The Boy on the Page by Peter Carnavas

One quiet morning, a small boy landed on the page.

At first there was nothing else.

Then very slowly, a world began to appear.

One quiet morning, a small boy landed on the page.

At first there was nothing else.

Then very slowly, a world began to appear.

An unnamed small boy tumbles onto an empty white page. As each page turns, his world develops. First there are plants and animals, then people and buildings. Initially he is an observer, but gradually he begins to participate and to experience. Some of his experiences require his input, others require him to just be. He grows to manhood, meets a girl, builds a house, a life, a family. He wonders though, what is the meaning of his existence on the page. Why is he here? A pivotal experience, where he tries to leave the page but lands straight back on it, provides the answer. Illustrations are watercolour and pencil and include lots of white space.

‘Why am I here?’ is a very big question for a picture book. The boy in these pages ponders this as he wanders through his world, learning, growing and developing a sense of how to be. There are many good things in his life, indeed he is very fortunate to have friends, family, a home. But in the midst of good fortune, he is not as firmly anchored to the world by a belief in his purpose as he would like to be. In attempting to leave the page, then returning, he finally understands his purpose. Children may read this literally, but there are many other interpretations, particularly for his attempt to leave the page. In this journey through life, if we are fortunate, we have many companions. Hopefully, we remember that. The boy/man has two animal companions throughout – perhaps symbols of his personality/state of mind? Recommended for early primary-schoolers.

The Boy on the Page, Peter Carnavas New Frontier Publishing 2013 ISBN: 9781921928468

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Between the Pages by Joan van Loon ill Chantal Stewart

The wind blew, the rain swept.

Two brave boys crept into the forest. Their names were Billy and Jack.

Palms stretched like huge umbrellas over their heads.

Trees, taller than giants, rose beside them.

The wind blew, the rain swept.

Two brave boys crept into the forest. Their names were Billy and Jack.

Palms stretched like huge umbrellas over their heads.

Trees, taller than giants, rose beside them.

Two young boys, Billy and Jack, inhabit a book. They encounter Australian animals large and small and all seem as fascinated by the boys as the boys are with what they see. The pace escalates with each page-turn, each new animal-type. The boys encounter bats, pythons, spiders and more in their journey through the bush. Excitement and fear in equal measure accompany each ‘page turn’, until the boys fall through a cloud of butterflies into their beds, where they are reading the book of their adventure. Immediately they want to begin again. Illustrations are watercolour and a combination of vignettes and full colour spreads. The bush is dense and lush, the landscape rich, the animals curious and surprised.

Between the Pages imagines an exciting life, if the reader could actually, rather than metaphorically, be immersed in a story. The two young characters are wide-eyed and enthusiastic as they discover the animals who inhabit the pages. They don’t know all about each animal, and decide that observing from a distance is safer than staying in any one opening. They carry with them a book, which only at the end is revealed as being the book they have entered. As the pace increases, text becomes more spare, until they explode back into ‘reality’ via butterflies. Although they seem to be in pajamas, it may be that this is a morning book, encouraging flights of fancy rather than a bedtime book! Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Between the Pages

Between the Pages, Joan van Loon ill Chantal Stewart
New Frontier Publishing 2013
ISBN: 9781921928444

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores or online.

Silver the Silly Sorcerer by Candice Lemon-Scott ill Janet Wolf

Silver is not a very skilled sorcerer, in fact very little of his magic works out as he planned. In a family of skilled magic-makers, this makes him feel even worse. His younger sister, Star, is already ahead of him at Spell School. And if he doesn’t pass his Eggs (basic spell) test this time, his father has threatened to send him off to be a circus magician – the ultimate indignity for a boy who wants to be like his hero, Merlin. Silver does fail his Eggs, and he with his snake Slither are duly dispatched to work at the circus. Despite – in fact because of – his magic-going-wrong talents, he becomes very successful and revives the fortunes of the ailing circus. But though he craved success, Silver is not entirely happy with how he’s achieved it. And there’s still the matter of the failed Eggs test … Colour illustrations are dispersed throughout the story.

Silver searched until he found a big area of muddy muck. There must be a toad in here somewhere, he thought as he oozed his way into the mudflat. He wished that he’d worn waterproof pants and gumboots. But seeing as he was wearing a long cloak instead – as all sorcerers do – he felt himself getting heavier and heavier as his cloak got muddier and muddier. Before he knew it, he was stuck.

