Showing posts with label Random House. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Random House. Show all posts

Sunday, 12 August 2018

The dog with seven names

The dog with seven names by Dianne Wolfer, (Random House) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN: 9780143787457

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

A puppy is born on a cattle station in the Pilbara. The runt of the litter, she is cared for by Elsie, the daughter of the station owner, and receives her first name – Princess. In February 1942, with the Japanese air raids moving closer, the family leave the Pilbara and go south for safety leaving Princess in the care of a kind drover. Later Princess (now named Flynn) flies with the Flying Doctor Service and stays in Port Hedland hospital, calming and giving courage to those hurt and in danger. The little golden-eyed dog, a cross between an Australian terrier and a dingo, has many adventures and is renamed many times before reuniting with Elsie.

The book gives well-researched information about the Japanese raids on Darwin, Wyndham and Broome. There’s also mention of the secret airstrip constructed at Corunna Downs by the US Army.

Events are related by Princess in the first person. According to Dianne Wolfer’s acknowledgements, The dog with seven names was one of two creative works accompanying research into anthropomorphism in Australian children’s literature. While much of what Princess recounts seems in keeping with a doggy view of the world, some of her wider understanding of places and events is problematic. However, this will not worry young readers who will enjoy the tale of a cute and brave animal in a time of war.

The author supplies a detailed timeline connecting World War II events to the story and some pages of additional historical information. These make the book a valuable classroom resource for students studying recent Australian History.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Meet Don Bradman

Meet Don Bradman by Coral Vass, illustrated by Brad Howe (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-92532-489-1

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

I am a child of World Series Cricket. The colourful larrikins in their multi-coloured flares and sideburns seeded my lifelong and often misunderstood love of cricket. Between that and my love of superheros, I think my husband believes I was a 12 year-old-boy in a former life.

As an opening batswoman for my high school’s all-girl cricket team, my heroes included the likes of David Boon, Dean Jones and Geoff Marsh, but no one could ever deny that Australia’s pride and love of cricket would not be where it is without the ground-breaking career of Sir Don Bradman.

Meet Don Bradman is the latest release in Random House’s successful non-fiction Meet..picture book series. What I love about this series is that it not only showcases our prominent historical figures in a contemporary engaging way, but it also shows the depth of talent we have in our authors and illustrators, managing to pair just the right talents for each of the titles.

Coral Vass has written a factual text about Don Bradman’s rise to glory; however she has beautifully conveyed the life and times he lived in and why his success became so important to the average Australian during The Great Depression. Don Bradman’s humble beginnings resonate with so many and in retelling his story, Vass reminds us of his inspirational and at times wonky ascent to cricketing stardom. Who knew that Don Bradman at one point gave up cricket to be a junior champion tennis player or that he left school when he was 14 years old?

The evocative watercolours in Brad Howe’s illustrations are also highly entertaining and give you a feeling of a newspaper comic strip reminiscent of the age. His snapshots of Australian culture at the time will assist younger readers to understand how people consumed media and sport in the 1930s.

As always with the Meet….series, an historical timeline at the rear of the book details the specifics of Don Bradman’s illustrious career and make this book a great foundation for classroom learning. Don Bradman lives on through the iconic ‘Baggy Green’ he helped make famous.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

This is a Circle

This is a Circle by Chrissie Krebs (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780857988058

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

My love of rhyme is not a secret, but rhyme with bug-eyed goats in boats and pant wearing foxes on boxes gets me giggling every time.

I was immediately taken back to Fox in Socks when I first read This is a Circle by new author Chrissie Krebs. The nonsensical imagery and unexpected turns that I encountered when I first read one of my all-time favourite Dr Seuss stories came flooding back as I skipped through Krebs’ glorious pages. 

Krebs is both author and illustrator of this romp and although well suited to younger readers, my ten year old and I thought it was a hoot. But of course it is not just the bears, goats, cats and foxes dressed in primary colours that are eye catching, but the repetitive elements of the story that grow and interchange with each other to give context to shapes and surroundings.

The hardback with a peephole in the cover is always a drawcard for younger readers and the larger font for the frequently used words will aid slightly older children who are learning to read.

Cartooned themed illustrations together with rhyme give this a pacey feel that by my third read through, I was reading faster and faster to see how tongue tied I would get. 

This is the first book by Chrissie Krebs. Her second book, There’s Something Weird in Santa’s Beard, is currently under construction.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Dinosaur Disco

Dinosaur Disco by Deborah Kelly, illustrated by Daron Parton (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-85798-136-3

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

I can easily see a run of dinosaur onesies flying off the shelves, as kindergartens and foundation classes stage their own dinosaur discos, thanks to this fun, rhythmic story by Deborah Kelly and Daron Parton.

I can’t imagine trying to work tricky dinosaur names into a flowing, engaging rhyme, but Kelly has created an entertaining and educational text that will delight younger readers.

