Ratings: 1-5 stars with 5stars the best.
Where are Snugglepot and Cuddlepie? From Scholastic, a lift the flap book. RRP $9.99
For the very young, this lift the flap book provides a very simple story of surroundings, accompanied by clear drawings in May Gibbs pastels and style, and a game of hide and seek, with the search ending behind another flap with the finding of our two heroes. Pleasant, and appealing for 2-4 year olds.
My Dad’s the Coolest, by Rosie Smith and Bruce Whatley. HB from Scholastic. RRP $17
Another very well laid out book, which presents various fathers from the animal kingdom, with their young, and some simple activities with which the dad helps his offspring. The font is large, with very few words, and it will be easy to point to each word in turn as the book is read aloud so that children of 1-4 years learn to make the correspondence between the print, and words. An excellent book.
Heather fell in the Water, by Doug McLeod and Craig Smith. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $25
This story is about Heather who always used to fall into the water, even when she was dressed. Not once, not twice, but regularly and often. The solution of course is for Heather to learn to swim, and to love and respect the water in a more fitting way than falling in when clothed! Again, clear and attractive pictures, simple, appealing story, and a moral as well. For older readers of 3-6 years.
Goodnight Mice by Frances Watt, and Judy Watson. HB from ABC Books, RRP $25
This book was first released last year. It is a story for bedtime, and tells how the mice babies play around at night, in the bath, with toothpaste, and until they are tired enough, (or the parents are tired enough!) to encourage them into bed for a story. This is a really pleasant story which many children of 3-5 years will identify with, and enjoy, and it might even help with the going to bed routine for some kids!
***Archie by Domenica More Gordon. HB from Bloomsbury, RRP $$25
What a delight this story is! My mother has read it twice, and chuckled over it. Although 95, she has an abiding love for children’s books, and thinks this is the best story for 4-7 year olds she has seen for ages. There are no words, and this encourages the children to look carefully at the pages, and to work out what is happening. Archie loves his dog, and when he gets a sewing machine, he makes him a coat, then one for the neighbour’s dog, when its owner admires Archie’s efforts. Gradually Archie’s fame spreads, and it is amusing to see what eventuates. It is a great book to start children telling a story of their own, as they look at the pages and use their own vocabulary to outline the events. For readers of 4-7 years.
One Very Tired Wombat, by Renee Treml. HB from Random House. RRP about $22
This is a counting book, with one wombat, and lots of other Australian animals and birds. At the back of the book are some facts about each of the creature which interfere with wombat’s sleep. The numbers go 1-10, and then back again, which is a good idea.
The illustrations have been created using a scratchboard covered with white clay. My problem with the result is that they are all black and white, and secondly that some of the creatures do not look as realistic as they might and some children are confused by this. For 3-6 year olds.
The Bedtime Poem for Edible Children, by Libbi Gorr HB from ABC books. RRP $20
The content of this poem about food, is all about likes and dislikes. The pages have lift up flaps, which, when lifted show the creature babies in sometimes surprising places. Whilst some adults and children may find the content amusing, I object to a poem for children which uses words incorrectly, On every page there is a line of verse such as: “I don’t want no rice” . Such language is not helpful to the development of commonly accepted speech patterns for children and this is not a book which I would buy.
Olivia and the Fairy Princesses, by Ian Falconer. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $20
Olivia is very fashion conscious. She wants to be stylish, but still to stand out in a crowd, and really dislikes the thought of being a princess. Finally when her mother reads her the story of the Little Match Girl, (which is a very sad story); suddenly Olivia wants to become a do- gooder. Whilst the emphasis on being an individual is attractive, and well done, I found the pages overcrowded, and sometimes difficult to follow the threads of the story. Suitable for girls of 4-7 years if it appeals.
How Dinosaurs Really Work by Alan Snow. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $20
This is quite a technical book, with lots of information about various types of dinosaurs. At the same time, around the edge of each double page spread and lots of drawings of that particular dinosaurs with lots of speech bubbles, and smart comments and I think humour, although most of that seemed to escape me. There seems to be the urge to make the book attractive to boys of about 8-10 years, with slang and the jokes. The book is suitable for that age group, and I think they will be the only ones who can enjoy the mixed content.
A difficult to categorise book…..
*Unforgotten by Tohby Riddle. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $35
The book is almost entirely in black, white and various shades of grey and consist of lots of photographs from a variety of sources and periods, (some of which are from the time of the American civil war) which have been selected to illustrate a poem about angels, as ephemeral creatures, which do exist, but are momentary, and very difficult to see. Sometimes it is as if people just look straight through them with out seeing them. This is a difficult book to categorise because much of it requires adult interpretation of the photographs, and of how the superimposed angels offer comfort, or are a means of remembering certain incidents. I found the book too sombre to call enjoyable, but as an artistic creation and vehicle for thought it is very successful. For ages 12 to adult, if it appeals.
