The Off-Worlders, by Paul Collins

Doyle is excited when he sees what looks like a spacecraft landing in the valley. He races out of the house with his dog Mastiff, ready to investigate. Little does he expect to meet and make friends with an alien who can talk to him using telepathy, and is here to save the world.

Together Doyle and his new friend, Bigel, must convince the residents of Diamond Valley and its enemy neighbours in the dome, to work together to defeat an invading force.

Part of a classroom educational series, The Off-Worlders is surprising in its hard-hitting plot. This is no simple boy-meets-alien-visitor story. Instead it looks at a futuristic Earth where society is divided into the haves and have-nots, with big domes housing populations hiding from the after-effects of nuclear war, and preying on those who live outside of the dome. The arrival of the alien Bigel proves to be the catalyst for the breaking down of the divisions, at least in Doyle’s part of the world, but not before some life and death escapades and serious battles.

Collins tells a story which is high on action and interest, yet with language which is accessible to readers aged 10 to 12. In essence, he manages to make the text realtively easy to read, whilst keeping the plot at a level which does not patronise pre-teen readers.

Part of the Breakers series from Macmillan Education, The Off-Worlders will appeal to young science fiction fans.

The Off-Worlders, by Paul Collins
Macmillan Education, 2004

The Wrong Door, by Bunty Avieson

When Gwennie’s husband dies, her own life seems to be ended. When an unknown woman in red comes to the funeral, Gwennie is too wrapped up in grief to pay much attention. It is only afterwards that she wonders about this woman and what relationship she had with her husband.

Clare Dalton dresses in red, a colour she knows her eldery neighbour would have loved. She rushes to his funeral, but at the big crematorium she inadvertently goes through the wrong door. It takes a while for her to realise she is at the wrong funeral. When she does she leaves, embarrassed. She forgets that she has signed the condolence book and doesn’t realise the impact her presence has had.

For Gwennie, the questions which arise in the aftermath of her husband’s death seem to be connected with the mysterious Clare Dalton. For Clare, the time after the two funerals is also tumultuous. What she doesn’t know is that Gwennie is following her. And neither Gwennie nor Clare could guess at the connection that really exists between them.

The Wrong Door is an absorbing read. From a chance encounter caused by a simple mistake springs a series of events which will change both of their lives dramatically. Whilst Clare is not even aware of Gwennie’s existence for much of the book, the reader is given hints at a possible connection between the pair that neither could predict.

High on intrigue and danger, The Wrong Door is also an interesting psychological study of the way that the actions of one set of people can have far-reaching impact on another.

A satisfying read.

The Wrong Door, by Bunty Avieson
Pan, 2004, first published by Macmillan, 2003

Cranky Granny, by Eleni McDermott

Cranky Granny
Shouts a lot.
My mummy says
She’s lost the plot.

Lily’s parents seem to think her grandmother is cranky and weird – even, perhaps, a nuisance. But Lily thinks differently. She and Granny share a special bond and Lily doesn’t mind that Granny is a little different – right down to her purple hair and loud ways.

Cranky Granny is a rhyming picture book written to encourage bonds between children and older adults. Youngsters will enjoy the repeated lines, which are a little like a chorus. They will be able to quickly remember these and join in as the book progresses.

Although the rhyme is at times a little forced, the story carries it, and the illustrations of Suzy Brown are fun and bright. The message of tolerance and of the importance of bonds between the generations is an important one.

A useful addition to the book is the inclusion of reading strategies at the back of the book, to encourage maximum benefit from the reading experience.

Cranky Granny is available directly from the publisher (see website information below).

Cranky Granny, by Eleni McDermott, illustrated by Suzy Brown
Ages to Ages Publications, 2003

Company Information

Ages to Ages Publications provides quality picture books, adult workshops and articles, that inspire, inform and enhance the quality of children’s relationships with significant adults. Find out more at www.ages2agespublications.com.

Buttonhead's Day at the Farm, by Lisa Coutts

Buttonhead is Ibis Publishing’s newest character, with two books just released and more yet to come. In Buttonhead’s Day at the Farm, Buttonhead visits Farmer Jo and feeds the farm animals.

Each double paged spread includes a flap for young readers to lift, with the opportunity to guess which animal Buttonhead is about to feed. The text is simple, with the question Who is Buttonhead feeding? repeated on every spread but the first and the last single page. Because of this simplicity and the bright, uncluttered illustrations, the book is likely to appeal to the very young – children aged two to four – who will enjoy the novelty of predicting the animals and opening the flaps.

The book includes reading and teaching suggestions on the back cover, as well as activities on the Ibis website.

A cute offering for littlies.

Buttonhead’s Day on the Farm, by Lisa Coutts
Ibis Publishing, 2004

Buttonhead and the Naughty Puppy, by Lisa Coutts

When Buttonhead is asked to look after Achoo’s new puppy, he thinks it will be easy. He soon finds out that it isn’t. Puppy chose his slippers, digs up his garden and plays in the mud. When Achoo comes to pick up the puppy, what will Buttonhead tell him?

Buttonhead and the Naughty Puppy is one of two books featuring this new character, from new Australian publisher, Ibis. These are simple books with bright illustrations by author/illustrator Lisa Coutts.

A feature is the inclusion of notes for parents on the back cover and activties on the Ibis website. This simple book will appeal to youngsters aged 2-5.

