The Middle Sheep, by Frances Watts

‘I don’t care who started it, or whose fault it is,’ Valiant Vera said, holding up a hand as Ernie and Maud began to talk at once. ‘Until you two can work together, I don’t want to see either of you here. Now, go home and don’t come back until this problem is sorted out!’
Ernie quaked inside. Not come back to the Superheros Society? Being a superhero was the most important thing in the world to him!

Extraordinary Ernie loves being a superhero, and has even got used to having a sidekick who is a sheep. But now, only months into his training, he has struck a problem. Maud, his sidekick, has become moody and grumpy, and obsessed with her problems as the middle sheep in her family. It seems to Ernie that she doesn’t have time to be his sidekick any more. Now Valiant Vera says that if the pair can’t sort out their problems, then they’ll be kicked out of the Superheroes Society.

The Middle Sheep is the humorous sequel to Extraordinary Ernie & Marvellous Maud and just as much fun as the first offering. The humour of having a sheep for a sidekick, and the cast of characters, along with the appeal of having a fairly normal boy becoming a superhero, is sure to tickle the funny bones of junior primary aged readers. The small format size and the short length add to the appeal.

Lots of fun.

The Middle Sheep

The Middle Sheep, by France Watts, ill by Judy Watson
ABC books, 2008

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

A Story of Natural Numbers, by David Demant

What is a natural number? We can’t pick it up. We can’t see it. It cannot be felt, touched, smelled or looked at. A number is an idea…

Whilst mathematics is often regarded as a very logical subject, the development of the language of counting was not necessarily logical. Systems of counting developed over time, arising in response to new needs as societies evolved. The system which we use today is a result of this evolution, an evolution which has a fascinating history.

A Story of Natural Numbers is a nonfiction offering which explores and explains how numbers came to be, where they came from, and what they mean. As well as this explanation, the book offers a wide range of facts, anecdotes and even jokes, with the text spread out in a design which is both colourful and nonthreatening. There is plenty of graphical support and interest, with rocket ships, silly sheep and more on every page.

Aimed at upper primary and lower secondary readers, A Story of Natural Numbers is suitable both for individual reading and classroom use.

A Story of Natural Numbers

A Story of Natural Numbers, by David Demant
Black Dog, 2008

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

The Wizard of Rondo, by Emily Rodda

If you owned a magical music box that could transport you to another world, wouldn’t you use it?

This book picks up where The Key to Rondo left off. Mimi Langlander has gone to a violin camp for a week, and Leo has been left alone with the magic music box. His curiosity gets the better of him and he watches time passing in Rondo. When Mimi returns she notices at once that he has been watching Rondo and demands they return to Rondo at once.

Once inside Rondo they meet with their friends and set off on an exciting adventure which takes them far and wide. Along the way they encounter a boy who is a mushroom, a flying carpet, and a tree that acts as a campsite for adventurers.

The Wizard of Rondo is an exciting mythological adventure, the second in this series. A great read for readers of the first book. Lots of excitement and fantastic tales await the reader of this book.

A great sequel to The Key to Rondo.

The Wizard of Rondo

The Wizard of Rondo, by Emily Rodda
Omnibus Books, 2008

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

Seven Gateways, by Tony Grey

While different peoples and cultures have differing belief systems, there are certain sites around the world which are both held sacred and from which a sacredness emanates, places which resonate with people of diverse backgrounds. In this unique travel book, author Tony Grey visits and explores seven such places: the east Alligator river at Kakadu, an ancient Egyptian temple, Delphi in Greece, Jerusalem’s Western Wall, Assisi, birthplace of Saint Francis, the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and the mountains of Bhutan.

For each of the seven places, Grey explores its history, its meaning to the local people and to those who continue to visit, as well as detailing his own visit to each place. There is a careful selection of just a few photographs of each place – kept minimal, it seems, to emphasise the spiritual aspects rather than the visual.

