Jasper & Abby and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle by Kevin Rudd and Rhys Muldoon

Published: 1st October 2010Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Allen and Unwin
Illustrator: Carla Zapel
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

It was a special day at the Lodge. There was going to be a party. A big party. Abby the dog was there. Jasper the cat was there. But so was a scruffy little dog. The Prime Minister receives many letters and emails from children asking about Jasper and Abby, and he often tells his friends, colleagues, and staff stories of the antics of his family pets.

With Australia Day tomorrow I thought I would review a fun picture book all about our national day. This book was written by one of our Prime Minsters many years ago and it is inspired by the PM’s own cat and dog who lived in the Lodge with him. The book is co-authored by Rhys Muldoon and together they have created an enjoyable adventure about an important party and a slight kerfuffle.

With the premise of an Australia Day party at the PM’s house, the story manages to celebrate some wonderful things about our nation without going full Australian in our face either. There is a wonderful celebration of the resources of our nation and in a style that reminded me briefly of Possum Magic, they are listed with alliteration and short sentences that show off our produce, not to mention the wonderful regions around our country. All of this works within the story and the narrative is not pushed aside to just start listing great things about Australia nor is it overly simplified.

Jasper and Abby are the definite heroes of the story, and there are a few liberties taken in their understanding and capabilities. But they are still animals, talking to one another but not talking to the people.

Zapel’s illustrations are realistic and you can even see real pictures of Jasper and Abby at the fron of the book and see the resemblance. There is a lot of great detail in the fine line drawings, and I really loved how active all of the people appear to be. Kids aren’t standing straight, they are hanging off parents, and animals are mid scratch on chairs. It’s the small details like that which made me really focus on the pictures because it brought everything alive.

With short sentences often for each action or person there is a chance at a matching illustration so the mix of full page, double page and multiple small illustrations suit this story incredibly well because not only does it suit the action, but it allows a lot more to be visually explored than simply selecting a single scene.

I quite liked this story, I had forgotten that Rudd had even written it until I came across it at work. I’m glad I have read it now. This is a fun story filled with drama and chaos, and honestly a bit of suspense and tension too as you wonder will the culprit be caught before anything else goes wrong.

You can purchase Jasper & Abby and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Published: 1st December 2001 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 David R. Godine Publisher
Pages: 138
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic/Paranormal Gothic
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

What real reader does not yearn, somewhere in the recesses of his or her heart, for a really literate, first-class thriller–one that chills the body, but warms the soul with plot, perception, and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story written by Jane Austen?

Alas, we cannot give you Austen, but Susan Hill’s remarkable Woman In Black comes as close as our era can provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and most dreadfully–and for Kipps most tragically–The Woman In Black.

I read this expecting to be unnerved and unsettled but it didn’t quite reach that point. Overall it was enjoyable, but I found it a bit boring and slow at times. I understood the haunting, creepy nature but it didn’t grab me like it probably should. For the most part it was an ok story and I was curious about it, but that was as far as I got.

Reflecting the stories of centuries past this isn’t a horror story to frighten you, it’s meant to put you ill at ease with stories of ghosts and a mysterious woman lurking in graveyards. Small towns on moors with constant fog with secrets and unwilling to trust strangers.

You have to wait for the story to kick off and once that happens the plot unfolds properly and you get a few explanations and events that keep you intrigued. One thing I wasn’t expecting was how much the ending affected me. After reading about Kipps and his life, his experience with this old house and what he finds there I was anticipating the ending, but when it came to read about it I was quite moved. It’s that I remember most from this book, for that I give Hill credit for her writing. It burrows in when you think you aren’t paying attention and then turns your emotions on you in unexpected ways.

This is a relatively short book and it was better than the film, though both tell the story well. I think I missed that ending from the film which to me made this book all the better.

You can purchase The Woman in Black via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

Does my Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Published: 1st August 2005Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pan Australia
Pages: 293
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

The slide opened and I heard a gentle, kind voice: What is your confession, my child? 
I was stuffed. The Priest would declare me a heretic; my parents would call me a traitor… 
The Priest asked me again: What is your confession, my child? 
I’m Muslim. I whispered.

Welcome to my world. I’m Amal Abdel-Hakim, a seventeen year-old Australian-Palestinian-Muslim still trying to come to grips with my various identity hyphens.

It’s hard enough being cool as a teenager when being one issue behind the latest Cosmo is enough to disqualify you from the in-group. Try wearing a veil on your head and practicing the bum’s up position at lunchtime and you know you’re in for a tough time at school.

Luckily my friends support me, although they’ve got a few troubles of their own. Simone, blonde, gorgeous and overweight – she’s got serious image issues, and Leila’s really intelligent but her parents are more interested in her getting a marriage certificate than her high school certificate!

