Striking Out – Picture books that challenge

There are times in every small person’s life, when they are faced with taking the plunge, striding into the unknown, and just striking out into that adventure called life. It’s not always easy, sometimes it’s downright wrenching, but who says it can’t be fun. Here are a cluster of recently released picture books that will enlighten and inspire in those darker and daring times.

CrustsCrusts by Danny Parker Illustrated by Matt Ottley

I adore the sinuous artistry of this incredible picture book team. A picture book with their names on the cover promises great subtlety and infinite pleasure. Crusts is no exception. One third graphic, two thirds regular, this picture book grabs the most frustrating habit a maker-of-lunchbox-lunches has to contend with – the uneaten crust and flips it on its head.

Jacob is your typical crust-eating refusal expert. His mum is your typical eat-your-crusts enforcer. Neither is willing to give any ground, which is unfortunate because in a galaxy far far away, a tiny planet is crumbling into nonexistence and has had to jettison three explorers to Earth in an attempt to locate and transport planet-saving crusts back to them. At first, it seems the mission is doomed to fail as Jacob squirrels away crusts by the bin load and scribbles away at plans the explorers feel are useless to their cause. Turns out, there is more to Jacob’s distaste in crumbs and ingenuity than meets the eye.

Parker’s narrative is always spot on, poetic and soulful. Ottley’s fanciful illustrations strike the perfect balance between droll fantasy and tragic normality. Crusts is a crowd pleaser even for those unwilling to swallow one physically. It accentuates the values of tenacity, humanity, selflessness, and kindness and comes highly recommended for lovers of invention and space travel.

Little Hare Books imprint HGE August 2016

Zelda's Big AdventureZelda’s Big Adventure by Marie Alafaci Illustrated by Shane McG0wan

I love the plucky audacity and determination shown by Zelda the chook. Zelda has a dream, ‘to be the first chook in space.’ However, the road to the Milky Way is long and arduous and none of her coop-mates is willing to lift a primary wing feather to help her achieve her ambitions.

Undaunted, she strikes out alone and finally launches herself into chook history. When she eventually comes home, her fickle-feathered friends agree Zelda’s tenacity and drive are by far the best examples of how to get anywhere interesting they’ve ever encountered. With her appetite for space exploration sated, Zelda concedes adventures are always more fun when shared with friends. This is a fun, easy to read, easy to share picture book encouraging perseverance and courage. Great for pre-schoolers and early primary readers and chook lovers like me.

Allen & Unwin 2016

Up up and AwayUp, Up and Away by Tom McLaughlin

Like his previous titles, The Story Machine and The Cloudspotter, Up, Up and Away warms the very cockles of your heart and is guaranteed to cheer you. Unlike Zelda who travelled far into space to find her first planet, Orson, a boy who loves to make things, prefers the challenge of making his own. And he does.

At first, the new planet is slow to find its position in Orson’s universe but slowly with a lot of tending loving care from Orson, his planet grows up and even develops its own gravitational pull. That is when Orson realises, that he must let his beloved planet find its true place among the stars. Under five year olds will relate to this on a number of levels; pets growing up, butterflies dying, outgrown shoes and so on. Adults will be reminded that one day their own tiny planets will eventually have to orbit elsewhere, too.

This whimsical picture book describes the sometimes unavoidable necessity of letting go of things you love the most in order to set them free. McLaughlin elevates this difficult life lesson to a place of beautiful reason and logic in spite of the nonsensical notion of mixing up a planet from scratch from ‘a cup full of rocks and a dash of water’.

Powerful and smart, Up, Up and Away is about accepting and recognising challenges and change.

Bloomsbury August 2016

OutOut by Angela May George Illustrated by Owen Swan

Sometimes taking on new challenges is not always a matter of choice. Out is a stunning debut picture book by George, which tackles the unrelenting struggles of refugees and their emigration attempts. We never learn the real name of the young asylum seeker in this story, but she is recognisable as a girl with much heart and soul and deep pools of courage. Together with her mother, they endure a treacherous journey from their homeland to Australia. Life is very different, and it takes a while for them to assimilate to the music, dancing, and language. Everything is a new challenge for she and her mother and yet throughout their ordeals, she always retains the thinnest, most fragile tendrils of hope, as depicted by a bright yellow ribbon she carries everywhere.

Written with frank solemnity Out resonates with positivity and a belief that good will always prevail. Swan’s gentle muted illustrations convey emotion and compassion and allow the characters of the story to stand out when they are surrounded by so many others that are in exactly the same boat as they, as it were.

Persuasive and compelling, Out will suit readers four and above and help them realise the strength of the human spirit whilst appreciating the various paths they can take (or must make at times) to reach their goals.

Scholastic Press June 2016




Review: Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey


For the pure pleasure of uncomplicated, nonstop action, no thriller this year has come close to matching Erik Storey’s Nothing Short of Dying, the first in what promises to be an adrenaline-fuelled series starring Clyde Barr.

Barr is the latest in a long line of loner heroes with violent pasts that belie their good intentions. Fresh from a stint in a Juárez prison, Barr is determined to make a fresh start, free from the chaos that has punctuated his life. But a frantic phone call from his youngest sister, Jen, halts any plans to ride off into the sunset. Jen needs his help, and as Barr himself asserts – which is a touch on the nose – “nothing short of dying” will stop him from coming to her aid. Problem is, Barr has no idea who has her or where she is. And he embarks on a spree of beat-downs and shootings that put Jack Reacher’s dust-ups to shame. Clyde Barr is a one-man army, as competent with his fists as he is with a rifle or bow. The introduction of Allie – inadvertently drawn into Barr’s violent journey – adds some much-needed emotional depth, and a touch of requisite romance.

Storey brings the rugged outdoor terrain to life, and Barr’s adeptness to life in the wild distinguishes him from the urban-minded heroes that populate most novels in the genre. When we meet Barr, he’s camping in the wilderness, having hunted for his dinner the night before; and he’s a technophobe, adverse to telecommunications and society’s reliance on electronic devices. Need someone to track footprints? Clyde’s your man. Want him to access your phone’s GPS? Look elsewhere.

Nothing Short of Dying takes off at breakneck speed and doesn’t let up. There’s not much nuance, and though the plot moves at the speed of a bullet, it moves at the same trajectory from start to finish, and offers few genuine surprises or curve balls. But for readers seeking rock ’em sock ’em action, Erik Storey’s debut will surely satisfy. If the author is able to add a touch more stylistic flair in Barr’s second outing, we could be witnessing the launch of thriller fiction’s next big brand.


Review: The Beauty is in the Walking by James Moloney

The Beauty is in the Walking by James Moloney is an incredible tale that is part coming-of-age story and part murder-mystery. Except the one in question who is murdered is only a horse. So don’t panic too much. (This book doesn’t tangle very deeply in the dark side.) It is narrated by Jacob who also has Cerebral Palsy. And it’s an Australian homegrown book! So much to love here!9780732299941

What’s it About?

Everyone thinks they know what Jacob O’Leary can and can’t do – and they’re not shy about telling him either. But no one – not even Jacob – knows what he’s truly capable of. And he’s desperate for the chance to work it out for himself. When a shocking and mystifying crime sends his small country town reeling, and fingers start pointing at the newcomer, Jacob grabs the chance to get out in front of the pack and keep mob rule at bay. He’s convinced that the police have accused the wrong guy; that the real villain is still out there. And he’s determined to prove it – and himself – to everyone.


When I heard about this book, I leap towards it for several reasons. (1) The Aussie factor always wins me over because I don’t read nearly enough books from my own country. (2) Jacob is in his finale year of highschool and facing Big Life Decisions, which is always relatable, and he also has cerebral palsy, which is something I’ve only read about in one other book! (That book is Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern.) (3) THERE IS A MURDER MYSTERY. And it was a good story! I read it in just a few hours because it’s super short, but it was definitely satisfying and wonderful.

Jacob is a pretty awesome protagonist. He didn’t let anything hold him back. Plus he was sassy and capable and just downright cool. He stood up for himself to bullies, but he still was venerable and suffered a lot with his condition. He felt frustrated when people judged him unfairly because of it. And, well, I was so frustrated with how other people would judge him. There is cruelty and discrimination in this book, some of it accidental, and some of it intentional.

The plot is 80% school and 20% “oh things are dead”. But, like I said: animal deaths. So a horse and a pig have been murdered and the town is blaming the local Muslim family for it. Jacob wisely says, “hey where’s your proof!” and therefore he kind of gets caught up in debunking this unfair blame game.

I loved the amount of diversity in this book! Such a good representation of Australia, too, since we’re quite the multicultural nation. Not only does it feature disabilities — it also touches on racism and cultural differences.

The Beauty Is In The Walking is a quick and fun and engaging. I definitely learned more about CP, which is grand. And I think Jacob was a winning dude and I seeing the world from his perspective. Also the Aussie slang and culture just made the book feel endlessly homey. Plus someone gets called a “dingbat”, which just goes to show how awesome we Australians are at insults. I loved the relationship between Jacob and his older brother, and I loved the emphasis on finals and “what do you want to do with your life”, which is a question I think all teens relate to. It’s a solidly good book and definitely recommended!


