Category Archives: Children’s Book Council of Australia winners/shortlisted

Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King

Standard

IMG_5022Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and illustrated by Stephen Michael King, hardback picture book, published by Working Title Press in 2014.

On a dark and scary night, Pig, Cat and Hare set out on a mysterious journey. Through a dark forest, up hills, over a creek and past a deep, dark cave. Do they get frightened? And where are they going in the middle of the night anyway?

With its lyrical text and distinct illustrations, Scary Night is a fun and engaging picture book for pre-schoolers and lower primary school children. There was some repetition within the text, and a few questions that can help to involve kids in the story. My toddlers and kindergartner enjoyed having this book read aloud to them. My kids really got involved in the story, tracing the stars, and making various night noises, such as hooting when they spotted an owl. They all screamed at the appropriate spot too!

The illustrations matched the story perfectly, and provided just the right atmosphere. The use of colour to depict the creepiness of the night is magnificent. I liked the contrast of colours between their journey and their destination. I thought that Cat was particularly cute and my toddlers liked the bats.

Scary Night was an Honour Book in the 2015 The Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards in 2015.

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey

Standard

IMG_4940 (1)Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey, hardback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2014.

Pig is a pug, a very greedy pug. He lives with a sausage dog called Trevor, who is sweet and kind. Pig never shares anything with Trevor, claiming everything for himself. He really should share, but will he learn his lesson?

Pig the Pug is a funny book with a message discouraging selfishness and greediness. The lyrical text flows nicely, and is accompanied by clear and simple illustrations. I love the look on Pig’s face when he is standing on top of his pile of toys, it is perfectly maniacal! And I can’t imagine a more perfect ending for this story. I hope Pig learns from his experience, but I have a funny feeling he may need a few more lessons on sharing.

My kids enjoyed this book, and demanded re-reads straight away. They also went away and read the book themselves (3rd grader and kindergartner). They both laughed at Pig’s greedy ways, especially when he was yelling “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!”, which is something their toddler brothers do a lot!

This cute rhyming book is suitable for pre-schoolers and lower primary school children, and is great for reading aloud. Pig the Pug is a shortlisted book for The Children’s Book of the Year Awards in 2015, and has been followed up with a second book, Pig the Fibber.

 

You may also enjoy reviews of Pig the Elf and Pig the Fibber.

The Very Best of Friends by Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas

Standard

IMG_3948The Very Best of Friends by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Julie Vivas, paperback picture book, first published by Margaret Hamilton Books in 1989, this edition published by Scholastic Australia Pty Limited in 2004.

James and Jessie live on a farm with lots of animals, but only one cat, William. As James goes about his jobs on the farm, William goes with him, he curls up on his lap in the evenings and on the bed at night. And then James dies suddenly and Jessie falls deep into grief, shutting William out, letting him run wild and become mean, something he never was with James. To move forwards, Jessie must work on her friendship with William and regain his trust.

A poignant tale of friendship and loss, beautifully spun for younger children, The Very Best of Friends will touch your heart. It is a reminder that all relationships need work, and if you fail to tend them, they will wither, but with a little love, kindness and attention they might thrive again.

While the story is beautiful, the illustrations are distinctive and just gorgeous. I love the way that William is depicted, and how he changes from the well-tended cat to the wild thing he becomes after James dies.

The Very Best of Friends is suitable for primary school children. It is a book I read as a young child,  and I am now sharing it with my own children. This wonderful picture book can be used to start a discussion on the complicated issues of loss and grief, and that life must go on. Though something sad happens, the friendship that blooms between Jessie and William is lovely and inspiring. It is important to keep living your life even when you have lost someone, and I found this book to be helpful in explaining that to my children.

 

* The Very Best of Friends won the 1990 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Picture Book category.

 

The Barrumbi Kids by Leonie Norrington

Standard

IMG_2443The Barrumbi Kids by Leonie Norrington, paperback novel, 196 pages, first published by Omnibus Books in 2002, this edition published by Omnibus Books in 2014.

Dale and Tomias are best friends living in a remote village in the Northern Territory of Australia. Long Hole and surrounds is Tomias’ ancestral land, and Dale’s ancestors were the first white family to settle in the area. They are part of the land, as the land is part of them, though they are still learning to use and respect it, and all the creatures within it. The boys attend the only school in town, along with their siblings and cousins. The boys spend their last year of schooling in Long Hole learning about themselves, their cultures,  overcoming the school bully and getting into plenty of scrapes along the way.

The Barrumbi Kids is a story of friendship and cultural interaction between aborigines and white people. It is also an insightful view of remote communities, and the people that live there. The realities of bush fires and crocodiles, snakes and floods, rural schooling and harsh weather conditions is a constant theme through the story, which also explores the theme of growing up in, what is, for many, a very different environment to their own.

The speech of the characters and the construction of their sentences has been written to imitate the actual language of the area. I found the small glossary of Mayali language and commonly used words at the back of the book useful, though most of it was explained within the story itself. This use of language definitely gave the story a more authentic and unique feel.

