This picture book combines two of Australia’s best-known names in picture books – author Maragret Wild and illustrator Ron Brooks. In the four years since it was first published it has assumed classic status as a truly memorable and great example of the picture book form.
The fable like story tells of an unusual friendship between a dog and a magpie. Magpie’s wing is injured in a fire and she can no longer fly. She is looked after by Dog, who wills her to get better. He is blind in one eye. He puts Magpie on his back and runs with her. Magpie tells Dog that he can be her wings and she will be his missing eye. The friendship continues until a Fox arrives. Seeing the pair cosily together, he conspires to part them. He cajoles Magpie to come with him. He can run faster than Dog and Magpie will love the feeling of really flying on Fox’s back. When Magpie finally agrees, Fox abandons her in the desert, telling her that now she and Dog will learn what it is like to be truly alone. The story ends with Magpie, regretting her abandonment of Dog, beginning the slow journey back to her friend.
This is a story which grips the reader. The temptation of the fox and his leading Magpie into the desert has a biblical quality, and the seemingly sad ending still rings with the courage of the flightless Magpie hopping towards home across the desert.
Brooks’ illustrations and hand-lettering add to the myth-like feel of the story. This print, the use of collage and the reds and ochres prevalent in the book all combine to create an illusion of age, as if this a story created long ago and perhaps drawn on ancient parchment or etched on a cave wall. The dark colours of the illustrations also reflect the serious tone of the tale.
With this tone, Fox may not make for fun bedtime reading, but it is an outstanding book which kids will be drawn to and which will encourage discussion about friendship, loyalty and betrayal. It would also make an excellent classroom text for literature study and visual literacy lessons.
Fox, by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks
Allen & Unwin, First Published 2000, new edition 2004
Ben Cross has been orphaned by the smallpox epdiemic and he has come to live with his brutal uncle, who beats and abuses him. So when his mate Thommo suggests they run away and join the bushranger Thunderbolt, Ben feels he has nothing to lose.
For the next two years Ben travels with Thunderbolt’s gang and family. He befirends Thunderbolt’s wife, Mary and their two small children, helping with the chores of cooking and providing for the campsite. He acts as cockatoo (lookout) for the gang when they conduct their raids and hold-ups. At the same time, Ben experiences the highs and lows of the bushranging life. He sees his mate Thommo killed by a trooper during a shoot out, lives with the threat of being caught and imprisoned, and learns about friendship and loyalty.
Riding With Thunderbolt is part of the My Story series from Scholastic and, as such, is written in diary format in the voice of young Ben. Readers aged 10 and over will be drawn into the tale by this first person narrative which enables the author not to impose an opinion of the bushranger lifestyle, but rather to show its impact on one young life.
A good solid read from a reliable author.
My Story: Riding With Thunderbolt – the Diary of Ben Cross, by Allan Baillie
Reviewed by Alex Marshall
This is a novel that sneaks up on you. The narrator is a freelance journalist who takes up a position as a speechwriter for a large banking organisation in order to afford the medical costs for her ill husband.
She hates her job, she hates the people she works for, believing that they are all parasites, and that nothing that she writes as a speechwriter has the least significance whatsoever. She has no life outside of of work, spending all of her free time caring for her husband, dying slowly from alzheimers disease. In short, she is in hell.
So what is the moral hazard of the novel’s title? It is the fear that pervades this book that the heroine of the story will become somehow complicit in this world that she hates, that she will somehow become a creature of this world, and lose her dignity as a human being.
She herself is not a particularly likable character. She has a kind of small ‘l’ liberal complaint against capitalism, while at the same time she is fixated by its apparent power, that appears in this novel almost omnipotent. She claims to be a radical, to have a knowledge of Marxism, yet she has been ground down by life, by her duty as a wife and as a citizen. Her closest friend, a colleague at work, she considers to be a terrible hypocrite, railing against the system while at the same time becoming very rich from its spoils.
It is this bitterness that gives the novel its authentic voice. It also gives the heroine’s character a taste of defeat for a life that in many other ways is full of strength and resilience.
Moral Hazard, by Kate Jennings
Picador Australia, 2003
Alex Marshall is a freelance writer and reviewer. You can visit his webpage here.
Board books are popular with parents and youngsters alike. Their sturdy format, bright presentation and simple language make them perfect both for sharing sessions and individual exploration.
Scholastic Australia’s newest board book offering has an added dimension – tactile panels in each page.
There are four titles in the series, Cuddly Puppies, Furry Kittens, On the Farm and Little Ponies. Each includes five double page spreads with beautiful animal photography, one or two simple sentences and an invitation to touch the tactile insertion in one of the pictures. Children are invited to touch the furry mane of the pony, stroke the silky fur of the sheepdog, feel the kitten’s rough tongue and more. This provides an interactive element to the book which will keep youngsters turning pages and coming back to the books again and again.
Priced at just $7.95 (rrp) each, these little books are delightful.
Feels Real: Cuddly Puppies, Furry Kittens, Little Ponies and On the Farm
Scholastic Australia, 2004
Mum, Dad, Eenie, Meenie and Baby Mo live in the jungle in a tree that is just the right size for a family of five. But when Granny and Grandpa come to visit, suddenly the tree is not big enough any more. So begins a funny chain of events as the family move from tree to tree and more and more relatives come to stay. Each new arrival heralds the need for a new move to a tree with more room.
Youngsters will love the silliness of this cumulative story and will enjoy predicting what will happen next. The ending, which shows the extended family finding a whole clump of trees with branches that touch – allowing each smaller family unit their own tree – is not only satisfying in the context of the story, but also gently paralells the human world, where families can be close yet still give each other room.
