The Stranding, by Karen Viggers

In the corner, his suitcase leaned lid-open against the wall. Everything he’d brought with him was still packed in there. The wardrobe remained empty. In truth, he was afraid of unpacking. Unfolding his clothes and hanging them up might signify ownership of this place. It might mean permanence of some sort. It might mean he had become someone else. Another person with another life.
But wasn’t that why he had come here? Wasn’t that why he had left?

When Lex Henderson’s life falls apart, he leaves the city and buys a beach house outside a small town. Here he can be alone, or so he thinks. But soon he starts to make connections in the town of Merrigan. Some people like him, others detest him, and others still fascinate him.

As he recovers, Lex builds new and unexpected friendships, and slowly builds a new life far removed from his old one. He also meets Callista Bennett, whose own stormy past makes their relationship volatile and very fragile.

When Lex and Callista find a whale stranded on a remote beach, the subsequent rescue attempt brings them together at the same time as it challenges their beliefs and their understanding of each other.

The Stranding is a finely tuned novel of grief and recovery, of confronting the past and moving forward. Challenged by the natural world and the society in which they live as well as by their pasts, the characters must find a way to balance these challenges with the need to carry on with living.

A wonderful read.

The Stranding, by Karen Viggers
Allen & Unwin, 2008

Freak Street Series, by Knife & Packer

Here are the Wizardsons. They have magic powers, and a pet dragon.
Here are the Humansons. They’re a little like you and me, only a lot more stupid.
Let’s not forget the Zombiesons, the spookiest and most open-minded family in town.
And finally, met the Aliensons. They come from a planet far, far away: Valvaz-7.
Although there are many things they miss from their home planet, there are always some things that are better left behind…
(from Meet the Aliensons)

Freak Street is home to your normal variety of families…well maybe there could be a couple of small differences. Unless, of course there are Zombiesons, Wizardsons and Aliensons living in your street too. If there are, then it’ll come as no surprise to you that things happen when you live in Freak Street. If you live next door to the Aliensons, you’ll know all about the Butloid 8000 and its enthusiasm for domestic tasks. You’ll also know the difference between human and Valvax-7 singing. If you have met the Humansons, you’ll know all about the pet contest and Harriet Humanson’s steak phone. And if you’ve been lucky enough to share a fence with the Zombieson’s you’ll have noticed that Granny Zombieson has brought a few of her friends to visit.

The Freak Street stories are full-colour chapter books. Each story introduces a new family and details an adventure. Each mentions their neighbours, but focuses mainly on the challenges and dramas of the pictured family. There are notes at the front of each title warning that some amazing, unbelievable and perhaps messy things might happen. Each finishes with a ‘Moral’ eg ‘Beware of fortune-tellers, they may be pizza-thieves in disguise’. Each page contains coloured illustrations, indeed some openings could be mistaken for those of a graphic novel. The illustrations are bright and varied and totally whacky – a perfect mix with the wildly inventive text. There are four titles so far, but it’s not hard to imagine there will be more. Look out too for the wisecracking fly. Recommended for 7+, particularly children struggling with the transition to chapter books.

Freak Street series, Knife & Packer
Scholastic 2008
Freak Street Meet the Zombiesons ISBN: 9781741690668
Freak Street Meet the Humansons ISBN: 9781741690644
Freak Street Meet the Aliensons ISBN: 9781741690637
Note: There is also a website

Diary of a Wildlife Photographer, by Jan Latta

Jan Latta is a wildlife photographer and this is her diary, complete with photos. Jan had planned to do a photo essay on another wildlife photographer, but her initial trip to Africa ignited a passion for capturing wildlife images herself. Her diary spans 12 years and although most of it is in Africa, there are also entries from India and China. Each new chapter page features a border, a country and date stamp similar to a postmasters stamp. Photos fill each opening and the text explores the circumstances in which each photo was taken. There are photos too of the landscape occupied by these remarkable animals and photos of some of the people Jan worked with in gathering the images. Despite challenges with permits, wars, weather and more, Jan has gathered a book-full of wonderful wildlife images.

