The highs and lows of life for youngsters in the 1870’s

that boy jackTITLE = THAT BOY JACK




For those interested in Aussie history, this story will be an absolute delight. Set in the 1870’s in the early days of South Australia, the novel is based around the life of a youngster in a tin mining community. Jack and his family live simply in a small cottage built by his father. Mother spends all day baking and cleaning and looking after Jack’s younger brother and sister. And Jack must help out with chores before and after school (such as brining in fire wood, carrying in buckets of water and tending to the goat.

But Jack enjoys life; he loves school and has fun playing in the surrounding bushland with his best mate, Gilbert. The only thing Jack doesn’t really like is the thought of working underground as a miner, like his father. Yet he has promised Gilbert that when school is over he will join him as a miner, assuming that day is well into the future. But when Gilbert’s dad is injured, Gilbert must become the breadwinner of the family and Jack finds an awkward decision looming before him.

Can he back out of a blood promise … and what will his dad think of him if he does?? But if being underground really frightens him… what choice does he have??

Young readers will enjoy learning about the life and times during this period of Australia’s history … it might even make them reflect on how much easier our modern lives are… especially when Jack’s sister becomes dangerously ill …. There are no ambulances to medical centres to attend. And those children who complain about school might think again when they read about some of Jack’s trials and tribulations during his school life.

Recommended (dma) ****

Mateship between soldiers and their horses

loyal creaturesTITLE = LOYAL CREATURES




Frank is a hothead. He is also very close to his father, with whom he works on farms in his close-knit community, tending to water supplies. So when his father is sent a white feather during the early days of the war, Frank is keen for them to join up together: in the Light Horse brigade, of course, so they can take their beloved horses with them.

Frank assumes war will be one big adventure but the reality turns out to be rather different: it is tough, dirty, dusty and disappointingly mundane. Keen to be on the frontline in the midst of the action, Frank is frustrated when his father is sent to Gallipoli and he must stay behind in the heat and dust of northern Africa, organising water supplies for the Aussie troops who are training there. And when his hotheadedness comes to the fore, Frank finds himself in real trouble.

Frank’s hotheadedness may get him into strife but he also shows great courage when put to the test – boys and girls are sure to enjoy reading about his adventures (and misadventures) just as much as they will enjoy reading about his beloved horse, Daisy.

This book is short and easy to read and demonstrates the special bond between the soldiers and their horses in the Light Horse Brigade during WW1. The loyal horses were well trained and would lead their soldiers into the fray of battle. Unfortunately, this loyalty was not always rewarded by the Army itself. Morris Gleitzman is normally better known for lol comedy but If you are an animal lover, you may find it handy to have some tissues at hand as you read the closing pages of the novel .

And if you enjoy reading this book why not have a look at the award-winning graphic novel:  “The Light Horse Boy” (reviewed here) on a similar theme.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A gothic fairytale in small town America

far far awayTITLE = FAR, FAR AWAY




This is an unusual tale, filled with ghosts and the whisper of grim fairytales, where children go missing and evil lurks around the corner. There is a real sense of other-wordliness about this story partly because the narrator is none other than the ghost of Jacob Grimm (yes, of the Grimm brothers’ fame).

Unable to crossover after his death and meet his beloved brother Wilhelm, Jacob believes his destiny is to look after Jeremy Johnson Johnson and ensure that he doesn’t fall into the clutches of the “Finder of Occasions”. So he whispers in Jeremy’s ear and tells him spooky fairytales.

Jeremy is a quiet boy, with few friends – partly because he hears voices (Jacob’s whispers) and partly because he loves reading fairytales (surprise, surprise). He is a kindly lad who cares for his father, bedridden with grief since his wife left them many years ago. But Jeremy is shunned by the townspeople after an unfortunate prank … is the beguiling Ginger simply leading him astray? Or can she help him find his way to fame and fortune … so that he can save his home from the debt collectors?

Jeremy & Ginger need to stay one step ahead of the “Finder of Occasions” … whoever he may be… for if they are caught they may join the ranks of other missing children. Can Jacob help save them or is he too busy watching the wrong person?

