Minnie Pearl and the Undersea Bazaar, by Natalie Jane Prior

Every morning, when they had eaten their seaweed-flakes, they swam through the Bazaar’s golden doors. Minnie helped her mother, Marina, put new gowns on the racks for the mer-models to wear in the day’s fashion parade and then she tidied the changing rooms in Modes and Jewellery.

Minnie Pearl and her parents live behind their shop, the Undersea Bazaar. Minnie helps in the shop when she’s not attending school and learning what to do if she should ever encounter a human. She dreams of being an explorer. Then the wide-smiling Manta Ray opens her Marine Emporium next door and everything begins to change. All the fashionable mermaids flock to Manta’s shop, even Aunt Kelpie is seduced. Minnie’s parents begin to frown as they do the accounts. Minnie determines to help them save their business. She follows Manta and discovers where the newcomer finds her stock. Returning home isn’t quite as easy as she expected and humans aren’t quite as they have been portrayed.

Minnie Pearl and the Underwater Bazaar is a longer picture book for lower to middle primary readers. Minnie is an independent, resourceful heroine determined to help her parents save their shop. Others are happy to follow unquestioningly, but not Minnie. Themes include prejudice against those who are different, and the risks inherent in blindly following fashion trends. The text brings to life an underwater community complete with seahorse-as-pets and sandwiches full of sea-cucumber slices. Cheryl Orsini’s illustrations are full of witty and humorous details, particularly in the stock of both shops. Recommended for lower to middle primary readers.

Minnie Pearl and the Undersea Bazaar, by Natalie Jane Prior & Cheryl Orsini
ABC Books 2007
ISBN: 9780733320149

Ridiculous Expectations, by Merridy Eastman

Max, it’s me. I’ve just hit a kangaroo on the Hume. It was horrible. I think I’ve killed it. I’m driving down to break up with Gareth and it just jumped in front of me from nowhere. I think he’s been seeing someone else, you see, so I’m just going to make sure I’ve killed him and drag his body off the road. Hope I haven’t woken you. Love to Daphne.

A break up with her builder boyfriend has left Merridy Eastman single again. But when her agent tells her that a UK publisher has decided to publish her book, things start to look up. When she heads to England for a three month stay, it seems everyone expects her to meet Mr Right while she’s there. But Merridy is just there to launch her book. She’s not expecting to meet her Prince.

Ridiculous Expectations is a funny, real-life tale of an actress-turned-author’s trip to London. Nobody in London seems to understand the title of her book, There’s a Bear in There (and he Wants Swedish), which refers to her time as a presenter on ABC TV’s Playschool, and her later job as receptionist in a brothel. London is in the grips of a debate about legalised prostitution, and Merridy seems to be the target for every protestor. Then there’s the search for her elusive Prince, who everyone is sure she is about to find.

Eastman’s first person voice is both honest and funny, and has the reader turning page after page, unable to put the book down. It is so easy to be caught up in the story that it’s hard to remember this is not fiction – this is Eastman’s real life.

Highly readable.

Ridiculous Expectations: Or How to Find a Prince

Ridiculous Expectations: Or How to Find a Prince, by Merridy Eastman
Allen & Unwin, 2006

Dog Show Detective, by Penelope Love

‘No. I can’t go to Aunt Wilma’s Now, Mum. My favourite program is just starting.’
‘The Secret Life of Newts.’ Mum read the title on the TV.
‘It’s , um, educational,’ I said. Actually it was just too much effort to reach for the remote control. And Celebrity Dogs didn’t start for another half-hour.
‘But, Tiff -’ Mum started.’
‘No!’ I said. I could feel a Glare Force 1 boring into the back of my head. Mum works at a retirement home. I don’t know what kind of look she gives those old folks when they don’t eat their vegies but right then I could almost feel my skin withering. Had there been broccoli in front of me I would have chomped it right down in a hurry.

Tiff is a small, lively redhead – just like her Aunt Wilma’s dog Muffin. When newly-separated Aunt Wilma hurts her ankle, Mum persuades Tiff to help out. First it’s just walking Muffin. Tiff doesn’t mind because she really likes Muffin and it’s not Muffin’s fault that Aunt Wilma is so snooty. A stranger starts taking photos of Muffin but drives off when Tiff approaches him. When Tiff and Muffin get back to Aunt Wilma’s, it becomes clear that Mum has also volunteered Tiff to help at the dog show. There goes her holiday plans! Once there, Tiff realises someone is trying to sabotage the dogs at the dog show and it’s up to her to work it out.

