Reviews

Kaldoras: The Medoran Chronicles Epilogue by Lynette Noni

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Join Alexandra Jennings and her friends for one last adventure across Medora, starting with Alex and her friends at the first Kaldoras after the war - with all the changes that came from that, and the new changes that are to come. Alex has a new tradition of taking a piece of cake into the painting in the library, and Kaldoras is no exception to this, so she sets off with a piece of cake and the expectation that she will be met with the same anger and hate - only this time, something is different, something shocking...
 
Fans of the Medoran Chronicles were ecstatic that Lynette Noni announced that she was going to revisit the series with a new release Kaldoras. While not an overly large book, it does not disappoint! All your favourite characters are back, and even some of your not favourite characters… Joining Alex and her friends after their studies and in their after school lives, in big moments, in significant moments, in everyday life and in seeing where life is taking them. Written in the perfection that fans have come to expect from Noni, the book is written in multiple parts – with a different character being the narrator for different parts. Moving swiftly as other Medoran Chronicle novels do, Kaldoras will take readers through a range of emotions. Some readers will face a difficult choice – reread the entire series before reading Kaldoras, or dive straight in? And then when they finish Kaldoras – what will they do with the questions Noni has left them… An absolute must for fans of the series and fans of Lynette Noni’s work. The book does contain spoilers for the rest of the series, so it is imperative that readers have finished the other books before commencing this one.

Themes Fantasy, Action, Adventure, Humour, Relationships, Love, Family, Friends, Trauma.

Melanie Pages

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Immortal longings by Chloe Gong

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This is a story for those who love twisted power struggles! I admired it and yet its serious intensity was hard to love. In essence it is a fantasy epic that explores a world where the tumultuous history has now led to a very imbalanced royal rule, one that perhaps has forgotten the people that it is supposed to serve. Strangely, in this world there are also mystical elements that provide opportunities to escape hardship and difficulty by slipping into other bodies, a trait that has benefits and huge problems. In this strange world there is also a royal-sanctioned competition to give opportunity to individuals to rise above their position in life and benefit hugely from the prize awarded. However, there is only one winner, and in order to win they must kill the other competitors. In a Hunger Games-style contest an exiled Princess Calla, attempting to restore the authority in the country to a more admirable rule, and Anton, a young man whose youthful love interest has been in a coma for years and who desperately needs resources to keep her alive, are pitted against each other in a violent challenge. Behind the scenes there are alliances and others with their own machinations for power. The story twists and turns with trust the loser throughout this complex story.

In a strange way this story feels like the strange descendant of The Hunger Games, Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, and Game of Thrones!  This bizarre and intricate tale has many elements from all of these tales, but it is its own well-crafted drama with incredible power to capture an audience. Written for an adult audience, its violence is quite extreme and frequent, and there is even an x-rated scene in a highly charged moment in the narrative, and the power struggles and conspiracies are complex. Lovers of the fantasy genre should not expect a teen-aged light drama, but rather a story that has many threads and intricacies related to the quest for power (and maybe even the search for love and connection) in a complex world. The mystical body-swapping aspect is also head-spinning for readers as characters change in appearance at regular times. With a hint of the Asian mystical qi (life force), there are some subtle Asian influences in this fantasy. With a powerful conclusion that implies that this is not the end of the story connecting the main characters, readers who are hooked by the impressive writing of Chloe Gong will need to wait to see how this world will change.

Recommended for an adult audience who love complex fantasy.

Themes Epic fantasy, Revenge, Power, Relationships, Trust.

Carolyn Hull

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Countdown to yesterday by Shirley Marr

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Author Shirley Marr has written a powerful and unique novel that sensitively deals with a marriage breakdown and the effect that has on only child, eleven-year-old James. When his parents decide to separate and his Mum moves into a small run down flat, James struggles with the changes that take place in his life. Expected to spend time with each parent, he wishes fervently that he could go back to the past to a time when the whole family were happy, connected and living together.

