Hairy MacLary, Shoo, by Lynley Dodd

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe


In the world of children’s books, no-one writes and illustrates the rhyming picture books better than Lynley Dodd with her Hairy Maclary series. Her use of language and rhyme is impeccable. She is wonderful for introducing young listeners and readers to new words. Her books are fun and Hairy Maclary and friends are cute dogs who get into lots of scrapes. In that, Hairy Maclary, Shoo is no exception.

I remember giving this to one of my grandchildren in hardcover. All my grandchildren loved hearing and then reading the Hairy Maclary books. They have several.

This latest edition of Hairy Maclary, Shoo is a board book version for those tiny fingers that cannot quite be trusted with the real thing. I have to admit I am not a fan of board books and never have been. I never bought them for my own children and refuse to buy them for my grandchildren, preferring to teach them the right way to handle books from a young age by using proper books. However if you like board books or your children or grandchildren cannot be trusted to care for books, then the board book version of Hairy Maclary, Shoowill be a welcome addition.

Hairy Maclary, Shoo has all the wit and charm of other Hairy Maclary books as Hairy Maclary’s curiosity gets him into one scrape after another and sees him ending up at Magnolia School. This is another gem from Lynley Dodd with the usual expressive illustrations. Great fun.

Hairy Maclary, Shoo By Lynley Dodd
ABC for Kids, 2011
HarperCollins Publishers
Board book RRP $14.99

This book is available in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Surface Tension, by Meg McKinlay

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe
‘The day that I was born, they drowned my town’ is the opening sentence of Surface Tension. Who could resist a book with an opening like that? I certainly couldn’t. I immediately wanted to know why the town was buried and correlation the two facts had with each other in the story and I’m sure other readers will too.

Told in the first person, it also sets up questions about why Cassie feels out of place in her family. The book gives a lot of emphasis to the swimming of laps Cassie needs to maintain for her health. In the end her swimming becomes a crucial key in the story. When Cassie swims in the lake instead of the pool she finds an intriguing mystery. As summer wear on and the drought, with the help of her friend Liam they set out to uncover the secret drowned under the lake. Liam is another multi -layered character with his own secrets and problems.

As well as a good plot I loved some of the descriptive writing in this book, like this one describing the drought. ‘It had been a dry winter, a dry few years, and now summer was sinking its teeth in and the lake was, well, sinking.’ Another is the description of her leg ‘strobing with pain.’ But the main thing that keeps you reading the pages is the mystery to be uncovered. Meg McKinlay manages to keep adding layers to the mystery and keep the tension in the book right to end of the book.

This story could be read by competent readers from 8 upwards, but there is enough drama, interest and characterisation that it could easily extend to readers of early high school ages.

Surface Tension

Surface Tension, by Meg McKinlay
Walker Books, 2011
Paperback RRP $15.99

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

Violence 101, by Denis Wright

The management staff of Manakau New Horizons Boys’ Home waited in a cramped office and fidgeted. There were four of them, with an empty chair waiting for a fifth. Helen Grenville looked at her watch for the third time in as many minutes. Eight-fifteen and soon the others would drift off, and Monday was such a busy day. She cleared her throat to begin speaking, and in he breezed.
‘Sorry all, not holding you up, am I?’ Terry slid into his chair and dragged his papers out of a battered leather satchel.
‘No more than you do every Monday, Terry,’ Helen replied tightly, ‘and theirs just so much to do today.’
‘Mea culpa, humble apologies, et cetera, et cetera. Come on, let’s not dilly-dally. What’s up, Helen?’

There’s a new boy coming to Manakau New Horizons Boys’ Home. Hamish Graham. Fourteen-years-old, ultra-bright, ultra-violent. He’s been in trouble since he was a small child, and no one seems to quite know what to do with him. Hamish knows, and he’ll tell you if you ask him. Actually, he’ll tell you even if you don’t ask. And Hamish, via a journal, will also tell you why he behaves the way he does. To him, it’s clear and simple and those who don’t understand are just not trying. He has his heroes: foremost among them Alexander the Great. But there are others too, war heroes and legends, and Hamish is sure he’d be more understood in their worlds than he is in his own present world. People in this world seem to lack the will or intelligence to understand him. But that’s their problem, he reasons, not his. The cover shows a teenager’s single eye staring intently out, intelligent and provocative.

