Rabbit's Year, by Melissa Keil

It’s Rabbit’s year on the Chinese Zodiac, but Rabbit is feeling sad. He has no friends. He knows he’d make a great friend, but that’s not much use if no one else seems to know that. His favourite thing is music but he’s too shy to join with the other animals in making music. So he played his music alone. Other animals hear his music and are drawn to follow it. From having no friends, Rabbit discovers there are many animals happy to help him celebrate his special year. Illustrations are in soft watercolours.

Rabbit’s Year is a gentle exploration of the personality of Rabbit, and those born in this Chinese year. It describes Rabbit’s personality but also the personalities of the other animals of the Chinese Calendar. A final spread provides more information about each of the Zodiac animals, their personalities and the birth years they inform. This is a lovely gentle way to introduce the world of the Chinese Zodiac and will sit nicely with companion title ‘The Race for the Chinese Zodiac’ written by Gabrielle Wang and illustrated by Sally Rippin.

Rabbit's Year

Rabbit’s Year, Melissa Keil ill Jedda Robaard
Black Dog Books 2011
ISBN: 9781742031750

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Tantony, by Ananda Braxton-Smith

We found my brother in the skybog.
It was me that found him.
His body upright in the black water of boghole and his white face upturned to the dawn-pearl sky, like one moon watching another.
Skybog ground is dabbled with sinks of standing water as flat and shining as looking-glasses. When the bog mists curl away the pools show only white cloud or silver moonrays, lightning or stars, like bits of the sky have fallen right into the black earth. those sinks fill with falling rain or rising groundwater. Some are tiny, hardly big enough to hold even one star; some are deep as two men laid down end-to-end.

Fermion Quirk has just lost her ‘soft’ twin brother to the bogs that provide their family with a living. It’s true that Boson was always ‘soft’, but he became so much worse in the last years, since he went missing and was found. From then on, his talk was all of lonely people, voices in his head, and of being a bird. Fermion knows it is the reason that the townsfolk avoid them. Boson’s death threatens to tear Fermion’s family apart and she struggles to find a way to get through to them. Because it’s very soon clear that her mother is too lost in grief, and her father is lost without her mother to keep him on track. Fermion has lost her brother, her twin, and it seems that there is no room at all for her grief. Then the voices begin…

Tantony is set on Carrick, an island in the Irish Sea, in a time long ago. Superstitions and religion fight to explain variations in weather, in harvest, even the birth of ‘different’ children. Anyone different in anyway may be blamed for the sun not shining, the rain not falling and any manner of misfortunes that may occur. Tantony recalls another time, another place, but timeless issues. Fermion, who tells her own story along with that of her brother, her family, her community has a wonderful mix of practicality and openness to new ideas. She loved her brother deeply, but also loves her family too. She exposes the bullying, ignorance and more of the community and comes to understand other outcast community members. With a resoluteness that often appears to border on stubbornness, she saves the family she can. Tantony includes some words from the almost extinct Manx language, but also includes very poetic language. It is a potage of history and wonder. Recommended for secondary school readers.

Tantony (Secrets of Carrick)

Tantony, Ananda Braxton-Smith
Black Dog Books 2011
ISBN: 9781742031668

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Violence 101, by Denis Wright

The management staff of Manakau New Horizons Boys’ Home waited in a cramped office and fidgeted. There were four of them, with an empty chair waiting for a fifth. Helen Grenville looked at her watch for the third time in as many minutes. Eight-fifteen and soon the others would drift off, and Monday was such a busy day. She cleared her throat to begin speaking, and in he breezed.
‘Sorry all, not holding you up, am I?’ Terry slid into his chair and dragged his papers out of a battered leather satchel.
‘No more than you do every Monday, Terry,’ Helen replied tightly, ‘and theirs just so much to do today.’
‘Mea culpa, humble apologies, et cetera, et cetera. Come on, let’s not dilly-dally. What’s up, Helen?’

There’s a new boy coming to Manakau New Horizons Boys’ Home. Hamish Graham. Fourteen-years-old, ultra-bright, ultra-violent. He’s been in trouble since he was a small child, and no one seems to quite know what to do with him. Hamish knows, and he’ll tell you if you ask him. Actually, he’ll tell you even if you don’t ask. And Hamish, via a journal, will also tell you why he behaves the way he does. To him, it’s clear and simple and those who don’t understand are just not trying. He has his heroes: foremost among them Alexander the Great. But there are others too, war heroes and legends, and Hamish is sure he’d be more understood in their worlds than he is in his own present world. People in this world seem to lack the will or intelligence to understand him. But that’s their problem, he reasons, not his. The cover shows a teenager’s single eye staring intently out, intelligent and provocative.

