No Hearts of Gold – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

December 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460757925
  • ISBN 10: 1460757920
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 29.99 AUD

If you’ve read this blog before no doubt, you have noticed my immense admiration for the talent of Jackie French and, in particular, her outstanding historical fiction. Her seemingly effortless recreation of the past always has the power to transport the reader into the time and place of the narrative, allowing one to be fully immersed in the lives, dramas, despair and fortunes of the characters. I say seemingly effortless but I know the depth and breadth of research, background reading and investigation Jackie undertakes for each of her works and it is that which enriches her exploration and teasing out of hitherto unknown or ignored aspects.

We share a love of colonial history and moreover, a fascination with the untold, forgotten or glossed-over facts of our nation’s, often, troubled past. Readers are well accustomed to the portrayal of white women in our early post-First Contact history and there is no doubt that there were many who deserve our respect and regard. Their resilience, stoicism, ingenuity as well physical and mental strength have earned their place in our canon. But those wives, daughters, and sisters managing a household on small holdings, supporting their menfolk (or possibly managing alone)  or working for others in domestic service can surely not be the only types that deserve recognition.

In this magnificent saga we accompany three very different young women as they leave everything behind and travel to a robust and raw Sydney colony. Each of them so very different to the others in background and temperament and yet the friendship they forge goes deep, providing each other with the truest support and sustenance they all need.

Kat Fizhubert has been raised as the indulged and wealthy daughter of interesting and loving parents but when her father’s bankruptcy and ruin sends him over the edge and he first murders his wife, tries to kill Kat and finally suicides, Kat’s life is in tatters and her spirit in absolute black despair. Her kindly and astute aunt arranges a marriage for her – to a well-respected young landowner in the colony of New South Wales.

Titania Boots has never known real love or even affection, growing up with indifferent parents, married off to an old man who merely wanted an unpaid housekeeper and drudge. However, Titania has brilliant business acumen, and her management of her elderly husband’s affairs provides her with all the knowledge she could need. Widowed and left penniless, she becomes a paid companion on a voyage to the Australian colony.

Lady Viola Montefiore is young, elfin, intensely clever and caring and part of a well-placed noble family.  She is also most noticeably not wholly of the family with her dark skin and Indian appearance. The obvious result of a love affair on the part of her mother means she is kept secluded from society, hidden not only  out of a perceived shame but because of the general response from ‘polite society’. Learning a little of her birth on her mother’s deathbed, Viola is sent away to the colony to be put in charge of a cousin as a ward until she attains her majority. She is wealthy, in a way most of can only dream of, but also compassionate and generous.

On their shared voyage to Australia these young women bond together to comfort each other, share their sad circumstances, and voice their hopes and vow to retain their friendship – though essentially, no vow is necessary as they are now so attached each to the other.

Their ensuing stories as each faces the challenges, good and bad, friends and foes of their new surroundings makes for compelling reading and if, like me, you will find it hard not so say ‘just one more chapter’.  I was completely enthralled and fully engaged, as if a bystander, throughout and read way past my bed time for the past few nights. As always though, when I reached the end I was incredibly sad to leave these wonderful and vibrant book friends behind, so I dare to hope that this could be the first of another of Jackie’s fabulous series.

No recommendation is ever needed for Jackie’s books but naturally I bestow my very highest on this new one. I do believe it has become my new best favourite 😊.

Ten Minutes to Bed: Little Unicorn’s Christmas – Rhiannon Fielding/Chris Chatterton

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Penguin Australia

November 2021

  • ISBN: 9780241489901
  • Imprint: Ladybird
  • Format: Board Book

RRP: $14.99

This series of bedtime books has been outrageously popular with little people everywhere – not to mention their adults who are the ones doing those repeated nightly readings! If you’re going to be on a perpetual looping playlist you want to be reading something you enjoy as much as the child, I say!

