Stories from Country, by Bob Randall, as told to Susan Haworth

Stories from Countryis a beautiful and important collection of stories. Uncle Bob Randall is a well-known, well-loved and well-respected Aboriginal song-writer and story-teller. Here he shares his stories, as told to Susan Haworth. Some of the stories of events from his childhood and youth, others are fictional stories based on real events or cultural events and the final story is fictional story of a cultural process about which the real events cannot be spoken. Also included are some of Uncle Bob’s songs.

The stories are a real mixture. There are moments of laughter, of excitement and of great sadness. Some stories leave readers pondering, while others bring a smile. What is common is the feeling of walking with Uncle Bob, or sitting with him as he tells of his life. Reading the book feels like a privilege.

Badged as children’s fiction, this is a book which is equally suitable for readers young and old. It should find a place in classrooms and school libraries, but should also be enjoyed for private reading.

Stories from Country: My Pony Hooky and Other Tales, Bob Randall as told to Susan Haworth
ABC Books, 2007

Seams of Gold, by Christopher Cheng

‘What’s this one? I asked him, lifting the small basket that was decorated with Chinese coins and tassels and beads.
‘Ah that special basket. Bring from China. My mother’s basket. To remind me where I come from, MaMa say. That basket for special sewing. For fine stitching. Someone maybe need torn clothes repaired or fine embroidery that need special threads and needles.”

Danny isn’t impressed when he has to go with his uncle to repair tents and clothes in the goldfields. He wants to tell his uncle that sewing is women’s work, but he knows that he has to respect his uncle and go with him anyway. Out on the goldfields, Danny sees the work his uncle does, and soon learns a new respect.

Seams of Gold shares the experience of a Chinese man and his nephew during the goldrush of the 1850s. Told from the first person point of view of Danny, the story provides a unique perspective on just one of the roles played by the Chinese people who worked on the goldfields, and touches on their treatment at the hands of white miners.

Part of the Making tracks series, Seams of Gold is suitable for readers aged 8 to 12.

Seams of Gold, by Christopher Cheng
National Museum of Australia Press, 2007

Antarctic Close-Up, by Hazel Edwards

Dad warned me, but … I just wanted to look inside the telescope. An idea came to me: the telescope and the webcam both let you see things better. What if I put the old technology and the new technology together?

John likes to fiddle with things, which sometimes lands him in trouble. But when he connects a broken webcam to a telescope which was once used in the Antarctic, he gets a surprise. Through the webcam, history comes alive on his dad’s laptop. Now John and his friend Peter are witnessing the events of an expedition that took place nearly a hundred years ago.

Antarctic Close-Up is part historical novel, part fantasy adventure, with most of the action taking place in the present, where John and Peter have access to the telescope at his father’s auction business. Young readers will enjoy this novel approach to examining history, with John and Peter witnessing the expedition through the webcam and the screen of the laptop.

Part of the Making Tracks series, Antarctic Close-Up offers a unique perspective on Antarctic history to young readers.

Antarctic Close-Up, by Hazel Edwards
National Museum of Australia Press, 2007

Simpson and His Donkey, by Mark Greenwood & Frane Lessac

In time for ANZAC Day 2008, Walker Books Australia have released a very Australian picture book telling the well known story of Simpson and his donkey. Born in England, Simpson was far from home in Australia when World War 1 broke out. He enlisted and found himself not in England, as he’d hoped, but in Egypt and then Turkey, where he worked as a stretcher bearer. In Gallipoli, Simpson found stretchers in short demand, so he enlisted the help of wild donkeys to rescue over 300 wounded men and to transport water to thirsty soldiers. Sadly, as Simpson went once more onto the battlefield he was shot and killed.

This retelling of Simpson’s story is told in simple language but not at the risk of trivialising the story or the war itself. Greenwood has a knack of making history accessible for children. In turn, illustrator Frane Lessac, brings the story to life with gouache illustrations filled with little details and rich colours.

This is an important story beautifully represented in a form suitable for educational use and also private reading.

Simpson and his Donkey, by Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac
Walker Books, 2008

Lofty's Mission, by Krista Bell

When Harley’s dad takes his young pigeon, Lofty, to donate for the war effort, Harley cries, sure that he’ll never see Lofty again. In Queensland, Lofty is trained by army officers to carry important messages, before being sent to New Guinea. There he flies hundreds of miles carrying messages from the field back to headquarters. When his platoon is ambushed, Lofty is injured as he carries a message, but survives. No longer able to fly, he is awarded a bravery medal and sent home to a relieved Harley.

Lofty’s Mission is a beautiful picture book telling a side of Australia’s wartime history that few children (or adults) would know about . Whilst Lofty’s tale is fictional, Australian breeders donated more than 13, 000 baby messengers to the army during 1942 and 1943, to be trained as messenger pigeons.

The text is wonderfully brought to life by the paper sculpture artwork of David Miller, an art form which will delight young readers. Released in time for ANZAC Day 2008, this superb book is suitable both for classroom use and private enjoyment.

