Childrens’ Books– Reviews by Janet Croft.
Part 1 New children’s’ Books . Three stars are the best, in my opinion….
Books for preschool aged kids and picture books.
Farmer John’s Tractor, by Sally Sutton. HB from Walker Books. RRP $27.95
A story told in verse and pictures about the old tractor which is “rusty yet trusty and orangey red”. In a flood, the other vehicles become bogged, or are too small to pull a small car out of the floodwaters. It is Farmer John’s old tractor which pulls the car out and saves the people. An interesting story, with catchy verse which is easy to read and remember and a story line which is appropriate when we are having such frequent floods! For young readers of 3-6 years.
*The Pros and cons of being a frog. By Sue Gennaro. HB from Scholastic. RRP $26.99
A story about a couple of kids who are both a bit way out. Camille speaks in numbers and Frogboy likes to dress up. Dressing up as a dog was not good for Frogboy, because the real dog chased him. Camille suggested he try a frog outfit, but when they tried to have Camille wear a frog outfit tow, she started singing the six times tables, and Frogboy couldn’t cope! There is interesting variation in the fonts used for the story, including some real joined writing, and several children have commented on this, and tried it for themselves. The book also has drawn comments about the needs for friends, even for geeks. For readers of 4-6 years.
**Tanglewood, by Margaret Wild. HB from Omnibus and Scholastic. RRP $26.99
This is the story of a tree, on a small island, how the seasons treat the tree, what variety there is in its life, and best of all, how good the tree feels when the seagull seeks refuge from the storm in its tangled branches. The story is simple, but the illustrations, by Vivienne Goodman are wonderful, and will prove a source of delight and a talking point about the story. For young people of 2-6 years.
The Greatest Liar on Earth. By Mark Greenwood, with illustrations by Frane Lessac. HB from Walker Books. RRP about $25
This is the story of a real man, Louis de Rougemont, who appeared in London more than a hundred years ago, claiming to have had the most amazing adventures during his travels around the world. He gave public lectures about what he had seen and people were amazed until finally, the extravagance of his claims made people doubt him, and he was booed form the stage. The pictures are fun, and the stories Louis told are fun too—as long as you do not believe them. At the end of the book is a double page of factual pieces which suggest that Louis may have been telling the truth about rare but real events. There is just a lot of doubt as to how many of these events he himself actually saw. For readers of 5-10 years.
**Pom Pom where are you? By Natalie Jane Prior. HB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $24.95
Pom Pom is a very small white dog that lives with his family in a tall building in Pairs. He had always wanted to see more of the world, and one day he wriggled out of his collar, and set off to play with other dogs and to see more of Pairs. This is a delightful predictable story, but the best part of the book are the illustrations, by Cheryl Orsini, and what these illustrations show of the buildings of Paris, and the atmosphere. The style of drawings is very French too, and the result is a lovely story to read and talk about with young children, and hopefully to whet their appetite to go to Pairs themselves. For young people of 2-6 years, reading and talking with an adult at least the first time.
*The Perfect Flower Girl, by Taghred Chandab and Binny Talib. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99. This is the story of three generations of Lebanese Muslim women and girls in Australia, and the special occasion is a wedding. Normally in a Muslim wedding, there are no flower girls, but this story shows how wedding customs from Lebanon have been blended with wedding customs from Australia as yet another generation of this family learn to live in a culture, and to keep customs and beliefs from another culture. It’s an attractive book, and will make interesting reading for Australian girls from all backgrounds. For 5-8 year olds.
***Sophie Scott goes South, by Alison Lester. HB form Penguin. RRP $29.95 Alison Lester has been writing children’s books for a long time, and is one of Australia most popular authors for the young. This book is something different again—based on the author’s own trip to Antarctica, it tells of the adventures for a nine year old girl, Sophie, when she is allowed to travel to Antarctica with her father who is the captain of the icebreaker ship which travels regularly to the south of the world. This is a glorious book; there are photos, maps, a diagram of the ship, some drawings– apparently by Sophie of course– and lots and lots of penguins—as well as an interesting story, told as if it is the nine year old Sophie ‘s diary. This is the most outstanding picture book I have seen this year, and I expect it to rank highly in the Children’s Book Council awards. For readers of 4-10 years.
*The Very Hungry Bear by Nick Bland. HB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99 This is another bear story from the author of The Very Cranky Bear. This time Bear meets another bear, this time a polar bear from the Arctic Circle. The two bears enjoy each other’s company and like the same food, but agree that they need to live in different climates! The story is in rhyme, and again, good reading for 4-8 year olds, in company with an adult.
