Review blog

Click here for link to thhe review blog RSS feed Click here for the ReadPlus Review Blog RSS feed. Copy the link location into your feed reader.


Jun 02 2020

Where's Spot? by Eric Hill

cover image

Spot the Dog. Puffin, 2020. ISBN: 9780241446850. Board book.
(Age: 0+) Highly recommended. With a gorgeous ruby cover to celebrate 40 years since the publication of this classic picture book, young and old alike will delight in the simple story of Sally trying to find Spot the little puppy. She looks in all sorts of places, under the stairs, in a box, under the rug, but Spot is not there. Instead she finds an array of smiling creatures, a crocodile, a snake, a bear, and a hippopotamus until she finally finds him and gives him his dinner.
The gentle refrain of "Is he in the . . . "; "Is he under the . . . " will be one that children can repeat along with the reader and then shout out a resounding "No." There will be opportunities for children to play hide and seek themselves and peek-a-boo after reading the story. The simple repetition and large print will also help emerging readers as they repeat familiar pages.
The pages are sturdy and the lift-the-flaps are big enough for little fingers to handle. What makes it so special are the big images of Sally the dog, outlined in black and the vivid colours that children are sure to enjoy.
This is a lovely book that will bring back memories to the generations who have read it aloud to children. Now their children have the opportunity to read it to their children as a board book and grandparents will be overjoyed to bring back memories with this gift to their young grandchildren as well.
Pat Pledger




May 29 2020

Rules for being a girl by Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno

cover image

HarperCollins, 2020. ISBN: 9781529036084. 293pp.
(Age: 15+) Highly Commended. Marin & Chloe are friends who both have crushes on Mr Beckett (Bex), their hip, young English Teacher. Marin's boyfriend, Jacob, is the school Jock but she often stays late after school, working on the school newspaper with Bex. Marin aspires to a career in journalism at Brown University but after accepting a ride home via Bex's house, the plot quickly becomes a cautionary tale. Naively, Marin is certainly not prepared for what happens when Bex crosses the line.
The upside to Bex's unapologetic betrayal of trust, if there is one, is Marin's awakening to the feminist perspective. Marin, already critical of the gender inequities in the school dress code, identifies more gaps in resources and expectations between the two genders. Jacob struggles to support the 'new' Marin, who pens a cathartic editorial about the confusion and double standards experienced by young women, entitled "The Rules for Being a Girl".
"Don't be one of those girls who can't eat pizza. You're getting the milk shake too? Whoa. Have you gained weight? Don't get so skinny your curves disappear. Don't get so curvy you aren't skinny. Don't take up too much space. It's just about your health . . . ." (page 81)
When Marin confides in Chloe, she is jealous rather than supportive. Principal DioGuardi also accepts Bex's account. For much of the story, Marin turns to Gray, a boy who admired her editorial and joined the feminist book club, to navigate the sexist policies the students are subjected to. Despite his temporary triumph, Bex is angry that Marin would seek to harm his career by snitching. He sinks to new lows to hurt Marin for "breaking the rules". A true heroine, Marin overcomes the devastating setback and teaches her own lesson - one that will chasten both Mr Beckett and Principal DioGuardi.
An impressive snapshot of a typical High School culture, Bushnell and Cotugno have created a worthy role model and guide in Marin. Her journey and her pivotal "Rules for Being a Girl" editorial, should be mandatory reading for all teenage girls.
Deborah Robins




May 26 2020

In the time of foxes by Jo Lennan

cover image

Scribner, 2020. ISBN: 9781760855697.
(Age: 16+) Recommended. Foxes are survivors; they've adapted to the urban environment. They are reknown for being cunning and predatory. In the first story in this collection by Jo Lennan, Nina has a Fox Situation - they have created a 'breeding earth' in a hollowed tree stump at the bottom of her garden and have become a nuisance to her family and neighbours, with the exception of her young son Ronnie who loves to watch their antics through the window. It's a problem that Nina struggles to find a humane solution to, just as at the same time she is coming to terms with her mother's dementia and how best to care for her.
The foxes in the first story are there, wild and free, and persistent. Other stories also tell of some kind of encounter with a fox, but it is not always the animal itself, it may be a charming man with a silver mane of hair, or someone clever and dangerous. Or a person coming to understand the hidden cunning within themselves. All of the stories are insightful about relationships, the struggle between the apparent and the hidden, or the outward and the interior. And, as the publisher's blurb says, each narrative is a compressed novel.
They are very interesting stories; locations vary from London, Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, even a station on Mars. They tell of relationships between parents and children, couples, friends, and childhood companions. And in the background somewhere there is always a fox.
Themes: Nature vs civilisation, Life and death, Friendships, Rivalry, Self-understanding.
Helen Eddy




May 26 2020

The Van Apfel girls are gone by Felicity McLean

cover image

HarperCollins, 2019. ISBN: 9781460755068.
(Age: Adult - Senior secondary) Highly recommended. Tikka Molloy was 11 when the Van Apfel girls, Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth disappear, the mystery of their disappearance remaining unsolved. Recounted in the voice of the young Tikka, the reader is taken to a hot Australian town set on a smelly river. The three girls disappear during a Showstopper concert held by the school, during a skit that Tikka has made up as a diversion for their running away. But they don't find Tikka's sister Laura who has money for them and nobody knows where they have gone. Weeks of searching does not solve the mystery, even though the girls' father is questioned extensively, as is Cordelia's teacher.
When Tikka comes back as an adult to be with Laura who has cancer, she is still haunted by memories of what happened and still often thinks that she sees Cordie as an adult, striding away, blond hair bobbing. She questions whether she and Laura should have told the police that the girls were planning to run away, and even her father feels that he should have done more to stop the domestic violence that Mr Van Apfel used to dominate his family.
The story brings back all the heat of an Australian summer, the swimming in the backyard pools, the casual jealousy of younger siblings for their older sisters, the smell of the river and the end of term school concert. Tikka's childhood comes alive as she describes in her precocious and innocent voice, what happened that summer. The fear that the girls felt as they watched Mr Van Apfel threaten his daughters and poorly understood sexual undertones pervade the story as rumours circulate about Cordie's teacher, leaving the reader wondering who was responsible for the girls' disappearance. Indeed McLean leaves that mystery open to the reader's own interpretation, rather like the mystery in Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Part mystery and part coming of age story, this is a story to be savoured and discussed. An essay by Felicity Mclean is available here.
Pat Pledger




May 26 2020

The giant and the sea by Trent Jamieson

cover image

Illus. by Rovina Cai. Hachette, 2020. ISBN: 9780734418876.
(Age: All) Highly recommended. This eye-catching large format picture book will not be left long on the shelves. A giant peers down at the young girl in the bottom right hand corner of the cover, watching what she will do. She is not telling her anything but from her expression, her shaded eyes, the down turned mouth, the plea is there and once opening the book readers will see what her plea is about. The words, 'the sea is rising' are repeated through the book, firstly to make the child aware of the danger which will engulf them all when the sea does rise, and then repeated by the child as she tries to warn others of the dangers the giant has predicted, and again at the end when the words come full circle, the situation no different than before.
A fable for the modern reader, the book promotes discussion about climate change, of standing up for what you believe in, of the possibility of hope.
The giant tells the child that the reason for the seas rising is the machine and tells her to get the people in the city to shut it down. But they are adamant that the machine is of great benefit, and feelings are polarised, so much so that people with banners march on the giant, telling her to go away. When the seas do rise, it is the giant that comes and saves the girl and her family along with some others from the town. They rebuild their town on higher ground and the giant keeps watching the sea until one day she tells a young boy on the shore, 'the sea is rising'.
And so the cycle starts again. Children will come to see that change needs to happen for the seas not to rise, and be aware that strength is needed to overcome the doubters.
The strong illustrative technique of Rovina Cai will excite the readers. The mix of graphite, crayon resist and wash means I wanted to touch each page, feel the child's hair, touch the rising sea, feel the power of the machines undermining the town. The gothic power of her drawings sweep across the pages, taking the eye with them as the water rises, the machines steam and whirr, the people stampede towards the giant, while her sparing use of colour adds texture and passion to her atmospheric pages. Themes: Climate change, Environment, Prediction, Future, Inundation.
Fran Knight




May 22 2020

Mum & Dad by Joanna Trollope

cover image

Mantle, 2020. ISBN: 9781529003390. 336pp.
(Age: Adolescent - Adult) This is a story that carries a deep-rooted sense of loss when a family is separated by distance, and indeed by tension. When the parents of grown-up children announced one day that they intended to leave England to live in Spain, where they planned to become wine-makers, their grown-up children were taken aback, and indeed somewhat hurt. This tale is embedded in that sense of abandonment in the loss of grandparents living nearby, wanting to be part of their children's lives. What surprised them all was that the older couple experienced a rather resounding success with their venture, their wine being celebrated as award-winning across Europe.
The story begins with an unexpected event, when the grandfather, Gus, is compromised quite significantly after suffering a stroke. Back in England the adult parents, and their children, must decide how to help their ageing parents. This scenario opens some inevitable confrontations amongst the families, who are not all in accord as to how to handle this new state of affairs. Trollope portrays the inevitable confrontations, the tension, and the concern for their own family issues, health and otherwise, as well as the challenge of bringing up adolescent children, with the different family issues and resentments rising to the surface, creating an increasing level of tension.
Delving deeply into the interactions of families, of models of love and kindness, as well as other issues, such as what is a decent response, when resentment and jealousy rise to the surface. Joanna Trollope has created a vibrant narrative that deals with some of the real issues that we face in the world today. Brilliantly, in her description of our understanding of the sense of inadequacy, of the fear of not being successful, or of the difficulty of choosing one's future, Trollope deals with some fundamental issues that are very much part of the modern world. She writes about how we seek to find the choice that is right, considering how we treat each other in ways that are respectful and kind, or otherwise demeaning, balancing this with the reality of our human capacity to forgive, to reconsider one's relationships when necessary, and to learn to love without judgement. It is indeed a most thought-provoking novel that is very much in touch with the modern world and is suitable for adolescent and adult reading. It is suitable for adolescent and adult readers.
Elizabeth Bondar




May 22 2020

Dark Age by Pierce Brown

cover image

Red Rising Saga. Hachette, 2020. ISBN: 9781473646759.
(Young Adult/Adult). Recommended. Dark Age is the fifth instalment in Pierce Brown's dystopian science fiction Red Rising Saga and the tone of the book is indicated by the title. This a dark, unpredictable and action-packed ride to continue Brown's epic series.
Part space opera, part high political drama, Dark Age resumes the story of Darrow, the Republic he founded and the corrupt Society he has spent more than a decade fighting. Once a successful revolutionary, Darrow is now an outlaw, his children have been abducted or imprisoned and an age of political and social chaos threatens. The story is told from the points of view of five characters; Darrow, his wife and sovereign Virginia, Ephraim the thief, Lysander the heir and Lyria, risen from the dead. As with all of the books in the Red Rising Saga, there are battles, deaths and complex plot lines, all aided by Brown's considerable stylistic strengths and pithy dialogue. However at more than 800 pages, the novel does being to drag. As with many 'middle' books in series, the reader may be forgiven for questioning whether all 800 pages were entirely necessary. Nevertheless, Dark Age does well to pick set the scene for what should be a thrilling conclusion to the series.
Dark Age is not suitable for younger teen audiences and a content warning must be given for murder, graphic assault and violence. However, fans of the Red Rising Saga will be satisfied with the latest instalment in the series and eager to see how Darrow's story concludes. Themes: War, Politics, Revolution, Corruption, Death, Space, Mars.
Rose Tabeni




May 22 2020

The Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois McMaster Bujold

cover image

An Ekaterin Vorkosigan novella. Subterranean Press, 2019. ISBN: 9781596068926. 73 pages.
(Age: Adult - Senior secondary) Highly recommended. What a thought provoking and stylish novella from Bujold, an award winning author who never fails to deliver a book that lingers in the memory. Ekaterin is beginning to take on the role of Lady Vorkosigan and with her interest in Botany sees the Vashnoi exclusion zone lands that have been devastated by war and still radioactive as something that she may be able to reclaim. Working with scientist Enrique Borgos, the pair experiment with radbugs that could eat the radioactive material in the dead zone and spew out fertilizer.
Not only does Bujold bring to life the horror of atomic devastation but the lingering effects of radioactivity on the surviving population. Writing with compassion and warmth she outlines the dilemmas that Etakerin faces when the radbugs begin to disappear and secrets that have been hidden since the time of her husband, Miles' grandfather, come to light.
In 73 engrossing pages Bujold explores the themes of prejudice against those who have suffered from radioactivity poisoning, the use of bioengineering and reshaping the landscape. Although this highly readable novelette fits into the series of books in the Vorkosigan saga, it can be read as a stand-alone.
Pat Pledger




Archived Blog Entries
Latest News
2020 Teens' Top Ten Nominees
Hugo Award Finalists 2020
Book explaining the coronavirus
Feel good and uplifting books for primary children
Humour for teens fiction list
CBCA Shortlists 2020
Carnegie and Greenaway Medals shortlist 2020

ReadPlus Features
Print similar authors bookmark
Read similar authors
How to find lesson plans
Sample theme animation

Promote Reading
Feel good and uplifting books for staff
Online Children's Storytime Websites List
Free Rights of the Reader Poster
Children's Laureate's charter