The Chimpanzee Book, by Dr Carla Litchfield

Chimps are our closest animal relatives. They belong to the great ape family, along with humans, gorillas and orangutans. There are two species of chimps, called chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus). Genetically, chimps are more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas.

You only have to look closely at a chimpanzee face to see the similarities to man. But it’s not just in appearance. Chimpanzees have many other human-type characteristics and it seems that the more they are studied, the more similarities emerge. Chimps can use language, they use tools, have an extended childhood and display emotions. They are only found in the mid-section of the African continent. One of the two species, the bonobo is only found in a small part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Scientific researchers like Dr Jane Goodall have spent years studying the behaviour of chimps. Like other titles in this series there is a map showing distribution, and panels showing the size, habitat and predators of both species. These panels also include information about the scientists who have studied chimps.

Fantastic photos of animals (in this case chimps) against white backgrounds and in habitat are a feature of this series. Not everyone can get to Africa to see chimps in the wild and while zoos are wonderful, chimps don’t always sit still enough for a proper look. Here the reader can learn to recognise the differences between chimpanzees and bonobos and discover just how closely they are related. There is information about the scientific studies that continue to discover new aspects to chimp behaviour both in the wild and in captivity. For children who aspire to work with animals or the environment studies, there are demonstrations here as to where these interests can take them. Contents, index, glossary and further resources add to accessibility and possibility. The Chimpanzee Book: Apes Like Us is a landscape paperback and is sure to be a popular addition to any library or home collection. Recommended for lower primary and beyond.

The Chimpanzee Book: Apes Like Us

The Chimpanzee Book: Apes Like Us, Dr Carla Litchfield
Black Dog Books 2009
ISBN: 9781742030746

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Little Bird, by Penni Russon

I was curled up in the seat by the window. Out in the street a little bird bounced along the footpath, pecking up invisible crumbs. It didn’t seem to care about the world around it – the busy shopping strip and the people dashing by. It just hopped out of the way and kept pecking, as if it didn’t even know how small and crushable it was. The more I watched it, the more sure I became that someone would tread on it. A small child raced along the footpath, and a big red-faced woman laden with shopping backs lumbered after him. Suited men in shiny shoes and suited women in dangerous high heels hurried past the window. Two women walked side by side, pushing big-wheeled prams. A young guy loped past, his head tilted upwards, as if waiting for something to fall out of the sky. None of the passers-by seemed aware of the little bird’s existence. If I were a bird I’d fly all the time. I’d never come down to the ground.

Year 11 student, Ruby-Lee is stuck in a bit of a rut and unfortunately it’s not even a comfortable rut. Her sister, Shandra, has transformed into Bridezilla, her father has remarried and has a new baby, her best friend dishes out doses of friendship tied tight with strings. When her sister offers her as babysitter for Maisy, daughter of chief bridesmaid, Colette, Ruby-Lee is cross and uncertain. But Maisy quickly wins her heart. When the one-off becomes a regular gig, Ruby-Lee quickly falls madly in love with this gorgeous baby. Then Spence, Maisy’s father and also at teacher at Ruby-Lee’s school turns up. Things start to get more complicated as Spence’s mother arrives, Shandra’s wedding is called off and Colette starts to stay out later and later. Ruby-Lee has to navigate her way past the morass of other people’s problems to sort out just who she is and where she’s going.

It’s hard to know the answers when you don’t understand the questions. Ruby-Lee’s life is like that. She can’t articulate what’s missing in her life, only that something is. She tells her story in first person and the reader weaves through the narrative with her as she bumps and grinds her way through with little sense of where she’s going. Her parents’ divorce and subsequent repartnering initially appear to have little effect on her, yet the changes brought are at least partly responsible for continuing the friendship with Tegan. The only good part of the friendship seems to be its longevity. Her sister’s volatility seems to have its basis in the same unacknowledged insecurity. There are many relationships on show here, some functional, others less so. Only by watching closely those around her can Ruby-Lee begin to address her English essay topic, ‘What is Love?’ Recommended for secondary-aged readers.

