Reviews

Power Up! The Big Book of Energy by Charles Hope

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Power Up by Charles Hope is an excellent non-fiction resource for middle-upper primary/lower secondary students and their teachers researching and discussing the topic of Power. The contents page clearly lists each topic covered and includes headings such as: Primary & Secondary sources, Renewable & non-renewable power, Fossils fuels, Wind, Solar, Biomass and many others. Each topic has either a single or double page spread of clearly written text presented in paragraphs surrounded by white space and containing easy to comprehend facts. There are large photographs throughout as well as labelled diagrams, timelines and images.   At the end of the book there is a glossary and index. The relevant chapter on climate change will be of interest to today’s environmentally aware students and the inclusion of the large diagram provides a visual explanation. The author has included a snapshot of the Industrial Revolution and how it changed the way people lived. The future of power is a particularly engaging chapter looking at developing energy sources both on a small and large scale.

This book is a worthwhile and valuable resource for a school or public library.

Themes Power, Renewable & Non-renewable Energy, Future of Power, Climate Change, Sustainability.

Kathryn Beilby

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My first green cook book by David Atherton and Alice Bowsher

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David Atherton, winner of The Great British Bake Off 2019, has written his second cook book for children, My First Green Cook Book. It follows his first book, My First Cook Book: Bake, Make and Learn to Cook which has inspired a generation of young cooks. This newest book focuses purely on simple, easy to cook vegetarian recipes and will be an asset to those families who follow this style of eating. The Contents pages contain many recipes set out under the headings of ‘Yummy Meals’, ‘Savoury Snacks’, ‘Sweet Treats’ and ‘Showstoppers’. Each recipe is set out on a single or double page spread and features a list of ingredients, an introduction to the dish with the method clearly set out on a step-by-step table with large colourful graphic style illustrations. Recipes include the Curry Korma Bowl, Spooky Carrot Soup, Cauli Hot Wings, Cheesy Nutty Gnudi and Apple Rock Cakes. The final pages of Showstoppers include four recipes for each of the seasons: Spring Butterfly Cupcakes, Summer Sandcastle Cake, Autumn Woodland Cake and Winter Reindeer Puds. This book is not just purely for children or vegetarians, it would suit cooks of all ages who love to follow new recipes in a very easy format. 

Another fabulous resource for home, school or public library or a perfect book to gift an aspiring young cook.

Themes Cooking, Children, Vegetarian, Recipes.

Kathryn Beilby

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The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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Anyone who loves a twisty intriguing mystery will immediately want to grab The Hawthorne Legacy, the sequel to The Inheritance Games. It follows immediately from the events in the first book, and heiress Avery Grambs is on the hunt to find out why the billionaire Tobias Hawthorne left his fortune to her and not to his children and grandchildren. Assisted by the charismatic brothers, Grayson, Jamieson, Xander and Nash, she must sort through clues left in wills, on walls and on rings, at the same time avoiding the paparazzi and threats to her life. Then there is the allure of Grayson and Jamieson;  who is the one she would see standing with her alone on a cliff?

Avery’s name, Avery Kylie Grambs, is an anagram for “a very risky gamble” and Avery is certainly up for some gambles, least of all on who she can trust. As the group goes on the hunt to decipher the enigmatic clues left by Tobias Hawthorne, Avery is determined to find Toby the long-lost son believed to have died in a fire. There are some unexpected and heart-wrenching scenes as secrets start to unravel, and some moments that will leave the reader breathless as Avery faces death threats.

Not only will the intrigue keep the reader in suspense, the background of living as a billionaire is also fascinating. Who wouldn’t want to live in a mansion with secret doors and tunnels, a vault with priceless jewels, private jets and many, many gorgeous estates scattered over the world? But who would want to have to face the press and have their face plastered over newspapers?

I couldn’t put The Hawthorn Legacy down and look forward to reading other books by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (there is a small hint at the end for the group to solve more mysteries). Fans of Karen McManus (One of us is lying)  and E. Lockhart  (We were liars) would enjoy this series.

Themes Mystery, Clues, Romance.

Pat Pledger

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Dear Zoo: Touch and feel book by Rod Campbell

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Ideal for both very young children and those just beginning to read Dear Zoo is a gorgeous picture book that is sure to become a keeper and passed on to the next generation.  This version of Dear Zoo, which was first published in 2012, is an interactive touch and feel board book, with the child invited to name the creature that the Zoo has sent home as a pet, while touching and feeling some aspect of it.

