Little Witch 1: Secrets and Spells by Aleesah Darlison

Courtney squeezed her eyes together, peering through the rain beating against the car window.
‘What a dog box,’ she moaned, staring at the cottage with its rusted tin roof and paint-peeling walls.
‘No, I take that back. That house is so ugly not even a dog would live there.
Dad twisted around to glare at Courtney. ‘I know this isn’t our idea of fun, Court.’
‘You’re right about that,’ Courtney said. This place is more like my idea of torture.’

Courtney Little and her parents have come to stay in Mixton Bay following the death of the grandmother she’s never met. Her father and her grandmother haven’t spoken in years, and Courtney isn’t thrilled that she’s being dragged to this small town to fix up and sell her grandmother’s house. But now she’s here, she’s curious. What happened here? Why did her father leave? Why is he so grumpy? What was her grandmother like? She discovers that although she never met her grandmother, her grandmother knew about her and has left a book for her. She meets Justice, surfer and potential friend. Life in Mixton Bay may be more interesting than first seemed possible.

Secrets and Spells’ is the first instalment in a magical new series from Aleesah Darlison and Big Sky Publishing. Courtney’s life until now has been a gypsy trail of moving from place to place as her architect father and decorator mother buy, renovate and sell houses. This house may be different, as there is history and mystery here, but Courtney is not convinced. Courtney’s friend-making reluctance and inexperience initially manifest as grumpiness but are overcome by the friendliness of Justice and others. Themes include family, forgiveness, magic and communication. Look out for more magic to come. Recommended for independent readers and lovers of magic.

Little Witch 1: Secrets and Spells, Aleesah Darlison
Big Sky Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925520101

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

Little Lunch Triple the Trouble by Danny Katz ill Mitch Vane

The Body Bus
A truck was parked in the playground.
It was parked behind a portable classroom.
On the side of the truck was a sign. The sign said “Body Bus”.

The Little Lunch crew: Melanie, Rory, Tamara, Battie, Debra-Jo and Atticus are back with three adventures in the classroom and the playground. The Body Bus has the six classmates trying to work out why the Body Bus is in the school yard. In The Band, it rains and Mrs Gonsha races out to rescue a school jumper. She leaves Rory in charge of the class while she dries off, and the classroom transforms then transforms again. In the final story, Kiss Chasey Oval, sees a revival of the game half the class seem to love, and the other half would rather avoid. There are illustrations on every opening.

School is a place for learning, but the learning doesn’t all happen in the classroom, or in scheduled lessons. The six characters in this series have individual strengths and challenges, worries and confidences. Together they represent a broad range of personalities likely to appear in any classroom. Young readers will recognise themselves, their friends and their dilemmas. Originally released as individual stories, Triple the Trouble presents three complete adventures in the same book. Funny and real, the stories in the Little Lunch series will appeal to newly independent readers keen to see themselves reflected in their reading.

Little Lunch, Triple the Trouble, by Danny Katz ill Mitch Vane Black Dog Books 2017 ISBN: 9781925381825

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

Attack of the Giant Robot Zombie Mermaid by Matt Cosgrove

Once upon a slime-covered planet …
… in the deep blue depths of outer space there lived a zombie mermaid.
The youngest and grossest of six annoying sisters, the zombie mermaid lived in the grand outer space palace of her father, the Meerkat. (She was adopted) He was a mean and flatulent ruler of the intergalactic kingdom, and a fast-food fiend!
The walls of the palace were made of french fries and the roof of hot dogs! It was a greasy sight to behold, and it’s making me hungry.

The zombie mermaid is waiting her turn to visit the fun park above their planet where humans went for holidays. Each of her sisters has visited and returned with tales of the wonderful time they’d had. Now, as soon as she turns fifteen years old, it will be her turn. Finally, she reaches her fifteenth birthday and sets out for the fun park, hungry for brains. She has a wonderful time then towards the end of the day spies the perfect brains. But before she can eat this tasty treat, the park closes and she retreats. When she returns home, instead of sharing stories with her sisters, she pines away in her room. Brains, all she wants is brains. Each spread is full of guts, gore, and gratuitous asides.

Attack of the Giant Robot Zombie Mermaid’ is the result of letting Matt Cosgrove near a fairy tale. Text is altered and added to, images are distorted and ‘revised’. It’s truly disgusting. And dreadful. And gory. And more. Readers will lap up the horribleness and laugh at the barely recognisable tale that sits underneath this multi-gory story. Indeed, readers may well be tempted to plunge elbow-deep into a fairytale, dismember and rebuild it in their own style, words and images. You have been warned. Recommended for independent readers.

Attack of the Giant Robot Zombie Mermaid, Matt Cosgrove
Scholastic 2017 ISBN: 9781743811702

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

A Dog’s Tale by Barry Jonsberg ill Tom Jellett

‘No,’ said Mum.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘I mean, no. Definitely not, it’s not happening, forget it, Buckley’s, not a snowflake’s chance in hell.’
Her mouth was a slit and her eyes were hard. ‘Now do you understand, Michael?’ She only calls me Michael when she’s angry.
‘Not entirely,’ I said.

