"The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise." - author Jackie French

Our Unpublished Picture Book Award is now open to both authors and illustrators! Closes 2 March. Click here for details.

Friday, 27 February 2015

KBR Short Story: Scully and Nana Mai


Scully lives with my Nana Mai. Scully is an old 'bitzer' dog, which means he’s a bit of this and a bit of that.

My Nana Mai came to Australia as a refugee, a long, long time ago.

‘When I was your age,’ she says, ‘I went on a very dangerous journey across the sea.’

Nana Mai sings songs to Scully in Vietnamese and says, ‘Con chó giới, con chó giới,’ which means ‘good dog’.

Scully is almost blind, but he is very clever. Nana Mai says he ‘sees’ everything with his ears. He even manages to chase Magpies.

He goes for walks with Nana Mai and shares chicken and rice with Nana Mai and at night he sleeps on the end of Nana Mai’s bed.

One day when we go to visit Nana Mai, she doesn’t answer the doorbell. Scully is barking and barking. Mum opens the door with the spare key. Nana Mai is still in bed even though it’s lunch-time. She looks like she’s asleep, but she is not.

After Nana Mai’s funeral, everyone is sad, especially me and Scully.

‘I don’t know what we’re going to do with that dog,’ Mum says.

Scully bumps into our furniture, and trips everyone up. He can’t find the back door and he can’t find the front door and he wets the carpet.

Scully won’t eat his dinner. He just lies with his head on his paws and his tail curled around his legs.

‘Come on Scully, you gotta eat.’ But Scully has closed his ears — he doesn’t want to listen.

I try to take him for a walk, but he just sits down and won’t move.

I tell him all about the Magpies in the garden, but he isn’t interested.

I wave a big bone in front of his nose, and bring him chicken and rice but he just turns his head away.

‘I don’t know what we’re going to do with that dog,’ Mum says. ‘I don’t think we can keep him here much longer.’

‘Scully,’ I say, ‘you have to learn to be without Nana Mai or you’ll be sent away.’

Each day I drag Scully around from room to room and I tell him where everything is in our house. After a little while, he starts to do it by himself.

I show him how to find the back door and how to push it open with his paw. He stops wetting the carpet and tripping everyone up.

Scully follows me everywhere I go, like a shadow. In the afternoons, he waits by the side gate for me to come home from school.

One day when we are in the backyard, Scully hears a Magpie and he starts to chase it. 

Con chó giới,’ I say. We sit together on the grass and I sing him the Vietnamese song that Nana Mai taught me. And even though I can’t remember all the words, he licks me all over.

Arna Radovich is a Blue Mountains-based literacy teacher and writer. Her work has been published in fourW 25, ZineWest, Verandah, Islet and The School Magazine amongst others. She writes stories for both adults and children and is currently working on a book for middle-grade readers. For more information, visit her website or LinkedIn.

KBR Short Stories are a way to get your work ‘out there’ — and to delight our KBR readers. Stories are set to a monthly theme and entries are due in the 25th of each month. Find out more here.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Review: The Reluctant Hallelujah

Dodie has three days left of Year Twelve and her final exams before her world and everything she thought she believed about her life gets turned upside down in the most logic-defying way. Her parents are missing; their disappearance is connected to them safeguarding something for generations in a secret basement (she never knew existed) in their house.

Dodie, her carefree sister Coco, a guy from school she’s never spoken to, two strangers and a dead guy embark on a road trip from Melbourne to Sydney with ‘bad guys’ hot on their trail. To make maters worse, Dodie, due to sit her driver’s licence test next week, is the designated driver. All she knows is she will do whatever she can to deliver the special cargo.

Guest Post: Jane Higgins on Darkness and Hope in Young Adult Literature

Kids' Book Review is delighted to welcome Jane Higgins, prize-winning of The Bridge and Havoc, to share her thoughts on darkness and hope in young adult literature.

Now and then, the question of darkness in young adult fiction is raised: is YA obsessed with dystopia, sickness and death? Arguments ensue.

That’s not the question I want to raise here or the argument I want to have, but it is my jumping-off point. This is because often these arguments conclude with appeals to hope: darkness in stories is bearable, and can even be a good thing, if it is in conversation with hope. What’s striking about many of these discussions, however, is that often the appeal to hope is a coda and no more, as though what we mean by hope is obvious. I don’t think it is obvious.

To explore this let’s go, first, to Vàclav Havel (the writer, dissident and first President of the Czech Republic) and then, to some books.

Why Havel? Because we need something robust and sinewy, an idea of hope that’s more than a facile happy ending, that has the heft to cope with darkness in stories and in many young people’s lives.

Havel’s most famous writings on hope are found in Disturbing the Peace: A conversation with Karel Huizdala.  There he argues that hope is not a forecast of good times to come, and not even an expectation that everything will turn out all right. It’s ‘not the same as joy that things are going well’, nor is it optimism, ‘the conviction that something will turn out well.’

