Model Mania, by Aleesah Darlinson

es, I know it’s Sunday morning and impossibly early, but I can’t sleep. I bought this new diary yesterday and I’ve been dying to write in it. So many fresh, white pages to fill! So here’s the scoop. I’m Persephone River Pinchgut and this is my second ever personal diary. My first diary started out TOP SECRET because I didn’t want my sister, Portia, snooping. She eventually found out about it anyway – but promised not to snoop – so my diarising is now out in the open.

Persephone Pinchgut and her sister, Portia, are 10 years-old and identical twins. On the outside. On the inside though they have very different personalities. Persephone is quieter and not that fond of being in the public eye, but Portia loves the spotlight. In this adventure, Portia decides she wants to be a model. Mum finally agrees, but it’s Persephone who has to accompany her to auditions and the like, because Mum is too busy. Portia decides she quite likes life in the limelight, despite the effect it has on her sister and her friendships. Welcome to model mania! The text is in a large font and there are illustrations scattered throughout.

This is the second diary of the new Totally Twins series from New Frontier Publishing. Middle-primary can be a time for ‘trying on’ all sorts of personalities and potential careers. Many seem romantic and glamourous. But they are not always what they seem. Portia transforms into a model, complete with a new wardrobe, new mannerisms and new friends. Persephone tries to be pleased her sister is happy but she also sees the effect Portia’s new behaviours are having on those around her. Themes are around friendship and family. Recommended for early/mid-primary aged readers.

Model Behaviour Fabulous Diary

Totally Twins 2: Model Mania Aleesah Darlison Serena Geddes
New Frontier 2010
ISBN: 9781921042409 review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Good Oil, by Laura Buzo

‘I’m writing a play,’ says Chris, leaning over the counter of my cash register. ‘It’s called Death of a Customer. Needless to say, it’s set here.’ He jerks his head towards the aisles lined with groceries and lit with harsh fluorescent bars.
It takes me a moment to place the reference, but then I remember Death of a Salesman from when Dad took me to see the play last year.
‘Sounds good.’
‘Want to be in it?’
I nod eagerly.
‘Cool. We’re going to the pub after work to workshop it. You should come.’

Chris calls Woolies ‘The Land of Dreams’ and when 15 year old Amelia starts working there, she is happy to agree. Chris, trainer and fellow check out operator is her dream man. There’s only one problem. Or maybe two. He’s six years older than her and she can’t decide whether he thinks about her in ‘that way’ at all or whether she’s just a mate he likes to talk to. They get along so well, it’s not long before she’s developed a crush the size of China. Amelia could talk to her sister but she’s at university in the country. Her mother seems too weighed down by life in general and she hardly talks to her father at all. She does talk to her friend, Penny but Penny has no answers for her.

First love can be very painful particularly when it’s seems almost impossible. Amelia is a very real character. She’s got great insights and strong opinion on some things, but she doesn’t fit with the cool kids. Not that she really wants to, but she’d like a slice of their pie. She’d like the confidence to take what she’d really like. The title Good Oil comes from a promise Chris makes her when she starts work. He’ll give her the ‘good oil’, tell her what’s what. Only he has challenges of his own that he hides beneath his cheery exterior. The first half of Good Oil is first person in Amelia’s voice, but the second half alternates between Chris’ diaries, letters and Amelia’s first person narrative. Different fonts are used to avoid confusion. Good Oil is a realistic novel about the pain of unrequited love. Recommended for mid-secondary readers and beyond.