[purchase here]

Stepping into Oz Children’s Literature on the Global Stage

I’ve just been presenting about Australian children’s and YA literature at the international IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Congress in Auckland, New Zealand. This is the first time the conference has been held so far south, it’s usually a preserve of the northern hemisphere. NZ did an excellent job as host.

ColoursAustralian authors and illustrators such as our Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs (Mr Chicken, Old Tom), as well as Ursula Dubosarsky (The Golden Day), Bronwyn Bancroft (Colours of Australia), Nadia Wheatley (Papunya, My Place, illustrated by Donna Rawlins) and Marcus Zusak (The Book Thief) were recognised at the conference, alongside international creators.

Legendary NZ author Joy Cowley spoke after a warm traditional Maori welcome by adult and children’s groups. I reviewed Joy’s Speed of Light for the Weekend Australian and one of her famous characters, Mrs Wishy Washy was brought exuberantly to life throughout the conference. Joy’s 80th birthday was also celebrated. Other keynote and major speakers included Whale Rider’s Witi Ihimaera, Ghana’s Meshack Asare and Kate de Goldi (The 10pm Question) whose most recent children’s novel From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle just won the Esther Glen Junior Fiction Book Award (NZ Book Awards for Children & Young Adults 2016). Kate was also on a panel with the incredible Katherine Paterson and Ursula Dubosarsky, chaired by UK children’s book critic Julia Eccleshare. This session was a highlight.

Sir Richard Taylor and Martin Bayton from Weta Workshop, which was responsible for the animations and effects in movies such as Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia also presented some stunning visuals.  Sir Richard had a useful quote, ‘The art of innovation is to throw yourself at failure and simply miss.’

FlightThe CBCA winners and honour awards were announced just after my presentation, which was chaired by Nadia Wheatley, so it was a privilege to be able to congratulate Nadia on her winning picture book (illustrated by Armin Greder), Flight.

 I presented after speakers from Norway and Sweden and was followed by a Canadian speaker. Exciting to be a part of such diversity. I was thrilled to share books by some of our iconic and talented authors and illustrators including How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham, Fog a Dox by Bruce Pascoe, One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn, A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (which was announced as CBCA winner for Older Readers), The Other Christie by Oliver Phommavanh, MaralingaMaralinga’s Long Shadow by Christobel Mattingley, some verse novels – Another Night in Mullet Town and The Spangled Drongo by Stephen Herrick and Sister Heart by Sally Morgan (announced as a CBCA Honour book), plus a number of other picture books, novels and graphic novels.

We were fortunate that table places weren’t set at the Gala Dinner. People could select where they sat and we had the pleasure of the company of delegates from countries as diverse as Haiti, Japan, South Korea, Norway and Samoa. As a proud Australian I was able to answer the quiz question about which country won the Hans Christian Andersen award (administered by IBBY) in the same year for both author and illustrator.

NargunPatricia Wrightson and Robert Ingpen both won in 1986, the only Australians to have ever won this most prestigious international award.

The final highlight was another coincidental one. We spoke to a distinguished lady before dinner and shared information about where we lived and why we were at the conference. This lady informed us that she is an author. Imagine my shock after asking her name to discover we had been speaking (without realising it) to children’s book royalty, Lynley Dodd, creator of Hairy Maclary!  

Hairy Maclary

Review: Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

Herman Koch’s Dear Mr. M has all the trappings of a stylish literary thriller endowed with the author’s trademark black humour and wit. And it comes so close to being something truly resonant; inches away from being one of the year’s must-read books. Alas, its sagging middle undermines a brilliant start, and lessens the impact of its climax. With a finer edit – some slicing and dicing – Dear Mr. M would be truly spectacular. In its published form, however, it has to settle for merely being ‘good.’

Koch’s latest tells the story of a fading writer;  once celebrated, but now long past the apex of his career, which was the publication of Payback, a suspense novel based on a real-life disappearance. It told the story of a history teacher who vanished one winter after a brief affair with a student. His body was never found. M.’s novel distorted the facts of the case, and the premise of Dear Mr M. centres around the author being held accountable for his altering of events.

The novel has an interesting structure, told from various perspectives, the most captivating of which is undoubtedly a letter to M., written by the same person the author accused of murdering the history teacher in Payback. There’s a real tension here; these segments are utterly suspenseful and creepy, which inevitably make other sections of the novel feel sluggish.

Koch rips into the literary world in Dear Mr M., poking fun at publisher dinners, promotional tours, author relationships, etc. As someone working in the industry, I found some of his comments, through his characters, especially hilarious. The novel really shines in these moments, and echoes the dark humour present in Koch’s other work; The Dinner and Summer House With Swimming Pool.

Despite its middle dragging on a bit, Dear Mr M. is a mostly gripping, brilliantly satirical literary thriller. It’s a novel I highly recommend . . . with a small caveat.


Review: The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jack Serong

9781925355215Jock Serong has written a clever and unique Australian crime novel weaving together the folklore of cricket, both the backyard variety and the international, into a classic piece of noir. The novel is told from the point of view of Darren Keefe, the younger brother of former Australian Cricket captain Wally Keefe. Darren’s life is literally flashing before his eyes as he lies gagged and bound in the boot of a car on his way to what he expects is his certain execution.

Darren recounts his childhood growing up with Wally; their epic battles in the backyard and their rise through Australia’s cricket ranks. Wally is a stoic, stubborn opening batsmen who accumulates his runs without ever giving the opposition a sniff of getting him out. While Darren is the more brash, younger brother, taking risks and entertaining the crowd. These traits are reflected in each brother off the field. Wally, the more responsible and sensible, is quickly elevated to the Test team and then it’s captaincy while settling down to start a family. Darren, meanwhile,  is the larrikin everyone loves to watch and wants to know who flits from scandal to controversy on and off the field. All the while moving closer to his possibly imminent end inside the boot of a car.

This is one of the funnest crime novels I’ve read in years and is definitely the cricket/crime novel I never knew I wanted to read. This is going to be THE book for summer. Perfect for reading in front of the cricket itself.

Buy the book here…

Review: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Pages Review - Commonwealth - Ann

Ann Patchett is fast becoming one of my all-time favourite authors. Her new novel takes her talent to a new level totally engrossing you in the lives of two families who themselves get tangled up over the years due to a few choices of fate.

The novel opens in 1964 at a seemingly innocuous christening party. An uninvited guest arrives bearing a bottle of gin and a chain of events gets set in motion. Patchett jumps around with her timeline and doesn’t immediately follow the most sympathetic characters choosing instead to flesh out the least as you piece together how two completely separate families join together and how a tragic event begins to unwind them apart again.

This novel reminded me at times of Richard Yates and others of Richard Russo but Ann Patchett out shines both with ease, with precision, with damn fine writing and simply beautiful storytelling. This is probably one of Ann Patchett’s most personal novels (after reading This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage you can recognise some inspirations for her own life) but unlike one of the novel’s protagonists she manages to keep some distance between truth and fiction.

Ann Patchett has written a novel of immense beauty, charm, sadness and tragedy. She will have you laughing out loud as you read one minute and wiping a tear away the next. This is a book I could have, and still want, to read forever. I did not want it to end so lost I became, not just in the story and the characters Ann Patchett so vividly brings to life, but also in the words and way she tells her story. This book is quite simply marvellous. This is an American Classic in the making.

Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth presents the evolution of two American families fused together following the events of one hot Southern Californian day in 1964. It’s a thoughtful, poignant and moving novel, elevated beyond the traditional domestic novel thanks to the depth of its characters and their tumultuous experiences so deftly depicted by one of the great contemporary American authors.

The story opens during a seemingly innocuous christening party hosted by Beverly and Fix Keating for their second daughter, Franny. The celebrations are proceeding as planned – that is to say, mundanely – until a lawyer named Bert Cousins shows up uninvited, carrying a bottle of gin, which immediately livens things – particularly when he is introduced to Beverly, and develops an immediate infatuation, which results in their marriage, and their move to Virginia. And so, a new familial unit is established, comprised of six step-siblings; a unique blend.

Patchett doesn’t lay out her narrative chronologically, but events transpire seamlessly, cutting back and forth in the family’s timeline, and spotlighting a variety of its members. In another writer’s hands, this approach and such an extensive cast might be unwieldy ; but we’re in a master’s. Despite the novel’s epic scope, it’s confined to a wonderfully limited page-count (just eclipsing the 300-page mark), and its tragedies and revelries are incredibly potent.

Commonwealth is honest and heartfelt, presenting a family at their best and worst and most shambolic. It is packed with truths, and powerfully illustrations the importance of family, and the strength of that unit. It’s a novel that will make you feel, and grateful for the loved ones in your life.


Middle Eastern Inspired YA Fantasy Books

As a rabid devourer of fantasy, I’m always on the look out for exceptionally brilliant books! And I’ve absolutely fallen in love with epic YA fantasy books set in the Middle East, Persia, and India! I can’t get enough of the gorgeous settings, the complex culture, and the mythology. Plus diversity is always a win and I get very excited when I find diverse fantasy.

Today I’ll be listing some Middle Eastern inspired fantasy books. Beware: they are gorgeous. You’ll want them all. Don’t even deny yourself, my friend, just buy and read them.

