Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy 1: Shoot-out at the Rock by Jane Smith

Right from the start of the school day, things went wrong for Tommy Bell.

It began when Mrs O’Grady handed back their history tests and Tommy got a big fat two out of ten. She frowned at him and said, ‘Tommy, see me at lunch time.’

That was bad news. Mrs O’Grady was nice but she was strict. Tommy was dreading lunchtime.

‘But history’s boring,’ Tommy tried to explain later, when Mrs O’Grady kept him back. …

… ‘It’s only boring if you’re not using your imagination,’ said Mrs O’Grady.

Right from the start of the school day, things went wrong for Tommy Bell.

It began when Mrs O’Grady handed back their history tests and Tommy got a big fat two out of ten. She frowned at him and said, ‘Tommy, see me at lunch time.’

That was bad news. Mrs O’Grady was nice but she was strict. Tommy was dreading lunchtime.

‘But history’s boring,’ Tommy tried to explain later, when Mrs O’Grady kept him back. …

… ‘It’s only boring if you’re not using your imagination,’ said Mrs O’Grady.

Tommy is struggling to connect with history. It seems to be all facts and figures and that’s boring. His teacher suggests that he needs to connect more by using his imagination. As a consequence of his poor history test results, she gives him a book to read during lunch break. This is not how he planned to spend his lunch break and he’s a bit cross. He’s missing out on donuts! When his plan to get the last donut goes badly wrong, Tommy finds himself in more trouble than he imagined. And to make things even worse, he’s headed off to spend school holidays with his grandfather. Tommy is struggling to make sense of history, because it feels too boring. It also feels like he is being punished unjustly. But his trip to his grandfather’s farm  is wilder than he expects when he is transported back to gold rush times. Now he is living history and it’s anything but boring. There are occasional full-page illustrations scattered throughout. Titled chapter pages hint at the action to come.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy is a new series of early chapter books for independent readers. Part of each book is set in a contemporary country town, and part takes Tommy back to early times when bushrangers roamed the countryside. In this first instalment, Tommy is transported back in time and meets Captain Thunderbolt.  He experiences what it is to live the life of a bushranger. It’s certainly exciting but not necessarily anything like he might have imagined. There are moral and ethical challenges he must confront in the context of this historical world that link to his own life. Recommended for independent readers in lower-mid primary school.
Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy 1: Shoot-out at the Rock, Jane Smith
Big Sky Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925275940

The Little Elephant Who Lost His Bath by Jedda Robaard

Little Elephant woke up feeling very grouchy.

He was hot and dusty

and needed a swim …

Little Elephant woke up feeling very grouchy.

He was hot and dusty

and needed a swim …

Little Elephant wakes up and feels in need of a bath. He investigates many options to achieve this but none are right. Eventually, though, with the help of a friend, he finds the perfect bath. Gently coloured illustrations are pencil and watercolour set in white space. Sturdy square format, board pages and lift-the-flap, designed for little hands.

The Little Elephant Who Lost His Bath, Jedda Robaard
The Five Mile Press 2016
ISBN: 9781760400408

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Small Things, by Mel Tregonning

A small boy worries about and struggles with many things: being left out of peer groups, not being good at sport, struggling at school work. Each thing seemingly small in itself, together they erode his self-confidence and he feels himself diminishing, followed by monsters who eat away at his sense of self. At risk of being overwhelmed, he finally gets help from his family, and starts to find renewed self confidence, as well as an awareness that he is not alone in the struggles: other people, too, feel haunted by unseen monsters.

Small Things is an amazing picture book. In graphic novel format, this wordless book says so very much about struggles with mental illness, self worth and anxiety. The black and white illustrations bring the boys’ troubles to life as monsters with tentacles and big teeth which float around him, and leave him broken, though when he gets help he becomes whole again. The monsters don’t completely disappear though, a reminder that healing can be an ongoing process.

This is a book which will speak to children and adults alike, and the story behind the book is one which should also be known, with the author sadly having lost her own battle with depression before the book’s completion.

Small Things, by Mel Tregonning
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781742379791

The Kids’ Survival Guide by Susan Berran

Prelude

Ok, so one day I’m living in the city, surfin’, hanging-out with my mates, everything is totally awesome and then along comes one annoying, diarrhoea pants, little snot-nose sister, Miss Smelly Melly Poop Pants.

