BOOK REVIEW: Poppy Cat (Sara Acton, Scholastic)

PCBCA Award-winning author and illustrator Sara Acton’s work is recognisable for its elegant watercolour palette and loose lines. In her latest book Poppy Cat, Acton creates a warm atmosphere in her tale of the relationship between a girl and her cat. Simply and engagingly, Acton shows some of the girl’s daily difficulties, which are common to most children who are becoming independent, such as getting dressed, tying shoelaces and pouring milk. The major accomplishment of the story is its parallel between the girl and the cat—while they spend much of their time together, they both need time apart. The book’s plentiful white space echoes this theme. The story culminates in a satisfying cuddle on the sofa. Traces of humour make Poppy Cat a book that children aged three to five years will appreciate even more with multiple readings.

Joy Lawn is a freelance reviewer who has worked for independent bookshops in NSW and QLD. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in April 2014. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Hold on Tight (Sara Acton, Scholastic)

hold-on-tightWhat would happen if you let go of your mum’s hand and blew away up into the sky? Would you have cups of tea with the birds? Bounce on clouds? Get caught in raindrops? Hold on Tight is a young girl’s fanciful daydream, which leads the reader on a wonderful journey. British-born author and illustrator Sara Acton’s Englishness features strongly in this picture book; the little girl eats cherry buns and floats away with sycamore seeds and fairies (dandelion clocks). Children will enjoy the rhyming prose and the imaginative situations, and adults reading to them may also get swept away. The story also has an open ending, which is refreshing. Acton, whose previous work includes Ben and Duck and The Unexpected Crocodile, won the CBCA Crichton Award for New Illustrators in 2012. Hold on Tight will appeal to daydreamers and fans of Acton’s previous titles. I dare say she will snare some new ones in the process.

Katie Haydon is a former assistant editor of Books+Publishing and a freelance reviewer. This review first appeared in the Junior Term 2 2013 supplement of Books+Publishing magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Eric Vale, Epic Fail (Michael Gerard Bauer, illus by Joe Bauer, Scholastic)

Eric Vale has a terrible nickname: Epic Fail. And he can’t seem to shake it. Every little thing Eric does wrong—from misspelling a word on a spelling test to demolishing a birthday cake with a soccer ball—is met with the chorus: ‘Eric Vale, Epic Fail!’ How can he lose his nickname? By plotting an Epic Win! Meanwhile, there’s one person at school having a worse time than Eric: the new girl, Aasha Alsufi, from Somalia. No matter how hard everyone tries to cheer her up, she just hides in the corner with a terrified look on her face. This book for the 8-12 age group from popular children’s author Michael Gerard Bauer is a delight. Joe Bauer’s illustrations, which accompany the text on every page, are expressive and funny, often playing with the language through puns. Some of the words are also highlighted in bold for extra visual emphasis, making this book a good choice for reluctant readers. It’s also genuinely very funny, with characters who leap off the page and a storyline that never lets up the pace—or the gags.

Hannah Francis is a bookseller at the Younger Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. This review first appeared on Bookseller+Publisher website. View more pre-publication reviews here.

Bestsellers this week

The books from Suzanne Collins’ ‘Hunger Games‘ series (Scholastic) dominate the charts once again, with Catching Fire still at the top of both the bestseller and highest new entries charts. The classic edition of the first book The Hunger Games is second on the bestseller chart followed by the classic adult edition of Mockingjay. The box-set of all three books, The Hunger Games Trilogy, is a new addition to the charts this week; it appears in 10th place on the bestsellers chart and fifth place on the highest new entries chart. Coinciding with the British-Irish boy band One Direction’s Australian tour, One Direction: The Official Annual: 2012 (HarperCollins) has hit the shelves and the book is in second place on the fastest movers chart. E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey (Arrow) is first on the fastest movers chart this week—Weekly Book Newsletter.

Bestsellers this week

With the film adaptation of the first book in the ‘Hunger Games’ trilogy (Scholastic) hitting Australian cinemas last week, the charts are populated with Suzanne Collins’ novels this week. The Hunger Games film tie-in version is first on the fastest movers chart and second on the bestsellers chart, followed by the original and classic versions of the book in second and third place on the bestsellers chart. Catching Fire (Scholastic), the second book in the trilogy is fifth on the bestseller chart followed by the concluding book, Mockingjay (Scholastic). Jodie Picoult’s Lone Wolf (A&U) is at the top of the bestsellers chart for the second week in a row and Nicholas Sparks’ The Lucky One (Hachette) tops the highest new entries chartWeekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: Missing: Raven Lucas Book 1 (Christine Harris, Scholastic)

Raven Lucas used to have a normal life, until that all changed without warning. Raven’s father has disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and no-one seems to think he’s coming back. The police aren’t interested in Raven’s theories, her mother is slowly sinking into another nervous breakdown, and Raven’s uncle Gerald— her father’s business partner—is getting a little too close to the family. But Raven is not going to sit and wait for her father to show up. With the help of her friends, she starts searching for clues. She doesn’t have to look far to find out how little she knew about her dad. Christine Harris is a prolific children’s author whose books have been published in Australia and internationally. Raven Lucas is a refreshing female character who references Nancy Drew, and yet is much more up-to-date. Raven’s bright, colourful world is believable and engaging, and the secondary characters are fun, if a little stereotypical. Harris’ short chapters and punchy scene changes create a high-tension storyline, full of surprises. The romantic tension is well-crafted, which will appeal to the story’s 10-plus demographic. This is a strong new series for its age group.

Rebecca Butterworth is a freelance writer and book reviewer living in Melbourne. This review first appeared in the Summer issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

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: Just a Dog (Michael Gerard Bauer, Scholastic)

Mr Mosely is a big gangly dog, half Dalmatian, half something else large, who was chosen from the litter by Corey, the young narrator. He grows up to be the perfect companion—loyal, funny and endlessly patient—and each short chapter tells of a different event in his life with Corey’s family. Some are very funny, some dramatic and some endearing, so at first I thought the book was going to be a classic, easy-to-read dog story for eight- to 10-year-olds. But it runs deeper than that. It is also the story of a family: of the changes and tensions in relationships as seen through the eyes of a young boy, and of the grief that follows Mr Mosely’s death (from natural causes), which draws the family together in different ways. Michael Gerard Bauer, who is better known for his books for older readers (The Running Man and the Ishmael books) has written a story that beguiles, with its loveable canine character, but also packs an emotional punch.

Kathy Kozlowski is a children’s specialist bookseller at Readings, Carlton. This review first appeared in the August 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

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.