Allie McGregor's True Colours, by Sue Lawson

Lying face down on my bed, listening to my MP3 player, I tried to imagine I was on a tropical island. But the fight with Dad kept pushing postcard beaches and blinding sunshine from my mind.
Grounded! For a month! Sure, I did the wrong thing, but so did Riley. How come he wasn’t being punished? It wasn’t like I’d meant for Sarah to get hurt.

Allie McGregor’s life seems to be one problem after another. First, there’s having to share her bedroom with her little sister, Sarah, and Sarah’s smelly pet mice, while their Dad continues his endless renovations. Then there’s Dad job as a breakfast DJ – where he tells stories about Allie, calling her ‘The Hormonal One’. Then there’s the problems between her best friend Lou and her new friend, Romy, the most popular girl at school. And on top of all this, Allie’s mum has cancer.

Allie McGregor’s True Colours is a touching, but never saccharine, tale of one girl’s journey through dealing with her first year of high school, with all its problems, whilst also dealing with the stresses of family illness. Told in a humorous first-person voice, through the eyes of the attitude-laden Allie, this is a moving read that deals with weighty issues yet maintains momentum as it sweeps the reader along. Whilst we see Allie throw tantrums and act, at times, unreasonably, we also see why she is like this and barrack for her to come though unscathed.

Suitable for girls aged 12 an up.

Allie McGregor’s True Colours, by Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books, 2006

Misha's Treehouse, by Elise Hurst

He looked around. It was a mess. This was supposed to be a shared bedroom. Misha had one side of the room and Paul had the other. But wherever he looked all he could see was Misha’s junk.
Misha’s clothes, Misha’s toys, Misha’s books, Misha’s everything. Paul couldn’t even see the floor anymore.

Paul has had enough of sharing a room with Misha. There are no spare rooms in the house, but when Paul looks out at the treehouse in the back yard, he has an idea. Maybe Misha can move out there. All it will take is a little work.

Soon, though, Misha gets involved. If Paul is going to build her a treehouse, she is going to have some say in what it’s like. Paul isn’t sure about Misha helping, but soon he is surprised at just what she can contribute.

Misha’s Treehouse, part of Lothian’s Start-Ups series, is a gentle first novel, or chapter book, about sibling relationships and working together. Whilst solving the problem of a need for separate space, the young pair find common ground and a strengthened relationship.

This is an appealing story – kids will enjoy the novelty of the treehouse, and not find the message about working together overbearing. Good stuff.

Misha’s Treehouse, by Elise Hurst
Lothian, 2006

A Tyranny of Toads, by Jessica Green

My feet don’t reach the floor – they dangle and swing. I got yelled at for being subversive. I said, ‘I’m not subversive, I’m short.’ I got yelled at for backchatting. And he said he’d heard about me from the other teachers.
Great. The first day, and even before recess I’d been made to sit next to my worst enemy, fallen foul of the Teacher From Hell and been followed by my old reputation.

The new school year has not started well for Jillian James. It’s her last year of primary school and she has a new teacher and some new classmates – as well as the old ones – to contend with. Last year it was the princesses – the ‘in’ girls – who made Jillian’s life difficult. This year, she has to sit next to a toad.

Jillian decides it might be best if she steer the Middle Path, as recommended by the teachings of Buddha. Her brother Richard seems to think she looks a lot like Buddha. Maybe she can learn to be like him too. But Jillian is not very good at steering clear of conflict. She is always quick to say what she thinks, and that lands her in plenty of trouble.

A Tyranny of Toads is the funny sequel to A Diary of a Would-be Princess, though it reads fine as a stand-alone offering too. Jillian and her friends are a year older and have different problems to deal with, though there are some similar themes, including issues of belonging and peer groups.

Written using a diary style, the book is peppered by sticky-note memos, written by Jillian’s older bother, Richard, a fun touch.

An enjoyable read for upper primary aged readers.