Little Bird (Girlfriend Fiction)

Little Bird (Girlfriend Fiction), Penni Russon
Allen&Unwin 2009
ISBN: 9781741758641

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

The Great Barrier Reef Book, by Dr Mark Normann

The Great Barrier Reef is like a gigantic underwater forest. It is over 2000 kilometres long and every corner is teeming with colourful animals. Everything is alive or made by living creatures.

Coral is made up of millions of tiny star-shaped animals known as polyps. All the polyps in one coral colony work together to make the hard parts of the coral. Different types of corals grow in different ways to make wonderful shapes and sizes.

The Great Barrier Reef is a living treasure, unique to Australia. It’s been there for thousands of years and is home to animals big and small, shy and bold. The Great Barrier Reef Book introduces many of the animals who call the reef home. Millions of individual coral polyps work together to make the coral reef. Without them, none of the other animals could survive. And even they survive only because of even tinier plants that draw energy from the sun. Many animals cooperate to survive, just like the coral and the plants that live on them. For example, clown fish can move safely within the tentacles of the anemone by covering themselves with a thin slime that is not recognised by the anemone as foreign. The illustrations are mostly photos and fact boxes provide further information. There is a guide to the food and predator of animals featured, and a visual guide relates their size to humans.

The Great Barrier Reef Book is not designed to reveal everything about the reef. It wouldn’t be possible. But it is a sampler, offering brief, factual delights to tempt the reader. The photos bring many animals, large and small close enough to have a good luck. Information is specific and meaty while accessible to the target audience. Contents page, index, glossary all offer navigational tools to assist discovery. There are subject headings to entice the reluctant reader, from ‘Sneaky Slugs’, ‘A Fish Carwash’ and ‘A Snot Sleeping Bag’, but enough information for the hungriest of young readers. The first opening indicates that climate change is not good for the reef and a final opening provides some simple changes that every family can make to help. Recommended for junior-primary and beyond.

The Great Barrier Reef Book: Solar Powered

The Great Barrier Reef Book: Solar Powered, Dr Mark Norman
Black Dog Books 2009
ISBN: 9781742030319

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Her Mother's Face, by Roddy Doyle

There was once this girl and her name was Siobhan. She lived in a big house in Dublin with her father. It was a great house, full of interesting rooms and corners, full of old magazines and old machines and old, old toys and teddy bears.
Siobhan spent hours and hours exploring the rooms and halls, and she always found something new. She loved the house.

Siobhan’s mother died when she was small. Siobhan can remember all sorts of things about her mother. She can remember her mother’s hands, her voice, her words. But no matter how she tries, Siobhan cannot remember her mother’s face. She’d ask her father but he’s too sad. She carries her sadness deep within her, and no one else notices. One day a woman tells her how to remember. She also has a message for Siobhan’s father. Siobhan races home and does as the woman suggests, but for a long time, forgets the message for her father. The illustrations are soft and gentle, in pencil and colour wash.

Her Mother’s Face is a gentle story about loss and remembering. Siobhan, the main character is sad about her mother’s absence but she manages to survive and function normally. Her father appears to have locked his grief deep inside and part of that means removing all the photographs of his wife. People work through their grief in all manner of ways and in their own time. The illustrations are full of emotion eg the opening where Siobhan is looking through her mother’s things. Siobhan is coloured as are many of her mother’s belongings, but the image fades to sepia where her father sits, alone and silent, in the next room. There are clues for the reader about the identity of the mystery lady who speaks to Siobhan. Her Mother’s Face is long for a picture book but all the words belong. It is a lovely and loving story that may be useful in discussing loss, grief and acceptance. Recommended for mid-primary readers and beyond.

