Spirit of Hope, by Bob Graham

They waved to the passing trucks and the drivers waved back.
Everyone knew the Fairweathers,
and the Fairweathers knew everyone.

The Fairweathers live in a little house in the middle of an industrial area. Six days a week they walk across the bridge with Dad, waving goodbye as he goes to work in the factory. Six days a week they welcome him home. This is a happy family who enjoy simple pleasures. On the seventh day each week, the Fairweathers go to the docks and have a picnic among all the big ships. Their make-believe ship is called ‘Spirit of Hope’. And it is this spirit of home that they cling to when they learn their the land where their house sits is earmarked for a factory. The family search for a new home to live in. Inspiration comes from the smallest, quietest member of the family, Mary.

Bob Graham is well-known for his deceptively simple but heart-warming stories. His trademark illustrations detail the minutiae of family life. Like many of his stories, Spirit of Hope celebrates family. The front cover shows largely grey with a bright white spotlight on Mary, the smallest member of the family. To an outsider, it might seem that living between factories and next to a busy road might not seem the most ideal home. But this family celebrates every day. They celebrate Dad arriving home, playing simple imaginative games and their many friends. When trouble strikes, it is the strength of their unity that helps provide a solution. Spirit of Hope was first released in 1993, but is as vibrant and meaningful today as it ever was. Recommended for 4-7 year olds.

Spirit of Hope

Spirit of Hope, Bob Graham
Lothian Books 2008
ISBN: 9780734410696

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Collecting Colour, by Kylie Dunstan

This is Rose.
Rose has a best friend. Her name is Olive.
Their families live in the Top End of the Northern Territory of Australia.
There are lots of pandanus palms here. Pandanus palms have tall, thin trunks with long spiky leaves at the top.

Rose joins her Aboriginal friend Olive on a trip into the bush with her mother and Aunty to collect pandanus and ‘colour’. With them, Olive’s mother Karrang will make baskets, mats and bags. Rose and Olive help to harvest the pandanus and search for the roots and berries that will make the dyes to colour the pandanus. They rest in the middle of the day, finding shade by a river. It’s picnic time. And fishing time. They catch a big barramundi for their dinner. Back at Olive’s house, Rose learns how the berries and roots are prepared to make the colour that will dye the dried pandanus. Later they watch the older women make beautiful baskets and make their own small mats.

Collecting Colour provides a fascinating insight into traditional basket-making from the point of view of a small non-indigenous child. There is a wonderful sense of timelessness about the process, despite the use of a car to traverse the countryside. This is experiential learning in action! The two children are fully involved in searching for and harvesting the leaves, roots and berries that are the purpose of the journey. Collecting Colour is a large format hardcover picture book. Each opening is saturated with colour, the images created with a mixture of collage and paint. Endpapers show a range of colourful baskets and mats. Despite the information contained, this is not a text book. It is a lovely gentle story of the learning process and a small non-indigenous girl’s introduction to an age-old skill. Highly recommended for lower- to mid-primary readers and anyone interested in how pandanus bags are made.

Collecting Colour, Kylie Dunstan
Lothian Books 2008
ISBN: 9780734410221

The Truth About Emma, by Gary Crew

If a man and woman are to fall in love, they must, of necessity, both understand and practise the meaning of two words: compliance and antagonism.
As I am a young man, you might argue that I could know nothing of such things but, let me assure you, having fallen under the spell of a woman who knew a great deal about the art of love and taught me all that she knew, I would disagree.
Young as I am, I have learned that compliance is vital in that lovers must learn the joy of sharing; while antagonism is equally necessary in that if lovers agree about everything, what friction will ignite the flame of their love?

Rafael Innocenti has landed the biggest assignment in his journalistic career so far. If he can get the real story about Bad Burden, then who knows what the future may hold? Emma Burden has been pursued by local and international press. At worst she was a murderess at the age of eighteen. At best, she is a precocious teenager, representative of her generation. Emma has agreed to be interviewed by Rafael in order to tell the ‘true story’. And so begins a series of interviews in a coffee shop. Rafael records Emma’s account on tape, but not every part of the conversation will end up in the article. Emma is not an easy subject, changing personalities as often she changes her hair colour (and that’s often). Rafael is by turns frustrated, angered, captivated and chastened by their meetings as he tries to tease out the truth. He learns much more than he expected.

The Truth about Emma twists and turns, taking the reader on a journey through truth, lies and half-truths. Emma is a slippery character, ingénue one minute, world-weary rich sophisticate the next. That she is intelligent there is no doubt. Rafael, her interviewer is constrained by the memory of his Sicilian peasant origins, his confidence shored by expensive clothes. The two characters dance around each other, each learning from the other, in unexpected ways. The interviews take over Rafael’s life, impacting on his relationships and even his education. Along the way, he discovers that books have much to teach us, beyond the sum of their words. Crew looks closely at the role and responsibilities of the media, individual and generational responsibilities, and notion of fallibility. Topics for discussion include media, family, relationships, morality, truth and honesty. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary students.

