The Choke, by Sofie Laguna

I was eating Weet-Bix at the kids’ table not long after I moved to Pop’s, when I heard Pop and Dad talking.
You should have been more careful, Ray.
Accidents happen.
Yeah, and now I’m stuck with your bloody accident.
The table was so low it kept me at the height of their knees. If they didn’t look down they forgot I was there.

Since her mother abandoned her as a toddler, Justine has been raised by her Pop, a troubled survivor of the Burma railway. Her dad comes and goes, away for months at time. Her half brothers visit regularly and are sometimes allies, but their different mothers, and the manipulations of their father mean that their relationship is uneasy. School is also difficult for Justine. Not only does she lack the home environment of her classmates, but she also struggles to read, and is seen by teachers as lazy and disruptive.

Amongst so much neglect, Justine must make do. She finds solace in her Pop’s chickens, who she feeds and talks to, and in the Choke, a narrow opening in the Murray River at the back of their house. Brief glimpses of kindness from fellow humans are rare, but somehow Justine manages to survive again and again.

The Choke is a haunting story of poverty and neglect. Justine, as the youngest member of a broken family, has a life which readers will see is cruel and unfair, but which is portrayed with a frightening, heartbreaking realism.

A troubling, powerful read.

The Choke, by Sofie Laguna
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760297244

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.

Gripping.

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

Blossom, by Tamsin Janu

The little girl was silent, and just stared.
So Lottie asked questions. ‘What’re you up to? Are you lost?’
Silence. The little girl hadn’t blinked once.
‘Where’re your parents?’
Silence.
‘Don’t worry if you haven’t got any parents. I don’t. I live with my Uncle Bobby, who’s kind enough.’

Lottie lives with just her Uncle Bobby, and has always longed for a sister, so when a lost girl turns up on her doorstep, she’s excited. But the girl – who Lottie names Blossom – isn’t like other children. Not only doesn’t she speak, but she only eats plants, makes funny sounds, and has green liquid instead of blood. Lottie navigates the difficulties of having such an odd sister presents, until Blossom gets sick, and suddenly becomes the center of scientific interest. Only Lottie and her friends can rescue her.

Blossom is a beautiful tale of an unexpected friendship, with an equally unexpected outcome. It soon becomes apparent that Blossom may be from another world, but just how different this place is is only slowly revealed. In the meantime, Lottie draws on her own strengths as well as the help of those around her.

A beautiful, whimsy-filled story.

Blossom, by Tamsin Janu
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781742991641

Boy, by Phil Cummings & Shane Devries

Boy couldn’t hear the battle cries, but he had seen the fear in his mother’s eyes and felt it in his father’s hands when he held him close.
The battles were loud and long…
but no-one ever won.

Boy lives in silence. Unable to hear, he talks with his hands, though only his parents take the time to understand him. In spite of this, boy is happy. Unfortunately, the rest of the villagers are not. They live near a forest where a fearsome dragon and fierce king have been battling. Every body is in danger, but nobody know why. It takes the wisdom – and peace – of Boy to solve the problem.

Boy is a heartwarming picture book about an unlikely hero who proves his bravery and wisdom. Boy is deaf, and it is this difference which sees him not only have a different view of the world, but also inadvertently put himself in danger. However, instead of running, he tackles the two fighting sides, and finds a way to ask them why they are fighting. The message, of peace and communication, is not over stated, it just is.

Illustrations, rendered digitally with a feel of watercolour, particularly in the landscapes feature expressive human characters, and a whimsical purple dragon. with lots of humorous touches and a pastel colour pallete, with lots of sepia tones, lending a medieval feel.

Delightful.

Boy , by Phil Cummings and SHane Devries
Scholastic Press, 2017
ISBN 9781760277055

The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth

If she’d felt a jolt earlier, this was a canon, blowing a giant hole right through her. Cancer. Had they used that word earlier? She didn’t remember it.
Apparently appeased by her expression – finally the reaction they’d been waiting for – the doctor began to explain it all again, a third or maybe fourth time. Once again, Alice zoned out. because she couldn’t have cancer. She was barely forty, she ate well, exercised occasionally. More importantly, she couldn’t have cancer. She had Zoe.

