Missing, by Sue Whiting

In the dead of night we run away.
Dad hoists the new pack over my shoulders. I rub at my eyes, drag sleep-flattened hair into a rough ponytail, then trail him out the door. It clicks softly behind us. Dad’s twitchy. I’m twisted in knots.

Mackenzie’s mum is missing. It’s been 114 days since she was last scene in remote Panama. Most people think she must be dead, but Mackenzie’s dad is convinced she is still alive. Without telling Nan, or anyone else, he wakes Mackenzie in the dead of night and takes her to Panama where, he is sure, they will uncover the truth. But, while Mackenzie’s Dad is desperate to find Mum, Mackenzie is desperate to make sure he doesn’t, and that they don’t uncover too much information.

Missing is an emotional, absorbing read. The blend of mystery, adventure and emotion make for an enticing combination which won’t let readers put it down. With chapters set ‘now’ , as Mackenzie deals with her Dad’s desperation and unbalanced approach to solving the mystery, interspersed with chapters set ‘then’, in the days surrounding Mum’s disappearance, and in the months since, as Mackenzie and her father and grandmother struggle to deal with the situation, the format allows readers to gradually piece together what has happened, and to travel with Mackenzie as she moves closer to the truth.

The balance between action and emotion is done well, making for a satisfying, if heart-churning read.

Missing, by Sue Whiting
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781760650032

Ash Dresses her Friends written & illustrated by Fu Wenzheng

Ash, the azure-winged magpie,
lives in a nest all by herself

Ash lives by herself and although peripherally included in local bird gatherings, remains almost silent. Her companions are bigger, louder, perhaps more confident than she is. She imagines herself condemned to a life of solitude and loneliness. Until she encounters a sad elephant in need of a shirt. So she makes him one. He tells other animals and one by one, she kits them out in rose-covered clothing. When her fabric is all gone, Ash is alone again, until her new friends gather around her. Illustrations are in black, white and red. End papers are red on white and show all the flower-dressed animals.

Ash feels lost in a crowd of other birds, and they seem almost not to notice the small, quiet neighbour. But when she encounters the elephant, Ash realises that there are others who might be friends, and other ways to make friends. As the story progresses, there are hints on each opening to show who will be the recipient of Ash’s next creation. Limited colour palette used to great effect. Originally published in China. Recommended for pre-schoolers.

Ash Dresses her Friends, Fu Wenzheng
New Frontier Publishing 2018
ISBN: 9781925594027

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

Legend Series Book 6: On the Buzzer by Michael Panckridge

The day after the Legend of Soccer presentations, a Friday, was cold and wet. I slept in. Mum had gone to work, but she and Dad must have decided that a day away from school would be good for me. He had a rostered day off so that worked too.
I kept looking at my watch and wondering what all the kids at Sandhurst were up to.

At lunchtime I grabbed Dad’s phone and sent a text message to Bryce. I wanted him to know that I could still come around to his place for the Legends party.

The Legend Series has moved on from soccer. This competition is about basketball. Mitchell and his mates are keen, as is a new student, Rat. The mystery in the library seems to become more complex as they discover more. The focus is on basketball, a trophy that seems a permanent fixture at Wetherwood School, one of the other competitor schools. The stakes are getting higher and not everyone is playing by the rules. The final game is so close, nobody is game to predict the outcome. Extras include a quiz and school scoresheets.

