeable 11-year-old boy from the Asanti kingdom of West Africa, (Ghana) caught between two cultures. He enjoys listening to his loving grandfather’s stories of the ancestors, while his westernised teacher is intent on teaching him to speak correct English and read Shakespeare. His life in the village is relatively carefree, despite having to regularly avoid/challenge a bullying cousin and defend his secret crush, until this idyllic life is upturned by a series of devastating events.

Alexander weaves an engaging story around the centuries-old celebrations of the Kings’ Festival and the reader gains a solid insight into pre-European Ghanaian daily life and culture including wrestling contests, the importance of a traditional board game 'oware', wars fought over gold, and initiation ceremonies. Kofi’s grandfather’s sage advice stresses the importance of family and storytelling in maintaining the tribal traditions.

The two final chapters recount Kofi’s abduction into slavery, and transportation to America.

A glossary, list of locations and description of the Ghanaian symbols that appear throughout the book adds depth to the story and anchors it in reality.

This is an engrossing adventure story, layered with fascinating cultural information. Type-set as a verse novel, The Door is an easy read, as the language is down-to-earth and the plot fast-paced. However some dark instances of death, torture and slavery make for harrowing reading, so would be most appropriate for mature teens.

Themes Culture, Africa, Ghana, Slaves, Responsibility, Family.

Margaret Crohn

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Playing it safe by Ashley Weaver

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In the third of the Electra McDonnell series, Ellie is approached by Major Ramsey who asks her to travel to the port city of Sunderland where she is to await instructions. Ellie is determined to do her best for her country knowing that her safe cracking skills are sure to come in handy during the assignment. When she arrives, she is a witness to a man who dies in front of her eyes and quickly on the scene gains hold of a note that he is clutching in his hand. His friends rally around and Elly gets to know them while she impatiently waits for the Major to contact her.

With dangerous break-ins, bombs falling on the city, German spies and a spymaster to find, Ellie and Major Ramsey move from one precarious adventure to another in their quest to stop the traitors. The slow burn romance between the pair gently simmers although Ellie is not sure of Felix’s place in her life.

I enjoyed this short and easy to read cosy mystery very much. Ellie and Major Ramsey are fascinating main characters, the background of the Blitz, a port town being bombed and some bird watching thrown in, combine to make for an engrossing read. And the secondary mystery of Ellie’s dead mother and the stunning twist at the end will ensure that the next instalment is picked up.

Themes Cosy mystery, Blitz, Spies.

Pat Pledger

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Big, big love by Lisa Fuller & Samantha Campbell

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This beautiful picture book relates the size and shape of a mother’s love. It is bigger than a whale, taller than a giraffe, fierce as a lion, yet gentle as a calf. The love began before the child was born and will continue always. The love continues as the child grows, learning all the time, trying things out and growing bigger.  The love is like the flowing river, complete with its flora and fauna, yet it is immeasurable, it is just so big.

Even when they are apart, she loves the child, she loves seeing it grow and thinks about what it will become.

Together the author and illustrator of this book give the reader a glimpse into every mother’s heart. Nurturing a new baby is a full time job, reinforcing the love between them, the mother watching over its growth and development.

I loved the subtle way the traditions of her community are passed onto the youngster. He has decorated sticks to play music, is taken outside to learn about the environment, underscoring its importance to Aboriginal people. Mum’s safe hands can be seen on most pages, showing the importance of the mother in a child’s life, and I loved the endpapers with the large and small footprints in the sand.

Lisa Fuller is an award-winning Murri writer from south-east Queensland, who now resides in Canberra, while Samantha Campbell grew up in the Northern Territory and lives in Darwin. Both women are descended from Aboriginal groups across the Northern Territory and Queensland and their story and illustrations reflect Aboriginal values and customs.

Themes Love, Aboriginal themes, Mothers.

Fran Knight

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Rockstar detectives: Murder at the movies by Adam Hills

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The second mystery from Adam Hills featuring Charley and George does not disappoint.  After solving their last mystery, the dynamic duo are in Sydney filming a movie. Charley is cast in her first movie and George is along for moral support and to work behind the scenes, based on their previous adventure, when they were accused of being international art thieves. 

