It’s True! Bushrangers Lost Their Heads, by John Barwick

Black Caesar, an enormous African, is credited with being Australia’s first bushranger. His bushranging life began because he didn’t have enough to eat, but didn’t last long when the Governor advertised a rum reward for his capture, alive or dead. From Caesar to Jessie Hickman, bushrangers live exciting lives. But their lives were usually quite short. They lived in an era where shooting a bushranger was rewarded and bumps on skulls of criminals were studied for clues to their behaviour.

Book 23 in the ‘It’s True!’ series from Allen and Unwin collects stories of bushrangers from Australian history and folklore. Barwick looks at famous and less widely-known bushrangers and their exploits. He leaves the reader to make their own judgements about whether they were worthy of sympathy or condemnation, or a mixture of both. There are details of their deeds and their deaths to entice the reluctant reader, and to stir the appetite of the reader wanting more. There are less ‘fact boxes’ than in other titles of this series. Stephen Axelsen’s illustrations show his customary wit and humour. Recommended for middle- upper-primary readers.

It’s True! Bushrangers Lost Their Heads by John Barwick, illustrated by Stephen Axelsen
Allen & Unwin 2006
isbn: 1741142989

Night Vision, by Rory Barnes

‘Well, you’ve got to do something,’ Rosemary said. ‘Have a go at being an actor and maybe you’ll end up on television. You’ve already got good diction.’
‘Good what?’ I said.
‘Diction,’ she said. ‘You speak well.’
‘Oh, that,’ I said and then I told her about the lawyer guy. ‘The lawyer guy said I was a brilliant actor because I didn’t speak well. He said I was the most convincing mumbler that ever showed fake remorse.’

Kosta is on a good behaviour bond after spray painting graffiti on a wall at his school. His old school now, because he’s been expelled. He has recurring dreams about being in a small plane that’s about to crash. After a failed stint as a paper boy, Kosta responds to a newpaper advertisement from Jack, resident of a nearby aged care facility. Jack is legally blind and he wants Kosta to read to him twice a week. Sometimes Kosta reads, sometimes Jack talks about his past, life in the Depression and in World War II. Kosta, tells Jack about the drama group he belongs to, about his girlfriend Kathy, about how life is now.

‘Night Vision’ is a compelling tale of youth and old age. Barnes paints a sympathetic and real picture of the two main characters, Kosta and Jack. Kosta is a teenager with strong opinions and little direction. Jack looks back on his life, unable to make peace with events that occurred half a lifetime, half a world away. Stitching these two stories together are dreams. Dreams of the future, dreams of the past. Suitable for lower and middle secondary readers, this novel offers rich discussion material.

Night Vision by Rory Barnes
ABC Books 2006
ISBN: 0733316220

Scarecrow Army, by Leon Davidson

When young men from Australian and New Zealand enlisted to fight in Word War 1, they did so for love of their countries – and for some adventure. In Gallipoli, in 1915, they encountered more adventure than they had expected, as they fought the Turks in a seemingly futile attempt to seize control of the Gallipoli peninsula. The actions of those brave men has become legendary, and played a vital role in shaping Australian identity.

Scarecrow Army recounts the events of Gallipoli, from the declaration of war, and the subsequent rush to enlist, through the training of the men and especially the events between the landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, to the evacuation in December. As well as providing factual recount, author Leon Davidson also uses fictionalised accounts, photographs and quotes from a vast range of soldiers.

This is an important offering. It provides a detailed account of this important period of Australian and New Zealand history, in a format accessible to upper primary and secondary aged children. It will prove an excellent educational resource, but is also suited for private reading.

Scarecrow Army, by Leon Davidson
Black Dog Books, 2005

The Gingerbread Man, illustrated by Kilmeny Niland

Run, run as fast as you can,
You can’t catch me—I’m the Gingerbread Man!

Youngsters love novelty books with flaps and folds, and Little Hare’s Storytime series is sure to delight, combining classic fairytales with the novelty of a flip the flap format.

The Gingerbread Man brings to life a traditional telling of the tale, with the illustrative skills of Kilmeny Niland and a flap to be lifted on every story. The flaps, which cover either the top or the bottom half of each page, open to reveal more text and cleverly use the non-flap half of the page, so that it forms half of each illustration.

My six year old, who was already familiar with the story, enjoyed the novelty of this version and insisted on flipping the flaps himself. The sturdiness of the pages means that repeated readings will not affect them and the solid hard cover adds to the appeal – this is a book designed for young hands.

Sure to satisfy.

The Gingerbread Man, illustrated by Kilmeny Niland
Little Hare, 2006

Little Lunch Four, by Danny Katz

There it was, on the footpath, in a paper bag—the biggest paper bag you’ve ever seen. It was Manny’s playlunch. It had fallen out of Manny’s schoolbag on his way to school. And there it was on the footpath, just out of reach.

When Manny realises he’s dropped his playlunch on the way to school, he is very sad—the bag is filled with all his favourite treats. He isn’t allowed to leave the school grounds, and he can’t reach the playlunch. But perhaps his friends can help him.

The School Gate is one of three funny stories in Little Lunch Four, a humorous look at playground adventures during little lunch (or recess). Each self-contained story is a self-contained offering, with humorous line drawings providing lots of support (and entertainment) for beginning readers.

This is the fourth title in the Little Lunch series and is suitable for readers aged 6 to 10.

Little Lunch Four, by Danny Katz, illustrated by Mitch Vane
Black Dog, 2005

Joan of Arc, by Lili Wilkinson

Joan of Arc left home when she was 15, following instructions from voices she heard. At 16 she left the French army to victory. At 19 she was burned at the stake, accused of being a witch. Five hundred years after her death, she was declared a Saint. Was she really a witch, or was she a Saint, or even an angel, as some have claimed? How could a sixteen year old girls lead an army to victory?

In Joan of Arc author Lili Wilkinson explores the life of this amazing young woman, trying to separate myth from reality. Wilkinson draws on a variety of sources to put together a chronological account of John of Arc’s life and also uses direct quotes from historical sources, and fictionalised accounts of some of the key events.

This is an inspirational read, about the extraordinary life of a young lady not much older than the target reader. It would make an excellent school library or classroom resource, but it will also appeal for private reading.

Joan of Arc, by Lili Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2006

Brumby Plains, by Joanne Van Os

Maybe it was because they were all so preoccupied with the awful news from town. They trudged along with their heads down, not concentrating, and that was why they almost blundered straight into the two men beside the spring. Sam, his ears still keen even when his mind was somewhere else, heard strange voices and stopped the others just in time.

Living on a buffalo station in the Northern Territory is never boring for Sam and George McAllister. There are horses to ride, animals to watch and plenty of interesting places to explore. But life is about to get just a little bit too exciting for the boys, and their cousins Tess and Darcy.

There are strange things happening on the station. Birds seem to be disappearing from their favourite nesting places, and there are tyre tracks around the place that don’t belong to the station vehicles. When out camping, Sam sees a plane landing somewhere nearby in the middle of the night. Then there’s the strange man the children meet in Darwin who seems to know more about their station than he should. Uncovering the truth could put the children’s lives at risk.

Brumby Plains is an exciting adventure set in the Northern Territory. With plenty of action and a touch of mystery from the past, this will intrigue young readers and keep them guessing till the end.

Brumby Plains, by Joanne Van Os
Random House, 2006