Turtle Trackers by Samantha Wheeler

Three spine-tingling wails pierced the night air. ‘Beach stone-curlew,’ I murmured, huddling closer to Mum.
A warm, salty gust blasted my face and waves crashed on the shore ahead. The people in front of us whispered, their voices ghostlike in the dark.
‘Everyone ready?’ asked the ranger, Shane, as our group of twenty hurried after him along the track. Shoes shuffled across the coarse sand.

Ten-year-old Isaac and his mother live south of Bundaberg in Queensland, where his mum manages The Pines Holiday Village, a council-owned caravan park. Since Dad is no longer around, Isaac helps his mum as much as he can. In between, he’s a huge fan of the local wildlife, particularly the turtles. Now there’s a full moon and turtles are coming ashore to lay eggs on the beach where they were born. But as well as too much work and not enough time to spend with his friends or the turtles, there are grumpy bloggers, dogs and cats to contend with. Isaac has his work cut out to keep the turtle nests safe until the eggs hatch and a new generation of turtles can make their first journey safely to the sea.

Isaac is doing it tough. He’s lost his dad, his mum is working too hard and no one seems to appreciate how hard he’s trying to keep everyone happy. This is Samantha Wheeler’s third title featuring young characters working to save iconic Australian animals. Each includes a fast-paced adventure and information about animals and the challenges they face for survival in the environment they share with humans. The bright covers on these fictional but also informative novels are very engaging. Recommended for mid-primary readers

Turtle Trackers, Samantha Wheeler UQP 2018 ISBN: 9780702259951

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

The Endsister by Penni Russon

In the locked attic of the house on Mortlake Road in south-west London, near a bend in the River Thames, something stirs.
It shudders, a cobwebbed thing, tattered and dusty, so long forgotten, so long forgetting.
It is hardly anything, but it is almost something, disturbing the shadows, shrinking from the approaching light.

An Australian family inherit a grand old house in London and move from their rented farmhouse to live at Outhwaite House. There Else, Clancy, the twins and Sibbi, along with their parents adjust to a new life. Some settle in more easily than others to this old house – some begin to thrive and others succumb to the secrets trapped within the walls. Told from multiple viewpoints, this is a story of endings and beginnings, and of all things in between.

It takes skill to write a cohesive story from multiple (different-aged) viewpoints without sacrificing the building tension and keeping the reader connected. Penni Russon nails it. Each dweller in Outhwaite House is given a voice and their own story, and together they weave a wonderful, mysterious story that will keep the reader page-turning to the very last. Highly recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

The Endsister, Penni Russon Allen & Unwin 2018 ISBN: 9781741750652
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Sorry Day by Coral Vass and Dub Leffler

There was a hum of excitement.
Flags flickered in the breeze as Maggie’s heart danced with delight.
‘This is a very special day!’ her mother said.

Maggie and her mum are waiting with thousands of others for an official apology from the Australian government about the Stolen Generations. Interspersed spreads tell the story of taken away from their parents because of policies made by the Australian government of the time. When Maggie is separated from her mother in the crowd, the stories coalesce. The loss of a child for even a few seconds is traumatic for both parent and child. How much worse then to see your child put in a truck and driven away. Finally, the Prime Minister of the day offers an apology to all those families disrupted and damaged by being separated from each other. The contemporary story is depicted in colour, the historical one mostly in sepia tones, like old photos. Final spreads include an explanation of the policy that led to the Stolen Generations. There are also photos of the event that promised to begin to repair the hurt.

National Sorry Day was first held on 26 May 1998 but the event featured here is 13 February when for the first time, an Australian Prime Minister apologised directly to the people of the Stolen Generations. The final spreads also offer a timeline. The depiction of a contemporary child being temporarily lost will be easily comprehensible to most young readers, and will allow them to empathise with the many children taken from their families. ‘Sorry Day’ offers the opportunity to begin discussion in the classroom and the home about belonging and loss. Recommended for primary schoolers.

Sorry Day, Coral Vass ill Dub Leffler NLA Publishing 2018 ISBN: 9780642279033

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