Round Fish, Square Bowl, by Tom Skinner and Mini Goss

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

When this book arrived in the mail, I knew I had a favourite with my children. The “Can you read me this, Mummy,” was an early clue, but the fact that both children wanted it as their bedtime story – over and over again – sealed it. The bright orange fish grabs your attention, and the title, to me, summed up what is probably true for everyone to some degree.

This is one of the most delightful new books I have read to my children in some time. It has encouraged discussion about why mules are stubborn and allowed me to retell the story of the tortoise and the hare. Even young children are able to identify with being slow (yes they get labelled at a young age) or being scared. The story ends beautifully with the mice showing that family and friends bring richness to our life. It is a wonderful book to explain to children that it is okay, and sometimes even wonderful, to be different, and that there are two sides to every story.

Mini Goss’s illustrations brighten the pages with their humour and showing what the words don’t say. Visually, there is a lot to talk about and children will be able to identify with the characters, after all, we all know the story of the 3 little pigs. It is a delight to see more of Mini Goss’s illustrations appearing and they become more pleasing with each new publication.

New Frontier should be congratulated for taking a chance with new author Tom Skinner and Round Fish, Square Bowl. It is such a simple story, and delightfully puts into words the whole concept of being different.

Round Fish, Square Bowl, Mini Goss, (illus.) and Tom Skinner (text),
New Frontier Publishing, 2006
Hardcover, ISBN 978 1 92104 296 6

A Pig Called Pete by Alan Bowater

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

It is always great to see children’s books that challenge the norm and, like the recently published Round Fish, Square Bowl (New Frontier), A Pig Called Pete does this is in a simple and entertaining way.

I bought this book at my children’s urging from the Sunday market at the Arts Centre, Southgate in Melbourne.

A Pig Called Pete is the story of an unconventional pig who travels the world. It starts by asking questions – “Pigs are Pink. Yes? No!” and lets children understand that it is acceptable to challenge the norm – Pete is not pink, he is purple. He does not like dirt, or mud, but most importantly, Pete can fly.

It is this ability that allows him to travel the world. This is a simple idea that resulted in some delightfully entertaining can caning from my daughter and bull fighting from my son.

Pete’s journey around the world introduces young children to geography and some of the characteristics of the places he visits. Pete climbs pyramids and paddles a gondola. My children asked a lot of questions, such as are there really gondolas and what’s a matador?

What I particularly like about this book is the message at the end – give children freedom and they might surprise you.

This book is suitable for the 3-6 year age group and we have enjoyed it as a night time story over and over again. The language also allows beginner readers to read it independently.

A Pig Called Pete, by Alan Bowater, illustrated by Pete Pascoe
Published by Alan Bowater and Pete Pascoe
PB rrp $15

Shadows in the Mirror, by Cameron Nunn

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

School Bullying is an ongoing issue and Cameron Nunn’s debut novel Shadows in the Mirrormade an impact from the first page. This is a powerful story that looks at bullying from the point of view of a young boy stuck between the bullies and the victim.

David is a Year 11 student at Hamilton College. For five years he has lived by the rule that you do not dob on anyone, not for anything. His roommate Simon is the grandson of a former rugby great and expected to be just like him – which he is not.

When Simon becomes the victim, he sees David as a friend and supporter. David, on the other hand, is pressured to be part of the silence of the school community that condones bullying by refusing to deal with it. As he and Simon investigate the death of a student many years earlier, David faces decisions that will impact on lives and the truth about Hamilton College.

I found this book deeply moving, and very difficult to put down. Whilst I could not identify with the boarding school setting, the behaviour of the boys and unfortunately the teachers has a strong ring of truth to it and according to Nunn ‘it’s sadly based on a variety of real events.’ Whilst the age recommendation is 14+, it would be suitable for most children from around 12 years.