A novel with the title Violence 101, and with a cover like this is not going to be light and fluffy. And nor should it be. Denis Wright dives deep into a troubled boy’s psyche and looks out through his eyes. To him, his reactions and responses are totally reasonable. But to most of the staff at the ‘homes’, his reactions and explanations are something quite other. Violence 101 is not an easy read, and again, it shouldn’t be. It takes the reader from an uncomfortable place, pushes them hard until finally they stand on the edge of a precipice with the wind blowing the wrong way. Is Hamish right? Is he just misunderstood by those with insufficient intelligence or imagination? Or is Hamish the ultimate unreliable narrator, showing that his intelligence has one big blind spot when it comes to self-analysis. An uncomfortable yet riveting read. Recommended for lower- to mid-secondary readers and beyond.

Violence 101

Violence 101, Denis Wright
Black Dog Books 2011
ISBN: 9781742031781

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

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

The Cocky who Cried Dingo, by Yvonne Morrison

Cocky is a young Sulphur-crested Cockatoo and he’s rather proud of his snowy white feathers and his fine yellow crest. He likes a party and a joke and really isn’t taking much account of others around him. When other birds around him are keen to settle in to sleep, he wants to party on. When they ignore him, he decides to play a trick that will wake them for sure. So he pretends he is being attacked by a dingo. Well, that certainly wakes the flock and they hurry to his aid. A great joke! It works so well that he repeats the trick the following night with similar success. The other birds are now seriously cross with him and when on the third night, as in ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’, his call for aid is real and urgent, they are reluctant to respond. He’s in a bind and only narrowly escapes, sacrificing some of his prized crest. He is suitably chastened, and has a temporarily diminished beauty to remind him of his near escape.

The Cocky Who Cried Dingo is a new take on a traditional tale and brings Australian birds into play the roles otherwise played by a boy, a village and a wolf. But the message loses nothing in translation. Yvonne Morrison’s rhyming yarn rolls easily off the tongue as the story moves to a familiar conclusion. Heath McKenzie uses torn paper as his backgrounds, using different shapes and depths of colour to convey emotion. His slightly manic but beautiful birds look capable of most anything, particularly as their sleep is yet again disturbed. Children will join in the refrain with Cocky, waiting to see what will happen when the dingo is real. Cocky is taught a lesson, and is duly chastened, but less the reader think he is totally reformed, McKenzie provides a final cheeky image. Recommended for early-primary readers.

The Cocky Who Cried Dingo

The Cocky Who Cried Dingo, Yvonne Morrison, ill Heath McKenzie
2010 ISBN: 9781921541421

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

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

Triple Ripple, by Brigid Lowry

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe


At the beginning I found the concept of Triple Rippleby Brigid Lowry odd. However it doesn’t take long to be intrigued by the cleverness of the three interwoven stories. There is the storyteller who gives the story of Glory taken to an unspecified palace in an unspecified Kingdom, there is also the writer including snippets of the writer’s life and problems, as well as the story of the 15 year old reader, Nova, who is reading the fairytale. The writer gives insights into creating the book and the characters of glory, Princess Mirabella and others. The 15 year old reader picks up the fairy tale. Nova is experiencing her own problems at school.

Rather than being a distraction the idea of three stories it is an engaging concept. The further you get into the fairy tale the more you are keen to see what is happening in the writer’s life and thought processes, as well in the life of the reader. Sometimes there is a parallel between the life of the 15 year old reader whose father is coming home and Princess Mirabella of the fairytale waiting for the king. Use of humour and the constant changes make this a very easy book to read. Most female readers of around 12-14 will love this book.

What is interesting is the way the writer sometimes works out a scene then decides what is wrong with it and goes back and changes something. So we, the readers, end up with a second and sometimes a third version of the same scene. Schools will particularly find this interesting for creative writing projects, as it gives insight into a writer’s mind and shows how one change can influence the direction of the book. For example the fairy tale the writer ideally thinks of bears little resemblance to the finished story.

