Why Do I Have to Eat Off the Floor? by Chris Hornsey

Why can’t I drive the car?
Why can’t I dig in the garden?
Why can’t I sleep in your bed?

The questions posed in this quirky offering may sound like those every parent hears from their youngsters, but the twist is that they are actually a dog’s questions to its young owner. Murphy is a little dog with some big ambitions – digging with a back hoe, riding on an elephant, swinging a hula hoop – which are illustrated on the left hand page of each spread. The right hand page presents a more accurate picture of what is happening – when Murphy imagines himself excavating with a back hoe, he is really digging a hole in the flower bed, for example.

The question and answer format presents Murphy’s questions, which are asked with a beseeching look, rather than dialogue, coupled with patient (though frustrated) answers of the young owner.

The silliness of this book will appeal to preschoolers and the familiarity of the multitude of ‘whys’ will appeal to parents. The simple illustrations, watercolour with ink outlines, are an excellent complement.

Why Do I Have To Eat Off the Floor? by Chris Hornsey and Gwyn Perkins
Little Hare, 2005

Grim Crims & Convicts, by Jackie French

It was the craziest, wildest and most daring expedition the world had seen.
Eleven ships with nearly 1500 people travelled 25 000 kilometres to the other side of the world. But what did they find when they arrived?

Grim Crims and Convicts is an intriguing look at the early days of European settlement in Australia. It details the early time of the colony from the arrival of the first fleet in 1788 through to 1820, charting the hardships and difficulties faced by the settlers, the impact their arrival had on the Aboriginal population and way of life, and the development of the colony.

Whilst this is not the first book written on the subject, for children it is certainly the most accessible. French has a humorous yet honest style, which doesn’t gloss over serious events. The text is complemented by the cartoon style illustrations of Peter Sheehan, putting his own funny spin on events.

This is history which kids can enjoy, even while they are learning plenty about this important part of Australian history. It is the first instalment in an eight-part series covering Australian history from prehistoric times to the Centenary of Federation.

Good stuff.

Grim Crims and Convicts, by Jackie French, illustrated by Peter Sheehan
Scholastic Press, 2005

Fergal Onions, by John Harrison

Through the window he heard a faint, sweet sound. Fergal stopped eating and listened. He turned down the volume on the kitchen TV.

Fergal Onions loves television so much that he has a set in every room of his house. He spends all his time watching whatever is on. Then, one morning, as he sits watching television and eating his breakfast, the sounds of a violin float in through his window. It is a tune that is strangely familiar, and, gradually, Fergal’s love of music is reawakened. Suddenly, television isn’t so important.

Fergal Onions is a whimsical tale with gentle humour and an important message. Fergal is isolated by his attachment to the television but, through music, enjoys new friendships and even goes outdoors. Children will love the story and adore the images of Fergal who is delightfully bald and huge-nosed.

Fergal Onions was awarded a CBCA Notable Book in the 2005 CBCA awards.

Fergal Onions, written & illustrated by John Harrison
UQP 2004, this edition 2005

A Crazy Occupation, by Jamie Tarabay

When Jamie Tarabay was asked to go to Jerusalem for Associated Press, she jumped at the chance. Despite her family’s reservations, she was excited at the prospect of exploring a vibrant land, rich in history and politics. At the time US President Clinton was engaged in peace talks which were sure to make the region safer. Or were they?

Within days or arriving in Jerusalem, Jamie had to re-evaluate all her expectations. She was surrounded by violence and mayhem as Israelis and Palestinians engaged in a battle which seemed to have no end.

This is a story of the middle-east in the years 2000-2004, but it is also a very personal story of Jamie’s own journey through the events she reports. As she reports on the fiery events of the period – car bombings, rocket attacks, street battles and more – she also encounters and befriends the people on both sides of the conflict. Women, children, men, soldiers – all are made real by Tarabay’s exploration.

An honest and insightful account.

