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

Ginger Queen Play Date Queen: The Only Friend by Kim Kane & Jon Davis

My name is Ginger Green.

I am seven years old.

I am the Play Date Queen.

Today my friend Maya is coming over after school.

My name is Ginger Green.

I am seven years old.

I am the Play Date Queen.

Today my friend Maya is coming over after school.

Ginger Green has invited Maya to come and play after school. Maya is excited too and things start well, despite Ginger’s younger sister’s antics. But things soon start going wrong. Ginger is accustomed to being in control of play dates, but no matter what she tries, this time things seem to be going wrong. For the first time, Ginger feels left out. There are black white and purple illustrations on every opening.

Ginger Green Play Date Queen is a series for newly independent readers transitioning away from fully illustrated text to first chapter books. Ginger and the rest of the ‘cast’ are anthropomorphised foxes, but the stories will be recognisable to young students navigating the everyday challenges of school and home life.  Each episode/instalment presents a realistic dilemma and offers solutions that restore harmony. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Ginger Green Play Date Queen: The Only Friend, Kim Kane Jon Davis
Hardie Grant Egmont 2016
ISBN: 9781760127855

Freedom Swimmer, by Wai Chim

Ma is gone. I fought back tears, gripping the handle of the wheelbarrow tighter so her body wouldn’t tip out too soon. I was taking her to the river to join the other villagers who had passed. I didn’t dare look around – what if one of those bodies had surfaced, caught on a rock instead of being swept away by the current after the last rains? I could almost picture the head of some weeks-dead villager bobbing up beside me, all sunken cheeks and lifeless eyes behind paper-thin lids.

Having watched his parents die in a famine during the ‘Great Leap Forward’, Ming is left orphaned. Sharing a house with other village orphans, he must work hard to grow crops for his village and for the Communist government, with little time for himself. When the Party brings a group of city boys to work in the village, Ming forms an unlikely friend with Li, a charming, likeable city boy. Ming, taught to swim by his father, now teaches Li to swim and as they exchange their stories and their dreams they also start to wonder if there is a chance for freedom.

Freedom Swimmer is a tale of friendship set in 1960s China. Told from the dual perspectives of the two protagonists, the story explores both the effects of living under the fledgling regime, and the efforts of the freedom swimmers, people who attempted to swim from mainland China to Hong Kong, where they would find freedom.

Based on the experiences of author Wai Chim’s father, who made the freedom swim in 1973, Freedom Swimmer is a moving story.

Freedom Swimmer, by Wai Chim
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113414

Bird and Bear and the Special Day Ann James

Bird wakes up to a beautiful day.

‘Happy Birdday, Bird,’ she says to herself.

Bird flies off to share it with her best friend, Bear.

Bird wakes up to a beautiful day.

‘Happy Birdday, Bird,’ she says to herself.

Bird flies off to share it with her best friend, Bear.

Bird and Bear are the best of friends so it’s no surprise they want to spend a special day together. They venture out, complete with provisions, open to whatever they might encounter. They look for big things and small things, short things and more. They even stop for a picnic. But there’s one element of their special day that Bird is waiting for and Bear saves for last. Illustrations are outlined in black pencil and filled with watercolour.

Bird and Bear are back in a new adventure, and this time it’s Bird’s birthday. They set out on an adventure to celebrate. Their visit to the park includes many diversions as they explore many opposites: big and small, low and high. Their final stop is atop the hill for Bear’s special birthday surprise. There is a Pooh Bear and Eeyore feel to their meanderings and their conversation, which is delightful. This is a wonderful celebration of not just birthdays but of the joys of discovery and sharing of everyday wonderfuls. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Bird and Bear and the Special Day, Ann James

The Five Mile Press 2016 ISBN: 9781760402808

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Marvin and Marigold: The Big Sneeze, by Mark Carthew & Simon Prescott

Whenever young Marvin smelled biscuits or cheese
his whiskers would twitch…and he’d let out a sneeze.

Marigold Mouse has built herself a lovely new house, but there is a problem. Her neighbour, Marvin, has a terrible case of the sneezes, and whenever he sneezes, Marigold’s house shakes and gets messy. If she wants to save her house and keep Marvin as a neighbour, Marigold must search for a cure for Marvin’s sneezing.

The Big Sneeze is a delightful story in rhyme for young readers about friendship – and sneezing. The rhyme and rhythm scan well, making the story a pleasure to read aloud, and youngsters will love the humour of the situation as well as the illustrations which show quirky anthropomorphic mice and lots of detail covering every spread. The expressions of the mice are especially pleasing.

