The Glasshouse, by Paul Collins & Jo Thompson

Everyone said how beautiful and delicious her pumpkins were.
Never a blemish. Never a pumpkin that wasn’t perfectly shaped, perfectly coloured.
From the moment Clara produced her first pumpkin, everyone told her she was brilliant. For only a master gardener could grow such flawless pumpkins.

Safe inside her glasshouse, Clara grows perfect looking pumpkins. When she is visited by a boy with a bumpy looking pumpkin she starts to worry about the effect of the outside world on her own pumpkins, and becomes paranoid about letting the outside world in – until she realises that perfection isn’t always what it seems.

This clever picture book story uses a tale of pumpkins to explore concepts of perfection, perception and paranoia with a whimsy that will draw readers in and, in primary aged readers (and older) will lead to discussion of these concepts. At the same time, though, it is simply a feel good story, with delightful digital illustrations which manage to leap out of the page as if three dimensional.

Suitable for classroom use and personal reading.

The Glasshouse

The Glasshouse, by Paul Collins & Jo Thompson
Ford St, 2010
ISBN 9781921665042

This book can be purchased in any good bookstore, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Rufus the Numbat, by David Miller

Rufus the Numbat is just passing through.

Rufus doesn’t walk very fast. He’s just trying to make it to the bush. But to get there he has to cross people-territory and that’s where the trouble begins. Unbeknownst to him he distracts a cyclist who then fails to see danger ahead…and on it goes. Rufus just keeps on plodding, unaware of the chaos and destruction he’s unwittingly caused. The text is very spare. Illustrations are David Miller’s trademark paper sculptures set on paint and ink backgrounds.

On the surface, Rufus the Numbat is a very simple story of an animal taking a walk through unfamiliar territory. It’s not Rufus’ fault that disaster follows, is it? There’s a clear environmental message here about the effect man can have on nature without really even knowing it’s happening. Young children will just love the chaos and calamity. Older children will see the world from a new viewpoint. Artists will appreciate the amazing paper sculptures. Recommended for all ages.

Rufus the Numbat

Rufus the Numbat, David Miller
Ford St Publishing 2010
ISBN: 9781876462963

Reviewed by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

In Lonnie's Shadow, by Chrissie Michaels

Keeping low, the youth crept through the shadows of the nightcart lane. The afternoon was already curtaining into early darkness. He turned up his collar against the drizzling rain and came to a standstill. All in all he couldn’t have chosen a better hour to do his business.
Only a dozen paces across a bluestone yard kept Lonnie McGuiness from the door he planned to force. he fought the temptation to tear across. Hold on mate, he steadied himself, don’t be too foolhardy. Once he made a move, there’d be no turning back.

In the slums of Little Lon, Lonnie McGuiness dwells, desperate to make a difference to his own life and those of his friends, but often feeling that there is no way out. He’s no criminal, but he’ll do what it takes to see that justice prevails.

In Lonnie’s Shadow is excellent historical fiction. With each chapter being introduced by a listing for a historical artefact which then appears in some way within the chapter, so that buttons, brooches, pieces of glass and more are used to weave together the story.

Lonnie and his friends are likeable characters, struggling against the odds as street workers, stable hands, greengrocers and seamstresses, low paid youngsters from the poorest part of Melbourne. Yet they are generous, and able to look out for each other in times of trouble, even when troubled themselves. Teen and upper primary readers will enjoy the story and be intrigued by the differences between their own lives and those of the teen characters.

In Lonnie's Shadow

In Lonnie’s Shadow, by Chrissie Michaels
Ford St, 2010

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

The Star, by Felicity Marshall

Marion, Harley and Polka the dog were three loyal friends who were always together. They played happily near their home on the beach, with the sound of the sea always in their ears. But Marion was listening to a different song.
She secretly longed for adventure.

Marion and her friends live under the pier and perform for their friends. Harley and Polka the dog are content, but Marion wants more. She’s seen the stars on television and their world looks so much brighter than hers. When a little bird tells her she has the makings of a star, she’s very keen to believe it. And it happens, facilitated via the manipulation of unseen others. Marion is gradually transformed until there is little of the under-the-pier Marion remaining. And that means that there is little room for her friends. Though they try to stay with her, Harley and Polka are lost amidst the glamour and excitement of her new life. Illustrations are watercolour pencil and in a mix of colour and black and white.

