Pippa’s Island: The Beach Shack Cafe

Outside, kids were running, shouting, playing and laughing. If I closed my eyes it sounded just like the playground of my old school back in London. But instead of cool and misty air, the sun shone down bright and hot. The air smelled different too. All sea-salty and spicy. And of course the biggest difference was that almost everyone was a stranger.

Pippa and her family might have moved to an idyllic island town, but that doesn’t make it easy. She has left behind friends she’s known since nursery school in London, and moved across the world to Australia, where everything seems different. On top of that, they are living in a caravan in her grandparents’ garden while Mum puts everything into renovating a run-down boatshed she wants to make into a cafe bookshop. Pippa isn’t sure it will work, but when she makes some new friends, things start looking up.

The Beach Shack Cafe is the first title in a new series following Pippa’s new life on Kira Island. Pippa faces the challenges of a new start with the help of her thoughtful, if slightly distracted, mum, and through trial and occasional error.

Young readers will love the island setting and will look forward to more installments.

Pippa’s Island 1: The Beach Shack Cafe, by Belinda Murrell
Random House Australia, 2017
ISBN 9780143783671

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise by Mark Carthew ill Simon Prescott

On the first of December, Marigold Mouse
found a rather large box at the front of her house.
Ms Marigold Mouse
Busselton Road
*Do not bend*
Sender: Mrs M. Mouse (Snr)

It’s Christmas and Marigold finds a box on her doorstep. She opens it to find a letter from her mother and a box full of tree and Christmas decorations, a memory in each one. From her window she spies her neighbour Marvin. His aloneness and loneliness radiates through the window, and she invites him to join her. Together they decorate the tree, share Christmas memories and celebrate the spirit of Christmas. Illustrations show a snowy Christmas, teddy bear-like mice and gingerbread-like houses.

Marvin and Marigold live side-by-side. When her parcel arrives, Marigold is happy to invite her friend to share the decorating of the Christmas tree. He brings a snack to share. Gentle rhyme details the friendship and the sharing of Marigold’s family tree tradition. Inherent in the rhyme and the illustration is the reminder that Christmas is about sharing with those around you. The final image shows the friends sitting by the fire, with both stockings hung together as they share a meal and more chat. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise, Mark Carthew ill Simon Prescott
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925259991

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Sage Cookson’s Literary Launch by Sally Murphy

‘Come on Sage, it’s not that bad,’ my friend Lucy says, one hand on my shoulder. Í know you can do it.’
Tears spring to my eyes. ‘I don’t think I can, Lucy. I think I’d rather fail!’
I look around the room at the rest of our classmates, all busy working on their task, or talking about it, or trying to get away with doing other things without the teacher, Mr Duke, noticing. I wonder if any of them feels as bad as I do about our assignment.

Ten-year-old Sage Cookson spends a lot of time travelling with her TV chef parents. It’s an exciting and varied life but Sage is often absent from the school she attends with best friend, Lucy. While she stays in touch with Lucy when she’s away, she doesn’t know her other classmates that well. When Mr Duke sets them an assignment to deliver a three-minute no-notes presentation to the class, Sage is terrified. Her normal sunny confidence vanishes. She has no idea what to talk about and she is convinced she will never be able to speak in front of the whole class. At home, everyone is excited about the impending launch of Mum’s cook book, so she keeps her worries to herself.

Confident people always seem that they can do anything, and it can be hard to believe that they ever experience nerves. But often, they have worked hard to be able to overcome the same nervousness that first-timers experience. Sage doesn’t want to disturb her parents when they are so busy. Her parents might be busy but they can also ‘read’ Sage and they want to help her. They, Lucy, and new family friend, Tori, offer a number of strategies, but in the end Sage has to make her own decisions, and to make her own presentation. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Literary Launch, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594010

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost by Sally Murphy

‘You stay safe,’ my friend Lucy instructs me. and have a wonderful Christmas. I’ll miss you!’
‘I’ll miss you too!’ I say. Have the best Christmas ever.’
Lucy climbs into her dad’s waiting car, clutching the Christmas present I’ve given her.
‘And no pressie-poking!’ I call.
‘Same to you,’ she says, grinning as I hold up the gift that she has given me. ‘Bye Sage!’

It’s Christmas time and Sage and her TV chef family are flying to Western Australia to film a world record attempt at making the largest ever pavlova. The film crew are already there, now it’s time for Mum, Dad and Sage to meet Myra, who will be making the pavlova record-attempt at an old brickwork factory. There are rumours of a ghost at the brickworks, and when things start to go wrong, Sage begins to wonder if the rumours might be true. There’s nothing Sage likes more than a mystery. Since everyone else is busy, she’ll just have to investigate by herself.

