Ruben, by Bruce Whatley

As he did every day, Ruben tied his shoes, pulled his hat firmly down on his head and grabbed his goggles and coat.
It was time to slip into the street and head for Block City.

Alone on the streets of a derelict futuristic city, Ruben livessurrounded by the things he has found, and scavenging what he needs to survive. But it is getting increasingly hard to ednure. When he meets a girl, a fewllow scavenger, the pair offer each other some comfort and exchange their knowledge. bak c in his home, Ruben realsies that he needs more.

Ruben is an eerie, thought provoking glimpse at a dystopian future where machines abound, and children struggle for survival in a world with seemingly few humans. With sparse text and rich, complex greay-scale illustrations, much of the meaning is for the reader to discover or to create, and this is a book which will evoke discussion and require much thought.

Suitable for children and adults, Ruben is a work of art.

Ruben , by Bruce Whatley
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781743810354

In the Dark Spaces, by Cally Black

The stranger keeps coming, long-legged stretches of shiny black uniform kicking down the ramp. And it’s not a person. Facing McVeigh is this tall half-crow, half-scarecrow things, all dressed in black. SHiny black armoured ridges line down the centre of its chest and across its shoulders like the back of a crocodile. Its head is a massive beaked helmet. And it’s not a leathery cape, cos it’s moving by itself. They’re wings. Wings that lift higher and quiver….
My scalp prickles. Not right. This is not right. This is a real thing!

Tamara has spent most of her life hiding. Since she was orphaned, her Aunt Lazella has kept her hidden on the ships where she ekes out a living in the kitchens. Now, Tamara is responsible for keepign her little cousin, Gub, silent while Lazella works. But if she can get strong enough to work, too, their fortunes will improve.

When the ship is raided by strange crow-like figures, Tamara finds her fortunes changing in a completely different way. Separated from Gub, Tamara finds herself a prisoner of the invaders, taken back to their hive where she must figure out a way to stay alive long enough to figure out how to get back to her cousin. But, separated by space, this is not going to be asy.

In the Dark Spaces is a stunning spec-fic offering. Set in an unnamed future where fleets of starships mine space for the minerals necessary for survival on Earth, the story explores what happens when an alien race objects to the human presence, which threatens its own existence. Fourteen year old Tamara, who knows too well the downsides of human society, gets to experience first hand the highs and lows of an alternative civilisation, as well as being drawn into the quest for peace.

Tamara is an intriguing character, whose near-silent existence as a stowaway in her aunt’s quarters is swapped for one where she is initially voiceless because of the barriers of language. Her tenacity, coupled with her willingness to learn and to question, are key to her survival, and her loyalty to her absent cousin is a key factor in her survival.

Explroing themes including language, loyalty, human rights and so much more,
In the Dark Spaces is an outstanding read.

In the Dark Spaces, by Cally Black
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2017
ISBN 9781760128647

Slowly! Slowly! by T. M. Clark, ill Helene Magisson

Bongani stood tall.
‘Dad, am I big enough? Am I higher than the hyena? Can I go to school?’
‘No, my son. But today you can look after the crops. Chase the animals away.’

Bongani is desperate to go to school, but he’s too small. His father has another job for him. He can protect the crops from the cunning crows and the marching monkeys. He does his jobs but would rather be at school with his cousins. His grandfather, seeing his sadness, tells him that his cousins will never have the chance to catch a monkey. Despite his sadness, Bongani is intrigued. Slowly, slowly, says his grandfather. That’s how you catch a monkey. Illustrations are in pencil and watercolour in rich greens and blues, purples and oranges.

It’s a terrible thing to be too small to do what you want to do, when growing is taking too long. Bongani is keen to go to school but he is too small. His father sets him a task to keep him occupied but it is his grandfather who diverts him and teaches him how to catch a monkey. It is Bongani, however, who makes his own decisions once a monkey is caught. Grandfather’s gentleness and instructions allow Bongani to learn how to catch a monkey, and then to learn the consequences of the catching. A lovely story of family and learning. An interpretation of a traditional African tale, ‘Slowly! Slowly!’ will appeal to pre- and early-schoolers.

Slowly! Slowly! T. M. Clark ill Helene Magisson
Wombat Books 2017
ISBN: 9781925563221

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy, by Anna Pignataro

In your arms it’s safe and snug,
you always give a thousand hugs.
And I’m as happy as can be-
one hug is not enough for me!

Starting at home and then out into the day a father and child go through the day playing, resting and even overcoming obstacles in the ford of bad weather – with hugs every step of the way.

