‘You have to come home, Big Sister!’ shouted the little girl. ‘Our father wants you. Now!’ The command made Su-Yin’s heart hammer in her chest. What have I done? she wondered. She suddenly felt dizzy. She seldom got enough to eat these days. Her father had been forced to mortgage the farm to a wealthy landowner in order to pay off gambling debts, and now the Chen family were tenant farmers, working for a pittance.
Life on the family farm is difficult and getting worse, but Su-Yin is still stunned when her family sell her into slavery. She makes a new friend on the journey up the Yangtze River to Nanjing, but they are soon separated when Su-Yin is bought to work in the kitchen of a wealthy Manchu official. Su-Yin is relatively fortunate in her new home. Although the cook is grumpy, Su-Yin is taught a trade and treated well. When the city is attacked by Taiping soldiers, Su-Yin flees with the young daughter of the family. It is a dangerous thing to do, and if she is caught, the consequences will be dire.
Fourth in Susan Geason’s historical series, Rebel Girl is set in nineteenth century China. As in the previous offerings, Geason offers a detailed look into a world unfamiliar to most young readers. Thirteen year-old Su-Yin is a sensible and strong-willed girl in a difficult situation. She is both accepting of her fate and determined to make the best of her challenging life. She works hard and is rewarded with the respect of her boss. Su-Yin shows great courage and resourcefulness when the Taiping army invades the city. This is a fast-moving, action-packed adventure, recommended for 8-12 year old readers.
Rebel Girl, by Susan Geason
ABC Books 2007
TA DAH! I am writing this as I walk to Science, which is pretty skilful of me. Lynda has hold of my left elbow and is steering me away from rubbish bins, brick walls, etc while she continues her debate with Natalie about whether Julie Jameson (now officially going with Shane Bellwether) is a bitch or merely a stupid cow. You know, this writing-in motion thing is pretty easy, I could do my homework while I’m walking the dog…
Will write more later.
The Rage of Sheep begins with the main character, fifteen year old Hester Jones, writing letters to her best friend, Krystena. Krystena has moved to the coast, leaving Hester behind to hang around with Natalie and Lynda. Natalie is using the guest list for her 16th birthday celebrations as a weapon, Lynda is madly in love and Hester has been paired with weird Joshua Mason for a project on evolution. His family belong to a fundamentalist Christian group whose beliefs include creationism. Meanwhile Hester does well at Maths, suffers the embarrassment of having her father present awards at School Assembly, gets to know the new English teacher and tries to decide whether Joshua really likes her. She also has to avoid Alistair McDonald and the Jameson girls. It’s a full life.
Secondary school can be a minefield for many teenagers as they negotiate their way through friendships, attractions, enemies, parents, curfews, expectations and hormone clouds. The Rage of Sheep, set in 1984, includes all of these and more. Hester is a convincing character, a good student from a supportive family. She has a developed sense of self, and only a mild dose of angst about her perceived shortcomings. There are serious issues explored here, but they are handled with humour. Hester’s point of view is unreliable, as is appropriate, and stronger for that. The reader can sometimes see what’s going to happen before Hester does. The title comes from a quote by James Whistler. Sheep are cited by Joshua as being those favoured by God, and by her English teacher as being followers, not leaders. This is a lightly-handled, funny and entertaining story. Recommended for middle- to upper-secondary readers.
The Rage of Sheep, by Michelle Cooper
Random House Australia 2007
This book can be purchase online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
My name is Maisie Moo.
I live in a palace in the middle of nowhere.
The Gone Bonkers Discount Palace.
We sell all sorts of stuff.
The endpapers of Maisie Moo and Invisible Lucy show a truck and wide open spaces. Written against the pink-clouded sky are the names Ulladulla, Cunnamulla and other wonderfully named towns. Maisie’s Dad is a truck driver and travels, the endpapers suggest, all around Australia. Maisie and her invisible friend, Lucy, are waiting for Dad’s return. In the meantime, she shares with the reader a slice of her life. She likes her dog, Drongo, and sleeping in. She doesn’t like being an angel. She helps her mother in their shop. When it seems like Dad and Christmas will never come and Mum banishes Lucy, Maisie hides in her bedroom. Everything seems brighter in the morning as a new day dawns with ‘the earth as red as toffee apples and the clouds as pink as fairy floss from the Royal Show’.
