Wombat Warriors by Samantha Wheeler

‘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
www.clairesaxby.com

Too Many Friends, by Kathryn Apel

I like my friends.
I like to be with ALL of my friends.
But sometimes my friends
aren’t friendly with
each other.

Tahnee has lots of friends, and she likes to do different things with them. But it isn’t easy having so many friends – some of her friends don’t like each other, or like doing different things, so it gets hard to be a good friend to everyone. Luckily, Tahnee has a big heart, and wise, loving support from her parents and her teacher, Miss Darling.

Too Many Friends is a delightful, warm-hearted verse novel about friendship. Like most classrooms, Tahnee’s year two class is populated by kids with a range of interests, problems and personalities. Miss Darling is energetic, enthusiastic and loves her job. Tahnee loves Miss Darling and she loves school, but she finds it hard to know how to keep her friends happy, and still do the things she loves, and when one of her friends stops talking to her, she needs to figure out what to do. Her solution is lovely.

This is Kat Apel’s third verse novel, and shows the same tender touch as her previous work.

Lovely.

Too Many Friends, by Kat Apel
QUP, 2017
ISBN 9780702259760

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair and A Place Like This, by Steven Herrick

I’m a normal guy.
An average sixteen-year-old.
I think about sex, sport and nose hair.
Sex mostly.
How to do it,
how to get someone to do it with me,
who I should ask for advice.

Jack is a pretty average sixteen year old boy. He worries about sport and nose hair, and how to get a girl. But not just any girl: Annabel. He also talks to a ghost: the ghost of his mother, who died seven years ago. As he gets closer to Annabel, he wonders whether it’s time to let his mother go.

First published in 1996, Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair is a classic verse novel for young adult readers. Exploring themes of first love, bereavement and family, as well as teens coming of age, in the honest verse form for which Herrick is known. With Jack as the main viewpoint character, there are also poems from the point of view of his father, his sister Desiree and his girlfriend Annabel, just one of the facets which makes the verse novel form special. Readers are taken inside the head of these different characters with an intimacy which the verse novel form especially facilitates.

This intimacy is also seen in A Place Like This, first published in 1998 and picking up on the story of Jack and Annabel two years later. Having finished school and both successfully got places at university, the pair instead decide to take a year off to work and travel. But, closer to home than they had planned, they find themselves picking apples on a farm where another teen, Emma, is struggling with a pregnancy and her uncertain future.

This classic pair of verse novels from Australia’s finest verse novelist for young adults has been republished  by UQP,  meaning they are now easily available for a new audience, and for teens who have grown up with some of Herrick’s work for younger readers.

Love, Ghosts & Nose Hair, ISBN 9780702228780
A Place like This ISBN 9780702229848
Both by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2017

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.