Harvesting Hope, by Christian Ayling

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

Happy with her life, young Muslim woman Yasemin Sandulli and her family are thrust into the media spotlight after her brother Ismet is wrongfully accused of murder. Until then, Yasemin had not been subjected to the racial torment sometimes faced by Muslims in today’s society and her experience can only be described as eye opening and frightening.

Novella Harvesting Hope is a compelling story of the Sandulli family as it faces a difficult experience of how the community reacts to a crime where the media manipulates information and people make judgements based on that information and treat it as fact.

Yasemin begins to lose faith in her community and religion, her father accuses her of turning against the family and her religion, she feels abandoned by her friends and is soon face with the reality that she has made judgments of others in the same way she has been judged.

Racial tension is all too common in today’s society and Harvesting Hope provides an insight into it from the victim’s point of view. What is interesting is how author Christian Ayling has portrayed the way that the community takes the media reports, gossip and rumour as fact when often what we see and hear in the media is manipulated to portray what they want us to believe to be the truth.

Underlying the racial theme in the book is also friendship. The friendship between Yasemin and her best friend, Danni, is put under stress, but in a way that Yasemin had not seen. What needs to be taken from this is that we should not make assumptions about why other people act the way that they do – there maybe underlying issues we know nothing about.

The story feels rushed at times and Ismet’s court case has been glossed over rather than allowing the tension to build about his guilt or innocence. The description of the legal process may not be entirely accurate but this does not detract from the story at all. Whilst Ismet’s alleged crime is the catalyst for the events in the story, it is not the main focus or theme and Ayling distinguishes this, preferring to examine the human relationships and interaction that come about as a result of the alleged crime.

Christian Ayling is a relatively new writer, having previously published several picture books. Harvesting Hope is his first book for the young adult/adult market and Ayling shows a lot of potential as a writer.

Harvesting Hope, by Christian Ayling
Ginninderra Press, 2007
PB rrp $18.00
ISBN 978-1-74027-457

Selby Santa, by Duncan Ball

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Selby is back in another series of crazy adventures centred on Christmas, as Selby sets out to prove the existence of Santa Claus. In this book, the fifteenth in the Selby series, Selby again gets himself in and back out of a number of scrapes and awkward situations, especially when he tries to stand in for Santa in a flying sleigh invented by Dr Trifle. During his escapades Selby meets some interesting characters, one of whom is inspired after meeting Selby to write a series about Blake Romano and his secret agent dog.

I particularly liked the story of Selby making Christmas ‘pressies’ for the Trifles and the way even when Selby gets things wrong, it somehow works out right. Selby’s insights into people are priceless, like Aunt Jetty who he describes as having, ‘the feelings of a flea.’

The quirky situations, word play and humour make these stories a joy to read. The collection includes a play and a couple of Selby’s poems. This is a book children will pick up and chuckle over time and time again. I know my grandson will. He started with his father reading him ‘Selby Shattered.’ In the end he couldn’t wait for Dad to get around to reading the next chapter, so started reading it himself. Though at least a couple of years under the age group these books are intended for, he was so captivated by this talking dog and his antics that he has read several Selby books since. They are his favourite chapter books.

I can’t wait see his face when he receives Selby Santa at Christmas. I’m sure he’ll be delighted with this new addition, which includes some of the usual characters like Selby’s owners, Dr and Mrs Trifle and Garry Gaggs as well as the usual inclusion of Paw notes that refer readers to stories from other Selby books. Selby Santa also includes 15 Christmas stickers. The book is sure to be a hit with kids of all ages.

Selby Santa by Duncan Ball
Published by Angus&Robertson – an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, Australia
Paperback 175 pages
RRP $12.99
Published November 2007
ISBN 9780732286798
suitable for ages 7 and up

The Swamp Monster, by Jill McDougall

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan


Excited about spending a week with their Aunt Hettie, Alice and Poppy discover their Aunt has special plans for them and they are not what the girls expected. Their week long holiday turns into an adventure as the girls wade through mud searching for the elusive swap monster for Aunt Hettie’s latest documentary.

Alice and Poppy do not share their aunt’s enthusiasm and in an effort to convince her to let them have a fun day in Sparkle Bay, they devise a plan and bring the swamp to her. As developers move in to make room for a monster shopping centre it seems that the swamp monster’s only habitat will be gone forever, and the swamp monster with it.

As Aunt Hettie shows the girls photos of the swamp monster as a baby, Alice realises there is still a chance to save the swamp monster and the development is stopped.

Conservation is an important issue and one that children eagerly embrace. The Swamp Monster uses the contrast between development and conservation as the conflict in this story and it is the children who find a way to overcome this conflict. The story has a delightfully humorous thread running through it and whilst conservation and preserving habitats is the theme of the story, it is not forced on to the reader. Jill McDougall presents conservation in a subtle way by having Poppy and Alice explore the swamp environment and make the association between the photos of a baby swamp monster and the swamp water they collected as part of their “plan”.

Annie White’s illustrations compliment the humour in the text and capture the expressions and the emotions of the characters.

Era Publications puts The Swamp Monster at a year 4 reading level, however I gave it to a year 2 reader who understood the theme and read the book independently. This is an enjoyable book and I liked the way humour is used to highlight the conservation theme through a story, as well as having the children solve the problem. The Swamp Monster is suitable for independent readers and would be a wonderful stocking filler for Christmas or as part of a school library

The Swamp Monster is available from Era Publications (www.erapublications.com), into schools and through selected bookstores

The Swamp Monster, by Jill McDougall
Era Publications, 2007
PB rrp $7.50
ISBN 978-174-120303-5


The Mystery of the Ruby Glasses, by Lindsay Cripps

Shey and her dog Jasper are sent to stay with her elderly uncle over the summer holidays while her parents fly off to Egypt to search for fossils. Shey is resentful and expects to be bored. But her artist uncle begins to show her a different way to look at pictures. She finds the ruby opera glasses and suddenly she is in the world depicted in the painting…

Ah, but have you really looked at them? I mean close up? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be in the picture?

Shey and her dog Jasper are sent to stay with her elderly uncle over the summer holidays while her parents fly off to Egypt to search for fossils. Shey is resentful and expects to be bored. But her artist uncle begins to show her a different way to look at pictures. She finds the ruby opera glasses and suddenly she is in the world depicted in the painting. While there, she discovers she has inadvertently followed her uncle. Her journey into the painting may have been accidental, but Ruben is searching. Two heads are better than one and Shey helps Ruben find what he has been searching for.

The Mystery of the Ruby Glasses takes the reader on a journey through art and history, collecting clues. It crosses from the real world into another (several others really) using well-known paintings as portals. Shey experiences the paintings and painters in her quest to solve the mystery that consumes Ruben. Shey is a brave and curious main character. Her relationship with Ruben evolves as they spend more time together. Shey grows in maturity as she learns more about the sadness that has been part of Ruben’s life since the death of his wife. An engaging read for upper-primary, early-secondary readers.

The Mystery of the Ruby Glasses

The Mystery of the Ruby Glasses, Lindsay Cripps
Lothian Books 2007
ISBN: 9780734408044

This book is available online at Fishpond.