Getting Air, by Debra Oswald

If anyone saw Corey Matthews wandering down the main street of Narra with a skateboard under his arm, they would have had no idea of the trouble he had to handle in his life. They would’ve thought he was just another fifteen-year-old guy hanging out.

There isn’t much to do in Narra. Zac and Corey have lived here all their lives and, although they are best mates and enjoy spending time together, what they want more than anything is a place to skate. When good girl Lauren Saxelby decides to make a skating film, enthusiasm for a town skatepark starts to grow. Corey is right into it (and into Lauren, too, it seems) but Zac won’t have a bar of the project. He’s been caught before by schemes which don’t eventuate. Their friendship is threatened by the project.

For Corey, the skatepark is something to hold on to – a dream to follow. His life is pretty difficult, and perhaps if he can make something good happen it can help. After all, he’s a Matthews, which means he’s automatically classed as no good – so he can use all the help he can get.

Getting Air is a gritty teen read with plenty of skateboarding action as well as a hard-hitting exploration of family violence, loss and grief. The story was first told in a play called Skate before being rewritten as a novel. It will appeal to readers aged twelve and over, especially rural teens and those with an interest in skateboarding, who’ll be able to relate.

Getting Air

Getting Air, by Debra Oswald
Random House, 2007

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Puffling, by Margaret Wild & Julie Vivas

“When you are strong enough and tall enough and brave enough, you’ll leave the burrow all by yourself,” said Big Stripy Beak. “You’ll waddle off into the dark as fast as you can so the scary gulls can’t catch you.”

Little Puffling lives safe in the burrow with his parents, Big Stripy Beak and Long Black Feather, but he knows that one day he will have to leave the burrow and begin life on his own. He waits impatiently – but not without some reservations – for the day that he is strong enough and tall enough and brave enough to waddle off to the sea. In the meantime, he enjoys the company and care of his parents.

Puffling is a delightful new picture book from the amazing team of Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas. Wild’s text is gently lyrical, with Puffling’s repeated questions and his parent’s reassuring answers forming the heartwarming core of the tale. Vivas’ illustrations in pastel and watercolour pencil feature earthy browns and the night time blues of the cave and the ocean surrounding Puffling’s home. Puffling is a baby puffin, but Vivas manages to also make him any child with doting parents.

A delightful story for bedtime or any time, this is a tale of reassurance.

Puffling, by Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas
Omnibus, 2008

The OK Team, by Nick Place

Something, the ghost of an idea, sparks in my brain, but I can’t quite grasp it. ‘…Special?’
‘Very special.’ Her hands are grappling again.
‘Do you mean “special” as in “super”?’
‘Super? Well, sure.’ She looks uncertain. ‘You’re a special boy, and a super boy.’ I’m barely able to breathe. ‘You mean I might be special like a superhero?’

Hazy Retina was born with a problem – he is out of focus. He has a habit of disappearing when things get tough, falling through walls and passing right through people. Consequently, he has no self confidence and no friends. But when his counsellor explains that his disability might make him special, Hazy latches on to her idea. Perhaps, he decides, he is Super, with a special power which will allow him to save the world. Soon, Hazy is assuming a super identity as Focus, and is gathering a crew of other emerging superheroes. But all is not plain-sailing with Focus and friends, who call themselves the OK Team, all having trouble controlling and harnessing their respective super powers.

The OK Team is a funny novel for upper primary aged readers The super powers of the young heroes are absurdly silly – from compulsive lying to being able to see into the past – and their slap-stick escapades will appeal to both boy and girl readers. Lovers of superhero comics will enjoy the many allusions to the superhero world, and the idea that perhaps superheroes are real. Most of all, readers will enjoy the fun of this story.

The OK Team

The OK Team, by Nick Place
Allen & Unwin, 2008

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Karaoke Kate, by Dale Harcombe

“Kate,” Dad yelled, “take that karaoke machine away. I don’t think alpacas like music at all. Maybe you could sing to the sheep instead.”

