Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre, by Pamela Freeman and Liz Anelli

Far up north, clouds are gathering: thunderheads and rain clouds.
Rain falls.
Rivers fill and break their banks,
And water swirls and roars down the empty riverbeds towards the lake.

Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre – is a dry salt lake in the centre of Australia. But once roughly every ten years heavy rains to the north fill the lake with water, awakening frogs and shrimp. carrying fish down creek beds, giving new life to parched plants, and bringing birds, including pelicans and ducks, to the lake to breed, feed and flourish. When the lake starts to dry out again the birds and their new young fly away and the other life returns to dormancy waiting for the next flood.

Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre is a beautiful non-fiction book which brings the changing lake to lif through the combination of well-written text and stunning mixed media illustrations. The narrative text is complemented on each spread by the inclusion of facts, presented in a different font so that readers can read the story and facts separately, if desired. The illustrations show the diversity of the lake’s inhabitants and the lake itself through contrasts between the ochres and browns of the dry, and the greens and blues of the wet.

Par of the Nature Storybook series, Desert Lake is excellent both as an educational tool and for prib=vate enjoyment.

Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda – Lake Eyre, by Pamela Freeman & Liz Anelli
Walker Books, 2016
ISBN 9781921529436

Yong, by Janeen Brian

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
ISBN 9781925126297

Magrit by Lee Battersby

One rainy spring night when she was nearly ten years old, a girl named Magrit climbed onto the roof of the chapel at the centre of the octagonal cemetery that was her home. She nestled herself against a tall, skeletal figure that gazed out across the grounds like an ancient guardian. Together, they bathed in the light that shimmered through the curtains of the surrounding buildings.

One rainy spring night when she was nearly ten years old, a girl named Magrit climbed onto the roof of the chapel at the centre of the octagonal cemetery that was her home. She nestled herself against a tall, skeletal figure that gazed out across the grounds like an ancient guardian. Together, they bathed in the light that shimmered through the curtains of the surrounding buildings.

Magrit, a nearly ten-year-old girl, lives in a tiny cemetery. Her only company is Master Puppet, whose words speak directly into her mind. She is mostly content, even if sometimes she and Master Puppet do not agree. Before a stork drops a bundle into the cemetery, her life is one of leisure, if sometimes unexciting. But the arrival of the bundle alters her life, fills it with activity and causes the biggest disagreement with Master Puppet. Her life will never be the same. Text is interspersed with black and white illustrations, and wrapped in cloth binding.

Magritis a beautiful book, from the dark purple binding with stylised illustrations on cover and internally. Magrit, the main character, is a grounded, thoughtful character, guided by internal wisdom from Master Puppet. Her world is turned upside down by the appearance of the bundle, but she adapts to this change as she has adapted to being trapped within the cemetery. She continues despite the warnings from Master Puppet, making her own decisions and growing towards the both surprising and inevitable conclusion. Themes include resilience, responsibility and independence, wrapped up in a suspenseful and fantastical mystery. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Magrit, Lee Battersby
Walker Books 2016
ISBN: 9781925081343

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Chook Doolan: Rules are Rules by James Roy ill Lucinda Gifford

Hi. My name is Simon, but you can call me Chook.

Almost everyone does.

This is me with my family. We’re the Doolans.

I’m the small, scared-looking Doolan on the end.

Hi. My name is Simon, but you can call me Chook.

Almost everyone does.

This is me with my family. We’re the Doolans.

I’m the small, scared-looking Doolan on the end.

Chook Doolan would like to be braver. When his brother, Ricky, is sick, Mum is looking after him, and Dad is late for work, he realises he is going to have to walk to school alone. He’s not sure he’s brave enough. Dad tells him The Rule. Chook sets out determined to do exactly what Dad says. It’s harder than he thinks. He makes it to school without letting his fear overwhelm him, but now he has another problem – actually more than one. Each opening includes large font text and black and white illustrations.

‘Chook Doolan’ is a new first chapter book series from Walker Books Australia, featuring a young boy who is learning how to navigate his world. In Rules are Rules he thinks that adhering to his father’s ‘rule’ will help him stay safe on the way to school. He also discovers more about the community in which he lives. A realistic story for young readers making the transition from fully illustrated books to chapter books. Recommended for early-primary.