The repetition of the words: ‘I wrote to the Zoo to send me a pet. They sent me a … ‘ will have children chanting along and then guessing why the animal was sent back. Children just beginning to learn to read will love the repetition, enabling then to memorise the words on the page and feel very confident that they are decoding them correctly. Of course, the illustrations are delightful and the touch and feel aspects are very inviting. What child (or adult) could resist touching the soft hairy neck of the giraffe or sticking their finger in the lion’s mouth to see if he bites?

Dear Zoo gives children the opportunity to learn about some of the animals that live in a zoo, while learning in a very enjoyable way what animals are suitable for pets. It is an ideal gift for a young child (there is a warning that it is not suitable for children under 10 months), and a book that can be kept for those learning to read.

Themes Zoo animals, Pets.

Pat Pledger

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Treasure in the lake by Jason Pamment

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Independent, adventurous Iris is on the trail of treasure, just like the explorers in her favourite books. Loyal and supportive best friend Sam is always there to share the adventures, even when they are just in their local creek. Iris hasn’t told Sam that she has applied to go away to school, but just as she gets her acceptance letter her mum says they can’t afford it. Angry and confused she plans to run away and when Sam finds her she still doesn’t confide in him. Just then they discover the creek has dried up and they follow a trail of previously submerged artefacts until they come upon a ghost town. Intent on discovering the answer to the mystery town Iris pushes ahead in spite of an impending storm and she finds more than she had bargained for. Meanwhile Sam, with the help of an old local, Benjamin who lived in the town before it was flooded, bravely sets out to rescue Iris before it is too late. The friends not only learn a lot about their town and its history, they learn about themselves and the value of friendship.

This beautifully drawn and richly coloured comic style graphic novel has an extra page at the end about real submerged towns in Australia, Argentina and Italy. It also has an interesting section on the process the artist/author goes through to develop an idea using thumbnail sketches and character sketches. This section could be a useful teaching aid to encourage students to tell their own stories.

Themes Adventure, Friendship, Treasure, Mystery.

Sue Speck

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In Australia: A down under baby animal counting book by Marianne Berkes. Illus. by Jill Dubin

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Very young children will delight in the gorgeous collage illustrations of Australian animals and birds and have fun counting their babies, while older children will learn not only counting 1 to 10 but the extensive notes at the back of the book will give detailed information about each animal. A lovely addition is a hidden creature for the inquisitive to find on each double page spread, with facts about those animals and birds given on the Hidden Animals page.

The illustrations are delightful and what make this a stand-out counting book. Made from collage, they are bright and colourful with each animal living in its habitat. For example, the sugar glider and her seven joeys cling to branches, set against a gorgeous blue/purple sky highlighted with gold sprigs. The long-eared bilby and her nine joeys are slurping in a red sandy place, while the crocodile snips and snaps in a swamp.

The rhythmic narrative makes the book one that is easy to read aloud, and which will be enjoyed by both the reader and the listener. Another feature which will make parents and teachers happy is a Tips from the Author page, where a series of handy activities for home and the curriculum are given. The illustrator gives ideas on how to make collages which will inspire children to try and make their own collage pictures.

I loved the illustrations in the book and schools and parents will find it a very useful addition to their collections.

Themes Counting, Australian animals, Australian birds.

Pat Pledger

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Frankie and the Fossil by Jess McGeachin

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Frankie knows all there is to know about dinosaurs because not only is she fascinated by them but she has memorised all the labels at the Natural History Museum, a place she loves to visit. But one day she notices a new sign, one that says "Don't feed the fossil". Thinking that was unfair, she pulled a cheese sandwich from her pocket and sneakily gave it to the dinosaur.

That single action leads to a whole new 'career' for Frankie as her knowledge about dinosaurs deepens to understanding.

In an earlier time, the significance of this book may well have passed me by but with so many schools currently in lockdown and students isolated at home. no plan to get them back to school because school staff have still not been identified as front-line workers (and where they have, vaccinations are stretched too thinly), and many surveys examining the effect of the lack of contact with others on children, particularly their mental health, this underlying message of this story was crystal clear. Both people and dinosaurs are herd creatures and lack of contact with others can and does have a long-term impact. (My friend and I still laugh that going for our flu shots in 2020 (on her birthday) was the best outing we had in weeks! So now we make the most of our days as we can.)

