Category Archives: Australian

The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made by Fiona Katauskas

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The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made by Fiona Katauskas, hardback picture book, published by ABC Books in 2015.

This is a cute and comprehensive aid for helping parents explain human reproduction to younger children. It covers basic anatomy, puberty changes, sexual intercourse, IVF, sperm donation, fertilisation, gestation, birth and breastfeeding.

We are very open in our family, with no topic off limits for discussion. We adjust the depth and detail of information as well as our language to suit the kids’ ages, but we never avoid their questions. I’d much rather they hear about some things from us, then get a grossly twisted version on the playground! So The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made really suited us. It provides all of the necessary information respectfully, with appropriate language and a little humour. I have used it with my three younger children when they were each around the age of five. We read it together and I answered any questions they had. They were all engaged and curious.

I really liked the way that gestation is explained, using a fruit analogy along illustrations of the growing baby inside its mother. The kids wanted to know if it actually felt like carrying a watermelon by eight months along. And my son did a wonderful impression of a caesarean birth, where he was the mother behind the sheet having her tummy cut open!

In the Feeding Baby section, the two pictures depict women breastfeeding. This is great, but I would have liked to see a picture of a baby being bottle-fed too. Fed is best, irrespective of whether that is from breast or bottle. (Trying not to rant here, just thinking about how I was made to feel like a failure when my baby needed formula, and I feel strongly that no one should be shamed for feeding their baby milk in whatever form they need).

The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made is suitable for lower primary school children and above. It is best read together!

 

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The Bad Guys: Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey

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The Bad Guys: Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey, paperback chapter book, 144 pages, published by Scholastic Australia in 2015.

Mr Wolf is known for trying to eat old ladies and their relatives, but does that make him a “Bad Guy”? To change his image, Mr Wolf starts a good guys club with Mr Shark, Mr Piranha and Mr Snake, with the aim to help people, and to become heroes. Mr Wolf has plans to make this band of stereotypical baddies be seen in a better light, through rescuing cats in trees and freeing dogs from the pound. But, will his plan work?

The Bad Guys is an easy to read chapter book, fantastic for those just moving up from first readers. The book had a comic book feel to it, with the story told through the extensive black and white illustrations and character dialogue.

I read the first episode to my kindergartener, who absolutely loved it (and I did too!). I think my son could have read it himself, but at 144 pages, he was a little intimidated by the physical size of the book. However, with all of the illustrations, and only a small amount of text on any one page, it was quite a quick read.

All of the characters have some quirky traits, but I particularly liked Mr Wolf’s upbeat nature and his unwillingness to accept defeat. My son liked Mr Shark’s ability (and desire) to eat anything and everything, even his own hat! The group dynamic and the interaction between the individual characters was excellent. It was easy to believe that this group could turn their bad ways over for good with Mr Wolf’s leadership and some great teamwork.

Be prepared for a good laugh whilst reading The Bad Guys; just about everything in this story was funny. The reactions to being rescued by a wolf, a shark, a snake and a piranha are great, and of course, my son thought Mr Piranha’s gassy little problem in the car was hilarious! How sceptical of Mr Wolf’s plans the others are, and how completely committed to his mission Mr Wolf is, even how they dress, it is all funny. Overall, we just really enjoyed this turned backwards tale.

The Bad Guys series is now up to, as I write this, I believe, episode 9, so there is a lot more laughter and joy to be had from these four formerly dangerous pals. We are looking forward to their next mission.

The Bad Guys: Episode 1 is suitable for lower and middle primary school children.

The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty by Karla Strambini

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The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty by Karla Strambini, hard-back picture book, published by Walker Books Australia Pty Ltd in 2013.

Norman Qwerty’s imagination is highly active. Amazing and wonderful ideas fill his head and are just waiting to burst forth. However, he feels that he is different to others, and that no-one else has thoughts like his, making him feel alone.

A simple story with clear text, The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty told the tale of an ordinary man capable of extraordinary ideas.

The story itself was pretty basic, and I didn’t think that much of it, however, the illustrations were delightful. Done mostly in grayscale, with a hint of colour here and there, they were detailed and interesting. Each page held something new to investigate. I loved that the people were wearing hats that were locked to keep all their new and outrageous ideas in, but that sometimes the ideas still escaped. Most extraordinary of all, was that everyone had different ideas, some ordinary, some strange and some incredible, but all interesting.

I read this book with my two preschoolers, who were both intrigued by the pictures. They pored over the pages spotting new things and pointing out anything that interested them. They were both very taken with the robot bird in Mr Qwerty’s hat. My favourite invention was the hovering light with eyes. We spent quite a lot of time just looking at the pictures.

The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty is suitable for preschoolers and lower primary school children. I think it worked best as a read-aloud book, where we could discuss the illustrations thoroughly together.

