Love Notes, by Margaret Clark

I turned the pale pink envelope over, then I looked quickly around to check that people weren’t killing themselves laughing, that it wasn’t a big joke. No one was even looking in my direction. I gazed at the envelope. It wasn’t addressed to me or anyone else.
Should I open it or not?

When Laura finds a love note in her bag, she doesn’t know what to do. It is signed from a secret admirer, but she can’t even begin to guess who that might be. Laura’s mother is a Private Investigator, so Laura hopes she will help her figure out who it is from. But soon, Laura is on the trail herself and as more love letters appear in her classmates’ bags, she tries desperately to solve the mystery.

Love Notes is a fun mystery story suitable for ten to twelve year old readers. As Laura works to solve the case, she also deals with the complexities of playground politics, mixing with different groups of students – including the Populars (the ‘in’ girls), the Fringes (those who want to be ‘in’) and an absentee best friend who wants to keep Laura to herself. At the end of the story, several pages of tips for aspiring PIs are included, with a comforting level of caution about spying on strangers.

The hot pink cover will be attractive to its target audience, upper primary aged girls.

Love Notes

Love Notes, by Margaret Clark
Random House, 2007

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

Yin's Magic Dragon, by Lan Siew Mei

No one else apart from Yin knew that Dragon lived in the garden. If anyone should peep out the window, all they would see was Yin riding the kitchen broom.

Yin is an only child who lives with her parents and Grandmother. She also has a dragon living in her backyard; her special friend who no one else can see. Sometimes, when it is sad, the dragon’s spots change colours, but when Yin’s Grandmother has to move out, the dragon disappears altogether. Yin thinks it has gone forever, but time proves that the dragon is very wise indeed.

Yin’s Magic Dragon is a beautiful chapter book for children aged 5 and over, with a blend of fantasy and gentle message. Children will love the novelty of a pet dragon, and relate to Yin’s transitions of starting school and separating from loved ones.

An ideal book for sharing between adult and child, the illustrations, particularly the wrap-around cover picture, are delightful.

Yin’s Magic Dragon, by Lan Siew Mei, illustrated by Lak-Khee Tay Audouard
black dog books, 2007

Volcano, by June Colbert

There are at least ten ways for a volcano to kill you.
The most obvious, being overtaken by lava, is actually the least common.

Sara’s dad is a Meatball. His job entails climbing inside volcanoes to see whether or not they are going to erupt. He thrives on the adrenalin rush which danger brings. Sara travels with her dad and his colleagues wherever there are volcanoes. When they are sent to South America to study Mount Cumbal, they are disappointed. Cumbal is quiet and sleepy. There’s no way it’s going to explode.

To make matters worse, Sara and the other teenagers in the group have been enrolled at the International School in the nearby town, where the other students, and even the staff, resent their presence. When some of these students decide to show Sara and her friends that Mount Cumbal is no threat, they put everyone’s lives at risk.

Volcano is an exciting teen novel, with a mix of action and issue. The focus on a live volcano will prove informative for many readers, providing an interesting and unusual setting. Problems of teen bullying, self esteem and responsibility are explored but not in such a way as to feel forced on the reader.

Suitable for readers aged 12 and over.


Volcano, by June Colbert
Lothian, 2007

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

Who's Laughing? by David Bedford

Hippo is trying to sleep but every time he tries, someone starts laughing. On each opening, Hippo asks ‘Who’s laughing?’ On the opposing page an animal laughs their special laugh, while partially hiding behind down-opening flaps. There are clues on each page as to who’s causing the laughter. Bright colour jungle images lead Hippo high and low in search of answers. Hippo’s friend, a little blue bird, accompanies him on his search. Eventually Hippo and the little blue bird fall prey to the laugh-maker too. The story ends with everyone laughing together.

This is the paperback version of Who’s Laughing? with the original released in 2006. The bright yellow cover and image of Hippo laughing is sure to attract the youngest of children. The blue bird is here too on the front cover and gives the reader an extra something to follow through the pages. The format is mid-sized and the paper sturdy, perfect for little hands to flip and flip their way through. Recommended for 2-4 year olds.

Who's Laughing?

Who’s Laughing? by David Bedford ill Leonie Worthington
Little Hare paperback 2007
ISBN: 9781921272110

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The Boot Thief, by John Heffernan

‘What’s going on?’
Lucy and Jack looked up from the breakfast table. Their father was standing in the sunroom door, scratching his head.
On his left foot he wore a gumboot.
On his right foot was a riding boot.
The kids smiled at each other.
‘It’s that boot thief again!’ he growled.

