Dragon Quest, by Allan Baillie

Hey, you! Yes, you with the book
Come on! You’ll be a hero, a great warrior, an epic knight…

Through forests inhabited by dark witches, where Dragon Fighters are trapped in trees, along the whispering abyss and over the hills where lurks a double-headed troll, the reader joins the narrator on a quest to find the Last Dragon.

With text by Allan Baillie and illustrations by Wayne Harris, DragonQuest is filled with intrigue, excitement and humour, as the narrator, a slightly bumbling Knight, guides the reader towards Glass Mountain, where he will fight the last dragon. But there is a final surprise for both reader and Knight at journey’s end.

This is a picture book which will appeal to children aged 4 and over, able to intrigue much older readers as they seek out the mythical creatures on each page. An excellent introduction to the fantasy genre.

DragonQuest, by Allan Baillie, illustrated by Wayne Harris
Scholastic, 1996

Daughters of Nazareth, by Patricia Hughes

For the first seven years of her life Patricia Hughes lived with her sick but loving father and her alcoholic mother. Three days before her seventh birthday her life changed forever. Her father went back to hopsital and her mother abandoned her – leaving the police to deliver her to Nazareth House, a Catholic Orphanage.

For the next eight years Patricia lived in the ophanage, cared for by seemingly loveless nuns, intermittently placed in foster care with often abusive carers. When she was fifteen she decided she’d had enough and ran away from her foster paernts to start life on her own.

Although she never stopped wondering about her parents, it wasn’t until 1997 that she began to learn more about her family. Out of the blue she received a phone call from a woman claiming to be her sister. This was just the start of a series of extraordinary discoveries about their joint and separate pasts and about the family neither woman knew they had.

Daughters of Nazareth is a moving and intirguing tale of a search for family and understanding. Patricia Hughes is inspirational in her ability to move on and to accept. Her story, although recounting events which could be seen as tragic, is overwhelmingly positive.

A moving read.

Daughters of Nazareth, by Patricia Hughes
Pan Macmillan 2002

Grave of the Roti Men, by Geoff Havel

Aaron can’t wait to get to Indonesia. He’s going to spend a whole month staying with his dad.

At first the holiday seems perfect. Playing on the beach, spending time with his dad, and making new friends. But then things start to change. First Aaron gets sick, then Dad’s new girlfriend turns up. When Aaron’s new friend, Husni, has to leave to go to work on a fishing boat, Aaron has an idea. He stows away on the boat, ready for a bit of adventure.

Aaron soon learns that sometimes adventures can have just a little too much excitement. Being on the boat when a cyclone strikes is not fun, leaving Aaron wondering if he’ll ever see his parents again.

Grave of the Roti Men combines adventure and excitement with an exploration of themes including responsibility, dealing with family break up, and understanding other cultures. Author Geoff Havel shows his versatility as a writer with a departure from some of the light-heartedness of his earlier works.

Grave of the Roti Men, for ages 10- 12 is suitable for private reading and for classroom sharing.

Grave of the Roti Men, by Geoff Havel
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2003

The House at Evelyn's Pond, by Wendy Orr

Ruth, an Auxilary Pilot during World War Two, struggles with identity, especially when her mother lets slip that she is adopted. She finds haven in the arms of Bill, a Canadian navigator, who guides her through this trauma and through the catastrophe of losing both her parents in a wartime bombing. Their love is Ruth’s salvation, and endures until Bill’s death fifty years later.

Following his death, Ruth returns to England for the first time since their marriage. While there, she dies and it is her daughter Jane who must escort her home.

Jane has lived in Australia for all her married life – having met an Australian dairy farmer on her first trip to England. Alone without her husband, and with the sadness of her mother’s death to contend with, Jane finds the trip a trip of memories and reflections as she discovers parts of her mother’s past and relives some of her own. Alone in her childhood home she faces uncertainty and a new awareness that troubles her.

Meanwhile, Jane’s own daughter, Megan, is a on a journey of her own. In Canada for the first time, she is on a trek with a chance acquaintance. Her mother is troubled by the thought that this could be a new beginning for her daughter, in this country which is no longer home.

The House at Evelyn’s Pond is a tale of mothers and daughters, of love and of belonging. The similarities between the generations are poignant echoes of deja vu. The differences between these same generations gives each its own story.

A beautifully written exploration of family and of self.

The House at Evelyn’s Pond, by Wendy Orr
Allen & Unwin 2001

The Dragon Man, by Garry Disher

When two young women are murdered, the previously sleepy Peninsula is on full alert – there is a serial killer on the loose. Detective Inspector Hal Challis is charged with finding the killer – before another death happens. The media want to know what’s being done, with the editor of the local paper giving him particular trouble.

As Christmas approaches the Peninsula should be brimming with holiday cheer, but this year the pall of danger hangs over the area.

The Dragon Man is the first book in the Detective Inspector Challis series. Challis is based on the Peninsula, where he moves between stations as the need arises. He has come to the Peninsula following the break up of his marriage – when his wife and her lover tried to kill him. He is at once likeable and multi-faceted, with the promise of being an intriguing character to follow through the subsequent books in the series.

