Reviews

Who's hiding? by Satoru Onishi

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With 18 very cute little animals featured, this board book is sure to appeal to every young toddler who loves animals. Adults too, will have fun with children as they go through the book, finding the animal or animals that are hiding on a double page spread, and working out the ones that are crying, or backwards, are happy or angry or showing other emotions.

Animals include a combination of zoo animals, pets, and farm animals such as dog, tiger, hen, cat, elephant, lion, kangaroo and so on. The illustrations are labelled on the first double page spread and to add to the fun, the last double page spread is black with just the eyes shown, and the reader is questioned 'Who’s who?' It is fairly easy to find which animal or animals are hiding on the page, but when the reader is asked to identify the emotions, much more attention must be given to facial expressions and details. This could lead to discussion about emotions, how being angry, sad, happy feels. The concept of backwards could also be examined.

The illustrations are delightful, all coloured in vivid tones and the facial expressions are appealing.

The sturdiness of the book will ensure that it survives some constant handling as the interactivity of the puzzles is sure to intrigue its readers.

Who’s hiding is likely to become a family favourite, providing much enjoyment and fun.

Themes Animals, Puzzles.

Pat Pledger

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Aristotle and Dante dive into the waters of the world by Benjamin Alire Saenz

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In the previous book it seems 17 year olds, Aristotle Mendoza and Dante Quintana discovered one another and have fallen in love. Here both are in their final year at different schools in El Paso Texas and must keep their relationship secret; it is enough to endure the entrenched racism towards Mexicans but they would be mercilessly bullied as homosexuals. This is particularly so as AIDS sweeps the country, polarising public opinion. Both are from loving families, Dante has no siblings but his mother is pregnant. Ari has twin older sisters, an older brother in prison for murder, and a dog. Since acknowledging he is gay, Ari is discovering more about himself and his family. He is able to grow closer to his Vietnam veteran father and talk about his imprisoned brother. But at the centre of his life is his love for Dante and the uncertainties that lie before them. Negotiating life they need to draw their own map of the world they want to live in. Told as a first person narrative though Ari’s eyes and his journal writings, this coming of age love story gives a voice to all the beautiful, thoughtful, philosophical things we might all wish we could articulate to describe our feelings. But it felt inauthentic and manipulative as if the author had an agenda of things he wanted to say and pushed the narrative around to fit. The plot seemed to lose traction as the proponents flailed their way through the last year of school and characters seemed to appear and disappear when their part of the agenda was over. The book is purportedly set in the 80s when Aids was rampant but there was no other sense of this. Some troublesome gender issues have been pointed out at length online but it will be welcomed by those who fell in love with the previous book, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was very well received.  

Content warnings: Gender issues, violence, death, drug death, homophobia.

Themes Love, Identity, Family, Gender issues.

Sue Speck

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The woman in the library by Sulari Gentill

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Utterly brilliant, this highly original mystery novel will have you puzzling until the end. It begins with a letter from aspiring author Leo, writing from the Boston Public Library, to bestselling Australian author Hannah, asking about how her latest novel is going. And then we have Hannah’s writing, a work in progress, about four people who actually meet in that library, drawn together when they hear a woman scream. Thus Gentill creates a story within a story. It’s a little confusing at first, but readers are encouraged to persevere, for it becomes the most fascinating brain twister, that explores all the possibilities of mystery writing. It is that extra layer that raises so many interesting questions about authorship and writing.

My preview edition of the novel came with 4 playing cards, each card a possible suspect: Winifred, Cain, Marigold and Whit. Each has their own secrets. Like a game of Cluedo, I was challenged to read the novel until page 235, then stop, and make my guess: who killed the woman in the library? Even if your edition of the book does not have the cards, it is fun to make a guess at that point. How would you solve the mystery?

There are constant reminders that we are reading a mystery story that unfolds as it is being written, and there are many possibilities that could be developed. At the same time, Hannah’s relationship with Leo seems to become darker and darker. How genuine are his offers of help, and where is it leading?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to mystery lovers, and especially to readers who are also interested in the art of storytelling. It provides fascinating insight into the world of authors and writing, and is fun as well, and very very clever.

