Showing posts with label UQP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UQP. Show all posts

Friday, 26 October 2018

Liberty


Liberty by Nikki McWatters (University of Queensland Press) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN: 9780702260292

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

Born in different eras, three young women share a common bond – the ‘bloodline of the sisterhood’. Jeanne Laisné discovers her ‘blood of iron’ in 1472, when she overcomes her poverty-stricken background to emerge as the heroine of Beauvais during a fierce battle. In 1797, Betsy Gray becomes embroiled in a rebel alliance that is desperate to free Ireland from English rule, and she is determined to fight with every last breath in her body.

Fiona McKechnie’s rustic naivety is destroyed when she heads to university in Brisbane in 1968 and is faced with the realities of the Vietnam War and conscription. When she discovers the Systir Saga, a book containing the names of Jeanne and Betsy, as well as all the other ‘women who were the threads that were sewn together with stitches of time and blood to make up the garment’ that is her, Fiona draws strength from her sisterhood to stand up for what she believes in.

Liberty is aimed at the YA market, and its underlying girl-power message will appeal particularly to teen girls aged 14 and above. Inspired by historical people and events, award-winning author Nikki McWatters takes three discrete story strands and skilfully braids them into a single compelling tale. While some of the dialogue is a little laboured, Nikki’s use of evocative similes and metaphors adds stunning dimension and colour to the narrative.

Passion, action and courage course through the book like the flood of feisty women whom Jeanne leads into battle. As the three protagonists proactively seek liberty in life and love, female readers especially will identify both with their empowerment and with their mantle as girls ‘who might just change the world’.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

The Bogan Mondrian


The Bogan Mondrian by Steven Herrick, (UQP)  PB RRP $19.95  ISBN: 9780702259982

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

Luke, a Year Eleven student from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’, becomes a catalyst for helping Charlotte, a girl from a wealthy family, address the domestic violence occurring in her home. Steven Herrick chose these backgrounds deliberately because, as he says, domestic violence ‘is an issue that affects people from all classes, races and religions.’

Luke’s father has recently died from cancer. Trying to come to terms with the loss, Luke sleepwalks through each day, wagging school and compulsively taking photos. When he discovers the truth about Charlotte’s home life, he realises that his own life could be worse. Much worse.

This is a powerful story, told by Luke in first-person prose, celebrating courage, compassion and friendship. It is set in Katoomba and the background and characters are clearly Australian.

The book raises questions about what it means to be a man and a father in today’s society.  On the surface Charlotte’s father is a charming, successful business man. His darker side is hinted at, not described in great detail. By contrast, Luke’s father was a gambler, a drinker and smoker -  a rough diamond who adored his family. Luke himself displays unexpected strength and kindness as does his friend, basketball-obsessed Blake.

Steven Herrick is better known for his verse-novels like The Simple Gift. The poet in Herrick is obvious as he doesn’t waste a word and uses some beautiful, evocative images. Although the subject is serious there are many moments of humour between Luke and his mother, and between Luke and a neighbour who’s teaching him to swear in Italian.

The resolution is believable and will have readers cheering. The Bogan Mondrian is highly recommended, especially for boys from Year 8 upwards.

The title might confuse some readers. Here’s the explanation: Charlotte has painted her bedroom walls in squares like a Mondrian painting, turning the room into her retreat from the world. At the end of the book Luke (the bogan) paints his room exactly the same. This time it’s not a retreat, it’s a celebration.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Zenobia


Zenobia by Morten Dürr and Lars Horneman (UQP) ISBN 9780702260254 HB RRP $19.95

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This graphic novel is about a young girl who is a refugee from Syria and her dangerous journey away from the war in her country. Through evocative pictures and minimal, well-chosen words, it is a gentle but tragic story that doesn’t shy away from reality. Created in Denmark, where it won a national illustration award, Zenobia deals with an important international issue. It will no doubt will be read by older children and adults around the world.

Beginning at the end, the reader is not lulled into a sense that this book has a happy conclusion. Rather, the story is about how Amina got there and who she was. There are three stories in one and they are depicted by different colours. Amina’s present at the start is full colour. When she remembers her mother back in Syria in the past, the illustrations are in shades of brown. And the story of Zenobia, a great warrior queen of Syria, is in purple and orange. The colour changes are very effective in indicating time, but also in changing the mood of the story.

