Pretty Girls Don’t Eat by Winnie Salamon

Call me old-fashioned, but there’s nothing quite like a department store in the middle of the week. Quiet, shiny, anonymous. You could spend an entire day in the lingerie section, surrounded by lace, elastic and padded inserts and nobody would consider you a pervert because they wouldn’t even notice. Watching the flat screens in electricals, trying out mattresses in bedding, browsing through racks of dresses that cost $2000 each. Applying hand cream, perfume, lipstick. All without a single, ‘Can I help you?’

Winter seems to know exactly what she wants from life. She loves fashion and design and has an enviable talent in making her designs translate from the page to wearable art. She has great friends and a supportive family. But at sixteen years old, she’s starting to wonder if things might be better, if even her best friends and her family might love her better, more, if she wasn’t quite so fat. It might also help in the ‘never been kissed’ department too. Scratch the surface of any ‘perfect’ life and there’s plenty of non-perfection to be found. Although it can be harder to believe, non-perfection can be more interesting.

Everyone has secrets. And secret thoughts. Particularly in adolescence. It’s a time of discovery, of working out who you are, and also of looking at others around you in new ways. Hormones play their part in realigning understanding of friendships and family. ‘Pretty Girls Don’t Eat’ offers an opportunity to unstitch and refashion beliefs of self and others. There’s plenty here for discussion. How does a seemingly together teenager start believing negative self-talk? How perfect are the ‘perfect’ lives of everyone else? There are some great role models here – not perfect ones – and a hopeful future. Recommended for early- to mid-secondary readers.

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat, Winnie Salamon
Ford St Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925272772

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

Harry Kruize, Born to Lose by Paul Collins

Monday 3rd October
First day back from school holidays and today in English, Mr Granger discussed the power of writing. He explained how the pen is mightier than the sword and gave examples of how writing influenced people to change. He said words can be so powerful that if you really want a wish to come true, then the best way to make it happen is to write it down.
To prove his point, he has set us a whole-term writing assignment where we have to write down a heap of wishes and explain why we really want them to come true. Then we have to document the exact circumstances of when each wish is granted.
I really like Mr Granger, and English is by far my favourite subject (I even want to be a writer when I grow up), but I am wondering whether he has lost the plot a bit with this one!

Harry Kruise is doing it tough. He’s the shortest kid at school, his dad is not around and his mum takes in boarders, old blokes, who mostly stay in their room. At school, he’s the frequent victim of bullying, mostly from Brick. A dog would help, if only his mother would allow him to have one. It would mean he’d finally have a friend. Then old man and master storyteller, Jack Ellis, moves into the shed. Jack is full of stories, lots of them about dogs. Slowly, slowly Jack’s life begins to change. Mr Granger has told him and his classmates that wishes will come true if you really want them to, and set the class an assignment that will last the entire term.

Told in online diary entries, dog tales and wishes, Harry reveals his life, his dreams, his fears. He’s thirteen years old, Term 4 of his first year of secondary school has just begun and he’s not having a lot of fun. He’s seeing the school psychologist every week. He’s also full of fear. If his father can leave like he did, Harry is sure nothing else in his life will ever secure. There are themes around loss, bullying, family and more. By the end of the term though, Harry has stopped sinking and starting to swim. Told with humour and including great Australian yarns, ‘Harry Kruize, Born to Lose’ offers short chapters and clearly marked viewpoint changes. Recommended for upper primary readers.

Harry Kruize, Born to Lose, Paul Collins
Ford St Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925272628

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

The Legend Series 3: Down the Line by Michael Panckridge

‘Where do we go?’ I asked Jack as we raced around the corner of the hall.
We had just finished assembly. All the cricket winners had been presented with their trophies and certificates when Travis Fisk had asked, with a sinister smile on his face, if we’d seen Bryce Flavel around.
Straightaway we knew something was up. And judging by the smirk on Travis’ face, it wasn’t looking good for Bryce.
Our friendly genius was big on brain, but muscle wasn’t so big on him.