This is not a light read, with detailed explanations of the differing aspects of each of the seven sites spanning several chapters each, as well as an introduction and several pages of reflections at the end. But for those with an interest in the spiritual nature of humans, this is an interesting read.

Seven Gateways, by Tony Grey
Halstead Press, 2008

The Camel Who Crossed Australia, by Jackie French

I’ll tell you what, young camel. You lie there and chew your cud, and learn to smell the sky. What else is there to do while we wait for the clouds to drift in from the horizon, and for the rain to come? And I will tell you how I came to understand the world of men, and how I was once part of the boldest caravan that travelled the furthest in the world…

The story of Burke and Wills and their expedition to cross Australia from south to north and thus open up new land and new routes is one which most Australians should be familiar with. However, this retelling of the story is unique – because the narrator is a camel named Bell Sing who was part of the expedition, retelling his story to a young camel in the desert years later. The use of the camel as narrator offers a fresh, unique perspective on the story, which is complemented by first person narratives of one of the cameleers, Dost Mahomet, and of John King, one of the few survivors of the expedition.

This use of triple perspectives adds depth and allows the inclusion of historical detail which the use of the camel alone would make difficult, however it is the camel’s story which dominates the book, and which will draw young readers in to the story.

For a reader new to the story of Burke and Wills there is enough information, including back of the book author notes, for the story to be followed, and for those who already know the story, it provides a fresh viewpoint. At times funny, at others torrid or sad, The Camel Who Crossed Australia is excellent historical fiction for upper primary aged readers.

The Camel Who Crossed Australia (Animal Stars)

The Camel Who Crossed Australia, by Jackie French
HarperCollins Australia, 2008

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

Click Go the Shears, illustrated by Charlotte Lance

Click go the shears boys, click, click, click!
Wide is his blow and his hands move quick.
The ringer looks around and is beaten by a blow,
and curses the old snagger with the bare-bellied yeo.

This classic Australian folktale has been known and loved by generations of Australians, and has now been brought to life for a new generation through this hardcover picture book offering with illustrations by new illustrator Charlotte Lance.

Part of the Aussie Gem series, the book features shearers in multi-coloured singlets and shorts, and funky sheep with wild outfits and hairstyles. Like other books in the series, Click Go the Shears is a hard cover book with flocked sheep adding a tactile element to the cover.

A wonderful way to bring an old song into the new millennium.

Click Go the Shears (Aussie Gems)

Click Go the Shears, illustrated by Charlotte Lance
Omnibus, 2008

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

Redback on the Toilet Seat, by Slim Newton, ill by Craig Smith

There was a redback on the toilet seat
When I was there last night,
I didn’t see him in the dark, But boy I felt his bite!

This song was written by West Australian singer/songwriter Slim Newton in the 1970s and has been popular ever since. Now it has been brought to life in picture book format with the humorous illustration work of Craig Smith, one of Australia’s foremost children’s book illustrators.

Part of the Aussie Gems series from Omnibus, Smith’s interpretation of the song lyrics add to the humour, with the story acted out by a pair of cane toads (the victim of the spider bite, and his wife), and a cast of native Australian animals including crocodiles, kangaroos and possums. With the growing concern in Australia at the spread of the feral cane toad, an adult reader might see the additional humour in the redback getting revenge on the intruder, whilst child readers will enjoy spotting the different animals.

Like other titles in the series, Redback on the Toilet Seat is a square hardcover offering, with flocked sheep on the cover adding a touch and feel element which kids of all ages will enjoy.

A great Aussie offering.

