May-June 2013 New children’s and teenage reading

Children’s and Teenage New Books, May-June 2013 Reviewer:  Janet Croft

The more stars, the more highly recommended!

Picture Books

Love is in the Air, by Harry Vanda and George Young, with illustrations by Shane Devries.  HB from Scholastic.  RRP  $26.99

There is a gem of a CD with this book—it is a copy of the original recording of the song Love is in the Air by John Paul Young!  I have the strong feeling that this will appeal to parents who enjoyed Strictly Ballroom, and that the kids will just enjoy the song, and the book, without evening knowing  its history!  The illustrations show the bear as he travels to all sorts of places around the world, seeing children with their mothers, and realising that he too has a loving mother and that he is keen to see her again.  A happy story, and lots to talk about with young kids in the illustrations as well as to enjoy and hopefully learn the song.  For 3-5 years.

***Possum Magic, by Mem Fox.  Hardback, from Scholastic. RRP $30

This is a special commemorative edition in hardback- thirty years since the book was first published!  Hard to believe the years have gone so quickly, and the book is now being read to children by parents who were themselves read the wonderful Australian story about Hush and Grandma Poss, as they search for the magic which will make Hush visible again.  The book has never been out of print, but this edition, with Julie Vivas’ original illustrations, is beautiful.  Suitable for all families. And for children of 3-8 years.

Don’t let a Spoonbill in the Kitchen, by Narelle Oliver  HB from Scholastic.  RRP $26.99

A story in verse about various Australian water birds.  Each of these birds has an exaggerated physical feature, and the story presents these in the form of hazards around the house and elsewhere-hence the dangers of the spoonbill in the kitchen, or the jacana with its extra large feet loose in a shoe shop, or the pelican where there is luggage.  Bright pictures, and interesting information which will be easy to learn, because of the hazards with which each bird is associated.  For readers of 3-6 years.

Grumpy Grandpa, by Kate Forsyth, with illustrations by Annie White.  HB from Scholastic.  RRP  $24.99

The main attraction of this story is the very descriptive rhyming verse describing Grandpa. Even though many old people may snore, and look wrinkly, most will be kind and positive to a small child but I found some of the content here a bit off putting as Grandpa, looking very whiskery and grumpy, likes activities that the extra small girl dislikes, and these dislikes are expressed in words and pictures.   All ends well, as Grandpa is kind at the end of the book, but the story did not really appeal to me much.  For readers of 4-6 years.

*****Off to Market, by Elizabeth Dale with illustrations by Erika Pal.  HB from Walker Books.  RRP $27.95

My personal bookcases always have room for one more book—and this is one of the best picture books I have ever seen.  It is the story of a bus, its driver, and the people who want to go from their villages to market in a larger city in Uganda.  As people, together with their vegetables, animals and even a bike, all pile into and on top of the bus, it becomes so crowded that it cannot climb the hill before the town.  How do they solve the dilemma?  The story is told in rhyme, and is fun to read, but the joy is in the pictures, and the colours.  The book will strike a chord in everyone who has been to Africa, and it will be with much pleasure that all of these people will introduce children to the delights and interest of a bus trip in Africa.  For readers of 2-adult, but especially children of 5-10 years, in company with an adult.  Fantastic book!

Too Many Cheeky Dogs. By Johanna Bell, with illustrations by Dion Beasley.  HB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $24.99

This is a counting book, with very little text, but lots and lots of dogs.  The story is set in an Aboriginal community, and the story parallels the activities seen there with dogs, as they are part of every family and community.  The pictures are simple, but appealing, and children will enjoy seeing all aspects of village life.  For readers of 2-6 years.

On the Day you were born, by Margaret Wild, with Ron Brooks for the illustrations.  HB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $24.99

This book, intended for reading with children of 2-5 years, is about the delights of being alive, and of the joy and pride of the parent when a child is born, and the wish to transmit these feelings to the child, by describing the activities which the father shares with his new born infant.  It is a great idea, and the story reads really well, but I felt that some of the paintings have too many dark colours in them, and do not always reflect the joyful feelings of the moment.

SeaDog, by Claire Saxby.  HB from Random House.  RRP  $19.95

This is a fun book about a dog, who lives beside the sea, and enjoys all the activities of the seaside, including rolling in things which smell lovely to him, but not to people!  The verse is simple, but in large print, and easy both to read, and to remember, so this book should be one which very young readers of 4-6 years can learn to read for themselves, and enjoy, both for the content, and because it will show their increasing skills with reading.

