The Cockies of Manatu Island, by Judi Pope

‘What on earth…?’ Mum gasped as she walked into the room.
‘We’ve been robbed,’ Corey gazed wide-eyed around the room. ‘Wow! I’ve never been robbed before. Do you think the robbers are still here?’

Corey and Mikaela are rapt to be going on a family holiday to Manatu Island. But on their first day someone breaks into their apartment. The resort managers tell them that it is probably cockatoos doing the damage – but until they see it for themselves, the family doesn’t believe it is possible. Once they are convinced, they set up a video camera to see for themselves what is going on.

The Cockies of Manatu Island is a yellow level reader from the new Breakers series from Macmillan. Aided by the comic-style illustrations of Tom Kurema, the story is a fun holiday tale, suitable both for classroom use and for private reading. Animal tales are always popular with kids, and the unusual nature and setting of this one will appeal.

The Cockatoos of Manatu Island, by Judi Pope
Macmillan Education, 2003

The Golden Luge, by Gary Underwood

This track starts with a very steep slope. I get up to top speed very quickly. At least I think it is top speed. The luge just seems to get faster and faster. The two boys in front slow up coming in the first corner and I gain on them. We all hit the corner at once with Jack and I pushing into the back of their luges.
‘Get out the way slugs!’ I call out.

When Bevan and his friends go on a school trip to New Zealand, they are hoping for some excitement and can’t wait to go skiing. But when the weather changes and skiing is cancelled, they aren’t impressed at the idea of trying out the luge instead. Isn’t the luge just like a billy cart? They are too old for that sort of thing.

When they get there, however, they learn that the luge can be pretty exciting. Flying downhill on a slippery track is a little different than riding in a billy cart. When they are challenegd to a race by the students from another school, the excitement increases.

The Golden Luge is one of 20 yellow level titles in the new Breakers series from Macmillan. With a combination of action, adventure and learning, it is a good title for classroom use, but will also appeal for private reading.

Many readers will be unfamilair with the luge and will enjoy learning about it, and teachers will appreciate that the children learn about competitiveness and fairness as they enjoy the story.

The Golden Luge is targeted at children with a reading age of approximately ten years. Its subject matter makes it suitable for older students with reading difficulties.

The Golden Luge, by Gary Underwood, illustrated by Dave Deakin
Macmillan Education, 2003

Weapons of Choice, by John Birmingham

It is 2021. A multinational force gathers near East Timor ready to go war against the revolutionary Caliphate. The elected government of Indonesia has been overthrown and the Caliphate has claimed control not just of that country, but of the whole region including Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and even northern Australia. The multinational force, made up ships and personnel from the US, England, Australia, Japan, Russia and Indonesia, plans to overthrow the Caliphate.

In the midst of the force, however, is a research vessel conducting top secret experiments. One of these experiments is about to change everything – for those present and for the whole world.

Suddenly the force is thrust back by the power of this experiment into the past. Back in 1942 an allied force is en route to Midway to take on the Japanese. When large unfamiliar ships suddenly appear in their midst they attack. The two forces battle furiously until the eventual realisation that they are fighting forces from the same side, albeit in vastly different conflicts. Before this realisation, however, thousands have died -from both forces.

The ensuing events are stunning. With the 1940s force severely depleted by the clash, the visitors from the future must help them. In the meantime, one of the Indonesian ships has fallen into Japanese hands. The knowledge and weaponry which has made the trip back through time should be a valuable asset in the war, but history as the time-travellers know it is rapidly being rewritten by their very presence.

Whilst the plot of this story is fascinating, the real focus is on the implications of the time travel, which gives Birmingham an opportunity to contrast society now (or in the near future, anyway) and then. Much of the conflict and discomfort between the two allied forces comes from societal differences. The futuristic force has women, blacks and even gay people as serving officers. The 1940s servicemen have to deal with being asked to embrace societal values of equality decades ahead of the time these changes would have happened. Birmingham provides an opportunity for the reader to observe the best and worst of both contemporary society and the past.

This is a big book – over 520 pages – and is full of action. What it does lack perhaps is a strong central character to bind the action together. There are several characters around which various plots and subplots revolve, but some do seem to appear and disappear. This is by no means a major pitfall, but for some readers will be a little disarming.

Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1 is a gripping read.

Weapons of Choice: World War 2.1, by John Birmingham
Pan Macmillan, 2004

Raspberry Rat, by Robert Moore

The orphan joey nuzzled my pullover and curled into a soft ball. It felt like his mother’s pouch. But the smoke from the burning canes drifted close and the joey tried to jump out of my arms. Smoke frightened him.

Brendon is working with his dad on their raspberry farm when they find an orphaned rat-kangaroo. Brendon takes it home and cares for it. Soon Ras (as he comes to be known) is part of the family, but Brendon and his sister Fiona both know that eventually they will have to return Ras to the wild, where he belongs.

Looking after Ras isn’t always easy, but it is very rewarding. Letting him go isn’t easy either. Brendon isn’t sure he’ll ever get over missing Ras.

Raspberry Rat is a chapter book for 8 to 10 year old readers. Part of the Breakers series from Macmillan Education, it is suitable both for classroom use and for private reading. Many children will be unfamiliar with rat-kangaroos and will enjoy learning about them as they read the book.

A good read.

Raspberry Rat, by Robert Moore
Macmillan Education, 2003

Single White Email, by Jessica Adams

I must force myself to think of Dan as the Loathsome Lawyer from Leichhardt, I must. But what if he bumps into me walking out of the hairdresser’s with my new red hair, and drags me into an alley and kisses the life out of me? And says it’s all been a terrible mistake and he can’t eat, can’t sleep?
I don’t know the statistical chances of that, but they must be there somewhere. There must be a chance.

