Laugh Your Head Off Again

I’m in the supermarket trying to remember what groceries mum wanted me to pick up, but I can’t think. I can’t breathe. I can’t do anything. i’m busting. And I don’t mean busting. I mean BUSTING!

Andy Griffiths’ hilarious tale of mishap after mishap when a boy finds himself busting for the toilet in the middle of a shopping trip is just one of nine stories by some of Australia’s best – and funniest – authors of young people in this hard cover bind-up for children.

Laugh Your Head off Again features nine humorous stories from authors including Griffiths, Sally Rippin, Morris Gleitzman and Frances Watts, in situations including a corn chip that looks like Justin Beiber, a seagull determined to steal the perfect footy pie, and a school camp on a llama farm. Each story is short enough to be enjoyed in a single sitting and is embellished with illustrations by Andrea Innoent.

Lots of fun for primary aged readers.

Laugh Your Head off Again
Pan Macmillan, 2016
ISBN 9781743549872

400 Minutes of Danger by Jack Heath

The lump of ice slipped from beneath Nika’s fingers, and suddenly she was falling.

The climbing rope wouldn’t save her. The nearest anchor point was too far below. She would fall until the rope went taut, and then she would slam sideways into the wall of ice. Even if she survived the impact, she wouldn’t be able to clamber back down with broken arms and legs

She flung out a desperate hand –

And caught a narrow crack in the glacier.

The lump of ice slipped from beneath Nika’s fingers, and suddenly she was falling.

The climbing rope wouldn’t save her. The nearest anchor point was too far below. She would fall until the rope went taut, and then she would slam sideways into the wall of ice. Even if she survived the impact, she wouldn’t be able to clamber back down with broken arms and legs

She flung out a desperate hand –

And caught a narrow crack in the glacier.

‘400 Minutes of Danger’ is a collection of ten short stories, each taking approximately 40 minutes to read. There are countdown markers along the side of each page, so it’s clear just how much – how little – time there is before disaster strikes. In some stories, eg ‘Mosquito’, the main character is on a mission, but in others, eg ‘Kill All Humans’, the hero is unexpectedly called to counter danger, either alone or with the assistance of another character. All stories, whether set in contemporary or fantastic worlds, are full of action.

Adults don’t fare well in these stories. The protagonists are all teenagers – a range of ages – and they are much smarter, faster, better people. Baddies are truly bad, and technology is not always helpful. These short stories will be great for readers who like their action fierce and pacey. The time markers on the page help the reader keep track of the remaining time and help monitor the tension. There’s a good balance between male and female protagonists, working alone and working together. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers, and secondary readers looking for a quick and accessible read. Young writers might also look at the time markers to see how pacing is used to progress the plot.

400 Minutes of Danger, Jack Heath
Scholastic 2016
ISBN: 9781760158798

Review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

The Love of a Bad Man, by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

I’ve always had small hands. The rest of me isn’t very big, either, but my hands are almost as small as a kid’s, with spindly white fingers and nails like broken seashells. David likes this about me. That there’s something about me that hasn’t changed for all these years.

Ever since Cathy and David met as troubled teens, they’ve belonged together, even though Cathy has married another man and had a bunch of kids. When David comes back into her life, she abandons her family,and spends her days trying to make David happy. David loves her, but he also has fantasies about other women, and Cathy finds herself helping him to kidnap and murder them.

Based on the life of Catherine Birney. ‘Cathy’ is one of twelve short stories which make up The Love of a Bad Man. Each story imagines the life and motivations of the women who have loved famous ‘bad men’, from Serial killer David Birney, to Hitler, to Jim Jones of Jonestown infamy. The voices are brutally honest, sometimes bewildered, occasionally naive but always compelling, as readers are offered insight into the lives and motivations of the women who supported, enabled and endured the men in different measure.

Not hopeful reading, but satisfyingly compelling.

The Love of a Bad Man, by Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Scribe, 2016
ISBN 9781925321555

Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh

Sight

A lizard keeps following me around the house.

I tell the Tattoo Man about it when we’re sitting on his verandah one afternoon. The Tattoo Man has puffy eyelids and a black beard that he strokes when in deep thought. He’s in his rocking chair with a stray orange cat sitting at his feet, swishing its tail.

