Forthcoming children’s/YA book reviews: October to November 2014

» Picture books

Tim and Ed (Ursula Dubosarsky, illus by Andrew Joyner, Viking, October), 4 stars, reviewed by Louise Pfanner
Whale in the Bath (Kylie Westaway, illus by Tom Jellett, A&U, October), 4 stars, reviewed by Margaret Hamilton

» Young readers

Race to the End of the World: The Mapmaker Chronicles (A L Tait, Hachette, October), 3.5 stars, reviewed by Louise Fay
Withering-by-Sea: A Stella Montgomery Intrigue (Judith Rossell, ABC Books, November), 4 stars, reviewed by Fay Helfenbaum

» Young adult

Speed of Light (Joy Cowley, Gecko Press, October), 4 stars, reviewed by Dani Solomon

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Hey Jack!’ series (Sally Rippin, illus by Stephanie Spartels, Hardie Grant Egmont)

Sally Rippin’s latest series features a little boy named Jack who’s introduced at the start by the mood he’s currently feeling: for instance, jittery (because he wants to try for a solo in the school concert); wobbly (because he’s invited to a party where he doesn’t know anyone other than the host); bouncy (because it’s his first day at soccer practice) and moochy (because he wants to play alone). Fans of Rippin will recognise Jack as the best friend of Billie (who has her own series), and it’s great that he’s here to lure all the reluctant boy readers. The books are simple to read and cleverly pitched to the early primary set, with little life lessons and morals integrated into the stories. Jack learns the importance of teamwork as well as how to handle his jealousy when his friend succeeds. His unruly relatives teach him how to get along with others even when he doesn’t want to socialise. Though desperate to fit in like all kids, he also learns to accept his individuality when wearing a homemade robot costume while everyone else is wearing expensive superhero costumes at a fancydress party. The black-and-white illustrations break up the large-font text.

Thuy On is a Melbourne reviewer and manuscript assessor. This review first appeared in the Summer issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. The first books in the ‘Hey Jack!’ series include The Winning Goal, The Scary Solo, The Crazy Cousins and The Robot Blues.

BOOK REVIEW: The Golden Door (Emily Rodda, Scholastic)

It is ‘skimmer season’ once again, and the ancient walled city of Weld is under nightly attack as the vicious winged beasts come over the wall to prey on animal and humans alike. The people of Weld are worried, so when the warden asks for male volunteers to journey beyond the wall to find and destroy the source of the skimmers, there are plenty of willing citizens. Too young to volunteer, Rye waits anxiously for the return of his heroic older brothers, but when they are both declared lost he realises that it is up to him to find them if there is to be any hope for Weld. This is a fantasy story with all the classic elements; there are helpless (and, pleasingly, helpful, clever and occasionally crotchety) maidens, terrible creatures, deceptively magical objects and awful villains that meet satisfying ends. While the incorporation of all these elements has the potential to become predictable, and the character of Rye did remind this reader a little of Rowan (of Rin), Emily Rodda weaves the story effortlessly. The Golden Door is a solid start to what is sure to be a popular trilogy. For any readers eight years and older who enjoyed Rodda’s previous titles, or are simply partial to a richly created fantasy, this will not disappoint.

Clare Hingston is a bookseller and librarian-in-training. This review first appeared in the September issue of Junior Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: The Bridge (Jane Higgins, Text)

The Text Prize is going from strength to strength, as the publisher continues to choose winners that push the boundaries of young adult fiction. The latest winner, The Bridge, is brilliant. Every sentence is skillfully crafted, with just enough left unsaid that the reader is always hungry for more. In a futuristic world, Nik and his friends must choose their loyalties in a war that is not as clear as they were brought up to think. Nik has spent his life training to join an elite group fighting the hostiles across the eponymous bridge. But when his college is blown up, and his friend kidnapped, Nik must venture into hostile territory, where he finds answers to questions that he never thought to ask. With YA dystopia still going strong, older readers of the genre will love this latest offering. Like all good dystopian fiction, there are plenty of parallels between the book and issues in our own society: racism, loyalty, fear and the futility of war are all themes that are addressed in a thoughtful and considered manner by the author. Importantly, the issues in The Bridge do not come at the expense of the action, and a fast pace is maintained throughout, while the characters are complex and interesting enough that it is virtually impossible to leave their side as the story crashes on. This is a breathtaking first novel.

