Great Moments in Australian History, by Jonathan King

Australian history…does not read like history, but like the most beautiful lies…it is full of surprises, and adventures, and contradictions, and incongruities; but they are all true, they all happened.(Mark Twain)

Quoted as the back of book blurb, and again in the book’s introduction, Twain’s view of Australia is epitomised in Great Moments in Australian History, a book which makes Australian history accessible to the casual reader. Author Dr Jonathan king, who re-enacted the first fleet voyage in 1988 and has spent a lifetime re-enacting, teaching and writing about Australian history, has selected 66 key events from Australia’s past and here brings them to life with a fictionalised recount of each event followed by an analysis of its significance and its background. Supported with illustrations and photographs from the period, the events can be read individually, or sequentially.

From the arrival of the first humans on the continent 60,000 years ago, to the 2009 election of Anna Bligh as the first woman to head a state Government, there are events with which most readers will be familiar, as well as some more obscure – yet nonetheless significant – moments in history.

Great Moments in Australian History will appeal to anyone with an interest in Australia’s history.

Great Moments in Australian History, by Jonathan King
Allen & Unwin, 2009

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

Jaguar Warrior, by Sandy Fussell

For seven days I have been imprisoned in this windowless box, waiting to die. But I haven’t given up. Every morning I sharpen my fingernails against the wooden walls. My heart is strong like a jungle cat and when the box is finally opened, I’ll claw and bite the hand that holds me.

Atl has been chosen to be sacrificed to the sun god. But, imprisoned in a box, Atl is determined not to be killed. Angry at those who’ve imprisoned him, he plots his revenge. Then, suddenly, he is freed. The temple is under attack, and Atl must flee and deliver an urgent message.

On the run, Atl is tempted not to carry out his mission. This is chance for freedom – and he owes nothing to those who would have sacrificed him. But on his journey he makes friends with other young people with their own things to escape – and is pursued by his biggest enemy. Perhaps if they work together to deliver the message then they can all be free.

Jaguar Warrior is a gripping historical novel for children, set in Aztec times. Told chiefly through Atl’s first person viewpoint, there are also key scenes from a second viewpoint character, the captain who pursues Atl. This second viewpoint creates suspense as the reader can see what Atl cannot – the pursuer and his plans – but at the same time it allows a level of empathy for this ‘baddie’, whose motives are shown as more well intended as would otherwise be thought.

Set in a well researched, thoroughly believable world, this is a thrilling adventure which will appeal to upper primary and secondary readers.


Jaguar Warrior

Jaguar Warrior, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2010
ISBN 9781921529290

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

The Devil You Know, by Leonie Norrington

Damien is running down he road pulling his mum, holding her tight so their out-of-time steps don’t jerk their hands apart.
‘Wait, luv,’ she says, ‘I’m tired.’
‘No. they’re coming!’ he yells, looking behind. ‘Keep running!’
But she won’t. So he flips her up onto his back and gallops on all fours, his hands and feet stretching out like a horse.
‘No, Damien, let me down.’
There’s a house in the distance. We can hide in there.
He’s running as fast as he can. But it’s not coming any closer. The house isn’t coming any closer! The road is moving beneath him like a running machine, keeping him on the same spot.
The men are shouting now, firing shots. Trees and dirt explode around him.
Damien ducks into the bush, running close to the ground; his lean body curves like a panthers’, the silent bush stroking his smooth black hide. Mum is asleep along his back. He gets to the yard, slips around the side of the house, crawls beneath his old bed, supple as an eel, and into Mum’s bedroom.
And they’re there, waiting, all of them, sitting on Mum’s bed: Bedford, 88, Uncle Ronald, Gregory and Mum.

Damien and his mum have moved. Again. This time, they’re in the Northern Territory and Damien has started at yet another school. It’s not going well. His mother has a history of partnering with violent men. This time though, she assures him, things will be different. Damien has heard this before, and it’s always the same. Things start well, go downhill until he and Mum have to run. Again. So it’s no wonder really that he struggles to adjust to a new school, to make new friends, to trust anyone. And now his mother looks like she’s taking up again with 88, Damien’s father who has beaten her before. Damien’s only solace is drawing. He draws when nightmares wake him, and when thoughts overwhelm him in daytime.

