Off the Track, by Cristy Burne

Harry’s perfect life was straying way off track. he looked pleadingly at Mum. Surely she could see? Spending an entire weekend tramping around stinking-hot snake-filled scrub was a horrible mistake. But doing it without a phone? That was just brutal.

Harry is not happy. Not only has his mum moved him from his comfortable life in Sydney to live in Perth, but now she’s agreed to spend the weekend hiking in the bush with her old friend Ana, and her daughter Deepika. There are snakes, and spiders and insects in the bush – and, worst of all, no mobile phones allowed. Well, not for Harry, anyway. Mum seems to be the only one allowed to have her phone. She says it’s in case of emergencies, but Harry knows she’ll be using it every chance she gets. Out on the Bibbulmun Track, his worst fears are realised – there really are snakes and spiders. And every time they are in range, Mum has her phone out. Then, just when he starts to enjoy himself, Harry discovers that things really can go wrong out in the bush.

Off the Track highlights the Australian outdoors, and especially Western Australia’s iconic Bibbulmun Track, in a pleasing blend of adventure and self-discovery. Many young readers will relate to Harry’s dismay of being ‘forced’ to live without every day conveniences like flushing toilets, beds, and technology. Others will love the outdoors setting and the taste of hiking the story offers.

Gripping junior fiction.

Off the Track, by Cristy Burne
Fremantle Press, 2018
ISBN 9781925591743

The Geography of Friendship, by Sally Piper

They haven’t seen each other for years, but here they are, falling onto the same old pattern as though there’s no other worth considering. Maybe it’s more to do with the place they’re walking through. Maybe the land has designs on them – maybe it always had – robbing them of the power to choose alternatives.

It’s been twenty years since they first walked the rail as teens, and twenty years since their friendship fell apart. Now, Samantha, Lisa and Nicole are walking the same trail, in an attempt to salvage something, even though it is clear to at least two of them what its they are trying to salvage.
That first hike was meant to be an adventure, a kind of coming of age in the wilderness, but what happened in those five days changed all of them, and severed their friendship. Will revisiting the scene of those terrible five days really mend their friendship, and will it help each woman to heal the wounds which continue to effect their lives?

The Geography of Friendship is a finely woven story. the use of three perspectives, and the shift bewteen the events of the past, the present and those in the intervening years, could become complicated, but rather makes for a pleasing complexity as the reader gets to know each woman and gradually piece together what has happened.

Absorbing and satisfying.

The Geography of Friendship, by Sally Piper
UQP, 2018
ISBN 9780702259975

Dogasaurus, by Lucinda Gifford

One day, Molly was walking in the forest when a Mysterious Thing rolled out from behind a fern.
And, even though she knew she shouldn’t,
Molly took it home.

Molly lives on a peaceful farm near a Mysterious Forest, which she loves to explore. When she finds a Mysterious Thing, she decides to take it home and, when it hatches and out comes a baby dinosaur, she decides to keep him as a pet, and name him Rex. But Rex grows quickly, and Molly soon realises that having a dinosaur on a farm can be a big problem.

Dogosaurus is a humorous offering, which youngsters will lvoe for its silliness. At the same time, the gentle underlying messages of conversation and ownership are valuable. Rex is a friendly looking, playful dinosaur with goggly eyes and a goofy smile so that even when he wreaks havoc, he is endearing to readers.

Great for young dinosaur fans, or anyone who needs a smile.

Dogosaurus, by Lucinda Gifford
Scholastic Australia, 2018
ISBN 9781743810712

Kookaburras Love to Laugh, by Laura & Philip Bunting

This guy doesn’t like to koo.
And he isn’t keen to kaa.
He’s the most serious
kooka in the borough.

Everybody knows that kookaburras love to laugh – when it’s sunny, when it’s rainy or even just for no reason. But one kooka just doesn’t like laughing. He is serious, and enjoys serious pursuits, which puts him at odds with the other kookaburras. He sets off to find a new flock, but finds it harder than he expects. All flocks, it seems, have their faults.

