December . New Books for children and teenagers. Reviewer: Janet Croft
Ranking: 0-3 stars The more stars the better!
***Pip and Posy, the Snowy Day by Axel Scheffler. Padded book from Nosy Crow and Allen and Unwin. RRP $20
I enjoy these stories—the simple plot— how playing in the snow turns into an argument, which then is resolved in a most satisfying manner—but also the drawings and the birds who look on at these activities with varying facial expressions. The author has been very clever, and kids of 2-5 years love looking at, reading, rereading and talking about these books. I have not looked for the App on iTunes, but it is there!
Princess and Fairy: Enchanting Carnival, by Anna Pignatoro. HB from Scholastic. RRP $$20
Princess and Fairy are both young rabbits, and they have the most amazing adventures. The book is really a look and find story, which uses rhyming verse to give the readers items to locate in the pictures. There is lots of glitter, and detail in the attractive drawings but the mixture of fonts used for signs, and the unusual font for the verses, mean that girls of the intended ages of 3-5 years will certainly need an adult to help read the story and signs.
Do your Ears Hang Low? By the Topp Twins and Jenny Cooper. PB with CD from Scholastic. RRP $17
This is a pleasant production with a lively and happy rendition of the well-known children’s song, from the Topp twins. The illustrations are delightful, and the words on each page those of the song. There is also an interesting fact sheet about ears at the back. Good value for kids of two years and older—it’s a good song to sing along with in the car, if the parents can stand it!
We’re going on a Croc Hunt, by Laine Mitchell and Louis Shea. HB from Scholastic. RRP $20
This is another bright and colourful book with an accompanying CD, which can be listened to while reading the story. A benefit of this rhyme is that it introduces children to prepositions, in an interesting way. The story and rhyme uses an Australian background. For children of 3-6 years.
Tell me about your Day Today, by Mem Fox and Lauren Stringer. HB from Scholastic. RRP $25
A gentle story for bedtime by this passionate advocate of reading to children. Here a young boy asks his toys what sort of day each has had; there are some amazing adventures, and best of all for bedtime, all the adventures ‘turned out OK’ so the boy went to sleep happy. Simple story, bright colours and chance for lots of imaginative thinking prior to sleep. Excellent value for children of about 3 -6 years.
***Superworm, by Julia Donaldson with Axel Scheffler. HB from Scholastic UK RRP $25
If I were teaching in a kindergarten class at school, I would love to use this book with the class- to read the story to them, and to have them learn the verses off by heart, with only the pictures as prompt. It is an outstanding story, and the pictures are sheer joy, with lots to admire and ponder. And the exploits of Superworm, as he saves some of the creatures from doom, and helps others play happily are well thought out and amusing. This book is highly recommended for children of 2-6 years—as a book for families or class.
The Snow Womble, by Elisabeth Beresford. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP about $18
This story about the very British Womble family and their adventures in the snow on the common will have limited appeal to Australian children, because the characters and the snowy European winter setting are all just too remote. Suitable for 4-6 year olds
The house that Wonky built produced by Craig Smith and Kaz Cowley. Activity pack from Scholastic RRP $25
This is quite a complicated activity pack. There is a book of the story of the Wonky Donkey, and how he copes with only three legs, one eye, and other disabilities. There is a CD of the song, and there is the fold out diorama of the stable, together with all the extra bits which can be put together to furnish the stable. It is an interesting idea, the materials are quite robust, and I think children of 4-7 years, with help from an adult, will enjoy the experience and the song. This pack is good quality and value.
***Azzi in Between, by Sarah Garland. HB from Frances Lincoln and Walker Books. RRP $30
Every class in Australian primary schools should read this book. It is the story of Azzi, who, lives in a Middle Eastern country which is racked by civil war. Azzi lives with her parents and grandmother, but when there is an escalation in the tempo of the war, Azzi’s father decides that they must leave immediately to escape the violence. The book tells in coloured graphic form of the escape, the problems, their eventual arrival in Britain, and of Azzi’s gradual adjustment to life there. When the children at school create a vegetable garden, Azzi grows some beans as she saw her father do before their big move; the beans become part of the way in which Azzi helps her father stop feeling so sad, and come to terms with the hard work which lies ahead of the family. Azzi has really missed her grandmother, and is overjoyed when Grandma too is eventually able to escape, via a different route, and come to rejoin the family in Britain. This is based on a true story; it is a story which will resonate with many refugees. We need to acknowledge that Australians have a role to play in resettling families who have fled their native country so that the children can have a life. For readers of 5-12 years.