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Review: The Hottest Dingo

It’s a hot summer day and Danny the dingo just wants to cool down. He looks to the other bush animals for inspiration. He tries running like the emu, hopping like the kangaroo and even creates his own frill to mimic the frilled-neck lizard, but nothing works. Danny’s dancing and leaping and prancing and waving hasn’t had any effect except to make him feel hotter.

The other animals aren’t sure what to make of Danny’s strange behaviour until storm clouds roll in. As drops of rain start the fall, the animals are convinced they have Danny’s strange rain dance to thank for the cooling rain.

Review: The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade

It's a day before the Underwater Fanch-Dress Parade and Alfie has that awful feeling. It's a nervous feeling, an uncertain feeling. A not-very-brave feeling that makes the tummy go all funny.

That night, he finds it hard to sleep, and when sleep does eventually descend, it's filled with heavy, underwater dreams. By the time he wakes, Alfie feels like he's been carrying the ocean.

Can he push aside his fears and make it to the underwater parade?

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Review: Goth Girl and the Fete Worse than Death (Goth Girl #2)

While Ada Goth’s father, Lord Goth, is away on a cycling book tour, preparations are underway at Ghastly-Gorm Hall for the Full-Moon Fete and Great Ghastly-Gorm Bake Off. In Lord Goth’s absence, Lord Sydney Whimsy has arrived to oversee the arrangements. Everyone is very busy and excited, but Ada is convinced all the busyness will simply make it even more likely that her birthday will once again be overlooked.

With a wonderful cast of quirky characters, lots of puns and pop culture references, and several challenges to overcome, Goth Girl and the Fete Worse than Death is a wonderful story for readers looking for something a little bit different.

Review: Super Dooper Jezebel

Super Dooper Jezebel is the best girl in the world. She's the sort that can do anything you can do, and she can probably do it better. But that doesn't mean there's a happy ending in store for Jezebel.

I like this story. As an adult, I find it refreshing despite its overt didactic message. Yes, I know, 'refreshing' and 'didactic' seem to be mutually exclusive terms, but I dare say that Super Dooper Jezebel is one of the rare exceptions to the rule.

This picture book was originally published in 1988, yet it is still utterly relevant and has just a smudge of subversive naughtiness to it. Also, the ending is delicious.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Review: Black Juice

This collection of short stories does not fit in any box. With protagonists that range from a teenage assassin to a runaway elephant searching for its young keeper and even a young boy singing his sister down as she sinks beneath the tar, every story has its own distinguishable hook.

I’m not saying that I liked every story but I couldn’t put them down. Some tales are gentle journeys of longing, others tear my heart open, and still others leave me wondering what on earth just happened. There is violence, internal conflict, jealousy, anger, hope, fear and, of course, love. Take your pick. Pick up any story at random, but be warned: you really won’t know where a story in Black Juice is going until the last lines.

Review: What's in My Lunchbox?

What's in my lunchbox? A boring old apple. Not interested. I don't like apples. Why can't there be anything more exciting in there?

Skip to Next Day.

What's in my lunchbox? A fish!? What the? Carrying a sushi platter? Um. No. Exciting, maybe, but not very edible. I don't like fish.

Skip to Next Day.

What's in my lunchbox? B-KERK!! But I don't like eggs!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Review: The Ratcatcher's Daughter

The year is 1900 and thirteen-year-old Issy McKelvie leaves school early to start her first job as a maid in an undertaking establishment.

With clear class distinctions, Issy’s entire family is now working to put bread on the table. Her father works on the wharves, but his job is unreliable, so he supplements his income working with his dogs as a ratcatcher. Business booms when the plague - the Black Death - arrives in Australia that year, caused by the fleas on rats.

As the disease starts to take its human toll, panic grows. The rats must be exterminated.  Issy loathes both rats and her father’s four yappy, snappy, hyperactive rat-killing terriers. But when her father becomes ill, it’s up to Issy to join the battle to rid the city of the plague-carrying rats. Issy finds that many things about the city’s control of the plague are not as they seem. As she discovers and pieces together various clues, Issy comes to realise that the real world is very different to the one she thought she knew.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

12 Curly Questions with author Oliver Phommavanh

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you. 
My favourite ice cream flavour is bubblegum mixed in with nerds and marshmallows.

2. What is your nickname?

3. What is your greatest fear?

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Fast and furious pacing, snappy dialogue, crazy characters, funny scenarios!

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Eccentric, wacky, off-beat, energetic, daydreamer

Friday, 20 February 2015

Review: Bugged - How Insects Changed History

Want to know why scientists performed an experiment where they made locusts watch Star Wars? Ever wondered whether silk is really made from caterpillar spit? Do detectives really use information about bugs to solve murder mysteries?

You’ll find the answers to all those bug-related questions and more in Bugged: How Insects Changed History.

More than a simple fact book about insects and bugs, Bugged: How Insects Changed History is an account of how insects and insect-borne diseases have impacted the world through history. From ancient Aztecs to remote African tribes, European explorers to the American Civil War, Bugged includes information about history, geography, health, politics, religion, medicine and hygiene as it reveals the significant role insects have played in our world.