The fully bled pages of illustrations by Parton beautifully represent each dinosaur character. The bright textural pages delightfully place them in a social scene that assists with understanding dinosaur characteristics like size, diet and physical attributes. 

Kelly has understood this age group’s love of music and movement by creating a disco setting, allowing for humorous images involving flared pants, gold chains and polyester shirts, now thankfully as extinct as the animals wearing them. The facts at the end of the book will make this a great addition to classrooms and give plenty of opportunities for further learning and discovery.

Clear, large text makes the rhyme easy to read among the rich bright palette of aubergine, orange, green and red and the sprinkling of light across each page keeps us under the ‘mirror ball’ throughout the book.

Deborah Kelly’s previous titles include The Bouncing Ball, Jam for Nana and Haiku Journey. She will be releasing Ruby Wishfingers in 2016 with Wombat Books. Daron Parton’s alphabet book Alligator in an Anorak was released in October 2014.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Lulu Bell and the Magical Garden

Lulu Bell and the Magical Garden by Belinda Murrell, illustrated by Serena Geddes (Random House)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9780857985644

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

I must admit, I have had this book in the review pile for a while (and the pile has been high of late) but I couldn’t forget about it as I knew I would love it.

Belinda Murrell has created such a loving, whimsical character in Lulu Bell that I wish I knew her as a 10 year old. She and I would have been kindred spirits in our search of little adventures and love of animals. This sweet chapter book for younger readers aged 7-10 years truly embraces all that being a kid should be about -- friendship, animals, family, community and creativity.

This was the first of the Lulu Bell books that I had read, however I was not restricted in getting to know the characters. Younger readers will enjoy collecting the book series and identifying with many of the adventures that Lulu Bell has. As a mum of a 10 year old girl I’ve observed that the voice is very strong and could quite easily be one of my daughter’s friends.

In this story Lulu Bell and her school chums charge themselves with repairing the school vegetable garden after a wild, destructive storm. The school cannot afford to fix it immediately, so instead Lulu and her cart-wheeling cohort decipher a plan to fund and repair the garden with the help of their families and local community. It conveys in the idea that making a difference, teamwork and selflessness can actually be fun as well as rewarding.

The setting is very Australian and the mood is bright, cheerful, sunny, loving and nurturing. It wouldn’t surprise me if this story prompted its young readers to take on similar activities. The strong but simple sentences with these familiar settings and characters would also appeal to reluctant readers, particularly those who love animals and nature.

As a parent, I love that there is a lack of modern technology and materialism referenced in the book, and the soft illustrations from Serena Geddes enhance the story to give the full sense of Lulu Bell’s jolly world. It is luminous without being too sugary.  

Belinda Murrell is also the author of the Sun Sword trilogy, The Ruby Talisman, The Locket of Dreams, The Ivory Rose and The Sequin Star. Serena Geddes had previously worked in Disney animation and now illustrates the Lulu Bell series, the Totally Twins series and Why I Love series among many other titles.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Coco Banjo has been Unfriended

 Coco Banjo has been Unfriended written and illustrated by N.J. Gemmell (Random House)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780857987358

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

The day Emma Chippendale decided to sit with Sally Haggerty on the bus to my grade three excursion to (the old) Parliament House in Canberra, was a dark miserable day in my then extremely short life. This was tragically relived upon reading Coco Banjo has been Unfriended.

There may be 30-something years separating myself from Coco Banjo, but the inconsolable dismay at being ditched by your best friend, is not restricted to a generation I’ll have you know.

This gorgeous graphic novel comes alive with the images working in harmony with the relatable characters that every kid experiences in primary school, right down to the cranky headmistress, who declares fun punishable by times tables and the hoity-toity mean girls hell bent on creating more misery than a soggy egg sandwich.

Coco Banjo is an off-beat little girl with a career mum who works away, so she pulls in the attention of readers with her flowery terminology and whimsical personality, however she is relatable as she grapples with the everyday challenges of being a girl in middle year primary. Clothes, sleepovers and school camp room allocations are interwoven with embarrassing parent behaviour and a repressive school dictatorship destined to quash the creativity of any ten year old.

A variety of fonts and graphics cleverly break up the text, which make this book perfect for reluctant and voracious readers alike. The pages come alive with punchy dialogue and comical illustrations in the same way that the My Life, Treehouse and Wimpy Kid book series’ have embraced the modern graphic novel.

