Letters to a Princess, by Libby Hathorn

Dear Princess Diana,
I know you are very important, a princess and all, and I’m just a random girl in a country on the other side of the world but I just looked at one of the many pictures of you that are stuck up above my desk and thought, why not give it a go?

Diana Moore is, in her own words, average, except that she seems to land in trouble more times than other girls. Her mother died a year ago, and since then she’s lost weight, prompting her stepfather to think she has an eating disorder. Of course, Diana is sure there is no problem – she just watches what she eats so she won’t end up fat again.

When her friend Babs, the family’s housekeeper, suggests that Diana write to the other Diana – Princess Diana – she figures she may as well give it a go. Her letters are honest and chatty, telling the Princess about life in Australia. But Diana’s life is not getting better. Her stepbrother Marcus is giving her a really hard time, everyone is pressuring her about eating, and then she and her best friend Zoe land themselves in trouble when they go to see Princess Diana for real.

Letters to a Princess is an uplifting novel. Whilst it deals with very serious subjects of self-identity, eating disorders, grief and family disharmony, it does so in a form and tone that is relaxed and avoids becoming over heavy. This is not to say that it trivialises the issues. Rather, by using a combination of letter form and the first person narration of fifteen year old Diana, it allows Diana’s teen voice to explore events as they happen to her, with the reader allowed to recognise undercurrents not directly expressed.

Set in the year of Princess Diana’s death, the ten year time difference should not be a problem for teen readers.

A positive book on important topics.

Letters to a Princess

Letters to a Princess, by Libby Hathorn
ABC Books, 2007

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

The Circus Pony, by Alison Lester

Every afternoon after school, Bonnie and Sam took Tricky down to Currawong Creek and practised their trick riding. Bonnie was the star now, and she loved it. Usually Sam was the best at riding.

Bonnie and Sam love horses, even though neither has a horse of her own. Instead, they visit and care for the horses of the residents of Currawong Creek. When the local Fire Brigade runs a talent night, Bonnie and Sam borrow a pony and decide to learn some trick riding. The only problem is that no one has told them no animal acts are allowed.

When a circus comes to town, though, the girls find some consolation. There is a trick riding act in the circus. Maybe they can learn some new tricks from the girl who rides in the circus.

The Circus Pony is the second title in the very cute Bony and Sam series from the talented pairing of author Alison Lester and illustrator Roland Harvey. Perfect for horse mad youngsters, the stories are aged at readers aged 7 to 9. There are full colour illustrations on most pages and a cast of lovable characters, both equine and human.

Very cute.

The Circus Pony (Bonnie and Sam)

Bonnie and Sam: The Circus Pony, by Alison Lester and Roland Harvey
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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

Harry Highpants and the Salivating Beast, by John Larkin

To most people Harry Highfield was just an ordinary boy. Okay he might have worn his pants a little higher than you would expect, but otherwise he seemed perfectly normal.
During the school holidays, however, Harry would put away his homework, get out his cape and become a superhero.

When Harry’s brother Wayne the Pain loses his favourite cricket ball over the fence, Harry has a chance to use all of his (non-existent) superhero powers to retrieve it. The first problem is how to get over the fence. Wayne solves this. He can make Harry fly, with a little help from a spinning clothesline. Then all Harry has to do is get the ball away from the salivating beast which is guarding it.

Harry Highpants and the Salivating Beast is a fast paced and humorous junior novel which is also easy to read. Harry’s adventures are silly and the illustrations, by the talented Heath McKenzie, are filled with comic detail and sure to bring a smile to a young reader’s face.

Part of the new ABC Kids fiction series, Harry Highpants is lots of fun.

Harry Highpants and the Salivating Beast (ABC Kids Fiction)

Harry Highpants and the Salivating Beast, by John Larkin, illustrated by Heath McKenzie
ABC Books, 2007

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

The Singing Stones, by Margo Lanagan

‘You’re right, sis. Our town is full of odd people and queer happenings.. And now we’ve been caught up in them.’

