Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Castle in the Sea (Quest of the Sunfish 2)

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Castle in the Sea (Quest of the Sunfish 2)

By Mardi McConnochie (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $14.99     ISBN 9781760290924

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The sailing adventures of Annalie, Will, Essie and Pod continue in the second ‘Quest of the Sunfish’ book, as they desperately search for Spinner. The story picks up about three weeks after the foursome escaped from Little Lang Lang Island, armed with the names of four important scientists. This novel focuses on their quest to find and talk to each scientist in the hope they’ll find Spinner. Their journey is highly dangerous. Aside from the ongoing threat of roaming pirates, they need to remain hidden from the Admiralty and, especially, Beckett (who is still pursuing them relentlessly). Then there’s the weather. The book begins with a ripper of a storm that causes two characters to become lost at sea … and the action never loses pace thereafter.

As per the first book, this is a highly gripping page-turner. The chapters are short, and there’s action aplenty. Mardi McConnochie slips in a few more details about the Collodius Process and why the research must be kept hidden from the government at all costs. She also clearly sets the direction for the closing novel in the trilogy, to be released in September 2017 – the foursome must make their way to the final scientist on the list, who lives on a mysterious island with extremely guarded borders.

McConnochie occasionally offers the occasional recap as to what happened in ‘Escape to the Moon Islands’, but reading the first book is necessary to appreciate the background of the journey. There is also very little focus on the personalities and background stories of Annalie, Will, Essie and Pod in this one. The characters might not seem particularly interesting, or even likeable, without having read the first novel in the series. (The first novel has, incidentally, been shortlisted for the Readings Children’s Book Prize 2017.) The novel should appeal to 9–12-year-olds who like adventure stories, along with readers who have an appreciation and love for science.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/the-castle-in-sea-quest-of-sunfish-2.html

Posted in Upcoming Titles

Cover reveal for Tim Minchin’s picture book!

OK, so earlier in the year it was revealed that Scholastic have teamed up with Tim Minchin and Steve Antony to publish a picture book based on Tim’s lyrics to When I Grow Up. Have you seen Matilda The Musical?? It is the iconic song from this moment:

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I was moved to tears by the very lyrics to the song … and that was months before I even set foot in the theatre to watch the show. If you haven’t been to see it, you can check out a performance of this moment here:

Matilda the Musical: When I Grow Up

Lyrics to the song are here:

Lyrics – When I Grow Up (Minchin)

I was thrilled to find out there is going to be a picture book version of the song, and cannot wait to see it! According to Booktopia, it’s out on the 5th October. Check out the front cover!!

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Posted in Picture Books

Book Review: Our Last Trip to the Market

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Our Last Trip to the Market

Written by Lorin Clarke and illustrated by Mitch Vane (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $24.99     ISBN 9781925266962

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Markets are great, aren’t they? Oh, the atmosphere! The incredible smells! Fresh foods! Now imagine sharing your trip to the market with six kids in tow … hmm. Perhaps the word ‘last’ in the title refers not so much to the most recent trip, as it does to the Last Ever.

This entertaining picture book, with hilarious full-colour illustrations by Mitch Vane, is sure to strike a chord with frazzled parents everywhere. The mother in this story is, shall we say, super upbeat. She is not at all daunted by the fact that she’s daring to take six kids, including a toddler and a couple of preschoolers, out grocery shopping. She’s happy, and positive and full of bright energy as she takes in the sights. Her kids, meanwhile …

One is stealing a juggling ball from a busker, another is knocking over a pile of doughnuts. Two have stolen a wheelbarrow. One is digging through a sack of lentils. Another has found some sparkly glue.

Though the mother briefly pauses in her market merriment to discipline the children (‘Please give that back to the man’), she never loses her cool. Why would she? She’s at the market! The glorious market! The story keeps its rhythm as she continues on her way, buying far more things than she intended. The only time she expresses any anxiety is when she realises they’re running late for Grandma and Gramps. As market-goers and stall-owners watch the family, horrified by the trail of destruction they’ve left behind, good old mum suggests they’ll get to the car faster if they ‘stomp like a pack of wild boars’. Why not? Off they go, ‘stompity stomp’, but not without a couple more mishaps on the way. Just when I start to doubt the mother’s neverending patience, the story ends with some sweet revenge on her part. Phew!

