A Duck is Watching Me: Strange and Unusual Phobias, commentary by Bernie Hobbs

Do you suffer from frigophobia, carnophobia or Anglophobia?

Do you fret about peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth?

Do you secretly fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you?

Everyone is afraid of something – heights, the dark, confined spaces – but what if your fear was that ducks are watching you? Or that peanut butter might stick to the roof of your mouth? What would  you call this fear?

A Duck is Watching Me: Strange and Unusual Phobias explores the wild and weird world of phobias. An introduction by science broadcaster Bernie Hobbs explains what a phobia is, and where they come from, with the remainder of the book giving names and definitions for a vast array of phobias, each illustrated with a photograph from the National Library of Australia’s image collection. Images chosen range from the quirky to the hauntingly beautiful and, while they do not show people exhibiting the necessary phobia, they instead relate in some way to the subject of the phobia. For example, the entry for nomophobia, the fear of losing mobile phone contact, is illustrated by a black and white image of old style telephone repairmen.

This is the kind of book which can be browsed cover to cover or left to be dipped into, and will be enjoyed by people of different ages and interests.

A Duck is Watching Me: Strange and Unusual Phobias, Bernie Hobbs
NLA Publishing, 2014
ISBN 9780642278647

Available from good bookstores or online.

The Cleo Stories, by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood

Cleo is about to say that she got her T-shirt for Christmas and the whole family came, even Uncle Tom from America, and now he’s going to stay here. They all went to the beach for dinner and a swim. She is suddenly quiet. Maybe the other girls will think a T-shirt is not such a great present, not like a necklace. She touches her bare neck. What would a necklace feel like?

Cleo is excited about her friend Nick’s birthday party. But she is wearing her Christmas T-shirt, even though it’s not Christmas, and the other girls are wearing necklaces. Cleo is sure that she has to get a necklace too – even though Mum and Dad say special presents are only for birthdays or Christmas. Cleo’s solution, when it comes, is typical of her unique way of thinking.

When Mum’s birthday approaches, Cleo is determined to give her something only from Cleo, but she doesn’t have much money, and she doesn’t have a single idea. Mum says she doesn’t need a present – Cleo is everything she needs. Again, Cleo’s solution is unique, and very special.

The Cleo Stories are two delightful stories of a delightful girl in one delightful hardcover volume. Cleo is an individual – she wears what she wants, and she does what she wants – but she has a big heart and a ton of imagination. Young readers will giggle at her antics just as they’ll cheer her on when she fixes her problems with innovative ideas.

The two stories are told in simple text, accessible to early readers, without feeling simplistic. The illustrations are filled with the warm, whimsical detail fans of Freya Blackwood love so much, with end papers depicting Cleo’s neighbourhood a special treat.

A book to be treasured.


The Cleo Stories, by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743315279

Available from good bookstores or online.

Gap, by Rebecca Jessen

Looking on the streets

for the hangers-on

never know

who’s lurking round these parts

seen me leave his house

round the back

pale and sweaty

what have I done?

Ana is not a murderer, but she has killed a man. When you are young, trying desperately to survive and to protect your little sister, you will do almost anything. Now, though, the police are onto her, and her conscience is giving her no rest. As she tries desperately to see a way out of this mess for herself and for her sister, Indie, she finds an unlikely ally. Sawyer is a police officer, but Ana knew her before she was a cop, and reconnecting now forces Ana to confront her past, at the same time as she must confront her present. Perhaps she should just run from it all.

Gap is a gritty novel in verse for young adult and adult readers, set on the streets of Brisbane. Ana is a survivor, tough, independent and caring, but some things are to hard even for the toughest of teens. The use of the verse form gives us snapshots of moments of dark and light, reminiscent of film and,while the viewpoint character is the supposed criminal, there is still a sense that this a kind of detective novel, as readers are invited to piece together what has brought Ana to this point, and what the solution might be.

Winner of the Emerging Author category of the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards, Gap is a brilliant verse novel, honest and compelling.


Gap, by Rebecca Jessen
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702253201

Available from good bookstores and online.

Banjo, by Paul Terry

When a young lawyer known as Barty Paterson took some of his poems to a newspaper editor in 1886,he didn’t think his ‘fractured verses’ would stand the test of time.  Fortunately the editor thought differently and began a publishing career that hasn’t ended. Banjo Paterson wrote poems, stories, articles and novels. His song ‘Waltzing Matilda’ is more loved than the Australian national anthem, and his face graces the ten dollar note.

