The Bush Concert, by Helga Visser

It hadn’t rained for a very long time.
Food and water were hard to find.
Everyone was feeling low.
What could they do? Where could they go?

The land is parched and the birds struggle to find food, water and shelter from the relentless summer. A committee of galahs is determined to find a way to cheer everyone up. And that means a concert. The call goes out for singers, dancers, players. All are needed. And they come. So many birds together, so much noise! Maestro Linguini helps to concert-prepare some of the enthusiastic performers. Others do their own thing, while a city-slicker sparrow encourages his choir to sing faster and faster. And then it’s Concert Night. There are singers, dancers, players, acrobats, magicians and more. As the successful concert draws to a close with fireworks, the sky turns on its own fireworks and a storm breaks over their heads. Illustrations are ink and pastel on pastel paper, richly-hued, both fantastical and real.

The Bush Concert tale is told in rhyming couplets. There has never been a gathering of Australian birds quite like this! There are wrens and quail, waterbirds and penguins, pelicans and swans. All are united in their need to survive the drought with humour intact. Beaks are shown smiling, eyes are bright. Jesters wield saws, parrots walk with stilts in this imaginative romp through the bird world. The final opening offers names for all the birds appearing in The Bush Concert. Recommended for preschool and early primary children. Would be useful in introducing the wide range of birds who call Australia home.

The Bush Concert

The Bush Concert, Helga Visser
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918863

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Rabbit's Year, by Melissa Keil

It’s Rabbit’s year on the Chinese Zodiac, but Rabbit is feeling sad. He has no friends. He knows he’d make a great friend, but that’s not much use if no one else seems to know that. His favourite thing is music but he’s too shy to join with the other animals in making music. So he played his music alone. Other animals hear his music and are drawn to follow it. From having no friends, Rabbit discovers there are many animals happy to help him celebrate his special year. Illustrations are in soft watercolours.

Rabbit’s Year is a gentle exploration of the personality of Rabbit, and those born in this Chinese year. It describes Rabbit’s personality but also the personalities of the other animals of the Chinese Calendar. A final spread provides more information about each of the Zodiac animals, their personalities and the birth years they inform. This is a lovely gentle way to introduce the world of the Chinese Zodiac and will sit nicely with companion title ‘The Race for the Chinese Zodiac’ written by Gabrielle Wang and illustrated by Sally Rippin.

Rabbit's Year

Rabbit’s Year, Melissa Keil ill Jedda Robaard
Black Dog Books 2011
ISBN: 9781742031750

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Mole Hunt, by Paul Collins

omeone was going to die. And it wasn’t going to be Maximus Black.

The terrain lost its shadows as darkness came down like a fire blanket. None of the moons had risen yet and the toxic evening wind of the acid ocean had not yet begun to bite. But the stillness did not fool Special Agent Maximus Black, who seemed too young to be suspicious when things were going exceedingly well. But he knew that it was not how much you experience but how you experience it.
Maximus came from a long line of madmen, murderers and megalomaniacs, but the Regis Imperium Mentatis – the galactic law enforcement agency known as RIM – seemed not to car about his ancestry.

Maximus Black is a man with a mission. He’s determined to impress RIM management with his skills and abilities. If he can do that, it opens up all sorts of opportunities that RIM may not have intended or even be aware of. Anneke Longshadow is another brilliant young RIM agent and she’s discovered a mole within the organisation. And so the whirlwind begins. A chase, a cat-and-mouse game across many worlds and all the spaces in between. There are more enhancements and gadgets than ever graced any James Bond film. There are gadgets to gather intelligence, weapons more diabolical than seems possible, gadgets to promote healing, programs that create the illusion of a disguise and if they’re not adequate, then there are ‘renovators’. The plot? To take over the world, of course!

Mole Hunt is a science fiction novel for young adults that hurtles through space at dizzying speed. Protagonist, Maximus Black, is singleminded in pursuing his self-set mission, whatever the consequences. His motivation is subtly hinted at, but readers will need to wait for further instalments in this three-part series to fully understand what drives him. Anneke Longshadow’s motivations are clearer as she sets out to pursue Black. The two are stars in the RIM organisation, and more alike than either could imagine. While the worlds spin around them, all their ingenuity and skill are tested in their pursuit of each other. No romance at all, this is a battle of high stakes, that both are determined and confident of winning. Recommended for mid-secondary and beyond.