While the text could be any pairing of adult and child, the illustrations, coupled with the use of ‘Daddy’ in the title, show this pair as a father and infant polar bear. Home is an igloo, and most of the book takes place outside against snowy backgrounds. The palette of mainly whites and greys is gently brightened with soft yellows of light and muted blue skies and snowflakes. This visual gentleness echoes the lyrical rhyming text, making it suitable for cuddle time or bed time.

A beautiful, tender celebration of father-child bonds.

A Thousand Hugs from Daddy, by AnnaPignataro
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781760276973

Feathers, by Phil Cummings & Phil Lesnie

The boy spied a falling feather
and drifting.
He climbed to the top of a craggy mountain and caught it.
It was soft and smooth on his grimy chief.

When the sun rises on a crisp,cloudy day a sandpiper knows it is time to leave, so it takes flight, heading for warmer climes. First though, on its long journey, it flies over scenes of destruction and hardship – an earthquake, a war zone and a flood. In each place,a feather falls to earth, offering hope to a child below. Finally, as the bird reaches safety near Mia’s house, it drops one last feather. When Mia catches it, she feels lucky. The reader, who has seen the hardships faced by the other children, is particularly aware of how lucky Mia is.

Feathers is a beautiful picture book, on the surface tracing the story of a bird’s migration but, at the same time, exploring the differing fortunes of children across the globe. The theme of hope, symbolised by the bird’s feathers, is demonstrated with exquisite simplicity in both the text and in the outstanding watercolour,pencil and gouache illustrations.

Just beautiful.

Feathers , by PhilCummings andPhilLesnie
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781760157357

The Way Back, by Kylie Ladd

Terry swallowed. ‘You need to call Matt, get him back here. I hope I’m wrong, but when the dogs are onto something and then it suddenly vanishes it usually means the person has got into a car, or been picked up and carried. If Charlie was still anywhere near where we found her helmet we’d have her by now, but she’s not.’ He put his hand on her arm. ‘This changes things, Rachael. I don’t think she’s just missing anymore. We’re dealing with a potential abduction.’

Charlie Johnson is part of a loving family. She has an amazing best friend, and is kind of into Liam, a cute guy from school. But, most of all, she loves horseriding, especially riding Tic-Tac, who she’s finally convinced her parents to lease for her. But one day Charlie and Tic-Tac go out riding, and only Tic-Tac comes back.

For four months, Charlie’s friends and family searched desperately, not knowing if she is dead or alive. For four months, Charlie survives – barely. Finally, she is found wandering and injured, miles from where she was lost. Of course being reunited is wonderful, but can Charlie and her family really heal from what she – and they – have all been through?

The Way Back is a moving story of separation, fear and determination. Ladd explores the emotional complexity of the situation from a number of perspectives, showing that there is no one way that such events can impact on victims, or of dealing with the aftermath of such. Ladd’s empathy and insight take the reader inside a difficult situation in a way which seems real, yet prevents the experience from being overwhelming.


The Way Back, by Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760297138

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables by Tim Harris ill James Hart

Mr Bambuckle’s first day at Blue Valley School was a most remarkable day. the fifteen students of 12B straggled in after the bell to find their new teacher balancing on a unicycle, on top of a desk. He was singing in full voice about ‘glorious days’ and ‘magical ways and, as the students took their seats, he told them it was a rare Mongolian welcome song.

Mr Bambuckle is like no teacher the students of 12B have ever encountered. It’s not just that he can balance on his unicycle on the desk. It’s not just that he seems more exciting than Miss Schlump. He has an answer for their every question, even when he’s saying that it’s too dangerous to meet his Indian spark-maker beetle. Within minutes, he is smiling at their principal, Mr Sternblast, despite the latter’s gruffness. ‘Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables’ begins with character sketches of all the class, and illustrations are scattered throughout.

Mr Bambuckle is more than a little magical. He knows the students’ names before they tell them and he can immediately see what they need from him as a teacher. But even though he can see it, he structures his classes so the students discover their own strengths and challenges. There are no cross words, no punishments, and every member of the class starts to perform to their abilities. In between these subtle lessons, there are stories, jokes, magic and even bacon. What’s not to love? Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables’ is a new series for readers who like their stories wrapped in ridiculousness and humour. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers. Would also work a treat as a read-aloud.
Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables by Tim Harris ill James Hart Random House Australia 2017 ISBN: 9780143785859

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Mallee Boys by Charlie Archbold

You know, when you walk into a murky river you could step on anything. I’ve never understood how easily some people will just leap on in when they can’t see a thing. I suppose it’s like life; maybe I could do with just stepping in more an looking less.
Sandy’s a funny kid. I say kid, but he’s not much younger than me. He’s fifteen. I’m eighteen. It’s only three years but sometimes it seems like thirty. Dad said I burst into the world, born effortlessly on the way to the hospital, which for a first baby was something. I screamed my lungs out and the doc told Mum she was a natural. Sandy though was way too early. Born premmie, he had to spend his first few months in hospital. Probably daydreaming in the womb and before he knew it he’d just drifted out.
Typical. Sandy causing a lot of drama for everyone. They had to get the flying doctors out and all sorts.

