Lucia and Lawrence by Joanna Francis

Lucia and Lawrence are next-door neighbours.
Lucia has a head full of dreams that reach as high as the sky and as deep as the sea.
Lawrence has a head full of numbers that are useful, predicable and safe.

Lucia and Lawrence live side by side but have very different personalities. Their friendship is coloured by Lucia’s exuberance and Lawrence’s reticence. Yet, mostly they find a middle ground that allows them to play together. Until Lucia’s birthday. Lucia invites Lawrence to join in her celebration, but Lawrence says no. That’s all. No. Lucia parties without him, and it’s only afterwards that she discovers there are different ways to celebrate. Illustrations are pencil and watercolour and show their two worlds becoming one.

Lucia is very outgoing and a little bit wild. Lawrence is pretty much the opposite and feels safest in his room with his numbers. But their friendship happens at the intersection of their personalities, with their imagination. Together, their adventures harness the talents and strengths of each. A gentle story of friendship. Recommended for early schoolers.

Lucia and Lawrence, Joanna Francis New Frontier Publishing 2018 ISBN: 9781925594157
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Off the Track, by Cristy Burne

Harry’s perfect life was straying way off track. he looked pleadingly at Mum. Surely she could see? Spending an entire weekend tramping around stinking-hot snake-filled scrub was a horrible mistake. But doing it without a phone? That was just brutal.

Harry is not happy. Not only has his mum moved him from his comfortable life in Sydney to live in Perth, but now she’s agreed to spend the weekend hiking in the bush with her old friend Ana, and her daughter Deepika. There are snakes, and spiders and insects in the bush – and, worst of all, no mobile phones allowed. Well, not for Harry, anyway. Mum seems to be the only one allowed to have her phone. She says it’s in case of emergencies, but Harry knows she’ll be using it every chance she gets. Out on the Bibbulmun Track, his worst fears are realised – there really are snakes and spiders. And every time they are in range, Mum has her phone out. Then, just when he starts to enjoy himself, Harry discovers that things really can go wrong out in the bush.

Off the Track highlights the Australian outdoors, and especially Western Australia’s iconic Bibbulmun Track, in a pleasing blend of adventure and self-discovery. Many young readers will relate to Harry’s dismay of being ‘forced’ to live without every day conveniences like flushing toilets, beds, and technology. Others will love the outdoors setting and the taste of hiking the story offers.

Gripping junior fiction.

Off the Track, by Cristy Burne
Fremantle Press, 2018
ISBN 9781925591743

The Geography of Friendship, by Sally Piper

They haven’t seen each other for years, but here they are, falling onto the same old pattern as though there’s no other worth considering. Maybe it’s more to do with the place they’re walking through. Maybe the land has designs on them – maybe it always had – robbing them of the power to choose alternatives.

It’s been twenty years since they first walked the rail as teens, and twenty years since their friendship fell apart. Now, Samantha, Lisa and Nicole are walking the same trail, in an attempt to salvage something, even though it is clear to at least two of them what its they are trying to salvage.
That first hike was meant to be an adventure, a kind of coming of age in the wilderness, but what happened in those five days changed all of them, and severed their friendship. Will revisiting the scene of those terrible five days really mend their friendship, and will it help each woman to heal the wounds which continue to effect their lives?

The Geography of Friendship is a finely woven story. the use of three perspectives, and the shift bewteen the events of the past, the present and those in the intervening years, could become complicated, but rather makes for a pleasing complexity as the reader gets to know each woman and gradually piece together what has happened.

Absorbing and satisfying.

The Geography of Friendship, by Sally Piper
UQP, 2018
ISBN 9780702259975

Rainfall by Ella West

Westport, the town where I live, lies (mostly) between the banks of the Buller and the Orowaiti rivers. The Buller flows fast and deep through bush and gorges. It finally emerges amid a narrow strip of farmland before being channelled to the sea at the south end of the town between two man-made tip heads. After running freely from wild mountains deep inland, I think it must be embarrassed when it becomes a river port and then, even worse, has its final send-off over the dredged river bar into the Tasman. It gets its revenge, however, because when it rains the Buller swells to be the largest river in New Zealand and then nothing stands in its way. It tears whole trees from its banks, will take farmland and close roads. Nothing survives if caught in its waters.

Annie is fifteen, living with her folks in a west-coast New Zealand town, where the downturn in coal production is taking what few jobs remain there. On her way to basketball, she is turned back by the police. Not only does Annie miss the basketball game that day, she sees a coat floating down the swollen river and discovers a mysterious stranger riding a beautiful horse along her beach. Suddenly, the wet, economically-depressed town is immersed in a high-profile murder investigation. Around her, in the only place she has ever lived, everything seems to be changing.

Like the river that sometimes flows quietly, Annie has been drifting through her life. As rain continues to fall, and everything that’s certain begins to dissolve, Annie has to decide whether to be passive and accept everything that happens in her world, or to begin to make her own decisions, to make her own path, like the raging river does. She begins to open her eyes and see what’s actually happening in and to the town where she was born. She knows this place. Now she needs to decide what to look for, what to tell, what to hide. Themes include community, family, safety, first love, rites of passage. A thriller for early secondary readers.

Rainfall, Ella West
Allen & Unwin 2018 ISBN: 9781760296834

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

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby

They were met with a view of a large garden, but unlike the welcoming front of the house, now flowers bloomed and no bumblebees buzzed. Everything was dark and drenched in shadow because of what lay to the left – a gigantic tree that loomed over the entire garden and the house itself. Immy’s breath caught in her throat and her heart began to race as her eyes slowly travelled up its thick, gnarled trunk.

When Immy and her parents travel to England for a fresh start, they desperately want to rent a country cottage with a garden. But the only house that meets their brief has a downside: a mysterious mulberry tree in its backyard. Village lore has it that the tree is responsible for the disappearance of two girls, each of whom vanished on the eve of her eleventh birthday. Although the two disappearances were almost two hundred years apart, the legend surrounding the tree is such that the whole village mistrusts the tree, and girls are kept well away. But Immy’s parents don’t believe the tales, and Immy herself feels drawn to the cottage and to the mystery of the tree, and soon the family is trying to rebuild their lives in their new home. Still, as Immy’s eleventh birthday draws close, and Immy hears and sees things that aren’t really there, she wonders if she can solve the mystery or if she, too, will fall victim to the tree.

The Mulberry Tree is an engaging, but eerie novel for younger readers, who will love th supernatural elements. The blend of creepy, frightening moments with realistic, everyday problems and warm moments is a satisfying mix, suitable for middle and primary aged readers. The English setting will also appeal, adding tot he sense of displacement felt by the protagonist and adding interest for the reader.

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781760650292

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