Reviews

Derek Dool supercool : Run for your life by Adrian Beck. Illus. by Scott Edgar

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Derek Dool supercool : Run for your life is the third book in a series starring Derek Dilbert Dool, a highly likeable rascal.

Derek's wish is to be supercool and famous. He thinks there is an opportunity to achieve this by winning a school cross country event. The lead up to the event is action packed with much mischief, plenty of hilarious, laugh-out-loud mishaps and mayhem.

The third person narrative is active, buoyant and observant. The narrative is laced with cool vocabulary, popular lingo, idioms and jokes. The situations that Derek finds himself in are often awkward and embarrassing, difficult at times and mostly always hilarious. Descriptions of situations prior to the race like the parent interview, the conversation with his father in the shower and the performance in the town centre are hilarious. There is much toilet humour; many fart/diarrhea instances. "Dad-jokes" abound and are integrated well within the plot. 

Derek Dool supercool : Run for your life is highly illustrated in the vein of Diary of a wimpy kid. The font is similar and typesetting is varied with pictures and text arranged to produce exciting page layouts."Bonus chapters" are included. This might be quite a surprise to the reluctant reader! This book (and series) is perfect for both the confident and the reluctant reader. It is naughty and rude - just what kids love.

Despite the loss of storyline coherence during the race, this book (and series) will be an enjoyable addition to any humorous, highly illustrated collection. It is certain to be greeted with hilarity by students - especially primary years boys. It is ideal for read aloud in the classroom especially if children are in need of some lighthearted fun. It is very important to bring back fun into children's lives and particularly important that it is done through the medium of books. Books like Derek Dool supercool : Run for your life will help entice another generation of children back to reading for sheer enjoyment.

 

Themes Primary school, Cross-country racing, Friendship, Hobbies, Family, Identity.

Wendy Jeffrey

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The rock by Aaron Smith

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The rock starts with a rant; it is meant to shock, shake people up. It demands that people open their eyes, open their minds, to recognise the dark heart of Australia, its harsh history, and the ongoing schism between the privileged whites and the First Nations custodians of this Country. Smith’s book is a memoir of his six years as editor of the ‘Torres News’ whose primary readership were Torres Strait Islanders, a people he became determined to know better, as mates, as community.

The Rock is the familiar name for Thursday Island drawing connections with Alcatraz prison, and the Earth as the third rock from the sun. The Torres Strait Islands are a focal point for so many of the widespread struggles between Indigenous people and oppressive bureaucracy, issues of identity and culture, native title, stolen wages, climate change, Closing the Gap, and racism. It was Australia’s failure to address these issues that led to poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal returning her MBE, highlighting the ongoing suffering of her people.

Smith is blunt, in your face, but the issues he exposes are important and should have more exposure in our media. How could a Sydney airport, in a ‘sky-high moment’ be named after an aviation icon, Nancy Bird Walton, yet her family be denied Australian citizenship? How could Aboriginal Australians be told they were ‘aliens’ under Dutton’s revised citizenship laws and be threatened with deportation?

These are just a few of the many anomalies, and injustices, that Smith turns a spotlight to; his  articles winning him the Indigenous Issues Reporting mantle at the 2014 Queensland Clarion Awards. I would recommend his book to senior secondary students for a critical perspective on serious issues that do not get attention in mainstream media. Also worth a listen, is the Good Reading interview with Smith on Australia’s cultural and moral divide. Highly recommended.

Themes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Australian citizenship, Aboriginal culture, Indigenous issues.

Helen Eddy

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Into the wild by Robert Vescio and Mel Armstrong

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Into the Wild is a thoughtfully written story that will bring a sense of a calmness and peace to its reader. With stunning illustrations, this picture book shares the story of Roman who wanders alone enjoying and discovering amazing things among nature. At times he would love to share his findings with someone special and one day comes across a surprise. He investigates and follows, and then stumbles upon something that will change his way of looking at things.  He realises that he does not have to be alone to enjoy his nature wandering and wonder of the world.

This is a perfect book to encourage both children and adults to observe the natural environment around them and see how the simple things in life can bring great joy and contentment.

Themes Nature, Being Alone, Friendship.