Bec Kavanagh is a Melbourne-based writer and reviewer and an ex-bookseller. This interview first appeared in the the Junior Term 2 supplement of the June issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Read Junior Term 2 online here and sign-up to The Junior Newsletter.

The 2011 Inkys longlist

The 2011 longlist for the Inky Awards for teenage literature has been announced.

Longlisted Australian titles for the Gold Inky include:

  • Pig Boy (J C Burke, Woolshed Press)
  • Good Oil (Laura Buzo, A&U)
  • Just a Girl (Jane Caro, UQP)
  • The FitzOsbourne’s in Exile (Michelle Cooper, Random House)
  • Graffiti Moon (Cath Crowley, Pan Macmillan)
  • This is Shyness (Leanne Hall, Text)
  • Black Painted Fingernails (Steven Herrick, A&U)
  • Silvermay (James Moloney, HarperVoyager)
  • The Comet Box (Adrian Stirling, Penguin)
  • All I Ever Wanted (Vikki Wakefield, Text)

Longlisted international titles for the Silver Inky include:

  • Clockwork Angel (Cassandra Clare, Walker Books)
  • Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares (Rachel Cohn & David Levithan, A&U)
  • No and Me (Delphine de Vigan, Bloomsbury)
  • Where She Went (Gayle Forman, Doubleday Children’s)
  • Bright Young Things (Anna Godbersen, Puffin)
  • The Agency: The Body in the Tower (Y S Lee, Candlewick Press)
  • Anna and the French Kiss (Stephanie Perkins, Penguin)
  • First Light (Rebecca Stead, Text)
  • Marcelo in the Real World (Francisco Stork, Scholastic)
  • Violence 101 (Denis Wright, Walker Books)

The shortlist is announced 1 September. Readers of will vote for the winning titles and voting is open until 18 October. For more information go here.

BOOK REVIEW: Clara in Washington (Penny Tangey, UQP)

It’s the end of high school, the end of an era, and Clara decides to break with tradition and go to Washington with her mother for the holidays rather than spend time with her father at their beach house. But Washington isn’t quite the adventure Clara expected, and she feels alone with her thoughts in a strange city and detached from her friends and family. Clara is on the verge of adulthood, and as her own life and the world around her changes, she struggles to connect with people and maintain her sense of identity. Clara is a wonderfully textured character whose fears and insecurities will ring true to all readers on the verge of leaving high school and entering the next stage of their lives. Her fears and insecurities almost cripple her when she arrives in Washington, but as she pushes her own boundaries, she discovers her own limits. It is impossible not to empathise with Clara’s journey. Clara in Washington is based on the author’s own time in the city, and her experiences are evident in the level of detail in this book. The surroundings come to life as Clara strives to find an experience that is more real than a postcard. Wrapped in a very entertaining coming-of-age story, this is a fun read, but also quite a thoughtful one.

Bec Kavanagh is a Melbourne-based writer and reviewer and ex-bookseller. This interview first appeared in the the Junior Term 2 supplement of the June issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Read Junior Term 2 online here and sign-up to The Junior Newsletter.



Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare, author of ‘The Mortal Instruments’ series, answers a few questions…


What would you put on a shelf-talker for your book?

This prequel to ‘The Mortal Instruments’ contains a brave heroine, a magical, gaslit London, romance, automatons, handsome Shadowhunters, Magnus Bane, a vampire ball, and has been known to cure Demon Pox.

If you had to spend the rest of your life on a book tour, where would you go?

I want to say Australia to earn brownie points but I’ve never been there yet! I would say Italy because the food is so good.

What is the silliest question you’ve ever been asked on a book tour?

Someone asked if they could smell my neck.

And the most profound?

Someone once asked me if I would prefer that people take away answers from my books, or take away questions. I thought that was a nice way of putting it. I would say questions.

What are you reading right now?

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown).

What was your favourite book of the past year?

White Cat by Holly Black (Victor Gollancz).

What was the defining book of your childhood?

Five Children and It by E Nesbit (Random House).

Which is your favourite bookstore?

I couldn’t pick! If you’re a bookstore, you’re automatically my favourite kind of store.

Who would you like to challenge to a literary spat?

Lord Byron! He famously boxed, but I think I could take him.

Facebook or Twitter?

Twitter—it’s the best way to get news out, and these days one of the best ways to pick up on news. It’s how I found out Prince William got engaged!

