Children’s new book releases: April-May 2014, reviews by Janet Croft



Best books have from 1-5 stars. The more stars the better!

Picture Books

**Birds Fly, by Graeme Base. Board book with lots of fold outs, from Penguin. RRP $9.99 each

This is one of a series of books called Little Bug Books. The theme is the actions of various animals, and in the fold out pages—which are of fine cardboard but quite solid, we see lots of animals and their respective actions, such as grasshoppers. …crawl: dolphins….swim and so on. The drawings are bright and attractive, and this book, and the other three in the series will have considerable appeal for children of 1-4 years.

*****We’re going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen, with Helen Oxenbury as the illustrator. PB from Walker Books. RRP $16.95

This is a reissue of a children’s classic from 25 years ago. One of the most appealing and memorable children’s stories of the twentieth century, it presents what might be considered a scary activity, in such a way that small children of 2-5 years will not be afraid, but will pick up the refrain, and learn the story off by heart—and in the process be exposed to some wonderful words, and lots of prepositions. This is a book which every family with young children should read till it falls apart and a new copy is needed!

A Feast for Wombat, by Sally Morgan and Tania Erzinger. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Baby wombat is excited when he is able to leave his mother and meet other animals. He soon becomes disheartened however, because all the others seem to be more skilled at something than wombat is. Wombat feels sad, but then the other animals all tell him how special he is, and how he can do things that others can’t. A book about how friends can make you feel good, with bright large pictures, and a pleasant easy to read story. For 3-6 year olds

Mummy you’re Special to Me, by Laine Mitchell and Kim Fleming. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

In this story, various animal mothers are introduced, together with some of the ways in which they look after their young. The story is told in verse, with coloured fonts to emphasise verbs and adjectives –a clever idea and a good talking point.   A pleasant book for children of 2-5 years.  

*Max, by Marc Martin. HB from Penguin. RRP $24.99

Max is an inquisitive and cheeky seagull. He also likes chips, and to go fishing. Max becomes friends with Bob, who owns the fish and chip shop near the beach. The two become good friends, and Bob gives Max a chip or two sometimes, before they go down to the pier to go fishing. When the fish shop doesn’t open one day, Max starts to search for Bob. We see pictures of Max flying high above the bay, until he is attracted down to earth by a familiar smell, and wonder of wonders, finds where Bob has opened a new shop. A pleasant story about an unusual friendship, and in fact, about friendship in general, for 2-5 year olds.

***Big and Small, by Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Chapman. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This is a thoughtful and happy story of the friendship between Big, the bear, and Small the mouse, and what happens when they go out to play. It seems to be mainly Small who requests ‘a little help please’, but not always. The drawings are a joy, and the variation in the font size accentuates the message of the story and the appealing illustrations. For ages 2-5 years.

How I love You, by Anna Pignatoro. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

A simple theme, which presents lots of Australian animal babies with their mothers, and indicates via hugs, of the sharing of love. Attractively presented, and with appeal for 1-4 year olds.  

**Wimpy Shrimpy, by Matt Buckingham. PB from Koala Books and Scholastic. RRP $14.99

I think the reason I enjoyed this book so much is the eyes—the eyes of the underwater creatures that are part of Wimpy Shrimpy’s story. Firstly he refuses to play or go anywhere in case something unpleasant happens, but then he realises that if he does nothing, he will be alone. When not -so -wimpy Shrimpy starts to participate in activities with his friends, it is to the pleasure of every one. The story is simple, but the message is clear, and the pictures an absolute delight for small children who will benefit from more confidence in their own lives. For 3-6 years.

*The Bush Book Club, by Margaret Wild and Ben Wood. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Margaret Wild has written lots of appealing books for children. Here is another one as we explore why it is that Bilby is the only creature in the bush, which doesn’t like to read. What will encourage him to read? When he fell asleep in the library because he was bored, Bilby did lots of building with books, but then finally….nothing for it but to try to read one…’s a delightful way to show children the value and fun of reading. For 3-6 year olds.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’s Underwater Adventure. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

These books use the May Gibbs copyright to produce stories with modern themes, but drawings from the original May Gibbs books. Sale of these books raise money for the Northcott Society and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance. This is a modern story about adventures underwater, and with appeal for young readers of 4-7 years.

