Children and teenagers—new books April 2013 Reviewer: Janet Croft
Non-fiction Picture books:
Vietnam Diary, by Mark Wilson. HB from Hachette. RRP $24.95
Two brothers are very close, but when the Vietnam War escalates, and Australians are conscripted to go to war, there is a difference of opinion between Leigh and Jason. The book tells simply, but graphically, the story of a couple of battles in Vietnam, and we learn of Jason’s experiences. It is a moving story, and is of relevance to upper primary and junior secondary students; probably it will appeal more to boys than girls. It’s appropriate timing for the release, with Anzac Day so close.
Ned Kelly, by Janeen Brian, illustrated by Matt Adams. HB from Random house. RRP $19.95
This is the story of Australia’s most famous bushranger, told in verse, and with the mantle of a folk hero. The slightly stylized illustrations are quite attractive, but I find some of the verse rather forced and clumsy. Some of the pictures have Ned looking much older than he was too: it is suitable for children of 7-10 years.
Anzac Biscuits, by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
Rachel’s father has gone to war—from the illustrations it looks as if it was the First World War—and Rachel is missing him. Her mother suggests that they make some biscuits for him, and send them to him—so they make what are now known as Anzac biscuits. Interspersed with the story of the baking, in the warm kitchen are illustrations of life on the battlefield. It’s a very simple story, and similarly the pictures, but they evoke strong feelings of warmth, longing, loneliness and love as well. It will be a good story for young children of 4-8 years when talking about the significance of Anzac Day. I feel what is missing from this book is a recipe for Anzac biscuits…..
The Fair Dinkum War, by David Cox. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
David Cox has already published a picture book about his childhood, called The Road To Goonong. This has a similar theme of childhood, but this time it is Cox’s memories of life in wartime in Australia during the Second World War. These are good stories, because the pictures help understand the comparative simplicity of life in Australia at the time, and what it felt like, and looked like to be a school boy, but also how war brought considerable changes everywhere, including to small rural towns. Interesting reading for 5-10 year olds.
The Holiday Creativity Book by Mandy Archer. Spiral bound from Walker Books. RRP about $25
Thoughtful activity books are excellent entertainment for all children, and this large one contains a variety of puzzles, drawing tasks, cut outs and games. It is sturdy, and the presentation is varied and suited for children of about 6-10 years. The activities include summer and winter related activities.
Survival at 40 C Above, by Debbie Millar. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99
This is quite a serious book, and suitable for older primary students. It presents in text and illustrations by the author, the stories of some of our rarer Australian animals and reptiles, and how they have adjusted to life in the harsh climate and environment of the Simpson Desert in the Australian outback. A good book for school libraries!
Somewhere in Australia, by Marcello Pennacchio. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
This is a counting book up to ten, with illustrations of Australian creatures and verse to accompany the counting. The rhythm of the verse flows really well—it is from the classic verse “Over in the Meadow” and this will be familiar to many parents. For young readers of 4 to about 8 years.
Escape from Cockatoo Island, by Yvette Poshoglian. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
This is yet another in the My Australian Story series. Cockatoo Island is the largest island in Sydney Harbour. Form the earliest days of the penal colony it was used as a prison for convicts, until it became a harsh reformatory home and school for girls from the late 1860s. The harshness reduced with the years, and by the time of this story, in 1879, the education offered by the school there was reasonable. Olivia is 11, and an orphan. Her greatest wish is to leave Cockatoo Island, and become apprenticed within the colony. After lots of adventures on and off the island, Olivia finds a home, and her future looks brighter. Interesting historical reading for 8-11 years.
Fiction picture books.
Troggle the Troll, by Nick Falk and Tony Lowe. PB from Random House RRP about $15
Poor Troggle is the only troll in his family who doesn’t like to eat the people they catch walking over the bridge near their house. The solution? When Troggle meets Tom, Tom shows him the ideal solution— find food in the vegetable garden! Large, brash and amusing illustrations and a fun book for children of 3-7 years to read with a parent.
