Ophelia's Fan, by Christine Balint

There is a buzz in the air that first night I am Ophelia, a palpable electricity that makes my arms tingle if I move them too quickly. And it is as though the angle of destiny is there, hovering over the stage where the curtains should be.

Born to actor parents, Harriet Smithson is raised by a Catholic priest before being forced to return to her family to begin a life on the stage, supporting her mother and younger siblings. After an unremarkable start in English theatres, she travels to France as a member of Charles Kemble’s English Theatre Troupe. It is here that she is lauded as a star, drawing packed houses with her performances as Shakesperean heroines.

It seems all of Paris comes under Harriet’s spell, but no one more so than the young composer Hector Berlioz, who pursues her ardently, despite her many attempts to dissuade him. Berlioz’s first symphony, Symphonie Fantastique, was inspired by his desperation over Harriet’s rejection.

This is a fictional novel, but it is based on the life of Harriet Smithson who was the woman who brought Shakespeare to Paris in the 1820s and who was known as Hector Berlioz’s muse. Christine Balint combines well-researched fact about the people and the times in which they lived, with the fictional creation of the story behind these characters. The story is told through a combination of first person narration, present and past tense, letters to Harriet’s son and the tales of various Shakespearean characters. The shift between these various forms is not distracting – rather it adds to the sense of movement and chaos that marks much of Harriet Smithson’s life.

A superb novel.

Ophelia’s Fan, by Christine Balint
Allen & Unwin, 2004

The Ultimate Deltora Quiz Book, by Tamelas

King Alton of Deltora had a son. Who was this?
How do Grade One Ols always travel?
Who were Berry, Lewin and Jay?

The Deltora Quest series are amongst the most popular children’s fantasy titles in Australia and overseas. Now young fans can test their knowledge of the entire series with The Authorised Ultimate Deltora Quiz Book. With questions for each book from Deltora Quest 1 and 2 and for the first two books in Deltora Quest 3 (there are more titles still to come), as well as for the Delotora Book of Monsters and some questions which cover the whole series, there are over 1000 questions sure to test even the best-read fan. The arrangement of questions in chronological order encourages readers to reread the books or, if they’ve not yet read them, to read each book before attempting the questions.

This would make an excellent addition to a school library and, where the books are being read in class, would be fine for classroom use.

The Authorised Deltora Quiz Book, by Tamelas
Scholastic Press, 2004

Wicked Fun 4 Kids – Games for the Brain, by Kate Booker

What has teeth but never eats?
When does Friday come before Thursday?
Which nut has a hole in the middle of it?

These are some of the easier riddles in this fun new offering from ABC Books. The 94 pages of this little book are packed with riddles, quizzes, trivia, word teasers and more, guaranteed to keep kids (and adults) guessing.

The challenges are organised into difficulty levels, with Easy Fun followed by Medium Fun and, ultimately, Wicked Fun. Each section is followed by answers and sprinkled with jokes and fun illustrations.

Kate Booker is the creator of the immensely popular wicked4kids website, which is visted by 30 000 children every week. The brain games in the book come from contributions sent to the website from all over the world.

This is a great offering for kids aged eight and over and would make a good gift.

Wicked Fun4Kids: Games for the Brain, by Kate Booker
ABC Books, 2004

Tree of Angels, by Penny Sumner

They were all watching, everyone in the room. Young women who’d been friends…slid their eyes over Nina now. She was pitied and despised. She’d seen a man naked; had held his shaved skull in her hands. And worse, she could have shouted, she’d done worse than that – promised him life where there was none. Her eyes pricked, though whether with pity for the violinmaker, or herself, she couldn’t have said.

Nina has grown up on a beautiful estate in Russia, with an older sister she adores, a beautiful mother and a slighlty eccentric father. But the peace is shattered when her mother dies in childbirth and her father begins to lose his mind. At just fourteen, Nina realises she must leave home and enters into a marriage to a complete stranger – an Englishman with a need for a wife to conceal a dark secret.

In England Nina makes a life with her husband, Richard, and learns to be happy. When he is murdered, a result of that dark secret, she is left carrying the child of her lover – an Australian serviceman, Harry. It is when Harry also dies that she sinks to dark depths. Her post-natal madness sees her baby taken away from her.

