The Wicked War on Planet Whimsy, by L. M. Moriarty

‘Nicola! Phone call!’
Nicola Berry was startled. Who would be calling her here at this time of night? ‘For me? Really?’
It was past midnight and she was at her great-grandmother’s one-hundredth birthday party. The music was thumping, and Nicola and her cousins were all hiding yawns behind their hands as they danced in a circle around their tiny, white-haired Grammy, who was tapping her feet and jiggling her hips, leaning on a walking stick in each hand. Grammy was the oldest one at the party, but she seemed to have the most energy. The littler cousins were asleep, curled up in corners. Even Nicola’s dad had collapsed on a sofa, his head tipped back, twitching violently each time he snored.
‘She said it’s Shimlara,’ yelled Nicola’s crazy Aunt Annie…

Nicola Berry is the leader of the Space Brigade. For most of the time, she and her friends are normal children doing normal earth things, but when the call comes, they board their ‘Mini Easy-ride Spaceship’ and head into the skies. This time, their friend Shimlara is calling because she fears her brother and parents have been kidnapped. They stop at Globagaskar to collect Shimlara where they learn that the kidnappers are from the Planet Volcomania. They have declared war on the beautiful Planet of Whimsy and that’s where Shimlara’s family are. The Planet of Whimsy is a beautiful place, peopled by artists and poets. The Space Brigade’s mission is to rescue Shimlara’s family, but they also become involved in helping fight a war.


The Wicked War on the Planet of Whimsy follows two other off world adventures. Each member of the Space Brigade has a role to play. Nicola, leader, often doubts her ability to lead, as does grating Greta. Tyler is their tech guy, Katie is the nice one. Sean is Nicola’s older brother and Shimlara can read minds. Individually they all have their strengths and weaknesses but together they form a formidable team. They are fast becoming known through the solar system. It’s not necessary to have read earlier stories, although there are references to previous adventures. This adventure takes place across three planets, with several others mentioned. The characters may look different, but the personalities are universal. This Space Brigade adventure is action-packed and wildly imaginative. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.


The Wicked War on the Planet of Whimsy (Space Brigade)


The Wicked War on the Planet of Whimsy (Space Brigade), L. M. Moriarty
Pan Macmillan 2009
ISBN: 9780330625391


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


The Hollow Tree, by Jacob G. Rosenberg

On the map of human hopes, at the crossroads between day and dusk, stands the White Villa, lost in thought. Sheltered by a cluster of leafy elms, it stands on the outskirts of the city of Seven-Smiles, where churchbells mingle with evening psalms and tomorrow’s songs. It is the residence of the once well-known Albert and Rena Milder and their only son Jan, a family of silk-weavers who belonged to the ancient community of Sojourners.
Thanks to his parents’ social status and public benevolence, Jan was granted entry to the city’s most coveted high school, where people of his kind were seldom admitted. Within no time the school authorities discovered that young Jan possessed not only an inborn intelligence but a magnificent learning ability and a strong sense of fair play. He was also exceptionally handsome, and a head taller than his classmates. These attributes, along with his parents’ ongoing generosity, quickly made him the darling of the school.

Jan grows from childhood to adulthood across the pages of The Hollow Tree. He is born into a wealthy family who are well regarded in their community. He himself is intelligent and very popular. Life is wonderful. But the world around him is changing in inexplicable ways. The maturing Jan becomes aware of an absence in his life, although he struggles to define it. The protective shield that his father has been able to weave around the family with his planning and generosity is penetrable. Jan breaks through the pattern established for him, at the same time as the social structure around him alters. Little in his childhood or youth could prepare him for the tumultuous times that follow.

The Hollow Tree is lyrical and otherworldly in the way of the best fairy tales. It is at once foreign and immensely familiar. It follows one boy, Jan, from childhood and struggles with him through the challenges that shape him as an adult. It examines the choices he makes and their consequences for himself and for those around him. The language is rich and poetic. Thematically, the power of love is explored in detail: familial love, love for a partner, friendship, love for a cultural group, and where love of an idea is manipulated into something much more sinister. The Hollow Tree is set in a fictional landscape, but the experience is unfortunately well-bedded in history. Recommended for mature readers.

The Hollow Tree

The Hollow Tree, Jacob G. Rosenberg
Allen & Unwin 2009
ISBN: 9781741759006

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author


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

Spirit of Hope, by Bob Graham

They waved to the passing trucks and the drivers waved back.
Everyone knew the Fairweathers,
and the Fairweathers knew everyone.

The Fairweathers live in a little house in the middle of an industrial area. Six days a week they walk across the bridge with Dad, waving goodbye as he goes to work in the factory. Six days a week they welcome him home. This is a happy family who enjoy simple pleasures. On the seventh day each week, the Fairweathers go to the docks and have a picnic among all the big ships. Their make-believe ship is called ‘Spirit of Hope’. And it is this spirit of home that they cling to when they learn their the land where their house sits is earmarked for a factory. The family search for a new home to live in. Inspiration comes from the smallest, quietest member of the family, Mary.