Sight

A lizard keeps following me around the house.

I tell the Tattoo Man about it when we’re sitting on his verandah one afternoon. The Tattoo Man has puffy eyelids and a black beard that he strokes when in deep thought. He’s in his rocking chair with a stray orange cat sitting at his feet, swishing its tail.

‘Portable Curiosities’ is a collection of twelve surreal and satiric short stories. In ‘Cream Reaper’, the story reflected in the cover art, the search for the ultimate ice cream flavour becomes deadly serious. ‘Sight’ offers the opportunity to see what others miss. Stories are told in first, second and third person, and explore myriad ‘landscapes’.  ‘The Fat Girl in History’ is story within story, twisting and turning, keeping its truths shifting.

‘Portable Curiosities’ is funny, sad, disturbing, pointed, merciless and merciful. Each story in this collection engages the reader then makes them squirm. A wonderfully black-humoured, multi-flavoured assortment which uses fiction to illuminate truths about the world we live in and how we live in it. Much to think about, great fun.

Portable Curiosities, Julie Koh
University of Queensland Press 2016 ISBN: 9780702254048

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Danny Best: Full On, by Jen Storer & Mitch Vane (ill.)

https://i.harperapps.com/covers/9780733333330/y648.pngI creep across the grass like a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE Secret Agent. I am silent. I leave no trail.
I pick up a stone and hurl it at the chook shed. The stone hits the tin rook with a CLANG and the chooks SQUAWK.
That’ll trick Fab.

Danny Best and his best mate Fab are playing cops and robbers. Danny is the robber, and his job is to get away from Fab for long enough to steal the treasure. But hiding under the house is a bit tricky, and policeman Fab has got back-up in the form of their other friends.

“Cops and Robbers” is one of five short stories featuring Danny and his friends in Danny Best: Full on, the first book in a new series. Danny doesn’t just think he’s the best – he knows it. And most of his adventures feature races or competitions of some sort, including obstacle courses and child-built race circuits.

Danny is a little bit full of himself (aren’t most 8 and three quarter year olds?) but is able to laugh at himself when things go wrong, and his friends have his measure. The stories are fast paced and humorous and feature cartoon-style illustrations, maps and more, including humorous quizzes after each story.

Lots to like here for primary aged readers.

Danny Best: Full on, by Jen Storer, illustrated by Mitch Vane
ABC Books, 2015
ISBN 9780733333330

Rich and Rare: A collection of Australian Stories, Poetry and Artwork edited Paul Collins

Forward by Sophie Masson

An anthology can be compared to a patchwork quilt, sewn by many hands. Each piece in the patchwork is different: distinctive in texture, shape, pattern and colour. Each piece, separately created, has its own individuality, is its own thing, and could exist on its own. Such difference, such separateness, should mean that it’s impossible to put them together. Or if you do, something of that distinctiveness and individuality is lost.

But of course, that isn’t true. A patchwork quilt sewn by many hands is a beautiful thing not despite, but because it is made of distinctive pieces, created by different people.

And thus with good anthologies. Created by many different minds … the separate pieces in an anthology are each interesting in themselves, and also together create an atmosphere that is both gripping and relaxing, thoughtful and lively, something you can draw over yourself time and time again, yet always find something new in, and something to fit whatever mood you’re in.

Rich and Rare: A Collection of Australian Stories, Poetry and Artwork Edited by Paul Collins
Forward by Sophie Masson

An anthology can be compared to a patchwork quilt, sewn by many hands. Each piece in the patchwork is different: distinctive in texture, shape, pattern and colour. Each piece, separately created, has its own individuality, is its own thing, and could exist on its own. Such difference, such separateness, should mean that it’s impossible to put them together. Or if you do, something of that distinctiveness and individuality is lost.

But of course, that isn’t true. A patchwork quilt sewn by many hands is a beautiful thing not despite, but because it is made of distinctive pieces, created by different people.

And thus with good anthologies. Created by many different minds … the separate pieces in an anthology are each interesting in themselves, and also together create an atmosphere that is both gripping and relaxing, thoughtful and lively, something you can draw over yourself time and time again, yet always find something new in, and something to fit whatever mood you’re in.

