Mahjar, by Eva Sallis

The word mahjar is an Arabic term referring collectively to all the lands of Arab, and especially Lebanese, migration. Australia is one of the lands of the mahjar, a fact explored eloquently in Eva Sallis’ book Mahjar.

A novel-in-stories, Mahjar intertwines stroies of migrants and their children, with stories of events in their homelands and with Arabic fables. Each story stands alone, but when considered alongside each other they create a deep awareness of Australia’s and Australians’ connections with the Middle East. It encourages understanding of the culture and struggles of this group of people who come to call Australia home.

A timely offering, in the face of Australia’s resistance to refugees and involvement in the Middle East.

Mahjar, by Eva Sallis
Allen & Unwin, 2003

Switched, by Jo Coghlan

arry is having an excellent time at Aqua Mania. It’s a pretty cool way to celebrate his birthday. That is, until something bizarre happens. One minute he’s surfing down the Cannonball Chute – and the next he’s landing in a pool that is nowhere on Earth.

Garry finds himslef trapped in another body and in another dimension. His most pressing priority is, understandably, to get back to his own dimension and his own body. But there’s a problem. The boy that he’s changed places with – strangely named Rorgan Tyne – doesn’t want to change back, and Garry doesn’t know how to do it on his own.

SOon, however, there are other worries, and Garry finds himself in a race against time to save not just himslef, but the strange other world he’s trapped in.

Switched is a fast moving and fun children’s novel. Loaded with suspense, humour and surprise, it will appeal to readers aged 10 to 12, especially young science fiction fans.

Jo Coghlan was a primary school teacher before embarking on a writing career. Switched is her first children’s novel.

Switched, by Jo Coghlan
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2003

A Look Over the Edge, by Jeanie Crago

Jeanie Crago grew up in the Western Australian outback. It was a life that some might describe as hard, but Crago doesn’t see it that way. She spent many years travelling and living in a caravan, going wherever her father, a fencing contractor, had work.

The family – Mum, Dad, Jeanie and her four brothers and sisters – lived a simple life. No television, no running water, often no electricity and school by correspondence, supervised by their mother or an occasional untrained nanny. While lacking the comforts that many Aussies take for granted, the children grew up in an envitronment where they were free to explore, to discover their country and themselves.

In A Look Over the Edge, Crago shares her experiences from childhood up to her years as a young adult working a gold mining lease with her father and other family members. She shares the highs and lows of her life – including losing her brother Tom, when he was just thirteen – with an honesty and enthusiasm that is refreshing. For those who know Western Australia this book is a treat with opportunity for revisiting the sixties, seventies and eighties in this vast state. For those who don’t know it, it is enlightening, and may awaken the travel bug.

Likely to appeal to those with a love of autobiography.

A Look Over the edge, by Jeanie Crago
Hesperian Press, 2001
Available from the author at her website, Aussie Outback Books

Valley of Gold, by Jackie French

From the time the Earth was formed four billion years ago, until the present day, Valley of Goldtraces the story of one valley – the Araluen Valley, where author Jackie French has lived for most of her life.

Although the valley is real, the stories in Valley of Gold are fictional, because, as French says, if the neighbours recognise themselves they might throw stones at my windows. Although they aren’t true, the stories could have happened and the characters could have existed, because each story is set in a different period of the valley’s history.

From the hunting of the last ‘tiger’ in 35 000 BC, to the discovery of gold in 1853 and on to French’s own golden discoveries in more recent times, each story gives the young reader some insight into life in the valley in the time period in question, as well as a more general awareness of Australian life in those times.

Valley of Gold is great for personal reading, but would also make an excellent classroom resource, especially for classes learning about Gold mining, Australian history, conservation and other topics.

Valley of Gold, by Jackie French
Angus & Robertson (an imprint of Harper Collins), 2003

Kittyhawk Down, by Garry Disher

Inspector Challis has more than one case on the go. An unidentified man has been fished out of the sea with an anchor around his waist, a troubled farmer has become violent and is on a crime wave of his own, and someone is stalking Challis’s friend Kitty.

Meanwhile, Challis has personal problems to deal with too. His wife, in jail for conspiring to murder him, constantly pressures him for reassurance. His girlfriend, the editor of the local paper, wants more than he can give right now, and his feelings towards Kitty are confusing.

Kittyhawk Down is the second Inspector Challis murder mystery. Fans who have waited since 2000 will be pleased to see the reappearance of this endearing character who is just as intriguing here as in the first title, The Dragon Man, winner of the German Crime Fiction Award and a shortlist title for the Ned Kelly Award.

Kittyhawk Down is a an excellent piece of Australian crime fiction.

