Another Night in Mullet Town, by Steven Herrick

People like you and me, Jonah,
we drag down the price of everything we touch.

Jonah and Manx have been happy living on the wrong side of Coraki Lake – the side which does’t have beach access. They fish and swim in the lake, and spend their Friday nights watching Ella and Rachel and wishing they had the courage to talk to them. But life is changing. Their run down town is being sold off by a greedy real estate agent. Manx’s dad’s servo struggles to keep its doors open, and Jonah’s parents argue non-stop. The things that happen at their Friday night gatherings by the lake will bring change, and not all of it will be good.

Another Night in Mullet Town is a gritty, realistic verse novel told from the perspective of Jonah, a boy with just the one close friend (though he hopes Ella will become his friend, or something more). He and Manx have always been mates, but he worries that Manx is drifting away, consumed with hatred for the wealthy new-comers. He’s also struggling with the effects of his parents’ fighting. For all that’s going wrong, he manages to find things to be happy about, and he is a likable, often humorous narrator.

Herrick’s poetry is, as always, accessible to young readers with each poem only a page or two, enticing readers to read just one more. The use of the verse novel form means that there is emotional depth, character development and a wonderful sense of place, delivered with a satisfying compactness which means it will reach readers of all abilities.

Another Night in Mullet Town, by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2016
ISBN 9780702253959

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

Mister Cassowary, by Samantha Wheeler

Mister CassowarySuddenly something big stepped out from the bushes on the road up ahead. It looked like a giant emu but with jet black feathers and a long blue neck. It’s sclay legs reminded me of a dinosaur’s.
‘Dad?’
But Dad was looking in the rear vision mirror at the jetty.
The creature ran out onto the bitumen.
‘Dad! WATCH OUT!’

Flynn has never visited his Grandad Barney’s banana plantation, and he doesn’t understand why. But now Grandad has died, and Flynn and Dad are on their way to clean it up, ready for sale. On the way, Flynn’s first encounter with a cassowary is when one runs out in front of their car, but it isn’t long before he discovers that his grandfather was passionate about protecting the big birds. His dad, on the other hand, hates them – and seems to be scared of them. As Flynn tries to find out what happened to Grandad Barney and what this has to do with Dad’s fear, he discovers two orphaned baby cassowaries and becomes their secret protector.
Mister Cassowary is a moving adventure story. Flynn and his dad’s relationship is good, but because Dad works away, they don’t know each other as well as either would like. This adds to the story, with tension between them as Flynn tries to convince his dad not to be overprotective and to be honest with him about the past.
Readers will enjoy learning about cassowaries through the story and through back of book facts about this unusual bird.
Mister Cassowary, by Samantha Wheeler
UQP, 2015
ISBN 9780702253881

Time For Bed, Daddy by Dave Hackett

‘Come on Daddy, it’s time for bed.’

‘But I’m not tired,’ says Daddy.

I pull on Daddy’s arm to help him off the couch.

‘First, you’ll need to have a bath.’

‘Not yet. I’m still playing.’

‘Playtime’s over, Daddy.’

Book Cover:  Time for Bed Daddy‘Come on Daddy, it’s time for bed.’

‘But I’m not tired,’ says Daddy.

I pull on Daddy’s arm to help him off the couch.

‘First, you’ll need to have a bath.’

‘Not yet. I’m still playing.’

‘Playtime’s over, Daddy.’

A young girl decides it’s time for Daddy to go to bed. But Daddy has all the excuses in the world. She is resolute and gentle, leading him through all their pre-bed routines. At each, he is diverted, and cooperates, but still full of reasons why it’s not yet bed time. Illustrations are iconically Dave Hackett cartoon-y set in plenty of white space.

Time for Bed, Daddy is a delightful bedtime role-reversal (or is it?) that is sure to have young children chuckling. It’s easy to hear every parent, or carer, of young children in the reminders to keep the water in the bath, to clean also the back teeth, and to go to the toilet before bed. Extras include familiar ‘dad’ jokes about putting right arm in, wrong arm into pyjamas. This is a lovely gentle depiction of a wonderful parent/child relationship and of the rituals of bedtime. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Time for Bed, Daddy, Dave Hackett
UQP 2015
ISBN: 9780702253812

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Mister Cassowary by Samantha Wheeler

I’d never been to Grandad Barney’s farm, even when he was alive. He’d grown bananas in the middle of woop woop, at a place in north Queensland.

