Gypsy Magic, by Moya Simons

School holidays are meant to be fun, but Becky isn’t that thrilled with the outlook for hers. Her Mum and Dad have gone to New Zealand and she’s been left with her babysitter, Mrs Amati, who has a chrystal ball and says she’s a gypsy. All of Becky’s friends are out of town and the only kids left to play with are a strange girl called Zara and a painful boy called Josh.

But when there’s a bank robbery in town, the three chidlren are on their way to solving it, with a touch of gypsy magic. Mrs Amati’s crystal ball could be the key to turning Becky’s holiday around.

Moya Simons lives in New South Wales and has written lots of great books for chidlren, including Whoppers and Dead Average. Gypsy Magic will appeal to readers aged nine to twelve.

Gypsy Magic, by Moya Simons
Omnibus Books (a Scholastic imprint), 2002

Carrion Colony, by Richard King

We are here to etch the faint name of England upon the dust.

Set in the early nineteenth century, Carrion Colony explores the beginnings of white Australia in the mythical colony of Old and New Bridgeford. As they adapt to life in this harsh and alien clime, officers and convicts are stretched beyond belief just to survive.

Among the characters are a doctor so terrified by the native flora, he is determined to eradicate it, a madman who has been isolated on a rock in the middle of the bay and a Governor who chooses to exercise his medical skills only when it suits, among other flawed and eccentric characters.

This is a colony where mayhem and violence are the norm, where there is nothing too far fetched to be considered a legitimate part – for everything in this colony is far fetched.

Richard King, winner of the 1995 Vogel Literary Award, exercises his skills as an absurdist writer. Unfortunately, he is perhaps too absurd, for in its efforts to be clever it becomes too clever for the average reader.

This is a novel where plot and character are pushed aside in the pursuit of art. Perhaps one needs to be finely schooled in the art of the absurd to truly enjoy it.

Carrion Colony, by Richard King
Allen & Unwin, 2002

Jinx, by Margaret Wild

Do not love me.
Be warned!
I am Jinx.

Margaret Wild is best known for her award winning picture books, including Fox and Old Pig. In Jinx she makes her debut as a writer of young adult fiction. Readers can only hope that this is a genre she stays with.

Jinx deals with topics not new to YA Fiction – including teenage angst and youth suicide – yet does it in a style which is both refreshing and daring.

Jinx is told in blank verse, which ensures that every word is carefully chosen and loaded with meaning. It also makes the novel a fairly quick read and accessible to readers of all abilities.

Jinx hasn’t always been called Jinx. She used to be called Jen, before she became a Jinx. Now, no one is safe around her. Her parents have split up, her boyfriends are dying. Perhaps everyone should stay away from her.

Jen’s story is a poignant one, dealing with serious topics, yet doing so with a gentle humour which prevents it from being either black or preachy.

Jinx
is excellent both for private reading and for class study, for children aged 14 and over. It is short listed for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards, 2002.

Jinx, by Margaret Wild
Allen & Unwin, 2001

Tashi and the Haunted House, by Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg

There’s a light in the window of the haunted house, and Tashi is going in.

Tashi is back and has two new adventures to share in Tashi and the Haunted House. In the first story Tashi finds Ning Jing hiding in the haunted house, scared of her nasty cousin Bu Li. Tashi comes up with a spooky plan to scare him right out of the forest. In the second, Tashi is confronted by two mysterious creatures in the village square. Tashi knows the demons are back and they want to beat him. Can he outwit them, and save the village school?

Tashi is an appealing character from a magical far away land, the creation of Anna Fienberg and her mother Barbara. This is the ninth book in the Tashi series, and is sure to convince those who are not yet Tashi fans to read the whole set.

Brought to life in the illustrations of Kim Gamble, Tashi shares his adventures with his friend Jack and the whole family.

Anna Fienberg is the author of many popular and award-winning books for children, including Joseph, shortlisted for the 2002 Children’s Book Council Awards, and Horrendo’s Curse. Her mother, Barbara Fienberg, is the chief plot-deviser for the Tashi books.

Kim Gamble is an award-winning artist. He has illustrated many of Fienberg’s books as well as those of other authors, including Margaret Wild.

Tashi and the Haunted House is sure to delight youngsters aged 6 to 10.

Tashi and the Haunted House, by Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg, illustrated by Kim Gamble
Allen & Unwin, 2002

The Legend of Moondyne Joe, by Mark Greenwood

One of the more colourful characters from Western Australia’s past has been brought to life in a new picture book from Cygnet Books, the children’s imprint of UWA Press.

The Legend of Moondyne Joe
tells the story of Joseph Johns (who became known as Moondyne Joe), who is remembered for his daring escapes from custody.

History has questioned whether Joe was really a hardened criminal, or simply a harmless lover of freedom. Author Mark Greenwood manages to explore Moondyne’s tale without either condemning or condoning his actions, yet the reader finds himself quietly cheering Joe on.

The story is told in simple yet clear detail and is superbly complemented by the gouache paintings of illustrator Frane Lessac (who is also Greenwood’s wife). The illustrations add to the air of history in the piece and are also true to the Western Australian setting. The pictures of the Fremantle Prison are especially accurate.

The addition of a glossary of terms and notes on the convict era are a useful educational tool and also help the independent reader to access the text.

The Legend of Moondyne Joe is an outstanding non fiction picture book text.

The Legend of Moondyne Joe, by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frane Lessac
Cygnet Books (an imprint of UWA Press), 2002

Plotless Pointless Pathetic, by Joshua Wright

Egads! There’s trouble afoot in the land of Sausagopolis.