‘You’re a big brother now, Sam.’

‘We’re moving to the country, Sam.’

What the? Why? Do I get a say in this …

NOOO!

Prelude

Ok, so one day I’m living in the city, surfin’, hanging-out with my mates, everything is totally awesome and then along comes one annoying, diarrhoea pants, little snot-nose sister, Miss Smelly Melly Poop Pants.

‘You’re a big brother now, Sam.’

‘We’re moving to the country, Sam.’

What the? Why? Do I get a say in this …

NOOO!

Sam has moved to the country and he’s not loving it. But luckily for Sam, another former city kid arrives. They speak the same language, they get into the same trouble. And that’s where this story really begins. In the aftermath of a particular adventure-gone-wrong, Sam realises that all old people know exactly the same lectures. He and Jared decide to write a manual to help other kids decode these same lectures. The manual will also help other kids to get out of trouble, particularly if they have annoying little sisters. Black and white illustrations are scattered throughout.

Sam is full of helpful advice for his readers, offering translations and responses to those tedious stories from adults about how things were different in their day. From his first person perspective, he’s is the innocent victim in every action, every accidental disaster, every conversation. Readers will recognise the situations and enjoy Sam’s insights. He also offers the final, fool-proof formula for getting out of anything you don’t want to do. It’s in the International Rule book you know!  For newly independent readers transitioning to longer chapter books

The Kids’ Survival Guide, Susan Berran
Big Sky Books 2016
ISBN: 9781925520071

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Star of Deltora: The Hungry Isle, by Emily Rodda

She hurried to the porthole and looked out. The sky was filmed with cloud through which the sun glowed sullenly, casting an eerie yellow light. The sea was dull and oily-looking. At first she could see nothing unusual. And then she began to pick out dark shapes beneath the surface of the water, many, many dark shapes, and as she realised what they were, the hair on the back of her neck began to prickle.
‘Turtles!’ she whispered.

Although the Star of Deltorahas managed to escape Illica, Britta is still in danger. She must stay in her cabin, safe from the moody distrust coming her way from the ship’s crew, who think she is a witch and the reason the voyage has been beset with problems. In spite of Britta’s protestations, the ship is being surrounded by turtles, seeming to want to steer the ship. Britta soon realises that the Staff of Tier has sensed her, and wants her to come to the Hungry Isle. Could it be that her secrecy has lead her and her friends, including Trader Mab, into terrible danger?

The fourth title in the Star of Deltora series, The Hungry Isle provides a gripping climax to the journey that Britta and her fellow would-be Trader’s apprentices have been on. Britta has managed to keep her true identity – as the daughter of the hated Dare Larsett – a secret, but when everything hangs in the balance, the secret is no longer hers to keep.

Best read after the first three titles, The Hungry Isle is a satisfying conlusion to the series.

The Hungry Isle, by Emily Rodda
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781742991337

The Great Barbie Disaster by Tania Ingram ill Christina Miesen

My family never owned a NICE barbecue bought from a shop like other people.

Dad thought shop barbies were for WIMPS.

Whenever we’d see a barbecue at the hardware shop Dad would shake his head.

‘Real Aussies don’t buy barbies,’ he’d say. ‘Real Aussies make their own.’

My family never owned a NICE barbecue bought from a shop like other people.

Dad thought shop barbies were for WIMPS.

Whenever we’d see a barbecue at the hardware shop Dad would shake his head.

‘Real Aussies don’t buy barbies,’ he’d say. ‘Real Aussies make their own.’

Sarah’s dad’s family have a long tradition of making their own barbecues, from the simple to the world-famous. So it comes as no real surprise when Dad decides he’s going to make them a barbecue. There’s only one problem. Unlike some of the barbecue-makers of the family, Dad’s not known for his building skills. Sarah and Mum try to talk him out of it, but barbecue-making is in his blood and he’s determined. What a disaster! Sarah watches (from a safe distance) as Dad builds and tests his barbecue. Finally, he’s sure he’s got it right. Now it’s time to test it. There are colour illustrations on each opening and a header and footer illustrations (sauce and mustard trails)

The ‘Mates’ series from Omnibus are early chapter books are tall tales and true from Australian back yards. Sarah narrates this story of her father and his recycling and building adventures. She is captivated by his building projects, even the ones that don’t quite work. ‘The Great Barbie Disaster’ is full of fun and sure to have young readers giggling. Recommended for newly-independent readers.

