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

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Review: Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain

Jesse is anything but bleak, but he wears black, so who would know? His new alternative school trends toward positivity, calls buildings and teachers by their first names and is low on control. 

It’s a place where Hunter’s menace has free reign. But why does Hunter do what he does when his heart seems to be in the right place. Occasionally.

Interview: Steven Herrick

Kids' Book Review Development Editor Jo Burnell was delighted to have the opportunity to chat with best-selling author Steven Herrick about the release of his latest book Bleak Boy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain. Read on to find out about Steven's writing process for his books, including the recently re-released The Simple Gift.

Having published works in prose and poetry, short and long forms, for audiences as young as perhaps six or seven years (Untangling Spaghetti) and as old as 18 (The Simple Gift), where do you get started? Do you consciously plan to write for a particular audience, or start by writing about a particular character? Could you let us peek at your ‘getting started’ process?
I tend to begin with one main character and a location. I believe the location is as important as any of the characters and I’ve got to know it intimately before I feel confident in starting. For example, the house in Love, Ghosts and Nose Hair is our house in the Blue Mountains; the location of By the River is where I grew up in Queensland; the disused train carriage in The Simple Gift was in Ballarat where I stayed for a while when hitching around the country as a teenager; the country town of Cold Skin is loosely based on Lithgow.

Is there an argument for using prose in some cases and poetry in others? Are you the boss or do you let the writing guide you?
Luckily for me, the style of writing tends to announce itself from page one and I just follow my instincts. It usually works for the best. Having said that, on two occasions, I changed the format after the first draft. I wrote Do-wrong Ron as a series of prose poems, but it didn’t really work, so I quickly changed it to a verse-novel. And Black Painted Fingernails was half-finished as a verse-novel before I converted it to a prose fiction.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Review: Penguin in Love

How do you go about looking for love? Is it in the sky or the water or even in the ice? Join penguin on his confusing journey in search of love.

Penguin finds a mitten that is not really a mitten and starts knitting its pair. As he knits, he finds others in need of his woollen creations and so begins his adventure. As he gives with an open heart a parallel mystery unfolds. Where has all his wool disappeared to?

12 Curly Questions with author Jared Thomas

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
After many years of thinking it was for weirdo’s, I am learning to meditate. I can now loose sense of space and time, which I thought was going to be impossible because my thoughts are always racing.

It’s a really good way to relax and the other night when I was surfing and worried about sharks, because there’d been a three-metre great white swimming around the week before, I did it to calm my nerves.

2. What is your nickname?

3. What is your greatest fear?
Dying too young or one of my family members dying too young.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Fast-paced and cool, dreamy, comedic, dramatic, romantic, engaging and compassionate.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Review: Have You Seen My Dragon?

Have You Seen My Dragon? is one of the most fun and creative counting books I’ve read in a long time. It’s also got a search-and-find element.

A young boy has lost his dragon. He must be somewhere in the big and busy city, so the boy goes looking for him. He sets out from an apartment building looking for one dragon. Perhaps it stopped for a hot dog (the boy has two of them), or rode into town on the bus (the boy sees three of them). And so the story goes. At each ‘stop’ along the boy’s journey, the numbers grow, all the way up to twenty.

Guest Post: Author Jennifer Walsh

Kids’ Book Review is delighted to welcome Australian author Jennifer Walsh to talk about writing stories filled with adventure and mystery.  Jennifer’s latest book, Crooked Leg Road, is published by Allen & Unwin and was released this month.

It’s not hard to guess why I like to write mystery adventure stories. When I was a kid, I longed more than anything to have adventures. I wanted to get lost and find my way home through great perils, I wanted to discover a crime and solve it, I wanted to rescue someone who was in trouble – anything, really, as long as it was exciting and dangerous. Luckily I lived in the country, so I got the chance to climb trees, to ride my bike down deserted lanes pretending someone was chasing me, to swing on ropes across creeks; but that was about as far as it went.

If I couldn’t have real adventures the next best thing was to make them up, so I would get an exercise book and start writing. The stories I wrote were pretty silly, but writing is one thing you can get better at with practice.

One reason why my early efforts weren’t much good was because I wanted to make up a mystery but I didn’t want to spoil it by knowing the answer. Well, that doesn’t work, because eventually you have to make up a solution that fits all the clues, and it will probably be ridiculous. If it’s going to be a good mystery the writer has to know how the story turns out, and work back from that.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Book List: Picture Books about Peace and Hope

There is an abundance of books to help children understand the impact of war (see our Picture Books about War and Conflict here), but it is also important to give children a message of social peace, equality and hope. These picture books remind us why we work so hard to avoid war - the beauty and value of peace.