Banjo: The Man Who Wrote Waltzing Matilda offers an insight into the man who became Australia’s best-loved poet, from his birth in rural NSW in 1864 through his childhood and education, his career as a lawyer, his personal life, his travels and, of course, his writing. The life of his famous contemporary Henry Lawson is also shared, in a way that allows comparison and explores their relationship. Similarly, the life of ‘Breaker’ Morant, who was also a friend of Paterson’s, is also touched on.  But of course this is Paterson’s story, and so it is he who is the main focus, leading to an understanding of his influences, his life and his work.

This is an accessible biography, sure to appeal to lovers of Australian literature and history.


Banjo: The Man Who Wrote Waltzing Matilda, by Paul Terry
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743317976

Available from good bookstores and online.

One Rule for Jack, by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina

This is what I do every morning.
Lock the bathroom door. Turn on the shower. Take off my clothes. Wet my hand. Run it through my hair. Turn off the shower. Come out with a towel wrapped around my waist.

When Jack discovers that pretending to have a shower gets him out of having to have one, he decides to use his one rule – do it badly – to get out of just about everything. But Mum seems to have a solution to everything: when he breaks the broom, she gets him to sweep with a dustpan and brush, when the mophead ‘disappears’, she suggests a toothbrush; and when it’s time to wash the dog, Jack’s really in for a smelly surprise. Maybe Mum is onto his tricks.

One Rule for Jack is a funny chapter book for newly confident or emerging readers. The text is accessible and humorous, and there is illustrative support in the form of grey-scale illustrations by Craig Smith.

Any child who has tried – and failed – to trick their parents will enjoy themselves in this book.


One Rule for Jack

One Rule for Jack, by Sally Morgan & Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Omnibus, 2014
ISBN 9781742990330

Available from good bookstores and online.

I, Migrant, by Sami Shah

Afterwards, standing in front of my smashed car, the attending policeman told me, ‘You should have hit the fakking thing. You shoulda just hit the fakking thing.’ But all I could think was, ‘No I couldn’t. I’m an immigrant and I don’t think it would look very good if I’d killed your national emblem.’ It seemed like the sort of thing that might come up in my citizenship exam later.

As a child, Sami Shah didn’t picture a future for himself which involved relocating to rural Australia, nor did he see himself as a stand up comedian. But after growing up in Karachi and studying in the United States, he gradually found that Pakistan was not the place he wanted to raise his daughter. After saving and planning for three years, he and his wife and child found themselves living in Northam, a town they’d never even heard of, and trying to make a go of life as migrants.

I, Migrant: A Comedian’s Journey from Karachi to the Outback does much more than trace Shah’s journey to Australia. From his childhood, through to his years living in the United States – including how it was to be a Pakistani Muslim in the US after 9/11 – and his adult life back in Pakistan, the reader is privy to his life, his motivations, and his eyes and lows. We also see his development as a comedian – both in Pakistan, and as he re-establishes himself in Australia. Significantly, we get an insider’s view of life in Pakistan, and the life of a migrant in Australia.

Shah’s voice is humorous, but it is also honest and very insightful, so that readers will laugh, cry, squirm uncomfortably and applaud. Mostly, though, you’ll come to feel like you know Sami Shah – and feel so much richer for that friendship.



I, Migrant: A Comedian’s Journey from Karachi to the Outback, by Sami Shah
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743319345

Available from good bookstores and online.

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

This is my nightmare. Sure, there are any number of planks in the rickety suspension bridge of our trip that could give out and send us plummeting – the flight, the road trips to Okanagan Lake and Seattle. Foreign places, foreign people. Foreign everything. And, of course, The Appointment and all of the question marks it entails. But to go wrong here? Here? At the airport? On the list of places you’d want to avoid acting out of the ordinary, the airport would rank number one with a bullet. Or maybe a taser.

Nineteen year old twins Justine and Perry have had a tough few years. Their beloved dad has died after a battle with cancer, and they are on their own. Now, as they plan to part ways for the first time in their lives, they are taking a trip together. But travelling is complicated, because Perry is autistic, and doesn’t always cope well with change. Justine has always looked after him, but there are times when even she finds it hard to get through to Perry. From their arrival at the airport she is faced with challenges, but only she knows that in Canada they are going to face what could be their biggest challenge of all.

Are You Seeing Me? is a beautiful young adult novel, dealing with themes of disability, family, loyalty and change. While it is Perry who seemingly has the hardest time dealing with change, Justine too has lessons to learn about trust and about caring for herself, even about her brother. Their journey is both physical and metaphoric, and readers will enjoy seeing the sights through Perry’s eyes, as his fascination with earthquakes, mythical sea-creatures and Jackie Chan dictate their touring schedule.

Using the alternate viewpoints of Justine and Perry, each with their own unique voice and take on the world, Are You Seeing Me? is funny, sad and touching in equal measure.


Are You Seeing Me?

Are You Seeing Me?, by Darren Groth
Woolshed Press, 2014
ISBN 9780857984739

Available from good bookstores and online.