A Bush Christmas, by CJ Dennis, ill by Dee Huxley

The sun burns hotly thro’ the gums
As down the road old Rogan comes –
The hatter from the lonely hut
Beside the track to Woollybutt.
He likes to spend his Christmas with us here.
He says a man gets sort of strange
Living alone without a change,
Gets sort of settled in his way;
And so he comes each Christmas day
To share a bite of tucker and a beer.

Whilst in recent years there have a wonderful range of children’s book offerings which attempt to reflect what Christmas is like in Australia, in 1931, when CJ Dennis wrote A Bush Christmas, Christmas traditions were still largely influenced by Northern Hemisphere practises. Dennis attempted, through his humorous poem, to paint a picture of an Outback Christmas, with families struggling with heat, and the hardships of rural life. The family in the poem share Christmas with a lonely neighbour, and enjoy his tales of Christmas in colder climes, which seem so far removed from what they have.

In this delightful picture book offering, illustrator Dee Huxley brings the classic poem to life with beautiful, whimsical pastel illustrations, capturing the humour of the tale and the rustic quality of the location.

This is a wonderful offering, combining a classic poem with the illustrative work of a popular contemporary illustrator and would make a great Christmas gift for any age.

A Bush Christmas, by C.J. Dennis, illustrated by Dee Huxley
Black Dog, 2008

Jessica's Box, by Peter Carnarvas

Jessica’s mind was too busy for sleep.
Her thoughts were already with tomorrow.
And when tomorrow came, everybody was excited.

Everyone in Jessica’s family is as excited about her first day at school as Jessica herself is. She is particularly excited about making lots of new friends. She takes her box with her to make sure of it. She knows that everyone will be as interested in sharing her box and its contents as she is. But school is a different place, and making friends isn’t as easy or automatic as she envisaged. A square hardback, ‘Jessica’s Box’ uses white space to echo Jessica’s initial silence as she tries to make friends. When she has their attention, the white space diminishes. When her efforts fail, the images fade to almost black and white. She keeps trying, but the results are not quite right, until she puts something extra special in the box. It works. Endpapers are a gentle sunny yellow and include a smaller version of the front cover image.

The first day of school is a biggie. For some children, it’s a day that can’t come too soon. Others approach the changes that school will bring with trepidation, despite the best preparation. ‘Jessica’s Box’ shows a child keen to go to school, but with an underlying unspoken anxiety about how it will all go. So she takes a familiar object, her box. Her box can be anything that she wants it to be. She is sure that it will facilitate friendships. The responses to her box are varied and not as she expects. She is trying to ‘buy’ friendship with the contents of her box. Only when she stops trying, does she inadvertently discover all she needs to make friends is herself. Recommended for pre-school to early-primary children, particularly those approaching school-age.

Jessica's Box

Jessica’s Box, auth/ill Peter Carnavas
New Frontier Publishing 2008
ISBN: 9781921042911

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

Not Like Georgie, by Scott Hatcher

Jimmy isn’t coming to my birthday party.
He’s working at his family’s restaurant.
And Matt isn’t coming.
His Dad is having an operation.
And Rosa isn’t coming either.
She’s going to her Uncle Nick’s
third or fourth wedding.
She can’t remember which.

A small boy is having a birthday party. Invitations have been given to many children, but one by one, the invitees decline. Some of the responses seem genuine, others have the sound of excuses. But the boy doesn’t mind. Each page shows a child doing what they’ve said they’ll be doing rather than attending the boy’s party. But of course the illustrations show so much more. Jimmy, who has to work in his family’s restaurant may be carrying crockery, but there’s a cake missing and his cheeks are bulging. But no matter, the main character is unfazed by their inability to attend. None of these children, singly or as a group can do the things that he can do with his best friend Georgie.

Not Like Georgie is less a story about a birthday party and excuses and more about friendship. Not the ‘everybody is your friend’ kind of friendship, but the special best-friendship that can make the simplest things seem wonderful. It is the triumph of quality over quantity. Anticipation about whether Georgie too will offer an excuse and not come to the party, keeps the pages turning, lest the boy have no one at his party at all. Children will also enjoy the humour and detail in each image. The illustrators have captured so much emotion, personality and more in each character – even the sun-shading seagulls have personality! Recommended for 4-7 year olds.

