Bertie and the Bear, by Pamela Allen

Reviewed by Alison Miles


Rambunctious, vivid, active and full of wonderfully repeatable words – this could be said of any of Pamela Allen’s picture story books, and is true of Bertie. No wonder she is often in the awards lists and her books are in library bags everywhere.

Allen’s colourful illustrations ‘above the line’ suggest movement from the first endpaper. Her use of white space focuses the eye on her characters. Bertie is being chased by a bear (who I think is really his friend) so the Queen steps in to shoo the bear away. The others join the chase for the fun and the opportunity to make a lot of musical noise (trumpet, gong, horn, flute, drum and voice playing BLAH! BLAH! and BONG BONG-NG-NG and OOOOOH! etc).

Impossible to read quietly, children in the three to six year old age group love to imitate the sounds and stamp and twirl with the characters. Allen has used handwritten crayon text within the illustrations to emphasise sounds. Her words are expressive with onomatopoeia used infectiously. The whole story is like a very active musical and movement piece (which could be printed on a scroll) fading gently to a pom pom at the last. As Bertie and the Bear so vividly conveys, children enjoy music and movement and this makes storytime fun!

Bertie and the Bear, by Pamela Allen
Penguin, 1990
ISBN 0140509720

Review © alison v miles, 2006. The Word Box blog @

Doodledum Dancing, by Meredith Costain and Pamela Allen

I’m rocking, I’m reeling
I’m whirligig wheeling
Tip-tapping my toesies
And singing this song.

The poems in this delightful collection will have adults and children alike tip-tapping their toesies and clapping and rocking along – though some may want to draw the line at sim-somersaulting as they read – it could be risky.

The eighteen poems in Doodledum Dancing are very easy to read because they move along at a glorious pace and are both fun and funny. Youngsters will love the rhythm and movement, but they will be equally captivated by Costain’s wonderful use of language – words such as those in Loose Tooth:

A wibbly wobbly
Angly dangly
Wiggly waggly
Loose tooth.

make for fun reading and plenty of giggling.

Also giggle-inducing are the illustrations by Pamela Allen, bringing each poem to life with simple yet rich images which capture the movement of the poems perfectly.

This is an exuberant offering which parents will love reading to their preschoolers, and older children will enjoy reading by themselves. It is also perfect for classroom use.

DoodledumDancing, by Meredith Costain and Pamela Allen
Penguin Australia, 2006

S.N.A.G the Sensitive New-Age Gadiator, by Margaret Clark

Reviewed by Pauline Burgess

‘I don’t want to go to gladiator school,’ said Snag. ‘I hate violence. I hate fighting. And I faint at the sight of blood.’
‘Sorry,’ said the chief of gladiators, ‘you don’t have a choice.’

S.N.A.G. the sensitive new-age gladiator is captured and sent to gladiator school to learn to fight and how to be bloodthirsty. Unfortunately, the sight of blood makes Snag faint. When he’s learning to fight, Snag defeats his beastly opponent and now everyone thinks he is fierce. But can Snag win the biggest fight of his life against elephants, lions, tigers, bulls, dogs, chariots and maniacs?

Kids will love Snag because he’s sensitive and wants to play his fife or paint marigolds instead of learning the bloodthirsty sport of being a gladiator.

Margaret Clark once again writes a side-splitting story with a smattering of detail about Roman life and some funny modern day twists.

S.N.A.G the Sensitive New-Age Gladiator is from the popular series of Aussie Nibble books. This book is great for eight to twelve-year-old readers who love a funny story that will keep them entertained until the end.

S.N.A.G the Sensitive New-Age Gladiator, by Margaret Clark, Illustrated by Terry Denton
Puffin Books, 2001.

