Chook Doolan: The Tiny Guitar by James Roy ill Lucinda Gifford

Hi. I’m Chook. But that’s not the name my mum and dad gave me. They called me Simon. But once, when I was little, someone called me a chicken.

Then I was a chook.

Then I was just ‘Chook’.

Chook Doolan.

Hi. I’m Chook. But that’s not the name my mum and dad gave me. They called me Simon. But once, when I was little, someone called me a chicken.

Then I was a chook.

Then I was just ‘Chook’.

Chook Doolan.

Chook Doolan is a young boy who lives with his family and attends the local primary school. He worries about just about everything. He also notices all the places, all the people, all the happenings in his community. So when he is given a ukelele he’s keen to show busker friend, Eddie Two-hats. But when Chook reaches Eddie’s normal spot in the shopping street, keen to enlist Eddie’s help with ukelele-playing, his friend is not there. Chook knows that Eddie needs to busk to earn money for food, and that someone else will soon take his corner if Eddie doesn’t return. So Chook decides, despite his worries, that he will teach himself to play, and protect Eddie’s corner. Illustrations appear on every opening, with large and hypersize text and short chapters.

‘Chook Doolan’ is a new first chapter book series for young readers transitioning from fully-illustrated texts to chapter books. Chook is an engaging character who pushes through his worries, to help out his friend. He’s an observant, friendly and practical boy with well-developed problem-solving skills. That’s not to say that he is an island. He has a supportive network around him, in friends and family, ready to help as necessary, if necessary. Chook might have worries, he might not be the loudest boy in the world, but he demonstrates clear-thinking, empathy and is wonderfully grounded. Recommended for early-primary readers.

Chook Doolan: the Tiny Guitar , James Roy ill Lucinda Gifford
Walker Books Australia 2016
ISBN: 9781922244963

Chook Doolan Saves the Day by James Roy ill Lucinda Gifford

Hi. I’m Chook, and you’re not.

This is my family. We’re the Doolans.

I’m the little one on the end.

No, the other end.

My mum and dad call me Simon, because that’s my name. Simon Doolan.Some of the kids at school have a different name for me.

They call me Chook.

Hi. I’m Chook, and you’re not.

This is my family. We’re the Doolans.

I’m the little one on the end.

No, the other end.

My mum and dad call me Simon, because that’s my name. Simon Doolan.Some of the kids at school have a different name for me.

They call me Chook.

Chook Doolan is a slightly anxious young boy who worries about many aspects of his life, at home and at school. At school lots of people play soccer, including his friend Joe. But the thought of being on the same football ground as Ashton Findus, Marty Petrovic and a ball fills him with fear. And he’s sure he’s no good at it. His big brother Ricky and friend Joe try to share their love of the game by teaching some of the rules and skills. Perhaps there’s a place for Chook after all. Illustrations appear on every opening. Text is large and includes hypersize words. Chapters are short.

‘Chook Doolan’ is a new series of short chapter books for the newly independent reader in transition from fully illustrated books to chapter books. Chook is a realistic character set in a contemporary setting familiar to many young readers. His anxieties too will resonate with young readers. Chook is a keen observer of his world, and while he worries about things, he does not let them stop him from trying new experiences. Recommended for newly independent readers in the early years of school.

Chook Doolan Saves the Day , James Roy ill Lucinda Gifford
Walker Books Australia 2016 ISBN: 9781922244956

My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen ill James Foley

My dead bunny’s name is Brad;

His odour is extremely bad.

He visits me when I’m in bed,

But Bradley wasn’t always dead …

My dead bunny’s name is Brad;

His odour is extremely bad.

He visits me when I’m in bed,

But Bradley wasn’t always dead …

A boy’s pet rabbit dies in an unfortunate accident and although sad, he buries his pet and thinks that’s the end of Brad the bunny. Not so, Brad returns as a foul-smelling, terror-inducing zombie. His eyes are pink, his fur green, his whiskers crinkled and a worm sprouting from his head. And it seems there is no escaping Bradley. Bradley sends the boy’s sister mad and chases the family from the house. The boy devises a solution, but it may not be the end, it may be the beginning … Illustrations are mostly black and white and a puky-green.

My Dead Bunny is not for little children. If the colours and format don’t cue that, then the terror on the boy’s face should. It’s a small format picture book half-way between gift and classic picture book size. But for children who like a bit of subversion with their reading, My Dead Bunny is spot-on. Full of horror-movie angles and deadpan rhyming text, it will have young and old alike cackling. Hilarious! But don’t give it to your toddler unless you fancy dealing with nightmares. Recommended for zombie-fans of all ages.