Just as the filming is getting under way a series of mysterious accidents start happening whenever Charley is on set and it becomes clear that someone is targeting her again. The friends decide that they will investigate again and try to work out who is trying to sabotage the film and threaten Charley’s life. 

While this is Charley’s story there is a strong focus on developing George as a lead character and his knowledge of social media that he uses to help solve the case really show him as a strong character but also an incredible friend 

This story is wonderful, from the descriptions of the film set and the accidents that are inherently Australian while still having a broad appeal, to the friendship between the two main characters and their ability to stay positive as their lives and movie is threatened really make this a story that children will love to read.  The book is also so well written that it would work really well as a class novel or class read aloud.  This is the second book in the Rockstar Detectives series and I can’t wait to see where Charley and George do next.

Themes Crime, Mystery, Humour, Friendship.

Mhairi Alcorn

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The torrent by Dinuka McKenzie

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Winner of the 2020 Banjo Prize, shortlisted for the 2023 Davitt Awards and 2023 Danger Awards, The torrent is Dinuka McKenzie’s debut novel. Set in northern New South Wales after devastating floods, Detective Sergeant Kate Miles is investigating a hold up at a fast-food outlet where a young girl has been injured. She is looking forward to her maternity leave when she is given a sensitive case to review: a distraught mother is convinced that her son was not drowned in the recent floods but was murdered by his wife. Kate’s investigations are not straight forward and there are complications as she and her team follow leads. Can she just dismiss the drowning case even if her gut tells her that there may be more to the initial finding? And how can the youths involved in the hold-up be identified?

It is fascinating to follow Detective Sergeant Kate Miles during the late stages of her pregnancy. Her body may be unwieldy but her mind is very alert and she follows clues leading to the resolution of both cases. McKenzie’s portrayal of one of the youths who committed the hold-up is sensitively drawn and the reader gains much insight into both cases through his thoughts and actions. Her sympathetic depiction of autism also added depth to her story.

Fans of mysteries that show police procedures will follow with interest the forensics that help the team to solve the violent hold up, while clever interviews and flashes of brilliance will hold the reader’s attention as the case of the drowning unfolds. Dinuka McKenzie’s book would be enjoyed by people who like Australian noir by authors like Jane Harper and Chris Hammer. I look forward to reading more novels with Detective Sergeant Kate Miles as the main protagonist.

Themes Detectives, Theft, Floods.

Pat Pledger

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Praiseworthy by Alexis Wright

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Alexis Wright’s latest novel, Praiseworthy, defies description. It is a unique outpouring of language with its own shape and form. Rather than a lineal narrative structure, it weaves in and out, like the ripples of a whirlpool, or the waves of the ocean, picking up, capturing for a moment, then tossing down, winding back on itself in a restless motion that is cyclical, never straight. Thus as readers we come back to characters and their stories in a recurring flow that continues endlessly.

It is set in a far northern Aboriginal community called Praiseworthy, a town that has become wrapped in a mysterious haze. The character Widespread, alternatively called Planet or Cause Steel, has come up with one solution to the problems of climate change, and champions the vision of a renewable transportation conglomerate based on donkeys, harnessing those age-old beasts of burden running feral in the country. His wife Dance can’t listen to him, instead focussed on the magical world of butterflies and moths. Cause Steel’s oldest son, named Aboriginal Sovereignty, the words Cause loves best, is bowed down with guilt and contemplates suicide, and his youngest son, the fascist Tommyhawk, is obsessed with the social media stories of rapists and paedophiles in Aboriginal communities and craves rescue by the beautiful white mother of Aboriginal children, the minister in her white palace of the Australian Parliament. And then there is Ice Pick, Major Mayor of the community, an albino black man, who campaigns relentlessly for Praiseworthy to become an iconic white assimilated town.

There is a fury underlying the words. Tommyhawk has become so distressed by the news stories of rampant paedophilia in Aboriginal communities, he is afraid of his parents, afraid of all adults in the community and desperately appeals for rescue by the Australian government which supposedly loves sacred Aboriginal children. Aboriginal Sovereignty, the young man who slept with his promised wife whilst she was still a few months underage, has become labelled a criminal, one of the paedophilic scourge that must be wiped out; he wades out deeper and deeper into the sea, and then has a moment of panic as he realises he has left behind his plastic Basics card. And there are refugees on a sinking boat who reach out to help another unknown drowning person in the ocean. All this, within a world where Country is being suffocated by the climate change effects wrought by white colonisers.