The opening spread of The Star shows Marion and her friends in full colour in what appears an ideal setting. Yet in the following spread the only colour is on the television and suddenly Marion, Harley and Polka are leached to black and white. Her friends also seem to decrease in size as Marion’s star rises. As if Marion is blinded by the spotlight that frames her, she is unable to see any shadows. There are strong themes about friendship and the superficiality and artificial nature of fame. But although the picture painted is bleak, the resolution provides hope. Hope for Marion and her friends at least, although there is a reminder that it’s impossible to ever be quite the same. Recommended for middle-primary readers and older. Plenty of material in both text and illustration for classroom discussion.

The Star

The Star, Felicity Marshall
Ford St Publishing 2010
ISBN: 9781876462925

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

My Private Pectus, by Shane Thamm

There’s something different about my body. It’s like the missing hole in a jigsaw puzzle your eyes keep going back to. If I were to take off my shirt you wouldn’t see my face, freckles or ratty hair. All you’d see is the crevice in the middle of my chest.

Jack might like footy, cars and girls, but that doesn’t make him the same as other teenage boys. What makes him different is the hole in his chest – caused by pectus excavatum, it means that his chest caves inwards. Only Jack’s best friend Gez knows about his deformity – Jack has never let anyone else see him without his shirt on. But as he navigates the twin trials of the school football team and his first relationship with a girl, Jack wonders how much longer he can keep his secret and how people will react when they find out.

My Private Pectus is a story about lots of the issues which confront older teens – relationships, self image, sporting prowess and family relationships – but the issue which most influences Jack’s life is that of body image. In keeping his deformity a secret he risks losing his friends. At the same time, he must also confront his confidence issues when it comes to connecting with his father, a retired soldier who is also the coach of Jack’s football team.

With a blend of humour, action and honesty, My Private Pectus is a satisfying read.

My Private Pectus

My Private Pectus, by Shane Thamm
Ford Street, 2009

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

They Told Me I Had to Write This, by Kim Miller

They told me I had to write this. It’s taken a while to get started but here I am.
‘Here I am.’ Sounds like I’m talking to the coppers again.
‘Here I am. Yes, sir. No, sir. OK I did it, sir. Here I am.’
The stuff I’ve been given up for. I can’t believe it. People are still on my back in this place. Same old story. So here I am writing. Figure that one out.

Clem is always in trouble – with his teachers, with the police, with his dad. In fact, he’s been in so much strife that now he’s been sent to a school for troubled teens. His counsellor, the Rev, wants him to write letters, so he writes them to his much loved but now dead Gram, telling her about his day to day life – and about his past.

As he settles into life at this new school, Clem enjoys bike racing, makes some new friends and unexpectedly finds a girlfriend. But he also has to face some hard times – the death of one of his classmates, his troubled relationship with his dad, and some tough memories from his childhood. Can he get through all these and turn his life around?

They Told Me I Had To Write This is a gut-wrenching novel, which is likely to reduce the reader to tears in places. At the same time, though, it is an uplifting read. Clem is a likeable narrator – honest, self-deprecating and humorous – and it is an honour to witness his growth as he turns his life around with the support of good friends and caring adults.

There is a touch of romance, lots of bikes and vehicles, and some twists, and the use of the letter/diary format makes the text both accessible and interesting as we wait for Clem to divulge information.


They Told Me I Had To Write This

They Told Me I Had To Write This, by Kim Miller
Ford Street, 2009

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

Finding Home, by Gary Crew & Susy Boyer

The boy stood beneath the tree and looked up at the chattering birds.
They were truly beautiful. The cracking and clacking as they kissed and canoodled, so powerful yet so gentle.

The boy does not like his new home in Australia, far from the life he had back in England. But one thing he does love is the big gum tree in the middle of his father’s wheat field. Every night at dusk the cockatoos come home to roost in the tree, chattering and canoodling and dropping white feathers. But his parents don’t like the tree, which will be a nuisance come harvest, nor the birds, which may strip the crop and soon the boy can only watch as his father fells the tree and the birds lose their home.

