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

A Dog’s Tale by Barry Jonsberg ill Tom Jellett

‘No,’ said Mum.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘I mean, no. Definitely not, it’s not happening, forget it, Buckley’s, not a snowflake’s chance in hell.’
Her mouth was a slit and her eyes were hard. ‘Now do you understand, Michael?’ She only calls me Michael when she’s angry.
‘Not entirely,’ I said.

Michael wants a dog. Really, really wants a dog. Unfortunately, neither his mum nor his dad share his enthusiasm. They articulate many reasons, and although he has an answer to every objection, the answer is still no. While he tries to change their minds, he sets about showing his parents just how responsible he is. There are colour illustrations on every opening.

A Dog’s Tale’ is a new title in the popular and engaging Mates series from Omnibus Books for young readers. Each tells a particularly Australian-flavoured story, full of humour. Michael is not the first child to want a dog, but his determination to prove his responsibility is unparalleled. No effort is too much, if it might change the decision about a dog. Love the illustrations from Tom Jellett, particularly the dog Michael takes for a walk. Recommended for newly-independent readers.

A Dog’s Tale, Barry Jonsberg, Tom Jellett
Omnibus Books 2017
ISBN: 9781742991399

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

Too Many Friends, by Kathryn Apel

I like my friends.
I like to be with ALL of my friends.
But sometimes my friends
aren’t friendly with
each other.

Tahnee has lots of friends, and she likes to do different things with them. But it isn’t easy having so many friends – some of her friends don’t like each other, or like doing different things, so it gets hard to be a good friend to everyone. Luckily, Tahnee has a big heart, and wise, loving support from her parents and her teacher, Miss Darling.

Too Many Friends is a delightful, warm-hearted verse novel about friendship. Like most classrooms, Tahnee’s year two class is populated by kids with a range of interests, problems and personalities. Miss Darling is energetic, enthusiastic and loves her job. Tahnee loves Miss Darling and she loves school, but she finds it hard to know how to keep her friends happy, and still do the things she loves, and when one of her friends stops talking to her, she needs to figure out what to do. Her solution is lovely.

This is Kat Apel’s third verse novel, and shows the same tender touch as her previous work.

Lovely.

Too Many Friends, by Kat Apel
QUP, 2017
ISBN 9780702259760

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang

Water swirls around my body, dragging me down as if I’m a sack filled with rocks.
Weeds hold me, wrap their feathery arms around me. I kick to get free and my legs scrape against sandpaper boulders.
Bubbles fizz, rise, gurgle, bloody like raspberry lemonade.
‘You will soon be mine, Ziggy,’ the river says lovingly.
A huge shadow swims alongside me. Fur like quicksilver. Yellow eyes glinting.
I fight for air, for life.

Ziggy Truegood is worried. Her father and brothers have moved away, her grandfather is losing his memory and everyone in her tiny town is growing angry. Her beloved Hushing Wood is changing, too, growing dark and scary. And every night Ziggy dreams of her death; drowning on her twelfth birthday. then a strange new boy arrives in town. Ziggy is strangely drawn to him, but she can’t be sure if he is there to help her, or if he is the cause of all the troubles.

The Beast of Hushing Wood is a finely woven blend of magical realism and adventure, set in an at once familiar yet fantastical world, much of which is modern, yet is quaintly different. Ziggy, who loves nature, can see and things which the other townspeople can’t, and this is what puts her in danger.

With the added touch of Wang’s fantastical grey-scale illustrations, The Beast of Hushing Wood is beautiful.

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang
Penguin, 2017
ISBN 9780143309178

Shearing Time, by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath

I love sharing time!
It’s the best time of the year.

It’s shearing time, and it’s all hands on deck to get the job done. From mustering sheep, to drafting out the ewes, to the actual shearing, keeping the shed clean, sorting the wool and, of course, keeping everybody fed, there’s a lot to be done.

Shearing Time is both a celebration of this time of year for youngsters who know and loev farming, and an explanation of it for those who may be less familiar. following the events of one day of shearing – with promise of more days to come – from the perspective of a child who helps her parents and the shearers.

With realistic-styled digital and ink illustrations, and back of book notes and glossary, a useful insight into farming life.

Shearing Time, by Allison Paterson & Shane McGrath
Big Sky Publishing, 2017
ISBN 9781925520095

Daughter of Mine, by Fiona Lowe

It was a family to be proud of, and throughout the one hundred and seventy-five years since the Mannering brothers had crossed the Moorabool River, there’d always been at least one branch of the family living in Billaware. It gave Harriet a reassuring sense of tradition and a great deal of family pride.

Harriet Chirnwell’s life is perfect – which is how she always planned it to be. Descended from the Mannering family, who pioneered the farming district,  with a successful career as a surgeon, an equally successful husband and a daughter who will follow in her footsteps, life could hardly be better. Her sister Xara  has a more chaotic life, married to a farmer, and with a severely disabled daughter and twin sons. A third sister, Georgie, lives in Melbourne, where her busy teaching job leaves her little time to mourn the loss of her still born baby.

But life for all three gets a whole lot more complicated when their mother, a year after their father’s sudden death, turns up to a birthday party with a strange man on her arm. Edwina has always been reserved and very very proper. Now she is glowing with happiness, and happy to cause scandal. But soon, her scandal is overshadowed by an even bigger one.  the lives of the Chirnwell sisters are thrown into turmoil as revelation after revelation shakes their lives.

Daughter of Mine  is a story of family secrets, mothers, daughters and sisters set in rural Victoria and crossing generations.  With complex issues explored, there are many highs and lows, but ultimately this a moving story of the bonds between sisters.

Daughter of Mine , by Fiona Lowe
Harlequin, 2017
ISBN 9781489220349

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Someone yelling wakes me up. I have no idea what time it is. I jump out of bed and head for the kitchen. I almost collide with Mum, who’s also coming out of her room.
‘Go back to bed,’ she whispers.
I don’t Dad is standing in the middle of the kitchen. The fluorescent light is on and he’s in his undies. They bag a little around his arse. He’s pointing at the clock.
‘I’ve got to go to work!’ he’s yelling. ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’
‘Honey,’ Mum says, ‘you don’t need to go to work yet.’
‘Don’t lie to me!’ he roars. ‘I’m supposed to be there!’
‘Honey,’ Mum repeats soothingly. ‘It’s three o’clock in the morning. You go back to bed and it’ll be time to go in another few hours.’
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he yells. ‘What am I doing here? What is this? Who do you think you are?’

Amelia is in Year 12, trying to impress her art teacher, navigating an increasingly unpredictable home life, and trying to work out what’s going on with her friends, particularly her closest friend, Gemma. Her dad is changing, forgetful, angrier more often. Her mum has her own adjustments to make. To Amelia, it’s as though everything she has ever known is changing. And she’s not quite sure what to do. But the days pass, whether or not she wants them to. In the growing chaos and confusion, Amelia begins to work out who she is.

Everyone says Year 12 is big, but no one could have predicted Amelia’s year. It’s not just the work, or growing up. It’s like someone threw her into a tornado and all she can see is a blur. Relationships are at the heart of ‘Before You Forget’, those with family and with old friends and new. ‘Before You Forget’ becomes the song of change, of evolving, of reality. Amelia’s art practice, her struggle to communicate via canvas is a metaphor for her struggle to navigate and understand her changing world. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

Before You Forget, Julia Lawrinson
Penguin 2017
ISVN: 9780143574071

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

The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth

If she’d felt a jolt earlier, this was a canon, blowing a giant hole right through her. Cancer. Had they used that word earlier? She didn’t remember it.
Apparently appeased by her expression – finally the reaction they’d been waiting for – the doctor began to explain it all again, a third or maybe fourth time. Once again, Alice zoned out. because she couldn’t have cancer. She was barely forty, she ate well, exercised occasionally. More importantly, she couldn’t have cancer. She had Zoe.

Since Zoe was born, it has always been just her and Alice. And that’s the way they have both preferred it. Alice has never shared the story of Zoe’s conception, sure that she is enough for Zoe. And for Zoe, who lives with crippling social anxiety, Alice is enough for her. So, when Alice is told she has cancer, her first thought is for Zoe. Who will be there for her daughter? With her parents both dead, and her only remaining relative, her brother, a hopeless alcoholic, Alice reaches out to women newly in her life – her oncology nurse, Kate, and her social worker, Sonja. the three women have more in common than they could ever realise.

The Mother’s Promise is a moving story of strength, friendship and love. While Alice deals with her own battle, each of her two unlikely new friends also has her own private battle to face. At the same time her daughter, Zoe, must deal both with her mother’s illness and with her anxiety and its consequences.

Though the subject matter could make this grim, the story is both warmly and compellingly told.

The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth
Pan Macmillan, 2017
ISBN 9781925479959

How to Bee, by Bren MacDibble

Sometimes bees get too big to be up in the branches. Sometimes they fall and break their bones. This week both happened, and foreman said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll find two new bees.”

With real bees extinct, Peony wants nothing more than to be one of the human bees – children who climb the trees in the orchard and pollinate the flowers by hand, so that the rich people in the city can eat fruit. It’s not an easy life, scratching out a living on the farm, with her sister and grandfather, but at least the foreman makes sure they have food, and Gramps makes sure they have love.  But Peony’s ma wants her to come and live in the city, and won’t take no for an answer.

How to Bee is a moving novel set in a dystopian near-future of haves and have-nots impacted by the extinction of bees and other changes. Peony is feisty, an intriguing blend of innocence and worldliness. Good-hearted, she is torn by loyalty to her mother and the new friend she makes in the city, and her love of the rest of her family and of life in the country.

The premise is both intriguing and important – with the world’s bees declining in numbers – and readers will cheer for Peony as she makes her way through some really difficult times, helping others along the way.

How to Bee, by Bren MacDibble
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294335

My Brother is a Beast by Damon Young, ill Peter Carnavas

Some brothers fish in cloaks,
casting off on drizzly docks.
Some brothers climb in kilts,
hiking round the highland rocks.

The narrator of ‘My Brother is a Beast’ is a younger sister. The reader doesn’t meet her until they also meet the ‘beast’ of a brother. First we meet other brothers who do other things. This narrator idolises the brother who spends time with her, does crazy things. She’s not completely sure about his slime monster concoction, but she loves playing with him. Illustrations are both real and fantastical, and text curls around images. End-papers show the beast of a brother at play.

My Brother is a Beast’, a new title in a picture book series about family members. Previous titles include ‘My Sister is a Superhero’ and ‘My Nanna is a Ninja’. ‘My Brother is a Beast’ celebrates the wonderfulness of brothers They might be weird, they might be wild, but they are for loving and for playing with. Young readers may recognise characteristics of their own brothers, or be encouraged to articulate what it is that makes their own brothers wonderful. They may also be encouraged to invent a new brother who is also a beast. Recommended for early-schoolers.

My Brother is a Beast, Damon Young ill Peter Carnavas
UQP 2017 ISBN: 9781702259579

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