Good Oil, Laura Buzo
Allen & Unwin 2010

Good Oil

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Bright Angel, by Isabelle Merlin

Anything can happen. Everything can change in an instant. It doesn’t matter who you are. You could be the cleverest, bravest, strongest person in the whole world or the most ordinary and humdrum – and still it can come to you. The bold from the blue, the heaving of supposed solid earth under your feet, the shark in the summer water, the truck on the wrong side of the road, the maniac in the crowded street. Wrong place at the wrong time. That’s what they say. That’s what they say…

Sylvie and her sister Claire are recovering from a truly dreadful experience and their parents decide it could be a good idea to get them right away for a little while. The girls’ aunt Freddy is a non fiction writer and she’s currently in France researching her new book. Perfect. The ideal diversion. The girls are happy to go, neither of them wanting to talk about the trauma they’ve suffered. And at first, France is everything they could possibly imagine and more. The scenery is beautiful. They’re invited to watch a movie being filmed. There are gorgeous guys. Even a gorgeous small boy named for an angel, Gabriel. Gabriel knows there are angels, but neither his cute big brother Daniel or Sylvie are quiet as sure. But when Gabriel, angel of a child, is kidnapped, everything changes.

Sylvie and her sister Claire are just ordinary people to whom something extraordinary (not in a good way) has happened. They are proof that there is no protection against the randomness of living. But in France they discover that there is no running away from trauma, no protection from bad or evil things. Sylvie tells the story in first person and is the main character. She’s a brave and resourceful character, but not without her foibles. She’s rash and impetuous and this gets her into more trouble, as she seeks to understand the relationships that are developing around her. Shock and grief affect people in very different ways and Sylvie must try to understand if she is to be able to help her friends. Bright Angel twists and turns like a French country lane on its way up a mountain. Recommended for mid-secondary readers and beyond.

Bright Angel

Bright Angel, Isabelle Merlin
Random House Australia 2010
ISBN: 9781864719635

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

The Staring Owl, by Luke Edwards

Owl took up staring at an early age.
While most parents discourage staring, Owl was raised to stare at everyone and everything.

Owl is fabulous at staring. His parents are proud but not everyone else is. He finds it tough to find a job, only partly because he has feathers. It’s his stare. It’s unsettling. Poor Owl despairs of finding a job. But when he has all but resigned himself to unemployment, he finds the perfect job. Illustrations are black and white and yellow, using graphite and Photoshop. The Staring Owl is a mid-sized hardback picture book, with a matt finish to the cover…except for those eyes. They shine.

Owl tries very hard to find a job. Although he has very well-developed staring skills, none of the jobs he considers are quite right. All use staring but not his unrelenting staring. And he feels a little victimised because he’s not human. But he finally finds his place. And having done so, he remembers what it felt like to be an outsider and he sets up a support group for those like him. This gently humourous story suggests that there is a place for everyone in the world, even if that place is not easy to find. It’s a lovely fable. Recommended for all staring owls.

The Staring Owl

The Staring Owl, Luke Edwards
Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862919112

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Samuel's Kisses, by Karen Collum & Serena Geddes

Samuel was excited.
It was shopping day.
He loved going shopping with Mummy.

Samuel is a small boy who loves to go shopping with his mum. But not everyone they see while shopping looks or seems happy. Some are distracted, others just look tired. So while Mum is doing her thing, Samuel sends them a kiss. The kisses travel over, under, around before reaching their destination. The effect is immediate, and brightens the day for the recipient and those nearby. Soon the whole shopping centre is feeling the effects of Samuel’s kisses. Illustrations are ink and watercolour, soft and whimsical, set in lots of white space.

Samuel is quite magic. Not only does he brighten days, he gives them a new lease of life, or a refreshed sense of fun. Children have a wonderful simplicity that adults often lose. They also sometimes feel powerless in the face of sadness or tiredness or ill-health in others. But Samuel just gives out happiness with his kisses. And at least temporarily, he is able to share his joy of life. Children reading Samuel’s Kisses will surely be tempted to try out the kisses themselves. Hopefully, the adults around them are taking notice. Recommended for preschool aged children.

Samuel's Kisses

Samuel’s Kisses, Karen Collum Serena Geddes
New Frontier Publishing 2010
ISBN: 9781921042157

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Madeline the Mermaid, by Anna Fienberg & Ann James

Madeline was a mermaid. She had a silvery tail like a fish, and shells shone in her wild yellow hair. Every day she swam and dived and ducked through the waves, and at night she headed home to the coral reefs of the sea.
Madeline lived in a conch shell with her merdog called Byron and her mercat called Bella.