Themes Mystery, Murder, Writing, Writers.

Helen Eddy

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She gets the girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick

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'Alex is headstrong, with a dash of chaos and a lot of flirt.'

'Molly is completely in love with the impossibly cool Cora. She just....hasn't actually talked to her yet.' 

An absolutely heart-filled, warm, cosy hug of a book, with always necessary and completley beautiful LGBTQIA+ rep. 

Alex and Molly, polar opposites - Alex with her chaotic ways, Molly with her organised structures. Alex, always struggling to open up to the girl she loves, though trying to prove that she's not a selfish flirt, like her ex suggests (though I firmly maintain she never could've been!) Molly, head over heels for Cora, but not being sure about how to even approach her. Enter Alex, who hatches a plan to help Molly win Cora's heart, in the hopes that she'll prove to her ex that she's ready for commitment. 

All that it'll take for both of them to get their girls is a five step plan.....

Oh. My. Word. This book drew me in like a big, warm embrace and I honestly did not want to let go! I loved the dual narrative between Alex and Molly, how beautiful both their alternating chapters were, Alex's especially really tugs at readers' heartstrings as we learn about (quite early on) her Mum's struggles with alcoholism. That college is meant to be a fresh start for both Alex and Molly, for Molly to make friends (she's only ever really opened up to her Mum before) and for Alex to work towards her goals of working in medicine, never having to worry about money again after having, well, not the most comfortable childhood. By the same token, it was really interesting reading about Molly's Mother's dislike of being Korean and how Molly felt bad about being Korean, at times, too, it just shows, all the more, how the characters are written as so unflinchingly real, you just want to reach into the pages and reassure both of them that everything will be okay! Without treading on the spoilery waters too much, I will say that I instantly found myself wanting Alex and Molly to get together, their spark is so electric right off the cuff! 

Themes Family, Race, Alcohol abuse, Friendships, Healthy romantic relationships.

Brooklyn Saliba

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Still alive by Safdar Ahmed

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Subtitled ‘Notes from Australia’s immigration detention system’, Ahmed’s graphic novel is a dramatic and confronting expose of life in the Villawood Immigration detention centre. It began as a Walkley-winning online web-comic and has now been adapted as a print publication, shortlisted for the Eve Pownall Award in the Children’s Book Council Awards 2022, and very worthy winner of the Book of the Year and Multicultural NSW Award in the recent NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2022.

Ahmad’s book is a mix of autobiography and journalism, beginning with the author’s visit to Villawood in 2011, and his decision to start an art project with the detainees. Gradually he comes to know Haider (a pseudonym) and his escape from the Taliban in Afghanistan and his journey to Indonesia then to Australia by boat. Other refugees also tell their stories. The words are brief but the images are powerful and devastating. Ahmed’s artwork vividly captures the horror of their experiences and shows how the prison environment further compounds fear and trauma.

The book is dedicated to Ahmad Ali Jafari, the gentle 26 year old Hazara man who became the 14th person to die in Australia’s immigration detention system. His pleas for help while suffering a heart problem were mocked by the guards, and medical attention arrived too late to save him.

Interwoven with the personal stories of refugees is documentation of the ongoing political commentary about ‘boat people’ and mandatory detention. There was the story of ‘throwing children overboard’ a ‘deliberate deception motivated by political expediency’ on the part of the government. 'Temporary protection visas' are designed to block chances of gaining permanent protection. Children born to refugees in detention are ‘transitory persons’ and ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’. The ‘Pacific solution’ is modelled after US prison base Guantanamo Bay. ‘Australia’s offshore camps are a legal black site for ensuring that asylum seekers have no access to judicial review under Australian law’.

Ahmed’s black and white artwork is outstanding; one circular image recalls 19th century artist Ford Maddox Brown’s painting ‘The Last of England’ of migrants seeking better opportunities. Another drawing of an exhausted man on the deck of a boat recalls Max Dupain’s image of the Sunbaker. Many drawings evoke German expressionist woodcuts. And then again there are the images evoking the horror genre, the heavy metal scene and teenage comics. It is an incredible volume, combining art and text, drawing attention to the cruelty perpetuated against refugees, and raising ongoing issues of justice and humanity. It’s a book suitable for mature teenagers and adults alike.

Themes Graphic novel, Refugees, Detention, Trauma.

Helen Eddy

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Marmalade the orange panda by David Walliams. Illus. by Adam Stower

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Well-known author David Walliams has written a powerful story about celebrating and accepting difference. Marmalade The Orange Panda is a picture book about a panda who is born white and orange rather than black and white. Called Marmalade by his mother, he is not accepted by the embarrassment of pandas. Yes, the humorous collective noun for pandas is an embarrassment. So, this baby orange panda is an embarrassment to the embarrassment! Sadly, Marmalade decides to leave his mum to search for where he might belong. Along his challenging and exciting journey he meets numerous animals in shades of orange, but he is just not quite the same as them. He eventually makes his way back to his mother after falling into some mud and changing colour to be more like the others. However, Marmalade and his mother come up with a fun and ingenious plan to surprise the rest of the pandas.

The large, glossy illustrations in this book are bright, colourful and engaging, and the clever use of different-sized text draws the reader’s attention to the action taking place on the page.

This is a wonderful book that will be enjoyed by all ages and is a must-have for all libraries.

Themes Animals, Being different, Belonging.

Kathryn Beilby

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Blobfish by Olaf Falafel

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Blob Fish lives on the bottom of the ocean and he is lonely. He tells himself jokes but they are not funny to him on his own. He sees the other sea creatures with a friend, and he decides to go on an adventure in search of friendship. Above Blob Fish on the land the humans are splashing, walking, chasing, whistling, swimming, playing talking, and eating. Unfortunately, they are also being careless and throwing plastic bags into the ocean. Blob Fish discovers a floating bag and immediately thinks he has found a friend.  He grabs hold and begins to dance with the plastic bag which works out well to begin with but leads Blob Fish into terrible danger. He is spotted by a hermit crab who is unable to help initially but a human who is picking up rubbish removes the plastic bag, and the hermit crab saves Blob Fish. They become friends and “live blobbily ever after”.

This humorous and appealing story with bold and striking illustrations has a strong message for its readers about the danger to sea creatures of plastic in the ocean.  A great book to share for World Oceans Day.

Themes Ocean, Friendship, Plastic Bags, Sea Creatures, Environmental Issues, Humour.

Kathryn Beilby

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Dreams bigger than heartbreak by Charlie Jane Anders

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This is one for Sci-Fi lovers! With the future of the galaxy in peril, a group of young people (and some young aliens) are compelled to set aside all that they desire in order to help rescue the galaxy itself. Rachael has lost the delight of her artistic skill since being overcome by an alien force and is living with the distress and the voices in her head that add further distress. Her relationships with others have been impacted and she feels like a shadow of her former self. Tina is a student at the Royal Space Academy learning amazing things to help save the universe from destruction, while also being an amazing friend to others. Elza has the opportunity to be schooled and selected as a Princess, but will it mean that she loses her connection to her friends and can she understand the appearance of someone that fills her with dread. The interesting mix of humanoid and alien creatures, technology and space logic creates a drama with Sci-fi glory.