The Big Sneeze, by Mark Carthew, illustrated by Simon Prescott

New Frontier, 2016
ISBN 9781925059656

The Woman Next Door, by Liz Byrski


She attempts to get a grip on her voice. ‘It just seems such a big change, such a big thing to do.’
‘It is a big thing to do, but it isn’t something that’s undoable,’ he says. ‘A year, remember, that’s what we said. See how it goes for a year. It was your idea. You said it was what you wanted.’
‘But you…you do want it too…don’t you?’
‘I do – I wouldn’t have agreed otherwise.’

For years he women of Emerald Street have lived alongside each other. Much more than simply neighbours, they have seen children grow, careers flourish and relationships change. Now, though, things are changing. Helen and her husband Dennis have moved to a modern apartment near the river, seeking something. Polly has met a man who lives overseas, and is starting a long-distance relationship. Joyce and her husband Mac, still in love, want different things – in different places. And Stella, always flamnoyant, is becoming increasingly erratic in her behaviour.

The Woman Next Door is women’s fiction at its finest. The four friends each face a variety of challenges and changes, and their friendships, too, are at times challenged. Readers journey with each woman, with shifts in perspective allowing an intimate view of the highs and lows of a year which is filled with so many life changing moments.

Byrski has a knack for creating rich female characters and for making readers not only care about them but also feel that these are very real women.

The Woman Next Door, by Liz Byrski
Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743534939

You Have My Heart, by Corinne Fenton and Robin Cowcher

On good days and bad days
and all those in-between days…
you have my heart.

Whether its a sunshine-inside-of-me day, a tears-tumbling-down day or an en-between day, the voice of this books tells ‘you’, the reader/listener, that you always have ‘my heart’. The simple but whimsical text is an attestation of love between reader and listener, between parent and child, or between giver and receiver, being a book perfect both for quiet-time reading with a young child and for gift giving to another adult.

The illustrations too are deceptively simple, using ink and watercolour with greys and reddy-pinks to depict a child of indeterminate age demonstrating the range of emotions with the help of a single red balloon which, at the end, becomes heart-shaped.

This gorgeous small format hardcover is sheer delight.

You Have My Heart, by Corinne Fenton & Robin Cowcher
Five Mile Press, 2016
ISBN 9781760401917

Pig the Winner, by Aaron Blabey

Pig was a Pug
and I’m sorry to say,
if he didn’t come first
it would ruin his day…

Believe it or not,
he was quite hard to beat.
And the reason was simple …
Yes, Pig was a cheat.

Pig the Pug is back in his third laugh out loud adventure and, as always, Trevor the Dachshund is right by his side. This time, Pug is doing whatever it takes to win, and making a contest or race from everything he and Trevor do. But, when he insists on an eating race, he eats more than he intended, ending up with the bowl wedged in his mouth.

Using jaunty, well-written rhyming text Pig the Winner tells a tale that is chiefly humorous but also has a gentle message about competitiveness and friendship. Blabey’s illustrations , in acrylic as well as pen and pencil, are filled with funny details, and the facial expressions of both characters are hilarious.

Perfect for read-aloud sharing, Pig the Winner is a winner.

Pig the Winner, by Aaron Blabey
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781760154288

The Other Christy, by Oliver Phommavanh

OtherCHristyMy name is Christy but nobody calls me that. I’m in the same class with another girl named Christie, so I’ve become just the other Christy, the spare Christy. Not the popular, loud one everyone likes.

Christy Ung has been on the outer ever since she arrived in Australia. Every year she is put in the same class as Christie Owen, and that makes Christy the other Christy. Christie Owen is loud and popular – but she’s also mean, especially to Christy. Christy, meanwhile, has no friends, and her classmates don’t even seem to notice her. The only people who seem to care are Auntie Mayly and Grandpa, who is really strange, and whose main passion in life is cleaning. With such a strange home life, Christy wonders if she will ever be able to make a friend.

The Other Christy is a humorous but touching story of searching for friendship an fitting in, dealing as well with issues of immigration and bereavement. Christy is being raised by her Grandfather after the death of her mother in Cambodia, and is keenly aware of the differences between her own homelife and those of her classmates. Christy is a likeable protagonist, and the resolution is satisfying.

The Other Christy, by Oliver Phommavanh
Puffin Books, 2016
ISBN9780143505723