Best books 1-5 stars.
***Going to Mecca, by Na’ima Robert and Valentina Cavaliini. HB from Walker Books RRP $27.95
This book tells, in words and drawings the story of a Muslim family as they join the millions of pilgrims from all around the world who make the Hajj to Mecca at least once in their lives. The book gives the reason for the pilgrimage, and talks about what happens each day of the week that the pilgrimage takes, as well as explaining the significance of the various sites that are visited. This is an interesting and important story for Australian children, as we continue to develop as multicultural country and land where all faiths are welcome, and understood. For children of about 8 years to adult, and great for scripture or ethics classes.
*Alice of Peppermint Grove by Davina Bell and Nellie’s quest by Penny Matthews. PBs from Penguin. RRP $14.95 each. This series is about how girls may have lived in previous years in Austrlaia. In Alice of Peppermint Grove, which is set in Perth, Alice is happy about the end of the war, in 1918 but also still regretting that she has had to stop dancing. Family life has been really disrupted and upset since her father was lost at sea, and her brother went to war. It is only at the end of the book that we learn that maybe she will still be able to become a ballerina, after life settles down again—but then the end of the story leaves the reader waiting for the fourth and last in the series, when her Mama is suddenly taken really ill. In Nellie’s Quest, Nellie, who was born in Ireland, is in South Australia, and trying to save her friend Mary, who is very ill. When she tries to find her previous employer, she has to travel to the small town of Burra north east of Adelaide. Again there is one book to go to wind up this story. The stories are plausible, and very readable, and there is quite a bit of historical information at the back of each book as well. Good reading for girls of 8-10 years.
***Judy Moody and the NOT bummer summer. By Megan McDonald. HB from Candlewick Press and Walker Books. RRP about $25.
This is the novel of the Judy Moody film, which was released last year. It tells the story of a summer which the amazing Judy Moody had expected to be boring, but which turned into a wonderful time of camping, water sports and lots of good times with her friends. This book is a delight for girls of 8-10 years, and even more so when read in conjunction with the film.
Bindi, Behind the Scenes. By Jess Black. PB from Random House. RRP $12.95
This is the third in the stories about Bindi Irwin and her time in the USA, where she makes a guest appearance on a TV show about horse riding for teenagers. The book is an effort to make the point that Bindi is a down to earth girl, who is more interested in the animals, and what she has to do than smart clothes and associating with people who should be friends. I didn’t enjoy this book and its American flavour as much as the earlier books, but then Bindi is 13 now, and the readership of her stories needs to change to match up with the different emphases in behaviour, and the smaller font of the stories. Its an OK read, maybe for 12-13 year olds girls, if they have grown up with the earlier stories.
***Mrs Noodlekugel, by Daniel Pinkwater. HB from Candlewick Press and Walker Books. RRP about $15
Mr Fuzzface is a cat—a talking cat! Nick and Maxine meet him when they discover a tiny house and garden close to the apartment block where they live. They also meet the amazing Mrs Noodelkugel, Although the children’s father tells them not to bother the old lady, the curiosity of the children is aroused when the caretaker of their apartment block tells them that Mrs N is a witch, and they determine to meet her. Amazing of course to find a talking cat, but also amazing is the fun that the children then have with Mrs N, especially when they do cooking with her. This is a simple fantasy, but good fun, and good for children of 6-8 years to read for themselves, perhaps with help form a friendly adult.
Nerdy Ninjas vs The Really Bad Guys. By Shogun Whamhower. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99
A book about four nerds each with special skills who find it hard to get on with people, and who are often bullied. This is how they get their own back as they train to become ninjas. Fanciful, too much so for me, and not simple to read, but designed for age 7 plus. My feeling is that it is much too hard to read for most 7-8 year olds.