When Kate receives a karaoke machine for her birthday she can’t wait to try it out, but her family seem quite reluctant. When she turns the machine on and starts singing, Kate’s pets join in and Mum sends her outside. Outside, the hens and roosters also want to join in, so Dad sends Kate further afield. As all of the farm animals react to Kate’s singing, she is forced to move time and again. It seems Kate might never find anyone who appreciates her singing.

Karaoke Kate is a cute reading book title from New Zealand publisher Wendy Pye, written by Australian Dale Harcombe. With bright animal illustrations by Jennifer Cooper providing support and interest for young readers, the text is suitable for newly independent readers of around seven or eight years of age.

Harcombe’s story is a fun read which kids will enjoy reading, whether for homework or for private reading pleasure.

Karaoke Kate, by Dale Harcombe
A Sunshine Books title from Wendy Pye, 2007

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, by Mandy Sayer

All these things happened years ago, but it’s that freezing day in June that’s still with me, inside my headaches, my binges, my nightmares.

When Mark Stamp accidentally shoots a hole in his dad’s shed window, he is terrified. If he has broken anything, he’ll get a beating. But when he looks through the window, Mark sees something much more horrific than he could have ever imagined. Soon Mark and his sisters – fourteen year old Ruby and the baby – are on the run. With Ruby at the wheel of their family’s camper van, the trio try to flee their violent, dysfunctional family and their drunken father, who chases them in an effort to stop them sharing what they’ve found.

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes is a gripping young adult read which is part thriller, part literary masterpiece. At the same time as the reader is taken on a hair-rising journey of escape, s/he is also taken on a journey of self discovery as Mark and Ruby each discover their inner strengths. The first person narrative allows the reader to get deep inside Mark’s inner workings, yet there is also an opportunity to get to know Ruby, as her brother gains insights into what drives her.

While the storyline could lead to a very dark piece, this is, ultimately, a novel of hope.

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

The Night Has a Thousand Eyes, by Mandy Sayer
Harper Collins, 2007

This novel is available from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Puff the Magic Dragon, by Peter Yarrow & Lenny Lipton

Known and loved around the world since it was sung by folk-supergroup Peter Paul and Mary in the 1960s, the song Puff the Magic Dragoncontinues to be loved by children and adults alike. Now it has been brought to life in a beautiful hard cover picture book with illustrations by Eric Puybaret.

The original lyrics are brought to life in vivid detail using acrylic on linen in soft hues and with a three dimensional feel. For those who remember the sad ending to the song, where Jackie Paper grows up and leaves Puff alone, the ending is a pleasant surprise, with Puybaret’s illustrations showing a new playmate coming to Honalee to play with Puff, showing the cycle of life and also, perhaps, representing the several generations who have enjoyed the song.

At the back of the book there are notes from the song’s authors, Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton, explaining how they came to write the song, and an accompanying CD features a recording of the song sung by Yarrow, his daughter Bethany and Rufus Cappadocia. There is also an instrumental version of the song, and two extra tracks, Froggie Went A-Courtin’ and The Blue Tail Fly.

This sturdy offering is a true treasure for children and adults of all ages.

Puff, the Magic Dragon with CD (Audio)

Puff, the Magic Dragon, by Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton, illustrated by Eric Puybaret
Koala Books, 2007

This book is available from Fishpond . Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Antony and Cleopatra, by Colleen McCullough

Cleopatra was waiting, dressed now in filmy layers of gauze…The style was neither Greek nor Roman nor Asian, but something of her own, waisted, flared in the skirts, the bodice fitting her closely to show small breasts beneath; her thin little arms were softened by billowing sleeves that ended at the elbows to allow room for bracelets up her forearms. Around her neck she wore a gold chain from which dangled, enclosed in a cage of finest golden wire, a single pearl the size and colour of a strawberry. Antony’s gaze was drawn to it immediately; he gasped, eyes growing to her face in astonishment.

Julius Caesar is dead, leaving two men wanting to lead the Roman empire. One is his nephew Octavian, a brilliant man but sickly, and seen by many as too weak to lead. The other is Mark Antony, who believes he should have been Caesar’s heir. Meanwhile, Cleopatra, Julius Ceasar’s lover and Egypt’s Queen, seeks more power – not for herself, but for her son, Caesarion, who she wants to rule the entire world. When she and Antony come together, each is determined to get what they want.

