Layne Beachley – Beneath the Waves

Neil Beachley was in New Zealand on business when he received the phone call from his wife, Val, at home in Balgowlah Height, Sydney. ‘I’ve got to go and pick up my baby tomorrow,’ she informed him, her tone matter-of-fact. ‘Two things: what are we going to call it and how do I get there?’ It had been just ten months since the couple had applied to the child welfare authorities in New South Wales to adopt a baby girl, and both were pleasantly surprised, but unfazed, by the simplicity and speed of the process.,br> ‘Buggered if I know,’ came Neil’s characteristic response to the question of the child’s name. ‘You think of something.’

Layne Beachley: Beneath the Waves is a biography of one of the biggest names in women’s surfing. It documents her story from birth through to the present, acknowledging that there will be more to come. Layne Beachley was born in 1972, six weeks early, and relinquished by her seventeen year-old birth mother after being told by her father that unless she did so she would be cast out of the family. She was adopted by Neil and Val Beachley. She began surfing at age four and according to all who knew her was characterised by her determination and will to win. Her journey to become a world champion is a long one, and full of twists and turns in both her professional and private life. Along the way, she attracted her share of detractors with her outspoken enthusiasm and self-promotion. There were also many, many and supporters as she competed her way into the record books and fought for recognition of the sport she loved.

Everyone has a story and how that story is told is dependent on who tells it and why. Michael Gordon interviewed extensively for this biography and often uses direct quotes from sources in building a picture of the life of champion surfer. There are accounts from Beachley’s family, friends and supporters but also from competitors, sponsors and commentators.

Elite athletes are viewed as public figures, in much the way that movie stars are. It’s difficult for them to maintain a private life or to control how they are perceived in the media. Their training for this public life is seldom as complete as the training for their sport. For example, the meeting of 26 year-old Layne Beachley with her birth mother was coloured by the media as well as by the personalities involved. Beachley’s diary entries bring the reader close to her emotions as she travels the professional surfing circuit, while others give perspective to her sometimes harsh self-assessments. There is much here for the aspiring professional surfer, or any other athlete, as well as for the reader wanting to understand more about one of Australia’s best known surfers.

Layne Beachley: Beneath the Waves, Michael Gordon
Ebury Press 2008
ISBN: 9781741667288

Mischief Afoot, by Moya Simons

Current success rate over last week: 75 per cent
One semi-failure (not our fault).
One complete success.
Located Mr Lee’s pet cockatoo, Louie, on gum tree in council park. Had been taught to say, ‘Cocky want a kiss.’ Was very happy. Had finally found a cockatoo that wanted a kiss. Last seen with girlfriend flying to unknown destination. Louie’s pet owner upset. After begging pet shop owner for freebie, we were able to give Mr Lee a guinea pig to cheer him up. It was a real shame that the guinea pig turned out to be a biter.
Recovered lost diamond ring belonging to Mrs Gefunkel. Search of house yielded no results. However, upon cross-examination, client recalled removing ring before taking shower. Ring discovered behind vanity basin, close to drain. Lucky, as it could have fallen down drain and be swirling around the Pacific Ocean now. Mrs Gefunkel thinks we’re the greatest.

Mischief Afoot is the third title in the Walk Right In Detective Agency series. David and Bernice run their agency out of their office – a shed in Bernice’s front yard. After a mostly successful week, business is a bit slow. Fortunately the circus is coming to town and there will at least be some distraction. Bernice seems happy enough to see the circus just as diversion, but David’s detective sensibility suspects there is ‘mischief afoot’. The circus seems an exciting life. David meets Tom, a boy about his age who travels with the circus. Tom acquaints David with some of the mucky reality, but David and most of Milk Bay attend the first performance. David notices something awry in the performance although most of the patrons are distracted by the clowns. He is convinced there is a mystery here that requires investigation.