Sage has an exciting life accompanying her parents and their crew around Australia. This year has been particularly exciting with several dramatic episodes. Her parents are busy setting up the event and Sage has time to notice things that others may not. Her sleuthing always ends well, though there are often some tense moments. She doesn’t always get things right but she keeps trying. Sage’s adventures are always exciting as she visits different regions of Australia. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594058

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat by Winnie Salamon

Call me old-fashioned, but there’s nothing quite like a department store in the middle of the week. Quiet, shiny, anonymous. You could spend an entire day in the lingerie section, surrounded by lace, elastic and padded inserts and nobody would consider you a pervert because they wouldn’t even notice. Watching the flat screens in electricals, trying out mattresses in bedding, browsing through racks of dresses that cost $2000 each. Applying hand cream, perfume, lipstick. All without a single, ‘Can I help you?’

Winter seems to know exactly what she wants from life. She loves fashion and design and has an enviable talent in making her designs translate from the page to wearable art. She has great friends and a supportive family. But at sixteen years old, she’s starting to wonder if things might be better, if even her best friends and her family might love her better, more, if she wasn’t quite so fat. It might also help in the ‘never been kissed’ department too. Scratch the surface of any ‘perfect’ life and there’s plenty of non-perfection to be found. Although it can be harder to believe, non-perfection can be more interesting.

Everyone has secrets. And secret thoughts. Particularly in adolescence. It’s a time of discovery, of working out who you are, and also of looking at others around you in new ways. Hormones play their part in realigning understanding of friendships and family. ‘Pretty Girls Don’t Eat’ offers an opportunity to unstitch and refashion beliefs of self and others. There’s plenty here for discussion. How does a seemingly together teenager start believing negative self-talk? How perfect are the ‘perfect’ lives of everyone else? There are some great role models here – not perfect ones – and a hopeful future. Recommended for early- to mid-secondary readers.

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat, Winnie Salamon
Ford St Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925272772

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Paper Cranes Don’t Fly by Peter Vu

I wake up in the bed that isn’t really mine. What have I done to deserve being stuck in this place again? I ask myself despite the fact that I don’t believe in the concept of karma and its spiritual principles of cause and effect.
Even if karma actually exist, I’m pretty sure I haven’t done anything to deserve seeing its bad side. But I once read – I don’t remember where – that everything that has happened in our lives has been preparation for moments that are yet to come. Maybe that is true. Or maybe it isn’t.
Or maybe it’s just too damned philosophical for me to understand. I don’t know.
I gaze out the window. From five storeys up, the view is surprisingly cheerful considering that I’m looking at the outside of a children’s hospital.

Seventeen-year-old Adam is back in hospital for more surgery. Despite surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, he’s here again. Treatment for his brain tumour has meant that his schooling is interrupted and friendships are difficult to initiate and to maintain. It’s lucky then that he has two enduring friendships from his childhood and a new friend who is also a frequent hospital visitor. Adam starts writing down his story to show that he is more than the illness that is recurring. He continues it, including flashbacks, as a way of getting through long days in hospital.

Friendship is important to most people, but it’s especially important to teenagers and Adam is no exception. He’s lucky enough to have a family, parents and a brother, but it is his friends who keep him going. Through them he has a link to the world beyond the hospital walls, and some semblance of normalcy. Their friendship allows him to be a teenager, who is much more than just a medical diagnosis.

Paper Planes Don’t Fly’ is a portrait of a teenager who just happens to also be sometimes unwell. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

Paper Cranes Don’t Fly, Peter Vu
Ford Street Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925272765

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Ollie’s Treasure by Lynn Jenkins & Kirrili Lonergan

Ollie loved treasure hunts.
His grandma knew he loved them, so she sent him a treasure map.
In a letter.

Ollie loves treasure hunts and he’s very excited when his grandma, Gran, sends him a treasure map. Ollie happily speculates on what the treasure might be. Each clue has him moving closer to the ‘happiness always’ treasure that Gran promises. He follows her instructions to the letter, relishing each activity. Finally he reaches the treasure. It is nothing he had imagined. It takes Gran’s final instruction to help him understand and appreciate this treasure. Illustrations are loose black line and goache, mostly set in white space.

