TA DAH! I am writing this as I walk to Science, which is pretty skilful of me. Lynda has hold of my left elbow and is steering me away from rubbish bins, brick walls, etc while she continues her debate with Natalie about whether Julie Jameson (now officially going with Shane Bellwether) is a bitch or merely a stupid cow. You know, this writing-in motion thing is pretty easy, I could do my homework while I’m walking the dog…
Will write more later.
The Rage of Sheep begins with the main character, fifteen year old Hester Jones, writing letters to her best friend, Krystena. Krystena has moved to the coast, leaving Hester behind to hang around with Natalie and Lynda. Natalie is using the guest list for her 16th birthday celebrations as a weapon, Lynda is madly in love and Hester has been paired with weird Joshua Mason for a project on evolution. His family belong to a fundamentalist Christian group whose beliefs include creationism. Meanwhile Hester does well at Maths, suffers the embarrassment of having her father present awards at School Assembly, gets to know the new English teacher and tries to decide whether Joshua really likes her. She also has to avoid Alistair McDonald and the Jameson girls. It’s a full life.
Secondary school can be a minefield for many teenagers as they negotiate their way through friendships, attractions, enemies, parents, curfews, expectations and hormone clouds. The Rage of Sheep, set in 1984, includes all of these and more. Hester is a convincing character, a good student from a supportive family. She has a developed sense of self, and only a mild dose of angst about her perceived shortcomings. There are serious issues explored here, but they are handled with humour. Hester’s point of view is unreliable, as is appropriate, and stronger for that. The reader can sometimes see what’s going to happen before Hester does. The title comes from a quote by James Whistler. Sheep are cited by Joshua as being those favoured by God, and by her English teacher as being followers, not leaders. This is a lightly-handled, funny and entertaining story. Recommended for middle- to upper-secondary readers.
The Rage of Sheep, by Michelle Cooper
Random House Australia 2007
This book can be purchase online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
My name is Maisie Moo.
I live in a palace in the middle of nowhere.
The Gone Bonkers Discount Palace.
We sell all sorts of stuff.
The endpapers of Maisie Moo and Invisible Lucy show a truck and wide open spaces. Written against the pink-clouded sky are the names Ulladulla, Cunnamulla and other wonderfully named towns. Maisie’s Dad is a truck driver and travels, the endpapers suggest, all around Australia. Maisie and her invisible friend, Lucy, are waiting for Dad’s return. In the meantime, she shares with the reader a slice of her life. She likes her dog, Drongo, and sleeping in. She doesn’t like being an angel. She helps her mother in their shop. When it seems like Dad and Christmas will never come and Mum banishes Lucy, Maisie hides in her bedroom. Everything seems brighter in the morning as a new day dawns with ‘the earth as red as toffee apples and the clouds as pink as fairy floss from the Royal Show’.
Maisie addresses the reader directly, introducing herself and her world. Her voice is authentic, her observations droll. The childlike illustrations show the same clarity of vision, the same humour. Lucy’s presence waxes and wanes with Maisie’s need of her. The endless wait for Dad is shown in the quietness of the early illustrations just as the effect of his presence is made clear by the chaotic clutter of Dad’s storytelling. This is a clear picture of a child trying so hard to be good, trying so hard to be patient, although the words are never used. The text begins as ordered sentences, gradually loosens, mingles with the illustrations and becomes almost chaotic as Maisie’s wait threatens to overwhelm her. In the final spreads, calm returns but the end papers remind the reader that Dad will leave again and Maisie will again have to await his return. Recommended for 4-8 year olds.
Maisie Moo and Invisible Lucy, by Chris McKimmie
Allen & Unwin 2007
Guess what?’ Rosie cried. ‘I’ve been picked for the school band. I’m going to get an instrument.’ she flapped a note at her mother. She danced around the kitchen. ‘It says there’s going to be a meeting. You and Dad need to go and hear all about it. So do I!’
Rosie is very excited when she is chosen to join the junior school band. She fancies herself a flautist and dreams about being the best flautist in the world. She’s prepared to practice every day. But at band practice, Mrs Thomas hands her a tuba, because Rosie is tall and has long arms and fingers. Rosie decides she wants to be the best tuba player in the world. But there are a few details to sort out first. She needs to work out how to get the tuba to and from school for band practice. Rosie must convince her brother Michael that she doesn’t sound like a ‘sick elephant’. Then a new boy starts at school. Ryan is taller than Rosie, and he wants to join the band too. Rosie is worried that her career as a tuba player will be over before it’s even begun.
Rosie is a determined and enthusiastic character, happily adapting to learning a different instrument than she’d imagined. She works hard to discover a solution to getting the tuba to school and only falters when it seems she might not get to play it after all. Her enthusiasm, anxiety and diligence are nicely balanced in this realistic dilemma. Teachers and family, even siblings, offer to help her out, but this heroine finds her own solution. Oom Pah Pah! is realistic about the commitment required to be a band member and the challenges faced by those who play some of the larger instruments. It also sends clear and positive messages about reward-for-effort and the joy that playing in a band can bring. Recommended for lower-mid primary readers.