James is an appealing character; reserved and thoughtful, passionate about space, David Bowie’s Major Tom and The Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cakes recipe book. At school, James struggles to fit in and is often on the end of bullying from Roscoe, the son of his mother’s supposed close friend. James deals with this in different ways but mostly by spending time in the office helping the office staff with various things such as the cake competition. The great fundraising cake bake-off is taking place soon and to James’ surprise his mother has entered. This is a new mum, not one that James recognises. His dad has also changed and James struggles to reconcile his ‘now’ parents with how they were before.

Running parallel to James’ family story, is his growing friendship with Yan, a clever and personable girl who sees the world in a completely different way. From a Chinese background with seemingly strict parenting, she also struggles to fit in and has a fascination with the past, in particular with older style computers. Yan spends before school and lunch time in the library and James gradually joins her there. It is here that they concoct a plan to create a time machine where James can choose one of six happy memories he has with his family and go back to the past and stay there permanently. Does this time machine work for James? Or will he discover that what he remembers may not necessarily be what really happened? And that perhaps living in the now may be the time to create new memories?

This is a fabulous read with so much to ponder over, especially regarding memories both happy and not so happy. There are many opportunities for thoughtful shared discussion and understanding the notion that there is often more to a situation than meets the eye.

Themes Time, Memories, Changes, Family, Friendship, Separation, School, Science Week, Cake making, Cultural Expectations, Loneliness, Connections.

Kathryn Beilby

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Being a cat: a tail of curiosity by Maria Gianferrari. Illus. by Pete Oswald

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From the start of this book showing how cats behave, children are asked to be like them in seeking, watching, wandering and wondering. Be like a cat and survey all that surrounds you.  Can you search like a cat: looking up and around you? Can you chill out between actions like a cat, and just sit and preen, be happy like a cat, be curious? Lots of things are asked of the reader, using the cat as a template of things to do, asking the child to follow the same ways of seeing the world. Be inquisitive, seek, look around you: all sorts of wonders are there to be seen and explored. Why not search through a drawer, stop and smell the flowers, check out a box (all cats like a box). Cats sleep anywhere, and everywhere. Cats are inquisitive and inspect and inquire, all of course in between a time for preening. Cats say I love you in a range of ways: bunting, rubbing, jumping onto a lap, twisting and twirling.

After pages of what a cat does, and how curious a cat can be, are four pages of information about cats which will intrigue younger readers. A cat’s tail sticks straight up when it is happy, and other gems will have readers longing to get home and check out their cat, or reminisce about their cat with their peers.

And then they may question about how they show they are happy.

The information about the cat forms a  list of activities that kids can follow, it is hoped that children be curious, seek out answers, run and play, jump and twirl, look into things, look around, up and down and so on.

And I love the last page which shows children how hey cna leap like a cat, and gives them meanings for words associated with cats.

All of this is accompanied by endearing illustrations showing a cat and a girl attempting all the things in the text. Oswald entwines lots of humour in his images of the cat, and gives the cat lots of different feelings through the deft lines in its face. He makes the cat look ferocious, happy, dumbfounded, cross, clever, sad, pleased with itself and so on with just a few changes of the eyes and mouth.

Readers will love seeking out how the cat feels, and take in the detail given on each page, along with trying out some of the things the cat does, especially leaping.  

I can imagine classrooms with kids in boxes, preening themselves or leaping about.

Themes Cats, Action, Leaping, Preening.

Fran Knight

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City of stolen magic by Nazneen Ahmed

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For teachers wanting to deliver the cross curricular priority Studies of Asia layer of the Australian school curriculum, finding literature for children that portrays the Asian perspective is quite difficult. Nazneen Ahmed Pathak's debut novel City of stolen magic is a recommended novel to add to library collections as it delivers an atmospheric, magical adventure that is distinctly Asian and particularly Indian. Reminiscent of Salman Rushdie's powerful Haroun and the sea of stories, City of stolen magic could fit the phantasmagorical sub-genre which, to children, means very strange - like something in a dream. 

