Ads R Us, by Claire Carmichael

The name was familiar to me. My uncle had spent many hours warning me about the role of advertising in the Chattering World. He’d been particularly scathing about the influential lobbying organisation his sister headed, the Ads-4-Life Council.

Orphaned as a baby, Barrett Trent has spent all his life in an eco-cult called Simplicity, protected from the modern world. But now his uncle is dead, and an aunt he has never met has decided he must come and live with her and her family. Barrett’s spoilt cousin Taylor isn’t too keen on having him sharing their home. She is one of the in-group, and Barrett’s lack of sophistication could affect her standing.

Aunt Kara is more welcoming. She is the head of the Ads-4-Life council, and she finds Barrett’s background – or rather the chance his background gives her to study the impact of advertising on someone who has never been exposed to it before – fascinating. For Barrett, who is initially unaware that he is being used as a guinea pig, the experience could have dire consequences. Taylor, too, could find herself in trouble as events spiral out of both teenagers’ control.

Ads R Us is a frighteningly plausible futuristic novel, set in a not-too-distant future where advertisements aren’t just everywhere – they are actually in control of most aspects of life. Schools are sponsored by corporations who may not always have children’s best needs at heart, and individual lessons are sponsored by products teachers are expected to endorse. Children have microchips implanted which record not just their movements but also their shopping preferences, banking details and more.

This is an exciting read, but it will also have readers squirming as they see both the parallels with the consumerism-driven society we already live in, and the foreshadowing of how this could develop.

Teens will find this a fascinating story and it would also have excellent classroom application, with plenty of room for discussion of advertising, peer-pressure, privacy and more.

Ads R Us, by Claire Carmichael
Random House, 2006

Layla, Queen of Hearts, by Glenda Millard

Griffin’s daddy used to say that Layla had been sent to comfort them after Tishkin went away; like an arm about their shoulders, a candle in the dark or like golden syrup dumplings for the soul.

There is going to be a Senior Citizen’s Day at school and Griffin says that Layla can share his grandma, Nell, but Layla wishes that she had someone special of her own to take along. The whole Silk family, of which Layla is an honorary member, is involved in Layla’s selection process, but it is Nell who introduces her to Miss Amelie, who lives on her own and doesn’t remember very well. Through the special friendship that develops between Miss Amelie and Layla , she and her friend Griffin learn some moving lessons about life, memories and small miracles.

A follow-up to The Naming of Tishkin Silk, Layla Queen of Hearts is just as touching as its predecessor. Layla and Griffin are delightful young characters and Miss Amelie’s struggles with memory loss and aging tug at the heart strings. The story is tightly woven, with layers of laughter and tears which leave the reader thinking about the characters and their lives long after the cover is closed.


Layla, Queen of Hearts, by Glenda Millard
ABC Books, 2006

The Peskie Spell, by Emily Rodda

She began to sing, moving her broom in time to the music:
“Pesky weather; nothing goes right!Pesky weather; lock the door tight!
Make a magic brew
With seven drops of dew,
A drop of thistle milk,
And a strand of spider silk…”

With the weather both sunny and windy, Jessie’s mum is singing an old song that grandma sometimes sings, but neither of them realises the significance of the song. When Jess goes to call on her friends in the Realm, she finds them barricaded inside the palace. A wild wind has brought the mischievous Peskies down from the hills and they’re up to all sorts of trouble. If they can’t be banished soon, all the magic of the realm will vanish.

The spell to get rid of the Peskies has been forgotten – by everyone, it seems, but Jessie’s grandmother. It is up to Jessie to teach it to the others and then set off to find the magical ingredient.

The Peskie Spell is the third title in the Fairy Realm, series two. Just like the earlier titles it is filled with fairies, elves and other mystical creatures, plenty of magic and a happy ending. These hardcover offerings, with delightful illustrations by Raoul Vitale, are sure to appeal to young girls.

The Peskie Spell, by Emily Rodda
ABC Books, 2006

Good Manners Great Kids, by Sonia Mitchell

Whilst not all of us mourn for the ‘good all days’ and all that entails, one thing many parents and teachers do miss is good old-fashioned manners. Many children are reaching school age without ever having learnt, it seems, how to say please, thank you or sorry. Many don’t know basic etiquette for visiting friends, eating politely or sharing. In her new series Good Manners great Kids, author Sonia Mitchell provides a tool for teaching and learning basic good manners.

