Observations of a Very Short Man, by Nigel Marsh

‘My Daddy is…’ went the headline.
Then underneath, in Harry’s big, woobyly handwriting, were the words ‘…a very short man.’
There was nothing else on the card. Either side.
Harry was looking up at me expectantly.
‘Err…That’s wonderful, mate…Thanks so much,’ I said.

Nigel Marsh’s first book, Fat, Forty and Fired was a huge success first in Australia and then internationally, and is now being made into a feature film. Now, in his follow-up book, Marsh shares more of the wisdom and wit which made the first book so popular.

Observations of a Very Short Man shares stories about different aspects of his life – interactions with his wife and children, experiences with religion, chance encounters with strangers and more. As well as recounting his experiences, Marsh also offers his wry observations about life, making the reader both laugh out loud and pause to consider the truth of Marsh’s observations.

An excellent read.

Observations of a Very Short Man

Observations of a Very Short Man, by Nigel Marsh
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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

Australian Classics, by Jane Gleeson-White

This useful reference explores fifty classic pieces of Australian literature, discussing the influences which shaped each book, the author’s background, events of the day and more. The fifty chosen books range in time from Rolf Boldrewood’s 1882 novel Robbery Under Arms to Tim Winton’s 1991 offering Cloudstreet, and in form from fiction and nonfiction prose, to children’s books and poetry.

Whilst readers may have their own ideas about which fifty Australian books should be included in such a collection, the author acknowledges that many worthy offerings have been exclude by inviting other Australians – including Frank Moorehouse and David Malouf – to share their own lists of favourite Australian books.

Lovers and students of Australian literature will find much to absorb here –new aspects of old favourites as well as perhaps an awareness of gaps in their personal reading or home libraries.

An excellent reference.

Australian Classics

Australian Classics: 50 Great Writers and their Celebrated Works, by Jane Gleeson-White
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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

The Day I Was History, by Jackie French

It was like I’d been knocked flat even though I was standing up. It was like the bushfires were back again in my head, like they are in dreams sometimes. And this old lady, well, older than Mum anyway, came up and said, ‘Are you alright?’

When Sam and his family go to visit the National Museum, he doesn’t expect to find an exhibit that represents an event he himself was involved in. But there it is – a charred hubcap from a fire truck burnt in the Canberra fires in January, 2003. Suddenly, Sam is revisiting his memory of the terrible day when the fires came from the hills and Canberra burned.

The Day I Made History is a child character’s version of the events of those fires, told in Sam’s first person voice. Sam tells the story as he remembers it, but also enables the reader to understand what happened.

Part of the Making Tracks series, which brings history to life for primary aged readers, this offering has the added bonus of getting readers to consider what it is that makes an event history, dealing as it does with events which have happened within readers’ lifetimes.

The Day I Made History, by Jackie French
National Museum of Australia Press, 2007

The Dragon Companion, by Carole Wilkinson

This little hardcover offering will delight dragon lovers young and old. Filled with dragon facts and stories, and sumptuously illustrated, it can be read cover to cover or dipped into and sampled.

The Dragon Companion is an encyclopaedia with entries ranging from short paragraphs on key dragons in mythology, to dragon stories of two or three pages length. There are also annotated diagrams highlighting key aspects of various dragons, and colourful illustrations. The letter plates for the alphabetic entries are divine, each entwined with a different dragon.

Author Carole Wilkinson’s passion for all things dragons has previously been made obvious in the award winning Dragonkeeper trilogy. In this encyclopaedia, she shares that passion in a new format. Illustrator Dean Jones has produced beautiful illustrations, and the hardcover format and touches such as gold font make for a truly beautiful book.

Suitable for ages eight to adult.

The Dragon Companion, by Carole Wilkinson
black dog books, 2007

A Penny to Remember, by Kirsty Murray

‘I want you to remember the best times we’ve had. You and me together.’
Hannah turned the coin over and gazed at it in wonder. Carefully etched into the metal was a picture of a boy and a girl, two small figures holding hands. They were dressed plainly, the boy in a jacket, the girl in a simple dress. In an arc above their heads were two words. Hannah recognised the letter ‘H’.

When George is sentenced to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land, his greatest heartache is being separated from his sister Hannah. But another convict suggests a token he can leave behind for Hannah to remember him by – a love token made from a penny. Soon, George is on his way to Van Diemen’s Land and Hannah is at home in England wearing the penny on a ribbon around her neck. Is there any hope that they’ll ever be together again?

A Penny to Remember is a short chapter book for primary school aged readers, bringing the convict era alive for young readers. Part of the Making Tracks series from the National Museum of Australia Press, the story focuses on two young protagonists and is told from their alternate viewpoints in third person narrative.

The use of young characters and a real object from the museum’s collection helps to make Australian history accessible to young readers.

A Penny to Remember, by Kirsty Murray
National Museum of Australia Press, 2007

Landscape of Farewell, by Alex Miller

‘I’m the only one left who knows the truth of what happened. If it’s not written down the truth of it will be lost when I die. It was told to me by my grandfather. It was his own father, my own great-grandfather, who did these things and told him of them. No one else is left who knows the truth of it but me.’

After the death of his wife, German academic Max Otto figures his life is close to over. He will say his goodbyes and then he’ll end it. But when he meets Vita McLelland, an academic visiting from Australia, Max finds himself faced with new issues to sort out before he ends his life.