Now in board book format, even the tiniest reader can enjoy the fun as Little Unicorn helps out Santa Claus one busy Christmas Eve. When one of your team is home in bed – especially, your lead reindeer – the annual gift delivery run is looking to be at risk. But there is only ten minutes left before Little Unicorn has to be in bed. Can Santa’s magic and her effort to lead the team possibly get the job done in time?

With the usual rollicking rhyming text and the deliciously cute illustrations, this will be a super gift for a little human in your circle. Of course, it’s perfectly timed for that always most-difficult night to go to sleep so get your copy ready now. It’s roughly forty days until Xmas will be on our doorsteps so best to be prepared now!

Highly recommended for your smallest readers – I have one in my circle who is just toddling so this is perfect for him! I just love them !!

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Banjo Tully – Justin D’Ath

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Ford St Publishing

September 2021

ISBN: 9781925804904

RRP: $17.95

It was a hair salon day and as usual, I took a book with me – one I’d only unpacked from its box this morning – although I have some others still half-read, because I always love Justin’s writing. And this was no exception – I read it from start to finish with barely any conversation with my stylist. After weeks of scowling in the direction of Year 9 boys, it was so good to read a story about one that is not a complete horror – even if only fictional LOL.

But seriously, in the past week three separate people have asked me for recommendations for teen boys in particular – including those who are either reluctant or not skilful readers – and here is a perfect example of such, and one which excludes no students. There is a significant female character who also happens to be from a different culture, there is some rich unpacking to be done around life in the country (versus life in the suburbs or city), family dramas, surviving crises, support from friends and others and, not least of all, climate change. Coming hot on the heels as it does of our government’s embarrassing presence at COP26 in Glasgow, this will spark intense and profitable discussions with your teens.

Banjo’s parents are doing it tough on their farm because of the ongoing drought, just as many others in their district and beyond are also. Their cattle are already sold off and now it looks like Banjo’s much-loved horse, Milly is next to go. He’s already had to drop out of the basketball team as the petrol costs of running back and forth to town prove difficult, although at least he can still attend Venturers. When Banjo decides to mount a protest against Ride to School Day, in which all the townie kids who ride the bikes will get a free movie pass, he takes Milly almost 30 kms into town to arrive in a different style altogether. However, problems arising from this escalate his statement into more of an escape, until he meets up with teenage conservationist, Mai Le, and suddenly he becomes the youth Eco Warrior riding his faithful horse to Canberra to tell the politicians exactly what he thinks should be happening – before the whole country, indeed the world, goes beyond the point of no return.

This is a well-paced narrative which will appeal across genders and abilities with ease and, given it’s setting and topical focus will also resonate with many. It would as easily make a successful read-aloud as a class novel and will certainly be on the list I am compiling at present for our Head of English. I highly recommend it to you for your readers from around Year 7 upwards. Thanks Justin for another cracking read that will have real impact for our young adult readers.

Harry Potter-ween!!

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So of course the piece de resistance of any batch of books, particularly at Halloween, is new HP ones and these two are absolute corkers!!!

Bloomsbury Australia

Harry Potter – Magical Creatures: a movie scrapbook

Warner Bros

September 2021

ISBN9781526644299
ImprintBloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $29.99

Any HP fan would love this and if kids, will certainly strip all its special additions out to adorn their walls, school books, lunchboxes whatever. There are all manner of inserts: stickers, art prints, postcards, even a woven cloth badge!!, all of which will absolutely delight any dedicated PotterHead (including this one!).

I don’t think any true fan finds it a disappointment to find out more about how their favourite stories were brought to life on the screen, and even those who are purists who might pretend to disdain a movie version of their darlings, can still appreciate the imagination, creativity and technical skill that goes into kindling life into mythical and fictional creatures.

No matter your favourites (for me, definitely bowtruckles and pygmy puffs – I do prefer my magical beasties small and friendly – although I wouldn’t say no to a niffler), you will derive much pleasure in finding out more about their role and their presentation in the movies. Read the profile on so many of the creatures that are part of the Wizarding World from beautiful and loyal Fawkes the phoenix to much-loved Hedwig as well as the nasty ones like the Basilisk and mountain trolls.

