Monthly Archives: July 2014

Pearlie Goes to Rio – Wendy Harmer/ill. Gypsy Taylor


Pearlie Goes to Rio – Wendy Harmer/ill. Gypsy Taylor

ISBN: 9780857982162

Published: 01/07/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 48 pages

RRP $14.99. Paperback.

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Hurly Burly!  Pearlie is just in time for the World Cup!  I think any of us who have seen our younger girls squabbling like parrots over the Pearlie books will know that this newest one will be a welcome addition to any library shelf.

Pearlie catches a magic ladybeetle ride to Rio where she meets a new friend, Morena the Tijuca Forest fairy, and is completely enthralled with the exotic wildlife like colourful birds and lizards that walk on water. But it’s the amazingly beautiful caterpillars that really impress her and she is more than happy to take care of feeding them, and guarding them while they metamorphose inside their chrysalises. After all, when they emerge it will be time for the giant celebration of the Butterfly Carnival.

Narrowly escaping a scary mishap with a naughty bird, Pearlie and Morena are ready to samba the night away at the most wonderful event ever.

Miss Small is a real Pearlie devotee and she, as well as many others, will eat this up with a relish.

Round off your class’ interest in the World Cup celebrations in Brazil by sharing Pearlie’s Rio experience with them – they will love it!

Highly recommended for newly independent readers, especially girls, from 6 upwards.

Friday Barnes #1: Girl Detective – R. A. Spratt


Friday Barnes 1: Girl Detective – R. A. Spratt

ISBN: 9781742759623

Published: 01/07/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 256 pages

RRP:  $15.99.  Paperback.


No doubt you would all be familiar with the wonderful world of Nanny Piggins. Now R. A. Spratt introduces us to a new character, Friday Barnes, who I am certain will prove every bit as popular as the porcine prima donna.

Friday Barnes is a Matilda-esque child, thoroughly neglected by her remote scientific parents – the surprise and unplanned child after a neatly organised delivery of four older siblings. Left basically to her own devices for eleven years, Friday is an exceptionally intelligent girl who has read everything she can lay her hands on (starting with all the scientific texts which are the only reading matter in her house). Her only respite from the remoteness of her parents and her carefully camouflaged presence at school is the weekly contact with her Uncle Bernie, an insurance investigator.

When Uncle Bernie is faced with a terrible investigation (the theft of a diamond necklace worth squillions) that seems unsolvable, Friday decides he needs her help and with the resourcefulness of her own clever brain plus the help of her fictional hero, the great Poirot, Friday reveals the culprit and earns herself a huge reward.

Friday is not a mercenary child but the reward money solves her own problem – where to go to high school (since the university turned her down though she blitzed the entrance exam – apparently they weren’t prepared to take on a 11 year old student!). She promptly pays her fees for the most exclusive school in the country, Highcrest Academy, figuring that attending a school which operates on a profit margin, it will at least be easier to bribe her way out of sporting events.

What Friday does not count on is that far from being anonymous at Highcrest, she suddenly finds herself investigating problems from missing homework to wildlife smuggling as well as dealing with some of the nastier pupils.

While Friday still hasn’t figured out the point of high school, she has gained her first friends ever and solved some very tricky mysteries – just by being herself.

Readers, particularly girls, of about 10 plus will greatly enjoy this fun read.


Meet… Douglas Mawson – Mike Dumbelton/Snip Green


Meet… Douglas Mawson – Mike Dumbelton/Snip Green

ISBN: 9780857981950

Published: 02/06/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 32 pages

Hardcover – RRP $24.99

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What a fabulous series this has proven and many of you will be familiar with the titles so far such as The Anzacs, Ned Kelly and Mary MacKillop.

Again focusing on a truly outstanding Australian, Mike Dumbelton recounts the story of Douglas Mawon’s ill-starred Antarctica expedition with simplistic elegance.  Mawson led the first Australian expedition to the Antarctic surviving many dangerous challenges, the cruel fate of his comrades and bravely survived against extreme odds. In 2013 ‘The Australian’ listed the Top 50 Australians and Sir Douglas Mawson, honoured by his inclusion on our currency and lending his name to suburbs and streets around the country, was ranked at Number Eight ‘for his brilliant brain as a scientist [and for] making one of the most courageous solo journeys by any Australian adventurer’.

