Always Mackenzie, by Kate Constable

‘We’re doomed.’ Bec dumped her bags beneath the grimy window of the converted shearers shed. ‘We’re all going to die.’
‘Doomed to death?’ said Iris. ‘That’s got to be a tautology.’
‘We won’t die,’ said Georgia. ‘You never know, it might even be fun.’
I said, ‘Can I have the top bunk?’
So what did that say about me?
On the flimsy evidence available, it might seem that I was a practical, confident, brisk kind of person who’d rather get one with things than stand around arguing.
Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong again, which shows how inaccurate first impressions can be.

Always Mackenzie begins on the first day of a term-long camp at Heathersett River, the country campus of a private school. Year Ten will spend a term there. Within the first page the reader is introduced to Jem and her three close friends. Camp is supposed to break down the barriers between ‘cliques’ and provide opportunities for all the girls to learn more about themselves and each other. And to some extent it workes. Jem (nerd) and Mackenzie (golden) get to know each other. Georgia (Jem’s friend) and Rosie (Mackenzie’s friend) also become friends. The term ends and they return to regular school. Both new and old friendships are tested. Jem has always been one of the ‘good’ students, managing to swim her way through secondary school avoiding any undue attention. But she can’t stand by when her friend is being bullied. A firm believer in truth and justice, she is stunned at the response to her honesty.

Jem is a reader, a diligent student, a quite achiever. Her life has been ordered, buffered by three friends she met when she began Year Seven. The worst thing about school camp is that she is not allowed to take any books. A pact with Mackenzie to ‘remain enemies’ in the face of saccharine-sweet pretend friendships transforms into a friendship that continues when they return to school. But what was easy to sustain at Heathersett River is much more difficult back at school. Always Mackenzie is a novel about the nature of friendships, the danger of secrets and the complex masks that seldom protect.

This is title 4 in the new Girlfriend series from Allen & Unwin. Although there are common elements to the packaging of this series, each cover is distinctive and engaging, enticing mid-teens into substantial stories. Recommended for 13-16 year olds.

Always Mackenzie, by Kate Constable
Allen & Unwin 2008
ISBN: 9781741752939

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

Eating Lolly, by Corrie Hosking

Mumma’s childhood was warm with baking. She was a good girl. She was Mother’s Little Helper, The Wee Chef, an Apple Dumpling in a green pinny. Her time at home revolved around cooking with her mother. Baking together was as close as they ever got. Her mother had a shelf of bosom and Mumma stood in her shadow, in her darkness.

When Mumma is eighteen she is sent away, heavily pregnant, to live alone on a remote island. The island community is small, and Mumma keeps mostly to herself, but when her baby Lola Belle – Lolly – is born, she is determined to bring her up surrounded by love. Together Mumma and Lolly grow, in a life filled with baking and tastes and scents.

Their family expands with the inclusion of Mister, the shy son of a neighbour, and together the three of them make a life. But as Lolly grows she and Mumma both struggle with the secrets of their past and their present, and with their female forms.

Eating Lolly is a gentle, rich story of femininity, of family and of love. At times shocking and confronting, it explores the challenges faced by three generations of women in coping with life, with secrets, and with themselves.

A beautiful read, female readers especially are likely to catch glimpses of their own lives within.

Eating Lolly, by Corrie Hosking
Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2008

Kangaroo's Visitor Gets a Surprise, by Peter Taylor

“It’s Kangaroo’s latest invention,” hooted Owl, “but we don’t know what it is or what it does. I think it looks scary.” “Well, nothing scares me!” said Koala. “I’ll go and see him and find out what he’s made.”

Kangaroo likes to make things, but when Koala goes to see the latest invention, he gets quite a fright. The mysterious machine grabs him and shakes him, before giving him a good wash. Koala isn’t at all impressed – but the other animals think Koala’s experience is funny.

Kangaroo’s Visitor Gets a Surprise is a humorous picture book story from Queensland author Peter Taylor. The story is an excellent read-aloud offering, filled as it is with lots of sounds which children will enjoy echoing – from the squidgy-squodgy of the machine to the hooting of the owl and laughter of the kookaburra.