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Pete and the Persian Bottle by Sarah Jackson

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Pete and the Persian Bottle by Sarah Jackson and illustrated by Tegan Werts, e-book, 101 pages, published by Big Bulb Books in 2016.

The summer holidays are almost upon Pete when he discovers an interesting old bottle in the skip bin next door. Unfortunately for Pete, instead of a friendly genie ready to grant him wishes, there is a scared Djinn residing in the bottle who just wants to go back to his homeland. Suddenly Pete is a rat and the Djinn is gone; how will Pete get back to normal now?

This was an easy, quick and entertaining read. It does sound fun to get some wishes from a genie, but it would be so easy for things to go wrong, just as Pete discovered. Poor Pete; all he wanted was to be more than average. Of course, being a talking rat did make him special, but it wasn’t exactly what he had in mind! His adventure as a rat was good, it felt realistic, with a little bit of danger and some rather funny moments. I liked Pete’s narrow escape from the Lace Monitor, and his heightened sense of smell.

Pete and the Persian Bottle was set in a small and hot town in Queensland, Australia. The language reflects the setting, with a number of Australianisms throughout the story. Having grown up in country Australia myself, the setting was familiar and the language and characters perfectly suited to the town. I quite enjoyed the story, and I liked the cast of kids too (except for the bully, Glenn, no one could really like him!) There were also a few black and white illustrations scattered through the text, which were nice.

Pete and the Persian Bottle is suitable for middle to upper primary school children.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

 

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Australia Illustrated by Tania McCartney

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Australia Illustrated by Tania McCartney, hardback non-fiction, 96 pages, published by EK Books in 2016.

Discover Australia in this beautifully illustrated book. It contains bite-size pieces about Australian culture, its quirks, landmarks, cities, flora and fauna. It is simple enough to be enjoyed by young children, whilst also being interesting enough to engage older kids and adults.

I found this to be a somewhat quirky look at Australia and I loved it! The illustrations are simply gorgeous; colourful, detailed and unique. I enjoyed reading all of the place names and other information contained in the outlines of each state or territory; these were very cleverly compiled. Reading Australia Illustrated made me feel great to be Australian! It made me want to travel and explore my beautiful homeland, and seek out some of the more unusual aspects of our nation.

I read this book cover to cover in one sitting, though I still took my time to enjoy it. It wouldn’t necessarily need to be read in order; it is browsable, and could make a good coffee table or waiting room book. I also think it would be a good book to spark the interest of reluctant readers, hopefully leaving them wanting to know more about Australia.

Australia Illustrated is suitable for children and adults alike. It is a great read and I highly recommend it.

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Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson

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Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson, paperback novel, 279 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2015.

Astrid is everything that Hiro is not. Astrid is bubbly, popular and successful, some might say that she doesn’t know how to fail. She has a passion for the environment and is trying to save the world at every corner. Hiro, on the other hand, is sullen, resentful and disaffected. He is smart, but has no interest in school, and he doesn’t show much enthusiasm for anything, except maybe comics. When they first meet, Astrid is dressed as a lobster, so Hiro doesn’t recognise one of the most popular girls in school, and Astrid doesn’t tell him who she really is.

This contemporary YA romance started with one of the main characters dressed as a lobster. This certainly caught my attention! Astrid is really dedicated to environmental activism, and she puts her whole heart into each project, which is why she finds herself at the shopping centre on a Saturday in her lobster suit.

That lobster outfit allowed Hiro to get to know Astrid a little without the judgement that comes with preconceived perceptions. I think this is an important issue, especially during high school, when everyone seems to have a label. It is hard to step beyond one’s own social circle when so many eyes are watching, and judging. It is sad that Astrid and Hiro felt that they needed to hide their burgeoning relationship, but it is also understandable; teenagers are not known for their compassion and empathy when faced with something or someone that is different. Green Valentine is not just a romance, but a social commentary on the high school experience.

I liked the way this tory was told; the writing was great. I loved all the little footnotes in Astrid’s story. Some of them were quite funny, though I also appreciated the environmental facts. I blew through Green Valentine very quickly and really enjoyed the story. It described and explored high school culture and stereotypes, along with some of the common issues that develop during that time very well. While gardening is a slightly unusual way for teenagers to date, I thought it worked wonderfully and was so sweet. Definitely unique!

Green Valentine is suitable for high school students. While the story does revolve around a romance, it is pretty clean. I’m looking forward to reading more of Lili Wilkinson’s books soon.

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Wreck by Fleur Ferris

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Wreck by Fleur Ferris, paperback novel, 288 pages, published by Random House in 2017.

Tamara was excited to be heading off to university the following day to join her friend Relle. Things don’t quite go to plan. She never expected to be abducted, and drawn into a life-threatening conspiracy involving one of the richest and most powerful families in Australia. Her captor says to trust him, but should she?