At the root of all the chaos of Banksia Bay Public, is Coco Banjo’s commitment to positivity and kindness with enough mischief (or as I like to all it creative thinking) to get her out of trouble.  She is an empathetic character and the friend we all need through the monkey bars of life. The very Aussie backdrop is a tribute to our lucky way of life and Gemmell has shared her love of Australian culture in the scenes she has created.
The first book in the series was released earlier this year with Coco Banjo is Having a Yay Day and the third book is set for release next year with Coco Banjo and the Super Wow Surprise. Nikki Gemmell is the author of four novels for adults. Her other children’s titles include the The Luna Laboratorium and the The Icicle Illuminarium.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Ollie and the Wind

Ollie and the Wind by Ronojoy Ghosh (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780857988485

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

When I first picked up Ollie and the Wind, the title immediately created intrigue. How does a little boy have any impact or influence over something as infinite as the Wind? The concept for early childhood readers would certainly be enough to pique curiosity.

The first picture book for Random House from Sydney based author and illustrator Ronojoy Ghosh, does not fail to deliver a quirky and heart-warming story of Ollie who lives on an island with a tiny community of people.  Immediately the illustrations convey much of the loneliness experienced by Ollie with sparsely placed houses and vegetation but the colour and Ollie’s personality give the book instant appeal.

Ollie must try to understand why the wind has decided to fly away with his hat then his scarf. He tries to search and contain the wind to demand his belongings be returned, but on discovering that the wind is untameable, he must think differently about it and how it must be dealt with.

The images are not complex but the openness created by Ghosh and the full bleed of colour allows for a sense of the outdoors. The text is styled simply and in line with the illustrations and offers restrained support to the story rather than becoming part of the imagery which can be common with a lot of picture books.

The illustrations are enhanced through texture and the colour palette of blue and greens communicate the smells and sounds of a seaside location while the primary colours attributed to Ollie and his possessions, give movement and focus to the story.

There is an obvious environmental element to this book in how wind lives around us, but I also thought that there was a feeling of discovering friendship in unexpected ways as Ollie learns to enjoy the wind.

Ghosh is an award winning advertising art director and is due to release another title next year for Random House titled No Place Like Home

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Hunter’s Moon

Hunter’s Moon by Sophie Masson (Random House)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780857986030

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

Sophie Masson’s retelling of the Snow White mythology in Hunter’s Moon was one I longed to immerse myself in. It sat patiently ready for my holiday north and as soon as we left the freezing tarmac, I unsociably planted my nose in it (husband, kids - go entertain yourselves).

I eagerly consumed the opulent then perilous tale of Bianca Dalmatin, heir to the Ladies Fair department store empire and stepdaughter to the beautiful but sinister Lady Belladonna. Presented into society at the Duke’s ball by her controlling stepmother, shy and lonely Bianca soon finds herself the subject of a murderous plot involving herself and her much loved father.  The fleeting kindness of Belladonna’s faithful servant that spares Bianca, catapults her on a quest to find out the truth behind her father’s death and her stepmother’s treacherous plans.

The mythical European inspired Faustine Empire creates scenes of rich architecture, tactile landscapes and mystical creatures. The majesty of the first few chapters illuminates a grand stage reminiscent of the late 1800’s, but then extremes of a sophisticated society and mystical backdrops, forced me to release my expectations and let the imagery unravel naturally.

It is these extremities of setting that force young Bianca out of her protected life to find the inner strength to navigate betrayal and look beyond her upbringing to learn the true sense of trust, loyalty, sacrifice, determination, family and self.

Uncovering the references to the well-told Snow White tale was an entertaining addition to the reading experience. The huntsman, magic mirror, poisoned apple, glass coffin and seven dwarfs have all been cleverly intertwined through the story in unexpected ways that will give the younger reader a spark with each discovery.

Hunter’s Moon has all the appeal of romance, action, magic and a fabulous frock or two which has been brilliantly constructed to not overwhelm or confuse readers in the early teens.  It is the fourth book in the series by Masson that retells famous fables. Moonlight and Ashes, Scarlet in the Snow and The Crystal Heart, take the skeletons of Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to a new and wondrous level. The trick is to work out which one is which?

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Samurai vs Ninja: The Battle for the Golden Egg

Samurai vs Ninja: The Battle for the Golden Egg by Nick Falk, illustrated by Tony Flowers (Random House)
PB RRP $9.00
ISBN 9780857986054

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

If only the Samurai vs Ninja book series was around 30 years ago, then my brother may have spent more time reading about clumsy, fighting, farting ancient Japanese warriors and less time pretending to be one, and practicing the aforementioned unsavoury behaviour on me.

Nick Falk and Tony Flowers have created a striking, fast-paced, snort-inducing book series for early readers, six and up. Beginning with The Battle for the Golden Egg, readers are introduced to samurai leader, Kingyo-Sama and the head of the ninja, Buta-Sama, who are constantly battling each other in the most ridiculous and smelliest of ways. They also happen to be brothers, which will have an instant appeal to young readers who have spent many a day duelling with siblings over the last piece of pizza or the front seat of the car.

