My Extraordinary Life & Death, by Doug MacLeod

Where do you buy children at bargain prices?
How do you survive a father who buries you in the garden whenever you misbehave?
And whom do you contact when your wife starts to shrink?

None of these questions is answered in My Extraordinary Life and Death, but then what can you expect from a book purportedly written by someone who is dead? Comedian and author Doug Macleod presents a surreal diary, using old woodcut pictures from the Project Guttenburg website.

Originally written as series of blogposts when MacLeod was asked to be a guest blogger, the book is laugh out loud funny, with different matchings of text and illustration likely to appeal to different readers. It can be read quickly in one sitting or dipped into over repeated readings.

Lots of fun.

My Extraordinary Life and Death

My Extraordinary Life and Death, by Doug MacLeod
Ford Street, 2009

The Reformed Vampire Support Group, by Catherine Jinks

In the suburbs of Sydney dwell a host of vampires, posing as regular humans and living right under the rest of the city’s notice. These particular vampires, however, pose no threat – they’re “reformed”, and are as far from the violent, powerful bloodsuckers we know from the movies as possible. And when one of their number is slayed in his sleep, the sickly group must go into hiding while they pursue the culprit to protect their dreary existence. In this book, Catherine Jinks subverts the traditional representations of vampires, instead presenting vampirism as “just another form of humanity” with its own set of hindrances.

With an absorbing plotline and a cast of quirky characters, The Reformed Vampire Support Group is a clever tale of identity and pushing one’s boundaries. As Nina the vampire and rest of the support group rise to the challenges of unexpected adventure, the reader is treated to a fascinating look into the lives of these characters, and Nina learns to accept and admire vampires such as herself.

An enthralling story about making the most of what you’ve got.

The Reformed Vampire Support Group

The Reformed Vampire Support Group, by Catherine Jinks
Allen & Unwin, 2009

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

Me, Oliver Bright, by Megan De Kanztow

I live in a city by the sea
Oliver Bright
the World, the galaxy
the Universe

Oliver Bright has an assignment to do. Oliver is in Year 3 and his assignment is to look at his family history. He shares his life, the life of his father and that of his grandfather. The reader learns about Oliver, but also about the changes across the three generations. For Oliver, getting milk is as easy as driving to the shops. For his dad, it was even easier – the milkman brought milk to his door daily. For his grandfather though, it was a bit tougher. His grandfather had to ride his horse to catch the cow and then milk it. Me, Oliver Bright is laid out like a school assignment with sketches and photos alongside Oliver’s handwritten words. ‘Oliver’ uses coloured pencils to jazz up his assignment, adding stars, stickers and even postcards.

Me, Oliver Bright features a main character who at about nine years of age might seem a little older than usual for a picture book. But with the mixture of ‘his’ drawings, photos and postcards, there is broad appeal for readers who can compare Oliver and his family’s experience with their own. Teachers too may use this book to model family history to their class. Observances are recorded without any interpretation, so the reader can decide for themselves which generation had it easiest. It’s certainly easier to buy milk now, but Grandpa had a wider variety of animals in his life. Dad had the freedom to roam and explore with his dog, while Grandad seemed to work all the time. There are plenty of discussion points here, whether between father and child, or class and teacher. Recommended for lower primary school.

Me, Oliver Bright

Me, Oliver Bright, Megan De Kantzow ill Sally Rippin
Omnibus Books 2009
ISBN: 9781862917156

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Big Bad Bushranger, by Bob Brown

Oh, out in the bush where the kookaburras fly
Where the gum trees reach to the clear blue sky
There’s a cave in the hillside where I hide
I’m a big bad bush-bushranger.

Wombats aren’t known for their bushranging, but the main character of Big Bad Bushranger is a wombat, and a very successful one at that. He hides in a cave in the hillside but far from roughing it, this hillside cave is the entrance to an enormous treasure trove and luxurious cave system. Wombat revels in his job and his wealth, sharing it with a large group of Aussie animals. There’s his girlfriend, Gayle, other wombats and myriad other creatures. Ben Wood’s illustrations are in loose water colours and celebrate the sense of playacting embodied by the text. Even the victims set upon by this bad bushranger look like they’re part of the adventure.