Mole Hunt: The Maximus Black Files

Mole Hunt , Paul Collins
Ford St Books 2011
ISBN: 9781921665264

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews. is book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Doug-Dennis and the Flyaway Fib, by Darren Farrell

Doug-Dennis and Ben-Bobby are best of friends. But even best friends get bored, so they set off to the circus, where wondrous things will happen. But before the wondrous things even get underway, a split-second decision has Doug-Dennis telling a fib. The fib quickly grows and Doug-Dennis floats away on the growing story, until he reaches highest sky. There he discovers what happens when fibs grow out of control. It’s a big lesson for Doug-Dennis. Doug-Dennis and the Flyaway Fibis illustrated in a very cartoon-y style, with fibs separated from truth by the colour of the speech bubbles. Endpapers feature a range of circus posters, with claims which just may or may not be fibs. At the beginning the characters on the posters welcome the reader to the story. At the end, it’s farewell.

Sometimes fibs just slip out. Often it’s due to a fear of getting into trouble. But here’s a fib, like most fibs, that very quickly becomes out of control. The follow-up fibs get bigger and bigger, rapidly outgrowing any potential or perceived trouble that the truth might have attracted. Darren Farrell wraps his truth in a wild over-the-top story, that will have readers giggling. There are plenty of extras to look for in the illustrations as Doug-Dennis’s journey to the truth floats him through the stratosphere. The endpapers link with the circus activities and provide their own separate narrative. For an ostensibly simple story about a fib, there’s plenty of other things going on! Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Doug-Dennis and the Flyaway Fib, Darren Farrell
Scholastic Australia 2011
ISBN: 9781741697568

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Tantony, by Ananda Braxton-Smith

We found my brother in the skybog.
It was me that found him.
His body upright in the black water of boghole and his white face upturned to the dawn-pearl sky, like one moon watching another.
Skybog ground is dabbled with sinks of standing water as flat and shining as looking-glasses. When the bog mists curl away the pools show only white cloud or silver moonrays, lightning or stars, like bits of the sky have fallen right into the black earth. those sinks fill with falling rain or rising groundwater. Some are tiny, hardly big enough to hold even one star; some are deep as two men laid down end-to-end.

Fermion Quirk has just lost her ‘soft’ twin brother to the bogs that provide their family with a living. It’s true that Boson was always ‘soft’, but he became so much worse in the last years, since he went missing and was found. From then on, his talk was all of lonely people, voices in his head, and of being a bird. Fermion knows it is the reason that the townsfolk avoid them. Boson’s death threatens to tear Fermion’s family apart and she struggles to find a way to get through to them. Because it’s very soon clear that her mother is too lost in grief, and her father is lost without her mother to keep him on track. Fermion has lost her brother, her twin, and it seems that there is no room at all for her grief. Then the voices begin…

Tantony is set on Carrick, an island in the Irish Sea, in a time long ago. Superstitions and religion fight to explain variations in weather, in harvest, even the birth of ‘different’ children. Anyone different in anyway may be blamed for the sun not shining, the rain not falling and any manner of misfortunes that may occur. Tantony recalls another time, another place, but timeless issues. Fermion, who tells her own story along with that of her brother, her family, her community has a wonderful mix of practicality and openness to new ideas. She loved her brother deeply, but also loves her family too. She exposes the bullying, ignorance and more of the community and comes to understand other outcast community members. With a resoluteness that often appears to border on stubbornness, she saves the family she can. Tantony includes some words from the almost extinct Manx language, but also includes very poetic language. It is a potage of history and wonder. Recommended for secondary school readers.

Tantony (Secrets of Carrick)

Tantony, Ananda Braxton-Smith
Black Dog Books 2011
ISBN: 9781742031668

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Opal Dreaming, by Karen Wood

‘WOOHOO!’ Jess slid down the front stair rail, her arms out wide, and landed expertly on the driveway. ‘Today’s the day!’
For the first time in weeks, the sky was a clear blue, and the air was still, not a breath of wind. The sun was warm on Jess’s face and everything about the day seemed perfect. She skipped to the feed shed, hauled out some hay and threw it over the fence. ‘Come on, Dodger, it’s time to go and get Opal!’
Dodger nickered to her and began snuffling at the hay. Jess stepped through the fence and gave the old stock-horse a big hug. ‘Eighteen months we’ve been waiting,’ she said, running her hands through his shaggy brown coat. ‘I can’t believe I can finally bring her home!’