However, as with all outstanding picture books, it is not just the author’s well crafted text but the astonishing illustrations which bring this book into what surely must be a strong award contender. Snip Green uses his considerable background in graphic art to give the reader a powerful impression of the isolation, barrenness and stark reality of the Antarctic landscape. By using tones of blue/grey/white combined with uncompromising geometric patterns Green more than ably conveys the frightening stillness of this frozen continent.  The placement of the text in framed white panels in the amazing double page spreads allow the reader’s eye to focus on the illustration while giving the caption-like information.

Though all the ‘ Meet … ‘ series has been a worthy inclusion for any library, I think this one is undoubtedly my favourite so far given this wonderful collaboration of text and illustration.

Highly recommended for readers aged around 8 and up – a must-have for your library in my opinion.

Sample the book here at Random House or visit Mike Dumbleton’s webpage here or see more of Snip Green’s work here.


Frank Davies and the Amazing Frog Catapult – Rohan Clifford


Frank Davies and the Amazing Frog Catapult – Rohan Clifford


Format:Paperback, 240 pages

price:AUD $14.99




Publisher:Penguin Aus.


To be honest, I took a while to get into this book and it sat on my bedside table half-read for a couple of weeks. That could be because of my natural prejudices about cane toads or perhaps whiney kids. Then I picked it up with a fresher viewpoint and found I zipped through the last half and it began to come together.

Frank Davies lives in Laconia Heights, right next to an airfield – not a particularly salubrious location.  His family comprises Mum, small clever but often irritating little sister, his Grampa and his step-father, Omar.

Frank is not a particularly happy boy as he has to deal with a nasty-tempered principal, Mr Edwart, as well as the bully Wobber Wiley at school and then when he gets home he grits his teeth resentfully at the presence of his step-dad, Omar Salman.  Not that Omar is a horrible step-father, in fact quite the opposite, but Frank misses his dad and is angry at his mother for re-marrying.  He spends much of his time with his much-loved Grampa who spends much of his time in the grotty backyard shed amid assorted strange bits and pieces.

One afternoon as Frank pours out his latest tale of woe to Grampa – a run in with Wobber Wiley which resulted in a suspension for Frank and some extra free plumbing repairs for the school courtesy of Omar – something weird starts to happen. Frank hears something in the pile of wood Grampa keeps for his little woodheater and almost thinks he sees something – something very strange indeed.  At the same time, he begins to notice ridiculous and somewhat sinister numbers of toads all around the house and the airfield. When the cranky crazy cat-lady next door starts blaming Frank for the disappearance of her precious cats, the toads suddenly become even creepier, especially when Grampa takes out his old shotgun and keeps it at the ready.

Then tragedy strikes. For some unknown reason Grampa climbs onto the roof of his shed in the middle of the night (strictly forbidden at his age) armed with binoculars and gun and falls off – with fatal results. Before the ambulance collects him, he keeps repeating the phrase ‘Grim Wah’ to Frank as if passing on an important message.

In the midst of his terrible grief, Frank receives a shock visit from a gigantic frog and discovers the ‘Grimoire’ (an ancient book of frog wisdom) in the old shed and suddenly is propelled into a race against time and toads which leads all the way to Kakadu. In the splendid isolation of the Far North, Frank finds a peace which results in the end of the menacing toads as well as an end to his own self-misery.

At times fairly crazy but ultimately, poignant and wise about the healing process and moving on with life, what seems initially a light read becomes something much more.

Recommended for readers of around 10 and up.

