Jack Brown and the Trail of the Python, by Greg Pyers

Jack looked outside, to the shrubs and the carpet of ivy in the office garden. He couldn’t see it, and he certainly couldn’t hear it through the glass, but somehow he knew. An animal was out there.

Jack Brown can communicate with animals. Not in a Dr Doolittle way, but he can sense their distress and they can sense his empathy. In this second adventure, Jack Brown and the Trail of the Pytho’, Jack is staying with his cousin Molly and his Uncle Frank in the City Zoo. He sees a python that can’t possibly exist and hears noises in the night. He and Molly investigate but there are many dangerous twists and turns before the mystery is solved.

This adventure is set mostly in a city zoo in Australia. Jack begins to understand his gift. Together he and Molly (a martial arts expert) form a formidable team. Their combined skills help them protect animals from money and power-hungry humans. They make mistakes and take wrong turns but still manage to solve the mystery with little or no help from the professional investigator or other adults around them.

Jack Brown and the Trail of the Python is the second adventure in the Jack Brown series. It reads well as a stand-alone title, but readers might be curious to learn more about Jack’s discovery of his talent. This is a fast-paced adventure with plenty of detail about animals and the inner workings of a zoo. It is sure to appeal to upper primary readers.

Jack Brown and the Trail of the Python, by Greg Pyers
ABC Books 2006
ISBN: 9780733317538

It’s True! Bushrangers Lost Their Heads, by John Barwick

Black Caesar, an enormous African, is credited with being Australia’s first bushranger. His bushranging life began because he didn’t have enough to eat, but didn’t last long when the Governor advertised a rum reward for his capture, alive or dead. From Caesar to Jessie Hickman, bushrangers live exciting lives. But their lives were usually quite short. They lived in an era where shooting a bushranger was rewarded and bumps on skulls of criminals were studied for clues to their behaviour.

Book 23 in the ‘It’s True!’ series from Allen and Unwin collects stories of bushrangers from Australian history and folklore. Barwick looks at famous and less widely-known bushrangers and their exploits. He leaves the reader to make their own judgements about whether they were worthy of sympathy or condemnation, or a mixture of both. There are details of their deeds and their deaths to entice the reluctant reader, and to stir the appetite of the reader wanting more. There are less ‘fact boxes’ than in other titles of this series. Stephen Axelsen’s illustrations show his customary wit and humour. Recommended for middle- upper-primary readers.

It’s True! Bushrangers Lost Their Heads by John Barwick, illustrated by Stephen Axelsen
Allen & Unwin 2006
isbn: 1741142989

Night Vision, by Rory Barnes

‘Well, you’ve got to do something,’ Rosemary said. ‘Have a go at being an actor and maybe you’ll end up on television. You’ve already got good diction.’
‘Good what?’ I said.
‘Diction,’ she said. ‘You speak well.’
‘Oh, that,’ I said and then I told her about the lawyer guy. ‘The lawyer guy said I was a brilliant actor because I didn’t speak well. He said I was the most convincing mumbler that ever showed fake remorse.’

Kosta is on a good behaviour bond after spray painting graffiti on a wall at his school. His old school now, because he’s been expelled. He has recurring dreams about being in a small plane that’s about to crash. After a failed stint as a paper boy, Kosta responds to a newpaper advertisement from Jack, resident of a nearby aged care facility. Jack is legally blind and he wants Kosta to read to him twice a week. Sometimes Kosta reads, sometimes Jack talks about his past, life in the Depression and in World War II. Kosta, tells Jack about the drama group he belongs to, about his girlfriend Kathy, about how life is now.

‘Night Vision’ is a compelling tale of youth and old age. Barnes paints a sympathetic and real picture of the two main characters, Kosta and Jack. Kosta is a teenager with strong opinions and little direction. Jack looks back on his life, unable to make peace with events that occurred half a lifetime, half a world away. Stitching these two stories together are dreams. Dreams of the future, dreams of the past. Suitable for lower and middle secondary readers, this novel offers rich discussion material.

Night Vision by Rory Barnes
ABC Books 2006
ISBN: 0733316220

Mira Falling, by Maria Arena

For me, the headland was a place where I could cut loose and have some fun; where I could play my little games (like the one I invented on my twelfth birthday) and not stress about the consequences. It was a place where I could be a bit daring, maybe, a bit reckless – a place to do anything that would relieve the boredom that was a permanent part of living in a small town like Harvest Bay.