The Truth about Emma, by Gary Crew
Lothian 2008
ISBN: 9780734409348

Gold Fever, by Susan Coleridge

‘Tonight, like all the other nights, it had started with the hands. Dirty, bent hands feeling around in the darkness. And behind the hands were faces – shadowy faces, with dark, watching eyes.
Then came the voice.
It was always a man’s voice – low and muffled like it was coming from underground – deep underground.

Robert’s class is going on excursion to the ‘fake gold mining town’, Sovereign Hill. It’s nearly a year since Dad died and Robert and his family are having trouble coping. It’s an effort to be enthusiastic about anything. Then, once he gets to Sovereign Hill, strange things begin to happen. A wax statue moves, a dog follows him and then disappears. Robert falls into an impossible hole dug by the dog and the mystery begins. He experiences some of the reality of living in a working gold mine town – and it is very different from visiting a recreated town. He doesn’t understand how he got there or why and wonders what he must do to return home again.

Gold Fever is set in Sovereign Hill, a replica town, where every effort is made to reproduce life on the gold diggings. The story is well-paced and features many well-drawn cameo characters. There is plenty of adventure to keep the pages turning. The reader is given an opportunity to see the difference between the fun of visiting Sovereign Hill as a modern day visitor and of living in a time where people die of minor ailments and thirteen-year-olds work in dank, dark, dusty mines. Twelve-year-old Robert learns that suffering, death and survival are part of every life. There are many themes to explore in this first novel from Susan Coleridge. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Gold Fever by Susan Coleridge
Lothian Books 2006
ISBN: 0734409605

Still Kicking, by Cheryl Critchley

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

This is part of Lothian’s Sports fiction series, aimed at trying to engage the interest of reluctant readers between 8 and 14year old. However it’s not only suitable for reluctant readers as it contains a good story.

This story revolves around Samantha Scott (Sam) who at thirteen is the only girl in the local Richmond under 14s footy team. Determined to more than hold her own against the boys and the initial scepticism of the sexist Jake Mc Donald, she becomes one of the team’s best players. With help from Muscles and a fitness plan he develops on his computer, she starts to achieve her aim to become ‘the best junior footballer in Melbourne.’

However, not everyone is happy about Sam’s position on the team. Her father constantly tells her football is not something she can make a living at. Therefore, she would be better to concentrate on schoolwork instead of football and study hard like her older sister, Kate, who wants to be a lawyer like their father. Because of her passion for football, Sam also is subjected to torment by Felicity Edwards and her cronies at school.

Both Sam’s friendship with Izzy, Hugo and Muscles and the hassles and torment suffered at the hands of Felicity (Flick) and her friends are realistically portrayed. And anyone who’s ever played junior sport of any kind or stood on the sidelines of junior sport, can relate to the embarrassment felt by Hugo at the behaviour of his father on the sidelines. This embarrassment leads to him dropping out of the team and Sam’s friend Izzy comes in to the team in his place.

The two girls are doing well and everything seems to be going right, as their team heads towards the finals. But then a chance remark threatens to bring all Sam’s hard work undone. For anyone with the remotest interest in AFL, this book will be eagerly read. An AFL fan, though supporter of another team, I read this novel in one sitting. My one negative comment is it might have been good to remember AFL is a national game and Victoria is not the only state involved in Auskick. Assuming the book is to have an impact not only in Victoria; relevant contact information for all states at the back of the novel would have been helpful for those wanting to find out more. Similarly the author’s note which talks about Auskick and the current rules about girls playing could have been less Victorian centred.

Still Kicking, by Cheryl Critchley
Lothian Books, 2006
$14.95 Paperback ISBN 0 7344 0932 X

Ferret Boy, by Sue Lawson

There are two things Joshua really loves – his ferrets and his Gramps, who gave him the ferrets. But in just one week, Joshua faces the prospect of losing both the ferrets and Gramps.

First, Joshua accepts a bet from Mooney, the school bully, to race Bucks, his favourite ferret, in the Hartley Ferret Derby. Josh knows nothing about ferret racing, but he needs to learn quickly – because if Bucks loses, Josh loses her – to Mooney.

As if that isn’t enough to put Josh under stress, Gramps has a stroke and is taken to hospital. Josh thinks he’s going to die.

