The Surfing Scientist #2, by Ruben Meerman

Flashy new toys are great, but there’s nothing quite like making your own. Adults get the same satisfaction from do-it-yourself home improvement projects. In this book, you’ll learn how to make forty cool gizmos and gadgets that spin, whirl, fly glide, float, sink, fizz, jump and pop. All you need is a little know-how, a bit of patience and some basic household materials.

In his first book, surfing scientist, Ruben Meerman, showed readers how to make 40 ‘cool science tricks’. Now he’s back with a new title, demonstrating 40 science gizmos and gadgets, all of which can easily be made at home. This time there are beans to set jumping, codes to break, lamps to fill with lava and plenty more. Construction of each gizmo is guided by written instructions and photos. But wait…there’s more. Each gizmo is a demonstration of science in action. Alongside the instructions is an explanation of the science behind it, and/or extra facts. There is information about how the science is employed in nature or by man, as well as about the scientists behind the discoveries.

Ruben Meerman is a surfer with a physics degree. The Surfing Scientist #2, like The Surfing Scientist #1 sets out to prove that science is exciting and accessible. Each gizmo can be used for play, and for many younger readers, that’s probably enough. But for those more curious, there’s the opportunity to learn more about science in a hands-on way. Names of the science and of scientists are included, providing teasers for the reader who wants to learn more. The style is informal, conversational. The gizmos are mostly easy to construct from materials found in most houses. There’s an introduction and contents page at the front. At the back there are patterns, a list of gizmo equipment and a list of famous inventions. Recommended for primary-aged readers, though younger readers may require supervision with some of the gizmo construction.

The Surfing Scientist #2, Ruben Meerman
ABC Books 2008
ISBN: 9780733323836

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

The Letterbook 1 – Amy's Secret, by Ellie Royce

Hey, Ames!
Haven’t really caught up with you since the holidays u r looking a bit down.
I was wondering if you wanna start a letterbook with me?
While I was on hols in Tassie, my cousin Hannah showed me this book. It was just a school exercise book okay, but it was all decorated and glittered up. Inside, she and her friend Olivia had taken turns writing letters to each other, but not just letters – there were photos, stuff cut out from magazines, tickets from movies they saw together, even choccie wrappers!

Hey, Jess, sounds like fun. Thanx
Got a book?
love Ames

Hey, Ames, r u okay? What’s up? I’ve got a book at home. I’ll give it 2 u tomorrow k? I still can’t believe we’re finally in HIGH SCHOOL!!!! Too bad we’ve only got this one class together, but I’ll give it to you at break or at lunch.
love Jess

Jess and Amy were friends at primary school. Not best friends, but friends. Now they’ve started Year Seven and are only in one class together. Jess wants to start a letterbook. The rules are simple really. Write whatever you want, about anything you want. What’s written in the letterbook is secret and can’t be shared with anyone else without permission. Even if that secret is huge. Jess and Amy forge a deep friendship as they adjust to the differences of being in secondary school and the changing nature of their individual lives.

Amy’s Secret visits two 13 year old girls as they enter secondary school. It uses the letterbook format, where the girls write in the book alternately, sharing their lives. The letterbook can be decorated and can include all sorts of things like tickets and decorations and notes written elsewhere and stuck in. Jess and Amy have quite different families and many of the early entries reflect this. Mostly the entries are conversational and include mannerisms of the age group and of the individual girls. Other entries report the action like a screenplay. The fonts are different for each girl, and the doodles and stickers reflect the mood of the entries. Thirteen year old girls are often seen as silly and shallow. Amy’s Secret is a realistic story and shows that beneath the surface, some girls are dealing with almost unimaginable challenges. Recommended for upper primary-early secondary age readers.

The Letterbook 1: Amy’s Secret, Ellie Royce
ABC Books 2008
ISBN: 9870733322020

The Brain Full of Holes, by Martin Chatterton

Cheese again.
It was always cheese.
Didn’t the Swiss have anything else to put on their sandwiches?
Sheldon McGlone looked at his lunch and shook his head with the air of someone well used to dealing with life’s disappointments.
It wasn’t that Sheldon really had anything against cheese, or dairy products, or the Swiss for that matter. He’d often enjoyed a tasty cheese sandwich back in Australia. But lately it seemed that all hed’ been getting on his school sandwiches was Swiss cheese, chock full of the completely pointless holes that they were so proud of.