*Rosie’s Magic Horse. Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake. HB from Walker Books. RRP $25
When an icy pole stick is thrown away, it is picked up by Rosie, who has a collection of similar sticks, and thinks that it may be useful for something. The sticks dream of being useful too; they turn themselves into a horse, called Stickerino and take Rosie on a magical trip, where she finds a pot of gold for her father, who had been worried about how to pay all the bills. Good reading for imaginative children of 3-7 years.
Come on Everybody, time to Play, by Nigel Gray and Bob Graham. PB from Walker Books RRP $15
This is a delightful, simple lift the flap book for children of 1-4 years. It is a search and find story, set in a house, with kids and pets, and question designed to help kids learn vocabulary, and to predict what might happen when they lift the flaps. Kids will love to read and reread this book.
**Hey Baby, by Corinne Fenton. HB from Walker Books. RRP $19
I wonder where authors find such appealing pictures of animals! This very simple story makes the point that everyone is special, and unique and to do so, uses a collection of photos of animal babies—photos which are so lovely that I could frame some of them! The book is described on the back cover as a love letter to a baby, and really, it will make a wonderful gift for a toddler of 1-3 years.
An Island Adventure: The Adventures of Abney and Teal, by Joel Stewart. HB from Walker Books. RRP $15
This is a simple activity book, with suggestions in the text about where to place the pop up figures of the characters on each page as Abney and Teal have a simple adventure on an island, with some animals and other friends. The pieces are sturdy, and the story will be able to be read and and played with by children of 2-5 years, with or without an adult.
Ice Age Continental Drift, Creativity Book , from Walker Books. RRP $20
This so-called creativity pack contains stories, games, cut-outs, stickers and stencils. The theme is an Ice Age, and there is a large fold out series of pages at the back where the re-useable stickers and stencils can be placed to populate the area, as well as lots of puzzles and games. Good value for children of 6-10 years.
Solid Rock by Shane Howard. PB from One Day hill and Scholastic. RRP $25
This is the story of Uluru, told in the book, and sung on the CD, as an anthem for aboriginal people for whom Uluru is a most sacred mountain. The story deals with the coming of the white man in a strongly pejorative light; I hope the day is coming when the benefits of western civilization will also be recognised. I enjoyed the vibrant illustrations by children and Peter Hudson, showing what Uluru means to them. The publishing of this book has been supported by the Ian Thorpe foundation, and some of the proceeds will go to youth initiatives in central Australian communities. For readers of 3-7 years.
How they Croaked, or the Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley. PB from Bloomsbury, RRP $$15
To read this book requires considerable language maturity and knowledge of slang—including that ‘croaked’ meaning dies, rather than what frogs do. The content is interesting—it presents nineteen famous world figures, their lives, but especially how they died: Cleopatra, Marie Curie, George Washington, Galileo, Mozart and Charles Dickens are some of the subjects. The tone of the writing is conversational and emphasis is given to sensational or unpleasant attributes displayed by the subjects, as well as how they all died. Some died as the result of antisocial behaviour of some sort; others died awfully painfully, or had terrible things done to their bodies after death. An interesting but at times gruesome book for capable readers of 10 years and older, probably mainly boys. ,
RSPCA Bumper book of Pets, by Alexandra Hirst. PB from Random House. RRP $19.95
What an excellent gift this book will be for children who are keen to have a pet, but not really sure what sort of pet they want, and know nothing about the care that will be required when they do have a pet. The book presents lots of facts about a wide variety of animals, and spells out clearly what the responsibilities of pet owners are with regard to food, health and exercise, as well as personal care. The photos are delightful, and the content is easy to read. There are also trivia questions, and puzzles about animals. The book has been sponsored by the RSPCA and is suitable for children of 4-10 years.
***Unbored, by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen. HB from Bloomsbury, RRP $30
This American-centred book contains a miscellany of information aimed to help children learn to entertain themselves with whatever activity appeals at a given time. It also provides: information about puberty, and ADHD, planning a car trip, creative writing, cooking and looking after pets, learning about architecture, and lots about reading, with advice on how to read a food label, and excerpts from some famous children’s books, —it really has a fantastic assortment of topics, plus web pages, and a disclaimer saying that the information is presented in good faith, but that in America children under 13 are not permitted to access certain web sites, and that parents should not encourage children to break the law! Disregarding the American slant to some of the items, there is plenty in the book to interest girls and boys of age 10 to adult, and it would make a very good gift. I am intending to use this book to provide reading and discussion material for some of my students.
