Posted in Picture Books

Book Review: Gus Dog Goes to Work

gus dog
Gus Dog Goes to Work

Written by Rachel Flynn and illustrated by Craig Smith (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $24.99     ISBN 9781921504884

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Sheep dog, Gus, does much the same thing every day. He has his breakfast, hops into his owner’s ute and goes to work with him. One day, though, he wakes to an empty bowl. What’s more, his owner, Tom, seems to have left home without him! What follows is a warm and witty tale of Gus Dog’s mischievous trek around town to locate Tom. And perhaps to find some breakfast.

Tom has taught Gus Dog several colloquial expressions that come in handy on his adventures: ‘gidday, getup, getdown, come’ere, getoutovit, gohome and goodboy’. (There is some fantastic alliteration with the letter ‘G’ in this book!) Gus Dog goes to school, rounds up people’s chickens and sheep and forages through some garbage bins. He receives tirades of abuse from people around town and is never really sure what he has done wrong, but he certainly recognises some of their words. He even learns a new word, mongrel, after it’s said to him a couple of times. Somewhat confused, he good-naturedly trots off elsewhere each time he is berated.

Eventually, Tom finds him and Gus Dog gets to hear a far more comforting expression: ‘goodboy’. The author cleverly contrasts the use of the phrase ‘gohome’, also, subtly showing how it can be interpreted positively or negatively in different situations.

Popular author-illustrator team, Rachel Flynn and Craig Smith, have published several books together and have a complementary style. Smith’s illustrations – a combination of pencil and Corel Painter – are superb, as always. The rustic colours throughout the book perfectly reflect the dustiness of rural Australia. Gus Dog has a comical appearance, to match the humour in the text, and a soft expression in his eyes that makes him very endearing. Whenever Gus is being spoken to, the language appears in speech bubbles within the illustrations. Gus Dog’s journey is beautifully reflected in a wider view in the endpapers, where sepia-toned pictures offer an additional picture revealing Tom’s path. (Smith’s illustrations in the story itself also reveal the reason why Tom disappeared.)

This simple story reflects on the power of language, while observing country life, pets, working dogs and animal behaviour. At around 800 words, it’s a great length for lower primary school students aged 5 years and up.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Young Adult Fiction

Book Review: Bone Gap

Bone Gap

By Laura Ruby (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99     ISBN 9780571332755

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover’ need not apply to this one. I was drawn to this book as soon as I saw the cover, and I wasn’t disappointed. Cornfields, beehives and a dark horse … I couldn’t figure out how it all fit together, but I knew I wanted to find out.

This alluring novel is best described as magical realism – it is a little fairytale-like, at times, and starkly realistic at others. It targets readers aged 14–18, and raises themes of family, love and self-worth.

It is a highly original, unusual tale set in a town called ‘Bone Gap’, where ‘the bones of the world’ are ‘a little looser’ and where people can simply fall away and disappear. Finn O’Sullivan is a handsome teenage boy who the locals are fond of, despite declaring him nutty. They call him ‘Sidetrack’ and ‘Moonface’ because he won’t look people in the eye. Finn lives with his older brother, Sean, whom the town adores.

When a young, beautiful girl called Roza appears in their barn, she charms the entire town with her beauty and playfulness. Then she is kidnapped and everybody is devastated. Finn was there but he can’t describe the kidnapper. Locals know that Bone Gap is full of magical ‘spaces one could slip into and hide’ … perhaps Roza simply disappeared as mysteriously as she arrived.

Finn is frustrated that nobody believes him – especially Sean, who was in love with her. When a magical horse appears in their barn one night, it leads Finn to Petey Willis, the beekeeper’s daughter, whom the townspeople taunt for her erratic appearance and behaviour. Finn and Petey fall in love, and she uncovers a remarkable truth about him. When Roza’s kidnapper turns up, Finn realises he himself needs to slip away from his world in order to find her.

Laura Ruby treats us to insights from Sean, Petey and Charlie Valentine (the town veteran), but the majority of the novel is told from Finn and Roza’s perspectives. She expertly overlaps the slow, mystical setting of Finn’s world with Roza’s frantic attempts to escape her captor. The effect creates a very gripping novel, making it a well-deserving winner of the 2016 ‘Michael L. Printz Award’.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: The Complete Adventures of Figaro and Rumba

The Complete Adventures of Figaro and Rumba

Written by Anna Fienberg and illustrated by Stephen Michael King (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99     ISBN 9781760292997

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The highly imaginative tales of Figaro and Rumba are written by Anna Fienberg, author of the Tashi books, and accompanied with full colour pictures by the talented Stephen Michael King. Both books in the series have been published together for the first time in a colourful, eye-catching paperback.