Pirates love Underpants, by Claire Freedman, and Ben Cort. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $14.99
A fanciful story, told in verse, of a group of pirates who search for treasure of a strange kind—a pair of golden underpants. Bright pictures, but a story which will need to be read by an adult, because the language contains some difficult words for a child of the interest level age. For children of 3-7 years.
No-Bot, by Sue Hendra. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP about $24.99
The subtitle for this story is The Robot with no bottom! Bernard is a robot who loves to play—but sadly one day he leaves his bottom on a swing, but doesn’t realise it until he reaches home. The story is about the hunt to find his bottom again. Large, simple pictures and a fun story to read with children of 2-5 years.
My Book of Knock Knocks. HB from Scholastic, with illustrations by Chrstina Bollenbach. RRP $9.99
There are lots of clever knock knock riddles in this book, and most of them I have not heard before. The illustrations look as if the book is for children of about 4 years of age, but the ability to read the questions and answers, and then to ‘get’ the humour of the answers will be more appropriate for children of 7-10 years. It is good value for the whole family.
Daisy and the Puppy, by Lisa Shanahan, illustrated by Sara Acton. HB from Scholastic,. RRP $24.99
This is a wonderful story about children who want a pet, and in particular, about Daisy who wants a dog. What happens when mum finally relents, and Ollie joins the family, makes for delightful reading with children of 3-10 years. The children will take in the message that living with a dog changes life for the entire family too.
There was an Old Bloke who swallowed a Bunny, by P Crumble and Louis Shea. PB form Scholastic. RRP $13.99
These adaptations of traditional and well known repetitive songs which end with a bang, are all very well, and this is quite funny, but I do hope that children learn the original version first! Then they will be better able to understand the humour of modifying the original. Some of the rhymes in this version are quite forced, and are not as funny as probably intended. For readers of 5-8 years.
Dog on Log, by Tania Ingram. Illustrations by Kat Chadwick. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
I like this book—for the story, the simple language, and the appealing drawings, with lots to talk about in them. The best feature however is that this is a book which a child in kindergarten can enjoy; they can learn to read the words, and then to reread the story by themselves. The style reminds me a little of the early Dr Seuss books. Excellent quality and content for readers of 5-7 years.
Ten Green Geckos, by Phillip Gwynne and Lloyd Foye. PB from Scholastic. RRP $13.99
Most little kids like geckos—especially their feet! I am sure that this simple counting book will find many admirers because the pictures are such a delight and the verse is so easy to remember, and good fun too. A fun book to learn to count with, for children of 2-5 years.
Max and George, by Cori Brooke and Sue de Gennaro. HB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $24.99
Max only has one friend, and this friend, George, always lives in windows. When Max goes to school he keeps looking for George because school is such a scary place-until a boy at school Sam tells Max a really funny joke, and after that Max learns to be confident that George is happy, because he, Max is happy with some new friends. A gentle book about a child who is possibly autistic, or just really shy, and about how comforting it is when you make friends at school for the first time. For readers of 4-6 years.
Nuddy Ned, by Kes Gray and Garry Parsons. A lift the flap PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
A book which points out that having no clothes on can be fun. Ned gets into all sorts of mischief as he runs away from his parents, until they throw their clothes away too! There are a few well-placed flaps in this story, which help make it a fun read for children of 3-6 years. The pages are quite sturdy and laminated so this story will stand a fair bit of wear and tear.
I Love you too, by Stephen Michael King. HB form Scholastic. RRP $24.99
The simple poem which has given rise to this book is illustrated with pages of delicate pen and watercolour drawings which are very attractive. Young children of 2-5 years will learn the words by heart very easily and will enjoy reading the book for themselves and pondering the drawings and the extra speech balloons in them as well. This is a beautiful, quality presentation.
I have a series of paperback picture books here from Scholastic. Written by Mandy Archer, and illustrated by Martha Lightfoot, each book talks about and illustrates the work of a particular vehicle— Racing Car is Roaring-Fire Engine is Flashing-Tractor saves the Day and Digger to the Rescue. Each has an RRP of $9.99. While the stories are simple, the illustrations are bright and quite informative, and in all it is an appealing series for 4-7 year olds, mainly young boys I expect, but also with appeal for girls.
