On Track, by Kathryn Apel

Sometimes it feels  
like my body doesn’t belong
to me, like I tell it to do stuff
and it doesn’t. My feet stumble along
and trip over each other, my hands fumble
and drop, and it’s almost like I’m wrapped in
invisible bubble wrap – stumbly, fumbly, bumbly –
like a spaceman bumping and blundering along.

Toby and his brother Shaun were born less than a year apart, but though they are close in age, they are very different in every other way. Shaun is smart, and good at everything he does. Toby struggles at school, and doesn’t find anything easy – except running away from his ‘big, better brother.’ Shaun might be good at everything, but he feels that people don’t notice his successes – especially when Toby is around.

Tensions between the brothers grow when Toby is diagnosed with a muscular condition and starts getting extra help, including a new laptop for school. When he then joins the school’s athletics team, Shaun resents that this means the coach will spend less time with him. With Sports Day getting closer, tensions between the pair grow.

On Track is a wonderful verse novel about sibling rivalry, self identity and self confidence. Told through the dual first person narratives of Shaun and Toby, the story allows readers to see both brothers’ struggles and motivations, allowing empathy for both to develop. This in turn will help readers to see that individual differences are not always better or worse.

This is Apel’s second verse novel, and makes excellent use of the form, allowing an emotional connection with the two characters. Readers will care about the boys and what happens to them, and the resolution is satisfying without being overly contrived. The inclusion of sport in the plot will add interest for many readers.

On Track, by Kathryn Apel
UQP, 2016
ISBN 9780702253737

Available from good bookstores and online.

Emerald Springs, by Fleur McDonald

She hoped that the vehicle would pass her and race off into the darkness. Just some idiot anxious to get home. She saw a flash of orange and realised it was an indicator. The vehicle – it was a ute. she thought, a big one, highset, a dark colour, with tinted windows – was pulling out to overtake. She started to breathe a little easier, her shoulders relaxing…
…until the other ute veered straight in front of her, cutting her off and hitting the brakes.

When she asked to take on the role of treasurer for the local rodeo, Amelia Bennett is flattered. She is a qualified accountant, and knows she can do the job well, but she is surprised people trust her, having been regarded as flighty in her teenage years. Throwing herself into the role, she is determined to di it well. But on rodeo night, as she transfers the takings to the bank, she finds herself in more trouble than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile,Detective Dave Burrows has been sent to Torrica to investigate a string of crimes in the area – thefts of fuel and equipment have escalated into bigger robberies. He doesn’t mind being there. It’s a chance to look up his old flame, Amelia’s Aunt Kim. But once he’s there, he’s thrown into investigating Amelia’s hold-up and more.

Emerald Springs is an absorbing rural story – part romance and part mystery, with plenty of both, and lots of action to keep the pages turning. Set in rural South Australia and featuring a strong female lead in Amelia, the story also touches on many issues facing rural communities – debt, drought, family stresses and more.

A cracking read.
Emerald Springs, by Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743315323

Available from good bookstores and online.

Goodbye Sweetheart, by Marion Halligan

Goodbye SweetheartPeople say that a death like this, a quick death, sudden, no warning or portent, really no pain to herald it, such a death is a good death, lucky. There is even sometimes a suggestion that it is a reward, for a life well lived, for goodness, and noble behaviour. She’d said it herself in the past.

When William has a heart attack and dies suddenly, he leaves behind a loving wife, a stunned daughter. Here was a man with much to live for, a good man with a stable life. But the mourners include two former wives and two adult children. Between them they have different versions of the man they all loved and, in the days following death it emerges that there is still much about William that they didn’t know. AN unexpected mistress, who wants to be part of the mourning, pornographic images on his computer, and more. Will they find answers to their new questions?

