Swan Lake by Anne Spudvilas

It is midnight. The young prince has been hunting in the forest with a party of friends. Now he is alone and deep in thought. It is the eve of the grand ball that the Queen is holding in his honour. He must choose a bride from all the princesses in the land. His heart is heavy.

The story of Swan Lake is known and loved. In this picture book version, the story is set out first in text, as it is in the ballet. Each of the three acts is summarised on a single page, then shown in mostly monotone illustrations in the following pages. In the first act, a prince meets the Swan Queen, who has been cursed by a Sorcerer. In Act 2, the ball proceeds and the Prince is bewitched by the Sorcerer’s daughter. In Act 3, he realises he has been tricked and pursues the Swan Queen.

Swan Lake’ is simply glorious, from the swan embrace on the front cover, through the drama and tragedy, all the way to the final dramatic image. Setting it in the three acts allows those familiar with the story to ready themselves for the next instalment, and for those new to the story to absorb the words before tipping headlong into the romance of the images. It is no surprise that the story spills across 48 pages rather than the more familiar 32 pages. Colour is used sparingly and with great insight and skill. Notes at the end give some hints of techniques used to create images. Highly recommended for lovers of dance and this story; for artists and creators; and for readers of all ages.

Swan Lake, Anne Spudvilas
Allen & Unwin 2017
ISBN: 9781743318454

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

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
www.clairesaxby.com

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
www.clairesaxby.com

Mallee Boys by Charlie Archbold

Sandy
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.
Red
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
www.clairesaxby.com

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
www.clairesaxby.com

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
www.clairesaxby.com

First Day by Margaret Wild, ill Kim Gamble

Before school
Salma gets out the ham, salad and cheese. She’s making her own lunch because her mum is busy with the three little ones. Salma makes the biggest, fattest sandwich ever.
Khalil puts on his shiny new shoes. He is excellent at tying his shoelaces. He can do double bows, even triple bows! He likes tying shoelaces more than anything in the world.

It’s the first day of school for 6 children and the first day back at school for one of the mums. Each child and family is introduced separately, with telling details about their personality and home structure. They travel to school and meet their teacher and the pages are crammed depictions of this first school day and the responses of individuals to the class and to each other. Alex’s dog visits and she has a brilliant idea. When their day is done, the children (and dog) all return home. Watercolour and pencil illustrations begin simply, then as the children move through their day, the images become a combination of group ‘shots’ and vignettes.

‘First Day’ was initially published in 1999, but loses none of its relevance in 2017. The children, from diverse homes, carry all the innocence, anticipation, trepidation and bravery that are displayed in any first day classroom. It’s a delight to see the classroom through the eyes of these young children and to remember that first days don’t ever stop. It’s Alex’s Mum’s first day back at ‘school’ and she carries many of the same emotions and fears as the children – a lovely thing for young children to understand. The illustrations invite empathy and model gentleness. Ideal for use at home and in the classroom. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.
First Day, Margaret Wild ill Kim Gamble Allen & Unwin 2017 ISBN: 9781760293918

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

48 Hours: The Vanishing by Gabrielle Lord

‘Thank you, Chief,’Jazmine murmured to herself as she walked along a tree-lined street on her way to school. She tucked a stray lock of thick blonde hair behind her ear.
‘Earth to Jazmine, hello?’
‘Huh?’ Jazmine snapped out of her daydream and turned to find her friend Mackenzie glaring at her through narrowed dark eyes.
‘Aside from that mumbling, you haven’t said a word since we started walking to Anika’s!’ Mackenzie fumed, flinging her loose, long black hair over her shoulder in a huff. ‘Jazz, it’s bad enough with Anika going on about that old journal she found, and now you won’t even talk to me because you’re busy solving crimes in your head. Plus you nearly walked into that tree!’

Jazz’s best friend has disappeared, kidnapped. Phoenix has been suspended from school. Jazz and Phoenix are most definitely NOT friends. Even though Jazz loves to solve crimes and mysteries, and Phoenix knows heaps about forensics. But if they are going to find Anika in the next 48 hours – and they both know this is crucial – then they are going to have to find a way to work together. So begins an uneasy alliance as they race the clock to find Jazz’s friend.

‘48 Hours’ is the first in a new series from Gabrielle Lord, with two further titles currently underway. Jazz and Phoenix are the crime-solving duo with complementary skills, though at first they struggle to work cohesively. As well as chasing clues, they must evade parents who are 1. worried about them, 2. cross with them for hacking 3. distressed because their daughter is missing. This is a fast-paced action thriller for crime aficionados in mid- to upper-primary years.
48 Hours: The Vanishing, Gabrielle Lord Scholastic Australia 2017 ISBN:9781743629758

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Kizmet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure by Frank Woodley

From the outside the IMPACT headquarters looked like any boring office building.
But inside was a hive of activity. Detectives rushed from room to room, carrying documents. A scientist peered into a glass cabinet full of large hairy spiders, while in the back ground her colleague tested the strength of a cable made from synthetic spider silk. All this was going on around us as we sat in the meeting area of the Central Command Hub.
When I say ‘we’ I mean me and Kismet, and her dad, Spencer Papancillo. We work together solving mysteries.

Kismet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure’ is Kismet’s third adventure. All are told from the perspective of Gretchen, her Currawong. The mystery-solving trio of Kismet, her hapless dad and Gretchen are early to a meeting and catching up with friends at IMPACT when the roof explodes and their friend is kidnapped. Kismet finds a clue, Chief Wodjet gets a phone call and the trio are off on a world-wide hunt for Gita, and a solution to a 300-year-old mystery. High drama ensues. Each chapter, and many openings include black and white illustrations.

Kizmet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure’ is high camp drama, no surprise really when the viewpoint character is a currawong. Fortunately, the decisions are mostly made by Kizmet, who is much calmer and more clear-headed than her pet or her father. There are plenty of chuckles to be had as disasters and mis-steps beset the ‘goodies’ along the pathway to solving their mystery. Suited to independent readers who enjoy a mystery and still like  an illustration or two to break up the text.

Kizmet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure, Frank Woodley, Puffin Books 2017 ISBN: 9780143783282

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Trouble and the Exploding House by Cate Whittle ill Stephen Michael King

We had a visitor the other day. Which is weird. We don’t usually get visitors. For one, we live way up in the mountains and we don’t even have a road that comes to our place. And, for seconds, we live with a giant green dragon with blue wings and dried scaly bits around his ears. Which puts most people off.

Life is always going to be interesting when you live with a dragon who can change size at will. But when the Government man arrives and tells you that it’s not possible for you to continue to live in your house because it is in a Wildlife Park, things become even more ‘interesting’. The house was carried there by a dragon (Trouble) and it’s going to be difficult to move it, so the government says it will have to be blown up. Very soon. The race is on, to save their home. In between, Georgia continues to navigate school and friends and keeping Trouble out of … trouble. Most openings include black and white illustrations.

Trouble and the Penn family met when Trouble relocated their home. In this, the fourth adventure with Trouble, they are more or less accustomed to living with a dragon. There are definite advantages including riding to school, work and shopping on Trouble’s broad back. But there are also challenges, just like with any pet, and in any family. Georgia, as first person narrator, simply tells it like it is when you live on a mountain with a dragon. Humour sits underneath every sentence, every outrageous situation, but each is presented as very normal in the life of Georgia and the Penns. Recommended for newly independent readers comfortable with a longer story, but who will still enjoy the extra richness that illustrations bring.
Trouble and the Exploding House, Cate Whittle ill Stephen Michael King Omnibus Books 2017 ISBN: 9781742990798
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com