Mischief Afoot is told in first person, from David’s point of view. The reader only sees Bernice, his partner, through his skewed perspective. Moya Simons allows the reader to see past David’s interpretation to know that this is a much more even partnership than David lets on. Their parents and the local community accept their agency although the police warn them occasionally to ‘leave the real policing’ to them. David’s observations and reportage are interspersed through the text as he channels the energy of other more well known private investigators. Text is well-spaced, offering a manageable length for less-confident readers. David’s observations and Bernice’s droll responses add humour. As with previous titles. although this is a light read in some ways, there is a serious issue presented and investigated. Justice is not just about finding love-lorn cockatoos. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Mischief Afoot, Moya Simons
Walker Books 2008
ISBN: 9871921150973

Daddies, by Catriona Hoy

Mummy thinks that daddies are for washing dishes.
That’s NOT what daddies are for!

It seems that lots of people have the wrong idea about daddies. Mum has an idea, sister Charlotte has an idea. Even Grandma has an idea. But they are wrong, wrong, wrong! Daddies are for wild things. Daddies are for the fun things, the push-the-boundaries things, the exciting things. Catriona Hoy takes the reader on a wild journey through the wonderful things that make daddies so very special. Daddy sometimes looks like he’s on a roller coaster journey, destination unknown. This doesn’t for a minute diminish his energy or enthusiasm.

Children develop different relationships with all the people in their lives, and that includes family. Parents may stand together to present a united front on some matters, but still the father-child relationship will be a different one to the mother-child one. Catriona Hoy provides a joyous and loving look at the strengths of the wonderful relationship between father and child. Mal Webster’s humourous illustrations show a range of perspectives and angles as father and children romp through the pages. Text tips and tumbles around the action. Rooms distort to contain the characters and their exuberance. Daddies is a portrait-format, paper back with an informal text type that hints at the story tone within. Recommended for 3-7 year olds.

Daddies, Catriona Hoy and Mal Webster
Lothian Books 2008
ISBN: 9780734410849

Flitterwig, by Edrei Cullen

Had the Troggle at the corner been watching, instead of trying to flick bubblegum off the end of his middle finger, he would have seen the pixie. It scrambled up from the gutter, scuttled along the ice-cold railings near the front door, and launched itself onto the windowsill of Number 26, Chester Row, Chelsea, London.
Only yesterday the Troggle had been a pixie himself. Now, because of all the sugar he’d eaten, he had Trogglified into a greasy-haired, moulding slime-ball of a creature, smelling of rotten turnips and rat poo. He cursed under his breath, and hopped about on one foot. Having successfully flicked the bugglegum off his finger, it seemed he had stepped on it, and was now having trouble unstacking it from the bottom of what looked like a hobnailed boot.
Abandoning the Magical Kingdom of Magus to join forces with the Grand Duke did not come without its drawbacks.

Ella has a lonely life. She has a horrid governess who gives every appearance of detesting her. Her mother and two brothers are dead, and her father refuses be in the same house as her. She is not allowed to go to school, her lessons being grudgingly provided by the governess, Mrs Dribbleton-Faucet. It seems Ella is being shielded from the rest of the world. So it’s quite a surprise to her to meet Dixon, a pixie emissary from the magical land of Magus. He appears when she dons her new glasses, and disappears when she takes them off. Ella is convinced that she has finally gone mad. But gradually she realises that all the elements of her difference make her special. So special in fact that only she – a human with magical blood – can save the kingdom of Magus.

