Little Witch 1: Secrets and Spells by Aleesah Darlison

Courtney squeezed her eyes together, peering through the rain beating against the car window.
‘What a dog box,’ she moaned, staring at the cottage with its rusted tin roof and paint-peeling walls.
‘No, I take that back. That house is so ugly not even a dog would live there.
Dad twisted around to glare at Courtney. ‘I know this isn’t our idea of fun, Court.’
‘You’re right about that,’ Courtney said. This place is more like my idea of torture.’

Courtney Little and her parents have come to stay in Mixton Bay following the death of the grandmother she’s never met. Her father and her grandmother haven’t spoken in years, and Courtney isn’t thrilled that she’s being dragged to this small town to fix up and sell her grandmother’s house. But now she’s here, she’s curious. What happened here? Why did her father leave? Why is he so grumpy? What was her grandmother like? She discovers that although she never met her grandmother, her grandmother knew about her and has left a book for her. She meets Justice, surfer and potential friend. Life in Mixton Bay may be more interesting than first seemed possible.

Secrets and Spells’ is the first instalment in a magical new series from Aleesah Darlison and Big Sky Publishing. Courtney’s life until now has been a gypsy trail of moving from place to place as her architect father and decorator mother buy, renovate and sell houses. This house may be different, as there is history and mystery here, but Courtney is not convinced. Courtney’s friend-making reluctance and inexperience initially manifest as grumpiness but are overcome by the friendliness of Justice and others. Themes include family, forgiveness, magic and communication. Look out for more magic to come. Recommended for independent readers and lovers of magic.

Little Witch 1: Secrets and Spells, Aleesah Darlison
Big Sky Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925520101

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

Beowulf The Brave retold by Oakley Graham, ill Emi Ordás

A long time ago, before you were born,
Lived a king with a golden drinking horn.
He ruled a cold land, that was peaceful and quiet,
Until a monster called Grendel started a riot!

Grendel hated laughter and one day, at a feast,
The king and his men were attacked by the beast!
The people were terrified, the hall stood silent,
What hero could stop the monstrous tyrant?

Beowulf The Brave’ begins with a father reading a bedtime story to his son. While Dad reads, the son visualises himself as the brave Beowulf, vanquishes Grendel, then his mother, then finally a dragon, before slipping into sleep. Illustrations begin with the bedtime ritual, continue with the action ‘centre stage’ until finally returning to the bedroom as the story ends. Illustrations are digital and fantastical, as any telling of Beowulf must be.

Beowulf, a story poem known for its complexity and drama, was over 3000 lines long. It is an oral tale, not written down for many years after its creation. This version introduces Beowulf and his adventures, in a much briefer form, for a young audience that may baulk at the full story. As the story is told, the boy casts himself as Beowulf. In his imagining, he is the brave hero. ‘Beowulf The Brave’ introduces not just this epic tale, but also the tradition of storytelling that predated written language and books. Recommended for early- to mid-schoolers.

Beowulf The Brave, retold Oakley Graham ill Emi Ordás
Big Sky Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925275933

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

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang by Jane Smith

‘So are you in?’ Francis demanded.
Tommy looked at his feet and shrugged. He didn’t have a good feeling about this.
‘It’s sort of stealing,’ he said.
Francis rolled his eyes. ‘It’s not stealing … it’s only borrowing.’
Martin had a brand new mountain bike and he was bragging about bringing it to school on Monday. Francis was planning to take the bike home to his own place on Monday afternoon.
Without telling Martin.
‘We’ll give it back,’ Francis went on.

Tommy Bell is facing a dilemma. If he wants to be part of Francis’ gang, he needs to do what Francis wants. But some of the things Francis wants to do make Tommy feel very uncomfortable. So far, Tommy has been able to reason his misgivings away, but this feels different. When he gets home from school, Tommy saddles up his horse, Combo. Then he puts on his hat, the one that takes him back in time. And with a dizzy, wobbly feeling, Tommy is back in the nineteenth century, and taking a swim in the lake are Frank Gardiner and a friend. Behind him, is a policeman. The policeman fills him in on what Frank and Co have been up to. But nothing could have prepared Tommy for what would happen next. Notes at the back sort the fact from fiction and a Q&A with a bushranger offers the reader a chance to learn more about individual bushrangers.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang is a Book 3 in this series for younger readers from Jane Smith and Big Sky Publishing. Each tells a fictional tale set both in the present and in the time of the goldrush. Each takes Tommy back in time where he meets up with bushrangers and others. There he finds himself caught up in their exploits and getting to know these men he only knows from stories. Slipping back in time also allows him time to think about his modern day worries. Young readers are offered a more three-dimensional picture of the times and the people of the times. Recommended for independent readers in lower- to middle-primary years.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang, Jane Smith
Big Sky Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925520217

Review Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy 2: The Horse Thief by Jane Smith

There was a new kid at school. His name was Francis and after only one day he was already the most popular kid in Tommy Bell’s class.

The boys liked Francis because he was good t sports. The girls liked him because he was good-looking, and eve the teachers liked him because he was polite and clever. Tommy liked him because Francis loved horses.