Lawrie and Jean are out fossicking with their grandfather and thinking about lunch when something strange happens. A willy-willy appears in front of them, and suddenly Lawrence, Jean and their dog Bee-Joo find themselves in a strange land. Scintillon, as they learn the land is called, is a land where stones sing, and keep the land in harmony. But one stone, somewhere in the land, is calling Jean to come and get it and take it home.

The Singing Stones is the second book in the Lost Shimmaron series, a series created by seven of Australia’s leading speculative fiction writers. Like other children from the town of Amethyst, Lawrence and Jean have been chosen by the Shimmaron, the mystical energy beings stranded in the depths of the town lake, to help get them home. Their adventures on Scintillon will entice young fantasy readers to seek out the rest of the series.

Each book in the Shimmaron series is written by one of the seven creators. This instalment is the work of Margo Lanagan, with other authors involved in the project including Tansy Rayner Roberts and Rowena Cory Daniels.

A wonderful concept.

The Singing Stones (Lost Shimmaron)

The Singing Stones, by Margo Lanagan
ABC Books, 2007

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

Pirates Drive Buses, by Christopher Morgan

Billy and Heidi were walking to school. They were in the middle of the World Champion Pine-cone Kicking Contest when they heard the strangest sound.
A great yellow bus screeched to a halt beside them.
‘Oh no,’ said Heidi. ‘It’s that pirate again.’
And she was right.

The pirate is back, and this time he isn’t much bothered about eating porridge – instead he’s driving a yellow bus full of sea creatures, and searching for his ship which has been stolen. Heidi isn’t too keen on going on an adventure with the Pirate, but Billy is more keen – it’s got to be better than going to school, hasn’t it?

Soon the children, the Pirate and his pet pig (who thinks she’s a parrot) are setting sail in search of the SS You Beauty. Along the way they come across hundreds of monkey crabs, a blue speckled mudskipper that wants to drive the bus and a host of other sea creatures.

This funny offering is the sequel to the popular Pirates Eat Porridge, and, like the first book, is brought to life by the gorgeous black and white illustrations by Neil Curtis (of Cat and Fish fame) who, sadly, passed away soon after completing this book.

This is a gorgeous book full of fun and silliness.

Pirates Drive Buses

Pirates Drive Buses, by Christopher Morgan, illustrated by Neil Curtis
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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

Trick or Treat, by Kerry Greenwood

‘Gone, gone,’ mourned the young man. He seemed unaware of Meroe’s existence. He kept bumping against her in a vague way, as though she was a wall in his path. She turned him gently so that he was facing an actual wall and he continued to try to walk through it.

Corinna Chapman is worried. Not only has a new bread shop opened up nearby, but her gorgeous boyfriend Daniel has an old friend staying with him – an old friend who is blonde, leggy and up to something. Perhaps most worrying of all, however, is the way that people are going mad in the proximity of Corinna’s shop after eating, of all things, bread. Surely Corinna hasn’t inadvertently poisoned them?

Trick or Treat is the fourth adventure for Corinna, a reluctant amateur sleuth who has turned her back on life as an accountant to run her bakery. Whilst it is definitely a crime fiction novel, it is also something more, as Corinna’s little corner of Melbourne is brought to life with an eclectic cast of misfits, eccentrics and just plain nice people. The more one reads of this series, the more one feels that the people are real. The reader is drawn into their lives and their dramas, caring what happens to them.

Good stuff.

Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat, by Kerry Greenwood
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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

Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs, by Michael Gerard Bauer

Ishmael Leseur.
That’s me. It’s also the name of a frightening but as yet virtually unknown medical condition. And if you’re thinking it’s pretty stupid writing your own name down so you can remember it, then you’ve obviously never suffered from Ishmael Leseur’s Syndrome. (Which I guess is hardly surprising, since I’m the world’s only known case.)