A spooky tale that mesmerises readers into believing in fairytales … and hoping for the best for our young hero, Jeremy and his friend, Ginger. This book has won numerous awards, including the California Book Award Gold Medal (2013), it has been shortlisted for the US National Book Award (2013) and been a finalist in the Edgar Allan Poe Mystery Awards (2013) as well as gaining many, many acclaimed reviews from school libraries. A great choice if you are interested in spooky fairytale-like stories.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Two boys with a lot more in common than they believe

bleak boy and hunterTITLE = BLEAKBOY and HUNTER STAND OUT in the RAIN




This book is about 2 boys who think they are very different from each other but in fact have a lot in common. Jesse’s family likes to be self-sufficient: they grow their own food (as much as possible), make (and repair) their own clothes and his folks tell awful jokes. Hunter is Jesse’s worst nightmare: the school bully. Yet when we first meet Hunter he just seems like a boy who cares for his Mum, who is a bit sad and lonely since Hunter’s dad left them. This is the kind side of Hunter which he doesn’t reveal at school; at school he calls people names, does his best to get out of class and is often in trouble.

Hunter assumes that Jesse (whom he calls BleakBoy) is a goody two shoes who would never do anything wrong … yet Jesse has stolen his father’s credit card, is caught smoking at school and has 2 detentions in as many days … what exactly is going on? Has Jesse truly become BadBoy? Meanwhile Hunter has offered to help Jesse and his friend, Kate, help save the whales … has Hunter become GoodBoy?

A story with a lot of heart and a lot of humour … and a very satisfying ending.

Recommended (dma) ****

Choices always have consequences … some may be unexpected …





This is a dark novel with a sense of brooding violence and anger lingering at the edge of every page. Primo has a lot on his plate: his father is in a nursing home and his girlfriend wants to break up with him. His home-life hasn’t got any easier since his brothers have moved back in, bringing all sorts of problems and pressures with them. How can somebody concentrate on their VCE studies with all this going on?

AS Primo tells his best mate, Tony, smart guys sometimes make dumb decisions … and it seems like Primo is talking about himself … first with his dad’s beloved car and then with the dead dog. What seemed like a good idea at the time may turn out to be a very very bad idea once it has been executed. And trying to fix one bad idea with another bad idea is surely never going to work? But hindsight is all very well – it is not going to help if the thug from work wants revenge, it is not going to help when he has to tell his mother the truth … as Primo learns all too well.

And ultimately that is what becomes important in this book: any one can make mistakes but it is how we deal with these mistakes, how we learn (or if we learn) that can make us grow up to fight another day… in a better way. Will Primo see that before his world comes crumbling down around him …and what will he learn about his family in the process? A book which may be dark but which also shows that strength doesn’t always come from a fist and dignity can be found in unlikely places.

Recommended (dma) ***** 

A boys own wartime adventure

brave the restless seasTITLE = BRAVE THE RESTLESS SEAS




Adam Chisholm has grown up near Liverpool, the busiest seaport in 1940’s Britain, so it is no wonder that ships have always been his passion. With his country at war, it is also no wonder that 15 year old Adam chooses to sign up for the Merchant Navy, to do his part for the war effort, especially given that his beloved mother has recently died.

Over the next few months Adam sails on an Atlantic convoy, faces seasickness and shipwreck, helps to salvage a ship and takes part in the destruction of a submarine. As the ship’s “Peggy” he learns how to keep a mess tidy and how to ferry meals across a slippery deck to satisfy the hunger of his fellow sailors. He will also discover a whole new vocabulary of shipping terms, which he must learn, if he is to obey the orders he is given on board.

A story about mateship on the High Seas, boys are sure to find this book entertaining and quite an eye opener about ships, seafaring and life in Britain under the duress of war. Images at the start of each chapter (including maps and posters of the era) and a glossary of ship terms at the end add to the sense of truth behind Adam’s story.

Selected as a 2014 Notable book (Younger Readers) by the CBCA Judges.

Recommended (dma) ****

Parkour and poetry provide a powerful mix





Ever since his friend Trench introduced him to parkour, Dee has fallen in love with it: running, jumping, moving through his suburb and city with athleticism and daring: seeing his environs in ways others can’t and using this skill to move … to run, to free himself from all around. It gives him a buzz, it makes him feel alive. But when a photographer offers him a chance to be filmed, Dee finds himself running from trouble. With the help of his new best friend, Jess, and her hacking skills, Dee just might be able to get out of trouble … or he might be heading deeper into danger. And just what did happen to his old friend Trench – is there a warning there for Dee?

