The Family Next Door, by Sally Hepworth

‘A single woman?’ Barbara said, eyes still on her crossword. She tapped the base of the pencil against her lip. ‘In Sandringham? Why wouldn’t she get an apartment in the city?’
‘Single women can live in Sandringham! Maybe she wanted to live by the beach.”
”But it’s an unusual choice, wouldn’t you say?’ her mum said. ‘Especially Pleasant Court.”

On the surface Pleasant Court lives up to it’s name, as a pleasant place to live. The culdesac is a peaceful, family street where everyone knows everyone. Essie, Fran and Ange are all happily married, with two children each. Essie may have had a breakdown after the birth of her first child, but her second is now six months old, and she’s coping fine, even if she does sometimes envy the lives of her two friends. the arrival of a new neighbour, though, is unexpected, and becomes the catalyst for change. What Isabelle is doing there is unclear – but it could lead to big changes inthe lives of the three friends.

The Family Next Door is, in part, a reminder that the outward lives of our neighbours are often a far cry form their reality. Told from the alternating third person perspectives of the three women, readers are party to their individual battles and turmoil. At the same time, it is Essie and her family whose storyline is most dominant, with Essie’s battle with postnatal depression, her relationship with her mother and her connection with the new neighbour, Isabelle, both intriguing and moving.

In parts wryly soap-operish, in the vein of Desperate Housewives, this is a compelling, moving read which will suprise as it entertains.

The Family Next Door, by Sally Hepworth
McMillan, 2018
ISBN 9781760552176

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventure of Bronte Mettlestone, by Jaclyn Moriarty

I was ten years old when my parents were killed by pirates.
This did not bother me as much as you might think – I hardly knew my parents. They were a whirling pair of dancers in a photograph my aunt kept on her mantelpiece. There was a jazz band in the corner of that photo, and I’d always been more taken by the man playing the trumpet than my mother’s gauzy scarf or my father’s goofy grin.

When news comes that her parents have been killed by pirates, Bronte Mettlestone isn’t particularly moved. She doesn’t remember her parents, who abandoned her in her the lobby of her Aunt’s apartment building when she was just a baby. But when she is summonsed to the reading of her parents’ will, Bronte’s life changes dramatically. Her parents have left special gifts for each of her other ten aunts – and instructions for Bronte to deliver them. She must do this alone, following the very detailed instructions her parents have left, or something terrible will happen.

Armed only with her parents’ instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own wits, Bronte is soon travelling to visit her various aunts who are scattered far and wide and include one who is a veterinarian, another who is monarch of a small kingdom and two others who captain their own cruise ship. As she delivers gifts and follows instructions, Bronte finds herself having unexpected adventures, including rescuing a baby from drowning, inadvertently getting caught in an avalanche, and facing pirates and dragons. Before she reaches her final destination, Bronte begins to suspect that there is more to this quest than a simple delivery of gifts.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventure of Bronte Mettlestone is a whimsical, adventure-filled novel which young readers will be swept away by. Bronte’s adventure is filled with twists and turns, and characters both odd and captivating. The illustrations (the work of Kelly Canby) scattered throughout the book and the sumptuous gold-embellished hard cover complete the experience, making the book a delight to own.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventure of Bronte Mettlestone, by Jaclyn Moriarty, illustrations by Kelly Canby
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760297176

Missing, by Sue Whiting

In the dead of night we run away.
Dad hoists the new pack over my shoulders. I rub at my eyes, drag sleep-flattened hair into a rough ponytail, then trail him out the door. It clicks softly behind us. Dad’s twitchy. I’m twisted in knots.

Mackenzie’s mum is missing. It’s been 114 days since she was last scene in remote Panama. Most people think she must be dead, but Mackenzie’s dad is convinced she is still alive. Without telling Nan, or anyone else, he wakes Mackenzie in the dead of night and takes her to Panama where, he is sure, they will uncover the truth. But, while Mackenzie’s Dad is desperate to find Mum, Mackenzie is desperate to make sure he doesn’t, and that they don’t uncover too much information.

Missing is an emotional, absorbing read. The blend of mystery, adventure and emotion make for an enticing combination which won’t let readers put it down. With chapters set ‘now’ , as Mackenzie deals with her Dad’s desperation and unbalanced approach to solving the mystery, interspersed with chapters set ‘then’, in the days surrounding Mum’s disappearance, and in the months since, as Mackenzie and her father and grandmother struggle to deal with the situation, the format allows readers to gradually piece together what has happened, and to travel with Mackenzie as she moves closer to the truth.

The balance between action and emotion is done well, making for a satisfying, if heart-churning read.

