As usual, the more stars, the more appealing the book!
Colour for Curlews, by Renee Treml. HB from Random House. RRP $19.95
This picture book uses lots of well known, and some lesser-known Australian birds to introduce youngsters of 3-5 years to colour, and colour mixing. The very simple rhyming text is all about the colours, and the mixing, with the appropriate words highlighted in each. A very attractive book which will be great to talk about at school, or at home, even with slightly older children.
*Penguin on Holiday, by Salina Yoon. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99
The story contrasts what a holiday is like for Penguin, who lives where it is cold, and Crab, who lives in the tropics. They show each other what their respective homes are like, and what activities can be enjoyed while on holiday in each location. Large print, bright pictures, and a story to encourage conversation. Suitable, and attractive for 4-6 year olds.
Don’t Wake the Troll, by Ben Kitchin and Ben Redlich. PB from Koala Books and Scholastic. RRP $14.99
The dwarves desperately want to reclaim their treasure, which has been hidden deep underground for a long time– but too close to the dreadful troll who now lives in the tunnel, and, who will not let the treasure go. There is a happy ending for the dwarves, but not for the troll after a satisfying build up of tension to this story as the dwarves creep as silently as possible along the tunnel. It’s a good story to read and re-read with children, particularly once they know that there is a happy ending. For readers for 4-6 years.
How to Wash a woolly Mammoth, by Michelle Robinson and Kate Hindley. PB from Koala Books and Scholastic. RRP $14.99
A funny story about a giant sized pet mammoth, and how to wash it—or sometimes what not to do! Any child who has a pet dog which needs to be washed sometimes will enjoy this story. For readers for 3-5 years.
The Octopuppy, by Martin McKenna. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
Edgar wanted a puppy, and was disappointed when he received Jarvis instead because Jarvis the octopus could not do lots of things that a dog would have done. It takes Edgar some time to realise that Jarvis is in fact really clever in lots of ways that a dog can’t be. For readers of 3-6 years.
Doodlepedia, from the AFL . PB activity book from Puffin. RRP $12.99
This large book, which contains heaps of varied pages, all of them with a distinctly AFL theme, is very good value. There are facts about the games, the teams and the grounds, pages to fill in with the names of favourite players, a few puzzles and pages to colour, and to write stories. For AFL fans of 5-10 years. Also, I have here Game Day, from the AFL. A touch and feel board book from Puffin. RRP $14.99. For very young children, to feel some textures.
Baby Elephant Walk, by Hal David and Henry Mancini. HB, with CD from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
If the name of the book reminds you of a song, you are correct, because there is a CD of the song to help the beat of the words, and the boogie as children of 3-5 years read the book and admire the pictures of the baby elephants and their companions, the lemurs as they walk in the jungle.
****Fat Ferdie, by Pamela Allen. HB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $24.99
I still have one of the first copies of Mr Archimedes’s Bath, which was always one of our children’s favourite books. Now, thirty years later, Pamela Allen shows that she is still young at heart, as she provides us with yet another delightfully simple story and engaging pictures, with Fat Ferdie, the ferocious beast that will eat whatever creature he can find. Excellent rhyming verse, and evocative pictures. This is an appealing story which will be well loved by readers of 2-6 years, as they learn how Ferdie becomes a fruit eater……
**Wombat goes to School, by Jackie French and Bruce Whately. HB from Harper Collins. RRP $24.99
This is a loose sequel to Diary Of A Wombat, which was released some years ago. Wombat is a cuddly looking beast, but is very obstinate and determined to get his own way. We see him again here; this time when he manages to chew a hole in a wall, so that he can trace the smell of carrot in the schoolroom…..where is it? Then, the search for grass sees him participate in a funny sort of way in lots of school activities until, as always, the need for sleep overcomes him. Delightful, and appealing story and pictures for children of 3-6 years.
*The Dance Teacher, by Simon Milne and Chantal Stewart. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
Isabelle loves to dance. She also loves her dancing teacher, and always tries her best in classes. This is the story of how a gifted and dedicated teacher can encourage a girl to achieve her goals, and then later, to pass on her skills by becoming a teacher herself. It is a serious book, with lots about the routines and practice needed to achieve goals with dancing, but also about its rewards. For readers of 6-10 years.
