Diary of a Soccer Star, by Shamini Flint

I scored a goal today.
Unfortunately, it was an own goal.
It wasn’t my fault.
Really, it wasn’t!
Jack, “Talk to the Feet” Gordon hit the ball back to the keeper. (I’ve just found out this is called a back pass.)
The goalkeeper went for one of those long kicks…why couldn’t he just pick the ball up, the clod?
(I’ve just discovered that the goalie is not allowed to pick up the ball from a back pass – stupid rule!)
You see the coach had told me to play in defence.. So what actually happened was that the ball hit me on the back. Well, to be honest, the ball hit my bottom…

Marcus Atkinson’s dad has decided that Marcus needs to spend more time outside, less on the computer, more time making friends. And that means soccer. His dad has an answer to every one of Marcus’ objections. Marcus is good at maths, and lousy, he knows, at soccer – at every sport really. His recollections of earlier sporting attempts are all filled with disaster. Why will this be any different? And if that’s not bad enough, his teacher wants him to keep a diary. And worse still, his first game makes him famous around the school – as the boy who made an ‘own goal’ with his bottom. It’s true! There’s a photo to prove it. He’s good at maths, and wishes that was enough. But he must play soccer. When soccer and maths collide, Marcus isn’t quite sure what will happen. There are black and white illustrations on every opening.

Diary of a Soccer Star introduces the reader to a nerdy boy who is convinced that he’s an absolute loss when it comes to playing soccer. His first game was a disaster and he’s convinced things will not improve. His father has written a motivational book and is a walking motivator with a slogan to address any negativity. He encourages his son to continue to train at soccer despite Marcus’ reservations. Marcus sees himself as good at maths and bad at soccer. And he thinks that cannot change. When the chips are down though, Marcus realises that he does have friends and maths doesn’t just belong in a text book. Illustrations make Diary of a Soccer Star an excellent choice for readers daunted by the move to less illustrated texts. In many ways, it reads like a graphic novel. Recommended for independent readers and reluctant readers.

Diary of a Soccer Star

Diary of a Soccer Star, Shamini Flint, ill Sally Heinrich
Sunbear Publishing
ISBN: 9789810858247 (Distributed in Australia via Fremantle Press)

Reviewed by Claire Saxby Children’s book author.

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

Our Australia Alice Springs, by Phil Kettle

Hi there, I’m Taha!
Australia is a long way from Greece, where my mother was born. But on the 26th of January this year, my mum became an Australian citizen.
That’s what Mum said when she showed me her Australian Citizenship Certificate. And then Mum had a great idea. She decided that we needed to explore OUR AUSTRALIA together.

Taha and his Greek-born-but-new-Australian-citizen Mum are on a trip around Australia in their camper van, the Southern Cross. In this instalment of the “Our Australia” series, they drive from Longreach to Alice Springs. It’s a long drive so they stop overnight in Boulia, a town that changes completely when there has been rain. Then in Alice Springs they learn about the Todd River, indigenous and non-indigenous culture and history. Then they’re off to Uluru and surrounds to experience all the wonders of the outback. ‘Our Australia Alice Springs’ is full of drawings, photos and text types. Taha carries an ‘Oracle Pod’ which provides answers to any question. Taha tells his story via letter, email, lists and the ‘Oracle Pod’ information bites.

Our Australia Alice Springs provides information for readers in a variety of formats. The main narrative is Taha and his mother’s fictional journey, but it’s set in a factual landscape and includes elements of geography, history and culture. This is a new series from Australian Geographic designed to engage younger readers. Like the magazine, Our Australia Alice Springs is full of photos, but there are also drawings putting Taha and Mum in the landscape. Information comes from local experts like the policeman, the tourist information centre and local indigenous guides. Shaped like a novel, this series may well attract boys particularly who prefer non fiction but who have outgrown the picture book format. Recommended for mid primary readers.

Our Australia Alice Springs, Phil Kettle, ill David Duncan
Australian Geographic Education 2010
ISBN: 9780980713336

Reviewed by Claire Saxby Children’s book author.

