Red Spikes, by Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan’s previous two collections of short stories, Black Juice and White Time have won awards and received wide acclaim. Now, Lanagan has released a third collection, continuing the trend of colour-themed titles. Red Spikesoffers ten diverse stories – diverse in content, setting, theme and more. Yet what binds them is the superb quality of Lanagan’s writing.

Lanagan is a master of the short story form and speculative fiction genre. She deals with a range of themes, though an exploration of spirituality is part of several stories, including Under Hell, Over Heaven where the setting is purgatory and Forever Upward which explores the distance between worshippers and their gods, and the ways they connect. Several of the stories are set in historical settings, drawing on stories of past times for inspiration.

This is a collection with something for every reader. Whilst the stories are largely aimed at young adult readers, with teen protagonists and some teen settings and scenarios, the stories will equally please the adult reader.

Red Spikes is superb reading.

Red Spikes

Red Spikes, by Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, 2007

Five Minutes More, By Jan Page and Mellie Buse

It’s time for a story
For five minutes more.

Regular watches of ABC television’s children’s line-up will know the tune for the Five Minutes More series, and have seen the soft toy characters acting out their stories in the play room. Now two of the stories from the series are available in print format, in small hard cover books using still images direct from the show.

In Little Gnome, Louisa tells the story of a Fairy King and Queen who argue constantly about which of them is the most important, until a visiting gnome proves that he is important – and teaches them a lesson that perhaps everyone is important.

In Neptune’s Visit it is Georgie’s turn to tell the story, and she tells about an impending visit from King Neptune. The sea creatures are all busy preparing, practising their special skills to show the King – but Morva the mermaid is worried that she has no special ability. When she realises she has a beautiful singing voice, she also realises that everybody is good at something – even if some gifts are harder to see than others.

These two books, and the television series they are based on, attempt to focus on storytelling rather than special effects. They use the same group of characters to narrate and enact the stories, so that the focus is mainly on the story and its message. Children will enjoy seeing the television series in a book format and adults will enjoy the positive messages each story portrays.

Five Minutes More: Neptune’s Visit and Little Gnome Upon the Wall, by Jan Page and Mellie Buse
ABC Books, 2007

Who's Laughing? by David Bedford and Leonie Worthington

Hippo is trying to sleep but someone’s laughing is keeping him awake. This lift the flap book takes hippo (and young readers) through the jungle, as he finds who is laughing on each double page spread. The Heee-hawww! Heee-hawww! comes from donkey, while rrrah-ha-ha-ha! is lion and ubble! ubble! ubble!is turtle’s laugh. Hippo is pretty unimpressed, but kids will love the novelty of the different laughs and seeing who they belong to. They’ll also love the final spread where the laughter is coming from hippo himself and the cause of all the laughter is revealed – monkey is tickling everyone with a bright pink feather. Kids will have fun going back and finding monkey and his feather in the earlier pages.

Who’s Laughing is a bright offering with plenty of colour and lots of laughs for an early childhood audience. The flaps are fold-down style, part of the sheet of each right hand page, so are sturdy and likely to withstand repeat ridings and handling by small readers.

Suitable for ages 2 to 5.

Who's Laughing?

Who’s Laughing? by David Bedford and Leonie Worthington
Little Hare, 2006

Volga Olga from the Mulga, by Veronica Larkin & Robert Gibson

Katie and Jack love going to stay with their friend, Olga. Olga comes from the Russian Volga but, after a successful career as an actress, has retired in the Australian Mulga. When Katie and Jack go to visit her, they are dismayed at the closure of the local movie theatre. Someone, they decide, should make a good movie, so that people will come to see it and the cinema will stay open. They set about making a film about Olga’s life – a show which proves to be a big success.

Volga Olga from the Mulga is a fun picture book featuring the slightly eccentric Olga and her fun-loving friends Katie and Jack. Illustrator Jody Pratt brings the images of rural Australia to life with earthy ochres, blues and greens and rural images including windmills, gum trees and more. She uses collage and acrylic as well as digital images to create detailed images with plenty to absorb young readers.

