Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill ill Giuseppe Poli

The apartment block loomed cold and quiet.
The same people had lived there a long time.
They did not know each other and they
never spoke – not even to say hello.

No one speaks to anyone in the apartment block. They go about their business separately and in as quietly as possible. Then a baby arrives in the apartment block. The baby is not quiet, not a bit, no matter how his mother tries. He cries. And cries. Until one day he finds the pots and pans. The crying stops and the music begins. One by one, the other occupants of the floor join in. Together they create music. And a community. Illustrations are loose outline filled with colour, often set in white. End papers offer music in the park – two versions.

The apartment block is a collection of separate people who seldom interact – until the baby arrives. The solution to the baby’s crying is music and accidentally at first, then intentionally, it brings the individuals of the block together as a community. Young readers will love the notion that music can be made with whatever is at hand – or foot. Kinder and early years teachers can use this story to introduce music to their classrooms. Young readers will also enjoy looking at the difference between the front end-papers and the rear end-papers, and finding all the apartment-dwellers. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Baby Band, Diane Jackson Hill ill Giuseppe Poli
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059779

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

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles by Alice Rex ill Angela Perrini

Ava sat at her desk, gazing at the board.
‘Ava,’ said Mrs Cook. ‘Where are your glasses today?’
Ava looked down at her schoolbag.
She hated her glasses.

Ava hates her glasses, and sometimes chooses not to wear them, even when wearing them would help her to read. Ava’s teacher sympathises and rather than tell her to put them on, she opens a book of fairy tales. One by one, Mrs Cook suggests that all of the main characters in her favourite stories, could have avoided their troubles by wearing their glasses. By the end, Ava is adding to the stories, and seeing her own life more clearly. Glasses have become the hero of every story. Illustrations are black pencil and block colour set in pastel backgrounds.

Ava would rather not see than use her glasses, when they mark her out as different. Her teacher uses fairy tales to suggest that wearing her glasses will make her the hero of her own story. In a classroom, Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles offers the opportunity to have students reframe fairy tales for different outcomes. At home, it could form the basis of conversations about the strengths in difference. And young spectacle-wearers may enjoy seeing themselves reflected in story.

Recommended for early-schoolers.

Ava’s Spectacular Spectacles, Alice Rex ill Angela Perrini
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059984

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

Keeper of the Crystals 5: Eve and the Griffin’s Gold by Jess Black

Eve was not good at waiting.
She stood with her nose pressed against the cold glass while balancing on tiptoe on the arm of the couch. From this height she could see all the way to the corner of Stewart Street. Eve knew that this was the way her grandmother, Sylvie, would walk from the bus stop when she arrived.

Eve and her dragon, Ingvar, are waiting for Sylvie and Oscar to arrive. Sylvie is Eve’s grandmother and Oscar her friend. They’re staying with Eve while her parents are out of town. Eve, Sylvie and Oscar have had many adventures ‘and travelled to many worlds’. Eve’s not expecting any adventure or danger this visit, but she’s always prepared. Just as well, as adventure seems to find her. This time, there’s a visit from an old enemy and a griffin who needs their help in Dracburn, where one-eyed men are stealing the lining from griffin nests. While her grandmother deals with the old enemy, Eve, Ingvar and Oscar are off on a new quest.

What young girl wouldn’t want a dragon as a companion? And the ability to help other creatures in magical worlds. Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Griffin’s Gold is Book 5 in this series from New Frontier Publishing. It’s at newly competent readers wanting to be whisked away on magical adventures full of jewels and wondrous creatures. Eve is a gentle champion who works with her friends to solve mysteries and rescue those in distress. She must be brave and resourceful and overcome seemingly impassable obstacles to succeed in her missions. And she does. Then arrives home in time to spend time with her grandmother. Recommended for young readers, ready for fantastical stories.

Keeper of the Crystals 5: Eve and the Griffin’s Gold, Jess Black
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059830

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

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang by Jane Smith

‘So are you in?’ Francis demanded.
Tommy looked at his feet and shrugged. He didn’t have a good feeling about this.
‘It’s sort of stealing,’ he said.
Francis rolled his eyes. ‘It’s not stealing … it’s only borrowing.’
Martin had a brand new mountain bike and he was bragging about bringing it to school on Monday. Francis was planning to take the bike home to his own place on Monday afternoon.
Without telling Martin.
‘We’ll give it back,’ Francis went on.