Kathryn Beilby

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The morning flower by Amanda Hocking

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Continuing on from the end of the first book, Ulla and Pan set out on a journey to find the kidnapped Eliana, as well as continue the quest for Ulla’s birth parents. Their expedition reveals a possible long-lost father for Ulla, and a Troll secret society. Joined by their colleagues, Dagny and Elof, they continue their journey to learn more about this secret society, Eliana’s kidnapping and Ulla’s heritage.

The Morning Flower is the second book in The Omte Origins, and is a contemporary urban fantasy, where Trolls live hidden among humans, as well as having Troll only towns (think Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter series). This novel is filled with descriptive writing and delves deeper into Troll society, which was detailed thoroughly in the first book. Following Ulla’s lifelong quest to learn more about her heritage after being abandoned as a baby, readers will enjoy a few twists and turns as she learns more about herself along the way, and develops connections with new friends and even a possible romance. Several mysteries emerge through the book, which may be connected to the secret society, or Ulla's heritage. While learning more about her past, more questions arise, leaving readers wanting to know more. At the end of the book, there is an extensive glossary for Troll terms used in the book.

Themes Urban Fantasy, Mystery, Self Discovery, Relationships, Folklore/Myths and Legends.

Melanie Phillips

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Mind the gap, Dash & Lily by Rachel Cohn

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New Yorkers Dash and Lily are looking forward to pursuing their individual goals while maintaining a healthy relationship. For Dash, this means becoming a student at Oxford University while 18 year old Lily is not so sure of her pathway. She has a successful dog walking business which has expanded to include online sales of dog merchandise but there is family pressure for her to take up the offer of a position at a prestigious university. While the couple are prepared for a long distance relationship, after six months apart Lily is upset to learn that Dash is not coming home for Christmas. She decides to surprise him by flying to London where she hopes to sort out her future and reassure herself that Dash is ok. This is the third in the series and reprises the theme of puzzles and books in an Advent calendar Lily has made for Dash and some great literary references. The characters are relatable, but the plot is contrived and stilted, relying on a series of unlikely coincidences as the characters’ internal struggles take centre stage in the alternating first person narratives. The London setting is explained for a US audience; Barbican, 'an arts place like Lincoln Centre' p. 126, and a Twickenham thatched house is 'an ordinary English house' p. 91. There is the feel of a film script which suggests it might follow the recent Netflix series adaptation of the first book.   

It might have been helpful to have read the previous books, Dash and Lily's book of dares and The twelve days of Dash and Lily but while Dash and Lily say they are a couple, there is little sense of it in this story. They are both wrestling with issues of identity and the conflict arising from making personal choices while maintaining important connections. These characters come from privileged backgrounds and their affluence makes the whole angst seem self-indulgent but young adults who have seen the Netflix series or read the previous books and Sam and Ilsa’s Last Hurrah by the same authors will hopefully find that 'what a great book does, right? It traps you into feeling something important. Whether it’s about yourself, or society or ideally both' p. 222, and that has to be a good thing.

Themes Identity, Relationships.

Sue Speck

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Super-me by Jane Martino. Illus. by Annie White

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Super-Me is the second picture book in a new series developed with leading Australian mindfulness organisation, Smiling Mind.  The author Jane Martino is a cofounder of Smiling Mind, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing free pre-emptive mental health and well-being programs via their apps and website. In this sensitively written and highly appealing story, Sonny is beginning school. On his first day he is naturally apprehensive and has butterflies in his tummy. He grabs his tutu on his way out of the house because when he wears it he feels fearless and he becomes Super Sonny. Once in the school yard Sonny puts on his tutu to help him cope with the newness and unfamiliarity. Sadly he is ridiculed by other children but his teacher rescues him and offers a solution to wearing the tutu. However Sonny finds it hard to focus on the school day without his tutu until his teacher asks the class to talk about their own special thing. His teacher explains that each person is different and likes different things and Sonny realises that everything is going to work out at school.

This is beautiful story to share with children who are beginning a new school year. The thoughtful illustrations by Annie White perfectly complement the text.

Themes Well-being, Identity, Belonging, First Day at School, Gender.

Kathryn Beilby

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Shelter by Catherine Jinks

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Meg, fleeing from an abusive husband, now lives alone in the bush. When approached to shelter Nerine and her children, she agrees although she is breaking the law as her home is a perfect place to hide, isolated and lonely. But Nerine wants her to get a gun and her children are terrified. Then frightening things begin to happen. Has her abusive husband tracked her down, or is Nerine’s violent husband prowling around?