Not Like Georgie, Scott Hatcher ill Heather Potter & Mark Jackson
Walker Books 2008
ISBN: 9781921150364

When Henry Caught Imaginitis, by Nick Bland

Henry was a very serious boy.
His room was always tidy and he always
buttoned his shirt right to the top.
Henry never daydreamed or played with toys.
He preferred doing sums and straightening
things that were wonky.
Until one day Henry had a thought
that didn’t make any sense at all.

Henry lives in an ordered world. An organised and slightly dull, monotonic world. His clothes are tidy, his socks pulled up. His hair part is straight, so are the flowers – after he’s tied them up. He is a thoroughly sensible boy. Then one day, while preparing to clean his teeth, he has a thought that makes no sense at all. And for the first time some colour enters his world. He tries to combat and banish subsequent nonsensical thoughts but the results are quite unexpected. Henry is determined to find an answer to his problem, and of course he does. His world will return to normal. When it’s proper and sensible that it do so.

Order is a good thing. It helps to structure the day and organise the week. But it can go too far. Nick Bland introduces the reader to a little boy, Henry, who seems to have received a double-, or triple-dose of order. Too much order and wonder of life can be lost. And so it is with Henry. There doesn’t even seem to be any joy in the tasks he completes so diligently. Imagination, or as Bland calls it, ‘Imaginitis’, can strike at any time. It is not ordered or structured, but wild and bright and wonderful. And it is something to be embraced. The early monotone spreads are invaded by just the hint of colour. Even this is enough to disrupt the shadows of Henry’s life. The colour elements wax and wane as Henry struggles with his dilemma, until they triumph as he does in establishing the appropriate place for imagination in a life. The text is very spare and delivered in almost deadpan prose, with the illustrations providing much of the humour. Recommended for 4-7 year olds.

13347214 When Henry Caught Imaginitis, auth/ill Nick Bland
Scholastic 2008
ISBN: 9781741690309

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

I’m Glad You’re My Friend, by Cathy Phelan

I’m glad you’re my friend because you like to do the same things I do.

I’m Glad You’re My Friend is a new ‘interactive’ title in the ‘I’m Glad You’re My…’ series from Black Dog Books. Each title focuses on a particular relationship in a child’s life and offers the opportunity to share and articulate their feelings. Each opening has an affirmation and an activity. Children can choose to write, draw, colour how they feel about their friend after reading the affirmation. They can record memories in pictures and words, and speculate about the best part of having a good friend. It might be laughing together or playing for hours without being bored, or missing them when on holidays.

Each title in the ‘I’m Glad You’re My…’ series is keepsake-sized, a small square paperback. Colours on the affirmation pages are warm pastel while opposing pages range from outlines for colouring-in to lines for guiding writing. Some children may fill in every page, others may choose only to illustrate/write in a few pages, but the sentiment remains the same – the sharing of what a friend means to the writer. These books are designed to be given to the friend (mother, father, gran etc) once completed. The front cover depicts a boy and a girl as does the opening page, subsequent pages depict girl playing with girl, boy playing with boy. There are a range of play experiences from picnics to sleepovers to parties. Recommended for preschool to early-primary children.

I’m Glad You’re My Friend, Cathy Phelan ill Danielle McDonald
Black Dog Books 2008
ISBN: 9781742030654

I want to be a Cricketer, by Sally Carbon

‘Dad, watch this. When he pushes the helmet with his gloves all the sweat pours down his face.’
‘Oooh. that’s not pretty,’ says Dad. ‘Just goes to show he’s working hard even though he looks in control.’
‘Ahh. No way, Dad! He’s out!’
‘He was trying to be too cute down the leg side,’ explains the commentator. ‘Superb effort by India, Australia nine for 310.’
It’s going to be close, eight runs to get, one wicket in hand – but it should be okay, I reckon. I hope Australia wins this Test.
‘It’s bedtime Jase,’ calls Mum.
Dad and I ignore her. I reckon Dad will stick up for me here.

Jason is cricket mad. He sleeps with his cricket bat, he practises endlessly. For his ninth birthday he and his mates are going to watch the Australian team practice before the Third Test. He catches a ball missed by the fielders and the Australian player tells him he can keep it. The player also gives him some advice about how to become the best. Jason spots a tattoo on his inner arm but can’t quite make out all the words. The next few pages contain information about the history of cricket, the history of the Ashes competition and more. Turn the page and fast forward a few seasons. Jason is still playing cricket and playing a final practice game with the State squad before the team for the National Championships is selected. Jason’s enthusiasm for his game has not diminished at all. He’s worked out the meaning of the tattoo he saw on his ninth birthday and he still has that magic ball.