Flitterwig is an exciting, warm and funny magical adventure. Ella has been isolated from the world for the world’s sake as much as for her own. Her father is consumed by guilt, her governess driven by a ungracious sense of duty, even her grandparents won’t touch her. The arrival of pixies and Troggles and all manner of magic is at the very least confusing. But Ella, called to her quest, responds bravely and imaginatively. Despite the inconsistent assistance of her emotionally-wobbly guide Dixon, she finds her way in a world that has been less than welcoming to her. There are a whole host of villains to overcome and many a riddle to decipher. Ella is a modest and engaging heroine, and her quest to save a magical kingdom helps her to find her place in her own world. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Flitterwig, Edrei Cullen
Scholastic Press 2008

The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming

Picture this: It’s late at night. You’re asleep in bed, with lots of blankets covering you. Suddenly, you wake up all hot and sweaty, so you kick off the covers. Cool air hits your lets. Much better. You fall back to sleep and wake up refreshed, ready for school. Now picture the earth. Certain gases that have been collecting in the atmosphere for the past 100 years are creating a heavy blanket around the Earth. Heat from the sun gets trapped under the blanket and the Earth begins to feel too hot. But the Earth can’t just kick off that cover to cool down. This is global warming.

The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming takes a look at the issue of global warming and strips away the fancy language to make the information accessible to children. Four sections look at the science behind the term, the effect on our weather, the animals and plants being pushed to the brink of (and beyond) existence and the practical steps that children can take to help. There is information on greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect. The weird, wacky weather chapter details some of the extreme weather events that are attributed to global warming. From small animals to large, global warming effects population numbers and food supply with some animals facing extinction. With all the doom and gloom it’s easy to feel powerless, but the fourth chapter includes very practical and achievable measures that can impact on the effect each individual has on their own world.

The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming is indeed that. Down-to-earth in both the practical sense and the idea that we need to change behaviours to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising with all the attendant consequences. David and Gordon have emphasised key points in coloured text and included information boxes to add facts and examples to the main text. Illustrations are mostly photos although there are also sketches to demonstrate and extend the information. Imaginative large font topic headers invite readers to dip in and learn. Each chapter is clearly headed, allowing readers to read in a linear fashion or to flip backwards and forwards to find the information they’re looking for. There are plenty of facts and figures, although as the authors indicate at the beginning, global warming is not static and information changes constantly.

Recommended for middle-primary readers and beyond, The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming answers many questions and helps children to understand that they can be part of the solution.

The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming, Laurie David & Cambria Gordon
Scholastic Australia 2008
ISBN: 9781741691245

Hat Trick, by Brett Lee & Michael Panckridge

‘Okay. Here’s the equation. Listen up. Six balls to go. Nine runs to win. Can they do it? Jono, check your field. Toby, are you ready?’ he said to me.
Mr Pasquali was excited. Boy, does he love his cricket. He is our cricket coach, and our class teacher too. Everyone wanted Mr Pasquali as their class teacher. Even the Year 3s were talking about him and hoping that they’d get him when they got to Year 6. And if you were mad about cricket – like I was – then his class was the place to be. Mr Pasquali had a way of bringing cricket into most of the subjects we did.

Toby Jones is cricket mad. Luckily so is his father. And his teacher. Even his little sister, Natalie likes cricket, although she mostly plays sock cricket in the hall. A trip to the MCG introduces Toby and his friends to a little library full of cricketing books, including ‘Wisden Cricketers’ Almanacks’. Toby also meets Jim, a mysterious old man who introduces Toby to the wonders – and dangers – of time travel. With the help of Wisden and an old poem, Toby can travel back to any of the cricket games detailed in the books. As Toby learns more about time travel he and his team, Riverwall, begin the season’s play. Each chapter ends with a cricketing anecdote. While these do not related directly to the chapter they end, each reveals a statistic, a record, or conditions/circumstances of a particular game.

Hat Trick combines the first three Toby Jones time travel adventures into the one book. This makes it about as thick as a Wisden Almanack. Add to that cricketing tips from Brett Lee, Toby’s interview with Andrew Symonds, scorecards from several memorable cricket matches and the Riverwall season, and this is one heck of a book! Toby and his friends are in Year 6 and play in the Under 13 competition for Riverwall. Each title within Hat Trick tells part of Toby’s adventure with time travel. Other themes explored include the changing nature of friendship, competition and sportsmanship. Cricket fans will enjoy the blow-by-blow description of some of the local games and the revisiting of some of cricket’s most famous matches. The adventure moves quickly and although Toby is clearly the main character, other characters are given important roles to play and are fully realised. The three novels included here were initially released as individual titles: Toby Jones and the Magic Cricket Almanack (2003), Toby Jones and the Secret of the Missing Scorecard (2004), and Toby Jones and the Mystery of the Time-Travel Tour’(2005). There are two further titles in the Toby Jones series: Toby Jones and the Timeless Cricket Match, and Toby Jones and the Clash with Father Time.’ Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers, particularly cricket fans.