9780451477538REBEL OF THE SANDS


How about some Persian fantasy mixed with the Wild West?! Yes, I thought it was a weird combination too at first, but I have been emphatically converted. This book is full of action, shooting, and sass! They’re shooting bottles off each other’s heads from the first chapter, and it just gets more intense as it goes on. Plus magic. What is life without a bit o’ magic, amirite?

The story follows Amani, who lives with an unloving family who are very keen to marry her off to some smelly old guy. But she’s also an epic sharpshooter and dreams of an adventurous life in the city. She ends up in the company of a dashing foreigner and they get accidentally caught in a whirlwind adventure with bullets flying.



This one is set in India and, along with gorgeous Indian culture an mythology, it combines this with a retelling of Persephone and Hades! HOW COOL IS THAT?! I mean, marriage is no picnic, but at least you’re not likely to elope with Death.

Maya has got a terrible horoscope and has been foretold that Death is her bridegroom. When her father tries to set her up for a political marriage (while encouraging her to poison herself to prevent it) Maya ends up marrying Amar and travelling to his magical city. She has about 2% of an idea what’s going on at first, but the mystery unwinds as she explores the palace. Also included in the story: tree spirits, a sassy talking demon horse, delicious Indian food, a magical Night Bazar, and a whole string of terrible mistakes.



This is a retelling of the 1001 Arabian nights, originally told by Shahrazad to the evil Sultan killing all his wives. (Yes, we’re noticing a pattern that marriage is a bit iffy in these stories. #SingleLifeFTW) The Wrath and the Dawn features Shazi, who has set out on a mission to kill the Sultan before he murders every girl in the realm. Except the Sultan is a tortured and handsome boy and things are not as they seem.

The food descriptions in this book are guaranteed to make your mouth water. And the mythology coupled with beautiful storytelling and gorgeous settings just make this book divine. Also there is sass. As all good books should have.

9781447290377A THOUSAND NIGHTS


Another Shahrazad retelling! But this one is told by an unnamed protagonist and focuses on beautiful, ethereal writing that will make you think you’ve fallen right into a fairy tale. Again it has the Sultan who is murdering people, but what’s the reason? Why would he do this?? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

It does take on a slower pace though, with 90% focus on the writing instead of on the characters. But no denying it is gorgeous!

Marvellous midgrade reads – Reviewing Aussie Talent

Midgrade readers have to fulfil a variety of whims. They should appeal to the increasingly insatiable literary appetites of confident mid-primary aged readers. They must soar with excitement and be able to crack readers up at the mere mention of impending doom for any adults foolhardy enough to wander through the storyline. And they should be wickedly close enough to real life to qualify the use of magic and make believe. Here are three new titles that tick all the ‘midgrade must have’ boxes.

Marge in Charge with Isla FisherMarge in Charge by Isla Fisher Illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemus

This new novel spills from the pen of noted actor, writer and comedian, Isla Fisher. Words flow with funny fluidity and the help of some very entertaining illustrations. Rather than being told in chapters, there are three separate Marge orientated stories all hinging on the premise of Marge babysitting Jemima and Jake.  None of their previously bland babysitters can match the zany ingenuity of marvellous Marge. Marge is not your average babysitter; she makes mess and turns the rules inside out and upside down.

Young readers will love the out of control antics Jemima and younger brother,Jake are coaxed into by the indiscernibly aged Marge. It is enough to make any parent cringe with terror but will raise whoops of delight for those under ten years old. Fisher’s style is comforting and chortle worthy with injections of humour only the experiences of a mother of three could have inspired.

Riotous hilarity tempered by sound parenting advice (mostly from the worrying mind of 7-year-old Jemima), all mixed up with a plucky mucky 4-year-old and lots and lots of lovely rainbow coloured hair. Marge is the complete package. Fresh fun entertainment (at least for six + year olds).

Piccadilly Press imprint Allen & Unwin July 2016

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling BeeThe Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela

India Wimple is a girl with a dream and like many of us these days, that dream stems from reality TV. Every week, she and her family glue themselves in front of The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee TV show and as we are currently deep into the latest series of The Great Australian Spelling Bee (of which I am also hooked) the telling of India’s tale could not have come at a better time!

Unlike 11-year-old India, my spelling abilities have diminished drastically over the years. India however is in the prime of her time and yearns to be the next spelling bee champion. All she has to do is sign up for the show and spell. But of course there are many ‘precarious’ and ‘calamitous’ situations she and her family have to contend with before she gets close to standing behind the spelling podium; a cantankerous old van, a haughty little spoilt girl intent on winning, concerns for an ailing brother and an inherent shyness that threatens to choke her each time she gets up on stage to name but a few.

Deb AbelaAbela deftly weaves a contemporary idea into a topical story line with enough quirky characters with admirable whims to have readers on the edge of their seats by the time India eventually makes it in front of the TV cameras. And like those mini spelling marvels on the real life reality show, she handles it with modest aplomb and true integrity.

It is impossible not to love all of Abela’s characters in this tale even the snarky ones.  And while young readers are hanging on every syllable uttered, they are unwittingly enhancing their vocabulary thanks to each chapter heading introducing a new word and definition relating to that chapter. Ingenious!

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee may be a mouthful and a half to master but is invigorating and enlightening reading for anyone who adores words, competitions and fifth grade spelling (which I still struggle with). It’s a fun family indulgence without the need to go anywhere near the tellie.

Penguin Random House Australia July 2016

Princess ParsleyPrincess Parsley by Pamela Rushby

I had the unique pleasure of hearing the birth of this story a couple of years ago when accomplished author, Pamela Rushby pitched it for the first time to a panel of publishers at the SCBWI Sydney Conference. Now, like the growth of Parsley Patterson’s family country market, it has evolved into a book worthy of a place high on the bookshelf.

Following bouts of political kerfuffle, Mullumbimby farming resident, Kevin Patterson decides to withdraw from Australia and set up his own (Possum Creek) principality within the Northern Rivers hinterland. This way he can avoid the one-sided malevolent machinations of the local council and run his popular farmers’ market in peace. Sounds straightforward enough albeit a little left field; it’s a stance the surrounding residents applaud for his daring and pluck. His family revel in their collective newly acquired regal status, all that is except Parsley.

Being a princess is the last thing on Parsley’s list of things to be in her new high school. With her ‘not strictly hippy’ parents always in the limelight, the most popular boy in school tagging along and a cackle of hard-nosed A Group girls (The Blondes) to contend with, life under a tiara becomes increasingly embarrassing and more hilarious with each page turn.

Dim's Day 2 14th July (34)I am a bona fide fan of Rushby’s sharp satirical wit. Although somewhat toned down here for a slightly younger audience, it still transports readers along on a heady and spirited adventure echoing the same verve and heart of the 1997 movie, The Castle. Like the Kerrigans, the Pattersons are a family for which you feel an instant affection. However, can poor Parsley’s princely plight and newfound calling as a comedian be enough for her to realise the true cost of popularity?

I was amazed to learn that there are around 12 actual real micronations based on the principality idea here in Australia alone.  Stories like Princess Parsley, which engage on multiple levels, are not only a boon to read but also marvellous gateways to more of life’s delightful discoveries. Ripper stuff. Ideal for 9-year-olds and beyond.

Omnibus Books July 2016






Everybody Loves Cheeky Animals in Picture Books

What is it about mischievous, strong-minded animals that make them so irresistible? Is it because they are so entertaining, or that we can see ourselves in them, or both? Here are some of the latest picture books that fit the bill in the ‘cheeky-animal’ category. Get your paws on them now!

imageHeath McKenzie whets our appetites with the introduction of his sweet little rumbly-tummy dragon. But ‘This Hungry Dragon’ doesn’t stay little or sweet for long! Each page turn will have you in stitches as the red beast grows hungrier, and rounder, with every humungous gulp. Now bigger than a house, perhaps there’s room for one last little mouse, and a doctor to make him feel better! But it’s the dragon’s undoing when the doctor comes up with a ‘rockin” plan to escape from the animal-gorged belly.
This fabulously hilarious, rhyming read-aloud story encapsulates all the goodness of a buffet feast, from its choice vocabulary to its rollicking rhythm and exuberantly playful line and watercolour illustrations. Delightfully delicious for preschool-aged children.

Scholastic Press, May 2016.

imageI love the child-like energy in the whimsical pictures by disabled Indigenous illustrator Dion Beasley that accompany the satirical, first-person perspective written by Johanna Bell in Go Home, Cheeky Animals!’ (sequel to highly acclaimed ‘Too Many Cheeky Dogs’). Arms are a-flapping when goats, donkeys, horses, buffaloes and camels invade the property at Canteen Creek, but the naughty canines simply stretch and go back to sleep. When the family have finally had enough, the lazy dogs come to the rescue and growl in their loudest, angriest voices, “GO HOME, CHEEKY ANIMALS!” And they do…or do they?
This author and illustrator combo marvellously bring a sense of familiarity and understanding to a most inconvenient, yet comical situation based in the Northern Territory. Recommended to all lazy dog lovers out there.

The amazing story of the collaboration between the creators can be read here.