It is not until Nina’s grandaughter, Julia, travels to England and visits the town where the grandmother she believes to be dead once lived, that what remains of the family is reunited.

Tree of Angels is a story of exile, of family and of tragedy. Over three generations Nina’s family must fight against the odds to retain ther dignity and their sanity.

This is a stunning debut novel. Sumner creates deeply textured and believable characters and the reader is drawn into their lives and their struggles, hoping desperately that things will work out. The recurrent images of angels throughout the book is a lovely piece of symbolism. An angel appears in the book’s prologue in a piece of foreshadowing which leaves us wondering, over the bulk of the book, which character is aboard the ship the angel hovers over. The answer, when it comes, is unexpected. Yet it is this unexpectedness that makes the book a success: it is not predictable but it is, ultimately, a satisfying story.

Penny Sumner was born in Australia and now lives in England. She came upon the idea of the story from a Russian exile she met in London. Whilst the story is fictional, it rings true because of its accuracy regarding the time period in which it is set.

Tree of Angels is a gripping read from an outstanding author.

Tree of Angels, by Penny Sumner
Orion, 2004

Laugh-a-licious – Jokes for Kids, by Tim Trewartha

Knock Knock
Who’s there?
Genoa who?
Genoa any new jokes?

Kids love jokes. And although there is no shortage of joke books on the market, there is always room for another.

Laugh-a-licious is a well organised collection, with the jokes arranged by themes and the knock-knocks presented in alphabetical order. Themes include school, animals, mealtimes and – a section which kids will love – gross jokes, presented in a chapter called Snot Funny.

Trewartha endeavours to present new jokes, rather than overdone ones which kids may already know. The design of the book, with a range of page backgrounds, cartoon-style illustrations at the beginning of each chapter and a good-sized font, makes it easy to browse and enjoy.

Laugh-a-licious will appeal to kids aged 8 to 12, and would be a good offering for a reluctant reader.

Laugh-a-licious: Jokes for Kids, by Tim Trewartha
Ibis Publishing, 2004

Home, by Larissa Behrendt

The Reverend’s wife had tried to explain to her that she was named after an English Queen. But she loved the feel of her real name as it rolled off her tongue, preferring the way her lips made a ripple, like on a river, to pronounce the third syllable: Ga-ri-boo-li. ‘Elizabeth’ sounded scratchy and high-pitched, like a bird squawk. She would whisper her real name to herself, over and over again, faster and faster. Garibooli. Garibooli. Garibooli.

Garibooli is happy living in the camp with her parents and her precious brother, Euroke, until the day two strange white men come and take her away. Renamed Elizabeth she is sent to work as a housemaid for a privileged white family, never to see her family, or her land, again. In her new home, Garibooli gains the unwanted attention of her master, whose nightime visits soon result in her falling pregnant. When this baby, named after Euroke, is taken away from her, part of Garibooli dies.

In the years that follow, Garibooli makes a new life with her German husband Grigor. They have six children together. Home traces not just Garibooli’s life but also the stories of her children, who are all affected in different ways by Garibooli’s past and by her early death. It is Garibooli’s grandaughter, Candice, a city lawyer who makes the journey ‘home’ to Garibooli’s land and whose journey envelops the book – appearing at the beginning and again at the end.

Home is Garibooli’s story, but is also the story of a family and of a people. Author Larissa Behrendt uses it to humanise the impact of the segregttion and oppression of Aboriginal people in Australia. She does this very powerfully. The reader is drawn in to Garibooli’s struggle to synthesise her past and her present, and to her children’s struggles after they are abandoned by their father following Garibooli’s death.

Behrendt also uses the book to comment, directly and indirectly, on the political and legal plight of her people in a way which, again, humanises these issues and exposes them to readers who perhaps are in need of a fresh perspective.

This is an outstanding first novel.

Home, by Larissa Behrendt
UQP, 2004

50 Cent Coin Collection, by David Harris

Coin collecting has long been a popular hobby, both with adults and children. And there is no Australian coin that attracts more attention than the 50 cent piece. The dodecagonal (twelve-sided) shape of this coin ensured its novelty value from first production and its use as a bearer of commemorative images esnures its ongoing popularity.

Scholastic’s 50 Cent Coin Collection enables young enthusiasts to work towards a collection of the entire range of 50 cent coins issued since the first twelve-sided piece was minted in 1969.

