Last Tree in the City, by Peter Carnavas

Edward lives in a dull colourless city, of ‘concrete and cars’. But Edward has a secret place he and his little duck can visit to forget about the city. It’s a magic place for him and he visits every day. Then one day the tree is gone. Now there is nothing to relieve the dullness of the city landscape, nothing to bring colour to his world. Despite his distress, Edward sets out on his bike. He finds a little bit of tree and a way to keep it always with him. In doing so, he finds a way to share his special world with the rest of the city. Illustrations are watercolour and ink. Front endpapers show a drink cup and straw. In the end endpapers, the straw is sprouting its own little plant.

Edward is a solitary child and Last Tree in the City gives no indication of his family situation. But many children spend time in their own wake-dream worlds, regardless of their family. Edward is initially devastated by the loss of his safe place, his tree. But in resolute fashion, he sets out anyway, destination unplanned. His discovery of some remnant of his tree brings him hope and he ponders where he should plant it. In the end, he plants it in his bike, so the tree will always be with him. He ventures afield with his tree, and discovers a whole world within the city where people are doing the same thing. Have they all rescued bits from his tree? Or are they all nurturing their own little havens? And can they share it with each other? Plenty of room for discussion. Recommended for young primary readers.

Last Tree in the City

Last Tree in the City, Peter Carnavas
New Frontier 2010
ISBN: 9781921042218

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Dame Nellie Melba. by Gabiann Marin

Six-year-old Nellie crouched up in the tree branches, peering down at her father as he approached the dam. She knew she would be in trouble if he found her sitting in the old gum tree, sopping wet, so she decided the best thing was to stay very quiet until he passed.
Suddenly, her father looked up into the tree, straight at Nellie. She shrank back against the smooth bark, but she knew it was too late, she’d been spotted. At that moment, she heard the humming, a favourite song of hers that her mother used to sing when she was a baby. After a moment of listening, Nellie realised the humming sounds were coming from her!

When Nellie was a child, in the 1860s, singing in public was not considered a ladylike thing to do. But Nellie was determined, from an early age, that singing would be her life. Not long after she finished school, her mother and young sister died. Nellie, her father and a sister moved to Queensland where strong-minded Nellie married an Englishman. Nellie tried to put aside the notion of singing but found it impossible. She sang in Melbourne and achieved some success. But before long she found Melbourne too small for her ambitions and sailed for Europe. There she achieved the success she’d dreamed off and returned to Australia a star.

It’s often difficult to comprehend that famous people were once just like all the rest of us, doing normal things, dreaming big dreams. Dame Nellie Melba, international singing star, was once a small child hiding in a tree to avoid getting into trouble. With a good voice and a great deal of determination, she showed that it is possible to make dreams come true. Dame Nellie Melbasets out to tell Nellie’s story, from her origins, through sadness and wrong-turnings to her world-wide triumphs. It makes Nellie real, and her story meaningful and accessible to children today. Aussie Heroes Dame Nellie Melba is the first in a new ‘Aussie Heroes’ series from New Frontier Publishing. Recommended for upper primary readers.

Aussie Heroes Dame Nellie Melb

Dame Nellie Melba, Gabiann Marin, Rae Dale
New Frontier Publishing 2010
ISBN: 9781921042645

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Tom Skinner & Annie White

Rizwan is apprentice to the sorcerer owner of ‘Wizard Car and Camel Wash’. His job is to do the tidying and other menial tasks, while the sorcerer gets to cast spells and make dirty cars and camels sparkle. When Isabella, daughter to the Mayor comes in to have her car washed, Rizwan is envious. Next day, left to wash the Mayor’s race camels, he decides to cast a little spell of his own. Flush with his success, he tries another spell on the Mayor’s car. Of course this time, things do not go smoothly. In fact they go very bubbly, very bubbly indeed. Illustrations are bright and colourful with multi-hued bubbles floating throughout and in the endpapers. Included is an audio CD with the story read by Antonia Kidman and featuring the music ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’.

The Sorcerers Apprentice is the third title in the Music Box series from New Frontier Publishing. Goethe’s original poem inspired Paul Dukas’ piece of music of the same name. Tom Skinner moves the action to a magical car and camel wash, but the story is the same. An inexperienced sorcerer’s apprentice decides he can complete his chores more quickly with the use of magic. Rizwan also thinks he can attract the attention of a pretty girl. The story and the piece of music are included with the book, and give small children a chance to experience the magic that is music. Recommended for early primary readers.