The Bad Hair Day, by Stephen Michael King. HB from Allen and Unwin, RRP $24.99
We all know what a bad hair day is, even if it is only an excuse for someone who is not feeling on top of the world to misbehave, because her mother is too busy to give Bella any attention. How the bad hair day is transformed into a good hair day is the subject and kids will enjoy the story, but be able to identify with the girl in the pictures as she works her way through the evils of the day. For readers of 4-7 years.
My Dinosaur Dad, by Ruth Paul. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99
This story presents lots of opposites: tall and squat, chunky and thinner, whistling and roaring, for example. There are other pages where non-rhyming words are compared, I suspect partly because it was not always possible to find rhymes for opposites of all of the adjectives. A fun book to look at, simple to read, and good to talk about for kids of 2-6 years.
**Archie’s Holiday. By Domenica More Gordon. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $22.99
In the first Archie book, Archie developed, by accident into a famous clothes designer. Now, Archie is going on a holiday, and keeps thinking of all the things he will need to take in order to enjoy his time away. But—how is he going to squash everything into one small suitcase? This is a fun story for kids as they predict what will happen next, and think about what Archie is taking that he does not really need. For readers of 3-7 years
Good Morning Possum, by Coral Vass. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
A gentle story in rhyme about Possum, who is generous enough to give all her friends a bite of her plum, only to have none left for herself—until Grandma arrived. OK for 3-5 year olds
The Big Beet, by Lynn Ward and Adam Carruthers. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
This is a retelling, with modern Australian variations of the Tolstoy fable of the Great Big Enormous Turnip. It would be good if a child could read the original first, and then this one, but is stands alone as a good modern fable anyway. Attractive illustrations and setting. For 3-6 year olds.
Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’s Sleepover by Mark Macleod. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99
This story uses illustrations from the original Snugglepot and Cuddlepie books, by May Gibbs. The story of the sleepover is a new one, and tells what happens when Mrs Kookaburra invites all her children to join the sleepover. For readers of 3-6 years, with all royalties going to charities, because May Gibbs directed that all royalties from her works be given to charities after her death.
** My first Animalia, by Graeme Base. HB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $19.99
This may be the most attractive alphabet book visually that I have ever seen. It uses ideas and some pictures from the author’s most famous and best-loved book, Animalia, which was published almost 20 years ago. Here children will learn to look for details in complex pictures, as well as to learn to say some words. As with most alphabet books though, I take issue with the use of multiple sounds for the vowels. Young children first need to learn that ‘a’ is ‘’a’ as in ‘cat’, or ‘apple’ or ‘ant’. To present them with ‘armadillo’ and ‘acorn’ is to invite confusion with the multiplicity of vowel sounds. There are similar problems with the other vowel pages, in particular the ‘’o sound. Parents should stick to the short sounds for very young children. For children of 3-7 years.
*Figaro and Rumba and the Cool Cats, by Anna Fienberg and Stephen Michael King. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99
This combination of author and illustrator is a recipe for success— a fun story about Figaro and his cat friend Rumba who set up a café. It is also about their friends, and a fast catmobile ride! The café is popular but Figaro upsets the singers. This is a chapter book with appeal, in both the story and amusing illustrations— to girls and boys of about 6-8 years who are just learning to read for themselves.
Accidental Adventurer, by Wendy Harmer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99
Ava Anna Appleton is very happy with her life and world, her family, dog and where they live. Then her dad turns up with a huge caravan and the family takes off for a year of exploring Australia. It takes Ava Anna Appleton some time to realise that being on such a long trip may have some positives, and that she may actually enjoy the trip. Large print, and appropriate vocabulary for 6-8 year old girls
Just Joking. PB from Scholastic. RRP $6.99.
Joke books are one of the best ways to interest young boys in reading. When they see and hear their mates laughing over a joke in a book, they can become curious and be prepared to have a go at reading the jokes themselves, so that they too can become storytellers. This book is ideal for boys of 6-9 years, with lots of amusing short jokes and illustrations to match. Proceeds go to Camp Quality, the charity for children with cancer.