Cricket is a game that inspires great passion, in its players and its supporters. It is also a game with a rich history and a million different statistics! ‘I want to be a Cricketer’ blends fiction with plenty of facts. Each opening has a green inset oval the shape of a cricket ground with facts about cricket. Readers will learn who has the fastest (recorded) bowling speed; who was the first player to hit 100 sixes; which is the only sport more popular than cricket; why early cricket bats looked more like hockey sticks and much more. The front endpapers feature autographs of well-known cricketers, with plenty of space for more. The end end-papers show where in the world cricket is played. I want to be a Cricketer is endorsed by Cricket Australia. Recommended for cricket lovers of any age, but particularly mid- to upper-primary aged boys.

I want to be a Cricketer, Sally Carbon & Justin Langer, ill Stewart Gollan
Fremantle Press 2008
ISBN: 9781921361241

High Crime in Milk Bay, by Moya Simons

Recent Failure:
Mrs Butterworth’s pet goats, George and Fred, remain missing. She asked for our help a few days ago after recieviing flyer for a “two for one” mystery-solving offer, which closes at the end of thes week. We have searched and cannot find the goats. Highly probable they have left Milk Bay and are headed for city lights.

Bernice, moody, nice, noisy, picky, leaned back in her office chair, munching the end of a pencil. It was a habit she had. She coughed as she choked on pencil shavings, spitting pencil crumbs on me.
‘One day a doctor’s going to cut open your stomach and find a forest in there,’ I told her as I wrote down an alternative occupation in my notebook.

David and Bernice are back in their second Milk Bay adventure. Business is open again after the school holidays. The ‘Walk Right In Detective Agency’ (office in Bernice’s front garden) solved all last term’s cases, and is looking forward to new business. First Mrs Butterworth’s two goats have to be found, and Mr Bottle at the council wants their help on a flower-napping from the park next to the council. Cherry Bright wants to know who her secret admirer is. The police are busy investigating a much bigger crime – the theft of $150,000 from the local bank. Meanwhile David is becoming obsessed by another mystery. He’s sure he saw a boy in the upstairs window of the house across the road. No one else believes the boy exists, and the adults in the house are anything but friendly. Even Bernice thinks that he is imagining things. David is determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, whether she helps him or not.

High Crime in Milk Bay, like the first book in this new ‘Walk Right In Detective Agency’ (WRIDA) series from Walker Books, Open for Business, is written in the first person. The viewpoint character, David, is half of the WRIDA partnership. He fancies himself a detective in the old style, complete with notebook notes observing all manner of things. Even when in situations where he can’t reach his notebook, his unwritten observations are recorded in the text in a bold handwriting font. They solve their first cases with little difficulty. It is their last case, one for which they have not been engaged, that threatens to cause them more challenge. Written with great humour and pace, this story will quickly engage young readers. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

High Crime in Milk Bay, Moya Simons Walker Books 2008 ISBN: 9781921150401

Captain Cook – Sailing Off the Map, by Craig Scutt

James Cook lived and breathed nearly 300 years ago. The world he grew up in was very different to ours. For a start, there were many fewer people. Today the population of England is more than 50 million but when James was alive it was only five million. Historians say that English society was divided into three classes: upper class, middle class and lower class. James Cook was born on 27 October, 1728. He was the son of a poor farm labourer and his wife who lived on a farm near the town of Great Ayton.

James Cook is well known in Australia for landing his ship Endeavour on the east coast of Australia in 1770. But before he did that, he journeyed a long way both literally and metaphorically. James was born into a poor family but with the assistance of his father’s boss and his own first boss, James was given an education and an opportunity to go to sea. He worked hard and progressed well and was in line for captaining his own merchant navy vessel. But to the surprise of some, in 1755, he joined the Royal Navy. There he quickly worked his way up and in the next years, married, fathered six children, learned surveying, participated in the Seven Year War, surveyed New Zealand and searched for the Great Southern Continent. James was a good captain, caring for his crew in a time when often the only way to get a crew was to pressgang them. In all he made three great voyages of discovery.