If I were a literary character I’d be …

I would want to be Lyra from ‘His Dark Materials’ but would probably end up being a girl Adrian Mole.

In 50 years’ time books will be …

Absolutely relevant, just as they are today. Even if they’re digital.

Cassandra Clare is the author of ‘The Mortal Instruments’ series and its prequel ‘The Infernal Devices’ series (all published by Walker Books). She is a guest at the Sydney Writers Festival and the Auckland Readers & Writers Festival in May. This questionnaire first appeared in the March issue of Junior Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Sign up for the free fortnightly Junior Bookseller+Publisher newsletter here.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Zoe Thurner on ‘Dress Rehearsal’ (Fremantle Press)

Zoe Thurner

Drama teacher Zoe Thurner tells Amelia Vahtrick about her debut novel Dress Rehearsal (Fremantle Press).

The story is framed by a Year 12 theatre production, which provides a lot of the drama between Lara and the other students. What effect do you think theatre can have on teenagers?

Theatre is visceral, immediate and invites people to connect. In a world dominated by virtual relationships I think theatre can bring young people together in a meaningful way. As a drama teacher I have scripted, directed and assisted in the production of youth theatre, which is often highly innovative and can bring out new qualities in students. Last year I wrote a script in the form of a cabaret set in Berlin of the 1930s. We cast a rather isolated boy as the MC, where he shone, and had a burly footballer happily dancing the waltz. These kids were united in a group task that required them to negotiate, give freely and be part of something larger than themselves. And the youth audience loved it. Ultimately, whether they choose to watch theatre or produce it I think theatre has a very uplifting effect on teenagers. That’s one of the things I tried to get across when I was writing Dress Rehearsal.

There’s a pretty scary scene in the book where Lara and two other girls get into a car with some drunken boys. Did you write this as a warning for teenage readers, or were you merely interested in depicting something that does happen?

Like parents and teachers everywhere, I feel acutely aware of the dangers young people face in making quick, poor decisions. I have discovered this from my students, my kids and my own early mistakes. This scene was based on an experience I had as a girl, when I hitched a ride with some boys up the coast and had to escape by jumping out of a moving car. Very scary. But the scene also stands there for boys. Some years ago I worked on a drama project with the Head Injured Society and sadly met young men in wheelchairs as a result of drink-driving accidents. I think learning from life is important but our kids have to choose their lessons carefully.

Lara is a fabulous, larger-than-life character, whether she’s fighting with her mum, flirting with one boy after another, or taking to her bed in dramatic fashion when things go wrong. Did you have fun writing her? More fun than you would have had writing a more perfect heroine?

Writing Lara Pearlman was like writing a very long dramatic monologue. It propelled me into the chaotic world of Lara’s thoughts and desires, which was wild and pretty intense. It is true that Lara is not a classic heroine. She does not save her friends and cannot change the bad things that happen to them. But I think that Lara and some of the other characters in Dress Rehearsal slowly come to terms with life as it stands in all its imperfection and I think that process takes some honesty and a special kind of courage. So while Lara is chasing around after other people she learns a lot about what she really values and she finds that the best life she can live is her own.

Dress Rehearsal is published by Fremantle Press

I love the way people can be highly contradictory and also capable of great adaptation and change and so first impressions are really just a starting point. I am interested in how a person’s story evolves and how all the contradictory elements are revealed and held together. In Dress Rehearsal Lara is not analytic. She can’t stand back and work people out, the way Nathan might. Instead she throws herself into tough situations to discover the truth. She is often shocked as she pieces conflicting bits together but finally arrives at a richer understanding of the people around her. I volunteer as a telephone counsellor and have to stay open to the subtle and shifting clues given in the course of the conversation which often ends in a very different impression of the caller.

Dress Rehearsal is published by Fremantle Press. This interview first appeared in the March issue of Junior Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Sign up to the free monthly Junior Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Randa Abdel-Fattah on ‘The Friendship Matchmaker’ (Omnibus)

In the March issue of Junior Bookseller+Publisher reviewer Natalie Crawford spoke to author Randa Abdel-Fattah about her most recent book.

This is your first foray into junior fiction. What interested you in writing for younger readers and how did you have to adapt your writing for this different audience?