*Emily Eyefinger and the Secret from the Sea, by Duncan Ball, illustrated by Craig Smith PB from Harper Collins. RRP about $10
This is a series of short stories about the most wonderful young detective you could ever find. Emily is a talented detective because she has an extra eye—on the end of one finger—and this eye is a tremendous help in solving lots of life’s little mysteries. Here Emily is chased by gargoyles in Pairs—and the gargoyles are alive– and in another adventure she creeps into a computer to catch some extra smart mice. Lots of other short imaginative adventures, and a good book for children of 7-9 years who are just making the move to chapter books.
Arkie Sparkle, Treasure Hunter. Time Trap, by Petra James. PB from Pan Macmillan. RRP about $12
Arkie Sparkle and her fried TJ have seven days to find seven treasures as they hope to rescue Arkie’s parents, who have been kidnapped. Arkie’s parents are archaeologists, and the adventures in this story all relate to actual ancient sites around the world as the two girls find each treasure. This is the second book in this series. There is not much reading or character development—everything is action as Arkie and TJ speed from Egypt to the Great Wall after the scroll which contains the clue to the next treasure, has been stolen. There is actually quite a lot of history and reference to many historic sites in this story, so its major appeal may be to children, mainly girls of 10-12 years who are interested in history, and have reasonable general knowledge.
Tournament Trouble, by Frances Watts. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP about $12
Tommy has been the Keeper of the Blades for the young knights at Flamant castle for several months. When one of the young knights is injured just before a big tournament Tommy is asked to prepare herself to take part in the tournament. There are two problems: f Tommy has never ridden a horse before, and secondly, when she tries, the horse keeps bucking her off, as if it doesn’t like Tommy at all! How Tommy discovers the evil trick which has been played by a boy who is jealous of Tommy, and the story of how she then stars in the tournament, makes for easy and mildly interesting pleasant reading for girls of 8-10 years.
The Haunted School, by Deborah Abela. PB from Random House. RRP about $16
Angeline and Edgar have been members of the Ghost catchers for some time. Dylan is their latest recruit, but he is still learning the skills. When ghosts are detected at Gravesend College, there are problems convincing the headmistress that Angeline and Edgar are up to the task of catching the intruders. Dylan still has a lot to learn, but in the end, and after a couple of false leads, the trio is successful in ridding the school of the unwelcome presence of Bridie, who had been such an unhappy student at the college in years past. This is a well-written novel, with a strong story line. It is not really scary. For keen readers of 9-12 years, probably mostly girls.
Shark Attack, by Jackie French. PB form Scholastic RRP $10.
This is the latest in the Animal rescue series. Our usual heroes, Leo and Mozz become involved when the breeding grounds of a colony of grey nurse sharks is threatened by some noxious effluent form an old mine site. The complication occurs because the homemade vehicle Skytiger runs into difficulties while the children are trying to communicate with the sharks. Will the children escape from under the water, and will the sharks be saved? Vocabulary is fairly straightforward, and it’s an OK read for 7-9 year olds.
The Daring Rescue of Nanny Piggins. By R.A Spratt. PB from Random House. RRP $16
Nanny Piggins is the most unusual nanny anyone could ever find for their children. She has her employer, Mr Green under her thumb and the children Derrick Samantha and Michael think she is wonderful of course as she leads them on many adventures. This is the seventh book about Nanny and it is just as exciting as the others. In this book Mr Green has been kidnapped and taken to a tropical island. Nanny leads the rescue efforts. This book is too fanciful for me, but children of 10-12 years may find that it all appeals to their sense of humour.
**1001 Aussie Crack-ups. From Scholastic. PB and RRP $10
This book is a fundraiser for Camp Quality, the children’s cancer charity. Camp Quality raises money for children with cancer, so that they can experience camps, and other events where humour is a valued ingredient of all activities. Hence these books. This is a collection of funny jokes, riddles, and plays on words and whatever will make kids laugh.
“Why were the eagle chicks nervous in their nest? Because it just felt so eyrie….” It is a series of books which I have found is very popular with boys of 6-9 years and the cause of raising money for CQ is deserving. Well done to Scholastic for supporting this charity in such a wholesome and useful way.