Kittyhawk down, by Garry Disher
Allen & Unwin, 2003

Groovy Granny, by Cate Haynes

The children love their groovy granny. She’s not like other grannies – she has a house full of colour and music and fun. When the children visit, they have midnight swims, dance on the roof in the rain, and eat ice cream for breakfast. But then something terrible happens – Granny’s house burns down.

In her new house, Granny just isn’t the same. Her house is empty and lifeless, and so is Granny. She is cold, distant and very very sad. The children want their old Granny back. So when Granny’s old friend Wilhelmina comes to town, they are delighted to discover she is just as groovy as Granny used to be. The children have lots of fun visiting her and almost forget about Granny – until she comes to visit. Maybe, with Wilhelmina’s help, they can get Granny back to her old self.

Groovy Granny is a fun picture book by Western Australian author Cate Haynes. With exuberant illustrations by artist Shane Tholen, this is an upbeat story about fun, family and recovery.

Groovy Granny, by Cate Haynes, illustrated by Shane Tholen
Sandcastle Books, an imprint of Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2003

Lirael, by Garth Nix

Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr, lives with her people, yet apart from them. She is a loner and an orphan who feels she does not belong. This feeling is magnified by the fact that she does not yet have the Sight – a gift which most of the Clayr get at a far younger age than hers.

In another part of the Old Kingdom, Sameth, the Abhorsen in Waiting, and son of Touchstone and Sabriel, is similarly unhappy. He does not want to be the Abhorsen and doesn’t know which is worse – continuing his training, or telling his parents.

When the two embark on separate but common quests, the strange secret that links them is revealed.

Lirael, the second in the Old Kingdom Trilogy by Garth Nix continues the high standard established in the first book, Sabriel. The Old Kingdom is richly drawn and the characters deep and authentic. A rivetting read.

Lirael, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin 2003 (originally published in 2001)

Do-Wrong Ron, by Steven Herrick

Ron always does the wrong things at the wrong time, or the right things at the wrong time, or the wrong things at the right time. Like kicking the winning goal – for the other team. Or forgetting to add water to the cordial. But when he adopts a guinea-pig called Charlie, at least he’s not so lonely any more.

When a girl called Isabelle moves in next door, she thinks Ron is interesting and Charlie is cool. When Ron meets Isabelle’s grandma, who is sad and lonely and refuses to go outside, Ron plans a special welcome for her. Of course, with Ron doing the planning, not everything goes right, but Ron discovers that sometimes the wrong way can turn out right.

Do-Wrong Ron is a special story in verse, written by poet Steven Herrick. Children aged seven to ten will love the novelty of a novel written in free verse, a format which allows Herrick to cut to the chase with the story. This would be an ideal class novel and introduction to petry. Themes include friendship, community, loneliness and self-image.


Do-wrong Ron, by Steven Herrick
Allen & Unwin, 2003.

Burning Eddy by Scot Gardner

Some people call Daniel Fairbrother Dan. Most just call him Fairy. It’s not a name that he likes.

Daniel is searching for meaning in his life. His family life is dominated by his moody and unloving father. Away from home, he has no friends and little to be happy about.

When Daniel meets a Dutch woman, Eddy, he starts to slowly see changes in his life. Eddy is eight-six. She has a tattoo, a history and can make music with her farts. She pays Dan well for the work he does in her garden, and seems to read his mind. She offers him more than work and pay – she offers him friendship. Eddy’s friendship does not prove to be an instant fix to all of Daniel’s problems – his father’s moodiness seems to escalate, the other boys pick on him and he is haunted by memories. But Eddy shows Daniel hope. Maybe there is a point to life – and maybe, just maybe, things will get better.

Burning Eddy is a poignant story about growing up, about family and about friendship. Author Scot Gardner weaves a tale which draws the reader in, caring deeply about these characters. Along the way he continues to drop bombshells that reshape the reader’s perceptions of the characters, so that the story is an ongoing surprise.


Burning Eddy, by Scot Gardner
Pan Macmillan, 2003

The Black House, by Jackie French

When Barney’s Dad gets funding to conduct his special research, it means a move to the country. The house they move to is huge – and comes complete with a high-grade secruity system and a strange caretaker with a propensity to seem like a prison warder.

The new town might be pretty small, but the people are friendly and Barney quickly makes friends. Dad’s pretty happy with the set up for his research project too. So Barney figures he’d better keep quiet about his reservations. He doesn’t know what is going on, but the house is definitely concealing a secret. There are strange shudders at night, slime seeping through the walls, and other goings-on. Barney’s dreams are filled with wild images that seem real. Still, Barney is totally unprepared for what he finds out – and its ramifications for him. He will soon be the boy who talks to the alien.

The Black House, a new title for bestselling author Jackie French, is a lively combination of mystery, adventure and light humour. A Blue level title in Koala’s Tadpoles series, it is suitable for 9 to 12 year old readers.

The Black House, by Jackie French
Koala Books, 2003