Lorin Clarke has written a fantastic story made highly amusing by its unpredictable rhymes and funny caricatures. There is much to see in the illustrations and Vane perfectly captures the children’s cheeky expressions (or innocent curiosity). I particularly loved the gleam in the mother’s eyes on the last page.

The story is suitable for children aged 2 – 5 years … and parents. Of course, parents.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/our-last-trip-to-market.html

Posted in Children's Reference Books

Book Review: The Australian Animal Atlas

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The Australian Animal Atlas

By Leonard Cronin and illustrated by Marion Westmacott (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $29.99     ISBN 9781760294144

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Where, in Australia, might you find a red-headed honeyeater? What’s the wingspan of a gum moth?  Is there such a thing as a legless lizard? This 48-page reference book is jam-packed with information on 176 species of Australian animals.

The information is separated into habitats, with a selection of 16 animals per spread. The list of habitats is quite extensive and impressive: Deserts, Mangroves, Mallee and Acacia Scrublands, Waterways, Forests and Woodlands, Seashore, Rainforests, Heathlands, Tropical Wetlands, Alpine and Urban. Each habitat is introduced with 1–2 paragraphs describing its unique features, climate conditions and importance to the ecosystem. Each is accompanied with a small map of Australia, colour-coded to show the locations of that habitat.

Each section of the book comprises four pages. The first double page spread (which opens with the habitat information) includes a large look-and-find illustration. The margins feature small pictures of 16 animals that are hiding in the main picture. Each of these animals is described in further detail on the double page spread that follows. The font is on the small size, as a result, but the writing is great – Cronin has focused on lesser known facts about each animal and perfectly summarised these with an entertaining caption beneath each species name. For example, the caption for the spotted cuscus is ‘smelly chest’, and the paragraph beneath explains how smelly oil from the male’s chest is rubbed onto tree branches to mark out a territory.

The illustrations by botanical artist, Marion Westmacott, are in full-colour and look extremely realistic – some almost photographic in quality! The endpapers feature a lovely trail of animals, first wandering into the book and later wandering out. The pages of the book are glossy and white throughout, which really helps lift the illustrations off the paper and bring the detail to life.

The book will appeal to kids who love Australian wildlife, particularly those aged between 6 and 12. It would be a great addition to the classroom shelf, especially beside existing collaborations by the same author and illustrator.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/the-australian-animal-atlas.html

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers X Marks the Spot

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Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers X Marks the Spot

By Kate & Jol Temple and illustrated by Jon Foye (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $12.99     ISBN 9781760291945

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Jimmy Cook is, to put it simply, an explorer. Actually (if you can excuse his modesty), he’s pretty much ‘the greatest explorer that ever lived’. After he discovered the third grade, in the first book in this series, he was rather inspired by the historical feats of  ‘the other Captain Cook’. In this, the second ‘Jimmy Cook’ story, he has found a humungous dinosaur footprint … so now he’s busy digging away to find its bones. And give it a name. (‘Jimmyosaurus’ anyone?)

Much to his teachers’ annoyance, Jimmy seems to have developed quite a team of student diggers at the school … especially since he found that map marking X for treasure. Forget the dinosaur, he is about to discover something better … something real. Can he get to it before that show-off, Alice Toolie, does?

Jimmy records his daily adventures in his journal, noting always the weather that day (eg ‘hailstones the size of rhinoceros beetles’) and drawing a picture to illustrate his inventory (eg the ‘arm of a robot toy’). The inventory and weather observations don’t always have any bearing on the story, but are amusing introductions to each chapter. The journal entries are interspersed with funny black and white penciled illustrations by Jon Foye. Almost every page features an illustration, making the design highly attractive to readers aged 7 – 10.

