Pirates of Quentaris, by Sherryl Clark

Kiall wanted to race to the Halls of Justice and demand they let his father go. Didn’t they know who he was? He was the famous Paolo Tigran, the rift adventurer who’d made his fortune by finding a sapphire mine and bringing back the finest gems that Quentaris had ever seen. And now he was one of the most astute merchants in the city, with a fleet of his own ships. Or he had been, until a series of misfortunes had decimated the fleet.

When their father is thrown into jail by his creditors, Kiall and Maya are determined to find a way to pay his debts and have him freed. But the family fortune is gone, lost in a series of unexplained mishaps, and nobody is willing to help them. Kiall wants to go into the Rift caves to search for treasure, and, unable to afford a guide, he sneaks aboard a pirate ship. Together with Maya, who has followed him aboard, he is destined for adventures far beyond anything he could have imagined.

Pirates of Quentaris is a gripping fantasy novel for readers aged ten and up, set in the fantasy world of Quentaris, the setting for a series of stand-alone novels each written by a different Australian author. Here Sherryl Clark weaves a frightening but compelling tale which keeps the reader guessing and turning pages. Kiall and Maya find themselves enslaved by a crew of pirates who cruise the desert on a ship with massive wheels, murdering and plundering wherever they can. The children must use their wits, coupled with a little luck, to escape, but not before some scary events including a beheading and an attack by a sabre tooth cat.

A gripping read.

Pirates of Quentaris, by Sherryl Clark
Lothian, 2006

Bushranger Bill, by Megan De Kantzow & Amanda Graham

Bushranger Bill loved Tourmaline Lil.
‘Your sweet purple eyes!’ he sang every morning,
‘Your fine yellow legs. Be my true love
And I’ll give you blue pegs.’

Bushranger Bill, a bowerbird, lives in the Australian bush with his true love, Tourmaline Lil. He showers her with gifts of blue (as bowerbirds do) and sings to her every day. But their bliss is destroyed when bad Captain Bluff comes to town. He, too, has eyes for Lil – and he captures her and steals her away. Bill isn’t as mean or wicked as Captain Bluff, but he can be very cunning – and he devises a way to rescue his Lil, so that they can live happily every after.

Bushranger Bill is a humorous, endearing tale set in an equally endearing bush landscape populated with Australian animals. Whilst the birds, of course, are the central characters, there are also appearances by possums, wombats, koalas and kangaroos, and youngsters will love searching for the frog, lizard and mouse who appear in nearly every illustration as delightfully expressive onlookers.

Megan de Kantzow’s simple, yet fun, text, are accompanied by the watercolour illustrations by Amanda Graham, best known as the creator of Arthur. Graham’s characters, as already mentioned, are delightfully rendered, and the double page night scene of Bill creeping in to visit Lil in her prison is breathtaking, with the dark bush illuminated from behind by a full moon.

Little ones will love this one.

Bushranger Bill, by Megan de Kantzow & Amanda Graham
Omnibus, 2006

How To Insult Your Hosts in Many Languages, by Emma Burgess & David Salter

Want to be able to say Balls, Bastard or even Bugger It in French or German? How about Italian or Spanish? How to Insult Your Hosts in Many Languages provides a tool to do just that. From I hate you to Thanks to your local cuisine, dieting has never been so easy, there is an insult for every occasion, handily translated for you into each of the four languages.

Just to ensure that foreign-language speakers don’t feel left out, there is also a selection of English-language slurs for them to use against the Great British, New Zealanders and Americans as well as a selection of random rudeness from such varied countries as South Africa, Wales, Norway and Portugal.

Of course, none of this is terribly politically correct, but it is pretty funny and the perfect gift for a backpacker off to visit Europe.

Not for the easily offended.

How to Insult Your Hosts in Many Languages, by Emma Burgess & David Salter
Allen & Unwin, 2005

Sir Thursday, by Garth Nix

Dame Primus would want him to stay, or at least hand over the Third Key. But Arthur didn’t want to part with the only weapon he had. He had finally accepted that he must go up against the Morrow days, that avoidance was not an option. The whole gang of Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday and Lord Sunday would not leave him alone…The only way to stop the Morrow days was to defeat them.

With Drowned Wednesday defeated, and the Third Key in his possession, Arthur wants nothing more than to get home. But Dame Primus, the embodiment of the first three parts of the Will, has other ideas. She insists Arthur accompany her to Monday’s Dayroom for a council of war. It seems that a Spirit-Eater has assumed Arthur’s identity back on Earth, and if Arthur were to return, he would destroy not just himself but the whole world. That is just the start of his problems. He is being drafted into Sir Thursday’s army, where he must serve for one hundred years. To escape he must defeat Sir Thursday and free the fourth part of the will, as well as defeat a cast army of Nithlings who are attacking the house.

Sir Thursday is the fourth in the bestselling Keys to the Kingdom series, by Australia’s fantasy king, Garth Nix. As with the earlier titles in the series, there is plenty of action, loads of twists and turns and a great range of characters both quirky and gruesome. Some of these are favourites from the earlier tiles, including Suzy and Leaf, whilst others are new, including, of course, Sir Thursday, and the Piper, who claims he, not Arthur, is the rightful heir.

