Tomato Sauce, of Course, by Moya Simons

I stood on the kitchen chair with the pantry door wide open. I shoved cans of tuna and soup to one side.
No, I couldn’t see what I wanted anywhere.
My mother walked into the kitchen. She said, ‘I’ve already told you, Tammy. That brand of tomato sauce isn’t available any more.’
‘But, but, but…’ I said.

Tammy loves tomato sauce, but not just any tomato sauce. She loves Aussie Tomato Sauce. She eats it with every meal, even occasionally with dessert! But the Aussie Tomato Sauce company has gone broke and now Tammy is in a desperate search to find the last bottle. She reasons there must be one somewhere. And she does find a last lonely bottle of her favourite sauce in the shop on the way to the beach. But that’s just the beginning of her adventure. Things get very tomato-coloured after that. Coloured illustrations appear on every opening and Tammy swims to safety across the ocean border at the bottom of (almost) every page.

The Mates series from Omnibus continues to produce great Aussie yarns. These tall tales are designed for newly independent readers. Potentially challenging words (or even just words for emphasis) are in different fonts. Chapters are short and the action bounces along. Tammy has a supportive, if long-suffering, family and an understanding best friend. Her school assignment knowledge comes in handy at the end of the story and helps get her out of trouble. Recommended for mid-primary readers. Great fun.

Tomato Sauce, Of Course! Moya Simons, Jim Grimwade
Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918801

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Bad News for Milk Bay, by Moya Simons

‘Hey, I run a detective agency. I can be left alone,’ I said.
We were eating breakfast. Mum sprinkled sugar over her cornflakes. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘you run a detective agency; and yes, you’ve been alone before; and no, you’re not staying home this time’ and yes, you’re going with Dad to the protest rally at the council chambers; and no, don’t look at me that way. It will be a very educational experience.’
‘I get enough education at school. I have plans. I want to update my detective notebook tonight.’
‘Well, bring your notebook along with you. As a detective I think you’ll be very interested,’ Dad said.
I felt a slight prickle of interest, like a flea was drawing blood from my brain.

Milk Bay is a small town where a lot seems to happen. Thank goodness it is home to the Walk Right In Detective Agency where David and his partner Bernice solve mysteries big and small. Sometimes the mysteries find them, sometimes they see mystery others miss. In this fourth instalment of the series, David and Bernice are experiencing a bit of a slump. Business is slow and supplies are low. Little does David expect that being forced to go to a protest rally will not only see he and Bernice on opposite sides as the Mayor talks about the most exciting potential development Milk Bay has ever seen. Half the town seem to be for the development, half against. David’s infallible nose senses ‘there’s mischief afoot’. He’s keen to investigate, but first there’s the matter of Flick’s grandmother’s ring. And paying jobs should come first.

Bad News for Milk Bay is told in mostly in first person, with main character, David’s, detective observations dispersed through the text. It’s almost as if he’s channelling some long-gone gumshoe. His observations are funny, and follow the edict that no detail is too small or trivial to be overlooked. Bad News for Milk Bay opens with pages from David’s note book which detail the highs and lows of the detective business. But although the style is humourous and some of their cases are easily solved, others are more serious. As with previous titles in this series, the main plot explores a big issue. This time it’s development, specifically the plan to turn Horatio Brown’s lovely and loved farm into a whiz-bang, you-beaut tourist precinct. Milk Bay is lucky to have David and Bernice, and dodgy sorts everywhere ought be on alert.

Recommended for middle primary.

Bad News for Milk Bay (Walk Right in Detective Agency)

WRIDA 4 Bad News for Milk Bay, Moya Simons Walker Books 2009
ISBN: 9781921150760

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

Mischief Afoot, by Moya Simons

Current success rate over last week: 75 per cent
One semi-failure (not our fault).
One complete success.
Located Mr Lee’s pet cockatoo, Louie, on gum tree in council park. Had been taught to say, ‘Cocky want a kiss.’ Was very happy. Had finally found a cockatoo that wanted a kiss. Last seen with girlfriend flying to unknown destination. Louie’s pet owner upset. After begging pet shop owner for freebie, we were able to give Mr Lee a guinea pig to cheer him up. It was a real shame that the guinea pig turned out to be a biter.
Recovered lost diamond ring belonging to Mrs Gefunkel. Search of house yielded no results. However, upon cross-examination, client recalled removing ring before taking shower. Ring discovered behind vanity basin, close to drain. Lucky, as it could have fallen down drain and be swirling around the Pacific Ocean now. Mrs Gefunkel thinks we’re the greatest.

Mischief Afoot is the third title in the Walk Right In Detective Agency series. David and Bernice run their agency out of their office – a shed in Bernice’s front yard. After a mostly successful week, business is a bit slow. Fortunately the circus is coming to town and there will at least be some distraction. Bernice seems happy enough to see the circus just as diversion, but David’s detective sensibility suspects there is ‘mischief afoot’. The circus seems an exciting life. David meets Tom, a boy about his age who travels with the circus. Tom acquaints David with some of the mucky reality, but David and most of Milk Bay attend the first performance. David notices something awry in the performance although most of the patrons are distracted by the clowns. He is convinced there is a mystery here that requires investigation.