Chook Doolan:Rules are Rules , James Roy ill Lucinda Gifford
Walker Books 2016
ISBN: 9781922244932

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Chook Doolan: The Newest Pet by James Roy ill Lucinda Gifford

Hi. My name is Simon Doolan, but most people call me Chook, which is another name for a chicken.

And that’s what I am.

I’m a chicken.

I’m not a real chicken – don’t be silly. I’m just a boy. A not-very-brave boy.

Hi. My name is Simon Doolan, but most people call me Chook, which is another name for a chicken.

And that’s what I am.

I’m a chicken.

I’m not a real chicken – don’t be silly. I’m just a boy. A not-very-brave boy.

Chook Doolan is a not-very-brave boy, navigating a world that feels very big and a little scary. But he’s making friends and enjoying school. When his teacher, Ms Rashid, announces a ‘Bring your pet to school day, he discovers that his apparently fearless friend, Joe doesn’t have a pet to bring. Chook puts aside his own worries and decides to help Joe find a pet to take to school. But finding a pet for someone else isn’t easy. Text is presented in a large font with black and white illustrations on most openings.

Chook Doolan: The Newest Pet is a new first chapter book series from Walker Books Australia. Chook would like to be braver, like his friend, Joe. Joe is about the bravest boy he knows. But when Pet Day is announced, it’s Chook’s turn to help Joe. These realistic and contemporary stories have short chapters and are ideal for young readers making the transition from fully illustrated books to chapter books. Recommended for early-primary readers.

Chook Doolan: The Newest Pet, James Roy ill Lucinda Gifford
Walker Books 2016 ISBN: 9781922244949

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Reflection, by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg & Robin Cowcher

Left! Left! Left! Right! Left!
We make our way in the dark.

Early in the morning – before dawn – a family makes its way to a memorial service, standing together to remember the fallen. With the other people who gather they remember, through words, through silence, and through the last post, men and women who have died in combat.

Reflection , a picture book, was released in time for this year’s ANZAC Day, equally serves to explore other such ceremonies, including Remembrance Day. The text , just a sentence per spread, observes simply what happens at such a ceremony. However, the illustrations add an extra dimension – with one page in each spread showing what is happening in the contemporary ceremony, and the other page showing scenes of war. So, for example, in the first spread, as the modern family males their way through the dark, so do the soldiers of old. The modern illustrations use gentle colours, while the scenes of war use khakis and sepia tones. Background washes of grey skies span both scenes, linking them. In the final spread there are a mix of coloured and grey figures walking together, suggesting that the departed are marching with the living. Back of books notes highlight the conflicts Australian and New Zealand forces have served in, from the Boer War to Afghanistan in the present.

A beautiful, haunting book suitable both for classroom use and private reading.

Reflection: Remembering Those Who Serve in War, by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg & Robin Cowcher
Walker Books, 2016
ISBN 9781922179050

 

Teacher’s notes are available here.

Little Lunch: Triple the Treats, by Danny Katz & Mitch Vane

Rory ran all the way to the school gate and pressed his face against the wire fence so hard he got crisscross marks on his nose.
He was about to do the unthinkable, he was ready to do the impossible. Rory was about to go …
Out of bounds.

Rory is always forgetting his playlunch, and nobody has any food to share with him – so he has a great idea. He’ll sneak over to the shop and get some hot chips. Not everybody agrees that it’s a good plan – and if Mrs Gonsha finds out he’ll be in big trouble!

The Milk Bar is one of three funny stories that make up Little Lunch: Triple the Treats . The Little Lunch stories have amused young readers for several years, but now they have also been made into a television series and the stories in Triple the Treats are based on episodes of the show.

The stories are humorous, fast moving (each takes place within a single recess break) and well woven, with the characters both diverse and likeable. Black and white illustrations by Mitch Vane are complemented by still photos from the television series.

Lots of fun.

Triple the Treats , by Danny Katz and Mitch Vane
Black Dog Books, 2016
ISBN 9781925126907

Reflection by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg ill Robin Cowcher

Left! Left! Right! Left!

We make our way in the dark.

Left! Left! Right! Left!

We make our way in the dark.