My Dead Bunny, Sigi Cohen ill James Foley
  Walker Books Australia 2015
ISBN: 9781922179593

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Sad, The Dog by Sandy Fussell, ill Tull Suwannakit

Mr and Mrs Cripps owned a little dog,

an unwanted Christmas present from a friend.

They fed the dog, and washed him,

even cleaned inside his ears.

But they didn’t give him a name.

Mr and Mrs Cripps owned a little dog,

an unwanted Christmas present from a friend.

They fed the dog, and washed him,

even cleaned inside his ears.

But they didn’t give him a name.

Sad ‘s owners, Mr and Mrs Cripps, feed him and wash him, but they certainly don’t love him. They disapprove of almost all his behaviours, until he is too sad to do anything much at all. When his owners move out and leave him behind, he is so lonely he howls. Then new owners move in and Sad is not sure how to interact with them or their boy, Jack. Jack, however, is happy to include Sad in everything he does, to love and to play with him. Under Jack’s care, Sad abandons his old name, his old life and happily accepts a new one. Watercolour illustrations fill every spread and depict the Cripps with sad, pinched faces. In contrast, Jack and his parents are constantly smiling. Spreads are full of tiny details for young readers to discover.

Sad, the Dog is a lovely story, sensitively told, beautifully illustrated about a dog and his family, and the power of love. Sad’s life is very limited with the Cripps. They are not cruel, but they are really not interested in having a pet. And Sad knows it. He is wary of the newcomers, having known only functional not emotional care. But he is soon won over by the simple love and care and companionship Jack and his family offer. Readers will boo the Cripps’ and cheer Jack as ‘Sad’ becomes ‘Lucky’. Highly recommended for pre- and early schoolers, and junior year levels.

Sad, the Dog, Sandy Fussell ill Tull Suwannakit
Walker Books Australia, 2015
ISBN: 9781921529641

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Little Lunch: The Off-Limits Fence by Danny Katz ill Mitch Vane

Amba was sitting beside Battie on the bench that goes in a circle around the big old tree. She said, ‘Hey Battie, did you hear what happened this morning?’

Battie was chewing on a chewy muesli bar. He had to take a big chewy blob out of his mouth and hold it in his hand so he could talk.

‘No, Amba, what happened this morning?’

‘Well,’ said Amba, ‘Max and Elsa had to go home from school early. Their dad came and picked them up from the front office and nobody knows why.’

Amba was sitting beside Battie on the bench that goes in a circle around the big old tree. She said, ‘Hey Battie, did you hear what happened this morning?’

Battie was chewing on a chewy muesli bar. He had to take a big chewy blob out of his mouth and hold it in his hand so he could talk.

‘No, Amba, what happened this morning?’

‘Well,’ said Amba, ‘Max and Elsa had to go home from school early. Their dad came and picked them up from the front office and nobody knows why.

Set in a primary school, ‘Little Lunch: The Off-Limits Fence’ is a collection of three short stories. In the first, ‘The Bench that goes in a Circle around the Big Tree’ offers a ‘Telegraph’ story about why two of their friends, Elsa and Max had to go home early. The explanations become wilder and wilder until someone realises they actually know the real story. It doesn’t stop the rumours though. The second story ‘The Equipment Shed’ offers a look at the opportunities offered by free play and the third ‘The Off-Limits Fence’ is narrated and acted out by a single child playing all sides of his football game, including that of the umpire. Black and white illustrations appear on every opening. There is a contents page and named character images.

The Off-Limits Fence is hilarious! Each story is entirely believable while being totally wild. It’s as if Katz and Vane peeked through a hole in a fence at a primary school. Every teacher, every parent, everyone who has ever had a chance to observe children at play will recognise the truth of these stories. Each story is short but rich in detail (including the gross bits). Readers of all ages will chuckle at the absurdity of the observations and language. Recommended for newly independent readers and anyone wanting a chuckle.

Little Lunch: The Off-Limits Fence, Danny Katz ill Mitch Vane
Black Dog Books 2015 ISBN: 9781742032375

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

The River and the Book by Alison Croggon

I am not a storyteller, so I don’t know how to begin. When I think of Blind Harim the Storyteller, my courage wavers. Harim’s voice enters your blood like a drug, bringing visions and strange dreams. He attracts crowds of people who bring mats and sit around him in rows, their faces upraised like flowers. The men roll cigarettes of dark tobacco and smoke them as they gaze at the ground, their harsh faces suddenly gentle, and the women bring bags of sugared almonds and pop them into the mouths of small children, to keep them quiet. …

I am not a story teller like Harim, but my story burns inside me, wanting to be told, and I have decided to write it down. I am sitting in my kitchen at my table. It is evening, and the moths are fluttering around the room, bumping into my lamp. Mely is fast asleep on the other chair. I like the noise th pen makes as it scratches across the paper. It is very peaceful. It feels like a proper time to begin.