‘Look, Dad! That sign says Mission Beach. We’re nearly there!’

We’d been driving for two days, travelling nearly 1,600 kilometres from Brisbane, and it felt like we were almost at the tip of Australia. I thought Dad would be happy we were getting close, but his face was growing darker with every passing kilometre.

I’d never been to Grandad Barney’s farm, even when he was alive. He’d grown bananas in the middle of woop woop, at a place in north Queensland.

‘Look, Dad! That sign says Mission Beach. We’re nearly there!’

We’d been driving for two days, travelling nearly 1,600 kilometres from Brisbane, and it felt like we were almost at the tip of Australia. I thought Dad would be happy we were getting close, but his face was growing darker with every passing kilometre.

Flynn and his dad travel to Flynn’s grandfather’s banana farm to prepare it for sale. Flynn has never met his grandfather, never been to his farm. No one will tell him why. Mum, left behind in Brisbane, asks Flynn to go easy on Dad. Flynn’s dad seems to get angrier every day, and no matter how many times Flynn asks, he won’t say why. This is cassowary country and their trip begins with a close encounter with a very tall cassowary. Flynn meets Abby, whose grandfather runs the local cassowary shelter. Day by day, he learns more about these endangered giant birds, his grandfather, and his father. But nothing comes easily. It’s hot and steamy and Flynn is about to explode with frustration.

Book Cover:  Mister CassowaryMister Cassowary is a junior novel set in tropical north Queensland. The title refers to the name of a particularly large cassowary that is legendary around Mission Beach. Flynn struggles to reconnect with his father, who works away at a mine and only comes home now and then. Travelling to the home where his father grew up seems to make things worse, rather than better. Dad is taciturn and full of rules that Flynn doesn’t understand. He doesn’t want Flynn to explore and he won’t tell him why. No matter what Flynn does, it seems to be wrong. But gradually, with the help (and hindrance) of Abby and her grandfather, and despite Dad’s silence, Flynn begins to fill in the spaces in his family history. ‘Mr Cassowary’ explores notions of family and conservation. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Mister Cassowary, Samantha Wheeler
UQP 2015 ISBN: 9780702253881

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

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.

A Curry for Murray, by Kate Hunter & Lucia Masciullo

A Curry for MurrayMolly made…
slippery duck pasta for her brother’s headmaster,
spit-roasted geese for the local police,
and Singapore noodles for the Montague poodles!

Molly likes her neighbours Maureen and Murray, so when Maureen goes to hospital, Molly decides to make a curry for Murray. Word soon gets out about her wonderful culinary skills, and soon Molly is cooking and baking for friends near and far. But in the midst of her cooking chaos, Molly hurts herself – and Mum says ‘enough’. Finally, when Maureen gets home from hospital, it is Molly’s turn to receive a food gift.

A Curry for Murray is a gorgeous new picture book with lots of food-based silliness in both text and illustrations. Alongside the fun aspect, there is also lots of information about food, with visual representations of the ingredients in each dish, and a lovely demonstration of community spirit. The food offerings, as well as rhyming with the recipient names, come from a range of different cuisines, and some of the food is sent to faraway places, offering lots of opportunities for discussion.

The watercolour and pencil illustrations have touches of whimsy and lots of detail for youngsters to explore. From the cover through to the endpapers, this is a beautiful book to own and engage with.

A Curry for Murray, by Kate Hunter & Lucia Masciullo
UQP, 2015
ISBN 9780702253546

Available from good bookstores and online.

Gap, by Rebecca Jessen

Looking on the streets

for the hangers-on

never know

who’s lurking round these parts

seen me leave his house

round the back

pale and sweaty

what have I done?

Ana is not a murderer, but she has killed a man. When you are young, trying desperately to survive and to protect your little sister, you will do almost anything. Now, though, the police are onto her, and her conscience is giving her no rest. As she tries desperately to see a way out of this mess for herself and for her sister, Indie, she finds an unlikely ally. Sawyer is a police officer, but Ana knew her before she was a cop, and reconnecting now forces Ana to confront her past, at the same time as she must confront her present. Perhaps she should just run from it all.