Allen & Unwin, May 2016.

imagePuppies are adorable, aren’t they?! If you could pick any breed what would you pick? In ‘My Perfect Pup’, it’s all about the puppy selection process, with a twist. Sue Walker and Anil Tortop brilliantly pair up to produce a heartwarming story that every child, and dog it seems, dreams of. When Milly and Max decide that Tiny will be their perfectly pampered and proficient pup, they don’t quite get what they planned for, and promptly return the hairy, not-so-tiny pooch to the pet shop. Which is actually to the delight of Tiny, because he needs a chance to make his own ‘friend selection’. And that’s when Joe arrives…
With all the fun of caring for a new pet, with the added bonus of humour, what makes a real friendship, and adorably energetic illustrations, ‘My Perfect Pup’ is the perfect book to select for your young reader.

New Frontier Publishing, June 2016.

imageNow here’s a pet with personality; it’s the red cat in ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ by Kat Patrick and Lauren Marriott. Doodle Cat, seen full-focus in a series of animated positions on plain backgrounds, is not shy to let us know about all the things he loves. Dancing, the ocean, farts, friends, maths, lentils, fractals, difference and doodling are some, to name a few. But most importantly, Doodle Cat loves himself, in the best way possible.
Simple, visually friendly red and black on white illustrations suitably marries with the message of loving the simple things in life. ‘I Am Doodle Cat’ is also witty, candid and thought-provoking, making it a engaging read for preschoolers and beyond.

Scribble / Scribe Publications, March 2016.  

imageIt’s cuteness overload in Susannah Chambers and Mark Jackson’s The Snow Wombat’. Wombats are well-known for their cheeky, playful personalities, and this one is no different. Fun, rhyming couplets allow its preschool readers to make predictions and interact with the story. The wombat ventures through the ice-laiden countryside, lapping up all snowy goodness around him, and ‘on’ him. Finally, he finds a dry, warm place to snuggle in for a snow-free sleep.
The illustrations portray breathtakingly beautiful scenes and precisely depicted human and animal characteristics. ‘The Snow Wombat’ captures a wonderful preview of recreational fun in the snow and an Australiana feel.

Allen & Unwin, June 2016.


Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

If you’re looking for an epically dark fantasy, with a dash of sass and plenty of stabbing — A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab is absolutely entirely for you. I actually procrastinated reading it for ages, despite 90001 people yelling at me to try it (I have really great friends who recommend books so kindly) but the hype was high and I was nervous! I’d previously read and adored Vicious by VE Schwab and, hello look at that: A Darker Shade of Magic was no differe9781783295401nt! It captured my adoration instantly. It’s dark and bloody and has an incredibly marvellous magic system. I could not stop reading!

What’s it About?

Most people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Travelers – magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There’s Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There’s Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London…


9781494510756What captures me the most is: how very unique it is! It’s basically alternate realities + 20th century + epic magical fantasy + magicians and kings and queens + dark EVIL that does not sleep. I honestly hadn’t read anything like this before and (as an avid bookworm who devours at least 200+ books per year) this was so exciting.

Plus it basically rattled off a checklist of things I absolutely adore reading about. Did it read my mind??? Does this book exist solely for me to adore it??? (Answer: yes basically.)

Check List of Things I Adore Reading About:

  • Magical multi-sided coat ✓
  • Characters who put things in pockets, like millions of things (I have a pocket infatuation) ✓
  • Sassy, snarky witty banter ✓
  • A girl who’s #1 aspiration is to be a pirate (#goals) ✓
  • Evil magic that does not sleep ✓
  • Concise but yet visually astounding writing ✓
  • Lots of stabby stabbing all the time ✓

I absolutely adore Schwab’s writing style. It’s brisk and too the point. It doesn’t fluff around. And she is QUEEN of world-building. The alternate Londons were all so different, yet linked, and it was perfectly easy to get sucked in without confusion. Not many books manage to make a world this complex and dimensional but EASY TO UNDERSTAND.

I also couldn’t get enough of the amazing group of characters! They’re all intensely different and complex (and very good at snarky comebacks):

  • KELL: was perfect. A little bit tragic and bitterness and mysterious backstory that not even he remembers…but he’s also totally sassy and his dialogue is my favourite. The entire book’s plot comes about because he makes a terribly stupid mistake. How wonderful! He’s such a winning protagonist, with definite anti-hero vibes and he’s immensely flawed.
  • LILA: of course, is my hero. She’s nasty. She’s a thief and so snarky she’d bite you. And she’s wondrous. I love how she starts off just wanting an adventure — but then she meets Kell and the “adventure” turns a bit more life-or-death than she anticipated. And while she and Kell are continually saving each other and do have a connection, the romance is not very intense which was refreshing.
  • RHYS: was definitely a potential favourite. I did love him, but there wasn’t enough of him! (Although this changes in the sequel much to my relief.) He was really cocky and dashing and dazzling and spoiled and vibrant and fantastic. Also the future King of Red London, so there’s that.
  • HOLLAND: I feel the need to mention Holland, who is another magician like Kell (they’re the only two of their knd who can jump through worlds), and he was really creepy. But tragic? I felt really bad for him even as he was doing terrible evil things. He was enough of a villain to be hated, and enough of a victim to make me whisper a small “oh dear” and feel sad for him.

I also really appreciate how it didn’t spare the characters. Everyone’s moral compasses were super twisted. And there was much stabbing and blood magic and darkness everywhere.

All in all? This book is a masterpiece and I cannot recommend it enough! I thoroughly enjoyed the plot twists, the complex characters, the ingenious world, and the enthralling plot.



Curiously Good Books from Around the World

TimelineGecko Press in New Zealand plays a phenomenal role in discovering, and then making accessible, outstanding children’s books from around the world. Their 2016 publications are from countries as diverse as Sweden, Mexico, Japan and Portugal.

One of the most impressive books I’ve seen for a long time is Timeline: A Visual History of Our World by Peter Goes (Belgium). It is appropriately oversized and I felt a frisson of recollection and excitement when I opened many of the pages, remembering my first encounters with aspects of ancient history all over again. Beginning life, dinosaurs, first people and settlements merge into fascinating cameos of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire. Ottoman, Chinese, Inca and North American histories are also covered. Modern history and world wars bring us to the present day. Australia’s claim to fame is the band ACDC.

France-based Stephanie Blake returns with the bold, bright colours and clear lines of her popular rabbit, Simon in Super Rabbit.

Don't CrossPortugal shines with Isabel Minhos Martins and Bernardo P. Carvalho’s Don’t Cross the Line! This is an exceptional, innovative postmodern (mainly) visual representation of people who aren’t allowed to cross the line onto the next page due to a pointless rule. It is a telling fable.

What Dog Knows is a cleverly constructed mixture of fact and fiction by Sylvia Vanden Heede and Marije Tolman from the Netherlands, translated by Bill Nagelkerke. It is structured into four sections: Mummies and skeletons; Robots, knights and pirates; Dinosaurs and dragons; and Rockets and the moon.

The delightfully flawed but kind, Detective Gordon, a cake-loving frog, returns in Swedish creators Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee’s A Complicated Case. As we are reminded in the detective’s Book of Law, ‘It is permitted to be nice but forbidden to be nasty’.

DaniAlso from Sweden is the poignant story of Dani in Life According to Dani by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson, both highly awarded children’s book creators. This chapter book continues Dani’s realistic life, here dealing with her response to her father’s new girlfriend.

From Mexico is Paula Bossio’s board book, The Pencil (also called The Line). Deliberate smudges create texture and dimension alongside the fascinating pencil line followed by a young girl.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is a heartwarming, yet edgy tale of new friendships from Japan by Megumi Iwasa and Jun Takabatake. It’s unpredictable yet highly satisfying.

And we finish in Israel with Michal Shalev’s hilarious How to Be Famous. FamousThe pigeon is completely oblivious to her true level of fame.

Thanks for making these astounding books available to a wide readership, Gecko Books.

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

9781447297574Brace yourself, dear reader. You’re about to be assailed with praise and hyperbole for Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, which, at this moment, is on track to be my favourite thriller of the year. Right now, I can’t imagine anything toppling Dark Matter from its throne.

Dark Matter is an unabashed science fiction thriller. If the thought of multi-dimension travel – of our protagonist traversing alternate worlds – is too much of a leap from the grounded reality in which you prefer your fiction, okay, fair enough, perhaps this one’s not for you. But for everybody else, willing and able to suspend their disbelief, and accept the parameters of Crouch’s fiction, Dark Matter is a relentless and thrilling ride. What glues it together – what makes this novel work – is its heart.Dark Matter is a love story – punctuated with action and science fiction elements, certainly – but its romantic core, one man’s desire to reunite with his wife and son, is what makes the novel tick along.

Dark Matter is about the roads not taken. It’s about the choices we make – those large, momentous decisions we identify as important, and the smaller ones we barely recognise. Jason Dessen chose his family over his career as a physicist; so too his wife Daniela, who gave up her dream of being an artist. It’s not a decision they regret – they’re a content family unit, blessed with a teenage son – but inevitably there are moments when they wonder what might have been. And thanks to the Jason Dessen from an alternate reality – a world in which he focused on his career in science rather than his family, and created a multidimensional travel device – our Jason is about to discover what might’ve been.

