Sage Cookson’s Literary Launch by Sally Murphy

‘Come on Sage, it’s not that bad,’ my friend Lucy says, one hand on my shoulder. Í know you can do it.’
Tears spring to my eyes. ‘I don’t think I can, Lucy. I think I’d rather fail!’
I look around the room at the rest of our classmates, all busy working on their task, or talking about it, or trying to get away with doing other things without the teacher, Mr Duke, noticing. I wonder if any of them feels as bad as I do about our assignment.

Ten-year-old Sage Cookson spends a lot of time travelling with her TV chef parents. It’s an exciting and varied life but Sage is often absent from the school she attends with best friend, Lucy. While she stays in touch with Lucy when she’s away, she doesn’t know her other classmates that well. When Mr Duke sets them an assignment to deliver a three-minute no-notes presentation to the class, Sage is terrified. Her normal sunny confidence vanishes. She has no idea what to talk about and she is convinced she will never be able to speak in front of the whole class. At home, everyone is excited about the impending launch of Mum’s cook book, so she keeps her worries to herself.

Confident people always seem that they can do anything, and it can be hard to believe that they ever experience nerves. But often, they have worked hard to be able to overcome the same nervousness that first-timers experience. Sage doesn’t want to disturb her parents when they are so busy. Her parents might be busy but they can also ‘read’ Sage and they want to help her. They, Lucy, and new family friend, Tori, offer a number of strategies, but in the end Sage has to make her own decisions, and to make her own presentation. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Literary Launch, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594010

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

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost by Sally Murphy

‘You stay safe,’ my friend Lucy instructs me. and have a wonderful Christmas. I’ll miss you!’
‘I’ll miss you too!’ I say. Have the best Christmas ever.’
Lucy climbs into her dad’s waiting car, clutching the Christmas present I’ve given her.
‘And no pressie-poking!’ I call.
‘Same to you,’ she says, grinning as I hold up the gift that she has given me. ‘Bye Sage!’

It’s Christmas time and Sage and her TV chef family are flying to Western Australia to film a world record attempt at making the largest ever pavlova. The film crew are already there, now it’s time for Mum, Dad and Sage to meet Myra, who will be making the pavlova record-attempt at an old brickwork factory. There are rumours of a ghost at the brickworks, and when things start to go wrong, Sage begins to wonder if the rumours might be true. There’s nothing Sage likes more than a mystery. Since everyone else is busy, she’ll just have to investigate by herself.

Sage has an exciting life accompanying her parents and their crew around Australia. This year has been particularly exciting with several dramatic episodes. Her parents are busy setting up the event and Sage has time to notice things that others may not. Her sleuthing always ends well, though there are often some tense moments. She doesn’t always get things right but she keeps trying. Sage’s adventures are always exciting as she visits different regions of Australia. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594058

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

Sage Cookson 4: Singapore Sensation by Sally Murphy

‘Come on Sage! We’ll miss the plane.’
As if! My parents are used to travelling. So am I, because I always go with them. They knew exactly what they need to do to get to the airport, check in and be on board in time.
Çoming!’I call, quickly finishing the text message to my best friend.
Off to the airport now. See you next week.
I press send, put my phone in my pocket, and grab my backpack and suitcase.

Sage and her parents are off to Singapore, now their work on the new cookbook is just about done. They have just one tiny segment to film, but the rest of their week is pure holiday. They are thrilled to see an article in the inflight magazine about the new book. Everything is going well. Things start going wrong as soon as they land. And it must have something to do with the pink-haired lady who seems to turn up everywhere they go.

Ten-year-old Sage has a life many would envy: she travels around Australia and beyond with her television chef parents. Somehow, wherever they are, there are mysteries. Luckily Sage is observant and quick-thinking and is good at solving them. Sage stays in touch with her friend, Lucy, by text and that means that her friend sometimes becomes part of the mystery-solving. Sage’s parents try to make her life as normal as possible, including giving her a phone to keep in touch with her best friend. This is a fun, realistic adventure mystery series sure to make many newly independent readers wish they were Sage!

Sage Cookson 4: Singapore Sensation, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059960

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

Our Dog Benji by Pete Carter ill James Henderson

I love our dog Benji.
Sometimes I think I’d like to be more like him.
He eats almost anything
and everything.
I’m not that adventurous.