The illustrations, by West Australian illustrator Gail Breese, are lots of fun, too, with plenty of semi-realistic Aussie animal on display on every spread.

Kangaroo’s Visitor Gets a Surprise can be purchased online through this link, and sample spreads can also be seen here.

Lots of fun.

Kangaroo’s Visitor Gets a Surprise, by Peter Taylor, illustrated by Gail Breese
Trafford Publishing, 2004

The Australia Book, by Eve Pownall

The first Australians had been in the land so long that no man, not even the oldest, could say how they first came here…

So begins the wonderful Australia Book, an classic piece of Australian publishing history, which has been lovingly brought back to life by the team from Black Dog Books.

First published in 1952, The Australia Book documents Australian history from the time before Australian settlement until the book’s publication in clear language which is accessible to young readers. The magic of the book is that, in spite of the passing of more than fifty years since it was first published, it remains relevant to today’s children. This is a testament to the research and writing skills of author Eve Pownall and the efforts of Black Dog staff to preserve and reproduce the original book, rather than attempting to update or otherwise alter it.

Eve Pownall was an untiring worker in the field of children’s books – an integral part of the establishment of the Children’s Book Council of Australia, and a keen historian with a knack for making history accessible to children. That she has managed to do so over generations is remarkable.

A must-have book for every household and every classroom.

The Australia Book, by Eve Pownall, illustrated by Margaret Senior
First Published by John Sands, 1952
This Edition Black Dog Books, 2008

Mahtab's Story, by Libby Gleeson

Mahtab was empty. She felt hungry…for water, for her father, for her grandmother, her aunts and uncles, the trees in the back yard, the cabinet on the wall, the silver and glass objects so lovingly collected, for her mountains, the jagged peaks that cut the sky.
Her father was dead. She was sure of it. She was just a speck of dirt on the floor, drifting through the gap between the boards, falling to the ground.

Twelve year old Mahtab and her family flee Afghanistan, determined to travel to Australia and start a new life. But Mahtab discovers that the journey is not an easy one. If they want to be accepted into Australia as refuges, first they have to get there – a harsh journey, months in hiding, and a perilous sea voyage. Then, in Australia, there is the process of applying for residency and proving the family’s refugee status.

This is the story of one family’s journey towards a new life in Australia, but it also the story of so many families who have fled violence and oppression in their quest to live the sort of life which most Australians take for granted. Seeing the story through the eyes of a twelve year old protagonist will make the story very real for young readers, who will be both intrigued and challenged by Mahtab’s ordeal.

Beautifully, absorbingly told, this is an important story which needs to be read and discussed by children and adults alike.

Mahtab’s Story, by Libby Gleeson
Allen & Unwin, 2008

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

Key Guide to Australian Mammals, by Leonard Cronin

Australian mammals are some of the world’s most intriguing wildlife, being such a diverse and unusual range of animals. From the spiky echidna, to the bizarre platypus, from the koala to the kangaroo, Australian and international observers alike cannot help but be fascinated by our fauna.

In the Key Guide to Australian Mammals, natural history author Leonard Cronin provides a detailed guide to all of Australia’s mammal life which will be useful to readers from a range of backgrounds and interests. Useful for students and scientists, it will also be informative to amateur animal watchers or to anyone who loves Australian animals.

Each entry includes a coloured illustration of the animal, a map showing distribution and information about physiology, behaviour, development, diet, habitat, traces and status. A visual key at the front of the book gives readers an overview of the different species, with page references to detailed entries.

A handy reference.

Cronin's Key Guide to Australian Mammals (Key guide series)

Key Guide to Australian Mammals, by Leonard Cronin
Allen & Unwin, 2008

The Evil Overlord, by Rowena Cory Daniells

Sam quickly hauled Lincoln to his feet and then they were running after the girl as she plunged into the shadows of a narrow lane. It was like an obstacle race. Sam and his brother jumped crates, avoided squawking chickens and dodged around surprised locals as they sprinted behind the girl.
They emerged into a busy market square, where the girl stopped so suddenly they both collided with her.