So in these days of enforced confinement, how can we as teachers, promote our students connecting with each other? Can we design collaborative projects? Can we develop a team game or challenge? Can we plan an online celebration like a dress-up for Book Week or an unbirthday party? Can the walk around the neighbourhood looking for teddies in windows be expanded to something more? What are the students' suggestions? How can they connect with a family member, a neighbour, someone else they know so they can make that person's life easier? Classmates are the equivalent of the dinosaur's herd and the teacher is the leader of that herd, so apart from setting lessons, what else can we do to promote connectivity and well-being so when our kids do return to school their resilience and enthusiasm for life is intact?

When Jess McGeachin first started planning this story, she would have had no idea of what was to come and how timely its release would be. But what a windfall that we can share the story (Penguin Random House, the parent publisher are permitting online readings) and then use it to help our students and help them help others.

Themes Fossils.

Barbara Braxton

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Always by Morris Gleitzman

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Always is the seventh and final book in Morris Gleitzman’s stories about Felix Salinger who survived WW2 under the Nazis in Poland. At the age of 87 he is living a quiet life as a respected, retired surgeon in Australia. However, his life is overturned when 10-year-old Wassim turns up on his doorstep all the way from Eastern Europe. Wassim is being raised by his Uncle Otto after the disappearance of his parents. Their lives are being threatened by the Iron Weasels, a fascist bunch of thugs. Wassim is intent on getting help from Felix based on a letter from his Grandpa who told him to seek Felix out if he was ever in trouble. Felix is reenergised by Wassim. They are awfully alike at the same age, brave and hopeful. After they receive what seems to be a peace offering from an old Nazi enemy of Felix’s, they leave Australia to resolve past wrongs. What follows is a race against the Weasels, and the dark forces which back them, to solve a mystery stemming back to the Holocaust.

There are some quite sinister events in Always, such as Felix’s dog being deliberately killed as a menacing threat. Racism is a major theme. I believe Gleitzman saw parallels in the disgraceful real-life treatment of indigenous AFL players in recent years and the scenes he created when Wassim and the football star, Daoude Ndione, are harassed by Weasel sympathisers with monkey noises and taunting “monkey boy”. Other important ethical issues involve using violence for survival and revenge. The improbability of the story’s chains of events can be a bit much. I hope I have Felix’s courage and physical abilities when I am 87! However, I also acknowledge the excitement of the action and the effortless readability of the story. I appreciate Gleitzman’s intent and passion for anti-fascist themes and dedication to his readers. He is able to juxtapose the awfulness of the events with hope, oh so necessary for today’s young.

Themes Racism, Harassment, Bravery, Love.

Jo Marshall

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Poppy, the punk turtle by Aleesah Darlison. Illus. by Mel Matthews

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Poppy, the Punk Turtle is the second story in the multi-book Endangered Animal Tales series which will focus on many of Australia’s most susceptible creatures. These Mary River turtles have been nicknamed Punk turtles as they have an algae mohawk and spikes under their chin. They live in freshwater near the Mary River in south-eastern Queensland.

The story begins with an introduction to Poppy and her attributes - the most important one being, which children will love, that she is a bum-breathing turtle! Poppy begins a journey to find a safe place to live as her habitat is threatened by humans, animals and pollution. She finally finds a new home on the river and along the way the reader learns all about Poppy’s species. The story is enhanced perfectly by the bright and colourful illustrations as well as a key fact shared on many of the pages. On the final page is a map of Australia with more interesting facts to share as well as a detailed diagram of these very special turtles.

This is a perfect book for sharing with children. Early Years teachers and students could use this book as a resource for writing an information report as it clearly gives simple facts about features, diet, habitat, predators as well as other fascinating facts. A very welcome addition to a school or public library.

Themes Endangered Animals, Australia, Punk Turtles.

Kathryn Beilby

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The Riviera House by Natasha Lester

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The author has written several fiction books with a Paris location. In The Riviera House, two parallel stories, one set during the World War II German occupation of Paris, and the other set in current times and centred about a Riviera house, are linked by a looted art work.

The story focuses on French resistance workers who attempted, at great personal risk, to secretly document looted art works for future restoration to the owners. It is a story of courage, loss, betrayal, romance and Nazi plunder, greed and atrocities. As the author details in a Notes section, the events are based on historical fact. Rose Valland, one of the characters, existed and was highly decorated after the war.

The modern story element details loss and grief of a different kind – loss of family as a result of a car accident. The romantic element is somewhat predictable. The events that tie the two stories together are told in a suspenseful, engaging manner.

A very interesting and readable book suitable for senior students.

Themes Art thefts, Women spies, Nazis, Paris (France).