Her Mother’s Face, Roddy Doyle Ill Freya Blackwood
Scholastic 2009

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

The Gorilla Book, by Dr Carla Litchfield

Gorillas are our largest ape relatives. They are great apes, like humans, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans. There are two species of gorilla, the Western Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) and Eastern Gorillas (Gorilla Beringei).
Gorillas are easily upset. They are the most emotionally sensitive and usually the most peaceful of all the great apes.

The world outside Africa only learned about gorillas in the mid-1800’s. Today, gorillas are only found in relatively small areas across the middle of the African continent, as shown in a world map. Their name comes from a Greek word meaning ‘tribe of hairy women’! Female gorillas can weigh almost 100 kg in the wild, and male gorillas almost double that. They live in family groups and use tools. Dr Dian Fossey first studied gorilla behaviour in the 1960’s. She set up a research centre in Rwanda, studying gorillas and trying to keep poachers away. Panels show the habitat, predators, neighbours of individual gorilla groups and also acknowledge the scientists who study/ied them. Fact boxes and information in different size fonts add details to the narrative.

The Gorilla Book balances getting to know these wonderful animals with providing information about how to help them survive. Gorillas are so closely related to humankind that our diseases threaten them too. Add that to habitat destruction and poachers and gorillas face a battle to survive. Scientists and conservationists are working with locals and farming groups to find ways for man and animal to live side-by-side. Children are faced with a great deal of information in all media about the challenges faced by our world. Providing accessible, interesting, factual information, such as is included in The Gorilla Book and other titles in the series, will not only help children to understand their world, but also to understand how they can help keep it diverse and viable. Recommended for early primary and beyond.

The Gorilla Book: Born to be Wild (Wild Planet)

The Gorilla Book: Born to be Wild (Wild Planet), Dr Carla Litchfield
Black Dog Books 2009
ISBN: 9781742030883

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

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Bloodflower, by Christine Hinwood

Pin and Cam were grinding wheat for flour when Da came in, his arms full of lettuces.
‘Eh-oh.’ Da straightened his arms and the lettuces tumbled onto the table. ‘Do you look at this.’
Pin looked – ‘Euuw!’ – and moved back. The outer leaves were full of holes. When Da pulled them back, inside were tiny, baby snails, smaller than Pin’s little fingernail. ‘Look at the mess they’ve made.’
The lettuces, thought Pin, looked like a tattered green lace.
‘You ought to see it out there. It’s a plague of them. Aye, even the thrushes cannot keep up. No one minds a bit of meat to their greens but we’ll have no greens left for market soon, and then how will we pay the new Lord’s taxes?’

The fourth century world of Pin, Cam and their family is a harsh one. War has just been fought and Cam, of all the village fighters, is the only man to return. And he returns with only one arm. Cam has previously been betrothed to Graceful, but her family are not willing for them to be married now he has returned with his injury. Cam is unsure where he fits in this post-war world. The Uplanders defeated the Downlanders and the world is changing. There is a new Lord and he and his son, Gyaar are gradually establishing a new order. Rather than one clear main character – although Cam certainly has a strong role – Bloodflower is an ensemble piece. It weaves together the lives of a range of characters, much as the Downlanders layer the flax for making linen. The story takes place over about a decade or so, and is mainly set in the village of Kayforl and the walled town of Dorn-Lannet in a country with a mild summer and a snowy winter.

Bloodflower looks like a fantasy – the cover has a warrior arm set against blood red cloth. The map of the countryside and the list of characters reinforces this, with unfamiliar names. The language of the people is different too and establishes a sense of being elsewhere in another time. Birth and death dates locate Bloodflower in the late 300’s to early 400’s and this gives rise to the feeling that it could also be considered historical fiction. There are several strong storylines threading through: Pin, Cam’s much younger sister; Ban, his childhood friend; Graceful, the Master’s daughter; Gyaar the Uplander Lord’s son, Diido, a girl from the camp. All have a place to play, all have their time moving the narrative along. There are coming of age storylines, romance, adventure, family and more…all the various, interlinking concerns that occupy a community. This is an intriguing and sophisticated read. Recommended for 13+.