Missing, by Sue Whiting
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781760650032

Pepsi the Problem Puppy, by Sandi Parsons, illustrations by Aska

Pepsi backed up slowly, away from Mum. She turned and darted behind Granny’s recliner chair. One sausage caught on the carpet and was left behind. Mum stood still, her hands on her hips.
Pepsi poked her head out. She looked at the last sausage still sitting on the carpet, and licked her lips. In a flash, Pepsi bounced out, grabbed the sausage and hurried backwards into her hidey-hole.
There was a loud slurp.
Then a burp.

Rosie has always wanted a dog, so when her dad brings home Pepsi, a rescue dog,  she is really excited. the problem is – Pepsi is excited too. She is a young blue heeler, with lots of energy and not much training. From the moment Dad brings her home, she causes trouble – running around, knocking things over and eating whatever she can. But Rosie loves her. The trouble is, Mum isn’t very keen. Pepsi makes lots of mess, digs holes int eh garden, and is much bigger than Mum expected. Rosie needs to figure out how to train Pepsi, and fast, or Pepsi might be sent away.

Pepsi the Problem Puppy  is a junior novel about pets and families. Rosie is a dog-loving girl and part of a loving but busy family which includes her younger brother, parents and an elderly great-grandmother.  Pepsi is recognisable to anyone who has ever met a young blue heeler – excitable, enthusiastic, but also very loyal.  The story moves at a good pace, supported by humorous, warm grey-scale illustrations from the artist Aska.

Kids will love Pepsi and her adventures.

Pepsi the Problem Puppy, by Sandi Parsons, illustrated by Aska
Faraway Nearby Ink, 2017
ISBN 9780987615701
 

 

Yoga Babies, by Fearne Cotton ill Sheena Dempsey

We’re the Yoga Babies,
look what we can do.
George can sit up straight like this.
Can you do it too?

Yoga Babies’ features 11 babies/toddlers and myriad yoga positions, across a day. There are many cultures represented and a variety of urban and less-so dwellings. Illustrations also depict a wide variety of families. Endpapers begin with the babies heading into class, and end with them assuming a range of poses.

Yoga Babies’ has been vetted by a yoga instructor, and includes many poses that yoga practitioners will recognise. If they are parents/carers of young children, they will also recognise some of the challenges as well as benefits of sharing yoga time with small people. First published in UK. Recommended for pre-schoolers.

Yoga Babies, Fearne Cotton ill Sheena Dempsey
New Frontier 2018
ISBN: 9781925594072

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

Ash Dresses her Friends written & illustrated by Fu Wenzheng

Ash, the azure-winged magpie,
lives in a nest all by herself

Ash lives by herself and although peripherally included in local bird gatherings, remains almost silent. Her companions are bigger, louder, perhaps more confident than she is. She imagines herself condemned to a life of solitude and loneliness. Until she encounters a sad elephant in need of a shirt. So she makes him one. He tells other animals and one by one, she kits them out in rose-covered clothing. When her fabric is all gone, Ash is alone again, until her new friends gather around her. Illustrations are in black, white and red. End papers are red on white and show all the flower-dressed animals.

Ash feels lost in a crowd of other birds, and they seem almost not to notice the small, quiet neighbour. But when she encounters the elephant, Ash realises that there are others who might be friends, and other ways to make friends. As the story progresses, there are hints on each opening to show who will be the recipient of Ash’s next creation. Limited colour palette used to great effect. Originally published in China. Recommended for pre-schoolers.

Ash Dresses her Friends, Fu Wenzheng
New Frontier Publishing 2018
ISBN: 9781925594027

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

Legend Series Book 6: On the Buzzer by Michael Panckridge

The day after the Legend of Soccer presentations, a Friday, was cold and wet. I slept in. Mum had gone to work, but she and Dad must have decided that a day away from school would be good for me. He had a rostered day off so that worked too.
I kept looking at my watch and wondering what all the kids at Sandhurst were up to.

At lunchtime I grabbed Dad’s phone and sent a text message to Bryce. I wanted him to know that I could still come around to his place for the Legends party.

The Legend Series has moved on from soccer. This competition is about basketball. Mitchell and his mates are keen, as is a new student, Rat. The mystery in the library seems to become more complex as they discover more. The focus is on basketball, a trophy that seems a permanent fixture at Wetherwood School, one of the other competitor schools. The stakes are getting higher and not everyone is playing by the rules. The final game is so close, nobody is game to predict the outcome. Extras include a quiz and school scoresheets.