With a highly visual tone, Nick Falk has cleverly downplayed the battle sequences using unusual and hilarious ways to convey the frustration and competition between the two main characters. Paths of wasabi planted in underpants, stinky seafood careering over walls in moments of attack and tickling feet as a form of torture go hand in hand with nonsense name calling.

What this over-exaggerated phrasing creates is a wonderful procession of alliteration and tongue-twisters which is such a valuable reading tool for younger audiences. The use of Japanese terms and glossary at the back of the book also enrich the variety of the text and opportunities for learning.

Descriptions of the era, costumes, architecture and armour are cleverly enhanced by Tony Flowers’ comic styled illustrations that maintain the interest of the reader, in the way I remember The Adventures of Asterix

Nick Falk is the author of the Saurus Street and Billy is a Dragon book series’ and the picture book, Troggle the Troll. As a specialist in Japanese influenced illustration, Tony Flowers was awarded a prize from the Oshima Picture Book Museum in Toyama, Japan, for his hand made pop-up book Gaijin Holiday. He has also illustrated six books in the Nick Falk Saurus Street series.

The series continues with The Race for the Shogun’s Treasure and two more instalments are due for release in July 2015.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Stories for Simon

Stories for Simon by Lisa Miranda Sarzin, illustrated by Lauren Briggs (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9780857987440

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

Stories for Simon represents more than just a beautifully conceptualised picture book, but a foray to discuss social and cultural issues, mutual respect and the importance of reconciliation and positivity in looking forward. 

Lisa Miranda Sarzin and Lauren Biggs have created a respectful contemporary reflection on Australia’s Stolen Generations that balances delicately between fiction and non-fiction.

Written under the mentorship of Bidjigal Elder, Vic Simms, Sarzin and Biggs skilfully explain the story of Simon who, through a gift of a boomerang, comes to understand the history of the Stolen Generations, the significance of reconciliation and the lessons that all future Australian children can learn in order to pave a harmonious, meaningful society.

Simon’s passage is told in a contemplative, well-researched tone that sees him interacting with his family, school and a boy named Vic who is able to introduce Simon to his own family’s history as part of the Stolen Generations. Each relationship reinforces Simon’s understanding of reconciliation and the significance of Kevin Rudd’s apology on behalf of Australia in 2008. 

Despite the delicate nature of the text, Stories for Simon is united with the evocative illustrations by Lauren Biggs. The use of strong primary colours is unexpected and presents a new way of documenting Australian stories which are typically reliant on warm hues. The pages related to the telling of Aboriginal Dreamtime and Simon’s own dreams are whimsical but graphically strong.

Stories for Simon is the first picture book for both Sarzin and Biggs yet all their royalties will be donated to the GO Foundation, an educational initiative to support Indigenous Australian children founded by 2014 Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes and his cousin Michael O’Loughlin.

School libraries will find this an essential part of their collection. The prospects for discussion and project work around reconciliation themes are extensive, while inspiring children to contemplate what Australia they wish to create. 

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Meet Banjo Paterson

Meet Banjo Paterson by Kristin Weidenbach, illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-85798-008-3

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

While lurching at a copy of Meet Banjo Paterson, I was immediately reminded of my grade 4 public speaking performance of Clancy of the Overflow, (that and Jack Thompson’s blonde moustache). As our English teacher’s comb over floated celestially above his head during enthusiastic rehearsals, we were blithely unaware of the man behind the poem; the boy then the man who was to become Banjo Paterson.

Meet Banjo Paterson is the seventh book in the Meet… series from Random House, a collection of non-fiction picture books aimed at uncovering the people behind Australia’s most well-loved and infamous icons including Ned Kelly, Mary MacKillop, Captain Cook and Douglas Mawson. 

Kristin Weidenbach and illustrator James Gulliver Hancock, set the scene for a young Andrew Barton Paterson (Banjo), a boy who lived and loved the Australian bush, particularly horses and bush life. Weidenbach’s evocative tone creates a clear description of what life was like in the second half of the 19th century. 

This is contrasted beautifully with the backdrop of the industrial revolution and the cities where Banjo worked as lawyer in later in life. His love of the Australian outback and fascination with Bushmen is translated as a lasting vehicle of Australia’s heritage.  

James Gulliver Hancock’s illustrations enrich the palate of colonial Australia with muted hues and the use of black chalk to portray a coal and campfire society. The colours including deep reds and purples are indicative of those naturally found in banksias and wild lavender. While the stylized art is a rich collage of Australian bush imagery, the typeface is clean and easy to read, so as not to detract from the overflowing pictures. The font reinforces the non-fiction nature of the book and is interwoven with excerpts from Paterson’s poems and stories such as Waltzing Matilda and Mulga Bill’s Bicycle.

I love that Weidenbach’s retelling of Banjo Paterson’s life creates a vibrant and engaging experience while the timeline of his life at the back of the book gifts insights about the man rarely known. The Man from Snowy River is part of Australia’s DNA, however I was unaware that when it was released it sold out within a week and broke Australian publishing records (without the aid of that internet thing). As an educational tool teachers will love the way it can inspire further research on the life and times of the man but as an example of writers impacting their community.