A Crazy Occupation, by Jamie Tarabay
Allen & Unwin, 2005

The Postman's Dog, by Lisa Shanahan

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Lisa Shanahan’s Gordon’s Got a Snookie was probably one of the funniest children’s books I’ve ever read (I still chuckle reading it to my children), so I looked forward to Shanahan and Harris‘s latest book The Postman’s Dog with considerable anticipation. The humour in The Postman’s Dogis a lot more muted than that of Gordon, and there are no laugh outloud moments (like gorilla nitpicking or hospitalised hyenas), however, the book makes up for it with its tender prose, and rich sense of community and humanity. The story follows gregarious postman Charlie, who loves meeting the people he delivers mail to each day. Part of his pleasure is sharing the stories he hears with his wife every afternoon, but when his wife dies, he stops being gregarious. The neighbours rally together and convince him to get a dog, but his dog, who is otherwise happy and charming, doesn’t like his postman outfit, and the barking is driving the neighbours wild.

The story is ideal for preschoolers and there is just enough conflict to keep the plot moving forward. Although the story is sad at the point of Charlie’s wife’s death, the way the community rallies around him is moving and warm. Wayne Harris’ digital illustrations convey the strong and different characters of the multicultural community that Charlie lives in, including Mrs Zielinski, Mr Tran, Francesca and Mr Kumaradeva. Between the pictures and the text there are a lot of absorbing sub-stories and opportunities for discussion including the gelato shop and deli, Mrs Zielinski’s opera, Mrs Montague‘s violin, Mr Tran’s tricky immigration journey, Francesca’s ballet classes, and lots and lots of dogs. Children will love identifying the different ones, and helping Charlie choose a dog at the pound.

Adults will appreciate the positive messages, the camaraderie, the opportunity to ham it up–barking with Charlie’s dog or pointing out the detail in each picture, and above all, the gentle poetry of Shanahan‘s narrative:

And before long,
Charlie felt hope tingle
across his skin
like soft, summer rain.

Although there are no nits in this book, there is plenty of food for thought. This is another fine book by Shanhan and Harris, full of drama, pathos, and a very subtle humour.

The Postman’s Dog (Hardcover)
by Lisa Shanahan, Wayne Harris (Illustrator)
Allen & Unwin
Hardcover: 32 pages, October 2005, ISBN: 1741142520, RRP$A22.95

This review first appeared on Preschool Enetertainment. It appears here with permission.

Outdoor Kids, by Jamie Durie

Most parents can remember the fun they had playing outdoors when they were children–climbing trees, building cubbies, getting dirty. Unfortunately, the computer age and our ever-increasing busyness mean that today many children are missing out on the fun and adventure of backyard play. In Outdoor Kidshorticulturalist and television personality Jamie Durie presents a practical guide to getting kids outside and having fun.

This colourful offering is packed with commonsense, achievable activities for kids to do on their own or with parents. There is practical information about gardening, covering subjects such as soil, compost, mulch, weeding and pruning, and an exploration of the seasons and what happens in the garden during each. The majority of the book is devoted to presenting simple activities aimed at kids (and their parents) having fun in the garden – from building a cubby house from a cardboard box, to growing vegetables and observing insects and other wildlife.

The text is accessible, with down to earth language and the use of lists, and is complemented by hundreds of gorgeous photographs, illustrating projects and, more importantly, showing kids and adults enjoying being outdoors. There is a strong message of conservation and caring for the environment, giving the book an educational element which is realistic rather than didactic.

This is a superb guide.

Outdoor Kids, by Jamie Durie
Jamie Durie Publishing, 2005

Seven Ancient Wonders, by Matthew Reilly

The odds were stacked against them.
Their rivals numbered in excess of 200 men.
They had only nine.
Their rivals had massive logistical and technical support…The Nine were only carrying only what they’d need inside the mine.

As the Earth heads towards what could be the most monumentally important day in its history, nations are involved in a scramble to locate the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Hidden within each of these wonders is one of the seven pieces of the capstone to the Great Pyramid. And this capstone holds the key to world domination – if only it can be assembled in time.