A boot thief is stealing boots from the verandah of the farmhouse. Not every boot, just one of each pair. Lucy and Jack think it’s funny to see their father wearing odd boots. But then their boots begin to disappear as well. And one of their mother’s boots is gone as well. Suddenly it’s not so funny. It’s time for some serious detective work. Everyone at school wants to help. Could it be the hens? Could it be the sheep? Lucy and Jack piece together the evidence and discover just who is stealing the boots. But what do you do when the thief has a good reason for the thefts? Lucy and Jack work out a solution that keeps everyone happy, safe and warm.

the boot thief is a new title in Lothian’s Giggler series. There are short chapters with illustrations on every opening, perfect for the reader making the transition from fully illustrated texts. Stephen Axelsen’s illustrations build on the gentle humour underpinning this realistic mystery. There are funny illustrations demonstrating what the thief might do with the stolen boots. While the adults get cross, the children set about finding an answer to the mystery. The action is pacy, the solution perfect. Recommended for newly-independent readers.

The Boot Thief (Giggles)

the boot thief, John Heffernan, ill Stephen Axelsen Lothian 2007
ISBN: 9780734410009

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

Laugh Even Louder!

Red monster: That cute girl over there just rolled her eyes at me!
Blue Monster: Well you’d better roll them back, she probably needs them.

A multicoloured target on the front cover of Laugh Even Louder includes as its bull’s eye a laughing child. Open the front cover and you’ll hear a child’s laughter. The first page is covered with the word ‘giggle’. There is no prize for guessing the intent of this title! This is a book full of jokes, some short, others longer. Contributions come from a wide variety of well-known Australians including Adam Hills, Ann James and Kostya Tszyu, and also from children all around the country. This is the second collection of jokes published to benefit Camp Quality, an organisation which supports children with cancer and their families. The first was Laugh Out Loud.

Laugh Even Louder includes jokes for all ages, from simple ‘knock-knocks’ to longer and more complex anecdotes. There is some theme grouping, and some grouping of contributors eg four well-known cricketers tell their jokes on the same opening, but mostly the jokes are a mixture, catering to a variety of tastes. The final page of Laugh Even Louder invites reader to enter their jokes on line for the chance of publication and to win great prizes. Travis Nixon’s winning joke for this collection is on page 19. There can never be too much laughter in the world, and when the book has the added benefit of helping those who perhaps most need to find something to laugh about, there is added reason to recommend it. Recommended for anyone who could use a laugh.

Laugh Even Louder, various authors, illustrator Bob Seal
Scholastic 2007
ISBN: 9781741690224

Purinina – A Devil’s Tale, by Christina Booth

At the bottom of the world, on the edge of an island, through a deep valley lined with pines that point to the sky…

Purinina: A Devil’s Tale is the story of the life cycle of Purinina, a Tasmanian Devil. It begins and ends with a new life. In between, Christina Booth follows Purinina as she grows from infancy to maturity. When her mother fails to return from a hunting trip, Purinina and her brothers must learn to make their own way in a changing, shrinking and often hostile environment.

Tasmanian Devils have not always had good press. In some ways they are seen as the unsociable cousin of Australia’s cuter and cuddlier marsupials. But as all mothers love their offspring, no matter their appearance or behaviour, so the author shares her love of the devil. With gentle words and warm colours, Christina Booth brings us close to Purinina and her family.

There is very little colour on the striking front cover of Purinina: A Devil’s Tale. Only Purinina’s tail and paw-prints are there, but they tell the reader that this is not a story of a horned demon. Perhaps Purinina’s markings also hint that this is not an altogether happy story. But the internal spreads are filled with colour: celebrating the vibrancy of life. When Purinina’s mother fails to return after a night’s hunting, the spreads return to almost black and white. But life goes on and colour returns to the pages although the sadness of loss is not forgotten. Throughout the story, text colour changes, reinforcing particular words. Christina Booth tells a simple, cycle-of-life tale, with warmth and love. The illustrations are simply beautiful. The text is accompanied by notes about the life and habitat of this often misunderstood Australian animal. Blue-hued endpapers show the night countryside. Recommended for 4-7 year olds and anyone wanting to learn more about the Tasmanian Devil.