Two books in the Saurus Street Series, by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers, and in PB from Random House at $12.95 each.
In a Pleasiosaur Broke my Bathtub, Thomas hates the old toilet at his grandparent’s house, and wonders if the noises he hears are really from a dinosaur. In A Diplodocus trampled my Teepee, when Jack and Toby are camping out near Lake Saurus, they find a magic eyeball, and accidentally release a heap of dinosaurs. The problem is whether the boys can catch them all again before they wreck the surroundings. The print is a good size, with some highlighted extra large words, and there are plenty of illustrations. They are simple stories, with appeal to young boys from 7-9 years, who are often ‘into’ dinosaurs.
Tom Gates: Best Book Day Ever (so Far), by Liz Pichon. PB from Scholastic. RRP$7.99
A lot of this book is less about reading than about thinking what the author means by the illustrations, and how they fit the story—and vice versa. I have one student of almost 9 who relishes these books: moreover they are helping enormously with his reading fluency and his comprehension. It’s a fun story, based in school life, on dress up book fair day, with appeal to boys of 7-9 years.
Fortunately, the Milk, by Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Chris Riddell. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $17.99
This is a nonsensical fun story about what happens when Dad, left in charge at home, goes to fetch the milk. It takes ages for him to return, and along the way he has heaps of adventures. The story has wonderful illustrations, of pirates, and intergalactic vehicles and creatures, as well as large print and an easy to read story. For readers of 7-9 years again, probably mainly boys.
The Grunts in Trouble, by Philip Ardagh. PB from Nosy Crow and Allen and Unwin. RRP $11.99
This story reminds me quite strongly of Roald Dahl’s The Twits, with characters who look and sound unattractive, and who act in stupid ways. The Grunts live in a caravan, which is drawn by donkeys, when the family decide to move to somewhere new. The story tells of how much trouble the Grunts and their adopted son Sunny find in their travels and attempts to make money. Large print, and suitable for boys of 7-9 years again.
*Eric Vale, Off the Rails, by Gerard Michael Bauer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
This is similar in style to the Tom Gates books although there is more reading in these books and the appeal is probably to slightly older boys—say 8-11? The fanciful story involves Eric and his brush with creatures from outer space—when Eric should be concentrating on his schoolwork.
*Disaster Diary, Holiday of a Lifetime, by Megan de Kantzow. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99
When Anna and her family set off for the holiday of a lifetime in Europe, Anna is sure that her lucky sea horse charm that her grandmother has given her, with her in her back pack, will protect the family from all problems, Disaster hits when Anna realises that she no longer has the lucky charm! Lots of adventures, and heaps of action, including a dip in a cold canal, and Anna is able to help the other kids survive being lost in the snow. This story is told in diary form, and there is a happy ending, but the moral is really that you do not need a lucky charm if you are able to think out for yourself what to do when needed. For girls of 9-12 years.
**Extra Time, by Morris Gleitzman. PB from Puffin. RRP $16.99
There is quite a serious theme to this story. On the surface it is about Matt, and what happens when he is chosen to play soccer in England. It is also about his sister, Bridie, aged 10, and her management skills, so that she helps Matt with all his decisions and looks after him. Underneath all of this however, is the story of a young girl’s love for her wonderful big brother, and how Matt reciprocates the love. I found this to be one of Gleitzman’s best stories. For boys and girls of 9-13 years
Alice Miranda Shines Bright, by Jacqueline Harvey. PB from Random House. RPP$15.95
I enjoyed this story. Alice Miranda becomes a detective, and together with Millie, they hunt for the missing Mr Parker, who appears to have suddenly woken up and disappeared after being in a coma for a long time. In the process the girls uncover corruption in local politics, and a treasure which has been hidden for many years. The other story within a story involves the other students at the Academy for Proper young ladies. For girls, capable readers of 9-12 years.
There is also the Alice Miranda 2014 Diary. This is in hardback, again from Random House, and with RRP $17.95. The diary has a sturdy cover, some interesting pages to fill in, such as “places I would like to visit,” and a mock enrolment form for Alice Miranda’s school. There are also lots of interesting quotations, some recipes, puzzles and gossip about the various characters in this series of books. For girls of 9-12 years again.