Rich and Rare is a collection of stories, poems and art from many of Australia’s well-known creators (who are listed on the back cover). There are realistic offerings, spec fiction tales and almost everything in between. There are stories of hope, horror, triumph, friendship, time travel, set in familiar and imagined worlds. Offerings range in length from single page poems to around 30 pages. Black and white illustrations appear throughout. The illustrations both contribute to other stories and tell stories of their own. There are Contents pages suggesting the genre of different stories from ‘Contemporary’ to ‘Ghost’ and ‘Crime’. There are bios of all the creators at the end.

Rich and Rare is enticing from the (borrowed from our national anthem) title and Shaun Tan’s cover art, all the way through to the final poem. Even the bios at the end offer micro-stories. At nearly 500 pages, there is something for every reader in this smorgasbord of original Australian works. The cover creates a sense of foreboding and deliciousness, from the character pleading to be saved from being eaten to the shiny blood-coloured title. Sophie Masson’s introduction likens the collection to a patchwork quilt and like a quilt it can be absorbed as a whole, in one continuous read, or readers may focus on individual stories, dip in and out to access their favourite creators, or introduce themselves to others for the first time. Highly recommended for mid-primary aged readers and beyond.

Rich and Rare: A collection of Australian Stories, Poetry and Artwork, edited Paul Collins Ford St Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925272116

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores and online.

Stories for Eight Year Olds edited by Linsay Knight

‘Stories for Eight Year Olds’ a collection of short stories from eleven well known Australian authors. There’s something for everyone. Paul Jennings starts off with a tale about UFD – Unidentified Flying Dogs. Jacqueline Harvey’s narrative poem warns about the dangers of Grandparents’ Day at school. There are giants and magic carpets, photo-hogs, visitors from other worlds and a wealthy cat. There are stories about the perils of having a sister, the healing powers of cake and of jokes taken too far. Each story is about fifteen pages long, with a contents page at the front and a bio section at the end. Black and white illustrations are scattered throughout.

You can be the judge. Am I the biggest liar in the world or do I tell the truth? There is one thing for sure – Dad believes me.

Anyway, I will leave it up to you. I will tell you what happened and you can make up your own mind.

It all starts one evening about teatime. Dad is cooking the tea and Mum is watching Sixty Minutes on television. Suddenly there is a knock on the door. ‘I’ll get it, yells my little brother Matthew. He always runs to be the first to the door and the first to the telephone. It really gets on my nerves the way he does that.

Stories for Eight Year Olds is a collection of short stories from eleven well known Australian authors. There’s something for everyone. Paul Jennings starts off with a tale about UFD – Unidentified Flying Dogs. Jacqueline Harvey’s narrative poem warns about the dangers of Grandparents’ Day at school. There are giants and magic carpets, photo-hogs, visitors from other worlds and a wealthy cat. There are stories about the perils of having a sister, the healing powers of cake and of jokes taken too far. Each story is about fifteen pages long, with a contents page at the front and a bio section at the end. Black and white illustrations are scattered throughout.

Stories for Eight Year Olds is a delightful and wacky collection of short stories, perfect for the independent reader who wants to try a few authors without committing to a full length novel. A sampler of light-hearted and cautionary tales to dip into. A perfect way to introduce some of Australia’s foremost authors for the age group. Recommended for … eight year olds!

Stories for Eight Year Olds

Stories for Eight Year Olds edited by Linsay Knight
Random House 2012
ISBN: 9781742756608

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores or online.

Metro Winds, by Isobelle Carmody

So there was a girl. Young but not too young. A face as unformed as an egg, so that one could not tell if she would turn out to be fair or astonishingly ugly. She was to be sent to a city in another land by a mother and father in the midst of a divorce. The one thing they could agree upon was that the girl should not be exposed to the violence they meant to commit on their life. There was a quality in her that made it impossible to do the ravening that the end of love required.

Metro Winds

Nobody who has read any of Isobelle Camody’s work can doubt her ability as a story teller, and this new collection of six stories serves only to cement that certainty. Metro Winds, a collection of six stories, is an eminently satisfying offering, diverse yet each connected by its quality and by the movement through the real world to fantastical, alternate worlds. Some have links to popular fairy tales, including the Princess and the Pea, whilst all have settings which will be familiar – Australia, Paris, Venice – and themes and premises which are at once recognisable yet somehow unfamiliar.