Hat Trick, Brett Lee & Michael Panckridge
Angus & Robertson 2008
ISBN: 9780732288372

Heart of Magic, by Penny Matthews

Stacey Bunn could never quite believe that she and Twyla Popovic were best friends. Her mum always said they were chalk and cheese, and it was true. For a start, Twyla was tall and thin and gorgeous, and Stacey wasn’t any of those things. But they were different in lots of other ways too.
Twyla was super-confident. Stacy was shy.
Twyla often did things on impulse. Stacey always made plans.
Twyla enjoyed taking risks. Stacey was a scaredy-cat.
They didn’t even hang around with the same people. Twyla went to the local school, where there were boys, and Stacey went to a private girls’ college. It was like they lived in different world that only connected with the two of them.

Stacey and Twyla have been best friends for a long time. Today, on Twyla’s birthday they are going to the Show together. Stacey’s mum is taking them there, Twyla’s mum is bringing them home. In between, they’ll be free to do whatever they want. But even before they reach the show, little niggles are beginning to unsettle Stacey. Even Mum seems to think Twyla is the one in charge. They arrive at the Show and it’s not at all the way Stacey imagined it would be. All of a sudden everything is changing. Then, when Stacey has a chance to make a wish, she is sure she knows just how to make things better. The gold heart pin is sure to make the difference.

Heart of Magic is part of Walker Books new series, ‘Lightning Strikes’. Stories are pitched at upper primary level, but are shorter than novels, providing a manageable-sized story for reluctant readers. Heart of Magic explores friendship. Even long term friendships can falter, particularly when one member changes at a different rate to others. In this case, Stacey is older, but is quite content to maintain the status quo, while Twyla is beginning to explore a larger world. For children on the brink of adolescence and all the challenges involved, the world can be a confusing place. Heart of Magic, told in the third person from the point of view of Stacey shows some of the uncertainties but also shows that there is a way through. Both main characters, Stacey and Twyla learn more about themselves as they simultaneously learn more about their friend. Their friendship changes but endures. Recommended for upper primary readers.

Heart of Magic, Penny Matthews
Walker Books 2008
ISBN: 9781921150685

Blood Sports, by Jonathan Harlen

We had just walked past the half-way line when we heard it.
The heavy, thudding sound of a helicopter, coming in low over the hills.
The sound very quickly got louder. Choppers aren’t known for their lightning speed, but this baby was certainly moving. It was flying without lights as well. By the time we picked out its shape silhouetted against the night sky above the floodlights, it was right on top of us.
It swooped in and landed in a corner of the training field, forty metres away. As soon as it touched down, a side door opened. Six men hit the ground running. they were wearing balaclavas, and were dressed in black combat fatigues. All six of them were carrying black assault rifles. Without a word they fanned out and sprinted across the field towards us.

Fletcher Smith is a 14 year-old boy, living in his father’s office at the Australian Institute of Sport. His parents are recuperating in a Swiss health farm after a car accident that Fletcher knows was no accident. He is sure the crash was masterminded by Samson Bolivar, high-flying sports-management specialist and (according to Fletcher) master criminal. In his parent’s absence, Fletcher is taking on some of his family’s sports crime investigations. It’s a great way to avoid going back to school. Blood Sports begins with Fletcher and his friend/minder, Frank Suleymanoglou, witnessing a high-tech kidnap of the newly appointed super coach for the Australian rugby team. Even though no one has employed them, Fletcher and ex-boxer Frank begin to investigate. There are many suspects, so they start with the closest – the recently sacked captain of the Australian rugby team.

