‘Look out!’ cried Mum as Dad braked to miss a large white duck waddling across the driveway.
I pressed my face to the window. I knew staying with Aunt Evie would be different, but I hadn’t expected an old sandstone cottage almost ready to collapse. Nor was I prepared for the raggle-taggle gypsy striding towards us. I swallowed hard. Tall and thin, with her dark curly hair tied up in a red scarf, Aunt Evie didn’t look anything like Dad. Plus, she wore socks with her sandals. Dad never wore sandals.
Nine-year-old Minnie, known as ‘Mouse’, is accustomed to being looked after by her loving but very protective parents. So when they tell her they are going to Ireland and she’s going to stay with the aunt she hardly knows, who lives in country South Australia, she’s understandably apprehensive. As if that’s not enough, she also discovers that the house is home to a wombat called Miss Pearl and a duck called Pumpkin. AND she has to attend school while she stays with Aunt Evie. Altogether, it’s not shaping up to be much fun. But Miss Pearl immediately befriends her, and despite a rocky start, school’s not all bad. But there’s a problem. While Mouse very quickly comes to love Miss Pearl, not everyone in the district is as fond of wombats.
Mouse is not used to independence, making her own decisions, and she’s a bit gobsmacked that she has to stay with her quirky aunt in the country. She’s not that excited about Aunt Evie’s neighbour either, and her neighbour’s not that thrilled about city girls. But she does find a friend in her neighbour’s son Harry. Quiet Mouse discovers her voice here in the country where not everyone loves all the wildlife. Her stay with Aunt Evie tips her world upside down in ways she could never have predicted. Themes of friendship, compromise, family and wildlife. Recommended for independent readers.
Wombat Warriors, Samantha Wheeler
UQP 2017 ISBN: 9780702259586
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
He felt it first when the horses shifted and cried. they had been muttering among themselves all day, but this was different, a note of panic in it. The horses aren’t yours to care about, George, he reminded himself. He went from cabin to cabin and collected the crockery and cutlery smeared and encrusted with an early dinner, the passengers getting ready for bed.
Aboard the steamship Admella, George Hills is counting his blessings. he has nearly earned enough from his shipboard life to marry his sweetheart. but ti strip is different. the horses are restless and George sees a strange figure lurking among them. When the ship hits a reef and is wrecked, this strange figure, in the shape of a woman, is marooned with George, and somehow their lives become intertwined.
From the Wreck is an oddly compelling tale, with an intriguing premise of a historical event intertwined with the life of an alien being, seeking both a place to belong and an understanding of earth and of life. Spanning the years following the wreck of the Admella in 1859, the story blends what is known of George Hills, the author’s great-great grandfather, with the speculative fiction exploration of existential loneliness.
Hard to classify, but that is what makes the story so intriguing.
From the Wreck, by Jane Rawson
Transit Lounge, 2017
Fiona Forrest sat next to her dead husband’s coffin, staring at it dully. Music played softly in the background and she could smell the roses that filled two urns on stands nearby.
The church felt exactly like she did. Cold and empty.
Fiona and her husband Charlie were really happy: working side by side on their farm, and looking forward to a long future. But when Charlie is involved in a terrible shooting accident that eaves his mate Eddie dead, he struggles to cope. When he commits suicide, Fiona is devastated, but she is determined to keep the farm going. If only the rumours that she is selling the farm would stop.
Detective Dave Burrows has been on enforced leave. When he returns he finds that the case of Eddie’s death was not properly dealt with. When he starts to investigate he realises something doesn’t add up. The deeper he digs, the more he realises that something sinister is going on – and perhaps it is linked both to Charlie’s suicide and to the series of problems that seem to be plaguing Fiona’s farm.
Sapphire Falls continues bestselling author Fleur McDonald’s trend of blending rural Australian settings with strong female characters facing adversity and elements of mystery, for a unique form of crime fiction. Readers are kept guessing along with the characters, and the mystery works well alongside the development of characters and interwoven subplots.
Sapphire Falls, by Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin, 2016
I never wanted to come.
And now I’m probably going to die. Before this trip I had never been out of my village in Guangdong. Never walked past the banks of the rice fields or smelled the air beyond the dark hills.
Yet, here I am, aged thirteen, in a sailing ship that’s being hurled about in seas as tall as mountains, heading for some strange shore across the other side of the world.
Yong does not want to go to Australia. He wants to stay home in his village and look after his younger siblings and his grandmother. But he is the firstborn son, and has no choice: his father insists that he accompany him to the goldfields in Ballarat. There they are to make their fortune, to send money home for their family, and eventually return.
The trip by ship to Australia is long and tedious, and, when storms hit, dangerous too. Yong and his father are lucky to escape with their lives, but find themselves not in Victoria, but South Australia, and so begin another long journey – on foot. With other men from their village and an untrustworthy guide it seems they might never arrive.