Michael wants a dog. Really, really wants a dog. Unfortunately, neither his mum nor his dad share his enthusiasm. They articulate many reasons, and although he has an answer to every objection, the answer is still no. While he tries to change their minds, he sets about showing his parents just how responsible he is. There are colour illustrations on every opening.

A Dog’s Tale’ is a new title in the popular and engaging Mates series from Omnibus Books for young readers. Each tells a particularly Australian-flavoured story, full of humour. Michael is not the first child to want a dog, but his determination to prove his responsibility is unparalleled. No effort is too much, if it might change the decision about a dog. Love the illustrations from Tom Jellett, particularly the dog Michael takes for a walk. Recommended for newly-independent readers.

A Dog’s Tale, Barry Jonsberg, Tom Jellett
Omnibus Books 2017
ISBN: 9781742991399

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

Wombat Warriors by Samantha Wheeler

‘Look out!’ cried Mum as Dad braked to miss a large white duck waddling across the driveway.
I pressed my face to the window. I knew staying with Aunt Evie would be different, but I hadn’t expected an old sandstone cottage almost ready to collapse. Nor was I prepared for the raggle-taggle gypsy striding towards us. I swallowed hard. Tall and thin, with her dark curly hair tied up in a red scarf, Aunt Evie didn’t look anything like Dad. Plus, she wore socks with her sandals. Dad never wore sandals.

Nine-year-old Minnie, known as ‘Mouse’, is accustomed to being looked after by her loving but very protective parents. So when they tell her they are going to Ireland and she’s going to stay with the aunt she hardly knows, who lives in country South Australia, she’s understandably apprehensive. As if that’s not enough, she also discovers that the house is home to a wombat called Miss Pearl and a duck called Pumpkin. AND she has to attend school while she stays with Aunt Evie. Altogether, it’s not shaping up to be much fun. But Miss Pearl immediately befriends her, and despite a rocky start, school’s not all bad. But there’s a problem. While Mouse very quickly comes to love Miss Pearl, not everyone in the district is as fond of wombats.

Mouse is not used to independence, making her own decisions, and she’s a bit gobsmacked that she has to stay with her quirky aunt in the country. She’s not that excited about Aunt Evie’s neighbour either, and her neighbour’s not that thrilled about city girls. But she does find a friend in her neighbour’s son Harry. Quiet Mouse discovers her voice here in the country where not everyone loves all the wildlife. Her stay with Aunt Evie tips her world upside down in ways she could never have predicted. Themes of friendship, compromise, family and wildlife. Recommended for independent readers.

Wombat Warriors, Samantha Wheeler
UQP 2017 ISBN: 9780702259586

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

May Tang: A New Australian by Katrina Beikoff

If I were a bird, I’d want to be a bird in a cage. Birds that sing with happiness are in cages. They are looked after, they are loved and they belong to a family. I think that’s the best life for a bird.

Eleven-year-old May Tang lives with her extended family in Shanghai. Her brother is in Australia learning English, but otherwise she’s happy with her family and her friends and their lives. But it is 1989 and change is coming to China, whether she realises it or not. Almost before she can imagine it, her family is split, and she and her mother are travelling to Australia, with no plans to return. May is not happy, despite assurances from her family that this is a good outcome for them all. Her arrival in Sydney is confronting, particularly when her beloved brother greets and then leaves them. May realises that no matter how she feels, this is reality and her mother needs her help. Slowly, May adjusts to this very foreign new world.

Australia’s migrant story is an ongoing one, with new arrivals every day. There are many reasons that families come here, making great sacrifices to do so. May Tang has been relatively protected from the political atmosphere in China, but events in Tianenmen Square in 1989 herald a change for her. This is a story of family, of growing up, of finding ways to survive and thrive when your world is turned upside down. Mei Li, her grandfather’s protected and loved bird in a cage, sings a beautiful song. May discovers that there is life beyond the safety of her family home and that there are many songs to be sung in freedom. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

May Tang: A New Australian, Katrina Beikoff

Omnibus Books 2017 ISBN: 9781742990743

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

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Someone yelling wakes me up. I have no idea what time it is. I jump out of bed and head for the kitchen. I almost collide with Mum, who’s also coming out of her room.
‘Go back to bed,’ she whispers.
I don’t Dad is standing in the middle of the kitchen. The fluorescent light is on and he’s in his undies. They bag a little around his arse. He’s pointing at the clock.
‘I’ve got to go to work!’ he’s yelling. ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’
‘Honey,’ Mum says, ‘you don’t need to go to work yet.’
‘Don’t lie to me!’ he roars. ‘I’m supposed to be there!’
‘Honey,’ Mum repeats soothingly. ‘It’s three o’clock in the morning. You go back to bed and it’ll be time to go in another few hours.’
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he yells. ‘What am I doing here? What is this? Who do you think you are?’

