Big and Me, by David Miller

Big and I do a lot of digging and lifting, trenching and filling. We’re a team, a good team, the best.
But some days Big goes a bit wobbly and I get a lot worried.

Big and Small are two machines working together on building projects. But when Big starts to malfunction, Small is affected. First, Big drives into the water, thinking he is a boat. Then he picks Small up and won’t put him down – because he thinks that the other machines want to hurt Small. Small turns to the boss and Mechanic, who find that Big’s computer is getting mixed up. They help Big to get better, and offer support to Small.

Big and Me uses the metaphor of a machine with computer problems to explore the topic of mental illness in adults. Small is cast as the child seeking to understand a parent’s mental illness, with the support of other adults and friends. This use of metaphor allows a fairly weighty and difficult topic to be dealt with in a way which even very young children will be able to connect with.

Author/Illustrator David Miller uses his renowned paper sculpture illustrations to bring the tale to life. The machines are created in 3D sculpture, then photographed. The backgrounds are muted, the blues and ochres providing colour, but still reflecting the serious nature of the story.

Big and Me is a gentle, realistic story which offers both hope and a path to understanding mental illness and its impact both on adults and children.

Big and Me

Big and Me, by David Miller
Ford Street, 2008

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The Ice-cream Man, by Jenny Mounfield

Marty flicked sweat out of his eyes as he hurtled down the path towards the bike compound. Where was Rick? He’d better not keep him waiting long. it was too hot to be hanging around. Marty swerved to avoid a kid with a terminal overbite and skidded to a stoop. Scanning the faces of the kids crowding the gate, he quickly backed up. The last thing he needed was some smart alec ramming his legs for fun. As he did so, he caught sight of a scuffle at the back of the compound.

Rick and Marty are sure the ice-cream man saw them, but the van takes off before they can get there. With their new friend Aaron tagging somewhat reluctantly along, they decide to play a prank. The prank is successful, and although they don’t see his reaction, they feel sure they have paid him back. But the prank is a beginning. The ice-cream man hits back. Marty is struggling to escape his over-protective mother and responds to her concerns by trying more and more dangerous stunts in his wheelchair. Rick’s father has died and his mother is struggling to cope. Aaron, the newest friend, endures constant bullying from his new step-brother and gets little support from his mother or step-father. The three boys draw together against a common, unseen, vengeful enemy.

Jenny Mounfield has constructed a complex, tightly plotted story of revenge. Each of the three boys is struggling with their own demons and their need binds them together. This is not to say that they share all their secrets. To the contrary, they all have secrets, all have something to hide. In uniting against a common enemy, they come to understand each other a little more. These are boys acting out loudly to hide their individual fears. In many ways they are all alone, even if the solitude is one that they somehow self-impose. ‘The Ice-cream Man’ is a chilling story of a prank that has far reaching consequences. Themes include loss, grief, families, friendship, ability and disability. The three main characters Marty, Rick and Aaron take turns to narrate the story, with chapters overlapping the action from the different points of view. This is a suspenseful, frightening read that is difficult to put down. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

The Ice-cream Man, Jenny Mounfield
Ford St 2008
ISBN: 9780876462680

Crossing the Line, by Dianne Bates

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

Sophie is embarking on a new part of her life, one that sets her challenges she has never previously faced. Abandoned as a child, her early life is spent with her aunt and uncle before they too leave her alone and she eventually falls into the cycle of foster families. As a young adult, she is given the opportunity to live in a share house with Amy and Matt and her life looks to be on track.

Like many teenagers, Sophie has her own secrets; self-harming being one of them and one she is able to hide. Concerned about the depression Sophie suffers from, her counsellor arranges for her to be hospitalised. Sophie finds reassurance in developing a friendship with her new counsellor. The counsellor, however, does not view the relationship in the same way and before long Sophie is struggling with what she perceives as another rejection.

Crossing the Line is a compassionate story of teenage struggles and one that is willing to look at the harder issues faced by teenagers today. Sophie’s character develops from a confident young girl trying to make a new start, to a distressed teen in a situation she cannot control. The only person she believes she can trust rejects her, and the one person she can trust, she rejects. It is an emotional roller coaster not only for Sophie, but also for the reader.

Crossing the Line is a story that could have more than one outcome and as a reader you hope that the final pages offer a positive one. Rather than provide endings, Crossing the Line offers new beginnings and encourages readers to believe that there is a brighter side to life, once you have made it through the darkness.

Crossing the Line is a well written and sensitive look at a difficult and emotional topic, and a book you will have finished before you realise you have even started.