Triple Ripple

Triple Ripple, by Brigid Lowry
Allen & Unwin, 2011
Paperback RRP $17.99

This book is available in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Nanny Piggins and the Accidental Blast-off, by R. A. Spratt

Nanny Piggins and the children were sitting at the dining table having a very unpleasant meal. There was nothing wrong with the food. (In Nanny Piggins’ opinion you should never blame food for your problems, it would be like blaming a rainbow for the rain.) The problem was that Mr Green was sitting at the head of the table. Their father’s presence had the effect of sucking the fun out of just about any situation. And on this occasion it could not be avoided because it was Father’s Day.

Nanny Piggins is back! Despite Mr Green’s best intentions the best nanny in the world is still part of his life. And still she continues to delight and protect his children and to vex him. In this instalment, Mr Green wants to be Father of the Year, a tough challenge given the very little time he spends with his children, and the very, very little he knows about their needs and wants. But that’s not going to stop him trying, even if it means bribing Nanny Piggins and the children with lots of chocolate. Meanwhile, Boris rejoins the circus, Nanny Piggins bungy-jumps off the roof, the children have to learn to play soccer, there’s an arrest over a diamond theft, a space adventure, a thrilling cook-off and a new job. And of course, there’s cake, lots of cake. And chocolate. Always there’s chocolate.

Nanny Piggins is the sort of nanny most children can only dream about. She has the best solutions to most challenges and mostly, that solution involves either cake or chocolate or both. And if cake is not the answer, then Nanny Piggins has a range of circus skills and circus friends to come to her aid. And then they eat cake. She is always fun, always protective of them, and always gets the best of bullies, whatever their size and shape. Each chapter is a complete episode. Nanny Piggins and the Accidental Blast-off will have readers giggling over their chocolate cake at the antics of this can-do-anything pig and her charges. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Nanny Piggins and the Accidental Blast-off (Nanny Piggins)

Nanny Piggins and the Accidental Blast-off , R. A. Spratt
Random House 2011
ISBN: 9781864718591

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

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

How to Talk to Girls, by Jonathan Toussaint

All humans communicate no matter who they are. It’s something people love to do. If you think about the reasons we talk to each other, you’ll come up with a list that includes getting information, telling each other stuff, seeking help, understanding each other, and having fun together. Good communication helps with everything you do each day – how would you get anything done with other people if you didn’t talk? This exchange of ideas is a powerful tool, and the better you know how to do it the more you will enjoy talking to others and gaining benefit from it.
Good communication can get you further than you think. It might help you to get a part-time job, to do better in school, to make close friends, and to talk to a girl. Boys are always wanting to know, ‘How do I get a girl to like me?’ The answer is (so not) a big secret: be a good communicator!

It used to be so easy when you were little. You either played with girls because they were playing a game you liked, or you ignored them if they weren’t. Simple. But as time progresses, things get a bit more complicated. Suddenly it’s like there’s a whole new set of rules and no one gave you the rule book, or that’s how it can seem. How to Talk to Girlsaims to decode some of the supposed ‘rules’ of talking to girls, or to debunk some of the myths that just seem to make things harder. Boys are different to girls, no surprise there, but the differences may not be the ones that you’ve imagined or heard rumours about. ‘How to Talk to Girls’ includes quotes from boys about the challenges they feel in talking to girls. The most important message? Learn to communicate, with honesty and integrity. The rest will happen as it will.

How to Talk to Girls is made up of short pithy chapters with plenty of photos and chapter headings to guide the reader. They can begin at the beginning and read right through, or flip through and stop where they will. The advice is low key and realistic and reassures the boy trying to talk to girls that it’s as hard for the girls as it is for them. It also is clear about the fact that not every interaction with girls or a girl is going to be a winner, and to try to retain some perspective. It’s also clear that at the basis of every relationship is friendship and if you get that right, then your chances of a successful relationship are higher. Recommended for those entering and those already teenaged. A companion book to ‘How to Talk to Boys’ by Dianne Todaro.

How to Talk to Girls

How to Talk to Girls, Jonathan Toussaint
Allen & Unwin 2011

Dog Tales, by Ken Rolph

Looking for a gift for that hard to buy for person? Can I suggest a copy of Dog Talesby Ken Rolph?

Consisting of all short pieces, it is the type of book you can pick up and read in small bursts. Ten minutes here and half an hour there.