Maisie addresses the reader directly, introducing herself and her world. Her voice is authentic, her observations droll. The childlike illustrations show the same clarity of vision, the same humour. Lucy’s presence waxes and wanes with Maisie’s need of her. The endless wait for Dad is shown in the quietness of the early illustrations just as the effect of his presence is made clear by the chaotic clutter of Dad’s storytelling. This is a clear picture of a child trying so hard to be good, trying so hard to be patient, although the words are never used. The text begins as ordered sentences, gradually loosens, mingles with the illustrations and becomes almost chaotic as Maisie’s wait threatens to overwhelm her. In the final spreads, calm returns but the end papers remind the reader that Dad will leave again and Maisie will again have to await his return. Recommended for 4-8 year olds.
Maisie Moo and Invisible Lucy, by Chris McKimmie
Allen & Unwin 2007
Guess what?’ Rosie cried. ‘I’ve been picked for the school band. I’m going to get an instrument.’ she flapped a note at her mother. She danced around the kitchen. ‘It says there’s going to be a meeting. You and Dad need to go and hear all about it. So do I!’
Rosie is very excited when she is chosen to join the junior school band. She fancies herself a flautist and dreams about being the best flautist in the world. She’s prepared to practice every day. But at band practice, Mrs Thomas hands her a tuba, because Rosie is tall and has long arms and fingers. Rosie decides she wants to be the best tuba player in the world. But there are a few details to sort out first. She needs to work out how to get the tuba to and from school for band practice. Rosie must convince her brother Michael that she doesn’t sound like a ‘sick elephant’. Then a new boy starts at school. Ryan is taller than Rosie, and he wants to join the band too. Rosie is worried that her career as a tuba player will be over before it’s even begun.
Rosie is a determined and enthusiastic character, happily adapting to learning a different instrument than she’d imagined. She works hard to discover a solution to getting the tuba to school and only falters when it seems she might not get to play it after all. Her enthusiasm, anxiety and diligence are nicely balanced in this realistic dilemma. Teachers and family, even siblings, offer to help her out, but this heroine finds her own solution. Oom Pah Pah! is realistic about the commitment required to be a band member and the challenges faced by those who play some of the larger instruments. It also sends clear and positive messages about reward-for-effort and the joy that playing in a band can bring. Recommended for lower-mid primary readers.
This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
Oom Pah Pah! Cecily Matthews & Mitch Vane
ABC Books 2007
There was no doubt about it – Granny was much nicer dead.
It was a shock of course, losing Granny. Everyone went around looking a bit dazed for a day or two afterwards. But she was eighty-four – ‘a good innings’ as Uncle Jim remarked – and they’d always said she had a weak heart. And to go the way she did – falling down like a skittle on the back path while she was booting the cat out of her petunias – well, you couldn’t want a fairer finish than that.
Granny has been making everyone’s life a misery for years. Only Anna, Granny’s youngest grandchild, has anything nice to say for her when she dies. And only Anna is pleased when Granny re-appears as a ghost. However, Granny doesn’t seem to understand that she’s a ghost and the scene is set for all sorts of accidental fun. Not only has ‘41’ (apprentice angel) forgotten to keep an eye on her, it seems there’s a bit of a problem about whether Granny is destined to head to the heavens or through Hell’s Gate. Enter Mr Brimstone and the race for Granny’s soul is on! Granny stumbles through the afterlife, largely unaware of the growing chaos caused by her uncertain status.
Ghost Granny is a humorous look at life after death, particularly the struggle for a soul when earthly good deeds are balanced by not-so-good offerings. Melanie’s Guile’s tongue is firmly in her cheek as she introduces the reader to the random appearances of a neither-here-or-gone granny, angel education classes and embittered souls in the endless abyss of Hell. Ghost Granny is both funny and a fast-moving adventure, full of puns and good-versus-evil struggles. Ghost Granny takes an omniscient point of view, letting the reader move closer to all the main characters. Rather than one main character, several characters take turns at driving the action, until the end when all major players are present. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.
Ghost Granny, by Melanie Guile
Lothian Children’s Books 2007
Animal dads show their special tricks in this book for the very young. Rhino’s dad is ‘tough and strong’ and able to lift heavy rocks. He’s well able to protect his child. Rhino and other animals show their ‘dad’ side in this simple and humorous rhyming text. Father and child share special times and the illustrations show the special smiles on every opening. Openings show the animals in their environments, from grasslands, through underwater, to a cave.
Dads is a sturdy hardback with lift-the-flap pages. It follows Mums, Bums, Toes and Tails from the same author/illustrator partnership. Like these other titles, Dads has a bright and appealing cover with characters sitting in a single-colour background, with title letters all in different colours. Alternate pages fold up and fold down, to reveal the special-ness of each dad. Warm colour floods each page, drawing the reader into the different worlds. The worlds might be different, but the relationship is the same. There is a strong sense of safety and fun shared. Recommended for preschoolers.