This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
Oom Pah Pah! Cecily Matthews & Mitch Vane
ABC Books 2007
There was no doubt about it – Granny was much nicer dead.
It was a shock of course, losing Granny. Everyone went around looking a bit dazed for a day or two afterwards. But she was eighty-four – ‘a good innings’ as Uncle Jim remarked – and they’d always said she had a weak heart. And to go the way she did – falling down like a skittle on the back path while she was booting the cat out of her petunias – well, you couldn’t want a fairer finish than that.
Granny has been making everyone’s life a misery for years. Only Anna, Granny’s youngest grandchild, has anything nice to say for her when she dies. And only Anna is pleased when Granny re-appears as a ghost. However, Granny doesn’t seem to understand that she’s a ghost and the scene is set for all sorts of accidental fun. Not only has ‘41’ (apprentice angel) forgotten to keep an eye on her, it seems there’s a bit of a problem about whether Granny is destined to head to the heavens or through Hell’s Gate. Enter Mr Brimstone and the race for Granny’s soul is on! Granny stumbles through the afterlife, largely unaware of the growing chaos caused by her uncertain status.
Ghost Granny is a humorous look at life after death, particularly the struggle for a soul when earthly good deeds are balanced by not-so-good offerings. Melanie’s Guile’s tongue is firmly in her cheek as she introduces the reader to the random appearances of a neither-here-or-gone granny, angel education classes and embittered souls in the endless abyss of Hell. Ghost Granny is both funny and a fast-moving adventure, full of puns and good-versus-evil struggles. Ghost Granny takes an omniscient point of view, letting the reader move closer to all the main characters. Rather than one main character, several characters take turns at driving the action, until the end when all major players are present. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.
Ghost Granny, by Melanie Guile
Lothian Children’s Books 2007
Animal dads show their special tricks in this book for the very young. Rhino’s dad is ‘tough and strong’ and able to lift heavy rocks. He’s well able to protect his child. Rhino and other animals show their ‘dad’ side in this simple and humorous rhyming text. Father and child share special times and the illustrations show the special smiles on every opening. Openings show the animals in their environments, from grasslands, through underwater, to a cave.
Dads is a sturdy hardback with lift-the-flap pages. It follows Mums, Bums, Toes and Tails from the same author/illustrator partnership. Like these other titles, Dads has a bright and appealing cover with characters sitting in a single-colour background, with title letters all in different colours. Alternate pages fold up and fold down, to reveal the special-ness of each dad. Warm colour floods each page, drawing the reader into the different worlds. The worlds might be different, but the relationship is the same. There is a strong sense of safety and fun shared. Recommended for preschoolers.
Dads, by David Bedford and Leonie Worthington
Little Hare Books, 2007
Other titles in this series:
Companion to An Australian a b c of Animals, this hardback counting book introduces numbers and animals to new readers. The early numbers fit on a single page, but rather than decrease the size of the animals, from ‘4’ to the final ‘15’ each subsequent number has been given a double page spread. Each number has its own page colour, setting off the distinctive illustrations. An action eg ‘Seven turtles plodding’ introduces the behaviour of each counted animal.
An Australian 1, 2, 3 of Animals is a simply beautiful book. From the platypus on the cover (and first page) to the 15 bull ants on the final opening, the animals are lovingly drawn and the colours are rich and luscious. The animals invite close inspection, offering similarities and differences in their rendering. Sharp-eyed readers may even find some pairs. Bronwyn Bancroft says her work is not traditional, but its Aboriginal history is immediately recognisable. The animals are sometimes stylised but lose none of their uniqueness. Highly recommended for 2-6 year olds and beyond.
An Australian 1, 2, 3 of Animals, by Bronwyn Bancroft
Little Hare 2007
Every morning, when they had eaten their seaweed-flakes, they swam through the Bazaar’s golden doors. Minnie helped her mother, Marina, put new gowns on the racks for the mer-models to wear in the day’s fashion parade and then she tidied the changing rooms in Modes and Jewellery.
Minnie Pearl and her parents live behind their shop, the Undersea Bazaar. Minnie helps in the shop when she’s not attending school and learning what to do if she should ever encounter a human. She dreams of being an explorer. Then the wide-smiling Manta Ray opens her Marine Emporium next door and everything begins to change. All the fashionable mermaids flock to Manta’s shop, even Aunt Kelpie is seduced. Minnie’s parents begin to frown as they do the accounts. Minnie determines to help them save their business. She follows Manta and discovers where the newcomer finds her stock. Returning home isn’t quite as easy as she expected and humans aren’t quite as they have been portrayed.
Minnie Pearl and the Underwater Bazaar is a longer picture book for lower to middle primary readers. Minnie is an independent, resourceful heroine determined to help her parents save their shop. Others are happy to follow unquestioningly, but not Minnie. Themes include prejudice against those who are different, and the risks inherent in blindly following fashion trends. The text brings to life an underwater community complete with seahorse-as-pets and sandwiches full of sea-cucumber slices. Cheryl Orsini’s illustrations are full of witty and humorous details, particularly in the stock of both shops. Recommended for lower to middle primary readers.
