Crushed, by Meredith Costain

Last year in art, Alysha, Mia and I always talked about what we were going to do before we started drawing or painting. What the background would be like, and what colours we were going to use. But Alysha’s got other things on her mind. And Mia’s not here. I shuffle the pastels around in the box for a while, then pick out a pink one and start sketching. Two legs. Two arms. A blobby body. But when it comes to the face I can’t think of anything to draw.
Anything at all.

Lexi is starting high school, but she doesn’t like the changes a new school entail. First, one of her two best friends, Mia, is put into a different class, and then the other, Alysha, starts acting strangely. Alysha wants to be in with the shiny people – even if that means ignoring Lexi or putting her down. Mia is still there for Lexi – but she also has a new friend, Mishi, who she has invited to join their group. At home, Lexi’s parents are constantly fighting. This year is shaping up to be hell.

Crushed is the first book in a new series – A Year in Girl Hell – by Meredith Costain. Dealing with issues which many teens will relate to, particularly in the transition from primary school to high school, including changing friendships, peer pressure, belonging, and family conflict, the story is one which will appeal to girls aged 10 to 14. The use of the first person voice also appeals, as we are given Lexi’s perspective of events and how they impact on her.

A great start to a series which is sure to attract a following.

A Year in Girl hell, by Meredith Costain
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2009

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool, by Odo Hirsch

The water lit up. It danced, it glinted, it gleamed. There were flashes of light everywhere, as if the expanse in front of him wasn’t water, but a carpet of jewels. Darius looked questioningly at the torch in his hand. It was just a torch. He looked back at the glittering surface of the water. Then, for the first time, he glanced up.

The Bell family is in trouble. Every generation the family must bestow a gift on the residents of the city, in gratitude for the land on which they live. But there is no money for a gift, and if there is no gift, then the family will be forced to move. When Darius discovers a wonderful pool in a cavern beneath the estate, he thinks he has found the answer to all their problems. But using the pool for the gift proves to be more difficult than Darius imagined.

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool is a beautiful story of friendship, family and justice, and a lovely demonstration of the way that determination and goodness of heart can help find a way through difficulty. Darius faces repeated obstacles but is determined to overcome them, which he does with a mixture of wisdom and the help of those around him.

Author Odo Hirsch is a master at creating whimsical tales which leave the reader (whatever age) thinking. Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool is a delight.

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool

Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool, by Odo Hirsch
Allen & Unwin, 2009

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

The Lucky Ones, by Tohby Riddle

A few summers back Cain and I went to this party. We were just out of school and though I hadn’t really known Cain at school we’d started spending a lot of time together…In the flux of those last days of school, Cain had come down from the mountain – looking for something. And found me looking for something too.

In 1980s Sydney, Tom and Cain come together, two mates trying to make sense of life after highschool. Tom is at art school and Cain wants to be a poet, although he is also sure the duo can form a wonderful band. Together the pair navigate the world of romance, dreams and social lives, but as Cain becomes increasingly unpredictable, their friendship is tested.

The Lucky Ones is an intriguing read. The narrative is gentle – at times humorous, at others tense, but always feeling like a slice of a young adult’s life told with the honesty and simplicity of a first person voice. There is no sense of hurtling to a big climax – and this tale doesn’t offer one, though there is an appropriate ending to the story.

What is on offer here is a poignant trip through the life of a post school teen, with the highs and lows this offers. Adult readers will enjoy the trip down memory lane that some of the scenes provide – and teens will relate to the timeless realities of Tom and Cain’s lives.

The Lucky Ones

The Lucky Ones, by Tohby Riddle
Penguin, 2009

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

My Baby love, by Meredith Costain & Beatriz Martin Vidal

Come to me, my baby love,
my morning child,
my bright-eyed dove…

This beautiful hard cover book is an absolute treasure – a wonderful synthesis of text, illustration and design.

The text is apparently simple – a mother’s voice taking her baby through typical daytime events –waking up, playing, feeding, bathing and going to sleep. This apparent simplicity, however, is actually proof of masterfully wrought poetry, which flows from page to page with a gentle rhythm and unobtrusive rhyme, to produce a perfect read aloud poem for bedtime or any time.