Another gripping read.

Sir Thursday, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin, 2006

Mr Froggy Went A-courtin', by James Reyne and Wendy Straw

A frog went a courtin’ and he did ride, m-hm.
A frog went a courtin’ and he did ride
a sword and a pistol by his side, m-hm.

This classic song, which will be recognised by most parents, is brought to life in this picture book edition with endearing illustrations by artist Wendy Straw and an accompanying compact disc recording, sung by Australian musician James Reyne.

This hard cover volume is sure to delight. The illustrations are lively interpretations of the lyric, with plenty of appealing animal characters. Missy Mouse attends her wedding in a fluffy pink tutu and Mr Froggy is a dashing figure in purple hat and red waistcoat.

I wondered how the artist would deal with the closing scene, given that this is intended for young children. The song, for those who don’t recall , has the wedding guests sailing off across the lake, where they are swallowed up by a big black snake. Straw’s scene shows the boat with most of its inhabitants blissfully unaware of their fate, with the exception of two startled mice who are pointing at the approaching snake with alarm. The following page, with the instruction If you want anymore you can sing it yourself depicts the cast taking a bow framed by stage curtains, leaving youngsters to think that they are all okay – it was just a song or a play. The opposite page, the book’s endpaper, is a gentle depiction of the empty rowboat adrift on the lake

The accompanying CD features Reyne singing the song, in a lively performance accompanied by acoustic guitar. Kids will be able to sing along, and may choose to use the book to learn the lyrics.

A cute interpretation.

Mr Froggy Went A-courtin’, by James Reyne and Wendy Straw
Brolly Books, 2006

Aliki Says, by Irini Savvides

A was the first letter in the alphabet. And Aliki was always first.
At least she remembers something, Liza decided, even if it is about Aliki. Walking to the photo on the mantelpiece, she couldn’t help but smile. The two of them, six years of age, arms around Yiayia’s ample waist. Where had that woman gone?

It is the summer holidays, but instead of spending them with her cousin and best friend Aliki on the beach, Liza is on the way to Greece. She and her mother are collecting her grandmother, Yiayia, to bring her home to Australia to live. But Yiayia has changed – she isn’t at all like Liza remembers. Worse still Yiayia doesn’t seem to remember Liza. But Yiayia does remember her terrible secret, a secret which has eaten away at her and at the rest of the family, for years. Bringing her home to Australia will force the whole family to confront the past.

Back in Australia, Liza and Aliki find it increasingly difficult to maintain their friendship. Liza is jealous that Yiayia remembers Aliki but not her. Everyone seems to like outgoing, cheeky Aliki, more than quiet Liza. And Aliki is jealous of Liza, who she thinks is keeping Yiayia to herself. It is a difficult summer for both girls as they confront the past and figure out their futures.

Aliki Says is a moving tale of family, memories and forgetting. Author Savvides brings past and present, Australia and Greece together in a beautifully woven story which holds much to ponder not just for teen readers but also for adults. Issues of family loyalty, of cross-cultural marriages, of friendship and of the challenges of aging are explored in a poignant, skilful rendering which is not heavy to read, but certainly deals with weighty issues.


Aliki Says, by Irini Savvides
Random House, 2006

Ray's Olympics, by Libby Gleeson

‘Pipe down, you two.’ Dad looked from one to the other. ‘There’ll be no television in this house. It’s one more thing for the rich. You can get what you need to know from the papers and the radio.’
‘Can we watch it down the street like everyone else?’ Jane pushed her seat back and started to stack the plates.
‘If you must,’ said Dad. ‘But don’t go getting any ideas.’

There are two big events happening in Melbourne – the arrival of television and the staging of the 1956 Olympics. Ray’s family don’t have a television and they haven’t got tickets to any Olympic events either, so it looks like he’ll miss out completely. But when he lies to the school bullies that his cousin is working for the television crew filming the games, he has to find a way to prove it.

Ray’s Olympics is a junior historical fiction title aimed at middle primary readers. As well as focussing on an important part of Australia’s history, it is a fun, easy to read story, engaging young readers in the period when television was broadcast in black and white and most families could not afford to own their own set.

Ray’s Olympics is part of the new Making Tracks series, where each author is allocated a specific exhibit from the National Museum’s collection. In this case, the item was the van used for the first ABC-TV broadcast in 1956, which is now housed at the National Museum.

This title, and the series of which it is part, provides a really accessible means for engaging young readers in important periods of Australia’s history, as well as being simply a good read.

Ray’s Olympics, by Libby Gleeson
National Museum of Australia Press, 2006

Mudflat Murder, by Rose Trapnell

Cricket wants only one thing more desperately than to be allowed into the Mangrove Grang – and that is to win the respect of his dad. If he can prove he is brave enough to join the gang, he is sure his dad will think more highly of him.

But, when a body is found in the mudflats and there is a crime spree around town, Cricket is caught up in something more serious than a kids’ gang.

With his friend Daniel he is determined to solve the mystery AND win Dad’s admiration. That’s if he survives that long.

Mudflat Murder is a mystery story but also deals with issues such as peer pressure, bullying and family relationships.

A sound story for ten to thirteen year old readers.

Mudflat Murder, by Rose Trapnell
Greater Glider, 2003