Crossing the Line, by Dianne Bates
Ford Street Publishing, 2008
PB rrp $16.95

Wardragon, by Paul collins

A door opened. Ras and three guards appeared, escorting Jelindel dek Mediesar. The Wardragon waved the guards out and they withdrew. Jelindel did not take her eyes off the Preceptor’s mailshirt. The Wardragon heard her soft intake of breath. Good, he thought. She recognises her true nemesis. The one who will unmake her.
>>>HAVE YOU BEEN HARMED<< ‘Depends what you mean by harmed,’ said Jelindel, managing to keep most of the shock out of her voice. ‘Kidnapped in the night, shackled, exiled to this place, dragged here without a by-your-leave…’
Jelindel thinks the Wardahgon is destroyed and the mailshirt is safely buried, but something strange is happening in Q’zar, and now she must once again face the mighty Wardragon. This time the Wardragon is one with the evil Preceptor, and working with another former enemy, Fa-red. It will take all of Jelindel’s abilities, strength and wits to defeat the Wardragon. If she doesn’t, magic will be lost.

Wardragon is the fourth in the Jelindel chronicles and brings together Jelindel’s friends and foes from previous volumes, as well as a range of new characters, in a dramatic finale. There is action and drama, with twists and turns and some interesting character development as Jelindel searches for herself in the midst of the turbulent times by which she is faced. Jelindel’s companions Zimak and Daretor also grow and change in the course of this instalment.

For readers new to the series, there is enough back story to make this self contained, but those who have the previous instalments will be at an advantage.

An absorbing fantasy from a superb talent.

Wardragon, by Paul Collins
Ford Street, 2008

The Equen Queen, by Alyssa Brugman

‘Sneakiest way of moving in an army I ever seen,’ Vrod grunted.
Tab looked up, alarmed. The sky-traders seemed so friendly, and the council so keen to trade that she had automatically taken them at their word. No wonder Verris had handed over the negotiations and the organising to others! Lord Verris wanted to keep his hands free to take care of a much bigger problem.

When Quentaris is approached by another sky-city keen to do trade, it seems too good to be true. The visiting traders offer food and fine gems and seem to want little in return apart from the chance to learn Quentaran games. But Tab Vidler is uneasy. She can’t use her special powers any more, and when she meets a mysterious animal – an equen – she wonders if it can really hold the key to healing the sick. Is Quentaris is danger?

The Equen Queen is the second title of the new Quentaris: Quest of the Lost City series. The series, from Ford Street Publishers, is set in the city of Qentaris, which has come adrift and is floating through uncharted rifts, taking its inhabitants on gripping adventures . Each story in the series is written by a different author, and is self contained, though those who have read the first in the series as well as the earlier Quentaris series will be at an advantage.

The Equen Queen is a gripping fantasy read for upper primary and lower secondary aged readers.

The Equen Queen, by Alyssa Brugman
Ford Street, 2008

Trust Me, edited by Paul Collins

This fat and juicy collection, writes Isobelle Carmody in this book’s introduction, is like one of those dessert plates where you get to try a little bit of everything, so that you can decide what you’ll order next time as a full-sized portion.This wonderful analogy is just part of what Carmody has to say on the topic of genre and on the content of the anthology, but it a very clever way of describing what is on offer here.

Trust Me is an anthology offering short stories, poetry and illustration from fifty of Australia’s best known creators for children and young adults. From the sheer silliness of Andy Griffiths’ The True History of Sir Donald BADMAN, to the horror of Lili Wilkinson’s The Babysitter and from the romance of Carol Jones’ Under/Over to the beauty of Meme McDonald’s Farewell Song, there is something for every taste, as well as plenty to ignite new tastes. Readers are offered samplings of a range of genres including fantasy, horror, science fiction, history and poetry. What is common is the high standard of the various offerings.

Wonderful for individual reading, this would also be suitable for classroom use and school library collections.

Trust Me, edited by Paul Collins
Ford Street, 2008

Before the Storm, by Sean McMullen

For all the smoke, confusion, blood and death before her eyes, the sight of the youth that the others kept calling BC drew Emily’s eyes more than anything else. He shouted the precise orders, led the way, and sprayed fire from his strange rifle as they ran. Dark figures appeared at the end of a corridor, figures that fired pretty sparkles of light that began to cut down BC’s soldiers. BC stood his ground, shooting back at the attackers as one more of those beside him fell.

It is 1901 and Australia has just become a nation. Soon, the new Parliament will be opening for the first time. For Emily and her younger brother Daniel, this event is not terribly significant. Their lives will not be changed in any way. Unless, of course, they fall into the Yarra and are saved by a stranger who changes everything.

Fox S3 and his commander, BC, are also in Melbourne in 1901. What is different about them is that they are from the future, a future where the world is at war, and life revolves around the preservation of the British Empire. Fox and BC have travelled through time to 1901 to prevent the events which began the never-ending war. To do this, though, they need the help of Emily and Daniel and their dodgy friend, Barry the Bag.

Before the Storm is an absorbing time-travel adventure which combines Australian history with futuristic science to take readers on an action-packed ride. There is plenty to contemplate along the way, including the changing roles of women and the realities of war.

This is the first title of new imprint, Ford Street Publishing, and a strong beginning to this list.

Before the Storm, by Sean McMullen
Ford Street, 2007