The illustrations present exquisitely realistic babies and mothers (a different pair for each new activity), with whimsical fantasy elements showing the activities in a new light. At bedtime, for example, the baby swings safely from mother’s long braids, being rocked to sleep as mother watches, reclining above on a crescent moon.

The design, too is important., with the cover wrapped in a translucent plastic film, with title and illustration on the wrap, and background illustrations on the hardcover beneath. Inside, the text weaves and sways its way from beginning to end.

These three elements combine to produce a book which is sheer delight and will be loved by both mothers and children, withstanding repeated readings to become a firm favourite.


My Baby Love

My Baby love, by Meredith Costain & Beatriz Martin Vidal
Lothian, 2009

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

When the Hipchicks Went to War, by Pamela Rushby

When I went to Vietnam, I packed a suitcase full of satin bikinis trimmed with fringes. A pair of knee-high white boots. Mini-dresses, ultra short, sparkling with spangles. A platinum-blonde wig. False eyelashes like hairy back caterpillars. Tap Shoes. Heaps of Max Factor make-up.
I was sixteen years old, and I was going to a war.
I didn’t have a clue.

Kathleen is sixteen. She thinks she’s got it sorted. It’s the swinging 60’s and the world is exciting. She is bright but sick of school, ready for the next stage of her life. And as one of eight children in the family, Kathleen is fairly practised at getting what she wants too. Her best friend introduces her to the Folk Centre and she enjoys the music without listening too closely to the words or paying much attention to the Vietnam War protest plans. She gets a job at The Cave where the music is more upbeat and the patrons watch her dance. A hairdressing job is abandoned when she scores an opportunity to travel to Vietnam to dance and sing for the troops. Her friend Cheryl is horrified, but Kath has little interest in and less knowledge about the war, seeing only excitement. But reality is quick to shake her. While protesters at home shake their placards, Kathleen discovers the realities of war.

The title, When the Hipchicks went to War, manages to immediately locate this novel in time and mood – the frivolity of ‘Hipchicks’ sitting alongside ‘War’ alerts readers to a conflict before the opening page is turned. Kathleen is keen to ditch school and get out into the wide, wild world, never imagining it as anything other than exciting and wonderful. She and two new friends become the ‘Hipchicks’ and are booked to entertain the Australian troops in Vietnam. When they arrive the Vietnam War is in full swing, but it’s not the party they expect. They must quickly adjust to war and its casualties. The show must go on. Naïve she may be, but as a main character she is also feisty, proactive and adaptable. Written in first person, When the Hipchicks Went to War follows Kathleen as she makes and loses friends, tastes the world and her first kiss, seizes every opportunity. Pamela Rushby gives the reader a different look at the 1960s – the freedom and conscription, opportunities and challenges. Recommended for 13-16 year olds.

When the Hipchicks Went to War

When the Hipchicks Went to War, Pamela Rushby
Lothian Books 2009
ISBN: 9780734410917

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

Keepinitreal, by Don Henderson

Because this is pretty much a story about how I stopped being an egg-headed idiot, I might as well start at the moment Kid Kabula exploded through the upstairs doors of the Victory Gardens Mall. The top part of the hill where the Kid started his ride was always called ‘the top of the hill’ and the bottom part was always called ‘the bottom of the hill’. You’re probably thinking I’m extremely stupid for explaining that, but I think it gives you an idea how imaginative people are around here. The slightly less daggy part was the top of the hill. I lived at the bottom of the hill. The Kid lived in a hole a few streets beyond that. Just behind the Victory Gardens Dog Track.

Stevie and his Uncle Boff (who isn’t his real uncle) have a business collecting ‘recyclables’, or as he calls them, ‘refundables’. It makes more sense than being at school. They and their greyhound, Bobby Dazzla, get up early, work hard and seldom miss an opportunity to turn other people’s discards into cash. Along the way they meet most Victory Gardens residents. Not that that is always a good thing. So when Kid Kabula connects in the most painful way with Fatts, leader of the Victory Rats, the biggest, meanest bikie gang around, Stevie is the one who has questions to answer. Stevie is a watcher, not a conversationalist, and he’s not quite sure what to do when it seems Kid wants to be friends. Then there’s Helen, the girl at the recycling centre with the long black hair and the big smile. It seems that it could be time to do more than just watch the world go by.