****Caesar the War Dog by Stephen Dando-Collins. PB from Random house. RRP $16.95
A couple of weeks ago, inn an article about casualties in Afghanistan there was a line stating that an Australian sniffer dog had been killed. A letter to the paper the next day criticised the expense of having dogs working in Afghanistan with the troops. I would have liked to be able to send the author of this letter a copy of this book, because it makes really interesting and heart warming reading. Based on fact, it tells of Caesar, a black Labrador who was trained by the Australian army, with his owner Ben, and proved a most useful ally in helping to avoid injury or death to soldiers by sniffing out explosives, when on duty. The book also tells the human story behind the book, how the dog helped Ben and his family work their way through the grief at his wife’s death, and then, after Caesar was lost in Afghanistan, how he eventually found his way back home. A bit of this part is supposition, but it too shows the kindness the dog must have received from some families, even in a country where dogs are reviled rather than admired. Parts of the writing do not flow easily, but these bits can be overlooked, because overall it is a really interesting story which I think will appeal to lots and lots of children aged between 10 and 14.
**The Ghost at the Point, by Charlotte Calder. PB from Walker Books RRP about $16
Although they live in a most isolated part of the WA coast, Dorrie enjoys living with her grandfather. Recently though she has been puzzled because she thinks she has seen somebody flitting around in the bush near his or her home. In a really rough storm, a boat is lost off the coast, and there is a mystery about whether someone survived the sinking. When her grandfather is injured and has to go to hospital, Dorrie insists on staying at their home alone, and hides from her other relatives and some friends because she doesn’t want to go to live with them. Dorrie solves the mystery of the so-called ghost, in a most satisfactory manner for herself, the ghost, and her grandfather, and works out more of her family history at the same time. Good reading for 10-13 year olds.
*Time Vandals. By Craig Cormick. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
Writing this story has taken a superb imagination, but it works out really well. Jack and Mei are kidnapped, but it is for the good. They have a strange set of genes, and are able to time travel, so they are recruited by a secret agency whose self imposed role is to protect the future of the world by repairing dangerous world situations over the ages and to work against the other secret agency, the Time Vandals, which is seeking to alter the world for worse. This is easy reading, fun and interesting. For 10-14 year olds.
*Ned Kelly’s Secret by Sophie Masson. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
When a young French boy Hugo and his dad are travelling through Victoria about the 1860’s, hunting out stories of the gold rushes they come to Benalla. There is quite a lot of detail about what it was like to travel by stagecoach, and how primitive conditions were with roads, and with the small towns. They are held up by Harry Power, one of the bushrangers working that district. In Benalla however, Hugo meets up with a young 15-year-old boy called Ned Kelly. The two boys become friends, and we see how the career of Ned Kelly develops, and also become aware that it may be a misjudgement to view him, as history has done, as a thorough rogue. Quite good reading, with lots of history woven easily into the novel, mainly for boys of 10-13 years.
****Random House has released new editions of some excellent children’s’ novels which were first issued in the 1950-60s. It has been a delight to revisit some of these stories, which I first read as a young teenager. Called Vintage Classics, these books are available in PB for only $9.95 each, which is very cheap for such good quality books. I have just reread Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kastner, The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, and the Wolves of Willoughby chase, by Joan Aiken. To modern young readers these stories may appear a bit simplistic, and dated, but there are no drugs, no supernatural wonders or otherwise, and the adventures which the children experience carry the reader along with them in a delightful way. The Silver Sword in particular, is a poignant and never to be dated story of children during World War 2, while Emil and the Detectives shows how children can learn to work things out for themselves, and develop independent thought, as do the two girls in the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. This last is the most fanciful of the three books, but nevertheless, great fun to read. The books are suitable for kids of 9-14 years, as are the other reprints in this series. Great work from Random House!
Alice in the Middle by Judi Curtin. PB from Puffin. RRP $14.95
This book is very American in flavour, with the two best friends Alice and Megan head off to summer camp, only to find that they are to share a room with the delightful, fashion conscious and wealthy Hazel. Lots of peer pressure stories here, and lots for Alice to tolerate—just . But in the end true friendship does win out. It’s an OK read, but nothing really new or interesting in the story. For readers of 8-12 years.
**Horrible Harriet’s Inheritance. By Leigh Hobbs. PB form Allen and Unwin. RRP $13.99
When horrible Harriet, well known to most young readers of 8-10 years—discovers that she is related to royalty, nothing will serve but for her to go chasing off in search of her royal ancestors and relatives. It is fascinating how a visit to the museum can appear so interesting, and Harriet has lots of wacky adventures as she acquires recipes, relatives and a great ancestral home. Well, sort of! All of these adventures revealed to us in art by the estimable Leigh Hobbs, artist extraordinaire. Fun reading, what there is of it- for kids of 8-13 years.
Dragon Hunter, by Nazam Anhar. PB from Scholastic. RRP $!6.99
Hajur selects Baran, partly because Baran is an outcast, and partly because he volunteers, to become a trainee dragon hunter, as payment by the village for the protection against dragons given by Hajur when the village is threatened. So starts a long journey and many dangers for Hajur and for Baran. In the process Baran learns the fate of his father, who disappeared from the village many years earlier. Baran is then proud to accept the role of warrior against the dragons. It’s an OK story—nothing-fantastic bit repetitive, and predictable. For readers, mainly boys probably of 10-13 years.
Goblins by Philip Reeve. PB form Scholastic. RRP $16.99
This was just too fanciful for me to complete. Not only the names of the goblins but the intricate adventures and mischief they create left me cold. I hope boys of 9-12 years enjoy the story more than I did.
**Letters to Leo, by Amy Hest. HB from Candlewick Press and Walker Books. RRP about $16
Leo is Annie’s new pet dog. Annie’s mother has died, and she and her dad are still sad. Through these letters-mostly written to her dog- we can see Annie coming to terms with her loss and learning to settle into year 4, and growing her talents and confidence as a writer. There is also the issue of her father as a single parent, the happy but sometimes naughty dog Leo, and a happy ending. This is a pleasant easy to read story, with an American flavour, but still good, and should appeal to girls of 9-12 years.
****Dingo: the dog that conquered a continent, by Jackie French. PB from Harper Collins. RRP $14.99
This is an excellent story, built around the factual history, in so far as it is known, of the dingo–its arrival in Australia, lifestyle as it has evolved, and its survival as a species. The book tells the story of Loa a young hunter who seeks somewhere new to live after he fails to be able to marry the girl of his choice. With him as he goes fishing in disgust at his rejection, Loa takes a so-called ‘rubbish dog’. The canoe is blown off course, and the pair end up in northern Australia. Instead of eating the dog, Loa gradually comes to trust her, rely on her for company and help to survive just as the dog comes to trust Loa. We learn of the battles fought against mutual enemies, the always urgent searching for food and also of the birth of the dog’s pups, and how they grow. There is also an excellent section of information about dingoes in the back of the book. This is a strong, evocative story, and one of Jackie French’s best for some time. It is excellent reading for all young readers of 9-12 years.
**Louis Beside Himself by Anna Fienberg. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99
This story about Louis is interesting and deals with lots of issues in a very readable manner. Louis’s dad loves to wrestle, but Louis prefers to think of new words, and to enjoy using them; he has to learn how to make and keep friends, and how to become confident in your own skin, just for a few. As all of this happens Louis and his dad learn to get along better together, and to be able to talk about Louis’s late mother. The author is very well known for the Tashi series, for 7-10 year olds. This book should appeal to a slightly older age group, and it is a book rooted in reality rather than fantasy. For readers of 9-12 years, possibly mostly boys.
*The Second forever, by Colin Thompson. PB from Random house. RRP $15.95
This book is the sequel to How to Live Forever, which was released a few years ago. Now, the two children, Peter and Festival are faced with the consequences of their actions at that time, when they destroyed the book called “How to Live Forever”—now Peter’s world of books is covered with dust as the museum and land around it suffers the worst drought ever, while Festival’s world is drowning under too much water. Reluctantly, and with trepidation, Peter and Festival agree to try to recreate the book in the hope that their worlds might return to normal seasons. As with all of Colin Thompson’s’ books, it’s a good story, with excitement and tension– it all flows well and seems plausible as you read it. Readers of 9-12 years should enjoy it.