The gouache illustrations of Sally Rippin are delightful, with the various monkeys coloured in rich blues, purples and reds, and each monkey uniquely defined. The backgrounds are also bright and the book’s cover, with crowded monkeys within a black frame is eye-catching.
Like all of Margaert Wild’s picture books, Too Many Monkeys is bound to be a success.
Too Many Monkeys, by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Sally Rippin
On the front porch lies a big old dog named Nemo:
A snoozing in the sun dog.
A dreaming of a bone dog.
A come and scratch my back dog.
But Nemo isn’t the only dog in the house. In fact there are dogs in every room of the house – dogs of all shapes and sizes. Just how many dogs are there?
This delightful counting book will have youngsters guessing, counting and eagerly turning pages. The rhythm of author Beverly Boorer’s text makes for a fun read-aloud, which parents and teachers will enjoy sharing with preschoolers.
The illustrations of award-winning artist Kilmeny Niland use bright pastels and a combination of whimsy and cute in a style which youngsters will love.
All round, a cute little number with the added bonus of helping youngsters learn to count.
How Many Dogs in the House, by Beverley Boorer, illustrated by Kilmeny Niland
Scholastic Press, 2004
Until now, Kolo has lived with his mother, safe within the koala colony. Now, though, his father tells him he must leave. There can be only one big male koala in the colony.
Out on his own, Kolo has difficulty finding a safe place to live. Much of his habitat has been destroyed, and he faces feral predators and other perils such as cars and bushfire. Finding food and shelter is his greatest challenge, but finding company his greatest desire, as he finds it is no fun being alone.
Koala Number One is a fictional story but, like all of the author’s books, is also very educational. Children are being given a glimpse of the threats faced by koalas as man encroaches on what was once koala territory. As well as facts and information scattered within the story, the final page of the book also presents relevant facts.
The illustrations of Heather Gall are a superb complement to the text of Jill Morris, with delightfully detailed depitctions of the koalas, the bush and more.
Koala Number One is suitable for ages 4 to 8 and, as an educational tool is appropriate even for upper primary aged students.
Koala Number One, by Jill Morris, illustrated by Heather Gall
Greater Glider, 2004
Trained as a doctor, George Ernest Morrison, better known as ‘Morrison of Peking’ was much more than a medico. As doctor, explorer, political advisor and – most famously – journalist, Morrison made his name in the world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Raised in Australia, Morison always hoped to do something great. At just 20 he walked alone and unaided from the Gulf of Carpenteria to Melbourne, retracing the steps of the less successful Burke and Wills only 21 years prior.
Having exposed the Australian Kanak slave trade through the Melbourne Age, after gainining employment on a slave ship, and subsequently attempting the first crossing of New Guinea, Morrison travelled to England where he first became a doctor and, later, a journalist.
Morrison’s greatest fame came from his time in Peking, as correspondent to London’s Times newspaper. His reports did more than just record the downfall of the Chinese dynasty – they actually shaped the course of events both in the Boxer rebellion and the subsequent birth of the Chinese Republic.
The Man Who Died Twice provides a detailed account of the travels, adventures and working life of this extraordinary Australian. Authors Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin have used Morrison’s diaries, correspondence and newspaper stories to piece together a detailed account of his life from his chidlhood through to his death at the age of 58.
This is a gripping read for fans of biography and students of history. Even fans of fiction will be intrigued by the experiences this one man managed to fit into his lifetime.
The Man Who Died Twice, by Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin
Allen & Unwin, 2004
A good short story is not just a shorter version of the novel. Rather, it is something fluid – which exists both before and after the written version, both for the characters and, importantly, the reader. Whether the story is contemporary or historic, science fiction or fantasy, it should have readers eagerly turning the page, caught up in both action and emotion. Then, when it is finished, it should leave the reader thinking.
The ten stories in Black Juice achieve these criteria with aplomb. Each story captivates, even as it has the reader squirming with its ruthlessness, its glimpse into deep and dark human nature. Author Margo Lanagan makes the short story form her own, using it to provide extraordinary perspectives and insights.
Each story is unique, but the commonality which binds is the deliberate use of settings and situations which are unfamiliar, yet contain stories which reveal many familiar truths of humankind.
Lanagan’s stories are sure to be used in literature classrooms, but are also likely to find many fans among adult readers, who will find themselves unable to put the volume down.
Black Juice, by Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, 2004
When Oddo meets a boy working on a neighbouring property, he is not impressed. The boy steals his grain beofre throwing things at him. But when Thora meets the same boy, Dungal, she sees something Oddo doesn’t. Dungal is not rude – rather, he is alone and very frightened. He has been captured by the Vikings and sold as a slave. All he wants is to get home to his family.
Thora decides she must help him to get back to Ireland, despite the obvious perils of such a journey. Although he is reluctant, Oddo too decides to take part in the mission to take Dungal home.
The three set out in a boat which is ill-equipped for such a journey, and must overcome many obstacles – including being shipwrecked, lost and being captured by rogue Vikings. Still more challenges lie in confronting their inner selves and secrets from their lives at home.
This is the third and final book in the Viking Magic series, and will not disappoint young fans who have read its predecessors. All the magic, the mystery and the adventure of Ciddor’s earlier tales are brought to life once more in a book which paints a rich portrait of the Viking World.
An excellent blend of historical fact and magical fantasy, sure to appeal to 10 to 13 year old readers.
Stormriders, by Anna Ciddor
Allen & Unwin, 2004