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Children's and Young Adult Books

Pat Flynn’s Alex Jackson: Grommet gets off to a confused start: no less than fifteen named characters in five pages, and a narrator determined to cram in as much background information as possible. Eventually the story starts to sort itself out. When it does, as the title itself indicates, we are in Lockie Leonard territory. The surfboard is a skateboard, Dad is a retired boxer instead of a policeman and, like Tim Winton’s eponymous hero, Alex is having trouble adjusting to his first year of high school and coping with his raging hormones:

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The picture book format is the workhorse of children’s literature. It is expected to entertain and enlighten audiences ranging from infants and toddlers to young adults. Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the quintessential picture book for very young readers, introduces some basic concepts through simple text and colourful collage. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Isobelle Carmody’s fantasy novel, Dreamwalker, published earlier this year with illustrations and design by graphic artist Steven Woolman, has sophisticated teen appeal.

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My Name is Will Thompson by Robert Newton & Camel Face by Moya Simons

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April 2001, no. 229

Funny things happen in children's books, and there are some odd things happening to them, too. Robert Newton and Moya Simons clearly seek to tickle the funny-bone of twelve-year-olds; Marguerite Hann Syme, on the other hand, raises questions that are more likely to preoccupy adults, and there are no wisecracks in her offering. The funny thing is that all three are published as books for young adults, and the cataloguing-­in-publication suggests that all three are ‘juvenile literature’.

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Chloe's Wish by Diane Chase & Jaleesa the Emu by Noal Kerr and Susannah Brindle

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April 2001, no. 229

Lively and cheerful, these three books aimed at young readers are sure to persuade their potential audience that reading is fun, language can be powerful and magical, and life in books is more exciting than the lived version. What more enticing motivations to read can there be for those starting out?

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Sacked! by Rachel Flynn, illustrated by Craig Smith & Footy Shorts by Margaret Clark

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April 2000, no. 219

Rachel Flynn’s Sacked! is for the eight-to ten-year-old market, the same audience that J.K.  Rowling’s Harry Potter books are tapping. It’s an interesting stage when everything from cereal packets to Dad’s car manual demands to be read.

Sacked! explores a clever absurdity with tongue-in-cheek, where the adult is likely to see the joke more than the child.

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Family Business by Sophie Masson & The Rented House by Phil Cummings

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April 2000, no. 219

When she sat down in that Edinburgh café almost three years ago to write Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling apparently determined that it would take a further six books to tell the complete story of her pubescent wizard. Millions of entranced and thoroughly hooked readers around the world are now breathlessly awaiting volume four. The books are immensely readable with a strong narrative drive, and Rowling cleverly leaves major plot points unanswered; one has to get the next in the series or die of curiosity. The same technique has served John Marsden well. Pity the poor parent who back in 1993 all unknowingly bought Tomorrow, When the War Began and then saw a further six titles progressively hit the bookshops, all in hardback first release, and all extending the saga. Many readers, including this one, wish he had stopped at number three but the temptation to continue must have been huge.

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Joy Ride by Tony Shillitoe & Straggler’s Reef by Elaine Forrestal

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July 1999, no. 212

One story about a young disaffected male, and another about a sacrificial female, typify the extremes of the range of material currently being published for young people. Straggler’s Reef, for the younger end of the readership, is a conventional story of the past intersecting with the present to resolve events in both time frames. Karri, her brother Jarrad, and their father are sailing off the coast of Western Australia when a squall lands them on a reef. Karri has her grandmother’s recently completed family history to occupy her. The recount of events in the 1840s is engrossing and evocative, and made this reader long for a straight historical novel.

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All too few books about Australian children’s writers and writing manage to find a publisher. They’re unlikely to sell enough copies, is the standard explanation. All the more reason, therefore, to welcome an even greater rarity – a book which focuses on the work of a single writer. Even if Gary Crew might not necessarily be everyone’s first choice as the subject of such a volume, all those interested in Australian children’s literature will hope that Strange Journeys meets with a success which will encourage the publication of similar analyses of other contemporary writers’ work.

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With Gift of the Gab, Gleitzman continues the saga of Rowena Batts, the feisty twelve-year-old who previously appeared in Blabber Mouth (1992) and Sticky Beak (1993). Ro is the daughter of an apple farmer, a child with character, immense energy, and several problems: chiefly her inability to speak (she was born with 'some bits missing' from her throat) and her loving and much loved Dad. She copes with her vocal handicap through fluent sign language and a notebook at the ready, but Dad – an ardent country-and­western enthusiast, given to cowboy boots, loud satin shirts and a penchant for off-key renderings of his favourite ballads at every opportunity – is harder to handle.

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Gleeson is an award-winning novelist for young readers, winning the 1991 Australian Children’s Literature Peace Prize for Dodger and the 1997 Children’s Book Council Book of the Year for Younger Readers with Hannah Plus One. Her other novels include I am Susannah and Skating on Sand, and her picture books include The Princess and the Perfect Dish and Where’s Mum. She is an accomplished writer, which is reflected in her latest novel for older readers, Refuge.

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