Moonstone Promise, by Karen Wood

Last one!’ yelled Tom, as he sent a bale of prime lucerne tumbling off the back of the semitrailer.
Luke let it fall to the ground end-first. It bounced, then toppled onto its side with a thud. He stabbed his hay hooks into it and with one last surge of energy heaved it up to the top of the stack, where Lawson was arranging the bales tightly in a crisscross pattern.
‘That it?’ yelled Lawson.
‘Yep,’ Luke shouted back, hanging the hooks onto the beam that ran along the wall of the shed. He was dripping with sweat, itchy from the tiny stalks and dust, and his muscles ached, but he felt great. ‘That oughta keep their bellies full for a while,’ he said, looking up at the mountain of hay.
Lawson scrambled down the side of the stack like a mountain goat and brushed the loose green leaves from the front of his shirt. ‘Eight hundred bales, I’m knackered!’

Fostered teenager Luke loves living with Harry on this horse property. He loves the horses, the open space and the fact that Harry seems to actually like him and want him around. But Harry is sick. When Harry dies, and tempers flare, Luke flees the place he’s called home. He heads north in search of brumbies and work and a place to belong. He finds the brumbies, he finds learning and peace in the great outdoors. But there’s unfinished business back at Coachwood Crossing and it won’t leave him alone. He’s not sure he’ll ever be able to return, even after the moonstone promise he made to Jess.

Moonstone Promise is the second instalment in a series from Karen Wood. The first instalment, Diamond Spirit introduced Jess and her horse-filled world. It also introduced Luke. Moonstone Promise is his story, and begins where Diamond Spirit finishes. But it could easily be read as a stand-alone novel. Luke struggles with the demons of his past as well as uncertainty of his future. His meeting with Bob and two of his friends leads to a connection with and reading of the land that provides strength and direction. Wood’s portrayal of Gulf characters is at once playful and insightful. Luke’s journey is more than physical although you’ll have to read the novel to discover where he finds his home. Recommended for secondary readers and anyone who loves horses.

Moonstone Promise, Karen Wood
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN: 9781742373164

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Head Spinners, by Thalia Kalkipsakis

‘Happy Birthday, Squirt!’ said Uncle Owen.
‘Oh …thanks,’ I said, trying to force a smile.
The package was wrapped in creased, white tissue paper and was about twenty times smaller than the surfboard I’d wanted. If I hadn’t known Uncle Owen better, I would almost have thought it was a book.
‘Go on, Sam, open it!’ Uncle Owen sat at the kitchen table, rubbing his hands together.
‘Do you want a quick coffee?’ Mum asked him.
‘Nah thanks, Sis.’
Curiosity overtook my disappointment this time; I ripped the paper away, and frowned.
‘Oh …thanks,’ I said again, not in disappointment this time but in confusion.

Head Spinnersis a collection of fantastical short stories set in real worlds. Sam receives a clock like no other in ‘Tick-Tock Time Machine’. Brooke’s shoulder is a-tingling in ‘It Began with a Tingle’. ‘Alive Again’ begins with Jamie in trouble, and ends with an apple. Follow that path! ‘Vortex’ spins Alice’s world. She could never have imagined where the school excursion would take her. Danny discovers more than he expects in ‘Night Sight’ and also how challenging it is to share some experiences. Tony “meets” his great-grandmother for the first but perhaps not the last time in ‘Evil Eye’.

Sometimes you’re in the mood for a five course meal. Other times, you just want a yummy snack. Head Spinners is a packet of different-flavoured snacks, perfect for those times. Each story is complete and completely whacky, twisting and turning and then twisting again. It’s almost impossible to predict where each story will take you. They are funny, sad, slightly spooky, sometimes all at the same time. Each has its own truth though, enriching the main character and providing insights into the world around them. Honesty, guilt, responsibility all get a look in. But don’t read them for their themes. Read them because they’re just good fun! Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Head Spinners: Six Stories to Twist Your Brain

Head Spinners: Six Stories to Twist Your Brain, Thalia Kalkipsakis
Allen & Unwin 2011
ISBN: 9781742373454

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Aussie Dog, by Eleanor Nilsson

It was June, cold and dry.
Sophie couldn’t wait a minute longer.
‘Mum, I know what I want for Christmas. I only want one thing.

Sophie is absolutely certain that she only wants one thing for Christmas. And birthday too, if necessary. A puppy. And she knows just exactly what sort of puppy she wants. She has their life together mapped out. But life doesn’t always deliver what we think we most want. And that’s certainly the case here. Boris is nothing like the dog she’s researched, prepared for and even named. But it’s Boris who has come to stay while her owner is out of action. And Boris is almost the exact opposite of the dog she must have. She’s going to have to work hard to get the dog she wants. Coloured illustrations on every page add humour and break up the text into achievable bites. (he-he) A header and footer suggest the great Australian backyard.

Aussie Dogis a new title in the Omnibus Books series of Australian tales for newly independent readers. Text type varies and highlights words that may provide extra challenge, or perhaps just need emphasis. Sophie is every child who has ever wanted a dog. She’s done her research and she’s sure her fairy tale dog exists and is just waiting for Sophie to discover. There is a gentle suggestion that what we want is not always what we get, but that it can be even better. But it’s subtle. Aussie Dog, like other offerings in this series, has a laugh a page as a child’s imagining is brought to life. Although Sophie seems totally single-minded, she is an open, good-natured and helpful sister, daughter, friend. Recommended for children transitioning from picture books to longer texts, and older children needing an accessible read.