He wiggled this way. He wiggled that way. But every time he moved he just seemed to get more and more bogged down in the mud. It began to get dark as the sun set over the mudflats. Silver started to panic.

He was going to be stuck forever. But then he remembered. He was a sorcerer. All he needed to do was make a spell.

Silver is not a very skilled sorcerer, in fact very little of his magic works out as he planned. In a family of skilled magic-makers, this makes him feel even worse. His younger sister, Star, is already ahead of him at Spell School. And if he doesn’t pass his Eggs (basic spell) test this time, his father has threatened to send him off to be a circus magician – the ultimate indignity for a boy who wants to be like his hero, Merlin. Silver does fail his Eggs, and he with his snake Slither are duly dispatched to work at the circus. Despite – in fact because of – his magic-going-wrong talents, he becomes very successful and revives the fortunes of the ailing circus. But though he craved success, Silver is not entirely happy with how he’s achieved it. And there’s still the matter of the failed Eggs test … Colour illustrations are dispersed throughout the story.

Some families have high expectations for their children, and Silver’s family fits into that. Silver’s parents are both skilled, and even his younger sister is better at magic than he is. He tries to be like them, but somehow it doesn’t work. Lemon-Scott uses humour to suggest that each of us must find our own path to success, even if it diverges from that of our family. Left to his own devices, Silver does find skills to make him famous, before acknowledging that there are other things in life beyond fame. Like being with family. Being yourself, whatever that may mean. Silver the Silly Sorcerer is a new offering in the Little Rockets series from New Frontier Publishing. Recommended for newly confident readers.

Silver, the Silly Sorcerer

Silver, the Silly Sorcerer, Candice Lemon-Scott ill Janet Wolf
New Frontier Publishing 2013
ISBN: 9781921928499

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores or online.

Alice and the Airy Fairy by Margaret Clark, ill Emma Stuart

Alice’s family are hosting Mum’s cousin Mary, who Dad describes as being an ‘airy fairy’. Alice is keen to discover if Mary is a real fairy. Her school friend, Zoe, is not convinced, but Alice thinks there are sufficient clues not to give up hope. Mary is certainly surrounded by mystery. She is also warm, friendly and a little bit sad. Day by day Alice learns a bit more about Mary, although sometimes what she learns makes her even more mysterious. Colour illustrations are scattered throughout.

My Mum has a cousin called Mary.

We don’t see her very often. She moves from town to town. In fact, we don’t hear from her much.

One day Mary phoned to tell Mum that she had problems, and asked if she could stay with us for a while until she was problem-free.

‘Of course,’ said Mum.

Dad pulled a face. ‘Mary’s such an airy fairy,’ he said. ‘I hope she doesn’t stay too long.’

‘Airy fairy? Is Cousin Mary a real fairy?’ I asked.

Alice’s family are hosting Mum’s cousin Mary, who Dad describes as being an ‘airy fairy’. Alice is keen to discover if Mary is a real fairy. Her school friend, Zoe, is not convinced, but Alice thinks there are sufficient clues not to give up hope. Mary is certainly surrounded by mystery. She is also warm, friendly and a little bit sad. Day by day Alice learns a bit more about Mary, although sometimes what she learns makes her even more mysterious. Colour illustrations are scattered throughout.

Children often misinterpret things their parents say, taking them literally. And when Mary is as different to their family as a fairy would be, it is easy to see why Alice is sure Mary must be a real fairy. Truth blurs with magic sometimes, and Alice’s investigations allow her to learn about Mary in a way that maintains some of the illusion of magic. Ultimately, Alice helps Mary to find a magical/practical solution to her dilemma. This is a new offering in the Little Rockets series from New Frontier Publishing, and is for newly confident readers. Titles feature short chapters and illustrations. They are accessible texts for readers traversing the plain between reality and magic. Recommended for lower primary readers.

Alice and the Airy Fairy

<a href=”http://www.fishpond.com.au/product_info.php?ref=271&id=9781921928451&affiliate_banner_id=1″ target=”_blank”>Alice and the Airy Fairy</a>, Margaret Clark ill Emma Stuart

New Frontier Publishing 2013

ISBN: 9781921928451

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

 

Available from good bookstores or <a href=”http://www.fishpond.com.au/product_info.php?ref=271&id=9781921928451&affiliate_banner_id=1″ target=”_blank”>online</a>.

Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck by Alex Field ill Peter Carnavas

‘Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck’ is a follow-up title to Field and Carnavas’s Mr Darcy. The setting is the same, with Darcy, Lizzy and the other characters portrayed as animals. Darcy’s reticence and clumsiness again features. This time it’s dancing that has Mr Darcy feeling out of sorts. He’s not convinced he likes to dance, and declines when asked by Lizzy to join their dance. But is it dislike of dance or insecurity about his abilities? It seems it could be the latter. But this time, he immediately starts to do something about it. Fortunately his friends are happy to help, which helps speed up the process somewhat. So when he again encounters the dancing Lizzy he can accept her invitation.

Mr Darcy set out for his morning walk.

The sun was shining and the daffodils were beginning to flower. Spring was in the air. ‘Oh dear,’ he thought, ‘it’s dancing season again.’

Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck is a follow-up title to Field and Carnavas’s Mr Darcy. The setting is the same, with Darcy, Lizzy and the other characters portrayed as animals. Darcy’s reticence and clumsiness again features. This time it’s dancing that has Mr Darcy feeling out of sorts. He’s not convinced he likes to dance, and declines when asked by Lizzy to join their dance. But is it dislike of dance or insecurity about his abilities? It seems it could be the latter. But this time, he immediately starts to do something about it. Fortunately his friends are happy to help, which helps speed up the process somewhat. So when he again encounters the dancing Lizzy he can accept her invitation.

Darcy might be the strong silent type, but fortunately he’s also now willing to accept help. He’s clearly keen on Lizzy and doesn’t want to embarrass himself in her presence. Like ‘Mr Darcy’, Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck references Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, but loosely. Knowledge of the names of the characters is not required to access this story. Peter Carnavas’s soft watercolours compliment the gentle text. A tender tale of romance for the very young. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck

Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck, Alex Field ill Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing 2013
ISBN: 9781921928178

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores and online.

Ferret on the Loose by Heather Gallagher ill Benjamin Johnston

Lucy has been training her ferret, Flash, for the upcoming Fastest Fearless Ferret Race. Flash is doing well too, apart from the occasional distracted moment. The other competitors are a mixed bunch. Elisha’s ferret is called Bad Boy Butch and it’s a fitting name and his personality matches hers. Mr Olfart has a good ferret, Sadie, but she’s taken to falling asleep mid race. Which is a bit like how Lucy feels when Mr Olfart starts in on his collection of ferret race stories. Then there’s Li and his ferret, Sable. There are others of course, but these are the main contenders. Tensions run high as the race approaches and nothing is running smoothly for Lucy and Flash. And just as things seem like they are settled again, Flash vanishes. Coloured illustrations appear on most openings, and break up the text.

 

‘Ferrets, take your places!’ Race caller Fred Plummer’s voice boomed through the Upton Community Centre.

Lucy lifted her horseshoe pendant to her lips and kissed it for luck. She wasn’t sure if it really was lucky, but that’s what her best friend, Penny, had told her when she had given it to her on her tenth birthday last year.

She was also wearing her lucky red-and-blue striped undies. The rest was up to Flash.

Lucy opened the door to her ferret’s cage and grabbed him before he could escape.

Lucy has been training her ferret, Flash, for the upcoming Fastest Fearless Ferret Race. Flash is doing well too, apart from the occasional distracted moment. The other competitors are a mixed bunch. Elisha’s ferret is called Bad Boy Butch and it’s a fitting name and his personality matches hers. Mr Olfart has a good ferret, Sadie, but she’s taken to falling asleep mid race. Which is a bit like how Lucy feels when Mr Olfart starts in on his collection of ferret race stories. Then there’s Li and his ferret, Sable. There are others of course, but these are the main contenders. Tensions run high as the race approaches and nothing is running smoothly for Lucy and Flash. And just as things seem like they are settled again, Flash vanishes. Coloured illustrations appear on most openings, and break up the text.

Ferret on the Loose is part of New Frontier Publishing’s Little Rocket series of fast-paced stories for junior primary readers. Lucy has received a ferret as a gift rather than the horse she’d really asked for. It seems that part of her plan in racing Flash is to convince herself and others that he is a worthy substitute. Along the way, she has to contend with a bully and possibly a ferret-napper. The animals behave better than their humans in several cases. Lucy discovers many things along the way about competition, responsible pet ownership and winning. The inclusion of illustrations on most openings helps newly confident readers manage the transition to less-illustrated texts. A fun read, recommended for emerging readers.