**Eleven Eleven, by Paul Dowswell. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $16
I enjoyed this book, because the three young men-English, German and American—seem so real, and the pressures they face as WW1 comes to an end were very real. Dowsdwell has written several other books which are set in war time, and I have enjoyed all that I have read. The story is set around the last day of the war, and the setting is historically correct, including the circumstances of the signing of the armistice. The boys are not aware that the war is so close to an end. Will is keen to see some action, but also scared, and aware that he is working with his older brother, and that he desperately wants both of them to survive. Axel is scared—he knows that he should spear Eddie with his bayonet when he sees him survive the crash of his plane, but is unable to do so. Axel is strong enough to make his own decision that it is more important to save a life than kill someone around his own age, and fortunately the other two boys when they all come together, support him. . I know that the book sanitises the horrors of the war to some extent, and provides a happy ending, but I don’t mind that when the book is designed for readers of about 9-12 years. The author acknowledges his choices, but provides a web site where more details of the fighting can be obtained
Wolf Princess, by Cathryn Constable. PB from Scholastic. RRP $17
Sophie Smith is a charity student at an exclusive school for girls in London when she unexpectedly is chosen to go with a couple of other girls on a trip to Russia, ostensibly to garner more students for her school. Sophie feels a remarkable affinity with the country, and also with the wolves, which she encounters after she and the other two girls are abandoned on the train. Their trip turns into a magical time when they are rescued by the Princess Anna. Sophie finds that all her dreams of being a princess come true, and that the ploy to choose her for the trip to Russia was all to ensure that Sophie would not live to receive her just inheritance. Fanciful to the extreme, but easy to read, no real harm in the story, and a plot to appeal to girls of 8-12 years.
Eric Vale, Epic Fall, by Michael Gerard Bauer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
This book looks attractive to young male readers of 8-10 years—there are lots of cartoon style drawings, an easy to read large font, lots of bold print, and topics which are important to young boys at school- nicknames which hurt, teasing, pressure to be good, and to achieve—Eric seems to live dangerously because everything is either a mega disaster, or a mega success. Easy and enjoyable reading, but only for that limited age group!
Truly Tan, by Jen Storer. PB from Harper Collins. RRP $16.99
Tan Callahan is ten, and she and her family have just moved to the country, and everyone needs time to adjust. This is the first of what is to be a trilogy of Tan’s adventures, because after all, she is a superb young detective! The activities which follow involve a dead fox, the kids on the farm next door, plus the mystery about Wanda’s shack, and what happened to Wanda. The activities are harmless, school is good, and the kids get along well together. It is a pleasant story about living in the country, having lots of pets, and spending lots of time away from adults. Entertaining reading, mainly for girls of 8-10 years.
Tom Gates, Genius Ideas (mostly), by L.Pichon. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16
Another book with lots of drawings, large varied fonts for the print, and not much story, about a young boy and his ideas. There have been several of these books, and my 9 year olds boys have liked them because they are easy to read, and have silly jokes in them. They also like the way in which the style of the font is very descriptive of its meaning…The drawings are clever, because in one incident here, which involves Tom being a buddy for the new boy Joe, different faces are used to introduce each speaker, and to give a clue as to whether the speaker is feeling happy or sad. Lots of family events, and school based stories as well. For boys of 8-10 years.
Infinity Ring, Divide and Conquer, by Carrie Ryan. HB from Scholastic. RRP $15
This book is one of a series where a book unlocks a new on line adventure in which the participants can become immersed in the adventure themselves—virtual reality. This adventure involves a Viking invasion in the past, and the story begins with the three book heroes travelling back to Viking times. I have not tried the online game, but I think I will, because that is the purpose of the book and on line the participant plays the role of one of the characters. At the front of the book, readers are urged to read the book before opening the seal inside the front cover to find the guide to the online play. Suitable for readers of 10 plus, if it appeals.
