New Boy, by Nick Earls

The car is still all snot and tears and noise when we get to the drop-off zone outside One Mile Creek State School.

As Mom’s door opens, Hansie’s screaming makes everyone look at us – students, parents, teachers, all arriving at this same precise inconvenient moment. This is not the perfect beginning to my first day.

I am supposed to look cooler than this.

Before he and his family moved to Australia, Herschelle used the internet to research what life would be like, and to learn Australian slang. But now that he’s here, Herschelle is discovering that it is very different than he expected: the food is strange, the other kids don’t understand his accent, and the other kids haven’t heard of most of the so-called Aussie slang he has learnt. At his last school, he was one of the cool kids, but here he’s quickly learning what it’s like to be different.

New Boy is a funny, moving story about the immigrant experience, about belonging and about bullying and racism. Primary aged readers will laugh at Herschelle’s problems with language and his surprise at how things are done in Australia, but they’ll also feel for him as he struggles to understand and to adapt.

Herschelle is a likeable narrator, and New Boy is a valuable tool for classroom reading as well as for private enjoyment.

New Boy, by Nick Earls
Puffin Books, 2015
ISBN 9780143308393

Available from good bookstores and online.

Harold and Grace, by Sean E Avery

The storm rushed, and howled, and splashed, and blew at the tiny tree, the little pond and the lonely leaf.

When it finally stopped, the lonely leaf was safe.

When a single caterpillar egg and a single frog egg survive a storm, an unlikely friendship is formed.  When Harold the tadpole and  Grace the caterpillar hatch from their eggs, they meet and, in spite of their obvious differences, become best friends. In the pond, Harold is teased by the fish who see that he is not the same as them. In the tree, Grace is shunned by the other insects because she is not the same as them.  But they lend each other support.

Eventually, though, Harold gets busy in the pond and forgets about Grace for a while. When he returns to see her, she is not there. Instead, there is a cocoon. Distraught, he uses the cocoon as a pillow, until one day a butterfly emerges and the pair are, after a brief misunderstanding, reunited.

Harold and Grace is a warm, funny tribute to friendship and diversity, which also explores the life cycles of frogs and butterflies, paralleled with the ebbs and flows of friendships. The illustrations use black ink and digital colours, with a palette rich in greens and purples, in natural tones that reflect the outdoor setting of the story. The whimsy of the characters and their surrounds is delightful, and the design of the book, in a smallish square hard cover with a felted embellishment, is adorable.

A beautiful offering.

Harold and Grace, by Sean E. Avery
Fremantle Press, 2015
ISBN 9781925162295

Available from good bookstores and online.

Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School, by Rebecca Starford

It’s late, just before lights-out, and we’re all tucked up in bed. My book is facedown in my lap, untouched. It’s too cold to read; it is the dead of winter, my breath hangs like mist in front of my face. A few beds down, Ronnie is sniping across the aisle at Kendall – ‘Hey KFC. Albino pubes. Have you wet yourself tonight?’ – and Portia, in the bed beside her, laughs.

A boarding school in the bush, where students can learn resilience and confidence, and gain physical fitness and endurance, sounds like a wonderful thing. But when the level of supervision is low, and bullying behaviour is largely unchecked, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Rebecca Starford spent a year in such a boarding school when she was fourteen. At times one of the bullies, at others a victim, the decisions she made and the things she endured and witnessed, shaped the woman she became. In Bad Behaviour she presents an honest memoir of that time and of her years beyond boarding school as she struggled to reconcile both her time at boarding school, and the self she had become, including coming to terms with her sexuality.

Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School is, from the opening pages, confronting, but it is also a story of triumph, with happier moments and a level of honesty and openness which is utterly readable. Although billed as a memoir for adults, it would also be suitable for older teens.

Gripping, moving and extraordinary honest.


Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School

Bad Behaviour: A Memoir of Bullying and Boarding School, by Rebecca Starford
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781743319574

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel

She’s big.
She’s smart.
She’s mean.
She’s the bully on the bus.
She picks on me and I don’t like it.

I don’t know
how to make her

Leroy has a problem, and it’s a big one. There’s a bully on his school bus – and she’s bigger than him, bigger than his sister Ruby, even as big as his mum. DJ goes to the high school, but she doesn’t want to be there. Leroy likes school, but he doesn’t like the bus, especially when DJ is on it. Leroy needs a secret weapon, but when he finds it he wonders if it will be enough to silence the bully.

Bully on the Bus is a gorgeous new verse novel for younger readers. Leroy and his family are realistic and well-drawn, as is the situation he finds himself in. The resolution, too, is clever, and shows Leroy drawing on the help of those around him but, ultimately, being key to fixing the problem.