A family are up early to attend the Anzac Day March. They leave the house in the predawn in windy wet weather. One side of each opening shows the family and the other shows an image of soldiers at war. ‘Reflection’ begins with World War I and ends with the ongoing Afghanistan conflict and the Iraq War. The text on each opening applies equally to the family and to the soldiers/conflicts portrayed. Illustrations are watercolour and ink set on biscuit-pale pages.

Most picture books on remembering war focus on a single conflict, but Reflection offers a broader view of the conflicts that Australians have been part of. Soldiers, uniforms, weapons, mourners and geography change but devastation, death and suffering links them all. Reflection offers an opportunity to remember all those affected by war, but also portrays the changing face of Australia, of the world.

Reflection allows parents, carers, teachers and others to introduce the unfathomability of war through the eyes of a family. The iconic Flanders poppy red is used throughout, providing a visual link between the wars but also connecting it to the young family. ‘Reflection’ is a succinctly worded, beautifully illustrated collection of memories and remembrances. Ideal for primary-aged readers.

Reflection: Remembering Those Who Serve in War, Rebecka Sharp Shelberg ill Robin Cowcher

Walker Books 2016

ISBN: 9781922179050

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Lily the Elf: The Wishing Seed & The Elf Flute, by Anna Brandford, illustrated by Lisa Coutts

The Wishing Seed (Lily the Elf)
Lily hugs the seed tightly. Then she whispers into the fluff.
Lovely dandelion seed
(not a pest and not a weed),
grant my wish
with super-speed,
a princess crown
is what I need!

Lily’s dress up crown is broken and tattered. She dreams of having a sparkly, unbroken princess crown. So, when a dandelion wish seed floats by, she knows what to do. She makes the wish and waits impatiently for it to come true. But nothing happens. Her wise dad and granny tell her that sometimes fixing things is better than wishing things, but Lily isn’t convinced – until both adults help her to fix her crown into something very special.

The Elf Flute (Lily the Elf)
First, she holds the flute sideways. Next, she wiggles her fingers over the holes. Then she blows over the big hole at the top.
She waits for lovely music to fill the room. But there is only a whiffling sound.

When Lily is given a brand new elf flute, she decides she will play it at the Grand Elf Concert, rather than recite the poem she has written. But learning to play the flute is harder than she thought. Will she master it in time for the concert?

The Wishing Seed and The Elf Flute are two new titles in the delightful Lily the Elf series. Each self-contained chapter book features Lily and her family – her father and her granny. Lily tackles problems which are a charming blend of elfish and human problems – wanting or wishing for something, mastering a new skill, appreciating individual talents and so on.

Black and white illustrations on most spreads, simple sentence structures and large font make these titles suitable for emergent readers, but accessibility has not compromised the story quality.

A lovely pair.

The Wishing Seed (ISBN 9781925081060)
The Elf Flute (ISBN 9781925081077)
both by Anna Brandford & Lisa Coutts (ill)
Walker Books, 2015

Atmospheric: The Burning Question of Climate Change, by Carole Wilkinson

Sofia started going on about how climate change will, you know, end the world, how everyone should be doing something. I don’t know what. How the atmosphere is full of greenhouse gases. I looked up at the blue sky. It looked all right to me. Vasily was listening to her, nodding.
Sofia finished and people cheered. Vasily clapped. Someone else stepped up to give a speech. Sofia was still chained to the column. Three policemen walked over to her with a pair of boltcutters. A news crew was making its way through the crowd.
‘Won’t she get arrested?’ I said.
‘Yes.’
I looked at the pamphlet. Obviously this was something she thought worth getting arrested for.

Everyone has heard of climate change – or should have. But though it is widely accepted that this problem is massive and affects both our present and our future, the concept can be difficult to grasp, as can the idea that everyone can to make a difference (and should be tryin to do so).

Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change provides an excellent insight into what climate change is, and how humans’ actions now and back through history have changed the climate, with devastating impact.

Chapters explaining the science of climate change, the effects of pollution, excessive consumption, agriculture and more are interwoven with fictionlaised first person accounts of teens present at key moments or witnessing the impact of changes over history. There are also text boxes with brief biographies of key figures in science and technology. The text is accessible but very direct both about how we find ourselves in our current predicament, and what we need to do about it.

This is both an excellent educative tool, and inspirational,  and will leave readers better informed and keen to make a difference.

Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change , by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2015
ISBN 9781925126372