The Bone Sparrow, by Zana Fraillon

Soon Subhi, the people out there will remember us. Soon they’ll see that living in here isn’t living at all. We just need to show them who we are, that we’re people, and then they’ll remember. This time, they won’t forget.

Subhi was born in a refugee camp, and has never known freedom. His mother and sister remember life before, and the dangerous journey to get to Australia, but now even his mother has stopped hoping, stopped telling the stories of home, and teaching Subhi their language. Subhi still believes in goodness, and lives with the hope that one day his father will come and join them and that they will live outside of the camp.

Jimmie lives close to the camp, with her father and brother, but since the death of her mother the family is barely functioning. Jimmie rarely goes to school because Dad works shifts and her brother is too busy to take her. She wonders about the nearby camp and whether its inhabitants have things she doesn’t. When she finds a way in, it is Subhi that she meets.

The Bone Sparrow is a moving story of friendship and survival. Both children are scarred by what is happening in their own lives, but each is able to offer the other hope.

But, though Jimmie’s story is part of the book, it is Subhi’s life which will shock young readers, offering a glimpse of life in detention camps and, particularly, of the children who live in them. The story is confronting, with Subhi and fellow inmates being poorly treated – physically and emotionally. It is this confronting nature that makes the story so important, giving an empathetic voice to a problem happening here in Australia and abroad – as the book’s afterword claims, “an all too true reality.”

Beautifully told, The Bone Sparrow will bring tears, and a desire to change things for kids like Subhi.

The Bone Sparrow, by Zana Fraillon
Lothian, 2016
ISBN 9780734417138

Bear and Chook by the Sea, by Lisa Shanahan & Emma Quay

Bear and Chook were fast asleep when a breeze came sniffing and licking.
‘Chook,’ said Bear, sitting up, ‘that wind is as warm as honey toast.’
‘Go back to sleep,’ said Chook.
‘That’s a holiday breeze,’ said Bear.
‘No, no, no,’ muttered Chook, opening one eye. ‘The stars are still out.’
‘That’s a holiday sky,’ said Bear. ‘It’s time to go.’

Bear and Chook are the best of friends but that doesn’t mean they are completely alike. They have quite different outlooks on life. Bear is a ‘seize the day’ kind of friend, and Chook is a more cautious soul. Bear is off on an adventure, confident that despite not knowing where it is, he will find the sea. Chook is not so sure, but determined to stay close to her friend. And find the sea they do. It’s all the fun Bear predicts and then some, but not without its dangers. Emma’s illustrations in Chinagraph pencil and acrylic paint are warm and colourful, soft and full of joy.

Friendship is very important no matter the stage in life. Bear and Chook are ageless and childlike, all at once. Bear is enthusiastic, confident and outgoing. Chook is home-loving, cautious and a little apprehensive about new things. Their friendship bonds are strong and Chook stays close to brave Bear as he finds his way to the beach. There Chook relaxes and enjoys the beach, with and alongside her friend. Bear’s decision to have a swim provokes anxiety again in Chook who stays on shore. When Bear is tumbled by a wave, it is Chook’s turn to be brave and supportive. A lovely story, demonstrating the strength of the bond between two unlikely friends. Recommended for preschoolers through to junior primary.

Bear and Chook by the Sea

Bear and Chook by the Sea, Lisa Shanahan, ill Emma Quay.
Lothian 2009
ISBN: 9780734411112

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Children's Book Review: Dragon Blood Pirates Series Three, by Dan Jerris

‘We should get going,’ said Al. ‘We need to get to Sabre Island so we can find the magical words to the Dragon Blood Sabre.’
He unlocked the sea trunk, climbed inside and studied a map of islands drawn on the bottom.
‘Sabre Island, here we come!’ he cried as Snakeboot leapt into the trunk with him. The pair shimmered like a flash of sunlight for a second, then faded and disappeared from number five Drake Drive and the twenty-first century.

Al and Owen are able to travel from the current day to Dragon Blood Islands by donning pirate clothes and jumping into a pirate chest in the attic. There on the islands – and on the high seas – the boys, and their cat Snakeboot, find themselves caught up in death-defying adventures with pirates good and bad.

This is the third series in the Dragon Blood Pirates series, including books thirteen through eighteen. For those who have not read the earlier instalments there are some things to catch up on, but there is enough action, as well as a front of book character list, to draw a new reader in. Each title is 88 pages long, with black and white illustrations, fluorescent flourishes to the covers, and a puzzle for readers to solve.

Arrr. An exciting series.

Dragon Blood Pirates: Slitgut and the Emerald Eyes, Dead Man’s Whirlpool, Voodoo City, Graveyard Diamonds, Ransom, The Power of the Sabre
All by Dan Jerris
Lothian, 2009

The Wheels on the Bus, illustrated by Mandy Foot

The wheels on the bus go round and round…

The words of the nursery rhyme will be familiar to adult readers, and, hopefully, children as well. What is different here is the way the bus journey has been brought to life by illustrator Mandy Foot, who has the red and white bus travelling Australia with a wombat at the wheel and passengers including a kangaroo, an emu and a koala. Visiting Bondi Beach, the Daintree forest, the Great Barrier Reef and more iconic destinations, the animals admire the views as the song progresses. At the back of the book there is simple sheet music for the tune, conducted by the animal cast.

