Kids and Teenage new releases. August-September 2014. Reviewer: Janet Croft

The more stars, the better!

Picture Books,

Happy Birthday Royal Baby, by Martha Mumford. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

I’m not sure for whom this book is really intended, whether it be children or parents and grandparents-—people who can appreciate the pictures of the adults who resemble well known members of the British royal family, or who can identify with things which can go wrong with any party for a very small child, but anyway, it is the story of a birthday party and I found the pictures well done and amusing. Suitable to be read to children of about 2-4 years if they are interested.

There’s a Lion in My Cornflakes, by Michelle Robinson and Jim Field. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

This is a simple cautionary tale about a boy and his brother who followed the instructions on the packet of corn flakes to cut out some coupons and write away for a free lion. All the kids in the town collected cereal coupons until the store ran out….what happened when the cereal people ran out of lions and sent a grizzly bear, or a crocodile, or a gorilla or tiger? This is a funny and appealing story about whether it is sensible to eat cereal for breakfast, or to cut out the coupons on the packets. Fun for children of 2-6 years.

Pig the Pug, by Aaron Blabey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Pig the pug is greedy, and Trevor the daschund only wants to play together and share….a story about what happened to Pig when he was just too greedy. The story is told in rhyme, and the pictures are appealing, but I question whether children of 2-6 years will understand or appreciate the slang in some of the verse.

Tortoise and the Hair, by P Crumble and Louis Shea. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

When Tortoise goes on stage to sing, he always wears a wig because he feels it makes him look more like a rock star. When, one day the wig is lost, and he cannot find it, he is forced to appear bald, but to his surprise, finds that natural is best, and that people love him as he really is. A story told in verse—suitable for 3-6 year olds if it appeals.

*Poppy Cat by Sara Acton. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

This is a delightful book about a small girl and her cat Poppy, who is a copy-cat, because Poppy likes to do all the things her owner does—playing with shoe laces, running, exploring being mischievous, or whatever. The print is large, the watercolour sketches are appealing, and the story is simple. The book has a lot of merit for young readers of 3-6 years who have a cat, or who like to learn to read a very simple story for themselves.

Boa’s Bad Birthday, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

When Boa the serpent has his birthday party his friends bring him lots of presents, but, for a snake, most of them are just not suitable because Boa has no hands or ears, and he cannot use any of his presents until—in the present from his friend Dung Beetle, there is a seed, which grows in to a wonderful tree where Boa can always be happy. This is an interesting and fun story, well written, and to read and talk about with young children of about 2-5 years.

Hasel and Rose, by Caroline Magerl. HB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $24.99

There is a serious theme to this story, when Rose and her family move to a new land, and a new town, and everything is different and Rose feels very alone and seeks something—she doesn’t know what, which will make her feel comfortable with her life. When, after she ‘finds’ Hasel and rescues him from the sea, the world looks quite different, and Rose finds a friend. The story is about feeling displaced in the world. Refugees and immigrants often feel this way and this story reflects the author’s experiences as a young child. If I have a gripe with the layout of this story, it is that the print is quite small but, given the space on the pages, it could easily have been enlarged so that children of 6-8 years could read the story for themselves more easily. The story is suitable for 4-8 years.

***One Sunday, by Pamela Allen. HB from Penguin. RRP $24.99

I am sure that I am not the only adult who has collected Pamela Allen’s books for many years! The stories are timeless, and children love them– for the simplicity and visual appeal of the pictures and the familiarity of the stories, and their messages. This latest book, with the ritual of the traditional Sunday lunch, and the family who should come to share it, will probably strike a chord with more adults than children in this era of limited contact with many of the extended family. The message here is that it is important to maintain traditions and family ties, or a welcome for extra visitors, even if the weather is bad. A joy for all ages.