The Sorcerers Apprentice

The Sorcerers Apprentice Tom Skinner Annie White
New Frontier Publishing 2010
ISBN: 9781921042096

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

What Now Tilda B? by Kathryn Lomer

Jamie and I have got the whole thing down to a fine art by now. I say goodbye to Nan and Pop in the morning, head off on my bike for school, chain the bike up with all the others, then make a quick getaway. I take a change of clothes in my school bag, do a Clark Kent/Superman change wherever I can manage and, by the time Jamie swings by in his old Kombi, board in the back, I’m ready.
I never know where we’re going to end up. Today it’s Clifton. It’s a beautiful clear spring day and the waves are perfect small cylinders of green glass. Today I find myself feeling a bit jealous of the surfers. Usually I’m content to walk the beach or read, but today I’m restless and the waves look smooth and inviting. I try to imagine the power of the wave lifting me, whisking me through the air. Jamie’s so into it out there. I find myself envying his absorption. There’s just him and the wave.

Tilda is nearly sixteen, in Year 10 in a school that doesn’t offer Year 11 or Year 12. She has no idea what she wants to do next. She’s living with Nan & Pop, like she has been since Mum left to study. Mum’s back again, living in the house with Dad and Tilda’s younger brother, Luke. She has a boyfriend, Jamie, and a best friend Shelly. When an elephant seal beaches itself near her house, Tilda witnesses the birth of its calf, her life begins to change. For the first time in a while, she’s committed to something. Somehow focussing on just the one thing – keeping mother and baby elephant seal alive – helps Tilda to begin to take control of her life and to plan her future.

When the reader first meets Tilda, she’s a likeable but fairly directionless teenage girl. Her family life is in a sort of limbo and it seems that she is holding her breath to see what will happen with her parents. It’s given her an excuse to not focus on school, and to defer any decisions she might be considering. Tilda tells her story in first person, present tense, keeping the reader close. There are themes of family and choice, friendship and more. What Now, Tilda B? is a heartening coming of age story and Tilda begins to realise that the world is bigger than just her. There are opportunities for her but she needs to choose them. As she does, she also begins to see more of what’s happening around her. It helps her get perspective on her life and the lives of those around her. Recommended for secondary readers.

What Now, Tilda B?

What Now, Tilda B? Kathryn Lomer
UQP 2010

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Goal! by Catherine Chambers

Pinpointing the origins of football is rather like scrambling for the ball itself. “It’s MINE! I got here FIRST!” Many claim it, but few can prove it. Kicking a pebble may well have been born in a prehistoric cave; we’ll probably never know for sure. But with regards to a more structured game, there are written histories, archaeological finds and artworks from ancient China and Japan to Egypt, Greece, Rome, Australia and the Americas. As archaeologists work their way around the globe, they’ll probably find that football’s web of roots reaches almost everywhere. and while the games may vary from country to country, city to city, and school to school, the name “football” has been used for centuries, while the name :soccer” is a much more recent invention.

Australians have mostly known football to be the game that uses the Sherrin, features marks and long kicks and has four posts at each end of the playing field. But the world knows football as the game Australians once called soccer. Catherine Chambers suggests that football owes its world popularity to its roots in almost every country. In Goal!she explores the history of football from early documentation to current statistics. And like the global coverage of the World Cup, no country or individual element is forgotten. Discover why a king called the game dangerous, one mayor thought playing it would contribute to the spread of foot and mouth disease and some churches declared playing it a sin! See how the rules evolved to those used today and why umpires are now called referees. ‘Goal!’ includes player profiles and statistics, chapters on female football, politics and money, and many info bites with anecdotes and oddities.

Catherine Chambers also wrote ‘A History of Cricket’ and employs the same engaging conversational style in Goal. She invites the reader to come take a chair and discover why football is the sport for everyman (and woman). From seed-filled cloth balls to the challenges of World Cup qualification, Goal!is jam-packed full of football. There is a list of contents, glossary and extensive index, making navigation easy for the can’t-sit-still, dip-in reader. The progression from ancient to modern times entices sequential reading. There are ball-shaped bios that pass from one to the next featured player. It’s like a ‘choose your own adventure’ for sport. Recommended for upper primary, early secondary readers, and anyone who wants to know more about football with the round ball.