Harry Potter – A Magical Year: The Illustrations of Jim Kay – J. K. Rowling (author), Jim Kay (illustrator)

October 2021

ISBN9781526640871
ImprintBloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $45.00

If you have a PotterHead in the family, look no further for their Christmas gift. This is simply magnificent and any devotee will be so thrilled with it, will pore over it for hours and treasure it for years to come.

This is exactly what you might guess from the title. It is what I would describe as an almanac of significant events and memories from the Wizarding World so for each day there is an excerpt or quote as well as the absolutely dazzling illustrations throughout. Just look at these examples:

At the Quidditch World Cup – of course!
Isn’t it beautiful? Of course, Hagrid would want one!

As I browse through this, I am captivated by the sheer beauty and detail of Jim Kay’s illustrations which so exquisitely envisage our cavalcade of favourite characters and recall so many of our memorable moments whether from the first time we read the books or the latest re-reading. Of course for those of us who were among the first readers two decades we have always had our own mental picture of certain people, places or plot details and somehow, when I see Kay’s interpretation, it is always exactly right.

Of particular interest are the additions of insights such as reproductions of original sketches and prepping. These are always fascinating and I have often shown children insights into the process of illustrating and they are always completely enthralled.

I know many of my HP aficionado friends are planning to put this on their shelf – of course, mine is firmly ensconced with its family as you will see below!

No higher recommendation can I give than to say it’s a must – you would rather buy this than eat your next meal and most definitely for any family or friends who deserve a sumptuous gift, you would be on a winner with this in their Christmas stocking.

I cannot thank Bloomsbury (and Sonia) enough for allowing me to wallow in the Wizarding World so often – I appreciate it so very much.

PS: re: “treasure it for years to come” – I went to the Bloomsbury website to check I had all the necessary details and see they had said the same thing! (well to say it independently I’m sure confirms it!).

Don’t panic!! I have more shelf space!! (and if I didn’t I’d buy another bookshelf!)

The Supernatural Survival Guide – George Ivanoff

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Penguin Australia

September 2021

ISBN: 9781761043635

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $24.99

Here is the third in George’s Survival Guides and it’s not just in our house that each has been so anticipated. This one is totally going to tick boxes for a lot of your readers – and dare I say it, the geeky, the preppers, the curious, the sceptics and the ones who just love weird. In fact, kiddos that would feel very comfortable meeting George himself for a good chinwag as he is so adept at putting the Style into eccentricity – and that is totally a compliment! I couldn’t get the Human Body Survival Guide away from the Kid and this one will be even more firmly held in her grasp (or at least bookshelf). Not for nothing, has she faithfully absorbed the X-Files and anything else supernatural she can find – although I have to say, our foray into ‘yeti sighting’ territory around Noosa and the information that there were serious ‘spotters’ did make her laugh a lot!

George tackles all things spooky in this new guide from UFOs (oh yeah, Roswell rocks!) to Nessie, ghost-busting to spirtualism, the power of the mind and ‘other random weird stuff’. In other words, there is something to intrigue and fascinate just about every reader, no matter their preference in freakish encounters, events or experiences.

I have done a very successful unit of work with Year 8s exploring cryptozoology so this is not just a topic or, indeed, a book just for a primary audience (clearly the Kid confirms that). I have successfully recommended the two previous books to reluctant boy readers, who have come back for more (so come on George, I’m going to need more than three please!).

I’m still dipping in and out of it – which is definitely part of the huge appeal of these books. The design of information being well broken up into fact boxes/files, diagrams, tables, snapshot case studies, dot point lists and ‘post it’ notes is a complete winner and ensures accessibility for any reader. And the cleverness of each book being a different colour theme (yellow, then orange, now lime green) is inspired (plus they look really stunning on your bookshelf -or would if they stayed there long enough).

Love it – a LOT! and I highly recommend it for your readers from curious 8-year-olds up to…well, adults really.

Thanks for another cracker George – I did promise I would write this wearing a foil helmet for protection and then discovered, I’ve run out! I’m a bit anxious that this will not be a secure alternative – please advise!