This series of 21 levelled readers is suitable for home or classroom use. Each title has simple text which illustrates the manner being focussed on, accompanied by bright illustrations (by David Bone) showing children modelling the manner. So, for example, the first page of the level one text Thank You has a child waving good bye to his teacher, accompanied by the text: I say “Thank you” to my teacher. The following pages (there are eight in each book) have other situations where the child will say thank you, and with plenty of repetition in the text as well as the concept, will easily be read and/or remembered by beginning readers. The text in the level two books is a little more complex, for slightly older readers, and the concepts introduced in level one are reinforced in level two. So, for example, Thank You (level one) is reinforced and extended in level two’s Saying Thank You.

The books are sold individually or as a boxed set, direct from publisher AAA Publishing. The boxed set comes with a set of stickers to be used as rewards, and each title has a simple star chart printed on the inside back cover to use for a reward program for good manners.

Sales of Good Manners Great Kids books support the Leukaemia Foundation.

Good Manners great Kids, by Sonia Mitchell, illustrated by David Bone
AAA Publishing, 2006

Robbie and the Dolphins, by Justin D'Ath

A swift V-shaped ripple arrowed across the water towards Robbie’s cap. There was a splash, a slice of grey fin, the cap leapt into the air…

Robbie can’t swim or play games, because he is in a wheelchair. He’s only allowed to come to the Sunday School picnic if he promises to be very careful. But Robbie is sick of being careful and being treated like a baby. Maybe he can’t walk, but he still wants to have fun.

When Robbie meets an old fisherman, he wants to get to know him better. And when he joins Alan on the jetty, he comes face to face with a dolphin. When Robbie’s hat blows into the water, the dolphin gets it back for him – but soon it’s Robbie who can help the dolphin.

Robbie and the Dolphin is one of the first four titles in the new Making Tracks series from the National Museum of Australia Press. Each title is set in a significant period of Australian history and also uses an exhibit from the National Museum as a springboard for the story. In Robbie and the Dolphin the chosen exhibit was a Chevrolet Truck, and the truck appears in the story as a means of getting Robbie and his wheelchair about.

With 64 pages and easy to read, yet high-interest text, this title, and the others in the series, are suitable for middle primary students, either as classroom resources or for private reading. Robbie and the Dolphins explores two important topics in Australia’s history – the effects of the polio epidemic, and the after-effects of the second world war, as well as an environmental theme of caring for marine creatures and, of course, the topic of children with disabilities.

Good stuff.

Robbie and the Dolphins, by Justin D’Ath
National Museum of Australia Press, 2006

Become a Children's Writer, by Bren MacDibble

Do you care about what children read?
Do you like reading to children and seeing how involved they become in the world the author’s created?
Do you like the thought of working on your own creating something unique?
Do you like the idea of helping children to learn?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then children’s writing may well be for you. And a good starting point to investigate the hows and whys of writing for children is in this useful guide, Become a Children’s Writer. Part of the Top Job series, the guide provides loads of practical information about the children’s publishing industry, and about how to get started as a children’s writer.

MacDibble begins with a discussion of the skills necessary to become a children’s writer, followed by an introduction to the different kinds of publishers (trade versus educational) and the different types of children’s books, including picture books, chapter books, graded readers and young adult novels. She then moves onto some sound advice about writing craft, and finally practical information about submitting manuscripts and self-promotion. There is also a useful listing of contacts (including Australian publishers) and websites.

This 82 page guide is a wonderful starting point for anyone who is interested in writing for children. It also has lots of reminders for those who are already working in the industry. The information is well categorised, the writing style accessible, and the sturdy A4 format makes it easy to read and to locate relevant information. Whilst the earliest edition of the book was spiral bound, the guide is now book bound with an attractive cover.

The guide is available direct from the publisher online at An excellent resource.

Become a Children’s Writer, by Bren MacDibble
Australian Associated Publishing House, 2006

Don't Call Me Ishmael, by Michael Gerard Bauer

There’s no easy way to put this, so I’ll just say it straight out. It’s time I faced up to the truth. I’m fourteen years old and I have Ishmael Leseur’s Syndrome.
There is no cure.

So begins this delightful account of a boy’s journey through year nine. Ishmael Leseur – yes, he does have the same name as the disease because, the reader quickly learns, his name and the consequences of having such a name, ARE the disease. You see, Ishmael is being bullied, and the bully’s focus is on Ishmael’s name. From the moment that Barry Bagsley says “Ishmael? What kind of wussy-crap name is that?” Ishmael’s life changes.. He says: I learnt to make myself as small a target as possible. I became an expert at this. I became virtually invisible to Barry Bagsley and his mates. Sometimes I could barely see myself.