Ferret on the Loose

Ferret on the Loose, Heather Gallagher ill Benjamin Johnston New Frontier Publishing 2013 ISBN: 9781921928420

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores or online.

The Light by Jo Oliver

The lighthouse stands on the high, smooth rock of the island. The light shines from dusk until dawn to protect those at sea.

My father is the lighthouse keeper.

Our family lives in the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.

The lighthouse stands on the high, smooth rock of the island. The light shines from dusk until dawn to protect those at sea.

My father is the lighthouse keeper.

Our family lives in the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.

Louisa and her family live on a little island off the NSW coast, for their father is the lighthouse keeper. Theirs is an isolated life, in a remote location. Louisa, second daughter in a family of four narrates a day in their life. The day begins with chores and schooling, and more chores. They don’t see much of their father because he works all night keeping the light shining to sea. On this day, he cannot sleep long, and will need to be extra vigilant as a storm closes in. But in the meantime, there is also free time to enjoy the wildness, the seals and penguins, the sounds of their world. Louisa accompanies them on her tin whistle. When jobs are done, dinner is finished, they gather to share music. Mother plays the piano, Dad the fiddle and Louisa the tin whistle. A wrecked boat brings extras to the island, drawn first by the light, then by the music. Fittingly, presentation is portrait and the cover design increases this notion of height.

‘The Light’ documents a day in the life of a lighthouse man and his family from the perspective of a young girl. The first person narrative brings the reader close while the illustrations offer more details. The clothing suggest an earlier time, as does the formality of ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’. Illustrations are charcoal and soft pastels and also introduce a nostalgia for another, simpler time. Most are framed, as if looking at photos, and some are set on music scores, bringing to life the sounds of the island. ‘The Light’ shows not only another way of living (in isolation and self-sufficiency) but also the dangers of the coastline and the role lighthouses and their keepers played in keeping sailors safe. Endpapers feature diagrams of a lighthouse and cottage. Recommended for lower- to mid-primary readers.

The Light, Jo Oliver New Frontier Publishing 2013 ISBN: 9780921928413

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Totally Twins: Birthday Bonanza by Aleesah Darlison

Monday 3 May. 3:42 pm

In the kitchen, scoffing home-made caramel cookies.

Hi, and welcome to my fourth fabulous diary. I can’t believe I’ve managed to fill three diaries already.

In less than three months.

WOW?

Who would have thought I’d have so many amazing things to write down?

BTW (by the way), you simply must read my other diaries. They’re meant to be TOP SECRET, but I think I’ll let you read them. They’re too good not to share. So, when you’ve finished this diary go back and read the others – if you haven’t already. If you dare!

Monday 3 May. 3:42 pm

In the kitchen, scoffing home-made caramel cookies.

Hi, and welcome to my fourth fabulous diary. I can’t believe I’ve managed to fill three diaries already.

In less than three months.

WOW?

Who would have thought I’d have so many amazing things to write down?

BTW (by the way), you simply must read my other diaries. They’re meant to be TOP SECRET, but I think I’ll let you read them. They’re too good not to share.  So, when you’ve finished this diary go back and read the others – if you haven’t already. If you dare!

Totally Twins 4

Persephone Pinchgut is back with her fourth diary. It’s countdown time to her eleventh birthday and there are so many things to be done. Birthday wish lists to be drawn up, a party to plan, negotiating with Portia about party themes and with mum about how many guests they can have. Dill next door is still trying to make friends with Portia and asking Perse why it’s not happening. As if that wasn’t enough to keep a girl occupied, all the adults in her world are acting strangely. Even her father seems to be behaving oddly when she and Portia talk to him in England via Skype.

In this fourth ‘Totally Twins’ diary, Persephone continues to have a love hate relationship with her twin sister, Portia. They are both still adjusting to life since their parents divorced and began seeing other people. In their family, Perse is the thinker and Portia is the ‘doer’, as if each received an unequal portion of individual character traits. But when it is necessary, their differences are dwarfed by their connection and their ability to support one another. Together they ride the wave of change that typifies the goings-on of the modern family. Exaggerated as ‘Birthday Bonanza’ is for comic effect, there is an undercurrent of reality about the ties that bind families together. Illustrations by Serena Geddes are interspersed throughout and break up the text.  Different text types are included and make this a more accessible text for newly-confident readers.  Recommended for early- to mid- primary independent readers.