The first words are after ten pages of pictures, which strengthens their impact. Then at the end of the story there is no need for words again – this is quite powerful.  The story of Zenobia, told by Amina's mother, helps to make the book a bit less bleak. Zenobia acts as a source of strength and comfort for Amina after the ship wreck, even when everything is going wrong. Also Amina's memories of playing hide and seek and cooking with her mother, are very touching.

For children learning about refugees Zenobia clearly depicts how people like Amina have no choice but to leave. And while it is a very hard topic, it is important for children to understand what is happening in the world. Still, some younger readers may find it upsetting.

This graphic novel is the ideal format to depict war and desperation in such a quiet but emotive manner. Zenobia is an important and haunting read for upper primary school upwards.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Just Flesh and Blood


Just Flesh and Blood by Jane Caro (UQP) PB RRP $19.95 ISBN 978 0702260018

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Australian Jane Caro has won many national and international awards for her creative endeavours and has written numerous books including the prequels to this, her latest YA title in the Elizabeth 1 trilogy (Just a Girl and Just a Queen), both UQP titles.
In Just Flesh and Blood, she continues the life of Elizabeth, who endured a perilous childhood to take the throne as Queen of England. 

Now, four decades later, having withstood political upheavals, wars and plots against her life, she contemplates her successes and failures and ponders all she has relinquished – love, marriage and family – for power. As she is dying, Elizabeth recalls her first love, Robin Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester who was her playmate and became her master of horse on her accession. (Many consider he was her one true love.) There are many more memories which makes this a slow-moving book, not one bristling with action: after all, it is Elizabeth’s final chapter.

As with all books which are well-researched, the book contains a bibliography for those who want to read more about the great queen’s life and accomplishment. Also, very helpful at the end of the book, is its Cast of Characters, with, in order of appearance, the names and birth and death dates as well as a short potted history of those who appear in the book which begins with the death of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry V11, who was executed by him for treason and adultery.


Saturday, 13 October 2018

Just Flesh and Blood


Just Flesh and Blood by Jane Caro (UQP) PB RRP $19.95 ISBN 978 0702260018

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Australian Jane Caro has won many national and international awards for her creative endeavours and has written numerous books including the prequels to this, her latest YA title in the Elizabeth 1 trilogy (Just a Girl and Just a Queen), both UQP titles.

In Just Flesh and Blood, she continues the life of Elizabeth, who endured a perilous childhood to take the throne as Queen of England. Now, four decades later, having withstood political upheavals, wars and plots against her life, she contemplates her successes and failures and ponders all she has relinquished – love, marriage and family – for power. 
As she is dying, Elizabeth recalls her first love, Robin Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester who was her playmate and became her master of horse on her accession. (Many consider he was her one true love.) There are many more memories which makes this a slow-moving book, not one bristling with action: it is, after all, Elizabeth’s final chapter.

As with all books which are well-researched, the book contains a bibliography for those who want to read more about the great queen’s life and accomplishments. Also very helpful at the end of the book is its Cast of Characters, with, in order of appearance, the names and birth and death dates as well as a short potted history of those who appear in the book which begins with the death of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry V11, who was executed by him for treason and adultery.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Water Hole



Water Hole By Fiona Bell (UQP) RRP $24.99   ISBN 9780702259999

Reviewed by Claire Stuckey

Sunny is grieving for her mum recently killed in a car crash and blaming her stepdad. As the story opens she prepares to leave school to return the farm for school holidays. Sunny and Kevin do not communicate but ague, both grief- stricken in their own ways. Confused by "sightings" of her mother and the real sense that she feels her mother's presence, Sunny shies away from sharing her thoughts and feelings.

Motivated to help find a lost boy, she joins other searches in the bush land near the Waterhole. Many have died in the strong currents and this is where she sees her mother beckoning her. Falling hard, Sunny wakes in hospital but finds the concussion makes her more unsteady and venerable. She resolves to find the missing boy or his body, believing that he is already dead. Incidents and evidence lead the community to believe her stepfather Kevin was responsible, and Sunny agrees. Seeking answers to many questions including the identity of her natural father, she spends more time at the waterhole where she meets teenage Matt whom she finds attractive and interesting. 