Stevie wears black Tshirt and a beanie, a uniform he prefers to any that a school might have required. It seems that in this ‘uniform’ he is able to be almost invisible, a status that has served him well. But with Kid Kabula upsetting the bikies, the local politician pulling a swifty and Helen upsetting his equilibrium, Stevie realises that being invisible and silent is a thing of the past. To survive, he’s going to have to speak up. Keepinitreal details Stevie’s journey from watcher to participant. It’s raw and funny, a rites of passage story told through Stevie’s eyes. It’s also a story of community and the ties that bind people together – enough ties in fact to trip the unwary and the unscrupulous. To add to the adventure, Keepinitreal is also the name of a greyhound of great speed and enthusiasm. Recommended for junior secondary readers.


Keepinitreal, Don Henderson
Omnibus Books 2009
ISBN: 9781862917705

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

Crime Time, by Sue Bursztynski

This is Crime Time, so get ready to discover Australia’s very own gallery of rogues – an Aussie litany of heinous crimes, dastardly deeds and terrifying tales…
The human race is extraordinarily divers ein its interests. Some people are captivated by shoes and clothes, some engrossed with football or cricket or snowboarding, some would never be parted from their music players and some cannot turn off their mobiles although their texting thumbs are weak with overuse. Yet everyone – whether it be reluctantly or eagerly – is fascinated by wicked misdeeds and illegal acts.

Australians are often keen to claim convicts for ancestors, no matter how tenuous the link, but here is a collection of characters we might not be so keen to claim. From the earliest white visitors there have been those who choose not to follow, or sometimes stray from the path. Crime Time presents Australians, some infamous, some famous, some obscure, but all criminals. Their stories vary from the foolish to the macabre, from the accidental to the truly evil. No sector of the community is overlooked: there are wealthy, poor, young and old villains boy men and women. Many entries include sketches of the character described.

Crime Time is organised chronologically, beginning with a persuasive sailor in 1629, and finishing up with cases still fresh in the public memory. There is an introduction from Kerry Greenwood, a contents page, and a detailed index to the characters mentioned. Entries are relatively short, three-four pages, with info boxes providing snippets on some of our less salubrious citizens. Sue Bursztynski has presented information in an almost conversational and sometimes humourous style, easily accessible to readers. There is plenty of gory detail, but it’s not so graphic as to cause nightmares. For the budding criminologist keen to learn more, the bibliography provides books and website details. From poisoning grannies, to bumbling burglars, this is an extensive rogues gallery. Recommended for upper-primary boys and beyond.

Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly

Crime Time – Australians Behaving Badly, Sue Bursztynski
Ford St Publishing 2009
ISBN: 9781876462765

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

Sprite Downberry, by Nette Hilton

Sprite Downberry groaned. She felt an inside sagging, like her stomach had just hitched a ride south.
‘I don’t want to,’ she said.
Her mother held out one lovely, long-fingered, scarlet-tipped hand to show the baby diamond-backed carpet snake that twined, tiny and perfect, around her wrist.
‘Why not?’
‘I don’t think Ms Bloome will like it,’ Sprite said.
She should have said Ms Bloome would definitely not like it and she was sure there were rules about bringing snakes to school. Especially snakes that weren’t in a box or a cage or whatever it was you should take a snake to school in.

Sprite and her family live out of town in a old farmhouse. It’s not fancy, but it’s home. At least it was. Now Dad has gone to the coast and doesn’t look like coming back any time soon. School is horrible. Sprite’s former friend, Katie, has taken up with the intimidating Madeleine and together they are making sure everyone else steers clear of her too. Sunny, Sprite’s mum is sad and unpredictable and her ability to care for Sprite and her little brother, Mozz, is affected. Sprite tries her best to restore her mother to happiness, but it’s a task beyond her. Sunny needs Dad. Mozz needs Dad. Sprite needs Dad, perhaps most of all. Sprite’s troubles escalate as she tries to find Dad, and has to decide who to trust. Along the way, she gains some perspective on the bullies at school.

