Children's & Young Adult Books

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Budding children’s author: Adrian So and his chapter book for younger readers

    When fourteen year old Adrian So contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to review his soon-to-be-released chapter book for young readers, I was intrigued and impressed by his willingness to put himself and his work out there. Writing is a solitary task, though a team will usually be involved at getting a work from manuscript to publication and beyond, and Adrian’s story is being published in August by US based Monarch Educational Services.

    The Groundworld Heroes (Book One) concerns the adventures of Benjamin, part of the digging team in Soiland, whose quiet world is about to be violently disrupted by human intrusion from above. The citizens of Soiland – moles like Benjamin, plus aardvarks, shrews, gophers, badgers and other underground dwellers – become refugees from humans and their mechanical digger which threatens to cave in the entirety of Soiland.

    Told from the viewpoints of Benjamin and Mr Hare, the President of Soiland, the narrative follows the hapless refugees as they flee to nearby Puddleland, where they must try to convince the King and Queen that they are seeking help, not territory.

    There are many ups and downs and adventures as Benjamin tries to rescue his friend Connor from the humans, and convince the rodent royals that the only way they can fend off the human enemy is if they stick together.

    The Groundworld Heroes is a fast-paced, sometimes madcap adventure story perfect for young readers who are ready for chapter books.

    As it is Book One, I imagine it will be followed by another in the series, and it’s a terrific start of what I’m sure will be a successful writing career for Adrian So. It will be published by Monarch Educational Services, LLS, in August 2024.
    My thanks to the author and publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    June picture book love

    Three new picture books for youngsters to love, coming in June.

    Boss Cat by Sarah Speedie shows what happens when a grumpy cat is introduced to the family’s new dog – with hilarious results. Anyone who has tried to soothe ruffled feathers (or fur) at the entrance of a new ‘best friend’ into a household will recognise Boss Cat’s antics. Tom Jellett’s bright pictures capture the sulky, vengeful feline’s mood perfectly.

    Marringa Lullaby is written by Emily Wurramara with Sylvia Wurramarrba Tkac, accompanied by block colour illustrations by Dylan Mooney, of Yuwi, Torres Strait and South Sea Islander heritage. It’s a beautiful, lilting board book perfect for sleepytime reading and singing, with an introduction to words in the Anindilyaka language.
    I remember seeing Emily perform at the Woodford Folk Festival some years ago, and thinking what a talent she was. Lovely to see her branching out into new art forms.

    Lights Out, Little Dragon! by Debra Tidball and Rae Tan, approaches that common parental dilemma – baby is tired but won’t go to sleep – with humour and imagination.
    Each double page spread invites the littlies to join in, by tracing a path on the page for naughty sheep to exit, or saying Go to bed, Little Dragon. And when Dragon tries to distract with a million questions, Put your hands over your ears and tell him to hushhhhh. On it goes, with baby trying all sorts of strategies to encourage Little Dragon to quieten down, lie still and sleep, and Dragon pulling out every trick in the baby-at-bedtime book.
    It’s an amusing and gentle way to settle down for nap time.

    These three picture books are published by HarperCollins Children’s Books Australia in June 2024.
    My thanks to the publishers for review copies.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Simple delights: ‘Happy All Over’ by Emma Quay

    Author and illustrator Emma Quay (of Rudie Nudie fame) is back with another romp with things that make us happy.

    In this delightful new book she has her little ones taking pleasure in the simplest things of everyday life:

    A star.
    The floor.
    Shapes at the door.
    Finding there are five
    When you thought
    there were four.

    Happy All Over

    The illustrations, of family scenes, pets, babies and toddlers, books and gardens, are exuberant and lively; perfect for the story.

    Happy All Over was published in April 2024 by HarperCollins Children’s Books.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Simply wonderful: the work of author/illustrator Freya Blackwood

    A few years ago I was fortunate to see an exhibition of works by award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Freya Blackwood. She has illustrated books by such leading authors as Libby Gleeson, Margaret Wild, Nick Bland, Jan Ormerod, Danny Parker and Mem Fox. See more about Freya and her work here.