Pathak is a British Bangladeshi writer and historian with an interest in the geography and history of migration. Hence migration is one of the underlying themes of City of stolen magic and is reflected in the movement of the four magic children at the centre of the story and their adventures travelling from India to London and on their arrival living amongst the migrant communities in the dock areas. Clive Devayne's sinister trading company is the (thinly veiled) East India Company and it represents much that was evil about colonialism and the effect of British rule on India. Through this rich mining of the history of the extraction of goods and labour from India and of real historical characters, events and objects is wound an atmosphere and story of Asian magic - of djinn's and amulets and magical powers residing in particular beings.

The main character, Chompa - an outspoken, courageous and magical child - moves through settings from rural Bengal to Dacca, to the ocean voyage to London and the silver palace in the search for her kidnapped mother. Map illustrations (by Romanian artist Lia Visirin) of Dacca and the docks area of London help the reader establish a sense of place. Chompa encounters treachery and dangerous challenges as she hones her magical powers.

City of stolen magic offers the Middle year reader a story that is historically accurate although fictitious. The characters are believable and the language is authentic. Most importantly, City of stolen magic brings under-represented voices from the sub continent and in addition a heroine with alopecia universalis - an appearance- changing condition - a proudly different looking heroine - the story book equivalent of Danny Choo's Smart dolls that are similarly designed to represent diversity and unique identity.

There is a lot of depth and new experience on offer to the reader of Pathak's City of stolen magic.

Themes India-colonialism, Migration, Magic, Appearance-changing medical conditions.

Wendy Jeffrey

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Gus by Liz Murray and Walid Serageldine

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This disarming story of friendship allied with age is offered here with a lovely tale of a crocodile and a boy who share the same birthday. The crocodile hatches on the same day that Edward is taken to the zoo as a birthday present. Edward see the crocodile break out of its shell and comes back every birthday to share the day with his friend.  We see the pair sharing the day each year going through the years as Edward grows up, eventually becoming the keeper at the zoo, enabling him to see Gus every day. As time passes, the man can no longer look after Gus, and eventually he retires from work, but still comes in on their birthdays each year. One year, Edward is not there, so Gus sets out to look for him.

He tracks him down in the yellow house on the hill, a place for retired older people, and he sits by Edward’s bedside, working out a way for Edward to come and visit.

The scope of age is given in this lovely tale where the ages of a man are covered from youth to getting a job, marrying, having his own children, then retiring and eventually finding a home for his last years. Each of the birthdays is celebrated with his old friend, Gus, who is also getting older, the text dropping hints about his ageing process as well.

The illustrations show a wonderful crocodile reclining in his pool at the zoo, looking forward to each birthday and later seeing Edward every day. We see the zoo visitors through the crocodile’s eyes, and feel with him when Edward does not come to see him.

I love Gus’ pants, from the nappy on the small animal to his jaunty older pants. And I laughed at the contrasting faces at the nursing home when Edward arrives. What fun to imagine a crocodile walking the streets looking for his friend.

This warm hearted story will encourage readers to think about an array of things, friendship and how people age, but some eager readers will want to know about crocodiles as well.

Themes Age, Friendship, Crocodiles, Zoos.

Fran Knight

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A lesson in vengeance by Victoria Lee

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Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School. Perched in the Catskill mountains, the centuries-old, ivy-covered campus was home until the tragic death of her girlfriend.  Now, after a time away, she’s returned to graduate. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumoured to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students - girls some say were witches. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously, one after another, right on Godwin grounds.

Witchcraft is woven into Dalloway’s history. The school doesn’t talk about it, but the students do. And before her girlfriend died, Felicity was drawn to the dark. She’s determined to leave that behind her now; all Felicity wants is to focus on her senior thesis and graduate. But it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget.

It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway, and she’s already amassed a loyal following. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is a so-called 'method writer.' She’s eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no. Given her history with the arcane, Felicity is the perfect resource.
 
The story very quickly draws readers in, with intriguing characters and the right mix of back story, literary references and historical, feminism mystic, referring to the story created for the overall novel – the murders of girls who were thought to be witches back in the 1700s. Interweaving witchcraft along with the fear of witches and magic, as well as feminism and the persecution of women, the whole novel has women’s rights vibes, while also looking at mental health and interpersonal relationships. LGBTQIA+ characters feature through the book in a natural way, and the whole story flows extremely well. There is a darkness to the entire novel, provided through the layering of the backstory of the main character over the history of the murdered girls – and the ‘method writer’ of the house. Well worth a read, ideal for fans of Krystal Sutherland’s House of Hollow.