Antony and Cleopatra is the tale of this star-crossed pair and the times in which they lived. This is not a romance, but an epic, exposing with historical detail the machinations and intrigues of the time. Vastly different to Shakespeare’s tale of the same name, this is history with an authentic, if at times slightly dry, feel.

Antony and Cleopatra is the final instalment in author Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series, but this reviewer had not read the previous offerings and did not feel disadvantaged by this. At times, though, it was hard to connect with the big cast of characters and to keep track of minor players.

Overall, this is an intriguing piece of historical fiction.

Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra, by Colleen McCullough
Harper Collins, 2007

This title is available from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Game as Ned, by Tim Pegler

I see my country below. Wonder if it will protect me like the hills looked after Kelly. Then the hail cracks one of the windowpanes beside me. Blind panic. Hands leap about my body. Feel to see if I’ve been shot.

Erin and Ned are an unlikely pairing. Erin is fiery and always talking. Ned never talks. Ever. He has been silent all his life, trapped inside his head. But somehow, the two become friends, with Erin doing all the talking and Ned listening and absorbing.

But not everyone likes them. Ned is the target of the town bully, who thinks it is fun to pick on someone who can’t answer back. Erin also attracts trouble, and when she sees Ned being picked on, she has to stand up for him, even if it draws attention to herself. Soon, both are in trouble, and Ned is on the run, trying to be as brave as the bushrangers he has long been fascinated with.

Game as Ned is an absorbing young adult read, told from the dual perspectives of the two protagonists, with the first section told by Ned, the second by Erin, and the third in alternating chapters by each of them. Ned, as his narrative shows, is an intelligent boy who sees and feels more than many people expect. Only Erin, their boss Mick and Ned’s grandfather see beyond the silence, with Ned unable to speak or to stand up for himself. Erin seems opposite, with her talkative nature sometimes being her downfall, but as we get to know her we see that her noise is almost a form of silence, masking what lies within.

Readers aged 12 and over will be drawn into the story, carried from chapter to chapter by events and by the well-drawn characters.

Superb reading.

Game as Ned

Game as Ned, by Tim Pegler
Angus & Robertson, 2007

Available from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Kitnapped Creature, by Darrel & Sally Odgers

If you take one horrible familiar cat-erwaul
And add one familiar smell and one yelling human
You get one familiar monster cat.
This is a fact.

All is not well in Doggeroo. Sarge, Jack Russell’s human, is sick in hospital and Jack has come across a problem. Someone has kitnapped Jack’s old enemy, the Awful Pawful. Much as Jack fears the cat, he knows something needs to be done.

In the meantime, Jack has other problems. He has to take care of Preacher, the junior Jack who has come to live with him, and his friend Foxie is sulking and proving difficult. Can Jack Russell solve the case without Sarge’s help?

The Kitnapped Creature is the eighth title in the Jack Russell: Dog Detective series and is filled with the fun and adventure readers have come to expect from the series. For those new to the series, the book stands alone, but will tempt them back to read the earlier titles.

Suitable for readers aged 6 and over.

Jack Russell 8: The Kitnapped Creature, by Darrel & Sally Odgers
Scholastic, 2007

That's Ambitious, by Dennis Cometti

Harvey, the smallest player in the AFL, has become a marking option. Remarkable! He might be the only guy in the competition whose feet appear in his driver licence photo.

Sporting fans around Australia are regularly treated to the commentary skills of Dennis Cometti. His in depth knowledge and eloquent style make him popular, but it is his way with words which most often draws attention. Cometti-isms – sometimes planned and researched, other times spur of the moment – are casually dropped into his commentary to the delight of fans and, sometimes, the bemusement of his co-commentators.

That’s Ambitious is Cometti’s second collection of his favourite comments and is accompanied by explanations of the context in which each comment was made, as well as black and white photos.

For any Cometti or football fan, this little offering is a delight.

That's Ambitious: More Classic Commentary

That’s Ambitious, by Dennis Cometti
Allen & Unwin, 2007

This book is available from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.