Mira (her name means ‘The Amazing One’ or ‘The Wonder Star’) lives in a small seaside town, Harvest Bay. She dreams of becoming a star and escaping the dreariness of the small town and the shadow of her brother Jack, a gifted runner and email prankster. But Mira has little acting experience and appears doomed to work her days in the family pharmacy. Then the wealthy Holborn family move in across the road. In Sebastian, gorgeous twin of the less friendly Lily, Mira sees her salvation, her way out of town. Finally she will be a star.

Mira Falling appears to have taken its premise from real life, including as it does two quotes from teenaged killers. Mira is a self-absorbed main character, who seems to care little for those around her. The story begins when Mira is twelve and continues into her late teens. Arena keeps the reader guessing throughout this first person narrative. Is Mira really responsible for the things that happen around her? This story is mostly compelling if not always comfortable to read. This is Mira’s story and she holds her secrets close.

Recommended for mature YA readers.

Mira Falling by Maria Arena
Lothian Books 2006
ISBN: 0734408668

Making the Grade, by Bernadette Kelly

Now she has a horse, all Annie has to do is learn how to ride.

Moving from the city was hard. Leaving all her friends behind, the only good thing about Ridgeview was that their new house had enough room for Annie to have a pony. Annie loves Bobby, but she is beginning to realise that riding isn’t as easy as it looks. Everyone else seems to understand the language of riding. Everyone else seems to know how to ride. As Annie spends more time at the stables she realises that not everyone is as confident as they seem. Perhaps they are still learning too. When the call goes out for grading, Annie rashly puts her name on the list.

This second instalment in the Riding High series explores the challenges in learning to ride. Annie is game for anything, but the more she learns, the more she realises she doesn’t know. Through a mix of practice and some bravado Annie improves her riding skills and finds herself a job to offset the costs of riding. Bernadette Kelly has interspersed the story with plenty of technical details which illustrate what it takes to care for a horse. Recommended for middle to upper-primary aged readers, especially horse-lovers.

Making the Grade, by Bernadette Kelly
black dog books 2006
ISBN: 1921167033

Shirtfront – a short and amazing history of Aussie Rules, by Paula Hunt

‘In 1886 one train trip from Geelong nearly ended in tragedy when team rivalries got completely out of hand.’ ‘Outside Newport someone dislodged sections of the (train) track in an attempt to crash the trains. Luckily it was discovered in time.’

In 1858, a cricketer called Tom Wills, suggested that Melbourne develop its own football code, as a way of keeping cricketers fit over the winter. The first football game, between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar, comprised 40 players per side and a ground which included gum trees and rocks.

From these humble beginnings grew what is now called Aussie Rules Football. The game grew with Melbourne, feeling with its people the effects of depression and world wars, to become a national competition. Along the way, it spawned tall tales and true, grew into an industry and inspired many children to become players or passionate followers. Many players achieved legend status, their names and deeds living on in conversations and more. Like many sports, Aussie Rules has enriched the English language with terms like ‘collywobbles’, ‘screamer/speckie’, ‘banana kick’ and ‘the G’.

Shirtfront is jam-packed full of statistics and stories about the history of Aussie Rules football and the characters who made it the game it is today. The history of the game is interwoven with the history of Melbourne. It explores state rivalries as well as the particular characteristics which have shaped individual teams. Paula Hunt has gathered a rich collection for the footy fan. Recommended for anyone interested in understanding and learning more about Aussie Rules football. Recommended for upper primary readers and beyond.

Shirtfront, by Paula Hunt
black dog books, 2005
ISBN 1876372664

If Wishes Were Horses, by Bernadette Kelly

Annie loved horses. Any size, any breed. A story for every girl who ever wanted her own horse.

Annie and her parents move from the city to the country town of Ridgeview. For Annie, the only good thing about the move is the possibility of getting a horse. But then Dad tells her he’s ordered some sheep and there’s no way there’s room for a horse as well. Disappointed, Annie spends some time getting to know the area around her new home. Things go from bad to worse when she lets her dog, Jonesy, off his leash and he frightens a neighbour Reesa and her horse. After a rocky start, Annie and Reesa stumble along the path to friendship. Annie also makes friends with a horse in a paddock not far from home and begins to dream again.

