The Nim Stories, by Wendy Orr

In a palm tree, on an island, in the middle of the wide blue sea, was a girl.

And what a girl she is. Nim is adventurous, funny, loving, brave – the list goes on. Being bought up on an island with only her father, Jack and animal friends for company doesn’t stop her. In fact, perhaps it is the very thing that makes her so resourceful and such fun to read about.

The Nim Stories brings together two books featuring Nim and her friends Fred (a marine iguana), Selkie (a sea lion) and Chica (a turtle) as well as human friends including Alex Rover, a reclusive author of adventure stories. The first book, Nim’s Island was first published in 1999 and follows Nim’s adventures after she is left alone on the island when her father is trapped at sea. The second Nim at Sea was published in 2007 and once again sees Nim and her father separated, this time when Nim leaves the island to rescue Selkie when she is kidnapped by a smuggler. Both books have now been made into feature films, with this new edition of the books released to coincide with the second film.

Full of fun, adventure and love, The Nim Stories are a suitable for readers of all ages.

The Nim Stories

The Nim Stories, by Wendy Orr, illustrated by Kerry Millard
ISBN 9781743316498

Available from good bookstores or online.

My Sister Has a Big Black Beard, by Duncan Ball

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Considering the dearth of poetry books around for children and the number of teachers crying out for them, plus the fact this collection is written by Duncan Ball who already has an established following with his Selby and Emily Eyefingerbooks, this book should do extremely well.

In these poems Duncan Ball’s quirky sense of humour and playful use of words and rhyme is sure to appeal to children. This is evident in the title poem and also in his ability to pick up something as small and insignificant as a bookmark or a mozzie bite shows there is nothing outside the scope of poetry.

Readers might even learn something about spelling as in the humorous Old Mrs McKeller.

This book is destined to be a hit with children who will chuckle over the poems. It is one where everyone is going to have their particular favourites, whether it is the long narrative of Amanda Hass who eats glass, or the pitfalls of eating food past its prime as in Quentin’s Lunch. One I liked was

All Poemed out
I’m poemed out
I’m poemed out
I’ve just developed poem doubt
I don’t know what to write about.

could easily be expressing the feeling of any child told to write a poem in class.

There’s the innate honesty in Epitaph for Lonely Man. What child can fail to feel the impatience of waiting to get out of school and the exuberance of Daylight Savings Spent?
It’s three o’clock
It’s three o’clock
It’s I-will-soon-be-free o’clock

The whimsical black and white illustrations by Kerry Millard add to the text. I especially liked the one of Moncrieff, Mrs McKeller’s butler with his imperious look and the humorous drawing that accompanies Uncle Norm.

My Sister Has a Big Black Beard and Other Quirky Verses

My Sister Has a Big Black Beard and Other Quirky Verses, by Duncan Ball, illustrated by Kerry Millard
HarperCollins Australia, 2009
PB RRP $14.99
This review first appeared online at Write and Read With Dale. It is reprinted here with permission.

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

Sweetie May, by Lisa Shanahan

They rolled an old barrel full of diamonds up to the chest. Together they climbed up and slowly peeked over the rim. There on a bed of shimmering rose rubies, curled tight like a perfect pearl, was a tiny baby.

Captain Wildehide and Captain Leanbeam love to argue. They argue about anything and everything, from morning to night. The only thing they agree on is how much they both love treasure. So, when they find a cave filled with treasure they are delighted – until they discover that, as well as treasure, the cave has a baby in it. They can’t leave the baby alone in a cave – so they take her back to their ship.

Now they have something new to agree on – both captains love the baby. But still they argue – over who loves her most, over what needs to be done for her, and more. Perhaps they’ll never stop fighting – unless the baby can get them to stop.

Sweetie May is a gorgeously funny chapter book for early and middle primary aged readers. The two pirate captains are loveable, their fights silly and their discovery of a lone baby will intrigue and delight readers. Whilst Sweetie May doesn’t talk, her character is strong and endearing, aided by the line drawing illustrations by Kerry Millard.

Now part of the ABC kids fiction imprint, Sweetie May was first published in 1998, and was a CBCA Notable Book the following year.

Sweetie May (ABC Kids Fiction)

Sweetie May, by Lisa Shanahan, illustrated by Kerry Millard
ABC Kids Fiction, 2007

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

Quincy and Oscar, by Kerry Millard

Oscar and his dog Quincy have a close bond – they do everything together. When Oscar and his family move to a new neighbourhood, it seems no one there has any time for a new boy or a new dog. When Oscar goes to school each day, he is all alone. And, at home, Quincy is alone, too.

Then Oscar decides to take Quincy to school for the day, so that ‘that way, all day, they could be together’. Sharing their day with each other turns into an experience of sharing with classmates, and eventually, the whole neighbourhood, and as the day draws to a close, both Quincy and Oscar have found places in the community.

This is a gorgeous book about friendship and about belonging. Millard has created a gentle story, and brought it to life with vibrant illustrations rendered in a combination of watercolour, crayon, pen and pencil. A favourite spread is that of the pair walking to school, with one line of text – ‘Oscar and Quincy walked to school’, followed by a series of six illustrations showing their progress down the street, as a neighbour, the postman, a cat, a dog and a bird join their walk.


Quincy and Oscar, by Kerry Millard
ABC Books, 2006

Spook's Shack, by Wendy Orr

Reviewed by Sally Odgers

Finn is between worlds. His old house has been sold, and his parents have flown to ‘the biggest city in the world’ to choose a flat. Finn is left to spend the hiatus with his mother’s aunt, Agatha Greene. Agatha lives on a bush block between a farm belt and Boris Banks’ mansion. She tells Finn to watch out for snakes, explains the procedures for surviving a bush fire and basically leaves him to himself.

Down in the bush, Finn discovers a fire-singed shack. When he enters, he wakes the inhabitants; an old swagman, Jack Henry, and his collie, Nipper. Jack and Nipper are surprised to find themselves waking as ghosts, but they discover that swallowing green fungus from the inside of the shack renders them easily visible.

Finn makes friends with the odd pair, and together they rescue a joey wallaby, foil the land-grabbing Boris Banks’ plans to foreclose on Aunt Agatha, and preserve her house from a fire.

The plot may sound like a standard bush/fantasy adventure, but the style, the themes and the deft interweaving of worlds and times sets this novel apart as something rather special. The narrative is both elusive and allusive, as Finn moves through Jack Henry’s world experiencing the old ghost’s kinship with the local wildlife and introducing him to the modern joys of radio, computer games and mobile phones. Their shared fascination with one another’s knowledge and skills is touching and very believable. Jack’s life story is one of wandering and betrayal, of a friendship turned to enmity with Boris Banks’ ancestor. The past impinges on the present, and the various elements of the plot move forward in a dream-like way. At times, the reader is enmeshed in Jack Henry’s perception, either directly or while he is recounting an incident to Finn. This led to me needing to reread a few brief passages, just to make sure I really understood what was going on.

There is humour in the story, but Wendy Orr has not taken the easy route of making Jack Henry into a comic figure. As Finn discovers, Jack is not dangerous, but allowing himself to become immersed in Jack’s world is. The thrilling defence of a goat and kid from a pack of dogs is a triumph – but the appearance of the farmer with a gun brings real danger to Finn.

In the end, Jack redeems his long-ago betrayal with a favour for an undeserving enemy, but it is not the redemption that could send Jack into limbo…

Symbolically, Jack casts off his modern delights, but Nipper is able to join him – somewhere. Aunt Agatha has her happy ending, and Finn is able to move on to the next thing; his life in ‘the biggest city in the world’.

Spook’s Shack, by Wendy Orr (illus. by Kerry Millard.)
Allen & Unwin 2003

Sally Odgers is a Tasmanian author of children’s and young adult books. By Sally Odgers By Request – visit her new project at her website and have your say.