Jinks’ use of ordinary occurrences to build suspense is frightening. The sound of wind chimes when there is no wind, a flyscreen found on the ground, a footprint in a garden bed, are all things to which the reader can relate.  The tension is ramped up gradually with Nerine’s insistence on needing a gun to protect herself and the children’s willingness to hide in a safe place. Meg’s recounting of the way that Keith, her husband, psychologically abused her and her daughter also adds to the reader’s trepidation about who is lurking around the house.

This dark and gritty psychological thriller kept me glued to my seat as I followed Meg’s dilemmas and desire to protect the children. Many chapters ended on a cliff hanger, ensuring the book was read in a couple of sittings. Unexpected twists and turns surprised and an ending that left me gasping made for an unforgettable read, while the setting will appeal to those who enjoy rural noir novels, like The lost man by Jane Harper.

I will certainly be recommending this thriller to my Book Club. Book Club notes are available from the publisher.

Themes Domestic violence, Psycholgical thriller.

Pat Pledger

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The last word by Samantha Hastings

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A delightful read set in Victorian London, this historical romance stars a smart heroine and a swoon-worthy hero. It is 1861 and Lucinda Leavitt has just come home from finishing school. Her father does not want her to use her outstanding mathematical ability in his counting house and her only solace had been a novel serialised in Wheathill’s Magazine. When it is announced that the author has died with no conclusion to the story, she is determined to find out what happened to her.

Lucy has little to do and it is not until David, her father’s young business partner, overwhelmed by the amount of work he has, gives her some of his mathematical work to complete that she able to use her ability with numbers. In return she engages his help in seeking out the unknown author and the reader will have fun following the pair as they travel around the country going to Bath, country estates and churches.

The setting feels very authentic and readers will learn much about life in Victorian England. It is a time of great class divides, and Lucy must withstand being ostracised from London society because her mother was a maid and her father a self-made man. At the same time many of the aristocracy are suffering from loss of income, and American heiresses are flocking to London in search of a title in exchange for their fortune. A note by the author at the end gives additional information about novels published at the time, the Tooley Street Fire of 1861, and the fire hazards of crinolines and dress reform by Amelia Jenks Bloomer

The last word is a fascinating introduction to historical romance for teens, with a feisty heroine who loves maths, an interesting mystery to solve as well as an authentic background to Victorian times, all written in an easy to read and witty style.

Pat Pledger

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The cousins by Karen M. McManus

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Another easy-to-read compulsive thriller from McManus will be welcomed by her fans. Author of the best-selling One of us is lying, McManus is a master at writing mysteries that are very hard to put down. This time, three cousins Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are invited to work for the summer on the island resort of their rich grandmother, whom they have never seen. She had disinherited their parents before they were born so it is very surprising to hear from her.  When they arrive, it is clear that she doesn’t welcome them and the longer they stay the more they learn about their family and the secrets their parents have harboured for years.

The book is written in alternative chapters in the voice of the three cousins and their backgrounds and personalities are easy to follow, while at the same time, many questions about why their parents were disinherited are raised. Readers will be tantalised by the information revealed in the chapters by 18-year-old Allison, mother of Milly, and wonder if murder has been committed and if so by the parents of the cousins.

The class divisions between the very rich Story family and the towns people, the mansions and holiday homes, parties on the beach and a Gala all form a background that adds depth to the story. The characters are equally as richly described, and it was easy to sympathise with each of the cousins as their strengths, flaws and vulnerabilities are revealed.

I read this in one sitting, eager to find out why the cousins’ parents were disinherited, trying to guess what happened and totally satisfied with the stunning ending.

Themes Mystery and suspense.

Pat Pledger

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Zoe, Max and the bicycle bus by Steven Herrick

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This is a terrific heartwarming story about a group of seven 10-year-olds who are inspired by their teacher, Ms. Dillon, to ride their bikes to school. Beginning at the start of a new school year, we learn about the children’s personalities, homes and family through their individual voices.  They also report on what is happening in class from day to day, friendships and the development of the “bicycle bus” project.  Finally, Max and Zoe take on a big challenge of fixing a road that is unsafe for bike riding, with a little help from kind Mr. Bertoldi, the lollipop man. The children realise that in small ways they are saving the planet.  All of them grow in confidence and overcome fears.