Presenting Q&A with Geoffrey McSkimming




Geoffrey McSkimming is the author of the bestselling Cairo Jim chronicles and Jocelyn Osgood jaunts, and a book of verse, Ogre in a Toga and Other Perverse Verses. In addition to the Cairo Jim series and Ogre in a Toga, Geoffrey McSkimming has contributed to magazines and poetry anthologies and also narrates the award-winning Cairo Jim Chronicles audio books for Bolinda Publishing. He has written five character tours which take place regularly through the galleries at the Art Gallery of NSW in Sydney and a popular performance work, “The Startling Tale of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” (with additional dialogue by William Shakespeare), a monologue in verse. Geoffrey’s Cairo Jim and Jocelyn Osgood books are published around the world including UK, Japan, Korea, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia and Hungary.


  1. I always think the beginning is a terrific place to start, so perhaps you could tell us how you first became interested in writing. Did you write as a child or did that come later in life?


I always liked writing at school, and I wrote many stories and plays when I was at primary and high school. Writing was the thing I felt most comfortable with and I enjoyed it—I found I loved the way a story would emerge, little by little, as I wrote the words across the page. There was a certain sort of magic in that for me, and there still is.


  1. When did you first think you might be a professional writer? What was your first published piece of work?


I went to university and then worked for five years as a professional actor (I was a very bad actor, and fell off the stage more than once!) before realising, thanks to the expert guidance of the Director of the Queensland Theatre Company, that I was more of a writer than an actor. So I gave up the thespian ways and got a “normal” job and saved up my money and travelled to Africa, where I ended up getting sunstroke in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. From that came my first novel, Cairo Jim and Doris in Search of Martenarten, which became my first published work, and the first in the 19 volume Cairo Jim chronicles, which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and which people are still reading somewhere or other.


  1. What do you think has had the most influence on your writing (genres, experiences, interests, authors etc)?


That’s a hard question. I suppose if there was a simple answer it would have to be life and what you put into it and get out of it. I have a sharp sense of humour and I’m lucky in that I can more often than not see the funny side of things (though not all the time). I also love history, which shaped the Cairo Jim chronicles and also, now, is shaping the Phyllis Wong mysteries (I relished discovering all those Shakespeare facts and quirks in Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror). And I love story, and I’m always reading something or other. Sometimes when I read a beautifully crafted sentence or phrase it pulls me up and makes me think how wonderful the gift of language and literature is.


  1. In your persona of Cairo Jim and more lately, in your Shakespearean guise, you seem to enjoy some character play. You are a poet, author and performer. Which do you see as your primary occupation? How do they relate to each other?


I’m a writer of stories—whether they be told as novels, short stories, poems or plays. I guess my semi-theatrical background has influenced all that I write; I love things that are a bit larger-than-life, and that have mystery to them (hence Phyllis Wong and her magical world/s). I can never write about backyard stories—they’re just not in me.


  1. Your characters are quirky and often eccentric, are they entirely fictional or do you draw on real-life for inspiration?


A mixture of both—all the characters I’ve written are a hybrid of characteristics I’ve thrown together, some of which come from my imagination, some of which are loosely based on people I’ve known or have met or whom I’ve heard about. If some of the eccentric characters I’ve created really existed, then I think one would want to steer well clear of them!


  1. One of the things I most enjoyed about the Cairo Jim books was the word play (I can’t see a Nescafe ad without thinking of Mustapha!). Are you naturally punny in real life?


Not really … but I do joke around a lot, rather than do a lot of puns. I think puns are funnier on the page than spoken out loud. I love humour that comes out of situations in the stories, or from characters’ personalities. And of course the unexpected.


  1. Given that Doris was well known for her Shakespearean quotes and your latest Phyllis Wong book also features Shakespeare, can we assume an interest in the Bard on your part?


Shakespeare was the greatest writer we’ve ever seen. His language and wordplay and invention have never been surpassed. If you want a short and lesser-known example, go and read aloud Gloucester’s account of his dream of being drowned in Richard III. It’s breathtakingly wonderful!


  1. Animals are clearly an integral part of your character’s lives. Brenda the Wonder Camel is possibly the most inspired beast I have ever encountered in a novel. What role do animals play in your own life?