Shadows in the Mirror by Cameron Nunn
Black Dog Books, 2006
PB rrp $18.95

Will, by Maria Boyd

Each boy was programmed to recognise Waddlehead’s walk from twenty metres away. Each boy also knew what it meant.
It became deadly quiet.
The boys parted, creating a guard of honour delivering me to my fate. No way round it.
Busted. Busted bad.
Walk with me immediately, Mr Armstrong.

Will probably should have stopped and thought before he mooned the girls’ school bus which had broken down at the front of his own school. But he didn’t stop or think, and now he’s in big trouble. This is the latest in a line of silly things which Will has done, and he’s in big trouble. The adults all reckon it’s because of what happened six months ago, but Will doesn’t know what they’re on about – nor does he want to know.

As a strange form of his punishment, Will is made to join the school band, performing in the school musical. This is the worst punishment Will could ever have imagined. Being in the play is something only nerds will consider – and Will is no nerd. But he seems to have attracted a new best friend who is – a year 7 trombone-playing geek, who thinks Will is the best thing since sliced bread. Then there are the two leads in the musical – one is the most beautiful girl Will has ever seen, the other is a rugby-playing jock who is new to the school and doesn’t seem to know or care that singing and dancing are not cool. Will is not going to get sucked into this whole new world – nor is he going to face the events of six months ago.

Will is a funny yet touching tale of fitting in, falling in love and coping with grief. Will is a likeable main character whose first person voice draws the reader in. We want to know just what has happened to his father, who seems to be the key factor in whatever happened six months ago, and, above all, we want to see things work out for Will, who seems to keep making mistakes even as he works to resolve them.

This is a light novel which deals with serious subjects in a way which is both real and compelling, without being maudlin or unrealistic.

Will, by Maria Boyd
Random House, 2006

365 Fun Facts, Weird Trivia and Amazing Lists…

We use lists every day – shopping lsits, to-do lists, spelling lists…but this book promises that the lists it offers are more exciting than other lists. There is certainly a great range of lists – from a list of the ten most expensive pieces of art in the world, to a list of the countries of the world, and a list of Nobel Peace Prize winners. Topics covered include sport, animals, history, language, science and more and there are also opportunities for readers to compile their own lists.

First produced in the USA, this edition has been localised by Australian contributor, Jane Thornton, and includes several lists unique to Australia – including geography, political figures, AFL facts and more.

Likely to especially appeal to fact-mad boys, there is plenty of information, trivia, and opportunities to show off new-found knowledge on offer here.

365 Fun Facts, Weird Trivia and Amazing Lists on Nearly Everything You Need to Know
Scholastic, 2006

Puppy's Christmas Star, by Odette Ross

Puppy has made a special Christmas star, but now he doesn’t know where to put it – all the special places have been filled. Kitty’s bells are in the hall and Ducky’s wreath is on the door. Where can Puppy hang his star? The answer is soon apparent – Puppy’s star is hung on top of a special tree – the Christmas tree.

Puppy’s Christmas Star is a board book offering for the very young, with simple text, bright colours and cute animal characters. The bold blue backgrounds make a pleasant change from all the reds and greens of so many Christmas offerings and there is also a counting element in the illustrations, which parents may pick up on – there is one star, two stockings, three candles, four bells and five Christmas tress on subsequent pages.

This is a cute offering for babies and toddlers.

Puppy’s Christmas Star, by Odette Ross
ABC Books, 2006

It's a Girl Thing, by Sue Lawson

I thought entering the Diva Competition would be the answer to all my dreams. Now I’m sitting in a hall filled with a million other girls. My knees feel like rubber. Suddenly I’m not sure this was a good idea after all.

Mickey Farrell is the odd girl out in her sports-mad family. She loves singing. And her dream is to one day be the hottest singing sensation in the country, so when she sees an advertisement to take part in the Diva competition, she knows she has to give it a go.