Figaro (an excitable, adventure-seeking dog) and Rumba (a sensible, musical cat) have been the best of friends since they met in Cuba. The first story, Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile Café, is driven by the characters’ desire to get on ‘the Very Fast Train’. They seem destined to keep missing it though, with one zany adventure after another. The story is fast-paced, enticing readers to keep turning the pages to find out whether Figaro and Rumba ever do get on the train. Eventually, they meet a sly, Cuban crocodile who gains Rumba’s trust. It’s a good thing Figaro’s instincts are on high alert though, because something just doesn’t seem right.

The second story, Figaro and Rumba and the Cool Cats, is far more musical in nature. (You might find yourself tapping along to an imaginary Cuban beat!) Rumba seems quite at home singing with the Cool Cats, but Figaro is bored. The cats just want to sing all day and he can’t join in because their leader, Marta, does not like his singing. Plus, he’s feeling disturbed about that grey monster he keeps seeing. When he meets another like-minded adventurer, Dora, they sneakily take Marta’s car and go exploring. Their adventure doesn’t go smoothly though and, in trying to fix things, Figaro winds up meeting the ‘monster’, joining forces with Rumba again, and discovering a musical talent he never knew he had.

These entertaining stories about friendship are great for 5–8 year-olds. The chapters are short, with lots of dialogue. Much humour is provided in Figaro and Rumba’s banter, along with their dog and cat-like differences. King’s comical illustrations are naturally complementary, appearing on almost every single page. Fienberg’s writing is superb. The Cuban accents are perfectly portrayed, and there are some great alliterative lines like: ‘Isn’t he a rascal, a ruffian, a rogue and a reptile?’ The ending is terrific, both closing the stories and alluding to further adventures.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 4 – A Game of Chase


Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 4: A Game of Chase

By Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $9.99     ISBN 9781760295585

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It’s another crazy week for Chase Cooper at Buchanan School, and it all starts off with the chess piece and anonymous note he finds in his locker. Somebody, who goes by the name ‘Jovial Noise’, threatens to expose his ninja identity if he doesn’t play along with their game. Er … what game? Chase is getting tired of the crazy behind-the-scenes activities at his school. (At one stage, he humorously dwells on how many years of therapy he’s going to need after he completes just one year at the school! He also blames James Buchanan, the school’s namesake and one of America’s most controversial presidents, for the madness.)

It seems Jovial Noise is out to sabotage the school science fair … by destroying people’s projects. The game of chess certainly becomes ‘a game of chase’ when Chase has to connect the chess pieces and clues together in order to save people’s science projects. Then Chase himself is framed for Faith’s ruined project and he knows he needs to find the real culprit, fast, before more projects (and friendships) are destroyed. Is it Carlyle? Wyatt? One of the red ninjas? Or that new hall monitor, Sebastian?

This is another fast-paced, entertaining read in the bestselling Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series by Marcus Emerson. There are lots of laugh-out-loud scenes, including a very funny conversation about ‘meese’ (the supposed plural of ‘moose’)! I particularly love how this series overturns the idea of a fist-fighting ninja and replaces it with a ninja who instead focuses on empathy, bravery and (above all) doing the right thing.

‘If you know me then you’d know I don’t fight no matter what,’ I said.

‘You don’t fight with your fists’ … ‘you’re a very strange ninja.’

This amusing series of books for 7–12 year-olds is definitely out to empower kids who want to deal with bullies … without getting physical.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Picture Books

Book Review: I Love You

I Love You

Written by Clemency Pearce and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (Nosy Crow)
HB RRP $12.99     ISBN 9780857638793

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘When you feel so very small, when no one seems to care at all, what can make you ten feet tall? Three little words …’

This sweet story, told in verse, is based on feelings. Originally published as a hardcover book (Three Little Words), it is now presented in a board book format – perfect for the target age group of 2–4 years. It gives children examples of situations where they might feel ignored, upset, frustrated or shy. It reassures them that in any situation, their parents will be there to comfort them and offer those three little words to make them feel better: ‘I love you’.

