How Many Dinosaurs Deep? By Ben Kitchin ill Vicky Fieldhouse

Jim was learning how to swim. He had just gone up from the baby pool to the middle-sized pool.
‘Don’t worry,’ said his mum. ‘It’s not that deep. I don’t think the middle-sized pool would even come up to a Stegosaurus’s knee!’
‘Really?’ said Jim as he edged away from the water.
‘A Stegosaurus must be big! How deep can water get?’

Jim is a bit apprehensive about the deeper water in the middle-sized pool and his swimming lessons. He’s also obviously keen on dinosaurs. Mum relates the depth of this and other water to a scale he can visualise – that of dinosaurs. As he questions his mum and she answers in ‘dinosaur scale’, he gradually overcomes his fear of this new pool. A final spread at the completion of the story offers dinosaur information and images. Illustrations are in watercolour and black pencil.

Dinosaurs are fascinating for so many children, and many master the complex pronunciations and collect myriad facts long before they can write those names or the information. Here, a realistic fear is overcome by connecting it to Jim’s fascination for these extinct animals. Mum relates this experience to Jim’s interest and diverts his fear into curiosity about other waters and their depth relative to different dinosaurs. On one level this is a story about fear of water, but it also offers the opportunity to talk about science and measurement. And dinosaurs. Recommended for pre- and junior-primary readers.

How Many Dinosaurs Deep? Ken Kitchin ill Vicky Fieldhouse
New Frontier Publishing 2017 ISBN: 978925059731

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Freedom Swimmer, by Wai Chim

Ma is gone. I fought back tears, gripping the handle of the wheelbarrow tighter so her body wouldn’t tip out too soon. I was taking her to the river to join the other villagers who had passed. I didn’t dare look around – what if one of those bodies had surfaced, caught on a rock instead of being swept away by the current after the last rains? I could almost picture the head of some weeks-dead villager bobbing up beside me, all sunken cheeks and lifeless eyes behind paper-thin lids.

Having watched his parents die in a famine during the ‘Great Leap Forward’, Ming is left orphaned. Sharing a house with other village orphans, he must work hard to grow crops for his village and for the Communist government, with little time for himself. When the Party brings a group of city boys to work in the village, Ming forms an unlikely friend with Li, a charming, likeable city boy. Ming, taught to swim by his father, now teaches Li to swim and as they exchange their stories and their dreams they also start to wonder if there is a chance for freedom.

Freedom Swimmer is a tale of friendship set in 1960s China. Told from the dual perspectives of the two protagonists, the story explores both the effects of living under the fledgling regime, and the efforts of the freedom swimmers, people who attempted to swim from mainland China to Hong Kong, where they would find freedom.

Based on the experiences of author Wai Chim’s father, who made the freedom swim in 1973, Freedom Swimmer is a moving story.

Freedom Swimmer, by Wai Chim
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113414

Echidna Jim Went for a Swim, by Phil Cummings & Laura Wood

The animals floated on the waves.
They were having a wonderful time.
Echidna Jim went for a swim.

It’s a very hot day, but the animals don’t mind. Dingo has fixed the old blue bus that used to sit in the creek – and he’s taking everyone to the beach for a swim. At the beach everyone blows up their inflatable toys and swim rings, and has a lot of fun – until Echidna Jim joins in. His spikes wreak havoc, popping the inflatables – which could be a disaster, but instead, adds to the fun as the animals whoosh around.

Echidna Jim Went for a Swim is a humorous picture book story featuring lots of favourite Australian animals, including the echidna, the wombat, a platypus, an emu, a kangaroo and more, as well as all the fun of a bus ride and a trip to the beach. With lots of golden sand and watery aquas and blues, as well as the colourful inflatables and the browns and greys of the animals themselves, the illustrations fill the pages with movement and fun.

Echidna Jim Went for a Swim, by Phil Cummings & Laura Wood
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781760152994

Pieces of Sky, by Trinity Doyle

Pieces of SkyGripping the straps of my backpack, I stare up into the sky, willing the world to stop. I wipe my nose on my sleeve and walk until I’m out of sight of the centre. My legs won’t stop shaking. I sit in the gutter, then stand back up and pace in a circle, raking my hands through my hair…
My hands shake and I tuck them into my armpits. I swallow tears. It’s still happening.
I need to swim. I need something to be the same. No home, no Cam, no pool.
No me.

Lucy’s life used to be almost perfect. Living in a small coastal town with her much loved brother, Cam, and her parents, she had good friends and a passion for swimming which had taken to her state championship level. Now, though, all that has changed. Cam has died, and Cam can’t go back in the water. In spite of not swimming, she feels like she’s drowning almost as surely as Cam did. Her friends are still swimming, and now she’s on the outside, starting back for a new school year with no idea how she’s going to get through.