A small, unnamed boy shares the adventures of his loved dog, Benji. Benji eats everything, makes friends with everyone, explores. Through his dog’s antics, the boy explores his own world and his place in it. Illustrations depict both real and imagined Benji-ness. Our Dog Benji is a smaller format hardback picture book with full colour pages and end papers detailing some of Benji’s favourite things.

Children learn a lot from observing what happens around them, and for the small child, that can often be a pet. Their adoption of what they see may not always be discriminating, but it can help them navigate their lives. Benji is a lovable, loving and loved dog. He is friend, companion, teacher and challenger to the viewpoint character. There is plenty here – particularly for a quiet observer-child – to support learning and living well. Recommended for early school years.

Our Dog Benji, Pete Carter ill James Henderson
EK Books 2017 ISBN: 9781925335330

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

The Cat Wants Custard, by P. Crumble & Lucinda Gifford

Waiter, fetch me a bowl of your best custard.
Well, what are you waiting for?
Haven’t I made myself clear?

Kevin the cat is very hungry, but his human doesn’t seem to understand what he wants. He is offered chicken, sardines, beef and even pigs ears. But what Kevin wants is a big bowl of custard. His efforts to be understood include begging, spelling out custard with his body, and staring at the fridge hungrily. But nothing works. Then, in the middle of the night, the fridge is left open, and Kevin helps himself to what he wants. Or what he thought he wants.

The Cat Wants Custard is a funny picture book, which kids will want again and again. The owner’s voice features only in the first few spreads and in the illustrations appears as just a pair of legs or a hand, so that for most of the book Kevin is the sole voice, facing the reader even as he speaks to the owner. Little kids will love that they know what Kevin is saying, even when his owner doesn’t. Cat lovers will also relate well to Kevin’s actions.

The Cat Wants Custard, by P. Crumble & Lucinda Gifford
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781760155780

A Curry for Murray, by Kate Hunter & Lucia Masciullo

A Curry for MurrayMolly made…
slippery duck pasta for her brother’s headmaster,
spit-roasted geese for the local police,
and Singapore noodles for the Montague poodles!

Molly likes her neighbours Maureen and Murray, so when Maureen goes to hospital, Molly decides to make a curry for Murray. Word soon gets out about her wonderful culinary skills, and soon Molly is cooking and baking for friends near and far. But in the midst of her cooking chaos, Molly hurts herself – and Mum says ‘enough’. Finally, when Maureen gets home from hospital, it is Molly’s turn to receive a food gift.

A Curry for Murray is a gorgeous new picture book with lots of food-based silliness in both text and illustrations. Alongside the fun aspect, there is also lots of information about food, with visual representations of the ingredients in each dish, and a lovely demonstration of community spirit. The food offerings, as well as rhyming with the recipient names, come from a range of different cuisines, and some of the food is sent to faraway places, offering lots of opportunities for discussion.

The watercolour and pencil illustrations have touches of whimsy and lots of detail for youngsters to explore. From the cover through to the endpapers, this is a beautiful book to own and engage with.

A Curry for Murray, by Kate Hunter & Lucia Masciullo
UQP, 2015
ISBN 9780702253546

Available from good bookstores and online.

Alice’s Food A-Z: Edible Adventures by Alice Zaslavsky

You wouldn’t know this by looking at me – not even by speaking to me – but I grew up far away from the comforts of Melbourne. For the first seven years of my life, my family lived in Tbilisi, Georgia, part of the former Soviet Union.

When I was about five, my brother Stan went on a trip to Switzerland and came back to Tbilisi, having spent much of his souvenir budget on two of the strangest things I’d ever seen. One was greenish-yellow and curved like a crescent moon; the other, brown, a little smaller than the size of a tennis ball and just as furry. My family sat around our dining room table, mesmerised and full of curiosity, as my mum carefully sliced the two objects into thin slivers, so that we could each have a piece. …

… With food, as in life, it’s all about finding things you like and learning more about them, as well as always being open to new experiences that you might discover you like even more, whether this means trying a new fruit, or cooking a dish you love from scratch.

You wouldn’t know this by looking at me – not even by speaking to me – but I grew up far away from the comforts of Melbourne. For the first seven years of my life, my family lived in Tbilisi, Georgia, part of the former Soviet Union.