Every Day is Malala Day by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International, Allen & Unwin, $12.99, 9781760110536

Potato Music by Christina Booth and Pete Groves, Omnibus Books, $27.99, 9781862917880

Guest Post: Selkie Magic with Kate Forsyth and Fiona McDonald

On May 1, Christmas Press is releasing its second title, Two Selkie Stories from Scotland, retold by Kate Forsyth and illustrated by Fiona McDonald.

In this book, two beautiful traditional Scottish fairy tales, The Selkie Bride and In the Kingdom of the Seals, are brought to enchanting and haunting new life by two creators who are themselves eerily linked to the magical world of the shape-shifting selkies.

Kate's ancestors were the McPhees, who, legend says, are descended from the union of Dougal McPhee and his melancholy selkie bride, while Fiona's McDonald ancestors, lairds of the Western Isles, have a strange connection to the McPhees as well, a connection she only discovered while working on the book!

Enjoy this fascinating post on Selkie connections.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Review: Camp Crazy (Lightning Strikes)

Daks and hits mates go off to camp in the bush. In the middle of nowhere. Completely alone. What could possibly go wrong? Apart from snakebites, wild pigs and bush fires, nothing: if you are the only people around.

But someone else is on the same mountain and that someone else didn’t want to be found. Uh oh.  Get ready for a mess of action and intrigue. Only Daks and his mates could manage to get themselves into this much strife, but can they get out of it? It’s enough to drive a kid around the bend.

12 Curly Questions with author Deborah Kelly

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I have a tattoo of a tiger on my back.

2. What is your nickname?
Mostly I get called Muuuuuuuuuum!!!! Friends call me Deb or Debs. When I was little, everyone called me ‘Deborah Duck’ though I have no idea why!

3. What is your greatest fear?
I worry about the environment- what state we are leaving it in for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Heartfelt. Wistful. Intuitive. Sensitive. Honest. Considered. Succinct. Many-layered. Understated.

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Sensitive. Observant. Focused. Diligent. Passionate.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Book List: Young Adult Novels About War and Conflict

Novels with a wartime setting can give readers an appreciation of the complex issues involved in war and conflict. They can provide insight into the personal impact of warfare that isn't necessarily conveyed so easily through non-fiction texts. The following books have settings that relate to specific historical events and conflict in general. They are suitable for teenagers and adults.

Once by Morris Gleitzman, Penguin, $16.95, 9780143301950 (KBR review)
Then by Morris Gleitzman, Penguin, $19.95, 9780670072781

Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail, Black Dog Books, $18.95, 9781922179999 (KBR review)

Book List: Middle Fiction Novels about War and Conflict

Novels with a wartime setting can give younger readers an appreciation of the complex issues involved in war and conflict. They can provide insight into the personal impact of warfare that isn't necessarily conveyed so easily through non-fiction texts. The following books have settings that relate to specific historical events and conflict in general. They are suitable for children in upper primary and early high school years.

Light Horse Boy by Dianne Wolfer and Brian Simmonds, Fremantle Press, $26.99, 9781922089137 (KBR review here)
Lighthouse Girl by Dianne Wolfer and Brian Simmonds, Fremantle Press, $19.95, 9781921696572

Evan's Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood, Allen & Unwin, $15.99, 9781743311356 (KBR review here)

Through My Eyes series. (Find out more at the Through My Eyes website)

Shahana by Roseanne Hawke, Allen & Unwin, $15.99, 9781743312469 (KBR review here)
Amina by J L Powers, Allen & Unwin, $15.99, 9781743312490 (KBR review here)
Naveed by John Heffernan, Allen & Unwin, $15.99, 9781743312483 (KBR review here)

Book List: Picture Books about War and Conflict

There are some topics that are difficult to explain to children because they are so complex. War is one of those topics, but news stories and cultural events such as ANZAC Day often prompt children to ask questions and seek understanding. Picture books can be a great way to support conversations about this difficult topic and explain both specific historical events and conflict in general.

I Was Only Nineteen by John Schumann and Craig Smith, Allen & Unwin, $24.99, 9781743317235 (KBR review here)
Gallipoli by Kerry Greenwood and Annie White, Scholastic, $24.99, 9781743621295

Photographs in the Mud by Dianne Wolfer and Brian Harrison-Lever, Fremantle Press, $16.95, 9781921361043

KBR Short Story: The King's Cake

by Ben Kitchin

King Leon loved cake. Any kind of cake.