Crouch sends Dessen to a range of close-but-not quite realities as he attempts to find his journey home, to his wife, to his son. In putting Dessen through such an emotional rollercoaster we bear witness to some truly gut-wrenching and poignant scenes. And just when you think the novel’s demonstrated all it’s got to offer – that Crouch is leading readers down a thrilling, but somewhat routine path as Dessen attempts to return to his world – he throws a curveball; an unforeseen plot twist that raises the states even higher, and propels the narrative through to its fitting climax.

Plenty of fiction has explored the idea of multidimensional travel, but rather than focus on the science, Dark Matter keeps the reader riveted because of its heart. How far is one man willing to go to reunite with his family? How much can he witness before he loses himself? You’ll tear through Dark Matter in one sitting to find out. Truly, it’s one of the best thrillers I’ve read in years.

Buy now!

Fun for Fathers – Picture books to share with Dad

One of the most joyful pleasures a child can enjoy is Daddy-time. There can never be too much of it. Here’s a new selection of picture books you can share with your special little someones on Father’s Day or indeed, at any time at all.

The Ballad of Henry HoplingseaThe Ballad of Henry Hoplingsea by Julia Hubery Illustrated by Lucia Masciullo

I love the look and feel of this jolly little tale. It is less about dads and more about appreciating what you have rather than agonising over what you do not have but it makes such entertaining reading that it is sure to give dads, daughters and sons sufficient enough excuses to stay snuggled together in reading harmony for many lovely moments.

Humble farmer Henry is besotted with Carmelita and begs her hand in marriage. In spite of their solid and long standing friendship, she refuses succumbing instead to her princess inspired yearnings to live in silks, eat oysters and one day be whisked off her feet by a shiny brave knight. Henry can supply none of these things so forsakes he is farmer origins and sets off for Knight School.

Henry’s proactive tenacity is admirable however; his kind heart is bigger than his knightly ambitions and abilities. Which of these though will be enough to win over Carmelita? Humorous rhyming text and bewitching illustrations full of colour and captivating detail ensure this is one ballad readers will want to relive again and again.

Little Hare Books (HEG imprint) August 2016

Counting on YouCounting on You by Corinne Fenton Illustrated by Robin Cowcher

Part of the You Have my Heart series, this padded hard cover picture book is the ideal size to slide into any Father’s Day gift bag. The text is sublimely simple but saturated with exquisite moving emotion. Readers are taken through a flowing collection of days, many of them recognisable to young children, those: ‘I can’t-find-my-socks days, my tummy-is-too-full days’ until they are reassured of the presence of a loved one who can hug them closer ,squeeze them tighter and ‘make things better’ than anyone else; in other words, the adult they can count on.

Counting on You examines the 6 primary emotions formerly identified under the Parrot’s classification. Cowcher’s restrained colour use is heavenly, truly evoking movement and feeling. Highly recommended.

The Five Mile Press August 2016

I spy Dad JBI Spy Dad! By Janeen Brian Illustrated by Chantal Stewart

No two dads are ever quite the same; they are as diverse and individual as pebbles on a beach. I love how kids love their particular version of dad no matter what he does, what he looks like or how he acts. One little girl wonders which dad belongs specifically to her and searches for him among dashing, splashing dads; sewing, mowing dads; and creeping, leaping dads enjoying the cheeky chase until she finds the one who’s just for her.

Brian’s gifted way with rhyming words ensures every beat of this search is on point while Stewart’s illustrations are playful and bright. A sure favourite for under sixes.

New Frontier Publishing August 2016

Where's Dad HidingWhere’s Dad Hiding? By Ed Allen Illustrated by Anil Tortop

Never a dad around when you need one? Prolong your search and fun with this colour-saturated picture book promoting games and play, Aussie animals and relationships. Where’s Dad Hiding? encourages young pre-school aged readers to carefully examine every one of Tortop’s vibrantly illustrated page spreads for Baby Wombat’s missing dad.

Daddy Wombat is cunningly secreted on each page among a glorious collection of colourful Aussie inspired landscapes and situations. I get the feeling Daddy Wombat enjoys being cheeky and slightly irreverent just like real life human daddies as he leads Baby Wombat on a teasing search. This picture book pulses with verve and character making it a delight for dads to share with their kids.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

Grandpa is GreatGrandpa is Great by Laine Mitchell Illustrated by Alison Edgson

No matter what mantle they fall under grandad, pop, Nonno, opa, gramps, there is no mistaking the greatness of grandpas. This cute rhyming story reinforces the many moments and things grandfathers make memorable for their grandchildren. Whether it is playing games together, making mess, rocketing to the moon or simply watching the tellie together, Mitchell’s engaging text and Edgson’s bold use of baby animals to depict the grandpa-grandchild bond is both entertaining and heart-warming.

Scholastic Australia August 2016

The Greatest Fathers Day of AllThe Greatest Father’s Day of All by Anne Mangan Illustrated by Tamsin Ainslie

It’s the witty parallels I enjoy in this rhyming picture book about a dad eagerly anticipating his Father’s Day but like so many mere males, gets it mixed up a little. His blow-by-blow expectations take readers through some typical and well-loved Father’s Day morning rituals as his excitement mounts then crumbles into disappointment.  Children eager to plan their own Father’s Day surprises for dad will value the familiar similarities and the divine pencil and gauche watercolours used by Ainslie.  Her illustrations are vaguely reminiscent of Anna Pignataro’s; her characters exuding the same sort of charm in their sweet alluring faces. A nice way to mark the occasion of Dad’s Day.

Harper Collins Publishers first published 2013

Happy Father’s Day, Dads!




List of YA Books About Bookworms And Libraries

There is one thing we bookworms will all agree on without argument: books are awesome. We all have different preferences on to what kind of books are the most awesome, obviously. But books themselves are just magical doorways into our favourite places of ever. Ergo, books about books are automatically a big win. (Also it’s like bookish-inception!)

Today’s list is about books that involve either (A) characters who love books and are excellent bookworm representation, or (B) libraries or bookstores because we know those are the best places on earth.

9780552773898THE BOOK THIEF


You’ve probably heard of this immensely famous story (by an Australian author, I might add) that’s set in WWII and even has a movie adaption. It’s narrated by Death himself, which is downright awesome, and it is about — as the title might indicate — a girl who STEALS BOOKS. To be fair, the Germans are burning them so I think she’s fair to be absconding with books.

9780451473134INK AND BONE


This is a re-imagining of the question “what if the Library at Alexandria hadn’t been destroyed?” Which is a GREAT question. So much history…gone, gah. #BookwormWorstNightmare

This story also has a seriously magical vibe, which I’ve heard people describe as reminiscent of Harry Potter. It stars Jess whose father trades in books which is illegal, naughty naughty, because books are absolutely precious and kept very heavily guarded. The library is actually kind of evil, honestly, and keeps an iron fist control on the world. Jess ends up being accepted to work with the library and mets a hugely diverse cast of characters and then starts discovering the darker side of the Alexandria Library.



This story promises things like stolen books, spies, secret societies — oh and it’s sometimes referred to as “Doctor Who with librarian spies” which is definitely a win-win description.

Irene is a spy for the Library and harvests books and fiction and tales from alternate realities. The book promises to be an exciting story of chasing around books and magical adventures and dark alternate Londons.



Okay but what if you could read stories to life? That would be seriously awesome. And probably have all kinds of bad repercussions: so welcome to the Inkheart series! Maggie’s father, Mo, is a book doctor but he also has the magical ability to read out loud and the stories will come off the page. This is not a good idea if you read villainous people out of the book who then want to destroy the world. Just keep that in mind.



Another entirely famous story, but don’t underestimate the importance of literature to Hazel! While she’s dying from terminal cancer, she also is a severe bookworm fangirl and her #1 goal in life is to meet her favourite author. She will literally try to cross continents to do this. Not only that, but TFIOS has such appreciation for books and also the joy of being a bookworm. Books can be such good friends when you’re in a dark place.

Review: The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

9780007313273On the surface this looks like a book about horse racing and the Kentucky derby but don’t let the cover or blurb fool you. The is an epic American novel on the scale of Philipp Meyer’s The Son. It is a story of family, money and race and the everlasting consequences each leaves upon subsequent generations. It is a story about dreams and obsessions, love and revenge and a thoroughbred filly called Hellsmouth.

Central to the novel is the story of the Forge family. One of the wealthiest families in Kentucky that goes back to the time of slavery and has not changed much since it’s abolition. We meet Henry Forge as a young boy. His father is trying to teach him about the Forge fortune and the Forge world view, built upon crops and people. But Henry dreams about horses and becomes fascinated by horse breeding and the pursuit of perfection that is tested upon the racetracks of the nation. A dream that clashes with his father’s vision of the future. But Henry pursues his dream regardless, turning his father’s farm and property upside down upon his inheritance. But his pursuit of perfection is not so easily won. Twenty years on, and with his daughter now a part of the new family business, he is yet to produce a horse of note. That is until Hellsmouth, a horse that seems destined to win it all.

