Scaredy Cat by Heather Gallagher and Anil Tortop

Have you seen my Scaredy Cat?
He’s afraid of this and afraid of that!
Afraid of bees and …
towering trees and …
Granny’s super-duper sneeze.

A small girl has lost her Scaredy Cat. Scaredy Cat is frightened of just about everything from bee to burglar. The narrator tells the reader all the things Scaredy Cat is scared of, then reassures all that she’s brave enough for both of them. Told in rhyme, the story builds to a ‘twist in the tale’ conclusion. Illustrations show only Scaredy Cat’s tail in each scenario. Cover art of this square format hardback also shows the searching girl and Scaredy Cat’s tail.

Scaredy Cat’ details all the things Scaredy Cat fears – mostly domestic situations that many small readers will encounter. In the way of small children, the bravery of the viewpoint character grows in proportion to the situations that her Scaredy Cat is spooked by, until she is vanquishing robbers like a champion! Young children will enjoy the rhyme and repetition as they turn the pages and try to find Scaredy Cat. Recommended for pre-schoolers.

Scaredy Cat, Heather Gallagher ill Anil Tortop New Frontier Publishing 2018 ISBN: 9781925594171
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Sam’s Surfboard Showdown by Allayne L. Webster and Amanda S. Clarke

The day Finn Hester walked into my classroom was officially the worst day of my life.
For starters, Finn was good-looking Superhuman good-looking. With curly black hair, neon-white teeth and the brightest blue eyes you ever saw. Me?
Well, I don’t want to toot my own horn (that’s what my mum calls it when I say something good about myself), but actually happen to be quite handsome. All my Aunties tell me so. Even Aunt Molly, and she’s practically blind.

Ten-year-old Sam is used to being the best at pretty much everything in his world, particularly sport. Just like Sam’s mum is used to being the best cook. Then Finn and his family arrive. Finn is also good at everything, including Sam’s favourite Nippers. Before he realises it, Finn is impressing all Sam’s friends. Sam begins to feel left out and ramps up the competition. As does his mum. But when the ultimate competition goes wrong, Sam discovers that winning isn’t everything. Text font is large and there are scattered motifs throughout.

It’s difficult for Sam to adjust when his position with his friends and at school is challenged by a newcomer. No one else seems to be worried when Finn arrives and that makes Sam even more determined to win. At all costs. It takes an incident in the ultimate competition for Sam to realise that winning isn’t everything. A contemporary story featuring indigenous characters. Recommended for newly independent readers ready for a longer chapter book.

Sam’s Surfboard Showdown, Allayne L. Webster and Amanda S. Clarke Omnibus Books 2018 ISBN: 9781742991894
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Rainfall by Ella West

Westport, the town where I live, lies (mostly) between the banks of the Buller and the Orowaiti rivers. The Buller flows fast and deep through bush and gorges. It finally emerges amid a narrow strip of farmland before being channelled to the sea at the south end of the town between two man-made tip heads. After running freely from wild mountains deep inland, I think it must be embarrassed when it becomes a river port and then, even worse, has its final send-off over the dredged river bar into the Tasman. It gets its revenge, however, because when it rains the Buller swells to be the largest river in New Zealand and then nothing stands in its way. It tears whole trees from its banks, will take farmland and close roads. Nothing survives if caught in its waters.

Annie is fifteen, living with her folks in a west-coast New Zealand town, where the downturn in coal production is taking what few jobs remain there. On her way to basketball, she is turned back by the police. Not only does Annie miss the basketball game that day, she sees a coat floating down the swollen river and discovers a mysterious stranger riding a beautiful horse along her beach. Suddenly, the wet, economically-depressed town is immersed in a high-profile murder investigation. Around her, in the only place she has ever lived, everything seems to be changing.

Like the river that sometimes flows quietly, Annie has been drifting through her life. As rain continues to fall, and everything that’s certain begins to dissolve, Annie has to decide whether to be passive and accept everything that happens in her world, or to begin to make her own decisions, to make her own path, like the raging river does. She begins to open her eyes and see what’s actually happening in and to the town where she was born. She knows this place. Now she needs to decide what to look for, what to tell, what to hide. Themes include community, family, safety, first love, rites of passage. A thriller for early secondary readers.