Captain Cook – Sailing Off the Map is a great title and conjures a image of an adventurer and explorer who refused to be limited to the known world. This is particularly relevant in the present, where there are so many constraints on the adventuring of children. Colonialism has rightly been re-examined in recent years, and books like this one help to remind readers that whatever else may have motivated these journeys, a great sense of adventure and personal courage were necessary. The text is organised in chapters and broken up with fictional ‘snapshots’ of parts of the journey. There are also illustrations and fact boxes to add interest. Other features include a table of Contents at the front, glossary, timeline and Index at the back. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Captain James Cook: Sailing Off the Map

Captain Cook: Sailing Off the Map, Craig Scutt
black dog books 2008
ISBN: 9781742030142

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

Egghead, by Claire Scott

The school bus screeched to a shuddering halt in a cloud of exhaust fumes. Jackal jumped off as I mooched past, and punched me on the arm.
‘Mate.’ We have the best conversations, Jackal and me. We were swept through the school gates in a swarm of loud stinky bodies, and shuffled reluctantly into the classroom just as the bell rang.

It’s not quite clear what subject Mr Farnham teaches, but it is clear that he has the measure of his class. They report boredom with homework and declare their maturity. He devises an experiment to test them. For a week, they will be caretaker/parent/protector of a raw egg. The egg will go everywhere with them. Failure to protect the egg means a fail for the experiment. Paddy, ably (well, sometimes) assisted by his friend Jackal, navigates his way through the week. Others are not so lucky, with mishaps and carelessness leading to the early ‘demise’ of some eggs. Paddy cooks up some money-making schemes, repeatedly encounters the school bully, protects his egg from his baby brother and unexpectedly bonds with his charge.

Egghead is a new title in Walker Books ‘Lightning Strikes’ series, short texts for reluctant 11-13 yo readers. Chapters are short, plots move (excuse the pun) lightning fast. Subject matter is relevant and interesting to the age group and beyond. ‘Egghead’ is told in first person, and includes about as many egg-related puns as possible (eggstermination, eggcitement), although no doubt readers will be inspired to create more. Paddy is a larrikin main character with a likeable, somewhat goofy sidekick in Jackal. But there’s more to Egghead than just fun. The adults, although shown from a teenager’s point of view, are portrayed sympathetically. Paddy learns about responsibility and in the end this helps him find a way to face down a bully. Recommended for upper-primary to lower-secondary readers, particularly those finding longer texts too daunting.

Egghead, Clare Scott
Walker Books 2008
ISBN: 9781921150814

Hatshepsut – The Lost Pharaoh of Egypt, by Carole Wikinson

Hatshepsut was one of very few females who ruled in ancient Egypt. The other women ruled because they had not choice’ there were no men to do the job. In the 3000 years of ancient Egyptian history, Hatshepsut was the only woman who made the decision to be Pharaoh.
History is like a puzzle. The whole story of a historical event or a famous person’s life hasn’t always survived. Even when it has, we sometimes have only one person’s version of what happened.

Hatshepsut was an Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled in Ancient Egypt for many years. Unlike many other women who acted as ruler until their son was old enough to rule alone, Hatshepsut appears to have embraced her role. Egyptian women, even daughters of pharaohs were seldom involved in governing the country. Most lived in separate palaces with limited knowledge of, or involvement in, affairs of state. Hatshepsut was the eldest daughter of Tuthmosis 1, who ruled Egypt over 3500 years ago. Her story is pieced together from tomb inscriptions, statues, and various historical sources. Historians do not always agree on what actually happened, particularly in the case of Hatshepsut, where there seems to have been some rewriting of her story after her death. One thing that seems to be agreed, is that Hatshepsut was a remarkable woman.

It is a difficult thing to tease out the truth from vastly different versions of the same events/times in history. Carole Wilkinson is very clear from the outset that history is coloured by those who record it. As she states, there are often gaps. In Hatshepsut – The Lost Pharaoh of Egypt she builds a picture of a strong woman from clues left behind. Hatshepsut gives a comprehensive and entertaining picture of the culture and politics of Ancient Egypt and then looks closely at the role Hatshepsut played. Information is interspersed with inscriptions from various tombs and statues and with fictional excerpts from Hatshepsut’s life. Contents page, index, bibliography and background information provide the reader with access to a fascinating period in history. Photos, illustrations, timelines and family trees help to bring history to colourful life. Hatshepsut is part of a new non-fiction series, ‘The Beat’ from Black Dog Books. Recommended for middle primary readers.

Hatshepsut: The Lost Pharaoh of Egypt

Hatshepsut – The Lost Pharaoh of Egypt, Carole Wilkinson
black dog books 2008
ISBN: 9781742030135

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