Trust No one, by Linda Sue Park. HB from Scholastic. RRP $18
This is the fifth book of the Cahill vs Vespers series The 39 clues, which again encourages on line play after reading the story. There is no attempt at characterization—it is all action. The story has not changed, it concerns the kidnapping of various members of one family, but this time, there is a traitor in the midst of the goodies…the mission is on line and there are clues inside the front cover…..again, suitable for 10 years plus.
*The False Prince, by Jennifer A Nielsen. PB from Scholastic. RRP $17
The setting is a parallel world, but there is no magic involved. The story begins with a wealthy man who gathers four poor boys who look physically similar, from orphanages in adjoining towns. The man, Lord Conner, has a particular purpose in mind for the boy who is the best fit for an impersonation Conner has in mind to avoid war in the country; Conner is also seeking immense power in the land. Three of the boys make it to the second round of training, and it is interesting to see the characters emerge, their differing attitudes to the task, and how the competition between the three develops, as the time for the choice gets closer. Tobias, Roden and Sage all learn from their experiences, but it is Sage, who has been the aggressive loner, and who refuses to toe Conner’s line, who succeeds, and provides the surprise ending. I enjoyed the story—parts of the conclusion are a bit slick, but nonetheless it makes a good yarn. For readers, mostly boys I expect, of 11-14 years.
**The Boy who Swam with Piranhas, by David Almond. HB from Walker Books. RRP $20
I’m not sure how to categorise this book. It is almost a cautionary tale—the life of Stan, who likes living with his aunt and uncle, until his uncle is overcome by an evil thought and kills Stan’s goldfish. Heavy at heart, Stan leaves home; he joins the fair for a time , but is not happy although others around him are happier because he is with them. There are hints that Stan is special in some way, because he has such a positive and cheering effect on those around him. When he meets Pancho Pirelli, his life changes, as Pancho tells Stan that Stan is special, and that he, Pirelli will train Stan to swim with the Piranhas! No more details–the story ends with Stan happy, strong and courageous, and excited about his now much larger family, and his future. It is an attractive story—the direct story telling mode is very effective, and means that young children will not be frightened at any stage of the story, but that they will think about what might happen—a great book to read with children of 6-10 years.
Brotherband 3: the Hunters, by John Flanagan. PB from Random house. RRP $17.95
After so many fantasy and gothic novels over the past few months, it is refreshing to see the next book from John Flanagan. Yes, the setting is medieval, in a parallel world, but there is no magic, and the crew of the Heron Brotherhood, who make me think of Vikings, have only their brains and brawn to use against the pirate Zarvac and his men on board the Raven, as they seek to regain the precious stone which belongs to the Skandians. There are a couple of added distractions for Hal to resolve as well, as his young friend and crewman Ingvar battles an infection, and then Thorn and Lydia need to leave the ship to track down the pirate Rikard again after he escapes. However—reading is easy, and exciting. Suitable for 14 years to adult.
The Farm, by Emily McKay. PB from Penguin. RRP $17
Lily and Mel are identical twins, but the big difference is that Mel is severely autistic, living and speaking rhymes and rhythms. Lily is the tenacious, persistent and aggressive thinker, trying to work out how she and Mel can escape from the farm, which is really a prison where people are bred to provide blood for vampires. Lily asks favours of Joe, who runs a sort of stall on the Farm and Joe wants to escape too with his pregnant girlfriend. When Carter appears on the scene, dressed and behaving as if he is one of the guard, Lily is pleased to see him because she has known and really liked him before her incarceration on the Farm. Now, however, Carter’s behaviour seems strange. Can Lily trust him? Carter is very good with Mel, which intensifies Lily’s dilemma—how can they escape, and will they all manage it? I am not a fan of vampire fantasy, but this book has been well crafted, and the story hangs together well. For girls of 13 and older as it appeals.
*Marked, by Denis Martin. PB from Walker Books. RRP about $15
Cully has been to many schools—his father is a writer, and Cully is spending time with him in Cooksville, an isolated part of NZ, where it is easier to take a ferry to get to civilization than go by road. Coming in on the ferry, Cully is immediately attracted to a girl, whose appearance really hits him, plus the fact that an unpleasant guy on the ferry seems interested in this girl as well. As he settles in to school and the area, Cully gets to know Jed, who seems to be a drop out from society as well as the girl, Kat. With Kat, Cully has to take it slowly, slowly, because she is very reticent about herself, and there is some mystery involving Kat and her mother. This is an excellent story—the development of the friendship, and that of the two of them with Jed, is gradual, and careful, and fuelled by the extra element which is the apparent stalking of Kat. The presentation of the story is good, with clear font, and double spaced lines—these features mean that the book is super easy to read. I can happily recommend this book to young teenagers as a good yarn for 13-15 year olds.