Gap is a gritty novel in verse for young adult and adult readers, set on the streets of Brisbane. Ana is a survivor, tough, independent and caring, but some things are to hard even for the toughest of teens. The use of the verse form gives us snapshots of moments of dark and light, reminiscent of film and,while the viewpoint character is the supposed criminal, there is still a sense that this a kind of detective novel, as readers are invited to piece together what has brought Ana to this point, and what the solution might be.

Winner of the Emerging Author category of the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards, Gap is a brilliant verse novel, honest and compelling.

 

Gap, by Rebecca Jessen
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702253201

Available from good bookstores and online.

Spud and Charli by Samantha Wheeler

‘Kill it!’

‘Quick! Make it die!’

The girl perched on the top bunk was practically emptying a whole can of fly spray into the corner of the room while three others stood watching, their backs pressed flat against the wall. By the looks on their faces, the monster receiving the blasts must have been nothing less than a spiny-legged cockroach – like the ones that lurked around our bin in the middle of the night.

Each of the girls took turns screaming instructions.

‘Here it comes!’

‘Spray it! SPRAY IT NOW!’

I peered inside the door. A tiny brown spider about the size of a ladybird was huddled helplessly in the corner, making a feeble attempt to hold out its front legs while being drowned in torrents of Mortein Fast Knockdown.

‘Kill it!’

‘Quick! Make it die!’

The girl perched on the top bunk was practically emptying a whole can of fly spray into the corner of the room while three others stood watching, their backs pressed flat against the wall. By the looks on their faces, the monster receiving the blasts must have been nothing less than a spiny-legged cockroach – like the ones that lurked around our bin in the middle of the night.

Each of the girls took turns screaming instructions.

‘Here it comes!’

‘Spray it! SPRAY IT NOW!’

I peered inside the door. A tiny brown spider about the size of a ladybird was huddled helplessly in the corner, making a feeble attempt to hold out its front legs while being drowned in torrents of Mortein Fast Knockdown.

Charli is excited to be at riding camp, where she will finally learn to ride. And then, it’s just a short jump to owning her own horse. Well that’s what she hopes. But from the minute she arrives, things are not quite as she imagines. Firstly, she’s sharing a room with the snobbish Mikaela. Not her choice, but she’s already rejected the other options. Then she’s beaten to choosing the beautiful palomino and nothing, it seems, will convince Mikaela to swap. Charli is stuck with the massive retired racehorse Spud. This is not how it worked in her dreams. And as if this isn’t enough, there are bats. According to Charli’s research, bats and horses are a recipe for disaster.

Spud and Charliis perfect for horse-loving preteens. Jam-packed with horse details from grooming to saddles, to riding terms, they’ll eat it up. Charli discovers that Spud is not as scary as he at first appears, and before too long, she is smitten. Along the way, Charli learns the difference between dreams and reality, making good and bad decisions and why it makes sense to gather all information before judging others. Despite some hasty decisions, Charli’s good sense and caring nature shines through although she has to learn some lessons the hard way. Recommended for mid-primary readers, particularly horse fans.

 

Spud and Charli

Spud and Charli, Samantha Wheeler UQP 2014 ISBN: 9780702250187

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

My Nanna is a Ninja, by Damon Young & Peter Carnavas

Some nannas dress in pink
when they jog around the track.
But my nanna is a ninja…
so she dresses up in black.

All nannas are different, but when your nanna is a ninja, she does super different things, like juggling ninja stars and eating with swords. Still, even a ninja nanna can do ‘normal’ grandmother things like kissing a grandchild goodnight, though she might do it very quietly.

My Nanna is a Ninja is a humour-filled picture book in rhyme, celebrating difference, the grandparent-grandchild relationship and, of course, ninjas. The text flows freely, and the humour of Nanna’s actions will amuse. The illustrations, in ink and watercolour have all the whimsy we’ve come to expect from Peter Carnavas, an the use of sepia washed frames to show the things Nanna does when the child isn’t present is a clever technique.

In hardcover with a gorgeous bright yellow cover, My Nanna is a Ninja is a celebration of non-conventional grandparents.

 

My Nanna is a Ninja, by Damon Young & Peter Carnavas
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702250095

Available from good bookstores and online.