Many people have been fortunate enough to see wonderful pictures of some of the world’s most amazing animals. These images appear in books, on the internet, on television and in the cinema. Seldom is the opportunity given to discover what’s involved in capturing these images. Diary of a Wildlife Photographer does this. The reader learns of the danger, exhilaration, permits, disappointments, strange nightly noises and insect bites that are part of the search for the best images. There are notes about the behaviour and habitat of some of the animals, but there is no intent to produce a non-fiction textbook. This diary, with its wonderful collection of experiences as well as photos offers the reader an up-close-and-personal look at the world of wildlife photography as well as the world of the wildlife. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers, although younger readers will enjoy the images and older readers may enjoy reading the diary entries to see if they have what it takes to be a successful wildlife photographer.

Diary of a Wildlife Photographer, by Jan Latta
ABC Books 2008

Captain Wetbeard, by Bruno Bouchet

‘It looks like lots of fun,’ Dad was trying to get Daniel and Emily excited about their adventure holiday.
‘It sounds lame,’ Emily yawned and looked out of the car window.
‘Don’t use that word, dear, it’s not nice,’ said their mother.
‘W’ever!’ Emily said.

Emily and Daniel are to spend a week at a holiday camp on a ship – the ‘Jolly Roger Pirate Adventure’. They are less thrilled than their parents who will spend the week at a luxury hotel. They arrive at the collection point on a beach and wait. They are collected by a pirate and his crew, but that’s about the only predictable part of their journey. The pirate has bad breath and a dripping wet beard, the parrot is called ‘Duckie’ and has no feathers. Even the crew don’t seem quite right. But Emily (confident and sophisticated) and Daniel (younger and a worrier) do have an adventure, even if it’s not quite the one the brochure led them to expect.

Captain Wetbeard, pirate, has a dicky back and likes to call his crew ‘scurvy brats’. Apart from being a recognisable pirate saying, it means he doesn’t really have to remember any names. He arrives at the beach when Emily and Daniel are due to be collected by Captain Funbeard for their week on ‘Jolly Roger’ and takes them to his ship instead. What follows rocks and rolls much like the ship at sea as Emily and Daniel find themselves in and out of trouble. The main characters in Captain Wetbeard are eleven and nine years old, but this story is likely to appeal to younger readers with its on- and off-board escapades. There’s also a hint in here that fun can sometimes be found in unexpected places. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Captain Wetbeard (ABC Kids Fiction)

Captain Wetbeard, by Bruno Bouchet ill David Cox
ABC Kids 2008
ISBN: 9780733320705

This book can be purchased from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussireviews.

Blackthorn, by Elizabeth Pulford

My name is Blackthorn.
I am in a dream, running free again through the great woods of Gurcross. My bare feet skim across the rough ground. I carry a spear. It is light and easy to handle. Tied around my head is a band stained with my own blood. I am a Trahern warrior.
I jolt awake. The dream vanishes. My father’s voice stays in my head. Yet how is this so when he is dead and gone?
The forest is deathly still; no breath stirs except my own, frozen against the darkening moon. My body aches, curled and cramped within this tiny space – a a hollow in the rotting trunk of a giant oak. It is my sanctuary.

Twelve year old Alyana is alone in the world. Her mother died less than a year ago, now her father is gone too. She has two choices: to live with her priest uncle and his family or to be a warrior like her father. She chooses the latter, giving herself the name ‘Blackthorn’ and escaping into the forest where she feels most at home. But life in the forest is very tough, much tougher than she ever imagined. Winter brings snow and an awareness that previously she has only played at survival. She realises there is much she must learn if she is to be a warrior, indeed if she is to survive at all. Her father’s advice, given as she grew, is constantly in her head, guiding her on when she falters.

Blackthorn is set in a time where tribal rivalries were strong. The strength of a people was in their ability to protect their own. And that meant warriors. Alyana’s father was a warrior and she is convinced that it is also her destiny. Told in the first person, Alyana refers to herself in the third person when she talks about her warrior-self, Blackthorn. Blackthorn is told in present tense bringing the reader close to the action. There is plenty of action as Alyana scrabbles her way through the time after her father’s death. She struggles with his death, her own impetuous nature and her fledgling survival skills. Alyana grows and matures, learning from her mistakes, remembering her father’s counsel.

Recommended for mid-upper primary readers.

Blackthorn, by Elizabeth Pulford
Walker Books 2008
ISBN: 9781921150470

The Truth About Emma, by Gary Crew

If a man and woman are to fall in love, they must, of necessity, both understand and practise the meaning of two words: compliance and antagonism.
As I am a young man, you might argue that I could know nothing of such things but, let me assure you, having fallen under the spell of a woman who knew a great deal about the art of love and taught me all that she knew, I would disagree.
Young as I am, I have learned that compliance is vital in that lovers must learn the joy of sharing; while antagonism is equally necessary in that if lovers agree about everything, what friction will ignite the flame of their love?