I confess that I am not one who loves leaving earth to discover story and drama and that Sci-fi is not on my list of ‘must-reads’ especially when it is set in space, so this book did not really warm my heart and I found it difficult to finish. But despite that, I could see that those who enjoy space-themed Sci-fi will find this appealing. The embedded emotional drama of non-conventional relationships and overcoming opposition kept me going, in amongst the alien vagaries and political intrigues, and technological quirks of space life and travel. The author has included the complexities of gendered identity, with technology revealing preferred pronoun identification that may also include variable identity and even ‘fire’ as a gender, as well as more traditional he/him, she/her and they/their. This is Book 2 of a Trilogy so the characters’ back stories would have been easier to understand having read the first book, but still was introduced adequately. The story ends with an obvious link and hint of the direction of the final instalment. So those who are keen on a sci-fi adventure should start the Trilogy with Book 1: Victories Greater than Death. There is considerable complexity in the storyline of this book and the drama of the destruction, or saving, of the Universe has many avenues of concern.

Themes Sci-Fi, Space, Relationships, Friendship.

Carolyn Hull

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The rock from the sky by Jon Klassen

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A curious tale about friendship and personal space, about being together and being alone, about things you can’t avoid and things you do not understand, Klassen’s latest book will have readers of all ages thinking about the imperfections of life while laughing out loud at the absurdity of the three friends seemingly playing out a scene reminiscent of Waiting for Godot.

The trio: Turtle, Armadillo and Snake all have a space they like to occupy. Their spot is the best and they offer their spot to their friends to come and join them. Each sings the praises of their own spot. But Armadillo is uneasy about Turtles' spot and is happy to remain where he is. Turtle after a while, joins him. Just in time as a huge rock falls onto his spot.

Chapter two, The Fall sees them looking at the rock, this interloper. Turtle defends the rock that has fallen, giving a reason for it being there, offering its shade to the others.

Chapter three, The Future, sees them imagining what the future may be like. They conjure up plants and trees around the space and are happy with what the future my hold. But into this space coms a creature that they do not understand. As it goes they decide not to try to see into the future.

Chapter four, Sunset has two watching a sunset as the sun disappears beyond the horizon. Turtle is intrigued and calls out to see what they are doing, but he cannot hear the answer and so must come closer to see what is happening. By the time he reaches them the sun has gone.

The fifth chapter, No More Room, is where Turtle is cross that the other two are sleeping comfortably by the rock. He cannot hear them and keeps moving closer until another rock falls on the place where he has been. Laughter will light up any class that reads this book, soaking up the absurdity of the situation, the incidents which occur and the responses that each displays.  Readers will laugh at the discussion of who has the best spot, their discussion stopped by a falling rock, and laugh again at the conversations between them: illogical, nonsensical and going nowhere. Parallels will be recalled and shared, situations discussed and life lessons drawn out amidst the laughter.

And did I mention the illustrations! Wow.

To see Jon Klassen reading his story go here. And another about his book in which he talks about the influence of Alfred Hitchcock on his work can be found here.

 

Themes Humour, Future, Friendship, Imagination, Hitchcock, Theatre of the Absurd.

Fran Knight

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Watch out, Little Wombat! by Charles Fuge

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The cute little wombat of Swim, Little Wombat, swim! and Little Wombat's Easter surprise returns in another adventure that is sure to delight his fans. Little Wombat and his friends Rabbit and Koala are playing explorers when he suggests that they go hunting for a bunyip by the creek. His friends laugh and tell him that there is no such thing as a bunyip. When he cannot find one he decides to make his own to fool his friends. He piles up mud and adds pinecones for tusks and reeds for whiskers, but when his friends scare him with a great roar, he goes headfirst into his mud monster. Then to their shock a giant crocodile appears, but Wombat saves the day.

Young children will enjoy the humour of Watch out, Little Wombat and will love finding out about the mythic bunyip and producing a description or drawings for themselves. The text flows along smoothly and the colourful illustrations are delightful. The friends are all very distinctive with cute, happy faces until they are scared by the crocodile and then their fear is really expressed on their faces and body language. I loved Little Wombat’s version of a bunyip and the happy conclusion of the three friends rushing back to Mrs Wombat will leave young children with a sense of security. Minute details of things like a butterfly, a ring tail possum and little lizards appear in the drawings and will be fun to follow.

The book introduces the Australian legend of the existence of bunyips who live in rivers and swamps and will be an enjoyable read aloud for young children.

Themes Wombats, Bunyips, Friendship, Frights.

Pat Pledger

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All that's left in the world by Erik J. Brown

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Andrew, seriously injured after falling into a bear trap in the woods struggles towards a dark cabin, desperately seeking food and rest. It is there that he meets Jamie, another solitary survivor of the drastic Superflu pandemic that has wiped out the world as we know it. Most of the world’s population has died, with bodies abandoned in the open, and the last survivors reduced to looting and pillage to find food and other necessities.

The budding friendship between Andrew and Jamie is jeopardised by Andrew’s reluctance to share a shameful secret, and while trust gradually builds between the two of them, Jamie is aware that there is always something held back. This is the story of a tentative LGBTQI relationship, set within a dystopian world. In an author’s note, Erik J Brown tells of how he was tired of not seeing ‘queer representations in post-apocalyptic stories’. So this novel is it – a post-apocalyptic novel with a love story at its heart.

It is also an adventure story, where the two set out in hope of reaching a rescue destination providing aid from EU nations that have overcome the pandemic. There is danger all along the way, with ruthless marauding gangs that loot and kill. But there are also kind people that offer help; for while some descend to savagery, others aspire to a better way of being. Love and friendship offer hope.

The description of the developing relationship between Andrew and Jamie is as tender as the friendships and relationships in the LGBQTI+ romance Here’s to us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, but Brown’s novel places its characters in a whole other world in a dark future. The combination of romance and adventure makes it a bold new novel for young adult readers.

Themes Dystopia, LGBQTI+, Quest, Pandemic.

Helen Eddy

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Young Precious: The collected adventures by Alexander McCall Smith

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Anyone in the know, that is anyone who has read any of the international bestseller series from the late 1990's The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, on seeing another book written by Alexander McCall Smith, would snatch it up eagerly as I did. What is the expectation? Why warmth and humour of course, more clever little adventures in Africa and more of that wonderful Mma Ramotswe hopefully...

This beautiful hardbacked omnibus edition of Young Precious The Collected Adventures, first published in 2021, contains three stories: Precious and the monkeys, Precious and the mystery of Meercat Hall and Precious and the zebra necklace. Who is Precious? Why Mma Ramotswe when she was a child, the same age as you, asking so many questions and getting tangled up in so many adventures and escapades amongst the people and animals of Botswana. Precious is not only smart, observant and very alert, she is also very kind. She is a champion of the bullied and a rescuer of animals. She solves little problems and each of these books contains a separate problem in need of a solution. 

Iain McIntosh's illustrations accompany the stories perfectly. Only red, black and white are used and the page designs are so varied that in themselves they make reading a pleasure. On turning each page the question might be - where will the illustration be... will it be a wrap around, above or below the text, whole page, tiny etc...  Meercats, Hippopotamuses, lions, cobras, elephants and ostriches abound.

I did not know that Alexander McCall Smith had written books for children but I can now vouch for the fact that children love the stories included in Young Precious The Collected Adventures. There is something very warm and comforting about McCall Smith's narrative style and authorial voice and the lovely messages that shine through. And of course who does not want to hear stories from Africa (particularly Botswana) and who doesn't want to go on a safari one day!

If you have enjoyed Rudyard Kipling's How the elephant got his trunk, here is another delightful read from Africa. Look out also for McCall Smith's acclaimed School Ship Tobermory adventures (for middle years readers.)

Highly recommended.

Themes Africa, Detective work, Adventure.

Wendy Jeffrey

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Treehouse tales by Andy Griffiths. Illus. by Terry Denton

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Treehouse Tales, written by world renown creators Andy Griffiths and his partner in crime, Terry Denton, have been entertaining their audience for years. This new novel is crammed full with 13 fun filled, action packed short stories to keep you enthralled and entertained. Griffiths and Denton have again combined together with amazing wittiness and jest. This latest book is, without a shadow of a doubt, another side-splitting sensation. And if you are unfamiliar with their Treehouse series, then you are certainly missing out on some fun, laughter and mayhem! All are a must read for anyone that loves a good laugh!

Featuring the same goofy characters, Andy, Terry and Jill, Treehouse Tales contains 13 chapters, each comprising of a short story. Each one is hilariously funny and will keep the audience captivatedly reading and wanting more. Who could have thought that after 11 novels in the Treehouse series you could find anything funnier than those, but I think Treehouse Tales beats them all! Packing a quick punch with every chapter, there are indeed gigantic laughs to be had. From magic wands, to chairs on noses, toilet capers to piano fiascos, you never know what Terry and Andy are going to get up to next. What other adventures could Andy, Terry and Jill possibly have…. and more to the point, what else could possibly go wrong?   

Australia’s famously funny author Andy Griffiths and illustrator Terry Denton are both hilariously witty and compelling creators. They have again worked together to develop another fast paced and highly entertaining selection of material that always keeps the audience wanting more. The written format of the book is cleverly interwoven with cartoon style illustrations and gives the reader plenty to be captivated by. The layout of the book makes for an easy and extremely engaging read for all ages. If you love a good laugh, enjoy a little fun and shenanigans then this story is not to be missed!  

Themes Humour, Friendship, Creativity, Fun.

Michelle O'Connell

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Harry Potter: Friends and foes: A movie scrapbook

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Fans of the Harry Potter books and the Harry Potter films will be thrilled with this movie scrapbook that shows friends and foes as well as some characters that could fit into either category.

The Contents page gives an introduction, and then the three categories: Friends, Foes  and Friend or foe? Fans will immediately recognise the friends, starting with Ron Weasley. There is a profile, some background on the real-life friendship of Harry and Ron and some photographs from scenes from the films. This format is repeated throughout the book. The Friends pages contain information about Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, and many others, while the foes include Voldemort, Dolores Umbridge, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange. Severus Snape and Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody are among the friend or foe group.

As well as the fascinating information and gorgeous photographs, readers will get a glimpse of how the characters developed over the series, with interesting little sections that make for great reading. In addition, there are stickers, posters, and postcards that fans and collectors will love.

Beautifully produced, this hard back book will be a boon for fans and a perfect gift for lovers of the Harry Potter books and films. It is a perfect companion to Harry Potter - Magical creatures: A Movie Scrapbook.

Themes Harry Potter, Films.

Pat Pledger

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Hope on the horizon by Onjali Q. Rauf

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Award winning author and activist, Onjali Q. Rauf, has written an engaging and practical book about helping the younger generation tackle issues of concern. Growing up in today’s fast paced and digitalised world, young people are constantly bombarded with so much information that they often lose focus on what really counts in their own lives. This book explains, with honesty and humour, how they can go about making a difference and become a change maker when they feel something is unjust.

Hope on the Horizon begins with a very personal note to the reader about some issues discussed in the book which could cause concern and may need a trusted and understanding adult to be supportive as topics related to discrimination, injustice and prejudice are raised. Following this is the introduction, where the author asks the reader to answer some questions about themselves. Once this is completed, Onjali shares all kinds of information about herself which is enlightening and refreshing to read. Above all else, Onjali believes kindness is the most important of all things to be considered.

Throughout this non-fiction handbook are stories and suggestions from a variety of different places. Each of the ten chapters is based on one or more of the attributes of kindness: empathy, compassion, offering friendship and hope, and creating change. There are discussions, ideas presented and the opportunity for the reader to learn valuable skills in making a difference, however big or small. Included are graphic images throughout, text bubbles, highlighted words and sayings plus the chance for self-reflection. The final pages include an excellent reading and viewing list, a detailed glossary and links to resources and charities including Australian organisations, Kids Helpline and headspace.  

This new release could be used as a valuable class discussion text when looking at life skills or well-being concerns.

Themes Kindness, Change, Inspiration, Positive thinking, Equality, Compassion, Worries.

Kathryn Beilby

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