Somebody has been writing naughty poetry – poetry sure to corrupt the minds of innocent, straight-laced citizens.

But don’t fear, dear reader, because help is at hand – Sir Glame, knight hero, and his trusty sidekick Bill (actually a talking horse) – are on a quest to stop the evil Saucy McRascal, author of the Big Book of Fun

This is, however, no traditional fantasy-quest story. The title, Plotless Pointless Pathetic gives more than a little hint to the true nature of the story.

Author Joshua Wright fills the book with corny jokes, inexplicable plot twists and plenty of general silliness. Cartoons on every page provide distractions and humour.

As Glame and Bill blunder their way through the quest, they encounter colossally scary monsters, scrap trucks and freaky fuzzies, who talk cute but act mean.

This hilarious book will appeal to children aged 8 to 12, athough older readers will also find some laughs.

Plotless Pointless Pathetic is the first book from Joshua Wright. One suspects it won’t be his last.

Plotless Pointless Pathetic, by Joshua Wright
Allen & Unwin 2002

Finding Grace, by Alyssa Brugman

When Rachel leaves school, she thinks she knows everything there is to know.

But when she meets the mysterious Mr Preston and he offers her a job, she is no longer sure. Her job is to look after Grace – a brain-damaged woman who doesn’t talk. Rachel thinks the job is a wonderful opportunity – she gets to live in a beautfiul house close to Uni, and gets paid for babysitting and a bit of cleaning.

The reality is a little harder. She has to contend with the responsibilities of looking after a once vibrant woman who seems to be no longer able to think for herself, as well as contending with rude neighbours and Grace’s predatory sisters. At the same time she is trying to come to grips with Grace’s past and with her own identity.

This is a book with some intense soul-searching and serious issues, but manages at the same time to be funny, with Rachel’s eccentric almost-adult viewpoint and occasional switches from past to present tense.

A short listed candidate for the 2002 Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards (Older Readers Category), Finding Grace will appeal to readers aged sixteen to adult.

Finding Grace, by Alyssa Brugman
Allen & Unwin, 2001

Cowtime, by Kim Barnes

When the sun goes down and the farmers go to bed – it’s COWTIME!

The girls in the cowshed really go to town, dancing and mooing up a storm. But that’s not all – soon the pigs start jumping, horses start wiggling, and the goats, sheep, ducks – even kangaroos and possums – all join in.

This high energy book, by talented writer/illustrator Kim Barnes, is guaranteed to thrill every young reader. The rollicking rhyme, compelte with mooing chorus, is silly enough to have the most serious listener smiling and mooing along.

There are even actions, demonstrated on each page by a dingo, making the book an excellent resource for preprimaries, playgroups and child care centres.

The illustrations are outstanding. Every page is packed full of colour and action. The detail is exceptional, with loads of surprises to be discovered on rereadings. A cat (who refuses to take part in the silliness of the dance) is cleverly hidden on each page, and other clever touches, include the multicultural faces of the human characters, as well as one who is wheelchair-bound.

Cowtime is sure to be an enduring classic.

Cowtime, written and illustrated by Kim Barnes
Scholastic Press, 2002

My Yellow Blanky, by Sofie Laguna

This is Yellow Blanky. We go everywhere together.

Eevry child can relate to the experience of owning a special blanket or toy which spells security and familiarity. In My Yellow Blanky, the special item is, predictably, a yellow blanket.

The child (delightfully unnamed and of an indefinite gender) loves the blanky, especially the special smells it harbours – smells that encompass all of the child’s experiences. But, when Mum takes the blanket away for a wash, something happens to those smells.

The delightfully simple text (little over 200 words) of this title will appeal to preschool aged children and also be accessible for the beginning reader. It would be an excellent bed time story, with its gentle action and message of security.

The beautiful colour pencil illustrations of Tom Jellett complement the text perfectly – the rich pastel tones giving a warmth which echoes the story’s message.

Sofie Laguna comes from an acting background. My Yellow Blanky is her first picture book. She is also the author of Bill’s Best Day, an Omnibus Solo.

Tom Jellet has illustrated a number of children’s books, including Australia at the Beach and Fuzz, the Famous Fly

My Yellow Blanky, by Sofie Laguna, illustrated by Tom Jellett
Omnibus Books, 2002

Murder in Montparnesse, by Kerry Greenwood

There is nothing that inspires Phryne Fisher more than a mystery. When her wharfie mates Bert and Cec come to her for help, Phryne becomes involved in solving a mystery more personal than she first expects.

Bert, Cec and their five mates, celebrating the end of World War I in 1918, have unknowingly witnessed a murder in Paris. Ten years later, two have died in strange circumstances and the remaining five men fear for their own lives.

While Phryne delves into these events in a quest to find the killer, she must deal witht he memories of her own time in Paris. Her former lover Rene Dubois returns to haunt both her dreams and her reality.

At the same time, Phryne’s houshold is in turmoil. Her lover, Lin Chung, is about to be married and her trusted staff are threatening to leave her employ.

Murder in Montparnesse is the twelfth title in the Phryne Fisher series by Australian author Kerry Greenwood. For those not familiar with this sassy, self-styled detective of 1920s Melbourne, there are some unanswered questions about her background, however as the novel progresses these become less important.

Phryne Fisher moves in a world of class and culture, but hovers on the edge of shadow and intrigue. She is equally comfortable with fine art and cocktails as with house breaking and vengeance – on the side of justice, of course.

Murder in Montparnesse is a delight for lovers of crime fiction.

Murder in Montparnesse, by Kerry Greenwood
Allen & Unwin 2002