Lofty’s Mission, by Krista Bell & David Miller
Lothian, 2008

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

The Lost Dog, by Michelle De Kretser

Afterwards, Tom would remember the dog ignoring him and the spurt of impatience he had felt. The dog had to be walked and the house packed up before the long drive back to the city. He was keen to get moving while the weather held. So he didn’t pat the dog’s soft head when he strode to the fence and reached for him.

Tom Loxley is using the solitude of a rented house in the bush to finish his book about Henry James when his dog escapes and goes missing. Over the next ten days Tom searches anxiously for the dog, as he also deals with his ailing and elderly mother, his difficult relationship with his artist friend Nelly Zhang and his past.

With the narrative looping back and forth from Tom’s childhood, his adult life and current events, readers are gradually allowed to grasp the different parts of Tom’s past and present, coming with him to make sense of much of it.

This is a cleverly crafted novel, combining elements of mystery, romance and self-reflection as well as an exploration of aging and the meaning of life.


The Lost Dog

The Lost Dog, by Michelle de Krester
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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

Little Theories of Life, by Peter FitzSimons

Why does the dominant partner in any sexual relationship usually sleep on the side of the bed nearest the door? Is there a direct relationship between the length of hemlines and the state of the national economy? Are odd numbers evil? And why do drivers with hats drive 40 kilometres per hour slower than those without?

Ex-Wallaby and television presenter Peter FitzSimons is not afraid to tackle life’s big issues head on, and this little hard cover offering does just that, discussion these questions and more. It is not always politically correct, nor is it scientifically proven, but his take on life is both amusing and entertaining.

Readers will find that they are prone to head nodding, wry smiles as they recognise themselves in some of the theories, and moments where they just have to read a passage out loud to whoever will listen. This is that sort of book.

Great fun, suitable for anyone with a sense of humour.

Little Theories of Life

Little Theories of Life, by Peter FitzSimons
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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

Fivefold, by Nathan Burrage

A bright citrus orange in the shape of a crude hand, about shoulder height. How could he have missed that?
Ashvin didn’t stop to think about what he was doing. He walked towards the glowing hand without hesitation. Morgan brushed past him and Elsie was moving behind him, but Ashvin remained intent on the hand. He needed to touch those fingers. Now.
Nothing else mattered.

When James Burrage finds himself in trouble with the law, his friends rally around to help him. The five take a break in Yorkshire, where on a country walk they stumble across a ruined cathedral. What lies buried beneath the ruins starts them on an amazing journal into myth and legend, as each of the five discovers amazing new abilities. The group are helped by others with similar abilities and threatened by dark forces intent on stopping them from completing their new quest.

Fivefold is an eerie debut novel from Sydney author Nathan Burrage. Exploring ancient supernatural forces and rewriting historic, biblical and mythologic events, the modern day story changes the lives of the five central characters but also sees a reshaping of the future.

Gripping reading.

Fivefold, by Nathan Burrage
Bantam, 2008

The Other Side, by Sally Morgan

Gramps disappeared into his room. He returned a few minutes later with a gumleaf attached to a long leather string.
‘Here, put this around your neck,’ he said.
‘Why would I want to do that, Gramps?’ asked Alex.
‘It’s so you’ll always have a piece of the bush with you.’
Reluctantly, Alex put the gumleaf over his head and tucked it under his T-shirt where no one could see it.

Alex’s grandfather is really embarrassing. He’s always protesting and campaigning to save things like whales and trees. Other grandparents do things like help with homework or buy them sweets, but Gramps is too busy thinking up new ways to embarrass Alex – at least that’s how it feels. So when Alex has to go and stay with Gramps for a few days, he isn’t impressed. What will Gramps get up to this time? But Alex is about to be surprised. Strange events lead him to a greater understanding of why Gramps does what he does.

The Other Side is a child’s view of activism and how fighting for environmental issues can make a difference. It also explores the history of Western Australia’s Rabbit Proof Fence from a unique perspective – when Alex unexpectedly finds himself inside the body of a joey for part of the story.

Part of the Making Tracks series of historical fiction for primary aged readers.

The Other Side, by Sally Morgan, illustrated by Teresa Culkin-Lawrence
National Museum of Australia Press, 2007

The Firefighters, by Sue Whiting

Briiiiiing! Briiiiiing!
The alarm screams
‘Quick!’ I say. ‘Coats and boots!’
‘Hats, too,’ says Mia…
We’re being firefighters – just like the REAL ones.

Jack, Mia and their kindergarten friends – and even their teacher, Mrs Iverson – are playing at being firefighters. With a cardboard box as a fire engine they race off to put out the fire. It’s fun being a pretend firefighter. Later, though, Mrs Iverson has a surprise for them – a visit from a real fire engine. The children learn about fire safety at the same time as enjoying the excitement of exploring a real fire engine and meeting real firefighters.

This gorgeous picture book offering serves the dual functions of teaching about fire safety and the role of firefighters, and highlighting the fun of imaginative play. It would be a great classroom tool for fire safety lessons, but is equally just a fun read for home or school.

The illustrations, by award winning illustrator Donna Rawlins are in bold acrylics with plenty of red and yellow, matching the bright red endpapers.

Sue Whiting is an exciting writer, creating stories which kids want to read, and which adults enjoy sharing.

An excellent offering.

The Firefighters, by Sue Whiting and Donna Rawlins
Walker Books, 2008