Since Zoe was born, it has always been just her and Alice. And that’s the way they have both preferred it. Alice has never shared the story of Zoe’s conception, sure that she is enough for Zoe. And for Zoe, who lives with crippling social anxiety, Alice is enough for her. So, when Alice is told she has cancer, her first thought is for Zoe. Who will be there for her daughter? With her parents both dead, and her only remaining relative, her brother, a hopeless alcoholic, Alice reaches out to women newly in her life – her oncology nurse, Kate, and her social worker, Sonja. the three women have more in common than they could ever realise.

The Mother’s Promise is a moving story of strength, friendship and love. While Alice deals with her own battle, each of her two unlikely new friends also has her own private battle to face. At the same time her daughter, Zoe, must deal both with her mother’s illness and with her anxiety and its consequences.

Though the subject matter could make this grim, the story is both warmly and compellingly told.

The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth
Pan Macmillan, 2017
ISBN 9781925479959

Sapphire Falls, by Fleur McDonald

Fiona Forrest sat next to her dead husband’s coffin, staring at it dully. Music played softly in the background and she could smell the roses that filled two urns on stands nearby.
The church felt exactly like she did. Cold and empty.

Fiona and her husband Charlie were really happy: working side by side on their farm, and looking forward to a long future. But when Charlie is involved in a terrible shooting accident that eaves his mate Eddie dead, he struggles to cope. When he commits suicide, Fiona is devastated, but she is determined to keep the farm going. If only the rumours that she is selling the farm would stop.

Detective Dave Burrows has been on enforced leave. When he returns he finds that the case of Eddie’s death was not properly dealt with. When he starts to investigate he realises something doesn’t add up. The deeper he digs, the more he realises that something sinister is going on – and perhaps it is linked both to Charlie’s suicide and to the series of problems that seem to be plaguing Fiona’s farm.

Sapphire Falls continues bestselling author Fleur McDonald’s trend of blending rural Australian settings with strong female characters facing adversity and elements of mystery, for a unique form of crime fiction. Readers are kept guessing  along with the characters, and the mystery works well alongside the development of characters and interwoven subplots.

Good stuff.

Sapphire Falls, by Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760112646

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix

‘I’m a messenger!’ bawled the nomad. She was even younger than the young guard, perhaps having seen only sixteen or seventeen of the harsh winters of her homeland. Her lustrous skin was acorn brown, her hair black, worn in a plaited queue that was wound several times around her head like a crown, and her dark eyes appealing. ‘I claim the message right!’

With the Abhorsen, Sabriel, and her husband the King on holidays, the Abhorsen-in-waiting Lirael is responsible for protecting the Old Kingdom from the Dead and any Free Magic creatures. The last six months have been quiet, but two messages are coming her way. One, carried by a stranger from beyond the walls, is in danger of not being delivered because its carrier, a girl named Ferin, is being pursued by sorcerers determined to stop her. The other message, carried by a messenger hawk, is more successful in getting through. It’s from Nicholas Sayre, who Sabriel feared she might never see again. When she responds to the message she finds him unconscious, near to death. To help him heal, and to learn more about the taint of Free Magic he carries, she must take him to her childhood home with the Clayr. With Nicholas safe she must turn her attention to the other message – one which predicts great danger for the Old Kingdom.

Fans of the Old Kingdom series will be delighted with this latest installment, featuring favourite characters including Lirael, Sabriel, Nicholas and Sam, alongside new ones. Nix seemingly weaves his stories with the magic that is found in his world. The Old Kingdom is a richly woven setting, and the people and beings that populate it are intriguing. This is deeply satisfying fantasy at its very best.

With a bonus Old Kingdom story, Goldenhand is divine.

Goldenhand, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781741758634

 

Also in the Series:

Sabriel
Lirael
Abhorsen

Clariel (Prequel)

Radio Rescue! by Jane Jolly & Robert Ingpen

Jim loved station life at Four Wells.
He loved hunting rabbits, exploring with his dog Bluey and chasing goannas. But sometimes he was lonely. If only his friend Frank didn’t live so far away.

Jim and his parents all love station life, but sometimes they feel lonely, cut off from the rest of the world. So when a pedal radio comes, and they can send messages by morse code, and even hear voices from the main base. Jim longs to have a turn on the radio, but Dad says he needs to wait until he’s older. However, when Dad has an accident and Mum is away from the house, it is Jim who uses the radio to call for help. He is a hero.

Radio Rescue! tells the tale of the introduction of pedal radios to outback communities, showing its importance by using a fictional family and the difference it makes to their life, coupled with back of book notes which explain how and why the pedal radio was developed, as well as the use of the radio to summon the Flying Doctors, one its life-saving services.

Illustrations, by master craftsman Robert Ingpen, are divine. Each spread includes text on one page, with the opposite including a grey scale, highly detailed picture of one of the characters on the outside of a fold out spread, opening to reveal a coloured illustratios including rich landscape and actios scenes. Ingpen’s style is perfect for a historical book such as this and adults and children alike will admire his work, and the detail included.

Perfect for both classroom use and private reading, Radio Rescue! is a collector’s delight too.

Radio Rescue! by Jane Jolly & Robert Ingpen
National Library of Australia Press, 2016
ISBN 9780642278784

Crusts, by Danny Parker & Matt Ottley

Jacob refused to eat his crusts.
His Mum said they would make his hair curly.
Jacob didn’t want curly hair.
She said they would make him sleep better.
he didn’t believe her.
His mum said it was a waste,
so Jacob saved them
in a box in the dark,
safe and cool in his shed.

 

Jacob doesn’t like crusts, and refuses to believe his mum when she says they are good for him. But when she says not eating them is wasteful, he decides to keep them, sure they will be useful for something. That something is surprising: a tiny, far away planet is falling apart. Pieces keep crumbling off.  Three intrepid travellers head off, looking for help. When they find Jacob’s crusts, they are sure they have found their answer. But they are tiny aliens. The problems is how to communicate with Jacob and get him to figure out a way to get the crusts to their planet.

Crusts is a humorous, imaginative picture book offering which young crust-avoiders will love. With  Jacob’s story and the aliens’ story delineated using separate illustration panels and distinct dialogue boxes  for the aliens, the book has elements of a graphic novel blended with more traditional picture book style. Jacob doesn’t see the tiny aliens, so their means of getting across whay they need has to be visual – through diagrams and clever layout of his toys.

This is not the first time author Parker and illustrator Ottley have worked together for a satisfying picture book, and hopefully it won’t be the last.

Crusts, by Danny Parker & Matt Ottley

 

 

Review Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy 2: The Horse Thief by Jane Smith

There was a new kid at school. His name was Francis and after only one day he was already the most popular kid in Tommy Bell’s class.

The boys liked Francis because he was good t sports. The girls liked him because he was good-looking, and eve the teachers liked him because he was polite and clever. Tommy liked him because Francis loved horses.

There was a new kid at school. His name was Francis and after only one day he was already the most popular kid in Tommy Bell’s class.

The boys liked Francis because he was good at sports. The girls liked him because he was good-looking, and even the teachers liked him because he was polite and clever. Tommy liked him because Francis loved horses.

There’s a new kid at school and he’s very popular. Tommy likes him too because Francis also likes horses. Tommy has his own horse, Combo, near his house on the edge of town. Tommy is pleased to be invited to be part of Francis’s friendship group. But membership requires him to break a school rule, and there are consequences. Although he avoids trouble, Tommy is uneasy.  When Tommy is on holidays with his family, he is again transported back in time. He meets a charming bushranger, Francis Christie who seems to be able to talk himself out of most trouble. Tommy is initially drawn into by his silver tongue, but struggles to maintain his trust of the bushranger. Chapter headings are full page and titled as well as numbered. Illustrations are scattered throughout.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy’ is a new series from Big Sky Publishing. Each adventure brings history to life for young Tommy, by transporting him from life in a rural town to meet up with a bushranger. Tommy has to decide whether or not he is comfortable with the sometimes questionable behaviours and excuses he encounters. Each of the encounters also serve to help him work through dilemmas he his experiencing in his own life. Chapters are short and titles help to hint at what’s to come. Recommended for independent readers in low-mid primary.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Horse Thief, Jane Smith
Big Sky Publishing  2016
ISBN: 9781925520064