WIth support from his family and instructions from Gramps, Josh keeps training Bucks for the Derby. In the meantime he has to cope with the disappearance of his other ferret, Eddie, the taunts of Mooney, who is sure he will win the bet, and the moods of his big brother Matt. Then, on the morning of the derby, Bucks has the biggest shock of all in stall for Josh. Will he lose both his ferrets to bully Mooney?

Ferret Boy is an excellent combination of fun, adventure and message, as it explores family, friendshsips and bullying, among other subjects. Likely to appeal to ten to fourteen year old readers, this novel would be great as a class novel as well as for private reading.

Ferret Boy, by Sue Lawson
Lothian, 2003

I Saw Nothing, by Gary Crew & Mark Wilson

Rosie lives in 1930s Tasmania, with her father, a timber cutter, and family. Although they are in wild country, Rosie and her family are happy and safe.

One day, though, a fur trapper who Rosie fear- Elias Churchill – comes to the camp, looking for her father. When her father returns, he takes Rosie with him to see Churchill at the railway station. There, while her father is off talking to the trapper, Rosie sees what Chrichill is up to. In a train carriage she sees a thylacine, caged and ready to be sent to Hobart Zoo. Churchill has trapped it and sold it. Rosie is saddened to see the wild animal, hurt and scared.

Several years later, Rosie goes to see the thylacine in the Hobart Zoo. She learns that it is possibly the last thylacine alive. When it dies, she wonders if she could have done something to save it, and perhaps the whole species, by helping it when it was trapped and frightened in the train.

I Saw Nothing is a story which educates rather than uplifts. With an important message about conservation, and protection of endangered species, its use of a child character makes it accessible to younger readers.

The illustrations of Mark Wilson, contrasting the rich and peaceful greens of the bush with the dank colours of disaster and images of the thylacine, are an integral part of the message.

This is an outstanding book, perfect for primary classrooms and for home collections.

I Saw Nothing: The Extinction of the Thylacine, by Gary Crew & Mark Wilson
Lothian, 2003

Jessie, by Mike Carter

Jessie’s not so sure about moving to an Outback Australian town, but her Dad and her therapist think it might be good for her. She’s leaving her life as Ginny Ford, famous pianist and all-round smart kid, and starting again as Jessica Rutherford. It’s supposed to help her get over her breakdown.

In small town Nagoorin, Jessie finds friendship with three boys – local ratbags Martin, Grant and Oomu. Always in trouble, the three accept Jessie into their group and show her all about friendship and fun. They form a band, teach her to swim and ride a motorbike. Jessie, in return, shares her talents to get the boys out of some of their scrapes, as well as landing herself in a few of her own.

Jessie is a story about depression and recovery, and about mateship. Likely to appeal to 12 to 15 year old readers, it is both humorous and uplifting.

Jessie, by Mike Carter
Lothian 2003

Monstered, by Bernie Monagle

Pat is battered and bruised. He has a spirit to match. For years Bugge and Kosta have been making his life hell, and he’s been unable to stop them. Now, though, a chance encounter with a girl on the train has left him with the courage to stand up to the bullies.

For Pat, who has always been alone and is not used to relying on anyone, one of the biggest challenges is accepting help from his friends. It is only by working together that they can make sure Bugge and Kosta get what they deserve.

Monstered is a novel which shows the awful depths bullying can plunge to, but it is also a novel about self-discovery, survival and, importantly, friendship. Pat finds that he is battling the bullies not just for himself, but for the whole town, and that the townspeople are right behind him.

A touchingly real, gently humorous and uplifting novel for ages 12 and up.

Monstered, by Bernie Monagle
Lothian, 2001

Various Faerious, by Jacqui Grantford

Sometimes it can seem,
in the blink of an eye,
Some magical beings
have just passed you by.

Various Faerious reveals the magical world of faeries to young readers, with simple rhyming descriptions and captivating illustrations.

Author and illustrator Jacqui Grantford details the various kinds of faeries which inhabit different climes – from the Faeries of Snow, with crystalline wings, to the devilish Contrary Faeries, with their weird ways, and on to the debonair Flippant Faeries, who tap dance and kick up their heels.

The descriptions and verse are sweet, but there is no question that it is Grantford’s illustrations which make this book a winner. Each faerie type is depected in awe-inspiring detail in its natural surrounds, with each new spread revealing more of Grantford’s talent. The illustrations are as different as the faeries themselves and readers of all ages will be enthralled.

This is no mere book of pretty fairies with tutus and no substance. This is a collection of wonderful images, which will appeal to boy readers as much as to girls.

This is artist and graphic designer Grantford’s first picture book. Her talents are sure to be used in many more titles.

Various Faerious, written and illustrated by Jacqui Grantford
Lothian, 2002