Sheldon is a normal Australian boy. His mother has remarried and they have moved across the world to live in Switzerland. Sheldon’s stepbrother, and best friend, Theo (aka The Brain) considers himself the ‘World’s Greatest Detective’ and is acknowledged as a genius. It is The Brain who first notices that the Swiss cheese has no holes. Then Sheldon discovers that his can of Floop has no bubbles. For Sheldon, lots of things are different in Switzerland, but even he knows that something is not quite right. Then Helga Poom arrives. Helga seems to be a female equivalent of The Brain, but to Sheldon’s besotted eyes, much, much more attractive. Helga’s father has disappeared and she needs their help to find him.

The Brain Full of Holes is told in third person, by early-teen Sheldon. Sheldon is carried along in this wild adventure with his step-brother and the gorgeous Helga. The Brain Full of Holes is full of humour, including multiple puns and absurdities. Each character is like a House of Mirrors exaggeration of reality. The Brain is pale and skinny with a large head, Sheldon is bumbling and always playing catch-up to try and understand what’s going on. Fortunately both Brain and Helga are happy to show their extreme intelligence by providing detailed explanations on what’s going on. But Sheldon, the viewpoint character, has a part to play too as this adventure spirals to its particle shifting conclusion. Recommended for upper-primary to lower-secondary readers.

The Brain Full of Holes

The Brain Full of Holes, Martin Chatterton
Little Hare 2008
ISBN: 9871921272288

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

Scribble Sunset, by Ann Shenfield

I’m going to follow the sun.
I’m going to keep walking
until I get to where it sets.
One thing about clouds
is that you can
breathe them.

A small girl is determined to follow the sun to discover just where it sets. Scribble Sunset meanders its way from this beginning through the nature of clouds and more, to the different ways that people see. The main character is a dreamy child, seeing faces and possibility everywhere. The one person she wishes to avoid, seemingly because of his lack of imagination, is Jones. Jones deals in facts. His mother might think ‘he is such a sweet pea’ but this small girl is unconvinced. But of course, she does encounter Jones. He joins her quest whether he is welcome or not.

Scribble Sunset is a picture story book for slightly older children. It is as much about life and philosophy as it is about the pursuit of a particular goal. There is a plot, where Jones is the antagonist, the obstacle to a small girl reaching her goal. But there is much more. There are insights into the connected/unconnected nature of daydreaming and how this can lead to unexpected discoveries. There are suggestions about letting go of expectations in order to see clearly. The illustrations are in watercolour, full of scribbles and almost abstract images. The colours are beautiful. They wander through the pages much as the character wanders through her journey. Recommended for early- to mid-primary readers, philosophers, lovers of drawing, daydreaming and watercolours.

Scribble Sunset, written and illustrated Ann Shenfield
Lothian Children’s Books 2008
ISBN: 9780734410634

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

Open for Business, by Moya Simons

‘Hey, what are you writing?’ Bernice asked. ‘That’s your detective notebook. You’re only supposed to take notes when we’re working.’
‘Waiting for a client is the hardest work I’ve ever done,’ I said. ‘We’ve been open for four days and all we’ve done is sit here after school doing our homework and getting gassy on cola.’
‘I told you, it takes time for word to get around,’ said Bernice. She snorted and stamped her foot.
‘I’ve put in nearly twelve years getting ready to be a detective,’ I told her. ‘I’ve read every crime book. I’ve been on a tour of the police station and I’m heavily into dead bodies. this is kid stuff. I’m only helping you out as practice for my future.’

David and Bernice have set up a detective agency in their home town of Milk Bay. Their office is a shed in Bernice’s front yard. They’ve distributed flyers detailing their services and charges. Now all they have to do is wait for the work to come. And it does. David takes notes, because as he says ‘I need to record everything’ because you never know when you might need witnesses. Bernice thinks David writes down unnecessary things, David thinks Bernice is bossy. But each also admires the skill of the other and together they make a successful team. Some of their cases seem quite straightforward, but their biggest case has more twists and turns than a rollercoaster.