Goal! Catherine Chambers
Black Dog Books 2010
ISBN: 9781742031576

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

My Aussie Dad, by Yvonne Morrison & Gus Gordon

Dads come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. In My Aussie Dada range of children present their dads and the wonderful things they do. Each dad is presented as being wonderful, even when their skills are shown as being less than perfect. For example the barbecuing dad sometimes grills the snags just a fraction more than he should. The language is rhythmical and rhyming and includes a range of Aussie slang. Illustrations on the left of each opening show Dad and the skill that makes him wonderful, while the other side reflects the somewhat less shiny reality. Illustrations are a mix of loose watercolour, collage and pencil. Images on the left are set in lots of white space, while those on the left spread colour over the page. The closing image is of a smiling father and child.

My Aussie Dad pays homage to a range of fathers, the majority of them iconic ‘Aussies’. The text is simple and humorous and the illustrations extend on the humour by depicting the Dads in a variety of activities. Throughout disasters large and small and behaviours appropriate and not, the dads are unfailingly presented as relaxed and caring. They all depict warm relationships with the child who is speaking about them, even if it’s to share an unidentifiable invention/creation, or to share a burnt snag. There’s even a place on the endpapers for the inclusion of a photo of Dad. Endpapers include many essentials for the everyday (summer) dad: big hat, footy, fly swat, hot sun and more! Recommended for preschool and early primary readers.

My Aussie Dad

My Aussie Dad, Yvonne Morrison, Gus Gordon
Scholastic 2010
ISBN: 9781741692280

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

The Star, by Felicity Marshall

Marion, Harley and Polka the dog were three loyal friends who were always together. They played happily near their home on the beach, with the sound of the sea always in their ears. But Marion was listening to a different song.
She secretly longed for adventure.

Marion and her friends live under the pier and perform for their friends. Harley and Polka the dog are content, but Marion wants more. She’s seen the stars on television and their world looks so much brighter than hers. When a little bird tells her she has the makings of a star, she’s very keen to believe it. And it happens, facilitated via the manipulation of unseen others. Marion is gradually transformed until there is little of the under-the-pier Marion remaining. And that means that there is little room for her friends. Though they try to stay with her, Harley and Polka are lost amidst the glamour and excitement of her new life. Illustrations are watercolour pencil and in a mix of colour and black and white.

The opening spread of The Star shows Marion and her friends in full colour in what appears an ideal setting. Yet in the following spread the only colour is on the television and suddenly Marion, Harley and Polka are leached to black and white. Her friends also seem to decrease in size as Marion’s star rises. As if Marion is blinded by the spotlight that frames her, she is unable to see any shadows. There are strong themes about friendship and the superficiality and artificial nature of fame. But although the picture painted is bleak, the resolution provides hope. Hope for Marion and her friends at least, although there is a reminder that it’s impossible to ever be quite the same. Recommended for middle-primary readers and older. Plenty of material in both text and illustration for classroom discussion.

The Star

The Star, Felicity Marshall
Ford St Publishing 2010
ISBN: 9781876462925

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Takeshita Demons, by Christy Burne

Are you afraid of ghosts and evil spirits, or the black space under your bed? If you are, then put this book down right away and choose another. If I were you, I would choose a book about teddy bears and bunny rabbits, because then there’s a good chance that you won’t be reading about floating heads or evil spirits or any of the other things you’ll find inside this book. If I were you, I’d do that. But for me, it’s already too late.

Miku Takeshita is Japanese and until recently, she and her family lived in Japan with her grandmother, who she calls Baba. Since Baba’s death, the family have lived in England. Baba taught Miku about ghosts and demons and how to protect herself and family from them. Miku’s mum isn’t so sure these ghosts and demons exist. But it’s lucky Miku listened. Because demons are here and they are not here to smell the roses. Miku and her Irish friend Cait must outsmart demons they didn’t know existed. They must also decide who to trust if they are to enter the battle to reclaim Miku’s little brother Kazu. The only weapons they have are their own quick thinking and Miku’s recollection of her grandmother’s teachings.

Takeshita Demons combines present-day England with ancient Japan, when demons and ghosts were part of the everyday. Miku’s grandmother has prepared her to fight the demons that her mother does not believe in, but she never expected to use the knowledge. Miku and her friend Cait are enterprising and spirited young heroes who demonstrate they are a match for any demon. They draw on the strengths of family and friendship in their battles. Miku discovers that she is more like her grandmother than she could have imagined. Miku tells her story in first person, ideal for her recollections of Baba’s advice and teachings. Takeshita Demons is the first title in this new adventure series. A modern introduction to Japanese mythological creatures. Recommended for mid- to upper primary aged readers.