Kristin Weidenbach’s previously published non-fiction book Tom the Outback Mailman won the 2013 CBCA Eve Pownall Award. James Gulliver Hancock has an extensive background in advertising, animation and technical drawing. Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers is his compilation of profiles detailing interesting facts about famous historical figures presented as highly stylized infographics. 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Pause

The Pause by John Larkin (Random House)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 978-0-85798-170-7
Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

At the end of the first paragraph in John Larkin’s new YA novel, The Pause, the central character Declan O’Malley declares he is going to kill himself in five hours’ time!  My immediate reaction is to run for the tissues! However, I say this to anyone who finds the subject of suicide confronting, (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) PLEASE don’t let it scare you off.

What quickly develops is a personally narrated account from a seventeen-year-old boy, who could be anyone we know; complete with a smart mouth, individual styling challenges, raging hormones and an aversion to verbal communication.

The ‘now-that-I-have-your-attention’ introduction gives Declan a platform to weave his story of inner torment, repressed family secrets and the loss of love. Larkin’s clever use of time specific chapters help pace the story that commands your attention to the very end in unexpected ways.

While it is easy to assume this book is one of misery and lost hope, Declan’s seventeen year old voice and sense of irony pepper many funny, light-hearted moments that ultimately illustrate life is worth stuffing up every now and then. In the tradition of It’s a Wonderful LifeA Christmas Carol, or more recently Sliding Doors, The Pause merely asks you to do just that, stop and consider this world without you, (I know in my case my husband’s sense of humour would be non-existent and quinoa sales would not be what they are). 

Through the humour and warmth developed for the characters over the story’s 20 year span, Larkin makes this otherwise difficult topic consumable for the YA reader and with the added reading group questions at the back of the book, promotes a well overdue dialogue that will hopefully be explored in schools.  The Pause is set to follow on from the success of Larkin’s 2011 novel, The Shadow Girl which won the 2012 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Writing for Young Adults. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Silver Shoes and All That Jazz

Silver Shoes and All That Jazz by Samantha-Ellen Bound, (Random House)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-85798-282-7

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

The rush of adrenalin and the sparkle of the stage lights are what ten year old Eleanor Irvin lives, breaths and sidekick splits for, in this new dance focussed fiction for young readers.

Being the mother of a ten-year-old girl who has seen their fair share of backstage hysteria and dance school tulle, I found this first chapter book in the Silver Shoes series by Melbourne based author, Samantha-Ellen Bound, very close to our experiences in a competitive dance school (that glitter hairspray takes days to get out by the way).

Told through the eyes of Eleanor or ‘Ellie’, the pressures felt about friendships, auditions, family and appearance at this age are very clearly expressed through Ellie’s sharp, quick and at times skewed observations. The voice of a ten year old has been perfectly captured, including much of the ‘attitude’ which the reader will relate to.

The story centres on the Silver Shoes Dance Studio, and an upcoming dance competition. While Ellie is passionate about her dancing, she feels she has a problem with auditions. Bound clearly remembers much of her early days as a dancer and this comes across strongly. The author illustrates Ellie’s passion for dance, but then conveys the positive emotional impact of doing what you love and pushing yourself to achieve your goals. I also liked that the ending wasn’t completely obvious.

Samantha-Ellen Bound has been an actor, dancer, teacher, choreographer, author, bookseller and scriptwriter. She has published and won prizes for her short stories and scripts (I also think she has the most appropriate last name for a dancer). 

The other three books in the series highlight a different character in Eleanor’s dance school with each taking a role as the narrator and therefore appealing to potentially different readers.

I found myself eager to crack out the legwarmers and pop Flashdance in the DVD player!

Jaquelyn Muller is an author and publisher of children’s picture books. Her rhyming early childhood Elizabeth Rose series is about a little girl who lives in a circus.  Jaquelyn is an author champion for the Let’s Read early childhood literacy program. If she gets bored she organises her spools of ribbon in to colour order. @JaquelynMuller

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Event: Lady Cutler Dinner

The Children’s Book Council of Australia (NSW) is holding its annual Lady Cutler Dinner on 19 November at the Castlereagh Boutique Hotel to celebrate the achievement of this year's Lady Cutler Award Recipient Vivienne Nicoll-Hatton. The Lady Cutler Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature in NSW has been presented annually since 1981 by the NSW Branch of the CBCA. This year's Award is sponsored by Peribo.

The Charlotte Waring Barton Award for an aspiring children's writer, which comes with a mentorship with Random House, will also be presented on the night.

With a two course meal, tea/coffee, complimentary drink on arrival and After Dinner Speaker Libby Gleeson the night will be one to remember.