An interesting and different read, The Barrumbi Kids is well written, and suitable for middle to upper primary school children and older. The story was funny at times, especially when the kids explored the chook shed, though also slightly scary when Lizzie was being chased by a crocodile, a highlight of the daily dangers faced by the kids in remote Australia. I liked the relationships between the characters, especially that between Tomias and Dale, who are so different, yet so similar. The elders were portrayed well, and I quite liked old Caroleena. I could picture Mrs Armstrong’s sour face so clearly, and her fit of terror over the snake. That had me laughing too.

I’m happy for my second grader to read this book. I expect plenty of questions as she reads it, since the lives of the children in the story are quite different to her experiences. It is good to read something outside our own little sense of the world, I think reading The Barrumbi Kids will encourage her to want to know more about the outback of Australia and about the first settlers to this beautiful land.

 

* The Barrumbi Kids was an honours books for the 2003 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Younger Readers category.

Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek

Standard

IMG_1566Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and illustrated by Judy Horacek, hardback picture book, published by Penguin Books (Australia) in 2004.

There are blue sheep and star sheep, up sheep and car sheep, but where is the green sheep? Find out as you turn the pages, discovering many different sheep along the way.

A brilliant early childhood book, Where is the Green Sheep? is perfect for every child. We discovered it by chance at the library when my first child was a toddler. We borrowed it so often over the following months we finally went out and bought our own copy. It has been read many many times, to the point where the kids could repeat it verbatim without even opening the book. Despite this, I never tire of reading this book to my kids, it really brings them (and me) so much joy. Where is the Green Sheep? is a wonderful book to share with toddlers and preschoolers, and older children will also enjoy the lyrical text and cute pictures.

It is a fun rhyming search through the flock to find the elusive green sheep. The story and illustrations are simple, yet extremely engaging for young children. The text is large and easy to read. The language is suitable for children just learning to read as well. We like to read Where is the Green Sheep? aloud, building up the rhythm of the text, and the kids always join in for “But where is the green sheep?”. The sheep are very distinctive, and the kids enjoy discovering what type of sheep are on each page, as if they have never read it before.

No children’s library would be really complete without this magnificent picture book from one of Australia’s favourite authors, Mem Fox. Now don’t be a slow sheep, go out and find the green sheep! (from all good book sellers).

 

* Where is the Green Sheep? was the winner for the 2004 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Early Childhood category.

The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn

Standard

IMG_1572The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn, paperback novel, 296 pages, published by University of Queensland Press in 2013.

Life is normal and reasonably predictable in the Blue Mountains region of Australia, where Fin is a fairly typical teenage boy. He rushes to school, hangs out with his mates, tries to impress the girl he likes, argues with his brother and is disappointed by his parents’ divorce. Such worries quickly become trivial when a nuclear winter descends upon Australia after nuclear missiles are launched between nations in the northern hemisphere. Fin and his little brother, Max, find themselves alone in a world turned upside-down overnight. The landscape is frozen and bleak, the situation grim with little cause for hope. Supplies of food and drinking water are limited and there is no electricity, no running water, and no help to be found.

What a stunning debut novel for Claire Zorn. The Sky So Heavy is an apocalyptic novel for young adults, suitable for high school students and up. I enjoy the genre of apocalyptic novels, and this book did not disappoint, though it was tamer than many of the adult novels I have read, making it much more suitable for younger readers. I highly recommend this book for high school students.

The situation in which Fin and Max find themselves is a terrifyingly realistic scenario, so well written, I could almost feel the desolation, the desperation and the fear. Life could progress just like this if nuclear war were to happen, and that makes this read particularly scary. Reading The Sky So Heavy made me want to go out and stock up on canned food and bottled water!

The characters are well developed, allowing the reader to know them, and conjure them in our imaginations. I liked all the characters, though Max was a little whiney, but what twelve year old brother isn’t! And given that all the parental figures in his life are gone and possibly dead, his reaction to his circumstances seems natural. Fin, Noll and Lucy are older than Max, but still they are faced with the same fears, apprehensions, worries, frustrations and uncertainties. Fin has the added burden of being responsible for Max. In a world that adults would struggle to navigate, this group of teenagers show bravery and compassion that would escape many, but also a strong desire to survive. These feelings are well expressed throughout the book, creating a realistic and compelling experience for the reader.

I will be eagerly watching for future novels by Claire Zorn. I think there will be more brilliance to come from this new author to the field of young adult fiction in Australia.

 

* The Sky So Heavy was an honour book for the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Older Readers category.

Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood

Standard

IMG_1486Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson and illustrated by Freya Blackwood, hardback picture book, published by Little Hare Books in 2013.

Banjo is a chook dog. It is his job to round up the chooks and get them into their pen to be shut in for the night. He barks and chickens come from all over, except Ruby Red, who sits on the wood heap and ignores Banjo. When Ruby Red falls ill, Banjo finds her and cares for her during her recovery.