    If you follow my blog posts, you’ll know that I adore children’s literature and in particular, picture books. There is something magical about the combination of carefully chosen words and intuitive illustrations that bring a story to full, vivid life. Each component are integral, essential: one does not work without the other.

    With The Garden of Broken Things, Ms Blackwood has created both words and pictures. It tells of little Sadie, who investigates the garden of Number 9 Ardent Street, an old house avoided by the other children because it has

    windows like sad eyes, and

    Thick like cobwebs,
    the tangled vines concealed
    things from another time,
    revealed things twisted and bent,
    seized and rusted;
    things that had come to a final halt.

    The Garden of Broken Things

    Sadie discovers an old woman there, sitting slumped on a garden bench. Rather than running away, Sadie stays to chat, telling the woman about her friends, her school lessons, her pets. By the time she has to go home, she has made a new friend, and the garden of broken things becomes, once again, a wild and beautiful playground for the local children.

    It’s a simple, sweet story about stopping to look and to listen, and how friends can appear in the most unlikely places. The soft evocative illustrations add so much to the book’s beauty and depth.

    The Garden of Broken Things is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in May 2024.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Book bonanza: Five new picture books for littlies

    I’ve had these newly published picture books on my desk for a little while, waiting for the opportunity to read through them and put my thoughts in a post. Finally I got to them and as always, it was an absolute pleasure to see such beautiful work created for our littlest readers.

    In no particular order, here they are:

    Little Book Baby by Katrina Germein and Cheryl Orsini is all about the fun of books, from waking to a cuddle and book with mum, books in the car and on a picnic, book and playtime on the rug, squeaky book at bath time, and a goodnight book with dad. The scenes pretty much sum up any book lover’s ideal childhood, and show how sharing books together can add so much to family or play time.
    Published January 2024.

    As Bright as a Rainbow by Romy Ash and Blue Jaryn explores the idea of gender, and how individuals can express their gender in a multiplicity of ways. It might seem like a hard concept for very young children, but let’s not forget that by the age of two or three most children have been socialised in being a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ in the ways sanctioned by their own culture. This book offers the view that rather than being an ‘either/or’ proposition, gender is more like a circle: we can be anywhere in that circle. Offering examples from the world of nature, where there are many different shades of colours like blue or green, it’s a gentle way to introduce the idea that each person can ‘just be yourself.’
    Published January 2024.

    Mimi and Buwaarr, Mother and Baby is another offering by Melissa Greenwood, a taste of Gumbaynggir culture and language. A mother (mimi) shows her baby (Buwaarr) the wonders and beauty of the world around them, especially their totem, the ocean (Gaagal) which heals and cleanses the spirit. The sun, the moon and the land offer wisdom to help a little one move into the world with love. The illustrations by the author are absolutely gorgeous, little works of art in themselves.
    Published March 2024

    My Dream for You by Ash Barty with Jasmin McGaughey and Jade Goodwin. Most Australians celebrated the news when tennis champion and all-round star Ash Barty had her first baby. This book celebrates the special bond between mum and baby and the hopes and wishes a new mother holds in her heart for her child. The illustrations by Jade Goodwin are sweet and soft.
    Published March 2024

    How to be Invisible, another in the Bunny and Bird series by Nick Bland, continues the friends’ story. This time Bunny is wearing a hat that he thinks will make him invisible. Bird has to do a lot of convincing to make Bunny see that he’s not, actually, invisible. As in the earlier Bunny and Bird book, How to Hatch a Dragon, there is tongue in cheek and visual humour that sharp eyed youngsters will appreciate.
    Published March 2024

    Australian children’s literature is in pretty good shape, as these new picture books show.
    All published by HarperCollins Children’s books.
    My thanks to the publishers for the review copies.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books,  History

    Lest we forget: ‘Secret Sparrow’ by Jackie French

    The publishers had this to say about Australian author Jackie French’s latest offering for middle grade readers:

    This is the story of women who fought during WWI, but not as nurses or ambulance drivers.