Big Red Tractor saves the Day, by Melissa Firth, and illustrated by Cheryl Orsini. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
As the tractor is at work in the paddock, it almost runs over a small bird’s nest on the ground. The verse tells and the pictures show how the bird is rescued. Simple verse, and an OK read for children of 3-5 years.
My Easter Egg Hunt, by Rosie Smith and Bruce Whately. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
The text of this book is very very simple, but the drawings are excellent as the reader is introduced to various prepositions, such as over, under, through as the animals go hunting for Easter eggs. Another quality book for very young readers of 2-4 years.
Granny Grommet and Me, by Dianne Wolfer and Karen Blair. HB from Walker Books. RRP $29.99
Granny Grommet is an old surfer from way back, and in this story she teaches the young narrator to learn to love the sea and the waves, and what is under the waves. It is good to find a story with a bit of substance to the content, and this book will be enjoyed by readers of 4-7 years.
Tom and Tilly, by Jedda Robaard. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95
This is a bath time story in which Tom and Tilly go for a long and interesting voyage in a paper boat—at bedtime, and really, just in the imagination, while in the bath. Another thoughtful story for young readers of 2-4 years.
Dandelion, by Calvin Scott David and illustrated by Anthony Ishinjerro. HB from Random hose. RRP $19.95
This story began life as an App to help a child handle bullying. The story is about life for a boy at an unhappy school where there was a lot of bullying. It seeks to show how to confront the bullies, as, by blowing on a dandelion, Benjamin Brewster he learns to blow more strongly, and hope for better things than to be bullied by the boys at school. With time, and his imagination Benjamin (who does not have a face in the drawings, so any child can put himself or herself into the picture) comes to realise that he is stronger mentally than his bullies. It’s a book to talk about, and to use to help children find their own techniques to combat bullying. My only gripe with the story is that it is all black, and other dark colours, with white print and I found the impact of so much black to be rather off-putting and depressing. For readers of 6-10 years.
I have a series of short stories for various ages here. These compilations were released at the end of 2012, but because I was overseas, I was not able to publish this review at that time. The books are called Stories for five year olds, six, seven and eight year olds. Each paperback book contains a number of short stories by prominent and well-loved Australian authors. RRP of each book is $14.95. Many of the stories have been published separately previously.
The authors include Robin Klein, Sophie Masson, Victor Kelleher Morris Gleitzman, Paul Jennings, Andy Griffiths, and Ursula Duborsarsky, just for starters. Each book has a different style and size font, and this is an excellent feature, because it means that a five year old child, new to reading, will not be deterred by a book where the writing is too small for their comfort level. There is a range of stories on various themes, and with appeal to both boys and girls in each book. Since school began this year I’ve read some of the stories with various students whom I’m teaching to read, and every one has liked the books, and the fact that they are able to read stories in a big book, even though they are still not fantastic readers. Books such as these are a delight for parents and teachers, because the kids enjoy them. Congratulations to Random House for this series, and I hope everyone who reads this review will find them as interesting and pleasant as my students.
Robert Irwin, Dinosaur hunter. The Discovery, Ambush at Cisco Swamp, Armoured Defence and the Dinosaur Feather. All in PB, from Random House, and RRP $9.95 each
The books starring Bindi Irwin have been hugely popular with young girls, and now we have Bindi’s younger brother Robert getting into the publishing business with stories about dinosaurs and designed to appeal to young boys. In his hunts for various dinosaurs in several parts of the world, Robert in transported back in time to the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The books have actually been written by Jack Wells, but there is nothing like a well-known name to improve the sales of any product. The books are OK reading—there is quite a bit of information about various dinosaurs in each, but the style is a bit glib and predictable. Some of the illustrations have evidently been done by Robert Irwin. Appeal is intended for boys of about 7-9 years.