The Dragon's Lie by Kym & Oliver Lardner

Once in a zoo a small boy stood outside the dragon’s cage, asking questions…

When a boy meets a dragon kept in a cage in the zoo, he is puzzled. This dragon is not like the dragons in his books. He asks the dragon why it doesn’t fly, or blow smoke, and why it is no longer powerful. The dragon explains that without the prince and his cousins to fear him and believe in him, there is nothing left for him to do but stay caged. When the boy offers to take him home, the dragon gladly accepts, and the pair leave the zoo together.

This is a delightful tale of friendship, belief and empowerment. Young readers will enjoy discovering and discussing the dragon’s situation, past and present, and the surprise of realising that the cage which holds the dragon is not locked meaning he could have escaped sooner, but didn’t. They will also enjoy the gorgeous manga-inspired illustrations, which contrast the modern world with the ancient. Whilst the zoo features bamboo groves and cages with pagoda roofs, in the background is a very modern city, and as the pair leave the zoo they cross at the lights.

The Dragon’s Lie is a gorgeous offering from father-son pairing of author Kym Lardner, and illustrator Oliver Lardner.

The Dragon’s Lie, by Kym Lardner and Oliver Lardner
ABC Books, 2010
ISBN 9780733325229

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

Tatiara, by Jo Oliver

Tatiara is a beautiful swimmer.
Sometimes she looks at me as if to say, ‘Why can’t you come in too?’

Tatiara is a seal who comes to live in a Tasmanian bay when she is injured. There she befriends the narrator, a girl who also has an injury and wears a back brace which prevents her from swimming free with Tatiara. Their friendship gives each strength as they heal.

This is a gentle picture book with illustrations combining etchings with a watercolour wash. In places it seems a historical tale, with the illustrations of the brace and the wharf suggesting the story is set in the past, but the time period is hard to place, with clothing and city settings suggesting a more contemporary time. Regardless, the gentle tale of a bond between a girl and a seal, is touching.

Tatiara, by Jo Oliver
New Frontier Publishing, 2010
ISBN 9781921042225

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

Flyaway, by Lucy Christopher

Dad’s watching a single swan flying much closer to use, circling slowly around the reserve. It’s a youngster, grayish and small…maybe a female. She’s all by herself. Left behind. I can tell by the way she keeps coming closer to the ground and then circling up again that she’s confused, unsure if she should land. For one crazy minute I wish that I could be up there with her, helping her fly…

Isla loves watching the swans with her Dad. Every winter they arrive, and Isla and Dad go to greet them. But this winter, something is different. Some of the swans are killed when they don’t see the new overhead power lines, and there’s something wrong with Dad, too. When he collapses, Isla feels life may never be the same.

At the hospital, Isla waits for news of her father, and makes a new friend, Harry. With Harry she spots a swan on the lake near the hospital, and connects with the swan in a way she never has before. The swan seems to need Isla’s help. IS the magical connection between them just in Isla’s imagination?

Flyaway is a beautiful novel, focussing on the connection between girl and bird, as well as her relationships with other teens, with her sick father and with the rest of her family. The storyline of the swan’s recovery parallels the other plotlines – Isla’s father’s illness, the fragmentation of his relationship with his own father, and the struggles of her new friend, Harry, as well as Isla’s own fragility because of all this turmoil and changes in her own life as well.

There is a lot happening but the stories entwine beautifully.

Flyaway, by Lucy Christopher
Chicken House, 2010

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

India Dark, by Kirsty Murray

Daisy opened her mouth and lies flew out. Her face so pink and white, her lips so plump and sweet, her lies so vile. I had to cover my ears>
I shut my eyes, wanting to block out the courtroom, to neither see nor hear the evil: but Tilly grabbed my arm and twisted the skin on my wrist in a Chinese burn.
‘Poesy Swift,’ she whispered, her breath hot against my neck, ‘open your eyes, and take that look off your face. We will never get home if you ruin everything.’