There was a new kid at school. His name was Francis and after only one day he was already the most popular kid in Tommy Bell’s class.

The boys liked Francis because he was good at sports. The girls liked him because he was good-looking, and even the teachers liked him because he was polite and clever. Tommy liked him because Francis loved horses.

There’s a new kid at school and he’s very popular. Tommy likes him too because Francis also likes horses. Tommy has his own horse, Combo, near his house on the edge of town. Tommy is pleased to be invited to be part of Francis’s friendship group. But membership requires him to break a school rule, and there are consequences. Although he avoids trouble, Tommy is uneasy.  When Tommy is on holidays with his family, he is again transported back in time. He meets a charming bushranger, Francis Christie who seems to be able to talk himself out of most trouble. Tommy is initially drawn into by his silver tongue, but struggles to maintain his trust of the bushranger. Chapter headings are full page and titled as well as numbered. Illustrations are scattered throughout.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy’ is a new series from Big Sky Publishing. Each adventure brings history to life for young Tommy, by transporting him from life in a rural town to meet up with a bushranger. Tommy has to decide whether or not he is comfortable with the sometimes questionable behaviours and excuses he encounters. Each of the encounters also serve to help him work through dilemmas he his experiencing in his own life. Chapters are short and titles help to hint at what’s to come. Recommended for independent readers in low-mid primary.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Horse Thief, Jane Smith
Big Sky Publishing  2016
ISBN: 9781925520064

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy 1: Shoot-out at the Rock by Jane Smith

Right from the start of the school day, things went wrong for Tommy Bell.

It began when Mrs O’Grady handed back their history tests and Tommy got a big fat two out of ten. She frowned at him and said, ‘Tommy, see me at lunch time.’

That was bad news. Mrs O’Grady was nice but she was strict. Tommy was dreading lunchtime.

‘But history’s boring,’ Tommy tried to explain later, when Mrs O’Grady kept him back. …

… ‘It’s only boring if you’re not using your imagination,’ said Mrs O’Grady.

Right from the start of the school day, things went wrong for Tommy Bell.

It began when Mrs O’Grady handed back their history tests and Tommy got a big fat two out of ten. She frowned at him and said, ‘Tommy, see me at lunch time.’

That was bad news. Mrs O’Grady was nice but she was strict. Tommy was dreading lunchtime.

‘But history’s boring,’ Tommy tried to explain later, when Mrs O’Grady kept him back. …

… ‘It’s only boring if you’re not using your imagination,’ said Mrs O’Grady.

Tommy is struggling to connect with history. It seems to be all facts and figures and that’s boring. His teacher suggests that he needs to connect more by using his imagination. As a consequence of his poor history test results, she gives him a book to read during lunch break. This is not how he planned to spend his lunch break and he’s a bit cross. He’s missing out on donuts! When his plan to get the last donut goes badly wrong, Tommy finds himself in more trouble than he imagined. And to make things even worse, he’s headed off to spend school holidays with his grandfather. Tommy is struggling to make sense of history, because it feels too boring. It also feels like he is being punished unjustly. But his trip to his grandfather’s farm  is wilder than he expects when he is transported back to gold rush times. Now he is living history and it’s anything but boring. There are occasional full-page illustrations scattered throughout. Titled chapter pages hint at the action to come.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy is a new series of early chapter books for independent readers. Part of each book is set in a contemporary country town, and part takes Tommy back to early times when bushrangers roamed the countryside. In this first instalment, Tommy is transported back in time and meets Captain Thunderbolt.  He experiences what it is to live the life of a bushranger. It’s certainly exciting but not necessarily anything like he might have imagined. There are moral and ethical challenges he must confront in the context of this historical world that link to his own life. Recommended for independent readers in lower-mid primary school.
Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy 1: Shoot-out at the Rock, Jane Smith
Big Sky Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925275940

Granny’s Place by Allison Paterson ill Shane McGrath

Granny and Pa’s farm was the best place in the world.

A home build long ago from mud bricks Pa made himself.

It was brimming with treasures of olden days.

Granny and Pa’s farm was the best place in the world.

A home build long ago from mud bricks Pa made himself.

It was brimming with treasures of olden days.

A child reflects on her time shared at her grandparents’ farm. Initial slightly scary elements become less scary with time, and there are plenty of adventures to be had with the animals. In all it becomes her favourite place. Until things change and she has to figure out what she really loves most. Illustrations depict a rural then urban landscape and include many elements of days gone by.

‘Granny’s Place’ is a farm, and it is full of new experiences for a small urban child. Luckily there are bigger cousins and siblings to help negotiate some of the more confronting experiences. There are plenty of elements here for grandparents to share with grandchildren and to stimulate discussions about how things can change. Recommended for pre- and early school-age.

Granny’s Place, Allison Paterson Shane McGrath
Big Sky Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925275636

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Stripes in the Forest: The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine by Aleesah Darlison and Shane McGrath

I am the last of my kind.

This I know.

Once, we roamed the land.

We owned the land.

We called it Home.