A Tyranny of Toads, by Jessica Green
Scholastic, 2006

Pet Palace, by Adrienne Frater

We didn’t have to wait too long before we discovered how Radish earned her money. Number 88 was looking pretty posh by now. The new pink paint glowed like candyfloss. The new palm trees spread out like lime-green sun umbrellas. And on Saturday, Radish hung a purple sign above the gate. It said – Pet Palace.

When a mysterious lady buys the house across the road and starts doing it up, Angie and Jeremy are intrigued. But when the owner puts up a sign saying “Pet Palace’, and all kinds of pampered pets start to arrive, they are desperate to see inside the house.

Jeremy has a great idea – he dresses up as an animal welfare officer and visits the Pet Palace. But what the children see there is shocking. The animals are not being well cared for at all. Fortunately, Jeremy has another great idea to save the animals.

Pet Palace is a humorous chapter book for 6 to 10 year old readers, with elements of mystery and adventure. The text is easily accessible for readers new to the chapter book format and the cartoon-style illustrations, by Ben Redlich, are a fun complement.

Pet Palace is part of Lothian’s Start Ups series.

Pet Palace, by Adrienne Frater, illustrated by Ben Redlich
Lothian, 2006

Breakfast With Buddha, by Vashti Farrer

I climb up onto the roof.
I am higher than all the cats and dogs.
My tail twitches back and forth.
I am Sati. I am now top cat. I will wait here.

When a flood leaves Sati the cat homeless, she wonders who will feed her. She is used to being pampered and cared for, but when she finally finds refuge, in a monastery, there are other animals to share with. Sati wants to be top-cat and thinks she can wait for food to come to her. But this creates havoc. It is only the wisdom and patience of an old monk which makes Sati see what it means to be one among many.

Breakfast With Buddha is a delightful picture book offering which offers a peek at Buddhist traditions and lifestyle, and also has a lovely gentle lesson about dealing with conflict. The illustrations, by Gaye Chapman, feature lotus blossoms, bees and other images of nature, as well as oriental-influenced cats and dogs, a deliciously plump monk and the columns and features of the monastery, with lots of use of white backgrounds to keep the focus simple.

Lovely for school and home reading.

Breakfast With Buddha, by Vashti Farrer and Gaye Chapman
Scholastic, 2005

Ben the Post-Mouse, by Emily Rodda

Ben the post-mouse spends his days delivering letters to every house in Mouseville. He loves his job, and the people of Mouseville love him – but nobody ever writes to Ben. Ben has a great plan to make sure he gets some letters – he advertises for a Pen Pal. But soon he has more letters coming in than he can handle. Can his Squeak Street friends help him to sort out his problem?

Ben the Post Mouse is part of the Squeak Street series, each focussing on the story of one resident of Squeak Street. Young readers will enjoy the humour of a the situation here – a postman who never gets letters of his own – and will also appreciate the acceptability of the story, which is designed to be read alone by beginning readers making the transition to first chapter books..

Ben the Post-Mouse is a cute offering.

Ben the Post Mouse, by Emily Rodda, illustrated by Andrew McLean
Working Title, 2006

Fire in My Soul, by Paul Corbet-Singleton

He loves racing almost as much as he hates it.
He is the best distance runner in the whole club. No-one can get near him. He wins, he breaks records and he loves it. But sometimes – like now when he’s waiting for a race, unable to talk, to sit still – he hates the whole thing.

James Salisbury is a talented distance runner, and he is aiming for the Olympics. There is only one thing holding him back – his inability to cope with pressure. James chokes in big races. This year he’s determined things will be different – he is going to train harder than ever and overcome his problem. Or is he?

When a new boy joins the club, James isn’t worried. Gavin Jellet doesn’t look like a runner, and James knows he can beat him. But Gavin and his father will stop at nothing to ensure Gavin wins.

Away from the track, a series of bushfires in their hills suburb threatens James’ family home more than once, and James realises that it’s not just his running career that’s at risk.

