Freedom Swimmer, by Wai Chim

Ma is gone. I fought back tears, gripping the handle of the wheelbarrow tighter so her body wouldn’t tip out too soon. I was taking her to the river to join the other villagers who had passed. I didn’t dare look around – what if one of those bodies had surfaced, caught on a rock instead of being swept away by the current after the last rains? I could almost picture the head of some weeks-dead villager bobbing up beside me, all sunken cheeks and lifeless eyes behind paper-thin lids.

Having watched his parents die in a famine during the ‘Great Leap Forward’, Ming is left orphaned. Sharing a house with other village orphans, he must work hard to grow crops for his village and for the Communist government, with little time for himself. When the Party brings a group of city boys to work in the village, Ming forms an unlikely friend with Li, a charming, likeable city boy. Ming, taught to swim by his father, now teaches Li to swim and as they exchange their stories and their dreams they also start to wonder if there is a chance for freedom.

Freedom Swimmer is a tale of friendship set in 1960s China. Told from the dual perspectives of the two protagonists, the story explores both the effects of living under the fledgling regime, and the efforts of the freedom swimmers, people who attempted to swim from mainland China to Hong Kong, where they would find freedom.

Based on the experiences of author Wai Chim’s father, who made the freedom swim in 1973, Freedom Swimmer is a moving story.

Freedom Swimmer, by Wai Chim
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113414

The Safest Place in London, by Maggie Joel

There was something rather splendid about this woman who would not have looked out of place in the pages of a magazine, but whom fate had put here, in the the East End, in a tube station with a cigarette in her mouth and a small child. It set her apart from the wretched mother and her five starving children.

Diana Meadows is lost. She and her three year old daughter Abigail have come up to London on secret business, and somehow caught the wrong bus. Now she’s in the East End and the air raid sirens are blaring. Not far away Nancy Levin and her own daughter, Emily, are cooking chips for dinner when they, too, hear the siren. They know what to do, having done it many times before, and gather their belongings before heading off to the shelter.Both women’s husbands are off at the war – Diana’s Gerald is serving with a tank regiment in North Africa, while Nancy’s Joe has just left to return to the navy after surviving a torpedoing. The husbands believe their wives and daughters are safe. The two women spend the night camped beside each other in the cramped underground space. Though they don’t speak, each observes the other – and their lives become linked before the all clear sounds.

The Safest Place in London is a gripping, shocking tale of war time life and the lengths mothers will go to to protect their families. With the chance to observe the thoughts processes of both characters, and to see what happens beyond the terrible night in the shelter, readers will grow to know them, and perhaps to understand their actions.

Lots to think about both during and after reading.

The Safest Place in London, by Maggie Joel
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781743310601

My Dog Dash by Nicki Greenberg

My dog Dash wasn’t very well-behaved at puppy school.

I think the teacher could have been a bit more patient with him.

My dog Dash wasn’t very well-behaved at puppy school.

I think the teacher could have been a bit more patient with him.

Dash’s story is told by a young girl who loves him. Dash attends puppy school, but although he does many of the same things as other puppies, the teacher is unimpressed. He’s great at ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ but is still working on other tasks. Walking Dash is slow because he’s interested in everything he sees. But he is her pet, and she loves him, despite what others might see as his failures or peccadillos. Illustrations are full page and provide plenty of humour.

Dash is an unusual dog, but there are plenty of those in the world. This young girl is caring and responsible with her pet, despite the reactions of others. ‘My Dog Dash’ is hilarious and will be fun to share with one reader or many. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

My Dog Dash, Nicki Greenberg Allen & Unwin 2016 ISBN: 9781760110673

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Mr Chicken Goes to Paris, by Leigh Hobbs

On the way to the Arc de Triomphe, he politely asked someone to take his photo.
‘Of course, monsieur,’ came the reply.
‘Merci, madame,’ said Mr Chicken.

Mr Chicken loves to travel and he has never visited France, so when his French friend Yvette invites him, he hops on the next plane. In Paris there is so much to see. He practises his French phrases as he visits the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and more. And, when things don’t go exactly to plan, his friend Yvette is there to help.

Since its first release in 2009, Mr Chicken Goes to paris has been loved by all ages. Mr Chicken is an oversized, startling looking chicken, but his zest for life and quest for discovery make him loveable. The fact that he seems unaware that he is different – and is, in fact, often more interesting to those around him and the landmarks he is visiting – will delight young readers and be the cause of much discussion.

The latest release of includes a copy of the book and a plush Mr Chicken.

Mr Chicken Goes to paris, by Leigh Hobbs
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760293024

Go Home, Cheeky Animals! by Johanna Bell & Dion Beasley

At Canteen Creek here we live, there are cheeky dogs everywhere.

Mum gets frustrated by the cheeky dogs hanging around the cap and tries to shoo them away – but Grandpa says they help to keep the other cheeky animals away. When the rains come, so too do the other animals – first a gang of goats then a drove of donkeys, followed by horses, buffaloes and camels. Finally, everyone has had enough – especially the cheeky dogs, who growl at the cheeky animals until they go home. Now the cheeky dogs have the camp to themselves – untilt he enxt time the big rains come.

