Tag Archives: CBCA shortlisted

The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn


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


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.

My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg


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


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.

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood


IMG_1398The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood, hardback picture book, published by Penguin Group (Australia) in 2013.

Peter and his father are forced to flee their home during the war. They take with them a book in a small iron box. This book is special to Peter’s father, and is the last remaining book after the local library was bombed. The road to safety is long , cold and arduous. When Peter’s father dies, he struggles on, taking the box with him, but when he can go no further, he buries the box beneath a tree. Peter escapes with his life, but he never forgets the iron box holding the treasured book.

The Treasure Box is a poignant story of war, death and loss. Peter loses everything he has ever known, yet he never forgets his father, his home or the treasured book. Some things are more important than gold, silver and rubies. Peter’s book is about his people, the people that were persecuted and forced from their homes, it is an important part of their history. When everything is lost, we still have our history and our memories. The Treasure Box reminds us of the importance of the written word and of history, which can help shape the future for the better.

The illustrations in The Treasure Box were perfectly matched to the story, creating just the right tone as the story progresses. Using subtle shadowing made some of the pictures appear to rise from the page, or created a looking-through-a-window effect. I also liked that some of the pages had parts made up of ripped texts, as if they had been made from the bombed library books.

This is a thought-provoking read for both young and old, and I found it incredibly sad. My preschooler and second grader were shocked when Peter’s father died, and the refugees buried him by the side of the road. They have never been exposed to war or its consequences, and this book was a real eye-opener. They asked a lot of questions, many of which I could not answer. They wanted to know why anyone would go to war, why they would force people to leave their homes, why they would bomb innocent people, why they would kill children, and how can we stop war. I wish I knew the answers and the solutions, and I wish no one had to endure the atrocities of war. The Treasure Box gave us a sorrowfully beautiful, age appropriate and heartfelt opening to discuss this very complicated and saddening topic.


Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan


IMG_1396Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan, hardback picture book, published by Lothian Children’s Books in 2013.

Two brothers navigate the landscapes of their imaginations in a series of rules as learnt last summer by the younger brother. Never step on a snail or eat the last olive or drop your jar because you never know what the consequences might be!

A magical story about the power of the imagination, and the childhood belief that anything is possible. Rules of Summer reminds me of that old rhyme “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back” that we would sing as we jumped over cracks in the pavement as children. These rules are similar to that rhyme, with nature overtaking the lounge room if the backdoor is left open, a giant red bunny appearing when a sock is left on the line, and a tornado appearing when a snail is squished. As adults it’s easy to say that these things will not really happen, but in a child’s vivid imagination these are only some of the possible outcomes if you break the rules.

With the most engaging illustrations, it is easy to lose yourself in the pictures and re-ignite the spark of imagination and curiosity that may have floundered on the way to adulthood. Sharing this book with your child is a special journey for both children and adults, and is especially good for children in primary school.

Rules of Summer is a reminder to us all of the power and beauty of the imagination.


* Rules of Summer was the winner of the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Picture Book category.

Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester


IMG_1393Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester, hardback picture book, published by Penguin Group (Australia) in 2013.

The wishes of a mother for her child. From waking to birdsong, experiencing the great variety of nature, and drifting into dreams, Kissed by the Moon, reads like a lullaby of love between mother and child.

This heart-warming book captures the beauty of the mother and child relationship. For her child she would like the simple pleasures of love, happiness, contentment, safety and experiencing nature in all its forms, things that many parents want for their own children. It is also beautifully and brightly illustrated, a pleasure to see. Kissed by the Moon is a lovely book to read to children before bed, from toddler through primary school, it will remind them of their parents’ love and help them to settle down for a peaceful sleep.


Silver Buttons by Bob Graham


IMG_1392Silver Buttons by Bob Graham,, hardback picture book, published by Walker Books in 2013.

Jodie is drawing a picture of a duck, in top hat with a cane and silver buttons on his boots. She is just about to draw the second button when her brother takes his first step, an ambulance goes past, phones ring everywhere, children sail boats in the fountain and a baby is born. As her brother tumbles to the ground, Jodie finishes her picture, only a minute has past, but so much has happened.

It’s just a short moment, but many things are occurring, in Jodie’s house, in her neighbourhood and right across the city. For Jodie, her brother taking his first step is a very important moment, but outside and elsewhere, important and not so important things are happening to other people and animals too. Things that we don’t think about much, unless we are the person experiencing them. This is a thought provoking book that can open a new world to children as they contemplate life outside of themselves.

Bob Graham’s distinctive illustrations are beautiful and full of life. We like to study the pictures to see what we can find, and these illustrations gave us plenty to look at. My preschooler spied the jogger in many of the pictures, and this helped her to understand that all of these pictures were happening simultaneously.

Both my second grader and preschooler enjoyed Silver Buttons, and I enjoyed reading it with them. It is a very good picture book for preschoolers and children in lower primary school, though I think some older children would also enjoy this book. As a parent, I was able to use this story to get my kids thinking and talking about things that are happening outside of their own small sphere. It was an interesting conversation! Silver Buttons has already been requested for a re-read, and is sure to read many times in our home.


* Silver buttons was an honours book for the 2014 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Picture Book category.

The Windy Farm by Doug MacLeod and Craig Smith


IMG_1391The Windy Farm by  Doug MacLeod and illustrated by Craig Smith, hardback picture book, published by Working Title Press in 2013.

Living on the windiest farm on Windy Hill is difficult when the wind tries to blow away family members and the pigs. They all have to wear special heavy shoes to avoid being blown right off the hill, but part of their house isn’t so lucky. What will they do with so much wind? Why build a wind-farm of course!

My kids and I really enjoyed The Windy Farm, it was an interesting story with an environmental message. By harnessing the wind, the family was able to produce so much electricity they could sell it and become rich. This book highlights that wind is an infinite resource that we can make use of to fuel our modern lives, as opposed to using oil and coal which will run out in time, just as Uncle Jeff’s well does in the story. This was a nice way to introduce young children to wind power as an alternative energy resource.

I liked both the story and the illustrations. My preschooler loved that the pigs were pictured being blown away by the wind, though Grandpa was just too large for the wind to take him. She has asked me to read this book a number of times, and becomes engrossed in it every time. My second-grader also enjoyed The Windy Farm, taking it away to read on her own. Both kids laughed a lot at the ending! A fantastic book for preschoolers and lower primary school children, it is also a pleasant read for adults, making this book perfect for sharing.

Parachute by Danny Parker and Matt Ottley


IMG_1397Parachute by Danny Parker and illustrated by Matt Ottley, hardback picture book, published by Little Hare Books in 2013.

Toby is an anxious child, frightened and worried about many things. He especially doesn’t like heights. To combat his fear, he wears a parachute all the time. The parachute helps him to feel safe when getting out of bed, playing at the park and even hopping off the step stool in the bathroom after brushing his teeth. Then his cat needs the parachute more than he does, and Toby realises that he can face and conquer his fears all by himself.

A simple story about overcoming one’s fears and learning to rely on oneself. The illustrations in Parachute are a bit quirky, but I liked them. The pictures showing the exaggerated height of things, as perceived by Toby, were particularly well done. My kids weren’t wrapped in this book though, and have declined to read it a second time. My second grader is an anxious child, so I thought this story would appeal to her, but she thought it was a bit silly that Toby wore a parachute all the time, since she didn’t think it would be much help if he did fall out of bed or off the breakfast stool. My preschooler liked the pictures, and seemed to enjoy the story well enough, so perhaps this book is just more suitable for preschoolers.