    In 1917 sixteen-year-old Jean McLain is working as a post-office assistant in England. But when she wins a national Morse code competition, the British army makes a request Jean cannot refuse – to take a secret position as a signaller in France.

    If Jean can keep the signals flowing between headquarters and the soldiers at the Front, Britain might possibly win the war.

    From Secret Sparrow blurb, HarperCollins Australia

    I sometimes think that if Jackie French was not an author, she would have made a wonderful archaeologist or even miner: she is forever digging out long-buried nuggets of wonder and creating compelling stories to bring to life little-known events or circumstances from the past.

    Secret Sparrow tells the story of young Jean, whose character stands in for the women who were sent by the British to work as ‘signallers’ in WWI. Working at base camps but sometimes near or on the front lines, they operated the morse code machines, sending and receiving coded messages that were crucial in the days before mobile technology or even telephones were widely used in warfare.

    Most of these women were employed by the postal service, although on temporary ‘secondment’ to the army. This meant that they were paid at the normal rate for their postal worker job, received no special conditions and – shockingly – were not paid pensions or medical expenses due to them after injury, or at the end of the war.

    A shortage of recruits with signalling skills meant long shifts of twelve hours or more, with no toilet or meal breaks. Signallers needed to be fast and, importantly, accurate – a slip could literally be the difference between life and death for soldiers. It was crucial work.

    To add insult to injury, in researching this history, the author learned that the majority of records relating to the women signallers’ service were destroyed after the war. Was this to evade responsibility for paying pensions to these women? Or embarrassment that the authorities had needed to recruit women for what were seen as men’s jobs, due to the danger and skill involved?

    Jean’s story takes us to the heart of trench warfare in France in 1917 and the author does not try to tidy it up for younger readers. The mud, rats, lice, horrific injuries, chaos, death and fear are all there. But there is also comradeship, and kindness, and bravery.

    There are moments of humour:

    ‘Toodle-pip, ma’am,’ Sergeant Peartree said to Mrs Reynolds with a half-salute, half-wave. Jean had a feeling that he thought a woman administrator was not worth a proper salute, or possibly he simply didn’t know which one was due to her – an ignorance shared by almost the entire army, the generals included. Those worthies had not decided whether the female administrators were officers, non-commissioned officers or ordinary troops. Apparently they were simply to be treated like unicorns: a species you didn’t have to acknowledge might exist.

    Secret Sparrow p93

    Jean’s wartime story is told by her to a young Arjun, a boy she helps when they are both caught out in a flash flood in rural NSW, Australia. It is 1978 and Jean is now an older lady, who has not lost her quick thinking and survival skills. She is able to look at her wartime experiences in a nuanced way which she shares with Arjun:

    It was a stupid war, fought in stupid ways, and mostly run by stupid men… The stupidity of the battle I was in – multiply that by every battle in the war… So yes, we had to fight. But we shouldn’t have had to fight like that. England and Germany were ruled by elites, and those elites weren’t very good at ruling. They’d got the job because they were born into it, and so millions of people died.

    Secret Sparrow p226

    Lest we forget, indeed.

    Secret Sparrow was published by Angus & Robertson, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, in November 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    School fun: two picture books for littlies

    School – big school – is a Big Thing in a little one’s life. For their parents, too. So picture books that help prepare and excite very young children about the prospect of starting or returning to school are always welcome.

    From the ABC Books ‘Mindfully Me’ series comes Ready, Set, Big School, (Jan Stradling and Jedda Robaard) featuring the beloved characters from ABC’s ‘Play School’ TV shows. Humpty, Jemima, Little Ted, Kiya and friends practice putting on their school uniform, packing their lunchbox, and making new friends, all ready for the big day.

    When the first day arrives, Big Ted is surprised to find that he also has a funny feeling in his tummy.
    (Parents will relate to that bit.)