I am the last of my kind.

This I know.

Once, we roamed the land.

We owned the land.

We called it Home.

Stripes in the Forest is told in first person from the perspective of the last remaining Thylacine. Her story begins as she first encounters man. She watches cautiously and with growing concern as the white man and his firesticks decimate not just Thylacine populations but those of other native animals. She retreats to more remote forest to keep her young safe. When at last they are ready to leave her, she worries about their survival. There is a note of hope at the end that somewhere, deep in the forests, other Thylacines endure. A final page offers Thylacine facts. Illustrations offer a lush world full of hiding places for animals fleeing white men. Extras include a faux sticker that reminds the reader that it is 80 years since the Thylacine was rendered extinct.

Stripes in the Forest: The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine is a chilling and compelling story. Words and images work together well to evoke both the silence and voice of this final Thylacine. The brief text allows the reader to immerse themselves in the story and to ‘walk’ with the animals. Stripes in the Forest provides rich material for discussion at home and in the classroom and the note of hope invites speculation about if and where survivors may be hiding. A thoughtful blend of fact and fiction. Recommended for lower primary readers.

Stripes in the Forest: The Story of the Last Wild Thylacine, Aleesah Darlison ill Shane McGrath
Big Sky Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925275711

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Meet My Book: Awesome Animals, by Di Bates

It is truly awesome to welcome author Di Bates to the blog today, to introduce us to her new book series, Awesome Animals. Welcome Di. Over to you.

Please tell readers about your new books.

Awesome Animals (Big Sky Publishing) is an entertaining new non-fiction animal series for kids – a Guinness Book of Records meets Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Awesome Cats and Awesome Dogs, the first two books in the series, are each an entertaining new read — a Guinness Book of Records meets Ripley’s Believe It or Not! which features fascinating stories about animals from all over the world. As well, there are relevant book lists, jokes and even humorous animal verses. Each beautifully styled book contains true stories and amazing photographs and quirky, illustrated break-out boxes, introduced by funny cartoon animal characters. The book is best suited for children aged 8 to 11 years, but there’s no doubt older readers will love the books, too.

What are the books about?  

Each of the books is a miscellany of fun facts and stories about real-life cats and dogs. As well, there are poems and jokes and a list of children’s books featuring cats and dogs.

Before writing these books I searched for something similar, but found nothing. Yes, there are books about cats and dogs, but the presentation of content in the awesome books is unique. Take cats, for example: in Awesome Cats there are hundreds of short stories about cats in history, cat adventures, famous cats and famous people’s cats, working cats, spoilt cats, and cats in fiction and in TV, on stage and in movies. Here’s just a little ‘teaser’ from the book: ‘In 1976 a mystery cat in Hong Kong killed more than 20 dogs. According to local people it was about four feet long and black or gray in color. It was never caught.’ Imagine that, a dog-killing cat; certainly not a lap cat!

How did the idea for this series come about?

As a full-time, professional children’s author, I am always searching for an idea which will result in a book that any child would love to read. The three books in the Awesome Animals series are dogs, cats and horses (Awesome Horses will be published in 2016): it would be impossible, I’m sure, to find one of these animals that any child didn’t love, much less cherish. I started researching stories about dogs, first as I’m a real dog lover. Before long, I was finding amazing dog stories everywhere! Here are just a few famous dogs, for example, whose stories are told in Awesome Dogs: Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Old Yeller, Bullet, Scooby Doo and Benji. I just love dogs and really miss our last beloved dog, Sassy; she has been irreplaceable since she died two years ago of old age.

 

Where can people buy Awesome Cats and Awesome Dog?

The books retail for $14.99 each. Here’s where you can get Awesome Cats:

http://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/Books/Children/Awesome-Animals-Cats/1123/productview.aspx

… and Awesome Dogs: http://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/Books/Children/Awesome-Animals-Dogs/1124/productview.aspx

Dying to Know, by Josh Langley

Have you ever wanted to know something so badly that you’d do anything to find out the answer? I’ve had a burning question raging inside me for nearly 15 years and it’s not a flippant question like ‘will blue be the new black this winter?’ It’s the simple age old question that everyone would like to know the answer to but refuses to actually ask.
‘Is there life after death?’

After fifteen years of wondering and with a pressing desire to connect with a recently deceased relative, Josh Langley decided to thoroughly investigate the possibilities and probabilities of the afterlife, in an attempt to answer the question of life after death for himself. His investigations ranged from visiting a crematorium, to consulting mediums, and attending a spiritualist church, as well as looking inwards through experimenting with lucid dreaming and out of body experiences, as well as conducting a ghost hunt.

Dying to Know is an honest and open account of Langley’s attempts to answer the question for, showing both an amazing commitment to his topic, and a willingness to share those experiences with readers. As Langley explains, he wants to establish an answer for himself, but by sharing his journey, he provides an opportunity for others to learn and to ponder.

Easy to read, and thought provoking.

 

Dying to Know

Dying to Know, by Josh Langley
Big Sky Publishing, 2014
ISBN 9781922132482

Available from good bookstores and online.