I’m so glad you admire Brenda; she’s a camel to be reckoned with. I’m of the staunch belief that animals have just as much right to inhabit this world as human beings, and I bristle whenever humans kill animals for sport or for their tusks or for whatever stupid reason they kill them. I used to have a dog named Daisy and I loved her very much.


  1. What values and beliefs do you think you bring to your writing?


I think it’s important for people to show respect: respect for each other; respect for the past; respect for concepts such as copyright and free speech; respect for others’ religions or ways of thinking. I like to think that in the Phyllis Wong mysteries, there are different elements of respect underlying the friendships and relationships between the characters. And I think humour in stories is extremely important—not lavatory-style humour, but truly clever and witty fun. I try to present that sort of thing. I don’t ever want to treat my readers like they’re dumb, because they’re not.


  1. Who are your favourite writers (for adults and for children)? What are you reading now?


I’m reading a lot of vintage crime fiction at the moment—writers like Agatha Christie, ECR Lorac, Ngaio Marsh and I’m almost finished reading all of the detective novels by Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day Lewis). I also like Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Catherine Jinks, Steven Herrick, Jen Storer, Martin Ed Chatterton, Ray Bradbury, Tolkien, Kirsty Murray and … oh, goodness, lots more. I read a lot; I never watch TV (really) and I go to the pictures at least once a week, so I’ve plenty of time to read. When I’m not writing, that is.


11    Tell us about Phyllis Wong. How did she come into being? And please tell us about the magic in your life.


Phyllis is marvellous. I love writing her stories and finding out more about her personality as each mystery unfolds. She’s a superb young magician with a shrewd and clever way of thinking and approaching problems and mysteries.

She initially came about when my publisher at Allen & Unwin, Anna McFarlane, got in touch with my agent and asked whether I’d like to write a novel for A&U. I hadn’t written a novel for a while, after having completed the Cairo Jim chronicles; I’d been writing other things—character-based tours for the Art Gallery of NSW and a performance piece based on Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. At about this time I’d come into contact with Australia’s leading female magician, Sue-Anne Webster, and I was publishing, in a magazine, a regular series of magic tricks she’d written. I’d also been using stage magic in the Hamlet presentation, which I performed for a while. Anna McFarlane became aware of all of this and when she asked whether I’d like to write a novel, the idea of a young girl magician came slowly to mind. The character of Phyllis has developed (and is developing) with the more I learn about magic from Sue-Anne (I don’t know the secrets behind the tricks; I don’t want to!) … it’s so true that magicians think in ways very different to most other folk, and I’ve learnt that from knowing Sue-Anne as well. It’s this way of thinking that propels Phyllis through the amazing mysteries she encounters.

There’s a lot of magic in my life, and I’m blessed to have it.


12    What next for Phyllis Wong?


I’ve just finished the final polish of Phyllis’s third mystery and it’ll be with my publisher very shortly. It’s even bigger than Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror, and in it Phyllis has to try to tackle a potentially catastrophic situation that harkens back to a time when the ages were dark, and which could happen again today, plunging the world into a chaos it hasn’t seen the likes of in over a thousand years. Luckily Phyllis has Clement and Chief Inspector Inglis at hand to try to help her, as well as other familiar characters like Mrs Lowerblast, and some new and mysterious figures as well. It’s an enormous story with a lot of surprises, suspense and a dash of silliness here and there … and now I’m starting on the fourth Phyllis Wong mystery too.


13    What advice would you give would-be writers?


  1. Read lots.
  2. Always carry a notebook around with you and jot every idea down, no matter how silly or unimportant it might seem at the time. You never know when one of those little ideas will become a gem!
  3. Listen and watch and soak up the atmosphere around you all the time.
  4. Try to write a little bit every day (or a lot if you can manage it), in a special place where you won’t be disturbed.
  5. Enjoy the wonderful craft of scribbling *smile* . Have fun with it, and feel good about writing … never let negative people try to dampen your enthusiasm!