There is much to find and admire in the illustrations, including a cheeky gecko hiding somewhere on each spread. Lots of fun for birth to school aged children.

The Wheels on the Bus

The Wheels on the Bus, illustrated by Mandy Foot
Lothian, 2009

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

Clem Always Could, by Sarah Watt

Clem can do a lot of things.
Clem can make a bat and ball out of anything.
He has always loved sport.
Clem can dress himself.
He has always had style.

Clem is a small boy who loves his growing independence. There is pride in his achievements and his sense of enthusiasm is palpable. So when Clem finds something he can’t do – swim – he’s sure he’ll never be able to. Mum tries all manner of strategies to convince Clem to get into the swimming pool for his first lesson, but Clem is resolute. They spend the lesson watching the others. In the following days, Mum points out other things Clem had to learn. Clem is convinced that he was always able to drink from a cup, make faces and clean his teeth. She tells him about other things he will learn in the future. Back at the pool the next week, Clem can imagine all sorts of reasons not to get into the pool. Then his friend arrives and invites him in. Illustrations are in watercolour and pencil and include full page illustrations on white paper with ‘photos’ and multi-image spreads.

Clem Always Couldis a large format paperback picture book about the curious mix of confidence and timidity that characterises many children. Using a personal example of a mother and child experience, Sarah Watt first introduces Clem and the many skills he has acquired. Once acquired though, Clem cannot be convinced that there was a time he had to learn these things. And swimming feels like a skill he’ll never acquire when he’s too frightened to get into the water. Over the week in between swimming lessons, Mum does her best to prepare him for the learning, but it is a friend who finally – if inadvertently – helps him take the first steps into the pool. Recommended for preschool and early school-age children, particularly those with a fear of new things.

Clem Always Could...

Clem Always Could, Sarah Watt
Lothian Children’s Books 2009
ISBN: 9780734411150

This book is available online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

What Does Your Daddy Do? by Gordon Reece

One day my mummy found me crying in my room.
‘What’s wrong, Tina?’ she asked.
‘Today in class,’ I sobbed, ‘Miss Jones asked us all,
‘What does your daddy do?’

Tina is sad. When Miss Jones asked about what daddies do, she didn’t want to answer. Everyone else’s dad seemed to have a glamorous or important job and she is embarrassed to answer. The question seems to become a competition about who’s dad is the most important or popular or glamorous. But when she tells Mum, Tina is reminded of all the things that really make dads important. Vilma Cencic has drawn all the characters as Australian animals. There is abundant white space and the font is large, easy to read and child-like. The cover shows a proud Tina talking to the class.

A simple question doesn’t always have a simple answer. Tina is overwhelmed by the grand jobs other daddies do. Initially she pretends her daddy is just as glamorous, and is an astronaut. But others tell what her dad really does and she is embarrassed. At home, Mum helps her to remember the most important job daddies can do – being father to their children. The message here is very clear but gently handled. Fathers are important because of their fathering, not their jobs. Rendering the characters as animals keeps the story light and entertaining. Small children can often be caught in an escalating cycle of exaggeration and the first half of What Does Your Daddy Do? uses this to good effect. The pace changes then as Mum comforts her child and brings her back to understanding true value. Another title perfect for Father’s Day, particularly for 3-6 year olds.

What Does Your Daddy Do?

What Does Your Daddy Do?, Gordon Reece Ill Vilma Cencic
Lothian Books, 2009
ISBN: 9781734411129

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

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

My Dad's a Wrestler, by Matt Zurbo

My dad’s a wrestler!
Not the famous kind, though…

My Dad’s a Wrestler! is a paperback picture book. A small boy describes his father and his father’s wrestling career. Dad is not the most successful wrestler in wrestling history but he perseveres and his son is enormously proud. The text is deadpan and delivered in a plain font at the bottom of each page. In contrast, the images are full of energy as the reader is introduced to Dad and the challenges he faces. No matter how down Dad gets about his lack of success, his son is there to cheer him on.

My Dad’s a Wrestler! is a humorous look at the relationship between a father and son. Even when Dad wins at his wrestling matches, and that isn’t often, people ‘boo’ because he’s supposed to be the baddie. Dad works hard and wrestles in the evening. His son knows Dad’s wins are few and far between, but he’s in the stands anyway cheering loudly. The boy, telling the story in first person, clearly has an incurable case of hero worship. The illustrations show an enormous Dad barely contained by his wrestling suit. His face stubble is anything but stylish and his permanently battered body seems about to fall apart. Illustration colours are often almost sepia as if looking back at old photos. The final image, depicting the depth of the son’s hero-worship is the brightest of all. A funny offbeat story, recommended for those looking for a less twee Father’s Day book.