Chocolate cake. Banana cake. Cheese cake. Carrot cake. Mud cake. Blackforest cake. Cinnamon tea cake.

But, King Leon didn't like to share. Cake, cake, cake, cake. The king's chefs were kept very busy. Bake, bake, bake, bake!

"For my birthday," King Leon announced, "I want the biggest, yummiest, scrummiest cake ever! It has to be as big as my castle! And with rainbow colours!"

"But your birthday is in just one month!" exclaimed the king's chefs.

"Just make it!" screeched the king.

Enormous pots and pans were built. The ingredients went into an enormous bowl …

One hundred thousand tonnes of butter … Seventy-five thousand tonnes of sugar … Ten thousand litres of vanilla essence …

Then it was time for mixing. Mix, mix, mix, mix.

More ingredients …

One hundred and fifty thousand eggs … Mix, mix, mix, mix … Two hundred thousand tonnes of flour … Sift, sift, sift … Mix, mix, mix … Twenty-five thousand litres of milk … Pour, pour, pour … Mix, mix, mix, mix.

Finally the cake batter was piled into an enormous cake tin. And popped into a humungous oven.

The cake had to cook for a good while. While it baked, the king went off for a nap.

The chefs made the icing. Mountains of icing sugar, butter and milk. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

Finally it was done. And it was the king's birthday.

"Caaaaaaaaake!" squealed King Leon, "Bring me my royal bib! I must eat it all!"

King Leon ate. And ate. And ate. And ate. And ate. "Oh ho, it's delicious! It's scrumptious! It's delectable! It's just too tasty!"

King Leon ate too much. Way too much.

King Leon started to change colour. First he went pink … then a shade of purple … and finally green.

"I feel quite sick," mumbled King Leon, "I cannot possibly eat this cake all by myself but I’d hate to see it wasted! Please, urgh, oh help me! My tummy hurts!"

King Leon's humble servants lined up and shared the cake out. Leon marvelled at how happy they all were … sharing, eating, talking, playing.

King Leon had more gold than any of them, more power, more houses, more everything! But, he had not a squib of their happiness or companionship.

Something hurt King Leon deep in his heart.

"I have been a very bad king." he announced sadly. "From now on things will be different.”

The people cheered.

King Leon still loves cake …

Ben Kitchin is a primary school teacher and has five kids of his own. He enjoys trying to write humorous, engaging stories for children. His first picture book, Don't Wake the Troll (illustrated by the illustrious Ben Redlich), was released late last year.

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, 24 April 2014

Review: He Came with the Couch

This timeless tale of throwaways and ‘keep forevers’ touched a spot deep within me. We often hold onto things that might seem like junk and throw away what others regard as priceless  treasures.

When a burning couch is thrown out the window before it sets the house alight, the search begins for a replacement. The family wander among rummage sales until at last they find just what they are looking for. However, a large blue character sits on their sort of new couch, and that large blue character will not move.

Review: Watch Out for the Crocodile

I'm not normally a fan of high text picture books, unless they're historical or specifically information-packed, but this lolloping story, although disjointed at times, does work well with its warm and entertaining dialogue between a little girl and her dad.

Tora is very excited. Normally her dad is very boring--working, sitting at the computer, drinking coffee--but something great is about to happen. A trip to the forest to see wild animals!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Review: While We Run

It is 2127. Abdi and Tegan are the public face of the Ark Project, an international campaign to recruit volunteers for the colonisation of a new world in space, but there’s a massive problem. The new world that Abdi and Tegan are forced to promote is a giant propaganda exercise.

Although Tegan was brought back to life from cyronic suspension in When We Wake, she is the only known survivor of the process. The Ark Project places all candidates into cyronic suspension.

Review: Jack's Bugle

It's World War I, and Aidan Jackson (known as Jack) leaves his parents' farm to become a soldier and fight overseas. With him, goes his shiny brass bugle, his most precious possession.

After enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force, Jack is sent to a camp with the other new recruits for training. There, he meets Spencer Harrington (known as Harry), and the two become best mates. Soon they ship out together to Egypt for more training, this time in the desert. And four short months later, on 25 April 1915, they find themselves about to land at Gallipoli.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Review: Lessons of a Lac

Loppy the Lac (Little Anxious Creature) has learned how to watch out for all of life’s potential dangers and pitfalls. He is always alert, keeping an eye out for something, anything, that could go wrong. Curly Calmster has learned how to be calm and soothing and how to say encouraging things like ‘I can do it’ and ‘I might try it’.  