Bushrangers were a well-documented part of Australia’s colonial history. Some were revered as champions for the underdog, while others were less heroes. Bob Brown’s bushranger falls into the former category, this ‘big, bad, bush-bushranger’ seems to be a good-natured fellow despite his deeds. All the characters are Australian animals, though they live in people houses in people towns, ride horses and travel in stage coaches. Wombat’s story is told in rhyme and there’s a music score at the front for performance. The text has an easy rhythm and listeners will soon be joining in with the refrain on each page of ‘I’m a big bad bush-bushranger’. Recommended for 5-7 year olds.

Big Bad Bushranger (Aussie Gems), Bob Brown ill Ben Wood
Omnibus Books 2009
ISBN: 9781862918016

Big Bad Bushranger (Aussie Gems)

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Yellow Zone, by Janelle Dyer

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Scott and Sally Ryan find themselves in Yellow Zone after the world changes. Together, and with the help of some new friends, they learn to make a stand in a changed world.

It’s good to see a well presented novel coming out of a relatively new publishing company. I was looking forward to reading this book. The opening did not disappoint. It starts with a chase and a sense of danger. The reader is left to wonder who are the mysterious figures pursuing the journalist and what is the secret he has discovered. That sense of danger runs in various guises throughout the rest of the book.

The scene flashes forward two years to a Mardi Gras and the lone prophet trying to stem the tide and warn of God’s judgement, before whipping us off to Brisbane and a group of girls at the movies. Even at the movies the possible threat of terrorism hangs over the young girls, making Sally suspicious of the Middle Eastern man waiting outside the movie theatre.

From here, the story alternates for a time between Rome where eighteen year old Scott Ryan is holidaying and Brisbane where the rest of the Ryan family, including Scott’s younger sister, Sally, are. An explosion in Rome devastates the city and another that goes off in Paris has Scott’s parents and those of his cousins, Brad and Damien, concerned, as do the Black Hawk helicopters that fly over Brisbane and the terrifying reports on the TV. Anticipating further terrorist attacks Australia is put on high alert.

Attempts by the two families to contact their sons prove fruitless. Meanwhile in Rome there is talk of the end of the world, something Scott doesn’t even want to think about. Scott is trapped over the other side of the world from his family and unable to communicate with them. He doesn’t even know if they survived the series of bombs that exploded over Brisbane. To add to the confusion, Scott and Sally’s mother has disappeared and the family holds fears for her safety. Sally begins to question God, especially when Sally and the rest of her family end up being detained like refugees in Yellow Zone.

Meanwhile Scott is airlifted out of Europe and is shocked to find himself taken to Yellow Zone. While there, Scott uncovers a secret at Covenant House. The elderly and unproductive members of the community are disappearing. But what can he do, without putting his own life and those of the rest of his family at risk?

Scott and Sally, along with others under the leadership of Jack Koppel, realize they have to make a choice. If they want things to change they have to be willing to take the biggest risk to gain freedom.

The cover and title Yellow Zone are enticing and should ensure readers will pick up the book. Filled with plenty of action, as well as the budding romances that spring up between Scott and Rebekah and Sally with Ben who meet in the Yellow Zone, this novel is sure to appeal to both teenage girls and boys. There is a lot to recommend in this novel. It has an intriguing plot and a story that keeps the reader wanting to know what happens next. It’s obvious there had been a lot of thought and time put into constructing the plot and developing the characters. The characters are well defined and likeable. It also raises questions for the readers to think about after they have closed the pages of the book. I enjoyed Yellow Zone.

Given the plot line and dramatic situation raised presented this novel should have been gripping. While others may find it so, I didn’t…quite. But it is still an interesting novel and a good read that will have teenage readers and enthusiastic 11-12 year olds, turning the pages. Pace intensifies as the story reaches towards its conclusion.

The ending leaves one to suspect that the opening has been set up for a sequel or maybe a trilogy.

Yellow Zone

Yellow Zone, by Janelle Dyer
Wombat Books, 2009

This review first appeared online at Write and Read With Dale. It is reprinted here with permission.

