Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Fetch the Treasure Hunter:The Debt Instalment Four - Phillip Gwynne

If you found The Debt books one, two and three difficult to put down, then Fetch the Treasure Hunter will be impossible to close. Dom’s world spins out of control at tornado pace in book four of this fabulous series. Think death-defying moments. A lot of death-defying moments: heart-in-the mouth wall-scaling – including a climb over the Colosseum mid Rolling Stones concert; heart-pumping stunts in underground drains and tunnels; heart-stopping, truck-skitching skateboard rides down treacherous mountains; and heart-hammering brushes with knife-toting youths to name a few. Be prepared to suspend disbelief in this gratifying adventure as the Debt intervene once again in Dom’s life to land him in Rome to run in the World Youth Games – but more importantly, to track down the treasure hunter E Lee Marx. Like the others in the series, this book is superbly crafted and plotted; it’s funny and smart; the jigsaw’s coming together but clues aplenty remain to keep the reader guessing. Roll on September!

Allen & Unwin  2013
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 28, Issue 3, July 2013)

Holiday of a Lifetime: Disaster Diary - Megan De Kantzow

Anna is a worry wart. Her world is so full of worry that even ‘the holiday of a lifetime' – that her parents decide will be a far better use of the funds set aside for a new kitchen and bedroom for Anna – is packed with anxious moments. Well, from Anna's perspective it is. What can you expect if your parents book a flight to Europe that leaves on Halloween? Gran comes to the rescue, though. When Anna looks in the package Gran gave the family to open on the plane, she finds the silver seahorse necklace Gran had as a girl, and which Dad says is a lucky charm. It doesn't save Anna from having arguments with Francine, her ballet-maniac older sister, or keeping the annoying Mr Cadwalder away (hgna, hgna, hgna), and it doesn't prevent Anna's suitcase from becoming lost during the flight or five-year-old brother, Timmy, falling out of a row boat in the Grand Canal at Versailles or getting lost at The Louvre. But it does keep Anna's fears at bay. Mainly. Until disaster strikes after the charm is lost and Anna must come to terms with her dependence on luck; she must pull out all her resources – her inner strength and ingenuity – as well as the emergency supplies in her backpack to perform a heroic task.

Holiday of a Lifetime: Disaster Diary is well-crafted and hard to put down. Aimed at primary school-aged girls and written in diary form, it will appeal because of the strong first-person voice, witty humour and themes of adventure, dealing with anxiety and negotiating family relationships. Based on author Megan de Kantzow's own experience of holidays in Europe and Finland, the text is interesting and educational, positioning the reader to explore outside the confines of their immediate locale.
A book that tackles the challenges of pushing through fear and superstition in a light-hearted, entertaining and engaging read.

Omnibus Books 2013
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 28, Issue 3, July 2013)

Johnny and the Pelican - Melva Ouliaris & Meredith Thomas

Johnny arrives at the beach with his mother to watch the pelicans being fed. They stand on the promenade where Johnny positions himself on the stone wall in anticipation of the event. They are gradually joined by others who have come to take part in the daily ritual. A bucketful of fish sits on the sand but no pelicans come to enjoy it – seagull scavengers the only interested customers. Eventually, one by one, people give up waiting and go home – except for Johnny and his mother. And an old man. He’s been coming here to watch the pelicans feed for sixty years. Together they wait, even as the sun begins to dip, eyes to the horizon …

Meredith Thomas’s stunning illustrations shore up the text in this gentle picture book about patience. The movement and energy of the full-page spreads is a feast for the eye with their vibrant colour and strength of purpose. The lushness and warmth of each painterly illustration, evocative and captivating, draws the reader/viewer further into the story and creates a subtext that transports it to another level. The simplicity of the sketches that break up the text complements the overarching design of the book and adds further interest and balance.

The illustrations in this book add depth and perspective, which compensates for the text’s omniscient point of view and external narration, which tends to lock the reader out of Johnny’s internal world. The text on the back cover reminds the reader that ‘beautiful things come to those who wait’ and as the mother in the story is depicted wearing a head-scarf, the text could be interpreted as a metaphor for the wait of the refugee to come to Australia. A child reader would need to have this pointed out, however, which could provide a valuable springboard for discussion.

Jo Jo Publishing 2013
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 28, Issue 3, July 2013)

Where are you Banana? - Sofie Laguna & Craig Smith

Roddy and Banana have been together forever. They’re best friends. When Dad brought a puppy home, Roddy looked at him and said his first word – banana – and since then, Roddy and Banana have been inseparable. Banana pulls Roddy up and down the side of the house on his scooter; when it rains they sit in the shed and Roddy brushes his fur; and at night Banana sleeps on Roddy’s bed. Banana goes everywhere with Roddy – except to Aunt Celia’s house – on account of Penelope, Aunt Celia’s big red hen – who Banana likes to chase. But one day, when the family comes back from a visit to Aunt Celia, something terrible happens. Banana doesn’t come rushing up to greet them like he always does. Roddy can’t find Banana anywhere. No one can find Banana. But what they do find is a hole under the back fence.

Where are you, Banana? is a delightful story about a boy and his dog. Sofie Laguna has created a heart-warming tale that will appeal equally to children and their adults. Smith’s idiosyncratic illustrations combine splendidly with the text to draw the reader straight into the book and keep them absorbed until the last page. This lost dog story is a vibrant and beautifully crafted example of how ingenuity and the love of an animal come together in a small boy. Laguna artfully evokes a swathe of emotion in her storytelling – compassion, whimsy, familiarity, injustice, anxiety, desperation, hope, relief and love. Smith’s spirited illustrations, as always, support the verisimilitude and warmth of the text, joining forces to create full-bodied characters that children will remember and be eager to revisit.

Allen & Unwin 2013
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 28, Issue 3, July 2013)