Diary of a Would-be Princess 3, by Jessica Green

Sunday, 27th December
Bah, humbug, ho ho ho.
What sort of Christmas is it when your present is pens and folders and lined paper to set you up for high school? Who wants to think about school now? And this book. It’s a journal. Mum says it’s to jot down notes and important dates like when assignments are due. Why think of that at Christmas?

This is the third instalment of Jillian’s diaries and now she’s finished with primary school and beginning high school. Each of the previous novels covered a year, as does this one. In her first diary, Jillian sought to be one of the princesses at school. Now, at the start of Year 7, the princesses are still around but joining them is no longer her aspiration. But she does want to fit in, to make new friends, to be popular. There are a few kids from her old school, her old friendship group, but they don’t necessarily fit her idea of high school friends. She finds a new friend, then discovers that she’s uncomfortable with some of the things her friend does. Although she initially finds her friend’s pranks funny, for her the joke soon wears off. Then she needs to decide just what’s important to her and what she will do to achieve her goals. To help and hinder her are her family, Mum, Dad, older brother Richard and younger brother Paul.

Jilly wants to fit in. But fitting in sometimes means compromising on the values you’ve grown up with, the values you live with. Jilly has an annoying older brother who sends her advice on calendar discard pages, a just-starting-school younger brother who needs looking after, a mother who wants her to be a girl, and a dad she can still talk to. She’s very lucky and part of her knows it. But it takes her setting aside her own woes and looking behind the behaviour of other people to really appreciate her family and the strong foundations she has. Jilly is a strong-minded, outspoken character with a wry humour and a good sense of right and wrong. Her diary is funny, insightful and affirming. It reads well as a stand-alone, although the title is a little misleading for this particular instalment. Recommended for upper-primary readers.

Diary of a Would-be Princess 3, Jessica Green
Scholastic Press 2010
ISBN: 9781741697407

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

The Phar Lap Mystery, by Sophie Masson

April 3, 1931
It’s funny how some days that start of well can end up really badly. Today, my eleventh birthday, was just like that. It was bright and sunny when I woke up, and Dad sang happy birthday to me at breakfast and gave me a new set of pencils and this diary. he knows how much I love writing, and that I want to be a writer when I grow up. So he picked out a really nice one for me, it’s even got a tiny key so you can lock it up and no-one can poke their nose into what you’ve written! He said, ‘This is for you to practise, sweetheart, because all famous writers have to start somewhere!’

It’s the 1930s in Australia – Depression time – and Sally and Dad are doing it tough. Dad’s a private detective, but he hasn’t worked for months. Then he gets a call about investigating attacks on Phar Lap, the most famous horse in Australia. It pays well and Sally begins to see her old happy Dad, not the grump he’s been lately. It’s just Sally and Dad since Mum’s death, so Sally travels with Dad to Melbourne to begin the investigation. She keeps track of what’s going on in her diary, seeing it as practice for her future career as a mystery writer. But it’s all very exciting too, as she gets to meet Phar Lap and the people who look after him. Fact blends with fiction as Sally and her dad follow Phar Lap’s fortunes and fame across the ocean to America and Mexico. And throughout, Sally maintains her diary, documenting her own life, as well as Phar Lap’s.

Phar Lap is well-known now to most Australians, but what was it like to be around when he was actually winning races? Sophie Masson takes the reader back in time to show them what it was like to be living alongside a legend. What Australians remember now is a fast, good-looking horse, universally loved. But of course nothing is ever that simple. A horse that wins every race is no good to bookies who make their money on the chance that a horse will win, not the certainty. Sally is exposed to the romance of the unbeatable Phar Lap but also the criminal elements of the racing world. Sally’s diary spans a year from her eleventh to her twelfth birthday. As well as recording the excitement of the Phar Lap story, she documents the evolution of her ‘family’ from just Dad, to include friends new and old, locally, interstate and internationally. Recommended for upper primary readers.

The Phar Lap Mystery (My Australian Story)

The Phar Lap Mystery, Sophie Masson
Scholastic Press 2010
ISBN: 9781741697278

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.

The Hunt for Ned Kelly, by Sophie Masson

I do not think that anyone alive in our time will ever forget Ned Kelly. I know I never shall. Was he a hero? Was he a villain? I cannot say, even now. But he will live in my memory forever, the dark and the bright, together.

It is 1879 and 12 year old Jamie Ross and his older sister Ellen are travelling through Victoria. The Kelly Gang is on the roam, but Jamie and Ellen are not afraid. Rather, Ellen is hoping to have the opportunity to photograph them and make her fortune.

But their encounters with the Kelly’s and their supporters are not as they expect, and when the chance to take the photo arises, the chance to make money is no longer as exciting as it seems.

The Hunt for Ned Kelly is a diary format story exploring the life and times of Ned Kelly through the experiences of a child character. Like other titles in the My Australian Story series, the story combines fiction with history to give young readers a personal experience of this piece of history.

The Hunt for Ned Kelly will appeal to upper primary aged readers.

The Hunt for Ned Kelly (My Australian Story)

The Hunt for Ned Kelly (My Australian Story), by Sophie Masson
Scholastic, 2010

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

My Life & Other Catastrophes, by Rowena Mohr

Tuesday 19 April 4.30 pm
Okay, let me get one thing straight. This is not going to turn into Bridget Jones’s Diary. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be writing in this stupid thing but I can tell you right now you’re not going to get any personal stuff. Mrs Parisi – she’s my English teacher – said that this is simply supposed to be an exercise in self-expression and even though we have to hand these diaries in at the end of the year, no one is actually going to read them. Like I’m going to fall for that one!

Erin is fifteen, starting Year 10 and trying to cope with a life that seems to be spiralling out of control. She has to write a diary all year and it becomes her confidant when she is sure no one else is listening. Her best friend is becoming distant; her father is unemployed and boring; her mother is dating the ‘creepazoid’, Erin’s PE teacher. Even her little brother Ben seems to be having a better life. Erin tries to be helpful, telling her mother her boyfriend is a creep, explaining life to her friend, and even advising her singing coach Brendan on what to do with his psycho mother. But no one is listening. Erin is on her own, determined to save her world.

My Life and Other Catastrophes is told in first person through Erin’s diary. Erin is feisty and opinionated and sure she’s right. About everything. Her world gradually unravels and the reader begins to understand some of the reasons for her sometimes irrational outbursts. Erin is struggling with the divorce of her parents, confused about her changing friendship, clueless about boys. She wraps her perceptions tight around her and will brook no other explanations. Every relationship is suspect, every motivation is suspect, no one is on her side. Erin’s diary is exquisite agony, the reader aware of her skewed observations, but laughing at her words. Themes include friendship, relationships, honesty, mental health. There’s also a healthy indication that keeping secrets is not always healthy. Recommended for lower- to mid-secondary readers.

My Life and Other Catastrophes, by Rowena Mohr
Allen & Unwin 2008
ISBN: 9781741752861

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

Riding With Thunderbolt, by Allan Baillie

Ben Cross has been orphaned by the smallpox epdiemic and he has come to live with his brutal uncle, who beats and abuses him. So when his mate Thommo suggests they run away and join the bushranger Thunderbolt, Ben feels he has nothing to lose.

For the next two years Ben travels with Thunderbolt’s gang and family. He befirends Thunderbolt’s wife, Mary and their two small children, helping with the chores of cooking and providing for the campsite. He acts as cockatoo (lookout) for the gang when they conduct their raids and hold-ups. At the same time, Ben experiences the highs and lows of the bushranging life. He sees his mate Thommo killed by a trooper during a shoot out, lives with the threat of being caught and imprisoned, and learns about friendship and loyalty.

Riding With Thunderbolt is part of the My Story series from Scholastic and, as such, is written in diary format in the voice of young Ben. Readers aged 10 and over will be drawn into the tale by this first person narrative which enables the author not to impose an opinion of the bushranger lifestyle, but rather to show its impact on one young life.

A good solid read from a reliable author.

My Story: Riding With Thunderbolt – the Diary of Ben Cross, by Allan Baillie
Scholastic, 2004

Remember Me? by Moya Simons

Amber’s Mum has bought her a diary, because she thinks it’s a good way for Amber to get rid of the worries that clutter her mind. If she writes them down every night before bed, she’ll be able to sleep better.

Amber’s mind is cluttered because her life is more than a little cluttered. For years it’s just been her, her mum and her dog Buster. Now, though, things have changed. Her Mum has married Thick Nick and he’s come to live with them. And if that wasn’t enough to cope with, her real dad, who she hasn’t seen for years, has suddenly reappeared.

Having survived without a dad for so long, Amber now has both a real dad and a step-dad to deal with. And it seems the pair aren’t just competing for her affections, but for business in their hardware shops too.

Amber’s diary gets a real workout as she works through her confusing family.

Suitable for ages 10 to 12, Remember Me? is a lively mixture of humour and insight, from popular author Moya Simons. Great reading.

Remember Me?, by Moya Simons
Omnibus, 2003