This is the story of the River and the Book, but it is my story too.

I am not a storyteller, so I don’t know how to begin. When I think of Blind Harim the Storyteller, my courage wavers. Harim’s voice enters your blood like a drug, bringing visions and strange dreams. He attracts crowds of people who bring mats and sit around him in rows, their faces upraised like flowers. The men roll cigarettes of dark tobacco and smoke them as they gaze at the ground, their harsh faces suddenly gentle, and the women bring bags of sugared almonds and pop them into the mouths of small children, to keep them quiet. …

I am not a story teller like Harim, but my story burns inside me, wanting to be told, and I have decided to write it down. I am sitting in my kitchen at my table. It is evening, and the moths are fluttering around the room, bumping into my lamp. Mely is fast asleep on the other chair. I like the noise th pen makes as it scratches across the paper. It is very peaceful. It feels like a proper time to begin.

This is the story of the River and the Book, but it is my story too.

Simbala is born into a small village by a river. The village relies on the river for transport and for fish and even for the soils brought by floods. But the river is shrinking and it no longer provides as it once did. Simbala’s family are the keepers of the Book. Her ancestors have looked to the Book to provide answers to whatever questions are asked. And the Book answers. Now it is Simbala’s turn to learn to read the Book. It is she who is there when the stranger comes.

The River and the Book is a lyrical tale of life, and of change. Although Simbala can read the answers in the Book, she doesn’t always understand the answers it offers. Her village must change now that the river is poisoned, and she too must change if she is to understand what is meant to be. At once philosophical and literal, Simbala’s story offers cultural and environmental truths that we ignore at our peril. This is a short novel, rich in imagery and language. Recommended for mature readers.

The River and the Book, Alison Croggon

Walker Books Australia 2015 ISBN: 9781925081725

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Verity Sparks, Lost and Found by Susan Green

The Dream.

I was looking for something.

But what was it? Mist swirled around me and I could see only as far as my outstretched hands. Grey shapes – were they trees or rocks? – loomed up and then vanished as I ran past. My ribs ached and my breath came in ragged gasps, but I couldn’t stop. I had to find it.

I looked down at my fingers, willing them to itch or tingle, to give me a sign, to show me what I was searching for. But they were just ten ordinary digits, like everyone else’s. How could I find it if I’d lost my gift?’

The Dream.

I was looking for something.

But what was it? Mist swirled around me and I could see only as far as my outstretched hands. Grey shapes – were they trees or rocks? – loomed up and then vanished as I ran past. My ribs ached and my breath came in ragged gasps, but I couldn’t stop. I had to find it.

I looked down at my fingers, willing them to itch or tingle, to give me a sign, to show me what I was searching for. But they were just ten ordinary digits, like everyone else’s. How could I find it if I’d lost my gift?’

Verity has found her father, and moved from 1879 England to the much younger city of Melbourne. It’s a very different life to her early years when she was apprenticed to a milliner and struggling to keep her job and make a living. Her re-found father wishes to give her every advantage and send her to an exclusive boarding school. She finds mystery there, despite the apparently loss of her finger-tingling ability to find lost things. In this case, it’s a ‘who’ rather than a ‘what’ that is lost. The action moves from Melbourne into the hills of Mt Macedon, as Verity and her friends seek answers. But it’s difficult to tell sometimes who to trust. Verity also discovers that not everyone has been as lucky in life as she has, and that help means different things to different people.

Lost and Found is the second Verity Sparks mystery adventure. The first, ‘The Truth about Verity Sparks’, is set in working class London in the second half of the 19th century. This second mystery adventure introduces many new characters in this next stage of her life. And her life is very different, not just because she is half-way around the world in colonial Australia. But Verity is the same, and mystery finds her. There are clues to be followed, mysteries to be solved. Woven through this adventure are titbits of history and place, giving life to another time. As in ‘The Truth about Verity Sparks’ there are villains and heroes, although it’s not always clear initially which are which. Themes include trust, hope, family and friendship. An entertaining adventure mystery rich with historical curiosities. Recommended for middle-primary readers.

 

Verity Sparks, Lost and Found, Susan Green Walker Books Australia 2013 ISBN: 9781921977886

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

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

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores or online.