Steven Herrick is known for his award-winning verse novels, which subtly take on real world issues from a child’s perspective.  He is humorous and doesn’t have an overly didactic touch. Valid examples of dangers for bike riders, in part due to our car-focused society, are compared with the practice of how Japanese children safely go to school.  He also manages to incorporate funny lessons about homophones and homonyms.  The class visits by Fire Officer William provide comical moments and show the spirit of the class but were a little lame for me!  Nevertheless, I like the way wise quotes were used and the optimistic goodness which pervades this book.  It would be really effective as a middle primary class novel and the students could take on reading the roles of the different students.

Jo Marshall

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The Adventures of Tzar the Paddington Poodle : Goanna Encounter by Catherine Toth-Lacey. Illus. by Brian Tisdall

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This is the second instalment of these travel and adventure stories featuring the two Paddington poodles, Tzar and Ziggy.  The series began with the title Crocodile encounter which was set in Mission beach on the North Queensland coast.  This next book has the equally beautiful setting of Port Douglas a little further north.  Two other books in the series are Brahman Bull encounter set in the outback and Tasmanian Devil encounter set in Tasmania.

The poodles have set out to explore their beautiful surroundings only to find themselves drawn into the rescue of a young boy who appears to have gone missing.  They encounter a large goanna who is terrorizing the boy and quickly go to the boy’s rescue.  But the real adventure unfolds as Tzar is returning to their holiday accommodation and is captured by dog control officers as a stray.  He is put into an animal rescue centre fearful that his life could soon be terminated.  Ziggy and the other animals must find a way to work together to rescue Tzar. 

The feature that sets these books apart from many novels in this genre is the inclusion of the many interesting and unique forms of wildlife in each of the locations Tzar visits.  The creatures form friendships with this interesting looking dog out of curiosity, and the readers are treated to facts about each one as part of the story.  In addition, at the end of the books there is an animal glossary which gives a short paragraph about each animal encountered including whether it is endangered or not.  There is also a vocabulary glossary to help with the longer words used in the story.  A resource list of websites is included along with details about how to contact Tzar and Ziggy on their website, Facebook or Instagram pages. 

The illustrations by Queensland artist Brian Tisdall are colourful, detailed, often full or half page and greatly enhance and expand the story for the reader.  Middle Primary readers will thoroughly enjoy the adventures of Tzar and Ziggy.  I think the books would read aloud well to Junior Primary students.

Themes Australian animals, Poodles, Animal shelters, Cooperation.

Gabrielle Anderson

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Lore by Alexandra Bracken

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Alexandra Bracken knows how to begin a story with a bang. The first few scenes of her standalone young adult fantasy Lore feature a clash between gods, a murder and an illegal basement boxing match. Bracken begins as she means to go on and delivers a fast-moving novel with just the right amount of action, intrigue, girl power and romance.

Lore Perseous is a descendant of the Ancient Greek gods. She lives in a modern New York City where, unbeknownst to the human population, these ancient titans and their progeny live, scheme and do battle. Every seven years a hunt known as the Agon is held. Nine gods are made mortal for one week and if they are captured and killed, their murderer can claim their powers and immortality. Lore’s family was killed seven years ago in the last Agon and she has since immersed herself in the human world, refusing to do anything but survive. However, when Lore is approached by the goddess Athena and offered an alliance, she finally sees a way to exact revenge and escape from the Agon forever.

It is refreshing in young adult fantasy – where trilogies are increasingly the norm, regardless of whether a series warrants a third or even second book – to find a standalone novel. Rather than stringing her readers along or padding her writing to fill up pages, Bracken has delivered a succinct and complete product that is particularly satisfying for tying up all loose ends within one book. Lore is confident writing from a seasoned young adult writer and will particularly appeal to audiences who enjoy Ancient Greek mythology and strong female characters.

Themes Identity, New York City, Ancient Greece, Gods, War, Warriors, Friendship, Love.

Rose Tabeni

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Love giraffes can't dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

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A board book for the very young featuring all the characters from the very popular Giraffes Can't Dance  is a boon and sure to be a favourite bedtime story. Starting with the gorgeous yellow end papers festooned with red hearts, the reader knows that they are in for a treat as Gerard the Giraffe describes how love comes in many forms. Written in lyrical rhyming language, this is a delightful expression of love and happiness and is beautiful to read aloud.

I love you like the swaying grass …
I love you like the trees.
I love you like the sound of branches
Blowing in the breeze.