An informative booklet by David Harris traces the history of Australian currency from the arrival of European colonists in 1788 until decimal currency was introduced in 1966, and explains the production of the specially shaped 50 cent piece in 1969 to replace the previous round coin. It then goes on to describe each of the 24 different 50 cent pieces which have been released since then, explaining the events they commemorate. The accompanying folder has a place for each of these coins, to enable collectors to display their collection.

This would make a wonderful gift item for children aged 8 right up to 14 and would be a good introduction to coin collecting.

50 Cent Coin Collection, by David Harris
Scholastic Australia, 2004

Lost in the Last Frontier, by Tracey L. R. Hawkins

Sam stirred slightly; he rubbed his nose. Something was snarling and breathing on him. He half opened his eyes and glimpsed a big dark animal with enormous white teeth. He yelled, his arms flailing wildly as the animal leapt in through the window. It landed heavily upon him, pushing all the air from his lungs.

Sam is excited about the family trip to Alaska. The brochures call it “the last frontier” and he likes the sound of that – he is eager for some adventure. He wants some cool stories to be able to tell his friends back at school. But on the very first day of his holiday Sam gets more adventure than he bargained for, when he and his family meet a bear in the forest.

Following his Dad’s orders Sam flees with his sister Emma. Soon though, they face a new peril. They are lost and alone in the forest, with no idea how to get back to the lodge where they are staying. Sam decides that some adventures are a bit too exciting.

Lost in the Last Frontier is a green level title in the Breakers series from Macmillan Education. The unusual setting and fast-paced action will appeal to readers in upper primary, with the book’s graded reading level being 10.5 years.

The Breakers series presents a range of story types from a range of authors. They are suitable for classroom reading and for private enjoyment.

Lost in the Last frontier, by Tracey L.R. Hawkins
Macmillan Education, 2004

Dog 37, by Johnny Danalis

The dogs from cell block 4 filed from the lift into a dimly lit mine shaft. In the shadows, seven of the tiredest looking dogs that Dog 37 had ever seen sat slumped on the ground, hollow-eyed and silent.

Boof isn’t happy when the Turnbulls take him to the kennels while they go off on holiday. His family assure him that he’ll be living in canine luxury and write a list of special instructions for the carers at The Big Bone to follow.

When the family leaves, though, Boof is stripped of his name and his dignity. Now called Dog 37 he is put into a cold dark prison cell until it is time for him to start work in a mine deep below the ground. His three weeks of luxury look like becoming a lifetime of hard work and drudgery. Unless Boof can come up with a way to get himself – and his friends – to freedom.

Dog 37 is loads of fun. The idea of a dog prison-camp will appeal to young readers, who will love the novelty and silliness of the story. The book is peppered with cartoon-style illustrations by the author which not only demonstrate his multiple talents but also add to the humour.

Dog 37 will appeal to readers from age 7 up to 12 with loads of laughs and adventure.

Dog 37, by Johnny Danalis
UQP, 2004

Needles and Patch, by Jane C. Scott

When the boards were scattered around us, a dark hole was revealed in the storeroom floor. Patch and I were amazed. We never suspected this.
‘Is it a drain, or a collapsed bit of earth?’ I thought out loud. Then Patch finished my thought for me.
‘Or a secret tunnel deliberately dug out?’

When the school is evacuated because of a fire near the library, Needles thinks its pretty exciting, but she doesn’t realise just how exciting the events which follow will be.

Needles (her real name is Nadine) and her best friend Patch (Paul) volunteer to help clean out the storeroom where the fire started. Soon they realise something very strange is going on. They find a box of money hidden in the storeroom and, later, a box of jewellery, which disappears as fast as they find it. When they discover a tunnel disappearing benath the floor of the storeroom, they start to work out what is going on – but before they can tell the dults Patch disappears and Needles must get the help of the other kids in her class to save him.

Needles and Patch is a humorous and action-packed novel for 10 to 12 year old readers, with a recommended reading age of 12.5. Part of the Macmillan Education Breakers series, it is suitable for classroom or private reading.

It is nice to see a story where boy and girl main characters appear alongside each other as equals and friends, which makes the book likely to appeal to both genders. Needles and Patch is an entertaining read for upper primary students.

Needles and Patch, by Jane C. Scott
Macmillan Education, 2004