Kookaburras Love to Laugh is a picture book which will have youngsters (and adults, too) laughing, even when the hero of the story doesn’t. From the creators of the equally funny Koalas Eat Gum Leaves and Mopoke, this new offering has simple, humorous text and digital collage illustrations.

Lots of fun.

Kookaburras Love to Laugh , by Laura & Philip Bunting
Omnibus Books, 2018
ISBN 9781742769660

Time for School, Daddy, by Dave Hackett

‘Wake up, Daddy, it’s time for school.’
‘But I’m tired,’ says Daddy.

It’s morning, and a little girl has to get her faddy ready for school. But first he’s too tired to get up, then he has a rumbly tummy, and next he is missing a sock.  Finally, she gets Daddy ready, with lunch packed and hair combed and ont he bus to school.

Time for School, Daddy  is a funny take on the morning rush of school days, with the role reversal showing the child in control and  determined to keep things on track.  This use of humour helps to normalise the multiple worries and dramas which can be part of the routine, and will allow children and parents to see their own routines from a different angle.  Colourful, child-like,  cartoon-style illustration on white backgrounds also offer a lovleyw at for young readers to connect.

Time for School, Daddy, by Dave Hackett
UQP, 2018
ISBN 9780702260049

The Little Stowaway, by Vicki Bennett & Tull Suwannakit

Tim takes me back to my home in Lille.
We try to find my uncles and aunts but they are all gone.
Tim says he will be my family.

When Honore walks into a camp on a military airfield, he is cold and hungry. he has been drawn into the camp by the smell of a Christmas turkey. Allowed to stay, because he has no home, soon Honore, an orphan, becomes known as Henry or Young Digger, and makes himself useful around the camp. The airmen all treat him well, but one, named Tim, takes special care of him, treating him like a son. When Henri’s family can’t be located, Tim promises to look after him. So, when the time comes for Tim to return to his home in Australia, he has to find a way to smuggle Henri on board the ship.

The Little Stowaway tells the true story of a young orphan who was befriended by Australian airmen near the end of World War 1 and who w s subsequently brought to live in Australia with his carer, Tim Tovell, and his family. The story has been simplified to key events for the picture book format and uses historical photographs alongside beautiful sepia and grey-scale illustrations.

Primary aged readers will be fascinated by this intriguing piece of Australian and French history.

The Little Stowaway, by Vicki Bennett & Tull Suwannakit
Scholastic, 2018
ISBN 9781742993072

Turtle Trackers by Samantha Wheeler

Three spine-tingling wails pierced the night air. ‘Beach stone-curlew,’ I murmured, huddling closer to Mum.
A warm, salty gust blasted my face and waves crashed on the shore ahead. The people in front of us whispered, their voices ghostlike in the dark.
‘Everyone ready?’ asked the ranger, Shane, as our group of twenty hurried after him along the track. Shoes shuffled across the coarse sand.

Ten-year-old Isaac and his mother live south of Bundaberg in Queensland, where his mum manages The Pines Holiday Village, a council-owned caravan park. Since Dad is no longer around, Isaac helps his mum as much as he can. In between, he’s a huge fan of the local wildlife, particularly the turtles. Now there’s a full moon and turtles are coming ashore to lay eggs on the beach where they were born. But as well as too much work and not enough time to spend with his friends or the turtles, there are grumpy bloggers, dogs and cats to contend with. Isaac has his work cut out to keep the turtle nests safe until the eggs hatch and a new generation of turtles can make their first journey safely to the sea.