Rafael Innocenti has landed the biggest assignment in his journalistic career so far. If he can get the real story about Bad Burden, then who knows what the future may hold? Emma Burden has been pursued by local and international press. At worst she was a murderess at the age of eighteen. At best, she is a precocious teenager, representative of her generation. Emma has agreed to be interviewed by Rafael in order to tell the ‘true story’. And so begins a series of interviews in a coffee shop. Rafael records Emma’s account on tape, but not every part of the conversation will end up in the article. Emma is not an easy subject, changing personalities as often she changes her hair colour (and that’s often). Rafael is by turns frustrated, angered, captivated and chastened by their meetings as he tries to tease out the truth. He learns much more than he expected.

The Truth about Emma twists and turns, taking the reader on a journey through truth, lies and half-truths. Emma is a slippery character, ingénue one minute, world-weary rich sophisticate the next. That she is intelligent there is no doubt. Rafael, her interviewer is constrained by the memory of his Sicilian peasant origins, his confidence shored by expensive clothes. The two characters dance around each other, each learning from the other, in unexpected ways. The interviews take over Rafael’s life, impacting on his relationships and even his education. Along the way, he discovers that books have much to teach us, beyond the sum of their words. Crew looks closely at the role and responsibilities of the media, individual and generational responsibilities, and notion of fallibility. Topics for discussion include media, family, relationships, morality, truth and honesty. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary students.

The Truth about Emma, by Gary Crew
Lothian 2008
ISBN: 9780734409348

The Pumpkin Eater from Pondicherry, by Bruce Atherton

One night when I was lying in my
warm and cosy bed,
a shadow at the window stood
the hair up on my head.

I grabbed my biggest teddy bear
and lifted up the blind,
and what I saw was so unreal
it nearly blew my mind.

The strangest things appear at night. One night, outside the window of the small child main character, a shadow appears. The shadow belongs to a pumpkin eater from Pondicherry. But this greedy guts is a gourmand and will eat just about anything in Grandad’s garden on his way to the pumpkins. The small child decides that will not do. He/she challenges the pumpkin eater, but the pumpkin eater is determined to eat pumpkin, even if that means eating the child first. Undaunted, the child hatches a plan to beat the pumpkin eater at his greedy game. There are bios on the back page with the imprint details.

The Pumpkin Eater from Pondicherry is a delightful piece of nonsense. Small children often experience fears about strange and mysterious night noises. Atherton gives the mystery a shape and a purpose and the child some tools to banish the monster. The monster is ghoulishly grotesque and the child brave and resourceful. The rhyming text keeps the tone light, balancing Ben Redlich’s sometimes dark images. Spreads are saturated with colour with text in red, white or black to ensure ease of reading. The monster grows larger and more ugly until the child’s solution reduces him back to manageable size. Romping good fun. Recommended for early primary aged readers.

The Pumpkin Eater from Pondicherry, by Bruce Atherton, Ill Ben Redlich
Lothian 2008
ISBN: 9780734410238

The Pearl Hunters, by Kim Wilkins

Constance Blackchurch abandoned all decorum and started to run.
Her books pressed close against her, bonnet loose and hanging around her neck, she ran. Down the Butterwalk arcade with its granite pillars, and round into narrow Farmer’s Lane with its uneven cobbles that threatened to trip her. Her heart thudded, her blood was hot. The sea breeze barely cooled the close summer heat; perspiration trickled down her neck.

It is 1799. Constance Blackchurch rails against the conventions that govern her life. Why must she learn French when she’d rather learn Astronomy? Why is her father always away at sea? Even when he’s briefly home in England, he seems to think her a nuisance. In the waters of southern India, a youth dives further and for longer than all the other pearl divers. Yet he is conscious that India is not his home, not where he belongs. Both Constance and Alexandre are constrained by their circumstances and their fate. Then Constance’s father makes a rare rash decision to return to India to search for her mother. Add a lonely colonial girl, a dishonest, gambling opportunist and the wilds of the ocean and the adventure begins.

