Aztec Attack and Battle Bust-Up, by Charlie Carter

Napoleon loved hurtling through time. It always took his breath away.
‘How exciting is this, Skin?’
‘Excitement is not in my Behaviour Reaction Bank,’ said Skin.
‘Sorry,’ said Napoleon. “I keep forgetting you don’t have feelings.”
‘Apology unnecessary,’ said Skin. ‘My non-existent feelings were not hurt.’
Skin hummed and buzzed as his nano-computers targeted their location.

Most of the time, Napoleon is a fairly normal boy, but when his friend Professor Purdis needs him, he becomes Battle Boy 005, hurtling through time to experience famous battles, fix problems and gather evidence of what happened.

In Aztec Attack Naploeon finds himself in 1519, on a mysterious mission in Mexico, and in Battle Bustup he needs to untangle two famous battles that have somehow got tangled up.

These two are offerings 5 and 6 in the Battle Boy series a fast moving time travel series blending military history with the marvels of high-tech gadgetry and time travel.

likely to appeal to middle and upper primary aged readers, especially boys.

Aztec Attack and Battle Bustup
both by Charlie Carter
Pan Macmillan, 2010

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Mirror, by Jeannie Baker

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

I’ve been a fan of Jeannie Baker’s amazing collage artwork and stunning picture books for years. Once again Jeannie has come up with what is a brilliant and unique picture book that takes us into the lives of two very different boys and their families. One is an Australian family in Sydney and the other a Moroccan family in the Valley of Roses.

The colour and detail makes this a stunning book that highlights the differences between the lifestyles of the two families. It gives insights into a life that will be familiar to many of us and one that is not familiar. Yet I loved the modern example of the mobile phone near the TVs on the Moroccan market page with its vegetables and grains laid out on the ground around which people, sheep and chooks wander.

I can’t imagine the hours and hours of work that have gone to make up this incredible collages constructed initially on wooden baseboard to which were added sand, earth, clay, paints, fabric, wool, plastic, vegetation and tin. The completed collages, Jeannie says, were preserved and coloured and then photographed with the reproduced images appearing in the book.

While I understand the logical idea of why it is set out as it is, my one quibble is that because of this layout where each text opens out from the centre, it is awkward to handle. I found it best to be able to open it on a flat surface rather than to try and hold it in the hands. That small quibble aside, this is a stunning and amazingly crafted picture book that is sure to delight many in homes, schools and libraries and feature in the next CBCA awards.

Just maybe it might make people realise that though many things are different, some things are the same no matter where the family lives.

Mirror, by Jeannie Baker
Walker Books, 2010
RRP $39.95

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe
Dale’s latest books are Lights, Camera, Action and Saltspray Idol.
Write and Read with Dale

Wavelength, by AJ Betts

It’s nearing the end of his final year of school, and Oliver’s life currently revolves around the elusive 80 per cent average he needs to get into uni and begin a cashed-up life of clean-cut uniforms and company tennis courts. But a hectic home-life and a mother who’s always baking muffins push success just out of reach, so Oliver attempts to escape to his dad’s place down south.

‘Imagine’, she says, sliding her engagement ring from her finger. ‘Imagine starting off as a lump of boring black coal and ending up like this. A perfect diamond. All those years of being squashed. That huge weight, pressing and pressing, squeezing you so tight for so long that your very crystal structure changes. Can you imagine?’

Oliver can imagine. He knows it well. It’s like the crushing feeling he gets whenever he thinks of exams and eighty per cent. It’s how he suddenly feels now with the fresh reminder of study – of precious time being wasted. 

It’s nearing the end of his final year of school, and Oliver’s life currently revolves around the elusive 80 per cent average he needs to get into uni and begin a cashed-up life of clean-cut uniforms and company tennis courts. But a hectic home-life and a mother who’s always baking muffins push success just out of reach, so Oliver attempts to escape to his dad’s place down south. Instead of a constructive study environment, however, he finds a frustratingly laid-back community of seniors and pool workers who just aren’t on his wavelength. Despite his narrow and stressed-out outlook, Sunny Haven Recreation Centre proves to be calming and eye-opening in ways Oliver never anticipated.

Wavelength is a story about life and our ideas of what is and what isn’t important. Through the snapshots of lives of characters that are as funny as they are real, the events of Wavelength are a learning experience not only for Oliver, but also for the reader – a reminder that the universe is bigger than a good grade or a high-paying job. AJ Bett’s writing is a rich sensory experience, pulling the reader into the settings of the novel and refusing to let go.