The Legend Series measures achievement across a range of different sports, with elements of knowledge as well as skills, at Sandhurst Primary School. It encourages fair play and rewards teamwork. Mitchell, newcomer to the school, loves his sport, but he’s also keen to establish and maintain friendships. Travis Fisk is also a keen and skilled sportsman, but seems to have a philosophy of winning at all costs. Their friendship group also includes several of the best sportsgirls at the school, as well as members with other skills that are valued as much as sporting prowess. An exploration of school and student dynamics and the role of competition and sports. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Legends Series Book 6: On the Buzzer, Michael Panckridge
Ford St Publishing 2018
ISBN: 9781925272932

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

Legend Series Book 5: Over the Wall, by Michael Panckridge

I still couldn’t quite believe what had happened last week after the Legend of Football presentations.
A group of us had raced off to the library straight after the presentation assembly. We hadn’t heard a thing from Bryce, who had shoved his mobile phone into our hands moments before the end of lunch that day. Then he’d headed off to, we assumed, the library. Outside the hall there were parents, students and teachers milling about everywhere. There was a great-looking afternoon tea for everyone, with visitors and kids alike tucking in.

‘Over the Wall’ is Book Five in the Legend series that sees Mitchell and friends competing at different sports. There’s a girls’ comp that runs simultaneously and there’s overlap in some sports. This time, soccer is the contested sport. Mitchell and his arch-rival Travis Fisk are neck and neck in the overall competition. As they and others duel for points, there’s a mystery beyond the library that is occupying time and mind. There are also extras, including score sheets for the Legend Series, and a quiz.

Mitchell has only arrived at Sandhurst school for this final year of primary school. So there’s plenty he doesn’t know about the school, the students and the sports competition. As the series progresses, he builds a friendship group, becomes familiar with the cultures of his new school and of the other schools involved in the sports competition. He’s competitive and skilled, but also knows how to play fair. This provides a point of contrast with Travis Fisk who seems to come from a family where winning is the only option, no matter the cost. Recommended for readers in mid- and upper-primary, particularly those who would rather be out playing sport.

Legend Series Book 5: Over the Wall, Michael Panckridge
Ford St Publishing 2018
ISBN: 9781925272925

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

Game Day Books 1 and 2, by Patty Mills with Jared Thomas

‘Patty, have you ever thought about playing basketball?’ Coach Clarke asked.
I shrugged my shoulders.
‘I’d like you to try out,’ he said.
‘Would I get to play on the ball for the whole game?’ I asked him.
Coach Clarke laughed. ‘Everyone plays on the ball in basketball.’

Patty loves sport, but he’s never played basketball before. Still, he’s good at every other sport he plays, and his uncle Danny is a great basketballer, so he expects to be a great basketballer straight away. He soon discovers there more to the game than just shooting hoops.

Patty Hits the Court and Patty and the Shadows are the first two books in the new Game Day series written by Australian basketball sensation Patty Mills, together with author Jared Thomas.

Perfect for sports mad readers, the books tell high interest stories, as well as showing children from Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders engaged in every day life, including school, sport and family life, as well as partaking in cultural events such as Mabo Day. This blend is really important for all Australian children.

Patty is a likable main character, who doesn’t always get everything right. He has to learn, for example, to share the ball, and to overcome bullying and difficulties with school work, topics which make him relatable for young readers.

Game Day: Patty Hits the Court and Patty and the Shadows, both by Patty Mills with JAred Thomas
Allen & Unwin, 2017

I Just Ate My Friend, by Heidi McKinnon

I just ate my friend.
He was a good friend, but now he’s gone.
What if I never find another friend again?

A glum yellow character is lonely: because he just ate his only friend. Now he is regretting his actions, and is searching for a new friend. But the other creatures he finds are too big or too small, or even too frightening. When he does finally find a suitable friend, the tables are turned, in an unexpected ending which makes even adults laugh out loud.

With a potential message about belonging and the importance of impulse control, this hilarious offering is mostly just good fun. the whimsical digital illustrations feature dark, night-time backgrounds and a cast of deceptively simply rendered characters (which might be described as monsters or beasts) in a range of shapes and sizes.

Suitable for children AND adults, I Just Ate My Friend is a wodnerful debut for Heid McKinnon.