Redheads are reputed to be feisty and fearsome. Thirteen year-old Tiff certainly fills this description although tenacious and forthright also fit. Her holiday plans are overturned by her aunt’s injury but she finds a way to enjoy the show with her friends as well as helping out. Across the course of Dog Show Detective, Tiff adjusts many of her relationships, particularly with her aunt, father and brother. She enters the unfamiliar dog show world and discovers that, unlike its reputation, most of the dog owners are friendly and supportive of each other. Red herrings and misunderstandings contribute to the humour of Tiff’s story, until she ultimately saves the day. Dog Show Detective’ also touches on friendships, examining the changing relationships with two school friends. Recommended for upper primary readers.

Dog Show Detective, by Penelope Love
Lothian Children’s Books 2007

If the World Belonged to Dogs, by Michelle A. Taylor

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Written due to an Australia Council literary grant, If the World Belonged to Dogs is a welcome addition to the sometimes sadly lacking library of good poetry books for children. Many of the poems in the collection appeared in School Magazine, which over many years has been responsible for publishing a number of Australia’s leading and upcoming writers.

Michelle A Taylor has captured the playful humour and inquisitive nature of children, starting right from the first short poem, Where is Wednesday?

In the middle of the sandwich
Neither here nor there
That no-man’s land
Where the week begins to bend
Too late for the beginning
Too early for the end.

The simple rhyme coming in the last two lines ties the poem together neatly.

Taylor shows great insight into the interests of children. Her comparison regarding What Does Friday Look Like? is fresh, interesting and, above all, child centred and I loved How to Catch a Hiccup and also the image of fairies hiding rainbows in When it rains, Do Fairies? What young child hasn’t pondered about the habits of fairies and what they get up to?

This collection contains an interesting mix of poems. Taylor knows when to use rhyme to effect and when to leave it alone or use only internal rhyme. Her images are visual and vital. I defy you not to be able to see the scene in the opening of A Paddock Full of Poems which takes its title from A Paddock Of Poems, the Max Fatchen collection of poems for children.

And suddenly,
the paddock is full of poems,
pushing their way in
through the barbed wire fence,
galloping bareback
on the black mares,
their manes wild in the breeze.

In the title poem, the playful and visual imagery, of each person in the family portrayed as a dog, is sure to amuse children and have them thinking which kinds of dogs their own family members might resemble. The ending in particular will bring a wry smile to any face:

And my dog would put on its glasses
then say with a smile

‘Dogs do not think they are human
but they know that humans are dogs.’

In the hands of an imaginative teacher this poem, and indeed this whole collection, could provide food for thought and discussion perhaps.

The collection is divided into nine sections: Fantastical Nonsense, (which contains some of my favourites) Creatures Great and Small, Families, Bread and Butter, A. B.C, Disgusting Habits, Goosebumps, A Big Country, and Lazy Bones and Lullabies. Between them all, it has poems to please any taste. I’m sure the poems collected in Disgusting Habits, and Goosebumps, will appeal particularly to boys in the 8-10 age group.

One of the poems that appealed to me was The Ocean in Different Clothes where Michelle A. Taylor captured the essence of two different cultures according to the ocean at their shores.

A fun read, this book is a must for any library, classroom or anyone with an interest in contemporary children’s poetry.

If the World Belonged to Dogs, by Michelle A. Taylor
University of Queensland Press 2007
ISBN 978 0 7022 3609
PB RRP $16.95


Dale Harcombe has had poems published in many of Australia’s literary magazines and newspapers. Ginninderra Press published ‘Kaleidoscope’ her first collection of poetry in 2005. You can read several of her poems at www.daleharcombe.com She also writes poems for children, some of which have appeared in School Magazine or been published by Harcourt Education.