A great source of perspective for students, and a fun and enlightening read for any audience.

Wavelength by AJ Betts
Fremantle Press 2010

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

Descent, by Charlotte McConaghy

‘Do you realise that there is a serious problem here?’ Amara asked her parents angrily. ‘Don’t you understand what is happening to our people?’
‘Do not be so dramatic,’ her mother said, sighing.
Amara stared at them incredulously. ‘Listen to yourself! You lecture me on how I’m not fulfilling my duties as princess and not adhering to behavioural codes, when we stand in the face of a threat to everyone’s lives! Do you think your priorities might be a little mixed up? You are not doing your duty as High King and Queen! Our people need leaders-’…

…Outside time and consciousness, in a place far from the known world, a creature of malevolence was growing. And as it grew in strength, powered by remembrance and anger and hatred, so did it struggle.
The bindings that had been placed on it a thousand years before were strong, the banishment powerful, and yet all this time it was growing, feeding itself on thoughts of revenge, sustained in the knowledge that soon it would be free.

Descent is the second instalment in Charlotte McConaghy’s series ‘The Strangers of Paragor’. The ‘strangers’ of the series title are a close-knit group of teenagers from our world who via a portal find themselves in a new world where a cluster of kingdoms are held together via treaty. In Descent the final two of the six friends, Mia and Jack, arrive to find that even time passes at a different rate here. Their four friends, Luca, Jane, Anna and Harry have been here for more than two years, and are much changed. But it seems that the skills and potential of all the ‘strangers’ (also called ‘Bright Ones’) will be needed to help Paragor. They work alongside local princes, princesses and warriors to keep Paragor safe. Mia and Jack, particularly, have a great deal to learn about this land where dream-invaders swarm at darkness, alliances are made and unmade, good and evil are hard to tell apart and love is not always enough.

Descent is an epic adventure in an unfamiliar world and it is fitting that the viewpoint is omniscient. There are many strong characters here and all have their role to play and piece to say. There are old souls in young bodies, bitter revenge-seekers, grief-changed partners, young lovers and those unbearably changed by the challenges they’ve had to face. There are also deluded monarchs, winged creatures, dragons and elves. But amidst all the evil and danger, friendships are forged and/or strengthened and characters come to understand the role they have to play in this tumultuous world. It can be challenging to bring new readers to a series-in-progress, but Descent reads well as a stand-alone story. That said, it may well encourage readers to seek out ‘Arrival’, the first title in the series. Recommended for mid-secondary readers, particularly fans of paranormal or speculative fiction.

Descent, Charlotte McConaghy
Black Dog Books 2010
ISBN: 9781742031279

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

What Next, Tilda B? by Kathryn Lomer

Everywhere the ground was shifting under my feet.
Suddenly people thought I was old enough to figure things out for myself.
Yeah right.

Tilda Braint is nearing the end of year ten and has no idea what she wants to do next year, or with the rest of her life. When she finds a mother elephant seal on the local beach, though, things start to change. As the seal and its young cub shelter on the beach, Tilda becomes involved in their protection.

At the same time, Tilda finds her relationships are changing. She’s no longer so sure about her boyfriend, Jamie, and her best friend Shelly is acting strangely. Then there’s her family – her parents who are sleeping in separate bedrooms, and her little brother who wants everything back to normal. It could be that navigating through all these upsets might help Tilda figure out what it is she wants, and how to go about getting it.

What Now, Tilda B? is a beautiful story about growing up, focussing on a teen character who is likeable and believable as she navigates the divide between being a teenager and being a young adult. There is some humour and plenty of action, but this is predominantly a gentle exploration of a few eventful weeks in Tilda and her friends’ lives.

Especially likely to appeal to teen girls.

What Now, Tilda B?, by Kathryn Lomer
UQP, 2010

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

Little Else Series, by Julie Hunt

Little Else lived with her grandmother at the bottom of Stony Gully. Times were tough. It hadn’t rained for years. There was nothing in the garden except one small cabbage and a stick of celery. Little Else and her grandmother were so poor they only had dinner once a week. They were so thin they had to walk over the same ground twice to throw a shadow.
One day, a man came to the door of their hut. He had large muscles and a handlebar moustache.
‘Sam Strong’s the name,’ he said. ‘I’m looking for spare children. Short ones, tall one, thin ones, small ones. Any kind will do. Ma will sort them out. She’s looking for apprentices for her bush circus.’
Grandma looked doubtful.
‘There’s no spare children here, Mr Strong,’ she said.