The illustrations are exquisite. I especially liked the expressions on all the animals’ faces and the picture of the lion and lioness dancing is a treat. Little stars, butterflies, flowers and insects lurk on the pages and will delight children who like to find small details.

The board book is exceptionally sturdy and should allow some heavy use from toddlers. It is also small enough for little hands to manipulate.

This is a gorgeous ode to love, great for Valentine’s Day and lovely to read aloud and remind a child how much they are loved. And children who have not yet been introduced to Gerald in Giraffes Can't Dance are in for a treat, enjoying the story while learning about tolerance and acceptance of difference.

Pat Pledger

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The Southern Oscillation Index by Cath Kenneally

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Named for the meteorological fluctuation in air pressure, the fluctuations in Kenneally’s collection of poems reflect the places she oscillates between: South Australia, and the United Kingdom. Locations change from one poem to the other, and only on reading do we gain recognition of those places, and the feelings they provoke.

The poems beautifully and deftly describe places, but it is not the places themselves that draw you into Kenneally’s work, it is the snatches of life, the thoughts, and experiences that we recognise and share.

I loved her descriptions of the election posters in ‘Suburban moments’, then the rows of Vietnamese beauticians buffing and polishing toenails in the local parlour, the plants struggling to grow, neighbours sneakily dumping leaves on verges, and the Bunnings fairy lights in the living room. It’s a familiarity that draws you in, makes you smile, and ponder the questions she tosses out in an offhanded way, something to think about in spare moments.

It’s a slim volume of poetry, but the poems have a way of capturing moments and making you reflect again; you could pick them up and enjoy many times over.

Themes Poetry.

Helen Eddy

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Rebel without a clause by Sue Butler

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We expect Sue Butler, lexicographer, and former Editor of the Macquarie Dictionary to be outraged by our ongoing mutilation of the English language. Her title promises neither satire nor indignation but instead, she makes measured observations of both the randomness and reasoning for mistakes.  With each short, sharp chapter, she delights in the evolution of language, likening it to a game of Chinese whispers, and only mildly irritated by a more colourful phrase resulting from a slip up. Rather than admonishing living speakers for the odd moment when clarity went awry, she writes,   

"... I would hope that my swings from tolerant to outraged are measured and balanced. Otherwise I will have become that creature of strident language purity, the pedant."

Her reflections help the reader trip backwards and forwards in time to rediscover lost words.  Barely a passage is given to the cry ‘Bar’ or ‘Barley’ meaning a “truce” but the lost word conjures up the sweaty excitement of our childhood running games.  As elsewhere, Butler is conflicted – impressed by the word’s appropriation by children from the French “Parlez”, or saddened by it falling into disuse.

It is surprising how much delight she voices for the metonymy created when a word is mistakenly used or mis-pronounced. She lists our sunny disregard for word origins as a reason for making false assumptions and analogies - so whilst we have the word  ‘disrepair’ to counter repair, to be disgruntled doesn’t mean the opposite but rather to be doubly displeased or  ‘gruntled’ [sic].

The young, with greater tolerance for American spellings such as center or meter, still adhere to Australian norms - simplified spelling hasn’t come to pass as originally feared.  Malapropism, however, is not to be excused and word origins can justify why we must care. Take for example, flaunt and the sentence, “The Commonwealth Bank had flaunted [sic] the country’s money-laundering and counter- terrorism laws.” Whereas, Flowers and flags flaunting proudly are transferred to people parading around today but mustn't be confused with flouting, which came from the Dutch to mean flute-playing, jeering, displaying contempt and being above reproach.

Our 21st Century instant culture neither critiques or tips hats -  but Butler takes no joy in pedantry for its own sake.  She champions editors, who like Teacher Librarians are increasingly undervalued. Editors rebel against the tide of bad grammar and confusing texts, empowering writers (and readers), published or not.

Rebel without a Clause is an important whimsy at a difficult time in history. Butler is not saying there are more important things to worry about than English grammar. Rather she is advising us to let go of correcting cultural variations, so long as meaning isn’t oppositional to intent. One reversal is ‘hoi poloi’ - originally a reference to the common folk. 

Common or not, these informative chunks, so easily digested, make character building conversation starters for the coffee table. English teachers will find an ice breaker or two in each chapter or use the text for literacy or reciprocal reading rotations.

Deborah Robins

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