*Maisie Goes on a Sleepover, by Lucy Cousins.  PB from Walker Books.  RRP   $12

This book is described as being one of the “First experiences” book.  Young children of 3-6 years love the Maisie stories for several reasons.  Firstly there is an interesting story to which most young children can relate.  Secondly, the illustrations are bright, simple but very pleasing to look at and talk about.  Here Maisie packs her gear, and then spends a bight in the house of her very good friend Talullah.  Maisie has never been for a sleepover before, and is excited. but also not really sure what to expect.  The children have a great time, and Maisie discovers that while some things are done differently in Tallulah’s family from Maisie’s, nevertheless they have much in common, and the sleepover is great fun.  A pleasing book, which children will want to reread time and again.

The Dark, by Lemony Snicket.   HB from Orchard Books and Hachette.  RRP  $24.99

Laszlo is afraid of the dark, which lives in the basement of his house.  Laszlo thought that if he were game enough to visit the dark in his basement, maybe the dark would avoid coming into Laszlo’s bedroom.  But one night it did.  The story tells and shows how Laszlo was able to talk with the dark which wanted to show Laszlo something, which helped to make Laszlo realise that really the dark could provide comfort, rather than apprehension.  Dark pictures, but the story and pictures are well crafted and should be useful with children who are afraid of the dark.

10 Hooting Owls, by Simon Williams.  PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $13.99

A rhyming story about counting owls based on the rhythms of the traditional song “10 green bottles”.  The book may help children count backwards from 10 to zero, and is quite a fun variation on the older story.  For children of 3-6 years.

***The Elephant’s Friend and other tales from Ancient India.  Retold and illustrated by Marcia Williams.  PB from Walker Books.  RRP $16.95.

This is, as are most of Marcia’s books, a picture book using a mixture of comic book layout, and text, which is appropriate for older children of 8-12 years.  Here we have several traditional stories from India, including the Foolish Lion and The Scrawny old Tiger.  These stories all have a moral of course, and experienced young readers will be able to draw comparisons between these stories and some of Aesop’s fables for example.  It is an attractive presentation, and I found it fun to see how much of modern Indian lifestyle is revealed.

We Love School, PB from Lothian and Hachette, with illustrations by Lucie Billingsley.  RRP about $13

Kelsey, aged 9, says of this book; “ It is funny because it is dogs which are at school for the first day, and there are lots of big pictures of different dogs.  The best bit is where the dogs get wet, and then shake themselves when they go back inside, and it makes it rain inside too”.  An attractive book for children of 4-6 years who are about to start school.

Wombat went a’ walking.  A board book from Lothian and Hachette, with illustrations by Lachlan Creagh.   RRP about t $13

The melody line of music is printed at the end of this book, so a parent with a guitar or piano may be able to help children with this story, by playing the music. The text is quite complicated for a board book, and reading the verses will require an adult.  Designed for 2-4 year olds, but possibly better for a preschool than at home.

Sidney, Stella and the Moon, by Emma Yarlett.  PB from Lothian children’s Books and Hachette.  RRP about $15

I enjoyed this story.  It tells how Sidney and Stella did everything together, but they did not SHARE things—and when Sidney did not share his new bouncy ball with Stella, and it bounced right up to the sky and broke the moon—well— what are they to do?  When the new moon appears, the two children find that they have learned a really important lesson.  Enjoyable pictures and story for 3-6 year olds.

Non-fiction picture books.

*Funny Bums, by Dr Mark Norman.  PB from Black Dog and Walker Books.  RRP $17

This is a fascinating book which discusses, and shows photographs of some remarkable rear ends of various animals. It is a serious, technically accurate  book but the language is as simple as it can be, and the print is large.  I have no doubt that the book will appeal mightily to boys of about 8-10 years, but they will also learn a lot about animal biodiversity and self preservation.  It is a bright, and attractive book, both in content, and in presentation.

***The Romans.  Gods, Emperors and Dormice.  By Marcia Williams.  HB from Walker Books,  RRP $30

Using a dormouse as her narrator, the author presents various stories and factual aspects of life in ancient Rome.  The books begins with the story of the origins of man, through the eyes of Prometheus, life on Mt Olympus in Greece, and which of these Greek gods, the Romans adopted and renamed as their favourites.  We have also the story of Romulus and Remus of course, and then later stories outline the development of Rome and Roman civilization, the expansion of the empire, and the eventual fall of Rome. I love the two-page spread about daily life—one page for a noble family, the next for a lower class family.  This book should be in the bookshelves of every family which seeks to provide their children with an education which is beyond the curriculum of most schools but important if a child is to develop a good general knowledge of world traditions and history.  Excellent family reading for children of 8-16 years, and many adults.

