Team Human, by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan

‘Kristin,’ I said to her voicemail yet again. ‘The boy advice, man advice, whatever, it’s not for me. It’s much ore serious than that. Cathy’s gone all moony-eyed over a boy. Not just any boy. This one is an undead pain in the butt, and he won’t go away. Help!’

Seeing a vampire isn’t all that unusual in New Whitby, given that the city was founded by vampires. But although Mel and her friends Cathy and Anna might have seen them before, they haven’t actually met one. Vampires tend to stick to their own kind, and their aversion to light means they tend to be awake and active when humans are asleep. Then a vampire comes to their school, and suddenly everything is different, because Cathy is convinced that he is ‘the one’. Mel is determined to do whatever it takes to make Cathy see that dating a boy like Francis is dumb, but considering becoming a vampire to be with him is just sheer madness.

Her efforts to save Cathy are complicated when she meets Kit, a human boy with an unusual upbrining. Mel’s anti-vampire sentiments are soon trheatening not just her friendship with Cathy, but also her connection with Kit.

Team Human is an interesting take on the vampire book phenomenon. Taken as a parody of the form, it is clever and funny. Taken as a straight read, it also works – there is romance, mystery, suspense and character development. Whether teen readers will consider it a parody will depend on the reader, but because it works either way this is not a problem.

Team Human

Team Human, by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 978174237839

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

Albert of Adelaide, by Howard L. Anderson

They talk of a place far away in the desert were things haven’t changed and the old life remains as it once was. As with most stories, hope rather than truth wins out with each telling, and in the end the only way to be sure of what’s real and what’s not real is to go to the source of the tale.

Albert the platypus has spent most of his life in the Adelaide Zoo but, fed up with being stared at through dirty glass day after day, he has escaped and is now traversing central Australia looking for the mystical ‘Old Australia’ where animals live the olden way, and everything is bliss. What he finds, instead, is a kind of American western-style desert, with ghost towns and dusty bars, run down mines and lawlessness. He also finds friends. First, a wombat, who helps him to come to terms with the ways of the desert, and later a raccoon, all the way from America, who is looking for adventure. And adventure is what they get.

Whilst there may be a cast made up solely of talking animals, this is anything but a children’s book. There is drinking, swearing and lots of violence, at times quite graphically described. But tehre’s also humour aplenty and even feel good moments, making it hard to categorise. Towards the end there is so much going on that it’s a little confusing, but this is all part of the cowboy-novel feel of the whole.

A weirdly intriguing read.

Albert of Adelaide

Albert of Adelaide, by Howard L. Anderson
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781742379029

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Watching the Climbers on the Mountain, by Alex Miller

His beauty and aloofness disturbed the equilibrium of the Rankin family…The stockman for a long time offered a resistance to the members of the family to involve him in their lives. He moved about in their familiar world, observing it with unfamiliar eyes; and quietly, industriously he slowly rearranged it

On a remote Queensland station a stockman fresh from England lives side by side with the station owner and his family, but remains apart. He works hard to clear up projects left unfinished by Ward Rankin, the owner, but resists efforts by Rankin to form a closer bond. Rankin is a disappointed man, forced into the role of station owner by the death of his father. He sees in the stockman Robert a possible friend. His wife, Ida, is also disappointed. Married to an older man out of convenience rather than any real connection, she sees in Robert a possible soulmate, and hope for a release from her discontent. Their daughter Janet also wants something from Robert. Only their son Alistair wants nothing. He sees in the stockman a threat, and watches and waits.

Robert Crofts wants nothing from this family. He goes about his work, seemingly unaware of the tension around him, until a growing attraction between him and Ida sets in chain a sequence of events which will change all of their lives.

Watching the Climbers on the Mountain is a tale of passion and reinvention. Set in the steamy height of summer, the oppressiveness of the weather reflects the building tension amongst the characters. The characters are not likable, each flawed in their own way, but they are intriguing, and the reader is drawn to keep wondering where all of this tension will lead.

First published in 1988, Watching the Climbers on the Mountain has been re-released, inviting fresh discovery.

Watching the Climbers on the Mountain

Watching the Climbers on the Mountain, by Alex Miller
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781743311097

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Last Dance, by Sally Morgan

Hidden by autumn leaves
He sleeps
And dreams of his last dance.

Everyone needs a home, but for some Australian animals, those homes are disappearing, under threat by human actions. If their habitats are destroyed, these animals may die out too. The Last Dance addresses this subject in a form which is both honest and beautiful.

Each spread presents one animal which is threatened, names it and in a three lined verse highlights its plight. There is no wordy discussion or analysis – the text names the perils faced by each new animal, using a single evocative image to highlight that peril – the corroboree frog (above text) dreaming his last dance, the numbat fearful of foxes and the dugong escaping fishermen. Back of book notes, in a double page spread, elaborate a little more, but the message is clear – these animals are endangered, and its is only humans who can do something about the problem.