Dads, by David Bedford and Leonie Worthington
Little Hare Books, 2007
Other titles in this series:
We wish you a ripper Christmas
A full-bore ripper Christmas
A dead-set ripper Christmas
And a snappy New Year.
Like it or not, Christmas is coming, and it won’t be long before you start hearing Christmas songs playing in shopping centres, schools, and even your home. This year, instead of singing of snow and sleigh rides, how about focussing instead on Australian traditions such as barbecues, fire trucks and utes?
In Fair Dinkum Aussie Christmas, Bucko and Champs (aka Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion) share ten uniquely Australian Christmas songs, many sung to familiar tunes. From Deck the Shed With Bits of Wattle and We Wish You a Ripper Christmas (see excerpt above), to Australians Let Us Barbecue, sung to the tune of the national anthem, there is plenty here to tickle the funny bone of Aussies young and old, and, importantly, to get them singing along. The accompanying CD means there’s no excuse for not joining in, and the blokey voices of Bucko and Champs mean there are no high notes to strain for.
Presented as a hardcover picture book, with colourful, humorous illustrations by Kilmeny Niland, this is a durable offering which will last many Christmas seasons and become a family favourite. It is also suitable for school use, especially for teachers searching for something different for end of year assembly items. Beaut stuff.
Fair Dinkum Aussie Christmas, by Bucko and champs, illustrated by Kilmeny Niland
Companion to An Australian a b c of Animals, this hardback counting book introduces numbers and animals to new readers. The early numbers fit on a single page, but rather than decrease the size of the animals, from ‘4’ to the final ‘15’ each subsequent number has been given a double page spread. Each number has its own page colour, setting off the distinctive illustrations. An action eg ‘Seven turtles plodding’ introduces the behaviour of each counted animal.
An Australian 1, 2, 3 of Animals is a simply beautiful book. From the platypus on the cover (and first page) to the 15 bull ants on the final opening, the animals are lovingly drawn and the colours are rich and luscious. The animals invite close inspection, offering similarities and differences in their rendering. Sharp-eyed readers may even find some pairs. Bronwyn Bancroft says her work is not traditional, but its Aboriginal history is immediately recognisable. The animals are sometimes stylised but lose none of their uniqueness. Highly recommended for 2-6 year olds and beyond.
An Australian 1, 2, 3 of Animals, by Bronwyn Bancroft
Little Hare 2007
The writing and illustrative talents of Lynley Dodd seem to be as popular with Australian youngsters as they are in her native New Zealand (and, indeed, all around the world). ABC books have released new editions of three of Dodd’s books, sure to be well received.
New in board book format, Scarface Claw shows this tough cat’s refusal to be frightened of anything – not dogs, or fire engines or spiders. There is only one thing that scares Scarface Claw – and that, as young readers will be delighted to find out, is his own reflection.
Also in board book, Schnitzel von Krumm Forget-Me-Not shows what happens when this cute dachshund’s family forget to take him on holiday.
Finally, in hard cover format, one of Dodd’s older works, The Nickle Nackle Tree (first released in 1976) is back in print. This one will be less familiar than the others, but is a wonderfully whimsical counting book, with odd birds of all sizes and colours perching in the branches of this mythical tree.
All three books will appeal to preschoolers (and their parents).
Scarface Claw, Schnitzel von Krumm Forget-me-Not and The Nickle Nackle Tree
All written and illustrated by Lynley Dodd
These Editions, ABC Books, 2007
When Jack Beaumont, a successful property developer and architect, is offered a job as the CEO of HOA, Australia’s biggest home insurer, he is surprised. He runs his own successful business, but little expects to be headhunted to the new job by Mac Biddulph, the wealthy major shareholder of HOA. But Mac has chosen Jack – because of his slick image, and because he knows little about the insurance industry. Mac doesn’t want anyone who will dig too deeply into the workings of HOA. Unfortunately, Mac doesn’t count on Jack’s search for truth and tenaciousness.
When Jack uncovers complex, shady dealings, he finds himself not only fighting to unravel the truth, but also fighting for survival. Someone is out to get him – to ensure that he goes down alongside Mac Biddulph.
The Butcherbird is an intriguing novel set amidst the corporate and social life of Sydney’s wealth. Whilst this is a world which some readers may feel removed from, it sits true, with author Geoffrey Cousins’ own experiences in this world allowing him to portray it in a way which is as believable as it is absorbing.
There is suspense and intrigue, numerous twists and characters who have depth. An intriguing read.
The Butcherbird, by Geoffrey Cousins
Allen & Unwin, 2007
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.