The Pearl Hunters is a romantic and exciting tale of life at sea and in the East, set in a time when life in England seemed bound up with propriety and convention. Constance is sixteen years old, and although she’s grown up without her mother and only occasionally sees her father, has been well cared-for and educated beyond the level common for girls of her generation. In contrast, Alexandre has had few opportunities and to all intents has spent his life so far as a chattel of first one, then a second, owner. But he too has had some education. Kim Wilkins explores notions of captivity and freedom from multiple points of view. We see a different view of the same world from Constance, Alexandre, Constance’s father and De Locke, Alexandre’s ‘owner’. Each viewpoint character has their own chapter, but it is Constance’s view which is most frequent. Recommended for junior- to mid-secondary readers.

The Pearl Hunters, by Kim Wilkins
Omnibus Books 2008
ISBN: 9781862917514

The Incredibly Boring Monotonous Family, by Philip Barry

Ann and Stan Monotonous were two perfectly ordinary children. They were so ordinary, in fact, that they wore their school uniform every day, even on weekends and holidays, and went to bed at the same time each night. They certainly weren’t normal like you and me. They were very ordinary, which is different from normal, because ordinary usually means dull, mundane, banal, mediocre, prosaic, plain and of course, boring. So Ann and Stan were not two perfectly normal children at all. On the contrary: they were all of those words that mean ordinary rolled into one.
The Monotonous twins were also incredibly smart children.

Things are rather dull in the Monotonous household and that’s the way they all like it. Well, that’s how they like it until it becomes clear that they don’t really know any other way to live. Ann’s hobby is watching grass grow, Stan’s is collecting twigs. Hmm. The highlight of their lives is the decision to save enough money to be the first family to study in space. Then one foggy night a fox runs in front of their car. The fox whispers in Ann’s ear and gives her a key. The key changes the lives of everyone in the family, although not quite in the way Ann initially expects.

The Incredibly Boring Monotonous Family are very, very boring. Dad’s busy with theoretical science; Mum’s busy being an accountant, and the twins are busy learning as much about numbers as they can, even when the rest of their class is learning about sport or English. There is no time for friends, no time for fun. Until the key. Each member of the family responds quite differently to the changes brought about by the key. There is a wealth of discussion material possible around their responses, but to focus on this entirely would be to miss the humour. Philip Barry writes with wit and gentle charm. He uses asides to the reader to explain concepts or words that might otherwise challenge. There are engaging line illustrations every few pages. Recommended for 9-12 yo readers.

The Incredibly Boring Monotonous Family, by Philip Barry ill Charlotte Lance
Pan Macmillan ISBN: 9780330424127

Step Up and Dance, by Thalia Kalipsakis

It was the letter of my dreams – a Valentine’s letter, wrapped in a blood-red envelope, leaning against the soy sauce on our kitchen table.

I picked up the envelope, flipped it over and dropped it beside my plate because just then I was more interested in the soy sauce. Mum’s sushi rolls after a late dance class are to die for, like Tim Tams at the right time of the month.

Saph is living her dream life. She’s only sixteen and already dancing professionally in a cheerleading squad for a NBL basketball team. Then a Valentine’s day letter arrives from the NBL player she secretly has a crush on. Now her dream life is perfect. Only it isn’t. The letter is a hoax. Saph can’t believe someone would be so cruel. Then she discovers who sent the letter. She hoaxes the hoaxer and the hoaxer responds. Meanwhile, pressure is on to develop new routines for the cheerleading squad as major sponsors become interested and their television exposure increases. This is the big time and Saph is feeling just a tad overwhelmed. Nothing in her rigorous training has prepared her for this. Add in an overprotective father and a close friend who is enjoying the revenge setups just a little too much and the scene is set.

Step Up and Dance is title six in Allen & Unwin’s Girlfriend series. As with other titles, Step Up and Dance features a plausible storyline and a realistic main character, Saph. Saph loves to dance. Her father is a little overprotective, but until now, Saph has been okay with that. Things are starting to change. She’s keen to stretch her wings, and working with older girls (and boys) has convinced her it’s time. She’s also keen to prove that dancing is her vocation and that she’s as ready for the demands of professional dancing as the older dancers. There are themes here of appearance versus substance, the changing nature of friendships and more. Family dynamics are explored as is the cost of following your passion. The energy and spirit of the characters is well reflected in the design of the front cover. An engaging and entertaining read. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

Step Up and Dance, by Thalia Kalkipsakis
Allen & Unwin 2008
ISBN: 9781741755558