C.E. Morgan weaves into this tale to story of Allmon Shaughnessy. A young African-American man who has grown up in Cincinnati. He has grown up without his white father who is long gone and his mother battles with illness they cannot afford to properly treat. It is not long before Allmon is in trouble with the law. After spending time in prison, Allmon, now a grown man, is determined to turn his life around. His world is about to come crashing into the world of the Forges as he is hired as the new groom for Hellsmouth. When he and Henry’s daughter embark upon an illicit love affair the consequences are beyond devastating or tragedy. Henry Forge’s past and future collide with monumental and shocking ramifications.

This is an immense novel of family, history, class and greed by a writer of tremendous talent. Morgan’s use of language is a wonder to behold on its own but the way she builds the story up and the wraps layers around it is also quite amazing. This is a novel that will totally absorb you before dropping you on the seat of your pants in utter shock and awe with an ending you will never forget. If you loved Philipp Meyer’s The Son this is your next epic read!

Buy the book here…

Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

9780708898376An absolute tour de force. A novel, unfortunately, that could not be more timely by a writer who doesn’t flinch at any stage.

There is often arguments when it comes to historical fiction about accuracy. How much leeway should story get over truth? For me historical fiction is not primarily about recounting historical events but  is about conveying historical events through story so that as a reader you empathise and get a richer understanding and viewpoint  that nonfiction is often constrained against providing. This is what Colson Whitehead does as he takes the folklore of the Underground Railroad, the network of safe houses and pathways that helped slaves in the 1800s escape north, and imagines it as a real working railway.

Colson Whitehead tells the story of Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Cora has grown up in a brutal and unforgiving world. The only world she has ever known. Her mother ran off years before and is the only slave known to have successfully escaped the farm on which Cora is enslaved. When Cora is approached to escape she at first refuses but after a series of, even more brutal than usual, beatings she decides it is time to run. Whitehead details Cora’s journey as she escapes via a real underground railroad. A railroad that takes her slowly north where Cora experiences new worlds, some better than others, but all shrouded by racism and violence. Sometimes overtly, other times more hidden.

Cora’s journey unfolds like an odyssey as Cora explores each new destination she arrives in with monsters and horrors hidden in various forms. Whitehead uses Cora’s journey to explore all the different manifestations slavery takes on in society. From the basic and ruthless slavery of people as property or beasts of burden to more subtle and sinister forms of racism and enslavement. Colson Whitehead’s writing is unflinching and uncompromising letting the brutality and reality of Cora’s world through. At times painful to read and at others more hopeful but never shying away from the awful truth.

Colson Whitehead has written a novel of true power. A novel more important than ever, that will stay inside you long after you put it down. A true must read.

Buy the book here…

5 Books for LEGO Lovers

Are you an Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL)? I recently finished reading Brick History – Amazing Historical Scenes to Build from Lego by Warren Elsmore and thought I’d put together a short list of books for LEGO lovers, or AFOL (Adult Fans of LEGO) as I now know them.Brick History Lego Warren Elsmore

  1. Brick History – Amazing Historical Scenes to Build from Lego by Warren Elsmore
    Brick History contains detailed scenes from history made entirely from LEGO bricks. Beginning with the birth of civilisation itself in the Big Bang, Brick History takes us through the ages to the year 2011 with the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. There is a short description of each historical scene, which is accompanied by photographs and a scattering of model projects to try.
  2. Brick Flicks – 60 Cult Movie Scenes & Posters Made from Lego by Warren ElsmoreBrick Flicks Warren Elsmore
    Brick Flicks is a collection of iconic film moments and movie characters of all time, all built from LEGO.
    It includes a variety of movies, including Ghost Busters and The Godfather and contains more than 60 recreations of favourite movie scenes and classic poster designs. There are also instructions on how to replicate many of the scenes at home from your own LEGO collection.
  3. The LEGO Ideas Book by Daniel LipkowitzLego Ideas Book
    If you have a pile of LEGO and you want to make something, then The LEGO Ideas Book is for you.
    Written by Daniel Lipkowitz, this book is broken down into six themed chapters – transport, buildings, space, kingdoms, adventure and useful makes and contains more than 500 models and ideas so there’s bound to be something in here for every AFOL.
  4. Beautiful LEGO & 5. Beautiful Lego 2: Dark by Mike DoyleBeautiful LEGO Mike Doyle
    Beautiful LEGO is the stunning result of talented artists using their creativity and letting their imaginations run wild with thousands of LEGO bricks to create something truly special. This is a compendium of LEGO artwork showcasing an impressive array of pieces including lifelike replicas of everyday objects, famous monuments and more. The author has included interviews with the artists to give the reader an insight into the creative process behind the work.Beautiful Lego DarkFans of gothic fantasy and sci-fi should check out Beautiful Lego 2: Dark by Mike Doyle. It’s full of dark and mysterious creations and shadowy nightmares. Perhaps not one for the kids.

    I hope you’ve been inspired by this collection of 5 LEGO books for AFOL. Winter is the perfect time of year to sit inside and create a masterpiece or two, or just play with your kids, cousins, nieces and nephews. Just remember to pick up all the pieces up off the floor when you’ve finished.

Review – On the River by Roland Harvey

imageRoland Harvey is one of our most iconic children’s book creators that represents true Australiana throughout his work. From his The Wombats Go on Camp and The Wombats at the Zoo series, to his Big Book of Christmas, and the illustrations for the Bonnie and Sam titles. But it is the At the Beach series (including In the Bush, In the City, On the Farm, To the Top End, and All the Way to W.A.) that have been a most popular best-selling collection that take their readers on breathtaking, fascinating and entertaining trips around our spectacular land.

imageSharp banter in the narrative accompany the incredibly detailed and busy illustrations throughout each of Harvey‘s books, showing off his wry sense of humour and literal genius. And his latest, On the River, is no exception. Adventuring along the complexity of the Murray River system, Harvey offers his readers a taste of its history, its wildlife and some of its secrets.

Starting at the Murray River headquarters; high on the mountains where snow melts and flowers bloom, small fish dart and beetles explore in the green moss beds. This is where the story begins. Roland Harvey can be spotted commencing his journey from the border between New South Wales and Victoria. Stunning landscapes await with each page turn, revealing a visual feast of softly shaded scenes and impressive perspectives, and exploding with an abundance of life and energy.

imageCanoes and rafts make their daring descents down the narrow gorge, then spill out onto the volumous Lake Hume where the most extraordinary (and possibly unrealistic) activity and wildlife can be found. Funnily enough, you might catch a Murray cod or even a cold in the wetlands, and enjoy a ride on one of the many old paddle-steamers around Echuca Wharf. Harvey continues with his interesting insights into the rich Aboriginal history and today’s diverse culture in Mildura, and be sure to look out for unbelievable acrobatic tricks on the water! The poor Darling is suffering from embarrassing health issues. Cognisantly, we are encouraged to learn the importance of sufficient rainfall and community action for successful farming, the habitat and its animals.

With a cracking joke on every page, both obvious and discreet, and so much more to uncover, you can literally get lost in this book for hours. On the River carries an endless flow of good humour and riveting facts. It also supports a vital message of hope, appreciation and advocacy for the future of the cultural society and environmental sustainability in this beautiful part of Australia. A highly pleasurable book for primary aged children to discover and absorb every facet of this journey along the Murray River.

Allen & Unwin, July 2016.

Teaching notes for On the River from Allen & Unwin can be found here.


This picture book is on FIRE!

A small pile of review books arrived in the post today. I’m super busy with writing deadlines at the moment, so I went to put them aside… but a picture book caught my attention. I was familiar with the author, Adam Wallace, and the illustrator, Andrew Plant. So I thought I’d have a quick flick through it. After flipping through a few pages I simply couldn’t put it back down. I was compelled to read it, study it, go over each page in great detail, read it to my daughter… and then review it. Because I can’t not tell you (oh look… a double negative) about this extraordinary book straight away. What is it? I hear you all shout.

It is a book with the deceptively simple title of SPARK. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before.


It’s a book about a bushfire. It’s told from the perspective of the fire. And to say anything more would be to give away the joy and surprise of reading it for the first time.

vanillakidSpark is written by Adam Wallace, the guy behind such wonderfully popular books as The Vanilla Slice Kid (shortlisted for a YABBA award this year), Accidentally Awesome and Jamie Brown is NOT Rich. He’s also the evil genius behind the awesome Zombie Inspiration book/course/website (go check it out).

Adam is known for his no-holds-barred humour, but with Spark he demonstrates that he is equally adept at lyrical, playful and intense words. This book is beautifully written, the words leaping off the page, demanding to be read out loud.

We tore through forests.
We flew over rivers.
We razed homes.
The clouds cried, but their tears sizzled off my back.

poppyI am a HUGE fan of Andrew Plant’s work. He is an extraordinary illustrator and storyteller. Go take a look at his picture book, The Poppy. It’s one of my all-time favourite picture books. His illustrations for Spark are GORGEOUS! They live and breathe. They are soft and gentle, intense and ravenous, and captivatingly striking.

This is such an amazing book, I just want to keep going. But I’m running out of superlatives here. I would like to highly recommend that you all (whether you have kids or not… because a great picture book is not just for children) rush out and buy this book straight away… but it doesn’t get released until October. But you can go and order it! I really think you should.