The Devil You Know is both unsettling and compelling. From the front cover, showing a cowering boy and a large tattoo-ed man, it’s clear this is not going to be a fairytale. But Leonie Norrington’s touch is light, even when describing or alluding to the weightiest matters that a teenager should never have to face. The reader is invited into Damien’s world, asked not to judge him, but to walk with him awhile, to understand the life that has shaped him. Damien is a survivor, but he carries scars. Damien does find friends, not always where he first looks for them. Themes include domestic violence, bullying, racism (although some of the strongest and most empathetic characters here are aboriginal) and abuse. Highly recommended for secondary readers.

The Devil You Know, Leonie Norrington
Allen & Unwin 2010

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This title can be purchased online from Fishpond.

It's a Jungle in Here, by Steve Wide

Jimmy’s Dad arrives home and announces that ‘It’s a jungle out there!’. Jimmy replies that there’s a jungle inside as well. As the lounge transforms into a jungle, he demonstrates, showing his father the animals that live here. Each of his family members respond to the animals, until Jimmy and all his alter-egos are too tired to do anything but sleep. In the morning when Jimmy wakes, the jungle is gone from inside. But Dad assures him it’s just moved back outside where he has to go to work. It’s a Jungle in Hereis a mid-size hardback book, illustrated in a mix of child-like sketches and collage all set on pastel pages.

It might be a jungle inside Jimmy’s house, but it’s a loving and gentle one. The antics of the main character, Jimmy, will be familiar to anyone who has or has had a younger sibling with imagination. Jimmy is able to transform his environment and himself effortlessly from one animal to another. His family support his role-playing but gently keep him from exceeding his boundaries. Jimmy is playing, but his playing helps his father recover from the wildness of his work jungle. The illustrations are evocative and humourous, and child-like but definitely not childish. Recommended for pre-school-aged children.

It’s a Jungle in Here, Steve Wide ill Michelle Macintosh
Windy Hollow Books 2009
ISBN: 9781921136429

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This title can be purchased online from Fishpond.

After, by Sue Lawson

I watched the old woman smooth down the purple doona. Her words rattled around my head.
Clean linen.
Your mother’s bed.
The word ‘mother’ hung in the air.
The old man in the doorway cleared his throat. ‘Here are your bags, Callum.’
Callum? No one – not even Franger, my old principal – called me Callum. I was CJ. CJ Alexander.
I repeated the only word I’d said since they’d picked me up at the Millington train station two hours ago. ‘Thanks.’
‘Right, Patricia, let’s leave him to settle in,’ said the man.
The woman looked me up and down. ‘The wardrobe’s empty,’ she said. ‘So are the drawers. We’ll be in the kitchen.’
‘Thanks…’ What did I call her? Grandma? Gran? Nan? It was all too hard. As I eased the door shut behind them, an ache settled in my chest. I dumped my stuff on the bed and unzipped the duffle bag. The smell of home filled my head, sparking memories.

Callum has come to stay with his grandparents in the small country town of Winter Creek. He’s never met his grandparents and they don’t seem all that happy to see him. He brings with him an overwhelming secret, one that interrupts his sleep and fills his daytime thoughts. He’s angry with his mother for banishing him to the country, to stay with strangers. He’s angry with his grandparents because they seem to want him to be something he isn’t. He’s angry with everyone who comes anywhere near him. But mostly he’s angry with himself. There are so many secrets and they colour every facet of his life. Then he discovers that he has to start at a new school. Can his life get any worse?

The subtitle for ‘After reads ‘What happens when you can’t live with before?’ and the reader is immediately aware that Callum is carrying a big horrible secret so big that he is haunted by it day and night. Short chapters intersperse the After narrative, flashbacks to ‘before’. The reader is as much in the dark as Callum’s newly met grandparents. Callum, despite his terrifying anger, is a sympathetic character and slowly, slowly his story unfolds. Sue Lawson uses first person to keep the reader very close, but also to emphasise the unreliable narrator aspect of this voice. Callum is not the only one with secrets and these secrets impact on the ‘healing’ that his mother hoped would come from his time in her childhood home and home town. The joys and challenges of living in a small rural community are convincingly drawn. There are themes of loss and forgiveness, consequences for actions, but the strongest theme is the damage done by secrets. This is a compelling read for mid-secondary readers and beyond.


After, Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2009
ISBN: 9781742031125

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This title can be purchased online from Fishpond.

Surf Ache, by Gerry Bobsien

Ella Alonso was going crazy with the smell of hot chips. She leaned across the bench into the kiosk and tried to communicate telepathically with the sting bean of a cook who was scooping them up out of the fryer and into the draining baskets. Come on, she thought, that’s enough drip-drying. Give them to me. Just give me the chips. At last the cook grabbed the handle of the basket and dumped the chips into the bain-marie. He wrapped them up in butcher’s paper then handed them over.