The Promise, by Derek Guille.  HB from Scholastic.  RRP  $24.99

The sub-title of this book is “The town which never forgets”, and this, as with the rest of the text of this book is also written in French-“N’oublions jamais l’Australie”, because the story tells of the role played by Australian soldiers in regaining the town of Villers-Brettonneux from the Germans in World War 1.  This is a special interest book, but the story is interesting, and the bilingual text will make the book a useful addition to French classes for Australian children.  Suitable for junior secondary students.

Meet Mary McKillop, by Sally Murphy and Sonia Martinez.  HB from Random House.  RRP $19.95

This book is the second in a series of picture book histories about famous Australian identities.  Mary McKillop has now been canonised and is the first Australian saint of the Catholic Church.  This book tells her story from her birth in Melbourne, and follows her through her life’s work in South Australia where she founded the teaching order of the Sisters of St Joseph.  It provides both an historical perspective, and something of what the personal life of Mary may have been like.  It is most suited probably to upper primary aged students.

*Mysterious Traveller, by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, and illustrated by PJ Lynch.  HB from Walker Books RRP $29.95

In this allegorical story of northern Africa we learn of Issa, a highly regarded guide, who worked with his donkey to take people where they wanted to go across the desert.  One day when they were alone Issa found a young girl in the desert, hidden in a basket.  He raised the girl, and called her Mariama, and she went everywhere with Issa, until as the guide went blind, it was Mariama who became the eyes for them both.  When a mysterious traveller wants a guide, it is Issa, with Mariama, who takes him, but there is a twist in the tale when the identity of the mysterious traveller is revealed, and the relevance of the pendant which Mariama has always worn is revealed by the traveller.  A simple story, beautifully told and illustrated, for readers of 6-12 years.

Junior fiction.

Mystery of the Orient Express, Mouse in Space, and the Stone of Fire, all from Scholastic.  PBs and RRP $12.00 each

There are so many of these books in print, and they are all most attractively presented.  The author of the text is listed as Geronimo Stilton. They have been translated from the Italian and with bright coloured font for the difficult words, and stories which are set with mice as the heroes in lots of different places on earth, or with different themes, such as here—a very special world train trip, or a mouse in space; they are all very readable for children of 6-10 years.  A few of the verbal puns, like an amousement park rather than amusement park may have some readers guessing, but I think the humour will appeal to the good spellers in the reading public.

Goosebumps, Son of Slappy and Planet of the Lawn Gnomes, are both by R.L. Stine, and in PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $9.99 each. 

These two titles are new releases in Stine’s Most Wanted Series, where there is a nasty trick playing character in each story whom the hero has to defeat so that he and his family can be free of nuisance disturbances.  In son of Slappy, Jackson has to pretend to be a ventriloquist’s dummy to defeat the nasty dummy.  In Planet of the Lawn Gnomes Jay comes to realise that his parents are much nicer than he thought, and that the lawn gnomes are the real baddies.  Boys liked the original Goosebumps books, and these will appeal to boys of 8-12 years.

Larrikin Lane by Kate Darling is in PB from Scholastic, and is $11.99 RRP.

This is another in the Mates series of easy chapter books for Australian children.  The books use the idea of the Geronimo Stilton books to highlight in colour the words which children may find difficult to read.  This story is about getting to know your neighbours and making sure that the animals you are keeping in your back yard don’t wreck the neighbour’s gardens. Fun reading for readers of 7-9 years.

I have books for beginning readers: Lost Tooth Rescue, by Kate Ledger is from Scholastic in PB at $6.99

This book originates in the US and Canada.  On her first day at school Anna loses her tooth, and the twins help her to find it.  This book is designed to be suitable for year 2 readers, and I think this is about right, because of the choice of vocabulary and the font used.  Because this is designed as a learning to read book I would have liked to see the multisyllable words broken up in the text, –for example, glitter could be written glit-ter, and wiggle as wig-gle for easier decoding.  This approach was used in early reading texts of a century ago in Victoria—it would be useful to introduce it again for books of this type.  For readers of 6-8 years.

**Stick Man by Julia Donaldson, is in PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $7.99

This is a British early reader, and a more sophisticated product than the previous title.  The pictures are coloured and plentiful, the font is straightforward and clear, though not large, and the story, in verse, is quite attractive.  Again though, there are difficult words to read—choir, weary, knight, and some multisyllable words, which again, would be easier to decode if they were split into syllables.  This book too is probably best for children of 7-8 years.