Buttonhead and the Naughty Puppy, by Lisa Coutts
Ibis Publishing, 2004

The Airdancer of Glass, by Catherine Bateson

In an undefined time in the future, society is divided into those who have, and those who have nothing. The privileged ones, the Fatters, live in a domed city where they live in sterile seclusion. Outside, the Tippers live in squalor, scavenging from the dumped refuse of the Fatters, dulling the pain of a meaningless existence with dope and voddy.

Into the Tippers settlement comes Lulianne, an Airdancer. She has left the Circus troupe she used to perform with, fed up with the drinking and sexual advances of the man who was once a father figure. In Tip she befriends Egan, who is also an outsider. He has come to Tip from Clan, a peaceful and secluded place where life is beautiful.

At the same time as the pair find themselves attracted to each other, they are also drawn into the struggle between the Tippers and the Fatters. With a third friend, Amos, a revolutionary who is working for a better life for all, they help to strike a new balance.

The Airdancer of Glass is a novel which challenges in its vision of the future – a future with stark divisions in society and with a landscape almost beyond recognition. Yet at the same time, the novel is about hope, showing how young people lead the way in overcoming injustice and forging a brighter outcome. It is significant that the three teens who bring about change are from three different backgrounds yet manage to find common ground and work together.

This is author Catherine Bateson’s fourth novel for young adults, but her first speculative fiction offering. Teen readers will be intrigued.

Airdancer of Glass, by Catherine Bateson
UQP, 2004

Rooster's Revenge, by Kerri Lane

Johnno and Flash are enjoying the summer holidays until the terrible day that their dog, Tyson, goes missing. They are sure that the local meanie, Rooster, is somehow involved, but they can’t get him to admit it.

With some help from the other local children the boys set out to work out what has happened to Tyson. For four days they fear the worst, that they will never see Tyson again, as they follow a mysterious trail of clues. Who are the strangers that are hanging around with Rooster, and why do they keep finding feathers around town? Is there a bigger mystery, or is Tyson’s disappearance just Rooster’s form of revenge?

Rooster’s Revenge is a fast-moving mystery for ten to twelve year old readers. With a touch of humour and plenty of suspense, author Kerri Lane creates a mystery which will keep young readers guessing.

Part of the new Breakers series, from Macmillan Education, Rooster’s Revenge is suitable both for classroom and private reading.

Rooster’s Revenge, by Kerri Lane
Macmillan Education, 2004

The White Mare, by Jules Watson

In first century Britain, Agricola, the governor of Roman Britain, is advancing into Scotland, determined not to rest until he has claimed it for the Empire. Whilst some tribes have been conquered and others have surrendered, some are determined to withstand the threat.

Rhiann is both princess and Ban Cre (priestess) to her people. When the reigning King, her Uncle, dies, the pressure is on her to marry and produce an heir. The husband chosen for her is Eremon, an exiled Irish prince, who seeks an alliance with the Epidii for reasons of his own.

As they face the Roman enemy, the pair must also face their own troubles. Theirs is not a joyous marriage – Rhiann carries ghostly memories which prevent her from trusting any man, and Eremon needs desperately to prove himself to his men and to his new allies. Only if they work together can the pair overcome these personal woes and lead their people in resisting the Romans.

The White Mare is a stunning debut novel for Western Australian author Jules Watson. The five years spent researching and writing the novel is apparent in the attention to detail and authentic feel for the times. The White Mare is the first in a trilogy. The next installment will be eagerly awaited by those who read the first.

The White Mare, by Jules Watson
Published by Orion, distributed in Australia by Allen & Unwin

Phredde and the Purple Pyramid, by Jackie French

Prudence has a friend called Phredde who just happens to be a phaery. But that isn’t that strange – not compared with a teacher who is a vampire, a brother who is a werewolf and a boyfriend who prefers to be a frog most of the time.

When Phredde, Pru and Bruce (the boyfriend) head down a black tunnel that’s opened up in the school grounds, they know that anything could happen (it usually does on their adventures). So they are only moderately surprised to end up in Ancient Egypt. Pru is pretty excited to find that the Egyptians think she is the Wondrous One, come to choose the next ruler of Egypt. But who will Pru choose, and will they all survive until they can get back home?

Phredde and the Purple Pyramid is the sixth book about Pru and her friends by the funny Jackie French. Unlike some of the earlier books, this book contains one long story divided into chapters, rather than several shorter stories. This will be an added bonus to those whose reading skills have developed since reading the first books.

A good, fun read with Jackie French’s zany stamp.

Phredde and the Purple Pyramid, by Jackie French
Harper Collins, 2004

Don't Start Me Talking, by Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly is one of Australia’s best known and universally liked singer/song writers. Fans will delight in this offering – a collection of Paul Kelly’s lyrics from the past 20 years.

Organised by album and year and with an index of titles and another of first lines, the collection is easily accessible and will appeal to fans, lovers of poetry, singers and more.

This is a fine demonstration of the depth and breadth of Kelly’s work as a lyricist. From the light to the deep, from the political to the emotional, Kelly’s work spans a vast range of human experience.

The book is right up to date, with lyrics from his latest album, Ways and Means – which was released in the same month as the book – included.

Don’t Start Me Talking, by Paul Kelly
Allen & Unwin, 2004