Featured Reviews January 2024

Featured Reviews from our January 2024 mailout:

Author: Deborah Kelly
Illustrator: Jenni Goodman
ISBN: 9781761111310
Publisher: Wombat Books
Release date: 31 Jan 2024
Reading age: 5 to 8 years

Book Description: An Australian conservation success story about seahorses, inspired by true events. Lyrical in style and featuring information pages about seahorses and the Seahorse Hotels Project.

Novel Insight Review: Beneath the waters of a calm bay, seahorses hide from predators, feed on shrimp and raise their young in gardens of sponge, coral, and grass. When a storm destroys their habitat, they are left with nothing to eat and nowhere to hide. That is, until a Marine Biologist comes up with a clever invention to provide them with shelter and food while the natural environment recovers. The little horses have a new home where they can thrive. Soon, tiny horses are swimming and the hotel is overgrown with coral and grass. Inspired by true events and including information about seahorses and the Seahorse Hotels Project, Little Horses is a conservation success story hoping to inspire children to love and care for the natural world.

Author: Kitty Black
Illustrator: Cate James
ISBN: 9781529512779
Publisher: Affirm Kids
Release date: 28 Nov 2023
Reading age: 4 to 7 years

Book Description: It's Little Brother's first day at school tomorrow. Luckily, Big Brother knows what that feels like. And what's more, he has a list of what to expect ... You'll learn where the loos are, and all about bugs. You'll learn a sad friend could do with a hug. You'll learn the best spot for sand that is slushy. You'll learn that tomato makes sandwiches mushy. Whether you're feeling scared or excited, brave or shy, The Starting School List is the perfect book for your grandest adventure yet.

Representations: Illustrations show a diverse group of kids at the school, with children of different races and abilities. There is a child in a wheelchair, a child with glasses, and a child with sensory issues wearing block-out headphones.

Novel Insight Review: Tomorrow is the first day of school. To make it easier for him, a young boy's older brother shares a homemade list of what to expect. He tells his younger brother everything will be okay, and Mum might cry. He describes the classroom and the different kinds of kids he will meet. The older brother also assures him that it's okay to make mistakes, to need space, and to have big feelings. He gives tips on what makes a good sandwich and where to find the best sand spots in the playground. He explains sports days and excursions and promises to watch him run. But the older brother also knows that there will be grey days. He tells his younger brother to remember how far he has come and how to know when a friend needs a hug. After he finishes his list, he holds his brother's hand, promises to look out for him, and tucks him into bed. An encouraging read for young children about to start school with detailed illustrations. The illustrations show different parts of the classroom and schoolyard with scribbled notes on where things go, including hats and the class pet. As the story continues, the brother's hand-drawn lists unfurl on each page.

Author: Kristy Boyce
ISBN: 9780593647011
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Release date: 23 Jan 2024
Reading age: 12 years +

Book Description: Musical lover Riley has big aspirations to become a director on Broadway. Crucial to this pla n is to bring back her high school's spring musical, but when Riley takes her mom's car without permission, she's grounded and stuck with the worst punishment- spending her after-school hours working at her dad's game shop. Riley can't waste her time working when she has a musical to save, so she convinces Nathan-a nerdy teen employee-to cover her shifts and, in exchange, she'll flirt with him to make his gamer-girl crush jealous. But Riley didn't realize that meant joining Nathan's Dungeons & Dragons game...or that role playing would be so fun. Soon, Riley starts to think that flirting with Nathan doesn't require as much acting as she would've thought... When it comes to romance, sometimes it doesn't hurt to play games. A fun YA romcom full of fake dating hijinks!

Content Insight: The game, Dungeons and Dragons, has some magical elements. Riley and Nathan kiss a couple of times.

Representations: Contains a Japanese-American character. Contains a character who is a ballet and musical performer. The games referenced include Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer and other tabletop games. One of the Dungeons and Dragons players, John, has a boyfriend named Jordan.