Bob Graham is well-known for his deceptively simple but heart-warming stories. His trademark illustrations detail the minutiae of family life. Like many of his stories, Spirit of Hope celebrates family. The front cover shows largely grey with a bright white spotlight on Mary, the smallest member of the family. To an outsider, it might seem that living between factories and next to a busy road might not seem the most ideal home. But this family celebrates every day. They celebrate Dad arriving home, playing simple imaginative games and their many friends. When trouble strikes, it is the strength of their unity that helps provide a solution. Spirit of Hope was first released in 1993, but is as vibrant and meaningful today as it ever was. Recommended for 4-7 year olds.

Spirit of Hope

Spirit of Hope, Bob Graham
Lothian Books 2008
ISBN: 9780734410696

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Howzat! by Brett Lee & Michael Panckridge

‘Hey!’ Georgie waved to me from across the quadrangle after school. I was heading out to the oval for our first cricket practice for the season. ‘Have you heard yet?’ she yelled.
I knew what she was talking about. The MCG cricket camp. The letters were being sent out this week. Every day I’d raced home to check the letter box but there’d been nothing. Jimbo hadn’t got anything either, which made me feel slightly better. I wondered about Scott Craven, but I wasn’t going to ask him. Besides, as long as I didn’t know the letters had arrived, there was a chance that mine was still coming.

Howzat! is two books in one: Book 4: Toby Jones and the Timeless Cricket Match and Book 5: Toby Jones and the Clash with Father Time. Each is an instalment in the Toby Jones series. Toby Jones is a mad keen cricketer. He’s also a soak for cricketing facts. But more than that, he’s discovered that he’s a time traveller and can travel to any cricket game recorded in Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanack. Time travel is awesome, allowing Toby to travel to some of the most famous cricket games in history. But there are others who also want to travel, and not all of them are respectful of the rules of time travel. In ‘Toby Jones and the Timeless Cricket Match’ Toby travels backwards and forwards, including to a cricket game that he could never have imagined. In ‘Toby Jones and The Clash with Father Time’, Toby’s troubles only get worse. Everything he does seems to have consequences for those close to him. His mentor Jim tries to help him, but sometimes Jim’s help is not enough. Toby is on his own.

Howzat! (Toby Jones) is a wild ride. On one level there’s the adventure that every aspiring cricketer experiences as they improve in skills. New opportunities present themselves. Cricket is a cruel game, where a momentary lapse in concentration or a single ill-timed shot can see a batter fail. Bowlers have similar challenges, they are only as good as their last ball. Howzat! (Toby Jones) is full of cricketing facts and figures, terms and stories. Even as the story of Toby’s cricket progresses, a wilder adventure is evolving. The threads run parallel, both requiring Toby to grow and develop as both a player and a person. In any team there are times when there are rules to be followed and times when instinct and self-knowledge take over. Recommended for cricket-lovers and for those enjoying a wild adventure through time.

Howzat! , Brett Lee and Michael Panckridge
Angus & Robertson 2009
ISBN: 9780732288389

Howzat! (Toby Jones)

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

How to be the Perfect Princess, by Caitlin Matthews

Dear Reader,
When you pick up a book on princesses, you like to be reassured that the person who has written it is the genuine article – a real princess. I was born a princess of a very small kingdom, but before I married, I had to live by guarding geese. Because of my adventures, I feel uniquely qualified to write this book.
Since I married Prince Pallas, I’ve learned a lot more about being a princess and I thought it was time to pass on my knowledge to a new generation of girl.s I’ve also consulted widely with the world’s most exclusive club, the Guild of Princesses, to bring you everything you need to know. Some girls are born princesses and some overcome many obstacles to become one – everyone has to start somewhere. Play your cards right and who knows what will happen!

Princess Petal may have born a princess but her early years were anything but princess-like. But her fortunes changed and in How to be the Perfect Princess she shares many princessly secrets. There are hints on how to prepare for a ball and how to dress for farm-show prize-givings. There are stories about other princesses of Princess Petal’s acquaintance. Princess Petal talks directly to the reader, gently suggesting that princesses don’t eat peas with their knives and ensuring that new princesses are aware of their rights and obligations. Potential princesses can learn tips for seeing whether a suitor-prince is clever enough to marry. There’s even an application to join the prestigious ‘Guild of Princesses’. Each spread is full-coloured and shows a variety of princesses and their accoutrements and environments.