I thought I would like this more. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t the amazing book people made it out to be. It felt clunky and uneventful, and while there are great moments that shine through, the moments that falter stand out more.

The dialogue was…awkward. Conversations didn’t feel natural and Abdel-Fattah uses a lot of them to explain everyone’s back stories or Amal to educate the character (or us) about various topics and situations. They never seem to talk about anything else. The language was stilted and while what they are saying is valid and important, it doesn’t sit comfortably in the story. I don’t mind being told these things, but I think a more seamless inclusion was needed. This includes the excessive amount of metaphors and examples used, I understood that Amal wearing the veil sparked a need to educate the people around her but I felt overloaded with them.

I enjoyed the parts where Amal talks about why she wants to wear the veil and why it is important to her. I loved that I got to dislike the principal because of her own opinions and prejudices, no matter how subtle they were. And I liked Amal not putting up with anyone’s ignorance or preconception; her confusion, real or mocking, over why there is a problem at all is wonderful.

What was weird was being late reading this, it feels so old but it wasn’t at the time of course. I did not realise this was published in 2005, I thought it was the early twenty tweens, not the mid-2000s. The benefit of this however was I did enjoy reliving 2002 when Big Brother and Craig David were hot topics of discussion, I even think a bum bag reference was made which was fun.

It wasn’t all bad. There are some good moments like Amal’s frustration of being the token Muslim and I enjoyed getting to read about Muslim practice and faith. But it remained an average book, one I couldn’t connect with and whose clunky writing never let me fall into the story completely.

You can purchase Does My Head Look Big in This via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon | Audible

Donovan’s Big Day by Lesléa Newman

Published: 26th April 2011Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Tricycle Press
Illustrator: Mike Dutton
Pages: 32
Format: Paperback Picture Book
★   ★  ★  – 3 Stars

Donovan’s two moms are getting married, and he can’t wait for the celebration to begin. After all, as ringbearer, he has a very important job to do. Any boy or girl with same-sex parents—or who knows a same-sex couple—will appreciate this picture book about love, family, and marriage.  The story captures the joy and excitement of a wedding day while the illustrations show the happy occasion from a child’s point of view. 

The story is told through Donovan’s point of view and seeing his experience of the world and the Big Day was fun as Newman has mimicked the excited mind of a child and the urge to be a kid despite the importance and the fancy clothes he has to wear.

I liked the book and I enjoyed the story, I just found I couldn’t get into a rhythm reading it. It reads off like a list of things, which from a child’s mind works, but reading it I couldn’t get the flow right. The sentences are long and without punctuation which admittedly helps to convey the mind of an excited child. It is clear Donovan is going through a list in his mind of things he has been told to do and what not to do. It does make it hard to read and you have to find your own rhythm when reading but it is nice.

There’s no big agenda or message, it is all about Donavan doing his best on the Big Day. The focus is on him doing his job well and that makes it a different kind of read. One where the focus is on the child experience and his role, not the type of event. Having said that, it’s a great book that normalises a same-sex marriage and the family dynamic.

Dutton’s illustrations are good and help support the story Newman is telling. Donovan explains each step of his day and Dutton illustrates beside it in both full page and smaller illustrations. Overall, it’s a good book that promotes a child doing an important job and taking pride in doing it right. What he’s doing essentially doesn’t matter and it demonstrates that there are a lot of things you have to remember when doing an important job, especially for people you love.

You can purchase Donovan’s Big Day via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Angus and Robinson | Dymocks | Wordery

Fishpond | Amazon Aust | Amazon

More Than Friends by Liv Devereaux

Published: 5th September 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Self Published
Pages: 47
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult/Short Story
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Dana and Hope used to be best friends in elementary school. When they got to high school they lost touch. Dana got busy with soccer and Hope found a boyfriend. When they are paired up together for a project, Dana and Hope get the chance to get to know each other all over again. They’ll realize that both girls have changed in the last three years of high school. 

I picked this not looking at the page length, rather by the summary. I could easily see this as a full novel though, Devereaux easily could expand this into something longer, the bones are there. As is it is sweet, a bit rushed and easily solved, but at 47 pages you can’t expect anything but happy coincidences and easy solutions.

Despite this, it was a nice story, and even though it was short it felt established and rounded and a satisfactory read. Dana and Hope were good characters, the dual narration offers two perspectives and two stories, a great chance for readers to see the misunderstandings and hidden secrets which make young romance so lovely.

I would read this again if Devereaux expanded this into a full novel, but for the time being it was a lovely story about young love and repairing friendships.

You can purchase More Than Friends via the following

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries