Bantam, by Terry Whitebeach and Michael Brown

When their taste of city life disappoints, Mick and Toad return to Bantam, their home town. Unemployed and broke, their biggest problem seems to be how to survive until next dole day.

For Mick and his friends life is about drinking, fishing and looking for girls. For Mick there are also chooks and his dog, Jezebel.

But life has a funny way of turning serious. Bantam is a town like any other – with problems of unemployment, domestic violence and youth suicide.

Will Mick ever find balance in the roller cosater ride of his existence?

Bantam is a special book. To blend humour and tragedy is a delicate process, but author Terry Whitebeach pulls it off superbly. Readers will find themselves laughing, crying and cheering Mick and his mate Toad on, right to the last page.

Author Terry Whitebeach began working on Bantam after her son Michael Brown moved to a small town and started sending letters home telling her of his adventures. The stories he told seemed to be funnier and more terrible than anything she could imagine, so she wrote them down.

Bantam is Whitebeach’s second young adult novel and her son’s first.

Bantam, by Terry Whitebeach and Michael Brown
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2002

The Watching Lake, by Elaine Forrestal

Bryn and his family have just moved in to a house near the lake. It is an interesting place to live. There are horses on the property next door, and Bryn especially likes a big grey one, Tiffany, the ghost-horse.

Bryn’s big brother Chad likes it here too. He makes friends with Carey, the girl next door, and the other kids from the neighbourhood, and is soon involved in building a cubby house and playing games which don’t include Bryn

When he’s near the lake Bryn feels like he’s being watched. He feels something, something different, but he can’t quite grasp what it is. Carey says that Welsh Morgan is always watching. Welsh Morgan owns the market garden next door. The children see him working in the garden, and Bryn meets him early one morning, but Bryn isn’t sure that it’s Welsh Morgan who makes him feel this way.

Carey tells Bryn and Chad that Morgan’s wife died mysteriously many years ago, and that Morgan says she was taken by the Min Min – strange but beautiful lights which beckon people to their deaths. Of course, the children know that the Min Min can’t be real.

The Watching Lake, by Elaine Forrestal is a poignant, touching story about childhood and about growing up. First released by Puffin Australia in 1991, it has now been re-released by Fremantle Arts Centre Press, a recognition that this timeless story will continue to appeal to readers.

Forrestal has a knack of deftly exploring the minds and emotions of her young characters, whilst still painting believable and rounded adult characters. Welsh Morgan, the mysterious hermit, is a character who will not only appeal to children but teach them a subtle awareness that ‘different’ is not always bad.

The Watching Lake is an outstanding novel.

The Watching Lake, by Elaine Forrestal
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2002

Two for Older Readers

Two newly released picture books are challenging the perception that picture books are just for preschoolers. Both books will appeal to older children and would be useful in the school setting.

In Kaffy Meets the Doomie, by Brendan Doyle (Banana Books), a dog named Kaffy explores an abandoned brickworks, where he meets an old man who once worked in the brickworks. The man speaks to Kaffy of his loneliness and loss of purpose. The magical events which follow, lead to Kaffy helping to get the brickworks reopened in a different guise, and the Doomie to find a sense of purpose.

Told in a simple rhyming structure and complemented by simple sketches and colour illustrations by Harold Tiefel, the story combines a sense of history with a feeling of fantasy and fun. This would be an excellent book for exploring subjects of aging, redundancy, and valuing our past.

From Fremantle Arts Centre Press comes In Flanders Fields by Norman Jorgensen, another book with a historical focus. This story provides a compelling counterpoint to images often seen of war, depicting its senselessness and inhumanity. The book tells the story of a homesick soldier who , in the temporary ceasefire which comes with Christmas day, spies a robin caught on some wire in no man’s land. One wing flaps helplessly as the robin tries to escape.

Rather than enjoy the lull in fighting and remain in safety, the soldier risks walking towards German trenches to rescue the robin, which would die without help. Soldiers from both sides watch in disbelief as he risks his own life to save that of the robin.

The story is presented in picture book format, with beautiful illustrations from Brian-Harrison-Lever, perfectly complementing the text . Again, this book would be an excellent classroom tool, especially when dealing with topics relating to war.

Kaffy Meets the Doomie, by Brendan Doyle, Illustrated by Harold Tiefel
Banana Books, 2002.

In Flanders Fields, by Norman Jorgensen, illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2002.

A Glassful of Giggles, by Elaine Forrestal

Everyone knows that you can’t catch the giggles – they just happen. Or do they? When Jarrad has a glassful of giggles for breakfast, everyone – everyone – seems to catch them. First his Mum and Dad, then, when he gets to school, all his school mates, and his teacher. The giggles keep spreading through the school, until finally, even the principal catches them. Whatever will they do?

A Glassful of Giggles is the title story in a new collection of short stories for young readers. Filled with giggles, green pigs, giants and noisy cupboards, these stories will appeal to children in the early years of primary school.

As a series of self contained stories, this type of book is excellent for children making the transition from picture books to chapter books. the large print and abundance of illustration serves a bridging function between the two formats.

Elaine Forrestal has won awards for her previous works, including the Australian Book Council Book of the Year Award for Younger Readers, for Someone Like Me. Illustrator Sharon Thompson is, in addition to being an illustrator, a kindergarten teacher.

A Glassful of Giggles
is a great offering for young readers.

A Taste

Grundle went walking, to see what was happening. The countryside trembled, he shook all the trees. But that wasn’t good enough. Not really scary. The magpies kept chattering and refused to be teased.
How could an apple green pig frighten anyone?

A Glassful of Giggles, by Elaine Forrestal
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2002

Tev, by Brendan Murray

My parents call me Tev, usually, and Tevita when they’re annoyed with me. There’s been a lot of ‘Tevita’ lately. That’s the reason I’m being packed off to my mum’s family in Tonga, to ‘sort me out’, get rid of a few demons,’ as Dad put it.

Just before his fifteenth birthday, Tev finds himself on a plane bound for Tonga, to stay with his extended family, whom he hasn’t met before. His mother is Tongan and his father Australian, meaning that Tev often feels he doesn’t belong anywhere. In Australia he’s a ‘Choco’, but when he lands in Tonga he stands out as not being the same as other Tongans.

Despite this, his family are delighted to see him – his Uncle Maka, his grandfather Pita, and numerous cousins, all hug him and welcome him into their family life. He is also welcomed by Siale, a beautiful friend of the family who he admires from afar.

Yet, welcomes aside, life in Tonga is not always laid back and simple. He clashes with another family friend, Tui, and has to deal with the culture shock of a whole different way of life, not to mention the forces of a destructive cyclone, a death in the family, his growing feelings for Siale, and more.

Tev is an outstanding story of coming of age, of dealing with being different, and of adventure. It will appeal to both boys and girls of fourteen and over.

Bendan Murray is a Western Australian-born teacher of English, currently based on Christmas Island. Tev is his first novel.

Tev, by Brendan Murray
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2002

The Real Facts of Life

FACT: Weekends and holidays go faster than schooldays.
FACT: Dads always read in the toilet – for ages and ages.
FACT: Sisters always try to get you into trouble.

Max loves to collect facts like these. He writes them down in a little notebook. But one busy weekend he overlooks the biggest fact of all.

This delightful children’s book by West Australian author Geoff Havel documents Max’s weekend as he collects facts and tries to figure out what’s going on between his parents. His mother is acting weird and his father is fussing over her. His sister Jess keeps giving him “I know something you don’t know” looks.

It’s a pretty busy weekend for Max – washing dishes, mad dashes to hospital to stitch up his head, Sunday lunch with Grandma. And heaps of facts to gather. Will he find time to solve the mystery?

The Real Facts of Life will appeal to boys and girls aged 10 and over. Even Mum and Dad will laugh at this one.

The Real Facts of Life by Geoff Havel
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2001

Ca-a-r Ca-a-a-a-r

Rarely is a picture book written which will have the adult reader laughing aloud at its humour. Ca-a-r Ca-a-a-a-r, by Geoff Havel is, fortunately, one such uniquely funny offering, which will be loved by both parents and children for its simple wit.

The premise of the book is simple – a group of animals share their reactions to an accident they witness. But this is not another talking animals story. Instead, Havel cleverly uses the animals’ sounds to tell the story. So, the skidding of the car is echoed by the parrot’s “Screech!” and the arrival of the ambulance heralded by the donkey’s “Eeyore, eeyore.” The bright and comical illustrations of Peter Kendall make a gorgeous complement to Havel’s text.

This is a book which will be read and enjoyed many times, with children quickly learning to ‘help’ the reader out with the animal sounds and even the narration. A must-have classic.

Ca-a-r Ca-a-a-a-r, by Geoff Havel
Published by Sandcastle Books, Fremantle Arts Centre Press children’s book imprint (1996).

Chloe's Wish

Chloe’s family tell her that wishes aren’t real – even her little brother Eli tells her they’re ‘kid’s stuff’. But Chloe is sure that wishes float around in the air like invisible bubbles. All she has to do is wish at the right time and pop the wish bubble will burst and come true.

So Chloe isn’t as surprised as you might expect when she wishes for a fairy godmother to help her decide what to wish for, and pop, whizz, a fairy godmother appears in a cloud of pink and mauve fuzzy stuff. What she is surprised to learn is that some fairy godmothers aren’t exactly expert at granting wishes.

The tale of Chloe’s Wish, by Diana Chase, will delight six to ten year old readers. They will laugh out loud at the antics of Gloria, Chloe’s fairy godmother, and thrill at the idea that wishes really can come true. The illustrations of Heather Himmel also add a special touch to the book.

Chloe’s Wish, by Diana Chase
Published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2001

Cat Balloon

Every night one thousand cats watch the moon ride over their heads. One small cat called Cat Balloon longs to fly with the moon, but the other cats tell him sternly: “Cats can’t fly.”

Cat Balloon doesn’t care what they say – he is determined to find a way and so sets off on a journey to search for the secret of the full moon. That night, nine hundred and ninety-nine cats see an amazing sight.

Cat Balloon, by Palo Morgan, is a delightful story in verse suitable for three to seven year olds. Not only will children love the story, they will be fascinated by Morgan’s beautiful illustrations. From plain moggies to stately lions, the one thousand cats will captivate young animal lovers and the luminous moon seems to sine out of the page.

The book is available with or without a CD of music from the Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’s stage adaptation.

Cat Balloon, by Palo Morgan
Published by Sandcastle Books (Fremantle Arts Centre Press Children’s Book Imprint), 1992.