I Just Ate My Friend , by Heidi McKinnon
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 978176029434

Pippa’s Island: The Beach Shack Cafe

Outside, kids were running, shouting, playing and laughing. If I closed my eyes it sounded just like the playground of my old school back in London. But instead of cool and misty air, the sun shone down bright and hot. The air smelled different too. All sea-salty and spicy. And of course the biggest difference was that almost everyone was a stranger.

Pippa and her family might have moved to an idyllic island town, but that doesn’t make it easy. She has left behind friends she’s known since nursery school in London, and moved across the world to Australia, where everything seems different. On top of that, they are living in a caravan in her grandparents’ garden while Mum puts everything into renovating a run-down boatshed she wants to make into a cafe bookshop. Pippa isn’t sure it will work, but when she makes some new friends, things start looking up.

The Beach Shack Cafe is the first title in a new series following Pippa’s new life on Kira Island. Pippa faces the challenges of a new start with the help of her thoughtful, if slightly distracted, mum, and through trial and occasional error.

Young readers will love the island setting and will look forward to more installments.

Pippa’s Island 1: The Beach Shack Cafe, by Belinda Murrell
Random House Australia, 2017
ISBN 9780143783671

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise by Mark Carthew ill Simon Prescott

On the first of December, Marigold Mouse
found a rather large box at the front of her house.
Ms Marigold Mouse
Busselton Road
Mouseville
FRAGILE
*Do not bend*
Sender: Mrs M. Mouse (Snr)

It’s Christmas and Marigold finds a box on her doorstep. She opens it to find a letter from her mother and a box full of tree and Christmas decorations, a memory in each one. From her window she spies her neighbour Marvin. His aloneness and loneliness radiates through the window, and she invites him to join her. Together they decorate the tree, share Christmas memories and celebrate the spirit of Christmas. Illustrations show a snowy Christmas, teddy bear-like mice and gingerbread-like houses.

Marvin and Marigold live side-by-side. When her parcel arrives, Marigold is happy to invite her friend to share the decorating of the Christmas tree. He brings a snack to share. Gentle rhyme details the friendship and the sharing of Marigold’s family tree tradition. Inherent in the rhyme and the illustration is the reminder that Christmas is about sharing with those around you. The final image shows the friends sitting by the fire, with both stockings hung together as they share a meal and more chat. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise, Mark Carthew ill Simon Prescott
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925259991

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

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

Paper Cranes Don’t Fly by Peter Vu

I wake up in the bed that isn’t really mine. What have I done to deserve being stuck in this place again? I ask myself despite the fact that I don’t believe in the concept of karma and its spiritual principles of cause and effect.
Even if karma actually exist, I’m pretty sure I haven’t done anything to deserve seeing its bad side. But I once read – I don’t remember where – that everything that has happened in our lives has been preparation for moments that are yet to come. Maybe that is true. Or maybe it isn’t.
Or maybe it’s just too damned philosophical for me to understand. I don’t know.
I gaze out the window. From five storeys up, the view is surprisingly cheerful considering that I’m looking at the outside of a children’s hospital.

Seventeen-year-old Adam is back in hospital for more surgery. Despite surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, he’s here again. Treatment for his brain tumour has meant that his schooling is interrupted and friendships are difficult to initiate and to maintain. It’s lucky then that he has two enduring friendships from his childhood and a new friend who is also a frequent hospital visitor. Adam starts writing down his story to show that he is more than the illness that is recurring. He continues it, including flashbacks, as a way of getting through long days in hospital.

Friendship is important to most people, but it’s especially important to teenagers and Adam is no exception. He’s lucky enough to have a family, parents and a brother, but it is his friends who keep him going. Through them he has a link to the world beyond the hospital walls, and some semblance of normalcy. Their friendship allows him to be a teenager, who is much more than just a medical diagnosis.

Paper Planes Don’t Fly’ is a portrait of a teenager who just happens to also be sometimes unwell. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

Paper Cranes Don’t Fly, Peter Vu
Ford Street Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925272765

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