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Meg McKinlay

Girls like books about friends and relationships. Boys like books about explosions and sport. Right? Like any generalisation based solely on gender, the answers are, invariably, ‘yes’; ‘sometimes’; ‘up to a point’ and ‘of course not’. This latest grab bag of junior fiction contains its fair share of ‘girlie’ books about friendship and ‘boyish’ books about sport. Thankfully, there are also some books to cater for other sections of the spectrum, including sensitive explorations of boys’ friendships and robust girls who trek up mountains.

Meg McKinlay’s Annabel Again (Walker, $14.95 pb, 143 pp, 9781921150104) lands us squarely in girlie territory. When Livvy’s best friend moves away, her world folds. With the best of intentions, her New Age mother hatches a plan to help Livvy forget about Annabel, as quickly as possible. But one year later, Annabel returns and Livvy believes things will be just the same again. But Annabel is distant and hostile, and nothing is the same. Can their friendship be resurrected? This book covers familiar ground, but the treatment of the girls’ friendships is refreshingly angst-free. This is a quick, humorous read that highlights both the strength and delicacy of friendship, and offers some sound advice about when not to listen to your mother.

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Fog a Dox by Bruce Pascoe & Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile Cafe by Anna Fienberg

May 2013, no. 351

Animals and friends are a perennial subject in children’s literature, and the junior novels and series books reviewed here highlight those interests. Most of these titles, however, are also notable because they are told with humour, even whilst exposing the anxieties of children.

Fog a Dox (Magabala Books, $19.95 pb, 111 pp, 9781921248559) is a new novel for primary-aged children by esteemed Indigenous writer Bruce Pascoe. The intriguing title springs from fox cub Fog, one of three pups rescued by ‘tree feller’ Albert Cutts and reared by his dingo-cross dog, Brim. Fog’s vixen sisters leave when they are old enough to survive on their own, but Fog stays, balancing his fox instincts with learned dog behaviour; Albert describes him as a ‘dox’.

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Good picture books stimulate a child’s imagination. Nick Bland and Stephen Michael King celebrate creativity in The Magnificent Tree (Scholastic, $24.99 hb, 32 pp, 9781742832951). Bonny and Pops enjoy sharing ideas and making things together. Bonny’s inventions are ‘simple, clever and properly made’, while Pops’s creations are ‘big, brave and brilliant with bits sticking out’. Determined to attract the attention of the birds flying overhead, each comes up with a different but equally satisfying solution. King’s bulbous-nosed cartoon characters, minimalist backgrounds, and organic machinery interact with Bland’s thoughtful text to present a gently reassuring tale about intergenerational friendship and creative problem-solving.

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