He still saw both his parents. It was just that he only ever saw them separately. He wished he could see them both at the same time. Maybe then things could be like they were before? He was sure it was still possible – all he had to do was think of a way to make it happen.
Robert’s parents have separated and rather than have him live with one or the other, he’s been despatched to boarding school. His schoolwork is slipping and his only friend asks unanswerable questions. Robert spends alternate weekends with each parent, who never see each other. As if things aren’t bad enough, Mum has a new boyfriend, Adam. Robert is sure that when he has repaired the broken wedding cake ornament, everything will be alright again, like it was before his parents separated. But his efforts seem to make everything worse. It’s time to get serious.
Superglued echoes the emotions of many children in this challenging situation. Neville Barnard tackles a difficult subject with a healthy dose of humour. While Robert struggles to adjust to the changes in his life, his friend Jon asks questions like ‘What do you call a black greyhound?’ and ‘Why is the third hand on a watch called a second hand?’ As Robert repairs the ornament and finds ways to get his parents to spend time together, the reader is kept guessing. Barnard’s light touch allows the reader to enjoy the escalating action while empathising with Robert, his parents and even Adam, the new boyfriend. Recommended for mid-upper primary readers.
Superglued, by Neville Barnard
Lothian Books 2006
You can buy this book onlie at Fishpond.
Amber gasped, heart thudding. Stop it, she told herself. It was only a pop-up picture on the park map. She pushed at it with her hands – yes she could make the tiger’s jaws open and close, open and close. Even turn the page to see the serious, funny little meerkats instead. There was no need to worry about Tiger. She could get rid of him any time she liked. She had complete control.
Amber has been sent to stay with her uncle and twin cousins Kyla and Ben at their New Zealand Wildlife Park while her parents holiday in Europe without her. Angry and resentful, she finds that all is not well with her New Zealand family either. Ben and Kyla’s mother has left, Kyla has an animal activist boyfriend and Ben’s dodgy friend Spike seems to be everywhere. Strange things are happening in the Wildlife Park. Amber is captivated by the meerkats but terrified by the Wildlife Park’s main attraction, a Sumatran Tiger.
There are many themes to be explored in Summer Tiger. Animal conservation is one, and more than one approach is explored. Family is another, as Amber worries about her own family and the family of her cousins. Managing fear is yet another. Summer Tiger weaves all these and more into a believable and action-packed story. Main character Amber grows in understanding and compassion across the novel, learning about herself and her family as she simultaneously begins to overcome her fear of animals, big and small, wild and ‘tame’. Recommended for upper primary readers.
Summer Tiger, by Wendy Catran
Hachette Livre Australia 2007
We wanted to make the day and what we do a little more fun-filled for our children and their friends. We decided that since they were so keen to help and be involved, particularly in the kitchen, that we would relax and go with it!
Difficulty, preparation time, cooking time are all ingredients of modern cookbooks. Small Fry adds a ‘mess factor’ rating from one to five. ‘Getting Started’ includes information from an Early Childhood Consultant and guidelines for age- and development-appropriate expectations. Chapters are grouped according to ‘Senses’, ‘Concepts’, ‘Everyday’ and more. There are suggestions about how to include children in shopping, unpacking and cleaning up. Recipes introduce children to textures, smells and tastes. ‘Extra Stuff’ provides extension and alternative activities to vary the kitchen experience.
Small Fry is a very attractive book with brightly coloured pages and wonderful photos of children and food. The recipes are mostly difficulty rated ‘one’ or ‘two’ with fish & chips and white bread rated as difficulty ‘three’ and pizza as ‘four’. But this is not just a recipe book. There are suggestions on how to make shopping enjoyable, some gardening tips, play dates, ideas to show children where food comes from and much more. Older children can explore foods that go well together. A section on parties includes food ideas, games and activities. This is much more than a cook book and will be enjoyed by parents, grandparents and anyone who enjoys being with small children (and of course the small children themselves!).
Small Fry – Inspiration for Cooking with Kids, by Susie Cameron & Katrina Crook
ABC Books 2006
Time sure was the weirdest thing. Now, after weeks of crossing off the calendar dates, the day was finally here, and in a strange sort of way it felt as if no time had past at all. Then last night, every time she woke, the clock-radio’s red numbers had only jumped ahead an hour or so. It had been the longest night ever, with less sleep too.