Nerdy Ninjas 2.  The Nerdy ninjas vs. the Really Scary Guys, by Shogun Whamhower.  PB from Scholastic RRP  $9.99

This story did not appeal to me.  The story is farfetched, and the language used is full of slang. I can see no reason at all to pretend that the text has been written by a child who cannot spell, but there are lots of crossings out in the text as well.  It is suitable for boys of 8-10 years.

Bad Grammar, by Nathan Luff.  PB from Walker Books,  RRP $16.95.

Marcus likes to pretend that he is a warrior.  He is unpopular and a nuisance at school, and his parents despair of him.  When they decide to send Marcus to boarding school, Marcus is miserable, but the scene gets much worse when he arrives at Bourkely Boys Grammar to find that it is really the school from hell, and that the situation and bullies there are much worse than at his previous school.  How Marcus survives, and eventually end s up defeating Scarface, and revealing the corruption of the principal and his team, is the rest of the story.  Much of it does not make pleasant reading, and I will admit to feeling disappointed with the story.  For boys of 9-12 years, if it appeals.

Maximum Maxx by Michael Wagner, will drawings  by Terry Denton.  PB from Walker Books RRP  $$19. 95

This is a large book, with large print, lots of attractive black and white drawings, and eight stories about a boy who likes to play cricket—or tries to anyway. The stories are simple, but there are lots of facts about cricket, including fielding diagrams, technique, and how to fill in a scorecard, so it is really a very useful book for boys who are learning to play cricket—and of course Maxx and his team are quite successful in the stories too.  Good quality and value for boys of 7-11 years.

Eric Vale, Super Male, by Michael Gerard Bauer.  PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $14.99

The class has to write about superheroes, and for Eric Vale, this is his opportunity to shine as he protects some of the girls, and escapes from the horrible scary monsters which seem to plague his life.  The story is all about everyday school life, and the content, illustrations, style of writing, with heaps of exclamations in large fonts about the daily events and horrors (mostly imaginary) are designed to appeal to boys of about 7-10 years.

*The Snake who came to Stay, and Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door, by Julia Donaldson.  PBs from Scholastic. RRP $9.99 each

I teach several boys of 10-12 years to read, and there has been a dearth of suitable trendy and modern reading material around for them—and then these two small chapter books arrived in the mail!  The stories are simple, with a child or two as the heroes, but the language, and layout of these books is superb—not much print—but enough—large clear font, and pictures.  The satisfaction, for a boy of 12 to be able to read an entire book in about 20 minutes, has been immense, particularly as in the Snake who came to stay, he could follow the humour of the story when a snake skin was on the front door mat, after Doris the snake went missing. Excellent additions to my reading aloud library—for 6-8 year olds ideally, but also as I have found, for older children who are only now learning to read.

*My Animal Friends, by Dick King Smith.  PB from Walker Books, RRP  $11.95

This is another book about animals from one of my favourite authors.  This volume contains a miscellany of stories—some only a paragraph long about various animals which Dick King Smith remembers from when he was young.  The stories make excellent reading aloud material; often the length of the story chosen reflects the reading ability or confidence of the child, but that doesn’t matter—the story is read, enjoyed and talked about, and there will be another one next week.  For readers of 6-8 years again, and older where necessary.

*Judy Moody and the Bad Luck Charm, by Megan McDonald.  PB from Walker Books.  RRP $15.95

Judy Moody is the favourite girl book character for some girls of 8-11 years– Judy is very interested in herself, and how she gets on with other people and this is the 11th book about her exploits, her family and friends. Many girls can imagine themselves in Judy’s shoes quite often!    Here Judy is given a damaged penny—a small coin—and it seems to bring her a lot of luck, so you can imagine how Judy feels when the coin disappears, and it seems as if good luck has disappeared too.  A fun to read story.

Ghost Buddy, by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.  PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

This is the third book of a series about Billy and Hoover, the ghost which Billy has discovered living in their new house.  Billy feels Hoove is irresponsible and doesn’t think before he acts, so Billy tries to find Hoove a pet to look after so that he has to think of something besides himself.  Billy’s attempts to choose a suitable pet for Hoove fail, but then Hoove finds an animal in need for himself, and all works out well.  Easy, pleasant reading for boys of 8-11 years.

The Pirate Company, by Susan Cason.  On the Trail of the Golden Toucan.  PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $14.99

Tom Applecross manages to prevent himself from being sent by his unloving stepmother to live with an elderly aunt—but only by falling in with a pirate boat and its crew.  Tom has had a checkered history, and how he manages to work out what has happened, and save himself and his inheritance by joining up with the pirate crew is suitable for competent readers, probably mostly boys of 9-12 years.