We’re going on an Egg Hunt, by Laine Mitchell and Louis Shea. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

This book copies the theme and poetic rhythm pattern of the well-known classic; We’re going on a Bear Hunt. Here a variety of animals hunt for eggs –mostly chocolate it seems. The rabbit which appears is called the Easter Bunny, and the animals which have found eggs, seek to escape from the bunny to enjoy their eggs. The large and brightly coloured illustrations are attractive. For young readers of 3-5 years. The book includes a CD of the content produced as a song.  

A non-fiction title—Gallipoli, by Kerry Greenwood and Annie White is in HB from Scholastic and $24.99 RRP.

Gallipoli tells the story of the landing at Anzac Cove, in Turkey in 1915, by Australian and New Zealand troops, and of the hardships the Anzacs faced in the subsequent battles. The watercolour illustrations are muted, with lots of browns and oranges, but do not portray the extreme harshness of the conditions actually experienced. This is a serious book, suitable for middle primary aged children.


Primary—mostly fiction.

Awesome Aussie Things to do with Mum, illustrated by Simon Williams. HB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

This is an activity book—a good time filler for school holidays with both indoor and outdoor suggestions. There are instrucitons about how to become a worm farmer, how to create a bonsai plant, and make a bug shield. Indoors Mum can teach you to knit, play a heap of games, cook, learn some magic tricks. The instructions for each activity are carefully organised and set out, and the illustrations are helpful too. A good present for the holidays? My feeling is that most of the activities will appeal more to girls than boys. For 7-11 years.

Billy is a Dragon, First Bite, and Billy is a Dragon, Werewolves Beware. Both by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers. PBs from Random House. RRP $12.99 each.

These stories are about a nine-year-old boy Billy Fincher, and the weird and wonderful adventures which happen to him after he is bitten by a lizard when visiting the local pet shop. Billy grows wings, and turns into a dragon and then has lots of adventures scaring people including bullies who previously had bothered him. The books are intended for beginning readers of six and over, but my feeling is that about 8 years old will be OK. There are lots of black and white sketches, and excellent use of fancy fonts to emphasise the meanings of some words such as “fire”, and “flapping”.

The Floods, by Colin Thompson. PB from Random House. RRP about $12.99

There are numerous hints in this book that this is to be the last story about the Floods. If you haven’t read the previous twelve volumes about Nerlin and the kingdom of Transylvania Waters, you will probably not enjoy this book but if you are a fan, well—enjoy! Who will become the next ruler when Nerlin retires? The best thing about these stories is that the vocabulary used has always been excellent, and the books are best for capable readers with a penchant for wit.

The Adventures of Sir Roderick, the not-very Brave by James O’Loghlin. PB from Macmillan. RRP $16.99

In this very tongue-in-cheek story, the hero, Roderick is knighted after he saves the queen’s life by giving her an antidote to the poison with which she has been struck down. Roderick is then not happy, because he is expected to live the life of a brave knight, a life in which he is not at all interested. As the story unwinds we learn that Roderick can be brave, but also that in reality he is not just a boy from the bush as he learns his true identity. There is quite a lot of fairly obvious humour and exaggeration in the story, with the ending the most satisfying section. For capable readers of 9-12 years.

***Monkey and Me, by David Gilman. PB from Puffin. RRP $14.99

This is an interesting and heart-warming story. Jez—called Beanie because he always wears one—is not well, but carries off his illness with aplomb, and just gets on with life. Beanie wants to be a member of Mark’s gang, but the other boys are reluctant to have him, until he proves that he can be just as much a villain as the rest of them. Beanie discovers Malcolm hiding in the old lolly factory, and befriends him, taking him food and then one night, spends the entire night with Malcolm because the doctor has told Beanie that chimpanzees feel emotions such as fear, just as we do. The story ends with Malcolm in care again, and with all the gang members wearing beanies from than on as a tribute to Jez’s bravery. It’s a well written story, and appealing—suitable for 9-12 year olds.