How to be the Perfect Princess is set out like a non-fiction book, with a narrative stream and text boxes with a number of different text types. Not that potential, or emerging princesses will notice this. They’ll be too busy descending the stairs elegantly or memorising the list of gifts to avoid (apples, water horses and the like). As they learn about all that is involved in being a true princess, they can read stories of other princesses from many other lands. How to be the Perfect Princess will delight many little princesses and set off many flights of fancy, including princess parties. It also includes general life hints like encouraging plenty of sleep and respect for others. Recommended for princesses everywhere.

How to be the Perfect Princess

How to be the Perfect Princess, Caitlin Matthews ill Bee Willey
Allen & Unwin 2009
ISBN 9781742371122

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Australia at the Beach, by Max Fatchen

I’m holding my new flippers.
Quick! Time is racing past.
Australia Day. The sky is clear.
Here’s William, always last.

The neighbours’ car is loaded
With such a noisy crowd.
It’s very sad for Rover,
For beach dogs aren’t allowed.

Happy Anniversary to Australia at the Beach! Ten years is a great achievement. For many Australians trips to the beach are part of every summer. For those lucky enough to live within cooee of the coast, this can be a daily excursion over summer. For others it’s a holiday treat. But for the family in Australia at the Beach this is an Australia Day outing. There’s Mum and Dad, Grandad, a boy, a girl and baby William. The journey, recounted in rhyme and illustrated in bright beach colours, begins with the loading of the car. The adventure continues through the day with swimming, building sandcastles and more until finally, it’s time to go home. Throughout, William makes his presence felt, with lost sandals, nappy changes and much more. Little aside vignettes share ‘beach etiquette tips’.

Australians love their beaches and rightly so. In a hot dry country, the cool ocean is a natural retreat. Max Fatchen and Tom Jellett provide a day at the beach that will resonate with adults and children alike. There’s the paraphernalia required, the journey and the carparking before the magic land that is the beach. There is no age limit to enjoyment of the beach and each double spread is full of Australians young and old. The narrator is the young boy of the family who though occasionally exasperated by his baby brother, keeps an eye out for him. Many readers will recognise experiences from their childhood. Australia at the Beach is ageless. Despite a changing world, the simplicity of water and sand will continue to attract all ages. Recommended for preschool and early primary readers.

Australia at the Beach

Australia at the Beach Max Fatchen ill Tom Jellett
Omnibus Books 2009
ISBN: 9781862918702

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Fifteen Love, by R. M. Corbett

Boys are immature. They only use one per cent of their brain. They only ever talk about cars or sport. they only think about sex. I read somewhere that boys think about sex – on average – once every fifteen seconds! That’s four times a minute! Two hundred and forty times per hour. I checked on my calculator – it’s a total of 5, 760 times a day, assuming boys also dream about sex…If this is true it is a real worry. Fifteen seconds is barely enough time to say hello. No wonder boys never make any sense when you talk to them. There is one boy at our school who is not like the others. Will Holland definitely has something on his mind. Most lunchtimes he sits alone on the grass, wearing a tracksuit and looking very out of place. He eats his lunch, then he lies back on the grass, staring up at the sky for ages and ages. What does he see up there? What does he think about?

Mia is a focussed and mature student. Will is a talented sportsman. Mia has very little information about the thought processes boys follow, and what she does know isn’t very reassuring. Will acknowledges he has no idea about girls, particularly how to talk to them. Fifteen Love uses alternating viewpoints to tell their overlapping story. There is an attraction there but neither knows the rules of the game they’re playing. Their family dynamics are very different, but each has their own pressures. Misunderstandings abound as do bad jokes about violas, Mia’s instrument of choice. And of course there are friendships, with all the drama and change that they entail.

Mia and Will have both been focussed on developing their individual talents. Mia plays viola, Will plays tennis. But things are changing. Each is noticing the other. They seem too different for a relationship to work. But there is no denying the attraction. Themes here include family dynamics, friendship, and commitment (to their talent). Mia and Will move in very different social circles at school. Mia finds herself examining the nature of her friendships as she begins to know Will. Will’s life is complicated, not just at school. Fifteen Love shows two people getting to know one another by just being themselves. My only quibble is with this title, although I like the double level meaning. The characters seem older than fifteen, and some older readers may not pick it up, which would be a shame, as it is a great read.

Fifteen Love , R. M. Corbett
Allen & Unwin 2009
ISBN: 9781742370156

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

A Letter From Luisa, by Rowena Mohr

Dear M
Hi There
Okay, this is weird! This is, in fact, a little creepy. I don’t think I can do this. Please don’t be offended. It’s not that I don’t’ want to write you a letter – it’s more that I don’t quite know what to say or where to start. I mean, this was Jane’s idea. She thinks maybe there’s a whole lot of stuff I wish I could talk to you about or something. She said it might make me feel better. But that seems a bit dumb. I just write a letter and suddenly everything will be okay? If that was the case everybody would be doing it. The universe would be choked with letters. People wouldn’t have time to go o work or have babies or go shopping – they’d be too busy writing letters to solve all their problems instantaneously.