Tom Gates is Absolutely fantastic, by L Pichon.  PB from Scholastic.  RRRP $15.99

A story about life and events when Tom and his class go on their school trip– told of course by Tom, in his best English, and with lots of drawings diagrams and comments as usual.  Fun reading –with a few sound messages about how to write stories—for readers of 8-10 years.

My Hamster is an Astronaut, by Dave Lowe.  PB from Hachette.  RRP about $12.

Ben Jinks is keen to make a rocket, so that he can earn heaps of praise at the next Science fair.  He needs the help of his hamster Stinky but every thing seems to go wrong when they try to complete and then fly the rockets, which is made out of two old baked bean tins.  Ben’s parents despair of him, and think he is mad, because he seems to talk to himself all the time he is in his room—but relax—success is at hand.  Quite good reading for boys who are still learning to read, of 8-12 years.

The Perplexing Pineapple—Book 1 of the Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta, by Ursula Duborsarsky, with illustrations by Terry Denton.  PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP  $12.99  

In this puzzle book with a difference, Coco and his guinea pig cousin Alberta need to explain how come a large pineapple floats past the office of the local police chief.  A fun read and puzzle to solve for competent readers—maybe mostly girls- of 8-10 years

Monster Odyssey, the Eye of Neptune, by Jon Mayhew.  PB from Bloomsbury, RRP  $15.99

This is the first book of what is to be a trilogy about the exploits of the young Prince Dakkar.  Dakkar is a prince from the Far East who finds himself alone and in danger in Liverpool in England in 1810 when he is rescued by a man who says he has been appointed by Dakkar’s father to become tutor and mentor.  Life becomes almost too exciting for the intrepid Dakkar when, four years later he discovers that his mentor Oginski has designed a submersible craft.  When Oginski then disappears Dakkar takes the craft and sets  out to try to find Oginski.  The book is very loosely based on the ideas and adventures of Jules Verne, and his book 20,000 leagues under the sea with weird monsters and lots of danger.    It makes quite good reading, and it will be interesting to see what eventuates in the next two volumes.  For competent boys of 9-14 years.

The Jeweller of Rassylon, by Peter Cooper -Tales of the Blue Jude, Book 3 PB from Omnibus and Scholastic, RRP $16.99

Dillen, Koto and Tanji have a riddle to solve here, as they continue their quest to regain the blue jade, and   to help them reach the famed jeweller before the brigand chief Zhangfu who now has the Blue Jade.  I had hoped that this might be the final volume in this series, but we must be in for yet another exciting instalment!  The story is good and the steps in the journey for the young   travellers well thought out and interesting, but surely it is time the quest be completed! For readers of 9-13 years.

 

Teenage reading

 

**Joyous and Moonbeam, by Richard Yaxley, PB from Scholastic RRP  $16.99

Joyous is a man who was mentally handicapped after an accident when he was a baby, and his apparent father died.  Moonbeam has a lovely tranquil nature, and can always look on the bright side of everything, and if not, then he can work it around a little so that it is good. Ashleigh is one of his Joyous’ carers– a young girl from a difficult family background, and who is angry with lots of aspects of her life. Joyous thinks she is wonderful, and calls her Moonbeam.  Joyous’ mum, who, it turns out, was really his aunt, writes three letters to Joyous, and through these letters the reader learns of the background to Joyous’ life, including the story about his biological parents, and what happened to them. These letters also tells about the way in which Joyous has been so aptly named, and brought such joy to his adopted mother.  I found this book uplifting, and reassuring as through contact with Joyous, Moonbeam learns to be more positive and happier about her life.   It is excellently written, and suitable for 13 years to adult.

To Brave the Seas, by David McRobbie.  PB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $15.99

This is a WW2 story with a difference, because it is set at sea.  Adam has grown up with a love of the sea, and always wanting to be a sailor.  When his mother dies, he takes the opportunity to lie about his age, in order to be accepted as a merchant seaman when WW2 breaks out.  The story tells of Adams’ adventures and life at sea as a deck boy on two merchant ships during the war.  Written with Adam as the narrator we experience shipwreck, being under fire and the difficulties of getting along with your fellow sailors in a confined space. I enjoyed the story. The author, David McRobbie was a sailor himself, and his knowledge and experience help to make this story seem very real indeed.  Excellent reading for readers of13-16 years.