Alexis Wright says that Praiseworthy gave her a deeper understanding of the importance in following a literary vision, ‘a literary vision that refused to be contained or restrained’. In this way she breaks new ground in Aboriginal literature, and in literature in general, much as James Joyce did when he reinvented the form of the novel with his book ‘Ulysses’ (1920). Wright’s novel weaves a new form, perhaps best represented by the image of the butterfly trail on the cover, weaving through time, curving back on itself and flowing on. Praiseworthy is the 2024 winner of the Stella prize, the University of Queensland Fiction Book Award 2023, and shortlisted for a number of other awards.

Themes Country, Racism, Aboriginal community, Climate change, Persecution.

Helen Eddy

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The cave by Victor Kelleher

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In contrast to Kelleher’s previous works, the Gibblewort goblin stories and the futuristic Wanderer, The cave is set in prehistoric times, where cave men are very much at risk from the elements and the fierce animals that are their predators. Irian and his clan are cave dwellers, guarding the cave from the wild animals that attempt to return to their lair. Their clumsy weapons are spears and axes, though the best weapon of all is fire, if only they can protect and nurture it. It becomes a rotating duty to stand guard through the night, fuelling the flames.

When Irian and his father fail in their duty and succumb to sleep, the Beast returns and annihilates all but the boy who escapes through a small cleft in the cave. It is a horror that traumatises Irian to the point of losing all speech and shuddering in fear whenever his thoughts turn to that night. There is however another survivor, the severely wounded Ulana, and the two of them unite to find a way to survive in the harsh environment.

An old woman, not of their clan, but a travelling trader, Trug, joins the two children and helps them to navigate the landscape, along the way sharing some of the secrets she has learnt. It is a story about the discovery of fire, and the power that it gives the cave people as they learn how to create and maintain it. And then as they master the striking of flint, more sophisticated weapons can gradually be perfected.

The cave is a scary adventure story. The little group have to travel through snow, rain and flood, always on the alert to danger from leopards and other wild creatures. Along the journey, Irian has to rediscover his selfhood and find the courage to stand tall and take his place in the world. There are strong moral lessons about caring for others, sharing knowledge, and working together for the better of the community.

Themes Cave men, Journey, Fear, Courage, Responsibility.

Helen Eddy

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Geomancer: In the shadow of the Wolf Queen by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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In the Shadow of the Wolf Queen is the first in the Geomancer trilogy by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.  Set in a timeless, mythical, almost recognisable world, this story takes the reader on a breathtaking adventure and leaves them desperately waiting for the next book in the series. 

The book opens in Glaw Wood where Ysolda and her sister Hari live surrounded by trees and a peaceful village.  Hari can hear the trees and communicate with them which causes the Wolf Queen’s warriors to take her as they are collecting gifted ones from across the land.  Ysolda travels to the Wolf Queen’s palace to bargain for Hari’s life. 

And so, begins an epic adventure across the land with the Wolf Queen, who is a complex and fascinating character, portrayed as a villain but written as far more complicated than first thought; she is terrifying in her unfeeling nature but at the same time unpredictable and at times likeable.  Ysolda must use her wits and knowledge of people and the land to stay alive and search for earth-magic.  Ysolda is a complex character who yearns to be gifted like her sister, but in many ways has a far greater gift in her understanding and respect for nature and living in harmony with it.  She is joined on her journey by a sea hawk, Nara, who is bonded to her but free to fly. 

This story takes the reader along on a quest that is at times thrilling, dangerous and exciting.  The book perfectly combines danger and tension with lyrical descriptions of both the people and the places that they are travelling through. 

I was captivated by this story and found that I wasn’t ready for the book to end.  I am eagerly anticipating the next book especially Ysolda’s quest to save her sister and the world, but I am also interested to discover the motives for the Wolf Queen and her single-minded obsession with being the most powerful at the expense of all else. 

This book is brilliant, I would recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy, adventure or books that will draw you through complex characters.  A great read alone as the reader will need time to sit at times with the characters and situations and take time out.   It could work as a class novel as there is a lot to unpack but I think many readers would prefer to read at their own pace to get the most out of it.