Finding Home is a beautiful but confronting picture book for older readers, exploring issues of destruction of the indigenous landscape, environmental responsibility and family relationships. The boy’s connection with the birds and their tree home, far deeper than his parent’s connection with the land they are farming, shows him that there are more important things than financial security, and even more important things than family loyalty.

The illustrations, too, add layers of meaning, with a glimpse of a personal tragedy in England not fully explained, allowing inquisitive readers the chance to construct back story.

An insightful exploration of environmental issues.

Finding Home

Finding Home, by Gary Crew and Susy Boyer (ill)
Ford St, 2009

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

My Extraordinary Life & Death, by Doug MacLeod

Where do you buy children at bargain prices?
How do you survive a father who buries you in the garden whenever you misbehave?
And whom do you contact when your wife starts to shrink?

None of these questions is answered in My Extraordinary Life and Death, but then what can you expect from a book purportedly written by someone who is dead? Comedian and author Doug Macleod presents a surreal diary, using old woodcut pictures from the Project Guttenburg website.

Originally written as series of blogposts when MacLeod was asked to be a guest blogger, the book is laugh out loud funny, with different matchings of text and illustration likely to appeal to different readers. It can be read quickly in one sitting or dipped into over repeated readings.

Lots of fun.

My Extraordinary Life and Death

My Extraordinary Life and Death, by Doug MacLeod
Ford Street, 2009

The Gimlet Eye, by James Roy

‘If your uncle dies now – if he simply stops breathing – you will assume great power. You’ll be the leader of Quentaris…’
‘I get the feeling that you haven’t finished that sentence,’ Florian said.
‘Indeed. But if you take that power, your grip will be that much stronger. The prophecies are very clear, my friend. If he dies, you simply oversee. But if you act now, you rule!’

When the Archon dies – helped along by his nephew – and the horrid Florian claims the throne, things look grim for Quentaris. The Magicians Guild is broken up and Tab finds herself working at the City Farm – until Quentaris slips through yet another vortex and she and her friends suddenly realise they are the city’s only hope.

The Gimlet Eye is the third story in the second Quentaris series, Quest of the Lost City. Like every story in the series, it is full of intrigue, mystery, plots and betrayals – with a familiar cast of characters (both goodies and baddies). Each instalment in the series is the work of a different Australian author, with this one authored by the award-winning James Roy.

An outstanding addition to an already outstanding series.

The Gimlet Eye (Quentaris - Quest of the Lost City)

The Gimlet Eye, by James Roy
Ford Street, 2009

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

Crime Time, by Sue Bursztynski

This is Crime Time, so get ready to discover Australia’s very own gallery of rogues – an Aussie litany of heinous crimes, dastardly deeds and terrifying tales…
The human race is extraordinarily divers ein its interests. Some people are captivated by shoes and clothes, some engrossed with football or cricket or snowboarding, some would never be parted from their music players and some cannot turn off their mobiles although their texting thumbs are weak with overuse. Yet everyone – whether it be reluctantly or eagerly – is fascinated by wicked misdeeds and illegal acts.

Australians are often keen to claim convicts for ancestors, no matter how tenuous the link, but here is a collection of characters we might not be so keen to claim. From the earliest white visitors there have been those who choose not to follow, or sometimes stray from the path. Crime Time presents Australians, some infamous, some famous, some obscure, but all criminals. Their stories vary from the foolish to the macabre, from the accidental to the truly evil. No sector of the community is overlooked: there are wealthy, poor, young and old villains boy men and women. Many entries include sketches of the character described.

Crime Time is organised chronologically, beginning with a persuasive sailor in 1629, and finishing up with cases still fresh in the public memory. There is an introduction from Kerry Greenwood, a contents page, and a detailed index to the characters mentioned. Entries are relatively short, three-four pages, with info boxes providing snippets on some of our less salubrious citizens. Sue Bursztynski has presented information in an almost conversational and sometimes humourous style, easily accessible to readers. There is plenty of gory detail, but it’s not so graphic as to cause nightmares. For the budding criminologist keen to learn more, the bibliography provides books and website details. From poisoning grannies, to bumbling burglars, this is an extensive rogues gallery. Recommended for upper-primary boys and beyond.

Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly

Crime Time – Australians Behaving Badly, Sue Bursztynski
Ford St Publishing 2009
ISBN: 9781876462765

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