***Breathe, by Sarah Crossan. PB from Bloomsbury, RRP $16, and available as an eBook.
This book was so exciting, that once I started to read it, I virtually did nothing else until I had finished it! Because so many trees and other plants have died, oxygen levels in the world have decreased to a level where people can no longer live with out artificial breathing apparatus, or in a dome, called the Pod, in which the few, originally selected by lottery, live and work. The rest of the population, the outsiders or auxiliaries, are weak, and die young. Bea wants to become a Premium, and debates a Premium boy in the hope of being selected for training and to live in the Pod. The boy, Quinn is already a premium, and his father has a very senior position, but Quinn doesn’t know what he does. Quinn is uncomfortable with the differences between the Premiums and the auxiliaries. Alina is part of the secret resistance, but when a mission to steal some cuttings from trees inside the Pod goes wrong, she is forced to hide and flee back to the refuge and headquarters of the resistance outside the pod. Bea’s application for the training is refused and how the three of them come together, and discover the extraordinary evils which the Premiums are perpetuating, makes exciting reading. As well as being such good reading, there is a strong environmental message in the theme. Highly recommended for 14-16 year olds.
***Guardian Angel, by Robert Muchamore. HB from Hodder Children’s Books. RRP about $30
This is the first of the second Cherub series that I have read, and I can’t wait to get hold of the first in the series, and then wait for the third. These stories, which have teenagers as their heroes, are fast action, international thrillers. I love the factual background to the stories, and the realistic feel that reading about thugs in Bishkek and Dubai brings to the action. Ryan met Ethan when Ethan was living with his mother in California: Ryan was a CIA plant, because Ethan’s mother was involved in international smuggling. When she is killed Ethan is taken to live with his grandmother and most unpleasant uncle on the outskirts of Bishkek, in Kyrgyzstan, from where the family operation is now run. Ethan is on his way to school in Dubai, when his uncle Leonid has him kidnapped so that Uncle Leonid has a clear run to be able to swindle his sick mother, and then kill Ethan. Ryan, some colleagues from Cherub in Britain and the CIA need to rescue Ethan and thwart the plans of Leonid and the grandmother. Most exciting reading, with lots of computer and smartphone detective work, for 13 years to adults and especially boys of 14-18.
*Dark Star, by Lara Morgan. PB from Walker Books. RRP $22.95
This is the third volume of the Rosie Black Chronicles, set in Australia and space about 500 years ahead. Dark Star really needs to be read as the third of the series, because it continues the adventures of Rosie, her boy friend Pip and other friends, especially Dalton and Riley, as the group try to defeat the forces of Helios, who are controlling what is left of the world by fear, brute force, and the disease MalX which has wiped out most of the population. Pip however has been shown to be immune from this disease, and his blood has been used to try to develop a vaccine to prevent or cure the disease. A lot of wheeling and dealing has lead to this point where Rosie has agreed to train as a Helios agent to protect Pip, but it seems that opposition from within the Helios ranks has also grown, and the situation becomes fraught with problems for Rosie, Pip and the others. Finally though, it seems as if the battle has been won, and they can all live out in the open again. An excellent series—I felt the action in this story was a bit repetitive, and convoluted, so it is time that all ended satisfactorily. It is good writing, and reading– perhaps more for girls—for 13-16 year olds.
Recon Team Angel Book 2, Task Force, by Brian Faulkner. PB from Walker Books. RRP $20
The fate of the world lies in the balance as the Bzardian forces prepare to overwhelm the American continent. Defeat of the Bzardians in Australia is the only way to block the northern hemisphere move. Team angel—six young people with a variety of skills are selected to infiltrate the Bzardian forces, and destroy the Bzardian air force base at Amberley in Queensland. Right from the start the project runs into troubles, and it does not seem likely to succeed. Chisnall, the leader copes magnificently with lots of problems, but then—does he survive? This is an unlikely story full of action , tactics and technical details about diving and bombing—lots to interest boys of 13-1 6 years, but a bit too much action in a short time for me .