All this changes in year nine, when a new boy, James Scobie, joins the class. James is different. Very different. And he is paired with Ishmael in class. Soon the pair have struck up a friendship, and together with their collection of other year nine misfits, they learn to take on not just Barry Bagsley, but also anything else life throws at them.

This is a humorous book which will have readers laughing out loud, and while it also has some frightening and emotional moments, it is this humour which keeps the novel moving along and stops the reader from wanting to put it down.

Michael Gerard Bauer’s first book, The Running Man, won the CBCA’s Book of the Year award. Don’t Call Me Ishmael is similar in the quality of its writing, but is a very different book in most other aspects, being a lighter read. This is a good thing as it gives Bauer a chance to show the breadth of his talents. Teen readers will love Ishmael and his friends and this book is sure to win accolades, too.

Don’t Call Me Ishmael, by Michael Gerard Bauer
Scholastic, 2006

Nog The Nag Bird, by Gordon Reece

Nog hated being a nag bird. He hated his big yellow beak and stupid little wings, but most of all he hated his enormous orange feet.
Nog wanted to be like the tweetzie birds, tall and slim and beautiful.

When Nog finds a beautiful pink shell on the beach, it reminds him of the tweetzie birds’ beaks, and it gives him an idea. With the shell, a red dress, some big leaves and two long branches, Nog reincarnates himself as a tweetzie bird. But, when a squonky cat comes visiting, Nag finds out that it’s hard to run when you have stilts for legs. It doesn’t take him long to realise that his big ugly feet are very useful for outrunning the squonky cat. Perhaps it isn’t so bad being a nag bird, after all.

Nog the Nag Bird is a fun picture book with an important message – that everyone has something to be proud of. The message, though, is a subtle one – young children will just enjoy the absurdity of the bird trying to change who he is by dressing up. Author/illustrator Gordon Reese has created delightful characters – the nag birds are endearingly silly, the tweetzie birds have beautiful wings but appear suitably vain and the squonky cat is scary, but not too scary. There are plenty of bold oranges throughout the illustrations, making them bright and appealing, and the text is simple.

Great for reading aloud.

Nog The Nag Bird, by Gordon Reece
Lothian, 2006

Cyclone Tracy – The Diary of Ryan Turner, by Alan Tucker

The Big T actually showed his human side today and took us all fishing. He likes to take the boat out, not just so he can be Captain Bligh, but so he can relax. And when he relaxes, so can I. That’s why Mum always comes in the boat. She knows there’ll be no arguments.

Ryan loves fishing. Sometimes it seems that’s the only thing he and his dad have in common. Dad is the deputy principal at Ryan’s school in Darwin, which isn’t easy for Ryan. His Dad is a tyrant – at home and at school.

So when a group of hippies comes to town, Ryan knows his dad won’t approve. And when Ryan makes friends with one of them, he knows there will be trouble. But his problems with his dad are nothing compared to the challenges Ryan is about to face. It is 1974, and Cyclone Tracy is headed for Darwin.

Cyclone Tracy: the Diary of Ryan Turner is a diary style novel which gives a fictionalised account of events up to, during and after the devastation wrought by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve, 1974. The narrator, fourteen year old Ryan, shares his perspective of life in Darwin prior to the event – fishing, school, going to the movies and so on – and after the cyclone gives his firs hand account of the horror of the cyclone. This is interweaved with the stories of Ryan’s family life, his friendships and his first girlfriend.

Part of the My Australian Story series, Cyclone Tracy is an absorbing read for 11 to 14 year old readers.

Cyclone Tracy: The Diary of Ryan Turner, by Alan Tucker
Scholastic, 2006

The Friends of Apple Street, by Anna Pignataro

Near Rippling Lake is Apple Street. That’s where the six friends Pug, Queenie, Lucy, Mango, Bella and Eliza live.

The sun is shining in Apple Street and we see each of the six friends alone, doing the things that each likes to do. But when it starts to rain, the six come together to play and splash in the puddles, before all going to Lucy’s house for tea and cupcakes.

The Friends of Apple Street is a vibrant picture book for very young children, full of cute animal characters and with a simple tale of friendship. Adult readers might like to see the story as an allegory about how friends come together during rainy times, but kids will just enjoy seeing the friends playing in puddles and having a tea party.

Pignataro uses a combination of watercolour and collage to create bright illustrations which have plenty in them to appeal to young viewers. Older children might enjoy the fact that Pignataro has created simple characters which a child could draw for him/herself, with reasonable success.

The Friends of Apple Street is a lovely book.

The Friends of Apple Street, written and illustrated by Anna Pignataro
Lothian, 2006