A novel with the title Violence 101, and with a cover like this is not going to be light and fluffy. And nor should it be. Denis Wright dives deep into a troubled boy’s psyche and looks out through his eyes. To him, his reactions and responses are totally reasonable. But to most of the staff at the ‘homes’, his reactions and explanations are something quite other. Violence 101 is not an easy read, and again, it shouldn’t be. It takes the reader from an uncomfortable place, pushes them hard until finally they stand on the edge of a precipice with the wind blowing the wrong way. Is Hamish right? Is he just misunderstood by those with insufficient intelligence or imagination? Or is Hamish the ultimate unreliable narrator, showing that his intelligence has one big blind spot when it comes to self-analysis. An uncomfortable yet riveting read. Recommended for lower- to mid-secondary readers and beyond.

Violence 101

Violence 101, Denis Wright
Black Dog Books 2011
ISBN: 9781742031781

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Six, by Karen Tayleur

It is a small car. A light-coloured car. Hard to determine exactly what colour it is in the grey of the pre-dawn – maybe white or silver or pale blue. All is quiet save for the ticking of the cooling engine and the bark of a neighbourhood dog.
Soon this will change.

One car. Six teenagers. Five seatbelts. Not a good combination – especially when mixed with an afters party, a hint of alcohol and a wet road. The Prologue of this gripping novel shows the reader a glimpse of the aftermath of a terrible accident, leaving the reader in no doubt how the action which follows will culminate, but what keeps the pages turning is the desire to learn which of the six viewpoint characters – if any – is killed in the accident and which survives, as well as exactly what it is that leads them to be together in the car.

The six characters – three girls and three points – are from a variety of backgrounds. Some are friends, some not. Their respective journeys through year 12 are quite different, but what they do have in common is a seemingly coincidental meeting the previous summer, where they make a shocking discovery which overshadows the months which follow.

Six is a delicious blend of thriller and coming of age story which is sure tot ickle the palate of teen readers who will enjoy unravelling the connections between the six characters and trying to work out what has happened and what will happen. Told chiefly from the first person perspective of one girl, Sarah, there are also chapters from either first or third person perspective of each of the others, to make a satisfying whole.


Six, by Karen Tayleur
Black Dog, 2010

9781742031552 This book is available in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Diva Series, by Sue Lawson

I’m Mickey Farrell, the youngest girl in a family of three. My sisters, Sam and Gemma are Sports-Tragics. You name it and they not only play it, but they win every trophy possible.
They dream of being sporting legends.
I dream of being a singing star.
A month ago I was lying on my bed reading Girlz Stuff, when the Dream Productions advertisement practically jumped off the page. Imagine – the hottest CDs, cool clothes and heaps of fans. It would be a dream come true!

Mickey Farrell is in pursuit of her dream – to be a singer. And the competition gives her an opportunity to spend time with others who think like she does, that singing is the best thing. Along the way, she discovers there are plenty of girls who love singing as much as she does. However, they don’t all approach the competition in quite the same way. Some are so nervous they can hardly perform, and at the other end, there are some who are so sure of victory they feel they don’t have to be nice to anyone. Mickey makes some wonderful friends, and learns that even the most horrid girls sometimes have reasons for their behaviour. She loves the opportunity to work with industry professionals and to improve her singing and the dancing she’s much less confident about.

This is a repackaging of the very successful Diva series first released in 2006. The covers are more sophisticated and shiny too! Each cover is a different colour and features a silhouetted singer/dancer. Mickey, the main character, has a burning ambition to be a successful singer as do most of the other contestants. But the reader is introduced to many other personalities. Most are friendly and keen to participate, not just to win, but there are others who seem to delight in the misfortunes of others. Mickey’s nemesis, Coco, is downright horrid, although Lawson allows the reader peeks into her life which help to explain why she is as she is. It’s like a mini world, with the nice girls, the nervy ones, and the very nasty ones. There are themes of competitiveness, community as well as a view into the world of the reality television franchise. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers, particularly girls who fancy a career in television and singing.

It's a Girl Thing (Diva)

Diva series:
It’s a Girl Thing, Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031675
Rising Star , Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031682
Going Solo , Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031699
Finale, Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2011 ISBN: 9781742031705

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

Merrow, by Ananda Braxton-Smith

Auntie Ushag said I wasn’t fit to be around. She said it was beyond her how a body could be so prickly and dark. She said it gave her the Screaming Purples just to look at me, always lying about looking sideways at her like a reptile on a hot rock. That if I couldn’t raise myself on my hind legs and help, the least I could do was Go Away and leave her to it.
Honour Bright, all I said was I wished she’d open her mind a bit and that she didn’t know all about everything. I said she couldn’t prove that our Marrey great-grandmother wasn’t a merrow. she couldn’t swear that Mam had run away after Pa drowned, now could she? All I said was perhaps Mam had actually just gone home to her people under the sea, and that she could come back to us one day, if she wanted to. I only said it was possible.