Princess Ponies, A Magical Friend, by Chloe Ryder. PB from Bloomsbury children’s. RRP $9.99
These books are designed for young girls of 6-9 years. In this first book Pippa crosses time and space to travel to the magical land of Chevalia, where she is greeted by a pretty white horse who can talk, and says she is Princess Sophie. Chevalia is in trouble, and needs Pippa’s help, so with Sophie, Pippa sets out to find the golden horseshoes. This is an easy read, and with appeal for all young girls who love horses and an adventure where they can identify with the heroine.
Ella and Olivia. Puppy Trouble and The Big Sleepover, by Yvette Poshlogian. PBs from Scholastic. RRP $7.99 each.
In the first of these really simple stories the girls are given a puppy, and love him dearly, but come to realise that there is a lot of work to be done to look after him properly. In the Big Sleepover, Ella and her friend Zoe are having friends over for a sleepover, but Olivia, who is too young to take part is feeling very left out. Good themes for very young girls, and very easy to read stories. Suitable for girls of 5-7 years.
EJ12 Girl Hero. Big Brother, by Susannah McFarlane. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99
This has become a really successful series of books. Emma Jacks is a plausible young heroine, and the author has set each story in a different environment, and done her research well. The stories where EJ is an agent of the spy agency Shine are intriguing, contemporary, and well worked in with EJ’s so-called normal life as an Australian schoolgirl. This story is actually set in Australia with the baddy agency Shadow hanging around, and EJ’s older brother irritating her for some reason. For readers of 8-12 years.
Drongos, by Christine Bongers and Dan McGuiness. PB from Scholastic. RRP $11.99
This is another story in the Mates series of readers for students to whom reading does not come easily. It is a story about a cross-country race, but the winner is not the only success. This is a good story for Australian kids, with a really authentic rural background, and a horse called Drongo, after the bird, in the background—Drongo was famous because he never won a race. I love the highlighting of the words which are harder to read—it makes it easier to look at each chapter first, read the hard words, then have the chapter flow smoothly on the first reading. For readers of 7-9 years, and older, if there are problems.
Ghost, by Deborah Abela. PB from Random House. RRP $15.95
The subtitle to this story is “A Transylvanian Tale”. Now—Transylvania is a province of modern Romania, but this is a very fanciful tale, and doesn’t seem to be set in any real place. At the ghost catching convention, Angeline has the chance to meet her hero, the famous ghost catcher Ripley Granger. But Angeline and her friend Dylan realise that there is something really wrong at the convention and together with their other friend Edgar, and Ripley, they work to defeat the ghost who came back to find his long lost wife. For readers of 8-10 years.
Alice-Miranda in Paris, by Jacqueline Harvey. PB from Random House. RRP $15.95
This is quite a complicated story, with Alice Miranda in Paris with a few kids from her school, and some teachers. They are there to sing at a famous fashion parade but Alice Miranda and her friends become involved in a mystery after some fabric is stolen from a famous designer. In the background is a young boy, Fabien, whose growing skills as a designer are being used by his unscrupulous uncle at the same time that Fabien and his mother are being tricked. It is quite exciting to read how the children trick the dreaded uncle, and solve the mystery. For readers of 9-12 years.
Fizzlebert Stump and the Bearded Boy, by A.F. Harold. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99
This is the second story about Fizz, and his life in the circus. The first really strange thing that happens is that he meets the new family which has joined the circus. Mother, who is to be addressed as Lady Barboozul, father, Gildas, and the son Wystan, all have beards! It takes Fizz quite a while to realise that the weird and unpleasant events which then begin to happen in the circus are because the family is sabotaging everything. The book is written in a really easy to read conversational tone, with Fizz speaking of course. It makes for fun reading for kids of about 9-12 years
I Funny, by James Patterson, and Chris Grabenstein. PB from Random house. RRP $19.95
Jamie Grimm feels that he is the luckiest boy in the world. He has a wonderful talent for making people laugh, and his ambition is to win the contest to find the worlds’ funniest stand up kid comic. The irony of this is that Jamie is actually in a wheelchair, after an awful motor accident when he was little. We follow Jamie through the event, including the fight with Stevie Kosgrov, and the various stages of the contest, until, after winning in New York, he ends up back in the hospital that the inmates called the Hopeless Hotel ( the one where he had been treated) where he surprises himself by giving his best performance ever, and the readers finish the story with a little bit of hope that maybe Jamie, someday will learn to walk again. Lots of fun pictures, and a delightful story for readers of 9-12 years.