**The Simple Things, by Bill Condon. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99

When Stephen and mum go to the country to stay with great-aunt Lola, Stephen is hesitant and a bit scared, because Lola is old and cranky—or so he thinks. As the three weeks of the holiday pass, Stephen learns to go fishing play cricket and climb trees, and to play with Allie and her grandfather, who used to be a friend of Aunt Lola. Stephen learns a lot about friendship, and is able to help Lola work through at last, the great unhappiness in her past as the two become friends.   It’s a serious story, but the theme is handled with finesse and compassion for both the protagonists. Good reading for 9-12 years.

From Scholastic comes a series of first Readers, by Kerry Argent. The series is called A Woolly Wombat, and Best of Friends, Hide and Seek, One Woolly Wombat and At the Beach are in paperback and $6.99 each.

The presentation of these readers is fine, with plenty of illustrations to help with the reading. My only gripe is that the decorative font used for the numbers, and the vocabulary of the rhyming verse of One Woolly Wombat is out of sync with the other three- much above the reading level of the other three books.

The Ugg Boot War, by Kylie Fornasier and Tom Jellett is in PB from Scholastic, at $12.99. It is another in the Mates—great Australian Yarns series.

Jake is embarrassed by his father, because he does lots of dork-like things. The worst however is that he wears ugg boots when Jake feels he shouldn’t. As usually with these books, words which might be hard for some kids to read are in stand out fonts, which means the kids know that they are harder and can seek help as required to read them. I like this series—the stories are fun, and they are attractively presented. Good reading this one, particularly for boys of 7-9 years.

I have not seen the Lego movie, but I know lots of kids have. Scholastic has put out two publications—the Official movie handbook, and a junior novel of the film-both books are $7.99 each. The Movie handbook has text in cartoon style, with photographs and drawings from the film. It is simple, but OK. The junior novel has more of the story, but for a junior novel, some of the language is difficult— the Kragle and its shield in the film is on the ‘infinitieth’ floor for example—and the story is very transparent and stereotyped.   I’m not sure how many kids will try to read this—both are suitable for 9-11 years.

Spirit Animals 2: Hunted, by Maggie Stiefvater. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

In this second book of the series, the four children who have come together, each with a particular animal based skill to fight to save Erdas from oblivion face a bitter fight. Their skills are still immature, and untried. Will they survive? Will they succeed? The author is an accomplished writer, and this story rolls along well , with each of the children taking centre stage at some time. There is an internet link for the series, and readers can play the game on line. Quite good reading for girls and boys of 9-12 years.

Spirit Animals 3, Blood Ties, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

The series continues with this volume by different authors, but the same participants. In this instalment, the four children come together to pit their skill in the first battle against the Devourer. I had a bit of trouble sorting out the names of the various helpers, as well as the opponents of the team. The last part of the story makes for quite gory reading in places, but further battles lie ahead.

My Life and Other Stuff that went Wrong, by Tristan Bancks. PB from Random House. RRP $15.99.

This collection of short stories- produced in large font, and with lots of illustrations- is about events in the life of Tom Weekly. A couple of these stories are concerned with Tom’s pets —his rat and dog, but we also meet some of Tom’s teachers, his grandfather and his family. We also meet a new young author, Raph Atkins, who is only 13, and is being mentored as a budding writer by Bancks. Raph has written the chapter called “Morris” in the book. In with all the humour but sometimes crass events of the book, there is also empathy for Tom’s grandfather, and some insightful comments about how to be kind to others. At the same time as the publication of this volume, Tristan’s first book about the life of Tom Weekly, My Life and other stuff I made up, has been rereleased with a different cover. Good reading, mostly for boys of 8-11 years.