Illustrations are similalry evocative, filling each spread with colour and detail, again focusiing on the animal’s plight. A central image spans the spread, and a border frames the page with four additional images of the animal in focus marking each corner, looking in to the central image.

The subject matter here is confronting because it is important, but the use of poetic text and beautiful illustrations makes it palatable, inviting discussion. What an excellent way to introduce young readers to this important subject matter and, hopefully, inspire them to action.

The Last Dance

The Last Dance, by Sally Morgan
Little Hare, 2012
ISBN 978192171484

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

The Boy Who Wouldn't Die, by David Nyuol Vincent with Carol Nader

Bodies slick with sweat, we walked in silence. To talk was to waste energy.
I looked at my father’s face, searching for something that would reassure me. But all I saw was fear.
Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die, don’t die. I chanted the words in my head like a mantra.

At an age when Australian youngsters would have been playing with toys or starting school, David Nyual Vincent was trekking across the Sahara Desert with his father, in a desperate attempt to flee war-torn Sudan and stay alive. Sudan was in the grip of a terrible civil war, and his father had taken him away from his mother and sisters, believing they would be safer in neighbouring Ethiopia.

Over the next 17 years David grew up, separated from all of his family – including his father – living in refugee camps, struggling for food, shelter and hygiene, even being trained as a child soldier. Eventually, in 2004, David was granted a humanitarian visa and resettled in Australia. Here his life changed, but he had new battles to face, including the demons of his past and his determination to make a difference for the country of his birth.

The Boy Who Wouldn’t Die is a moving, honest account of a young man’s struggle and growth as he faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles. There are scenes of horror and despair, but also many moments of triumph and even humour.

Written in first person voice by David, with support from journalist Carol Nader, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Die gives a wonderful insight into the life and journey of one person, and at the same time helps readers to a more intimate understanding of the refugee experience.

The Boy Who Wouldn't Die

The Boy Who Wouldn’t Die, by David Nyuol Vincent with Carol Nader
Allen & Unwin, 2012
ISBN 9781743310250

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Bushland Lullaby, by Sally Odgers & Lisa Stewart

Asleep in a gently snoozing ball
Little possum’s soft and small.
In a twisty tunnel and cosy bed
Little wombat rests his head.

From possums and wombats to crocodiles and bats, the baby animals of the Australian bush settle down to sleep, until finally the young readers is reminded that when s/he settles down to sleep in bed, you’re not the only sleepy head.

Bushland Lullaby is a gentle bedtime read suitable for children from birth. In lyrical rhyme the text is like a soft song. It is perfectly complemented by the pastel watercolours and mixed media of the illustrations, with dusky pinks and blues prominent.

A lovely touch is the use of not only the predictable Australian animals – possums, wombats and echidnas – but also some probably less expected in a cuddly book – crocodiles, bats, even lizards. Another nice touch is that each illustration shows the baby animal either cuddled by a parent or with one close by, a reminder to young readers that they are watched over even while asleep.

This would make a treasured gift for a newborn.

Bushland Lullaby

Bushland Lullaby, by Sally Odgers & Lisa Stewart
Scholastic, 2012
ISBN 9781742831770

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Second Forever, by Colin Thompson

This was different. There was something evil in the darkness inside the wall. Something that was trying to entice them through the gap.
‘There’s something bad in there,’ said Peter. ‘Like it doesn’ belong to this world.’
‘Darkwood,’ they both said at the same time.

Five years ago Peter and his friend Festival destroyed the book called How to Live Forever. Since then they haven’t seen each other – Peter has returned to his life in the museum in his world, and Festival has returned to her own world where all the houses are books. But there’s a problem – Peter’s world is being crippled by drought, and Festival’s world is flooded. Slowly, they come to realise that their actions in destroying the book might be the cause of these new disasters.

When Festival reappears in Peter’s world they realise they have to work together to fix the problem. They must recreate the book to save the world – even if that means they are condemned to living forever. But with Darkwood determined to get the book for himself and destroy both worlds, and the twin disasters getting worse every day, time is against them.

The Second Forever is the exciting, magical sequel to How to Live Forever, coming eight years after the first. As such, young readers may be best served by seeking out the earlier book first. A front of book ‘catch-up’ however, means that the new title can be read on its own.

Thomspon’s fantasy world within a world, and the intriguing, sometimes odd-ball characters which populate the pages, make this an entertaining read suitable for primary aged readers.

The Second Forever

The Second Forever, by Colin Thompson
Random House, 2012
ISBN 978174166289

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Child’s Play: Writing for Kids – a Visit from Deborah Abela

I’m really pleased today to welcome Deborah Abela. here to celebrate the release of her latest book, The Haunted School , and to chat about what it takes to write for children. Welcome Deb!

The Haunted School (Ghost Club)

Child’s Play – Writing for Kids

By Deborah Abela

Author of Max Remy Superspy, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend), The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen, Grimsdon and Ghost Club


Why do you write for kids?