Catch ya later, George

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Review: Revolver by Duane Swierczynski

9781444754247I’m a massive fan of Duane Swierczynski. His novels are usually almost out-of-control roller coaster rides where you have no idea where the story is headed next. While sometime his plots seem a little far fetched he always grounds them in a reality that makes you believe. With his new novel he has written a historical crime novel spread over three generations. He dials down the usual craziness but at the same time dials up the authenticness that always grounds his work and in doing so produces his best novel to date.

Revolver is told over three generations with each chapter alternating between each generation. The first story is set in 1965 where two cops are gunned down in a bar. In subsequent chapters we flash back twelve months to meet these two cops. See how they became partners and follow the events that led up to their tragic deaths.

The second timeline is 1995 and we follow Homicide detective Jim Walczak. Jim’s father Stan was one of the cops killed in 1965 and his death has shaped Jim’s career. Jim has just caught a high profile murder but is distracted from the case. The man he believes shot his father has just been released from prison, sent away for a different crime, and Jim is going to get a confession out of him one or another and possibly his own version of justice.

The third timeline is 2015. Jim’s daughter Audrey is studying (and failing) forensic science and sees her grandfather’s unsolved murder as her ticket to graduation but the more she digs into the old case the more family secrets she begins to unearth and the man everyone thought was the shooter maybe completely different but it also maybe too late.

Swierczynski unfolds each story brilliantly and they could easily be their own stand alone stories. But as each story comes to its’ conclusion the tension is built tenfold each with a twist with huge ramifications for the next. This is an absolute masterclass in crime fiction by a writer I already knew was top shelf but who will now proved it to a lot more crime readers.

Buy the book here….

Review: The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

9780733632280I don’t read short story collections and I certainly never read biographies or memoirs. Maxine has now blown me away writing both. She has been described as “a powerful new voice in Australian literature”. I’d like to make a few adjustments to that quote. Maxine Beneba Clarke is the powerful voice of Australian literature. Reading Foreign Soil was like being introduced to a raw power. Like most short story collections there were stories that burst out of the book and others that slowly simmered but in every story Maxine’s power as a writer was apparent and you came away from the collection knowing that when she turned her attention to one subject, one narrative for a whole book, it was going to be something to behold. And that is exactly what she had done with The Hate Race turning her attention on herself and her childhood growing up in Western Sydney.

Maxine recounts the story of her parent’s emigration to Australia from England in the early days after The White Australia policy was dismantled by The Whitlam Government of the 1970s. She tells her story growing up in Western Sydney as one of the few families of colour and the systemic, casual, overt and unrelenting racism she had to deal with from kindergarten through to high school; from teachers, parents and classmates alike. She shows how that affected her, how that changed her, how that made her who she is and how it unmade who she is. At times it is painful to read and at other times infuriating. Anger that is tempered by your own shame when you remember similar incidents from your own childhood growing up where you looked the other way, did or said nothing or maybe even contributed in one way or another through your own ignorance of what was going on around you and the pain it was causing. Maxine recounts all this with humour, humility and honesty.

For anyone who thinks Australia isn’t a racist country, read this book. For anyone who thinks casual racism isn’t hurtful, read this book. For anyone who thinks Australia has changed a lot in the last 30 years, read this book. For anyone that has ignored a racist comment because they haven’t wanted to get involved, read this book. For anyone who wants to know what Australia is really like, read this book.

There are books that are often described as important. It is a phrase that can get thrown about a bit too much and it’s true meaning gets lost or is diminished. But every now and then a book comes along that makes you sit up. A book that quite literally takes your breath away. Sucks it out of you and it is not until you stop reading that you truly notice what the book has done. A book that opens your eyes to something you knew was there but have failed to really acknowledge. A book that confronts you with its honesty and raw emotion. A book you wish everybody around you would read so that they too can have the same realization. A book like that is important. Maxine Beneba Clarke has written a very important book. An extraordinary book. A truly remarkable and powerful book. A book I hope as many people as possible will read.

Buy the book here…

Review – Little Wing

Little WingAuthor illustrator, Katherine Battersby has flown many miles in recent times, a bit like her latest picture book character, Little Wing. Little Wing catapults the connotation of taking a leap of faith into glowing picture book form that is a pure delight to read.

Little Wing is the smartest animal in the world. He owes his genius to good old-fashioned book learning, that is to say, he reads – a lot. Nearly everything he knows is attributed to the days he spends between the pages of dozens of books bequeathed to his island home by providence.

Little Wing illos spreadIt appears a satisfying way to spend his days; I mean who hasn’t dreamed of reading under swaying palm trees on a sun soaked faraway island as a full time occupation! I’d call that heaven but for Little Wing whose aspirations and yearnings clearly outclass mine, ‘something was always missing.’ So, he sets out to find it.

Turns out, it’s Little Wing’s sense of self that is absent and no matter how many books or alter egos he assumes, none of them provide the right answer, the perfect fit. Until one radiant morning, realisation dawns and Little Wing’s life transforms forever. His social circles are greatly enhanced, as well.

Little Wing illoThe wait for Battersby’s next picture book has been well worth it. Little Wing exudes all the warmth, charm and wit of her debut picture book character, Squish Rabbit whilst introducing fans and new readers to a wonderfully new winsome critter. He is difficult not to love with his little wings and clacky big blue bit (aka his beak). However, what makes Little Wing universally appealing to young and old is his quiet and unquestioning fortitude. Even when faced with one of life’s most prominent and niggling questions: who am I and why am I here? Little Wing diligently pursues the answer until the answer literally flies right over him.

His tenacity tells young people that being one thing is fine but if you want to try other things, new things, then that’s okay too; you just need to be brave enough to pursue your dreams, to make that first leap into the unknown. Youngsters are no strangers to change. In fact the leaps in their young lives are almost always forced and without negotiation: going to school, moving home, surviving decaying family situations, growing up…So it won’t be hard for them to accept Little Wing as someone they can emulate and learn from.

Little Wing is likely to resonate with adults just as strongly. We all want to learn to fly. How many of us really have the courage to look deep within ourselves, take that first big breath, and then, move forward, though? It’s a daunting prospect but like Battersby herself, Little Wing does it with admirable aplomb.

Battersby’s accompanying artwork for this story is nothing short of fabulous. Bland bookish concepts are captured in bold watercolour and pencil illustrations intoxicatingly combined with fabrics, textiles and scanned vintage books. The resultant collage effect is a cocktail of fun and colour. I love it! So does my Miss 10 who spent many joyful moments with me feverishly examining the end pages in an effort to match feather to friend.

Katherine Battersby & Little WingLittle Wing is a picture book experience that sings on many levels but most importantly gives children license to extend themselves and follow their most ardent callings in order to reach true happiness.

Little Wing is available now, here. For those fortunate enough to live in SE Queensland, Katherine Battersby is touring a number of local schools, accompanying Little Wing as he explores his new home.

Little Wing # 2Little Wing is officially taking off this Saturday August 13th at Riverbend Books in Bulimba, Queensland. Join Katherine, Little Wing, and special guest, Peter Carnavas from 10.30 am for lots of fun and feathers.

UQP August 2016




Review: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick

After absolutely adoring My Life Next Door, I was super excited to pick up Huntley Fitzpatrick’s companion novel: The Boy Most Likely To. Was it good? OH YES VERY MUCH SO. But before we dive into my (ah…flailing) review — I do think it’s important to read My Life Next Door first! While the companion novel is by the point of view of a different character, the first book does provide needful backstory.9781405280396

But onwards!

The Boy Most Likely To is about Tim who is, basically, a drop-kick. He’s been kicked out of school, he’s got severe addiction habits, and his own family doesn’t really want anything to do with him. But he’s cleaning himself up! He’s going to AA meetings and he’s living above the garage of his best friend’s house: Jace Garrett. The Garrett family has, um, a gazillion kids and they are just downright awesome. And Tim has a ginormous crush on the oldest daughter, Alice — although Alice is about as warm and cuddly as an iced over cacti. Good times! And just when things are looking up, Tim gets a HUGE BOMB DROPPED ON HIM that changes everything. Still more good times!

It’s such an adorably tragic story at time that my heart hurts. I was a fan of Tim already from My Life Next Door, but this just cemented my love for him. (Plus anyone who’s name is “Tim” automatically reminds me of Tim Tams and that’s just beautiful.) I loved how sassy and witty Tim’s comebacks were! Plus his character development is just amazing throughout the story. I loved being in his perspective! Although it was super sad at times…because even though he’s trying to kick his addictions, he still has so much baggage from them. Plus his family is 0% supportive. It would be so hard to be strong and stay on track with s little support.

Plus I really like how this book talks openly about addictions and recovery. Tim is a recovering alcoholic. I do see many YA books talking about falling into the addiction route, but rarely do I find one that is about getting out of it. So this is such a super important story! Seeing the fall is needful: seeing the recovery is twice as important.

But let’s talk about Alice! The book is actually dual-narrated by both Alice and Tim and I’m immensely pleased about that. Because while they like each other, they’re not entirely honest. Tim covers up his attraction to Alice with sassy jokes, and Alice is too sharp to admit she has intense feelings for Tim. Please, children. TALK TO EACH OTHER. Alice is also under a lot of pressure to look after her million-and-two-siblings after her father’s accident and her mother being pregnant again. Plus she’s had to divert her nursing course. Poor Alice. I get why she’s so sharp! But it was agony waiting for her and Tim to move past that and admit feelings for each other!