With subject matter including broken homes, marital strain and loss, couched in fantastical scenarios such as a wolf prince who abandons his wife and child because of a curse and a sister who mourns the disappearance of her younger sister but must relinquish her in order to safe a world, these are stories which grip the reader and keep the pages turning, staying with you long after the final page.

Metro Winds, by Isobelle Carmody
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781865084442

Available from good bookstores or online.

10 Futures by Michael Pryor

Tara can’t remember life without her AI. Her mum and dad bought the Artificial Intelligence when Tara had her night terrors, when she was little. It used to sit under her pillow and murmur to her. Safe and secure, she was, with Portia keeping the night things away.
Portia used to be classy, state-of-the-art. Her case, the size and shape of a playing card, was originally a stylish black matte. Now, fourteen years later, it’s battered and scratched with the scars of love. Of course, since Portia took over managing the family home … Portia is the home, now, integrated into every aspect of living, taking care of the family, nurturing and protecting.

Tara can’t remember life without her AI. Her mum and dad bought the Artificial Intelligence when Tara had her night terrors, when she was little. It used to sit under her pillow and murmur to her. Safe and secure, she was, with Portia keeping the night things away.
Portia used to be classy, state-of-the-art. Her case, the size and shape of a playing card, was originally a stylish black matte. Now, fourteen years later, it’s battered and scratched with the scars of love. Of course, since Portia took over managing the family home … Portia is the home, now, integrated into every aspect of living, taking care of the family, nurturing and protecting.

10 Futures imagines ten futures, in ten short stories across the century from 2020. In each, the future world is lived by the same two friends, Tara and Sam. They are mid-teen, and best friends. That is constant, when very little else is. The stories are not told in chronological order, but instead skip forward and back and then forward again. Technology succeeds, technology fails. There are stories set in times where climate and population growth challenges have overwhelmed, and stories where these have been managed. But these are just the settings. In each of the stories, there are dilemmas for the friends, whether on a micro or macro scale. In each it is their personalities and actions that drive the stories. In each, it is friendship that looms large.

What does the future hold? No one knows, but Michael Pryor has had a go at speculating. Not once, but ten times. Each is a micro-glimpse of what the world could be. Some of the worlds are very bleak, others show worlds that suggest that humans have learned to work together for the good of all. Themes range very widely and there is plenty here to initiate classroom discussion on a range of topics: ethics, morality, power, compassion and more. Tara and Sam are very different personalities but firm friends. Their friendship provides support through very different challenges, demonstrating the see-sawing of need and knowledge that underpins and sustains enduring friendships. Engaging spec fiction, recommended for mid-secondary readers.

10 Futures
10 Futures, Michael Pryor

Woolshed Press/Random House 2012 ISBN: 9781742753768
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
www.clairesaxby.com

Avaialable from good bookstores or online.

Green Monkey Dreams, by Isobelle Carmody

I ride this day upon the Worldroad, alone, except for courage, who rides on the pommel of my saddle fluffing his feathers. I did not dream of journeying thus as a child.

Reading an Isobelle Carmody story is a special experience, an experience which doesn’t end with the last word. The stories in Green Monkey Dreams, first published in 1996, are diverse in subject matter and theme, but each story takes the reader in a tight grip then squeezes, making you stop and consider what is real, and leaving you pondering reality, values, even life itself long after.

In the title story, which is also the last story in the book, for example, a girl dreams of dreaming, in layer upon layer of dream so that it is impossible to tell which, if any, version is reality. In ‘Long Live the Giant’ the protagonist shares her discoveries about the meaning of life and, importantly, death, having been given the chance of immortality.

The stories are each different, set in fantastical worlds and differing time periods, but some motifs do recur, particularly the image of a tower in a graveyard, said to be the burial site of a giant whoes arm pointed skywards in death and so was covered by a tower. Angels and monkeys are also mentioned more than once, and tales and characters from traditional fairy stories are used.

Suitable for young adult and adult readers, this is a collection best enjoyed one story at a time, as each story needs time to be processed and appreciated.

Green Monkey Dreams

Green Monkey Dreams, by Isobelle Carmody
This edition Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742379470

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.