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

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