Rainfall, Ella West
Allen & Unwin 2018 ISBN: 9781760296834

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

Bush and Beyond: Stories from Country by Tjalaminu Mia, Jessica Lister, Jaylon Tucker and Cheryl Kickett-Tucker

I’ve got a secret and I’m so excited!
Actually, I’ve got two secrets and that makes me feel really happy inside.
‘What are you grinning at, Debbie?’ my brother Billy asks.
‘Nothing.’ I don’t want him guessing my secrets.

Bush and Beyond is a collection of stories from Country. The four stories were originally published as individual books. ‘Bush Secrets’ is the story of Debbie and Dada Keen who share a bushwalk and in ‘Yippee! Summer Holidays’ they spend more time together. In ‘Barlay’ Nan tells Sarah and her siblings about a traditional bush protector. ‘Lucky Thamu’ sees Eli and Thamu take a trip into the bush near Kalgoorlie. Each story is accompanied by black and white illustrations on most openings.

Bush and Beyond celebrates the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, from the perspective of individual grandchildren. It also offers an understanding about the importance of passing knowledge between the generations. This collection offers Aboriginal children an opportunity to see their world reflected in literature, and everyone else a peek into what it means to be indigenous Australian. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Bush and Beyond: Stories from Country, Tialaminu Jia, Jessica Lister, Jaylon Tucker and Cheryl Kickett-Tucker
Fremantle Press 2018 ISBN: 9781925591132

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

The Hole Story, by Kelly Canby

One day, Charlie found a hole.
He couldn’t believe his eyes.
A hole of his very own!
Charlie bent down, picked up the hole and popped it into his pocket.

When Charlie fins a hole, he is very excited, but he quickly discoevrs that having a hole in his pocket is a problem – and a hole in his backpack is even worse. So he sets out to find someone who needs a hole. For some people – – including the boat builder and the seamstress – a hole is very unwelcome, while others – including the donut seller – already have enough holes. Finally, after a very frustrating day, Charlie decides that the hole is worthless, and throws it away. He doesn’t see the very relieved rabbit, who has followed him all day, hope back into the hole it calls home.

The Hole Story is a humorous exploration of perspectives of usefulness and value, and could be read also as a critique of the need to ‘own’ things, particularly those things found in nature. Mostly, though, it is a whimsical, funny story which youngsters will love, with cartoon-style watercolour illustrations which are a delight to explore.

So much fun.

The Hole Story, by Kelly Canby
Fremantle Press, 2018
ISBN 9781925591125

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby

They were met with a view of a large garden, but unlike the welcoming front of the house, now flowers bloomed and no bumblebees buzzed. Everything was dark and drenched in shadow because of what lay to the left – a gigantic tree that loomed over the entire garden and the house itself. Immy’s breath caught in her throat and her heart began to race as her eyes slowly travelled up its thick, gnarled trunk.

When Immy and her parents travel to England for a fresh start, they desperately want to rent a country cottage with a garden. But the only house that meets their brief has a downside: a mysterious mulberry tree in its backyard. Village lore has it that the tree is responsible for the disappearance of two girls, each of whom vanished on the eve of her eleventh birthday. Although the two disappearances were almost two hundred years apart, the legend surrounding the tree is such that the whole village mistrusts the tree, and girls are kept well away. But Immy’s parents don’t believe the tales, and Immy herself feels drawn to the cottage and to the mystery of the tree, and soon the family is trying to rebuild their lives in their new home. Still, as Immy’s eleventh birthday draws close, and Immy hears and sees things that aren’t really there, she wonders if she can solve the mystery or if she, too, will fall victim to the tree.

The Mulberry Tree is an engaging, but eerie novel for younger readers, who will love th supernatural elements. The blend of creepy, frightening moments with realistic, everyday problems and warm moments is a satisfying mix, suitable for middle and primary aged readers. The English setting will also appeal, adding tot he sense of displacement felt by the protagonist and adding interest for the reader.

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781760650292

Room on Our Rock, by Kate & Jol Temple and Terri Rose Baynton

There’s no room on our rock
So it’s ridiculous to say
There’s space for plenty more
Shoo! Go away!