Timmy Failure. Now Look what you’ve done, is by Stephan Pastis. HB from Walker Books. RRP $17.95

These short stories are about Timmy’s life at school and home. There are lots of amusing illustrations; the lay out is spacious, the print is super- large, and the language is mostly straightforward, with easy vocabulary! The goal is to produce an amusing story with appeal to young readers of about 8-10 years.

****Shadow Sister, by Carole Wilkinson. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95

This is the fifth of the DragonKeeper Series. I have read all the series, and this volume does not disappoint. It is as if I read the other volumes yesterday, the outline of the story to date is so clear in my mind. Now, the young dragon Kai, and his much younger, but equally important dragonkeeper Tao continue their journey in the land of men. Tao needs to discover his special powers—his ‘qi’, and Kai needs to both teach and protect Tao as he hones his skills as dragon keeper. It is fine to be left handed, and to have the gift of second sight, and to be able to understand the dragon’s sounds, but it is only with the defeat of the evil nomads, and Tao’s growing friendship with the nomad girl Pema that Tao and Kai both recognise that their futures are entwined for ever. In the process Tao and Kai have met and befriended the naga dragon Sunila, Tao has released the spirit of the unhappy ‘shadow sister’ who now lives in his family compound, and has identified his ‘qi’.   Excellent reading for readers of 9-14 years.

Teenage Reading.


Kokoda, by Alan Tucker. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

In this book, which is part of the series My Australian Story, we read mostly diary extracts from two soldiers, Archie and Harold, who both end up in New Guinea fighting the Japanese in the battle to turn the Japanese back along the Kokoda trail, or Track. The third brother, Archie is in Townsville, with a different battle to fight as the town becomes a base for the soldiers to the north. The diary entries and letters enable the family back home to comment on activities, and to fill out the story with local events. There is an excellent glossary in the back of the book, and it is good historical reading for 12-14 year olds.

**Through My eyes: Naveed, by John Heffernan. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

I have not read a story about children in Afghanistan yet, that did not move me mightily—I am reminded of the question asked by the Scottish poet Robbie Burns several hundreds of years ago; “Why is man so cruel to man?” Naveed, a young teenage boy is heartily sick of the war, and that it is war which has been at the centre of his whole life to date—with the presence of foreign troops, the Taliban, and war lords—will life always be like this, with Naveed struggling to make a living for himself, his widowed mother and his little sister? When he finds Nasera, who is a street dog with the uncanny ability to sniff out drugs, Naveed has the chance to work to help clear some of the corruption from Kabul’s streets. Is it worth his while, and is it safe to work with his dog and the foreign soldiers? A gripping story and excellent reading for 11-14 year olds.

*****Urban Outlaws, by Peter Jay Black. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $12.99

Five young teenagers with a range of highly honed skills pit their skills and advantages against various crime gangs in London’s underworld. The kids are not greedy—they give the proceeds of their crimes to groups of individuals who need a Random Act of Kindness. Recently Jack, Charlie, Slink, Obi and Wren have outwitted a serious crim, Del Sarto, and hacked into his bank account, and relieved him of a huge sum of money, so they could donate an anonymous million pounds to a children’s hospital. As part of the plot to rob Del Sarto, the children happen upon the fact that a quantum computer, Proteas has been stolen, and they work out a way to have it infiltrated by a virus which makes it unworkable. This is a wonderful, clever, imaginative and sensitive story, with strong characters with whom it is easy to identify, and there is lots of action. It is a MUST READ book for teenagers of 12-15 years.

****Brotherhood of Thieves. The wardens, by Stuart Daly. PB from Random House. RRP $17.99

Caspan is just doing his job, which is that of a pickpocket, when he is startled that two bodyguards of an old man, are able to chase, and finally catch Caspan. All his thieving life so far Caspan has been able to evade capture. This time, he is given not just a reprieve , but the promise, and start of a new life, as he is invited to compete for a place in the Brotherhood—a secret organisation of treasure hunters –but still sort of thieves—to help the king defeat the continued, and threatening invasion of the kingdom by the giant Roons. Caspan and his four new allies enter rigorous training, and after an unexpected but satisfactory battle at the end of this volume, the five are about to be unleashed to help find the magical treasure of the past Dray rulers, and thus actively support the king. Excellent reading. We have no more of the Ranger’s Apprentice series to look forward to; Brotherhood Of Thieves promises to be the next step for keen fantasy readers of 10-15 years.

*Jumping Fences, by Karen Wood. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

This story with a romantic flavour is set in the Australian bush, and is about a likeable but somewhat spoiled teenager. Zoe wakes up in hospital, and can’t remember what happened to put her there. The last thing she can remember is mustering cattle for her father with a few friends. The additional mystery is that while Zoe is recovering, her father has had cattle stolen again, and now is at risk of losing his farm. Zoe’s parents have separated, and the last thing Zoe wants is to have to go to live with her mother in Sydney. Zoe has to choose between helpful, but two- timing Scottie, and Josh, who has a somewhat dubious reputation among the adults. Will the young people be able to resolve all the mysteries? It’s an easy to read story, with a plausible and authentic rural background. Good reading for girls of 13-15 years.

*****Dangerous, by Shannon Hale. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $$14.99

Another brilliant book for teenagers! I have really enjoyed my reading of books for teenagers over the past couple of months. Here, Maisie ‘Danger’ Brown,who has always wanted to be an astronaut, feels she needs some excitement, so fills in the form to win a place at a so-called astronaut boot camp for teenagers with special skills. When she wins a place she is somewhat taken aback when she arrives at the camp, to find out just how much excitement is ahead. Firstly she has to learn to work as a member of a team, and what a team! While Maisie is making friends with Wilder, Ruth, Mi-Sum and Jacques and travelling in space to Midway Station, under the guidance of the station’s private owner, Howell, who is also the boss of the boot camp, Luther, Maisie’s best friend to date and her next door neighbour is still at home. Complications!   Howell has another agenda beyond the bootcamp, and it is a scary and malevolent one. The other nasty in the mix is Jonathan Wilder’s father, CT. When the youngsters realise that they have gained various phenomenal physical strengths, the scenario becomes much more serious for themselves, and for society in general. It’s a complex, but ingenious plot, and excellent, gripping reading. The publisher’s blurb suggest the book is suitable for 9-11 year olds, but my feeling is that is should be 10-14 because some of the content is quite gruesome.

*****Two Wolves, by Tristan Bancks. PB from Random House. RRP $16.99

Ben Silver is puzzled, when at really short notice he and his sister are bundled into the car and told that they are going on a family holiday. Everything seems so rushed, and there was the visit to the house by some police, who were looking for his father too… so what is going on? Why do they end up at the run down, extremely isolated hut which had been bought years ago by his grandfather? Ben feels that there is something wrong, and he is determined to work out what it is. After all, his nickname is Cop, and he has always wanted to be a detective. Ben’s questions and probing arouse the ire of his rather jumpy father , and Ben has to be really circumspect with his inquiries. Ben asks himself what is the meaning of right, and whether it matters any more, before he and his sister hide from their parents, and end up in a precarious situation in the bush before they are able to make their way back to the hut. How Ben handles himself, and his sister, and the morality of the situation is effectively and vividly portrayed. An outstanding book for readers of 9-14 years.

Tigers on the Beach, by Doug McLeod. PB from Penguin. RRP $17.99

A bittersweet story about Adam, his younger brother Xander, his would be girl friend Sam, parents who are in a bind about their relationship, and Adam’s relationship, memories, and grieving for his late grandfather. There are lots of mostly corny jokes in this story, but really it is all about relationships– those between and among adults, and those of teenagers. The story did not appeal to me much, because there are lots of flashbacks, and yes, corny jokes, but it handles the issues of emotion and relationships for teenagers gently, and with insight. For readers of 13-15 years.  

The Bear, by Claire Cameron. HB from Random House. RRP $32.99

This story is based on an actual event in 1991 when a couple were attacked and killed by a bear in a national park in the USA…the author has recreated the event as fiction, with the addition of a couple of kids, who survive the attack, and need to save themselves. How Anna takes on the role to support and helps her brother Stick (Alex) so that they both survive is tense, powerful and evocative writing. Parts of this story read as if it is for quite young readers, but it is not a story for younger children, or for the easily scared or too imaginative.