Bloodflower, Christine Hinwood,
Allen & Unwin 2009
ISBN: 9781741754711

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Something More, by Mo Johnson

‘Where is she, Isla?’
Terry barged her way into my room, slamming the door so violently that Mr Jingles the sting puppet fell to the floor in a tangled heap.
‘What have you done with Mitsy, you cow?’
Ignoring her, I began to do a mental count. By three she was fuming. By eight, her skull was about to blow off. I leant back in my chair, ready to say the last digit out loud. ‘Tenahhh!’ Unfortunately, I overbalanced and crashed to the ground. That’s the trouble with wheelie chairs: they’re great for spinning, but the minute you get the loading wrong you’re road kill.

A year ago, Isla and her family moved from Scotland to Australia. Mum and Dad are settled, her combative just-younger sister Terry can almost talk Australian, but Isla is still struggling. She misses her feisty, advice-wielding grandmother and her best friend. She also misses Brian, her old boyfriend. She said it would be easier for them to have a clean break an no contact. Add to that the fact that everything here seems to revolve around swimming pools and she can’t swim. Isla feels she is living a half-life. Her physical self might be here, but her heart is ever-winging its way back to all she left behind. Not that there aren’t potential compensations here. Her art class is great, and includes Sam (dreamy boy) and Jack (intriguing boy). But then Terry reveals a serious secret, one too big for her to manage alone. It’s time for Isla to make some decisions about how and where she belongs.

Something More is about coming to terms with life changes. At a time when every teenager is struggling to make sense of their lives, their selves, when every decision seems super-important, Isla discovers that some decisions are more significant than others. Isla tells her story in first person, but others offer their perspective very clearly in their direct speech and their actions. Isla’s view of the world, and her place in it, opens up through the novel. It’s clear to the reader from the beginning that her personality is a strong one and her perspective true, but Isla herself takes her time to grow into her new skin…to become something more. There are elements of early romance in this and other Girlfriendfiction titles but there is much more. The plot is fast-moving and realistic. Although much of the drama involves Terry, it’s is Isla’s journey and she keeps the reader close by her the entire time. Recommended for early- to mid-secondary readers.

Something More (Girlfriend Fiction)

Something More (Girlfriend Fiction), Mo Johnson
Allen&Unwin 2009
ISBN: 9781741755282

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Pop Princess, by Isabelle Merlin

The most important moments of your life aren’t the ones you plan for. They’re the ones that you don’t see coming, that hang on a an accident of timing, a simple twist of fat. It’s like in that old Gwyneth Paltrow movie, you know, Sliding Doors, where what happens to her character depends on whether she manages to catch the train before the sliding doors close. Or not.

Lucie has just discovered that her best friend and her boyfriend are cheating on her. She doesn’t know what to think, what to do. So when her grandmother’s agency offers her an opportunity to travel to Paris for Christmas, she seizes it. She is to be a paid companion to Arizona Kingdom, an international pop singer. But this imagined paradise has some challenges. Arizona’s guardian is an overprotective relative they dub the Gorgon. Lucie is sure she and Arizona’s father are overprotective and should just lighten up. Sure, there are some odd characters around, but nothing that two teenagers can’t handle. Nothing is that simple, and Lucie’s already shaken sense of who to trust is rattled further. Being 16 in Paris might be glorious, but she’s discovering that there are secrets and mysteries almost everywhere she looks.

Pop Princess begins in Australia but the action rapidly moves across the world to Paris. Lucie’s life is already a little unusual in that she lives with her grandmother while her father jets around the world in search of stories for his books. He’s seldom at home. Her mother was a writer too but was killed in Russia in a botched kidnap-rescue attempt. But travelling to Paris to stay with a pop star and her apparently paranoid aunt and father, Lucie learns a lot more about different types of family. She tells her story in first person and is full of curiosity and confidence. These traits get her alternately into and out of trouble, both by herself and with her new friends. She’s constantly trying to make sense of the strangeness around her and having to reassess the trustworthiness of the people around her. Along the way, she learns to listen to her own voice. Pop Princess is aimed at teenage girls who enjoy a mystery, especially one set in the capital of fashion, history and romance, Paris. Recommended for 13 + readers.