Themes LGBTQIA+, Mystery, Fantasy, Crime, Dark Mysticism, Witches, Feminism, Trust, Mental Health.

Melanie Pages

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The worm book: Nature's recycler by Karen Tayleur & Guy Holt

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Young readers will be in for a treat when they open the pages of this visually appealing factual book. The stunning photographs of different types of worms, their poo and cocoons, other creatures as well as labelled diagrams, will engage and entertain those reading. At the beginning of the book is a contents page with an important introduction to worms asking the question: What animal has no bones but can move, has no lungs but can breathe and has no eyes but can see?

Each of the main types of worms: segmented, ribbon, roundworms and flatworms are discussed in detail with easily accessible text surrounded by plenty of white space, plus labelled photographs and diagrams. New or more difficult words are emphasised in bold font and with their meanings found in the glossary at the end. Throughout the book are interesting facts and the chapter, Weird and Wonderful, contains quick snippets such as ‘Worms and dinosaurs lived in the same period. While dinosaurs went extinct around 230 million years ago, worms are still with us!’ There is a valuable chapter on composting complete with a simple compost life cycle followed by information about making your own worm farm. On the final page is a handy index.

This book will be a fabulous resource for teachers and students in the areas of Science especially when looking at composting and animal behaviour.

Themes Worms, Recycling, Facts, Composting.

Kathryn Beilby

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Chloe's Lunar New Year by Lily LaMotte and Michelle Lee

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It's almost Lunar New Year, and Chloe can’t wait to celebrate! But first, Chloe and her family must prepare for the new year. They buy new shoes, lay out good-luck oranges in a bowl, decorate the red envelope, and make a crispy turnip cake. Everyone comes together to cook a fantastic feast, saving a plate for A-má, no longer with them, of course. Chloe enjoys the festive celebration and yummy food, but most of all, she loves spending time with her family.

As many of our students start to prepare for their most important annual celebration, just as with the traditions of Christmas there are core elements that all observe, but this story focuses on the traditional things that form part of the Taiwanese version of the celebration, particularly the reunion dinner. There are many dishes, each with a special significance for individual members of the family and it is this coming together and sharing this special time that flows through this story.

The upcoming year is the Year of the Dragon, and while this opens up all sorts of possibilities to investigate, perhaps this story will encourage an exploration of how each of our Asian neighbours celebrate, especially the different emphases on various elements and the food that is shared. Students could share their stories, acknowledging their culture and customs and feeling that they are continuing those traditions by teaching others about them. A search of SCIS shows very few picture books about this important celebration that are readily available in Australia, so maybe this is an opportunity to collect the students' stories and create a new resource for the collection.

Themes New Year.

Barbara Braxton

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The wonder of little things by Vince Copley with Lea McInerney

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This new edition of Vince Copley's autobiography, edited for young readers, provides a personal account of what it was like as a young boy to grow up under the constant restrictions of the Aboriginal Protection Act. As a young kid on Point Pearce mission the fun was rousing around with siblings in a pedal car, lollies from the shop, catching rabbits, and hugs from aunties, but later as he grew older he became aware of categorisations of ‘full-blood’, ‘half-caste’, etc., things his mother told him to ignore, because ‘You’re as good as anybody else’.

Vince chose to go to St Francis school for Aboriginal boys, at a time before it became a place to send stolen children. It became a haven for him when his mother died, ‘another kind of family’. The bonds that united those boys held strong in later years when they encountered racist slurs. The call on the football field to ‘go back to your tree’ became a joke amongst the boys as they joked about ‘which is my tree’. Humour became a weapon of self-protection.

There were appalling moments in his life, like when his brother Colin died from infection after being turned away from the Maitland hospital which didn’t treat Aboriginal people. Vince himself was turned away from Ardrossan and Maitland hospitals before being treated at the Wallaroo government hospital for appendicitis. The harrowing significance of those events only sank in later.