What the Raven Saw, by Samantha-Ellen Bound. PB from Random house. RRP $16.95
This is almost a fable. Told through the eyes of a raven, it documents the story of a small girl, Kenzie, who cannot come to terms with her brother’s death, and feels it, was her fault. The raven has a treasure, hidden in the church garden, and also, loves to sing. He is friendly with the old priest Father Cadman, and the priest lets him sing in the church. The raven of course can talk, to those who will hear him. Because of his many talents the raven is able to help Kenzie grieve, help her brother Todd- the boy who died- relax, because his sister is feeling better, and a man who thinks he wants to die but doesn’t really. Between them all, they uncover a thief as well, so the raven ends up feeling mighty happy with himself and the world. For mature readers of 10-12 years.
Red River Stallion, by Troon Harrison. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
This story is set in the wilds of Hudson Bay in Canada in the 1830s. It is the story of how a fine stallion was imported to Canada from Britain, to improve the bloodlines of horses in the Canadian outback. Amelia Otterchild Mackenzie and her sister Charlotte, who are both half Canadian Indian- leave the area where they have been brought up to try to find their Scottish father, who had not returned to them and their mother when he said he would. The river journey is dangerous, and Amelia is close to drowning when she is able to cling to a most strange and wonderful dark red animal. Together they make it to the shore. It turns out that Amelia has a talent with horses, and the horse’s owner is happy to have Amelia look after the horse until they reach their destination. It is an interesting story, and blends Indian and Western traditions of belief in with the action. For readers, probably mainly girls who are horse mad or about 10-14 years.
For older children and teenagers.
Girl’s Best Friend, by Leslie Margolis. PB from Bloomsbury Kids. RRP $15.99
I enjoyed this story. It tells how Maggie, who is a dog walker, becomes aware that some dogs are mysteriously disappearing, or apparently dying when they visit a particular vet clinic. Tied in with the mystery of the missing dogs, is who is involved in the disappearances, and Maggie becomes suspicious of her friend Milo, because his dog doesn’t disappear. For readers of 9-12 years, especially dog lovers.
Raven Lucas, Chinese Whispers, by Christine Harris. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
This is the final episode in Raven’s search for her missing father. The search takes them to Malaysia, and Raven is sure she sees her father’s ex secretary in a large shopping mall. Raven is then asked to meet someone who can take her to her father, so she sets off in an open boat with a boy, Jaylen, who has to take some strange measures to help Raven reach her father. I was disappointed with this concluding episode, because I found some of the events involving Raven’s behaviour in Malaysia unlikely because she really does jeopardise her own safety. As an adult I would not consider, by myself, take any of the risks which Raven does and I do not consider it safe behaviour. It is only because the story is fiction that all ends up for the good as Raven’s extreme measures do result in the eventual uncovering of the criminals after everyone-including Raven’s dad, who is still alive but hidden in a coffin– return to England. For girls of 12-14 years.
A Room at Guardian Angel Inn, by Countess de Segur. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $$17.99
This is a fantasy about two young boys, alone in the French forest, who are found by Moutier, who is returning home from the Crimean war. To follow the story, readers really need to understand the alliances made between the various European countries in this war, and for young Australian readers, this will be difficult. There is a glossary at the back, but I wonder how many children will look at it? Moutier takes the boys to a nearby inn, and delays his departure till he is sure he is happy about the care he has arranged for them. In the process he falls in love with one of the women looking after the inn, and eventually marries her—after the General and a cranky Russian Count have arrived as well, and two nasty characters who look after the other inn in the town, are discovered to be robbing their employer. The story might be a French classic, but I don’t think it will be popular with Australian children—better for older children, or even adults.