My Dad's a Wrestler!

My Dad’s a Wrestler!, Matt Zurbo Ill Dean Gorissen
Lothian Books 2009
ISBN: 9780734411136

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews. review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

The Great Rock Whale, by Christine Paice

Deep beneath the ocean
lies the Great Rock Whale.
No one knows he’s there.

Many, many years ago a giant whale travelled from Antarctica up the east coast of Australia. He travelled through the deep water, meeting all manner of familiar and unfamiliar sea creatures. But it was his family he was in search of, and though he called to them, there was no answer. He rested under a cliff. Years passed and the Great Whale woke, breathing deeply, blowing high. Surely now, his family would find him. Each double page spread is full of colour with one third of the spread in matt colour and including text and a small white sketch. The remaining two thirds of each spread features colourful oils showing the Great Whale’s journey. The interface between the two sections of each spread conjures wave spume.

The Great Rock Whale gives life to the story behind the Kiama Blow Hole on the south coast of New South Wales. When the weather is wild, the blow hole ‘blow’ is spectacular. Even on calm days, the ‘blow’ can be high. I’m sure there are plenty of documented geological explanations for the development of a blow hole, but how much more lovely is the idea of a sleeping whale calling to his kin as they pass up and down the coast during the warmer months of the year? This is a beautiful book. The story is poetic, the illustrations warm and evocative. The final opening provides information about the annual migration of several species of whales. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

The Great Rock Whale, Christine Paice Ill Wendy O’Malley
Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780734411037

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

The Great Rock Whale

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

My Baby love, by Meredith Costain & Beatriz Martin Vidal

Come to me, my baby love,
my morning child,
my bright-eyed dove…

This beautiful hard cover book is an absolute treasure – a wonderful synthesis of text, illustration and design.

The text is apparently simple – a mother’s voice taking her baby through typical daytime events –waking up, playing, feeding, bathing and going to sleep. This apparent simplicity, however, is actually proof of masterfully wrought poetry, which flows from page to page with a gentle rhythm and unobtrusive rhyme, to produce a perfect read aloud poem for bedtime or any time.

The illustrations present exquisitely realistic babies and mothers (a different pair for each new activity), with whimsical fantasy elements showing the activities in a new light. At bedtime, for example, the baby swings safely from mother’s long braids, being rocked to sleep as mother watches, reclining above on a crescent moon.

The design, too is important., with the cover wrapped in a translucent plastic film, with title and illustration on the wrap, and background illustrations on the hardcover beneath. Inside, the text weaves and sways its way from beginning to end.

These three elements combine to produce a book which is sheer delight and will be loved by both mothers and children, withstanding repeated readings to become a firm favourite.


My Baby Love

My Baby love, by Meredith Costain & Beatriz Martin Vidal
Lothian, 2009

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

When the Hipchicks Went to War, by Pamela Rushby

When I went to Vietnam, I packed a suitcase full of satin bikinis trimmed with fringes. A pair of knee-high white boots. Mini-dresses, ultra short, sparkling with spangles. A platinum-blonde wig. False eyelashes like hairy back caterpillars. Tap Shoes. Heaps of Max Factor make-up.
I was sixteen years old, and I was going to a war.
I didn’t have a clue.

Kathleen is sixteen. She thinks she’s got it sorted. It’s the swinging 60’s and the world is exciting. She is bright but sick of school, ready for the next stage of her life. And as one of eight children in the family, Kathleen is fairly practised at getting what she wants too. Her best friend introduces her to the Folk Centre and she enjoys the music without listening too closely to the words or paying much attention to the Vietnam War protest plans. She gets a job at The Cave where the music is more upbeat and the patrons watch her dance. A hairdressing job is abandoned when she scores an opportunity to travel to Vietnam to dance and sing for the troops. Her friend Cheryl is horrified, but Kath has little interest in and less knowledge about the war, seeing only excitement. But reality is quick to shake her. While protesters at home shake their placards, Kathleen discovers the realities of war.

The title, When the Hipchicks went to War, manages to immediately locate this novel in time and mood – the frivolity of ‘Hipchicks’ sitting alongside ‘War’ alerts readers to a conflict before the opening page is turned. Kathleen is keen to ditch school and get out into the wide, wild world, never imagining it as anything other than exciting and wonderful. She and two new friends become the ‘Hipchicks’ and are booked to entertain the Australian troops in Vietnam. When they arrive the Vietnam War is in full swing, but it’s not the party they expect. They must quickly adjust to war and its casualties. The show must go on. Naïve she may be, but as a main character she is also feisty, proactive and adaptable. Written in first person, When the Hipchicks Went to War follows Kathleen as she makes and loses friends, tastes the world and her first kiss, seizes every opportunity. Pamela Rushby gives the reader a different look at the 1960s – the freedom and conscription, opportunities and challenges. Recommended for 13-16 year olds.

When the Hipchicks Went to War

When the Hipchicks Went to War, Pamela Rushby
Lothian Books 2009
ISBN: 9780734410917

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