Mitchell and his friends are back in round three of the Legend competition. This time it’s tennis. Previously, Mitchell has won both surfing and cricket competitions to be the individual sport legend. All points add to an overall tally, the winner of which becomes Legend of Sport for the year. Travis Fisk, who has up until now been the hero of every sport, is not happy. Neither is his sports-crazy, school sponsor father. It seems that they will stop at nothing in pursuit of their ambitions. Each instalment in the series begins with an outline of the upcoming sport and structure of the points system. Final pages offer sports stats and a quiz.

Mitchell is settling well into his new school, making both friends and an enemy. Travis Fisk seems to have it for everyone, determined as he seems to win everything. Travis is showing occasional cracks in his bully mask, though there’s still plenty of antagonism. Where Travis has two thugs who do whatever he tells them, Mitchell’s friends are more varied and each brings their own talents and skills to the friendship. There are plenty of sport stats and strategies here, but also themes around friendship and bullying. Recommended for mid-primary readers, particularly those overwhelmed by novels.

The Legends: Down the Line, Michael Panckridge

Ford Street Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925272635

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

The Legend Series 4: Clearing the Pack

We always seem to be looking for Bryce Flavel. Before the school holidays, after the Legend of Tennis presentation, we’d been looking for him when he suddenly popped out of nowhere at one end of the library.
Now we were back in the same place, again looking for our missing friend.
‘Bryce?’
‘There he is,’ said Bubba, pointing to the deepest and furthest part of the library. We raced over. Well, okay, we didn’t exactly race over, but we hustled and bumped our way across as fast as we could go with Mrs Lee, the library staff member on duty, watching us over her glasses.

Mitchell and friends (and bully Travis Fisk) are back for a fourth instalment of the Legend Series, this time featuring football (and netball for the girls, although there’s a hint that next year, girls will be playing football too). Those competing will be judged on skills and knowledge as well as performance. As usual, Mitchell and his friends are fully part of the excitement. This time though, there’s also more than one mystery to be unravelled. Each book begins with an index, an outline of the Legend of Sport rules and conditions and a prologue summarising what has come before. Final pages offer statistics and details of each element.

Mitchell and friends are competing at football (and netball) this round of the Legend competition. Although Travis and his thugs are still causing mayhem, there are glimpses behind the bullying to a more reasonable Travis – not many, but enough to give the reader a chance to wonder at what causes his behaviour. Jack’s not having a lot of fun though, and Bryce’s behaviour is even more odd. So as well as lots of details about sports, there are other clues to be deciphered, other mysteries to solve. Recommended for mid-primary readers, particularly those who would rather be outside with a ball.

The Legend Series 4: Clearing the Pack, Michael Panckridge
Ford Street Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925272642

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

Valdur the Viking and the Ghostly Goths by Craig Cormick

When the Goth pirates attacked his father’s ship, Valdur was hiding in a barrel of pickles with his pet dragon, Ragna. He heard his father cry out, ‘By Odin’s hairy toes, it’s the Goths!’ Then there was the sound of lots of fighting. And, right next to him, there was also the sound of the last pickle being eaten.

Valdur the Viking and the Ghostly Goths  - Craig CormickWhen the Goth pirates attacked his father’s ship, Valdur was hiding in a barrel of pickles with his pet dragon, Ragna. He heard his father cry out, ‘By Odin’s hairy toes, it’s the Goths!’ Then there was the sound of lots of fighting. And, right next to him, there was also the sound of the last pickle being eaten.

Valdur and the few remaining ghost Vikings are on a mission to save his father and the rest of the crew after they are kidnapped by his deadly enemy Germanicus Bottom and his shipload of ghostly Goths. To help Valdur, there’s a lookout called Ivar Lostoffen, a cook called Reiner Rankbreath who looks like a cow, his apprentice Hilda, and Gunnar Shortas, the midget cabin boy. And of course Ragna, Valdur’s dog (who just might be a dragon). There is adventure to be had, danger to be overcome, bargains to resist and real non-ghost ships to avoid if they are to have a chance of effecting a rescue. Each chapter includes ghostly illustrations by Hanna Cormick.

‘Valdur the Viking and the Ghostly Goths’ is a comically spooky Viking, Gothic adventure for young independent readers. Valdur doesn’t really want to captain his father’s ship – he would rather just be playing with his dog/dragon. But someone has to take charge and it has to be him. He blunders and bluffs his way along, with and despite the assistance of his incapable crew, overcoming piracy attempts and almost-detections by living humans and their ships. Embedded in the humour and the adventure are titbits about Goths and Vikings and life at sea. Recommended for newly independent readers in junior- mid primary years.

