Girls Only, by Kerrie Hess

Hosting the ultimate girls’ party at your pad only takes a few key ingredients: a little planning, some fun invitations, activities to make you laugh, a cook-off that your taste buds will adore, and a girly movie to top it all off.
You can make your party elaborate and lavish, or simple and relaxed. A fun sleepover can be arranged at short notice, with very little planning. Or you could go all-out for a special event, such as giving your birthday party a fashion, haunted house or cooking theme.

Have you ever wanted to have a sleepover but wanted it to stand out from the others? To do something special? Well, Girls Only! is the book for you. From the pink cover to the icecreams on the spine, Girls Only! is a book for girls. There are themed parties, recipes, movie suggestions and games. There are Top 10 lists of movies, books, songs and more. There are illustrations throughout, showing costumes, supporting the recipes and just adding to the fun. Chapters outline themes.

Girls Only! is a full-on dose of girl fun! Whether you’re a singing girl, a dancing girl or a sporty girl, there’s a party or sleepover here for you. Make cupcakes or a secrets box…or both. Dance and sing until you drop! Make blood milkshakes and dress up in ghostly white. Girls Only! provides all the information you need. Just add friends. Recommended for upper primary girls.

Girls Only!: Everything You Need for a Girls' Night In

Girls Only! , Kerrie Hess
Random House Australia 2010
ISBN: 9781741664393

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond .

Esty's Gold, by Mary Arrigan

Sometimes, if I close my eyes and think really hard, I imagine I can smell Mama’s old sideboard and see again the carved flowers and twisty pillars. But if I linger too long over the memories stirred by the scent of beeswax and old wood, the other smell intrudes, the one that makes me cold and turns my thoughts to cheerless grey – the front-door smell of pale, damp people and poverty.
It was always my chore to dust the sideboard’s dark oak surface and rearrange the china ornaments. I had to stand on a chair because I was small for my age and the sideboard was high. There was a mirrored back, which I’d look into and pretend the other me was part of another, brighter, magical world on the other side…

Irish Esty’s comfortable life is turned upside-down by the sudden death of her father. He is killed while trying to intervene between the tenants of an absentee lord and the troops sent to evict them. She is sent into service, a life she is ill-prepared for or suited to. It is the 1850s and Ireland is in the grip of the potato famine and Esty and her family. When there is a chance to leave Ireland, Esty and her family take it. Esty convinces them all that Australia and the goldfields is a better destination than America, where many of the Irish are going. The second half of Esty’s Gold is set on the Ballarat goldfields, living in tents, adjusting to a new land and new rules.

Esty’s Gold explores the links between Ireland and Australia through the eyes of a young girl. It was a tough period in history, both in Ireland and on the goldfields. In Australia though, Esty demonstrates that hard work and not a little luck can lead to a new life, a new future. Esty might be the youngest of her family (which includes her mother, grandfather, May, a fellow worker and John Joe, a stablehand) but it is she who binds the family together. The reader is introduced to Ireland’s woes, and goldfield dust and the spirit that helped to establish a new home. Recommended for upper-primary readers.

Esty's Gold

Esty’s Gold, Mary Arrigan
Frances Lincoln 2010
ISBN: 9781845079659

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond.

Fury, by Shirley Marr

My name is Eliza Boans and I am a murderer.
I know. It’s pretty shocking, huh?
To think I actually had a better surname before my parents divorced and my mother went back to her maiden name, taking me kicking and screaming with her. See, the judge gave Dad the Jag and gave Mum, well, me. She spewed big time over that. But seriously, unlike what that do-gooder Chaplain here thinks, I didn’t just wake up one morning and say to myself, “what a lovely day, I think I might go out and kill someone.”

Eliza Boans is 16 and in her last year of school. She’s pretty, rich, has a father she’s not seen for a decade and a famous lawyer mother she seldom sees. Oh, and she’s sitting in a police station, accused of murder. Eliza is cool and angry, in control and naïve all at the same time. Eliza introduces the reader to the wealth and privilege of her home and school and the neighbourhood. When new girl Ella arrives at the school, Eliza befriends her, despite the reservations of her two best friends Lexi and Marianne, and partly to annoy the ‘two Jane Blondes’. Eliza is outspoken and her actions earn herself detention in the canteen (although she often feels misjudged). Then there is the party.

Fury brings to mind a wind, slowly gathering intensity until it is a maelstrom. Eliza is an unreliable narrator, wearing a protective veneer so strong it seems unbreakable. She talks smart, and keeps most people away with her acid tongue and toughness. Initially she is not particularly likeable as a character, but as the story progresses, reasons for this unfold. When she is charged with murder, she refuses all help and pushes away her mother, her mother’s lawyer, her friends. Only one person, the police anthropologist, has any measure of her trust. Slowly, he supports her until she is ready to tell the story that may free her, may incriminate her. Shirley Marr takes the reader inside the world of wealth and privilege and shows that not all is shiny. Themes include friendship, family, safety and independence. Fury is for mature readers in middle secondary years.

Fury, Shirley Marr
Black Dog Books 2010
ISBN: 9781742031323 review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond.

Crooked Mick, by Dave Luckett

One night in the Outback, when it was so dark that the stars looked like pinholes in a black velvet curtain, two bushmen were sitting by their campfire. One was a young bloke, a jackaroo. The other was a drover from out on the red-soil plains. He was pouring tea from the billy. The jackaroo was telling him a tall tale about a fish he had nearly caught. ‘That sounds like something that might happen on Speewah Station,’ the drover said when the story was finished.

Two men, a drover and a jackaroo are yarning over their fire, somewhere deep in the Australian inland, when they are unexpectedly joined by an old swaggie. The old swaggie joins their conversation and the three talk about a big property beyond the black stump and the legendary Crooked Mick. The property, Speewah Station, is enormous, and ‘so far out in the bush the crows fly backwards to keep the dust out of their eyes’. Crooked Mick was so powerful ‘he could split a hardwood log just by looking at it’. As the night progresses, the three men escalate the tales about Crooked Mick until at last the swaggie vanishes into the night, as silently as he arrived. Could he be the ghost of Crooked Mick?

There’s nothing so ‘Australian’ as a yarn from the bush and this one is as tall a tale as they get. Like children trying to outdo one another in the school yard, the men around the fire take turns at expanding on the rumours and stories they’ve heard. The legendary Speewah Station and the even more legendary Crooked Mick grow taller and broader by the second. The tale-telling ceases to be about the subjects and is more an imaginative game as the time progresses. Children will relate to the absurdity of the tall tales and the humour. Many will be inspired to create their own stories about Crooked Mick, or perhaps about their own lives. Great fun. Recommended for readers transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

Crooked Mick (Mates)

Crooked MickDave Luckett ill Andrew Joyner
Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918153

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond .

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire, by Colin Thompson

The trouble with living happily ever after is that it can get pretty boring, and for witches and wizards it can get ten times more boring than it does for ordinary people because they are ten times more intelligent than ordinary people.
Ordinary people who are older than about twenty are quite often already on the slippery slope downhill to a life of total boredom, but they pretend they’re not by gardening or going on holiday or restoring rusty old cars until they are shining like new, but just as rubbish as they were when they were new because they were rubbish cars in the first place.

At the end of ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ (Book 8 in the adventures of the Flood family), all was well with the world. The Floods had returned home to Transylvania Waters and re-established their place as the ruling royal family. But it’s become a bit boring, all that calm and tranquillity in a well-run and happy kingdom. So the children travel to New York and summer school. Aubergine Wealth is the economics professor and he outlines their project – a competition to see who can make the most money. The Flood children compete to make the most money, manipulating the stock market and cornering the market on toilet paper (amongst other things). All’s going well until the end of the project when a final competition rule is revealed.

The Floods are just your normal average family…wait…no they’re not. They’re the wackiest collection of wizards and witches that you’re ever likely to encounter. They seldom do what you think they might and whenever they’re backed into a corner, they find a hidden door and turn potential defeat into glorious triumph. But they are a family and they have many traits of the normal family – bickering siblings, the quiet one, the confident one, the loving and supporting parents. Sometimes they work together, sometimes they compete with each other. ‘The Floods’ series is hilarious fun, full of puns, crazy ideas and will have readers, chuckling, giggling and outright guffawing. Recommended for mid primary readers.

