Panthers, Bravehearts and You!

I reviewed these books on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday July 20 2010

Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon.

You written and illustrated by Stephen Michael King


Picture book ages 2+

As one of the most well-loved children’s writers and illustrators here and around the world, there is even more to love about Stephen Michael King in his latest book, You. Our small creature hero with his big yellow ears, curly tail and bright red nose, has a lot to love about the world: the fact that it’s a colourful place, coloured with big things and small things, but, he declares, ‘The most colourful part of my world is…you.’ In this case, a small birdlike animal with curls and skinny legs and a bright orange body. The world is also a musical place with high notes and low, ‘But the most musical part of my world is…you.’ And finally, the world is an exciting place with its ups and downs and far-far aways, ‘But the most exciting place in my world is with…you.’ This book is a beautifully illustrated tribute to the world, that for all its beauty, music and excitement, is made all the more special because of the friends and family we share it with. Lovely!

The Princess and her Panther written by Wendy Orr and illustrated by Lauren Stringer

(Allen and Unwin)

Picture book ages 4-8

Set in a suburban backyard, two sisters, one dressed as a princess, the other as a panther, load up a small cart with blankets, teddy bears and lanterns. As we turn the pages, their cart becomes a camel and the backyard becomes desert sands, deep woods and the shores of vast oceans and all the while, ‘The princess was brave and the panther tried to be.’ The princess pitches a red silk tent, before the sky grows purple and there was night ‘as far as they could see.’ Soon, they hear noises outside: of snakes slithering, of an owl-witch swooping and a roaming frog-monster. As the princess tried to be brave and the panther tried to try’ and they leap from their tent and cry, ‘Enough is enough!’ And just like that, the monsters vanished. The illustrations are like a delicious swirl of colourful cushions you want to dive into as the story moves from suburban backyard to exotic locations and back home again as night falls, the girls find courage in each other and they fall contentedly asleep.

The Heart of the Forest written by Barry Jonsberg and illustrated by Craig Phillips

(Omnibus Book Scholastic)

Junior novel ages 8+

A Barry Jonsberg story is always something to look forward to. In this, Keely, a young girl, trails behind her parents as they take their monthly walk through the Blue Mountains. A ritual they began to find a little peace and escape from their stressful city lives. On this walk, mum and dad are arguing about the prospect of Grandad coming to stay for a month. So much for the peace and quiet. With her annoying brother trailing behind, pleading for her to wait, Keely missteps and falls down a small hill. She is surprised to find she’s okay. Aaron is soon beside her, but now they are lost and Aaron is panting hard. There’s something wrong with his heart and even though he’s had loads of operations, he still finds it hard to breathe. Keely tries to find the way out but night falls and a bitter panic covers her. After a restless sleep, Aaron insists he’ll look after her and leads her to what they hope will be a way out of the forest. The fear of being lost in a vast bush is so wonderfully captured as well as the gentle annoyance and love between a brother and sister and this has a surprise end that delights just like a Jonsberg story always does.


Music, Serpents and Happy As Larry

These books were reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday July 6 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen and Grimsdon.

Potato Music written by Christina Booth and illustrated by Pete Groves

(Omnibus Books)

Picture book ages 4+

Each night after dinner, Mama does a little curtsy and takes a bow before her fingers dance across the piano and fills the family home with music. ‘Mama says music helps to keep your soul warm.’ The world changes, however, when the boots begin marching past their window. The streets fill with sadness and shadows and food becomes scarce. Only the music stays the same. It covers the sound of their groaning stomachs and the screaming planes, until the day they are forced to trade the piano for a sack of potatoes. After dinner, with their stomachs full, Mama clears the table, runs her fingers along the end of the table and sings. Slowly, they hear the music as if the piano is still there. ‘They can never take our music,’ Mama declares. Despite the darkness outside, inside their home is full of swirls of colour and light. Despite the damage and hardship war brings, despite the things it takes away, we’re reminded that even with nothing, life needn’t be empty.

The Serpent’s Tale written by Gary Crew and illustrated by Matt Ottley

(Lothian Children’s Books)

Picture book ages 8+

A boy pesters his mother at a market to buy an amulet shaped as a serpent, convinced it holds a story he wants to write. The mother, eager to be home before curfew and surrounded by rumours of attack, hurries to buy the amulet but the seller hands it over for free, eager to be rid of it. At night, the boy tries to write but falls asleep in frustration. ‘Hungering for the boy’s dreams, the amulet stirred, eager to live.’ The boy’s dreams fill with a timeless tale… ‘Of fear. Of woe. And love. And hate.’ And while his town is attacked outside, his dreams continue… ‘Of heroism. Of cowardice…about the ‘very nature of humanity, the nature of story.’ He wakes to see his town destroyed. His mother urges him to run and he does, determined to make a new beginning, a new tale. Turning each page is like stepping into a different room of an art gallery with its images of battlefields, Tiananmen Square, nuclear attack and futuristic worlds with Crew as its storyteller snake charmer, luring beauty out of each word.

