After January, by Nick Earls

This begins in January, and January is okay. It begins like December as though their join is seamless. Sometimes as though the bright days of summer will last forever. But the end of January is the end of the known world. This is when I stand at the edge. It’s been easy till now, relatively. I’ve had a new school year to face each January, but not this year. School is over, so there is not the usual symmetry about the holidays. The feeling of days leading up to Christmas and New Year and then away. Across the slow heat-heavy weeks of January and back to school
This January I’m waiting for my offer, waiting for the code that will tell me what happens next.

Alex Delaney has finished school and is waiting to hear about his options for next year. Meanwhile, he’s at the beach house at Caloundra where he and his family always spend summer. The long, hot days are passed slowly, reading, swimming, body-surfing and waiting. Waiting for the days until ‘what happens next’ happens. Then Alex meets a girl. A girl who is different from anyone he’s ever met before. A girl who won’t even tell him her name at first. Gradually the endless days shorten until there are not enough hours in the day. The deadline of university offers that had seemed so far away, now seems to be coming too close too quickly. The decision he will have to make about university diminishes in importance as others decisions are calling. After January was originally released in 1996, but this new edition also includes ‘Juliet’, a short story Alex wrote and which is referred to several times throughout.

Life is a series of climbing to the top and then beginning again at the bottom. The end of school is a major milestone in life and the holidays immediately afterwards are a time of limbo. The onus of decision-making changes. Where progression from year to year at school was ordered and largely inevitable, things change. To go to university or not? To take a break or to go straight on? Alex has been on this trajectory towards university a long time and now the time of decision is here. There has been no doubt in his mind that this is his pathway. Meeting a girl slowly changes everything. Not because she advocates he abandon his path, but because she shows him that there is more than one way. ‘After January’ is told in first person and the reader travels with him as he begins to open his eyes and see the world around him in a new way. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

After January

After January, Nick Earls
UQP 2010
ISBN: 9780702237652

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Finding Freia Lockhart, by Aimee Said

The moment I set foot on the stage I know this is a big mistake. When I open my mouth and force out the opening line of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, I realised it’s more than that.
My mouth is so dry that my tongue feels like sandpaper whenever it meets my upper palate and, as if by some sort of malicious inverse reaction, my palms and armpits are sweating like crazy. I’m tempted to run out of the hall before I humiliate myself any further, but I don’t think I’d make it without Kate crash-tackling me and dragging me back onto the stage. To make matters worse, she’s waving from the front row to attract my attention, the corners of her mouth pulled into a gruesome smile, like a deranged mother at a beauty pageant. How did I let her talk me into this?

Freia is in Year 10 and everything is changing and not in a good way. Her friend Kate has hooked up with the ‘Bs’, Belinda, Bethanee and Briana, but for Freia, it’s an uneasy time. She doesn’t want to lose Kate, but she is less than convinced that she wants to be friends with these girls. Kate convinces her to audition for the school play so they can all be together, and they can meet boys. Freia fails to gain a part but is given a role in lighting. There she meets the mysterious Daniel, known as ‘Skeletor’. Rumours abound about Daniel and Freia finds that associating with him, even at the lighting desk is enough to further damage her social status. Not that she feels has any status. And with parents determined to imprison her at home and embarrass her in public, Freia is sure she’ll never fit in anywhere.

Friendship is at the heart of Finding Freia Lockhart: How Not to be a Successful Teen. There’s Freia’s changing friendship with Kate who really wants to be best friends with a new group of girls, there’s fledgling friendships with Siouxsie and others, and then’s the possibility of friendship – or more – with Daniel. Her parents are keen to be the best parents they can be and for her mother that means reading every book ever written on the subject of teenagers. The harder she tries, the less understood Freia feels. At home she’s grumpy and uncommunicative. At school she’s confused and drowning in a sea of lip gloss and short skirts. ‘Finding Freia Lockhart’ is told in first person and is a story of finding yourself, of deciding who you are and where you want to be.

Recommended for early- and mid-secondary readers.

Finding Freia Lockhart: How Not to be a Successful Teen

Finding Freia Lockhart: How Not to be a Successful Teen, Aimee Said
Walker Books 2010
ISBN: 9781921529153

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

The Wonky Donkey, by Craig Smith

I was walking down the road and I saw…
a donkey,
Hee Haw!
And he only had three legs!
He was wonky donkey.

Kids will love the silliness of this fun to read aloud picture book. The silliness of the text accumulates – the wonky donkey becoming a winky wonky donkey, then a honky-tonky winky wonky donkey, in tongue-twisting repetitive text which will have youngsters joining in. The book can also be sung, with the accompanying CD sung by creator Craig Smith. The text won APRA Children’s Song of the Year in 2008. As well as the funny text and the music, kids will love the illustrations which bring the donkey to life in watercolour on a textured paper background. The bird character which stars alongside the donkey in the illustrations adds to the humour.

Great for classroom use, this is also one for home, whether read aloud or with the music.

The Wonky Donkey

The Wonky Donkey, by Craig Smith, illustrated by Katz Crowley
Scholastic, 2009

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

Conspiracy 365 – February, by Gabrielle Lord

Some miracle had put an end to the process. What had happened? I was shaking all over. I was almost completely submerged in oil, but I was alive…

Before January, Callum Ormond was a fairly ordinary teenage boy, in spite of the recent death of his father. In January, however, all that changed. First Callum met a man on New Year’s Eve who told him he should hide for the next year. Then Callum was nearly killed in a boating accident, before being framed for the attempted murder of his little sister. Now Callum is on the run, not sure who to trust, but knowing he must solve the mystery about why so many people are after him.