Valdur the Viking and the Ghostly Goths, Craig Cormick
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272420

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Goblin Mafia Wars by DC Green

War cries echoed behind us. The goblin army!

I spun, but the heat haze from the lava lake drowned my distance vision and watered my eyes. But we could all hear the fang-grinding, the rasping of metal on rock, the crunching of weaponised bolts.

Specks sparkled as if the red-orange lava was creating fireworks. Nah, not fireworks. The specks enlarged – heading right at us!

‘Arrows!’ I yelped. Most burned up above the gaseous lake. Dozens more angled towards our position.

War cries echoed behind us. The goblin army!

I spun, but the heat haze from the lava lake drowned my distance vision and watered my eyes. But we could all hear the fang-grinding, the rasping of metal on rock, the crunching of weaponised bolts.

Specks sparkled as if the red-orange lava was creating fireworks. Nah, not fireworks. The specks enlarged – heading right at us!

‘Arrows!’ I yelped. Most burned up above the gaseous lake. Dozens more angled towards our position.

PT is a sixteen-year-old human and king of Monstro City. Well, sort of. He and the Dead Gang (his monster mates include a giant spider, a mummy, a goblin and a shapeshifting vampire) have completed their first quest and survived. (in ‘Monster School’). Now they are in Dead Zone trying to find their way out. If they can avoid being consumed by dead things. Then it’s off to find and protect dragon eggs. No big deal. All that’s at stake is the survival of the world. The misfit crew have to find a way to work together and repel all manner of enemies from goblins, ogres, zombies and even family. Each new chapter is accompanied by full page black and white monsters.

Goblin Mafia Wars is punny and funny, wild and raucous. Every friendship group encompasses a range of skills, appearances and passions, but nothing you’ve experienced will prepare you for this gang – but perhaps that’s what people think about your friendship group. The best ‘gangs’ include a range of skills and attributes. This is no quest for the queasy – PT and his mates will encounter danger after danger in their search for the dragon’s eggs. They’ll also encounter plenty of craziness. Goblin Mafia Warsis a rollicking read and will be enjoyed by upper-primary and early-secondary readers.

Goblin Mafia Wars, DC Green
Ford Street Publishing 2016 ISBN: 9781925272208

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Alyzon Whitestarr by Isobelle Carmody

It starts with my family, and in a way, that’s the whole story.

There’s my mother, Zambia. You probably won’t have heard of her. She’s the artist, Zambia Whitestarr. then there’s my da, Macoll Whitestarr. His stage name is Mac and he’s the lead guitarist in a band you’ve probably never heard of that plays a lot of improvised music. Then there’s us kids: my older brother Jesse; my older sister Mirandah; me, Alyzon; Serenity, who tries to make us call her Sybl; and last but not least our baby brother, Luke.

It starts with my family, and in a way, that’s the whole story.

There’s my mother, Zambia. You probably won’t have heard of her. She’s the artist, Zambia Whitestarr. then there’s my da, Macoll Whitestarr. His stage name is Mac and he’s the lead guitarist in a band you’ve probably never heard of that plays a lot of improvised music. Then there’s us kids: my older brother Jesse; my older sister Mirandah; me, Alyzon; Serenity, who tries to make us call her Sybl; and last but not least our baby brother, Luke.

Alyzon is the middle child in a loving, chaotic, eccentic family. She goes to school, fights with her sisters, looks after her baby brother. Pretty normal, more or less. Until she suffers a freak accident. As she recovers she realises that all her senses are now super-tuned to the spoken and unspoken wants, joys and fears of others. She also discovers a rottenness, a horrible wrongness in some people. After initial confusion, she begins to work out how to protect herself from the intensity of other people’s emotions. But it’s not enough, as the wrongness seems to close in on her and her world, to just protect herself. She needs to know why it exists and how she can protect those she loves.