The Redback on the Toilet Seat

Aussie Gems: Redback on the Toilet Seat, by Slim Newton and Craig Smith
Omnibus, 2008

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

Hunting Elephants, by James Roy

He was my favourite uncle when I was a little girl. He always had motorbikes, and I’d sit on the tank in front of him, and he’d drive me around the back streets of Toowoomba, where we were all living at the time. I mean, he seemed lovely to me back then, but my parents used to talk about how much he’d changed after he came back from Vietnam War…I don’t know if it’s that exactly that makes him the way he is – I don’t remember what he was like before he went off to fight – but I do know that he can be a bit hard to get along with sometimes…’

Harry has never met his great uncle Frank, and he’s less than impressed about having to go to Frank’s wedding. He won’t know anyone there and going to the wedding means missing out on his best mate’s birthday party. All he knows about Frank is that he’s a Vietnam vet, so Harry decides he’d better brush up on his war history so that he doesn’t put his foot in it when the subject comes up. But at Frank’s house, Harry finds his knowledge might not be enough to deal with Frank. In the meantime, Harry and his parents have problems of their own to deal with.

Hunting Elephants is a brave novel, exploring the differences between appearance and reality, and the dangers of making assumptions about people and situations. Frank has secrets and insecurities, but so does Harry and, it turns out, several of the other characters in the novel.

This is a challenging tale, with complex issues and twists which ask readers to question their own propensity to make wrong assumptions. It is, however, a superbly satisfying book.

Hunting Elephants

Hunting Elephants, by James Roy
Woolshed Press, 2008

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

The Devil's Eye, by Ian Townsend

His silence disturbed Maggie, who tried to return to her letter.
The schooner shook as another gust hit, and she felt it roll.
‘Will it be bad?’ she said, not looking up.
‘We’ve been through rough weather before.’
’Poor Tommy can’t swim.’
‘It doesn’t well matter if he can’t swim,’ said Porter. ‘If he’s in a position where he can’t swim then he’s no help to us anyway. And I’ll need all the help I can get tonight.’
Maggie put her hand to her mouth. ‘Oh William.’

The year is 1899 and a terrible storm is approaching the Queensland coast. As the pearling fleet works to meet its quotas and a native policeman leads an expedition to solve a murder, hurricane Mahina approaches across the Coral Sea. On board one of the boats is Maggie, whose husband is a captain. After some time away from the ship, Maggie has come back aboard to be with her husband, and to share some news with him, news she has not had time to share when the storm hits. Soon, Maggie is fighting for her life, and the life of her baby, who she has brought aboard.

The Devil’s Eye is a tale of destruction, of struggle and of survival, exploring not just the terrible havoc which nature can create, but also the human face of those who must face it. The characters in this tale are brought to life and developed long before the storm unleashes its fury, making the reader care what happens to them. As well as being the story on a hurricane, these characters also make it a story of the Queensland of the turn of the 20th century, with its remote outposts, maritime industry and more. Author Ian Townsend has taken an historical event and made it come alive.

The Devil's Eye

The Devil’s Eye, by Ian Townsend
HarperCollins, 2008

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

The Very Cranky Bear, by Nick Bland

In the Jingle Jangle Jungle on a cold and rainy day
four little friends found a perfect place to play…
None of them had noticed that someone else was there.
Sleeping in that cave was a very cranky BEAR!

When Moose, Lion, Zebra and Sheep take refuge from the rain in a nice warm cave, they don’t expect to meet a cranky bear. Soon, they are out in the rain again, and must try to find a way to placate Bear if they are to get back inside the cave. Lion, Zebra and Moose all think Bear will be happier if he looks more like them, but Sheep, who is very plain, is not so sure. And it is Sheep who, eventually, finds a solution to Bear’s crankiness and a warm place for the four friends to shelter.

The Very Cranky Bear is a funny picture book with rhyming text and humorous illustrations. Author/illustrator Bland manages to blend dark and light so that the fearsome bear and his dark cave are lightened by both bright touches and cute facial expressions. The Bear, whilst described as cranky, manages to look, at times, just like a grumpy toddler. The rhyming text flows from page to page with a lively rhythm and plenty of clues for youngsters to guess at rhyming words.

Lots of fun, The Very Cranky Bear is a great read-aloud offering.

The Very Cranky Bear

The Very Cranky Bear, by Nick Bland
Scholastic Australia, 2008

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