Purinina: A Devil's Tale

Purinina: A Devil’s Tale, Christina Booth
Lothian 2007

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

Harry Highpants, by Tony Wilson

eople in our town wear their pants at different heights.

People in town have always worn their pants at different heights. Some wear them low, some a little high and in Harry Highpants’ case, very high. But it’s not been a problem until Roy Bland decides to stand for council. He wants to see everyone wearing their pants the same way, the so-called ‘normal’ way. As the campaign progresses, the town is divided over the pants issue. Some feel that pants should be worn as the wearer feels comfortable, others are determined that everyone should be the same. Wading into this battle comes Harry Highpants, speaking for the freedom to wear pants as he wishes.

In Harry Highpants, Tom Jellett uses bright colours and humour to illustrate an important message about diversity and the challenges faced by any who would be different. The Roy Blands of this world will always find plenty of support in the push for uniformity. Hopefully, there will also be those who question and resist. The children of this town may have found Harry Highpants to be a figure of fun, his difference setting him apart, but they recognise, support and defend his right to wear his pants just how he chooses. Full colour pages, uncrowded images and an informal font allow the characters to shine as they recognise injustice and join the fight to reject Bland’s plans. The bright cover and images are attractive. Tony Wilson combines with Tom Jellett and together they tackle a serious subject with a light touch. They have produced a colourful, fun text, recommended for 3-7 year olds.

Harry Highpants, Tony Wilson, ill Tom Jellett
Omnibus Books 2007
ISBN: 9781862916036

Jamaica, by Malcolm Knox

Hut’s absolute predictability, his overflowing life, warmed Nayce, as it always had. He annoyed the shit out of you, but – it was like your children – when you were with him you stopped thinking about death. Hut stood, in some indefinable way, for the opposite of mortality, the opposite of death.

When he nearly drowns during an early morning swim, Hut isn’t scared. No, he actually finds himself annoyed that he hasn’t drowned. See, in the real world, Hut is in danger of drowning – financially and personally – and facing that reality is almost more frightening than death.

When Hut and his five friends travel to Jamaica to compete in a big swimming race, all of them have demons and crises to face, but it is Hut who must confront his various weaknesses. His five team mates all move in a world of money, and Hut moves with them, yet never quite one of them. If they knew the secret he was guarding they would be even less tolerant of his presence.

Jamaica is a riveting tale of friendship and betrayal, of self discovery and self delusion. The characters are without exception quite unlikeable, but when their real sides show equally quite believable. As the novel picks up pace the reader starts to care what happens, especially to Hut, the flawed main character and it becomes increasingly difficult to put the book down.

A compelling read.


Jamaica, by Malcolm Knox
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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Dad and Me, by Sarah Bryden-Brown

Dad had always wanted a family, and in the end he had a few. His first marriage in 1952 produced a daughter, Camilla, and a son, John. In 1962, after divorcing his first wife, Margaret, he married my mum and they had my sister, Jeni, in 1964. Four years later I was born. After they divorced in 1971, there was Lisa, a beautiful Hungarian waitress Dad had met when she was working in a fancy hotel bar, and who was married to him for ten years. and for a short period – three years, between 1982 and 1985 – there was just Dad and me.

Sarah Bryden-Brown recounts her life with her father from her childhood through adolescence to adulthood. Their relationship follows a rocky path through John Bryden-Brown’s three marriages and career challenges. For three years, the two lived together in dysfunctional almost-harmony. Then he decides, for reasons mostly unknown to Sarah, to move from Sydney to Queensland to start over. Following his death, Sarah is bequeathed her father’s large wooden chest, which holds ‘most of his secrets’. It is three years before she is ready to open the chest and examine the man who was her father. In doing so, she comes to a better understanding of John Bryden-Brown as a father and as a man.

We only get one go at childhood. It should be a time of love, laughter and learning. But it isn’t always like that. For many, childhood is a bewildering place, and only in hindsight do some of the reasons become evident. In Dad and Me the reader is invited into the revisiting of an imperfect childhood. There is love, but is it enough? Sarah Bryden-Brown doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of her early life, but in her examination of the contents of her father’s chest she is able to bring some balance to her understanding of her father. This is an intensely personal and sometimes difficult story, but its candour and clarity offer opportunities for others who seek understanding.

Dad and Me

Dad and Me, by Sarah Bryden-Brown
Harper Collins Publishers 2007
ISBN: 9780732285296

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