Themes Fantasy, Magic, Friendship, Family, Nature/Environment.

Mhairi Alcorn

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Leif the unlucky Viking by Gary Northfield

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The Viking wolf pup wants to be a true Viking hero just like his dad.   Unfortunately, Leif is always tripping up, falling down holes, ripping his trousers and nobody fears him, they just laugh at him.  So when a shooting star crashes to Earth and a witch arrives at his village asking the chief’s (Leif’s Dad) help but he claims he is too busy, Leif decides that this is his opportunity to prove he is a fearsome and smart Viking not just to himself but also to his Dad and his (annoying) older sister who never trips or makes mistakes. 

No one trusts Leif to do anything, and the author has crafted him to be such a funny, likeable character that the reader will be cheering him on.  Leif has to journey deep into the heart of polar bear country to retrieve the star, on his adventure he is joined by a series of interesting and “helpful” characters that at times steal the limelight and create some comedic moments as he tries to outwit and defeat mythological and real creatures who are trying to stop him from reaching his goal.    

This book is brilliantly written, and the reader will be giggling along as Leif encounters a range of characters who each present their own challenges including giant, extremely grumpy, polar bears, monster whales, mythological creatures, annoying older sisters and a cunning witch! 

This is a book that would be brilliant as a class read aloud as the teacher will enjoy it just as much as the children.  It was a great read, and I am sure that children and adults will enjoy it and reread it.  A fabulous book with Viking adventures, Gods fighting and dropping mythical objects to Earth and a wolf pup who just wants to prove he is as fearsome and fabulous as his dad.  This is the first in a series and I can’t wait to read the next one.

Themes Adventure, Humour, Vikings, Friendship, Family.

Mhairi Alcorn

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Three dresses by Wanda Gibson

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When Wanda and her family went on their annual holiday to the beach, Mum would remind the girls to take three dresses: one to wash, one to wear and one spare.

This wonderful picture book will thrill young readers as they spend the holiday at the beach with Wanda and her family. All the fun of a beach holiday is there: boiling a billy over a small fire, skipping, swimming, collecting things, playing with the dog, talking around the camp fire, building a shelter, sleeping on the beach and even getting salt water on their arms and legs when they get stung.

The family is warm and strong, doing everything together and readers will relate to this holiday at the beach. Information in the story shows us that this family come from a mission and has to walk to the beach for their holiday, their clothes rolled up and carried on their backs like a swag.

Wanda is immensely proud of her three dresses, given to her from the Lutheran Church. She is happy when Mum uses her sewing skills to repair the dress, and dries them near the fire when they get wet.

This compelling picture book gives readers a slice of life not often seen. The book relates Wanda’s time with her family, close knit, supportive and happy. Wanda does not question how they live, it is presented for the reader to think about and question. And they will. A new generation of people will ask what a mission was and why they have to walk to their holiday without a suitcase, or live in the sandhills on the holiday and have three dresses donated by the church.

This wonderful story impels readers to think about the difference in their lifestyles, ours so privileged, the other bereft of the trappings of our society, living a life few of us would be able to contemplate.

The emphasis on the happy family, delighted with their place on the beach and their simple life style is represented by Wanda’s pleasure with her three dresses.

Wamda’ story is told at the end of the book, along with a photo of this warm and generous woman. Her illustrative technique, using swathes of colours across each page, has quite an impact. Not for her the fussy details of life on the beach, but a clear unequivocal look at the sparseness of their existence, made clear with the family as the main object that the eyes see on each page. They are always helping out: Dad with a child on his shoulders, mum sewing up a ripped dress, the children collecting eggs for supper, making the fire.

Her story of living at Hope Vale Mission where she was expected to work on the farm, then as a teen learnt domestic duties through working at the mission house, is another story in itself.  Wanda Gibson is a Nukgal Wurra woman of the Guugu Yimithirr people. Her dad is a Yuuethawarra man and his country is around Cape Melville. Both of Wandas parents were brought to Cape Bedford Mission when they were ten or twelve, having been taken from their communities. Wanda came to painting in 2010 and loves it, completing a Diploma of Visual Arts at Cairns TAFE in 2014. Wanda has five kids, eleven grandkids and five great-grandkids.