****Pirouette, by Robyn Bavati. PB from Penguin. RRP $17.99

I loved this story. Firstly it is plausible; secondly, it raises lots of issues about the adoption of children from countries other than Australia. Thirdly, it shows an intimate understanding of the dedication needed to survive and succeed in any area of music and performance, and lastly because it has such a ring of authenticity in its outline of what it is like to grow up as a teenager in a large city like Melbourne with the routines which are necessary when parents work and the secrets which can sometimes be kept without adult knowledge. Simone and Hanna were adopted separately soon after birth, and neither they nor their adoptive parents knew that each had a twin. The reader knows, because of the introduction to the story, and this knowledge helps the reader follow the story, almost hugging themselves because of what this pre-emptive knowledge This is a memorable well-crafted story. It will have considerable appeal for keen young dancers and girls of 11-16 years.

Broken, by Marianne Curley. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

This is a sequel to Hidden, where Ebony realises that she is in fact an angel and comes from Avena, not Earth. Nathaneal is in trouble, because he has broken the laws of Avena, and he is forced to leave his newly found love, Ebony, and return to Avena. This is a story of romance, and treachery in the world of angels. Suitable for girls of 13-15 years who like to read such fanciful stories.

The Last Thirteen, 10. Are you One of Them? By James Phelan. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Sam continues to have nightmares. He has escaped from Solaris by a whisker and the intervention of an unexpected saviour. The story will continue until Sam has, via his dreams identified all the thirteen teenagers whose ultimate role is to save the world. Part of this search requires the team to find some special Gears, which need to mesh together.   These are well written interesting stories. At the end of this volume there is a disaster when the Academy HQ is bombed and Pi, some studetns and quardians are killed. For readers of 10-14 years.

The Last Thirteen-9. James Phelan. PB from Schoaslitc. RRP $14.99,

I find this series has become rather predictable as Sam lurches from one crisis to the next. Here he is in the Amazon, in search of another Gear. Really, Sam just does not know whom he can trust any longer.

**Saving Thanehaven, by Catherine Jinks. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $14.99

Catherine Jinks is one of my favourite authors for young people. She writes exciting stories, but best of all, her character development is so good that the readers identify strongly with them, and then feel as if they are living the story. This is a particularly interesting story because it is lived within the computer and the baddie, Rufus, is a computer virus! How can this be so? It is quite a long book and the font is small. A lot of the story is tongue in cheek humour, but I think it will appeal to keen readers and gamers of 11-14 years.

Tales from the Half-Continent, by D.M.Cornish. PB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

This book has a connection with the author’s Monster Blood Tattoo Trilogy. There are two stories here, the Corser’s Hinge, and The Fuller and the Bogle. Both are set in the mysterious parallel world of the Half- Continent, where people have unusual endowments and skills. Bunting Faukes is a grave robber, who is finding life tough, and his profession affected by some peculiar problems. Bunting also is worried about his ability to repay the debt he owes to Weakleafe Spleen. When an odd sleuth, called Atticus Wells turns up, Bunting hopes that the problems facing him will be resolved. In the second story, Virtue Bland, an orphan has the skill to detect monsters by smell using her late father’s olfactologue. The stories are eminently readable, but use a comprehensive vocabulary, and are for capable readers. For interested 11-14 years.

*The Adventures of Jack Lime, by James Leck. PB from KCP, (Kids Can Press, Canada) and released here by Walker Books. RRP about $12.99

I have enjoyed this short book. It is about a young private detective, Jack Lime, who, although still at school, is asked by various other school kids to solve small mysteries. The language is colloquial and easy flowing, and the mysteries and descriptions of Jack’s daily life are plausible, and amusing. It presents aspects of life for Canadian secondary school kids with which teenage boys in Australia will easily identify. I see this as an excellent story for not-very-keen-adolescent- boy readers of 13-16 years.
















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