I am Cow, hear me Moo, by Jill Esbaum, with illustrations by Gus Gordon. HB from Penguin. RRP $24.99

Cow is quite sure that she is afraid of nothing. To prove this, she takes her friends on a tour through the forest, where Cow feels very much at home—until her friends leave her as night falls, something tickles her in the dark, and she needs to find refuge in a dark cave, where suddenly she does not feel brave at all. The story is told in verse, which gallops along and is easy to follow and enjoy. The pictures are attractive, and the book will appeal for young readers of 3-5 years, in company with an adult.

Karana, by Uncle Joe Kirk, with Greer Casey and Sandi Harrold. PB from Scholastic. RRP $13.99

The story of how the father emu is responsible for the eggs in the nest, and the upbringing of the young emus is told here by Uncle Joe Kirk, who is a Brisbane and Wakka Wakka elder. Father emu will look after his babies ‘no matter what”. This is a delightful, simple story with appealing drawings of Father Emu and the babies. Great reading for all Australian children of 2-5 years.

*Possums’ Big Surprise, by Colin Buchanan and Nina Rycroft. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Possum is surprised as one large animal after another pops up near her as she rushes around the bush. Scared, Possum flees each time, until, when she arrives at her home branch, all the large animals appear again—because it is Possum’s birthday. The simple, repetitive verse and predictable story are good for children of 2-4 years. Repetitive and predictive text is good for children at these ages, because it teaches them to imagine what ‘might happen next’ — an important part of learning to read.

Gigantosaurus, by Jonny Duddle. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

An imaginative story about young dinosaurs, who need to be on the look out for the gigantosaurus, which might eat them. There is a large, paper fold out page of the gigantosaurus, which I found, unfortunately, ripped really easily! There is also a short summary about actual dinosaurs at the end of the book. Otherwise, for children of 3-6 years, if it appeals.

Snail and Turtle are Friends, by Stephen Michael King. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

What a delightful simple story about two creatures that are best friends! They play, hunt and walk together sometimes, or, but also enjoy water, or tree climbing separately and they enjoy rainy days in different ways, as well. There is a clever luminescent trail in the pages, for Snail, so children can look at the pictures in the dark, and realise that the silver trails they see in the garden sometimes are in fact made by snails. The attractive drawings and limited text make this an excellent book to share with children of 2-4 years—probably time and again, because it has the appeal that will make kids want to read it and reread it.

**Juicy Juicy Green Grass, by Peter Combe. PB, with CD, from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

The CD which comes with this book has four songs from Peter Combe on it. The music is delightful—catchy, and easy to remember and sing –by themselves, or with the CD. To look at the book and listen to the songs will appeal to young people of 3-6 years, and they will enjoy being able to pick out the highlighted words, and to follow the text as they read. Peter Combe and his style of singing and playing songs for young kids has timeless appeal. Good value, this book and CD.

*The Croc and the Platypus, by Jackie Hosking, and illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95

I wonder if some authors would succeed if they were not able to ‘re-imagine’ works from previous authors and poets, and simply put new words and stories to the same rhythm patterns. Here we have the timeless story of Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat went to Sea” reinvented with a croc and a platypus and an old Holden ute as the stars. I do not object to the borrowing! The easy to follow story, and the pictures of the ute, Ultra and the animals are attractive and the colours are those of the outback too. It is suitable for children of 4-6 years, and one would hope that parents might later introduce the children to the original poem by Lear, for comparisons.

10 Clumsy Emus, by Ed Allen and Wendy Binks. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

This is a counting backwards book, which uses emus, and some amazing activities and foolishness from the emus as the base. It will be good if the person reading the story can sing the words to the tune of the folk song 10 Green bottles. There is a find- the -number hunt included with the words, to give the children something to look for on each page. For children of 4-7 years.

Hokey Pokey, by Ed Allen and Sarah Hardy. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

In similar vein, and from the same author is the Hokey Pokey, with an Australian theme again. This one comes with the CD of the song, sung by Colin Buchanan so the adults do not need to be able to sing! For children of 4-7years .

****Something a little different now. Two Trickster Tales from Russia, retold by Sophie Masson, Two Selkie Stories from Scotland, retold by Kate Forsyth, and Two Tales of Twins from Ancient Greece and Rome, retold by Ursula Duborsarsky are from Christmas Press, and $19.99 each. There is an audiobook available–with sound effects–of Sophie’s stories, and this is $10.99

These books are in A4 format, with large easy to read print and fonts, glossy pages, and delightful watercolour illustrations in frames, from David Allan. The retelling of the traditional stories is simple, and there are hints about traditional tales from other lands in the stories themselves, but what stands out with is the quality of the item, including the variety in style of the illustrations. Children of 6-8 years will be able to read the stories for themselves, while younger children will love to have the stories read to them while they follow the CD in words and pictures. I enjoyed listening to the stories, with incidental music and very clear sound effects for the Two Trickster Tales. These books will make excellent presents for families where reading aloud to children is valued.

NB. These books can be obtained through good bookshops or on line from http://www.dennisjones.com.au

The Lost Girl, by Ambelin Kwaymullina and Leanne Tobin. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95

This story tells how the girl wandered away from her family, and had to survive by eating bush tucker, find water and shelter, as her elders had taught her, while she waited to be found or for her mother –in –the- bush to show her the way back to the camp. The story is simple, but the illustrations capture the essence of the bush, in colours, and spaciousness. For readers of 5-7 years.

***Macavity, by T.S Eliot, edited by Arthur Robins. HB from Faber and Allen and Unwin, RRP $22.95

A new edition, for children of the famous poem by the cat loving T.S Eliot. This story is about a cat, Macavity, who excels at solving mysteries, but also is mystery himself, in his habits and ability to appear or disappear at will, without regard for animals or humans. This book will appeal to older children of 9-12 years, or even older, and would be great to read and discuss as part of a lesson about poetry.

Imagine a City, by Elise Hurst. HB from Scholastic. RRP$24.99

An imaginative tale about history, the joy of travel, and the wonder of what knowing what you will discover if you are able to travel either in reality, or your imagination—in the present, past or future. A book, told in blank verse, to read and talk about with children of 7 years and older.

Non Fiction:

***Funny Faces, by Dr Mark Norman. PB from Walker Books RRP $16.95

Yes, this is a picture book, and there are funny faces indeed—of an elephant seal, an elephant, of spiders, of moths, and a tarsier, of which I had never heard—but all the animals have peculiar or prominent noses for a reason.   Funny Faces is non-fiction, and there is information suitable for primary aged children about each of these creatures, and why their noses are so important to each of them. The pictures are detailed photographs, and it is an outstanding presentation from an author whose work has been with animals, their lifestyles and habitats. The font which accompanies the photos is very large, and there is also a short fact file-in smaller font- about each of the animals presented in the book at the end. Excellent value for all primary aged kids of 7-11 years.

Big Book of Aussie Dinosaurs, by Kel Richards, and illustrated by Glen Singleton. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Most children realise that dinosaurs used to roam Australia in prehistoric times, but I expect that most kids will be as surprised as I was to read about how many different types of dinosaurs are now known to have lived in Australia. There is a short extract of information about each of these in this book, with illustrations to show how they may have looked. A non-fiction book with special appeal probably to upper primary children, and probably boys in particular, because they always seem to be interested in dinosaurs.

Junior Fiction

****The Big Book of Old Tom, by Leigh Hobbs. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

Old Tom is a fish-loving cat, and Angela is his owner—although it always seems as if she is his mother! The adventures of Old Tom have huge appeal to children who love his larrikin attitudes, and the way in which he manages to escape trouble. They also love the author’s illustrations, (particularly those of the looks on Old Tom’s face!), the fact that there is so little print on each page, and that they can read it all so well. It is a delight so see five adventures of Old Tom in the one volume, and I am sure it will be a great success with children of 7-10 years.