Jess has been waiting for her new foal for so long, even before she was born and finally the day arrives. But a storm on the way home starts a whole chain of trouble for Opal. No matter how she tries, Jess cannot help but see what everyone else can see – there’s something wrong with the little filly. But as time for droving comes, no one can work out quite what the trouble is. Jess refuses to give up, even when it seems there is no hope. Meanwhile she gets a chance to join the drovers with her friends, even if it’s only as assistant camp cook and washergirl. It’s wonderful being out in the bush, droving the cattle and proving that she’s as good as the boys, but Jess can’t stop thinking about Opal and whether she’ll survive. Even when there are distractions like Luke…

Opal Dreaming is the third in the Diamond Spirit series and the second in Jess’s voice. The middle novel, ‘Moonstone Promise’ is told from Luke’s point of view. All the characters have grown and matured in the two years that have passed. Jess is just as horse-focussed as she was in ‘Diamond Spirit’, but her world is growing. She still longs for her ‘once in a lifetime’ horse, but she’s beginning to be aware of the personalities around her, their challenges and struggles. She’s always liked Luke, but from afar. Now’s she’s getting to know him properly. Lawson’s mare Marnie is mother to Opal, and technically Lawson still owns Opal. Jess and Lawson seem at loggerheads, and Jess begins to realise that he’s not just being difficult about handing over Opal. He’s concerned for her too. There are themes of family and trust and connection with land. The aboriginal characters in Opal Dreaming are not caricatures or conveniences, and help to communicate their deep connectedness with the ground. Recommended for secondary readers and anyone who loves horses.

Opal Dreaming , Karen Wood
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN: 9781742373171

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews

From Kinglake to Kabul

When an Afghan rug is made, many knots are tied. Each one is a connection between individual strands. Standing back from the work, a strange magic occurs. The rug can be seen in its beautiful entirety: the intricate design, the startling colour, the richness of materia. So it is in this book, each story knot tying people and two resilient communities together forever.

From Kinglake to Kabul is a collection of stories, both fiction and factual. The stories come from an international school in Kabul in Afghanistan and from secondary students from Kinglake who were affected by the Black Saturday fires of February 7 2009. Here, teenagers, supported by family, teachers and others, discover that despite the apparent difference in their appearance, landscape and history, they have much in common. Contributors not only write their own story, but in some cases, respond to the stories of others. Sometimes they are surprised at the similarities in their lives, sometimes by the difference. But always there is empathy and enhanced understanding of themselves and of others.

A collection of stories from a war-torn, faraway country and a fire-ravaged community. From the outside, it could be difficult to expect this to be an easy or a fun read. But it is. It has sadness, plenty of that, but the overwhelming sense is of people surviving, finding ways to not only survive but thrive in challenging circumstances. It doesn’t pretend life is easy, but demonstrates the resilience and humour of humans all over our world. There are Afghan stories of returned refugees and the other-nationals who help them. There are stories of those who escaped unimaginable terror, changed but not beaten. The stories are creatively and effectively linked by the editors, giving connection to very disparate stories. This is a fabulous collection which should be read by everyone, but particularly those who don’t yet understand that we are one people. Recommended for upper primary and beyond.

From Kinglake to Kabul, Ed Neil Grant and David Williams
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN: 9781742375304

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Dead Certain, by Sally Gould

This whole funeral thing was a bit weird. It was meant to be about Uncle Jack, but he wasn’t even here. Well, his body was in the shiny timber coffin at the front. White flowers lay on top. Photos of him and his cars were propped up against it. But I knew his soul wasn’t in there ‘cause he was dead.
I glanced up. He might be sitting back and watching us from heaven. Maybe Pop was sitting next to him.
Back here on earth, I could see Nanna at the front. She wasn’t crying; she looked empty. Aunt Avril was sitting next to Nanna, sobbing into her hanky.

Max is upset when his Uncle Jack dies. He was Max’s favourite uncle and together they worked on the cars that were Uncle Jack’s pride and joy. Even though everyone knew his heart was dodgy, no one expected him to die just yet. Then Max realises that Nanna has organised for Uncle Jack to be cremated. That’s not what Uncle Jack wanted. But no one else seems to know, and no one is listening to Max. Max gets into enough trouble in a normal day and no one is very impressed when he begins to disrupt the funeral. His brother Charlie is sceptical, Dad gives him a dirty look and he can’t even imagine what Mum and Nanna will say. It looks like it’s all up to Max, no matter what anyone else says or thinks. He’s dead certain what must be done.