14    What has been your greatest achievement or given you the greatest pride in your career thus far?


When I’m writing and I manage to get a sentence or a phrase or even a coupling of words just right. And it’s a rare thing, I think, when it happens. That sounds like nothing much, perhaps, but to me it’s more wonderful than winning awards or getting good reviews. Awards and reviews and writers’ festivals is not what being a writer is about, for me; it’s about telling the story the best way I possibly can. And entertaining my readers—that’s hugely satisfying.


15    What would you like your epitaph to say?



Thanks so much for interviewing me; it was a swell experience!



Geoffrey McSkimming, it’s been an absolutely spiffing experience to interview you – thank you so much for your time!



You Choose series – George Ivanoff


You Choose Series – George Ivanoff

You Choose #1: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove

ISBN: 9780857983831

Published: 01/05/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 144 pages


You Choose #2: Mayhem at Magic School

ISBN: 9780857983848

Published: 01/05/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 160 pages


You Choose #3: Maze of Doom

ISBN: 9780857983855

Published: 01/07/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 160 pages


You Choose #4: The Haunting of Spook House

ISBN: 9780857983862

Published: 01/07/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 160 pages


RRP – $14.99

So I received the first couple of books in this series a few weeks ago, in the madness of term time and put them to one side as others were in line first. Then during last week the next two arrived and I thought to myself, ‘Self you better get cracking on those’. Dutifully I put the pile of four on the side of my desk where they could not be ignored and I could get to them sometime over a busy weekend.

Cut to Saturday afternoon with 15 year old grandson staying over to earn some pocket money doing Gran chores, like the yard, washing the car etc. Now, our Lochie is a good egg – polite, a hard worker, good to his Mum and mostly to his little sister, loves his dog with a passion and likes mine pretty well too – but not what you would call a reader.  Although, apparently during the first week of holidays (last week) he did tear himself away from the Xbox long enough to read a Manga book I gave him last week.

Taking a cool drink break during the afternoon of chores, he picked up the first ‘You Choose’ from the top of the pile and sat down and read it straight through, commenting at the end “That was a great story – lots of fun picking what you will do next!” and promptly grabbed the next one and read that! What the….???? He’s coming back next weekend to stay over another night as we are going to the Medieval Festival and is going to read the next two then.  As Yoda would say ‘Stunned I am’.
Oddly enough, his mum wasn’t much of a reader as a kid either – until we discovered some terrific Famous Five ‘choose your own adventure’ books and then she never stopped reading.

So all I have to say is … George Ivanoff, if you can get this kid switched onto a good read when he’s railed against books his entire life, then you are definitely on a winner!   These ones are coming to school with me for sure, for a great book talk with the boys after the holidays.

Well, about the books then. As you can tell by the titles each one has a different theme and setting – all of which are very boy-appealing particularly.  With engaging illustrations, maps and the like they are easy to read and particularly suitable as read alouds as each ‘Pathway episode is brief (for those quick ten minute fill ins especially). Naturally the action is fast-paced as a result and this is definitely a plus for those reluctant readers who don’t like getting bogged down.

I think these are a must for your library shelves and in fact, in multiples, as once the word is out they will be gobbled up quickly.

Highly recommended by Lochlan for boys aged 9 and upwards.


Teaching notes are available here at Random House and why not take a look at George’s website here. Your students may be familiar with George from his appearance on ABC3 (10/6/2014).

Happy 4th of July!


To celebrate the 4th of July why not take a look at some great American book-related sites! here is a list of my favourites.


Watch Connect Read

Donalyn Miller

Eric Carle

Neil Gaiman

Dr Seuss

American Association of School Librarians

Springfield Library

The Daring Librarian

Guys Read

John Green

Nancy  Pearl

The Princess Bride – watch the trailer


You might also like these two articles via buzzfeed:

15 Classic Children’s books that have been banned

Reading will actually ruin your life

Finally, who is your favourite American author? Mine is John Steinbeck – hands down, no question about it.



Rivertime – Trace Balla


Rivertime –  Trace Balla

Allen & Unwin

April 2014

ISBN 9781743316337

Hardback – 80 p.

