The Innocents, by Nette Hilton

Missie Missinger was nine years old. Old enough, her mother had said, to do as she was told without argument. It was wearing her into the ground and if she didn’t watch out, Aunt Belle would be looking around for someone who didn’t have a quarrelsome little girl to put up with and get herself another live-in and then where would they be? Missie wasn’t sure but, as she rather liked living in ‘Charmaine’ at No 1, River Road, Lansdale, she didn’t pursue it. And so on the day it happened, on the Saturday when Judith Mae, who wasn’t even invited, had been sent upstairs in order to give her father some peace and quiet, Missie hadn’t argued.

Missie Missinger is a little girl restrained by many things. Her mother’s work and even where they live appears to be dependent on her behaving well. She’s not to use the front door. She’s not to disturb the boarding house guests. Then there’s Max. Max is the owner’s son. He likes his model trains and he likes pushing Missie around. And he knows that she can’t ‘dob’ on him, that no one will believe her. Missie has few friends at school until Zill arrives. There is Jimmy, but he’s always in trouble. Missie has a lot of time on her own while her mother manages the boarding house, and she begins a tentative friendship with a Ukrainian migrant youth who has come to live there. Oleksander Mykola Shevchenko works hard and keeps to himself but it’s not easy to be a migrant in a small town in the ‘50s. And then there are the secrets. To tell means trouble for Missie. But there can be an enormous cost to keeping secrets.

There are at least two ‘innocents’ in The Innocents. And neither are traditional young adult literature protagonists. One is nine years old. The other is twenty, new to Australia but carrying with him the horror of the war. Oleks is both young and old. The Innocents is told from both Missie’s and Oleks’ point of view, although Missie has the lion’s share of the story to tell. Missie is trying to find her way through a childhood hampered by her mother’s dependence on her live-in job, the places she must and must not go (though she’s not always sure why) and the murky world revealed (or not) in adult words. Oleks carries heavy memories of war and the challenges of being different, foreign. There are themes of racism and the dynamics of family. The cover hints at the darkness within and both Missie and Oleks are weighed down by their different burdens. The resolution provides hope for the future, but shows the high cost of secrets. Recommended for mature readers.

The Innocents, Nette Hilton
Random House 2010
ISBN 9781864718744

Reviewed by Claire Saxby Children’s book author.

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

Pyro Watson and the Hidden Treasure, by Nette Hilton

Pyro Watson clutched his blanket tightly to him. It wasn’t going to change anything, no matter how hard he held on. the old camper still swayed and rocked in the night wind. The ocean still hissed and roared and slugged its waves to the beach. The rocks still shone as darkly and the moon still lurked behind dark clouds.
Auntie Mor and Mr Stig still snored at the back of the van.
And Mum, who said Auntie Maureen could have made things easier if she’d just stopped tripping around for ten days so they could all get better organised, was still all the way across the Nullabor looking after Nan.

Pyro has been sent to stay with his aunt in a campervan while his mother tends to his grandmother. He’s not expecting to enjoy it at all. And with the campervan rocking in the wind on a dark, dark night, Pyro is sure the next ten days will be the longest in his life. He calls up his love of pirates and escapes to another dimension where he is San Simeon, captain of his own pirate ship. San Simeon is brave and adventurous, and has the loyalty of his crew. His adventures include an ongoing battle with his arch-enemy, Roaring Roy Bistro, and the liberation of a golden-haired maiden, Calamity. But a captain’s life is a lonely one too, and San Simeon struggles with the possibility of traitors in his crew. Like San Simeon, Pyro feels alone and unsure of himself. His best friend, Geezer is back at home, he can’t swim and he’s stuck here with two almost-strangers.

Pyro Watson and the Hidden Treasure features two stories side-by-side. There’s the ‘real’ story of Pyro’s time by the beach in the caravan park and the parallel adventures of his alter-ego San Simeon. The pirate adventure is differentiated by a different font as Pyro daydreams his way through his adventure. Sometimes the real life informs the action of the daydream, sometimes the daydream offers the solution to his real life dilemmas. Pyro discovers that he is not alone in anything. There are new friends to be made, common ground to be found with his aunt and her friend, Mr Stig, bullies to be thwarted, and traitors to be identified and routed. Themes include friendship, trust, bullying and family. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Pyro Watson and the Hidden Treasure

Pyro Watson and the Hidden Treasure, Nette Hilton ill Gregory Rogers Woolshed Press 2009 ISBN: 9781741664164

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

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Sprite Downberry, by Nette Hilton

Sprite Downberry groaned. She felt an inside sagging, like her stomach had just hitched a ride south.
‘I don’t want to,’ she said.
Her mother held out one lovely, long-fingered, scarlet-tipped hand to show the baby diamond-backed carpet snake that twined, tiny and perfect, around her wrist.
‘Why not?’
‘I don’t think Ms Bloome will like it,’ Sprite said.
She should have said Ms Bloome would definitely not like it and she was sure there were rules about bringing snakes to school. Especially snakes that weren’t in a box or a cage or whatever it was you should take a snake to school in.

Sprite and her family live out of town in a old farmhouse. It’s not fancy, but it’s home. At least it was. Now Dad has gone to the coast and doesn’t look like coming back any time soon. School is horrible. Sprite’s former friend, Katie, has taken up with the intimidating Madeleine and together they are making sure everyone else steers clear of her too. Sunny, Sprite’s mum is sad and unpredictable and her ability to care for Sprite and her little brother, Mozz, is affected. Sprite tries her best to restore her mother to happiness, but it’s a task beyond her. Sunny needs Dad. Mozz needs Dad. Sprite needs Dad, perhaps most of all. Sprite’s troubles escalate as she tries to find Dad, and has to decide who to trust. Along the way, she gains some perspective on the bullies at school.

Sprite Downberry paints a picture of a family in crisis. Adults may see the big picture, the long term outcomes, but for children caught in the web of their parents’ distress, their world is much smaller, more immediate. Their world is measured in meals and clean clothes, minutes and days. Mozz is in many ways still a baby, dealing in concrete concepts. Sprite is a responsible big sister, a quiet character, struggling with bullying at school, her father’s inexplicable absence and her mother’s worsening illness. The third person intimate viewpoint brings the reader close to Sprite, while still allowing them to understand more than she does. Sprite manages the only way she can, the way she has done in the past. She is resourceful and adaptive, fallible and naïve. Her physical and emotional journey is exhausting but ultimately liberating. Sunny’s deteriorating mental health is sensitively depicted, and the reactions of outsiders show some of the extra challenges families must face. Recommended for upper primary readers, particularly girls.

Sprite Downberry

Sprite Downberry, Nette Hilton
Angus & Robertson 2008
ISBN: 9780732285487

Star of the Show, by Nette Hilton

Whether Serena could draw an angel or not wasn’t going to make a scrap of difference. If Serena decided she wanted to be one, we could all be sure she was going to get chosen. It mightn’t make her the star of the show though. I drew a big star on top of my angel. I rubbed it for luck, but it didn’t make me feel a whole lot better.

Serena Sweetmay is the girl who everybody loves. She’s always chosen to do jobs in the classroom, always answers every question correctly, and when it’s time for the annual school play, she’s always the star of the show. Aimee Appleshore has had to put up with being in the same class at Serena all her life – and she’s sick of it. She wants a turn at being star of the show.

Star of the Show is a funny but touching novel for younger readers, which deals with a situation most primary aged girls would be able to relate to – that of the girl who’s got it all, and has the ability to make life miserable for ‘normal’ girls. Aimee, of curse, is special in her own way – she is bright and funny, and has a caring nature. In the end, this nature shows through and sees her triumph in an unexpected way.

Nette Hilton ha s knack of getting inside her character’s heads and developing a voice which is real and endearing. Star of the Show is a touching read.

Star of the Show, by Nette Hilton
UQP, 2006

The Smallest Bilby and the Midnight Star, by Nette Hilton and Bruce Whatley

Every night the smallest bilby looks up at the midnight sky and searches for his favourite star – the smallest one that hangs close to the edge of the sky. Every night she shines down on him. But one night, fearful that she may go away and never come back, the smallest bilby decides to give her something that will make her remember him forever and always.

The Littlest Bilby and the Midnight Star is a delightful offering for young children about the beauty of a simple kiss. Created by the talented, award-winning team of author Nette Hilton and illustrator Bruce Whatley, it is sure to please both little Australians and their parents, and would make a perfect bedtime story.

Whatley has used pen and ink wash on watercolour paper to create subdued, gentle illustrations appropriate to the night time setting of the story. The huge ears and the pink-tipped noses of the bilbies are very cute.

This beautiful offering is the first in of a trilogy featuring the Smallest Bilby and dedicated to Rose-Marie Dusting, who is recognised as the creator of the Easter Bilby concept.

The Smallest Bilby and the Midnight Star, by Nette Hilton and Bruce Whatley
Working Title Press, 2006

Living Next to Lulah, by Nette Hilton

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

As the seventh born of the seventh born, Ari Greimshaw believes she has the gift of second sight- a gift she doesn’t want. When her friend’s annoying little brother Colin Bucket, better known as Fungus, dies Ari blames herself. In a few short sentences on the first page, the reader is drawn in to the situation Ari finds herself in.

From there, the story switches between the present and the past with the past being written in italics so readers are clear about what is happening and when.

If it’s not bad enough that she blames herself for Colin’s death, Ari finds the relationship between Lulah, who has been her next door neighbour and best friend for almost as long as she can remember, deteriorating day by day.

This novel gives a good picture of what can happen when misunderstandings, jealousy, and boyfriends enter the picture. Girls in particular, will relate to this story about growing up and the way ideas and even close friendships change over time especially as suspicions grow.

Nette Hilton has been teaching and writing for many years, and it shows in the way she uses language eg the ‘black car that must have arrived on cushioned wheels’ or the sky ‘dark and tight with promise.’ She is also expert at withholding information till the appropriate time in the story. The result is a tale of suspense and secrets that will keep the reader turning the pages to find out what happens.

Living Next to Lulah, by Nette Hilton
Angus&Robertson an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006
RRP $16.99AUD

A Grave Catastrophe, by Nette Hilton

Oliver Briskett has worked hard all his life and now it’s time to enjoy his retirement. Unfortunately, his peace is quickly shattered, for Oliver stands accused of the murder of Thomas A. Gentle.

Oliver, a seeing-eye dog, must use all his skills of deduction, and draw on his friends, old and new, to solve the mystery of who really did kill Thomas. Then he must show his owner and the other humans, that he is innocent, and should not be sent away.

A Grave Catastrophe is a murder msytery with a difference. With the chief suspect a dog and the victim a cat and a supporting cast of colourful animal characters, this is a book which is both intriguing and humorous.

Author Nette Hilton takes the unusual step of using Oliver Briskett as the first person narrator of the story, a gamble which pays off. Oliver’s voice is delightful.

A Takeaways title from Lothian, A Grave Catastrophe is sure to appeal to readers aged ten to twelve.

A Grave Catastrophe, by Nette Hilton
Lothian, 2003