Meet Grace, by Sofie Laguna

Grace screamed as men grabbed at her legs. She heard whistling and shouting and then she fainted as she fell, half-dragged, into the arms of a runner.
When she came to, the policemen hauled her into a cart. Grace didn’t need to ask where she was going. She already knew. To the gallows to be hanged.

It is 1808 and orphan girl Grace lives in London, surviving by working daily as a mudlark – scouring the muddy bottom of the Thames for things to sell. Her one joy in life is watching the horses on Fleet Street. But one day Grace’s hunger gets the better of her and she steals an apple. Even her horse friend can’t save her from being arrested, and soon she finds herself in prison facing the possibility of a death sentence.

Meet Grace is the first of four stories about this convict girl and forms part of the Our Australian Girl series from Puffin books. The series traces the lives of four girls in different periods of Australian history, with each girl the heroine of four books, and each set of four written by an eminent Australian author.

Meet Grace not only introduces Grace, enticing young readers to sek out the next instalment, but is self-contained enough to be satisfying on its own.

Meet Grace (Our Australian Girl)

Meet Grace (Our Australian Girl), by Sofie Laguna
Puffin, 2011
ISBN 9780143305286

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Motormouth, by Sherryl Clark

holidays suck
when there’s no one
to hang out with

don’t even ask
where my best mate Dave is –
it’s no place I can go.

Chris has lost his best mate, Dave, and it’s hard to feel good about anything. the only thing that cheers him up is his obsession with cars. When Josh Carter comes to town, and tells everyone his dad is a famous racing car driver, Chris finds renewed interest. But Josh is hiding something, and hanging out with Josh is more problematic than it ever was with Dave. Josh is a motormouth – and when he opens that mouth Chris finds it hard to know what to believe.

Motormouth is an easy to absorb verse novel about friendship, about truth and about healing. Chris is trying to cope with losing his bets mate in a car accident, and Josh has his own problems to deal with. Young readers will find the issues interesting but won’t be overwhelmed, with the verse novel format making them both accessible and digestible. there is much to be discussed here, making the novel great for classroom use, but as a story it is also wonderful or private reading.

Sherryl Clark is an outstanding verse novelist, and Motormouth is a perfect verse novel.


Motormouth, by Sherryl Clark
Puffin, 2010

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

A Strange Little Monster, by Sue Whiting

‘You’re strange, Sasha,’ said Hissy.
‘So very strange,’ agreed Grissy.
Sasha shrugged. She didn’t care.

The monsters of Grotty Hollow are loud and tough – all except Sasha. Sasha would prefer to enjoy the flowers, or a starry night, preferably while playing her flute. Her family think she’s strange, and her parents wonder where they went wrong. But Sasha likes being different.

When Sasha sees a Mountain Troll heading straight for the other monsters, her difference is the very thing that allows her to save them – and show all the monsters that being different can be a good thing.

A Strange Little Monster is a wonderful easy read tale about having the courage to be yourself. Part of the Aussie Nibbles series, the text is complemented by delightful black and white illustrations, by Stephen Michael King, on every spread.

A fun read with a gentle, but important, message.

A Strange Little Monster (Aussie Nibbles S.)

A Strange Little Monster , by Sue Whiting, ill by Stephen Michael King
Puffin Books, 2010

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

Pippa's Perfect Ponytail, by Julie Nickerson

Reviewed by Dee White

Anyone who has tried to organise the ‘perfect party’ will know that it’s full of anxious moments.

But Pippa has arranged everything perfectly. She has the perfect party dress, the perfect birthday cake and eight perfect ponies lined up for rides. Now all she needs is the perfect ponytail.

When Pippa’s hairdresser falls sick, she must use all her ingenuity and resilience to come up with the ‘perfect’ solution.

Author Julie Nickerson’s great humour and talent for simplicity are complemented by Janine Dawson’s lively, hilarious illustrations.

This new Aussie Nibble is sure to resound with young readers because of the way it talks to them in such an engaging way about things they can relate to like parties, hair and popularity.

Julie Nickerson uses great dialogue and action to build the tension, and readers will admire the determined, creative way Pippa goes about solving her dilemma.

Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail will resonate with any young reader who enjoys action, a likeable heroine – and a story that makes them laugh out loud.

Pippa's Perfect Ponytail (Aussie Nibbles)


Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail , (Aussie Nibble) by Julie Nickerson, Illustrated by Janine Dawson
Puffin Books – Penguin Group Australia, 2009
PB RRP: $12.95

Reviewer: Dee White

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

Sixth Grade Style Queen (Not!), by Sherryl Clark

every day at the school gates Melissa Banner (Style Queen)
is surrounded by girls
like a fan club

every day she brings
something new to show off –
a hair clip
a magazine
lip gloss

All the girls in Dawn’s class want to be style queens – except Dawn. She suspects she’s really an alien and sometimes she wishes the ship would come back and pick her up. But as her life starts to change, being (or not being) a style queen is the least of her worries.

Sixth Grade Style Queen (not) is an outstanding verse novel for upper primary aged readers which explores peer pressure and friendship, as well as family dynamics and marriage breakdowns. Dawn shares her story through a progression of free verse poems, a form which allows both intimate insight and humour. The reader is transported into the thought-processes of the narrator in a believable way. The text is accessible, and the form allows for brevity which will be attractive to reluctant readers.