K-Zone Prankster’s Handbook. From Scholastic. RRP $14.99
I have found boys love these books. They love to browse them, and tell each other what the jokes are, and what pranks are included. From stink bombs, to how to get out of doing the gardening and heaps of other activities, such as washing the team sweaters and having a haircut to riddles, and pranks with sticky tape, just to mention a few. A fun book to browse for boys of 8-11 years.
Lost World Circus, The Last Elephant and The Singing Ape, by Justin D’Ath. PBs from Puffin RRP $14.99 each.
These are the first two in what is to be a series of six books, set a few years in the future, but at a time when almost all animals have been wiped out. Only Captain Noah has kept some animals safe by vaccinating them and keeping them in his circus. Colt discovers that he has immunity from the dreaded rat disease, and that he has special powers to communicate with the animals. In The Singing Ape, Colt’s mother, a vet, joins the circus to look after the animals. Caruso the gibbon is escaping at night and exploring the nearby towns, but what if the Rat Cops, who want to eliminate all animals, find him? It is up to Colt to try to protect Caruso, and to release him safely for good from the Lost World Circus. At the end of this story, there is a section of Q and A about endangered species of monkeys and other apes. The books are very easy to read, and it is an interesting and polished story—good for readers of 9-11 years.
The Floods. Bewitched by Colin Thompson. PB from Random house. RRP $14.95
This is the twelfth book in the series of this amazing family. The family has noticed that Nerlin is forgetting lots of things and so they take him to the old witches to see if they can recover his senses. There are lots of terms which are used in strange ways in the story—and it will certainly help to understand things like how you might catch global warning, or need to wear incompetence pants, if you are used to the other book in the series, and all the punny words and terms. I find the starts of the books amusing, but my interest waned. Best for smart 10-14 year olds who have read all the other books in the series!
Bureau of Mysteries and the Mechanomancers. By HJ Harper, illustrations by Nahum Ziersch. PB from Random house. RRP $15.95
This is the second in the Bureau of Mysteries series. George is the newest member of the Bureau of Mysteries, whose job it is to keep the city of Little Obscurity clear of the monsters and menaces which threaten the city. Imp is the Senior Cryptographer, George is the junior assistant. A lot of the story requires that the young readers solve puzzles and crack codes—they almost become participants in the story. In this story the mechanomancers are old magical spirits who mix magic and technology to cause havoc in the city. This is another book for capable and intelligent readers of 10-14 years who like solving puzzles.
The Awakening. (Factor 4), by Paul Mason. PB from Bloomsbury, RRP $14.99
I enjoyed this simple story. The four children discover that they each have a special power over earth, fire, air or water, and that they are destined to become superheroes as they help in the extinguishing of a really serious bushfire. This is an easy book to read, and one which will appeal to plenty of children aged about 9-11, and even older for children for whom reading is not easy, because it is not a long story, but is easy to read and it is interesting and different.
Hysteria, by Megan Miranda. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
Mallory is to be sent to a boarding school because her life has been dramatically upset after her boyfriend bled to death on her kitchen floor. Whilst Mallory cannot remember what happened, and she was exonerated of any crime, it nevertheless meant that she would be better to move to another school for a so-called fresh start. Imagine the terror and horror for her when the dreams continue, and it seems as if the previous crime has returned to haunt her when another person dies on her floor in the boarding house. Again she cannot remember or make sense of what happened. To make it all more surreal, the flashbacks to Brian’s death she experiences begin to help her remember what actually happened previously. This is quite a complicated novel, and at the school there are almost too many characters who behave suspiciously. It makes exciting reading, but the nature of the story, and a few gruesome descriptions mean that I would like to see it recommended for readers of older than 14 years.