*Ruby of Kettle Farm, by Penny Matthews. PB from Puffin. RRP $13.95
The “Our Australian Girls” has produced some interesting stories set in semi-factual backgrounds. This story is similar, with Ruby and her mother living with her aunt and uncle in the country, while her father has gone away. There is no money—it is 1931 and the Great Depression is causing massive disruptions to family life and income. Ruby feels sorry for the West family because their father has been in prison, and they have even less money than Ruby and her mother. Upsets follow for Ruby as she finds out the reason for her father’s disappearance, but all ends on a more positive note. Good, easy reading for girls of 9-12 years.
****Book Uncle and Me, by Uma Krishnaswami. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99
Yasmin is nine years old, and her favourite activity out of school, is reading. She loves the free lending library which is on the nearby street corner, and accepts that the man known as Book Uncle, who runs it, will choose a suitable book for her to read every day. Trouble strikes when the local municipal authority tells the book man that he can no longer operate his library on the corner because he doesn’t have a licence. Yasmin and a couple of her friends try to understand the decision, but then decide to protest, because they are told by another adult that there should be no charge for the library, because it is not a money making business. How Yasmin and her friends activate the local community and influence the municipal elections makes for excellent reading. The story is set in India, and the flavour is delightfully Indian. For capable readers of 9-12 years.
Through My eyes. Amina, by J.L,Powers. PB from Allen and Unwin. RP $15.99
This story, of Amina, a teenage girl who loves to draw, is set at the end of the civil war in Somalia in Eastern Africa a couple of years ago. Many of the militants who were fighting as terrorists against a peaceful resolution of the political situation believed that drawings and art were haram—i.e. contrary to the teachings of the Quran. Whilst this was not a balanced or orthodox notion, it made life very difficult for Amina, and also her father. It is a strong story, sometimes a little hard to follow for people who have not travelled in these areas of Africa or in Muslim countries, but fascinating and heart wrenching at times. For capable readers of 10-14 years.
Jodie, This is the Book of You, By Randa Abdel-Fattah. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
This book is the first of what is to be a series about four friends. Each of the books will star one of the girls. There is a supernatural element to each of the stories, and a major mystery which will continue to be explored as the series continues. The friends find a book in the library, and somehow, by magic, the book writes itself to Jodie. Jodie’s father has a new wife, and Jodie has a stepsister. It takes Jodie a long time to realise that there are some positives in her father’s new life, and also in having an extra family where she can feel at home. Quite good reading, for girls of 9-12 years.
**Dangerous Girls, by Abigail Haas. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP about $20
Anna, her boyfriend Tate, and friend Elsie, plus others set off for an idyllic holiday on an exotic island. The holiday turns into a horror story as the life of the party- Elsie -is brutally murdered. Anna is held to be responsible, and spends seemingly endless time in prison, while the case against her seems to be flawed. The novel is written with flashes from Anna’s perspective, interwoven with her life in prison and her trial. Anna’s relationship with Tate turns out to be surprisingly jaded and complicated. The book is full of suspense, and encompasses many features and concerns of teenage life—parties, friends, drugs romance, emotions, scenes which seem to be just too real, and one of the best mystery twists ever, at the end! The book is for older teenagers of 15 plus. Some younger kids might find it all too confronting.
Mortal Fire, by Elizabeth Knox. PB from Gecko Press and Scholastic. RRP $20
Canny is sixteen and lives on a south Pacific island. Canny has known for some time that sometimes she can see or understand things that no one else can see—but Sholto, her stepbrother, understands even if he does not see the same things. Canny has problems getting on with her mother, and feels she is treated like a child. When she travels with Sholto and his girlfriend Susan so that Sholto can investigate a mine accident that happened many years previously, Canny is drawn to visit a certain valley, where she meets Ghislain, who helps Canny understand her origins and find lots of other people with the same visions and super sensory skills as Canny. The relationship between Canny and Ghislain is fraught with difficulties, but gradually every thing becomes clearer, and there is a happy ending. The author is from New Zealand, and the flavour is certainly that of the South Seas islands, and the feeling that many of those people believe in second sight. It is a convoluted story, but really good reading for 14-16 year olds—probably mainly girls.