Ollie’s Treasure’ has a clear purpose: to model mindfulness in young children. Ollie clearly has a strong relationship with Gran, but he also clearly has very strong ideas about what a treasure is. Gran uses his love of treasure hunts to point out the wonder in the world he inhabits. Although Ollie enjoys the task, it is the potential reward that drives him forward. His disappointment when the treasure is revealed is ameliorated by Gran’s ‘unpacking’ of the real, and lifelong, treasure he can enjoy. Together they share happiness. Illustrations clearly depict Ollie’s emotions. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Ollie’s Treasure, Lynn Jenkins & Kirrili Lonergan
EK Books 2017
ISBN: 9781925335422

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

My Dog Socks by Robyn Osborne ill Sadami Konchi

Most people think Socks is an ordinary dog,
but when we hike through the forest,
he turns into a … black bear!
Scraping at tree trunks and sniffing the air,
clawing and gnawing, scrabbling and dabbling.

A boy introduces the reader to his dog, explaining that he might look like an ordinary dog, but he is in fact much more than that. He then offers examples of his dog transforming in different situations/environments, rhythmically detailing his actions. Finally, the boy shares the most transformative dog trait of all. Illustrations in pencil and watercolour fill each opening, each scene. Look out for the shadows.

‘My Dog Socks’ is a story of the love between a boy and his dog. His dog is by turns brave, intrepid, greedy and mischievous – mirroring his own behaviour. While different behaviours are attributed to many other animals, they also showcase the many facets of dog (and child?) behaviour. Animal shadows give the young reader the opportunity to guess what animal Socks has become. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers and perhaps also for families considering a pet of the canine variety.

My Dog Socks, Robyn Osborne ill Sadami Konchi
Ford Street Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925272826

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Keeper of the Crystals 6: Eve and the Hidden Giant by Jess Black

There’s nothing like being out in the bush, thought Eve.
Eve loved hearing the bellbirds chiming and the cicadas humming. Most of all, though, she loved it when everything was silent, and all she could hear was her own breathing as we walked, the crunch of hiking books on the rough ground … and, of course, the flap of a dragon’s wings.

Eve, her friend Oliver, and her dragon Ingvar are on a bushwalk. She’s glad it’s school holidays because sometimes it’s tiring to be a Keeper of the Crystals as well as a normal 10-year-old school girl. Even so, when a mythical creature needs her, calls her, she’s more than happy to help. This time, the trio are whisked (blown) away to an island where giants live. The giant who has called Eve and her friends needs her help to bring stability back to the island where ‘creator’ and ‘rogue’ giants are fighting one another.

Eve and the Hidden Giant is the sixth in this fantastical series from New Frontier Publishing. This instalment features earthquakes and tsunamis, and warring adult giants. It’s up to the younger set, both giant and human (and with the help of a dragon) to smooth over old wounds, and forge a new peace. Trotag, a shy young giant, wants to move beyond long-held animosities and show that with some goodwill, all giants can again live in harmony. The real world bookends the fantasy, making these stories suitable for gentle souls. Recommended for newly independent readers ready for non-illustrated texts.

Keeper of the Crystals 6: Eve and the Hidden Giant, Jess Black
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594003

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Eddie Frogbert by Sue deGennaro

Eddie Frogbert wasn’t like other frogs.
While all the other frogs would hippity hop around the pond, Eddie preferred to keep his feet firmly on the ground.

Eddie Frogbert keeps himself busy with plenty of different activities, like science and knitting. Everything except leaping in the pond. But, when every-hippity hopping friend he knows enters a diving competition, he wonders whether he might be a bit interested. Quietly, gently, he decides to work up to maybe, possibly, joining in. Perhaps he can join the fun. But he will do it in his own way.

Illustrations use a limited palette of blues and greens (and tiny red accents) set in blue-grey pages. Backgrounds are stripped back and include collage and drawn textures. The embossed front page with Eddie atop the diving board tower shows his apprehension and his bravery. Look out for the snail.
Eddie Frogbert is a quietly determined frog. While he enjoys his normal activity, he also wants to overcome his apprehensions about leaping and join his friends in the pond. So rather than let his fear overwhelm him, he chooses quiet moments to test himself. When his ultimate goal is beyond his reach, he stages his training to build up to it.

Told with gentle humour, Eddie’s story is one of persistence and determination, and will resonate with many young people (and not so young?) For a story-within-a-story follow the journey of the snail which begins in the front endpapers and continues throughout. Recommended for pre- and early schoolers.

Eddie Frogbert, Sue deGennaro
Scholastic Press 2017
ISBN: 9781760276782

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller