Book Review: We See the Stars, by Kate Van Hooft

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_we_see_the_stars.jpgSimon is an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a world of silence, lists and numbers. He hasn’t spoken for years and at times lives in a fantasy world.

We See The Stars is set in rural Victoria where Simon lives with his Dad and younger brother Davey, and also his Grandma, who spends much of her day at the hospital with Granddad.

School is not easy for Simon as the other kids think he is weird and at times he feels his only friends are Davey and Superman who is always there when he needs him. Simon is often bullied and he has a variety of coping mechanisms when he begins to feel overwhelmed.

‘I tried to go invisible. I tried to turn into air. I stood right where I was, right there on the spot, while it all just kind of played out around me, and I felt heavy in my tummy when the noise came up over the top of me and broke over my head’.

One day Simon shares his Vita-Weats with Cassie, a girl from his class with a physical disability who has also faced ridicule, and a friendship starts to form. Their new teacher Ms Hilcombe also takes a special interest in him, and it is while he is at her house he begins to talk again.

‘I like your class’ I said, but quietly.
‘Oh Simon!’ she said, and her voice came out all in a rush of air. ‘Did you just….?’

This book is listed in the Mystery/Crime category but the author takes the reader on a fantasy journey with Simon as he searches for Ms Hilcombe when she goes missing, while at the same time Simon seems to be the only person in his household who visits his mother in her bedroom.

Kate van Hooft was born and raised in Melbourne and lives there with her husband Paul Carter, also a writer. She is currently working as a disability advisor at Swinburne while finishing a Master of Social Work. She has worked for more than ten years in student wellbeing and disability support in tertiary education and is passionate about youth mental health. We See the Stars is her first novel and will appeal to a wide age range of people especially those working in the disability field.

The novel is a beautifully written, gentle, compelling read and drew me in from the beginning, Simon’s thoughts giving the book a haunting appeal which kept me turning the pages. Mystery and fantasy combine as the story progresses into escapism keeping the reader guessing right to the end and beyond.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

We See the Stars
by Kate Van Hooft
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760632526

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Book Review: The Mulberry Tree, By Allison Rushby

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_mulberry _tree.jpg‘Do naught wrong by the mulberry tree, or she’ll take your daughters . . . one, two, three.

In the dead of night, spirited away, never to see an eleventh birthday . . .’

Ten-year-old Immy has been forced to move halfway across the world – from her friend-filled, vibrant life in Sydney, Australia to the pin-drop quiet of a tiny village in Cambridgeshire, England. With only three girls in her class – none of whom will talk to her – Immy is alone and feeling lonely in this strange new place. The one upside is the beautiful medieval ‘doll’s house’ cottage her parents find to rent, but it too has a secret – a gigantic, black mulberry tree in the back garden which drenches the house in darkness.

According to village legend, the mulberry tree is murderous: two girls, Bridget in the 1700s and Elizabeth in 1945, disappeared from the same house on the eve of their eleventh birthday, with a bulging knot appearing in the mulberry tree the day after their disappearance. Every person in the village believes the mulberry tree took the girls – so much so that they cross the road to avoid walking past the tree, they refuse to talk to Immy or her parents when they decide to rent the house, and children who sing the rhyme do naught wrong by the mulberry tree are roundly told off out of superstitious fear.

Immy doesn’t believe in the rumours: she was raised by two doctors who believe in scientific truth above all. One day, however, she hears a strange song in her head . . .
With mounting pressure to unravel the mystery of the mulberry tree before her eleventh birthday, The Mulberry Tree is a spooky tale which will appeal to those aged eight upwards. A modern fable by prolific Australian author Allison Rushby, The Mulberry Tree interlaces broad topics such as the difficulties of starting somewhere new, the dangers of black-and-white thinking, and how to help someone you love who is suffering from a mental illness.

With beautifully drawn characters, The Mulberry Tree is infused with heightened tension. A strong, stubborn and compassionate protagonist, Immy takes charge of solving the mulberry mystery – as well as saving injured hedgehogs. As she rides the anxiety and angst that come with change and growing up, her innate empathy for others allows her to not only befriend kids in her class, but the lonely tree in her garden.

A tale about forgiveness, the moral of The Mulberry Tree is bluntly spelled out rather than gently entwined. If the ending is slightly too convenient, Rushby has still successfully managed to balance the telling of a compelling but not-too-creepy tale, which will ensure both upper primary and lower secondary school readers will love this page-turning mystery.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

The Mulberry Tree
by Allison Rushby
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781760650292

Book Review: Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods, by Craig Phillips

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_giants_trolls_witches_beasts.jpgWhat a great book this is.  It blew my socks off with its originality and uniqueness.

If you love stories about giants, trolls, witches and beasts who are up to no good you will love this. It includes stories from all around the world, some of them traditional oral tales.  Craig Philips uses his own words to tell these stories, and brings them to life using his stunning illustrations. Some seem familiar while others are not. Vasilsa the Brave, from Russia is a great story that bought to mind the story of Cinderella. A wicked stepmother and horrid stepsisters – and of course a happy ending.

One of my favourite stories was Thor and the Frost Giants, a story from Scandinavia. A story that starts with “once upon a time”. Thor was bored but being only ten years old he had to do as he was told by his parent. A birthday lunch for Aegir the Sea King’s and his annoying daughters. The only pot large enough to brew mead for all the gods of Asgard is owned by the frost giant Hymir, but no one was brave enough to venture to Hymir’s castle to borrow it – except Thor and his friend Tyr,  Hymir’s son. Thor’s father forbids it as he feels his son at ten years old is far too young.  Thor decides to ignore his father’s wishes, wanting to prove to him that he was more then old enough to accomplish the task.

This book bought to mind my copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales from when I was a child and now being enjoyed by my grandchildren. Giants, Troll’s Witches, Beasts is a much more exciting book with fabulous graphics which I can see becoming a classic.

I read some of these stories to my seven-year-old granddaughter Abby.  She loved these stories and asked if she could take it home so Mummy could read it to her again.  Of course, I relented.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts:  Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods
by Craig Phillips
Published by Allen & Unwin Children’s
ISBN 9781760113261

 

Book Review: Kakapo Dance, by Helen Taylor

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kakapo_danceI read this book to my 3 ½ year old granddaughter Quinn. The illustrations are captivating and marry in beautifully with this rather delightful story.

Kakapo is a rather large clumsy bird. The forest is alive with all the birds singing and dancing, all except Kakapo.

‘Because Kakapo DON’T sing or dance,
We’re just not made that way!’

The Bellbird has a melodious song, but all Kakapo can do is Thud! Thud! Thud! We then have the Keruru who loves to coo and glide and the Bellbird loves to hop and chime. Whio likes to whistle and waddle. Pukeko like to strut and shriek, Fantail likes to chirp and twirl but all Kakapo can do is Boom! Boom! Boom! They also Ching! And they can Tuuuumble! Shuffle! Shuffle! Shuffle!

This is quite a funny book as it highlights how even a clumsy bird has its attributes.

Quinn had a faraway look on her face at one stage – her own singing and dancing is a bit like Kakapo’s. Perhaps she was imagining herself in Kakapo’s shoes and wondering how she could improve her own singing and dancing.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Kakapo Dance
by Helen Taylor
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143506010

Book Review: Most Wanted, by Donovan Bixley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_most_wanted.jpgIn the spirit of Geronimo Stilton, but with less in your face puns and colourful text, comes the Flying Furballs series, written and illustrated by Donovan Bixley. Taupo-based Bixley, is a very productive writer and illustrator and launched the Flying Furballs series in 2017.

In Most Wanted, the CATs squadron is again up against the DOGZ, and this time the hero is Claude D’Bonair, who is in pursuit of the fearsome Red Setter. The Red Setter’s very name strikes fear across catdom, with 43 confirmed strikes.

With the imagery of World War One, and illustrated pages of newspapers and comics, this is a visually attractive book and my children found it very engaging. Breaking up the text this way makes progress through the book very quick for young readers. Both children enjoyed the cat and dog puns.

While this is the fourth book in the series, with recurring characters, it is not necessary to read the books in order. These books are ideally suited for children aged 7-10 who will  really enjoy the animal puns and pictures.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Most Wanted (Flying Furballs #4) 
by Donovan Bixley
Published by Upstart Press
ISBN 9781927262993

Book Review: DUCK!, by Meg McKinlay & Nathaniel Eckstrom

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_duckIt was a quiet afternoon on the farm, when suddenly… DUCK! The farm animals are disturbed by a loud and obnoxious duck shouting his own name at them. When the other animals try to explain to the duck that they are not ducks the duck only grows louder and more insistent. Is the duck not listening to his fellow farm animals or are they not listening to his warning.

Meg McKinlay’s DUCK! Is a funny story that explores the unfortunate consequences of a bunch of animals who misunderstand their fellow farm friend’s warning. The repetition and exclamations of DUCK! invites young children to participate and the humorous descriptive language is very appealing to this audience. Nathaniel Eckstrom’s charming illustrations which set the farm in the middle of autumn include subtle foreshadowing of the disaster that is about to strike and a clever reference to a well known movie.

If you’re looking for a great read aloud book then DUCK! is the book you’re looking for. Children will find themselves joining in shouting “DUCK!” and having a gasp and a giggle at the slightly shocking ending!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

DUCK!
by Meg McKinlay
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781925381535

Book Review: Valdemar’s Peas, by Maria Jönsson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_valdemars_peas.jpgValdemar LOVES fish fingers but he HATES peas! But Papa says ‘The peas go in the tummy. Then ice cream. Chocolate ice cream!’ Valdemar may be a little wolf but he’s a clever little wolf. He hatches a cunning idea to get the peas in the tummy without having to eat a single one.

Valdemar’s Peas is a tale about an all too familiar dinner time dilemma that I’m sure many young children and their parents have experienced. The back and forth between Valdemar and his Papa is all too relatable and both children and parents will find humour in Valdemar’s determination and trickery to get chocolate ice-cream. Although, I don’t think my own parents would have shown as much appreciation for such a cheeky and quick-witted response as Valdemar’s Papa!

Maria Jönsson’s adorable, black and white illustrations which are accented with reds, browns and greens suit her playful story perfectly, portraying well Valdemar’s distaste for peas, smugness at his own successful trick and Papa’s exasperation. I think Valdemar’s Papa will be more specific about which tummy the peas need to go into next time!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Valdemar’s Peas
by Maria Jönsson
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571963