Ann Griffin

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Ada and the galaxies by Alan Lightman and Olga Pastuchiv. Illus. by Susanna Chapman

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The striking cover design and the beautiful endpapers will entice the reader, both young and old, to explore this gentle story. Ada loves stars but where she lives in New York is so illuminated by city lights that she cannot see the stars. She and her Mum travel to her grandparent’s home on an island in Maine where the night sky is very dark. Ada waits impatiently for nightfall and it is up to her grandparents, Poobah and Ama, to keep her entertained until it is dark. During the day they visit the beach where they tell Ava all about the sea creatures and local wildlife. When it is finally dark, fog rolls in and Ava still cannot see the stars. Poobah suggests they look at pictures of stars and galaxies to which Ava reluctantly agrees but she listens to Poobah’s explanation of galaxies and has lots of questions. Finally, the fog clears and Ava and her family venture outside to observe the night sky.

The authors have provided interesting facts about galaxies at the end which add to the information shared already throughout the story. The stunning illustrations complement the text perfectly and add to the appeal of this very captivating read. A perfect book for home, school and public libraries.

Themes Family, Diversity, Sea shores, Galaxies, Night Sky.

Kathryn Beilby

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The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters

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The sequel to the well received, The Last Hours, set in a small moated manor house in England in 1379, bracing itself against the scourge of the Black Death, is just as engrossing. Published in 2019, I have only just read it and was struck by the parallels to the pandemic raging across the world today. It is all there, misinformation, sometimes by those in authority striving to keep their power intact, people using fear to become wealthy, people not believing the sensible advice, and the manor house locking itself down against those wanting to come across the moat to its safety.

Milady, Lady Ann Develish, now a widow, after refusing to allow her sick husband across the moat, has to fight to retain her authority. She and her promoted serf, Thaddeus, run the place tightly. He has toured the surrounding countryside, gathering information, assessing the damage, developing his ideas about how the plague spread. He and Milady decide that those wanting to find safety must quarantine themselves beside the moat until they have had two weeks symptom free.
But she must fight the detractors, those who do not want to see the old order of landowners and serfs upset, those who do not believe that women and low born have a right to education or a voice, those who uphold the strictest interpretations of the church.

Her steward, a nasty self seeking man has designs on her and her husband’s wealth but rebuffed, makes plans to thwart her. He calls her out as a heretic, citing her freedom with her serfs, her relationship with Thaddeus, and the way she deals with the plague going against the church’s teachings. When Thaddeus braves the criticism, taking on the mantle of her cousin, a lord, the tension is tightly held, readers wanting to turn each page to see how they get away with this deception.

And in the background to this fine story we see the ravages of the plague and can compare it with what is going on in our world at the moment. The similarities are in evidence, reminding us of how easy it is to spread lies and deceive populations. The arguments Milady and Thaddeus present to both the lord and the priest repudiate the position held by authorities for centuries, disallowing women and anyone but the wealthy to have a voice. 

Themes Medieval life, Black Death, Plague, Pandemic, Power, Authority, Medieval church.

Fran Knight

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Second first impressions by Sally Thorne

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In this fascinating book, Sally Thorne plunges the reader into an environment with which many of us would not be familiar.  Setting her narrative on the beautiful coastline hills of the northern beaches of the East Coast of Australia, green-grassed and overlooking over the sea, Thorne presents a stunning setting for her new novel.  Indeed, it is this environment that adds greatly to the sanity and enjoyment of the latter years of the lives of the older residents who have chosen to live in this aged care facility, albeit a rather expensive and flash one.
 
The luxurious residence is alone on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, a place that has many attributes, but one that is superlative.  In a most fascinating aspect, this beautiful place is part of a natural environment, one that has a series of verdant cliffs and rich lovely grasses.  The discovery of the alluring factors of this residence we see through the eyes of Teddy, a young man sent to the residence to work for a time.  Everyone is stunned, as a young, handsome man is not what is expected by the workers or residents, and he is attracted to the woman at the centre of this narrative, one who is working there.  She is aware that he is not her ‘sort of man’, but she is stunned by his glorious ‘long, black hair’, his relaxed attitude and his charm, and is initially puzzled as it is not common for a young man to be employed in this care-giving community.  Indeed, as it is revealed that he is working for his father, the owner of the establishment, we are made aware that he has potentially other reasons to be there.  However, he takes on the role of a  support-person to two wealthy, older female residents.  Not unexpectedly, they are similarly captivated by his looks, charm and personality.  
 