Happy as Larry written by Scot Gardner

(Allen and Unwin)

Young Adults ages 16-18

‘The story of a life can be left in the hands of just a few key players and acted out on a stage scarcely bigger than a suburban dream. With a humble cast and a budget limited to the income of a professional postman, the life of Lawrence Augustine Rainbow is one such story.’ Larry is the desperately loved child of Mal and Denise, a regular in-love couple, but as a series of dramatic events intrude on their lives, both from far away and in their street, the bonds that tie their close-knit family begin to fray. Moments such as the invasion of Kuwait, the first probe landing on Mars, 9/11 and meeting scruffy neighbourhood kid, Clinton Miller. Larry is instantly likeable and grows even moreso as he tries to save his parents’ marriage and runs holding a rope with elderly neighbour Vince who is going blind. This is an expertly crafted novel by a writer who loves words. As we follow the Rainbow’s decline, Scot never abandons his affection and hope for these characters, as he creates an increasing tension that takes hold, while you wait, fingers crossed, and hope for the ending.

Whispering, Bullying and Mum and Me

These books were reviewed on ABC Radio Canberra Drive Show with Louise Maher on Tuesday June 22 2010

Books reviewed by Deborah Abela, National Literacy Ambassador and

Author of Max Remy Superspy series, Jasper Zammit (Soccer Legend) series and The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen.

Mum and Me written and Illustrated by Annie White

(Hachette Children’s Books)

Picture Book Pre-school age

This book is a delightful rhyming devotion to mothers and all that they do that makes them special. From when ‘she takes me to my ballet lessons. And listens to my trumpet sessions.’ To when ‘She takes me riding on her bike and joins in all the games I like.’  It’s the little things mums do that count in this small storyteller’s life, like making vegemite toast, blowing bubbles, jumping and splashing in puddles and of course, giving lots of cuddles. ‘And when Mum tucks me in at night I know that it will be all right. ‘Cause I love Mum and she loves me and that’s the way it will always be.’ Simple, fun and all about mums and why they’re so loveable.

Arnie Avery written by Sue Walker

(Walker Books)

Novel ages 8-12

Arnie Avery is having a bad time of it. Not only have his usual group of friends dumped him, he realises Jacko isn’t just the leader, but a bully and now wants to fight him on Saturday, his birthday! Not that anyone will remember. His family is acting weird and have been ever since what happened to Arnie’s brother, Callum, one regular day that turned everything upside-down. He desperately misses Callum and no matter how hard his mum and dad try, they just can’t seem to get back to how they used to be. As Saturday approaches, Arnie knows Jacko will pulverise him in a second if he doesn’t come up with a plan. With the help of dad, his best friend Belly and, surprisingly, his usually not so sisterly sister, Arnie not only takes on Jacko but he becomes a hero to his family, his friends and even himself. This is a terrifically written, warm story about a boy who faces a volley of life’s curve balls head on. It’s about grief, friendship, family, bullying and finding your way again after life leaves you feeling lost.

Let Me Whisper You My Story written by Moya Simons

(Harper Collins)

Novel ages 8-12

Many stories have been written about the Holocaust but what makes this one special is that it focuses on the people who hid and protected Jewish people during that time and it’s written by masterful storyteller, Moya Simons. Rachel is a young German Jew living in Leipzig when the wars breaks out. Her family are forced from their home to a Judenhaus, a place marked for Jews to live, often in cramped, cold and filthy conditions, with ration cards barely enough to keep themselves alive. They do their best to stay positive, until they hear the Germans coming to take them away, but before they do, Rachel’s father helps her into a cupboard and orders to stay silent. Rachel is found by a German family who take her in, knowing this could lead to their deaths. When the war finishes, Rachel is flown to England, to one of the many orphanages who took children in after the war, while the Red Cross tries desperately to find her family and many others. The detail in this book is meticulous and Moya’s storytelling paints such clear pictures of these kids who find themselves in situations of great fear and danger but with extraordinary kindnesses offered to them, they are able to find their way home.