Go Home Cheeky Animals is humorous, delightful book filled with cheeky dogs and, of course, the other cheeky animals, getting into all sorts of mischief around the camp. Kids will love the story but will especially connect with the illustrative style of Dion Beasley whose work is really accessible and simple – yet filled with life, humour and detail.

Children from remote indigenous communities are offered a story here which connects with camp life, while kids form other parts of Australia will enjoy the insight Go Home Cheeky Animals offers, alongside its humour.

To learn more about the collaboration behind this book and its predecessor, Too Many Cheeky DOgs, visit the creators’ website here.

Go Home Cheeky Animals, by Johanna Bell and Dion Beasley
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760291655

 

Available from good bookstores or online from Booktopia. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Anders and the Volcano by Gregory Mackay

‘I can’t believe the holidays are almost here, Bernie.’

‘I know. It’s the last day of school already.’

‘I’m so excited!’

‘What do you have planned?’

‘Um …’

‘I can’t believe the holidays are almost here, Bernie.’

‘I know. It’s the last day of school already.’

‘I’m so excited!’

‘What do you have planned?’

‘Um …’

Anders and his friends, Bernie and Eden are looking forward to their holidays, now that school is finished. Anders and his family are going away, as is Eden. But Bernie has no plans as his father has to work. Anders soon sorts that out and Bernie joins his family at the holiday camp. There they spend their time exploring, having fun, making new friends. Eden is happy to join in, but is just as happy to entertain herself with her own projects. Now Anders is not the only one with a beetle, there is even more adventure to be had. Their new friend doesn’t have a beetle, but she does have a cricket, a jumpy one. Cover art shows the friends flying with the aid of their beetles/cricket and the smoking volcano hints at their interaction with this extinct volcano. Characters are drawn lightly as animals of different species.

Told in graphic novel/comic format, Anders and the Volcano is light on text, heavy on image and packaged as a novel. This second adventure with Anders and his friends (Book 1: Anders and the Comet) explores many familiar aspects of summer holidays – going away, exploring, playing, sleepovers. Each of the characters has their own story, and represent a range of family types and backgrounds. The style of the images is uncluttered and gentle and would be accessible to a wide range of readers and reading abilities. Younger competent readers will enjoy the adventures told in the comic style and older readers not ready for full novels will appreciate the different character journeys and the clarity of the text. Recommended for newly competent and mid-primary readers.

Anders and the Volcano, Gregory Mackay
Allen & Unwin 2016
ISBN: 9781760290030

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade by Kate & Jol Temple ill Jon Foye

I discovered three things tody:

Captain Cook was the greatest explorer that ever lived.
Captain Cook is my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great- great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather
Third Grade is going to be the best year of my life.

It’s History Week and learning about Captain Cook is the second-best thing that has ever happened in Ms Fennel’s class. The first, of course, being the escape of Ambystoma mexicanum, which is Wikipedia for axolotl.

I discovered three things today:

  1. Captain Cook was the greatest explorer that ever lived.
  2. Captain Cook is my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great- great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather
  3. Third Grade is going to be the best year of my life.

It’s History Week and learning about Captain Cook is the second-best thing that has ever happened in Ms Fennel’s class. The first, of course, being the escape of Ambystoma mexicanum, which is Wikipedia for axolotl.

Jimmy Cook has just discovered a link to Captain James Cook and decided that these genes mean that he is destined for Big Things. He’s keeping a log – a Captain’s log – of all his plans and observations. One of his plans involves completing some of Captain Cook’s unfinished tasks. But first he has to overcome some obstacles, the most troublesome of which is fellow classmate and all-round pest Alice Toolie. No matter what he does, she seems to get there first. But Jimmy is undaunted. World class explorers have to expect a few setbacks. Illustrations scatter throughout to help Jimmy be sure that readers understand his world.

If bright ideas and enthusiasm are what spins the world, then Jimmy Cook is sure of many whirlwind adventures. His Captain’s log overflows his brilliance and capabilities. Nothing shakes his confidence, nothing gets in his way. Not pesky classmates, not the doubts of others, not reality. He is ready to take on the world. Whether or not the world is quite ready for some of his wilder ideas, is another matter. Young readers will be carried along in the excitement of Jimmy’s missions and laugh out loud at some of the absurdities. Recommended for newly confident readers who still like a few illustrations to break up the text.

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade by Kate & Jol Temple ill Jon Foye

Allen & Unwin 2016 ISBN: 9781760291938

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

This Girl That Girl by Charlotte Lance

This is this girl.

And that is that girl.

This is this girl.

And that is that girl.

This girl and that girl are very different. They dress differently. Their houses are next door to each other but very different. Their families are different in how they look and how they live. But even though they are different in so many ways, this girl and her dad, and that girl and her dad both arrive at the same place. Illustrations are blackline and watercolour, loose and colourful. As the story unfolds, the girls, set in white space, gradually fill the pages with their personalities and adventures.