At the first round of auditions, Mickey starts to realise some of the challenges of this frustrating industry. The hall is packed with girls all eager to be the next big thing – but only a few can go through to the next round. The judges are not easily impressed. Then there are the other girls – some of whom, like Mickey’s new friend Erin, are really nice, but others, like Coco, think only of themselves. Mickey isn’t sure how she’ll get through the day, let alone the whole competition.

It’s a Girl Thing is the first title in a new series from Black Dog books aimed squarely at primary aged girls. With a sparkly cover, a back-of-book personality quiz and lots of girly action, this is sure to appeal to 8-12 year old readers.

It’s a Girl Thing, by Sue Lawson
Black Dog, 2006

It’s True! Sports Stinks, by Justin Kemp & Damian Farrow

There are sports facts galore in It’s True! Sport Stinks, written by two sports scientists. If you think that keeping your eye on a fast-moving ball is almost impossible, you’re right. If you think that putting a crocodile in a pool will make you swim faster, meet the coach who agrees with you. From tennis, football, cricket to car racing and pro wrestling, learn the secrets of moving faster, jumping higher and surviving your favourite sport.

The titleIt’s True! Sport Stinks, combined with the cover art featuring a prostrate tennis player surrounded by balls, set up the expectation that this book will be about sport failures/accidents, sport smells. While there are some elements of both in this book, there is a lot more as well. All the popular sports are here, as are less well known sports like Paralympic skiing. There’s information about increasing performance and the ways some athletes cheat. The content is varied, informative and entertaining. Recommended for mid- and upper-primary readers.

It’s True! Sports Stinks by Justin Kemp & Damian Farrow, with illustrations by Heath McKenzie
Allen & Unwin 2006
ISBN: 1741148545

Team Challenge, by Bernadette Kelly

Annie is learning fast, but is she a good enough rider to join Ridgeview’s Team Challenge?

In this fourth title from the Riding High series, there is a new challenge for Annie. A team is being selected to compete against other Pony Clubs in games. Annie is not sure she’s ready – especially at sack races – but a challenge from Jessica impels her to try out. Competition seems to show different sides of everyone, including her friend Reesa. Annie is selected as emergency and has to train as hard as the others, even when she has little chance of competing.

This series combines the challenges of making new friends with learning a new sport. Annie is a gutsy main character who shows the mixture of bravery and reticence that is a feature of the age group. Horse-riding girls will enjoy the detailed descriptions of the Pony Club events as well as the ups and downs of owning a horse. This fourth adventure sees Annie advancing in skills and confidence. A fifth adventure is scheduled for early 2007 release.

Recommended for mid- upper-primary readers.

Team Challenge by Bernadette Kelly
black dog books 2006
isbn: 1921167260

Jack Brown and the Trail of the Python, by Greg Pyers

Jack looked outside, to the shrubs and the carpet of ivy in the office garden. He couldn’t see it, and he certainly couldn’t hear it through the glass, but somehow he knew. An animal was out there.

Jack Brown can communicate with animals. Not in a Dr Doolittle way, but he can sense their distress and they can sense his empathy. In this second adventure, Jack Brown and the Trail of the Pytho’, Jack is staying with his cousin Molly and his Uncle Frank in the City Zoo. He sees a python that can’t possibly exist and hears noises in the night. He and Molly investigate but there are many dangerous twists and turns before the mystery is solved.

This adventure is set mostly in a city zoo in Australia. Jack begins to understand his gift. Together he and Molly (a martial arts expert) form a formidable team. Their combined skills help them protect animals from money and power-hungry humans. They make mistakes and take wrong turns but still manage to solve the mystery with little or no help from the professional investigator or other adults around them.

Jack Brown and the Trail of the Python is the second adventure in the Jack Brown series. It reads well as a stand-alone title, but readers might be curious to learn more about Jack’s discovery of his talent. This is a fast-paced adventure with plenty of detail about animals and the inner workings of a zoo. It is sure to appeal to upper primary readers.

Jack Brown and the Trail of the Python, by Greg Pyers
ABC Books 2006
ISBN: 9780733317538