Yong is a moving historical fiction tale set in 1850s Australia against the backdrop of the goldrush. Whilst gold is the goal for Yong and his father, however, the focus of the story is on unearthing the culture and type of people who came to Australia in search of gold, specifically the Chinese. Through the eyes of Yong we see his concerns about leaving behind his birth country and family, his bewilderment at his new country, and how his culture affects his experiences.
An engaging story, Yong is ideal for private reading and for schools and libraries.
Yong, by Janeen Brian
Walker Books, 2016
Bob would jump onto the footplate of one train, leap off again at some wayside spot, then clamber onto another train heading in the opposite direction.
There was hardly a town in South Australia he did not visit, from Oodnadatta to Kalangadoo.
In the early days of Australian railways, when shiny new tracks opened up vast areas of rural Australia, a special dog developed a taste for travel. Bob, as he was named by his first owner, Guard Ferry, travelled first with Guard Ferry then later on any train he could hitch a lift on, and became a favourite with drivers, guards and porters. Today, a photo of Bob still sits in memorial to him at Adelaide Station.
Bob, the Railway Dog is a beautiful historical picture book told with the warm simplicity at which author Corinne Fenton is so very adept. WIih key facts and events wven into the story, readers will nontheless feel like it is a story, with Bob painted as a really endearing character. The artwork, in watercolour, charcoal and pencil, are similarly warm and inviting bringing both Bob and the era to life. Buildings, landscapes, people and, of course, Bob himself are rendered beautifully, making for a really attractive whole.
Bob, the Railway Dog is a treasure.
Bob, the Railway Dog, by Corinne Fenton and Andrew McLean
Black Dog Books, 2015
Available from good bookstores and online.
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
Available from good bookstores and online.
She came so close I could see a mole above her lip. She spat/ A glob landed on the window in front of my face.
‘Bloody Japs!’ she said, shaking her fist.
The train groaned as it moved away. The woman became smaller till she was no more than a pale slip, but I could still see her face. Eyes narrowed, mouth tight – her features twisted with hate.
It is 1942 and Japan has entered the second war against the allies. Tomokazu Ibaraki, who has been working as a doctor in Broome, finds himself a prisoner of war, interned with other Japanese men in remote South Australia. Here he works in the infirmary and lives in close quarters with men of Japanese heritage with a range of backgrounds\, including a group of men who were born in Australia and see themselves as Australian. He finds friends but he is also confronted with the difficulties of a life in confinement, and with the dilemma of which men are actually his friends, and which have darker sides to their natures.
While he deals with his present, Dr Inaraki must also confront his past, a past peppered with personal tragedy and dilemmas created by promises he made. Coming to Australia was supposed to offer a chance for redemption – to leave that life behind and build something new, but events in the internment camp force him to revisit things he would rather forget.
After Darkness, the winner of this year’s Vogel Award, is a haunting debit novel about friendship, loyalty, and the promises. Ibaraki is a man of honour who is believably flawed in his inability to find a way through difficult situations he finds himself in, yet is ultimately a likeable character with whom it is easy to sympathise.
Set amidst the backdrop of World War II, and the years prior, the story offers an insight into historical events with which many readers would be unfamiliar. A haunting read.
After Darkness, by Christine Piper
Allen & Unwin, 2014
Available from good bookstores and online.
“…Captain Trelwaney will take you on as well. We can both start work on the picky-table. And we can both earn money.”
I stood frozen, eyes wide.
“I knew you’d be pleased,” said Gilbert. “I have to go now. See you later.”
He didn’t say when and I didn’t ask.
Jack and Gilbert have been best friends for years, and have made a pact that when they’re older they’ll work together in the copper mines, just like their fathers do. But Jack doesn’t know how to tell Gilbert that the thought of working underground terrifies him. On top of that, he loves school and learning, and his mother is keen for him to succeed there. So, when Gilbert is suddenly responsible for the family income, and leaves school to start work, Jack is torn: should he keep the promise he made to his friend, or should he follow the path his heart is keen to take?
That Boy, Jack is a story of friendship and courage, set in and around the South Australian township of Moonta in the 1870s. Depicting aspects of Australian history which may be unfamiliar to young readers, the story will appeal both to young history buffs and to any reader who simply likes a story of adventure. Jack must work hard at home, as well as at school and paid employment, and young readers may be surprised at just how much was expected of a twelve year old boy in the time period. As well as friendship and courage, the story also explores issues including education, family, health and even left-handedness.
Brian weaves a story which allows the reader to experience both this history and the personal journey in an intimate, exciting way.
That Boy, Jack, by Janeen Brian
Walker Books, 2013
Available from good bookstores and online.