Harry's War, by John Heffernan

Harry loves spending time with his Grandpa, especially when Grandpa shares his stories of the war. Grandpa is a war hero, and his stories are amazing. Harry’s dad was a soldier, too, but he died when Harry was little, so Harry never heard his stories. Harry’s War is a moving tale of one boy’s quest for the truth about his father and grandfather as he learns about truth, family and friendship…

What’s war? – you ask.

That’s a really hard question. I’m not even sure I can answer it. I’ll try, but, and I’ll do it by telling you about my war. Whether that’s enough you’ll have to figure out for myself.

Harry loves spending time with his Grandpa, especially when Grandpa shares his stories of the war. Grandpa is a war hero, and his stories are amazing. Harry’s dad was a soldier, too, but he died when Harry was little, so Harry never heard his stories. In fact, Harry doesn’t know much about his dad at all, because no one will tell him about Dad’s years in the army, or about his death. When he starts to unravel the truth, Harry realises why Mum has kept her secret. But it is another secret which has the power to really change Harry’s life.

Harry’s War is a moving tale of one boy’s quest for the truth about his father and grandfather as he learns about truth, family and friendship. With the reader he also learns about he realities of war and its effects on soldiers and those left behind. There is a lot being explored here – as well as the issues already mentioned, there is Harry’s struggle with reading and writing, his friendship with his bet mate Will, and his sometimes careless attitude towards himself and others. Mostly, though is just an absorbing story.
Harrys War

Harry’s War, by John Heffernan
Omnibus, 2011
ISBN 978186291927

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Where There's Smoke, by John Heffernan

‘A little old bushfire,’ Brian Smith continued. ‘Don’t get your knickers in a knot, mate. She’ll be right. The red steer’s been through here before, plenty of times. We know how to handle it. Don’t we, boys?’
A group of local men agreed loudly.
‘No, she not be right!’ Tiny shouted. ‘Not this time. You got it wrong. Already there is smoke in the air.’ He pointed at the sky. ‘What they say? Where’s there smoke…’

Luke and his Mum have been moving around for as long as Luke can remember, hiding from his violent father. In Edenville, though, Luke finally feels safe, and his mum is starting to build a new life, too. But the summer is hot and the bush is as dry as it’s ever been. Luke’s mate, old Tiny, is sure that disaster is coming, but the locals aren’t worried. They’ve seen fires before. It is up to Tiny and Luke to convince them that this time is different.

Where There’s Smoke examines two important topics – the effects of family violence and breakup, and the devastation that bushfire can wreak. Both are couched within the exploration of the way friendship and community can help both battle through tough times and heal afterwards.

Inspired by the Victorian bushfires of February 2009, Where There’s Smoke is an excellent offering.

Where There's Smoke

Where There’s Smoke, by John Heffernan
Omnibus, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Boot Thief, by John Heffernan

‘What’s going on?’
Lucy and Jack looked up from the breakfast table. Their father was standing in the sunroom door, scratching his head.
On his left foot he wore a gumboot.
On his right foot was a riding boot.
The kids smiled at each other.
‘It’s that boot thief again!’ he growled.

A boot thief is stealing boots from the verandah of the farmhouse. Not every boot, just one of each pair. Lucy and Jack think it’s funny to see their father wearing odd boots. But then their boots begin to disappear as well. And one of their mother’s boots is gone as well. Suddenly it’s not so funny. It’s time for some serious detective work. Everyone at school wants to help. Could it be the hens? Could it be the sheep? Lucy and Jack piece together the evidence and discover just who is stealing the boots. But what do you do when the thief has a good reason for the thefts? Lucy and Jack work out a solution that keeps everyone happy, safe and warm.

the boot thief is a new title in Lothian’s Giggler series. There are short chapters with illustrations on every opening, perfect for the reader making the transition from fully illustrated texts. Stephen Axelsen’s illustrations build on the gentle humour underpinning this realistic mystery. There are funny illustrations demonstrating what the thief might do with the stolen boots. While the adults get cross, the children set about finding an answer to the mystery. The action is pacy, the solution perfect. Recommended for newly-independent readers.

The Boot Thief (Giggles)

the boot thief, John Heffernan, ill Stephen Axelsen Lothian 2007
ISBN: 9780734410009

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Marty's Shadow, by John Heffernan

They’re not just tricks of light and dark. You hear them. You smell them, taste them, feel them. They seep right into you. They become you.