Little Else loves her grandma but also wants to experience all the world has to offer. So when the opportunity comes to join the circus and be paid in gold, she sees an opportunity to see the world and to provide for her poverty-stricken grandmother. She’s a plucky, audacious heroine with the ability to converse with animals. This skill comes in handy as she is tricked into joining the circus (Trick Rider), leads her own group of bushrangers (On the Run), and hunts down a legendary group of cattle (Ghost Hunter). It seems there is no injustice she can’t right, even at the cost of getting her face on a ‘Most Wanted’ poster. Even her horse begins to wonder if he should have stuck with Harry Blast, a notoriously bad-tempered bushranger.

Little Else is a wild child. Little Else is seven years old and she can do anything. And she does. With dry humour and wonderful place names like ‘Witt’s End’, Desolation Ranges, Windy Ridge, Dead Man’s Gap and Mt Long Gone, Little Else leads her rag-tag bunch of companions on missions both far-fetched and far-flung. All the characters are full of humour and personality, from the laconic bushranger’s horse ‘Outlaw’, to the cannibal’s child ‘Toothpick’. Little Else is a magnetic character, attracting loyalty from all those she meets, but suspicion from those who don’t know her. Her release of knackery horses earns her the title ‘horse rustler’ and another Wanted poster. Little Else is told in third person and the most wonderful deadpan humour and will have newly independent readers chuckling out loud. In contrast to the colourful characters within, the covers of each title are pastel, perhaps suggesting that people should not be judged on appearances (age, gender…), but also to entice small girls into something other than fairies and princesses. Wonderful fun.

Little Else – Trick Rider Julie Hunt, ill Beth Norling
Allen & Unwin 2010
ISBN: 9781741758771

Little Else – on the Run Julie Hunt, ill Beth Norling
Allen & Unwin 2010
ISBN: 9781741758764

Little Else – Ghost Hunter (Little Else) Julie Hunt, ill Beth Norling
Allen & Unwin 2010
ISBN: 9781741758788

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard, by James Moloney

Bern saw the lizard first, but it was Cody who named him Tarantula.
‘Tarantula! That’s a kind of spider,’ said Bern.
‘Yeah, I know. A really scary spider,’ said Cody.

Bern and Cody live in the Australian bush on a cattle station. They find and tame a frill-neck lizard, ‘feeding him insects on the back verandah’. Bern’s an action man, but Cody is more reflective, and sure he can understand what Tarantula is thinking. Uncle Mo comes to stay and notices how fast Tarantula can run. He sees the chance to enter the lizard in a race and make some fast money. Despite the boy’s objections Mo takes Tarantula to the race. They follow and soon are caught up in pre-race excitement. Only the lizards seem unaffected. Bern discovers a surefire way to get the lizards running and they do. Bern and Cody are both sure they are responsible for their pet winning the race. However, Uncle Mo doesn’t get to keep the prize-money for very long. There are colour illustrations on every opening.

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard is a new offering from Omnibus in their ‘Mates’ series. Each is a tall tale, uniquely Australian. Bern and Cody rub along, gently bickering, but caring for their new pet. Each has their own talents. In rocks their chancer uncle, Mo, keen to eat Mum’s cooking and make a few quick quid. In How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard the humour is almost slap-stick, chapters are short, the illustrations are bright and humourous. Perfect! Added extras are the chook and the lizard in the header/footer. One chook slowly makes the journey through the pages to visit the second chook. A lizard moves in the opposite direction. These extra little ‘stories’ are for young readers to notice and enjoy, the way they enjoy the visual narrative as well as the words in a picture book. Recommended for newly independent readers making the transition from picture books to novels.

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard (Mates)

How to Talk to a Frill-Neck Lizard (Mates), James Maloney ill Simone Linehan
Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918146

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Chicken Stu, by Nathan Luff

The waitress brought my waylaid frappuccino, distracting Mum, who had been staring off into nothing for a while. The waitress was your typical Newtown specimen: she had short colourful hair (currently blue) arranged in a sequence of tiny sharp spikes, and she was pierced so much that she jangled when she walked, like loose change. All Mum could offer her was a fake smile that made it look like someone was tugging at her face. As Jangle the Waitress left, Mum became interested in her own coffee and I returned to reading my book.
‘Darling,’ she began, which was always a bad start, ‘you know I’ve been studying Italian on and off…’
I stopped reading mid-sentence, my eyes focusing on the space between two words. ‘Well, a fantastic offer has come up with some of the people I know from class, and, so what it means is – it’s very exciting, you see – I’m off to Italy.’