Madeline lives where all mermaids should, under the sea. She’s happy and healthy and bright, despite rumours and legends that paint mermaids as having ‘wild, wicked ways’. There’s only one thing not-perfect in her life, and it’s a big thing. Literally. There’s a Kraken living on the other side of the world. He’s scared of the dark. There are stories told about him too, and although he says the stories are rubbish, no one is game to come close enough to hear him. Now he wants Madeline’s light and he’s coming to get it. There are four linked mini-adventures in Madeline the Mermaid. Scattered throughout are both colour and black-and-white illustrations, in Ann James’ trademark gentle loose lines and watercolours.

What a life to be leading! Living under the sea and having your own merdog and mercat. Madeline seems to have it made, but there are challenges in her world. First there’s the Kraken, then there are puffer fish, harpies and sea witches. Madeline finds ways to calm the rocky waters of the undersea with gentle humour and a tiny touch of magic. This collection of stories is as refreshing as being at the beach on a hot summer day, when the cool change arrives. Perfect as a read-to, particularly with each ‘chapter’ being complete in itself. Recommended to for independent readers and lovers of mermaids and the sea.

Madeline the Mermaid

Madeline the Mermaid, Anna Fienberg Ann James
Allen&Unwin 2010
ISBN: 9781742372280

Reviewed by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online at Fishpond.

Gift of the Gob, by Kate Burridge

Compiling dictionaries is tricky, especially now when English is acquiring vocabulary at such an extraordinary rate. Many new words are one-offs, of course, spur-or-the-moment, short-lived. People do love to invent words and…some even send their creations off to dictionary editors in the hope they might make it onto their lists. …Stroodle ‘the annoying piece of cheese stretching from a slice of hot pizza to one’s mouth’, like all of Rich Hall’s wonderful inventions, certainly fills a lexical gap, but hasn’t yet made it – it remains a sniglet ‘a word that should be in the dictionary, but isn’t’.

Gift of the Gob is subtitled ‘Morsels of English Language History’. It is not intended to be a dictionary, rather a degustation offering of many and varied words of interest. It begins with a definition of ‘gob’ and other words in similar form, rejecting the salivary ‘gob’ for other more interesting meanings including mouth, ‘gobbet’ for mouthful and more. Chapters include ‘Dictionary’, ‘Slanguage’, ‘Language on the Move’ and more. Burridge tracks the origins of words like ‘hamburger’ (derives from Hamburg) and follows the path past the original meaning, through the ham-burger (meat-in-bun) which leads to limburger, eggburger and more. Much of the content has been inspired by questions Burridge has received from the public, either via radio and other shows, or via contact directly with her. Information boxes offer asides on particular words or sayings, or provide answers to questions.

English is an amazing living language with words entering and leaving official dictionaries. And those who love English, do so in a variety of ways. Some want the language to stay as they learned it, with no relaxing of ‘proper’ English. Others make up words for themselves or for others. It’s a living language, and language changes in usage. Once offensive words become mild, and new ones arrive to shock or titillate. Gift of the Gob dances through the field of wild and ordinary words, bringing them all to life by sharing their history. The reader may never use some of the words examined here, but it’s fascinating to understand a little more of their journey to our modern usage. Burridge introduces and reintroduces words and their meanings in an informative yet conversational style, that excludes no one. Recommended for anyone fascinated by the ever-changing language we call English.

Gift of the Gob

Gift of the Gob, Kate Burridge,
ABC Books 2010
ISBN: 9780733324048

Reviewed by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

365 Awesome Aussie Jokes, by Camp Quality

What to you get when you cross a sheep with a kangaroo?
A woolly jumper.

365 Awesome Aussie Jokes is a collection of …365 Aussie jokes. There’s one for each day of the year. The first joke of the month is a celebrity joke, coming from writers, broadcasters and singers. There are knock-knocks, puns, Did-you-hear-abouts and many more. Each opening includes black and white illustrations while the border around pages reminds the reader to laugh (in case they forget…or the joke doesn’t tickle their fancy).