Alyzon Whitestarr was first released in 2005 by Penguin Books and this new, re-edited, re-jacketed edition is published by Ford Street Publishing. Alyzon is a fabulous protagonist, telling her own story as she tries to understand her world through the lens of her expanded senses. This is a fantasy set in the contemporary world, and explores family, friendship, attraction, trust, betrayal, protection, responsibility and power. It’s a big read at 601 pages but the length is hardly noticeable in this compelling and well-crafted story. Alyzon Whitestarr is a stand-alone novel and an ideal introduction to long-form fantasy for mature upper-primary readers but will also be enjoyed by older readers.

Alyzon Whitestarr, Isobelle Carmody
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272185

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Rich and Rare: A collection of Australian Stories, Poetry and Artwork edited Paul Collins

Forward by Sophie Masson

An anthology can be compared to a patchwork quilt, sewn by many hands. Each piece in the patchwork is different: distinctive in texture, shape, pattern and colour. Each piece, separately created, has its own individuality, is its own thing, and could exist on its own. Such difference, such separateness, should mean that it’s impossible to put them together. Or if you do, something of that distinctiveness and individuality is lost.

But of course, that isn’t true. A patchwork quilt sewn by many hands is a beautiful thing not despite, but because it is made of distinctive pieces, created by different people.

And thus with good anthologies. Created by many different minds … the separate pieces in an anthology are each interesting in themselves, and also together create an atmosphere that is both gripping and relaxing, thoughtful and lively, something you can draw over yourself time and time again, yet always find something new in, and something to fit whatever mood you’re in.

Rich and Rare: A Collection of Australian Stories, Poetry and Artwork Edited by Paul Collins
Forward by Sophie Masson

An anthology can be compared to a patchwork quilt, sewn by many hands. Each piece in the patchwork is different: distinctive in texture, shape, pattern and colour. Each piece, separately created, has its own individuality, is its own thing, and could exist on its own. Such difference, such separateness, should mean that it’s impossible to put them together. Or if you do, something of that distinctiveness and individuality is lost.

But of course, that isn’t true. A patchwork quilt sewn by many hands is a beautiful thing not despite, but because it is made of distinctive pieces, created by different people.

And thus with good anthologies. Created by many different minds … the separate pieces in an anthology are each interesting in themselves, and also together create an atmosphere that is both gripping and relaxing, thoughtful and lively, something you can draw over yourself time and time again, yet always find something new in, and something to fit whatever mood you’re in.

Rich and Rare is a collection of stories, poems and art from many of Australia’s well-known creators (who are listed on the back cover). There are realistic offerings, spec fiction tales and almost everything in between. There are stories of hope, horror, triumph, friendship, time travel, set in familiar and imagined worlds. Offerings range in length from single page poems to around 30 pages. Black and white illustrations appear throughout. The illustrations both contribute to other stories and tell stories of their own. There are Contents pages suggesting the genre of different stories from ‘Contemporary’ to ‘Ghost’ and ‘Crime’. There are bios of all the creators at the end.

Rich and Rare is enticing from the (borrowed from our national anthem) title and Shaun Tan’s cover art, all the way through to the final poem. Even the bios at the end offer micro-stories. At nearly 500 pages, there is something for every reader in this smorgasbord of original Australian works. The cover creates a sense of foreboding and deliciousness, from the character pleading to be saved from being eaten to the shiny blood-coloured title. Sophie Masson’s introduction likens the collection to a patchwork quilt and like a quilt it can be absorbed as a whole, in one continuous read, or readers may focus on individual stories, dip in and out to access their favourite creators, or introduce themselves to others for the first time. Highly recommended for mid-primary aged readers and beyond.

Rich and Rare: A collection of Australian Stories, Poetry and Artwork, edited Paul Collins Ford St Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925272116

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Warlock’s Child 3: The Iron Claw by Paul Collins & Sean McMullen

In the entire world there are few things that can strike fear into the heart of a king. The sight of his army retreating would be high on the list, and the royal taster clutching his stomach and collapsing would be even higher. At the very top, however, there could be nothing to rival three very angry dragons the size of warships towering over you and asking questions for which you have no answers.

Although King Lavarran II of Savaria was backed up by five thousand of the city militia and fifty of his shapecasters, he felt very exposed. He was standing on the open plain outside his palace to shield him from the forge-hot breath of the dragons – not that the palace walls would have stopped the dragons for very long.