As we are plunged more deeply into the environment and the narrative, we begin to see that the young man’s purpose is not quite what it appears to be on the surface, and the changes proposed by his father appear to be challenging to the residents.  We gradually become aware that the real purpose of the young man relates to his father’s plans for the future. 
 
Suitable for adolescent readers and adults, this captivating narrative challenges us to consider the natural world, the world of sharing with others, clearly positioning us to see how life changes, particularly for older people who need more help at that stage than in their earlier lives. Endowing us with a sense of the vital need, and the potential, for humans to live a life that is rather one that is about sharing our everyday lives with others. Moreover, in a shared residence, we see the value of offering loving friendship and commitment.  Sally Thorne is a captivating writer, deftly eliciting an unexpected, deeper response in persuading us how we can and should consider how to live gently on this earth, both for the sake of the natural environment and that of our well-being.   This compelling novel challenges us to think about how we lives our lives, particularly as we age, and suggests that commitment to socialising with others, is important if we are to consider choosing to live a ‘fulfilled good life'.
 
This would be most suitable for both older adolescent and adult readers.

Themes Retirement villages, Carers.

Elizabeth Bondar

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Switch by A.S. King

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Stuck in a fold in time and space, the world has stopped. Or more correctly time has stopped. The predictable answer to that is to create apps that tell you what the time should normally be and for life to go on as usual. For Tru, it is not that easy; her world has imploded. Her mother has left, her father is building large wooden safety boxes within their house, boxes that are turning the whole place into a warren, her brother has a guilty secret, and her sister, who has also left, remains a malevolent force that impacts all their lives.

It sounds like some strange kind of future world, trying to solve the problem of time coming to a stop. The response seems to be directed to recreating the time that people are used to. School students are given the challenge to come up with a solution. For Tru, the solution has to be found in psychology. It has to be something to do with ‘giving a shit about people’.

It sounds confusing and chaotic and it is, and gets increasingly more chaotic.  The writing style offers sentences full of slashed alternative options, actually alternative interpretations. It is a clever technique that makes us realise that there are more than one way to seeing things, or of understanding things. And while this is disorienting at first, I’d encourage readers to persevere, the threads do start to come together. We begin to understand that Tru’s family situation is highly dysfunctional. Tru is really struggling. Her study of psychology is her attempt to find a solution to the situation she is in. With her project team she explores Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotion.

The N3wclock website created by A. S. King presents the Wheel of Emotion to help people to work through their fear, and is aimed at suicide prevention. In Switch when Tru encounters another young girl struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is this strategy she uses to help her. She encourages Jennifer to keep flying, make the switch and overcome fear.

This is an extraordinary book, complex in the psychological issues it explores, tapping into themes of abuse, paranoia, intimidation, guilt, and fear. It is not an easy read, it takes some perseverance, but the puzzle at its heart is engaging and takes us down an interesting path exploring ways to cope with confronting life challenges. The message is to switch, find yourself, free yourself from time demands, do what you really want to do, and become the person you were really meant to be.

Themes Time, Psychology, Emotional disorder, Nervous breakdown, Dysfunction, Fear.

Helen Eddy

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Tilda tries again by Tom Percival

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The fifth in the excellent Big Bright Feelings series, supporting well being and positive behaviours in young children, will remind everyone of times they have felt that their world has turned upside down, and this inviting book supports the strategies used to get their world righted again. Tilda is happy; she has her friends and her books and her toys - all is right with the world, but one day it turns upside down.

She becomes morose, does not want to see her friends, or read her books or play with her toys. Things are far more difficult than ever before. Everything is just too hard. She prefers instead to stay in her room, alone. But one day she spies a ladybird struggling to get itself on its feet again. It is on its back, legs in the air, writhing with concentration. Tilda cannot see any way that she can help, so watches anxiously. But the ladybird keeps trying and eventually finds itself the right way up again and flies off.

This is a lightbulb moment for Tilda. If the little ladybird can do it, so can she. And she does..

A wonderfully uplifting story of one child’s struggle to remain positive in the face of something which has overturned her world, the story will have relevance in all classrooms and homes where well being is valued and resilience encouraged. No reason is given for her world being turned upside down, but children will recognise times when their equanimity is sullied, and sympathise with Tilda and her efforts at righting herself.

And Tom’s illustrations showing Tilda in the extremes of her feelings, happiness and contentment when with her friends or with her books, and sorrow at being alone, are realised in the most apt of images.

The titles in this series can be found here and are worth seeking out. 

Themes Well being, Mental health, Resilience, Depression.

Fran Knight

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