When Poesy Swift has the opportunity to join a travelling performance troupe, she is excited. She will get to see the world, singing and dancing, and earning some money for her family – the family she can’t wait to get away from. But when the trip heads to India instead of America, as planned, the trip takes a turn for the worse. As India simmers with the tension of a crumbling Empire, the troupe is also gradually torn apart by ill fortune and by tension.

Set in 1910, and based on the true story of the Lilliputian Opera Company, this is a story of adventure, and coming of age. Murray brings the period and the settings to life, using dual viewpoint characters supported by a strongly fleshed out cast of players. At times the reader is asked to choose which of the two main characters to believe as the onetime friends grow increasingly apart and each interprets the other’s actions in different ways. This adds a layer of interest which keeps the reader absorbed.

Like Murray’s earlier historical novels, the tale is both believable and intriguing.

India Dark, by Kirsty Murray
Allen & Unwin, 2010

Water, by Geoff Havel

A board creaked out the front. She strained her ears and there it was again, another creak, and another. Then someone tried to open the door. Dad was back! He’d probably forgotten his key and was trying to get in without waking her.
Tully leaped to her feet. ‘It’s okay, Dad,’ she called. ‘I’m awake. I’ll unlock it.’
There was a grunt of approval from outside.
She twisted the key in the old lock and tugged on the door. It flew open, almost hitting her.
‘Sorry, I don’t know my own strength,’ grinned a total stranger.

Tully’s father has always been overprotective, and all Tully wants is to be as normal as everyone else in Rivertown. But when her Dad is uncharacteristically late home, and Tully accidentally opens the door to a total stranger, she discovers just how different she really is.

Captured and taken to a secret laboratory, Tully meets other girls the same as her – identical in fact – and her life is changed forever as she tries to escape both the lab and the future it holds for her.

Water is a gripping genetic thriller, set in a contemporary world, but based on the premise of being able to breed humans with genetic mutations which make them useful for both scientific and industrial purposes. Tully and her clones are physically identical but have their own personalities, and the action is fast moving.

Water, by Geoff Havel
Scholastic, 2010

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

Eric, by Shaun Tan

Some years ago we had a foreign exchange student come to stay, but he didn’t want to use our guest room. He preferred to sleep in our pantry…

This whimsical small format offering from the brilliant Shaun Tan is an absolute delight. The exchange student who comes to live with a human family is a tiny pointed headed character reminiscent of a leaf. The family have trouble understanding him, but share their life with him and make sure he has all sorts of experiences. They are never quite sure whether he enjoys them or not, but when he leaves, the family discover he has left them a beautiful surprise.

First included as part of Tan’s Tales From Outer Suburbia, Eric is now presented as a standalone hard cover offering, suitable for all ages. With Tan’s delightfully simple illustrations – chiefly in grey-scale but with splashes of colour where needed – and accompanying minimalist text, this is an offering to be simultaneously laughed at and pondered.

A little treasure.

Eric, by Shaun Tan
Allen & Unwin, 2010

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

Happy as Larry, by Scot Gardner

The name Laurence had been Mal’s idea. It was a serious name that met Denise’s wish to counterbalance the frivolity of Rainbow. Mal considered, with an inward smile, that his friends would probably call the boy Larry. Larry Rainbow. A name that stood out on a stormy day, that rolled off the tongue like a favourite poem and that captured within its simplicity a smile.

Larry Augustine Rainbow is a much loved, much wanted child born into an ordinary family and looking set for an ordinary life. But as he grows up, the world changes, and so does his family.

Larry makes good friends, but his parents’ pasts, and the troubled life of a young neighbour, mean that his good times are sometimes overshadowed by darkness, and, in his teens, it seems that his family will be torn apart.

Happy as Larry is an intriguing book – from the beginning readers are drawn in by an almost fairy-tale style narrative style, though it doesn’t take long for the reader to realise there are chinks in this family’s happy existence. But, while Larry’s life is filled with twists and turns which are at times sad and others truly horrible, there is also plenty of sunshine and this is ultimately a feel-good book. Set against real world events of the past 20 years this is an outstanding offering for young adult readers.

Happy as Larry, by Scot Gardner
Allen & Unwin, 2010

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