Amelia is in Year 12, trying to impress her art teacher, navigating an increasingly unpredictable home life, and trying to work out what’s going on with her friends, particularly her closest friend, Gemma. Her dad is changing, forgetful, angrier more often. Her mum has her own adjustments to make. To Amelia, it’s as though everything she has ever known is changing. And she’s not quite sure what to do. But the days pass, whether or not she wants them to. In the growing chaos and confusion, Amelia begins to work out who she is.

Everyone says Year 12 is big, but no one could have predicted Amelia’s year. It’s not just the work, or growing up. It’s like someone threw her into a tornado and all she can see is a blur. Relationships are at the heart of ‘Before You Forget’, those with family and with old friends and new. ‘Before You Forget’ becomes the song of change, of evolving, of reality. Amelia’s art practice, her struggle to communicate via canvas is a metaphor for her struggle to navigate and understand her changing world. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

Before You Forget, Julia Lawrinson
Penguin 2017
ISVN: 9780143574071

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

Looking for Rose Patterson by Jennifer Gall

Who was Rose Paterson?
Most readers will be introduced to Rose Paterson by reading the poems and stories written by her son, Barty, better known to the world as Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. But so subtle are the references that readers may not realise they have made her acquaintance. She is there in Banjo’s turn of phrase, his sense of humour, his resilient spirit and in some rare direct references to her as she was in his childhood. But Rose Paterson, in a series of little-known letters written to her younger sister, Nora, provided her own account of her life.

Meet Rose Paterson, mother of A B ‘Banjo’ Paterson. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ chronicles Rose’s life as daughter, sister, wife and mother. It also examines the life of a farmer’s wife in a time very different to now. Rose’s letters to her younger sister reveal a world of challenge, from the regular and protracted absences of her husband, to the isolation and inadequacies of her home. Yet she managed to retain a sense of humour, raise and educate her children. She also kept in touch with her family and friends, even when poverty dictated that she cross-write her letters. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ includes photos, letters, posters and extracts from Paterson’s poetry.

Looking for Rose Paterson’ is much more than a story of an individual life, though it is that too. It’s a rich portrait of a colonial world, with a focus on the often invisible women who helped shape it. In addition, it chronicles the world that nurtured Banjo Paterson and set the foundations for his writing. Rose’s letters offer an intimate peek into matters personal and domestic, while other elements reflect on childbirth, education, women’s rights and more. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ is a fascinating read, a chocolate box of delights for anyone interested in Rose herself and in learning about the lives of colonial women. Highly recommended.

Looking for Rose Paterson, Jennifer Gall
NLA Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9780642278920

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

Toffee Apple by Peter Combe, ill Danielle McDonald

Toffee Apple, nice and licky,
One for Judy, one for Nicky.
Crunchy munchy,
Very sticky
Don’t forget to clean your teeth!

‘Toffee Apple’ is a collection of three much-loved songs from performer Peter Combe. Here they are illustrated with bright colours, with words in larger fonts and a variety of colours. Animals dance as they eat their toffee apples, read the daily newspaper and imagine what it would be like to have six flies land on your jelly. This sturdy paperback comes with a cd of the three songs so everyone can sing along!

There is so much colour and movement in every page of ‘Toffee Apple’ that it is virtually impossible to sit still while it is read. And that’s probably the plan. Peter Combe’s songs are full of wonderful silliness designed to get children dancing about. The colourful pages and all-over-the-place text contribute to the fun. Sing along! Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Toffee Apple, Peter Combe ill Danielle McDonald
Scholastic Australia 2017 ISBN:
9781760275082

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

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo! by Mark Carthew ill Anil Tortop

When Jess and Jack opened the gates to the Zoo,
it was strangely deserted. Nobody said BOO!
‘Where’s the new roo?’ said Jess, looking round.
‘It’s never this quiet. I can’t hear a sound.’

When Jess and Jack arrive at the zoo to begin their day and to check on their newest animal, they find everything suspiciously quiet. None of the animals are to be seen, but it’s clear where they’ve been. There are open cages, and animal scats and tracks everywhere. They follow the tracks, the scats, the feathers and down. They know their animals love to roam free, but are keen to get them back before night falls. Just when Jess is beginning to worry, she finds Jack and the animals too. Illustrations are full of fun and humour as the animals conduct their big Hullabaloo.

‘The Great Zoo Hullabaloo’ tells a story of disappearing zoo animals, the tracks they leave behind and the reason they have vanished, all in rhyme. Young readers are invited to speculate about where the animals might be, then to join in when they are discovered. Both zookeepers are relieved to find their animals, and to join in the shenanigans. There are plenty of animals to identify, and rhythms to replicate. Recommended for pre-schoolers.

The Great Zoo Hullabaloo!, Mark Carthew ill Anil Tortop New Frontier Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925059786

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