Neen is growing up in a remote part of a small island, surrounded by ocean and the myths the sea generates. Neen’s father died near her birth, and her mother disappeared about a year later. Neen has been raised by her aunt, Ushag, her mother’s younger sister. They struggle to survive and there’s little Ushag finds joyful. Neen is endlessly curious, about life in general and about her mother in particular. Stories from the town come via Ma, a neighbour and her blind fiddle-playing son, Scully. There has long been talk that the Marreys have merrow (mermaid) blood. The more Neen thinks about it, and the more she explores the shores, the more she is sure that her mother is still alive. Neen is convinced that her mother has returned to her home under the sea, to be with her husband, Neen’s father. Nothing Ushag says will convince her otherwise.

At once ancient and modern, Neen’s is a search for identity. Most teens reach a point when they begin their future by seeking to understand their past. For most that’s a matter of asking the questions. But when the answers are not available, or buried in mystery, it’s more complicated. Neen has no ability to see beyond her aunt’s gruffness or reticence. She can only believe what she wants to believe. Time and the truth bring her to understanding slowly and she discovers that nothing is as simple as it seems, nor as complex. Neen tells her story in first person, and the reader shares her thoughts and frustrations as well as the limitations her youth and experience impose. The power, turmoil, and the secrets of the sea provide a rich backdrop to Neen’s growing maturity. Revel too in the stories of the merrows themselves. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.


Merrow, Ananda Braxton-Smith
Black Dog Books 2010
ISBN: 9781742031361

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Goal! by Catherine Chambers

Pinpointing the origins of football is rather like scrambling for the ball itself. “It’s MINE! I got here FIRST!” Many claim it, but few can prove it. Kicking a pebble may well have been born in a prehistoric cave; we’ll probably never know for sure. But with regards to a more structured game, there are written histories, archaeological finds and artworks from ancient China and Japan to Egypt, Greece, Rome, Australia and the Americas. As archaeologists work their way around the globe, they’ll probably find that football’s web of roots reaches almost everywhere. and while the games may vary from country to country, city to city, and school to school, the name “football” has been used for centuries, while the name :soccer” is a much more recent invention.

Australians have mostly known football to be the game that uses the Sherrin, features marks and long kicks and has four posts at each end of the playing field. But the world knows football as the game Australians once called soccer. Catherine Chambers suggests that football owes its world popularity to its roots in almost every country. In Goal!she explores the history of football from early documentation to current statistics. And like the global coverage of the World Cup, no country or individual element is forgotten. Discover why a king called the game dangerous, one mayor thought playing it would contribute to the spread of foot and mouth disease and some churches declared playing it a sin! See how the rules evolved to those used today and why umpires are now called referees. ‘Goal!’ includes player profiles and statistics, chapters on female football, politics and money, and many info bites with anecdotes and oddities.

Catherine Chambers also wrote ‘A History of Cricket’ and employs the same engaging conversational style in Goal. She invites the reader to come take a chair and discover why football is the sport for everyman (and woman). From seed-filled cloth balls to the challenges of World Cup qualification, Goal!is jam-packed full of football. There is a list of contents, glossary and extensive index, making navigation easy for the can’t-sit-still, dip-in reader. The progression from ancient to modern times entices sequential reading. There are ball-shaped bios that pass from one to the next featured player. It’s like a ‘choose your own adventure’ for sport. Recommended for upper primary, early secondary readers, and anyone who wants to know more about football with the round ball.


Goal! Catherine Chambers
Black Dog Books 2010
ISBN: 9781742031576

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Fury, by Shirley Marr

My name is Eliza Boans and I am a murderer.
I know. It’s pretty shocking, huh?
To think I actually had a better surname before my parents divorced and my mother went back to her maiden name, taking me kicking and screaming with her. See, the judge gave Dad the Jag and gave Mum, well, me. She spewed big time over that. But seriously, unlike what that do-gooder Chaplain here thinks, I didn’t just wake up one morning and say to myself, “what a lovely day, I think I might go out and kill someone.”

Eliza Boans is 16 and in her last year of school. She’s pretty, rich, has a father she’s not seen for a decade and a famous lawyer mother she seldom sees. Oh, and she’s sitting in a police station, accused of murder. Eliza is cool and angry, in control and naïve all at the same time. Eliza introduces the reader to the wealth and privilege of her home and school and the neighbourhood. When new girl Ella arrives at the school, Eliza befriends her, despite the reservations of her two best friends Lexi and Marianne, and partly to annoy the ‘two Jane Blondes’. Eliza is outspoken and her actions earn herself detention in the canteen (although she often feels misjudged). Then there is the party.

Fury brings to mind a wind, slowly gathering intensity until it is a maelstrom. Eliza is an unreliable narrator, wearing a protective veneer so strong it seems unbreakable. She talks smart, and keeps most people away with her acid tongue and toughness. Initially she is not particularly likeable as a character, but as the story progresses, reasons for this unfold. When she is charged with murder, she refuses all help and pushes away her mother, her mother’s lawyer, her friends. Only one person, the police anthropologist, has any measure of her trust. Slowly, he supports her until she is ready to tell the story that may free her, may incriminate her. Shirley Marr takes the reader inside the world of wealth and privilege and shows that not all is shiny. Themes include friendship, family, safety and independence. Fury is for mature readers in middle secondary years.

Fury, Shirley Marr
Black Dog Books 2010
ISBN: 9781742031323 review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond.

Mama's Song, by Ben Beaton

At 4.00 a.m. she screamed.
A harsh piercing noise. I thought everything in the room would shatter.
At 4 a.m. she screamed because she wanted to live.
I cried.
At 4 a.m. I cried because I didn’t know if I wanted her to.

George (Georgina) is running away from her family, her friends and her mistakes. But one thing she cannot run from is the fact that she is about to become a mother. In a country hospital, away from everyone she knows, George gives birth to a baby girl. In the days that follow she must grow from being a troubled teen to being a mother to Hannah, her baby.

It isn’t an easy transition, but Hannah makes new friends in the hospital – including other first time mothers. There is Mary who, at 38, has relied on IVF to have her baby, and Nasreen, whose baby has come early – too early. George learns from and shares with these women, but she also learns from herself, as she reflects on the events which led her to this time and place, with a new perspective.

Mama’s Song is an amazing young adult novel – amazing for its intensity, and for its accurate portrayal of the turmoil new mothers (of any age) can face. However, teens do not need to be young mothers themselves to be able to relate to George’s story, being offered a wonderful insight into her life both previous to her pregnancy and now.

This debut novel for Perth author Ben Beaton hints at a stellar career to come.

Mama's Song

Mama’s Song, by Ben Beaton
black dog, 2009

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Big Stories from Little Lunch, by Danny Katz

Mrs Gonsha has a big bum.
It’s a huge bum. Her bum is so big and wobbly, it looks like a gigantic beanbag made out of porridge.
Whenever Mrs Gonsha goes walking around the school, her bum wobbles and jiggles and wiggles and bobbles – and when she stops walking, her bum keeps wobbling and jiggling and wiggling and bobbling for a bit longer.
One day Mrs Gonsha was walking around the school with her big bum wobbling and bobbling, wiggling and jiggling. All the kids were playing on the slide, going up and down, up and down.
Mrs Gonsha came over and said, ‘Hey kids, that looks like fun, can I have a go?’

Big Stories from Little Lunch is a collection of the five ‘Little Lunch’ titles from Danny Katz and illustrated by Mitch Vane. Each of the individual titles comprised 3 stories. All stories feature the same children although different children take the lead role. Their teacher, Mrs Gonsha, appears in some of the stories, and the principal is mentioned but unseen. Each story occurs during ‘little lunch’, or recess, in a school yard. Characters range from show offs to fairy-artists, from naughty to nice, as seen in most school yards. There’s Manny with his amazing little lunch packs, Rory who has his own special chair in the principal’s office and Atticus who needs his glasses. Text is spare and there are illustrations on most pages.

Big Stories from Little Lunch is off-beat, ordinary, gross and spectacular…often all in the same story. Stories are short and ideal for the newly confident reader wanting to transition from picture books but not yet ready for chapter book. Each story deals lightheartedly and humourously with the wonderful ordinariness of the playground. Children will recognise themselves and their playmates and the things that happen in the playground. All manner of adventures happen in the 15 minutes of little lunch, and all are wrapped up neatly and satisfactorily by the time the school bell rings. Mitch Vane’s pen and ink drawings set the tone for these funny tales. Recommended for lower primary.

Big Stories from Little Lunch , Danny Katz, ill Mitch Vane
black dog books, 2009
ISBN: 9781742031071

Big Stories from Little Lunch (Little Lunch S.)

reviewed by Claire Saxby, children’s writer

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.