It is a book of anecdotes told with wisdom and humour. No, it’s not all about dogs, though there are some amusing insights in letters from Lord Rupert Pupkin. But it also has a lot about renovations and do it yourself jobs, relationships, and other things. I’m not a person who laughs easily at books. I have been known to read books declared by their blurb to be uproariously funny and barely raise a smile. However, I laughed at the humour of this and the scenes presented. Not just a little sly chuckle. Some real honest to goodness laughter, especially those concerning the bathroom renovations, the pet show and the removal of the oil heater. Being able to write humour is a real gift, not everyone has.

Contrast the funny stories with the gentle parable of the stone and the weed, some haiku, and it makes for an eclectic mix. I particularly liked the haiku about sweet peas, (one of my favourite flowers) and the Indian mynahs. The idea of mynahs as street birds in The writer as and the death of Iris were observant pieces as are many of the others telling of the foibles of people and animals. The description of the pelican’s eyes is one of the clearest I have ever read. If you want a good chuckle check it out.

Dog Tales, by Ken Rolph
Hexagon Press, 2011

How to Talk to Boys, by Dianne Todaro

Inside each of us are the answers to all of life’s tricky questions, especially the one about how we talk to boys. But just like anything we do, the more we practise it the better we become. Talking to boys can be quite different to talking to girls, and I warn that for some of you it may take a little time before you feel totally comfortable, especially if you have a physical reaction to that particular boy who is very cute. I like to call it that ‘gush’ feeling you have when you see him and all ‘smart chick thinking’ ideals somehow fly out the window. Oh boys, the mystery of those good looking, smart, cheeky monkeys! It would be impossible to live without boys, but it can sometimes feel like it is impossible to get to talk to them, too. So let’s ignore all impossibilities and explore all the possibilities in how us girls communicate with boys.

Boys, boys, boys. What is it that changes them from being brats, a nuisance and show-offs to being the ones who makes your tummy flutter and your words desert you? And why can it feel so hard? Is it only you? Well, no it’s not only you. Many girls struggle to make conversation with the same boys that only a short time ago they were best mates with (or enemies). How to Talk to Boys takes a look at why this is the case, interviews lots of girls and gives some suggestions on how to make it easier to get to know this new species. It all boils down to being yourself (once you work out what that is) and communicating in a way that both of you enjoy and understand. Discover the advantages and limitations of the myriad ways you can ‘talk’ to boys. There is also a section on same sex attraction.

It’s supposed to be easy for girls to talk. Isn’t that what girls do most of their waking hours? But of course it’s not that easy and often the chatter of girls is a way of covering up their insecurities and anxieties. Dianne Todaro uses a conversational style to let girls know that it’s not unusual to find it difficult to talk to boys, but also that it’s not difficult to learn how to do it more easily and successfully. Like the companion title ‘How to Talk to Girls’ by Jonathan Toussaint, How to Talk to Boys is full of simple advice, tips and quotes. Practice is the key. There’s also suggestions on what to do if at first you don’t get it perfect, or if the boy you thought was the bee’s knees, turns out to be someone quite different. The text is broken in to chapters, with multiple text types, perfect for dipping into, or reading from cover to cover. Recommended for almost- and new-teens.

How to Talk to Boys

How to Talk to Boys, Dianne Todaro
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN: 9781742374383

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

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

Being Here, by Barry Jonsberg

The boy sat in the branches of the fifth tree on the left, his scuffed boots dangling. Leah turned her eyes up. His face was heavily freckled, his eyes large, brown and almond-shaped. His hair stuck out at wild angles. ‘Hello,’ she said.
When Adam appeared in the orhcard, Leah discovered a friend. A secret friend. And a friend was something she desperately needed.

Leah Cartwright is living out her days in a nursing home when she is approached by sixteen year old Carly, wanting to interview her for her local histroy project. Leah agrees to talk, but only on her own terms. She’s not going to answer questions – she’s going to tell her own story. As that story emerges, Carly forgets the interview and is drawn into the tale of a young Leah, growing up on an isolated farm with her puritan mother, her only escape the magic of books and her secret friend Adam.

Being Here is a beuatiful tale of the magic of story and imagination. The first person viewpoint of the elderly Leah is an unusual one for a young adult story but works brilliantly here, with Leah telling her story to Carly and also getting to know Carly and her story.

At some times shocking, at others sad, and at still others joyful, this is a gripping, beautifully woven tale.

Being Here

Being Here, by Barry Jonsberg
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 9781742373850

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