    The Crayons Go Back to School (Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers) allows youngsters who are old hands at the school thing to recognise that the end of the holidays means back-to-school. The colourful crayons throw themselves into the routine of school: deciding what to wear, greeting old friends, drawing, writing, doing maths.

    Two books to share and read aloud, perfect to soothe Big School nerves.

    Ready, Set, Big School and The Crayons Go Back to School are published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in November 2023.
    My thanks to the publisher for review copies.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    A modern Christmas story: ‘Juniper’s Christmas’ by Eoin Colfer

    A fun modern take on the story of Santa Claus, Juniper’s Christmas for middle grade readers takes us to London, where we meet Juniper, an eleven-year-old who lives with her mum Jennifer on the edge of a London park.

    Her dad has died and the pair are trying to continue his legacy of the annual Santa Vigil in the park, where local residents gather to celebrate Christmas and donate goods and gifts for those in need.

    Then Jennifer goes missing and Juniper, desperate to find her mum, tries to track down the mysterious Niko, who she believes is Santa Claus – though Santa has not been performing his duties for ten years.

    Juniper is off on an adventure involving a magical reindeer calf, a corrupt local official, an Irish crime queen, and a reluctant Santa.

    It’s a rollicking story with a very modern twist: a team of elves who try to explain the scientific reasons for the magic of Christmas (flying reindeer, a time bubble on Christmas Eve, a Santa sack that can hold innumerable gifts…) a disgraced scientist and skeptical locals.

    At the heart of the story is – well, heart – a belief that Christmas can be a time when people can come together in goodwill, and that gifts can be talismans, ‘parcels of human kindness tied up in a bow, a reminder that there were who cared and who would help.’

    A perfect book for the more worldly readers of today, Juniper’s Christmas will delight with its adventure and humour.

    Juniper’s Christmas is published by HarperCollins in November 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    Friendship for littlies: ‘How to be a Friend’ by Sarah Ayoub & Mimi Purcell

    A sweet book with simple rhyming text and softly colourful illustrations, How to be a Friend is all about friendships and being a good friend.

    Friends always clap for us the loudest
    to let us know that they’re the proudest.
    They make us feel all kinds of clever,
    are up for fun, no matter the weather.

    Friends help us feel safe and cosy and warm,
    they carry us through all sorts of storms.
    They love the things that make us unique,
    like the way we look and how we speak.

    How to be a Friend

    Both the words and pictures allow recognition of children in all their shapes, sizes and colours, with various family and living situations and interests.

    As children begin to explore the world outside of their immediate family and home, friends begin to take on more importance. This is a good book to share at that time, reinforcing aspects of positive friendships.

    How to be a Friend is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in November 2023.
    My thanks to the publisher for a review copy.

  • Children's & Young Adult Books

    For young travel-lovers: ‘Ruby Red Shoes Goes to Paris’ by Kate Knapp

    Ruby Red Shoes is a series of beautifully illustrated books for very young readers by Australian author and artist Kate Knapp.

    To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ruby Red Shoes Goes to Paris, a special edition has been released.

    Ruby is a white hare with special shoes that love to take her to new places.

    She travels to Paris with her grandmother, where they meet up with her Babushka’s brother and his grandson Felix. Ruby and Felix explore Paris, where they see, hear, feel, smell, and taste everything that city has to offer.

    Ruby is an intrepid traveler and records what she experiences in her special travel notebook.

    I love the sly nods of humour which will appeal to older people perhaps reading the story aloud to a littlie, such as the airline (‘The Flying Hare’) they travel with, or the carrot flavoured toothpaste Ruby packs for her trip.

    The pictures are the type you can get lost in, rich with detail and evocative of Parisian sights. It’s a fabulous introduction to traveling and to the City of Love. The text expands youngster’s vocabulary: Ruby is ‘fizzing with excitement’, she climbs the ‘narrow, twirling staircase’ to their apartment, Babushka must ‘tussel with the old keys and creaky lock.’

    Ruby Red Shoes and the others in the series are perfect to plant seeds of wonder and exploration in emerging readers. The special anniversary edition is published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in October 2023.
    My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.