Pop Princess, Isabelle Merlin
Random House Australia 2009
ISBN: 9781741663365

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

The Crocodile Book, by Malcolm Douglas

Crocodiles are superb hunters. Fully grown crocs have few natural enemies, and are usually the top predators in their environment.
Saltwater Crocodiles have growth rings in their bones, just like a tree. Crocodiles live for about 70 years but some may live up to 100 years old.

Crocodiles have been around for a very long time – their relatives lived with the dinosaurs. Looking at their armour, their teeth, they hunting skill, it’s easy to imagine. Dinosaurs may be gone, but crocodiles are found all around the world, where there is warmth and water. They are excellent hunters and can move surprisingly fast given their size. Using photos, info boxes and more, The Crocodile Book introduces the reader to crocodiles of all sizes and temperaments, from the ‘Saltie’ of northern Australia and Asia, to the endangered Cuban crocodile. Panels give the scientific name, average length, prey for individual species and some indication of their habitat. Photos of the crocodiles are mostly on white background, although some show the crocodiles in their natural habitat. These latter demonstrate their skill for camouflage.

Malcolm Douglas shares his passion for these giant reptiles, offering reasons they should be respected rather than reviled and hunted. He provides insights into their lives and development, coached in language accessible to his readership without talking down to them. The up-close photos allow the reader access to crocodiles from a much closer distance than would be possible in the wild, or even in a zoo or farm environment. While nothing can replace the thrill of seeing animals in their natural environment, some animals are safer studied from a distance or through a camera lens. The Crocodile Book offers clear, concise, factual information and great photos for readers in lower- to middle-primary age groups.

The Crocodile Book: Armoured and Dangerous (Wild Planet)

The Crocodile Book: Armoured and Dangerous (Wild Planet), Malcolm Douglas
Black Dog Books 2009
ISBN: 9781742030265

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Firesong, by Libby Hathorn

From the back verandah, Ingrid Crowe watched her dog Blackie chase a stray bird across the garden. She saw the tall gum tree giving slightly in the breeze and, beneath it, her little sister Pippa playing happily in the sand pit. It looked the same as any other day out there. But it wasn’t. Her mother had just told her something bad. Something so shocking it was going to change her whole world. Ingrid’s mother had told her she was going to burn their house down.

Ingrid Crowe is twelve years old. Her father has re-partnered. Her two brothers have been sent to a foster home on a farm. Her grandmother recently died. It’s just Ingrid, her little non-speaking sister Pippa and Mum left in the house. And there’s no money. Then Ingrid discovers that her mother has devised a plan to make them some money. She proposes to burn down the house for the insurance money. Her mother is fierce in her determination and insists that Ingrid help her. Ingrid knows it’s wrong, but she doesn’t know what to do. A song, ‘Fire! Liar! Fire!’ plays over and over in her head. She can see no way to save her family and the house that she loves, with all its good memories. Over the course of a day, she contemplates many options. There are many people she could talk to, but whatever action she takes, she’s afraid of the consequences.

Ingrid Crowe has already had to grow up fast. Firesong is told in third person intimate and the reader gets as close to her as is possible, as she struggles with a dilemma that no one should ever have to face. The viewpoint allows some of the unreliable narrator elements that accompany first person, while allowing the reader a little broader view. Ingrid’s mother is desperate and their poverty has lead her to plan a desperate act. Ingrid loves her mother and wants to believe that her mother is doing what’s best. It’s a cross-road for Ingrid: to believe her mother and do as she is told, or to listen to her conscience and begin to be her own person. Along the journey, the reader discovers how the family arrived at this point. Recommended for early-secondary readers and mature upper primary readers.

Fire Song, Libby Hathorn
ABC Books 2009 ,br>ISBN: 9780733324208

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author