In the entire world there are few things that can strike fear into the heart of a king. The sight of his army retreating would be high on the list, and the royal taster clutching his stomach and collapsing would be even higher. At the very top, however, there could be nothing to rival three very angry dragons the size of warships towering over you and asking questions for which you have no answers.

Although King Lavarran II of Savaria was backed up by five thousand of the city militia and fifty of his shapecasters, he felt very exposed. He was standing on the open plain outside his palace to shield him from the forge-hot breath of the dragons – not that the palace walls would have stopped the dragons for very long.

The three dragons hovering above the city are puzzled. They sense the presence of a young dragon in the city of Savaria, but there hasn’t been a dragon hatchling for 3000 years. Although they can tell when a human is lying, their questions to the king and his court don’t provide any helpful answers. But the answers do buy the humans some time. While Velza and Latsar are trying to do their own investigations, Velza’s brother, Dantar and his friend Marko are being both helped and hindered by Merikus in their quest to leave town. Dantar and Velza’s father cannot be found, although his presence and influence is felt everywhere. The race is on to discover just what the warlock, Calbaras is up to.

The Iron Claw is book three in ‘The Warlock’s Child’ six book fantasy series. Each is told from three viewpoints: the dragons; Velza, a young female warrior, and Dantar. Velza and Dantar are children of Calbaras a highly skilled but secretive warlock. Neither child seems to have much of a relationship with their father. There are twists and turns aplenty as the children (and the dragons) seek to find Calbaras and also to unravel the mystery of why the dragons seem to be protecting Dantar. Each action-filled title is short enough for younger readers, almost as if the stories are serialised, rather than stand-alone novels. Either way, readers will be looking for the next instalment. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

The Warlock’s Child 3: The Iron Claw, Paul Collins & Sean McMullen Ford St Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925000948

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Footy Dreaming by Michael Hyde

Music blasted from the clock radio, loud and insistent. Noah groaned, and still half asleep, searched for the snooze button, but only managed to send the radio crashing to the floor.

He buried his head in the pillow, his mind still in his dream of scrappy play – in and under, then a player marking the ball, forty metres out. Noah thought the player was him but couldn’t be sure, and didn’t know whether he’d kicked the ball or not. …

… On the other side of town, a fit of coughing and spluttering from the kitchen woke Ben from a deep sleep. Ever since he’d been a little kid doing Auskick, bouncing a ball on the way to school, or clutching one of his dozen footballs while he slept, Ben had dreamed about playing footy – dreamed about playing with an AFL club.

Music blasted from the clock radio, loud and insistent. Noah groaned, and still half asleep, searched for the snooze button, but only managed to send the radio crashing to the floor.

He buried his head in the pillow, his mind still in his dream of scrappy play – in and under, then a player marking the ball, forty metres out. Noah thought the player was him but couldn’t be sure, and didn’t know whether he’d kicked the ball or not. …

… On the other side of town, a fit of coughing and spluttering from the kitchen woke Ben from a deep sleep. Ever since he’d been a little kid doing Auskick, bouncing a ball on the way to school, or clutching one of his dozen footballs while he slept, Ben had dreamed about playing footy – dreamed about playing with an AFL club.

Noah and Ben both play weekend footy in the country town where they live and where they attend the same high school. They are both being tipped as contenders for the Bushrangers Development squad. Noah plays with the Mavericks, Ben with their archrival Kookaburras. As the new season of football begins, pressure builds for both boys. For Noah, racism is an extra complication he needs to find a way to manage both on and off the field. Ben is struggling with the attitudes at the club where his father played and where he is expected to remain. The boys form an unexpected friendship, united in their striving for Bushrangers selection.

Footy Dreaming is told in third person omniscient so the reader is able to experience a wide range of viewpoints, although most of the action happens in Noah’s and in Ben’s point of view. But there are also the voices of the townspeople. There’s racism, family loyalty and dynamics, club loyalty, football passion, first tentative relationship, gender roles and more. Primarily, Footy Dreaming is about striving to be the best and to have a chance to shine. There’s plenty here to generate classroom or family discussion. But before that, it’s a ripper read, ideal for early- to mid-secondary readers.

Footy Dreaming, Michael Hyde Ford Street Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925000993

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com