Fire in My Soul is a story about running, friendship and battling demons. Whilst James works to overcome his fears, those around him have battles of their own. His father is terrified of fire and its consequences, his friend Alison is coping with the loss of her mother, and his opponent Gavin must deal with an overbearing father. As the story unravels, it seems the ending is fairly predictable – so it is a pleasant surprise to see that it isn’t as neat as expected, leaving the reader thinking.

A satisfying read for ages 12 to 15.

Fire in My Soul, by Paul Corbet-Singleton
Lothian, 2006

Granny Adventurer, by Jan Dallimore

Our Granny needs supervision day and night. She is a walking catastrophe. Talk about little kids getting into regular trouble. Granny is a thousand times worse…

When Granny announces over breakfast that she’s off to the Amazon to search for the rare Tootle Bird, nobody is surprised. Granny loves adventures. So, with the kids in tow to help her carry, she jets off to the jungle to meet up with her old friend, Professor Crumble, and venture into the deep dark unknown.

But when they find the Tootle Bird, Professor Crumble finds himself trapped in its nest, waiting to become the tootle’s breakfast. Can Granny save him?

Back at home, Granny decides to take the family camping. But Granny’s idea of camping involves a huge motorhome, which leads to all kinds of chaos at home, on the road and at the camping ground.

Granny Adventurer is the third title in this quirky series of junior fiction from Black Dog Books. Containing two stories, and with loads of humorous illustrations by Heath McKenzie, these are suitable for boy and girl readers just making the transition to chapter books.

Kids will love the zaniness of Granny and the improbability of her adventures which see her always come out a hero.

Lots of fun.

Granny Adventurer, by Jan Dallimore, illustrated by Heath McKenzie
Black Dog Books, 2006

Corroboree, by Angus Wallam & Suzanne Kelly

When Angus Wallam was a child, he found corroboree a particularly exciting time. Growing up in rural Western Australia, he lived a semi-traditional life with his parents and extended family and, when he had children and grandchildren of his own, he shared his bush heritage and knowledge with them.

In Corroboree Wallam teams with Suzanne Kelly to tell the story of a young Nyungar boy preparing for a corroboree. Brought to life by the paintings of Norma MacDonald, this is a first-hand account of a corroboree and of the traditional Nyungar lifestyle, told through the eyes of a fictional boy, Wirrin, who helps his family in the various tasks preparing for the big event, as well as enjoying the spectacle with his cousins and play-mates.

While fictionalised, the story provides plenty of information and youngsters will be especially intrigued by the use of Nyungar language throughout the book, having fun trying to pronounce the words at the same time as they are learning.

This is a superb book and, with a lack of similar books about Nyungar culture available, a very important book. Corroboree is suitable for classroom use and for private reading.

Corroboree, by Suzanne Kelly & Angus Wallam, illustrated by Norma MacDonald
Cygnet Books, 2004

The Story of Tom Brennan, by JC Burke

Reviewed by Delwyne Stephens

This book for 13+ teens is so real it hurts. Week after week the news screams of stories about road trauma and the very many hapless, often speeding and drunk young male drivers. The Story of Tom Brennanis about the fall-out victims of such car accidents. The brother (Tom), the sister, the uncle, the mum and dad and the grandmother who in this story takes them all in. The criminal – the reckless and risk taking son, best mate and footy partner Daniel – goes to jail.

This book made me uncomfortable and it made me cry. It was almost too real for me – the deeply depressed mother particularly angered me and I wanted to shake her out of her malaise. I didn’t feel at ease until Tom began to get constructive about his grief and inch by inch he moved away from his pain and began to gain a renewed sense of self. There is no winner in a story that tackles the death of close friends and the quadriplegia of a cousin. But Burke handles the subject matter with sensitivity. Her background as a nurse is evident in the book. She has seen suffering and she has seen moving on and this is one of strengths of this story. I can’t say I enjoyed The Story of Tom Brennan, but it is compelling reading.

The Story of Tom Brennan, by JC Burke
Random House, 2006

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