The summer break over, Ishmael Leseur is back at school and reunited with his friends Scobie, Prindabel, Bill and the Razzman for another big year. Maybe this year they’ll win the debating competition after a narrow miss last year. But first they have to navigate Miss Tarango’s poetry lessons and the school bully Barry Bagsley. There’s also the small matter of Ishmael’s crush on Kelly Faulkner. Unable to put a sensible sentence together in her presence, Ishmael thinks he has no chance, but Razza is determined to give him a helping hand.

Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs is a funny sequel to the highly successful Don’t Call Me Ishmael, though it stands alone enough for any reader who missed the first. Ishmael is a likeable main character and a wry first person narrator and his friends and their flaws create humour in all sorts of situations.

There are plenty of laugh out loud moments mixed with dashes of reality and some issues of substance. Most of all though it’s a feel good book, and the world needs plenty of those.

Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs, by Michael Gerard Bauer
Omnibus, 2007

Cold Skin, by Steven Herrick

They named me Eddie
after Mum’s father
who died before I was born.
‘A quiet, stubborn bastard,’
says my dad.
I’m not sure if he’s talking about
Grandad or me.

Eddie Holding has grown up in Burruga, a coal mining town where nothing exciting ever happens. He wants to leave school and work in the mine, but his dad won’t work in the mine and he doesn’t want his sons working there either.

Eddie’s teacher, Mr Butcher, doesn’t want to be at the school, either. He has ambitions to teach at a big private school. In the meantime, though, he spends weekdays trying to make Eddie’s life hell, and the weekends in the city paying women for sex.

When one of Eddie’s classmates is found murdered, Eddie is sure his teacher is guilty. After all, he saw his teacher running late for the train on the night Colleen died. But in a town full of secrets, nothing is as it seems.

Cold Skin is a chilling novel in verse for young adult readers. Herrick is a master of the form, and this latest offering continues his tradition of offering a rich plot with twists and turns in the limited words which the form offers. The viewpoint shifts between the cast, allowing an insight into each character’s workings, and the twists and turns of the novel keep the reader guessing till the end.

Suitable for readers aged thirteen and over, including adult readers.

Cold Skin

Cold Skin, by Steven Herrick
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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

Imagine, by Alison Lester

if we were
deep in the jungle
where butterflies drift
and jaguars prowl
where parakeets squawk
and wild monkeys howl.

Kids love to imagine and in this gorgeous little offering, they are invited to imagine themselves in the jungle, under the sea, in the arctic and more. Each new setting is explored first in words, with a verse similar to that above, complemented by a single page illustration showing children playing make-believe games of the setting they’re imaging. The following double page spread is an elaborate scene of the setting itself, with readers encouraged to find the different animals in the picture, through a list written in the white border around the spread.

Imagine is an endearing classic. First published in 1990 it has won a place in the hearts and homes of children, parents and librarians. This new small format hardcover edition is almost pocket sized, adding a new dimension to the text, with young readers encouraged by the size to pick it up and really look closely. They will also be delighted with the sparkly features on the front cover.

Imagine, by Alison Lester
Allen & Unwin, 2007

Right Book Right Time, by Agnes Nieuwnhuizen

‘You have to read a book at the right time for you…it’s the key to enjoyment of literature.’ (Doris Lessing)

There is no shortage of books being produced for teens, with thousands of new titles on offer each year. But for young readers, and for their parents and teachers, finding books which suit their tastes and interests can be a challenge.

Right Book, Right Time offers readers plenty of assistance in choosing and sourcing good books for teenage readers. Over 500 books are profiled, with over 200 being treated in the form of a short review, and others being highlighted in shorter profiles grouped by theme, author or subject matter.

Books are divided into twelve subject areas, ranging from fantasy to humour, from sport to war. There are also six short essays scattered throughout, written by experts but accessible to any reader. Whilst Australian books feature prominently there are also quality books from around the world.

Suitable for both teen readers and for adults interested in helping teens access good books, this is an excellent resource which should have a place in every library as well as home collections.

Right Book, Right Time: 500 Great Reads for Teenagers

Right Book Right Time, by Agnes Nieuwnhuizen
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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