Tuesday 19th November at 7pm for 7.30
The Castlereagh Boutique Hotel,
169 Castlereagh St Sydney
$70 for members, $85 for non-members
Includes 2 course meal, tea/coffee plus complimentary drink on arrival


Monday, 29 April 2013

Ghost Club 3 – A Transylvanian Tale

Ghost Club 3 – A Transylvanian Tale by Deborah Abela (Random House)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781742758534
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742758541
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Award winning author, Deborah Abela, uses her wit and humour in this third book in the Ghost Club series.

Ghost tracker siblings, Angeline and Edgar and their friend Dylan are off to their first Ghost Club convention in Transylvania, ‘home to so many stories, legends of paranormal activity, mythical beasts and, of course, Count Dracula.’

Staying at Hotel Varcolac (Romanian for werewolf), candles flicker and heads of wild boar hang on wooden shields. The children gather their ghost-catching gear and head to the Fortress of Fear with its cold spots, moving shadows, footsteps, slamming doors and skeletons under glass floor panels.

It’s a night of zombies, ghouls, vampires, mummies and all things creepy.

Young readers itching to be scared silly will love the series of events that happen while the children wait for the arrival of the famous ghost catcher, Ripley Granger. But, is Ripley really the greatest ghost catcher, or has his life become one tall story? At a crucial ghost-catching moment, Ripley disappears and the children trek off into the wild woods in search of their hero. They find him in a shack where ‘ragged mountain tops loomed like hunched monsters ready to pounce … and tree branches threw shadows like grasping claws or vampire teeth …’

The children encourage Ripley to help them reunite Vlad the Impaler with his long lost love and it’s here that Ripley learns to face his problems. This is a welcome message for young readers who have to face challenges that they would rather run away from. Ripley overcomes his fears ‘otherwise he may have been haunted the rest of his life by giving up on his true talent.’

Scattered throughout the book are snippets of ghostly trivia, like planting rosemary, hanging horseshoes and banging drums to deter ghosts.

Abela has used spooky puns on names throughout, such as Ripley, Edgar, Herman and the family name of Usher. Adult readers will quickly identify these and have a chuckle.

Readers 8+ will identify well with the child characters and have lots of laughs and scares along the way. Deborah Abela is a legend when it comes to storytelling with so many books to her credit, like The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon and the Max Remy Superspy and Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Robert Irwin Dinosaur Hunter

Robert Irwin Dinosaur Hunter - series by Jack Wells, illustrated by Lachlan Creagh (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $9.95 each
Book 1 - The Discovery
ISBN 9871864718454
Book 2 - Ambush at Cisco Swamp
ISBN 9871864718461
Book 3 - Armoured Defence
ISBN 9871742750910
Book 4 - The Dinosaur Feather
ISBN 9871742750927
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

This new series featuring Robert Irwin, son of Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, is every boy’s dream. With the aid of a dinosaur claw fossil, 9-year-old Robert and his friend, Riley, time travel back 95 million years into the Cretaceous era where they witness first hand living with (and escaping from) dinosaurs.

Imagine being in the middle of a dinosaur stampede or crawling through a swamp, or camping in the Badlands of Canada or finding an abandoned dinosaur egg in prehistoric China.

Each book features a particular dinosaur. The font is large and clear and the chapters are scattered with black and white sketches heightening the action. The level of language is suitable for the readership of 6 – 9 year olds. Challenging words are used that will make readers feel more grown up, words like: carnivore, palaeontologist, Cretaceous as well as the Latin names of the various dinosaurs. Readers will love all the prehistoric facts and finding out how to use a fossicker’s took kit to find fossils.

At the back of each book is a field guide detailing the chosen dinosaur. Lots of interesting information is given about their discovery, physical characteristics and the origin of their names. Robert Irwin has also sketched each dinosaur.

Book 1 – The Discovery takes place in Winton, in outback Queensland. Robert and Riley are at the dinosaur digs. Robert is chipping away and discovers a dinosaur claw that becomes his portal. He is ‘dragged down a plughole really fast’ into the prehistoric world to a waterhole where the dinosaurs ‘don’t have good table manners.’ As he is about to be made into a prehistoric meal, he is whisked back to the dino lab in Winton.

Book 2 – Ambush at Cisco Swamp. Robert and Riley are on a research trip to the Cisco Swamp in Texas for the annual census of alligators, where they tag, measure and weigh each gator. Robert soon finds himself in the prehistoric swampland where he comes face to face with the largest prehistoric crocodile, four times bigger than its relative today. The croc is angry as it has a stick lodged in its massive jaw. Robert creatively thinks of a solution making sure he doesn’t become a ‘boy-sized meal’. A flock of pterosaurs wheel overhead as an enormous carnivore with ‘blood-stained teeth’ runs clumsily towards him. After a battle between the land dinos and the water dinos, Robert is back in the present, telling Riley of his adventures. Next time, Riley’s going with him!

