The Choke, by Sofie Laguna

I was eating Weet-Bix at the kids’ table not long after I moved to Pop’s, when I heard Pop and Dad talking.
You should have been more careful, Ray.
Accidents happen.
Yeah, and now I’m stuck with your bloody accident.
The table was so low it kept me at the height of their knees. If they didn’t look down they forgot I was there.

Since her mother abandoned her as a toddler, Justine has been raised by her Pop, a troubled survivor of the Burma railway. Her dad comes and goes, away for months at time. Her half brothers visit regularly and are sometimes allies, but their different mothers, and the manipulations of their father mean that their relationship is uneasy. School is also difficult for Justine. Not only does she lack the home environment of her classmates, but she also struggles to read, and is seen by teachers as lazy and disruptive.

Amongst so much neglect, Justine must make do. She finds solace in her Pop’s chickens, who she feeds and talks to, and in the Choke, a narrow opening in the Murray River at the back of their house. Brief glimpses of kindness from fellow humans are rare, but somehow Justine manages to survive again and again.

The Choke is a haunting story of poverty and neglect. Justine, as the youngest member of a broken family, has a life which readers will see is cruel and unfair, but which is portrayed with a frightening, heartbreaking realism.

A troubling, powerful read.

The Choke, by Sofie Laguna
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760297244

The Eye of the Sheep, by Sofie Laguna

‘Whooooeeeeee!’ I screamed as I jumped. ‘Paaaauuuullllllaaaaaa!’ The blades or me, who was the fastest? Nobody knew! Nobody even knew! I jumped again then I ran to the fence, touched it and ran back. Dad swiped at me. Mum came running, rocking like a rowboat on the sea, down the back step and across the gravel path, towards me and the mower and my shouting dad. ‘Wheeeeeeeeee!’ I screamed as I jumped, falling against the handle of the mower, tipping it on its side so its whirring silver blades glinted in the sun. I jumped again. Dad reached for me, but he went too close, too close!

Jimmy Flick is different. He’s too much of everything – too fast, too slow, too unpredictable, and certainly too different. Only his mother, Paula, seems to be able to manage him. His big brother Robby is often absent, and his dad doesn’t know what to do with him. Paula calms him when his thoughts are too fast, and tries to explain the world to him. She also protects him from his father. But there are some things a mother can’t protect her child from and when that happens Jimmy has to find a way for himself.

The Eye of the Sheep is a novel that stuns with its plot, wrenches with its emotions and leaves you satisfied, not because the ending is perfect but because the story has been put together perfectly.

Jimmy’s first person narration takes the reader inside the confused world of a child who sees things differently, which gives some relief from subject matter which could be bleak, even overwhelming. Jimmy’s family is dysfunctional, with alcohol abuse and domestic violence part of his every day world. His take on life is heart-wrenchingly poignant and his honesty and openness to people around him mean that he always seems to have some slim sense of hope.

This is not a feel good story. It is tough and in your face, but in such a way that you’ll be glad you read it.


The Eye of the Sheep

The Eye of the Sheep, by Sofie Laguna
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743319598

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Grace Stories, by Sofie Laguna

Pegasus looked so thin and hungry. If he had food in his belly, perhaps he would have the strength to pull the cart. That way the cab driver wouldn’t take him to be butchered.
She crossed the road, dodging carts and carriages and men pushing barrows, back to the man selling fruit. Without waiting to make sure his back was turned, or his attention elsewhere, she grabbed three apples, tossed them into her kettle and dived back into the traffic.

It is 1808 and Grace’s life is hard. She spends her days as a mudlark, sifting through the muddy bottom of the Thames in search of anything her cruel uncle can sell. Her only pleasure in life is a horse called Pegasus who she visits when she can. But when Pegaus’s life is in danger, Grace takes a terrible risk, and soon is sentenced to transportation to Australia.

Previously published as four separate books in the Our Australian Girl series, The Grace Stories traces Grace’s adventures in London, on the journey to Australia, and as she makes a new life in the colony.

Bound in hardcover with a magnetic clasp, this is a sturdy collectable edition which will delight history-loving readers.


Book Cover:  Our Australian Girl: The Grace Stories

The Grace Stories , by Sofie Laguna
Viking Penguin, 2013
ISBN 9780670077540

Available in good bookstores and online.

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.

On Our Way to the Beach, by Sofie Laguna & Andrew McLean

I have never seen the beach before.
“What does it look like?” I keep asking.
“It’s wet,” says Mum.
“And sandy,” says Uncle Daniel.
“And sometimes it’s wavy,” says Dad.

Trying to imagine what the beach is like without having ever seen it is hard for a young child. But this little girl has plenty of delightful experiences on the trip to the beach which influence what she imagines the beach will look like.

This is much less a book about the beach than it is about travelling and dreaming. The adults in the story ensure that the trip to the beach – over several days – is full of experiences and special moments. Together the family picks strawberries, buys treasures in an op shop, presents family concerts and just revels in the delight of ‘being’. Each new day of experiences influences how the child imagines the beach will be when they finally arrive, although nothing prepares her for what she eventually sees when they do arrive.

On Our Way to the Beach is a delightfully crafted book, with both the story and the illustrations full of whimsy. It is a peaceful bedtime story and an excellent classrom sharing book, especially for chidlren in inland parts of Australia who will relate to the expectation and excitement about a trip to the beach.

On Our Way to the Beach, by Sofie Laguna and Andrew McLean
Scholastic, 2004

Too Loud Lily, by Sofie Laguna

Wherever she goes, everyone tells Lily Hippo she is too loud. At home they say “too loud”. At school they say “too loud!” Even her best friends think she’s too loud. Poor Lily!

But when a new teacher called Miss Loopiola comes to school, Lily decides to be in the school play. With Miss Loopiola’s help, Lily learns that sometimes loud is what’s needed, and her family and friends see that sometimes Lily is not too loud.

Too Loud Lily is a funny new picture book from author Sofie Laguna. With a simple message of acceptance and understanding, the lively text is well complemented by the equally lively illustrations of Kerry Argent, who portrays the telling emotions of Lily and those around her delightfully.

Too Loud Lily will appeal to children from birth to six years of age, and their parents and educators.

Sofie Laguna is an actor and writer, whose other publication credits include My Yellow Blanky and Bill’s Best Day. Kerry Argent’s previous illustration successes include Wombat Divine and One Woolly Wombat.

Too Loud Lily, by Sofie Laguna, illustrated by Kerry Argent
Omnibus Books, an Imprint of Scholastic Australia, 2002

My Yellow Blanky, by Sofie Laguna

This is Yellow Blanky. We go everywhere together.

Eevry child can relate to the experience of owning a special blanket or toy which spells security and familiarity. In My Yellow Blanky, the special item is, predictably, a yellow blanket.

The child (delightfully unnamed and of an indefinite gender) loves the blanky, especially the special smells it harbours – smells that encompass all of the child’s experiences. But, when Mum takes the blanket away for a wash, something happens to those smells.

The delightfully simple text (little over 200 words) of this title will appeal to preschool aged children and also be accessible for the beginning reader. It would be an excellent bed time story, with its gentle action and message of security.

The beautiful colour pencil illustrations of Tom Jellett complement the text perfectly – the rich pastel tones giving a warmth which echoes the story’s message.

Sofie Laguna comes from an acting background. My Yellow Blanky is her first picture book. She is also the author of Bill’s Best Day, an Omnibus Solo.

Tom Jellet has illustrated a number of children’s books, including Australia at the Beach and Fuzz, the Famous Fly

My Yellow Blanky, by Sofie Laguna, illustrated by Tom Jellett
Omnibus Books, 2002