When Loppy meets Curly he panics. His heart beats fast and his arms and legs feel stiff. There are so many things that could go wrong, Loppy doesn’t know which one to worry about first. Fortunately Curly is there to remind Loppy to breathe deeply and be calm.

Event: SCBWI ACT Get-Together

12 Curly Questions with author/illustrator Briony Stewart

1. Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you. 
At one point in my life I had six grandmothers. I have one of those families that is crazy and complicated and veeerrrry extended. But I love it just the way it is, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

2. What is your nickname?
Well … sometimes my family call me 'B'. My dad used to call me ‘Buggyboo’ but that’s not really a nickname, more a pet name. I always wanted a nickname though. I wanted one so badly I tried to invent one for myself once. 'Hey everyone, you can call me "The Bean" from now on okay?' Unfortunately it never really caught on. A kid in Year 2 once called me ‘Baloney Stupid’. It’s the closest thing I ever got to a nickname so I put it on the back of my school leavers' jumper in Year 12.

3. What is your greatest fear?
Oh, it’s much too terrifying to say out loud!

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
A mixture of truth and imagination. Always from the heart.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Review: Aa is for Alpacas

Aa is for Alpacas and, in this informative and enjoyable alphabet book, B, C, D, E and all the other letters are linked to alpacas too.

Experienced speech pathologist Sue Carolane and her herd of nine alpacas teach the alphabet in a way that supports developing reading skills. My favourite letter is ‘N’, as Nosy Petra comes right up to the camera to see what is going on, although it is hard to resist Geisha’s big wide yawn for ‘Y’ or Manuel sucking on the gumboot for 'G'.

Review: Chasing Shadows

In centuries past, children were to be seen and not heard, but in our time children are often the focus of our parenting world. Children’s welfare is a high priority, but in the western child’s hectic schedule, there is rarely time to sit, reflect or feel, let alone grieve.

Chasing Shadows, with its sparse wording, epitomises the grieving child’s experience of being disjointed, disconnected and fearful of further loss. It is always difficult to watch a child lost in sadness, but when is the right time to fill that void with a new love? When is it time to chase the shadows away?

Review: Here in the Garden

A young boy and his pet rabbit are inseparable, spending hours together in the garden. But then, one day, the boy's companion is there no more, and as the seasons change, the boy struggles to recapture the joy he once felt.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Review: Cutie Pie looks for the Easter Bunny!

Cutie Pie the chick is looking for the Easter Bunny. Doggy, Squirrel, Horsey and Owl along with all the other farm animals have their eggs and Cutie Pie is anxious to get hers. She searches everywhere. Will she find the Easter Bunny’s basket of eggs?

Review: Henry's Hand

Henry and Hand are the best of friends. They're as close as it's possible to get. In fact, Hand is Henry's right hand — literally!

You see, Henry is a giant who has a few problems keeping track of all his body parts. He's been known to leave a leg behind in bed, and once one of his eyes rolled under the couch and refused to come out. But Henry knows he can count on Hand to always be there for him.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

eBook Review: I Quit Sugar Kids Cookbook

A sweeter life without sugar? Sarah Wilson knows it. Since launching her I Quit Sugar empire with her fabulous book of the same name, this health-driven woman has inspired many thousands of people to look at the way sugar affects their bodies and minds.

In January 2011, Sarah quit sugar. 'It started as an experiment,' she says, 'but my energy, skin and wellness changed so dramatically, I kept going.'
It started as an experiment, but my energy, skin and wellness changed so dramatically, I kept going. - See more at: http://www.iquitsugar.com/start-here/my-story/#sthash.BPm69vTv.dpuf
It started as an experiment, but my energy, skin and wellness changed so dramatically, I kept going. - See more at: http://www.iquitsugar.com/start-here/my-story/#sthash.BPm69vTv.dpuf

Sarah has Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune condition that attacks the thyroid. Being the ultimate body-inflamer, sugar worsened her condition terribly. 'Some even argue sugar causes the disease in the first place,' says Sarah. 'Anyone with a compromised system simply cannot afford to have their stress hormones, neurotransmitter levels or their insulin levels tipped off balance by sugar.'