***Now, for another Tom– Tom Gates: A Little Bit Lucky is by L Pichon, and is in PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

This is another series which appeals to boys of 8-10 years—especially those who do not find reading easy, but can follow lower case print, and like the large capitals, and the drawings which replace words sometimes in the text. Simple stories about making a kite, having guests to visit who need to be fed, and the book (which Tom needs to read for his reading diary,) which has lots of revolting bugs in it, and Mayor Cuthbert who just happens to eat some….. Good fun, and nothing malicious, or scary in the book

Stuff Happens, Ned and Jack, both by Andrew Daddo. PBs from Penguin. RRP $9.99 each.

These stories are fiction, but each uses an issue which is known to be of emotional importance with young boys of primary age. In Ned, Mrs Lucas, Ned’s new teacher, used to teach Ned’s sister Misty. Ned is not Misty, but right from the start, he and Mrs Lucas do not get along. Ned is really miserable and gets into trouble several times before the situation is cleared up. In Jack the issue is what goes wrong at recess, when the boys play a forbidden game and Jack is hurt. Who gets the blame for the game, and the injury and how it is all sorted out takes some time. These stories will appeal to boys of 8-11 years, both because they are easy to read, and because they deal with issues which seem to crop up regularly in school….

I have multiple books from several series here at the moment—they accumulated during my absence overseas.   I will make brief comments about each series.

Shadow Shifter, and Eaten Alive, are both by Nick Falk with illustrations by Tony Flowers. They are in PB and from Random House. RRP $12.99 each.

Billy is a were-dragon, but of course, the similarity to the life of a young boy is remarkable. Both these books contain fanciful adventures, some based at school, some at home, and with unpleasant people who pose a threat to life and family, so Billy of course becomes the hero. The language is easy, the pictures tell the tale, and the varied fonts for emphasis are effective. The stories are suitable for boys of 7-9 years.

You choose…the Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove, and Mayhem at Magic School, both by George Ivanoff, and in PBs from Random House. RRP $14.99 each

Books like these used to be called “Choose your own adventure”. Each begins with a basic plot, but as the story proceeds the reader is asked to choose from options, each of which will follow a different path to an ending. The stories are very simple, and the print large. All are told in the first person and present tense, so every thing seems to happen immediately and this adds somewhat to the excitement and tension about the choices.   These are an excellent suggestions for young readers, usually boys, who would prefer not to read, but are obliged to at times…..

**In similar vein are the rugby league hero Billy Slater books, also from Random House. They are written by Patrick Loughlin, and in PB at $12.99 each.

Each of the books contains a foreword from Billy Slater, where he talks about problems which some children face, but which can be resolved if members of a team work together.   In Banana Kick, Junior is a big kid, but he comes from a big family, and the team needs to see that he has other skills besides his size. In Try Time, Josh is actually nervous when it is game time, and often fumbles the ball. He needs help from Billy, who turns up at training one day. Each book contains some details about rugby league at the back, and some descriptions of the team players who are characters in the books. For boys of 7-10 years

 

There is a new Captain Underpants book out too—Captain Underpants and the Revolting Revenge of the Radioactive Robo-Boxers. By Dav Pilkey, in PB from Scholastic. RRP $10.99

This book needs no review to be popular with boys of an age where toilet humour appeals—about 8-10 years, although there is also a serious theme to the books about how to manage and seek help for bullying. There are new books out by the same author. Called the Mighty Robot series, I have three titles, The Mighty Robots, plus Vs the voodoo Vultures from Venus, and Vs the Mutant Mosquitoes from Mars. These are also in PB, and $10.99 each; they are designed for young readers of about 6-8 years. The text is really simple, and there are lots of cartoon style pictures, including somewhere if you flip two pages quickly, the pictures will appear animated. (I found this simple task too hard—i.e. the pictures did not change!) The books are very colourful and will doubtless find an audience of the target age.

Dinosaur Danger and Midnight Mischief, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, PBs from Scholastic. RRP $7.99 each.

Intended for boys, by the author of the Ella and Olivia series for girls these two short chapter books are based either at a school camp, or on an excursion. Lots of pictures, with boys the stars, and simple short stories for boys of 6-7 years.