Monkey Wars, by Richard Kurti. PB from Walker Books. RRP $16.95
This is a story of a civil war, but a war between two groups of monkeys—the peace loving Rhesus monkeys, and the aggressive Langur monkeys. The story is set on the streets of Kolkota in an India where monkeys have multiplied until they have become a menace. The authorities determined to use the Langur monkeys to defeat the Rhesus. Mico, a very young Rhesus, lives in the cemetery in Kolkota. He rises to be an important figure in the conflict, but only wants peace. I found the story line effective, and satirical about the way in which humans treat each other. However I found the huge number of names and identities in the story became bewildering. For readers of 12-15 years if it appeals.
***With a Mighty Hand, the Story in the Torah, adapted by Amy Ehrlich, with paintings by Daniel Nevins. HB from Walker Books. RRP $29.95
The Torah is the Jewish holy book. It comprises what Christians call the first five books of the Old Testament, and tells the history of the Jewish people, and their relationship with God. This beautiful volume is intended for children that they may read, understand and enjoy the beauty, and serious message of these most sacred of texts for the Jews. And ever since Moses received the Ten Commandments at Mt Sinai, they have been the laws which Jewish people are bound to follow. There are a couple of maps and diagrams, and the illustrations are a joy to behold. The stories in this book have been written in modern English, and are the best known and loved of all the stories; the creation story, and Adam and Eve, Abram, and how he came to be called Abraham, Joseph and his brothers, and Joseph’s time in Egypt——this is a beautiful book for interested families, and also for school Scripture lessons. This material is common to Jews, Christians and appreciated by Muslims also.
***Murder at Mykenai, by Catherine Mayo. PB from Walker Books. RRP $17.95
Menelaos, and Odysseus are great friends. When Menelaos find himself in trouble because his late father was High King of Greece, Menelaos has to leave Athens for a less populated area. He finds that there is still treachery around, treachery which is threatening both his life, and his reputation. The evil Palamedes takes on the job of being Menelaos’ s tutor, but he hurts Menelaos immensely, both physically and mentally before Menelaos is able to tell Odysseus what has been happening, and Menelaus finds that then becomes mentally strong enough to withstand and defeat Palamedes. This is a very readable story, with modern themes, but set in Ancient Greece. Good reading for boys of 13-16 years.
**The Queen and The Nobody boy, by Barbara Else. PB from Gecko Press and Scholastic. RRP $19.99
Another well-written and engaging story from a Kiwi author. For readers of 9-12 years, this tells of how Hobie, who has been working as the odd jobs boy around the palace of Fontania, decides that he has had enough, and runs away. To his surprise, Sybilla decides to run away with him. Sybilla is the young queen, but is being pressured to show that she really does have magical powers, so decides to leave. They have lots of adventures together and Hobie is amazed by what he learns about himself and his parents, before yes, Sybilla comes into her own. I enjoyed the story, but definitely for upper primary kids, and I suspect, mainly girls.
Fat Angie, by E. E Charlton –Trujillo. HB from Candlewick Press and Walker Books RRP $19.95
Angie is a very unhappy teenager. She is overweight, and all her highflying mother wants is for Angie to lose some weight. Angie finds that she is laughed at school for her weight, and teased unmercifully. She is also still grieving for her sister, who was apparently killed as a war hero. Wang, Angie’s brother is also in strife. Their family situation has been unpleasantly difficult for some time, and persists even after the parental divorce. Angie believes that her sister, whose name we never learn, is still alive. When KC Romance arrives at the school, Angie finds that at last someone is prepared to treat her as human, rather than as a lump of fat. Jake, who has problems of his own, also starts to treat Angie better. The story tells how all of Angie’s issues are resolved, and in particular how the death of her sister and the friendships with KC and Jake help Angie to become settled and happy. Serious reading this one, for upper secondary kids.