I have vivid memories of primary school and can recall with excruciating detail the agonies and joys of making and keeping friends. Writing for a younger audience has been an absolute joy for me because I feel as though I’m turning back time, diving into my own memories and experiences to share the stories and adventures that have stayed with me all these years. It’s not that my writing is autobiographical, more that I am tapping into the emotional rollercoaster of pre-adolescence that I remember so well. Writing for this audience, and from the point of view of a girl in Grade 5, came very naturally to me—which proves to me that I haven’t really grown up all that much! Perhaps it also means that the insecurities and conflicts we experience as children never really change—that the emotions that drive us to crave other people’s approval and admiration as adults are the same as those we experience as children, only the setting and circumstances change.

The issue of friendship is central to The Friendship Matchmaker. Were you nervous about portraying the concerns of your characters in a realistic way?

Every writer worries that their characters’ voices might not ring true. As a writer, I am always conscious that I will lose my readers and compromise my own creative integrity if my characters are not authentic. The editing process was the best way to determine whether my characters were acting or speaking in ways that were contrived. But I rarely found this to be a problem as I tend to start writing with the main characters’ voices already quite clear in my head.

The use of narrative and inclusion of Lara’s Friendship Matchmaker Manual gives the reader two different points of view. Did you always intend to include the Manual in telling Lara’s story?

The FMM Manual was delicious fun to create. It was always my intention to have it running in the background, as an insight into Lara’s thinking, strategy and motivation.Although the book is a first-hand narrative, the manual is an even deeper, yet playful, insight into Lara’s mind and heart.

Was it fun or nerve-wracking having to immerse yourself in the world of a 10-year-old again?

It was terrific fun! I dived back into the world of friendship trios, playground spats and the emotional turbulence that comes with picking a friend to sit next to on a bus or play sports with. When I write ‘as a 10-year-old’ I find myself writing with two voices in my head: my adult voice and my voice as a 10-year-old. The product is a fusion of both levels of consciousness. It is that process and tension between young and old that I find most exhilarating.

There are some very peculiar characters in the book. Are any of them based on people you actually knew at school?

I had terrific fun in trying to balance between the comic and farcical when writing such characters as Omar (who only speaks in rhyme as training for being a rap artist one day) and David (who speaks to his basketball as though it were his best friend). None of the characters, with the exception of Chris the Bully, were based on people I knew at school. However, I still try to maintain a healthy respect for even my most ‘peculiar’ characters, humanising them despite the comic potential their various idiosyncracies offer. While some of my characters exhibit ‘odd’ habits and quirks, I still consider that my young readers will identify with these characters’ dreams, fears and insecurities.

Would you consider writing for a younger audience again?

Most definitely. Lara will not leave me alone. After all, she can be quite bossy and dominating! I can’t resist writing a story with her again so I’m writing a sequel. I’m also releasing my first ‘Aussie Mates’ title, Buzz Off in May 2011. It’s a story about a boy who has, well, a special connection with flies—he can hear them talk. Once again I had delightful fun throwing myself into the world of a young boy.

The Friendship Matchmaker is published by Omnibus. This interview first appeared in the March issue of Junior Bookseller+Publisher. Sign up for the free monthly Junior Bookseller+Publisher Newsletter here.

BOOK REVIEW: Mr Tripp Smells a Rat (Sandy McKay, illus by Ruth Paul, Walker Books)

Mr Tripp—go to the top of the class! Mr Tripp Smells a Rat is the first in a new series of stories from author Sandy McKay. Part of the ‘Walker Stories’ series (the New Zealand equivalent to ‘Aussie Nibbles’), it makes a fantastic first reader—great for beginner readers to read aloud. The book comprises three short, inter-connected stories. Lily is the spokesperson for Room Five and narrates the action in a friendly and casual way. There is a repetitive structure to each story and each one contains a little moral lesson (it’s okay to be scared, the benefits of healthy eating, having nits isn’t something to be embarrassed about), which is dealt with in such a comic way that it’s never heavy-handed or didactic. Mr Tripp, who believes that everybody is good at something (even Lily, who can hold her breath for ages), has a great sense of fun and learning, with a love of puns and jokes. Young readers will definitely develop their interest in wordplay thanks to Mr Tripp: ‘What has hands but can’t clap? A clock.’ A second Mr Tripp volume is due later in 2011.

Kate O’Donnell is a bookseller at the Younger Sun bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared in the Summer 2010/11 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.