*One Rule for Jack, is by Sally Morgan, and Ezekiel Kwaymullina. Illustrated by Craig Smith. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

This is a simple chapter book designed for indigenous boys, but suitable for everyone. Jack thinks he is clever to avoid the jobs he is supposed to do at home, but he is outmanoeuvred by his family, and ends up doing some revolting jobs!   A short, humorous, and very easy to read book and one where boys will readily identify with Jack. For young readers of 6-9 years.

For girls, in the EJ Girl Hero series, by Susannah McFarlane there is an eighteenth title! Ciao EJ is in PB from Scholastic, and $12.99 RRP

As with the last book I read, this one is set in Italy, and EJ and her fellow heroines have another task in which to defeat members of the Shadow organisation. As always, this will be enjoyed by girls of 7-9 years. However there is another series, this for even younger girls, and those who are just starting to read chapter books—i.e. about 6-7 years old. I have two titles here by the same author, and from Scholastic, Secret Spy and Puppy Trouble. They are in PB and $7.99 each. The font is clear and large, and the vocabulary either simple, or phonically “fair’ which means no irregular pronunciations, so it should suit the target audience well. I am keen to see how popular these become with year 1 and 2 girls.

Dork Diaries, TV Star, by Rachel Renee Russell. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $16.99, eBook $6.99

When Nikki Maxwell, leader of the dorks, is spotted at a school talent show, the sequel is that she will be followed by a reality TV crew for a month, as they record their hit song together. Nikki discovers that TV fame, and a crew following you is not as much fun as they had anticipated—in fact it can be a real nuisance and distraction to normal life. These books are similar in set out and nature of the content to the Diaries of a Wimpy Kid, and also the Tom Gates books. Whatever encourages kids to read is good, and these books are extremely popular with girls from about 8-12 years.

Space Mice, alien Escape is by Geronimo Stilton, in PB and $12.99 from Scholastic. This is the first in the space mice series where the family travels through space and has some amazing adventures. As always with Stilton, there is lots of colour mixed in the fonts, and the stories are imaginative, and with no nasties in the plots. I know one family where the teenage girls have enjoyed these books so much that they have made a collection of all of them!

The Hunt for the Golden Book is in HB and $15.99. This is in celebration of ten years of Geronimo mouse books! Grandfather William is about to give a party for Geronimo, Thea, Trap, Benjamin and the whole of the Rodent Gazette staff, when Geronimo’s laptop is stolen. There is also an extra story, the Lake Monster at the end of the main story. These books are all suitable and good reading for 8-10 year olds, and maybe older.

Secret Agent Derek ‘Danger’ Dale. The case of Animals behaving Really REALLY Badly, by Michael Gerard Bauer and illustrated by Joe Bauer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

There are some quite clever language plays in this book, which presents Derek Danger Dale in trouble, because he has been caught by Countess von Kyrstal and her useless sidekick Crudman. The language will certainly appeal to boys of 8-10 years, and the story too, as there are lots of cartoon strips and a fanciful plot about four nasty monsters which have turned criminal. I found the font just a tad too complicated for easy quick reading, and I think that the darkness and heaviness of all the black and white will not appeal to everyone. However it is an excellent sequel to the Eric Vale series from this author.

*Roses are Blue, by Sally Murphy. PB from Walker Books, RRP $16.95

This poignant and touching story, told by Rose, in blank verse, tells of Roses’ fears that if her mother, who, since her accident, is now in a wheelchair, and unable to do very much for herself at all, attends the special Mother’s Day gathering at school, everyone will stare at her mother, and Rose will feel uncomfortable. Mum used to paint, and garden and be happy, but now she can do very little. The story tells how the day arrives, and much to Rose’s relief, and astonishment, it goes successfully, and Rose realises that her mother is still her mother, and still beautiful and that everyone else treats her as a person.   For readers of 8-10 years.