Hidden, by Marianne Curley. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
This is the first of what is to be a trilogy of stories about the beautiful, enigmatic Ebony, the life she leads, and her growing awareness that she is different from most other people. The story is told via multiple narratives from Ebony and her new friend Jordan. It is via Jordan, when he is injured, and then from Ebony when her apparent parents tell her the truth of her arrival in their family, that we learn of the four dimensions to life and the afterlife. Events move swiftly, and before the end of the story everything becomes a battle between the forces of good and evil, with Ebony and Jordan in the middle. It’s a powerful, easy to read fantasy, suitable for 13 years and older—probably mostly girls. It will also be interesting to see how the second and third stories can develop what has been started in Hidden.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. PB from Random House. RRP about $14.99
Many of you will know that this book is on the NSW Year 12 English syllabus. The first and possibly greatest horror story ever was written in 1818, but remains highly readable because of the questions it raises about current moral issues such as cloning and genetic research. Random House has recently republished several classic stories, and this is one of these. It is excellent to think that it is available again. The style is markedly old fashioned with lots of long descriptions, but the story is interesting, thought -provoking reading for teenagers of 14 plus, and adults.
Killing Rachel, by Anne Cassidy. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
This is probably the best story I have read this month. It is the first in what is to be a trilogy called Dead Time. Rosie and her sort of step brother, but no blood relation have been told that Rosie’s mother, and Josh’s father, Brendan, who were both Cold Case police investigators, are dead. When Josh receives a file of papers that had belonged to his father, he shows Rosie, because it seems as if maybe the ex police man, James Monroe had not told the truth when he said that their parents were dead. Rosie and Josh start to investigate, but the most important investigator was Rachel, who had been a friend of Rosie’s when she was at boarding school, but dies in an apparent suicide early in this book. Rachel had become obsessed with the search for Rosie’s mum and Brendan , but she and Rose had a big falling out, so Rosie takes no notice of the letters and phone messages Rachel leaves for her just prior to her death. Josh and his friend Skeggie keep investigating, and just when it seems that they have some solid evidence that their parents are still alive, James Monroe appears on the scene again to show them photos and DNA evidence that their parents had been killed about five years previously. What is the end of the story? Well, there are two books to come, so obviously we must wait, and the mystery remains unsolved. Watch this space. It’s a clever plausible story. Some of the dialogue does not flow easily, but it is still an excellent read. For readers of 14 years and older.
Song in the Dark, by Paul Howe. PB from Penguin. RRP $17.99
This is the story of Paul, who has had an up and down childhood, and a split family. His mother is delusional, and feels that it is her fault that Paul’s father died, because she had cursed him. Paul too has demons, and is aware that he is losing his friends, and most of all that his erratic behaviour has hurt his beloved grandmother Hetty, who gave him the guitar which had belonged to his dad, and who has always been steadfast in her love for him, and proud that he is such a good boy. Paul runs away, and it takes much soul seeking and pain for him to come to terms with himself, and to find the courage to face up to his actions, and the future. A sombre story but well written, and with a positive ending for teenagers of 14-16 years.
The Debt, Catch the Zolt, by Phillip Gwynne. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $14.99
This is the first instalment of what is to be a series about Dom Silvagni. Dom has just turned fifteen, when he learns that there is a price to be paid for being a son in his family. The family, for several generations has owed a debt to an Italian organisation a bit like the Mafia “but not as nice”. Because of their ancestor’s failure to pay a debt to this organisation many many years ago, each male in the family has to complete six difficult tasks to prevent being killed. Dom is branded by his father and grand father, before he receives his first task, and is branded again at the end of the book after the first task has been successful achieve. Gruesome huh? It’s quite a good story—far fetched of course, but boys of 13-15 years might enjoy the challenges Dom is faced with.