Minnie Pearl and the Undersea Bazaar, by Natalie Jane Prior & Cheryl Orsini
ABC Books 2007
‘No. I can’t go to Aunt Wilma’s Now, Mum. My favourite program is just starting.’
‘The Secret Life of Newts.’ Mum read the title on the TV.
‘It’s , um, educational,’ I said. Actually it was just too much effort to reach for the remote control. And Celebrity Dogs didn’t start for another half-hour.
‘But, Tiff -’ Mum started.’
‘No!’ I said. I could feel a Glare Force 1 boring into the back of my head. Mum works at a retirement home. I don’t know what kind of look she gives those old folks when they don’t eat their vegies but right then I could almost feel my skin withering. Had there been broccoli in front of me I would have chomped it right down in a hurry.
Tiff is a small, lively redhead – just like her Aunt Wilma’s dog Muffin. When newly-separated Aunt Wilma hurts her ankle, Mum persuades Tiff to help out. First it’s just walking Muffin. Tiff doesn’t mind because she really likes Muffin and it’s not Muffin’s fault that Aunt Wilma is so snooty. A stranger starts taking photos of Muffin but drives off when Tiff approaches him. When Tiff and Muffin get back to Aunt Wilma’s, it becomes clear that Mum has also volunteered Tiff to help at the dog show. There goes her holiday plans! Once there, Tiff realises someone is trying to sabotage the dogs at the dog show and it’s up to her to work it out.
Redheads are reputed to be feisty and fearsome. Thirteen year-old Tiff certainly fills this description although tenacious and forthright also fit. Her holiday plans are overturned by her aunt’s injury but she finds a way to enjoy the show with her friends as well as helping out. Across the course of Dog Show Detective, Tiff adjusts many of her relationships, particularly with her aunt, father and brother. She enters the unfamiliar dog show world and discovers that, unlike its reputation, most of the dog owners are friendly and supportive of each other. Red herrings and misunderstandings contribute to the humour of Tiff’s story, until she ultimately saves the day. Dog Show Detective’ also touches on friendships, examining the changing relationships with two school friends. Recommended for upper primary readers.
Dog Show Detective, by Penelope Love
Lothian Children’s Books 2007
For days, Julia had been chewing it over. How could she get through to this creep? What could she say to him that’d make him see he wasn’t the only person in the world? A log crackled in the campfire and split with a bright red glow. Julia took a step back from the heat, snapping a dry gumleaf in half.
Julia loves everything about camping with her stepdad, Jeff – everything except his son, Robert. She thinks he’s a pain. It’s been several days since they met at the start of this camping trip and nothing has happened to change her mind. As far as she’s concerned, Robert is worse than boring and quite useless at anything camping-related. Julia wishes he was home in faraway Queensland with his mother, and she and Jeff were back home with Mum, waiting for the baby to arrive. Then things start to go terribly wrong and Robert’s communication skills are a minor issue compared with the challenges they face.
Cross-Currents is an adventure into the Australian Outback that goes very wrong. But it’s also a story about family in its myriad formations. Jeff, Julia’s stepdad, has been married to her mum for about five years. But Jeff has a son, about the same age as Julia, who lives with his mum at the other end of the country. Jeff seems to have organised this trip partly so the two teenagers can meet. Julia may have gained a father, but Robert has lost one. Neither is very tolerant of the other. As drama unfolds, Julia and Robert need to work together and in doing so, both realise that first impressions can be misleading. Cross-Currents is a fast-paced, exciting read that holds the attention from start to finish. Themes here include the power of cooperation, tolerance and understanding. Recommended for 11-15 year-old readers.
Cross-Currents, by Janeen Brian
This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
‘Meilee, listen. I’ve got a pet.
My pet is cool. He’s a king.
He can sting. He’s flash and…fab!’
Tommy is excited about his new pet and wants to tell his friends. He whispers to his friend Meilee, but she is gone before he can tell her exactly what his pet is. So Meilee takes a guess from Tommy’s words and she tells Oliver. Oliver tells Alexa and on it goes. Each guess gets crazier and more outlandish, and includes a punk pig and a baker crocodile, until Melina challenges Tommy about his pet. All the friends run to Tommy’s place where Tommy repeats what he told Meilee. Even then there are wild guesses, until Tommy introduces his friends to his new pet. Then the game begins again.
The Chinese Whisper of Tommy’s friends passing on the news of his new pet runs in a blue ribbon across the top of each double-page spread. Their imagination and the animals they conjure fill the rest of each opening. There are clues in each spread as to what the next will reveal. The text is in red and black and varies in size and orientation, and each spread is full of colour and stylised images. There are simple rhymes to build the character and suggest the behaviour of the imagined pet. This is a fun, nonsense picture book that invites re-reading and reading aloud. Recommended for 2-5 year olds.
Tommy’s Pet, by Guundie Kuchling
Lothian Children’s Books 2007