Goodbye Sweetheart is a story about the aftermath of a death, but it also very much a novel about life, and its mysteries. The writing is superb. Each chapter is almost a short story, moving through the third person viewpoints of William at the time of his death, his various wives and children, his brother, his mistress and an elderly aunt. Readers are given fragments of William and his loved ones’ lives in a way which creates an intriguing whole.

An intimate look at grief, at family complexities and more, Goodbye Sweetheart is a book which haunts well beyond the final page.

Goodbye Sweetheart, by Marion Halligan
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760111298

Available from good bookstores and online.

Go to Sleep, Jessie! by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood

Every night she does this.
Ever since she moved into my room.

Jessie won’t go to sleep. She throws her pillow on the floor, she stands at the bar of her cot, and she screams. Her big sister can’t sleep either – she wishes Jessie would be quiet, or, better still, that Jessie wasn’t sharing her room at all. It seems nothing will settle Jessie down to sleep, except maybe a little bit of sisterly love.

Go to Sleep, Jessie! is a gorgeous tale of a situation many families will relate to,from one of Australia’s favourite picture book pairings. Libby Gleeson’s text tells a fairly simple tale of a baby who won’t sleep in spite of big sister, Mum and Dad’s efforts, but at the same time there’s a deeper tale, of both sibling rivalry and sibling love. Apart from not being able to sleep, the big sister also laments the loss of her own space, and the disruption that Jessie has brought to her life. When Mum tells her she doesn’t really want her own room, big sister disagrees – but when Dad takes Jessie out for a drive to try to settle her, big sister can’t sleep, and it is her sisterly intervention which finally gets Jessie to sleep and helps her sleep, too.

Freya Blackwood’s illustrations, in watercolour, gouache and pencil, perfectly capture both the frustration and the mixed emotions of the big sister, as well as Jessie’s upset. WHile Mum and Dad are art of the story, Blackwood makes sure the children are central – with Mum and Dad only visible either from behind or from angles which don’t show their faces. This is the children’s story, and the final image of them asleep together in Jessie’s cot is gorgeous.

A beautiful picturebook.


Go to Sleep, Jessie! by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood
Little Hare, 2014
ISBN 9781742977805

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Last Viking Returns, by Norman Jorgensen & James Foley

The two littlest Vikings are getting bigger and stronger and wilder every day. Nothing scares them at all and that worries Knut no end.

Josh loves all things Viking – so much so that he prefers to be called Knut, Prince of the Vikings. Hardly anything scares him, except perhaps his little twin siblings, who get into everything and don’t seem to be scared of anything. When Nan and Pop take the family to Viking World, a theme park, the twins’ adventurous antics will land them in a whole lot of trouble, which only Josh can save them from.

In the meantime, up in Asgard, the Norse Gods have their eye on Knut and the twns. When Thor decides to head down to Viking World, he leaves his friends unprotected. Josh’s actions down below could unwittingly help out his unearthly friends.

The Last Viking Returns is a sequel to the popular The Last Viking,though it stands comfortably on its own. There’s plenty of humour and action, and the twin plot lines mean this will appeal to readers well into the school years. The illustrations, using pencil and digital watercolour, are rich and detailed, and the endpapers include a map of the theme park, and a code in runes.

Great fun!

The Last Viking Returns, by Norman Jorgensen & James Foley
Fremantle Press, 2014
ISBN 9781925161151

Available from good bookstores or online.

Ducky’s Nest by Gillian Rubinstein ill Terry Denton

When Claudie’s mum went to hospital to have the new baby, Nana came to stay with Claudie.

Nana looked after Claudie very well but she didn’t know much about Ducky. Ducky was Claudie’s special toy. She carried him around all day and at bedtime she made a little nest with her arms and Ducky slept in it.

When Claudie’s mum went to hospital to have the new baby, Nana came to stay with Claudie.

Nana looked after Claudie very well but she didn’t know much about Ducky. Ducky was Claudie’s special toy. She carried him around all day and at bedtime she made a little nest with her arms and Ducky slept in it.