RRP $24.99


Every now and then a book comes along and you just look at it amazed. This apparent picture book is really a graphic novel that recounts an extraordinary trip along the Glenelg River undertaken by a small boy and his Uncle Egg, as they observe the birdlife, people, country and all of nature.

From the magnificent end papers detailing the wildlife encountered to the beautiful illustrations (ink & colour pencils I believe) to the beautiful flow of action and pictures which echo the river’s meandering, this is just sumptuous.

Meeting many interesting people along their trip, Clancy and Uncle Egg find out more about the traditional owners of the lands through which they pass and encounter quirky characters. There is such a richness in this book and while beautiful in itself, lends itself perfectly to so many teaching points including maths, time, environmental issues and ecosystems, mapping, natural wildlife, Indigenous culture, literacy and more.  The illustrations and format would be terrific springboards to storyboarding, art activities, illustrated journals and scientific diaries.

It is impossible to do this justice in a review – I strongly encourage you to add this title to your Primary level collection. Highly recommended for around Year 3 upwards.


Download a free pocket sized birdwatching guide here or teaching notes here.


Jam for Nana – Deborah Kelly/Lisa Stewart


Jam for Nana – Deborah Kelly/Lisa Stewart

ISBN: 9780857980014

Published: 01/04/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 32 pages

RRP $19.99

Deborah Kelly’s first picture book (reviewed on this blog in October last year) was all ongoing action and riotous colour, and I loved it. This second picture book illustrated by Lisa Stewart is equally delightful but completely different.

A perfect book for grandparents and their grandchildren to share, Jam for Nana was inspired by Deborah’s memory of making pancakes with her own grandmother.

A little girl and her grandmother make pancakes and Nana remembers the ‘real’ apricot jam she’d loved as a child. With all the tender love that is the bond between the old and the young, the little girl recreates the love and warmth of that real jam just for her special Nana.

Beautifully reflective and illustrated simply with soothing pastel colours, the sweet sharing between the grandmother and granddaughter is almost tangible.

This is a gorgeous book that would make a wonderful gift for just such a pair in your circle and also a lovely addition to your picture book collection – well suited for the discussion of families with little ones.

Clementine Rose and the Treasure Box – Jacqueline Harvey


Clementine Rose and the Treasure Box – Jacqueline Harvey

ISBN: 9781742757537

Published: 01/07/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 160 pages

RRP $12.99


There is something so delightfully Milly-Molly-Mandyish about the Clementine Rose books! In this new episode Clementine Rose is thrilled when the old house at the end of the lane is refurbished and an exciting new family move in. She has friends to play with – Mintie and twins Tilda and Teddy plus their pet tortoise, Flash. Lady Clarissa, Clementine Rose’s adopted mother, enjoys meeting the children’s parents, Basil and Anastasia but Aunt Violet is rather snooty (as she always is). That is until she realises that Anastasia is THE Anastasia Barkov, retired Prima Ballerina of the Royal Ballet. After all, Aunt Violet is the ultimate snob!

Clementine Rose is more than excited about her new playmates, she is looking forward to beginning ballet classes with Ana, who is opening a ballet school in the village hall. And to add to that excitement, Basil is a documentary film maker and wants to film Penberthy House. It’s all  happening in this little village!

Then disaster strikes –the village hall burns down due to faulty wiring. How can the ballet classes go ahead, not to mention all the usual village activities centred on the hall?

A meeting of the village residents sees a fund raising fete planned for the grounds of Penberthy Hall, along with guided tours. When Clementine Rose, her new friends and Lady Clarissa start clearing out the attic with all its accumulated discarded ‘junk’ a real surprise is in store.

Along with the usual cast additions of Uncle Digby, Lavendar the teacup pig and Pharoah the Sphynx cat, there are various villagers to meet in this community spirited story.

Girls from 7 and up will adore this and others in the series.

Visit Jacqueline Harvey’s website for more information, trailers, teacher notes and fun stuff and find a sample reading here at Random House.