Fearless, by Cornelia Funke. PB from Scholastic. RRP  $17.99

This is the second novel in the Mirrorworld series, and I must confess I wish I had read the first book, Reckless, before this one.  Whilst Fearless is an excellent story, and quite engrossing with the adventures that Jacob Reckless faces as he attempts to clear himself of the death which is foretold for him once the moth tattoo is on his skin, I think it would be more satisfying to have read about the past events from book 1, which are only hinted at in this story.  Cornelia Funke is an outstanding storyteller, and I will be searching out a copy of Reckless to read before the next volume appears.  For readers of 14-16 years.

*Hostage Three, by Nick Lake.  PB from Bloomsbury, RRP   $19.99

This novel has as its setting the piracy which prospers off the Somali coast.  Amy’s father has bought a luxury yacht, and with its crew, her father, and stepmother, Amy is taking an extended sailing trip after Amy has flunked her Advanced level British end of school exams.  Amy is still mourning the death of her psychotic mother, and  is still annoyed both by her stepmother, and by the attitudes her father shows towards Amy.  When the yacht is seized by a group of Somali pirates, seeking to make a living because their fishing grounds have been plundered by other fishermen, Amy surreptitiously strikes up a strange but intense relationship with Farouz, the translator of the pirate crew.  Amy is no longer Amy, but Hostage Three, and as the action and negotiations for the release of the captives proceed, it is much more difficult for Amy and Farouz to maintain  anonymity with their friendship.  It is at times a brutal story, and the ending is unexpected and brutal too, but overall this was an engrossing novel for mature readers, and one which I expect to remember for a long time.  Top value this book.

The Debt, Bring Back Cerberus, by Phillip Gwynne.  PB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $14.99

This is the third in the series about Dom Silvagni, and the tasks he has to undertake for the Italian mafia style organisation to which his family has owed a major debt for three generations now.  To avoid losing a pound of flesh, in this story, Dom has to find and capture Cerberus, which is a new computer technology which is hardly even mainstream yet. There is a lot of computer talk and industrial espionage activity in this story, but how on earth is young Dom, just fifteen years of age, to complete this task?  He would rather be training to take part in the World Youth Games.  These are powerful stories, and the action reasonably plausible.  For boys of 14-16 years.

***Shahana, by Roseanne Hawke.  Book 1 of Through My Eyes.  PB from Allen and Unwin.  RRP  $15.99

The series Through My Eyes is to explore the lives of and fragile worlds of children who live in contemporary war zones. Shahana lives in Pakistan controlled Kashmir, to the northeast of Islamabad, and very close to the frontier and the line of control of the majority area of Kashmir which is controlled by India. This area is the site of the longest running conflict between sectarian groups seeking political power in the world today—it dates from the partition of India and Pakistan in 1949.  Shaman, as a girl, and one whose parents are dead, is deemed to be unfit to raise her younger brother and  becomes a target of unscrupulous men.  When she befriends a teenage boy Zahid, who has fled across the line of control because he could not stand to become a terrorist and kill innocent people, Shahana finds that conditions for her become even more untenable than previously. I found this a brilliant story—the background is described with detail, and humanity, even though it is bleak.  The story is sad, but evocative and at least—as does not always happen in this part of the world—there is a happy conclusion to Shahana’s story.  For readers of 13 years and older, and this book would make an excellent supplementary text for students in year 11 who are studying the theme of Prejudice and Persecution.

****The Wall, by William Sutcliffe.  PB from Bloomsbury.  RRP $22.99

This is yet an other gripping story about a young person caught up in the violence and sectarian hatred and conflicts which fill our media and seem to dominate public attitudes towards each other.  I would cheerfully vote to eliminate all stories of such conflict from all media—and then maybe the world would settle down to a more tranquil life, if groups did not gain publicity  from their actions. Joshua is thirteen when he inadvertently finds a tunnel from his area of Amaria in Israel, a tunnel that leads to the forbidden territory where the Palestinians are forced to live in deprivation and isolation and under rigid restrictions imposed by the Israeli government.  Joshua has been really unhappy too since his mother remarried following the death of his father, and his stepfather, a fundamentalist Zionist has imposed what to Joshua are senseless restrictions on his mother and himself.  What Joshua finds at the other end of the tunnel is a family really struggling to survive, without enough food, and because of the Wall separating the two communities, unable to give adequate time and care to the olive grove which has been in the family for generations but which is now on the wrong side of the Wall.  What follows is a dramatic, enthralling and almost too- real account of how Joshua handles the predicament in which he finds himself.  There is no happy ending, but Joshua finds that he is comfortable being honest with himself, and how he sees things should pan out.  Extraordinary reading, and as I said with the book Shahana, an excellent book to read for year 11 students who are studying the theme Prejudice and Persecution.

Let me Tell you a Story, by Renata Calverley.  PB from Bloomsbury  RRP  $27.99

This story is set in Poland during World War two, and tells of a girl who was very young—only three- in 1939—and how she survived the Nazi occupation of her country until its liberation by the Russians in 1944.  Renata survived because although Jewish, she had curly blonde hair and blue eyes!  The events surrounding her, and the people who helped her, were not always so fortunate and Renata too suffered mightily as others protected her.  She was passed from one family member or friend to another, and often it was her non-Jewish nanny who had to save her as the world crumpled around her.  Finally there is a positive ending after Renata learns that her doctor father is in fact still alive, and living in Great Britain so Renata is able to travel to find him.  Renata is helped by the fact that she came from a wealthy family, and there almost always seemed to be enough money to rescue her.  This is yet another story which is suitable for year 11 students who are studying the theme of Prejudice and Persecution.

One Day In Oradour, by Helen Watts.  PB from Bloomsbury.  RRP  $14.99

It is almost 70 years since the massacre of Oradour, a village in France, occurred during World War 2, as the SS troops   ran riot, killing the entire village, with the exception of one child. This is the story of that child, and also of the German commander who ordered the massacre.  Yet another story—real, and confronting to read, but with a very moving end to the story for readers of 12-16 years, and this too fits the category of Prejudice and persecution…..for year 11 as supplementary reading.

**The Weight of Water, by Sarah Crossin  HB from Bloomsbury, RRP  $16.99

In this first novel—which is written more or less in blank verse—the author raises the issues of bullying and discrimination as she tells the story of Kasienka, a young Polish girl who, with her mother, travels to England from Poland in search of the father and husband from whom they have heard nothing for several years.  We learn of Kasienka’s experiences at school, and at home as her mother works, then sinks further into depression as her door-to-door search of the town where they last heard of her husband, fails to find him. It is through her skills as a swimmer that Kasienka finally achieves acceptance among her peers, and also, when she locates her father, she is able to accept the changes in his life.  It is a book which is short on verbal detail, but strong in visual imagery, and another story which fits the criteria for supplementary reading in the Prejudice and Persecution theme for year 11.  This would suit students who are not capable readers.

The Disgrace of Kitty Grey, by Mary Hooper.  PB from Bloomsbury.  RRP  $12.99

This story set in the time of Pride and Prejudice explores how Kitty, living and working as a dairymaid for a noble family, was forced into a simple crime after she herself was robbed while she was looking for her missing beau in London.  Kitty ended up deported as a convict to Australia. The balance of the story outlines her life in Australia and how she and Will were eventually able to return to England. This is a well-crafted, very easy to read story, with lots of interesting historical details and a happy ending.  It will appeal to girls who have enjoyed the works of Jane Austen—probably 12-15 years.

The River Charm, by Belinda Murrell,  PB from Random House.  RRP  $15.95

Millie is a keen young artist, and has entered a painting of a girl seen in a dream into an important competition. When Millie is visiting an old homestead in rural Queensland with her long lost aunt, Millie finds a charm bracelet, with an old pebble attached..   The bracelet strikes a chord again in Millie, and she experiences a time slip adventure in which she relives the lives of a mother, and her children from a century earlier-including the subject of Millie’s painting.   For the pioneer family everything went wrong after the death of their father, and when their mother remarried, it was to an uncaring and brutal man who dissipated the family fortunes and lost the property.  The mother and children fled, and fought a long legal battle to regain their independence and the property.  And does Millie win the painting competition?  Read the book if you are 12-14 years old, and also enjoy the pictures of early rural life in northern Australia.

*Steal My Sunshine, by Emily Gale.  PB from Random House.  RRP  $18.95

What a strong and haunting story! Hannah is having a tough time—her family is splitting apart, and her grandmother Essie is the cause of many of the problems and arguments, although Hannah doesn’t know why, and Essie, now very old, is refusing to tell her story. Hannah and her friend Chloe visit Essie, and gradually as the story unfolds, secrets are told of past misery and hardships, but in the process Hannah’s family issues are resolved.  This is a story that once begun, must be finished.  Excellent reading for girls of 14-16 years.

**In Darkness, by Nick Lake.  PB from Bloomsbury.  RRP  $24.99

Suitable for both teenagers and adults, this story is really two stories in one—the experiences of a young boy who was raised in the slums, and lived with gangsters and other petty criminals, but who became trapped in darkness under the ruins of a building after the devastating earthquake which hit Haiti a few years ago. We feel with Shorty, trapped in the dark as he relives his life, mourns his missing twin sister yet again and in between, takes on the persona of the historical giant of Haitian history, Toussaint l’Overture- the freed slave, who, late in his life, was inspired to lead the Haitians to defeat the French and bring freedom to his country and everyone who lived there. So the reader becomes embroiled and lives   the lives of both these characters—the one fictional, the other historical as the rescue of Shorty from the ruins is almost miraculously achieved. At times I felt almost as if I were Shorty, or Toussaint as I read….  Powerful writing and the story will stay with you.

Back to Blackbrick, by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald,.  PB from Orion and Hachette.  RRP about $15

Cosmo is protesting against the memory loss and deterioration in the health of his beloved Grandfather, the more so because it looks as if Cosmo will have to go to live with his uncle Ted.  Cosmo leaves home and goes to visit Blackbrick Abbey where his grandfather used to work, and looks for the place where the key he has been given by his granddad fits.  Then follows a time warp in which Cosmo comes to realise that he is sharing his grandfather’s past, and  learns heaps of his family history.  It is tightly knit, historical read, suitable  for 12-14 year olds.

Scorched Earth, by Robert Muchamore.  PB from Hachette.  RRP about $15

Scorched Earth is to be the final volume in the Series of Henderson’s Boys—stories about young men working behind German lines in world War 2, with the French Resistance, in ways which could be hidden because it was not suspected that children could be involved with such work.  This story tells about life in Paris during the last weeks of the German occupation.  The book is the precursor to the Cherub series, and Charles Henderson became the first boss of the new Cherub training institution for underage espionage workers.  A good read, and a good introduction to the Cherub series.  For older readers of 14 years and over.

Scarlet in the Snow, by Sophie Masson. PB from Random House.  RRP $17.95

Sophie is very accomplished at drawing together threads of traditional stories and folklore from various countries—particularly France, but in this case Russian– and developing a good story involving mystery and adventure. In this story it is Natasha who is the central character after she is lost in a blizzard but manages to find shelter in a deserted mansion in the Russian countryside.  Then unfolds the fantasy, and Natasha’s  successful eventual transition back to normal life.  For girls of 12 and over.

Wildlife by Fiona Wood.  PB from Macmillan.  RRP  $16.99

When Syblilla goes to the rural campus of her secondary school for the compulsory term spent in the bush, she does not expect that so many issues will come to a head during their stay there, nor so many problems  be resolved.  The unexpected element is Lou, who is a new girl at the school, who, unknown to those around her, is still grieving the death of her boy friend a year ago—a death for which Lou still feels guilt.  How Lou both complicates and yet resolves issues, and how Sybilla learns to come to terms with her own adulthood makes for stimulating, but easy reading for girls of 14 and over.

The Kill Order, by James Dashner.  PB from Scholastic.  RRP  $16.99

This is a complex story which begins when sudden and violent flares are emitted by the sun.  Trina and Mark survive these, but then a violent and horrific disease in which people go mad before they die, sweeps through the societies, and horribly, keeps mutating, so that more and more people die.  However, as with many diseases a few people are immune, and Mark and Trina last a long time, and are able to provide the future solution to the disease before they too are lost.  It’s quite a long story, and the font is small, but it is strong, thought provoking reading for mature readers.

Siege, by Sarah Mussi.  PB from Hodder Children’s books.  RRP about $14

Faced by so many stories in the media about sieges in American schools, and the deaths of many students and teachers, it is hard to think of reading a story about one.  Here, Leah escapes death in the siege at her school, but she has to make some difficult choices as the day unfolds, and come evening, it is Leah who is helping the teacher talk with the ring leaders and it is Leah who works out the  awful decision that the authorities have made in order to bring the siege to an end.  For mature readers only.

*Acid, by Emma Pass.  PB from Random House.  RRP  $17.95

It is 2113, but life for Jenna Strong ended two years ago, when, according to ACID, the world’s most brutal police force, Jenna murdered her parents.  She is sentenced, at 15 years, to 80 years in prison for the crimes, and, because of the brutality of the crimes, the sentence is to be served in a maximum security adult prison-all males except for Jenna.  Help for Jenna comes from a mysterious rescue force, and with rescue comes a new ID, so Jenna has the chance to live again, and to try to work out what really happened two years ago, and  how and why she copped the blame.  Exciting, very tense reading, and a fine, albeit long, debut novel from Emma Pass for mature readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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