There’s a Ghost in this House – Oliver Jeffers

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Harper Collins Australia

October 2021

  • ISBN: 9780008298357
  • ISBN 10: 0008298351
  • Imprint: HarperCollins GB
  • List Price: 29.99 AUD
The name Oliver Jeffers has long since become synonymous with innovative and stylish picture books with not only loads of kid appeal but, in equal measures, adult appeal. In fact, my library tech, after seeing this book in processing for our collection, commented ‘I want one for myself, I love it so much!’.

Without doubt books for young readers which invite the children to become part of the whole experience of text and illustrations are far and away the most popular in any setting, in my experience – just think, Herve Tullet, Beck & Matt Stanton, the simplicity of Spot or the stories within story of The Jolly Postman. Add to that fun, the joy of being in on the secret – that which is hidden from the character/s in the book itself and now, you are getting close of why this new picture book is going to make your little kiddos lose their minds with the fun and excitement of discovering theghosts in the spooky house.

A little girl lives in a gloomy atmospheric house, beautifully rendered in mixed media illustrations. She knows about ghosts because she’s heard of them but doesn’t know what they might look like or if they are even real. Some people say they are covered in white sheets…….or at least are white with sort of black holes for eyes. Do they hide in corners or under couches? Where would you look if you wanted to find one?

Cleverly interspersed are transparent tracing paper pages which turned back onto the illustrated spread, reveal the spirited spirits who are taking such mischievous delight in hiding from the protagonist.

I showed this to the too-cool-for-school teenaged Kid this morning and even she exclaimed ‘Oh that’s so cool and fun!’.

So take it from me, this one is a winner – and you may well need at least two copies as it’s going to be in high demand! Highly recommended for some fun and laughs, for readers from around Prep to Year 2 or 3.

Bahahaha! Love this promo!! Well played Oliver Jeffers!!

Happy Halloween!

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I have a few fun titles to share and will be posting the reviews this afternoon and evening. We don’t get many trick-or-treaters around here as it’s a neighbourhood with a lot of older people and not so many kids but I still like to make sure I have some goodies – just in case!! and I do let them know we are T&T friendly! Last year the Kid had fun with her friends over for a picnic party but this year she is going for a swim and a bbq – oh well1

The Magical Bookshop – Katja Frixe. Illustrated by Florentine Prechtel. Translated by Ruth Ahmedzal Kemp.

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Bloomsbury

September 2021

Imprint: OneWorld

ISBN: 9781786075666

RRP: $14.99

Such a sweet and happy book this is! Translated from the German with great dexterity while retaining just the right amount of that quirkiness of expression that European children’s books often have, this is just a delight from start to finish.

Mrs Owl’s bookshop is full of magic and it is Clara’s favourite place to be. She loves her family very much but it can get very noisy in a full house. The bookshop gives Clara a space to just be – curled up in a favourite spot with a favourite book or chatting quietly with Mrs Owl, not to mention Mr King, the mirror, and Gustav, the cat – both of whom also talk! They are the greatest comfort to Clara, especially now when her very best friend forever, Lottie, is moving away. It’s all because Lottie’s father has a new girlfriend and Lottie’s mum does not want to stay in the same town as the new couple.

How can the two girls bear to be separated? It is just not fair. And then there’s Clara’s new teacher who might be pretty but Clara is not convinced of her friendliness. New boy Leo is no substitute for Lottie in the classroom and all in all, things are feeling pretty grim. Then there’s the very worst thing about this new year, is that someone is determined to close down the bookshop with some very nasty tricks and underhanded actions.

It soon becomes apparent that even with Lottie gone, Clara still has friends and those friends need her help badly. Maybe, in doing that, things might just get a little easier to bear in the light of Lottie’s move so far away.

This has such a lovely feel of friendship and community about it and readers from around 7 years upwards will enjoy it for not only the mystery but also the humour and magic.

Highly recommend for independent readers from around Year 2 upwards.