Morris Gleitzman

Viking, 2017

192pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99


Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad…

Then I had a plan for me and Zelda…

After the Nazis took my parents I was scared…

Soon I hoped the Nazis would be defeated and they were…

Now Zelda learns her grandfather’s story…

Maybe there will peace and happiness for Felix at last…

Felix, Gabriek and Anya, who is now seven months pregnant, are once again on the run trying to get back to Gabriek’s farm and hide from Zliv, the murderous brother of Gogol the Polish patriot who vowed  ‘Poland has been crawling with vermin for centuries. Germans, Austrians, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians.  Now we’re cleaning them up.” and killed by Felix.

But there is a very rude and dangerous homecoming and once again they have to flee – this time on a treacherous journey that lands Felix in Australia. Maybe this will be the land of opportunity for a young boy who only wants to attend university to become a doctor. But…

The sixth in this family of books that tells the remarkable story of Felix in a way that it has to have a considerable element of truth, shows that when the guns fall silent the war is not necessarily over and sanctuary is elusive not guaranteed, Yet throughout both this book and the series, Felix maintains his humanity and resourcefulness and in cases, his child’s logic provides a touch of humour to lighten the dark which Gleitzman does not shy away from. He believes our children need to know about this history which is so recent if could be that of their grandparents’ and refuses to patronise them by glossing over the not-so-nice. 

Much has been written about the Holocaust that is inaccessible to our upper primary students because it is so factual and so foreign they can’t comprehend it – in this series written through the eyes of a child it becomes clearer and starts to develop a belief that this must never happen again, whether it be against a religion, a race, a gender or any other reason that people can be marginalised.  Sadly, now termed “ethnic cleansing” it does continue but no longer does the world turn such blind, uncaring eyes.  

For those who are venturing into the investigation of how Australian has developed in post-war times particularly with the immigration of so many from Europe, this series is essential reading to understand why people couldn’t just “return home”; why there were no homes to go to and why somewhere as faraway and foreign as Australia held such appeal.  For it is the Felixes of this world who established not only the town I live in but this multicultural, tolerant nation that we and those who follow must work hard to maintain. 

And now we await Always, the conclusion to an enriching and engrossing saga.

The Boy and the Spy

The Boy and the Spy

The Boy and the Spy











The Boy and the Spy

Felice Arena

Puffin, 2017

176pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


Little did Antonio know that when he stuck an irreverent sketch of Hitler and Mussolini on the windscreen of a German jeep that that his life would change forever. Chased by a German soldier, leaping from the treacherous il Diavolo, and rescuing a wounded American spy is not in the script of life for a rota, an abandoned child who is despised and ridiculed by his Sicilian village even though he has been adopted and taken in by and cares for Mamma Nina. 

But that one act by an innocent 12-year-old sets off a chain of events that keeps the reader enthralled as Antonio lurches from one situation to another seeing the reality of war and understanding the true meaning of family. Set in his homeland, Felice Arena has always wanted to create a story there but it took a long time for Antonio’s voice to echo in his head and demand that his story be told. It is a story worth the wait,

Any story that encourages boys, particularly, to read is to be commended but it is wonderful to see what could be termed a true, rollicking, boy’s own adventure being published. Moving apace with credible characters, both good and evil, Antonio gets into such situations that you wonder how he will get out of them but are willing him onward to success even though he is technically helping the enemy.  That said, it will also appeal to girls because without Simonetta’s help Antonio would have stumbled at the first hurdle and Arena himself says that there could be another story in the escape of Simonetta and her mother.  That’s one I will be looking out for!

This one is for the slightly older independent readers who are looking for a bit of meat and tension in their stories, who like something that compels them to keep reading and appreciate story-crafting at a high level. 

