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

Polly & Buster: The Wayward Witch & the Feelings Monster, by Sally Rippin

Buster shrugs. ‘Not every witch can be a Black Witch,’ he says. ‘But you’ll be special at something, I just know it! And even if you never find that thing you are good at, you will always be special to me.’
Polly feels her heart squeeze with love for Buster. She throws her arms around his big, thick waist. ‘You are the loveliest friend a witch could ever have.’

Polly and Buster have always been friends – but their friendship has to be a secret, because witches like Polly are not supposed to be friends with monsters like Buster. Being secret friends isn’t their only problem. Polly is struggling at school, because none of her spells ever work, and Buster is hiding a secret: he gets bigger or smaller depending on his emotions, which is very un-monsterlike. When their classes cross paths on a school excursion, their secrets are in danger of being revealed, and Polly has to choose between being suddenly popular, or being true to herself – and her friend.

The Wayward Witch and the Feelings Monster is the first title featuring witch Polly and monster Buster, and young readers will adore the characters, the story and the format: hard cover with gold trim and black and white illustrations. While the story is self contained, readers will be keen to know what happens net and will eagerly await the next installment.

Polly and Buster: The Wayward Witch and the Feelings Monster, by Sally Rippin
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2017
ISBN 9781760129019

Super Con-Nerd, by Oliver Phommavanh

My name is Connor and I’m a nerd, so my friends call me Con-nerd. Well, my old friends did, back at Green hill Primary. I’ve only been here at Kentsworth High School for a week, so nobody has called me Con-nerd. They don’t even call me a nerd.
That’s because this place is full of nerds.

In primary school, Connor had a great group of friends. They thought he was a nerd, but that was one of the things they liked about him. This year, though, Connor is at highschool, and his friends are at different schools. He’s at an academic selective school, and everyone there is smart. Suddenly, Connor isn’t the smartest one in his class. In fact, he isn’t anywhere near the top.  With no friends to talk to, and everyone around seemingly super-smart, Connor isn’t sure if he’ll survive his first term of high school, let alone make his family proud, or have time to follow his true dream – of being a comic book creator.

Super Con-Nerd is the second story featuring Connor, who is smart, funny, loyal to his friends and an entertaining narrator. This installment stands alone satisfactorily, but it will be especially enjoyed by those who have already met Connor in the first book.

Suitable for readers of all abilities, Super Con-Nerd is a satisfying read.

Super Con-Nerd, by Oliver Phommavanh
Puffin Books 2017
ISBN 9780143306535

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