Isaac is doing it tough. He’s lost his dad, his mum is working too hard and no one seems to appreciate how hard he’s trying to keep everyone happy. This is Samantha Wheeler’s third title featuring young characters working to save iconic Australian animals. Each includes a fast-paced adventure and information about animals and the challenges they face for survival in the environment they share with humans. The bright covers on these fictional but also informative novels are very engaging. Recommended for mid-primary readers

Turtle Trackers, Samantha Wheeler UQP 2018 ISBN: 9780702259951

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

The Endsister by Penni Russon

In the locked attic of the house on Mortlake Road in south-west London, near a bend in the River Thames, something stirs.
It shudders, a cobwebbed thing, tattered and dusty, so long forgotten, so long forgetting.
It is hardly anything, but it is almost something, disturbing the shadows, shrinking from the approaching light.

An Australian family inherit a grand old house in London and move from their rented farmhouse to live at Outhwaite House. There Else, Clancy, the twins and Sibbi, along with their parents adjust to a new life. Some settle in more easily than others to this old house – some begin to thrive and others succumb to the secrets trapped within the walls. Told from multiple viewpoints, this is a story of endings and beginnings, and of all things in between.

It takes skill to write a cohesive story from multiple (different-aged) viewpoints without sacrificing the building tension and keeping the reader connected. Penni Russon nails it. Each dweller in Outhwaite House is given a voice and their own story, and together they weave a wonderful, mysterious story that will keep the reader page-turning to the very last. Highly recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

The Endsister, Penni Russon Allen & Unwin 2018 ISBN: 9781741750652
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Sorry Day by Coral Vass and Dub Leffler

There was a hum of excitement.
Flags flickered in the breeze as Maggie’s heart danced with delight.
‘This is a very special day!’ her mother said.

Maggie and her mum are waiting with thousands of others for an official apology from the Australian government about the Stolen Generations. Interspersed spreads tell the story of taken away from their parents because of policies made by the Australian government of the time. When Maggie is separated from her mother in the crowd, the stories coalesce. The loss of a child for even a few seconds is traumatic for both parent and child. How much worse then to see your child put in a truck and driven away. Finally, the Prime Minister of the day offers an apology to all those families disrupted and damaged by being separated from each other. The contemporary story is depicted in colour, the historical one mostly in sepia tones, like old photos. Final spreads include an explanation of the policy that led to the Stolen Generations. There are also photos of the event that promised to begin to repair the hurt.

National Sorry Day was first held on 26 May 1998 but the event featured here is 13 February when for the first time, an Australian Prime Minister apologised directly to the people of the Stolen Generations. The final spreads also offer a timeline. The depiction of a contemporary child being temporarily lost will be easily comprehensible to most young readers, and will allow them to empathise with the many children taken from their families. ‘Sorry Day’ offers the opportunity to begin discussion in the classroom and the home about belonging and loss. Recommended for primary schoolers.

Sorry Day, Coral Vass ill Dub Leffler NLA Publishing 2018 ISBN: 9780642279033

Scaredy Cat by Heather Gallagher and Anil Tortop

Have you seen my Scaredy Cat?
He’s afraid of this and afraid of that!
Afraid of bees and …
towering trees and …
Granny’s super-duper sneeze.

A small girl has lost her Scaredy Cat. Scaredy Cat is frightened of just about everything from bee to burglar. The narrator tells the reader all the things Scaredy Cat is scared of, then reassures all that she’s brave enough for both of them. Told in rhyme, the story builds to a ‘twist in the tale’ conclusion. Illustrations show only Scaredy Cat’s tail in each scenario. Cover art of this square format hardback also shows the searching girl and Scaredy Cat’s tail.

Scaredy Cat’ details all the things Scaredy Cat fears – mostly domestic situations that many small readers will encounter. In the way of small children, the bravery of the viewpoint character grows in proportion to the situations that her Scaredy Cat is spooked by, until she is vanquishing robbers like a champion! Young children will enjoy the rhyme and repetition as they turn the pages and try to find Scaredy Cat. Recommended for pre-schoolers.

Scaredy Cat, Heather Gallagher ill Anil Tortop New Frontier Publishing 2018 ISBN: 9781925594171
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com