Also, of course, we must mention how awesome the Garrett family is! I love reading about big families! And the representation here is on point. Just the kids’ banter and the messes and dynamics…ahhhh! It was honestly perfect (and this is coming from someone who has first hand experience with large families: ahem, that would be me).

Of course there are plenty of plot twists that will keep you glued to the page. And there are a lot of pages actually. I thought, at 500-pages, it could’ve sped things up a little and not dragged so much in the middle. But considering these characters are adorable, I didn’t mind too much. Plus the plot twists were just WOAH and equal parts adorable and daunting. The story will definite have you feeling aaaall of the things.

Basically, The Boy Most Likely To is a new favourite contemporary of mine! It had feels! It had big families! It had tragic but adorable protagonists! Tim and Alice were far from perfect and their relationship was rocky to say the least, but it was so so excellently written.


[purchase here]

Lily the Elf – New Releases

imageSo utterly adorable and perfect for exploring deep emotions, friendships, problem solving, confidence and adventure are award-winning Anna Branford‘s Lily the Elf series for emergent readers. All with five short, steadily-paced chapters, enlarged font and sweet, detailed illustrations by Lisa Coutts throughout, these books are irresistibly readable.

I read the latest two books with my six year old daughter, alternating pages as we like to do. She participated with confidence, both understanding the concepts as she read and enjoying the active listening role as well. The books also effectively engaged her interaction as chapter endings left us with opportunities for discussion.

imageIn ‘The Sleepover’, Lily’s cousin, Fern, is invited to stay for the night. It has been a long time since they have seen each other, but Lily is excited nevertheless. She helps prepare a delicious meal, some fun games, a special bed for Fern and her favourite bedtime stories. The anticipation is almost too much to bear, but when Fern finally arrives, Lily’s expectations for a fun evening are soon dashed. Fern dismisses all of Lily’s efforts, leaving her confused and disappointed. But despite Fern’s scornful attitude, Lily manages to cut to the core of the issue and gently reassures Fern, slowly but surely, that she is safe and welcome.

The themes of empathy and kindness are evidently clear but written beautifully to reflect associated feelings of misplacement, uncertainty and disillusionment. Intertwined are playfulness and familiarity to make this story relatable and relevant to its early readers.

imageIn ‘The Jumble Sale’ Lily’s elf neighbourhood is holding a Jumble Sale Day to sell their no-longer-needed belongings. Lily yearns to buy a dress-up mermaid’s tail with her elf coins. But when Dad and Granny begin to clear out some of their own old dress ups, Lily is cross, but not as devastated as the notion of selling her baby cot with the precious hanging cloud. The day turns from bad to worse when she discovers the mermaid’s tail is too expensive, and her cot is the only option for a couple expecting their first baby. With a little thought and a lot of courage, Lily’s generosity, resilience and willingness to part with the special treasures ultimately lead to the satisfying ending she hoped for…in more ways than one!

I love how this story focuses on sentimentality and how simple possessions can evoke such strong feelings deep within us. It also reminds us that we are still able to cherish our memories forever, and allow others to create their own memories with those passed-on treasures.

Totally age-appropriate with supportive reading structures, simple language and whimsical illustrations, children from age five will just adore this special, spirited and good-natured series with a whole lot of heart.

Walker Books, August 2016.  


Review – Noisy Nights – on tour with Fleur McDonald

Noisy NightsIf you like novels of the rolling outback variety with plenty of page-turning drama, a sprinkle of bucolic romance and a good dose of dust and hardship, then you are likely familiar with one of Australia’s leading rural writers, Fleur McDonald. Her litany of outback, female orientated sagas constitute engrossing adult reads. However, not content with being a bestselling author of adult fiction, McDonald has now set her sights on the fickle world of writing for children. Noisy Nights is the first picture book penned by McDonald and illustrated by Annie White depicting farmyard fun for pre-schoolers.

The premise is simple; Farmer Hayden is desperate for a good night’s sleep. Little wonder after working hard on his property all day long. Tucked under his cosy doona, beneath a darken sky and shining stars, everything appears ideal for sound slumber, except it is ‘so noisy outside his window.’

Apparently, the animals of Farmer Hayden’s farm are very vocal night. Now anyone who has ever spent a night in the country or even just camped in his or her own back yard will agree nights are not so silent. The cold stillness of a night bereft of the noisy pollution of city living seems to magnify each and every sound made by unseen creatures, as is the case for poor old Farmer Hayden.

Night after night, dogs bark, cows moo, horses nicker, and crickets chirp. Frequent pleas for quiet fall on deaf ears until defeated and fatigued, Farmer Hayden submits to his insomnia and spends the next night sitting outside on the veranda. He’d rather watch the noisy choir rather than suffer the torture of listening to them.

As predicted, thFleur McDonalde dogs bark, the cows moo, the crickets chirp and so on but the sheep dance to a different song this night, or rather, they jump to it. Finally, mesmerised by them, something amazing happens. Could this be the beginning of no more noisy nights?

McDonald pulls off her first attempt at writing for children with uncomplicated honesty. Predictive, repetitive text creates many opportune moments for young readers to not only bolster their vocabulary base but for them to indulge in interactive story telling with whomever they are reading with, as well. The narrative is enjoyable and supports common barnyard and animal connections as well as the old familiar maxim that ‘counting sheep to get to sleep’ really does work.NoisyNightsBlog Tour[1]

In addition, White’s well-loved illustrations emphasise the farmyard fun making this common dilemma instantly recognisable for even the most citified child.

Noisy Nights is soft-hued and gentle in its appearance and content making it a beautiful picture book to curl up with when your little one is ready for a good night’s sleep.

For more reviews and information about Fleur McDonald, visit her other Blog Tour stops.

Noisy Nights is available for purchase now, here.

New Frontier Publishing August 2016


Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

If you’re looking for a deadly brutal YA historical fiction retelling…And I Darken by Kiersten White is calling your name. Practically screaming it in a bloodthirsty way, let’s be honest. This book is incredible. It’s dark and accurately portrays how vicious the world was back in the 1400s. It’s also a9780552573740 gender-bent retelling of Vlad the Impaler! So instead of “Vlad” we have “Lada” (which is actually the feminine equivalent) who is terrifying and admirable. This book is totally the definition of EPIC.

The story follows the life of Lada. It starts off, literally, with her birth and then follows her briefly through childhood to the viciously terrifying teenager she becomes. She’s a wild girl who desperately wants the approval of her terrible father, Prince of Wallachia. Except her father ends up abandoning her to the Ottomans, as hostages basically, and she grows up estranged from her homeland and lost and alone. Except, of course, for her little brother: Radu. Radu is as thoughtful and kind and soft as Lada is tough and violent and raging. They clash like nothing else. Except they also care fiercely for each other. #siblings And they both perhaps fall in love with the young Sultan, Mehmed. Which is awkward considering Mehmed is Lada and Radu’s sworn enemy.

The story has a lot of political elements. It almost reminded me of Game of Thrones in that respect. Basically it is 90% about who is at war with who and who wants to stab and impale who (spoiler: EVERYONE WANTS TO STAB EVERYONE) and alliances and broken alliances and who gets the throne and etc. It was very interesting, although boarded on info-dumping several times. But it made me care about the characters at first, so the political and historical aspects (while a bit dry) didn’t get overly tedious.

It definitely features historical elements! Although, since it is historical fiction, some timelines have been moved and rearranged to create a faster-moving story. But I loved learning about the Ottoman culture and I didn’t know much about Vlad the Impaler before….and now I do! Huzzah!9780553522310

The characters were definitely the highlight. Often I read books where the book promises dark/vicious characters…but then all the character does is sneezes on a puppy and doesn’t apologise and it’s all very anti-climatic. Not so here! Lada is downright cruel. She stabs and bites and she’s feral and wild and basically amazing. Nothing gets her down. Although as the book goes on she does mature and develop as a character. Sometimes she even talks to people before immediately smacking them in the head. #progress Radu dual-narrates and he’s equally amazing to read about. Despite being labelled the “weak” one and constantly underestimated, he’s very clever and intelligent and collects information and uses it for blackmail. These two siblings were just so contrasted and intriguing that I couldn’t put the book down!

There is a love triangle, although it’s a muted one. Considering Radu refuses to admit his feelings for Mehmed and Lada would rather stab puppies than admit her feelings for Mehmed. The romance definitely features in the plot, but it doesn’t overwhelm things.

It is quite a long book, at 500-pages. I felt it could’ve been shorter and condensed some of the intense load of politics and focused more on the characters than the world. My favourite scenes were all the conversations between the trio: Lada, Radu, and Mehmed. They were all three so awesome and complex!

And though the book is quite dark, it’s not super graphic. So if you’re squeamish, you’ll be fine! (Mostly.) Of course there is impaling and stabbing and assassination attempts and Lada kindly (not) tortures the kids she grows up with all through her childhood…oh and there’s plenty of WAR and BATTLES.

ALL IN ALL: I have such fond feelings for this book! It was intense and exciting and intriguing. The writing was engaging, although a little dry at times, and the characters were winning despite being entirely horrible to each other. I am desperate for the next instillment!