Banjo Bounces Back by Lachie Hume. In HB from Scholastic, RRP $24.99. Banjo was a famous hoofball player, but when he hurts his foot, and cannot play, he is miserable. All he can do is sit around, and he finds that he becomes very fat and unfit. Banjo’s best friend Bella tries to cheer Banjo up, and to help him exercise, but it is only when Bella becomes ill herself, that Banjo decides that he has to get better to help Bella. All ends happily with both the horses well enough to play hoofball again. Interesting reading for 4-8 year olds—again, in company with an adult.
The Emperor’s new Clothes Horse, by Tony Wilson. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99 For children to enjoy this story to the full, they will first benefit from being read the Hans Christian Anderson story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Then they will appreciate the humour when they realise that the Emperor in this story is rather stupid, and has been tricked into thinking that a wooden clothes horse can win a horse race—just as the Emperor was tricked into thinking that his new clothes were not invisible, and that he was not walking around naked. So this is a good story, and beautifully presented, but it will not have as much zing to it, unless read with the original. For readers of 4-8 years.
***Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie. By May Gibbs. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99
This is a reproduction of the original May Gibbs book introducing the two gumnut babies Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and the principal creatures of the Australian bush. The pictures are large, the print is large, and the book is a beautiful production. It will be a delightful book to read with children of 3-6 years.
Books for primary school aged readers.
Little Witch. By Juliette McIver. PB from Walker Books RRP about $10
This short book contains three simple stories about the life of a small witch. The stories are fun, and the content is predictable but OK. The stories are designed to help young readers read for themselves but phonic analysis of the words used suggests that readers of 5-7 years will find some of the content too hard to decode—especially in the third story, which is all about spoonerisms or mixed up words. OK for readers, mainly girls of about 8 years and younger children with an adult.
**Just Doomed. Andy Griffiths. PB from Pan McMillan. RRP $12.99
Andy Griffiths has a great formula for short stories which appeal to boys. He uses the present tense, and always speaks through the voice of a boy about 10, who is a clever boy but always finds himself in a nasty situation which is not his fault. Well, almost never his fault. This collection is fun. I love the first story, where Andy finds himself with his mother’s handbag, and in strife because either the police will think he has stolen it, or Lisa, whom he just happens to meet, will think it is his handbag, with the implication will be that he is girly—abhorrent to a 10 year old boy! In Lick, another of the stories, we get a fantastic image in our minds of an ice cream, then of what Danny will do to it if Andy gives him just one lick, but then, what actually happens when Danny’s lick is a gulp….and so on. I have enjoyed these stories, and compliments to the author on such a great imagination. Boys of 10-12—and many girls too– will enjoy them.
Spell Sisters. Sophia the Flame Sister. By Amber Castle. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $9.99
This is one of a series of stories which use the legends of King Arthur and Guinevere as their base. Gwen wanders away from her castle home into the nearby forest and discovers the island of Avalon. This is a magical island, and was the home of some good witches, until their evil sister Morgana le Fey lured them away. Now it appears that it is up to Gwen, helped by her cousin Flora, to find the good witches and help them to return to Avalon. The language in these stories is evocative, and effective. The publisher feels that the books are suitable for girls of 7 and over—I feel most seven year olds will find some of the vocabulary a bit difficult, and my recommendation is for 8-10 year olds.
The books in the paperback series Animal Tales, from Random house have been written by a few authors. I have titles by Helen Kelly, Chris Kunz and Jess Black here. Each book is $9.95
The series has been fully endorsed by the RSPCA, and the organisation receives royalties from all books sold. Each story tells of an animal which stars in a mini-adventure of some sort. Children are always involved, and so is the RSPCA is always involved, and a vet. The books include snippets information about caring for the animals –this info is cleverly brought into the stories, without overwhelming them. These books are pleasant reading and suitable for children of about t6 or 7- 9 years
**Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder by Jo Nesbo. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP about $12
This is a very funny story about the wonderful inventor Dr Proctor and his latest invention, a super strength fart powder that is powerful enough to propel its users into space. Two children Nilly and Lisa help Dr Proctor refine his powder, but then have to pull a couple of rather awful tricks so that the nasty twins Truls and Trym do not succeed in stealing the invention. This is fun and easy reading, with drawings to help the imagination, and a good dose of toilet humour. I am sure the book will find a reading readership among boys, and maybe girls of 9-12 years.
*My Book of Jokes is from Scholastic—no single author listed- and is in HB at $9.99
The book has some splendid coloured illustrations by Bronwen Davies, and is a book full of simple jokes for 5-8 year olds. I am sure that children who are just learning to read will enjoy these jokes, and the fact that they can read them by themselves. Just one sample: what has four wheels and flies? Answer: a garbage truck.
For slightly older children, Tiger Tangle by Jackie French is in PB and $9.99 from Scholastic.
This is another in the Animal Rescue series. Leo picks out from a TV show that the Siberian tiger on the screen is really very unhappy, and that his trainer is not really a tiger fan, but is using the tiger to make money. Leo and Mozz are able to track down the pair and rescue the tiger from the unpleasant trainer. Again, reading is easy, and the book will suit readers of 7-9 years.
The Friendship Match Maker goes undercover. By Randa Abdel-Fattah. PB from Scholastic, RRP $15.99
Lara, the playground matchmaker is finished with matchmaking, and is content to be with her new best friend Tanya—that is until Majur, and new boy in town arrives. Majur is new to Australia, and his English is less than perfect, but eventually he is helped to link up with the coolest boy in the school. It’s an OK read, a bit predictable perhaps. For readers of 9-11 years, mostly girls.
*EJ Girl Hero. Fashion Fraud. By Susannah McFarlane. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99
This adventure for Emma Jacks, girl hero, is set in France where some famous paintings have been stolen from their galleries and museums. It is up to EJ12 to find them. Emma realises that the theft of the paintings ties in with fashion parades which are held in various places, and sets out to solve the crime, in spite of being recognised, and imprisoned –she escapes of course, solves the crime, and manages a new dress to wear to the party! There are lots of EJ fans in primary school and this adventure will not disappoint girls of 8-12 years.
For slightly older kids, about 10-13 years
***Raven Lucas: Dead Wrong by Christine Harris. PB form Scholastic. RRP $14.99
It does not seem long since I read the first of this series, in which Raven is positive that her father is still alive, but that he had been living a second life away form Raven and her mother until he has fallen into some sort of trouble. This is a continuation of the story, and is just as exciting and thought provoking as the first book was. Just now, when it seems that Raven is discovering a few more clues, it seems as if her detective work means that now she is in danger too. I can’t wait for the third book to find out what is going on! This is excellent nail-biting reading for girls of about 10-14 years.
***To Hope and Back, by Kathy Kacer. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99
This is a true story of families of Jewish people, who were allowed to leave Germany in 1939 just before the outbreak of war. The story starts with the hardships the Jews were forced to tolerate as the Nazi regime began to crack down on them, and they had to apply, and then wait for what seemed an interminable time before they gained the right to leave Germany They embarked on the luxury ship St Louis, and the ship sailed for Cuba, only to learn when they arrived that the propaganda of Hitler had spread, and they were not allowed to land. Some of the voyagers could be sent to England, others to France, Holland and Belgium. Because many of them landed back in areas which eventually were under Nazi control, many died; the two children whose stories are told in this book survived. The book is illustrated with photographs and it is a very interesting story about yet another aspect and events of WW2 that little has been known about previously. It also made me still more aware of the problems faced everywhere in the world at present for families who seek asylum away from their native country because of civil wars and intolerant regimes. Interesting reading for 11-14 year olds.
**The Map Maker’s Apprentice. By Peter Cooper. PB from Scholastic, RRP $12.99
This is Book 2 in the Tales of the Blue Jade. Dillon has not forgotten his time at the pagoda, where he was forced to work too hard for little food, and with no education other than what he could steal from the holy writings which the temple owned. Now that he is on a quest to find the King Hallegat, he is free to try to find a job, and believes that he would be suited to the role of the mapmaker’s apprentice. He and his friends Koto and Tajini are set the task of finding a message form the mapmaker, at the end of a perilous journey through and up the mountains, and at risk of the dragons which are supposed to live there. It eventuates that Dillon is not fated to become the apprentice, but we must wait for the next instalment to find out his fate. Good reading again for upper primary students.
Trouble Twisters. The Monster by Garth Nix and Sean Williams. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99
This is another series that I am enjoying. The twins, Jaide and Jack have special powers, but they are still learning to use them. Meanwhile the Evil is still around the town, and Tara, the new girl next door has a dad whose activities seem a tad suspicious. And the two companion cats of the childrens’ grandmother, Ari and Kleo, have a battle to fight too. This story is all action—the train journey at the end of the book seems rather convenient, and to bring everything to a head rather unexpectedly, but overall, good reading for 10-13 year olds, very reasonably priced, and let’s await the next in the series.
**The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell. PB from Random House. RRP $15.95
This is an interesting story about life in Darwin just before and during World War 2. When Chloe asks her grandmother for her memories of the war, it leads to the unfolding of a long story, told as Poppy’s story. Poppy—who later becomes Chloe’s grandmother—was very close to her father, who was a doctor in a Darwin hospital. When the order came for women and children to be evacuated, he decided that Poppy and her mother could remain in Darwin. So we then learn about the alarm sirens, and of the horrors of the bombing, and the sadness when beloved pets are killed. Finally of course Poppy is sent to Sydney. The other aspect which is related concerns Poppy’s friends, the Japanese family who are fourth generation Australians but are still interned at the start of the war against Japan. The forgotten pearl is that which is given to Poppy by the Japanese mother, in return for Poppy’s kindness and help with the family. At the end of the war, is it with delight that Poppy finds the pearl again, when she thought it had been lost forever during the worst of the bombing. This is an excellent story and one which should be read by any young Australians who are keen to learn about aspects of the war which really did affect the northern part of our country.