The Hunter, by Julia Leigh

Reviewed by Alex Marshall

The Hunter is an extremely interesting first novel from one of Australia’s up and coming novelists. I found this book a gripping and intriguing read from the first page to the last, despite the fact that the novel focuses upon the inner life of one character who does not have a strong attachment to the outside world. The plot is very simple. A mercenary is sent to search for the fabled Tasmanian Marsupial Tiger, or Thylacine in the heart of the Tasmanian wilderness. If he finds this animal he will become very rich.

Like many great Australian novels,The Hunter focuses upon the individual’s relationship to the wilderness which he both depends upon to survive and which he also resents, hates and fears. He knows that he is a stranger to this place. As the silence of the wilderness grows around him the more the central character – who the reader only knows as ‘M’ – journeys into his memories that still haunt him.

In many ways M. is the classic Aussie male; silent, taciturn, inarticulate, single mindedly focused upon his work, unconscious of the outside world. But unlike the stereotype, ‘M’ is an individualist, he is not interested in reliance upon mates, nor does he believe in sharing with others, such as scientists or environmentalists his discovery of a thylacine. For him this is just a job, and what happens after the dog has been sold is not his concern.

Julia Leigh, who is probably more recognised outside of Australia than within, has created a novel that deceptively unravels the place of the Australian male psyche in a globalised world.

The Hunter, by Julia Leigh
Penguin, 1999

Carole King is an Alien

Cara Kerr thinks the whole New Age ‘malarky’ a self-indulgent crutch. But when she is offered the chance to write the biography of mystic guru Gaelle Carrington-Keane, she doesn’t turn it down. After all, the money will help pay her mounting bills, and the publicity will certainly help her career. Plus, Gaelle’s assistant, Cam, is seriously sexy.

Living in London with her fellow Australians, TV-producer Moni and graphic designer Lucy, Cara enjoys a life of drinking, partying and sleeping late. Her love life may be a little stale but otherwise she’s perfectly happy. So this job will be nothing more than a good laugh and some excellent cash. Or will it?

As she meets and works with Gaelle, Cara findes herself disturbingly drawn to the woman’s predictions and methods. Along with Moni, Lu and an assortment of boyfriends and hangers-on, Cara finds herself questioning whether they may in fact be more to life than what they are currently doing.

Along the way she discovers the joys of meditation, the highs and lows of sex and relationships, and the importance of friendship. Despite her strong willed efforts at resistance she grows strangely fond of Gaelle.

This is a novel about good times, about love and friendship and, importantly, self discovery. For all those who have gone through the Australian ritual of spending a year in London, there will be a comfortable feeling of déjà vu. For those who haven’t, the book is still comfortably familiar. An excellent read.

Carole King is an Alien, by Yasmin Boland
Published by Penguin Books, 2000


Mrs Silverstein is a teacher with a difference – she believes children should be seen and heard. This makes life in her classroom very interesting – and very noisy. Today the year sixes have to tell their life stories. Just to make it more interesting, Mrs Silverstein has asked them to tell ‘whoppers’ – tall tales to make their lives sound as interesting as they can. The best ‘whopper’ will win a giant box of smarties.

When it is Mark’s turn, however, he says he doesn’t want to tell a whopper. The time has come, he says, to instead tell the world the truth. He is really a Martian. As the class listens intently he gives more and more details of life on Mars and his secret life here on Earth. None of Mark’s classmates are sure whether to believe him or not – except for his girlfriend Deborah, who hangs on every word he says.

By the end of the day, no one has managed to tell a story more interesting than Mark’s. His classmates keep looking at him, trying to figure out if he’s telling the truth or not. And to top it all off, Deborah has asked him to come home with her after school – for a special kiss, perhaps? Will Mark win the kiss and the contest? Or will his tale-telling backfire?

Whoppers is a lively read for eight to eleven year olds. One of Puffin’s popular Aussie Bites books, it could be devoured by an advanced reader in one sitting, or savoured in smaller nibbles by a reluctant reader.

Whoppers, by Moya Simons
Published by Puffin Books, 1998