A Very Unusual Pursuit. City of Orphans, by Catherine Jinks. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $14.99
This story has a very solid, well thought out plot, even if it is a fantasy. For centuries there have been monsters in London’s dark places. Birdie McAdam is only ten, but she is pretty, a very sweet singer and she works for Alfred Bunce, who is a bogler, or monster hunter. Birdie is the bait—she attracts the monsters, and then Albert pounces, and kills them. One day Alfred is approached by a woman, Sarah, who runs a gang of pickpockets, who says that three of her boys have disappeared. The same day Edith, an educated lady, approaches Birdie and Alfred. Edith is studying the mythical beasts of England, and wants some help. Yet everyone is not as they seem, and Birdie, together with her friends, and Edith work to save Alfred and defeat Sarah and Dr Morton. As well, Birdie can look forward to a happy future as a singer. It’s a very readable story for 10-14 year olds.
Freaks like us, by Susan Vaught. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
This is a most unusual story. It is about a boy, Jason, who has schizophrenia. This means that he often has voices in his head telling him things, and he doesn’t know what things he should believe. Jason and his companions in the Special Education Class call themselves the alphabet kids, because everyone else always talks about them in letters, like ADD, ADHD, SCZI, GAD, or SED, just to mention a few. Sunshine, of whom Jason is very fond, is EM, or electively mute, although she talks with Jason. When Sunshine goes missing one afternoon after school, Jason becomes a suspect in her disappearance. Jason’s other friend, Drip, and Jason set out to find Sunshine. The book presents several issues, and how they affect children, from men with a history of sexual crimes, to incest, and how the police can be a positive or negative force when handling people with mental illnesses. I found this to be a very well written, evocative and hopeful story. It will be excellent reading for mature teenagers.
People’s Republic, by Robert Muchamore. PB from Hachette. About RRP $16
Ryan is the new hero for a second Cherub series—books about children who have no stable home, but who are intelligent and have been chosen for special combat and surveillance training so that they can be used to help a special branch of British Intelligence in situations where a child can infiltrate a situation, but it would be difficult for an adult. Officially, these children do not exist. Ryan is on his first mission; his task is to befriend a spoilt rich kid whose grandmother runs a really large criminal empire of international smugglers. Ryan ends up on the outskirts of Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan and the action is all go. I love these stories because I can pretend I can identify with a 14-year-old spy! As well, the setting and background have been expertly researched, and the details of life in Dubai, as well as in Bishkek seem authentic. These books are excellent reading for teenagers of 13-16 years, and some adults…..
Teenage and upper primary non-fiction.
The Pocket Book of Weather, by Michael Bright. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99
The subtitle of this book is “Entertaining and Remarkable Facts about our Weather I have found it fascinating to read about clouds (I thought I knew a lot about them!),”Unusual Hail, hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones, animal forecasters and ozone holes are just a few of the topics covered. It is a serious book pitched for readers of 12 plus to adults. The material is up to date, with quite a large segment about Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Right at the end of the book is a list of useful web sites for those who want to learn more
My Australian Story, Gallipoli, by Alan Tucker. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
This is the story of Victor March, (not a real person) who lied about his age, and enlisted in the Australian army for World War 1, when he was only 14 years old. We read descriptions of life on the Gallipoli peninsula, of his friendships, of the Turks, and of the horrors and hardships experienced. I feel it a bit exaggerated to claim that Victor was only 14; it certainly happened that boys of 16 enlisted, but 14 was certainly exceptional, with only one fourteen year old being listed in the Canberra War memorial as dying on the field of war. It is quite easy reading, but not pleasant, because after all, it was a war, and fought in very tough circumstances. Suitable for readers of about 11-15 years.
Made on Earth, by Wolfgang Korn. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
This has to be the most interesting non-fiction book I have read this month. In this era of globalisation, it is the story of a synthetic red fleece sweater—made in Bangladesh, but with products some of which originated in the UAE. The sweater finds its way to Germany, then, as a second hand garment, to a refugee trying to escape from Teneriffe to Europe, until finally it ends up in landfill. It is the story of how products originate in one place, are sold on another continent, and then maybe make their way to Africa and so on. I found the story of the fleece really interesting, and can relate to it all, having visited most of the countries mentioned in the story, but, most tellingly of all, having seen the range of second hand clothes for sale in many parts of Africa. This is a book which every one from about 14 years on should read.