Sprite Downberry paints a picture of a family in crisis. Adults may see the big picture, the long term outcomes, but for children caught in the web of their parents’ distress, their world is much smaller, more immediate. Their world is measured in meals and clean clothes, minutes and days. Mozz is in many ways still a baby, dealing in concrete concepts. Sprite is a responsible big sister, a quiet character, struggling with bullying at school, her father’s inexplicable absence and her mother’s worsening illness. The third person intimate viewpoint brings the reader close to Sprite, while still allowing them to understand more than she does. Sprite manages the only way she can, the way she has done in the past. She is resourceful and adaptive, fallible and naïve. Her physical and emotional journey is exhausting but ultimately liberating. Sunny’s deteriorating mental health is sensitively depicted, and the reactions of outsiders show some of the extra challenges families must face. Recommended for upper primary readers, particularly girls.

Sprite Downberry

Sprite Downberry, Nette Hilton
Angus & Robertson 2008
ISBN: 9780732285487

Jasper McFlea Will Not Eat His Tea, by Lee Fox & Mitch Vane

Jasper McFlea will NOT eat his tea.
His twin sister, Ginger, eats all she can see,
a soup made from parsnips and spinach and peas,
then says when she’s finished,
‘I’d like some more please.’
But Jasper McFlea will NOT eat his tea.

Jasper McFlea is a fussy eater. He rejects most foods, based on smell or appearance and for no apparent reason at all. He won’t eat his tea, neither will he eat his dinner, or any other meal. His excuses are many and varied, his refusal absolute. The only one pleased by all of this is the family dog, Buffy, recipient of all Jasper’s rejected food. Jasper’s family are at a loss to know what to do. Jasper continues to refuse almost every food until his parents have had enough. Something has to change. A canny solution is needed if Jasper is to star on the field at cricket. When a way out is offered, the family hold their breath to see Jasper’s response. The solution is in his hands alone. Mitch Vane has used black outlines and broad, bright watercolour strokes to sympathetically convey the emotions of all family members as they seek a solution to Jasper’s intractability.

Jasper McFlea Will Not Eat His Tea presents a scenario familiar in many households – dinnertime as battlefield. Parents reading this story will recognise many of the strategies they have employed in encouraging children to eat a variety of nutritious food. Children however will read a different story. They will enjoy the rhythm and rhyme of the words and the rollicking text as it moves around the page. They can also follow the visual stories of Jasper and the various family members. For example, Ginger, his sister, has plenty of energy, providing a contrast with Jasper’s increasing lethargy. Her advice that this food refusal will ‘end in disaster’ reinforce their parents’ concerns. Buffy the dog can be seen doing some growing of his own. Good fun. Recommended for 4-7 yo.

Jasper McFlea Will Not Eat His Tea

Jasper McFlea Will Not Eat His Tea, Lee Fox ill Mitch Vane
Lothian 2009
ISBN: HB 9780734410627 PB 9780734410993

Four Baby Board Books, by Sally Rippin

What’s That Noise?, Hush Baby Hush, Go Baby Go! and Where is Baby? are sturdy board books in a new series for babies from Allen & Unwin. Sally Rippin authors them all, but illustrates only Where is Baby?, with the others illustrated by some of Australia’s best-known illustrators. Each spread features a baby interacting with their environment. In What’s That Noise? common noises are identified, from the baby crying to washing flapping and more. Go Baby Go focuses on a range of movements, while Where is Baby? uses simple rhymes. Hush Baby Hushlooks at some familiar daily routines. Each book is linked to the others in the series by a common design spotted spine.

What’s That Noise?, Hush Baby Hush, Go Baby Go! and Where is Baby?’ are very first books for babies. They are designed to encourage early interaction with books between parent and child, child and text/illustration. The text is simple and repetitive and the images invite the reader to explore beyond the written word. A range of cultures are depicted. The colours are warm and bright and each title is robust enough to withstand many readings. Backgrounds to each spread are full colour, with Baby the feature of each opening. Each illustrator has interpreted their characters differently yet there is enough similarity to link the books. The three babies who feature in each book greet the reader on the back cover. Recommended for babies and the very young.

What’s That Noise? Sally Rippin ill Lorette Broekstra Allen & Unwin 2008 ISBN: 9781741753899
Go Baby Go! Sally Rippin ill Ann James Allen & Unwin 2008 ISBN: 9781741753882
Hush Baby Hush, Sally Rippin ill Craig Smith Allen & Unwin 2008 ISBN: 9781741753875
Where is Baby? Sally Rippin Allen & Unwin 2008 ISBN: 9781741753868