When she tries to leave town, even more secrets are revealed. Sunny is isolated and confused, her relationship with Matt strained.  Returning to the waterhole, she faces a tragic and confronting encounter. 

This book explores the dynamics of grief. Rural life and small-town relationships serve as a backdrop to Sunny's struggle without a mother and with a stepfather she does not really know. 

The story also keeps you focused on the crime that we think has been committed. The supernatural element ties the story together keeping one guessing and ensures the reader empathises with the central character. This is a great young adult novel set in an Austrian country town. Back ground characters developed make relevant but not overdrawn players in this dramatic but very readable plot for ages 13 and up.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Leave Taking



Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood (UQP) PB   RRP $14.95 ISBN: 978 0 7022 6011 7

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is a new verse novel for younger readers from the celebrated author of Star Jumps, the 2010 winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Children’s Fiction. The theme of Leave Taking had its genesis in the author’s own (successful) battle with cancer and her move away from the farm where she raised her children. Basically, this book is a journey through grief and a celebration of hope, with Toby, his mum and dad, leaving their family farm after the death of Toby’s younger sister, Leah. Together, they sort through all their belongings and put things aside to sell or throw out. It’s a big task, and naturally Toby doesn’t want to leave the only place he’s called home.

As his last day on the farm approaches, Toby has a plan -- to say goodbye to all the things and places that mean something special to him and Leah, from the machinery shed and Pa’s old truck to the chook house. With the help of his best friend, Trigger the dog, he learns what it means to take your leave.

As Toby says good-bye in this final week, he experiences camping, a clearing sale and a bonfire night, meanwhile undertaking chores such as milking cows, tidying up and packing.

This is a gentle story with no dramatic moments; the story action rolling smoothly through the course of the last week on the farm.

Written in easy-to-read free verse, the book will appeal to readers aged 7 to 10 years who prefer short sentences and stanzas with plenty of white space and pared-back descriptions. Simple black and white line illustrations scattered through the book with drawings on the fly pages add to the book’s appeal.

Saturday, 12 May 2018


The Adventures of Jellybean by Bill Condon and Dianne Bates (UQP)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978070226000
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Adventures of Jellybean is a junior fiction novel about two great friends, Rory and Trang, united in a quest for the ultimate sounding pet – a goat.

All things goat features quite heavily throughout. Jellybean’s story effortlessly weaves in interesting facts about goats, potentially fuelling young readers desires for a pet goat of their own! After much preparation and anticipation from the boys, Jellybean arrives, but she causes a little more trouble than they imagined. However, with the comfort of Bitsa the dog and a whole lot of love, Jellybean’s story is a heartwarming one.

In addition, the friendship between Rory and Trang is truly endearing. Contrasts between their families and backgrounds (sausages on the barbeque at Rory’s versus Trang’s grandma’s pho) offers a wonderful depiction of multicultural Australia and the joy of embracing other’s differences. There are a several ups and downs within the friendship; however it’s strong enough to overcome any perceived slights – a realistic depiction of friendship dynamics for the primary school set. The inclusion of four-year-old Luna, Rory’s little sister, adds a lovable young female character to the cast, and as in real life, the young characters interact not only with their peers, but family members and neighbours of all ages.

This would make a wonderful book for newly emerged readers to tackle; those just moving beyond shorter chapter books, perhaps aged six to eight. The story has a classic, innocent type feel likely to not date the book in a few years’ time.


Friday, 8 July 2016

Another Night in Mullet Town

Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick (University of Queensland Press) PB RRP $19.95 IBBN 9780702253959

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is a verse novel from award-winning Australian poet and author, Steven Herrick, which illuminates mateship, family relationships, and navigating life. 