This is Apel‘s first foray into the verse novel form, but hopefully it won’t be her last. She handles it deftly and with sensitivity.

Bully on the Bus, by Kathryn Apel
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702253287

Available from good bookstores and online.

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain, by Steven Herrick

My name is Jesse James Jones. Call me Jesse. Don’t call me triple j. I’m not a radio station, I’m an eleven-year-old boy.
Trevor looks down on me with understanding eyes. It’s pretty tough going through life with a name that people make fun of. ‘ven though I walk through the valley of the shadow -‘
‘Mum! Jesse’s talking to himself again!’ yells my sister Beth, from the next room.
‘Jesse.’ Mum’s voice is reproachful, as though I’ve been caught doing something sinful.

Fitting in to a new school is rarely easy, and when there’s a school bully with you firmly in his sights, it’s definitely going to be difficult. Lucky for Jesse there’s also a girl called Kate who has curly black hair and a beautiful smile. While Jesse’s helping her to save the whales, he’s also trying to save starving orphans in Africa, and his family from financial ruin.

Bleakboy and Hunter Stand out in the Rain is a funny story about standing up for beliefs, friendship and fitting in. Told from the first point viewpoint of Jesse, interspersed with a third person look at Hunter’s perspective, the reader is thus able to see the complexities of the boys’ interaction as well as what is happening in each boy’s life. This adds a depth which a single viewpoint would lack.

Young readers will enjoy the silliness of scenes including Jesse’s interaction with a poster of Jesus (who he calls Trevor to appease his atheist parents) and Hunter’s ability to find sponsorship for the Save the Whales cause , whilst appreciating the poignancy of the tougher moments of the story.

Herrick is a powerful storyteller. Bleakboy and Hunter Stand out in the Rain will not disappoint.


Bleakboy and Hunter Stand out in the Rain, by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702250163

You can read an interview with Steven Herrick here.

This book is available from good bookstores or online.

Mice by Gordon Reece

My Mum and I lived in a cottage about half an hour outside town.

It hasn’t been easy finding a home that met all our requirements: in the country, no neighbours, three bedrooms, front and back gardens; a property that was old (it had to have character) but at the same time had all the mod cons – a modern central-heating system was essential, as we both hated to be cold. It had to be quiet. It had to be private. We were mice, after all. We weren’t looking for a home. We were looking for a place to hide.

My Mum and I lived in a cottage about half an hour outside town.

It hasn’t been easy finding a home that met all our requirements: in the country, no neighbours, three bedrooms, front and back gardens; a property that was old (it had to have character) but at the same time had all the mod cons – a modern central-heating system was essential, as we both hated to be cold. It had to be quiet. It had to be private. We were mice, after all. We weren’t looking for a home. We were looking for a place to hide.

Shelley is nearly sixteen, and home-schooled by tutors paid for by the education system that failed her. She and her mum have fled the city to live in an isolated English country cottage to escape horrific bullying. Surely now they can relax in the safety of their new home. But the isolation of their cottage proves both a blessing and a burden. When they encounter an intruder, Shelley’s response is spontaneous and has far-reaching consequences. She has had enough of being a mouse. But nothing in her past could prepare Shelley for what happens next. She and her mother are unalterably changed by this random encounter.

‘Mice’ tells Shelley’s story in first person, so it’s not always clear how flawed her perceptions are of what’s happening around her. But the reader can feel her confusion, fear and shame, and quickly empathises with her and her mother. Mice doesn’t draw a pretty picture of the confident, the ‘successful’ characters. They are cruel and manipulative, secretive and vindictive, all the while managing to convince most of their peers that they are innocent of any wrong-doing. Mice shows how easily bullies can escape the consequences of their actions. ‘Mice’ is a gripping novel that will have readers holding their breath as they turn each page. Recommended for mature middle- and upper-secondary readers.


Mice, Gordon Reece Allen & Unwin 2012 ISBN: 9781742379173

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Available in good bookstores or Mice.

Millie's Something Special, by Tania Cox & David Miller

Millie sighed. “How can I be brave? I’m too small to stomp and roar and my feather’s aren’t meant for flying.”

Poor Millie. A small dinosaur with a long feathery tale, she has no means of protecting herself from big, bad Reggie. Each of her friends has something special to make them feel brave. But not Millie. She doesn’t thinks he’ll ever find her something special. Until she comes across Reggie late at night and is surprised when her tail tickles him and makes him laugh. At last it seems she’s found her special skill.

Millie’s Special Something is a delightful tale about unique talents, bravery, friendship – and the fun of tickling, too. Tania Cox’ text is beautifully brought to life by the paper sculpture illustrations for which David Miller is well known, full of detail and quirkiness.

Youngsters will love the dinosaur characters, and the message is gentle. Suitable for early childhood classrooms and at home enjoyment.

Millie's Special Something

Millie’s Special Something, by Tania Cox & David Miller
Working Title Press, 2012
ISBN 9781921504389

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

Always Jack, by Susanne Gervay

Leo’s staying this weekend. Mum has ordered me to clean my room. I don’t see why I have to. Mum told Samantha that she has to help me. I don’t want her to. My head is thumping and she’s humming. I grit my teeth. ‘Stop humming.’ She doesn’t. I ignore her.

In I am Jack Jack had to confront a bully. In Super Jack he dealt with the changes force on him when his family blends with that of his new stepdad. Now, in Always Jack Jack is back – and, as always, his life is complicated. His family might be lots of fun, and very supportive, but Nanna is getting older and wobblier, his stepfather Rob needs to spend more time with his own son, Leo, and Rob and Mum’s wedding seems to be the main topic of conversation. Then Mum comes home with news that is so bad all those other things seem trivial. Jack will need all off his courage to survive this one.

Always Jack is a wonderful complement to the earlier two books about young Jack and his slightly crazy, very loving family. Jack is a delightful first person narrator who is honest, funny and full of life. We experience wonderful highs and terrible lows with him, knowing that somehow, his strength and the support of the wonderful people around him, will get him through.

There are a lot of issues explored in this little offering – blended families, the impact of cancer, friendship, the migrant experience, war, ageing and more – but it works because author Susanne Gervay weaves the story tightly, carrying the reader along on Jack’s journey.

Wonderful stuff.

Always Jack, by Susanne Gervay
Angus & Robertson, 2010
ISBN This book is available in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Arnie Avery, by Sue Walker

I swear Jacko was pulsing. Veins throbbed in his neck and at his temples, and his finger stabbed the air in front of me.
“You’re not getting away with this, Avery. I’m gonna show you. Right here. Next Saturday.” His voice dropped. “You’d better be here.”
Then he snapped at Belly. “Gimme your towel,” and he ripped it from Belly’s hands and rubbed it over his face. He grabbed his clothes and swaggered off, Franco and Sam scuttling after him…
And that was it.
I was on my own.

Arnie Avery has accidentally got himself in trouble. In a moment of madness he’s made Jacko look like a fool and, while other people laughed, Jacko didn’t. Now Jacko wants to fight Arnie, and is making his life hell.

If that isn’t enough, at home, Arnie’s life is crazy. His Mum has turned hippy and is feeding him vegetarian food, and organising family meditation sessions. His big brother Callum isn’t around any more, his sister Nicola seems to have given up, and his Dad does anything to ensure Mum isn’t upset. As his date with Jacko looms, things go from bad to worse as Arnie finds himself in more and more trouble.

Arnie Avery is a funny-serious tale of one boy’s battle with a boy, set against the aftermath of a family tragedy. Arnie’s older brother has died, and as the story progresses the reader learns more about that death and about its impact on the family. Arnie is lucky to have his good mate, Belly, and good intentions, because it is a combination of these which gets him through.

Arnie Avery is suitable for male and female readers in upper primary and lower secondary.

Arnie Avery

Arnie Avery, by Sue Walker
Walker Books, 2010
ISBN 9781921529726

This bookc an be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Super Jack, by Susanne Gervay

In I am Jack, Jack faced bullies at their worst, and learnt a lot about himself and his family. Now, in SuperJack, he is a year older and has to deal with a changing family.

Jack’s family are great, but a little crazy. His mum loves doing star jumps, his step-Dad, Rob, is obsessed with tidiness, and his grandmother loves buying bargains – especially cheap underpants. Jack’s best friend, Anna, is almost part of the family too. She’s . . . nice. Jack feels strange tingles when he looks at her sometimes. But when his family gets ready to go on holiday, Jack isn’t sure he likes the changes that are happening. Nana is getting old and can’t do the things she used to. Rob is bringing his son Leo, and Jack has to let Leo share his room. Jack is sure Leo is going to ruin everything.

SuperJack is both poignant and funny, focussing on the highs and lows of family life. Author Susanne Gervay has a unique style and empathy for her characters which draws readers in to the story.

SuperJack is an outstanding offering from an outstanding author.

SuperJack, by Susanne Gervay
Angus & Robertson (an imprint of Harper Collins), 2003