When I was about five, my brother Stan went on a trip to Switzerland and came back to Tbilisi, having spent much of his souvenir budget on two of the strangest things I’d ever seen. One was greenish-yellow and curved like a crescent moon; the other, brown, a little smaller than the size of a tennis ball and just as furry. My family sat around our dining room table, mesmerised and full of curiosity, as my mum carefully sliced the two objects into thin slivers, so that we could each have a piece.  …

… With food, as in life, it’s all about finding things you like and learning more about them, as well as always being open to new experiences that you might discover you like even more, whether this means trying a new fruit, or cooking a dish you love from scratch.

Ever wondered why eating beetroot makes your wee purple? Or why garlic makes your breath funky? Alice’s Food A-Z has the answers to these and many other food questions. Pitched at young readers, there are facts, recipes and anecdotes. There’s also suggestions about which foods go well with each other and just how to pick the best fruit (eg ripe kiwifruit are a little bit soft and slightly squishy). Each opening is jam-packed with info-bites and photos, word puns, colour splotches and sketches. Watermelon, for example, has 1200 varieties including Japanese square ones! Information is delivered in conversational bites and includes plenty of humour. Headings include: ‘Whys Guy’, ‘Word Wizard’, ‘Miss Z’s ramble’ and ‘Fun Facts’.

Alice’s Food A-Z is bright and colourful and easy to read. Information is presented in small bites, providing facts and more but also allowing further research should readers want to learn more. There’s a contents page at the front and a recipe index at the back. Alice Zaslavsky was a MasterChef contestant and now hosts TV quiz show, ‘Kitchen Whiz’. Alice brings the traditions of her Georgian family, mixes them with contemporary recipes and tastes and presents the lot as a huge, take what you want, multi-coloured feast. Recommended for primary readers and anyone who ever wondered what a xylocarp is.

 

Alice’s Food A-Z: Edible Adventures, Alice Zaslavsky Walker Books 2015 ISBN: 978192279388

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

What’s In My Lunchbox? by Peter Carnavas ill Kat Chadwick

Today in my lunchbox

I happened to find …

Today in my lunchbox

I happened to find …

A young boy opens his lunchbox to find an apple. He doesn’t like apples, but that’s just the beginning. Over the next days he finds increasingly unlikely things in his lunchbox, each of which he likes even less than the previous offering. His apprehension in opening the lunchbox grows. Font size is large and the text simple. Illustration backgrounds are in pastel colours with the main character, the lunchbox and the ‘contents’ of the lunchbox in more intense colours. Endpapers feature a range of lunchbox possibilities, only some of which are included in the story.

What’s in My Lunchbox is a timely story for new school children and younger children experiencing lunchbox offerings for the first time. The rhythm and repetition of the text will soon have young children ‘reading’ along. Illustrations provide offer extras for young readers to identify. Young readers will also be able to empathise with the growing apprehension illustrated. Plenty of opportunities to generate discussion about lunchbox choices. Love the grinning lunchbox! Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

 

What’s in My LunchboxPeter Carnavas ill Kat Chadwick New Frontier Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925059038

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Love & Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food, by Charlotte Wood

I began really learning to cook in my mid-twenties, at about the same time as I began really learning to write. I have only recently wondered if there is a link between these two things, other than the circumstances in which I found myself: an idle university student in possession of time for dawdling, some vague creative urges and new friends who inspired me with their own creativity and skill with a pen or a frying pan.

Charlotte Wood’s fiction offerings, including Animal People (2011) and The Children (2007) have attracted critical acclaim, but she is also a successful food writer, with her own blog and numerous magazine features including Gourmet Traveller and Good Weekend. In Love and Hunger Wood shares her love of food in an offering which is part memoir, part recipe book, exploring the shared nature of cooking and eating. With section focussing on learning to cook, practical tips for cooking, philosophical observations about food, and comfort cooking. There are over 75 recipes and, most importantly, a real celebration of the communal, loving nature of food and cooking.

Even for those who are not avid cooks, this is a book which makes the reader want to spend time in the kitchen, creating and sharing and simply enjoying the pleasures of good food. At the same time, the quality of the writing is deeply satisfying, bringing together Woods’ two much-loved art forms in a satisfying whole.

Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food

Love and Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food, by Charlotte Wood
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742377766

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.