Marty and his brother Jack spend a lot of time on their own. Their father follows the work he can get, and comes home on weekends and occasionally during the week. Their mother has been gone seven years and although she writes sometimes, she isn’t coming back. Marty is haunted by memories of the time before his mother left. Their house was visited at night by the mysterious shadow man. For years Marty has kept the shadows at bay, but now they are haunting his dreams, even when he’s wide awake.

Marty’s only friends are his dog, Gwab and a girl, Nariah. But Nariah has troubles of her own. Labelled a ‘Paki’, she’s subject to whispered jibes at school. And at her family’s home, the local store, a series of small incidents is taking its toll. Marty’s efforts to help and defend her are welcome, but could lead him into trouble.

Marty’s Shadow is a heart-wrenching tale of facing demons, and fighting against the odds. Marty is, on the surface, a tough kid who is bringing himself and his younger brother up in spite of parental neglect and community disinterest. But as the story unfolds, Marty’s insecurities become increasingly apparent, as he has to confront the realities of both his present and his past. This is not a feel-good novel, but it is, in its own way, beautiful and is also deeply absorbing.

Suitable for ages 12 and up.

Marty’s Shadow, by John Heffernan
Omnibus, 2007

Haunted Australia, by John Heffernan

Ghosts, spirits, spectres, spooks, apparitions, ghouls, banshees, min mins, Quinkans, feather-foots, poltergeists and doppelgangers. They come with a host of different names. But if you ever actually meet one, what you call it will be the last thing on your mind.

In Haunted Australia, John Heffernan takes young readers on a tour of the haunts and the haunters of Australia. From seemingly normal suburban homes which house macabre ghouls, to historic buildings with their own resident spooks, friendly or fiery, Heffernan explores a huge variety of hauntings, apparitions and experiences.

Young readers will be fascinated of tales of the ghosts who haunt everything from moving vans to prisons, in every corner of Australia. Heffernan uses first person accounts, short snippets, postcards and more to explore the mysterious ‘other’ side to Australia.

Sure to appeal to upper primary aged readers.

Haunted Australia, by John Heffernan
Scholastic, 2005

The Adventures of Pete Paddock-Basher, by John Heffernan

Pete was a paddock-basher…A paddock-basher is an old vehicle that’s used on a farm to smash and crash about the place. It can be a utility or a small truck, or just a car, which is what Pete was. But whatever it is, it’s always old and worn out, which is also what Pete was.

Pete the Paddock-Basher is worried that he might live out his days on the farm and never go into town again. So when two nice men decide to ‘borrow’ him, he is excited. Little does he know just how big his adventures will be!

The two ‘nice’ men are bank robbers trying to escape the police and, rather than taking Pete to town, they drive along many country roads before dumping him at the beach. After being bogged in the sand, Pete is taken away to a scrap yard where he is destined to be crushed – until he is rescued by another nice man, Mr Morgan, who lovingly restores him to his former glory. But Pete’s adventures are still far from over. There is another meeting with the robbers, a race, a brush with the demolition derby and even an encounter with aliens. In the meantime, Pete has decided that a quiet life on a farm wouldn’t be so bad after all.

The Adventures of Pete Paddock-Basher is a delightful collection of six stories which kids aged 8 to 12 will love. Three have been previously published in an earlier edition of the book, first released by Margaret Hamilton Books in 1999. This expanded collection extends Pete’s adventures and will still leave readers looking forward to the possibility of more tales.

Heffernan uses humour and action to draw readers in to the adventures of this car and his human friends – Mr Morgan and young Nick, a boy who lives nearby and joins Pete on some of his escapades.

Great fun!

The Adventures of Pete Paddock-Basher, by John Heffernan
ABC Books, 2004

A Horse Called Elvis, by John Heffernan

When a horse appears on his family’s property, Matt wants desperately to look after her, despite his family’s protests. But when she dies, leaving a foal as a parting gift, the trouble really begins. First it has to be fed every hour, then the vet bills start to mount. Finally, the foal starts causing chaos in the yard.

None of this trouble, however, seems as bad as the bigger crisis brewing among Matt’s family. His Dad is out of work, drinking too much, and turning violent. His Mum seems to want to be somewhere else and his big sister is determined to escape their father’s authority.

None of the family can foresee the part that the foal they call Elvis will play in their future. Only when Elvis is stolen and Matt falls apart does the family rally.

A Horse Called Elvis is a touching story for older children, with a warm mix of humour and serious themes. This is not just a horse story – it is a family story, told with the aplomb that we have come to expect from John Heffernan.

Great reading.

A Horse Called Elvis, by John Heffernan
Scholastic, 2004