Luisa is in control. It’s a tight balance, with school and friends and family and crushes, but she’s got it sorted. Until it goes horribly wrong. A Letter from Luisa is written in a series of letters from Luisa to an unknown person. The reader is aware that Luisa has been involved in something going wrong, and this is her attempt to give her side of the story. Her father is a musician, writing jingles. Her younger sister is a dreamy ballerina. Luisa’s best friend is a Japanese exchange student Meko, who is trying to find her own place at Motherwell High. Jet Lucas is a rock musician and Luisa’s crush. Then there’s a pair of bullies and Danny Baldassarro, who just won’t get out of her way. Luisa unravels her version of the time leading up to the catastrophe formerly known as the Motherwell High Twilight Fete.

A Letter from Luisa is told in first person, in the form of letters. It is only towards the end that the reader is told who the letters are addressed to. Luisa is a rich character who seems to be a fairly normal, if occasionally manic teenager. Only gradually does she reveal some of the cracks in the façade. Luisa is a teenager desperately trying to hold her world together. If only she could control events around her, she could manage everything. But like most teenagers on the brink of a new world, her vision and experience are nascent, and sometimes flawed. There are themes of bullying, love, friendship, and grief. A Letter from Luisa moves at a breakneck pace towards its conclusion, which although hinted at throughout is only gloriously, hysterically revealed in the final pages. A fun read, while dealing with real issues. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

A Letter from Luisa (Girlfriend Fiction)

A Letter from Luisa (Girlfriend Fiction), Rowena Mohr,
Allen & Unwin 2009
ISBN: 9781741758740

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

The ABC Book of Dinosaurs, by Helen Martin and Judith Simpson

The ABC Book of Dinosaurs is a sturdy board book introducing dinosaurs to small children. The text is sparing and the illustrations gentle. Size comparisons are demonstrated very clearly in illustrations where the text indicates ‘small’ and ‘tall’ etc. Accurate names are used, but so too are descriptors like ‘spiky tail’ for the Kentrosaurus and ‘three sharp horns for Triceratops. The narrative text is rhyming, and different font sizes are used to help differentiate between the narrative text and labels and the like. Illustrations are pastel coloured with plenty of white space to allow close examination of each of these remarkable creatures.

Dinosaurs continue to entrance generation after generation of young children. The ABC Book of Dinosaurs is a new title for the very young in a series that includes the beautiful ‘Animals’. The ABC Book of Dinosaurs offers accurate information in a very simple style without overwhelming the illustrations or ‘dumbing down’. Danny Snell’s illustrations have smiling faces…even the big-toothed Tyrannosaurus Rex appears almost friendly. A beautiful book. Recommended for toddlers and dinosaur fans.

The ABC Book of Dinosaurs [Board book]

The ABC Book of Dinosaurs , Helen Martin and Judith Simpson, ill Danny Snell
ABC Books Harper Collins 2009
ISBN: 9780733324796

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Gamers' Quest, by George Ivanoff

1: Tark
Tark perched in a tree and waited. He kept his eyes on the path that wound its way through the Forest. He knew it was just a matter of time. All he had to do was wait…and commit highway thievery. he wondered, as he sat on this branch, whether or not the term highway thievery still applied if the perpetration occurred on a path. Pathway thievery? Would that make him a pathwayman instead of a highwayman?

Tark and his friend Zyra are both thieves. It’s what they have to do to survive. Survival in their world is a daily challenge. As if having to thieve wasn’t enough, there is magic and illusion everywhere. They are always on guard, always aware that nothing is quite as it seems. There are rules for the likes of them, rules that preclude them ever becoming more than friends. Tark overcomes a dragon in his quest for riches, but inadvertently sets off a chain of events when he is challenged by the dragon’s wife. Simultaneously, Zyra upsets The Fat Man and the pair are in even more danger. All they really want is a chance to visit Designers Paradise for a short while, to experience a ‘normal’ life.

Gamers’ Quest twists and twists as reality and fantasy combine and separate. The reader is presented with a reality that feels like fantasy and then a fantasy that resembles reality. What if the characters in a computer game were real and the world in which we live was actually part of a game? Where there were tasks to be mastered, tokens of success to be gathered, rewards to be won? This is the rollercoaster of Gamers’ Quest. The only sure thing is the friendship between Tark and Zyra. Together, with their combined skills, they must pit themselves against a changing world, before it is too late. Gamers’ Quest moves at breakneck speed from challenge to reward, from one world to another. Pitched squarely at readers who are computer-skilled, and game fans, it is a wild adventure. Recommended for upper primary to early secondary readers.

Gamers’ Quest, George Ivanoff
Ford St Publishing 2009
ISBN: 9781876462864

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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