Molly Moon and the Monster Music. By Georgia Byng, in PB from Macmillan. RRP about $14
Molly, her twin Micky, friend Gerry and Petula the dog befriend a Japanese boy’s band, Zagger, which is starring its way around the world on a tour, although the manager of the band, Mr Proila, is such a beast, and is really cruel to the boys. Because they come from such a poor background, they do not see much unusual in the manager’s behaviour. Molly finds that a gold coin which she had picked up in a previous adventure, makes her feel much more powerful even than her ability to hypnotize people. As the story unfolds Molly learns that with the help of the coin she can play the harmonica superbly— she upstages the boys band, and their manager becomes her manager. Micky and Gerry realise that something is greatly wrong with Molly, and that she has to be snapped out of her reliance on the gold coin. How can they all work together to trap the evil Mr Proila and free Molly from the spell of the gold coin? This is a fast moving fanciful, but fun story for 9-12 year olds.
Mortal Combat, by Martin Chatterton. PB from Random House. RRP $15
This is another in a series of adventures involving the 10,000 year old boy Mortimer de Vere and his fellow time travellers. This time the group find themselves in the middle of World War 2 . No sooner do they escape from a near thing in Berlin, than Mort and his sister Agnetha find themselves fighting some very angry Vikings. Again, I found this story really fanciful, and didn’t enjoy it. However one 10-year-old boy to whom I have just lent the book, has really found it very funny and easy to read. What more could an author ask for?
*A Hero for Wondla, by Tony Diterlizzi. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $27
I did not read the first volume in this series, but there is a brief synopsis at the start of this volume. In this second book Eva Nine has just been flown by Hailey to the human colony of New Attica, on planet Orbona following the destruction of her robotic caretaker Muthr. Eva, aged twelve, is really happy to be with other humans again, but it does not take long for problems within the colony to emerge, and for Eva, Rovender and Hailey to have to consider what they should do. Eva Nine is really disturbed when she meets up with a woman who is Eva Eight—in other words, a precursor to Eva Nine. It seems as if it is Eva who is the catalyst for change, and for the redemption of humans. This is a complex, well-designed story, with some similarities in flavour with Emily Rodda’s Rondo series. The series will appeal to confident readers, both boys and girls of 9-12 years.
Best junior novel this month.
****The Terrible Thing that happened to Barnaby Brocket, by John Boyne. PB from Random house. RRP $20
Mr and Mrs Brocket are normal—they love being normal, and the same as everybody else. Their first two children, Henry and Melanie are also very normal- well behaved, and conforming to expectations. But Barnaby—when Barnaby is born, the family is turned upside down, because Barnaby is anything but normal. Barnaby floats! It is actually quite sad when Barnaby’s mother actually lets Barnaby go one day, fro Mrs Macquarie’s chair, and Barnaby floats away. Barnaby discovers that lots of really exciting things happen to him when he is free to float at will, and that he meets lots of interesting people who do not consider him unusual. He ends up in space, in a space ship, with astronauts, and discovers that there, he does not float. When the spaceship returns to earth, just outside Sydney, Barnaby ends up in hospital, where a doctor is very interested to hear of his adventures and tells him that with a simple operation on his ears his floating problem can be fixed. What does Barnaby do? Does he really want to be as normal as the rest of his family? You’ll have to read the book to find out. This is an outstanding book about being an individual, being different and being confident enough to be an individual. Excellent reading for thoughtful children of 9-14 years.
The two best teenage books.
***After, by Morris Gleitzman. PB from Penguin. $20
This book fills the gap in the series that began with Once and Then. Chronologically, this book comes next, and finally Now. After is the story of what happened to Felix after the Nazis took his parents away, and then killed his best friend as Felix struggles to continue to live in Poland in the last years of the Nazi invasion and rule. Then, reunited with his mother, but only to have her die, Felix is able to prevent himself from killing his last enemy as he and Gabriel look forward to a more positive future. This has been a remarkable series, and one read by countless thousands of young teenagers. Written in the present tense, it has a life and vitality which continues to haunt the reader after finishing the book.
***Earthfall, by Mark Walden. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $16
Mark Walden is the author of the H.I.V.E. books, which have been popular with teenagers over about the past five years. I am happy to see the start of this new series; here, a boy named Sam, becomes aware that there is something in his brain which has helped him be aware of the alien drones which are part of an invasion force , but not to become subject to them, as has happened with the rest of the human race. Sam is able to meet up with a gang of kids and a couple of adults who are guiding them in their opposition to the drones and aliens. Sam has to learn to fight savvy, and to be cautious so that he does not lose his life when there are so few humans left who are able to resist the alien presence. At the end of this book Sam realises that he is indeed special, and that his adoptive father has somehow prepared him for the role which he has begun to play. I look forward to the next volume in the series. Excellent reading for boys of 12-15 years.
One or two things I learned about Love, by Dyan Sheldon. PB from Walker Books. RRP about $16
Hildy is part of a large family of girls, but her main concern is that she has only had a couple of dates in her whole life—she is about sixteen. We learn about her family life, which sounds amazingly normal, and about her peer outings, and then Connor arrives on the scene. Hildy is very nervous, but also over the moon with pleasure at the thought of a real date. Lots of detail about the dates follow, and about the growing relationship. However, as the weeks pass it becomes obvious that Connor needs to know where Hildy is at all times, and it appears that he is keeping tabs on her. Did she give Connor her grandmother’s phone number and address, or did he find it out some other way? Finally Hildy has had enough and tells Connor it is over. Her need to have a relationship has evaporated now that she realises it was all a one way street and all about Connor’s needs, but she has gained confidence in herself and learned a lot about boys from the experience. Definite appeal for teenage girls only, but reassuring for them.
Burn Mark by Laura Powell. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $16
Glory is fifteen and comes from a family of witches, although her immediate family is now very poor, and living in a gang environment in London. She desperately wants to be a witch. Lucas comes from a really wealthy background, and his father prosecutes witches for the Inquisition. Much to his horror Lucas comes to realise that he is a witch too—at the same time as realisation hits Glory. The fight between forces for good and bad, both among the Inquisition forces and among the group supported by Glory’s unpleasant great aunt, now involves the two teenagers and Glory has to learn the truth about her mother’s disappearance five years earlier. This is a well-written drama, with strong characterisation and with realistic interactions between Glory and Lucas. It’s a good fantasy thriller, suitable for 13-16 year olds.
Into that forest by Louis Nowra. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $20
A story told by an old woman about her youth: how she and a friend Becky, when, aged about six and seven became lost in the bush, and were adopted by a pair of Tasmanian tigers and then reared by the tigers. Conditions were harsh, and the girls found it difficult to keep warm and to eat what the tigers provided for them. When after some years, the two girls were finally found by a neighbour of Hannah’s family, they had lots of difficulty adjusting back to being human. They were taken to Hobart and then the two girls were separated. Becky was older than Hannah and adjusted back to a human life more readily than Hannah. The descriptions of the girls’ life with the tigers, and then the difficulties they experience in their transition back to civilization are graphic, and at times stark and may be off-putting to children. Either that, or they may be fascinated! It is not a novel I enjoyed, because it is not a pleasant story, but it was very interesting. Flor teenagers of 13-15 years.
Stormdancer, by Jay Kristoff. PB from Macmillan. RRP $17
The publisher’s blurb for this book describes it as a dystopian Japanese Steampunk fantasy. I found it impossible to sort out the characters, and the story and the plethora of Japanese terms left me cold, in spite of the comprehensive glossary at the end of the book. For people who want to have any hope of enjoying this book, make sure you read the glossary first—several times. And this is the first of what is supposed to be a trilogy. I will not be bothering with the next two volumes.
**The Enchantress by Michael Scott. PB from Random House. RRP $25
This is the last volume in the series the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. The six books in this series have appeared over probably about 8 years, but it is interesting that the characters seems as fresh now, and easy to remember–even though I have missed a couple of the series–because the story has had a coherent plan, and the characterisation has been strong, and consistent. It probably also has helped that there have been links to various European myths and fairy stories. The twins, Sophie and Josh Newman are split in this story, and an extra long life and death offer different paths for their futures. And for the Alchemist, Nichols Flamel and his wife Petronella, death waits for them as Josh in his new form will lead them there. But between them all, they have saved the world from the evil threatened by Danu talis. One of my students, aged 12, and a precocious reader, has finished the entire series this year, and loved it. His suggestion, and mine, is that the books are best read in sequence. For keen fantasy readers of 12-adult.
Throne of Glass, by Sarah Maas. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $16
Celaena Sardothien was imprisoned in a fearful prison salt mine, and had been there for over a year when, to her surprise, she is removed from the prison, and taken to the king’s castle, to prepare for a tournament to discover who should be the King’s champion. Celaena is no ordinary girl—she had been trained as an assassin, and was extremely good at her job, until she was caught. Now she has to retrain, quickly in order to survive each round of the kill to the death tournament. She also has to work out why she has in effect been given a second chance at life. There is also the complication of the Crown prince and the mutual attraction between them. This is a good story, and well told. Good reading for 14-16 year olds, probably mainly girls.