The Shape of Us, by Lisa Ireland

This time it would work. She would lose the weight in tome for her birthday. And maybe she’d say yes yo that holiday in Thailand Sean was always nagging her about. Tomorrow she would start on the readiness tasks she was supposed to do before Monday when the program kicked off. But tonight she may as well finish off the rest of these chocolates. After all, the first task was to rid the house of any tempting foods.

Four women who have never met in person connect through an online forum. They are all very different: one is a young mother, with a rocky relationship and no family support. Another is happily married and a successful businesswoman, but longs for a child. A third has it all – career, children and a happy marriage. The fourth has moved backwards in her career to be closer to her lover. What connects these very different women is that they are all very overweight, and have joined the forum in a desperate attempt to lose weight. At first online and, later, in person, they  become friends and support each other through times much harder any of them could have imagined.

The Shape of Us is a story  about friendship. Though weight loss (or the desire to lose weight) is what brings the friends together, they connect and support each other in many different ways, and weight becomes almost a background issue.  The use of a blend of third person narrative and blog entries from the perspectives of all four women is an unusual and effective means of getting inside each character’s lives and emotions.

Although weight loss ceases to be the overriding issue of the book, the differing weight loss experiences of the characters, as well as their experiences surrounding being overweight, is an intriguing premise for a book. Issues of family support, body image, infertility, surgical intervention and more are explored.

At heart, though, this is about the bonds which bring women together and the ways they support each other.

The Shape of Us, by Lisa Ireland
Macmillan, 2017
ISBN 9781760550875

Too Many Friends, by Kathryn Apel

I like my friends.
I like to be with ALL of my friends.
But sometimes my friends
aren’t friendly with
each other.

Tahnee has lots of friends, and she likes to do different things with them. But it isn’t easy having so many friends – some of her friends don’t like each other, or like doing different things, so it gets hard to be a good friend to everyone. Luckily, Tahnee has a big heart, and wise, loving support from her parents and her teacher, Miss Darling.

Too Many Friends is a delightful, warm-hearted verse novel about friendship. Like most classrooms, Tahnee’s year two class is populated by kids with a range of interests, problems and personalities. Miss Darling is energetic, enthusiastic and loves her job. Tahnee loves Miss Darling and she loves school, but she finds it hard to know how to keep her friends happy, and still do the things she loves, and when one of her friends stops talking to her, she needs to figure out what to do. Her solution is lovely.

This is Kat Apel’s third verse novel, and shows the same tender touch as her previous work.

Lovely.

Too Many Friends, by Kat Apel
QUP, 2017
ISBN 9780702259760

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang

Water swirls around my body, dragging me down as if I’m a sack filled with rocks.
Weeds hold me, wrap their feathery arms around me. I kick to get free and my legs scrape against sandpaper boulders.
Bubbles fizz, rise, gurgle, bloody like raspberry lemonade.
‘You will soon be mine, Ziggy,’ the river says lovingly.
A huge shadow swims alongside me. Fur like quicksilver. Yellow eyes glinting.
I fight for air, for life.

Ziggy Truegood is worried. Her father and brothers have moved away, her grandfather is losing his memory and everyone in her tiny town is growing angry. Her beloved Hushing Wood is changing, too, growing dark and scary. And every night Ziggy dreams of her death; drowning on her twelfth birthday. then a strange new boy arrives in town. Ziggy is strangely drawn to him, but she can’t be sure if he is there to help her, or if he is the cause of all the troubles.

The Beast of Hushing Wood is a finely woven blend of magical realism and adventure, set in an at once familiar yet fantastical world, much of which is modern, yet is quaintly different. Ziggy, who loves nature, can see and things which the other townspeople can’t, and this is what puts her in danger.

With the added touch of Wang’s fantastical grey-scale illustrations, The Beast of Hushing Wood is beautiful.

