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

In the Lamplight, by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds

Bessie says the nurses have set to work at Harefield House, scrubbing floors, dragging beds and mattresses upstairs, unpacking bed linen and stamping it with their hospital mark.
The nurses are asking local women to read to the Australian soldiers. I wonder if I dare. Bessie says she’ll read to them if I will…

When war breaks out, fourteen year old Rose O’Reilly’s life changes. A local manor house is converted into a hospital for Australian soldiers, and soon Rosie is volunteering there, keeping the soldiers company and, eventually, allowed to help with their care. Rosie loves her job, but when she’s not busy, she worries about her brother, away fighting on the Western Front. Life in war-time England is not easy, but when a new Australian soldier arrives, Rose finds some happiness.

In the Lamplight is a satisfying complement to the Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy, from the same author/illustrator pairing of Dianne Wolfer and Brian Simmons, again exploring Australian’s role in World War 1. This time the setting is England, with the main character an English girl, but with Australian soldiers being a key part of the story. As with the earlier books, the narrative uses a scrapbook like blend of diary entries from the perspective of the main character, photographs, newspaper clippings, and third person narrative, as well as the stunning black and white illustration work of Simmonds.

In sumptuous hard cover, this is a collector’s delight and will be adored by young and old alike.

In the Lamplight, by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Brian Simmonds
Fremantle Press, 2018
ISBN 9781925591224

Book of Colours, by Robyn Cadwallader

She lifts a hand towards the bundle, but lets it drop again. Anticipation is a strange creature. For nearly two years she has waited for this moment, and now it is here, she doesn’t want to unwrap the parcel. How long has she imagined the illuminators with brush and quill, bent at their desks day after day, choosing colour and gold leaf. How long has she waited to see their work. But now she doesn’t want to look inside.

When Mathilda orders a prayer book made, she imagines it as a thing of beauty, both a sacred object and a symbol of the status she and her husband will hold. But when it is delivered, almost two years later, much has changed. For the illuminators, too, life has changed. In their small shop in London, a team of five have worked on the illustrations, each with their own things to prove and their own reasons for being there. The creation of the book is as complex as their lives, and the life of the woman for whom it is intended.

The Book of Colours is a complex, well woven story of life in 14th century England. Set against the backdrop of real events, and with a strong cast of characters from all walks of life, the story alternates between the events in the months after the book is delivered, and those in the time it is being worked on in London. The richness and complexity of the illuminations in the book are echoed in the rich, complex lives of the characters, particularly Will, an illuminator with a troubled past, Gemma, the wife of the master illuminator whose shop Will works in, and the Lady Mathilda, for whom the book is destined. Gemma’s husband, John, their son and other minor characters are also presented as rounded, intriguing characters.

Like the precious book in the story, this is a book which will stay with the reader fora long time.

The Book of Colours, by Robyn Cadwallader
Foruthe Estate, an imprint of Harper Coolins, 2018
ISBN 9781460752210

Unearthed, by Amie Kaufman & Megan Spooner

I swallow hard, gritting my teeth. Millions of light-years from home, standing on the surface of an alien planet, it never truly hit me until now that the biggest thing I’d have to fear would be another human being.

Mia is alone on Gaia, a planet far from Earth. Her goal is to scavenge as much alien tech as she can to earn not just her backer’s approval but something far more important – enough money to buy her little sister’s freedom. Jules Addison is on Gaia too, but his goal is far more important, he thinks. He wants to study the long extinct alien civilisation who once lived here – in the hopes that what he learns might save humanity, and his father’s reputation. With very differing aims, neither is impressed when they meet – but it fast becomes apparent that they need each other if they are to survive the planet, let alone meet their personal goals.

Unearthed is a young adult space-opera blending sci-fi with action, romance and tomb-raiding scenes reminiscent of Indiana Jones, where the pair must cooperate to navigate action puzzles to stay alive and continue their quest.

The dual narrative allows readers to connect with the two main characters and to understand both their motivations and their back stories. Both are likeably flawed and although the story is slow in patches, it is increasingly absorbing, and readers will be left keen to read the sequel and find out what happens to Mia and Jules.

Unearthed, by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Allen & Unwin, 2018
ISBN 9781760292157
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