365 Awesome Aussie Jokes is put together by Camp Quality, an organisation that supports kids and families of kids with cancer. The collection lives the adage that ‘laughter is the best medicine’. The jokes are short and the font is large, allowing access to quite young readers. If the ‘reader’ is too young to decipher the text themselves, they have plenty to laugh with as the jokes are read to them. A foreword explains how this and preceding joke books came to be. Proceeds are used to fund Camp Quality programs. There are two forms in the back. One provides the opportunity to send in jokes, the other outlines how donations to Camp Quality may be made. Recommended for all jokesters.

365 Awesome Aussie Jokes

365 Awesome Aussie Jokes, Camp Quality
Scholastic Australia 2010
ISBN: 9781741696103

Reviewed by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Ruby Talisman, by Belinda Murrell

Tilly pulled the mesh faceguard down and limbered up her right wrist, circling it nervously, her long, thin fencing foil drawing through the air. She was dressed all in white, with padding to protect her chest and padded gloves on her hands. She jigged up and down, adrenaline surging through her body.
Tilly lifted the foil in front of her face in a formal salute to her opponent on the other side of the narrow mat.
‘En garde.’
The foils flashed forward into the defensive position.’
‘Allez!’ The two fencers leapt forward, foils slashing. Tilly felt her hot, seething thoughts turn cold and hard as steel.

Tilly is struggling to cope with her parents marriage breakdown. She’s angry and bitter and not particularly nice to be near. When her mother takes a weekend break, Tilly stays with her aunt, Kara. Although Tilly loves her aunt, she’s not happy she’s being dumped with her for the weekend. Then Kara shows her a fabulous ruby necklace, first worn by one of their ancestors, Amelie-Mathilde, a young French aristocrat. Kara relates Amelie’s almost miraculous escape from the French court as the French revolution begins. Tilly’s dreams about her ancestor then wakes up next to her. Amelie is wearing the ruby necklace too. In a world very different to her own, with civil war erupting all around them, Tilly must think clearly and quickly if she is to help Amelie and her cousin to survive.

Tilly’s having a tough time and she has no room for the feelings of others around her. Even her friends are finding her too prickly to be any fun. She’s locked in her own world, her own suffering, and blind to the suffering of anyone else. When she is transported to the 18th century, she slowly begins to realise that others have their own problems. Her experience in the past allows her to understand her present and to look forward to the future. The ruby necklace connects past and present allowing two teenage girls to connect and understand their similarities and differences. The Ruby Talisman gently points out that the world is bigger than any one person and it’s helpful to look beyond your own experience if you are to take your place in it. Recommended for mid- secondary readers.

The Ruby Talisman

The Ruby Talisman, Belinda Murrell
Random House Australia 2010
ISBN: 9781864719871

Reviewed by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Rufus the Numbat, by David Miller

Rufus the Numbat is just passing through.

Rufus doesn’t walk very fast. He’s just trying to make it to the bush. But to get there he has to cross people-territory and that’s where the trouble begins. Unbeknownst to him he distracts a cyclist who then fails to see danger ahead…and on it goes. Rufus just keeps on plodding, unaware of the chaos and destruction he’s unwittingly caused. The text is very spare. Illustrations are David Miller’s trademark paper sculptures set on paint and ink backgrounds.

On the surface, Rufus the Numbat is a very simple story of an animal taking a walk through unfamiliar territory. It’s not Rufus’ fault that disaster follows, is it? There’s a clear environmental message here about the effect man can have on nature without really even knowing it’s happening. Young children will just love the chaos and calamity. Older children will see the world from a new viewpoint. Artists will appreciate the amazing paper sculptures. Recommended for all ages.

Rufus the Numbat

Rufus the Numbat, David Miller
Ford St Publishing 2010
ISBN: 9781876462963

Reviewed by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.