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang
Penguin, 2017
ISBN 9780143309178

Before You Forget by Julia Lawrinson

Someone yelling wakes me up. I have no idea what time it is. I jump out of bed and head for the kitchen. I almost collide with Mum, who’s also coming out of her room.
‘Go back to bed,’ she whispers.
I don’t Dad is standing in the middle of the kitchen. The fluorescent light is on and he’s in his undies. They bag a little around his arse. He’s pointing at the clock.
‘I’ve got to go to work!’ he’s yelling. ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’
‘Honey,’ Mum says, ‘you don’t need to go to work yet.’
‘Don’t lie to me!’ he roars. ‘I’m supposed to be there!’
‘Honey,’ Mum repeats soothingly. ‘It’s three o’clock in the morning. You go back to bed and it’ll be time to go in another few hours.’
‘Why are you doing this to me?’ he yells. ‘What am I doing here? What is this? Who do you think you are?’

Amelia is in Year 12, trying to impress her art teacher, navigating an increasingly unpredictable home life, and trying to work out what’s going on with her friends, particularly her closest friend, Gemma. Her dad is changing, forgetful, angrier more often. Her mum has her own adjustments to make. To Amelia, it’s as though everything she has ever known is changing. And she’s not quite sure what to do. But the days pass, whether or not she wants them to. In the growing chaos and confusion, Amelia begins to work out who she is.

Everyone says Year 12 is big, but no one could have predicted Amelia’s year. It’s not just the work, or growing up. It’s like someone threw her into a tornado and all she can see is a blur. Relationships are at the heart of ‘Before You Forget’, those with family and with old friends and new. ‘Before You Forget’ becomes the song of change, of evolving, of reality. Amelia’s art practice, her struggle to communicate via canvas is a metaphor for her struggle to navigate and understand her changing world. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

Before You Forget, Julia Lawrinson
Penguin 2017
ISVN: 9780143574071

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

The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth

If she’d felt a jolt earlier, this was a canon, blowing a giant hole right through her. Cancer. Had they used that word earlier? She didn’t remember it.
Apparently appeased by her expression – finally the reaction they’d been waiting for – the doctor began to explain it all again, a third or maybe fourth time. Once again, Alice zoned out. because she couldn’t have cancer. She was barely forty, she ate well, exercised occasionally. More importantly, she couldn’t have cancer. She had Zoe.

Since Zoe was born, it has always been just her and Alice. And that’s the way they have both preferred it. Alice has never shared the story of Zoe’s conception, sure that she is enough for Zoe. And for Zoe, who lives with crippling social anxiety, Alice is enough for her. So, when Alice is told she has cancer, her first thought is for Zoe. Who will be there for her daughter? With her parents both dead, and her only remaining relative, her brother, a hopeless alcoholic, Alice reaches out to women newly in her life – her oncology nurse, Kate, and her social worker, Sonja. the three women have more in common than they could ever realise.

The Mother’s Promise is a moving story of strength, friendship and love. While Alice deals with her own battle, each of her two unlikely new friends also has her own private battle to face. At the same time her daughter, Zoe, must deal both with her mother’s illness and with her anxiety and its consequences.

Though the subject matter could make this grim, the story is both warmly and compellingly told.

The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth
Pan Macmillan, 2017
ISBN 9781925479959

Glitch by Michelle Worthington ill Andrew Plant

Glitch was a trembly, twittery, twitchy kind of bug,
who built amazing creations from the treasures he found on the rubbish heap where he lived.
June was much more calm, which made her a brilliant billycart driver and his most trusted friend.

Glitch and his friend June enter the Billycart race every year. The race is held at the tip where they live and their billycarts made from bits they find there. Glitch is great at building billycarts but not so great at being the navigator when June drives in the race. Each year something goes wrong and they – the team with the best billycart – miss out. This year, when they have a crash in the lead up to the race, June hatches a plan. It depends on trembly, twittery, twitchy Glitch doing something he’s never done before. Illustrations include colourful and friendly-looking bugs of all hues. The tip becomes a treasure trove and a racetrack.

‘Glitch’ celebrates the friendship between two bugs. Together they make a great team – or they would, if Glitch could get over his twitchiness and focus on race day. This year, with the best billycart ever, things are looking good until a prematch accident turns everything upside down. Glitch has to overcome his twitches – and they’re bigger than ever – if the pair are to complete a race. Themes include friendship and bravery. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Glitch, Michelle Worthington ill Andrew Plant
Ford Street, 2017
ISBN: 9781925272710

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

Baby Band by Diane Jackson Hill ill Giuseppe Poli

The apartment block loomed cold and quiet.
The same people had lived there a long time.
They did not know each other and they
never spoke – not even to say hello.