His friendship with Vita takes him to Australia, where he stays in a remote township with Vita’s uncle Dougald Gnapun. Like Max, Dougald has some unfinished business. He needs to tell the story of his great grandfather, and to go back to visit his country. The two men form a strong bond as together they face their pasts and their own limitations.

Landscape of Farewell is a story of reconciliation, between past and present, between young and old and between black and white. Max has often wondered at the history of his own country and especially his father’s involvement in the German army, and finds parallels between his own past and that of Dougald, whose people were involved in a massacre in Australia. In helping Dougald to tell his story. Max becomes more able to confront his own.

Like all of Miller’s work, this is a deeply moving novel which will leave the reader with much to ponder.

Landscape of Farewell

Landscape of Farewell, by Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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

Allira's Gift, by Paul Collins

A deafening roar filled her ears. Shouting erupted and she jerked around to find its source. “Ohmigod,” she mouthed.
Part of the castle gate had been blown to smithereens. A lingering green mist like cannon smoke wafted on the still air. Debris lay scattered across the immediate area. Through the mist surged a horde of small, green-skinned creatures.

Allira and Steven are not terribly impressed with the country town of Coradgee, the town where their father grew up, but it seems they’re here to stay, at least until their missing grandfather is found. Fergus Hart has vanished without a trace, and the children’s father has come home to try to find him. But home isn’t quite as he remembers it. The farm house has been replaced by a huge castle, a castle which Allira feels is pretty special. As reality and fantasy clash, Allira finds just how special the castle is. The goblins who work there are at first visible only to her, but when she finds herself swept up in dangerous events, Steven is there ot help her.

Allira’s Gift is the first title in the new World of Grymm series from Australian fantasy master Paul Collins. With a host of fantastical creatures both familiar and unfamiliar, and plenty of action, it will appeal to readers aged 10 through to young adult. Illustrated by Danny Willis with black and white drawings of key characters and events, and in a sturdy hard cover format, this is a keeper, sure to be enjoyed over and over and with readers looking out for the next instalment, due for release in June 2008.

The World of Grymm: Allira’s Gift, by Paul Collins and Danny Willis
Five Mile Press, 2007

Archer's Melbourne Cup, by Vashti Farrer

Tom helps me brush Archer down and he’s standing there like some statue we’re polishing. He knows he’s a beauty. You can tell by the way he holds his head – up high, looking down on the world.

It is 1861 and Robby Jenkins has just found work as a stable hand at Terara. His family needs the money, and Robby has always loved horses, so he’s pleased to have found the job. He is hoping that eventually he’ll be able to become a jockey.

At Terara Robby makes friends, and one special one is the horse, Archer. When a brand new horse race, the Melbourne Cup is announced, Robby’s boss decides to enter Archer. Robby is sure he can win – and he wants to travel with the horse to see it happen.

Archer’s Melbourne Cup is the story of the first Melbourne Cup, told from the perspective of the strapper of the winning horse. The tale focuses on life at the stables, as well as family life and the economic climate of the times. The use of the diary format personalises the story.

Part of Scholastic’s My Australian Story series, Archer’s Melbourne Cup provides an informative yet entertaining look at the birth of the race which continues to stop the nation.

Archer’s Melbourne Cup, by Vashti Farrer
Scholastic, 2007

Sam and the Killer Robot, by Judith Rossell

This time Sam didn’t notice Uncle Andy’s strange new voice: he was too busy looking at the price of the boxes of Bisky Bricks and counting his money.

From the moment Sam sees the boxes offering purchasers the chance to collect the parts to build a killer robot, he absolutely has to have one. He’ll do anything to buy enough boxes of Bisky Bricks to get the parts he needs, even though Bisky Bricks taste awful and the parts he has are acting very strangely. It’s as if he’s being called to complete the model.

In the meantime, Sam’s Uncle Andy, who owns the supermarket where Bisky Bricks are sold, is acting very strangely – even more strangely than he usually does. But Sam is too busy trying to build his robot to do anything about Uncle Andy.

This fast-moving, humorous adventure suitable for middle and upper primary aged readers, has plenty of action and laugh aloud moments. This is Rossell’s second novel and shows her keen sense of humour and understanding of what kids want to read.

Sam and the Killer Robot

Sam and the Killer Robot, by Juidth Rossell
Little Hare, 2007

This review first appeared in Reading Time Magazine.

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

the no-minute noodler, by Richard Glover

To confuse the issue of who it was that farted by blaming it all on the dog.
(nay sayuh)noun
Any parent who refuses to buy you a horse for your birthday

The real dictionary is full of words, but, Richard Glover claims, it is heavily biased towards adults. Where, he asks, are the words for the situations kids find themselves in. What do you call the kid who farts and then blames the dog? Or the parents who refuse to buy a horse for their child?

the no-minute noodler, subtitled the dags dictionary for kids provides words (and their meanings) for those situations – and along the way gives plenty of laughs. Some of the words are clever, others are just plain funny, but there’s plenty there for kids to enjoy. This is the sort of book that will be read out bit-by-bit, or passed around by a group of boys in the school library. There is also a section at the back for kids to make up their own words (definitions provided) and their own definitions (words provided), which could be a fun classroom activity.

No-minute Noodler: Dag's Dictionary for Kids

the no-minute noodler: the dag’s dictionary for kids, by Richard Glover
ABC Books, 2007

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