There is a lovely, gentle question/answer pattern to the story that makes it great to read aloud. Children will enjoy chiming in with the phrase ‘I love you’ upon each turn of the page. The author cleverly describes how the phrase can be used in different situations by changing one adjective each time. If the child is feeling small, the answer lies in three ‘little’ words. If the child has lost a race, there are three ‘winning’ words that can help. Feeling left out? Perhaps three ‘sharing’ words will do the trick. If they’re feeling shy, three ‘friendly’ words are what they need.

The ending of the book suddenly changes the pattern of the story by describing five situations where others might not be feeling happy. It helps show children how to empathise with others by suggesting four special words to help them through … ‘I love you too!’

The illustrations are colourful and expressive, warm and affectionate. Animals are shown in, first, a negative situation and then a positive one. Beardshaw has used a combination of coloured pencils, watercolours, and overlaid stencils to great effect.

Toddlers and preschoolers will no doubt be enticed by the simple language, repetition, lively pictures … and those seven cutout love hearts on the front cover that they can stick their fingers through!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 3 – Rise of the Red Ninjas

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 3: Rise of the Red Ninjas

By Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)

PB RRP $9.99     ISBN 9781760295578

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

A rival ninja clan – the Red Ninjas – is out to make Chase Cooper’s life impossible in this, the third novel in the Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series.

It all begins when a fast-moving, red-hooded thief steals Chase’s backpack right off his shoulder. In a panic, Chase goes after him, desperate to get back his ninja suit, science project … and that little love note to Faith. The red-hooded thief disappears in what can only be described as a notorious ninja move. By the end of the day, copies of the love note are plastered all over the school and Chase has earned the nickname ‘lover boy’.

It’s a social disaster as Chase tries to do some damage control to save his friendship with science partner – and secret crush – Faith. But the two of them have become the laughingstock of the school thanks to a new clan of ninjas, the red ninjas, who are out to humiliate Chase. Faith is mad at him, Zoe is mad at him. His best friend Brayden has been framed for theft … and Chase doesn’t have the courage to help him.

It is not necessary to have read the first two books in the series, because Emerson provides a recap at the beginning. However, readers of the first two books will immediately guess that Wyatt is behind all the trouble in this book.

The Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja stories are very entertaining reads for 7–12 year-olds. (This third novel has a highly amusing reference to the original version of The Karate Kid that sadly might be missed by younger readers though!)

Zoe remains the ever-so-cool cousin who takes the moral high ground to keep Chase in check, but there’s a difference in this third book (and it’s not just in the page length). Though Chase wins victory in an absurdly funny roller-skating spectacle of ‘Shoot the Duck’, justice is not served at the end. Rather:

‘… sometimes people get away with what they’ve done.’

Of course it cleverly indicates that this means war, thus setting the climax for the next book in the series.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 2 – Pirate Invasion

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 2: Pirate Invasion

By Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)

PB RRP $9.99     ISBN 9781760295561

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

“It’s not that anyone is against me … It’s just that nobody is exactly with me.”

So says Chase in this, the second book in the popular Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series, which begins with ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’. New kid, Carlyle, has Chase’s guard up. Why does he still talk like a pirate when it’s no longer funny? Chase’s ninjas are bored and restless. Now that Wyatt isn’t leading them, there’s no more stealing, no more action. Chase has them all learning ninja moves … but nobody really knows what they’re training for (including Chase). Carlyle seems to be wooing everybody with his funny pirate talk … including Zoe. It turns out Carlyle is the leader of a secret band of pirates, and is secretly recruiting Chase’s ninjas. He is also seeking to avenge his cousin’s expulsion from the school.

The fast-paced story builds up action in the lead-up to the school ‘Dance Til You Drop’ event. The student who raises the most sponsorship money gets to choose a new school mascot, and Carlyle has convinced his growing legion of pirate fans to hand their sponsorship money to him. Once crowned winner, Carlyle is going to change the school mascot to a buccaneer.

Can pirates really trump ninjas? Does Chase even have the willpower to stop them? Poor Chase. It seems the more he tries to disappear, the more he stands out. After a talk with his dad, Chase decides to revolt against the crowd and stand up for what he thinks is right … in an absurdly funny obstacle course showdown.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny from the very first page, where Chase draws his self-portrait (‘Ladies, please remain calm’). I’m never quite sure where Emerson is going to take the story next, but I can be assured it will be an entertaining journey! The dialogue in this book is hugely appealing to the age group (7–12), with lots of kid slang. (For example, Zoe’s cry of ‘Oh em gee!’)

The novel concludes with Chase learning another lesson in leadership, Zoe demonstrating her family loyalty, and Carlyle planting a rumour that good old Wyatt is set to return.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website: