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

I Love You by Xiao Mao ill Tang Yun

Ms Giraffe is Little Badger’s teacher.
She is very kind and very clever.
One day, Ms Giraffe writes some new words on the whiteboard.
Wo ai ni
Ti amo
Je táime
Ich Liebe dich
Te quiero

Little Badger loves school and when her teacher teaches them how to say ‘I love you!’ in multiple languages, she’s very happy to practice. She says ‘I love you!’ all the way home. At home, she continues, practising, practising in different languages all the way through dinner, her bath and to bedtime. Her parents are caught up in her enthusiasm and reaffirm their love in different languages. All characters are represented as animals. Illustrations are stylised, pencil and paint. End-papers reflect some of the elements Little Badger loves.
I Love You’ was originally published in China and the first alt-language offering in this new edition is appropriately in Chinese (both phonetic and in script). Ms Giraffe introduces the idea that all languages express the same emotion, but with different sounds. Little Badger applies her new knowledge generously. This is a lovely book, with friendly illustrations and will be enjoyed at home, in kindergartens and in schools to introduce different languages. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

I Love You, Xiao Mao ill Tang Yun
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059762

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

Keeper of the Crystals 5: Eve and the Griffin’s Gold by Jess Black

Eve was not good at waiting.
She stood with her nose pressed against the cold glass while balancing on tiptoe on the arm of the couch. From this height she could see all the way to the corner of Stewart Street. Eve knew that this was the way her grandmother, Sylvie, would walk from the bus stop when she arrived.

Eve and her dragon, Ingvar, are waiting for Sylvie and Oscar to arrive. Sylvie is Eve’s grandmother and Oscar her friend. They’re staying with Eve while her parents are out of town. Eve, Sylvie and Oscar have had many adventures ‘and travelled to many worlds’. Eve’s not expecting any adventure or danger this visit, but she’s always prepared. Just as well, as adventure seems to find her. This time, there’s a visit from an old enemy and a griffin who needs their help in Dracburn, where one-eyed men are stealing the lining from griffin nests. While her grandmother deals with the old enemy, Eve, Ingvar and Oscar are off on a new quest.

What young girl wouldn’t want a dragon as a companion? And the ability to help other creatures in magical worlds. Keeper of the Crystals: Eve and the Griffin’s Gold is Book 5 in this series from New Frontier Publishing. It’s at newly competent readers wanting to be whisked away on magical adventures full of jewels and wondrous creatures. Eve is a gentle champion who works with her friends to solve mysteries and rescue those in distress. She must be brave and resourceful and overcome seemingly impassable obstacles to succeed in her missions. And she does. Then arrives home in time to spend time with her grandmother. Recommended for young readers, ready for fantastical stories.

Keeper of the Crystals 5: Eve and the Griffin’s Gold, Jess Black
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059830

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

The Pretty Delicious Café by Danielle Hawkins

One Wednesday in October I spoilt a perfectly good spring evening by going to bed with a book called Run, Bobby, Run. Hugh at the deli had lent it to me that afternoon when I dropped in for twenty kilos of coffee beans, promising a gripping, fiendishly clever read, and after a solid fortnight of my late Great-Aunty Sheila’s Anne Hepple novels I thought that sounded like just the thing.
It wasn’t.

The Pretty Delicious Café’ is set in a small town on the coast in New Zealand. Lia and her friend Anna run a café that gets very busy in tourist season. Sounds idyllic. And it is. Or would be, if life hadn’t also introduced pre-wedding nerves in your business partner … who is about to marry your twin brother … and an ex-boyfriend who won’t take no for an answer … and two differently challenging parents who live (luckily) in different places … and a business that’s not yet on firm footing. Lia has it all, and then some. On the night ‘The Pretty Delicious Café’ begins, she also has a prowler.

Lia is just trying to make a go of life. She has loving but eccentric family and friends around her and she’s doing her best to make a go of the café she co-owns. But it’s hard to keep your focus when an old romance is over, a new one may just have appeared, your partner is behaving strangely and you feel you are parenting your parents. ‘The Pretty Delicious Café’ is full of love and laughter, drama and excitement. An entertaining peek into small town world, jam-packed with character and charm. Recommended for readers who like their stories fast-paced and with a happy ending.

The Pretty Delicious Café, Danielle Hawkins
HarperCollins 2016 ISBN: 9781460752586

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

The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer

I stared into the shark’s unblinking eye. The voices grew louder. It felt like they were calling me. I tried to understand, but the mako’s black eyes were frightening. I looked away.
The voices stopped. 

Isabel (Izzy) and her mother are returning home to the place she was born – an island in Papua New Guinea. Izzy loves her home, but this time, her journey is sad. They are taking the ashes of her much-loved twin brother home to be scattered.

On the island, Izzy and her mother start to heal, but Izzy also sees that the island is changing. The environment is changing, threatened by logging and modern technologies, and the sharks no longer answer the cries of the village shark callers. The clan needs someone to take an offering deep beneath the sea in a traditional offering to the shark god. The person must be a twin from the shark-calling lineage. Lizzie is the last twin. I will take great courage to even attempt the challenge.

The Shark Caller is a gripping, moving story of bereavement and courage, combining contemporary realism with fantasy elements. The issues of grief and of family obligations are combined with broader issues of environmental change and the impact of modernisation on traditional communities and ecocultures.

Suitable from readers in upper primary and beyond.

The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780143780557

The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, by Lisa Shanahan

It struck Henry that perhaps he was waiting for the exact right moment to be daring and brave. The exact right moment where he felt no worry at all, not one tiny flicker. But what if that moment never came?

Henry Hoobler and his family are off on holiday – but Henry would rather stay home with his Nonna. There are lots of scray things about a camping holiday at the beach – sharks, spiders, snakes and blue-ringed octopi. But the thing he is most afraid is the new bike he got for Christmas, which is strapped to the trailer. Everybody wants him to ride it – but Henry is scared he’ll fall off.

The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is a feel-good story about what it the meaning of bravery, friendship and family. As Henry tries to summon the courage to get on his bike, he navigates a new friendship with Cassie, who lives in the holiday park, and conquers other fears, including helping his little sister find a lost pony in the middle of the night. He also observes those around him learning new things and taking on challenges of their own.

With laughter, moments of poignancy, and lots of feel-good moments, The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is a treat.

The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, by Lisa Shanahan
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760293017

A Shadow’s Breath, by Nicole Hayes

‘We need to get out of here,’ Nick says.
Tessa nods gingerly. She must have hit her head at some point; pain like a knife presses behind her ear, and she’s plagued by the constant feeling of battling to stay conscious. She feels trapped and helpless, but she knows they can’t stay in the car.

Tessa’s life has been difficult for a long time: the death of her father when she was just eleven was followed by her mother’s battle with alcohol and an abusive new partner. Lately, though, things have been improving. It’s just Tess and her mum at home, and Tessa has a boyfriend, Nick, who she adores. Now, though, Tessa and Nick are in trouble. A corner taken too fast on an remote road has left them trapped in a car. No body knows where they are, and it’s up to Tess to lead them to safety. Thing is, she isn’t sure that she wants to be found: maybe it is all to hard to carry on.

A Shadow’s Breath is a heart wrenching tale of bravery in the midst of terrible circumstances. Using alternating chapters of ‘Then’ -(Tessa’s life before the accident) and ‘Now’ (the aftermath of the accident, and Tessa’s struggle to find a way out of the wilderness she and Nick have crashed in) the story gradually reveals both what lead to the crash and the days following, inviting readers to unravel events as they gain more understanding.

Both beautiful and heartbreaking, A Shadow’s Breath is a journey readers will be glad they took.

A Shadow’s Breath, by Nicole Hayes
Random House, 2017
ISBN 9780143781097

Lizzie and Margaret Rose, by Pamela Rushby

But I did, I did! There was no way I was letting go of it. It was my scrapbook, my scrapbook about the little princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose – the one I’d been named after. I’d been keeping it for years, cutting out and sticking in pictures of the little princesses and all their doings from magazines and newspapers. It was very special to me, that scrapbook, and I wasn’t letting go of it for anything.
It was the reason I was still alive.

It is 1940, and Margaret Rose lives in London, far away from her cousin Lizzie in Australia. But when Margaret Rose’s family home is destroyed in an air raid she finds herself bound for Australia on a ship. Lizzie’s family are happy to take Margaret Rose in, but Lizzie isn’t so sure. Her cousin is getting all the attention, and Lizzie’s life is changed by sharing her bedroom and her classmates.

The war takes a little longer to reach Townsville, in Australia’s far north,and Mrgaret Rose is safer there. But as the war rolls on, it also draws closer to Australia, and both girls share the realities of war time life.

Lizzie and Margaret Rose is a story of war, of family and friendship set both in London and in Townsville, as well as on the ship travelling between the two countries. Told in the alternating first person voices of the ten and eleven year old cousins, it provides an inside look at the effects of war, and particularly World War 2, on children and on day to day life.

While thoroughly researched and complemented with back of book notes, the story is front and center rather than being used to string together lots of facts,, making it really satisfying.

Lizzie and Margaret Rose, by Pamla Rushby
Omnibus Books, 2016
ISBN 9781742991528

When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Then I see her.
Her eyes. I’ve never seen eyes like hers before. What colour are they? Hazel and green and flecks of autumn and bits of emerald and I’m standing holding my sign and there she is, standing steps away, near the cop, holding hers (It’s Not Illegal to Seek Asylum), and all I can think about is how the hell I’m going to take my eyes off her.

Michael’s parents are the founders of Aussie Values, an organisation dedicated to stopping the boats and preserving the Australian way of life. They worry about Muslims and terrorists taking over the country. Mina is a Muslim and a refugee, too. She and her family represent what Michael’s family is fighting against. When they meet, Mina is sure Michael is racist and unpleasant, but Michael finds himself intrigued, and wanting to get to know her better. In order to do this, he’s going to have to adjust his thinking and find out if what his parents seem to know is actually true.

When Michael Met Mina is a story about values, justice and friendship. Although there is a gentle romance element, the story line deals with the struggles and joys of Mina’s family, and the broader issues of refugees and Muslim Australians, as well as the dynamics of Michael’s family, especially the issue of a teenager holding different political and moral views than his family. Issues of disability, difference, families and more are explored, but the story isn’t crowded out by these issues – rather being enriched by them

Tol through the alternating first person perspectives of the two main characters, When Michael Met Mina is an important, absorbing, read.

When Michael Met Mina, by Randa Abdel-Fattah
Pan Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743534977