Book 3 – Armoured Defence. The boys are camping in the Canadian Badlands, where the T-rex, Triceratops and Stegosaur roamed. At night, they are tumbled into the vortex of time travel to 70 million years ago, where instead of the desert they had left, they are in a swamp with quicksand and monster-sized mozzies. Vines have trapped a duck-billed dino and a meat-eating gorgosaurus is after it as an easy meal. Riley goes missing as Robert rescues the trapped dino only to become the target of the hungry predator.

Book 4 – The Dinosaur Feather. Back at Australia Zoo, where Robert lives with his family, he is making a video of the cassowary, the third largest bird in the world. There is a theme of evolution here as the boys are whisked to prehistoric China where they come in contact with an oviraptor, a dinosaur completely covered in colourful feathers. They find an abandoned egg and go in search of its nest only to be confronted by a giant dino, 9 metres long with a horn on its forehead. It is searching the trees for tasty birds and perhaps a couple of tasty humans!

What’s also exciting for lovers of all things prehistoric is that there are four more Robert Irwin Dinosaur Hunter books scheduled for release later in the year.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Saurus Street

Saurus Street by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.95

Saurus Street 1: Tyrannosaurus in the Veggie Patch
ISBN 9781742756554
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742749211

Saurus Street 2: A Pterodactyl Stole my Homework
ISBN 9781742756561
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742749228
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

There’s a new kid on the block. That should read; there’s a new dinosaur on the block. The block is Saurus Street and the dinosaur is a ginormous green tyrannosaurus, or is it a bright blue pterodactyl?

These are the first two books in the action-packed new series for 5 – 8 year olds, especially dinosaur-crazy boys. Once they start reading, they won’t want to put the books down, unless they’re whisked by mistake back to the Cretaceous Period.

In Book 1, Tyrannosaurus in the Veggie Patch, Jack wishes for his own Tyrannosaurus. When he goes searching for his dog Charlie, he finds a great, green T-rex straddled in the veggie patch. His ‘mum’s gonna boil’ when she sees what it’s done. The ‘cauliflowers are crushed, the tomatoes are toast and the cabbages are KAPUT.’

Jack convinces his best friend Toby to help build a time machine to send the T-rex back to the dinosaur era. They collect all the clocks they can find, including the ‘supercool glow-in-the-dark clock’ from his scary sister’s bedroom.

The only trouble is, Jack, Toby and Charlie get caught up with the T-rex and end up whizzing back to ‘dinosaur world’.

There’s a great dinosaur chase as the boys work out how to reverse the time machine. When all is back to normal, Jack sees a shooting star and makes a wish … Yep! For another dinosaur!

Book 2, A Pterodactyl Stole my Homework, continues the high jinks in Saurus Street. This time it’s with Jack’s neighbour, eight-year-old Sam and his older brother, Nathan. Together they’re known as ‘Team Dinosaur’ because they ‘build dinosaurs, draw dinosaurs and play dinosaurs.’

Sam’s homework keeps getting stolen and his teacher, Miss Potts with ‘twisted yellow teeth’ has given him an ultimatum. Tomorrow … or else! Trouble is, a pterodactyl has flown into his room and stolen it again. This time, Sam is going to follow the flying creature. With the help of his brother, they build a hot air balloon filled by the hot-air snores of their neighbour.

They fly high to the top of Saurus Hill. Everything is creepy, ‘the insects are gigantic’ and ‘there are spider webs everywhere.’ Sam falls into a giant nest made of children’s homework. The pterodactyl returns and feeds Sam a regurgitated lizard. He ends up with a giant pterodactyl egg and has to keep it safe from the oviraptor, the dinosaur egg thief. It’s all too funny!

These books are a breath of fresh air. What I also love is the spontaneity and interaction of each page. There is plenty of white space and there are oodles of illustrations. The font is reader-friendly and its shape changes for special words that connect to the emotions even more. Sometimes it’s hairy, twirly, ENORMOUS and even quivery.

The stories are told in first person, which connects young readers to the action. It makes it immediate. Made-up words make the sentences aural, like: THUNK! KER-SPLASH! WHAP! and FLOOMP! Suspense is often built by the font size increasing.

It’s laugh as you learn, as there are facts of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods interspersed with the action. Young minds will surely soak these up.

Nick Falk has been writing since he was seven and he so much remembers what excites young readers. Tony Flowers’ humour jumps out from his drawings. He’s also a master of 3-D chalk-art – imagine a dinosaur clawing its way out of the school playground! To me, this creative team works like Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, the perfect humorous mix of the written and the visual.