Totally Twins 4, Aleesah Darlison ill Serena Geddes New Frontier Publishing 2012 isbn: 9781921928208

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Apollo The Powerful Owl by Gordon Winch ill Stephen Pym

Apollo the Powerful Owl finished his supper and thought, ‘I must change my diet. All I do is eat … eat … eat nothing by meat … meat… meat for every meal.’

BURP!

Apollo the Powerful Owl finished his supper and thought, ‘I must change my diet. All I do is eat … eat … eat nothing by meat … meat… meat for every meal.’

Apollo has a moment of introspection and decides that it’s time to change his life. No more will he eat, eat, eat. No more will he frighten all the other forest occupants. And perhaps then he won’t be so lonely. So, day by day, he alters his diet and, he hopes, his life and position in the forest. But no matter how he tries, instead of improving his lot, his efforts seem to make him feel worse and worse. Finally he seeks counsel from a wise old owl. Only then does his role and his life make sense. Illustrations are full page and include many other forest dwellers. An information page at the end of the story provides more details about this threatened species.

Apollo wants to be more like the other animals in the forest and perhaps then they will be his friends. But it’s not as easy as that and Apollo discovers that he has a role to play in the ecosystem and that there are other ways and other places to seek friendship. It is a story about being yourself as well as discovering that everyone has a role to play in the world. There is opportunity to use this story in a classroom to introduce an Australian animal, an Australian environment, discuss food chains and ecosystems. Readers will empathise with Apollo and his need for companionship and will celebrate with him at the story’s conclusion/solution. Recommended for pre- and early-readers.

Apollo the Powerful Owl

Apollo the Powerful Owl, Gordon Winch ill Stephen Pym
New Frontier Publishing 2012 ISBN: 9781921928284

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores or online.

Mary MacKillop: Australia’s First Saint by Gabiann Marin ill Angela Grzegrzolka

The woman who would one day become Australia’s first saint was born in Melbourne’s inner city suburb of Fitzroy on 15 January 1842. There was nothing about Mary Helen MacKillop that hinted at how important she would become. She was a sweet, but ordinary baby.

She caused her mother very little trouble as a child, which was fortunate because Mary’s father, Alexander MacKillop, caused more than enough trouble for the whole family. It was not that Alexander was a bad man, or a bad father. In fact, he was loved dearly by little Mary. It was just that he wasn’t a very good businessman.

The woman who would one day become Australia’s first saint was born in Melbourne’s inner city suburb of Fitzroy on 15 January 1842. There was nothing about Mary Helen MacKillop that hinted at how important she would become. She was a sweet, but ordinary baby.

She caused her mother very little trouble as a child, which was fortunate because Mary’s father, Alexander MacKillop, caused more than enough trouble for the whole family. It was not that Alexander was a bad man, or a bad father. In fact, he was loved dearly by little Mary. It was just that he wasn’t a very good businessman.

Mary MacKillop was born in Australia to Scottish parents, the eldest child in a large family. Her father was very intelligent and had at one stage studied for the priesthood. But he changed his mind and married instead. He was a loving father but an erratic businessman who lost all the family money in failed business schemes. Mary realised early on that she would have to help support the family. This pathway led her to Portland in south-western Victoria and Penola in South Australia where she met Fr Woods. With his help and encouragement she founded an order of nuns with the aim of offering an education to all children. Mary and other sisters worked hard in often challenging conditions to offer free schooling to poor children. There were times where this brought her into conflict with church hierarchy and for a time meant that she was ostracised from her own church. But she endured and leaves a legacy of kindness and persistence. Colour illustrations appear on most openings.

Mary MacKillop: Australia’s First Saint is a new offering in the Aussie Heroes series from New Frontier Publishing. Like other titles in this non-fiction series, Mary MacKillop: Australia’s First Saint looks at the life of a prominent Australian. Mary’s work was important in establishing free education for all in Australia. Her story also illuminates some of the history of the time. Readers will discover the different opportunities (or lack of them) available to earlier Australians. Mary MacKillop’s story offers a window on history and there is plenty of material for classroom discussion. It’s also an example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Mary MacKillop: Australia's First Saint (Aussie Heroes)

Mary MacKillop: Australia’s First Saint, Gabiann Marin ill Angela Grzegrzolka New Frontier Publishing 2012 ISBN: 9781921928192

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available in good bookstores or online.