Blood Sports mixes criminal investigation on a grand scale with elite sport. Jonathan Harlen puts his tongue firmly in his cheek and takes the reader on a roller coaster voyage through the rarefied world that is elite sport. In the best tradition of private investigation, Fletcher and Frank experience high octane adventure and repeatedly escape the most un-escapable circumstances. Think teenage Bond with the same level of adrenalin and absurdity. There is techno-speak to spare, whether it’s on the specs of helicopters, the importation of banned weapons or the pathway to tennis stardom. Blood Sports is the second in Harlen’s Fletcher Smith Sports P.I. series. Recommended for upper-primary to lower-secondary readers.

Blood Sports, Jonathan Harlen
2008 Scholastic Press
ISBN: 9781741690200

Brave Little Penguin, by Anna Pignataro

In a white peppermint world as far as the eye could see lived Papa Penguin and Little Penguin.

Little Penguin and Papa Penguin live together, alone, in a cold icy world. Papa Penguin must go away for the day fishing. He promises to be back ‘before the moon’ that night but Little Penguin worries about being alone for so long, and how to fill the time. After a short period of sadness, Little Penguin resolves to be brave. There is an icicle mountain to protect, storm and roll away from. There are imaginary seas to be explored in a trustworthy boat. The day rolls by and begins to fade as Brave Little Penguin waits for Papa Penguin’s return.

Brave Little Penguin is a small format hardback with a royal blue textured hardback cover. Little Penguin and Papa Penguin are shown in a smaller circle on the front cover as if the reader is being granted an eye-glass peek into their world. The story is a simple one of a child finding a way to pass the time until a parent returns. Rather than succumb to loneliness, Little Penguin uses his imagination and transforms the white world into an adventure playground where anything is possible. Anna Pignataro’s characters are soft and appealing and her watercolours are, as always, beautiful. There is plenty of white space, appropriate both in the landscape and the room for a reader to bring themselves close into the story and make it their own. Recommended for 3-6 year olds.

Brave Little Penguin, Anna Pignataro
Scholastic 2008
ISBN: 9781741690835

The Greatest Sheep in History, by Frances Watt

Ernie Eggers hurried along High Street on Thursday afternoon, his bright green cape billowing behind him. When he heard the clock on Baxter town hall strike four, he gave a sigh of relief. Phew! He’d been worried that he’d be late.
Further up the street, he could see his sidekick, Maud, already waiting outside number 32, the headquarters of the Superheroes Society (Baxter Branch).

There is to be a National Superheroes Conference and all the members of the Baxter Branch of the Superheroes Society are going. Ernie and Maud are particularly excited as this will be their first conference. The conference is all they expect and more, full of glittering superheroes and their fascinating sidekicks. It’s all so glamourous that Maud begins to feel a little insignificant. Then the conference is invaded by a very large chicken, who steals speakers notes and generally terrorises the gathering. Add a television super superhero and a bright red balloon and maybe it will Ernie and Maud’s chance to shine.

The Greatest Sheep in History is the third instalment in the series featuring these fledgling superheroes. Each title blends reality and imagination in a giggle-full adventure. Ernie and Maud are superheroes blessed with innocence and bravery in equal measures. They breathe fresh life into the slightly-jaded world of the Baxter Branch of the Superhero Society. The adventure is told in third person, from Ernie’s perspective. Ernie’s narration allows the reader to experience his world but also sometimes to see beyond his interpretation. Ernie and Maud are friendly and accessible heroes and demonstrate that sometimes bravery comes from the most unexpected actions. Very funny. Judy Watson’s black and white illustrations enhance and extend almost every opening. Recommended for middle primary readers.

The Greatest Sheep in History (Extraordinary Ernie and Marvellous Maud)

The Greatest Sheep in History , Frances Watt ill Judy Watson
ABC Books 2009

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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