***Almost English, by Charlotte Mendelson. PB from Macmillan. RRP $29.99
When sixteen-year-old Marina moves to London with her mother it is to join with three other elderly relatives in the one small flat. Marina is a very capable student with ambitions of going to Cambridge University, and of making the families’ fortunes in this new country. The family skimps and saves so that Marina can attend an exclusive and expensive coeducational boarding school so that she obtains better school results. However at this school, Marina is a fish out of water. Torn between her Hungarian background and surroundings at home, and school where everything is just so different, Marina doesn’t know who is a genuine friend, and whether Guy is just after her body or what. This is a book about growing up, but also of learning both to belong in a new environment whilst able to acknowledge and accept origins. Almost English will make a wonderful related text for anyone in year 12 who is doing the unit on Belonging. It is also refreshing and almost cathartic reading for anyone who has found themselves in a totally new environment as a teenager.
Black Ops #3 Endgame, by Gabrielle Lord. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
At last, the final book in this series where Cal has his last task to perform to save his brother’s life. This series has appealed to boys of about 13-15 years, but it has been too repetitive in its themes, and pattern for me to be interested in this last book. That is not to decry the author’s talents, or imagination. It’s just that the series has been too long with nothing new happening
****The Last Thirteen, Book 1 Destiny. By James Phelan. PB from Scholastic. RRP $7.50
Sam has been having dramatic and scary dreams. His mother has had him in therapy to try to work out why, but one day while at school Sam is mysteriously kidnapped when the school is invaded by people who se only concern seems to be Sam. Imagine how Sam feels when he then meets other kids who seem to have dreams just like him, that he is really an artificial creation, not a child born naturally, and that he, and the other twelve with similar skills have a huge role to play in the future of the world. I found this story flowed really well, and was most exciting. Excellent reading for 12-15 year olds, girls and boys.
All Our Yesterdays, by Cristin Terrill. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $12.99
Em is in prison, and desperately trying to work out the significance of the drain hole in the floor of her cell, and whether she can find out what is in it. Finn is in the cell next door. Marina is Em in another time and place—Marina is wealthy and seems to have everything she wants. She also has the love of the boy next door, James. But all is not as it seems, and Em is the one who has to travel back in time to avert the terrible future which is foreseen for Marina. Em has to kill the person who actually invented the time machine which Em and Finn have used. I found the time and person switches of the multiple narratives hard to follow to start off with. It took until more than half way through the book before I could place them accurately, and follow the action more easily. It is a thrilling, imaginative story though, and good reading for 12 years and over.
*****Black Friday, by Robert Muchamore. HB from Hachette. RRP $24.99
This is the final episode in the Cherub mission in Kyrgystan. Ryan has been involved from the start in the chase to destroy the Aramov clan’s smuggling operations, and other criminal activities which have tied in with it. I have thoroughly enjoyed these stories and read this book in a day, almost without blinking. It was fun to identify with Ryan as the action unfolded. Ryan finds himself in South America for a short time, as well as on the outskirts of Bishkek before he finally is able to return to the Cherub campus in England. If you have not read these books, you should start with People’s Republic, then Guardian Angel, and finally this volume. They are the most gripping reading for boys of 14 and older that I have read in the past two years.
*****The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud. PB from Random House. RRP $24.95
This fantasy involving three young psychic investigators is set in a parallel London at a time when ghosts who have suffered unpleasant deaths have multiplied to levels where they are causing havoc to ordinary citizens, with visitations, haunting, and noises in houses. Lucy Carlyle joins Anthony Lockwood’s small private company that specialises in finding and eradicating the ghosts. The third investigator is George Cubbins. After one near catastrophe, which looks as if it is going to require the payment of a large compensation claim, the trio is opportunely, but strangely, given a mammoth task, in a house where other better known psychics have died. Lucy has the talent of hearing noises and voices, as well as seeing apparitions. Lockwood is a master swordsman, and George is great on the fine details. The screaming staircase is the evidence of the ghost’s presence in Combe Carey Hall, but this is in fact a bit of a red herring to the main action. It takes all the ingenuity and some luck from our heroic trio to solve the case. It is an exciting, tongue in cheek, but also amusing mystery. Excellent reading for 12- years and older.