Ella and her family have moved back to Newcastle from Melbourne after many years’ absence. All Ella’s memories are of Melbourne and the friends and boyfriend she has had to leave behind. Creaky, Ella’s little sister seems to have little trouble adjusting. But Ella is a dancer and the beachside lifestyle is not one she has aspired to. Her dad is very excited to be back and her mother is just working, working, working. But the surf is mesmeric and gradually Ella too falls under its spell. Dance, previously her grand passion, takes a different place in her life. Then an opportunity is presented and Ella must make a choice. Dance or surfing? Add in secrets from her mother’s past, and boys and Ella’s year is a big one.

Surf Ache is a term used to explain the need to surf, the feeling that the whole world revolves around how the waves are breaking. Ella comes from strong surfing genes, although she knows little of this when her family return to Newcastle. While the rest of the family settles quickly into their new/old home, Ella struggles with the changes. She knows she had to leave behind her boyfriend and breaking up was the only option, yet she struggles with the timing. She has to find a new dance school but again struggles to find her place. Everything has changed. Surf Ache uses the third person intimate voice to bring the reader in close to Ella and her turmoil. She is a likeable main character, as is her family. Only Mel, classmate and fellow surfer, seems put out by her arrival. And eventually, some of the reasons for her antagonism become clearer. There are plenty of details for the keen surfer, but not so many that the non-surfer gets lost. An enjoyable read for early- to mid- secondary girls.

Surf Ache

Surf Ache, Gerry Bobsien
Walker Books 2009

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This title can be purchased online from Fishpond.

Horse Mad Whispers, by Kathy Helidoniotis

‘Mum. Mum!’
I sat bold upright in bed, the sound of my own voice echoing in my room. I was breathing hard. There was sweat on my forehead and my favourite nightie, the one that said I heart horses, stuck damply to my chest.
I’d had it again. The nightmare.
It was always the same but never any less frightening. The black horse would scream, his hard body would lash and twist and his silver shoes would flash like a spotlight in my face, blinding me. I’d feel the terror and then the pain and then I’d be ripped from sleep in a tangle of sheets and sticky hair.

Horse Mad Whispers opens at night, with Ashleigh Miller experiencing what has become a familiar nightmare. But even awake, she struggles to find a way through the accident that left her injured and a horse in danger of being put down. Worse still, she’s scared she may never be able to ride a horse again. Not just because of her injuries, but because she’s lost her nerve. All she ever wanted to do was go to Linley, where horseriding is part of the curriculum. Now she’s there and it’s not quite the dream she thought it would be. It’s hard being away from home and her friends, Becky and Pree, even though she’s making new friends at boarding school. There are bullies there, just like there were at home. She’s not ridden Honey for weeks and not everyone has forgiven her for the accident.

Ashleigh is now in Year 7 and is boarding at a school where horses board too. Horse skills are taught as part of the curriculum as well as being extracurricular. Ashleigh has to recover from her injuries, adjust to the new school and it’s particular challenges, deal with a hated and hating roommate and more. She’s discovered that getting what you most wanted, isn’t always quite the dream she imagined it would be. She also begins to see the world a little though the eyes of others, moving beyond the egocentricity of childhood. Learning more about horses in general, and her horse Honey in particular, helps her to also learn more about the people around her. She learns to look behind their words, to see where they’re coming from. There are plenty of horsey details for the horse-mad reader, but plenty also for those interested in realistic fiction for the transitioning-to-teen agegroup. Recommended for upper-primary readers.

Horse Mad Whispers (Horse Mad S.)

Horse Mad Whispers , Kathy Helidoniotis
Angus & Robertson 2010
ISBN: 9780732289997

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Angel Fish, by Lili Wilkinson

A boy has come to Machery.
I think he might be an angel.
When he speaks, even the birds stop singing to listen. When he speaks, his eyes shine with a light that I know cannot come from dirt and skin. When he speaks, my head whirls round and round with strange thoughts, and my heart goes patter patter patter.

Gabriel is delighted when he meets the charismatic Stephan, who tells him that they must journey to the Holy land to defeat the evil Saracen. Together they march across the country and over the Alps, collecting an army of thousands of children as they go. Their destination is Genoa, where Stephan will part the waters so they can travel across the ocean to the Holy Land.

But as Stephan changes, and the struggles of the journey burden Gabriel and the other children, Gabriel begins to question their journey. Is Stephan really a prophet? And can they defeat the Saracen?