Dee tells his story using free verse. The flow of his voice is natural and easy to follow, with the occasional clever image or metaphor. At times the author, Tim Sinclair, uses shape poetry to good effect: to catch the image of waves or a wire-fence in words. On pages describing Dee’s parkour antics, there are also bruised rubbings splashed across the page, perhaps mirroring Dee’s own light touch and flashes of movement.   Arrows which break up chapter sections also emphasise the sense of movement which is so important to Dee’s story.An unusual format, which is both visually engaging and also tells an intriguing story.             

It is clear why this book was selected as a 2014 Notable Book (Older Readers) by the CBCA Judges.  

Recommended(dma) ****

Going on the run … with Mum and Dad!

two-wolvesTITLE = TWO WOLVES




Ben loves making movies; his favourite pastime is to create his own stop-motion movies using all sorts of odds and ends to create the settings and the characters. His favourite genre of movie is crime: cops and robbers (with maybe a zombie or 2 thrown in for good measure). But one day his parents arrive home, bundle Ben and his little sister, Olive, into the car and take off. Suddenly, instead of directing a movie, Ben has one of the starring roles.

What is Ben meant to do once he realises that maybe, just maybe, his parents are not the law abiding citizens he always thought them to be? Is he brave enough to stand up to his dad? Should he turn them in to the police… they are family after all? And what about his little sister … can he drag her along with him?

These are tough decisions and Ben is in a tough situation. This is an exciting story from a popular author (Galactic Adventures: First Kids in SpaceMac Slater, Cool Hunter) which is sure to be enjoyed by young readers, both boys and girls.

 Recommended (dma) ****


Of jokes … and grandfathers … and new love

tigers on the beachTITLE = TIGERS ON THE BEACH




Jokes are important to Adam. His beloved grandfather has always kept him entertained with jokes so it is only natural that Adam tends to find the humour in life. But suddenly there doesn’t seem a lot for Adam to laugh about: his loving parents seem to be constantly arguing, his grandmother is crankier than ever, his grandfather can no longer send him funny emails and to make matters worse, the girl Adam likes just doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour at all. Can things get any worse…well, when your younger brother is a rather special kid, who is dabbling in explosives, then, yes maybe they can!

This is an entertaining story, set in an Australian seaside town. The title comes from a joke that is sent to Adam by Samantha (the girl he likes) …. Unfortunately he doesn’t “get it”. Can two people with a different sense of humour actually have a friendship, let alone a romantic relationship??

To find out, join Adam and his family in this heart-warming story about love, family, friendship … and humour.

PS. If you have read one of Doug MacLeod’s earlier novels (Siggy and Amber) then look out for their cameo appearance in this book!

Highly Recommended (dma) *****    


A love letter to the western suburbs of Melbourne





This is a brilliant and compelling novel. If “The Incredible Here and Now” is a love letter to the Western suburbs of Sydney, then this novel is an ode to the Western suburbs of Melbourne. It is an ode tinged with rawness and simmering violence, but also with loyalty and kindness.

Ryan is well aware that there is a bleak harshness about his suburb. There is fear lurking in the wasteland on the edge of his suburb: fear due to past violence and recent reports of a prowler on the loose. Even Ryan doesn’t want to be out in this bare wasteland at night. Yet despite this fear and darkness, Ryan clearly loves his neighbourhood and there is a lot to be loved – in the strong sense of community spirit and in Ryan himself.

Slate (Ryan’s brother) is stuck in a dead-end factory job by day and a bouncer’s job at night; simmering with anger about the consequences of past decisions.  Ariel, the new love of Ryan’s life, is trapped by her sad family history. School colleagues, Eden and Elmore are trapped by guilt. And caught between all these characters is Ryan himself; uncertain of his own future yet willing to reach out to others, however uncomfortable he may sometimes feel.

Loyalty is important to Ryan as is team work – and he uses his love of footy to guide his actions; moving forward, sidestepping where necessary, not always winning but willing to come back next week and give it a go. This is a compelling novel. Ryan’s voice is authentic and, at times, dryly funny. He sees the bleakness around him but he also sees the beauty in his community. What he perhaps doesn’t see, but what the reader will see, is how Ryan is a part of this beauty.

Highly Highly Recommended for older readers (dma) *****