Our Enemy , My Friend, by Jenny Blackman

We had taken our shoes off to walk over the ford, when Rob, Johnny, Dave and Richard jumped out at us from the bushes on the far side of the ford. I screamed at them, but that didn’t help. They pushed Hannelore and Ruth into the creek and sang out, ‘Clean up the dirty Huns.’

Before the war Emma and Hannelore were best friends. But now Australia is at war against the Germans and Hannelore is German – or is she? Emma must balance what she sees around her, what she is told and what she feels is right.

Set in the village of Wirreebilla in the Adelaide Hills in 1915, this diary-format offering provides a child’s perspective on the society and events of the day. The district has a large population of German settlers, many of whom have been in Australia for several generations. Now, though, they are being treated as the enemy as other locals see them and their German traditions as a threat to their existence and as a daily reminder of the horrors of the war their boys are away fighting.

This offering is part of Scholastic’s My Story series, a series which focusses on the lives of children in various times and places in history. Emma’s diary is set in a significant era of Australian and world history, yet offers an insight into events about which primary aged children may be unaware. As well as the major plot exploring the issues of a nation at war, there are also explorations of family life and education during that time period.

Our Enemy, My Friend is a high interest, accessible offering for primary aged readers.

Our Enemy, My Friend, by Jenny Blackman
Scholastic, 2005

No Worries, by Bill Condon

I covered her shoulders and leaned against her.
People passing by stared at us, then turned away when I stared back. There must be an embarrassment cut-off point somewhere in the brain. When so many things have happened, you stop caring what people think any more. I even put my arm around her shoulder, although I’m sure she didn’t know it was there.

Brian (Bri) Talbot is seventeen and has just dropped out of school. Fed up with being picked on my other students and by the teachers, he’s decided he’s had enough. Now he’s working nightshift in a milk factory. But Bri’s employment woes are probably the least of his worries. His dad lives in a shed in the backyard and his mum is losing it, spiralling out of control. More and more Bri is taking the role of responsible adult in the family and he’s not sure he can cope.

No Worries deals with some uncomfortable situations with humour and directness, taking the reader on a roller-coaster journey of the emotions. The language, characters and emotions are easy to access but it is not an easy read, because of the gut-wrenching impact of the story.

When a book can make a reader laugh out loud in places and sob bitterly in others, it has had an impact. This is one such tale and is likely to have this impact both on teen readers and on adults.

Whilst the first person voice of the book takes us inside Bri’s head and shows us his version of events, we are still able to develop sympathy for and understanding of the other characters, a testament to the skill of author Bill Condon. It is also a testament to his skill that readers will not want to let the character of Bri go when they reach the end of this book.

No Worries, by Bill Condon
UQP, 2005

With Lots of Love From Georgia, by Brigid Lowry

My name is Georgia. I live in a town called Anywhere that has too many shopping malls and not enough skate parks. I’m taller than most fifteen year olds and I weigh more too…I like to think of myself as a brilliant creative person, but sometimes I feel like a sad lonely girl with a big bum.

This is how Georgia introduces herself at the beginning of this first-person offering which has a diary-like feel to it. Georgia shares a slice of her life with honesty and humour.

Sometimes a troubled teen story can run the risk of being just that – the moanings of a troubled teen. At other times, such a novel can be moralistic (gently or otherwise) or produce an answer so cut and dried it is as if the character’s fairy godmother has waved a magic wand. With Lots of Love From Georgia does neither of these things. Like any teen, troubled or otherwise, Georgia is at times self-absorbed and sorry for herself. She has troubles: a father whose death eleven years ago she still feels achingly; a weight problem that makes her self-concious and lonely; and friendship problems with her best friend Mel and with a delicous boy who could never return her affections. But Georgia also finds joy – in the pleasures of talking to her rock-star idol Jakob’s photograph and in writing lists in her journal as well as in the connections she makes with real people, including her grandfather, her friends and various relatives.

Lowry makes Georgia believably real. She’s intelligent, insightful and wryly humorous, but she also has flaws, including her self-pity and her tendency to comfort-eat. The adult figures in the book are also realistically flawed. Georgia’s mother is compassionate and, at times, wise, but also struggles to communicate with her daughter and even to empathise. Grandad dishes out wisdom when needed, both to Georgia and her mother, but his advice isn’t always on track or on time.

With Lots of Love From Georgia is cleverly crafted. We see through Georgia’s eyes and yet we see more than Georgia, for we see her wisdom, her courage and her growth. It is both insightful and witty and teenage readers will not only enjoy it – they’ll believe in it.

WIth Lots of Love From Georgia, by Brigid Lowry
Allen & Unwin, 2005

The Haunted Castle of Count Viper, by Judith Rossell

Dear President
I need your help urgently! The despicable Count Viper has kidnapped my children, Mika and Elsa. In return for their safety, he demands to know the location of the legendary Cave of Diamonds. I have searched through all the library records, and found only one small, mysterious scrap of information about his cave.
Please send one of your members to rescue my children as soon as possible. I’m frantic with worry.

The opening pages of this intriguing offering challenge young readers to find the missing twins and then search for the legendary Cave of Diamonds. In the pages which follow puzzlers must trace through the richly detailed mazes, finding clues, following trails and overcoming obstacles.

The Haunted Castle of Count Viper is the second book in the Explorer’s Club series , following on from the succesful The Lost Treasure of the Green Iguana. In this new title puzzlers must overcome poison slugfish, venomous spiders, giant cave rats, ghosts and hungry wolves and travel through swamps, graveyards, caves and Count Viper’s castle.

Suitable for 7 to 12 year olds.

The Haunted Castle of Count Viper, by Judith Rossell
ABC Books, 2004

Mr Big, by Tony Reeves

Leonard Arthur McPherson’s life of crime started just before the end of his brief schooling at the local Birchgrove State Primary School. On 7 December 1932, at the age of eleven and a half, he was put on probation – a good behaviour bond – in the Children’s Court on a charge of stealing. If he reoffended during that probationary period, he’d be in serious trouble

So began the criminal career of Lennie McPherson, the man who became known as Mr Big. It was a career punctuated with violence, police corruption, murder, rape and more.

In Mr Big, investigative journalist Tony Reeves presents a detailed account of McPherson’s life and of the unbelievable official corruption which enabled him to follow such a career with little risk of prosecution or punishment.

This not a book which glorifies the criminal’s deeds – Reeves makes this clear in the opening pages when he talks about writing McPherson’s obituary. Instead, it is a catalogue of a life of crime, presenting carefully researched information not previously made public. As well as detailing McPherson’s often horrific crimes, Reeves names the corrupt policemen, judges and others who enabled such crimes to go unpunished.

Mr Big is not an enjoyable read, but it is one which will inform and shock readers. McPherson’s life, as Reeves reports it, is almost beyond belief.

Mr Big, by Tony Reeves
Allen & Unwin, 2005