Sherryl Clark knows what makes kids tick.

Sixth Grade Style Queen (not!), by Sherryl Clark
Puffin, 2007

S.N.A.G the Sensitive New-Age Gadiator, by Margaret Clark

Reviewed by Pauline Burgess

‘I don’t want to go to gladiator school,’ said Snag. ‘I hate violence. I hate fighting. And I faint at the sight of blood.’
‘Sorry,’ said the chief of gladiators, ‘you don’t have a choice.’

S.N.A.G. the sensitive new-age gladiator is captured and sent to gladiator school to learn to fight and how to be bloodthirsty. Unfortunately, the sight of blood makes Snag faint. When he’s learning to fight, Snag defeats his beastly opponent and now everyone thinks he is fierce. But can Snag win the biggest fight of his life against elephants, lions, tigers, bulls, dogs, chariots and maniacs?

Kids will love Snag because he’s sensitive and wants to play his fife or paint marigolds instead of learning the bloodthirsty sport of being a gladiator.

Margaret Clark once again writes a side-splitting story with a smattering of detail about Roman life and some funny modern day twists.

S.N.A.G the Sensitive New-Age Gladiator is from the popular series of Aussie Nibble books. This book is great for eight to twelve-year-old readers who love a funny story that will keep them entertained until the end.

S.N.A.G the Sensitive New-Age Gladiator, by Margaret Clark, Illustrated by Terry Denton
Puffin Books, 2001.

Wreck, by Allan Baillie

Reene is glad when the adults go away for the day, leaving her alone at the beach. Well, almost alone. She still has to put up with Ian, who’s a bit of a pain and very wierd. If she can avoid him she’ll be fine.

Busy enjoying her freedom, she doesn’t straight away notice the storm building. By the time she does, she’s back in the house. Ian hasn’t noticed it either, busy watching ants on the move. When the rain starts he runs to join Reene. When the storm hits, they are together. Together they escape the house before it is destroyed by the wind and take shelter in a cave which Ian has found. And when the storm dies, it is together that they embark on a new adventure. A ship has been washed ashore in the bay and Reene wants to expplore. Reluctantly, Ian follows. Both have forgotten that a cyclone has an eye – the calm in the middle of the storm, before it resumes. While they are on board the wreck, the storm renews its attack and they are stuck on the boat, which has come adrift. As wild seas and violent winds try to tear the boat apart, the two become aware of something else – they are not alone on the boat. There is something else there on board with them – stalking them in the dark.

Wreck combines two of Allan Baillie’s favourite elements – the ocean and the finding of personal strength. Both Ian and Reene must tap this strength if they are to survive.

Baillie’s novels are always filled with action and unexpected outcomes. Wreck is no exception.

Wreck, by Allan Baillie
Puffin, 1997

The Waterhole by Graeme Base

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball


Graeme Base’s children’s books are special. They are the sort you read and re-read and save for your grandchildren. Artist and author Base’s vivid and highly detailed drawings are so sumptuous, so full of fun and whimsy, without compromising on realism that you can look at his work long after you’ve finished reading the text. Recently released in paperback, The Waterhole was inspired by a visit to Kenya and Tanzania. The gently rhyming and alliterative prose follows a shrinking waterhole as animals from all over the world gather at it to drink. The waterhole itself is cleverly cut into the pages of the book, which gives it a 3-D effect as it shrinks into nothing.

The book operates on many levels. It is a counting book, with each number corresponding to a page, animals, and a particular area of the world. It is also a book of discovery, where you can learn about the areas it covers in the animal frieze around the edge of each page. Your children can also find the hidden animals on each page, the crayfish, storks, foxes, peacocks, bears and so on, formed out of the fauna. On each page is also a series of funny, dressed frogs, which leave “town” when the water runs out. Finally, this is an ecological book, encouraging children (and adults) to think about our most importance resource, our vulnerability without it, and the cycle of dry and wet.

This beautiful book is rich, powerful, and lots of fun. The watercolour, pencil and gouache illustrations are stunning, and although the text is relatively simple, it is humorous. There are real animal sounds and their English “translations” – now I know the sound a ladybird makes (Bzui)! There is so much for children to learn from this wonderful book – from the diversity of our natural world, problem solving skills, the flora and fauna of the world, ecology, and of course, the joy of reading.

The Waterhole by Graeme Base
Puffin, March 2003, pb, RRP $A19.95
ISBN 0-14-0567534

Magdalena Ball is Editor of The Compulsive Reader, Preschool Entertainment, and is the author The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything. Her fiction, poetry, reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in a wide range of on-line and print publications.

The Fairy's Wings, by Gillian Rubinstein

Tania has fun building a fairy house underneath the lavender bush. But the next morning, she is surprised to find a pair of tiny wings hanging on the clothesline. Who could they belong to?

Tania’s brother Troy doesn’t believe in fairies – he says the wings must belong to an insect.

But someone is trying to leave messages for Tania. She can’t quite read them but is sure a fairy must be resoonsible. Is the owner of the wings asking for them back?

The Fairy’s Wings is the third book about Tania and Troy, from the talented combination of writer Gillian Rubenstein and illustrator Craig Smith. Full of magic and humour, the story is sure to delight youngsters aged six to nine.

The Fairy’s Wings, by Gillian Rubinstein, Illustrated by Craig smith
Puffin Books 1998


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