Teenage books now:
The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi. PB from Little, Brown. RRP $17.99
I often wonder when I read stories of how the world might turn out, and what might happen to people, when I read the results of an author’s imagination, and the horrors some books portray. The only positive feature is that usually, after numerous horrors, there is a happy ending, or at least the hint of one. That is the case with this story. Two children, Mahlia and mouse are so called ‘war maggots’. Survivors of the civil wars of the Drowned cities—after the end of the known world. When these children meet up with Tool, a part human, impossibly strong creature, he becomes their ally until tragedy hits. Then the two children have to battle on alone. It is good reading, but fairly gruesome. Teenage reading.
*Brotherband, the Invaders by John Flanagan. PB from Random house. RRP $17.95
This is the sequel to the Outcasts, in which the young Skandian boys completed their training. In The Invaders the lads are keen to catch the pirate Zavac. His ship is well equipped and he has a strong corps of troops—easily able to defeat eight teenagers it would appear. There is a distinctly Nordic flavour to the names, and to the action, much of which is in sea battles. Of course the added ingredient here too are the two girls who want to join Hal and the others. John Flanagan writes really well, and the story is all action—without a comprehensive conclusion of course, because there is still another book in the series to come. This series will appeal to all those who loved the Ranger’s Apprentice series. Mostly boys of 12-14 years.
**Broken, by Elizabeth Pulford. PB from Walker Books. RRP $17.95
Zara is in a coma, and seems to be thinking and living in a comic strip. All she wants to do is to find her brother. Zara is aware of her surroundings, but it is as if her parents and good friends are in another world because she cannot make contact outside her subconscious. Zara has to come to turns with the accident, and what happened to Jem, before she can return to reality. This is quite a sombre story, and it is only when Zara can accept that Jem is dead that she is able to come out of the coma and recover mentally as well as physically. Teen-age reading.
**Divine Clementine by Hayley Kirk. PB from Random House. RRP $18.95
When Clementine’s’ beloved Aunt Stella is hit by a bus and killed, Clementine, at 16, is overwhelmed with grief, and then furious because it appears as if her family does not grieve, or care about the death. When Clementine is able to read Stella’s diaries and realise that her aunt had in fact been bi-polar, and subject to episodes of extreme depression in between the highs, it is very confronting for Clementine; the more so because she realises that she was the only family member who did not know about the disorder. Clementine has to read, ponder, and finally learn to accept her aunt, cherish the memories, and learn to accept and get on with her own life. It is a book which, whilst confronting, is well worth reading. It is suitable for mature teenagers, and will appeal mostly to girls. It is also suitable for adults.
Love Notes from Vinegar House by Karen Tayleur. PB from Black Dog and Walker Books. RRP about $18
Freya is much younger than her cousins. One of her cousins, Rumer is also staying with Grandma Vinegar for the holidays. Rumer is very bossy, but then Freya is very self centred too. The story tells of events during the holidays, when Freya is firstly very frightened by a game involving ghosts, led by her older cousins. When Freya finds an old photo of a girl who looks a lot like Rumer, Freya at first hides it: when it is revealed, Rumer learns the truth about her mother’s death and why Grandma Vinegar has not told her the truth previously. For Freya the holidays turn into a time of first love, and of a growing sense that maybe there are some things that cannot be explained except by a belief in karma. Good reading for teenagers of 13-15 years.
*Disharmony: the Telling by Leah Giarrantano. PB form Penguin. RRP $19.95
This is to be the first of a series about three children, who do not live together, and do not even know of each other’s existence. They did not even get to know their evil mother, who was a witch, because she died giving birth to two of the children, the twins. The story begins with the relating of the prophecy that one day there would be three children with special talents who could either make or break the world, and the other world which exists outside normal reality. The special gifts of these three children are the key feature, and this book tells of how the three children come to understand their gifts, and the role in the worlds. There is a great deal made of the special gifts—the oldest is the psychopath, with no interest or concern for people: of the twins, one of them is a genius and the other is instinctively empathic. The story is mostly told from the points of view of each of the three as the plot unfolds. This is quite an interesting story, but there are dark and sinister passages as well: it is suitable for older teenagers and promises to be an engrossing series.
Until I Die, by Amy Plum. PB from Hachette. RRP $17.99
This is a loose sequel to another book by this author, Die for Me, which introduced a mythological story line which is continued in this book. It’s a gothic story, and will appeal to those who have enjoyed the Twilight series, and other paranormal stories. Teenage reading.