Groovy Granny, by Cate Haynes

The children love their groovy granny. She’s not like other grannies – she has a house full of colour and music and fun. When the children visit, they have midnight swims, dance on the roof in the rain, and eat ice cream for breakfast. But then something terrible happens – Granny’s house burns down.

In her new house, Granny just isn’t the same. Her house is empty and lifeless, and so is Granny. She is cold, distant and very very sad. The children want their old Granny back. So when Granny’s old friend Wilhelmina comes to town, they are delighted to discover she is just as groovy as Granny used to be. The children have lots of fun visiting her and almost forget about Granny – until she comes to visit. Maybe, with Wilhelmina’s help, they can get Granny back to her old self.

Groovy Granny is a fun picture book by Western Australian author Cate Haynes. With exuberant illustrations by artist Shane Tholen, this is an upbeat story about fun, family and recovery.

Groovy Granny, by Cate Haynes, illustrated by Shane Tholen
Sandcastle Books, an imprint of Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2003

Lirael, by Garth Nix

Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr, lives with her people, yet apart from them. She is a loner and an orphan who feels she does not belong. This feeling is magnified by the fact that she does not yet have the Sight – a gift which most of the Clayr get at a far younger age than hers.

In another part of the Old Kingdom, Sameth, the Abhorsen in Waiting, and son of Touchstone and Sabriel, is similarly unhappy. He does not want to be the Abhorsen and doesn’t know which is worse – continuing his training, or telling his parents.

When the two embark on separate but common quests, the strange secret that links them is revealed.

Lirael, the second in the Old Kingdom Trilogy by Garth Nix continues the high standard established in the first book, Sabriel. The Old Kingdom is richly drawn and the characters deep and authentic. A rivetting read.

Lirael, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin 2003 (originally published in 2001)

Do-Wrong Ron, by Steven Herrick

Ron always does the wrong things at the wrong time, or the right things at the wrong time, or the wrong things at the right time. Like kicking the winning goal – for the other team. Or forgetting to add water to the cordial. But when he adopts a guinea-pig called Charlie, at least he’s not so lonely any more.

When a girl called Isabelle moves in next door, she thinks Ron is interesting and Charlie is cool. When Ron meets Isabelle’s grandma, who is sad and lonely and refuses to go outside, Ron plans a special welcome for her. Of course, with Ron doing the planning, not everything goes right, but Ron discovers that sometimes the wrong way can turn out right.

Do-Wrong Ron is a special story in verse, written by poet Steven Herrick. Children aged seven to ten will love the novelty of a novel written in free verse, a format which allows Herrick to cut to the chase with the story. This would be an ideal class novel and introduction to petry. Themes include friendship, community, loneliness and self-image.

Charming.

Do-wrong Ron, by Steven Herrick
Allen & Unwin, 2003.

Burning Eddy by Scot Gardner

Some people call Daniel Fairbrother Dan. Most just call him Fairy. It’s not a name that he likes.

Daniel is searching for meaning in his life. His family life is dominated by his moody and unloving father. Away from home, he has no friends and little to be happy about.

When Daniel meets a Dutch woman, Eddy, he starts to slowly see changes in his life. Eddy is eight-six. She has a tattoo, a history and can make music with her farts. She pays Dan well for the work he does in her garden, and seems to read his mind. She offers him more than work and pay – she offers him friendship. Eddy’s friendship does not prove to be an instant fix to all of Daniel’s problems – his father’s moodiness seems to escalate, the other boys pick on him and he is haunted by memories. But Eddy shows Daniel hope. Maybe there is a point to life – and maybe, just maybe, things will get better.

Burning Eddy is a poignant story about growing up, about family and about friendship. Author Scot Gardner weaves a tale which draws the reader in, caring deeply about these characters. Along the way he continues to drop bombshells that reshape the reader’s perceptions of the characters, so that the story is an ongoing surprise.

Absorbing.

Burning Eddy, by Scot Gardner
Pan Macmillan, 2003

The Black House, by Jackie French

When Barney’s Dad gets funding to conduct his special research, it means a move to the country. The house they move to is huge – and comes complete with a high-grade secruity system and a strange caretaker with a propensity to seem like a prison warder.

The new town might be pretty small, but the people are friendly and Barney quickly makes friends. Dad’s pretty happy with the set up for his research project too. So Barney figures he’d better keep quiet about his reservations. He doesn’t know what is going on, but the house is definitely concealing a secret. There are strange shudders at night, slime seeping through the walls, and other goings-on. Barney’s dreams are filled with wild images that seem real. Still, Barney is totally unprepared for what he finds out – and its ramifications for him. He will soon be the boy who talks to the alien.

The Black House, a new title for bestselling author Jackie French, is a lively combination of mystery, adventure and light humour. A Blue level title in Koala’s Tadpoles series, it is suitable for 9 to 12 year old readers.

The Black House, by Jackie French
Koala Books, 2003

Dark Victory, by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson

In the months leading up to the Australian federal election in 2001, refugees were flooding our shores in record numbers. Men, women and children from countries including Afghanistan and Iraq were fleeing their own troubled countries and spending their savings on trying to reach Australia in barely seaworthy Indonesian boats.

With Australia’s detention centres coming close to capacity and public outrage growing over these ‘queue jumpers’, the Howard governement had a problem. They needed to stop the flow, to send a message to the world that Australia was not an easy target for illegal immigration, and to prove to the Australian public that the government was heeding their concerns.

Dark Victory is the tale of the measures taken in those weeks to keep the immigrants out and to win over the Australian public. The book gives an account of the Tampa crisis, including the behind the scenes manouvering to ensure the people rescued by the crew of the Norwegian shipping vessel did not land in Australia. It tells the story of the children overboard, a scandal which will become a part of Australia’s political history. It gives a detailed account of the loss of life in the sinking of the SIEV X. With accounts from the navy and asylum seekers present at these events, Dark Victory shows the suffering of asylum seekers as they become pawns in the political minefield of illegal immigration.

As well as being the story of the fate of these boat people, this is also an expose of the failures of multiple organisations – not only the Howard government, but also the Opposition, the military, the judiciary and the press – to provide leadership and humanity in these troubled events. It also acknowledges, however, the popularity of the military blockade which stemmed the flood.

This is not an uplifting book – Australian readers will squirm as they learn of the events of these weeks and the attitudes that allowed them to happen. They will question their own attitudes and actions at that time and both prior and since.

Dark Victory is chilling but vital reading.

Dark Victory, by David Marr and Marian Wilkinson
Allen and Unwin, 2003.

Not Nits, by Lucy Treloar

Gus loves insects. He has a whole shelf full of bugs in jars – he feeds them, gives them names and adores them. When anyone accidentally kills or releases one he is devastated.

So, when Gus find a whole colony of bugs living in his hair, he thinks it’s pretty cool. No way is he going to let Mum kill them with nit shampoo. That would be cruel. But just as Gus is determined to save the nits, Mum is determined to beat them. This is a battle of wills that can have only one winner.

Not Nits is a hilarious story about insects and parents. A Red level Tadpole title from Koala Books, this junior novel is suitable for children aged seven and up, but will appeal to older children too, especially those with reading difficulties requiring easier reads.

Not Nits, by Lucy Treloar, illustrated by John Yahyeh
Koala Books, 2003

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