On a farm in the Mallee, Sandy and Red and their dad are adjusting to life following the death of their mother. Sandy is no natural farm boy, scared of goats and allergic to spring. He keeps his secrets tight. Red loves the farm but is so angry with the world that he may as well be a willy-willy – wild and out of control. Their dad is just trying to keep it together. Three of them, no talking, in a brutal landscape of wind and searing heat. It’s going to be a big year.

Mallee Boys’ is a wrenching, real story about grief and survival. It’s also about choosing your path, even if it’s not easy and might take you away from everything you know. The landscape is tough, but full of beauty for those who look for it. Plenty of themes in here: loss, responsibility, change, family, truth, communication. Without their mum to guide them, and with their dad drowning in his own loss, two young men have to make their own decisions and live with them. Recommended for mid- upper-secondary readers.
Mallee Boys, Charlie Archbold

Wakefield Press 2017 ISBN: 9781743055007

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Ickyfoodia: the Ultimate Guide to Disgusting Food by The Listies aka Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins

Ickyfoodia is our alphabetical guide to the disgusting foods, horrible recipes and weird meals that don’t get covered in other food books. We love food – in fact, we eat it every day! Sometimes the food we eat is delicious, but sometimes it’s totally grow.
We looked at lots and lots of food books and found that they are all about edible, healthy and altogether undisgusting foods But what about the other things we eat? The horrible hamburgers? The Terrible toast? The nasty noodles?

The Listies bring you an extravaganza of foods you may never have considered; food you may have eaten but have never seen in a cook book. Until now. ‘Ickyfoodia’ is dedicated to the ‘weirdo meal, the edible invention, things we eat when we aren’t sure we should’. Illustrated by the authors, there are exploding saucepans, glow-in-the-dark carrots, left-over mummifried chicken and all manner of other delicacies to see and make. Beware: there is a linguini bikini and vomatoes and other tummy-turning treats.

‘Ickyfoodia’ is an alphabet of awfulness, a tabling of terribleness, a mish-mash of monstrosities. There are recipes, cartoons, photos, lists, puns, and many many word plays. You may not want an invitation to any dinner proposed by the Listies, but you might want to share the recipes out loud. If you like your puns, and are a fan of gross, then this is the book for you. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Ickyfoodia: the Ultimate Guide to Disgusting Food, the Listies (Matt Kelly and Richard Higgins)
Penguin 2017
ISBN: 9780143784388

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Odo and Eleanor did not set out to find their destiny. At best, they were hoping for eels.
‘I’ve never seen the river so low before,’ said Odo as he climbed down the banks and began to trudge through the thick, reddish mud. He’d walked along and waded in the same stretch of the Silverrun for what felt like every single day of his life. Like his days, the river was always much the same. But now, there was a lot more mud and a lot less river.

While searching for eels, Odo unearths a sword in the mud beside the river. He can’t believe that he is the sword’s ‘true master’. Neither can Eleanor. It’s HER dream to be a knight, not Odo’s. But the sword is adamant – Odo is now Sir Odo, and before long, the trio are off on a quest. This makes the sword, called Biter, and Eleanor very happy. Odo’s still not convinced, but gives in to the entreaties of the other two. And a big quest it is too, destined to take them to many places and into many dangerous adventures.

Have Sword, Will Travel’ is Book 1 in a new series from Garth Nix and Sean Williams. It follows the adventures of two young friends who learn a lot about themselves as they travel far from their homes. Biter, the sword, has a very traditional notion of what it means to be a knight, and is keen to impose these notions on every situation they encounter. But, although Odo and Eleanor are young, they are very good at working together and solving problems. There are additional mysteries throughout that will surely surface in subsequent titles. Ideal for introducing young, competent readers to fantasy, ‘Have Sword, Will Travel’ is also jam-packed with humour. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Have Sword, Will Travel, Garth Nix & Sean Williams
Allen & Unwin 2017 ISBN: 9781742374024

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller