Friday, 6 June 2014

Children's Books ~ Reviewed by Lindy Jones

Lindy Jones ~ Australian Bookseller Association Inaugural Bookseller of the Year 2011

Peter Smith &  Bob Graham

Albert decides that even if he is 60, he will compete in the bike race from Paris to Nice. After all, he’s fit and has a good bike, so why not? Although not the fastest cyclist, with perseverance and a bit of bonne chance, Albert does ride to glory! Told in rhyme which reads out loud beautifully, and with delightfully witty illustrations provided by Bob Graham (look out for his ever-charming trademark vignettes), this is a book made to share.

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Mo Willems

The irascible Pigeon is back! He's filthy but he has a host of reasons why he shouldn't take a bath: it's considered impolite in some circles, 'clean' and 'dirty' are just words, he's pretty sure he had one last month… Of course, once he bad-temperedly gets into the bath, he changes his mind! Willem's trademark drawings are deceptively simple, but convey a great deal of attitude. Fun for the pre-schoolers who love Pigeon's naughty antics, and just as much fun for the adult who recognises toddler behaviour!

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J A White

One night 6 year old Kara is snatched from her home and taken, blindfolded, to a field where the first thing she sees is her mother, bound and waiting execution. They have both been accused of witchcraft, a capital offence, but Kara manages to unconsciously fool the witch-hunter and is allowed to go free.

Seven years later, she, her sickly brother (who was born on the night of their mother's death) and her grief-maddened father are little short of outcasts. Their isolated island community abhors magic - even wishing is considered reprehensible - and is anticipating the return of a legendary leader who will save the world from its evil.

Surrounding the settlement is a forest, Thickety, which embodies all the darkness it fears, and between the trees and the farmland is Fringe, an area vegetated with treacherous plants. When Kara is lured into Thickety, breaking a promise she made her mother, dreadful things are set in motion, and everything she has struggled for is jeopardised…

This is far and away one of the best novels I've read in a very long time. I read it in one sitting because I was so absorbed in the world that was created and couldn't bear to put it down until I had reached the end - and what a finish: there's a major development I didn't see coming at all! There are many levels to this imaginative novel and its atmosphere of uncertainty and menace is artfully conveyed.

The creatures could come from nightmares, and the repressive nature of the puritan community is well described, but it is Kara who catches your attention from the very first. Intelligent, stoic, quietly defiant, she deals with habitual suspicion and doubt, yet remains faithful to her true self. I reckon Kara will be the next heroine to sweep readers away, and that this is the beginning of a very special series indeed!

Christine Paice

Rebecca’s father has been given a new parish, and Rebecca is most unhappy. Obsessed with all the fervour of a 15 year old she has had to leave behind her boyfriend; her older sister has left home for university; and the new neighbourhood is decidedly weird. Creepy, even. So when the ghost of a failed 19th century poet appears in her bedroom, she is not so much surprised as puzzled by what he wants. Their unusual friendship offers solace to them both, but the ghost of his sister wants something else again…

A coming-of-age novel with an energetic, almost breathless style that captures the contradictions and complications of leaving childhood behind.

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Sarah Mussi

Set a short way into the future, this tremendously paced novel throws the reader straight in the deep end. A bill has been passed into British law, mandating enforced sterilisation of any teenager who does not gain university admission, or has no job to step straight into. It is supposed to solve the problems of society, but of course, the teenagers this repressive measure is aimed at, aren't convinced. The main character, Tia, is the daughter of the minister who has formulated this policy, but she is also an elite hacker who has organised flash mob riots. When a protest turns terribly wrong, she discovers there is more to the movement than meets the eye. Along with a fellow hacker-conspirator, she has to fight for what she thinks is right, even if it means she stands to lose everything she holds important… A compelling read, 14+

Oliver Jeffers

This delightful book explains the concept of zero to the very young. The Hueys, Jeffers' egg-like characters, discuss counting, and how none can be just as much a number as one to ten are, even if it's nothing! An imaginative take on the traditional counting book, with examples of numbers that are far from ordinary (like 2 is sleeps before an important event, or 4 is tantrums someone throws in a day) combining fun and learning in an off-centre way!

Diana Sweeney

Winner of last year's Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Literature, this slightly surreal novel is set after a devastating flood. Tom passes herself off as a boy after her parents and sister are killed in the deluge, has conversations with fish and turtles, and lives with Bill in an old shed by the lake. Bill is a secretive man, and very unlikeable, but Tom is so immersed in her grief she accepts his appalling behaviour without judgement - including the fact he has impregnated her… She moves in with her best friend, who lost his family to the same flood, and with his help, and with wise words from her feisty but fading grandmother she learns how to deal with all that life has given her. Ages 14+

Zana Fraillon

Jack is a cheeky young lad, full of mischief, delighting in jokes. He loves his great-grands, his Mum, his cousins and siblings who all share a tumbledown house. He's also deaf, so when his older sister tries to wake him one night, he doesn't stir, until strange men bundle all the children into a van and take them to an orphanage. Jack is known as Number 49, but there's no way he's going to become 49 - a boy he knows has left him clues on how to make his way home again. As the days accumulate, Jack struggles to make sense of what's happening, but he won't give up hope… and nor will his older sister. A very moving and powerful story, with a fresh and immediate style. Ages 9+

Barry Jonsberg

Pandora wakes in a strange place, and discovers she is one of the few survivors of a pandemic that has swept the world. She can remember watching her family die, but she doesn't know how she got to The School. The School is surrounded by a gigantic wall, ruled by despotic teachers, and is meant to prepare the survivors on how to live in an altered world. But is the truth being told? Pan's not convinced - and she's in danger... A conspiracy novel with a cracking pace! 12+

Children of Gununa,  Alison Lester,  Elizabeth Honey

This is a lovely and colourful collaboration between respected  authors and the children of the community of Mornington Island. It has been an on-going project, where the children have been encouraged to describe their island home in words and paintings, and this forms the basis of the book. Royalties go to the community, so it is both a worthwhile book and a worthwhile cause!

Susin Nielsen

Henry's comfortable and loving family life is shattered. Trying to start afresh in a new town and new school, Henry starts a diary at his counsellor's insistence. He resists at first, but before long he starts to confide in his journal - what his present life is like, the pitfalls of living with his barely-employed father and eventually, the tragic events that broke up his family. Strong issues, but dealt with sensitively and with the occasional well-placed flash of humour. 13+

Tristan Bancks

One day when Ben is filming one of his stop-motion detective movies, there's a knock on the front door. Real policemen are asking after his parents. After they leave, Ben's folks turn up, tell Ben and his young sister they are all going on their first family holiday, and head for his grandfather's cabin in remote bushland. Ben's Dad is a short-tempered and unpleasant man, and the holiday certainly isn't like anything Ben has ever imagined, even if there seems to suddenly be some money to spend which they have never had before. What starts as an uncomfortable and tense time rapidly gets worse, and Ben is forced to confront some awful truths… An action-packed novel for ages 11-13

Rosie Borella

Amber works in an old people's home; there isn't much on offer in her small country town and it certainly isn't something she particularly wanted to do. She starts noticing a young man hanging around the home; the old people accept him and enjoy his company but no-one knows who he is. She is attracted to him, and his courtly old-fashioned manners; although he is suitably vague about his past, he also appears troubled by something he can't quite remember. As she comes to learn more about him, Amber suspects Jack may not be quite what, or who, he appears. An enjoyably romantic and sweet-natured novel about the past affecting the present and determining the future. 13+

Bill Condon,  Beth Norling

Known for his young adult novels, Condon turns his talents to a novel for primary age readers. Stephen is the sort of gentle young lad who likes routine and has a certain way of looking at the world around him. When his parents take him to visit his Great Aunt Lola, he doesn't want to stay even though his Mum says they have to wait until Lola's 80th birthday has passed before returning home. He isn't sure about the girl staying next door, either, although her grandfather is likeably eccentric. Lola is scary, and used to her own way, and both she and Stephen learn that the world can contain all sorts of different ways of living and loving. An affectionate novel of cross-generational friendship and the importance of allowing outsiders a chance. Ages 8-11

Jackie French,  Bruce Whatley

A companion to the creators' book Flood this captures the harshness of bushfire. Written in simple rhyming couplets, the text conveys the omnivorous nature of wildfire, the harshness and battles and cost as it devours the land. It also ends with a positive message, of resilience and regrowth. The illustrations are evocative, the oranges and yellows of the flames, and the ashy greys of the aftermath conveying a realistic portrayal of bushfire's effects. Whatley also spatters his paint on the pages to effectively show how fire is dirty, spewing ash and debris. An important and useful book to discuss a widespread and common occurrence, which does not sacrifice artistic beauty to its message.

Rosemary Sutcliff

I grew up reading Sutcliff's novels, and I credit my interest in history to her deftly plotted and deeply researched stories. This was one of my favourites and has certainly stood the test of time since it was first published in 1965. Red-haired gladiator, Phaedrus, wins his freedom but has no place nor people to return to. Approached by Celtic tribesmen to impersonate their rightful king in a plot against a ursurping queen, Phaedrus accepts. He is taught by the man he needs to impersonate, and learns much of importance - including a sense of belonging. Being accepted by the tribe however, is only the beginning of a deeper struggle… Full of sophisticated storylines and psychological depth, this is a powerful and exciting read.

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

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