Mischief Afoot is told in first person, from David’s point of view. The reader only sees Bernice, his partner, through his skewed perspective. Moya Simons allows the reader to see past David’s interpretation to know that this is a much more even partnership than David lets on. Their parents and the local community accept their agency although the police warn them occasionally to ‘leave the real policing’ to them. David’s observations and reportage are interspersed through the text as he channels the energy of other more well known private investigators. Text is well-spaced, offering a manageable length for less-confident readers. David’s observations and Bernice’s droll responses add humour. As with previous titles. although this is a light read in some ways, there is a serious issue presented and investigated. Justice is not just about finding love-lorn cockatoos. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Mischief Afoot, Moya Simons
Walker Books 2008
ISBN: 9871921150973

Open for Business, by Moya Simons

‘Hey, what are you writing?’ Bernice asked. ‘That’s your detective notebook. You’re only supposed to take notes when we’re working.’
‘Waiting for a client is the hardest work I’ve ever done,’ I said. ‘We’ve been open for four days and all we’ve done is sit here after school doing our homework and getting gassy on cola.’
‘I told you, it takes time for word to get around,’ said Bernice. She snorted and stamped her foot.
‘I’ve put in nearly twelve years getting ready to be a detective,’ I told her. ‘I’ve read every crime book. I’ve been on a tour of the police station and I’m heavily into dead bodies. this is kid stuff. I’m only helping you out as practice for my future.’

David and Bernice have set up a detective agency in their home town of Milk Bay. Their office is a shed in Bernice’s front yard. They’ve distributed flyers detailing their services and charges. Now all they have to do is wait for the work to come. And it does. David takes notes, because as he says ‘I need to record everything’ because you never know when you might need witnesses. Bernice thinks David writes down unnecessary things, David thinks Bernice is bossy. But each also admires the skill of the other and together they make a successful team. Some of their cases seem quite straightforward, but their biggest case has more twists and turns than a rollercoaster.

Open For Business is a corker of a detective story. David has read so much about being a detective and he’s channelling the mannerisms of almost all of them. Simultaneously. Bernice is much more pragmatic. David says he’s only doing her a favour by being involved, but together they make a balanced team. Open for Business begins with extracts from David’s detective note book and set the humorous tone with descriptions of everything from Bernice’s ‘straight fringe slicing forehead’ to the air freshener required because of all the cola they’re drinking. The narrative is first person, through David’s eyes, his observations and descriptions are sprinkled throughout the text. The pair do tackle small cases like disappearing underwear, but there is a serious case to be solved too. Having established David and Bernice and ‘The Walk Right In Detective Agency’ in Open For Business, it was no surprise to find the cover of the second title pictured on the final page. I’m sure there’ll be more too. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Open for Business, Moya Simons
Walker Books 2008
ISBN 9781921150302

Hello God, by Moya Simons

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

I came to this book sceptically, not sure what to expect, but from the opening sentence the narrator’s voice grabbed hold and did not let go. Twelve year old Kate, the narrator, is honest, funny, wise, thoughtful and extremely natural. When explaining about that her name is not short for anything like Katherine or Katrina, she says, ‘I’m just Kate. My parents say it’s a strong and wonderful name, like me, but I don’t feel strong or wonderful a lot of the time.’

Kate looks at life and the world as one who is part of the ‘in’ crowd. Every child will know how much being part of the ‘in’ crowd rather than on the outer, can affect behaviour and the way they’re treated at school and out of it. The comparison to the game of Snakes and Ladder on page 8 is inspired writing.

The struggle within Kate not to put herself on the ‘outside’ by befriending the new girl, Stephanie, is real and one many children will be able to relate to. So are Kate’s questions about life as she struggles to understand why God gave people free will, why He allows people to mess up the planet, why He doesn’t act in certain situations and most of all why He doesn’t give her a sign that He’s listening.

I loved the way when considering the planets and stars she says, “God, you have a great imagination’ ( page 16). The book also contains incidences of humour like Nan’s teeth in the freezer and the face Kate creates with the teeth in the glass (page 14).

When she learns she is to have a new baby brother or sister, Kate has even more questions for God. Her initial response to her parents’ remark that it will make the family ‘complete’ is to be insulted. ‘It seems I wasn’t enough for them my myself.’ (page 40).

Throughout this book Kate learns a lot about the choices we all make as humans. Kate finds, as she come to know Stephanie better, her attitude towards many views she previously held starts to change.

The blurb on the back says, ‘This is a book that will sneak into your heart, touch your soul and stay with you a long time.’ I agree. I don’t often endorse a book unreservedly. But this is one of those books.

Moya Simons says, ‘I think of this book as a child’s introduction to philosophy rather than a book about religion.’ As well as being a terrific read with believable characters, the questions raised by Kate would make good discussion points for a parent or teacher to use. Or you could simply read it as a great book. Highly recommended.

Hello God by Moya Simons
Harper Collins, 2007

Totally Awesome! Weird! Cool! by Moya Simons

When Winnie’s dad tells her she is part-alien, she doesn’t really believe him. So when her cousin Lena come to stay, Winnie is amazed to realise that Lena can read her mind. When Lena starts flying, too, Winnie wonders if it’s possible that Dad’s story could be true.

Totally Awesome is the first of three stories in this volume, each previously published as single titles. With different child characters in each, the common thread is the subject matter – all deal with alien encounters – and the humour. The second story, Totally Weird sees Mop beamed up into an aliens hip – and rejected because she’s too smelly – whilst the third title, Totally Cool sees two spacemen attending a fancy dress party. Children will love the silliness of all of these stories and the humour of the cartoon-style illustrations of David Cox.

Suitable for children aged 8 to 12, thi is a totally fun offering.

Totally Awesome! Weird! Cool!, by Moya Simons
ABC Books, 2005

The Rocket Ship of Dreams, by Moya Simons

Tom’s parents are following their dreams. His mum is busily writing her third book and his dad owns the Alien Toy Shop, which only sells things to do with aliens and space.

But things change when Dad’s alien suit causes a car accident and he is forced to close the shop to pay his debts. Now Dad is more like a regular father, right down to the suit he wears to work. Tom misses his old dad.

The only thing that remains of the fun loving Dad and his cool shop is the amazing rocket ship ride that sits in the corner of the garage gathering dust. Strangely, though, it is that very ride which might hold the answers to all the family’s problems. Tom discovers something strange about the ride. If he can convince the rest of the family to give it a go things might get back to normal.

The Rocket Ship Of Dreams combines two common elements of Moya Simons’ work – science fiction and family themes – to create a fun tale with a gentle message about family life and following dreams.

Excellent reading for 8 to 12 year olds.

The Rocket Ship of Dreams, by Moya Simons
An Omnibus Book from scholastic Press, 2004

Remember Me? by Moya Simons

Amber’s Mum has bought her a diary, because she thinks it’s a good way for Amber to get rid of the worries that clutter her mind. If she writes them down every night before bed, she’ll be able to sleep better.

Amber’s mind is cluttered because her life is more than a little cluttered. For years it’s just been her, her mum and her dog Buster. Now, though, things have changed. Her Mum has married Thick Nick and he’s come to live with them. And if that wasn’t enough to cope with, her real dad, who she hasn’t seen for years, has suddenly reappeared.

Having survived without a dad for so long, Amber now has both a real dad and a step-dad to deal with. And it seems the pair aren’t just competing for her affections, but for business in their hardware shops too.

Amber’s diary gets a real workout as she works through her confusing family.

Suitable for ages 10 to 12, Remember Me? is a lively mixture of humour and insight, from popular author Moya Simons. Great reading.

Remember Me?, by Moya Simons
Omnibus, 2003

Gypsy Magic, by Moya Simons

School holidays are meant to be fun, but Becky isn’t that thrilled with the outlook for hers. Her Mum and Dad have gone to New Zealand and she’s been left with her babysitter, Mrs Amati, who has a chrystal ball and says she’s a gypsy. All of Becky’s friends are out of town and the only kids left to play with are a strange girl called Zara and a painful boy called Josh.

But when there’s a bank robbery in town, the three chidlren are on their way to solving it, with a touch of gypsy magic. Mrs Amati’s crystal ball could be the key to turning Becky’s holiday around.

Moya Simons lives in New South Wales and has written lots of great books for chidlren, including Whoppers and Dead Average. Gypsy Magic will appeal to readers aged nine to twelve.

Gypsy Magic, by Moya Simons
Omnibus Books (a Scholastic imprint), 2002


Mrs Silverstein is a teacher with a difference – she believes children should be seen and heard. This makes life in her classroom very interesting – and very noisy. Today the year sixes have to tell their life stories. Just to make it more interesting, Mrs Silverstein has asked them to tell ‘whoppers’ – tall tales to make their lives sound as interesting as they can. The best ‘whopper’ will win a giant box of smarties.

When it is Mark’s turn, however, he says he doesn’t want to tell a whopper. The time has come, he says, to instead tell the world the truth. He is really a Martian. As the class listens intently he gives more and more details of life on Mars and his secret life here on Earth. None of Mark’s classmates are sure whether to believe him or not – except for his girlfriend Deborah, who hangs on every word he says.

By the end of the day, no one has managed to tell a story more interesting than Mark’s. His classmates keep looking at him, trying to figure out if he’s telling the truth or not. And to top it all off, Deborah has asked him to come home with her after school – for a special kiss, perhaps? Will Mark win the kiss and the contest? Or will his tale-telling backfire?

Whoppers is a lively read for eight to eleven year olds. One of Puffin’s popular Aussie Bites books, it could be devoured by an advanced reader in one sitting, or savoured in smaller nibbles by a reluctant reader.

Whoppers, by Moya Simons
Published by Puffin Books, 1998