Ellie is excited to be travelling to North-west Queensland for her holidays. She will see Tom again and get to help out on a dinosaur dig. The arrival of blonde-haired, red-shoed, tight-jeaned Peta is the only down side of what promises to be an exciting holiday. Peta is beautiful, assured and everywhere Tom is. In a parallel journey, a young ornithopod hatches from her egg and travels across the same country, countless years before Ellie. Ellie, Tom and Peta visit another fossil site only to encounter fossil smugglers intent on selling their finds to the highest bidder.
Secrets of Eromanga is an Australian outback adventure that includes plenty of factual details about dinosaur fossils and where they might be found. Eromanga was once an inland sea and is fossil-rich. The novel speculates on the life of some of the dinosaurs who lived by the sea as it simultaneously tracks the discovery of the fossils. Ellie is a realistic heroine, who finds the courage she needs when circumstances require it. She also experiences all the jealousy and insecurities of most girls of her age. Tom manages to stay outside the friction between Ellie and Peta but is pleased when they find a way to be friends. Recommended for upper primary readers.
Secrets of Eromanga, by Sheryl Gwyther
‘Argh!’ he screamed as he saw a third hand appearing from behind his head. He stared at the hand and gently touched the fingers. He could feel the touch. He turned around as far as he could and saw an arm reaching from over his back. It was coming out of his body, from his own back, just above his bum. ‘No!’ he cried in horror at his third arm. ‘What have they done to me?’
Zed wakes to find he is in a cage in a laboratory. He has no memory of home or family, no memories at all. He, like many others, has been experimented on by the cruel and inventive Dr Xanax and his off-sider, Bumface. Zed has a third arm, Jay’s sneezes are diabolical, XL is a genius (if only he could talk), Dee has a hammer for a hand. Zed hatches a plan to escape, using Bumface’s swipe card. Zed and his new friends discover that escaping from their cages is just the beginning. They hitch a ride on a container transport spaceship to escape Xanax and begin a journey to discover how they came to be experiments for this madman.
Lab Rats in Space is a wild romp through outer space. Zed, although stunned to find he is sporting an extra arm, rallies quickly and begins to marshal his fellow lab rats. He’s impetuous and fallible, but rouses the others to action. Each of them has a special skill, some only partly realised in this novel. None know just what this skill is, or what it is for. With a central character who has snot powerful enough to destroy space invaders and another with tools for hands, there are laughs aplenty. The pace is fast and furious, sure to engage upper primary boys in particular. I suspect we’ve not seen the last of Zed and his mates.
Lab Rats in Space, by Bruno Bouchet
ABC Books 2007
If you are reading this journal, then chances are I am already dead. My name is Edwina Sparrow. I am fifteen years old and my mother is trying to kill me. My mother has always been odd, but since Gran’s accident, things gave got far worse. I have decided to start keeping a journal to document the progress of my deranged mother because there may be a murder inquiry. Someone needs to leave a line of evidence.
Edwina Sparrow’s mother has put the whole family (Edwina, brother Julian and Gran) on a cabbage-only diet. Edwina’s father is in Antarctica and not expected home anytime soon. Gran had a nasty incident with a pressure cooker and is now convinced she’s living through the Second World War. At school, Edwina and others are targets of bully Krystal Shard and her cronies. And this is only the beginning. Julian’s on-screen romance flounders, Mum moves from the Cabbage Diet to the Fruit Diet and beyond, Gran thinks Edwina is her younger sister Emily and at school girls are falling like ninepins to diet-related conditions. Even her best friend McKenzie seems to be avoiding her. Edwina knows she could fix everything, if only people would listen to her sensible suggestions.
Edwina Sparrow Girl of Destiny is a wonderfully idiosyncratic example of the unreliable narrator inherent in first person narrative. Edwina thunders through her life, unaware of any viewpoint other than her own. She is a likeable character with the subtlety of a bulldozer. The journal allows us to get very close to this main character and to read between her lines to some of the challenges she’s facing. McKenzie is a great foil, with his search for his place in his family of all boys. Julian copes with the vagaries of their family in a much quieter way, but it is Edwina who solves the mystery that occupies all his thoughts. Krystal Shard is a nasty piece of work, manipulating her so-called friends with disastrous consequences.
Carol Chataway provides the reader with a warm and affectionate look into the mind of an ostensibly prickly teenager and subtly urges them to look beyond the obvious.
Highly recommended for Year 7-9 readers. Readers who enjoy this novel might also enjoy works by Jaclyn Moriarty and Melina Marchetta.
Edwina Sparrow Girl of Destiny, by Carol Chataway
Lothian Books 2007
Twelve-year-old Rodney lived in Frogmore, an ordinary country town in northern New South Wales. He lived in a modest, two-storey house in Cane Toad Crescent. He had his own room, a stereo, a TV, a DVD player, piles of books and a computer with Internet access. He was in his final year at Frogmore Primary , an ordinary school. He had two ordinary parents, lived in an ordinary house in an ordinary street. Why, then, was something extraordinary happening to him?