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

Book Review: The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, by RA Spratt

Mr Green desperately needed to find a new nanny for his children. In the four weeks since their last nanny left, he found himself actually having to talk to them, provide them with meals and pay attention to them himself. And all this had to stop. He had a job at a law firm helping rich people avoid paying their taxes. He could not be expected to look after his children as well.

Nanny Piggins is a most unusual nanny. She is a pig. Not just any ordinary pig though, Nanny Piggins has run away from the circus, where she was a star. The Green household is not a happy place since Mrs Green died, leaving her lawyer husband in charge of their three children, Derrick, Samantha and Michael. Mr Green is not at all keen on children and as far as he can see, the less he has to have to do with them, the better. Mr Green is too parsimonious to advertise for a nanny through normal channels and Nanny Piggins is the first applicant. Desperate, Mr Green agrees to employ her until he can find a human nanny. Nanny Piggins may not know a lot about traditional nannying but she has many and varied talents. Life for the Green children is never going to be the same.

There is a one page disclaimer at the front of The Adventures of Nanny Piggins warning that Nanny Piggin’s diet (which consists of chocolate, cake, lollies, icecream and more) is not one to be followed unless you are a pig. Immediately the reader is cued as to Nanny’s temperament and inclinations. It also sets the tone of the story to follow. Nanny Piggins is outrageous, subversive and over-the-top good fun. She is the most childlike of the main characters, although Mr Green has some spectacularly childish behaviours. Derrick, Samantha and Michael are swept along on this wild ride as Nanny Piggins employs some very circus skills in her nannying. They experience since the first time since their mother’s death, a sense of unity and family, despite the continued virtual absence of a father. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins R A Spratt,
Random House 2009
ISBN: 9781741663167

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond.

The Great Rock Whale, by Christine Paice

Deep beneath the ocean
lies the Great Rock Whale.
No one knows he’s there.

Many, many years ago a giant whale travelled from Antarctica up the east coast of Australia. He travelled through the deep water, meeting all manner of familiar and unfamiliar sea creatures. But it was his family he was in search of, and though he called to them, there was no answer. He rested under a cliff. Years passed and the Great Whale woke, breathing deeply, blowing high. Surely now, his family would find him. Each double page spread is full of colour with one third of the spread in matt colour and including text and a small white sketch. The remaining two thirds of each spread features colourful oils showing the Great Whale’s journey. The interface between the two sections of each spread conjures wave spume.

The Great Rock Whale gives life to the story behind the Kiama Blow Hole on the south coast of New South Wales. When the weather is wild, the blow hole ‘blow’ is spectacular. Even on calm days, the ‘blow’ can be high. I’m sure there are plenty of documented geological explanations for the development of a blow hole, but how much more lovely is the idea of a sleeping whale calling to his kin as they pass up and down the coast during the warmer months of the year? This is a beautiful book. The story is poetic, the illustrations warm and evocative. The final opening provides information about the annual migration of several species of whales. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

The Great Rock Whale, Christine Paice Ill Wendy O’Malley
Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780734411037

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

The Great Rock Whale

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

God Is, by Mark Macleod

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Mark’s name is well known is the book and publishing industry, as an editor and publisher, through his involvement the CBCA and more recently picture book workshops, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that’s he’s finally decided to turn his hand to writing a picture book.

God is with its colours of traditional pink and blue cover is the type of picture book many parents and grandparents may be prompted to buy. It is cute and is very firmly centred around family and enjoying the simple pleasures of friends and creation.

The gentle text has a soft lyrical quality. Each word in the text has been chosen with care. Two of those I particularly liked were

God is
in the light of the moon and
stars that chart a shining course
above the dark that never seems to end.
And more.

God is
in the changing colour of sunrise
and the shadows
that creep across your pillow
and stroke your cheek.
And more

The repetition of God Is at the beginning of each page and And More at the end is effective and gives a pleasing sense of rhythm and unity to the text.

Mark has very carefully avoided being closely aligned to any particular spiritual belief, so it is a general look at where God is in a young child’s life – in all the things that surround them and what they see and what they do. This well crafted book highlights friendship, love, family and creation- all the things that make up the details of a young child’s life. It could be a useful introduction to a young child of who God is.