Takeshita Demons

Takeshita Demons, Christy Burne, Siku
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books 2010
ISBN: 9781847801159

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Mimi and the Blue Slave, by Catherine Bateson

Two days before my father’s funeral I came down with such bad flu that Mum got the doctor to make a house call.
‘That’s ridiculous, Lou. It’s spring,’ Aunty Ann said. ‘As if she can’t be bundled into the car.’
‘It’s raining,’ Mum said, ‘and her temperature’s through the roof.’
‘We really don’t need this now,’ Aunty Ann said.
‘Her body is manifesting her spiritual grief,’ Aunty Marita said. ‘There’s nothing you can do, Lou. Just let it run its course. Grief has to do that.’
‘It might be manifested grief, ’Mum replied. ‘I’m not taking any chances.’

Mimi and her parents live in a small seaside town. Mimi’s dad has just died and their little family of three has become a family of two, both struggling to deal with their grief. Mum has her two sisters who provide divergent opinions on everything from Mimi’s flu, to what should be sold in the family’s bric-a-brac shop. Mimi has Ableth, a little blue pirate, who is the most disobedient slave it is possible to be. Mimi talks to Ableth when things are at their worst and he helps her through the dark days. Mum takes to her bed and life becomes bleaker. Mimi discovers allies in the most surprising places. There are many milestones in the time after Dad’s death, many stumbles as Mimi and Mum find a way to go on.

‘Mimi and the Blue Slave’ is a story about life. Mimi and her parents have been a tight little unit, although Mimi does have friends at school, and Mum does have her sisters. Mum’s sisters provide comic relief with their polar opposite suggestions. Mimi uses the ‘blue slave’ Ableth, when she needs to talk to someone objective. Indeed, Ableth is more than objective, he’s almost disinterested in some ways. He helps Mimi to see things clearly and to have the courage to move forwards. Others, like antique buyer Guy, help Mimi to keep the business going while Mum is unable to. Over time, Mimi, Mum, the auntys, Edie and Guy form a new little family. It doesn’t seek to replace Dad, but it helps them to value and celebrate life. Death is never an easy topic to discuss, yet it is one of life’s few certainties. Catherine Bateson uses beautiful language and gentle humour to show that life does go on, no matter how impossible it seems. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Mimi and the Blue Slave Catherine Bateson
Woolshed Press 2010
ISBN: 9781864719949

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Henry Hoey Hobson, by Christine Bongers

She was waiting with a gaggle of mates, blocking the stairs leading back down from our classroom. Golden in the sunlight, with that curious blend of stealth and grace that marked the lion queens of the jungle. I lumbered towards the all-female pride, a wildebeest, hell-bent on his own destruction.
In nature, there were thousands of us, protected by numbers, sacrificing only the occasional member to predators that liked to feed on the weak. But here in the wildlife preserve of Perpetual Suckers, I was the only straggler. The odd one out. The one to be brought down, torn to pieces and consumed.

Henry is starting at yet another new school. And as if starting all over again wasn’t tough enough, he discovers that he is the only boy in his year level. His mother is a young real estate agent and she works long hours trying to make a living to support the two of them. Because it’s always been just the two of them. And sometimes the relationship seems less parent/child than it might be. Henry is weighed down by the challenges in this new start and then things get worse. The new next-door neighbours might just be vampires. They seem friendly enough but when the school bully sees him help carry a coffin into their house, his slim chance of fitting seems certain to vanish.

Henry Hoey Hobson, or TripleH as his mother calls him, is used to life being tough. Mum struggles to support them, he’s unusual looking, and until recently was overweight. But surely it shouldn’t be this tough. And because it’s just the two of them, he feels very responsible for his mother. Henry tells his story in first person and he’s hilarious. He has conversations with himself (who else is likely to listen?), tries to stand up to the bully at school and does tasks for the principal (better than admitting he has no friends). Themes are around trying to fit in, making mistakes, not judging others and about the different shapes families can be. This is great fun to read. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Henry Hoey Hobson

Henry Hoey Hobson, Christine Bongers
Woolshed Press 2010
ISBN: 9781864719956

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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