This Girl, That Girl is a funny and lovely story about travelling different paths to the same destination. It’s about being different within a family as well as to others outside the family. The girls are both fully engaged with their families and their worlds (even when they are at odds with the ‘family way’ of doing things), and both are happy with their own way of living and doing. At the end of the hard work, despite their differences, the outcomes are less different than might have been expected. Great material for classroom and home discussion. The text is spare but the story rich. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

This Girl, That Girl, Charlotte Lance
Allen & Unwin 2016
ISBN: 9781760291709

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

A Police Dog Adventure 3: Fizz and the Show Dog Jewel Thief by Lesley Gibbes ill Stephen Michael King

‘I did it! I’m really here!’ barked Fizz, as he stood outside Sunnyvale City Police Station on his first day of work. Is heart was beating fast. This was the day he’d been dreaming of. This was the day he would be a real undercover police dog.

‘Too chicken to go in, Powder Puff? Little loser!’ sneered Amadeus, bounding up the stairs. ‘Why don’t you go back to the dog shows where you belong? Leave the police work to the big boys.

‘I did it! I’m really here!’ barked Fizz, as he stood outside Sunnyvale City Police Station on his first day of work. Is heart was beating fast. This was the day he’d been dreaming of. This was the day he would be a real undercover police dog.

‘Too chicken to go in, Powder Puff? Little loser!’ sneered Amadeus, bounding up the stairs. ‘Why don’t you go back to the dog shows where you belong? Leave the police work to the big boys.

Fizz, undercover police dog arrives at Sunnyvale Police Station for his first day of work. The last thing he expects is to be assigned at a dog show – the very life he joined the police force to avoid. But he’s an undercover police dog and he’ll do the best job he can. Along with his undercover friend and colleague Remi, Fizz must masquerade as a competitor if they are to discover who is stealing jewels. There is a character page, contents list, and illustrations on every opening. Each named chapter includes a full page image giving hints to the content.

Fizz and the Show Dog Jewel Thief is the third instalment of a new series of early chapter books from Allen & Unwin. Fizz has been determined that he will make his own mark on the world beyond the show arena, despite the urgings of his parents. While he is not a stereotypical police dog, he finds his place in an undercover police dog squad. His attention to detail, clear thinking skills and persistence help him to succeed in solving mysteries. Along the way, he encounters many other dogs who have found their perfect jobs, despite not succeeding as police dogs. Young readers will enjoy all the adventure and mystery as well as the humour. Character pages, contents and chapter pages all add to the access for new readers discovering the magic of chapter books. Recommended for newly confident readers ready for a longer story.

A Police Dog Adventure 3: Fizz and the Show Dog Jewel Thief , Lesley Gibbes Stephen Michael King
Allen & Unwin 2016
ISBN: 9781760112882

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

A Police Dog Adventure 4: Fizz and the Handbag Dognapper by Lesley Gibbes ill Stephen Michael King

Fizz arrived for work at Sunnyvale City Police Station and straightaway smelled trouble. He’d never seen Sergeant Stern look so worried before.

I’d like to speak to you in my office,’ said the sergeant. Remi and Amadeus were already sitting by the desk.

‘What’s happening?’ whispered Fizz.

Ít’s a special undercover assignment,’ said Remi, swishing her tail excitedly. ‘Sergeant Stern called me in this morning. I think it has something to do with the Handbag Dognapper.’

Fizz shivered.

Fizz arrived for work at Sunnyvale City Police Station and straightaway smelled trouble. He’d never seen Sergeant Stern look so worried before.

I’d like to speak to you in my office,’ said the sergeant. Remi and Amadeus were already sitting by the desk.

‘What’s happening?’ whispered Fizz.

Ít’s a special undercover assignment,’ said Remi, swishing her tail excitedly. ‘Sergeant Stern called me in this morning. I think it has something to do with the Handbag Dognapper.’

Fizz shivered.

Undercover police dogs have to keep their cool in all sorts of dangerous situations. And this time, it’s personal. Fizz is no stranger to the world of handbag dogs – his sister is the handbag dog for a famous actress, and is often seen at public events. Now, she is the third victim of the Handbag Dognapper. Fizz has to go undercover at the launch event of a new security collar. With the help of his undercover colleague, Remi, and regular police dog, Amadeus, Fizz has to discover who is stealing the handbag dogs and why. Early pages show the world where the mysteries take place and another spread introduces the characters who appear in this adventure. A contents page lists the named chapters and a full page illustration accompanies the start of every new chapter. Each opening includes illustrations.

Fizz and the Handbag Dognapper is Book 4 in a new series of chapter books from Allen & Unwin’ from the perspective of Fizz, a newly-trained undercover police dog. Fizz may be small, but like many small dogs, he has enthusiasm and energy to spare. He’s gutsy and clear-thinking, resourceful and happy to accept the help of his colleagues. Beneath the adventure and the humour, there is also cooperation, tolerance, and fair play. Newly independent readers can check the character pages to keep track of the larger than normal cast and pause at each chapter to predict what is likely to happen next. Recommended for newly-independent readers ready for a slightly longer chapter book but not yet ready to tackle unillustrated text.

A Police Dog Adventure 4: Fizz and the Handbag Dognapper, Lesley Gibbes Stephen Michael King
Allen & Unwin 2016

ISBN: 9781760112899

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com