Novel Insight Review: After driving without a license to see a musical, Riley is punished and made to work with her father. Her parents are divorced, and Riley thinks they are polar opposites. She is much more like her mother. Her dad, Joel, runs a board game shop. On her first shift, Riley meets Nathan. Although she has seen him at school, they have never spoken and do not hit it off. When more boys from her school and a girl from another school, Sophia, enter the shop to play Dungeons and Dragons, Riley glimpses into their strange world. She is uninterested in their game, preferring to pursue her passions and become a musical director. But when her ex-boyfriend, Paul, walks in with his new girlfriend, Riley accidentally suggests she is dating Nathan to save face. Nathan is not interested in this plan until Riley suggests that Sophia might show more interest in him if he is perceived as unavailable. To enact their plan, Riley joins their Dungeons and Dragons game as a singing bard called Elphaba. Meanwhile, the spring musical at school has been cancelled. Despite her parent's rules, Riley and her new friends create a performance to change the school's mind. When Hoshiko meets the friends at the shop, sparks fly between her and Lucas, the Dungeon Master. They quickly admit their feelings and start learning to dance together. Although neither of them will admit it, Nathan and Riley also notice that their pretend flirting has turned into real feelings. But when Nathan agrees to go to Sophia’s homecoming, Riley thinks she has lost her chance. Before they can save the school musical, Riley’s dad has a health scare. Thankfully, Nathan and her friends perform without her, and the musical is saved. Riley and Nathan admit their true feelings. A sweet romantic drama full of gaming and musical references.

Author: Sharon Kernot
ISBN: 9781922790606
Publisher: Text Publishing
Release date: 30 Jan 2024
Reading age: 15 years +

Book Description: An exquisite young adult verse novel that delves into the pain of loss and trauma and the healing balm of friendship, from the highly acclaimed author of The Art of Taxidermy. Maddy is mute. Since the Incident she has barely spoken. And now she and her mother and brother are staying in a farmhouse on an old apricot orchard not far from town. It's a chance to rest and recuperate-or a way to hide further away from the world. Alice is waiting. Since Birdy, her darling daughter, disappeared forty-five years ago, she has sat in her house waiting for her to come home. Alice says Maddy reminds her of Birdy, and Maddy feels a strange connection to the long-lost girl. In the quiet not-speaking and waiting, amid the clutter of the old woman's house, Maddy and Alice slowly become friends. Until Maddy takes something that's not hers. Birdy is a tender warm-hearted verse novel about the pain of loss and shame, the beauty of words, and the healing power of small acts of kindness.

Content Insight: While playing Scrabble, the words Bone and Birdy appear. Maddy wonders if the board is talking to her like an Ouija board. She wonders if it is a message or superstition. Contains references to ghosts of the past, but not actual ghosts. Contains discussions of the Maralinga Nuclear testing. Many deaths and miscarriages occurred within Indigenous families after watching the big clouds. Birdy’s bones are found and a cold case is reopened. When Maddy was drunk, her friend’s boyfriend took advantage of her and photos that were taken are revealed. She did not want to have sex with him and remembers saying no. All the friends saw the photos on social media, which stopped Maddy from using her phone. Levi offers to help her report the incident.

Representations: Contains an incident of non-consensual sex and explicit photographs that were shared online. Maddy is mute after her traumatic past incident and currently sees a therapist. References to the Maralinga tragedy where people died from nuclear bomb testing. Contains Aboriginal characters.
Coronavirus is spreading around the world.

Novel Insight Review: After a traumatic experience of non-consensual sexual abuse in her past, Maddy chose to be mute. Going out is overwhelming, and she struggles to communicate her feelings to others. Instead, Maddy writes verse poetry about her pain and her everyday experiences. Thankfully, Maddy has her friend Levi and sees a therapist to help her speak again. She celebrates when Maddy says a few words to her dad in a shop and to Alice, a woman nearby. Alice tells Maddy that she reminds her of her daughter, Birdy, who disappeared forty-five years ago. Maddy feels like Birdy is calling her and starts to visit Alice. When Alice is awake, Maddy listens while she chats. When Alice is asleep or tired, Maddy finds Birdy’s journal and explores her room. Later, Maddy steals the journal to read more about her Aborigine friend and the story surrounding her last known days. Birdy disappeared in her teens, and Alice still waits for her to come home. When Levi takes a selfie with Maddy, Maddy blocks her and separates herself from people again. She doesn't know how to tell Levi why she shut down her social media. Maddy spends all her time in the Australian outback, reviewing ghost towns and feeling alone. However, she visits Alice often, eager for more of Birdy's story. Maddy's brother, Charlie, collects things. While recognising the number of apologies she needs to deliver, Maddy notices something in his collection. It is a necklace with a small bone, once belonging to Birdy. Although the reopened cold case determines Birdy’s sad fate, Alice gives Maddy her journal and reflects on Maddy being like a new daughter. Alice tells Maddy to be brave and start over. A gripping verse novel about pain and loss.

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