So begins this delightful, important picture book which explains in increasingly strident, mean tones why there is no room on the rock inhabited by a group of seals for two new seals – a mother and baby – to share. Except, when the end of the book is reached, the reader is invited to read the story again, this time from back to front – and reading it this way tells a different story, one of welcome, finishing with those first two pages: ‘So it’s ridiculous to say/There’s no room on our rock. ‘

The novelty of the palindrome format and the gorgeous illustrations will draw young readers in, but the message of compassion is hopefully what will endear them to the book and look for repeated readings and to share both book and message. And, if they enjoy the unusual format, they may also enjoy Drawn Onward, which serendipitously was released in 2017 and also uses the palindrome format to change negativity into hope.

A wonderful tool in the negative climate that surrounds debates about refugees and immigration.

Room on Our Rock, by Kate & Jol Temple, and Terri Rose Banyon
Scholastic Australia, 2018
ISBN 9781742764108

The Yellow House, by Emily O’Grady

‘They’re weird,’ Wally said.
‘They’re family,’ Mum said. ‘Your aunt and your cousin.’
‘If they’re family, then why’ve we never met them?’ Wally asked. ‘Why’ve we never even heard of them?’

Ten year old Cub is excited when her aunt and cousin move into the long empty house next door to theirs. Cub’s family – her parents, older brother Cassie, and twin brother Wally – are outcasts, ostracized by the town for the terrible crimes committed by her grandfather before Cub was born. Cub has limited understanding of why they are hated, but her only friend in the world is Wally, so she has high hopes that Tilly, her cousin, will be her new best friend.

But the presence of Tilly and her mother don’t create the kind of change Cub is hoping for. Rather, the tensions that have been bubbling beneath the surface seem to rise up, and when Cassie brings home a new friend, Ian, the tension rises.

The Yellow House, winner of this year’s Vogel Literary Award, is gut-wrenching story of family secrets, betrayal and inter-generational disadvantage. Seeing events through the eyes of Cub gives the story an intriguing perspective – Cub is naive and innocent, in many ways, and the readers must navigate and interpret events only through Cub’s understanding.

Unsettling to read, this is a well-woven haunting tale.

The Yellow House, by Emily O’Grady
Allen & Unwin, 2018
ISBN 9781760632854

The Rainbow and Who Saw Turtle? by Ros Moriarty, illustrated by Balarinji

The shark with the glinting, pointy teeth saw Turtle.
The octopus with the dangly, stretchy tentacles saw Turtle.

As Turtle makes her way across the sea, the reader is asked ‘Who saw Turtle?’ giving an element of interaction to this delightful tale of a turtle travelling to lay her eggs. The illustrations, too, are interactive, encouraging both prediction and a close examination to see previous animals repeated.

Who Saw Turtle is beautiful picture book offering from Ros Moriarity, with indigenous artwork from the Balarinji studio. Together with The Rainbow, it offers both simple text and rich visuals, perfect for very young students and second language learners.

An important inclusion in both books is a back of book translation of the text into the Yanyuwa language, spoken by families in Borroloola, in the Northern Territory. Such use of traditional language is vital not just for the speakers of that language, but for promoting Australia-wide awareness of the existence and importance of the many languages of our first peoples.

In paperback format, this pair will be enjoyed for its simple, engaging text and rich, bright illustrations.

Who Saw Turtle? ISBN 9781760297800
The Rainbow, ISBN 9781760297794
both by Ros Moriarty, illustrated by Balarinji
Allen & Unwin, 2018

Dingo, by Claire Saxby & Tannya Harricks

Can you see her?
There – deep in the stretching shadows – a dingo.
Her pointed ears twitch.
Her tawny eyes flash in the low-slung sun.

It is dusk, and Dingo is awake, ready to hunt to feed her cubs. As she moves through the landscape, the reader learns about this dingo and, through her, the dingo species.

Dingo, part of the Nature Storybooks series from Walker Books, is a sumptuous picture book offering. The text is lyrical, pacing across the pages like Dingo paces across the landscape. The illustrations, in layered oil paintings, are rich and wild, matching the subject matter perfectly. Short factoids on each spread, in a different font, give the reader further detail about the species.

Perfect for young animal lovers to enjoy on their own, Dingo will also be a valuable classroom and library addition.

Dingo, by Claire Saxby & Tanya Harricks
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781925381283