Victoria Shipworth has just had another break-up with a man who doesn’t know when he’s on to a good thing. And this one managed to break up with her at her thirtieth brithday party.

On the same day, she received a brand new computer – a birthday present from her father. So, as she tries to forget Dan and a brief fling with Liam, a guy from work, Victoria turns to the internet in her search for Mr Right.

When she strikes up an email friendship with Pierre, a single man from Paris, Victoria finds her life starting to change. But is Pierre a possible Mr Right? Is he really a man at all? And does he live in France, or somewhere a little closer to home?

An internet romance aside, Victoria’s life is getting increasingly unpredictable – her best friend has decided she’s gay, her career is out of control and she seems to have acquired a cat.

Single White E-Mail is funny, but it is also disarmingly accurate. Anyone who has ever been single will find bits of themselves in this book, and probably cringe. Victoria is a likeable character, even through her strange obsessions and her self-centredness. Her life is sad, funny and very real all at the same time.

A great read.

Single White E-Mail, by Jessica Adams
Pan, 2004 (first published, 1998)

I Have Kissed Your Lips, by Gerard Windsor

Michael English is happy in his role as parish priest, until he meets Esme, one of his parishioners. They are strangely drawn to each other and he finds himself making clandestine visits to Esme. When her husband dies and she declares herself pregnant, he leaves the priesthood and marries her.

Soon, though, Michael finds himself falling for the woman who is Esme’s doctor, and begins a second affair. This affair is called off by the woman, Jill, after Esme’s baby dies. Michael is unsure whether he loves Esme, but feels obliged to spend the rest of his life with her.

Underlying this plot are two others – the story of Michael’s birth and of his childhood, and the story of Esme’s first baby – born when she was a teenager, and adopted out at birth. The reader is teased throughout the book as to the connections between these plots, which come together in a final shocking twist.

I Have Kissed Your Lips at times seems to run the risk of being predictable but each time redeems itself with a new twist. This is much more than a story about babies and adoptions – it is also about religion, the institution of the church, and secrecy and its long term impact. Michael and Esme, and those who are affected by their actions, are all initially unaware of the significance of their relationship and are victims of the past mistakes and misdeeds of others.

I Have Kissed Your Lips is a well-crafted literary novel with the various stories interwoven beautifully so that, piece by piece, the plot comes together at just the right point.

I Have Kissed Your Lips, by Gerard Windsor
University of Queensland Press, 2004

Our School Fete, by Louise Pfanner

It’s only three weeks until our school fete. Everyone is busy.
My class is organising the Haunted House. We’re going to have ghosts and spiders and a giant sticky web.

Our School Fete is a lovely new picture book about all the fun and chaos of preparing for a big school fete. Told through the eyes of ten-year old Charley, the book highlights the excitement of the school children as they prepare for the big event.

All the essential parts of a fete are there – cake stalls, crafts, dress-ups, rides and entertainment – but more importantly, the community and family spirit which is really the integral part of a succesful fete. Charley doesn’t mention the importance of the fete as a fundraising event and that is a highlight of the book – it is all about the fun and community spirit of the big day and of the weeks leading up to it.

Kim Gamble’s illustrations, using watercolours, coloured pencils and pastels, capture all the chaos and fun of the fete, with loads of detail for kids to discover.

Our School Fete would be great for the classroom, especially at a school planning a similar event. The end papers are also a lovely learning tool, depicting a map of the fete.

Our School Fete, by Louise Pfanner and Kim Gamble
ABC Books, 2004

Lizzie Nonsense, by Jan Ormerod

When Papa takes the sandalwood he has cut into town, it is fifty miles along sand tracks, and he will be away a long time.
Then Lizzie and Mama and baby are all alone in the little house in the bush.

Alone in the bush with her mother and baby brother for months on end, Lizzie must entertain herself – and she does. With her imagination she creates weddings and parties, oceans and churches. Her mother fondly calls it ‘nonsense’ but Lizzie knows her mother likes nonsense too.

Lizzie Nonsense is a charming look at the experience of pioneering families in the Australian bush. Lizzie’s carefree nature makes light of the hardhips that she and her mother face, with hard work, low rations, snakes and isolation all there for contemporary readers to see.

Jan Ormerod’s illustrations, using a combination of crayon, watercolour and gouache, complement the historical nature of the story and are simply delightful. The cover illustration, showing Lizzie sitting on the limb of a gum tree and looking into the distance, yet directly at the reader, provides a nice link between past and present, as if Lizzie is waiting to share her story with the reader.

Lizzie Nonsense is perfect for sharing at home, but would also make an excellent classroom tool, especially for themes relating to history.

Lizzie Nonsense, by Jan Ormerod
Little Hare, 2004

Bird, by Annette Lodge

I once met a bird, who stared out to sea
As strange and as still as a bird could be.
I sat down beside him and asked him why.
Shortly he answered, “Because I can’t fly.”

Bird, it turns out, is afraid of the sky and afraid that his strange shape will render him unable to fly. The boy who meets him realises he can’t criticise Bird because he too has been afraid to change and to try new challenges.

It is a fish who eventually helps the pair, enticing them both in to the water. Caught up in the joy of their swim, both bird and boy realise that they can take risks and be happy.

Bird is an invigourating tale, told in whimsical rhyme and perfectly complemented by the watercolour illustrations. The pages are filled with vibrant purples, greens and oranges and with delightfully odd fish, birds and other creatures.

While the story may be aimed at older readers, children of all ages will be fascinated by the illustrations, which eclipse the story. The message of the story is, however, an important one and this would be well-suited to middle and even upper primary classrooms.


Bird, by Annette Lodge
ABC Books, 2004