Mum is off to Italy, and Stu is off to the country to stay on the farm with his uncle, aunt and maniac cousins. The very thought of it is enough to bring on a throat-closing asthma attack. For once though, Mum is resolute. She needs a holiday and Stu will have to manage. For Stu, though, the reality is much worse than even he, with his creative imagination, could have foreseen. His aunt is determined to toughen him up and his cousins seem determined to kill him one way or another. None of his country family seem to understand that he’ll be happy just staying in his room with his books, reading away the six weeks before Mum returns. No, they are equally determined to show him the wonders of fresh air, responsibility and imaginative play. And that’s where the trouble starts.

Chicken Stu is hilarious. Stu seems prone to flights of imagination, but the reality of his trip to the farm is beyond imagining. He tells his story in first person and it is tempting to suspect he is exaggerating. His voice is quirky and wonderful. The truth beyond his dry observations, however, is that his aunt IS mad and his cousins ARE tearaway crazy. Their antics put him in real danger. Gradually Stu reveals the reasons behind his anxiety-induced asthma attacks. He’s lost his father to illness and feels that he should have done more to save him. Stu’s transformation from Ventolin-dependent city-boy to is a rough and tough journey. He has his own weapons (sense of humour, perseverance and intellect) and is called upon to use them all. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Chicken Stu

Chicken Stu, Nathan Luff
Scholastic Press 2010
ISBN: 9781741695564

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Slice, by Steven Herrick

My name is Darcy Franz Pele Walker.
Ignore the middle names.
I do.
My Dad is a football nut and he figured if he named me after his two favourite players, I’d turn out just like them. At the age of five, I’d stand in the backyard wearing baggy blue shorts and a Brazilian jersey watching the clouds, the trees, birds tilting overhead on the breeze.
Dad would shout, ‘Ready, Darcy?’ and roll the ball temptingly my way.
‘Just kick it with all you’ve got, son.’
I’d look at the coloured panels on the ball.
‘Just swing your foot, Darcy.’

Darcy is sixteen and in Year 11. He’s not sporty or tough. He can quote Shakespeare and he has a crush on Audrey which he’s not game to do anything about. He also has a habit of speaking without really thinking about the consequences. This gets him into trouble sometimes but also defines him. It helps him get to know Audrey, and to understand what’s going on with his nerdy friend Noah. It also helps him deal with football-loving, physical Braith and Tim. Slice is the story of Darcy’s Year 11, told in bites both juicy and delicious.

Told in prose, Slice is full of wonderful images, told in a few words, much like Herrick’s verse novels. It’s hilarious too. Darcy’s voice is very dry, very droll. His observations of others and awareness of himself are astute. He may be physically not up to the likes of Braith and Tim, but he has developed his own sense of self, his own defences. Scenes like the one where Dad does the ‘sex talk’ with Darcy are laugh-out loud funny because they are so familiar. This is a novel which celebrates those who understand their place in the world, even if those around them don’t. It’s a joy to read.
Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

Slice: Juicy Moments from My Impossible Life

Slice: Juicy Moments from My Impossible Life, Steven Herrick
Woolshed Press 2010
ISBN: 9781864719642

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Littledog, by Katrina Germein & Tamsin Ainslie

Littledog found us one holiday evening.
He was waiting at the shack when we got back from the beach.

Sam and his family are at the beach for the summer holidays. They are befriended by a small dog they immediately christen Littledog. Despite their best efforts to find Littledog’s owners, no one claims him. One by one he wins over the family, slowly and cheerfully overcoming all opposition. By the end of the holidays, he has become one of the family. Illustrations are full page and imbued with summer’s golden hues. The scenes are iconically Australian from the ‘shack’ to the barbecue on the verandah. The characters are simply drawn and reflect the magic of long summer days. Littledog is just plain cute with his floppy ear and perky tail. Endpapers are a luscious collage of craft fabrics and summer fun.

Littledog appears from nowhere and attaches himself to Sam and his family. He fits right in with their relaxed holiday lifestyle and wags ‘his whole bottom’ to show his happiness. There’s a definite sense of him choosing them to stay with. It does raise the question though of where he came from, a question that isn’t answered although the family do try to find out. Sam is the nominal narrator, but the story belongs to the entire family. Littledog captures long, lazy summer days, family fun and the joys of pet ownership (even if the last is unexpected). Recommended for pre- and early schoolers.


Littledog, Katrina Germein, ill Tamsin Ainslie,
Scholastic Press 2010
ISBN: 9781741695526

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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