Overall, Vince’s story is of the simple things that made up a good life despite adversity and racism. Thankfully there were so many good people that offered friendship, and a place to stay when he needed it. He seemed to have a natural understanding that resentment and anger would only give himself pain. Instead he responded with a happy open heart that connected with the right people.

Vince Copley became a champion footballer and a premiership-winning coach. The path was often difficult but his innate optimism and good cheer always held him up, so that looking back, he can revel in ‘the wonder of little things’. It is a very inspiring, uplifting life story of overcoming hardships and working with others to make things better.

This edition of Vince’s story is highly recommended for young readers. Older readers would be encouraged to read the more detailed The wonder of little things (2022).

Themes Aboriginal people, Ngadjuri, Boys’ home, Resilience, Racism, Friendship, Football.

Helen Eddy

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Patrice Lawrence

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The well-known and very popular classic Jane Eyre has been carefully and thoughtfully rewritten to find a new audience amongst younger readers. The significant events that take place throughout Jane Eyre’s life, from her early years as an unwanted orphan, to her time spent at Lowood Institution as a student and then a teacher, her governess position at Thornfield Hall, the devastation of her cancelled marriage, the mystery of Mr Rochester’s wife and the tragic consequences of the discovery are all shared in this story. The sometimes disturbing themes of bullying, poverty, hardship, loneliness and cruelty are still true to the original but presented in a less confronting manner.

Jane’s story is both powerful and moving with her character showing traits of great resilience and fortitude. It is also full of enduring and unrequited love along with the painful heartache that accompanies these deep feelings and is perhaps more suited for mature younger readers. For those older students for whom English is not the first language or who struggle with a lengthy novel, this may provide a welcome alternative to the original version.

This abridged adaptation is an engaging historical read that may encourage readers to further explore the classics.

Themes Tragedy, Historical Fiction, Orphans, Bullying, Poverty, Resilience, Mystery, Hope.

Kathryn Beilby

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Someone else's bucket list by Amy T. Matthews

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When 26 year old Instagram influencer Bree dies from leukaemia, her family is left facing crippling American medical bills. In a surprise pre-recorded Instagram message, Bree explains that a corporate sponsor will pay off some of the debts every time her younger sister Jodie completes an item from Bree’s unfinished bucket list. To save the family from bankruptcy, Jodie reluctantly agrees to the challenge, but the two sisters are very different people and the bucket list items that the adventurous and outgoing Bree had chosen, are anathema to the shy and insecure Jodie.

Bree’s six remaining challenges range from the seemingly easy ‘plant a tree’ and ‘take piano lessons’ through to ‘perform on Broadway’, ‘fly over the Antarctic’ and lastly, ‘fall in love’.

As she works through the list, supported by Bree’s best friend Claude, Jodie’s personal life is increasingly intruded on. The sponsor’s representative, the enthusiastic Cheryl, frantically attempts to craft Jodie into a public figure. With her achievements relentlessly documented for social media, what could have been Jodie’s personal journey through grief and healing, becomes a 24/7 marketing campaign. This is further complicated by the reappearance of Jodie’s one-time crush Kelly Wong and their re-examining their high-school attraction.

Jodie’s adventures are fun to follow, and Someone Else's Bucket List has a strong element of romance, including a gay relationship between two minor characters. However, it also illustrates a number of more weighty themes. We see people mourn and face their fears in different ways, with tender moments as friends and family strive to support each other as they grieve. We see Jodie grow in confidence and reassess how she appears to others.

Matthews also shows how invasive social media can become, and the resulting negative impact on mental health, self-identity and self-worth. Many sections of the book describe Bree's physical deterioration, response to treatment and her emotional states. These may not be for the faint-hearted reader.

Themes Death, Cancer, Grief, Family, Friendship, Social media, Romance, Personal growth.

Margaret Crohn

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Your brain is a lump of goo by Idan Ben-Barak and Christopher Nielsen

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Idan Ben-Barak has a BSC in Medical Science, MCs in Microbiology, PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science and is the author of the very popular Do Not Lick This Book. His latest publication is about the mysterious brain and the title of this book Your Brain is a Lump of Goo will certainly entice readers to find out what may be written and illustrated inside.