Open For Business is a corker of a detective story. David has read so much about being a detective and he’s channelling the mannerisms of almost all of them. Simultaneously. Bernice is much more pragmatic. David says he’s only doing her a favour by being involved, but together they make a balanced team. Open for Business begins with extracts from David’s detective note book and set the humorous tone with descriptions of everything from Bernice’s ‘straight fringe slicing forehead’ to the air freshener required because of all the cola they’re drinking. The narrative is first person, through David’s eyes, his observations and descriptions are sprinkled throughout the text. The pair do tackle small cases like disappearing underwear, but there is a serious case to be solved too. Having established David and Bernice and ‘The Walk Right In Detective Agency’ in Open For Business, it was no surprise to find the cover of the second title pictured on the final page. I’m sure there’ll be more too. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Open for Business, Moya Simons
Walker Books 2008
ISBN 9781921150302

I'm Glad You're My Gran, by Cathy Phelan

I’m Glad You’re My Granbegins with a picture of Gran on the cover. Gran is grey-haired but quite funky. Her haircut is modern and her glasses are too. This Gran could be any age really, reflecting the diversity in the Grans of today. The first page features a trophy for ‘Greatest Grandma Ever’. Each opening has one colour page with an affirmation, eg ‘I LOVE doing special drawings for you’. The opposing page provides the opportunity to personalise the book with drawings, words or colouring an image. These activity pages are guided, eg ‘Draw a picture of your Gran telling you a story’ and ‘I am happy when we…’ There is a boy and a girl, sharing activities with Gran. The final image shows both children hugging Gran.

I’m Glad You’re My Gran is one in a series of ‘I’m Glad You’re My…’ interactive books from Black Dog Books. Other titles include I’m Glad You’re My Mu’ and I’m Glad You’re My Dad. I’m Glad You’re My Gran is a small format paperback, with appealing bright pastel colours throughout. The characters are warm and loving, and the shared activities wide-ranging. The relationship between grandparent and child can be a very rewarding one for both, particularly in pre- and early-school years. I’m Glad You’re My Gran provides a way to capture that time in an almost pocket-sized keepsake. Recommended for 3-6 year olds.

I'm Glad You're My Gran (I'm Glad...)

I’m Glad You’re My Mum, Cathy Phelan ill Danielle McDonald
Black Dog Books 2008
ISBN: 9781742030371

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

Little Bush Babies and Mummy’s Little Bush Babies

Little Bush Babies and Mummy’s Little Bush Babies are united by the ‘Smart Babies’ tag, which suggests perhaps that these are just the first two in a new series from Black Dog. Little Bush Babies features photos of baby Australian animals accompanied by captions that track through a typical day for a small child. It begins and ends with sleep. In between, the text describes getting dressed, eating, playing and bathing. There is a different baby animal on each page. Mummy’s Little Bush Babiesfollows a similar pattern in that there are different animals on each page, but each shows mother and child together. The text details the interaction between mother and child from the child’s point of view and ends with an affirmation of the love between them.

Little Bush Babies and Mummy’s Little Bush Babies are both sturdy board books, with beautiful close up photos of Australian wildlife. Simple large font text appears on every page and swaps between black and white to ensure clarity on the coloured pages. Some of the images show the animals in their habitat, while others have been set on brightly coloured backgrounds. Small children learning about books can simply look, and enjoy the images. Parents or others reading to small children can introduce some of Australia’s wildlife as well as reinforcing daily routines or affirming relationships. Recommended for babies and pre-schoolers.

Little Bush Babies comp Black Dog Books, 2008 ISBN: 9781742030425
Mummy’s Little Bush Babies comp Black Dog Books 2008 ISBN: 9781742030432

Ironbark, by Barry Jonsberg

I’m thumping my hand against the dash, raising clouds of dust. The sound echoes in my head.
‘Against the law?’ I say. ‘Against the law? Well, I hate to say this, Gramps, but take a look around this ute…You’ve got about a million traffic violations right here and you talk to me about smokes and the law? This is insane.”
And that’s about all I remember.
Next thing, I’m surrounded by a grey cloud, my right leg is hurting like hell, there’s a thumping of blood in my temples and I’m limping down the track. The taste of dust is in my mouth. I hold onto my right thigh with both hands, but even so I’m going a fair clip. I don’t hear the ute behind me.

A holiday in the Tasmanian wilderness might be an adventure – but this is no holiday. In trouble with the police after yet another violent outburst, the sixteen year old protagonist is sentenced to time-out with his grandfather, who lives in an isolated shack in Tasmanian. For a city boy used to high tech gadgetry and the bustle of the city, living with a grandfather he doesn’t know and staying in a shack with no electricity is harsh. Harsher still are the demons he is forced to confront.

Ironbark is compelling reading, exploring the bond which develops between the troubled city boy and his seemingly out of touch grandfather, and the boy’s battle with an explosive temper – diagnosed as Intermittent Explosive Disorder.