It started as an accident. After studying Communications at UTS, my aim was to work in adult TV, which I did for a while, but then I was offered the job of Assistant Producer/Writer for a National Kids’ TV show and have been writing for them and loving it, ever since.


What are three things you need to be aware of writing for a young audience?

1) Look kids in the eye ….kids will know the second you are being condescending or talking down to them.

2) Don’t preach – be true to your story first, whatever kids learn or take away from your story will follow.

3) Be kid-focussed – let the kids lead the plot and action!


How do you judge which age group your story would suit?

I don’t usually think about audience age when I start writing….I just try to write an engaging story, with characters that kids want to hang around.


What are three reasons kids’ manuscripts get rejected by publishers?

I’m sure this differs for each publisher but over the years I have heard a few reasons:

* They’ve heard it all before.

* It is too condescending to kids – a lecture rather than a story

* There is no real hook that makes the work stand above other submissions


How do you create an authentic voice for your young characters?

I sit with my characters for a very long time before I get to truly know them. Peter Carey calls it an osteopathic click….that moment when your character feels real. It takes time to get to know someone and it is the same for characters. Read your story out loud to hear if it rings true.


What do you do when your characters want to take the story in a different direction?

Let them! When this happens, I am usually a few drafts in and my plot has been developing nicely and I have become so familiar with my characters and know them on a much deeper level than I did at the outset. It’s their story now.


How do you decide which idea to work on next?

There is usually one idea that speaks above others. With Grimsdon, my story of a flooded city and lost children, I became frustrated at how governments weren’t acting quickly or decisively enough on climate change…then the sea monsters and flying machines took over. With the Ghost Club series, it was because I’d been reading about Charles Dickens and his 200th birthday, which is when I found out about him being the founding member of his own ghost club, which still exists today and investigates ghostly sightings.


Always write the idea that excites you the most and hopefully the excitement of your audience will follow.


Visit the next stop on Deborah’s blog tour:

Did you miss the previous stop? See:

To see all the stops on the tour go to:


In the Lion, by James Foley

In the city there’s a zoo.
In the zoo there’s a lion.
And in the lion there’s…

In the city zoo, a grumpy lion eats everything – or, rather, everyone – in sight. A dentist, a hairdresser, a zookeeper, even his fellow animals. But while the pandemonium and fear grows, a small boy called Richard watches. He knows what to do. Soon, thanks to his bravery and quick thinking, the lion is back in its cage, and its captives have been freed, unharmed.

In the Lion is a delightfully humorous picture book. The text is cumulative, encouraging youngsters to join in and to predict. The illustrations, drawn in graphite and coloured digitally, are full of life and colour. The massive lion manages to be both cute and ferocious at the same time, and the human characters are diverse. The little boy hero is delightful.

This is Foley’s debut as author/illustrator – he previously illustrated The Last Viking (written by Norman Jorgensen) – and will delight.

In the Lion

In the Lion, by James Foley
Fremantle Press, 2012
ISBN 9781921720321

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Creepy & Maud, by Dianne Touchell

I am in love with the girl next door. Our windows are almost opposite each other’s, over the side fence.
I call her Maud. That’s not her real name but that’s what I call her. She’s sort of shortish and curvy. Titian hair. No freckles. A dark, smudgy birthmark on the back of her left calf. A nose piercing her dad knows about and a bellybutton piercing I assume he doesn’t. All right, so I have spent a bit of time looking in there.
Am I sounding creepy? Love is sort of creepy.

Creepy (not his real name but he doesn’t mind that people call him that) is in love with girl next door. He spends all his spare time watching her because his bedroom window looks straight into hers, over the fence. Kind of convenient and also kind of creepy. But Maud (also not her real name – just the pet name Creepy has given her) knows that Creepy is looking and she doesn’t mind. When she doesn’t want him to see she closes her curtains.

Creepy has a view of Maud’s life with a level of intimacy that at times means he knows more than her parents do. For example, he seems to be the only one who knows about the alcohol hidden behind her dolls house, and he has a pretty good view of her hair pulling obsession as it spirals out of control. From just watching he gradually starts to communicate with Maud through notes, though the pair never speak – not even at school, where Maud doesn’t acknowledge him. Their friendship is unorthodox, even at times disturbing, yet it becomes important to both of them as they each struggle with a dysfunctional family, and personal turmoil.

Creepy and Maud is a moving, funny, clever young adult novel which will have readers laughing out loud in places and moved near to tears in others. Creepy is a smart articulate first person narrator, belying his lack of success at school, where he tries to fly under the radar – until his obsession with Maud makes this difficult. Maud, too, has a turn at narrating, giving the reader insight into her and her life which is not available to Creepy. Both are likeable characters though their struggles are at times quite painful, and some of Creepy’s behaviour is disturbing.

Not a difficult read, but there’s a lot to digest, even after it’s finsihed. Creepy and Maud is an outstanding debut novel.

Creepy and Maud

Creepy and Maud, by Dianne Touchell
Fremantle Press, 2012
ISBN 9781921888953

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.