Angel Fish is a breathtaking story based around the historical Children’s Crusade. As author Lili Wilkinson points out in her back of book note, this Crusade has not been well documented, and so what she presents is fictionalised, made very personal by creating a rich cast of characters, including Gabriel and Stephan, as well as the wild orphan Fox-Boy, the sad but loving Ines and the noble boy Eustache.

The resulting tale is breathtaking, poignant and beautiful.

Angel Fish

Angel Fish, by Lili Wilkinson
black dog, 2009

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

A Belt Around My Bum, by Martin Chatterton

Eric the ox was going as fast as he could.
Eric didn’t believe in doing things quickly. Especially not pulling heavy carts filled with actors, singers, musical instruments, props, costumes and everything else that made up the Black Skulls, the most exciting theatrical performers in England. Eric’s cart was heading south towards Richmond Palace where the Skulls were due to perform for Her Most Glorious and Majestic Queen Elizabeth. Eleven-year-old William Shakespeare, known as Willy Waggledagger to his friends, was the driver. He had been a member of the Skulls for little over a week and was looking forward to this performance ore than anything he’d ever looked forward to before. But right now, all he could think about was his aching bum.

Willy Waggledagger is the newest member of the Black Skulls, a touring band of players. Willy is on the run from his overbearing and very smelly father and the threat of life as a hide tanner. The Black Skulls are en route to perform for the Queen and her sycophantic court. The players set up camp within Richmond Forest, slightly unsettled by the stories about it being haunted. There, after a misunderstanding with a bear, they meet the King of the Faeries. The wildfire plot loosely follows the story of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Mayhem, misunderstanding, and misdirected love cause Willy all manner of anguish. At times, he considers a return to the horror of his father’s wrath as being less troublesome than his present circumstances. Gregory Roger’s full page illustrations add to the humour as Willy and his friends try to retrieve a golden girdle and prevent war.

Shakespeare’s texts can be very dense to young readers, even where the story is full of almost slapstick humour as in his comedies. Martin Chatterton doesn’t pretend to follow the texts closely, but he does suggest that such stories may have provided inspiration to a young Shakespeare. Chatterton concocts a wild and funny adventure with a million absurd twists and turns. He pokes fun at the more pompous members of the court and suggests that every world has it’s share of buffoons. Clothed as it is in humour, ‘A Belt Around My Bum’ readers may not really notice that they are also being introduced to history and the world in which Shakespeare lived. There’s the very fragile grace and favour system of the English Court, the superstitions and jealousies of the theatre, and more. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

A Belt Around My Bum (Willy Waggledagger)

A Belt Around My Bum (Willy Waggledagger), Martin Chatterton ill Gregory Rogers
Little Hare 2009

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Send Simon Savage, by Stephen Measday

The 15th Century,
Simon Savage sucked in big gulps of air as he ran swiftly down the cobbled street. As he wondered if he should have taken the left turn and then the right, he heard shouts from a chasing patrol of soldiers. But a quick look over his shoulder showed no sign of them.
In the dim moonlight, Simon stumbled through a mound of putrid rubbish and reached the end of a row of rotten old houses with thatched roofs. He lifted his left arm, pressed a finger to the touch-screen on his wrist pilot and activated a series of yellow grids. A red locator dot and a set of figures flashed in the right hand corner.
‘Wrong freakin’ street!’ he gasped. He was close to the timeline that would take him home, but not close enough…

Simon is living a normal life in Sydney when his scientist father disappears from a beach. As if that wasn’t unsettling enough, he’s offered the opportunity to join an elite group of young teenagers. They will train at a secret facility for a mysterious organisation called The Time Bureau, and then travel to other times. Simon is both excited and apprehensive, still trying to adjust to the loss of his father. He discovers that his father had secrets of his own and a new mission joins those he’s assigned – to attempt to discover what happened on the day his father disappeared.

Send Simon Savage explores the idea of time travel, without getting too caught up in the technicalities. There are references to the idea that travelling to another time carries the risk of altering the time to come, and to the possible effects on time travellers. But Stephen Measday isn’t attempting to explain the theory to his readers, he’s setting them off on a grand quest backwards and forwards in time. He explores the changing dynamics of family as children transition away from childhood. There is a strong theme of caring for our world, and the consequences if we don’t. But mostly, it’s pure adventure, pitting Simon and his friends against a range of enemies. Simon’s world is a complex one, but Measday keeps his readers close with the ties to family and friendship. Recommended for upper primary readers.

Send Simon Savage, Stephen Measday
Little Hare Books 2010
ISBN: 9781921541339

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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