I am sure a lot of people will find it very cute. I have no doubt it will sell well. It is the type of book I can see many grandparents and other relatives reaching for to give new parents and their little ones. It would be a good book for bedtime reading.

The subdued and gentle colours of the illustrations are effective and fit the mood of the text. The simplistic illustrations of the babies didn’t particularly appeal to me, although the dog was very cute. But I’m prepared to admit that many other people may well disagree and enjoy the illustrations.

God is

God is, by Mark Macleod, ill by Kirrily Schell
ABC Books, 2009
HB RRP $24.95

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe
Out now The Goanna Island Mystery
Write and read with Dale blog at

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

Goldilocks and the Three Koalas, by Kel Richards

Everyone called her ‘Goldilocks’,
although her name was Shirley,
because she had a mass of hair,
fluffy, blond and curly.

The story of Goldilocks has been given an Aussie flavour with koalas replacing bears. It’s also brought into the modern day with Goldilocks carrying her mobile phone. Her walk into the woods brings her to the house of the three koalas. They of course are out walking themselves, while their gumleaf porridge cools. Goldilocks rings the doorbell and calls out ‘G’day’. She’s a curious girl and after a suitable time, goes inside for a good look around. She’s fast asleep when the koalas return. She wakes with a fright and that’s when the mobile phone comes in handy. Illustrations are in loose watercolours and portray a particularly Australian countryside with Hills Hoist, bull nose verandahs, kangaroos and plenty of gum trees. There’s even a koala gnome in the front yard of the koalas’ home!

Goldilocks and the Three Koalas is a new title in the ‘Aussie Gems’ series from Omnibus. The series is recognisable by its square shape, bright colours, sheep and sheep dogs on the cover. The cover illustration is framed by the title. Here, Goldilocks is a modern girl, venturing out with her mobile phone. The koalas are as surprised as any bears to find evidence of their curious visitor. Goldilocks and the Three Koalas is told in four-line verses. Readers will enjoy looking for little extras in the illustrations, like animals and ants and the things that hide down the back of chairs. Recommended for 5-7 year olds.

Goldilocks and the Three Koalas (Aussie Gems), Kel Richards ill Claire Richards
Omnibus Books 2009
ISBN: 9781741692310

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Also in the Series
Redback on the toilet Seat, by Slim Newton
Click Go The Shears
The Three Little Bush Pigs, by Paul Dallimore

My Sister Has a Big Black Beard, by Duncan Ball

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Considering the dearth of poetry books around for children and the number of teachers crying out for them, plus the fact this collection is written by Duncan Ball who already has an established following with his Selby and Emily Eyefingerbooks, this book should do extremely well.

In these poems Duncan Ball’s quirky sense of humour and playful use of words and rhyme is sure to appeal to children. This is evident in the title poem and also in his ability to pick up something as small and insignificant as a bookmark or a mozzie bite shows there is nothing outside the scope of poetry.

Readers might even learn something about spelling as in the humorous Old Mrs McKeller.

This book is destined to be a hit with children who will chuckle over the poems. It is one where everyone is going to have their particular favourites, whether it is the long narrative of Amanda Hass who eats glass, or the pitfalls of eating food past its prime as in Quentin’s Lunch. One I liked was

All Poemed out
I’m poemed out
I’m poemed out
I’ve just developed poem doubt
I don’t know what to write about.

could easily be expressing the feeling of any child told to write a poem in class.

There’s the innate honesty in Epitaph for Lonely Man. What child can fail to feel the impatience of waiting to get out of school and the exuberance of Daylight Savings Spent?
It’s three o’clock
It’s three o’clock
It’s I-will-soon-be-free o’clock

The whimsical black and white illustrations by Kerry Millard add to the text. I especially liked the one of Moncrieff, Mrs McKeller’s butler with his imperious look and the humorous drawing that accompanies Uncle Norm.

My Sister Has a Big Black Beard and Other Quirky Verses

My Sister Has a Big Black Beard and Other Quirky Verses, by Duncan Ball, illustrated by Kerry Millard
HarperCollins Australia, 2009
PB RRP $14.99
This review first appeared online at Write and Read With Dale. It is reprinted here with permission.

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