This bright and boldly illustrated book begins with a question written on the front endpaper asking the reader to find the pineapple at the end of the book. It then explains where the brain is and why it is like a pineapple. This is followed by the need to take care of the brain, especially from heavy knocks, and what is it made up of. There is a double page spread of the brain surrounded by random words showcasing all that happens in the brain. It is certainly a busy place! The brain has the main role to play in our everyday living, how we remember and understand things as well as our feelings. There are examples of what helps our brain to grow, and how our brains allow us to be different.

At the end of the book are detailed facts about the brain written in accessible language for the targeted age group. There is also the illusive pineapple to be found on the back endpaper!

Themes The Brain, Information, Characteristics, Care, Health, Feelings.

Kathryn Beilby

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Jack's Island by Norman Jorgensen

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Jack Jones and his mate Andrew ‘Banjo’ Paterson are young children during WWII. They live on an island off the coast of Perth where their fathers’ work has taken them. Although the island is not named, it is easily recognised as Rottnest Island, a place of strategic importance in the defence of the WA coastline. The story though is of two curious boys, adventurous, mischievous, and yet compassionate, whose misadventures during a different era are sometimes life-threatening.  They get into trouble regularly, are never bored and live with incredible resourcefulness during a difficult time in history. Their story is a ‘Boys Own’ adventure based on the early life of the author’s own father. It is exciting and dramatic, and set amongst military and civilian concerns it is very much foreign territory for modern children.

This is a wonderful, historical journey back in time! The independent young boys have a life that is difficult and yet they have many freedoms unknown to contemporary children. They do however seem to regularly place themselves into danger. Their school life and its strict expectations will also present some surprises for young readers. The book contains lots of social history glimpses, and there are many funny moments in this fictionalised account of the life of Jack. The community’s response to the young boy ‘Dafty’ also demonstrates change in social expectations towards children with intellectual disabilities. This book delighted me in its ability to shine a spotlight on this time in history through the eyes of a child. I recognised many things from my own parents’ and grandparents’ pasts that would perhaps be difficult to comprehend for a young reader aged 9-12, however I would not want this to stop them from reading this wonderful adventurous story. It is an absolute delight, written with a youthful naivete, and the fact that it has been republished is a tribute to the power of the story for a new generation of readers. (And anyone who has travelled to Rottnest Island, WA will recognise some of the features eg ferries, Quokkas and the unique geography that are part of this part of Australia.) Teacher's notes are available.

Themes WWII – Australia, Children during War, Adventure, Friendship, Racism, Disability.

Carolyn Hull

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The beehive by Megan Daley and Max Hamilton

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The Beehive, written by well-known and highly regarded Queensland teacher librarian and author Megan Daley, is a wonderful narrative non-fiction picture book about a young girl called Willow who shares her love of native Australian stingless bees in an engaging story.

At Willow’s school the Nature Club has its own hives that are carefully looked after by Groundskeeper Tom who has amazing knowledge about all things bee related. He spends time sharing his wisdom with the students and educating them about how to care for the bees by providing the perfect environment. When the hives are to be divided, students are able to take home a hive and finally it is Willow’s turn. The divided hive is placed into a man-made environment, the timber OATH (Original Australian Trigona Box), and taken to Willow’s home where the bees settle into their new environment.

Throughout the story fabulous facts are presented about bees, with a change in font to differentiate from the narrative. Key words such as brood comb, foraging, resin and propolis are highlighted and can be found in a glossary at the end. There is also an index included. The simplicity of both the glossary and index will provide children with a gentle introduction to these two valuable components of a non-fiction text. The beautifully presented and highly detailed illustrations by Max Hamilton perfectly complement both the story and the facts.

As a new publication for the Nature Storybook Series from Walker Books Australia, The Beehive offers young readers (and adults) a valuable opportunity to learn some fascinating and important facts about bees. This delightful book will have a place in all home, school and public libraries.

Themes Native Australian Stingless Bees, School, Nature Club, Facts, Environmental Issues, Narrative Non-fiction, Nature Stories.

Kathryn Beilby

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