Volga Olga from the Mulga will appeal to kids aged 4 to 6 and, as well as being good fun, has multicultural elements and simple film and theatre imagery and terminology which could have classroom application.

Volga Olga from the Mulga, by Veronica Larkin & Robert Gibson, illustrated by Jody Pratt
Lothian, 2007

A Ridiculous Story, by Rolf Heimann

“You’re telling me that a hippopotamus crossed Main Street and exploded, scattering monkeys everywhere… This is the most ridiculous story I have ever heard!”

What should you do if your inflatable Taiwanese hippopotamus won’t move? Why, fill it with monkeys of course! What do you do if your uncle sells you as a parrot to a group of bloodthirsty pirates? What do you do when you can’t invent a better mousetrap? And when is a witch not a witch? This book answers those and more questions.

This is a fun and exciting collection of stories from one of Australia’s best authors. These stories are funny and also suitable for kids of all ages. Kids will love reading this fantastic collection full of droll humour and dry wit.

Another great collection from a fantastic author.

A Ridiculous Story

A Ridiculous Story, by Rolf Heimann
Little Hare, 2006

Problem Child, by James Roy

‘There was another reason that we thought this would be a good idea. You might have noticed that Triffin is very shy. Painfully shy.’
I’d noticed this of course, so I just nodded.
‘You see Max, you’re very different. You’re a very confident young man, and I was hoping that you could help him find himself.’
If he goes and lsoes himself, there’s not a lot I can do, I thought. But what I actually said was, ‘What do you mean, exactly?’

Max Quigley isn’t a bully. He just notices the inadequacies of others and points them out to them. A lot. One of the people he likes to point such things out to is Triffin Nordstrom, a nerd who loves fat books and Lego. But when Max and his friend Jarrod shut Triffin in a fire escape on a school excursion, they go too far. Triffin is left behind and Max is in a whole lot of trouble.

Grounded with no pocket money and forced to apologise, Max thinks the worst is over, but when Triffin and his mother visit, he knows there’s more to come. Triffin is going to help Max with his maths. In return, Max is going to spend time with Triffin on weekends, getting to know him. He can’t think of anything worse; neither can Triffin. But, as their forced togetherness progresses, the pair find they actually do have things in common.

Problem Child is a hilarious book which deals with childhood bullying. This isn’t a new subject for a kids’ book – but author James Roy offers a different perspective on the topic, by writing from the first person point of view of the bully, Max. Readers get to see Max’s take on his actions. This isn’t to say we are invited to sympathise with Max – but we do empathise with him, as he becomes increasingly aware of the consequences of his actions. He doesn’t become an angel, but his character does develop and become more likeable in the course of the story.

This is not just a funny read – it is also an important one, for kids and for teachers and parents.

Problem Child, by James Roy
UQP, 2007

Rosie Little’s Cautionary Tales for Girls, by Danielle Wood

These are not, I should say at the outset, tales written for the benefit of well-behaved girls who always stick to the path when they go to Grandma’s…Rather, these are tales for girls who have boots as stout as their hearts, and who are prepared to firmly lace them up (boots and hearts both) and step out into the wilds in search of what they desire.

Rosie Little is a modern Little Red Riding Hood, who traipses (or perhaps tramps) through life in a pair of red Doc Martens. Her stories, about her own life and those of her friends and acquaintances, are whimsical, clever and mesmerizing. There is the tale of her cousin Meredith a large woman who is the unwitting (and unwilling) collector of elephants, and the tale of her friend Eve who moves to the country to pursue a career as an artist, only to find herself unable to start painting. But the stories which produce the most empathy with the reader are Rosie’s own stories – of love and of loss, of work and travel – each very different but each a gem, to be enjoyed by itself and, gradually, as part of a delicious whole.

From the award winning author of The Alphabet of Light and Dark, Danielle Woods, Rosie Little’s Cautionary Tales for Girls is a delightful offering.

Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales for Girls

Rosie Little’s Cautionary Tales for Girls, by Danielle Wood
Allen & Unwin, 2006

You can buy this book online at Fishpond.

The Albanian, by Donna Mazza

I am facing the great white walls of Dubrovnik, a fortress-city that clings to the floor of the sea…I stand in a dip worn into the marble step. The stone is almost conscious, exhales its history into the soles of my feet. My breath is distinct, this is just the beginning, I will stand on history all over Europe. I can hardly wait.

Feeling trapped in a humdrum life in small-town Bunbury, Rosa longs for freedom, adventure and romance. On her way to Istanbul, the place of childhood fantasies, she stops in Dubrovnik. Alone in this city already in turmoil in the lead up to the implosion of old Yugoslavia, she meets a strange man, an Albanian. Unsure of her feelings for her new friend, still Rosa finds herself drawn into an affair which seems to hold no promise, yet which she feels irresistibly drawn to continue.

Rosa helps her nameless man to flee Yugoslavia and enter Sweden, before she returns home, alone, to Bunbury. Here she is unable to settle and struggles with her feelings for the Albanian. In spite of her misgivings, she saves up to return to Europe and to her man, but it seems he has more secrets than Rosa can handle.

The Albanian is a compelling debut novel from Tag Hungerford award winning author Donna Mazza. Utilising the familiar backdrop of country Western Australia and its contrast with exotic European locations to explore a young girl’s longing for excitement and adventure, and the resultant difficulties this creates, Mazza weaves an absorbing tale.

An unforgettable read from a new talent.

The Albanian, by Donna Mazza
FACP, 2007

No More Borders for Josef,by Diana Chase

Josef sat there, his mind churning over and over. Maybe this man was his uncle, maybe he wasn’t, but this could never be his land – or his home. He closed his eyes. His insides ached and he wanted to curl up in a ball. At the back of his mind he could hear Sasich saying, ‘Our village is kaput … gone … zapped.’

When Josef’s parents are killed in the Balkans conflict, he must flee with the women and children across the border. After months in a refugee camp, he is sent to Australia to live with an uncle he didn’t know about.

In Perth Josef must adapt to life with a new family, a new language and a countryside that is alien to him. He thinks he will never fit in here –and he isn’t sure he wants to.

No More Borders for Josef is one boy’s story of survival as he faces issues which most Australian teens will never have to deal with – war, loss of his parents and becoming a refugee. Yet in spite of its difficult subject matter, it is accessible to teens because of the familiarity of the setting and scenarios – school days, school camps, family life and so on. Teen readers will also relate to Josef’s quest for identity and difficulties in fitting in.

An outstanding read for children aged 10 to 14.

No More Borders for Josef, by Diana Chase
Fremantle Arst Centre Press, 2006

White Time, by Margo Lanagan

She waited. Her head was so busy, with the two voices blabbing numbers in one ear, and the music wandering in the other. It was annoying. She wanted to unplug everything and just hear for herself what white time sounded like. She was sure it would be a delicious, restful silence.

White Time is a collection of ten short stories from award winning speculative fiction author Margo Lanagan. First published in 2000, this collection pre-dates her best-known collection, Black Juice, but is equally as good.

Lanagan takes diverse settings and themes for her stories – one is set within a bee hive, another in a contemporary classroom and bedroom, and others in fantasy worlds – but what is common to all is their ability to totally absorb the reader and to leave him or her thinking well beyond the ending of the story. Each story compels the reader to keep reading, and, importantly, to keep wondering. Whilst some stories are easier than others to process – Midsummer Mission, for example, is on the surface a tale of fairy-folk meddling in romance, whilst the figure of a hovering set of innards following a boy around his war-torn home in The Night Lily is much more confronting – all stories offer much to challenge the reader both during and after the reading process.

This is a brilliant collection which will appeal to teens and adults alike.

White Time

White Time, by Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, first published 2000, this edition 2006

You can buy this book online at Fishpond.