For typical Aussie teenagers, Jonah and Manx, life mainly encompasses fishing (for mullet) at the local Coraki lake, watching -- and joining --school mates party on Friday nights and looking for courage to further develop their relationships with Ella and Rachel. There are other problems, of course, insofar as Jonah’s warring parents are ending their marriage, motherless  Manx has issues, too, and the boys’ lakeside town is about to be sold off to city outsiders for redevelopment. This creates tension in town, especially when someone scrawls graffiti against the Sydney interlopers on the local real estate office owned by newcomers, the Lloyd-Davies.

The story has strong messages which are magnified due to the format of verse with characters and scenes being conveyed in fewer words than that of a conventional novel. Herrick is a master at capturing so much in few words; his writing is crisp and succinct and evocative. There is a strong sense of place in the novel with tight but descriptive language that introduces the creek, the lake, the swamp near Lake Road (site of Manx’s house), the ocean, and the town with its large pensioner population.  Both boys were born in Turon where Jonah’s dad runs the petrol station with its mostly truckie customers and ‘goggle-eyed tourists’ on their way to Balarang Bay.

Herrick’s prose perfectly captures the book’s characters. Here’s a description of Manx as seen through Jonah’s eyes: ‘He walks like a draught-horse pulling a load/his head pushed forward, chin up/and muscular arms hanging by his side./His voice is a few octaves deeper and bass,’ hands the size of boxing gloves,/dark hair sprouting from each of his knuckles.’

In each verse, which has its own sub-title, one aspect of the town or its people, is described. For example, there are the consecutive sections called ‘Vodka Cruisers’ and ‘Broken Glass and Bravado’ where after drinking ‘the night always ends/with broken bottles/piled up on the sand/and all of year ten/wondering who’ll vomit first.’


If you are trying to get a teenager to read – especially a boy – this novel with its terse, and what have been described as ‘iridescent,’ verses, is a great book to encourage him to read. As usual, it’s likely that Another Night in Mullet Town will take out some literary awards.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Secrets We Keep

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman, (UQP)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5421 5

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kasmer

It’s been six weeks since a fire burnt down Clem’s home and now her Mum and her old life are gone. The few things she has managed to salvage are tainted by the smell of the fire and painful memories of losing her mum. Clem and father can now no longer afford to stay in the neighbourhood and are forced to move into a tiny flat so they can be closer to her father’s work and Clem’s new school.

On her first day of school Clem meets Ellie and in an effort to fit in, Clem lets a secret slip about what happened to her mum which she immediately regrets. As Ellie’s mum is in hospital dying of cancer, Ellie immediately bonds with Clem over common ground of losing a mother. This connection places Clem in the awkward situation of coming between Ellie and her oldest friend Tam who becomes jealous of Clem. To Clem’s credit she is able to put herself in Tam’s shoes and wonders how she would feel in the same situation.

Clem is helped through her struggles by her ever optimistic father who works at the botanical gardens and wears a big jacket that Clem buries her face in so she can smell his earthiness. Maggie, the neighbour in the flat upstairs, provides a refuge for Clem, offering tea, freshly baked treats and also a sense of purpose by giving her the job of feeding and caring for the fish whilst Maggie is away for work.

Clem is a runner and the track is where she can be her true self, it is where all her problems float away. It is interesting to watch how Clem learns to recognise, and return to, the things in her life that bring her joy (such as running). But will Clem continue to run from her problems? Or will she find the strength to face the truth about what really happened with her mum and the fire?

Reading this book brought back strong memories of my own primary school experiences; the emotions, school yard dynamics, politics and rivalries. My eleven year old self was right there beside Clem on her first day of school peering into the school playground.

And I’m out here. Looking through holes in the wire, wondering how I’m going to do this.

Nova Weetman does a beautiful job of shining a light on what it’s like to feel lost and having to fit into new surroundings when everything familiar is gone. This is a wonderfully relatable book that has strong appeal for middle grade readers. When I closed the book there was a real sense of sadness not only that the story had come to an end but that it had been resolved so beautifully.