If Wishes Were Horses is the first of a new series pitched firmly at mid- to upper-primary aged girls who love horses. Annie is a likeable main character, outgoing and independent. Bernadette Kelly introduces the reader to the world of horses and pony clubs, painting colourful pictures of the personalities to be found there. She also makes clear the challenges and responsibilities that are part of owning and riding a horse.

This is the first of at least four books in the Riding High series. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

If Wishes Were Horses, by Bernadette Kelly
black dog books 2006
ISBN: 1921167033

Spirit of the Deep, by Margaret Beames

I know they say that twins have this mysterious bond. One breaks a leg and the other a hundred miles away does the same, but I always thought it was a myth.

Jess and her twin sister Andy fall out over a boy. Then Mum gets a call to say her operation is scheduled and the girls are to fly to Sydney to stay with Dad. When there’s a problem with air flights, Jess takes the opportunity to be apart from her twin and books a bus to go and stay with her grandmother. Easy, except that Jess has never met her grandmother. Her mother left the small seaside town at eighteen and never went back. Jess discovers that there are many secrets behind the fight that precipitated her mother’s departure all those years ago. Will she make the same mistakes her mother did?

Jess, in her mid-teens, is a gutsy and likeable main character, not unlike the grandmother she goes to meet. Spirit of the Deep examines a family and its pecadillos, unravelling their stories one by one. The narrative is all from Jess’ point of view except for the first page of Chapter 9, where the voice is Gran’s. This is disconcerting but only briefly so. Beames weaves the story threads to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion without tying it up too neatly. Recommended for readers 13 and up.

Spirit of the Deep, by Margaret Beames
Lothian Books 2006
ISBN: 0734408579

My Big Birkett, by Lisa Shanahan

Some people are more prone to birketts than others. Those sorts of people are also usually easily provoked. It’s like they have a San Andreas Fault running through their personalities and even the slightest thing can set them off.

Fourteen year old Gemma Stone vomits when she speaks in public. Just ask Mr Daihatsu. But when the gorgeous Nick asks her to come along to auditions for the school play, Gemma agrees. It helps take her mind off her sister’s weird wedding and her sister’s fiance’s even weirder family. Raven, of the infamous De Head family decides to audition too. Her mother tells her about the ‘dog poo’ test for love, a cake stall becomes something more and Gemma meets a family of boys all named for birds. In the small community of Buranderry the scene is being set for the biggest birkett of them all.

my big birkett is pitched at lower secondary readers although there is much in here for readers either side of the target readership. This novel is wonderfully funny and sad, over-the-top and very real. It’s about learning to tell the difference between what’s right and what just seems right. Along the way, Gemma discovers Shakespeare’s language and the world of themed weddings. Not to mention the power of a well-timed birkett.


This is Lisa Shanahan’s first book for older readers. Some of her other titles include Gordon’s Got a Snookie and Bear and Chook. my big birkett, by Lisa Shanahan
Allen & Unwin 2006
ISBN: 1741145872

Readers who enjoy this book might also enjoy:

The Slightly True Story of Cedar B Hartley, by Martine Murray
The Wanderer, by Sharon Creech
The Family Tree, by Jane Godwin

It’s True! Women Were Warriors, by Carol Jones

Who said power was for pussycats?

This is title 20 in the ‘It’s True!’ series. Carol Jones introduces warrior women through history. From Ancient Greece to not-so-long-ago Russia, it races through the lives of some amazing and influential women. There are tales of Amazon women warriors who trained their daughters to fight and banished their sons. Read about an Irish goddess who could kill with the power of her battle cry. These powerful women used traditional battle strength as well as a plethora of other skills to achieve their aims.

This is an entertaining look at powerful women in the distant and not so distant past. It tells of their ambition, greed, legacies, strengths and weaknesses. As well as more familiar characters, the author has sourced lesser-known (outside their countries) warrior women from all over the world. There is detail enough to guide the reader who wants to know more. Text boxes and Elise Hurst’s illustrations add to the reading experience.

It’s True! Women Were Warriors, by Carol Jones, with illustrations by Elise Hurst
Allen & Unwin 2006
ISBN 1741147344