Wreck is a super fast paced thriller told from the alternate views of Tamara in the present and William five years previously. Both are undergoing a traumatic experience at the time their stories are being told. Tamara is attacked, taken from her home and faced with the death of her friends;  William was aboard a yacht that wrecked on a reef and found himself and his family stranded on an uninhabited island. These events are interrelated, and will change the course of their lives.

The story really is very fast; I flew through the book, not wanting to put it down. It was an exciting ride that twisted and had me believing and doubting the characters in turn. The writing is good, with plenty of description and action bringing the story to life. I quickly became immersed trying to predict the outcome, and second-guessing everyone! A truly great YA read.

I quite liked Tamara; she was brave in a frightening situation, and was able to show empathy to her abductor, Zel, despite her fear. She was strong and practical. Zel wasn’t really scary, but he did take her against her will, so I would have found it difficult to listen to his story, let alone trust him, but Tamara finds it in herself to do just that. I also liked William, though my overwhelming feeling towards him was pity and sadness. His family treats him terribly, especially his big brother, Knox, who has been physically abusing him for years. And then he is in such a terrible accident and things only disintegrate further. Knox was a truly despicable character, yet very well written!

Wreck is suitable for high school students and beyond. You may also want to read Fleur Ferris’ other books, Black and Risk.

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The Cat Wants Cuddles by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford

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The Cat Wants Cuddles by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford, hardback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2017.

Kevin is back, and this time he wants cuddles, or does he?

We just loved Kevin in The Cat Wants Custard, so as soon as his new book was available we bought it. And we have read it and read it, and we love it.

The illustrations are gorgeous, and the story amusing. Kevin is the epitome of all domestic cats; self-centred, demanding and moody. His expressions throughout the book really say it all. My favourite part is when he is hiding; he finds some excellent places! And the way he treats the dog reminds me so much of my own cats.

The Cat Wants Cuddles is a perfect read aloud for preschoolers and lower primary school children that is also enjoyable for the adult reading.

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The Cat Wants Custard by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford

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The Cat Wants Custard by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford, hardback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2016.

Kevin is feeling a little peckish, but not for chicken, fish or beef. Perhaps something sweet, just like custard!

Kevin is adorably grumpy and demanding, just like your typical house cat. His efforts to communicate his desire to his owner are very amusing, especially when he contorts his own body into the letters of the word custard. I also really like when he is trying to get into the fridge. My kids think the ending is hilarious.

The story is fun and the colourful illustrations are gorgeous. Kevin is drawn with such expressive facial and body language. I really enjoy sharing The Cats Wants Custard with my kids.

We just love Kevin in The Cat Wants Custard, with regular bedtime readings of this fantastic book. Highly recommended for pre-schoolers and lower primary school children.

Frogkisser by Garth Nix

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Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, paperback novel, 328 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2017.

Princess Anya usually hangs out in the library reading about magic and hiding from her evil stepstepfather (her stepmother’s new husband). Being the younger sister, she is not heir to the throne, and little is expected of her, that is until her sister’s latest beau is turned into a frog. Anya promises to find him and return him to his former princely self, aided by some magic lip balm. Anya sets out on an epic quest to locate the ingredients required to make the lip-balm, accompanied by one of the talking dogs of her court. Their departure is hastened by the news that Anya’s step-stepfather has decided to take the kingdom for himself, and wants Anya out of the way.

I suppose that Frogkisser! could loosely be described as a re-telling of the old tale of The Princess and the Frog. It is fairytale-esque, with princesses, talking animals, magic, villains, and wizards. It is full of adventure, quests and friendship. However, it is not a romantic tale of happily ever afters. Finding love is not on Anya’s mind, instead she must save her kingdom, her sister and her people from the destruction that her step-stepfather has begun to wreak. Of course, she can hardly do this single-handedly! By her side is her trusty, though somewhat over-eager canine companion, and the princely frog, who are soon joined by a boy turned newt. Throw in a mischievous young female wizard, a female Robin Hood figure, some dwarves and a transfigured otter and you’ve got this thoroughly amusing tale. All the characters were wonderful, though I particularly liked the Gerald the Heralds that kept popping up with news all over the place. These harbingers of all things mundane and important made me laugh.

It was great to see such a strong and young female protagonist for whom there is no romantic plot. She just gets on with what she needs to do. That’s not to say she isn’t scared or unsure, but she overcomes that to accomplish her tasks without needing to be ‘saved’ by some boy. Nix challenges the traditional gender and race roles with humour and irreverence, creating an entertaining and empowering read.

While Frogkisser! is aimed at a YA audience, I felt that it would be suitable for younger kids too, from upper primary school age. I would especially recommend this as a good read for tween and teen girls as an alternative to the traditional romantic fairytales. I thoroughly enjoyed Frogkisser!; it was my first Garth Nix novel, but it will not be my last!

 

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