No one speaks to anyone in the apartment block. They go about their business separately and in as quietly as possible. Then a baby arrives in the apartment block. The baby is not quiet, not a bit, no matter how his mother tries. He cries. And cries. Until one day he finds the pots and pans. The crying stops and the music begins. One by one, the other occupants of the floor join in. Together they create music. And a community. Illustrations are loose outline filled with colour, often set in white. End papers offer music in the park – two versions.

The apartment block is a collection of separate people who seldom interact – until the baby arrives. The solution to the baby’s crying is music and accidentally at first, then intentionally, it brings the individuals of the block together as a community. Young readers will love the notion that music can be made with whatever is at hand – or foot. Kinder and early years teachers can use this story to introduce music to their classrooms. Young readers will also enjoy looking at the difference between the front end-papers and the rear end-papers, and finding all the apartment-dwellers. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Baby Band, Diane Jackson Hill ill Giuseppe Poli
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059779

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

The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, by Lisa Shanahan

It struck Henry that perhaps he was waiting for the exact right moment to be daring and brave. The exact right moment where he felt no worry at all, not one tiny flicker. But what if that moment never came?

Henry Hoobler and his family are off on holiday – but Henry would rather stay home with his Nonna. There are lots of scray things about a camping holiday at the beach – sharks, spiders, snakes and blue-ringed octopi. But the thing he is most afraid is the new bike he got for Christmas, which is strapped to the trailer. Everybody wants him to ride it – but Henry is scared he’ll fall off.

The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is a feel-good story about what it the meaning of bravery, friendship and family. As Henry tries to summon the courage to get on his bike, he navigates a new friendship with Cassie, who lives in the holiday park, and conquers other fears, including helping his little sister find a lost pony in the middle of the night. He also observes those around him learning new things and taking on challenges of their own.

With laughter, moments of poignancy, and lots of feel-good moments, The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler is a treat.

The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, by Lisa Shanahan
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760293017

The Unforgettable What’s His Name, by Paul Jennings

At lunchtime I sat on my own, trying not to be seen. I didn’t talk to anyone. If I climbed a tree the kids would look up and not spot me. If I was hiding among the bins no one could find me. It was almost as if I was a bin and not a boy.
horrible Gertag would say. ‘Where’s What’s His Name?’ And I would blush.

What’s His Name is shy and sad. He wants to belong, but he doesn’t, so he tries to avoid being noticed. Then, one weekend, he discovers that he can really blend in – like a chameleon. First he starts to blend in with his surroundings, then he actually starts to change into other things.

The Unforgettable What’s His Name is a hilarious tale of a boy with an unusual problem, though his worries about fitting in an belonging are universal. His funny escapades, the consequence of being able to change into other things, will delight young readers, and the comic illustrations – included several double page coloured spreads – by Craig Smith add to the fun, and will encourage readers to spot the main character.

Good stuff.

The Unforgettable What’s His Name, by Paul Jennings, illustrated by Craig Smith
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760290856

Molly & Mae, by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood

Molly thought Mae was silly and told her so.
Mae was tired of being bossed around.
Molly was angry and loud and rude.
Molly turned her back.

Molly and Mae are friends, embarking on a train journey. First they have a long wait for the train, but they play games, exchange secrets and eat together. Finally, they are on their way, and the train holds lots of adventures. But the journey grows long, and the girls quarrel. Not spekaing to each other, though, makes the journey tedious, and they build bridges to once again be best of friends.

Molly and Mae is a beautiful tale of friendship, with the highs and lows of a train journey being a wonderful metaphor for the journey a friendship can take, with togetherness, tension, obstacles and healing. The text is fittingly sparse, so that readers can fill the spaces for themselves, and also enjoy the sumptuous illustrations which capture both the emotions of the girls and the variety of life and passengers on the train. The girls are more brightly coloured than their fellow passengers, a touch which adds focus.

A beautiful picture book, to be treasured by all ages.

Molly and Mae, by Danny Parker & Freya Blackwood
Little Hare, 2016
ISBN 9781742975276