Sam and Lincoln have only just arrived in the town of Amethyst when they find themselves summoned to another world to rescue the stranded Wizard Shimmaron. They find themselves in the parallel world and being chased by guards, because they are old enough to fight for the evil Overlord who has seized control of the land. They must work together and with their new friend Essy to find the Wizard and free him – and they have only 24 hours to do so.

The Evil Overlord is the third in the Lost Shimmaron set in the town of Amethyst and in the different worlds to which the town’s youngsters find themselves transported. With each title written by a different author – each a notable Australian fantasy creator – the stories stand alone, though fans will find themselves intrigued enough to seek out the others in the series.

Great fantasy reading for ages 10 and over.

The Evil Overlord, by Rowena Cory Daniells
ABC Books, 2008

Untouched, by Anna Campbell

‘Sir, would you kindly restrain your language?’ she whispered against his throat. Her breath on his skin set his blood leaping with awareness and it took him a second to realise what she’d said.
He gave a disbelieving snort of laughter. For God’s sake, she had more important things to worry about than his manners. But his hold was careful as he gathered her up and carried her through to the salon.

Grace Paget is in a bad way. Disowned by her family because of a bad marriage, then newly widowed and penniless, she thinks things can get no worse. But then she is kidnapped and made prisoner in a remote country manor, where she is told she must grant the resident lord his every wish, or lose her life. But Grace is not prepared for the feelings that she has for this stranger. He, too, is a captive here and she soon realises he is not the cruel man he would have her believe.

Untouched is a beautiful historical romance, with a bewitching blend of passion, damaged heroes, and a couple working against seemingly insurmountable odds. From new romance sensation Anna Campbell, this second novel cements Campbell’s status as a romance maestro. Those new to the author’s work will find themselves going back to read her first, Claiming the Courtesan, whilst fans of that title will be equally delighted with this one.



Untouched, by Anna Campbell
Avon Books, 2008

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

Anna the Goanna, by Jill McDougall

I had a bike
I really liked
It had no brakes
It had no light…

Opening with the adventures of this bike – and of its rider – Anna the Goanna and Other Poems takes children of all backgrounds on a poetic journey through life in remote communities. Written by the author for the Aboriginal students that’s he taught, to provide some relevant literary experiences, the poems will appeal to Aboriginal students, but will also captivate children (and adults) of all backgrounds.

Some poems capture the fun of childhood, with bike rides, and trips to town and games. Others focus on the sorts of things which might captivate a child’s interest – insects, birds and animals feature strongly here. Still others deal with important social issues including a sobering but insightful look into petrol sniffing in Sad Boys in which a narrator talks about a much loved brother who has been changed by this habit.

The accompanying watercolour illustrations bring alive the colours of the Australian Outback, and capture the mood of each poem, with fun (where appropriate) and also with sensitivity.

This is a beautiful book which kids will love, and which should also find a home in every school in Australia.

Anna the Goanna and Other Poems, by Jill McDougall, illustrated by Jenny Taylor
Aboriginal Studies Press, paperback edition 2008

Jack's Island, by Norman Jorgensen

Banjo had pulled the pin from the grenade with his teeth like he’d seen the heroes do a thousand times at the pictures. Then he spat it out. ‘We don’t want any other kids finding a live grenade at the bottom of the cliffs and setting it off. They might not be as sensible as us.’ He flung the deadly weapon over the cliff and into the bay below. It didn’t go very far.

Jack and Banjo live on a small island off Western Australia’s coast. It’s a great life for two twelve year old boys – riding their bikes, swimming, and getting into all sorts of mischief. But in between the fun, there are some hardships, too. Australia is involved in World War II, and no one has much of anything. Then there are the prejudices of the times, which affect the boys more than they could imagine.

Jack’s Island is historical fiction in a form easily digestible for children. There is a wonderful blend of humour, facts and insight into the time period. Young readers will enjoy the novelty of the adventures that Jack and Banjo have, which include building hill trolleys, sailing in shark-infested waters and being nearly killed by test firing of naval guns. West Australian readers will enjoy the familiarity of the island location, which is based on Rottnest Island. The stories themselves are based on the adventures of author Norman Jorgensen’s father, who lived on Rottnest in the 1940s.

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Jack’s Island, by Norman Jorgensen
Fremantle Press, 2008