The Singing Silence, by Anne Hamilton

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

I’m not a scientific or mathematical person, but from the moment I first picked up this little book I was captivated by the ideas presented. It starts with the premise that that just as artists sign their work, God has put his signature mark on many aspects of creation. The booklet then goes on to provide proof of this statement and to give the reader examples and details of how to find God’s personal stamp on His creation. Anne Hamilton teaches mathematics, and is interested in medieval literature, old word lists and children’s fantasy. Her diverse interests show in the text. Starting from the humble bumble bee and the sunflower, she goes on to provide further examples of God’s trademark ratio. If you’ve ever wanted to know the answer to the question, ‘why is a banana bent,’ you need to get hold of this book. Or if you want to know the connection between maple leaves, limpets and peacock feathers, this book will provide the answer. One that really tickled my funny bone was the connection between a person’s teeth and a zebra. No, that is not a misprint. I did say a zebra. The patterns that emerge in this booklet about various aspects of creation will have you astounded, as I was.

Anne Hamilton also debunks the premise that Dan Brown came up with in The Da Vinci Code of the golden ratio being a symbol of goddess worship. She offers the reader a different and plausible explanation.

The amount of research that has gone into writing this little book is staggering, as it covers such a wide range of people and disciplines as Luca Pacioli, Leonardo Da Vinci, Pythagoras, history, mathematics, art, science and free will, other cultures and their beliefs – like the temple of Apollo at Delphi, English Poetry and fiction eg the Pearl manuscript including the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the anonymous poet of the 14th century and the Bible.

Be warned, this is not a book the reader will devour at one sitting and then forget about. After I read it, I found myself wanting to talk about it and share what I’d read with others. I wanted to explore more of the references Anne Hamilton gives, as well as to keep going back over what I had read and thinking about the implications of what she has written. This book is one that inquiring minds and teachers will find has much to challenge them. For those who want to investigate further, Anne has given endnotes and a link to a website which provides further details of what she has expounded in The Singing Silence. As I read this book, I found myself often echoing Anne’s own words on page 39- ‘Wow! Isn’t that stunning?’ or other similar comments. But it wasn’t only the amount of information and the connections that kept me reading, fascinated. Added to all the thought provoking information it provides, the book is beautifully written. The text sings. Try it yourself and see.

The Singing Silence is a joy to pick up and the photography adds to the beauty of this book. My only criticism is that I would have liked more pages as I wanted to keep reading. But I believe a sequel can be expected in due course. However as it is, the size of this book, only 64 pages, makes it perfect for slipping inside Christmas cards.

The Singing Silence, by Anne Hamilton
published by Phares, 2007.

This book can be purchased directly from the author for $7.50 posted. Email Anne Hamilton at heartsease@powerup.com.au. There is also a website at www.singingsilence.com.

Cross-Currents, by Janeen Brian

For days, Julia had been chewing it over. How could she get through to this creep? What could she say to him that’d make him see he wasn’t the only person in the world? A log crackled in the campfire and split with a bright red glow. Julia took a step back from the heat, snapping a dry gumleaf in half.

Julia loves everything about camping with her stepdad, Jeff – everything except his son, Robert. She thinks he’s a pain. It’s been several days since they met at the start of this camping trip and nothing has happened to change her mind. As far as she’s concerned, Robert is worse than boring and quite useless at anything camping-related. Julia wishes he was home in faraway Queensland with his mother, and she and Jeff were back home with Mum, waiting for the baby to arrive. Then things start to go terribly wrong and Robert’s communication skills are a minor issue compared with the challenges they face.

Cross-Currents is an adventure into the Australian Outback that goes very wrong. But it’s also a story about family in its myriad formations. Jeff, Julia’s stepdad, has been married to her mum for about five years. But Jeff has a son, about the same age as Julia, who lives with his mum at the other end of the country. Jeff seems to have organised this trip partly so the two teenagers can meet. Julia may have gained a father, but Robert has lost one. Neither is very tolerant of the other. As drama unfolds, Julia and Robert need to work together and in doing so, both realise that first impressions can be misleading. Cross-Currents is a fast-paced, exciting read that holds the attention from start to finish. Themes here include the power of cooperation, tolerance and understanding. Recommended for 11-15 year-old readers.


Cross-Currents, by Janeen Brian
Lothian 2007
ISBN: 9780734410078

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