Elizabeth Kasmer is a Sunshine Coast based writer of children’s and young adult fiction. www.elizabethkasmer.com


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

My Sister is a Superhero

My Sister is a Superhero by Damon Young, illustrated by Peter Carnavas (UQP) HB RRP $24.95 ISBN 978 070225398
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This picture book for young readers is the third book in what has proved to be a much-loved series celebrating the diversity of family. The bright cover and fly pages are filled with illustrations of a supergirl (wearing undies over tights) flying in all directions alongside a flying bunny. The unnamed narrator – a brother or sister – imaginatively tells how his quirky sister is totally different to other (ordinary) sisters insofar as his sister ‘races rockets around stars’, ‘punches robots in the nose’ and ‘bench presses burly trolls’. However, the little brother narrator says, the best thing about sister is ‘she reads me stories in the skies.’

Australian Damon Young, whose other books are for adults (about philosophy, exercise and martial arts) writes this fun-to-read book in rhyming verse with lots of alliteration (sisters dancing in denim booging with a band, for example) which is excellent for reading aloud to children from 3 years and up. 

The watercolour illustrations, also by an Australian, Peter Carnavas, who won the 2009 CBCA prestigious Crichton Award for emerging illustrators, are light and bright and full of joyous fun. The final illustration in the book shows a sleeping boy being held in the sky by sister who is urging the reader, with a finger to her mouth, to be quiet – a great way for a parent reading this book to a child in bed to go to sleep.


The two previous books by this talented author-illustrator team are My Nanna is a Ninja and My Pop is a Pirate.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Time for Bed, Daddy

Time for Bed, Daddy by Dave Hackett (UQP)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-0-7022-5381-2

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kasmer

Time for Bed, Daddy is a humorous, fun filled picture book that turns the traditional bedtime routine on its head. Bright cartoon-like images and visual jokes follow a likeable and patient little girl with the monumental task of persuading her reluctant Daddy to -- go to bed!

Parents will smile knowingly as this resourceful little girl uses every trick in the book to coax Daddy through the nightly bedtime routine with bubble bath, jokes and horsey rides. Finally, there is a quick monster check under the bed, a story to be read and a bedtime song to be sung. But, just as the little girl thinks the job is complete, Daddy appears, and he’s out-of-bed!

This delightful story celebrates the special bond between dads and their kids and will appeal to both children and adults alike. Young children will love the role reversal aspect of the story and will no doubt be inspired to act out the story (which happened in my household with hilarious results).

Time for bed, Daddy is both written and illustrated by Dave Hackett (Cartoon Dave). Dave has appeared on Australian children’s television and is a popular speaker at conferences and literature festivals across the country.  For more information visit: www.cartoondave.com

Elizabeth Kasmer is a Sunshine Coast based writer of children’s and young adult fiction. www.elizabethkasmer.com



Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Frankie and Joely

Frankie and Joely by Nova Weetman (UQP)
HB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978-0-7022-5363-8

Reviewed by Elizabeth Kasmer

Set in a small Victorian country town during the week between Christmas and New Year, Joely invites best friend Frankie for a holiday at her Aunt and Uncle’s farm. Joely introduces Frankie to her country cousins, Thommo and Mack, who both begin to compete for the beautiful Frankie’s attention. Tensions rise further when local bad boy, Rory, decides to make a move on both girls. When it is revealed that Rory has been leading the girls on, without the other knowing, hidden jealousies threaten to shatter their friendship. 

The story is written in third person omniscient and told mainly from Frankie and Joely’s perspectives. The constant change in point of view gives a fascinating insight into the complicated dance between teenage girls as they explore the intense love they feel for each other along with equally strong feelings of annoyance, jealousy and competiveness. The rural town setting, the stifling heat, dust and flies add a believable and uncomfortable atmosphere to the story as these two girls attempt to navigate their personal problems.

Mother/daughter relationships are also explored with Frankie’s aloof and unreliable mother and Joely’s anxious and overprotective mum nicely contrasted with the warmth and tenderness of Joely’s Aunt Jill, whose kitchen and home cooking provide a refuge for the girls.

The novel gives interesting insights into both Frankie and Joely’s struggle for self-awareness in a world filled with boys, family problems and testing emotions. It also reminds older readers of the power and importance of first friendships. This is an honest and beautiful story about female relationships aimed at junior to middle teens.

On her webpage, Nova Weetman states her goal as a writer is to: “Write stories that snuck into a reader’s heart so they’d fall in love with them.” She has certainly achieved this with Frankie and Joely.