The three talented creators behind this book have released four children’s books together including I Got This Hat, the book selected for National Simultaneous Storytime in 2016. Their complementary styles work well together, offering the right blend of humour and action, with a dash of nonchalance. Jimmy’s innocent observations about his world are laugh-out-loud funny. Can’t wait to see what he discovers next!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/captain-jimmy-cook-discovers-x-marks.html

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: The Blue Cat

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The Blue Cat

By Ursula Dubosarsky (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99     ISBN 9781760292294

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘“If that cat could speak,” she said, rolling her eyes to the ceiling, “imagine the stories he would tell.”

Personally, I felt I would rather not know.’

The blue cat appeared around town about the same time as Ellery did, according to the narrator, Columba. Ellery is a new child at her school, a European refugee who doesn’t (ordoesn’t want to) speak. The blue cat is thought to have come from one of the navy ships at the wharf. Was it tossed overboard, or did it flee? Columba and her next-door-neighbours, who have befriended the cat, can only guess at the cat’s background as they quietly contemplate the atrocities it has probably seen. (‘… His body shakes when he’s asleep with secret anger dark and deep.’)

The mysterious blue cat disappears after hearing the blast of noisy sirens for the practice air raid. Columba bands together with Ellery, and her resourceful classmate Hilda, to search the streets of Sydney. But as the story transcends into a haunting alter-reality, we are left to ponder whether Columba is searching for a blue cat … or whether she’s searching inside herself for the answers to the meaning of the war.

Award-winning Dubosarsky combines her lyrical style with historical documents to tell this fascinating, fairy-tale like story of the friendship between a boy and a girl in Sydney, 1942. Her writing beautifully captures the innocence of children caught up in a war, starkly contrasted, for example, against a documented government order for ‘Enemy Aliens’ or a black and white photograph of Hitler at the Eiffel Tower.

The story targets 10–14 year-olds but will likely appeal to a wider readership, especially lovers of literary historical fiction. This powerful reflection on war will settle quietly in your heart and linger, long after the final page.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/the-blue-cat.html

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Diary of an AFL Legend

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Diary of an AFL Legend

Written by Shamini Flint and Illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $9.99     ISBN 9781760295141

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Nine-year-old maths extraordinaire, Marcus Atkinson, is (shall we say) a good sport. (Not to be confused with the phrase ‘good at sport’.) He has so far bitterly sucked at cricket, track and field, basketball, tennis, soccer, swimming, taekwondo, golf and rugby. Yet there he is, at the opening of the tenth novel in this popular series, buried ‘under an AFL pack’. Oh Marcus.

Let’s blame his perfect cousin (Spencer) who should really know better by now, right? Marcus progressively messes up the rules of the game in his special, flawlessly uncoordinated way. Despite his father (the self-help book novelist) having a philosophical conversation with him about the pursuit of happiness, he stubbornly refuses to give up. There’s no way he’s going to let Spencer down. When Spencer and his father secretly come up with a way to help Marcus miss an important game, believing they are doing him a favour, Marcus finds a way to turn up anyway … and puts on quite a show.

This latest installment in the (non) sporting series for 7–11-year-olds is chock full of hilarious, face palm moments that we’ve come to love and appreciate from Shamini Flint. The format of the book matches the others. The story is told via diary entries, each highly illustrated with the amusing black and white cartoons of Sally Heinrich. (The majority of the text actually appears in speech bubbles within the illustrations.) The narrative in the diary entries connects to the text in the speech bubbles, so there is perfect flow between the two. For example, Marcus writes ‘I asked Dad …’ and then we see a cartoon of Marcus and his father with the question in the speech bubbles. The diary entries also feature the odd ‘post-it note’ from his sister, supposedly reading and annotating without his permission.

The ending was great – very credible and totally in line with Marcus’ character and, er, his sporting prowess. Shamini Flint has once again provided an entertaining read with a clever way of inadvertently teaching her readers the rules of a sport.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/diary-of-afl-legend.html