Ducky’s Nest tells the story of what happens when Ducky is inadvertently left at the park after a walk with Claudie and Nana. But it begins before that, with Mum going off to hospital to have a baby. Nana can do most things, but because she’s not Mum, Ducky spends a night in the park. While Claudie and Nana go home, Ducky is cared for by the residents of the park. They try their best to find his home, but his descriptions evoke other houses, other homes, other nests, other locations around the city. Finally, he sleeps in a nest made by the wild ducks at the park. It is there he is found next morning by Claudie. By this time, the family has altered forever with the arrival of the new baby. Illustrations are in pen, ink and watercolour.

Ducky’s Nest was first published in 1999 and is reproduced here in paperback with end notes by original publisher Mark McLeod. Also here are bios and comments from Gillian Rubenstein and Terry Denton. Ducky’s Nest is a story within a story. Claudie has been an only child and now is to have a new sibling, with all the changes that entails. Ducky, who has nested nightly in Claudie’s arm spends a night with the caring wild ducks, seeing for the first time, a much bigger world than he’s previously known. The link is the nest. Melbourne-dwellers will recognise much of the landscape Ducky experiences. Very subtly, the reader is introduced and supported through the changes that a new baby can bring. The trauma of separation is ameliorated by the support of other ‘family’, until they are reunited in their new configuration. Along the way, there are lovely interpretations of the way others may see what we describe. A lovely picture book, back in print. Recommended for pre-school and early years readers.

Ducky's Nest (Walker Classics)

Ducky’s Nest , Gillian Rubinstein ill Terry Denton Walker Books Australia 2013 ISBN: 9781922077721

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author


Available from good bookstores or online.

Too Cold for a Tutu, by Mini Goss

‘Wake up, Stella, let’s go out and play!’ said Barry.
He put on his new Nanna-knitted cardigan and Stella put on her new made-by-Nanna tutu.

‘It’s way too cold for a tutu!’ said Barry.
‘It’s never too cold for a tutu!’ said Stella.

When Barry and Stella get dressed for play on a chilly morning, they both put on the new clothes Nanna has made them. Barry has a new cardigan, and Stella a tutu. But Barry says it’s too cold for a tutu. Outside it is indeed cold, and the siblings find it hard to play together – until Stella discovers there’s room in Barry’s cardigan for two, and the dress-up fun begins.

Too Cold for a Tutu is a joyous celebration of imaginative play, siblings and even grandmothers (though Nannna doesn’t appear in the story – it is her creations that inspire the play). Stella and Barry are divinely cute characters and the text and its layout are vibrant and filled with fun.

The illustrations, too, are a delight. Barry and Stella are knitted toys – both dogs with big eyes and droopy ears – and their adventures are captured using photography. Goss’s knitting and handcraft skills are amazing, with the characters coming to life on the page.

Too Cold for a Tutu is charming.

Too Cold for a Tutu

Too Cold for a Tutu, by Mini Goss
Allen & wi, 2012
ISBN 9781743313787

Available from good bookstores or online.

Come on Everybody, Time to Play, by Nigel Gray & Bob Graham

Sunday morning.
No school today.
Where is everybody?
It’s time to play.

Come on Everybody, Time to Play!

It’s Sunday morning, which means no school – so why is the narrator of this story the only one up? That’s not really a problem, because she’ll soon have them all moving – cats and kittens, dogs and puppies, little brothers, and even Mum and Dad, will soon be awake and part of her games.

This is a lovely family story of waking up and spending time together. Told in catchy rhyming text which encourages prediction by even very young readers, and also supports guessing of what is under the flaps on some of the spreads. Sturdy card stock and a toddler friendly size ensure this will withstand frequent loving (and reading!).

First published in 2008, and newly released.

Come on Everybody, Time to Play!, by Nigel Gray & Bob Graham
Walker Books, 2012
ISBN 9781921529528

Available in good bookstores and online.