Dead Certain is a new offering from Walker Books’ series of short chapter books for upper-primary readers. There’s not a lot funny about a funeral or the premature death of a family member, but Sally Gould manages to infuse ‘Dead Certain’ with plenty of black humour. Readers will simultaneously gasp and giggle as Max does his best to give his favourite uncle the send off he would have wanted. Dead Certain uses first person to good effect. The reader is up close and personal as Max stumbles from one oops! moment to another. It’s easy to empathise with Max, as well as with the reactions of those around him. A very entertaining read recommended for upper primary and early secondary reluctant readers.

Dead Certain (Lightning Strikes)

Dead Certain, Sally Gould
Walker Books 2011
ISBN: 9781921529900

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

The Great Expedition, by Peter Carnavas

It was the morning of the great expedition. Robert gazed at the country before him.
He met with his senior officer
Final instructions were given.
The parcel was handed over.

A group of explorers are charged with a mission to deliver a parcel. They set out with all the supplies necessary for their journey. But the expedition is beset by challenges and not all the group will reach their destination, achieve their goal. Loosely based on the expedition of Burke and Wills, this group of intrepid explorers embark on their journey with sincere intent. But some obstacles are harder than others to overcome, and one by one, they fall. Only at journey’s end, can their trek be reviewed in its entirety and its success measured. The story is accompanied by Peter Carnavas’ trademark simple lines and delicate watercolours surrounded by plenty of white space and simple font. And watch out for pesky flies!

The Great Expedition is a gentle exploration of child’s play. Carnavas has clearly spent time watching small children and their side-by-side play as well as their on-again-off-again cooperative play. Here is an urban expedition that is as fraught with danger (in a small children way) as can be. First there is a plan, then an introduction of all the characters and their roles in the expedition. For children who are interested, there is the opportunity to introduce the story of other explorers and the challenges they faced. The illustrations contain a number of stories, that will encourage rereading. Will Henry, the biologist, manage the wildlife? Will Ivy, the botanist, find new and undiscovered plants? But perhaps the most important of all, how will they work together to reach their objective? Recommended for pre-school and junior-primary children.

The Great Expedition, Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing 2011
ISBN: 9781921042812

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Stresshead, by Allayne Webster

A girl wearing reindeer ears and a name tag: Say Hello to Melanie drags milk through the checkout and shoves it into my green enviro bag. I’m almost sure I see a speech bubble appear above her antlers: I’d rather be anywhere but here.
I can think of more important things I could be doing at a quarter to seven in the morning than buying milk. I need to get home and check the net again. Year Eleven exam results come out today and my Wi-Fi has picked this morning of all mornings to go on the blink. Not a good omen. I’ve double-checked my mobile fifty gazillion times: No Messages.
Today marks the fourth day Jack hasn’t answered my calls, my textsies, emails, Twitter or Facebook. Four totally suck-worthy days of boyfriend incommunicado. That’s as long as we’ve ever gone without talking – a Guinness Book of Records qualifier.

It’s results day and Dennie can’t access the internet. Everyone in her family is a lawyer and it’s crunch time, career-decision-wise. Her boyfriend is AWOL, her best friend has a problem…and…and…it seems everyone wants a piece of Dennie, except when they don’t and they should. Then there’s Clara, friend of Mum’s who doesn’t have a care in the world; a suddenly turning up sister, a secret-sharing mother, an oddly-loquacious overseas brother and Dennie’s head is spinning. Everyone wants to know when she’s going to choose law, like all the rest of the family. Dennie sees them so sure and her insecurities feel like the worst secret in the world. This is going to be her toughest Christmas yet, if she makes it that far.

Yes, Dennie is a stresshead. But she’s got good reason. She seems to be the go-to girl for everyone’s troubles. Her family is united by their connection to law, but for a group of people who talk for a living, they seem to struggle with talking to one another. Like most families, they rub along together without really talking. And when summer heats up, so do emotions in this household. Dennie seems to be the calm one, although she is prone to sudden not-so-tactful outburst. As it must, the pressure begins to tell and Dennie can no longer hold all the secrets, all her fears inside. Help comes from surprising places. And Dennie learns that no one, no one, is exactly as they appear. This is high – almost camp – drama: serious and funny all at the same time. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

Stresshead, Allayne Webster
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918207

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.