The Dragon Man, by Garry Disher
Allen & Unwin. First published 1999, reissued, 2003

Journey to the Dawn of Time, by John Long

When they were children, Sarah and Peter discovered a mystical cave near Devil’s Roost – and travelled in the cave to the time of the dinosaurs. Now, they are grown up, and their lives have been influenecd by that magical experience – Sarah is a palaentologist and Peter has written a science fiction novel.

Together, the two revisit the cave, hoping to once more travel through time and learn more about prehistoric times. However, they are not expecting the journey to be a quest, where the future of the Earth rests in their hands. Accompanied by their young cousin, Maddy and Djarringa, an Aboriginal time travller and his grandson Ben, they must visit different time periods and collect the three crystals which may control their destiny – and that of all civilization.

Journey to the Dawn of Time, is a sequel to author John Long’s 1997 title Mystery of Devil’s Roost. In the six years between the two titles, Long has developed a less formal style, making this a better flowing book. Journey to the Dawn of Time will appeal to young fans of time travel tales as well as those with an interest in dinosaurs and prehistory.

Journey to the Dawn of Time, by John Long
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2003

Gezani and the Tricky Baboon by Valanga Khoza

When Gezani is sent to take a bunch of bananas to his cousins over the hill, he is tricked into giving them to a clever baboon. After he has been reprimanded for losing the bananas, he is laughed at for being so easily tricked.

Gezani is determined to be trickier than the baboon, and soon has a plan for revenge. He will make the baboon sorry for tricking him and win back the respect of his fellow villagers.

Gezani and the Tricky Baboon is an endearing story of trickery and revenge, set in South Africa, where author Valanga Khoza was born. Khoza comes from a family of storytellers and, since arriving in Australia, has used his storytelling skills to perform in schools. His style is aptly complemented in Gezani by the illustrations of Sally Rippin, which are filled with bold oranges, browns and blues.

A perfect read-aloud.

Gezani and the Tricky Baboon, by Valanga Ghoza, illustrated by Sally Rippin
Allen & Unwin, 2003

Warts 'n' All, by Anne Morgan

“Oh no!” Marti has a wart growing on her nose. Her mother says she is too busy to take her to the Doctor to get it frozen off. She’ll have to wait until Tuesday. Marti can’t wait that long – she has to figure out a way to get rid of the wart herself.

In the midst of her efforts, Marti discovers another problem. A new family has moved in next door. There’s a boy about her age who keeps hanging around. He offers to help her get rid of her wart – but can she trust him? Something strange is going on in his back yard and, if she’s not careful, Marti might get caught up in it too.

Warts ‘n’ All is a fast-paced humorous story with a clever twist. An orange level Tadpole from Koala Books, the book is ideal for readers making their early transition from picture books to chapter books, but has enough interest to appeal to much older students, especially those with reading difficulties.

Humorous fun.

Warts ‘n’ All, by Anne Morgan, illustrated by Judith Rossell
Koala Books, 2003

Adventures in the Grove, by Norm Gillam

There is nothing the residents of Willow Grove like more than eating carrots. But when all the carrots mysteriously disappear from the local farmer’s fields, there is widespread dismay. Who stole the carrots – and where are they now? Punky and Barebutt are determined to solve the mystery and claim the reward.

Who Stole the Carrots? is the first of three tales in Adventures in the Grove, a new collection by children’s author Norm Gillam. Rabbits, bears, raccoons and more share adventures and morals in the community of Willow Grove.

The stories themselves are most likely to appeal to 6 to 8 year olds, although the vocabulary and syntax would suggest an older audience – much of the humour will evade the beginning reader. Parents and teachers may also want to be aware of some shortcomings in editing – changes in tense, for example, can be distracting in places.

Despite these minor problems, the stories are cute and have a nostalgic feel to them.

Adventures in the Grove, by Norm Gillam
Writers Club Press, an imprint of iUniverse, 2002

Runestone, by Anna Ciddor

Thora has a problem. She is the only one in the family who can’t do magic. None of her spells work and she can’t protect herself like her other family members do. Across the valley, Oddo has the opposite problem. He is supposed to be a farmer, yet he can make magic that changes the weather or controls animals. His father won’t abide magic, so Oddo has to hide his skills.

When Oddo and Thora meet, they learn to help each other. Thora explains the world of magic to Oddo, and learns to plant and grow on Oddo’s farm. Thora suggests Oddo use his newfound magic to fix things up but, when things go wrong, the two friends learn that magic isn’t always the best way. Together they must work to put things to rights – making use of both magic and hard work – a union which pays dividends.

Set in the world of Vikings, Runestone is a rich narrative fantasy – strong both on plot and imagination. Author Anna Ciddor makes use of real Viking lifestyle and beliefs in this first book of her Viking Magic series.

Runestone, by Anna Ciddor
Allen & Unwin, 2002