February is the second title in the Conspiracy 365 series, and sees Cal almost drown in oil, set on my bullies, come face to face with a lion and more, as his 365 day countdown continues.

Aimed at upper primary aged readers, the fast pace is sure to appeal.

February (Conspiracy 365)

February (Conspiracy 365), by Gabrielle Lord
Scholastic, 2010

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

Below the Styx, by Michael Meehan

I struck her. Or at least the object struck her, with me, unfortunately, and as I have already explained in great detail to Clive Partington, attached to the other end of it. For this, I am in prison. This is the core of my story. The reason, in fact, for writing. The story of two sisters, my wife Coralie and Madeleine, the wife of Rollo. The story of my life.

Martin Frobisher has long been known as a gentle and considered man – yet he is currently in prison, awaiting trial for the murder of his wife. While there, he has time to consider the parallels between his own life and that of Marcus Clark, the author of For the Term of His Natural Life.

Below the Styx is a clever and surprising literary novel about life, about human nature, about Australia and about Marcus Clarke. As Frobisher learns more about Clarke’s life the reader also learns about Frobisher’s life, about how he came to the point he is at, with surprises right to the last page.

A complex read.

Below the Styx

Below the Styx, by Michael Meehan
Allen & Unwin, 2010

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

My Country, by Dorothea Mackellar & Andrew McLean

I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

Since its first publication in 1908, this poem has been learnt, sung, recited and cherished by countless Australians. Now, it is brought to life in stunning watercolour to be loved and cherished by a new generation of readers.

My Country combines the original poem by Dorothea Mackellar with sumptuous watercolour illustrations by illustrator Andrew McLean, who captures both the beauty and the diversity of the Australian landscape. the design of the book is also beautiful, with the cover presented like a leather-bound album with picture insert, and the endpapers adorned with gumleaves.

A lovely gift, likely to appeal to children and adults and also suitable for classroom use.

My Country

My Country, by Dorothea Mackellar & Andrew McLean
Omnibus, 2010

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

Zoobots, by Bruce Whatley & Ben Smith Whatley

Zebo longed for another best friend.
One not big.
One not too small.

Zebo lives in Junk Jungle with her two best friends, Hyde and TC. She loves them both but you can never have too many best friends, and Zebo longs for another one, about the same size as her, and perhaps a girl, like her, too. Together the three friends assemble a collection of junk in an attempt to make a best friend that fits all their requirements – but they find it isn’t as easy as they think.

Zoobots is a cute picture book offering from the pairing of award winning author/illustrator Bruce Whatley and his son, Ben Smith Whatley. Using software-enhanced 3D graphics, the pair have brought the junkyard to life with a realistic look and feel, and endearing characters, including Zebo, who is a painted and shaped like a zebra made from junk, Hyde, like a rhinoceros, and TC, like a bird, as well as Ruby, their new friend, who resembles a giraffe.

Children will enjoy the story here, but they will also love the quality and quirkiness of the illustrations.


Zoobots, by Bruce Whatley and Ben Smith Whatley
Harper Collins, 2010

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

Looking for Lionel, by Sharon Snir

Dementia peeled away layers of how things should and should not be. It peeled away the surface that was concerned only with appearance. Over time it revealed someone I had never really met. Someone pure and sweet and filled with innocent gratitude. In the end, all that was left of Lily was love. How ironic that dementia gave me the mother I had always wanted.

With a growing number of people in Australia suffering from dementia, there is a good chance that all of us are going to have a family member, a friend or at least an acquaintance who suffers from the disease at some point in or lifetime. It is a diagnosis which cares most people, and an illness which affects everyone in the life of the sufferer.

Looking for Lionel: How I Lost and Found My Mother Through Dementia is both a personal memoir of one family’s journey through dementia and a wonderful aid for the families and carers of other sufferers. With gentle honesty author Sharon Snir tells of the highs and incredible lows of her own family’s experiences, as well as sharing first hand experiences from others who she has spoken with, and offering gentle guidance based on those experiences, for others in similar situations.

This is an important and touching book whose ultimate message is positive.

Looking for Lionel: How I Lost and Found My Mother Through Dementia

Looking for Lionel: How I Lost and Found My Mother Through Dementia, by Sharon Snir
Allen & Unwin, 2010

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

Hot and Cold

As she fell, she felt something hard against her back – her snowboard! EJ reached back, grabbed her board, pulled it down and clicked her boots together. Please let there be jet-pack heels, she thought to herself. Please! She clicked again and the suction soles popped out. Another click – stilts. Aaaaaaaaaaargh! SHINE really needed a better system than this. Still falling, she clicked again and finally a jet pack emerged from each heel. EJ checked her boots were locked to the snowboard and pulled the laces to activate her boots.

At school Emma Jacks is just one of the girls, worrying about parties, friendships and bullies. But in secret, Emma is also Special Agent EJ12, off on code-cracking secret missions. In Hot and Cold , the first book of the series, EJ!@ must travel to Antarctica to try to stop an evil-doer’s plan to melt the pack ice. Using her code-cracking skills, her ingenuity, and the secret tools given to her by SHINE, EJ12 takes on the evil Caterina Hill. But as plain old Emma Jacks, can she use what she’s learnt to deal with the bully Nema?

This new series aimed squarely at girl readers aged 8 plus combines adventure and action with issues which child readers will relate to such as peer pressure and bullying. The dilemmas which face Emma as EJ12 are mirrored by those she’s facing in her daily life as a school girl.

With shiny silver covers, a fast paced story and a dedicated website this series is likely to prove popular.

Hot and Cold (EJ12: Girl Hero)

Hot and Cold (EJ12: Girl Hero)
Scholastic Australia & Lemon Fizz Media, 2010

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