Elizabeth Kasmer is a Sunshine Coast based writer of children’s and young adult fiction. www.elizabethkasmer.com




Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Protected

The Protected by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5019 4
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Not since “Cat’s Eye” by Margaret Attwood have I read a novel that so compellingly and convincingly captures the blood sport that is teenage-girl bullying.
Hannah McCann is out of step with her peers and desperately wants to fit in and not rock the boat, thereby inviting the vultures to swoop and tear her to shreds. The bullying is carried out in an atmosphere of sweetness and innocence. It’s the little things -- the put downs, the sneers at her lack of cool, the accidentally-on-purpose exclusions that effectively undermine the little confidence Hannah has left, and builds up to a humiliating show-down. Hannah is left accused and sentenced by the school ground judge, jury and executioners. And in the current age of twitter and facebook, she has no respite and no protection from the unrelenting pointing fingers.
Although Hannah does not lack guts, a series of tragic events leaves her a quivering shadow of her former self. The story follows her as she rebuilds her life and makes tentative steps towards self acceptance, eventually regaining her dignity and taking ownership of her mistakes. It is only then that she can interact with others as an equal.

This story affected me at a visceral level while I was reading it and I had to put it aside a few times, as the unfolding story of Hannah’s train wreck life was so unrelentingly powerful.  Full marks to Zorn for a well crafted novel that also tackles the impact of grief upon a family.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

My dog doesn’t like me

My dog doesn’t like me by Elizabeth Fensham (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5017 0
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Poor Eric! All his life he’s wanted a dog of his own. And now that he has one – Ugly – it seems that the dog just doesn’t like him. Ugly won’t obey him, especially when they’re out on walks together. Ugly doesn’t follow him or play with him or even pay him much attention. Ugly likes everybody in the family more than Eric, which is particularly depressing considering his obnoxious older sister scores higher than Eric in Ugly’s esteem.

Eric just wants to know what’s wrong with his dog. And so do his family, who threaten to remove Ugly unless Eric learns to control him. But help is at hand. With his grandfather’s and friends’ assistance, Eric gradually discovers that much of the problem lies in an entirely unexpected place – with him.

As the narrative unfolds, Eric learns to take responsibility for his dog, which means doing unpleasant things when he doesn’t feel like it, and to persist with them. Eric slowly starts to reconnect with Ugly and realises that relationships take time and effort, but the rewards are great!

A charming story for children over 7. It clearly illustrates a boy’s learning journey; that the most valuable things in life are those you earn.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Haunting of Lily Frost

The Haunting of Lily Frost by Nova Weetman (University of Queensland Press)
PB/HB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5015 6
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a genuinely spooky story that doesn’t rely on violence and gore for effect.

Teenager Lily’s life is turned upside down when her family move from the city to an old house in a country town. Strange things start to happen whenever Lily enters a small room in the attic – a room which becomes her bedroom. Odd sounds, plummeting temperatures, letters marked on the floor, a presence in a room. Has Lily’s imagination gone wild, or is something supernatural happening?

In between questioning her sanity, Lily has to juggle normal adolescent concerns, with missing her bestie and trying to fit-in at the new school high on the list. This is complicated by the fact that she has a striking resemblance to the girl who used to live in her house. A missing girl. A girl with secrets.  A girl whose place she seems to be taking.

Her classmates seem to know more about it, but some are overtly hostile to Lily’s presence. Baffled by her classmates’ reactions, Lily is determined to discover the secret. Did the unhappy girl run away or did something sinister happen to her? And how is she connected to the mysterious happenings in the room. Author builds the tension page by page to the nail-biting climax.


Don’t read this story when you’re alone.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Chook Chook: Saving The Farm

Chook Chook: Saving The Farm by Wai Chim (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780 7022 5316 4
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Mei and her delightful pets Little and Lo return for the third chapter of their adventurous life together. Although the story features characters from the two previous stories, this book can stand on its own.

As the family prepare for their Chinese New year celebrations, their joy is shattered by the news that village is threatened by plans to demolish it to build a freeway through it. This is the only life that Mei and her neighbours have known, the place their forebears have lived and worked for generations. They love and cherish their town even though the bureaucrats sneer at its backwardness.