Every nation that knows the significance of the looming solar event is keen for a shot at the power. Two big forces look to be in the running – a European coalition led by the Vatican, and the mighty US. But a small group of nine, an unlikely coalition of representatives of eight small nations, is determined to make sure that no one nation should possess ultimate power. Led by Captain Jack West, former Australian SAS, the nine race through the wonders, avoiding booby traps, unlocking secret messages – and avoiding the might of the opposing teams.

Seven Ancient Wonders is an action-packed quest through the Wonders, with author Reilly unrelenting in the twists and surprises he delivers. Readers are kept guessing throughout as the drama plays out against awesome backdrops. Whilst some of the details of pathways, booby traps and secret chambers can be a little difficult to follow, this can be forgiven by the action, which is really what drives the story.

An epic quest.

Seven Ancient Wonders, by Matthew Reilly
Macmillan, 2005

The Death Trust, by David A. Rollins

When Major Vin Cooper, Special Agent in the US Air Force, is assigned to investigate the death of a General, he has no idea what he’s in for. Arriving at the NATO Ramstein Air Vase in Germany with a hangover, a toothache and a cloud over his whole career, he soon discovers that the apparent accidental death of Abraham Scott is sabotage. Scott was murdered, but discovering why, and by whom, will require every ounce of Cooper’s intelligence, strength and luck.

Cooper is paired with agent Anna Masters, who is supposed to keep him in line, but the pair both find themselves bending the rules and playing hard to solve the murder – and keep themselves alive. Someone high up is pulling strings, determined that the truth will never be known. It is a truth that could destroy the very fabric of contemporary society.

The Death Trust is a fast moving thriller with a likeable (if arrogant and flawed) main character and enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing. The conspiracy theory is believable enough to have the reader considering its feasibility. Rollins is a master story teller who combines action, suspense and humour with aplomb.

An absorbing read.

The Death Trust, by David A. Rollins
Macmillan, 2005

Across the Wall, by Garth Nix

I am going back to the Old Kingdom, whatever father may have told you. So there is no point in trying to set me up with a suitable Sayre job or a suitable Sayre marriage. I am coming with you to what will undoubtedly be a horrendous house party only because it will get me a few hundred miles closer to the wall.

Fans who mourned the completion of the Old Kingdom trilogy will be happy to get another slice of that magical world in the novella which opens this collection. Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Cold Case sees Nicholas, back in Ancellstierre, pitted against one of the rarest and most magical of the Free Magic creatures.

But this novella is not the only treat in store in Across the Wall, which features 13 of Garth Nix’ stories, each introduced by the author, giving some insight into his writing process for each, as well as its publication history. The stories range from classic fantasy, to downright silliness, with romance, Arthurian legend and fairy tales thrown into the mix.

Fans of Nix will enjoy this for what it is – a chance to sample the delights of Nix’ writing beyond his rightfully popular series.

Across the Wall, by Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin, 2005

Food, Sex and Money, by Liz Byrski

When Bonnie returns to Australia following the death of her husband, she realises that financial security doesn’t guarantee fulfilment. She meets up with her two old school friends, who she hasn’t seen for forty years. Fran is a food writer, struggling with juggling her work, her finances, and her relationship with her adult children; and Sylvia is trapped in a loveless marriage to an Anglican minister who is hiding a big secret. Its revelation will shatter her.

As the three women renew their friendship, they also come together on an ambitious business venture which will see each woman reshape her life in ways she would never have imagined. Along the way there are challenges, shocks and tears for the trio, but there is also triumph and joy.

Food, Sex and Money is a women’s story with a difference – the age of the main characters, who are in the fifties. Whilst there are a range of other characters, the focus is squarely on these three women facing challenges which are a blend of those peculiar to their stage of lives and those faced by women (and men) of all ages. Each woman seems very real, with her own blend of strengths and weaknesses and readers will find themselves believing in these women and celebrating with them.

A novel which celebrates life in all its stages.

Food, Sex and Money, by Liz Byrski
Macmillan, 2005