And they just hear some wonderful stories. A wonderful book. Teacher's notes are available.

Themes Aboriginal life, Missions, Holidays.

Fran Knight

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Real Tigers by Mick Herron

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Real tigers, in the wonderful series of novels about Slough House, an end point for failed spies, comes after Slow Horses (2010) Dead Lions (2014) and The list (2015) a novella, sometimes called the third in the series.

Real tigers introduces us to the level of deceit and subterfuge behind the political machinations of the day.

The workers in Slough House are wondering where Catherine Standish has got to. She is never late for work. River receives a photo of her in handcuffs on his phone and immediately takes action trying to find her. The kidnappers tell him that he will need to bring a file from Regent’s Park in exchange for her. River gets into the tightly controlled archives in the Park, but is caught and taken to the basement for an interview with the notorious Dufy. Meanwhile Lady Dianna is called into the office of MP Judd, where he discloses that the kidnapping was staged to expose how inept Slough House is and he will have all the evidence he needs to close it down when this fiasco is cleared up.

Judd is a weasel with an eye for the Prime Ministership, happy to walk over any body he finds and not fazed about how many bodies there are, as long as he is not implicated. But the leader of the Real Tigers, a friend and ally of Judd is killed by the second in command, and the body dumped in London central.

When a shaken and very sore River returns to Slough House, Lamb brings them all together to plan a way of getting Catherine back. Their small numbers are reduced even more when Lamb sacks two of them, effective immediately. The climax is absolutely thrilling as all protagonists end up together at the building housing the archives of material held by Regent’s Park. River and Louisa talk their way into the facility, but find the there are several other groups to deal with, Donovan and the Real Tigers are there to stop River taking the folder. Donovan goes about looking for the folder which implicates the head of MI5 in a conspiracy to cover a crime linked to Donovan.  But another group is on the ground keeping them holed up in the facility. Along comes Lamb ad Ho, bumbling their way into the action, while Duffy has been send by Ingrid to clean up the mess, that is, make sure no one leaves alive. On the outer, the sacked pair, Marcus and Shirley also make their way to support their former comrades.

The climax is wonderfully executed, readers will need to keep their wits about them to keep apart the disparate groups keeping tabs on each other and finally having a shoot out.

Themes Intelligence organisations, Kidnapping, Secret service.

Fran Knight

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Dead Lions by Mick Herron

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The notorious Jackson Lamb, head of Slough House and its retinue of failed spies, has left the building. An unheard of event, he never works in the field, but an old working partner has turned up dead on a bus in Oxford, and Lamb sees this as a trail the old spy was leaving for him to follow. Playing by London Rules, Lamb is cautious in who he trusts. Dickie Bow was a clever streetwalker, known for his excellent tracking skills and sniffing things out. His impeccable sense of purpose has Lamb doing things he has not done for years, so convinced is he that Dickie’s death is not random or meaningless.

Meanwhile Spider Webb has asked for two of the Slow Horses to protect a Russian oligarch who is meeting Webb in London. Webb is convinced that a dialogue with this man will win him friends both in the MI5 precinct and at Whitehall. River leaves to follow Lamb and the trail left by Bow. He comes across an Oxford airfield used during World War Two and now seeing action again. River tracks the assailants but realises that he is being followed, and finds himself amidst a series of explosions.

The small town by the airfield is not all that it seems, and as the visit by the wealthy oligarch draws near, some of the town’s occupants are activated. Back in London, Richard Ho the tech expert at Slough House is uncovering a web of deceit, and all of this is linked to the Stop the City campaign currently placing London in gridlock.

This complex novel, full of wonderful characters, and a tightly controlled plot had me listening again to make sure all the threads were secured. I loved it, and now on Number three, expect my evenings will be well spent for months to come.

Dead Lions won the 2013 CWA gold dagger! (unsurprisingly).

Themes Secret service, Crime, Intelligence organisations.