The Great Barbie Disaster, Tania Ingram ill Christina Miesen
Omnibus Books 2016
ISBN: 9781742991245

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Granny’s Place by Allison Paterson ill Shane McGrath

Granny and Pa’s farm was the best place in the world.

A home build long ago from mud bricks Pa made himself.

It was brimming with treasures of olden days.

Granny and Pa’s farm was the best place in the world.

A home build long ago from mud bricks Pa made himself.

It was brimming with treasures of olden days.

A child reflects on her time shared at her grandparents’ farm. Initial slightly scary elements become less scary with time, and there are plenty of adventures to be had with the animals. In all it becomes her favourite place. Until things change and she has to figure out what she really loves most. Illustrations depict a rural then urban landscape and include many elements of days gone by.

‘Granny’s Place’ is a farm, and it is full of new experiences for a small urban child. Luckily there are bigger cousins and siblings to help negotiate some of the more confronting experiences. There are plenty of elements here for grandparents to share with grandchildren and to stimulate discussions about how things can change. Recommended for pre- and early school-age.

Granny’s Place, Allison Paterson Shane McGrath
Big Sky Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925275636

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Molly & Mae, by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood

Molly thought Mae was silly and told her so.
Mae was tired of being bossed around.
Molly was angry and loud and rude.
Molly turned her back.

Molly and Mae are friends, embarking on a train journey. First they have a long wait for the train, but they play games, exchange secrets and eat together. Finally, they are on their way, and the train holds lots of adventures. But the journey grows long, and the girls quarrel. Not spekaing to each other, though, makes the journey tedious, and they build bridges to once again be best of friends.

Molly and Mae is a beautiful tale of friendship, with the highs and lows of a train journey being a wonderful metaphor for the journey a friendship can take, with togetherness, tension, obstacles and healing. The text is fittingly sparse, so that readers can fill the spaces for themselves, and also enjoy the sumptuous illustrations which capture both the emotions of the girls and the variety of life and passengers on the train. The girls are more brightly coloured than their fellow passengers, a touch which adds focus.

A beautiful picture book, to be treasured by all ages.

Molly and Mae, by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood
Little Hare, 2016
ISBN 9781742975276

The Silent Owl, by Sam McPhillips (ill) & Clemency Pearce

In the great, old hollow oak,
Lived an owl, who never spoke.

Owl doesn’t speak, doesn’t sing and doesn’t even hoot. All the other animals are worried. They would like a sign that Owl is all right. Finally, Owl does make a noise – by playing a series of musical instruments.

The Silent Owl is a gorgeous rhyming picture book, illustrated with paper collage and water colour backgrounds. The humour of the story, coupled with the big eyed characters will appeal to young readers, and the deceptive simplicity of the collage will entice young artists to experiment with collage themselves.

Lots of fun with early childhood readers.

The Silent Owl, by Sam McPhillips (ill) & Clemency Pearce
Big Sky Publishing, 2016
ISBN 9781925520019

When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane

The sun had sneaked out from behind the clouds, and sparkles from the shoes bounded about the grass. Madeleine looked back up. the girl crossed her arms. ‘I was not enquiring after the shrubs, she said imperiously. ‘I want to know what you are doing in Bea’s dress slippers.’

Madeleine is not impressed at being sent to the country to stay with her eccentric grandmother for the holidays, while her big brother gets to stay with his best friend. Staying with Mum Crum means early mornings, yoga and hard work. But when she finds a pair of shoes hidden in the cupboard she is renovating, Madeleine is intrigued and wants to know more. Soon, she is finding out far more than she bargained for, when she finds herself transported back to 1900, to the home of the shoe’s owner.

Now Madeline is part of a family and time where women have no power or independence, as the Federation of Australia’s colonies nears. She witnesses the treatment of Aboriginals, staff and children, and is conflicted about both what she sees and how little she can do to change it. She also watches the family struggle through personal turmoil as she worries about how she will get back to her own time.

When the Lyrebird Calls is an absorbing time-slip novel for children and young adults, set in late colonial Australia, as well as in contemporary Victoria. While a number of issues are explored through the text, the action carries the story so that it does not become issue heavy. Young readers will enjoy being able to see aspects of colonial life through the yes of a contemporary narrator.

When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781741758528