Look out in April for the next two books in the Saurus Street series: The Very Naughty Velociraptor and An Allosaurus Ate my Uncle.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Brotherband 3:The Hunters

Brotherband 3:The Hunters by John Flanagan (Random House)
PB RRP $17.95
ISBN 9781742750620
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742750637
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

After immersing myself in John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, with its fast-paced, adventurous storylines, I’ve joined the throng of landlubbers to sail with the Heron Brotherband in Flanagan’s latest Skandian saga of longboats, pirate hunting, and a matadorial sea duel to retrieve the stolen artefact, the amber Andomal.

If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, Flanagan’s style is so sleek, that the reader effortlessly slips into the saga. With the opening double page sketch of the Skandians’ longboat, the Heron, and the handy glossary, the reader is well primed for adventure.

The book is written in two parts: The Hunt and The Duel. Hal and the Brotherband are on the hunt for the pirate, Zavac, aboard the Raven as its crew plunders its way to the safety of their lair in Raguza. On board the Heron, the injured Ingvar is near death from an arrow wound. He needs to rest and recover so the Skandians beach their longboat. They are carrying a pirate prisoner who escapes and it’s here that we see the prowess of Lydia, the only female on board.

Excellent descriptions are given of the crew as each takes his or her part in the action; humour and courage interweave even in times most dire. There’s the shy Edvin, who knits watch caps for the crew, the quarrelsome twins Ulf and Wulf and the ‘shabby old warrior’ Thorn, who, if he ‘hadn’t lost that hand in an accident on board ship he would have been the greatest warrior in the history of Skandia.’

One of my favourite characters is Lydia. She is a fine role model. Not only is she an expert tracker, she is a crack shot with the atlatl (a dart thrower) with its ‘great, sharp iron warhead.’ She’s resourceful, clever and cluey as she executes the breakout of the Brotherband from prison, but ‘after years spent hunting alone in the woods, Lydia’s manners and social graces left something to be desired.’

It’s hold-your-breath action as the crew jumps from one impossible situation to another, whether it’s flume riding their longboat down the Wildwater Rift or the sea duel between the Raven and the Heron.

With its sophisticated level of language and layered storytelling, Brotherband 3: The Hunters will enthral teenage readers and transport them into the Middle Ages and a saga akin to the Vikings. Flanagan is a cracking storyteller.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Mort: the 10 000 year old boy

Mort: the 10 000 year old boy by Martin Chatterton (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9781742753157
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

What a cracking read? Kids are bound to love this adventure with Mort and his family who by some strange quirk of nature age only one year for every 1 000 lived. This book has everything – mad scientists, cloned geniuses (Da Vinci, Oppenheimer, H.G. Wells to name but a few) and cloned madmen (Genghis Khan), a mutant vampire Goldilocks, a sabre-toothed tiger, a time machine and one very unflustered truancy officer!

Mort flies along at breakneck speed with a new twist around every corner. Chatterton makes this totally outrageous story very believable. His black-and-white illustrations which pepper the story add to its humour. The ending very obviously leads into the sequel but rather than feel cheated, as I have done on other occasions when that technique has been used, I’m merely hanging out for the next instalment where Mort, Khan and others have been transported back to 1941 and landed in the clutches of Nazi soldiers.

Included in the back is a brief run-down on some of the historical figures that Mort and sister Agnetha had cloned for those that need the heads-up.

I highly recommend Mort for younger independent readers who enjoy action, adventure and a good laugh. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Billy’s Boatshed : The Project

Billy’s Boatshed : The Project by Aimee Atkins, pictures by Franfou Studio (Random House)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-74275-313-3
Reviewed by Emma Cameron

Billy and Lilly live in Washaway Bay with their friends Pauly the Pelican, Sparky the speedboat, Bazza Barge and a sailboat with pink sails named MJ. The project tells how Billy plans to spend the day finishing building his boat. When Lilly walkie-talkies him to say she is having trouble counting all the fish in the reef, where she is standing knee deep in the water. For some reason, Billy thinks building a ‘glass bottom boat’ will make Lilly’s task easier.

Of course, drawing up plans for this distracts him from his original project. As does the ‘Honk Honk, Honk Honk!’ Billy hears from Bazza the Barge, who is struggling to raise his anchor. Billy dives under the water to untangle it, and gets the bright idea that he should make a submarine with big arms and a glass bottom as that would help Bazza untangle his anchor and help Lilly count fish.

When Billy begins building this, Sparky the speedboat yells for him to come and save his beach ball that landed on the sand while Sparky was playing with it. Sparky cannot travel across sand to save it and when Pauly flies over to return it Billy thinks of a great solution. He will put wheels on the submarine he is going to build, as that would mean it could go up to retrieve the ball in future.

But that must wait, as it is now tea time. While nothing has been built, the story ends with Billy looking into the sky before bed time and wondering if he should build a spaceship instead. Franfou Studio have used simple, bold colours to show what is happening just as it is told in the text. This story may appeal to children aged 3-4 years.