Who Wants to be a Billionaire? (Floods) Colin Thompson
Random House 2010
ISBN: 9781864719451

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Pearlie in Central Park, by Wendy Harmer

It was a crisp winter morning and Pearlie was riding high in the sky on Queen Emerald’s magic ladybird. Her home was far, far away. Down below, she could see the whole of Central Park, New York City.
‘Hurly-burly!’ cried Pearlie. ‘This place is huge! Crystal must be the busiest fairy ever.’

Pearlie, the fairy, is more commonly to be found in Sydney, but in this adventure she’s off to see her friend, Crystal. She flies there on a magic ladybird and is enchanted with the view of the snowy park. But when she lands, she discovers there’s been a misunderstanding. Instead of holidaying with her friend, she discovers she is to look after the park while Crystal is off on a holiday of her own. Swallowing her disappointment, she makes friends with some squirrels, who promise to show her how to look after the park and its inhabitants. Full colour illustrations from Gypsy Taylor bring colour to the snow-covered park.

Pearlie always makes the best of things, so her initial disappointment at not seeing her friend soon abates. She is filled with curiosity and fun, and keen to learn about a very different park in a very different climate. Pearlie soon discovers a way to have fun AND convince the greedy birds to share their food. Her enthusiasm and creative problem solving show that being a leader and helping others can be rewarding in many ways. The Pearlie books are halfway between picture and chapter books and will be enjoyed by young readers and pre-readers happy to flit though the illustrations just as Pearlie does.

Pearlie in Central Park

Pearlie in Central Park, Wendy Harmer ill Gypsy Taylor
Random House 2010

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Alice-Miranda at School, by Jacqueline Harvey

Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones waved goodbye to her parents at the gate.
‘Goodbye, Mummy. Please try to be brave.’ Her mother sobbed loudly in reply. ‘Enjoy your golf, Daddy. I’ll see you at the end of term.’ Her father sniffled into his handkerchief.
Before they had time to wave her goodbye, Alice-Miranda skipped back down the hedge-lined path into her new home.
Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies had a tradition dating back two and a half centuries. Alice-Miranda’s mother, aunt, grandmother, great-grandmother and so on had all gone there. But none had been so young or so willing.

Alice-Miranda is not quite eight years-old but she’s ready for boarding school. She feels she’s outgrown her prep school and it’s time to extend the family tradition and attend the same school as her forebears. The Academy is not quite as she imagined, but armed with relentless optimism she begins to settle in. The headmistress, Miss Grimm, runs a tight ship, but is never seen. The school seems to be lacking something. If only Alice-Miranda could work out just what it is. All the other staff seem to be bad, sad, cross or a mixture of all.

Alice-Miranda at School is over-the-top adventure and fun for young readers. Alice-Miranda’s optimism is like a deceptively powerful breeze that sweeps away all challenges. She is never oppositional, always helpful and slowly (and not-so-slowly) she transforms the lives and surrounds of Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy and its occupants. She has looked forward to starting at the school and her activities make it the school she was looking forward to, the school it once was. Readers will skip along with Alice-Miranda’s adventures, smiling and giggling as they go. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Alice-Miranda at School

Alice-Miranda at School, Jacqueline Harvey
Random House 2010
ISBN: 9781741664515

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Slowcoach Turtle, by Kyle Mewburn

Tilda scrambled up the steep, overgrown bank towards the apple orchard. It was hard work. her fringe was plastered to her sweaty face. But her eyes were shiny with excitement. She could see the frame of the old flying fox peering over the top of the bank.

Slowcoach Turtle is book three in the Pop Hooper’s Perfect Pet series for newly confident readers. Main character Tilda lives life at a breakneck speed and is a little annoyed that her best friend Nat doesn’t seem to want to play at her pace. They have an argument and Tilda goes off on her own, wishing she had a monkey to play with. Cue the arrival of Pop Hooper and his wonderful road train full of pets. He promises her a monkey if she will look after a turtle for 24 hours. Tilda is less than enthusiastic about the turtle which although slow, keeps wanting to escape. She can’t wait until the 24 hours are up and she can get her monkey. The wait seems even longer because she’s still not friends again with Nat. Heath McKenzie’s humourous illustrations add to the fun.