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack











History Mysteries: Diamond Jack

Mark Greenwood

Puffin Books, 2017

88pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


March 1942 – the Japanese have reached Indonesia and there is a constant stream of flights shuttling refugees from Java to the safe haven of Broome on the north-west coast of Western Australia.  Russian flying ace Captain Smirnoff is piloting one of the last planes to leave Bandung Airport, an old DC3 stripped back to the bare minimum to allow for as many passengers as possible including five Dutch pilots, a trainee flight engineer, a mother and her 18 month old son.  

Just as they are about to take off an official jumps on board and hands Smirnoff a package, tell him to “Take great care of this.  Someone from the bank will collect it when you land.”

Unfortunately for Smirnoff, his crew and his passengers, the Japanese have switched their target to Broome and just an hour from their destination they are shot down. Despite injuries and continuing Japanese fire, Smirnoff manages to bring the plane down on the edge of  the beach…

What happened next – the survival and rescue of the passengers; the finding and the contents of the mysterious package and the enigmatic  man who became known as Diamond Jack are the centre of this intriguing true tale that still remains unanswered 75 years on. Should he have done what he did?  Is “finders keepers” really the rule to live by?  

Rudyard Kipling once said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten” and in this new series from self-confessed history-hunter Mark Greenwood there are stories told that would otherwise have been forgotten, if they were ever widely known in the first place.  Short, engaging reads written in short chapters, large font and liberally illustrated they are not only perfect for the young reader moving on to independent reading but also those who may not have yet unlocked the key.  Greenwood writes an introduction that personalises the story as though he is talking directly to the reader, drawing them into this tale that is about to unfold and then, the tale told, he talks about the sources he has drawn on and provides a lot of extra information so not only is the story authenticated but there is scope for further discovery.

Something special to add to the collection and promote an interest in times past in a way seldom done. Australia- a country full of stories!

One Red Shoe

One Red Shoe

One Red Shoe









One Red Shoe

Karin Gruss

Tobias Krejtschi

Wilkins Farago, 2014

hbk, 28pp., RRP $A24.95



To the international photo journalist it’s just another call about another attack on a school bus, part of day-to-day life on the Gaza Strip as the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians continues …”Strange, how ordinary the message sounded.”  Little does he know that it will change his perspective forever.  As he runs past children who are so used to violence, carnage and death that they continue their game of hopscotch uninterrupted and play basketball against a backdrop of bombed out buildings, he doesn’t realise how the impact of doing his job – following the victims and the paramedics into the hospital trauma ward to give “the people at home the most accurate information possible” – will change him this time.  For this time the victims are children, and one in particular who keeps saying his name over and over … “Maybe children in wartime learned early on to repeat their names even if they are unconscious, so relatives can find them” … and this one touches a nerve.  Through his camera lens he sees that the boy is wearing one red basketball boot, the same as he had given his nephew safe at home.  But there is only one – where was the other?  His nephew loved his pair so surely this boy would too, and hadn’t just lost it.  While its whereabouts might not be known, it’s not hard to work out what’s happened to it.  Little boys’ legs and grenades are not a good combination.

As he continues to shoot his pictures and the medics continue to fight to save Kenan, something strange happens … something that causes the photographer to make an important phone call and a promise. Suddenly, this conflict just got personal.

This is one of the most powerful picture books I’ve read for some time.  Told in a minimalist style, almost like a photo essay would be, the imagery is so striking that the minds connects the dots without the need for superfluous words.  Monochromatic with just the splash of the red shoe, their style and perspective, angles and lighting not only reinforce the idea of the narrator seeing the events through a lens but also add to the drama and emotion of what is being experienced.  From endpaper to endpaper there is nothing extraneous, but the astute eye will pick up tiny details that offer so much insight into who this man is, his thoughts and emotions.

This is a picture book for older students, right through to the senior years of secondary school.  It has so many places in the Australian Curriculum and Ian McLean’s teachers’ notes   offer many suggestions that demonstrate how it could be used across all levels from about Year 5 up.  An exceptional book that has so much for so many.