Tommy Bell is facing a dilemma. If he wants to be part of Francis’ gang, he needs to do what Francis wants. But some of the things Francis wants to do make Tommy feel very uncomfortable. So far, Tommy has been able to reason his misgivings away, but this feels different. When he gets home from school, Tommy saddles up his horse, Combo. Then he puts on his hat, the one that takes him back in time. And with a dizzy, wobbly feeling, Tommy is back in the nineteenth century, and taking a swim in the lake are Frank Gardiner and a friend. Behind him, is a policeman. The policeman fills him in on what Frank and Co have been up to. But nothing could have prepared Tommy for what would happen next. Notes at the back sort the fact from fiction and a Q&A with a bushranger offers the reader a chance to learn more about individual bushrangers.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang is a Book 3 in this series for younger readers from Jane Smith and Big Sky Publishing. Each tells a fictional tale set both in the present and in the time of the goldrush. Each takes Tommy back in time where he meets up with bushrangers and others. There he finds himself caught up in their exploits and getting to know these men he only knows from stories. Slipping back in time also allows him time to think about his modern day worries. Young readers are offered a more three-dimensional picture of the times and the people of the times. Recommended for independent readers in lower- to middle-primary years.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang, Jane Smith
Big Sky Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925520217

The Pretty Delicious Café by Danielle Hawkins

One Wednesday in October I spoilt a perfectly good spring evening by going to bed with a book called Run, Bobby, Run. Hugh at the deli had lent it to me that afternoon when I dropped in for twenty kilos of coffee beans, promising a gripping, fiendishly clever read, and after a solid fortnight of my late Great-Aunty Sheila’s Anne Hepple novels I thought that sounded like just the thing.
It wasn’t.

The Pretty Delicious Café’ is set in a small town on the coast in New Zealand. Lia and her friend Anna run a café that gets very busy in tourist season. Sounds idyllic. And it is. Or would be, if life hadn’t also introduced pre-wedding nerves in your business partner … who is about to marry your twin brother … and an ex-boyfriend who won’t take no for an answer … and two differently challenging parents who live (luckily) in different places … and a business that’s not yet on firm footing. Lia has it all, and then some. On the night ‘The Pretty Delicious Café’ begins, she also has a prowler.

Lia is just trying to make a go of life. She has loving but eccentric family and friends around her and she’s doing her best to make a go of the café she co-owns. But it’s hard to keep your focus when an old romance is over, a new one may just have appeared, your partner is behaving strangely and you feel you are parenting your parents. ‘The Pretty Delicious Café’ is full of love and laughter, drama and excitement. An entertaining peek into small town world, jam-packed with character and charm. Recommended for readers who like their stories fast-paced and with a happy ending.

The Pretty Delicious Café, Danielle Hawkins
HarperCollins 2016 ISBN: 9781460752586

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

Snowman and the Seven Ninjas

Once upon a swine…
… there rode a beauty queen.
One contest day, she was sitting on her black, spotted pet pig, smiling out at the audience while juggling her boyfriend’s chainsaws, blindfolded!
Accidentally, she sliced her fingers off!
Three buckets of blood squirted on the judges.
‘AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!’
My fingers,’ she screamed.

Snowman and the Seven Ninjas starts with Miss Bacon, a talent contest and a few accidental amputations. While stemming the blood flow, Miss Bacon makes a wish for a monster made of snow, with eyes as red as blood and muscles as big as the butt of this pig. That may be the end of her, but it’s the beginning for a snow monster- ah – man, judged best new talent. Thrilled at being the centre of attention, Snowman continues to hog the limelight. Superdude, who until now has been the star of his own show, is Not Happy. Add in Ninjas called Farty, Scabby and the like and the scene is set for plenty of gross and gory action. Snowman and the Seven Ninjas is highly illustrated and includes text types that appear to have no function besides adding to the mayhem.

Once upon a fairytale … no, this is like no fairytale ever. The pattern may suggest Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but that’s about as close as it gets. Snowman and the Seven Ninjas features guts, ego, gore, bad body odour and showing off, on high rotation. Those looking for the structure of Snow White will find it and they may even be inspired to fracture their own fairytale. From the chaos and the warning on the cover, to the impending arrival of a meteorite, there is craziness and punnyness galore. Perfect for newly independent reader who enjoys snowmen, ninjas, vampires with their literature.

Snowman and the Seven Ninjas, Matt Cosgrove
Scholastic 2017 ISBN:9781743811696

Sage Cookson 4: Singapore Sensation by Sally Murphy

‘Come on Sage! We’ll miss the plane.’
As if! My parents are used to travelling. So am I, because I always go with them. They knew exactly what they need to do to get to the airport, check in and be on board in time.
Çoming!’I call, quickly finishing the text message to my best friend.
Off to the airport now. See you next week.
I press send, put my phone in my pocket, and grab my backpack and suitcase.

Sage and her parents are off to Singapore, now their work on the new cookbook is just about done. They have just one tiny segment to film, but the rest of their week is pure holiday. They are thrilled to see an article in the inflight magazine about the new book. Everything is going well. Things start going wrong as soon as they land. And it must have something to do with the pink-haired lady who seems to turn up everywhere they go.

Ten-year-old Sage has a life many would envy: she travels around Australia and beyond with her television chef parents. Somehow, wherever they are, there are mysteries. Luckily Sage is observant and quick-thinking and is good at solving them. Sage stays in touch with her friend, Lucy, by text and that means that her friend sometimes becomes part of the mystery-solving. Sage’s parents try to make her life as normal as possible, including giving her a phone to keep in touch with her best friend. This is a fun, realistic adventure mystery series sure to make many newly independent readers wish they were Sage!

Sage Cookson 4: Singapore Sensation, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059960

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

Our Dog Benji by Pete Carter ill James Henderson

I love our dog Benji.
Sometimes I think I’d like to be more like him.
He eats almost anything
and everything.
I’m not that adventurous.

A small, unnamed boy shares the adventures of his loved dog, Benji. Benji eats everything, makes friends with everyone, explores. Through his dog’s antics, the boy explores his own world and his place in it. Illustrations depict both real and imagined Benji-ness. Our Dog Benji is a smaller format hardback picture book with full colour pages and end papers detailing some of Benji’s favourite things.

Children learn a lot from observing what happens around them, and for the small child, that can often be a pet. Their adoption of what they see may not always be discriminating, but it can help them navigate their lives. Benji is a lovable, loving and loved dog. He is friend, companion, teacher and challenger to the viewpoint character. There is plenty here – particularly for a quiet observer-child – to support learning and living well. Recommended for early school years.

Our Dog Benji, Pete Carter ill James Henderson
EK Books 2017 ISBN: 9781925335330

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

Australia’s Great War: 1917, by Kelly Gardiner

The German planes patrolled in hunting squads. They flew fast fighting craft streaking across the sky in tight formation. The greatest of them was the Red Baron, the deadliest ace on the Front. He’d shot down twenty-one of our planes in a single month. And now we were right in his firing line.

Ace (Alex) has always been fascinated by planes, so the opportunity to work on them for the army is enough to get him to sign up for the army, even though his parents and family want him to stay home, and are against the war. Back home, his sister Maggie, is leaving school and entering the workforce, finding her voice as a young woman as she misses her brother.

1917 is the fourth title in Scholastic’s Australia’s Great War series. Set in England and the Western Front as well as home in Melbourne, the story offers one man’s experiences of the first world war, as well as tracing the opposition to the war which grew as it progressed, including the role of women including Vida Goldstein.

Both a moving, absorbing story and a useful first person insight into Australia’s involvement in World War 1.

Australia’s Great War: 1917, by Kelly Gardiner
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781743622506

The Turnkey, by Allison Rushby

There was a man standing in the alcove that led out onto the Golden Gallery’s walkway. His attention was fixed on the explosion, which meant he hadn’t seen her yet. At first she thought he was a fire watcher, stationed up the top of St Paul’s to protect it from burning. But, no, this man was a twilight visitor – a man of the dead, not the living – she could tell by his ashen hue. Everything was a muted shade in her world; it was how you could tell the living world from the the world of the dead.

It is 1940 and Flossie Birdwhistle is the turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery, charged with keeping the souls that rest there at peace. When London is subject to enemy bombardment every night, this is an even more difficult task than usual. During one raid, when Flossie sets out to fulfill the request of one of her charges, she sees something surprising: a German soldier, who, though as dead as she is, seems to have abilities and interests from the other side of the grave. It is up to Flossie, and her friends, the turnkeys of London’s other cemeteries, to figure what he is up to, and how to stop him.

The Turnkey is an intriguing novel set in the midst of the second world war, populated with ghostly characters, as well as a handful of those still living. the concept of the dead being looked after by one of their own, and of them still carng for the world beyond the grave is appealing, and history lovers will enjoy seeing World War Two London and Germany from a very different angle.

Great stuff.

The Turnkey, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2017
ISBN 9781925126921