Jonsberg creates a character who is likeable, in spite of his problems and his obvious personality flaws. Aside from the violence, the boy’s dealings with an absent girlfriend, particularly, show him to be self-centred, and he initially shows little interest in how his grandfather might feel about being given charge of a troubled teen, but these flaws make him realistic. He is not just a misunderstood teen – he is a boy with problems and flaws like most teens – except that one of his problems impacts severely on his victims. It is his need to overcome this violent streak which drives the plot.

A page turner.


Ironbark, by Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2008

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

Erasmus James, King of Kid’s Paradise, by DC Green

Yuck! Some crazy man just dabbed mascara on my cheek!!
‘Get back, you freak!’ I waved my arms. ‘Do I look like a girl? I’m Erasmus James, boy genius!’
‘You must wear pancake make-up.’ the man pouted. ‘Or your face will glow like a red-nosed reindeer under the studio lights.’
I pointed at the guest in the next chair. ‘Does that bloke have to wear make-up too?’
‘Yep. Tom Cruiser does.’
Tom Cruiser waved.
‘Okay,’ I grumbled. ‘But no lipstick.’
Make-up man dabbed. I coughed on powdery fumes and tried to think about anything except rates…

King of Kid’s Paradise is the sequel to Erasmus James and the Galactic Zapp Machine. In this instalment, twelve year-old Erasmus Jones is sure that his status as the most famous boy alive is going to help him with the school bullies. Wrong. The only thing that’s changed is that he’s more visible to bigger bullies. By the time Dad collects him after school, Erasmus is sure this is the worst day ever. But Dad has a surprise. He and Erasmus can zapp one more time while they have the only working galactic zapp machine. After Dad’s factory begins productions, thousands then millions will be able to explore their own ‘unique zapp universe, filled with worlds created from the same subconscious cauldron that generates dreams in bubbles of hope and fear.’ Erasmus and his father zapp to Kid’s Paradise, which is populated by kids aged between eleven and sixteen. Initially, Erasmus is happy to accept the wonder of Kid’s Paradise and the fact that they want him for their king. But eventually he discovers trouble in paradise.

King of Kid’s Paradise is a rip-snorter of an adventure – plenty of hot air and not a little snorting. It’s an empty-your-pockets, hold-on-to-your-seat roller-coaster journey through a pre-adolescent’s imaginings and into the world beyond his own. The first person narrative voice keeps the reader buckled in for the ride. There are puns for both young and older readers. The print is large and the chapters are short, an added inducement for readers challenged by longer novels. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Erasmus James, King of Kid’s Paradise, DC Green
Barrel Books 2008
ISBN: 9780980348828

The Three Little Bush Pigs, by Paul Dallimore

Deep in the Pilliga Scrub lived three little bush pigs who were as keen as mustard to leave home.
‘Keep your eyes peeled for that dingrel,’ said Dad.
‘No worries,’ said the three little bush pigs, and early the next morning they rode away.

The three little bush pigs are itching to leave home. Home looks like a caravan park, way out in the countryside. They say farewell to their parents (and the neighbours) and off they go, pedalling hard on their single drag-racer bike. In the way of this story, they all build houses, using materials that reflect their personalities somewhat. The first of course is the most flimsy and the dingrel soon despatches it. The second, although better, is still insufficient protection against the dingrel and two brothers take refuge with the third in his ‘…house, which had been approved in writing by the Pilliga Shire Council.’ Undaunted, but slightly out of breath, the dingrel tries all sorts of tricks, but still fails to get his pigs. In the end, the pigs at least, are able to live out their days in peace.

The Three Little Bush Pigs is one in the new series from Omnibus Books called ‘Aussie Gems’. There are no prizes for guessing which story The Three Little Bush Pigs is based on. It doesn’t matter if readers have never heard of the original story, this version stands alone. But there are perhaps extra little jokes that will be richer for the reader’s familiarity with the original. Dallimore has used a whole swag (!) of Australianisms in bringing this story to full Aussie colour. The Dingrel drives a ute and calls the pigs ‘maaaate’. Even the construction materials for all three houses are iconically Australian. Dingrel’s goanna mate Dazza films the whole story including Dingrel’s less than dignified exit. Dallimore’s illustrations are colourful and humourous and extend the joke well beyond the words. Good fun. Recommended for 4-7 year olds.

The Three Little Bush Pigs, Paul Dallimore
Omnibus Books 2008
ISBN: 9781862917262