Rodney Rowbottom is being bullied. Ben and his cohorts chase him to school and make his life miserable. His father ignores him, his mother babies him. Then Rodney begins to fade. He meets Mrs Strangeways who teaches him how to become invisible. Now he can travel to alternate worlds, Llandringodd and Llondieval. Both are terrifying. One world shows the perils of science unchecked with walking weeds and soul-less clones, while the other is a primitive and barbaric (and very smelly) place where cruelty is a spectator sport. Rodney discovers others affected by bullying of small and much larger scale. Travelling between these two worlds and his own, Rodney meets friends and foes and almost inadvertently discovers the solution to his own bullying experience.
The Boy Who Disappeared gives away little in its title. The front cover shows Rodney being pursued by weeds in an otherwise desolate landscape. Immediately, the reader is asked to speculate on the fate of this twelve-year-old boy. Rodney learns skills that help him find his own way. Around every corner is another corner as Wendy Milton’s story twists and turns back on itself. Each time the outcome seems inevitable, the story goes off on another tangent, building tension further. There are parallels between Rodney’s ‘home’ world and Llandringodd, showing the effect when science and commercial interests are not moderated by ethics. The other world, Llondieval, shows the peasants fearful and starving, while the rich feast. Rodney’s adventures in both worlds contribute to solving his problems in his own world. A rich and satisfying read, recommended for upper primary readers.
The Boy Who Disappeared, by Wendy Milton
Lothian Books 2006
The Sydney Harbour Bridge this year celebrated its historic 75th birthday. Whilst it has been a figure on the Sydney skyline for three quarters of a century, it continues to inspire awe from Sydneysiders and tourists alike. It is a national icon and world-famous.
The Bridge, released in time to mark this anniversary, is a comprehensive look at the story of the bridge from its beginnings as a seemingly unattainable dream, to the processes of planning and construction, its somewhat dramatic opening in 1932 and its story in the years since then.
This is very readable history. Author Peter Lalor blends factual recount with personal stories – eye witness accounts, letters and documents and, importantly, plenty of photographic records.
The human side of the construction of the bridge is a key element of the book – including the stories of John Bradfield, the engineer who was the chief driving force behind the government’s decision to build the bridge, the people displaced by the resumption and clearing of land on either side of the harbour, the men who worked on the construction of the bridge, even the people who attended the bridge’s opening. Some of these stories – such as that of Captain de Groot and his horse – have been told before. Others will be new to readers. Combined, however, they offer a well-rounded and intriguing story.
An outstanding non fiction offering.
The Bridge, by Peter Lalor
Allen & Unwin, 2006
As I approached the corner I began to slow down. I don’t know why. Perhaps because I had this image in my head: an image of a face materialising out of the darkness on the other side of the window. I didn’t want to turn the corner. I didn’t want to see anything like that.
The Exorcists’ club have been invited to attend a weekend ghost tour at the Jenolan Caves. Only Allie and Michelle can make it, but they are determined to have a good weekend, intrigued by the idea of the hotel being haunted, and mysterious figures lurking in the caves.
But Allie’s plans for the weekend don’t include trying to sort out the arguments between her parents and their new partners, or avoiding the horrible Paul, a fifteen year old with an attitude problem. And what if the ghost encounter is with a dreamtime creature that emits the foulest smell ever?
Elysium is the fourth title in the Allie’s Ghost Hunters series by the popular Catherine Jinks. The ghost mystery takes perhaps a lesser role than earlier titles in the series, but there are plenty of eerie moments and lots of action, and readers aged 10 to 12 will enjoy both.
Elysium, by Catherine Jinks
Allen & Unwin, 2007
When Grandad gives up playing bowls and takes up playing the conga drums, Mum says it’s probably just a phase. But when he grows his beard long, gets his ears pierced and starts wearing cowboy boots, the family starts to wonder if this is more than just a phase. Dad is especially unimpressed. He thinks Grandad should act his age. Everyone else is growing used to the idea.
Grandad’s Phase is a fun picture book, with the story told in the form of a ‘family project’. The narrator tells his grandfather’s story using diagrams, words and little asides. The use of a lined paper background for every page and handwritten lettering add to the project effect.
With illustrations and silly comments by Terry Denton, this humorous offering will appeal to kids aged 5 to 8.
Grandad’s Phase, by Archimede Fusillo and Terry Denton