Gorgeously illustrated, this story of a wayward and head strong chook and her diligent round-up dog, is both moving and funny. I liked the barking and the squarking, with chooks flying everywhere, it reminded me of the chook yard my grandparents had when I was a child. My preschooler liked that Ruby Red ignores Banjo until he topples the wood pile, this made her laugh. I think she saw herself in Ruby Red, stubborn and resistant til the last! My second grader liked Banjo, and how he cared for Ruby Red when she was sick, even though she had antagonised him in the past. Friendship and love can conquer all.

Banjo and Ruby Red is a lovely book for sharing with preschoolers and lower primary school children, and a must have for primary school libraries!

 

* Banjo and Ruby Red was an honour book for the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Early Childhood category.

Baby Bedtime by Mem Fox and Emma Quay

Standard

IMG_1479Baby Bedtime by Mem Fox and illustrated by Emma Quay, hardback picture book, published by the Penguin Group in 2013.

A mummy elephant gets her baby ready for bed with a beautiful bedtime lullaby. She tells her baby all the things she could do, such as nibbling on his ears, and gazing at him all night, but then the time for sleep has come.

Baby Bedtime is a lovely lullaby of love from a mother for her baby. The sentiment would be shared by many parents, and I definitely feel this way about my own children. The illustrations are just gorgeous, and gently rendered, making me feel relaxed and calm. Helpful for lulling little ones into sleep, this is perfect for reading to toddlers and preschoolers before bed. My second grader liked this story, but she thought she was a bit old for it.

My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg

Standard

IMG_1478My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg, paperback novel, 256 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2013.

Candice Phee is a little odd, a little different, but she has a huge heart. After the death of her sister and the perceived betrayal of her uncle, Candice’s family has been slowly imploding. Her best friend believes he is from another dimension and spends a lot of time trying to return. Her penpal hasn’t replied to her letters, her teacher has a lazy eye, and her fish might be experiencing a theological crisis. All her favourite people and fish are struggling with life, and Candice wants to make them happy. She goes to extraordinary lengths to achieve this.

A heart-warming tale, My Life as an Alphabet, was a joy to read. Candice is a very unusual character, but as she shares her life, I came to like and respect her very much. Some of her antics were extremely funny, and even the way she relates her story is amusing. Jumping off the pier in an attempt to reconcile her father and uncle was probably going a tad too far, but it definitely demonstrated her commitment to improving her family’s relations. I thought her social awkwardness and inability to converse with new people without the use of a notepad gave her an air of mystery. However, her school peers just see her as really weird, and haven’t bothered to uncover the generous and determined girl inside. She is loyal and loving, and extremely quirky. Candice is a very well written character, in an entertaining, interesting and engaging story.

I would prefer my second grader to wait a couple of years before reading this book as some of the themes are more mature than what she has read previously. Themes such as the fallout from the death of Candice’s sister, the estrangement of her father and uncle, and the mental health issues that Douglas from another dimension exhibits. Though it is most suitable for children from upper primary school to high school, I think many adults would also enjoy My Life as an Alphabet.

 

* My Life as an Alphabet was an honour book for the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Younger Readers category.

A Very Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks

Standard

IMG_1446A Very Unusual Pursuit by Catherine Jinks, paperback novel, 329 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2013.

Set in late nineteenth century London, this is the story of Birdie McAdam and her master, Alfred Bunce. Alfred is a bogler, a man that kills bogles, the monsters that infest the dark recesses of London and feed on children that stray too close. As his apprentice, Birdie acts as the bait to lure bogles from their lairs, so that Alfred can kill them. It is a hard and rough life for the young orphan, but it is what she knows and loves. Birdie’s life becomes more complicated when Edith Eames asks to witness a de-bogling, and can’t help but express her concern for Birdie’s safety and her reservations regarding Birdie’s role as bait. The leader of the local pickpocket gang, Sarah Pickles, is also interested in Birdie, though only for her own nefarious purposes. Several of Sarah’s lads have disappeared, perhaps consumed by a bogle. She requests that Alfred and Birdie investigate, so they embark upon their most dangerous job yet, where they might need help from some of the orphan boys, Jem and Ned, as well as Miss Eames.

This is the first book in the City of Orphans series by Catherine Jinks. A thrilling, fast-paced adventure in old-time London, this story is a mix of historical fiction and fantasy dealing with the mythical monsters known as bogles or bogeymen. The description of both locations and characters is wonderfully detailed allowing the reader to step into London as it was, and how it might have been with monsters lurking in chimneys, sewers and wells. The details of speech and clothing were particularly well written, appropriate for the time and place in which the story is set. There is a small glossary section at the end of the book to help with some of the terms that have fallen from common usage over the last century or so. This was an useful addition to the book.

I really liked Birdie, the tough orphan with the sweet voice. Her attitude, honesty and courage, and her intense loyalty to Alfred were endearing and maddening at the same time. I could definitely feel Miss Eames’ exasperation and concern with Birdie’s choices, but also her delight and respect for the child. I would have wanted to save her too.

I think A Very Unusual Pursuit would be most suitable for children in middle to upper primary school. Though, maybe not for children that are overly scared of monsters! I enjoyed this story so much, I immediately went out and bought the next two books in the series.

 

* A Very Unusual Pursuit was the winner of the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Younger Readers category.