Fran Knight

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Leo and Ralph by Peter Carnavas

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Leo and Ralph have been best friends since Ralph flew down from one of Jupiter's moons to join him on Earth. But when the family is set to move to a small country town, Mum and Dad think it's a perfect time to leave Ralph behind. How can he possibly say goodbye to his security blanket and can he make a real friend? The timeline of the story jumps around a little as the prologue introduces us to Leo as he says goodbye to Ralph and then goes back in time to when Leo was five and first met Ralph. It explains his failed attempts to make friends and his life with Ralph until Grade 3. The story normalises the idea of imaginary friends; Leo is even aware that he is the only one that can see Ralph and the people around him, while accommodating, acknowledge that Ralph is imaginary. 

Leo is a young boy with a HUGE imagination and a love of space. He has invented a whole world in the sky and enveloped himself in it to help him deal with how different he feels to all the other children he knows. 'As soon as Ralph arrived, school became less scary, the grown-ups stopped worrying and Leo had the friend of his dreams. He didn't want to go back to the way things were'. The story hints at Leo's neurodivergence. The teacher always has to repeat things because his mind is wandering, Leo speaks slowly and doesn't feel like the other children. He also feels physically different, speaking of himself as small and slow. An alien from outer space is exactly how he feels amonst his peers. 'He didn't know what game, or how many games were taking place. Couldn't grasp the phrases they shouted at each other...The playground is too busy, too fast'. His parents are calm and responsive and he is blessed with teachers who all support him despite all being very different. 

At the new school, it is Ralph who helps Leo make a new friend and helps Leo to realise that he no longer needs him. After all, he is the one helping himself, not really Ralph. This would make a great classroom read aloud and is perfect for putting in the hands of those children who feel different or who have trouble finding a sense of belonging and giving them hope that they too will find the perfect friend eventually. Teacher's notes are available.

Themes Change, Belonging, Friendship.

Nicole Nelson

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One by one they disappear by Mike Lucas

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South Australian author Mike Lucas, whose first YA novel What We all Saw was shortlisted for the Readings Book Prize 2022, CBCA Book of the Year Award 2023, and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award 2023, has again written an outstanding story. The complex plot with stories within stories, the powerful setting, the vast array of strong characters - both good and evil - are all carefully constructed to provide readers with an absorbing narrative.

The story begins in 1811 with the Brothers Grimm travelling the land to collect stories from the oldest storytellers. It is in the telling of some of these quite dark and cruel stories that the magic and mystery becomes apparent. When the youngest of the three Grimm brothers goes missing, with his two older brothers having no memory of him, the seed has been skilfully sown for what takes place throughout One By One They Disappear.  

The next few chapters alternate between 1938 to 1942, where young Hannah Ginsberg and her parents are subjected to the growing hatred of the Jewish Race. Forced into hiding in Stuttgart 1941 with the Meyers, a brave non-Jewish family, Hannah and her parents spend almost a year in dark, damp basement. When Stuttgart is bombed by the allies in 1942, Hannah finds herself recovering in hospital alone, with her only possession a book of Grimms Tales with the name Sofia written inside. In order to escape and survive she now must become Sofia and with help from some courageous adults she is taken high into the mountains to the only living relative of the Meyer family. Maud Meyer is austere and somewhat cold, not fond of children but accepts her duty to provide a home in her lodge for her niece Sofia. However, Maud hides deep secrets and is instrumental in keeping Hannah safe.

In the peaceful village Hannah now lives, all is not as it first appears. In the face of growing danger, the friendship between Hannah, Josef and Elias is central to the story as is the huge castle that towers over the village - now home to German soldiers as well as the dreaded SS. Children are disappearing with adults having no memory of them except Heinz Schundel who has drawn images of all the children. Early on in the story Hannah discovers she has a rare ability to leave her body and travel to places and situations to observe from above. Here she gains valuable knowledge of impending events which help her and trusted adults to change the expected outcome.

The devastation and cruelty by Nazi Germany depicted in World War Two is cleverly intertwined around Grimm's fairytales which Hannah realises early on are not really suitable for children. There are strong parallels between the actions of the Nazis and what takes place in some of the tales.

One By One They Disappear is a compelling read with a hint of fantasy that would make an excellent class novel for those year levels studying World War Two.

Themes Magic, Memories, Fairy Tales, World War Two, Tragedy, Friendship, Betrayal, Trust, Missing Children, Fantasy, Bravery.

Kathryn Beilby

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