Aussie Dog (Mates)

Aussie Dog , Eleanor Nilsson, Beth Norling
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918689

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Drawn From the Heart, by Ron Brooks

If you are a parent, teacher or librarian with a love of children’s books, chances are that you are well familiar with the illustrative brilliance of Ron Brooks. As the illustrator of some of Australia’s (and the world’s) best loved picture books, including John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat , Old Pig and Fox , Brooks has captured the hearts of readers for 40 years. In Drawn from the Heart, however, Brooks shares far more than his illustration work with readers.

Reading this memoir is an intense experience. On the face of it, this is a book which traces Brooks’ life through childhood, study, marriage and raising a family, whilst also detailing the process of illustrating his various works. However, it quickly becomes clear to the reader that this is much more. This is a story into which the reader is drawn. Brooks is honest and intimate, creating a sense that he is telling the tale just over a cup of tea across a well-worn kitchen table. The reader is invited to cheer, to smile, to weep and mourn with Brooks. This is definitely not a dry-eye book.

There is lots of factual information imparted – the detail of the creation and publication process of each of Brooks’ picture books is fascinating – but at the same time you are left a real sense of Ron Brooks as a person of great intensity.

A must read for anyone with a passion for children’s books and illustration, this is also simply a wonderful read for any human being.

Drawn from the Heart: A Memoir

Drawn from the Heart: A Memoir, by Ron Brooks
Allen & Unwin, 2010
ISBN 9781742371559

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

The Dream of the Thylacine, by Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks

Some books are so exquisitely perfect that it seems almost impossible to review them. The Dream of the Thylacineis one such book – sending shivers of delight up this reviewer’s spine.

With minimal text and a combination of photographic stills and full spread acrylic art, the tale of the last thylacine – and the tragedy of its caged existence – is brought to life in a dramatic blend of beauty and pathos.

Text spreads combine still shots of the last known thylacine trapped in a cage in the Hobart Zoo in 1937 with poetic text in the thylacine’s voice telling of his feelings of being trapped and his memories or dreams of his previous life. The three spreads which follow each of these bear no text, instead showing the thylacine in its natural environment living those dreams – running through forests, standing on cliff tops and more. The final spreads show the thylacine finally sleeping, curled up as part of the landscape. A back of book note tells readers that the thylacine is now extinct, in spite of a slim hope that there are surviving creatures somewhere in the Tasmanian wilderness.

Truly a thing of beauty, The Dream of the Thylacine is a book to be savoured, examined, shared and treasured both at home and in the classroom. What more can I say?

The Dream of the Thylacine

The Dream of the Thylacine, by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 9781742373836

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

Jake's Balloon Blast, by Ken Spillman

Jake wanted to fly.
He really, really wanted to fly. He’d ALWAYS wanted to fly.

Jake – star of Jake’s Gigantic List and Jake’s Monster Mess is back in his third adventure – and this time, he’s determined to fly. Once he’s discounted rockets, airplanes and helicopters as too expensive, Jake explores ideas a little more within his own reach, which is when he remembers that Dad has a helium inflator in the cupboard. With a little help from his mate Jonah, Jake hatches a plan to get up, up and away. But will he ever get off the ground?

Jake’s Balloon Blast is a fun junior fiction title on a topic many kids will relate to – trying to figure out a way to fly. Jake is a likeable character whose silliness will appeal to young readers, and the adults in his life are supportive. The text is accessible but not over simplistic, and the support of the grey scale illustrations (by Chris Nixon) adds a pleasing visual element.

Most of all this a fun book – which kids will love.

Jake's Balloon Blast

Jake’s Balloon Blast, by Ken Spillman & Chris Nixon
Fremantle Press, 2011
ISBN 9781921696558

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

The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton

It started with a letter. A letter that had been lost a long time, waiting out half a century in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic of a nondescript house in Bermondsey.

When a long lost letter is delivered to her mother, Meredith, one Sunday afternoon, Edie Burchill knows there is a mystery behind it – but it is some time before she realises just how deep the mystery is. The letter, lost for fifty years, is from Juniper Blythe, who had billeted Meredith during the war. The delay in its delivery is the result of a misplaced sack of mail, but those lost years have had ramifications for Meredith, her daughter Edie, and for its sender, Juniper.

Edie sets out to unravel the events of fifty years ago, visiting Mildehurst Castle, the home of the now elderly Juniper and her older sisters, who have lived together all their lives, and who shelter much history. It was also the home of their father, Raymond Blythe, author of a classic children’s book The True History of the Mud Man , the very book which has inspired Edie’s love of literature. On her visits to the castle, and back in London, Edie slowly peels back the layers of the various mysteries surrounding the Blythe sisters and her own mother.

Part gothic tale, part mystery, this beautiful woven tale meanders through the lives of the various women, with the reader guessing – often incorrectly – at the answers to the mysteries and the secrets which will be revealed. Moving between 1992 and 1941, the narrative draws the reader into both sets of events, keeping the pages turning and the mind guessing right to the conclusion. Not a feel-good book, but a finely rendered one.

The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton
Allen & Unwin, 2010

ISBN 9781742371832

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