Readers will cheer as Mei stands up to the truly nasty deputy director and tells him to leave them alone. But her courage seems to be for nothing. All around them, villagers are giving up, selling their properties and leaving.

Mei and her brothers hatch a plan to save their village by getting it registered with the National Preservation List of Traditional Villages – a process which involves demonstrating its cultural uniqueness. Will the chooks help – or hinder their attempts? 

Chim’s story weaves details of the daily life in China, such as the joy of Chinese New Year and the associated customs, and demonstrates that it is the little details, the things we take for granted, that define us and make our lives unique.

A fun read for younger children. I wonder if Chim plans a fourth instalment.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Silver People – A Tale from the Panama Canal

Silver People – A Tale from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle (University of Queensland Press)
PB/HB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978 0 702 253294
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Imagine being a teenager and having to move alone to a far-away country just to find work. Then finding the work is back-breaking, extremely dangerous and poorly paid. Yet within the squalid conditions, you find camaraderie, even love.

This is the story of two young men, Mateo and Henry. Although they didn’t even share a language, they forged a bond when they endured landslides, diseases and other adversities in the Panama jungle in the early 1900s as they and thousands of other itinerant workers toiled to demolish a path through a mountain range to connect two oceans. The Panama Canal is considered to be a feat of engineering. But the human cost was very high, as more than 5600 lives were lost during construction.

Silver People tells the story of Engle’s ancestors who were amongst the thousands who suffered the harsh conditions. Told in verse from multiple points of view, it also recounts the growing relationship between the sensitive Mateo and the indigenous herb seller, Anita. The narrative is also interspersed with the indignant voices of the howler monkeys, jaguars and other animals who lost their niches as the jungle was sacrificed. It also includes snippets from official documents of the leaders, confirming that they simply did not care how many lives were lost, as long as the project was completed.

The story gets its title from the two-tiered wage system; white people were paid in gold, dark skinned in silver. Overall, this is a story of love and endurance of the human spirit, and ultimately an uplifting read.


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Here In The Garden

Here In The Garden written and illustrated by Briony Stewart (University of Queensland Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780 7022 5010 1
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Pets play a special role in a child’s life as they love the child unconditionally. But sadly, every child who has loved a pet will one day have to deal with the loss of their dear friend, playmate, confidante and partner-in-crime. Briony Stewart has captured the essence of a child’s wistful heartache beautifully. The story follows the bittersweet memories a boy has of sharing his garden with a fun little rabbit.

Briony Stewart’s words and illustrations bring the cute bunny to life – then gently remind us that he is no longer with his loving owner.

Written sparingly with a light touch and a lack of sentimentality, this book focuses on how the bereaved child rebuilds his love of the garden he and his much-loved pet once shared and played in, now that he is there alone.

This is a difficult topic for a book for young readers, but I think the author has managed it. I believe it would appeal to a wider age-range of readers than most picture books do, because the theme is not hammered as it may be in a more wordy text. The simple phrasing and soft illustrations carry the subject matter well.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

My Nanna Is A Ninja

My Nanna Is A Ninja by Damon Young, illustrated by Peter Carnavas (University of Queensland Press)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9780 7022 5009 5
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

This is a colourful, lively picture book celebrating the special bond children have with their nannas.  A great story to read aloud with its rhymes and rhythms, it describes the unique antics of the child’s own Ninja nanna, dressed in her black outfit and doing the cool things Ninjas do.

But other Nannas are not forgotten - the three non-Ninja nannas are anything but conventional and certainly do not suffer in comparison to the Ninja nanna. The Nannas’ various eccentric, adventurous and fun activities would resonate with preschool-aged children everywhere. The author was inspired by a book describing somewhat conventional grandparents which were utterly unlike those he knew. So he created a funky set of nannas instead that grandmothers everywhere will appreciate him for.

Carnavas’s illustrations burst with colour and movement, and feature cute details about each of the four nannas described such as their pets, which although are not mentioned in the text, add a level of humour and intrigue that a child will have lots of fun following.

This is the first picture book by Young. Let’s hope it’s not his last.