Pop Hooper is very good at matching pets with children…much better than the children initially think. He gently encourages the children realise that the pet they thought perfect may not be their perfect pet after all. Not by telling them, but by giving them a pet that seems to bear little resemblance to their expected perfect pet. Tilda discovers that being slow isn’t such a bad thing, in fact it’s the very characteristic that made Nat such a good friend. Chapters are short and most openings are illustrated, perfect for young readers.

Slowcoach Turtle (Pop Hooper's Perfect Pets)

Slowcoach Turtle Kyle Mewburn ill Heath McKenzie
Little Hare 2010
ISBN: 9781921541230

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Somme Mud, by Private Edward Lynch

High in the clear morning air ring our marching songs as we step out through flag-bedecked streets. Te windows and roofs of shops are gay with bright flags and pretty, laughing girls. The crowds line the footpaths happy in the bon camaraderie of their farewell to us. Here and there are silent women in black, mute testimony to what has befallen others who have marched before. We swing cheerfully on.
A woman breaks from the crowded footpath and arm in arm with her soldier husband, marches on with us. Ping, ping, and a shower of half pennies lands amongst us, thrown from the roof of a big verandah. We break step as we battle for the coins for glued to each is the address of a girl. Most of us collect girls’ addresses as a hobby these days. We seize the coins, wave to the roof of girls as we fall into step with our mates and forward again as the girls wave and coo-ee.

Somme Mud is one man’s war. Private Edward Lynch, or ‘Nulla’ as he is referred to, tells the story of his war. It begins with the march to join a ship in Sydney and ends with his return in mid-1919. The tone is diary-like, although entries are organised into chapters rather than dates. The excitement of setting out and the boredom of the long sea journey soon gives way to the realities of trench warfare. Nulla shares the horrors of the trenches, the survival strategies and the skiving off, the injuries and the deaths as he travels his way around the battlefields. From his first engagement with ‘Fritz’ at Gueudecort a tiny village on the Somme to the liberation of POWs after the war is over, Nulla provides an insider’s view of war.

Private Edward Lynch marched off with his mates to the First World War. No one could have prepared him, or his mates, for what was to come. Of those who returned from this war, few spoke much to their families of their experiences. Edward Lynch did. Although he apparently didn’t keep a diary, he has written an account of his war rich in detail and flavour. The story failed to find a publisher when first written but in 2006 was published and this abridged edition appears now, in 2010. Photos are scattered throughout and help the reader to visualise the places and people of the story. Edward Lynch writes in first person, and is referred to as Nulla. Somme Mud was written in the years immediately following the First World War and retains language and attitudes of the time, giving the narrative an extra layer as a reflection of the social mores. Recommended for anyone wanting to understand the First World War from the perspective of the soldier.

Somme Mud: An Australian Teenager in the First World War

Somme Mud: An Australian Teenager in the First World War, Edward Lynch (edited Will Davies)
Random House 2010
ISBN: 9781741664522

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

I Love My Mum, by Anna Walker

Ollie B is a small zebra-ish character who invites the reader into the everyday. In this outing, Ollie shares a day with Mum. Ollie helps with Mum’s jobs and then they go for a walk. The walk is full of the ordinary and extraordinary. The day ends with a wonderful bedtime hug. Illustrations are soft and evocative watercolours, full of colour and movement. I Love My Mumis a smallish hardback, styled as others in the series.

Ollie could be boy or girl. Readers will make their own decision. And it doesn’t really matter. I Love My Mumis full of the magic of everyday, celebrating the simple things that fill many days for Mum and small child. Learning is gentle. Familiar things become new through the eyes of small children. The size of I Love My Mumis perfect for little children who can follow the story in the illustrations, with or without the words being spoken.

Recommended for pre-schoolers.

I Love My Mum

I Love My Mum, Anna Walker
Scholastic 2010
ISBN: 9781741693331

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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