At school there’s a new boy, Evan, and her ex-best friend, Steffi, and Lucy finds herself drawn into their circle as she tries to figure out what went wrong with Cam, and what is going wrong with herself and her parents, too.

Pieces of Sky is a tale of love and loss, but it also a story of friendship and survival, offering hope without saccharine. There is an element of mystery, as Lucy tries to figure out who is sending messages to Cam’s phone, as well as romance and drama.

There is a lot to like about this debut novel.

Pieces of Sky, by Trinity Doyle
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760112486

Heather Fell in the Water, by Doug MacLeod & Craig Smith

Heather was a little girl…
…who always fell in the water.
She didn’t mean to do it.
She didn’t enjoy it.
But she fell in the water nearly every day,
especially when she was wearing her good clothes.

Poor Heather hates the water – and is sure the water hates her, because it always makes her fall in. Her parents are so worried for her safety that they make her wear water wings all the time. But when her parents take her for swimming lessons Heather discovers that walking into the water can feel nice – and soon she realises that the water makes her fall in because it wants to be with her. She decides that if she learns to swim the water might stop making her fall in. Soon she is a champion swimmer.

Heather Fell in the Water is a gently humorous picture book story about learning to swim, and about conquering fear. Inspired by the true story of author Doug MacLeod’s little sister Heather who hated water yet seemed to always fall in, the tale is gently educational about the pleasures of learning to swim, but is also just plain fun.

Illustrations, by the amazing Craig Smith, populate the pages with comic watercolour images filled with (not surprisingly) water, but also warm and wacky characters and lots of movement and detail. On the spread where Heather decides to make a bargain with the water, a watery face floats on the surface of the pool.

A wonderful offering for the summer swimming-lesson season, Heather Fell in the Water is a delight.

Heather Fell in the Water

Heather Fell in the Water, by Doug MacLeod and Craig Smith
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742376486

Available from good bookstores and online.

Be Your Best, by Geoff Huegill

Geoff Huegill is one of Australia’s best known and best loved swimmers. From the age of four until he was 26, Huegill lived and breathed swimming, training daily and winning an impressive array of medals including Olympic silver and bronze, five world champion titles, eight world records and five Commonwealth Games gold medals. But in 2005, exhausted from the years of training…

What I was attempting was nothing less than rebuilding my credibility, and the only way I was going to succeed was with a mammoth effort.

Geoff Huegill (widely nicknamed Skippy by friends and fans) is one of Australia’s best known and best loved swimmers. From the age of four until he was 26, Huegill lived and breathed swimming, training daily and winning an impressive array of medals including Olympic silver and bronze, five world champion titles, eight world records and five Commonwealth Games gold medals. But in 2005, exhausted from the years of training, and suffering depression, he quit. Two years later, having gained 45 kilos in weight and hit rock bottom, Huegill returned to swimming, determined to regain his fitness and get his life back on track. In 2010 he returned to Commonwealth Games glory, with two golds and a silver. More importantly, though, he had turned his life around – proving to himself and the world that he could follow his dreams.

Be Your Best is Huegill’s story. Starting with his childhood and early involvement in swimming , through to the sudden death of his father when Huegill was 12, and he highs of his swimming career, the book then examines what went wrong before moving on to how he managed to get his life back on track. A special section in the middle of the book also details Huegill’s Be Your Best principles, which he promotes with his business partner Keith Staggers.

The text is written in Huegill’s honest, straightforward voice. He admits his failings and is honest but not boastful about his strengths. Coloured photography throughout the book also charts his story.

Fans will love this offering.

Be Your Best

Be Your Best, by Geoff Huegill
Ebury Press, 2011
ISBN 9781742751658

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Free Style, by Raewyn Caisley

Tumble, twist, push! I exploded off the wall and for three or four seconds turned into a dolphin. Arms stretched out in front, probing ahead, reaching, feet trailing behind ready to burst back into action. My grey, white and blue bathers felt like a second skin.

Kate is midway through a pretty disastrous soccer season. Her Dad is a coach and wants her to be the star player. Trouble is, every time she takes the field she mucks up. In the swimming pool, though, it’s a different story. Kate feels one with the water, perfectly balanced and smooth as a machine. How can she convince her dad that she should give up soccer, the game he loves, and focus on swimming?

Free Style is the tale of one girl’s passion for swimming. Kate’s attitude to swimming (and to sport in general) is refreshing – what motivates her is her desire to enjoy what she is doing, rather than an overwhelming drive to win at all costs. This is an important message for children, and one which author Caisley delivers skilfully.

Part of the Lothian Sports Fiction series, Free Style will appeal to readers aged 10-12.

Free Style, by Raewyn Caisley
Lothian, 2006