The Legend Series measures achievement across a range of different sports, with elements of knowledge as well as skills, at Sandhurst Primary School. It encourages fair play and rewards teamwork. Mitchell, newcomer to the school, loves his sport, but he’s also keen to establish and maintain friendships. Travis Fisk is also a keen and skilled sportsman, but seems to have a philosophy of winning at all costs. Their friendship group also includes several of the best sportsgirls at the school, as well as members with other skills that are valued as much as sporting prowess. An exploration of school and student dynamics and the role of competition and sports. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Legends Series Book 6: On the Buzzer, Michael Panckridge
Ford St Publishing 2018
ISBN: 9781925272932

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

Legend Series Book 5: Over the Wall, by Michael Panckridge

I still couldn’t quite believe what had happened last week after the Legend of Football presentations.
A group of us had raced off to the library straight after the presentation assembly. We hadn’t heard a thing from Bryce, who had shoved his mobile phone into our hands moments before the end of lunch that day. Then he’d headed off to, we assumed, the library. Outside the hall there were parents, students and teachers milling about everywhere. There was a great-looking afternoon tea for everyone, with visitors and kids alike tucking in.

‘Over the Wall’ is Book Five in the Legend series that sees Mitchell and friends competing at different sports. There’s a girls’ comp that runs simultaneously and there’s overlap in some sports. This time, soccer is the contested sport. Mitchell and his arch-rival Travis Fisk are neck and neck in the overall competition. As they and others duel for points, there’s a mystery beyond the library that is occupying time and mind. There are also extras, including score sheets for the Legend Series, and a quiz.

Mitchell has only arrived at Sandhurst school for this final year of primary school. So there’s plenty he doesn’t know about the school, the students and the sports competition. As the series progresses, he builds a friendship group, becomes familiar with the cultures of his new school and of the other schools involved in the sports competition. He’s competitive and skilled, but also knows how to play fair. This provides a point of contrast with Travis Fisk who seems to come from a family where winning is the only option, no matter the cost. Recommended for readers in mid- and upper-primary, particularly those who would rather be out playing sport.

Legend Series Book 5: Over the Wall, Michael Panckridge
Ford St Publishing 2018
ISBN: 9781925272925

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

Stephanie Chiocci and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Chase, by Matt Porter

‘Good old Collingwood forever, they know how to play the game!’ my ringtone proudly sings.
Eddie McGuire is calling me. It’s the third time today. He may be president of the Collingwood Football Club, and I the captain of the women’s team, but this is getting ridiculous.
‘Hey, Ed,’ I say … again.

Steph Chiocci is on a post-season break from her duties as captain and player in the AFLW league. She’s supposed to be resting, but instead she’s in England after receiving a letter from a fan. Emily’s grandmother is a cheesemaker but is under attack from a rival trying to push her out of business. Emily wants Steph to compete on her grandmother’s behalf in the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling Race. Steph is up for the challenge, but rolling a cheese is not the same as bouncing a football. Steph needs to work on her game plan. Added extras at the end include Steph Facts, Q&A and some football tips for aspiring players.

What do football players do in the off-season? Chase cheese of course! ‘Stephanie Chiocci and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Chase’ is the first in a new series of chapter books, called Footy Stars, featuring stars of AFLW. Steph not only takes on a challenge, but also outwits a bully and saves a cheese business. There are plenty of laughs here as well as a footy tip or two. Recommended for mid-primary readers and fans of football. Extra interest if reader is a Collingwood fan!

Stephanie Chiocci and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Chase, Matt Porter
Ford St Publishing 2018
ISBN: 9781925272888

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

Australia’s Great War: 1918, by Libby Gleeson

The barrage was on.
Crashing artillery.
Smashing shells.
Buildings, bricks, rocks and debris, in the air.
Deafening. Deafening.

It is 1918, and the War is still going. While the Russians have withdrawn, it seems Germany remains strong, holding out against the allies across the Western Front. Ned and his tired soldier mates are sent into battle at the small village of Villers-Bretonneux. A win here, they are told, could help to turn the war around. But promises about the end of the war have been heard so many times, it is hard to know what to believe. All Ned wants is for the fighting to be over, and to be back home with his family. First he just needs to survive.

1918 is the gripping last installment in the Australia’s Great War series from Scholastic. Each book has seen a different author (disclosure: this reviewer wrote one of the earlier titles, 1915) tell a story set amidst key events of that year of World War One. 1918 brings the final year of the war to life through the eyes of Ned, who struggles with the horror of the war and with his concept of bravery. The role of nurses, and the behind the front treatment of wounded and sick soldiers is also explored, as well as the aftermath of the conscription referendum of 1917, providing lots of insight into the events and impact of the war on those who were there as well as on Australia as a whole.

1918 can be read a stand alone, but young history buffs might be inspred to read the rest of the series.

Australia’s Great War: 1918, by Libby Gleeson
Scholastic, 2018
ISBN 9781743622513