*Ava Anna Appleton, Catching a Wave by Wendy Harmer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

Ava’s family is travelling around Australia in their mobile home. Now, they are off to the beach. Ava meets a new friend, Cody, but also realises that she, Ava, is not keen on surfing. However, when she sees a tiny brown seal which is caught up in a plastic bag, she does not hesitate, but dives in to the water to free the seal from the bag. The story turns into an environmental message, but Ava is happy. It is a simple, good quality story, with appeal for girls of 7-9 years.

**The Cryptic Case of Coco Carlomagno; the Quivering Quavers, by Ursula Dubosarsky with illustrations by Terry Denton. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

These books, of which this is the fifth in the series, appeal to girls who like to solve puzzles. Two strangely dressed widows who also speak in a peculiar mixed up manner are noted by Alberta, the police chief’s cousin, when they are at the opera in Buenos Aires, to help the prima donna work out who has been sending her mysterious messages about a fourth quaver. At the end of the story, there are explanations about the work and number puzzles, and I have found that intelligent girls of 10-12 years have really enjoyed trying to solve the puzzles as they come across them in the story. This book is excellent value.

*Violet Mackerel’s Helpful Suggestion, by Anna Branford. HB from Walker Books. RRP $19.99

Violet’s best friend is off to Japan, and Violet is worried that while they are separated, Rose might forget Violet, because Rose will be having such a good time. Violet comes up with a suggestion which resolves the issue, and all flows smoothly until the girls are back together again. It is another delightful story about the inimitable Violet, for girls of 8-10 years, and older autistic girls who seem to enjoy, understand and identify with Violet’s personality!

***Rescue on Nim’s Island, by Wendy Orr. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $14.99

Nim lives on an island with her scientist father Jack, their friend Alex Rover, and a couple of unusual pets who at times seem to understand when Nim needs their help.   When Jack invites a group of scientists to visit, they bring their children with them. Nim discovers that a couple of the visitors are imposters who have another agenda than the study of algae for medical research. They threaten the children’s safety, and Nim and her pets have to rescue the others, including Tiffany, whose ankle was badly sprained when the children were stranded. This is an excellent, exciting story for capable readers of 10-13 years.

Star Horse, by Jane Smiley. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $13.99

This is a horse story, for young readers who are interested in horses, their breeding, training and showing. Abby needs to find another horse, when Jack, which she has been riding is to return to its owner in Texas. Maybe Gee Whiz, a retired racehorse will be the answer, and keep her at the ranch with her family. For older girls of 12-15 years.

Sunny Sweet is so NOT Sorry, by Jennifer Ann Mann. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $12.99

This is a very readable, but fanciful stories of the consequences after Masha’s younger sister Sunny, glued plastic flowers to Masha’s head, and the glue just would not come off. And all this happened just as Masha was about to start a new school! When their Chinese neighbour has a turn in the garden, Masha ends up in the ambulance with her to go to hospital—plus—Sunny has absconded from school and comes too. There are a few errors in procedure at the hospital, before the girls are released to go home…..before Sunny starts to experiment again, and invents some extraordinary red ketchup….wow—what a kid! There is a distinctly American flavour to the story, but it is fun reading for girls of 8-11 years.

*Friday Barnes, Girl Detective, by R.A.Spratt. PB from Random House. RRP $15.99

Perhaps Friday will become the girl detective for this generation of young teenage readers! After Friday receives a very large reward for solving a bank robbery mystery, she sends herself to an exclusive co-ed boarding school, where, very quickly Friday sets out to discover if there is really a yeti in the swamp in the school grounds and who has stolen Parker’s homework assignment, among other issues. Surprisingly, she is not thanked for all her efforts, and horror of horrors—at the end of the book, Friday is arrested! So—we will have to wait for the next instalment of her adventures to find out what happens. This is really good reading for girls of 10 -14 years.

Space Jackers, by Huw Powell. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

This is the first novel for young readers by this author. Jake Cutler was abandoned when a baby, on the planet Remota; the only relic he has from his origins is a sparkling gold necklace, which he always wears. When Remota is invaded, and the monastery where Jake has been living is attacked, it is clear that it is Jake who is the target of the attack, and he is captured by the space pirates. His next change of living conditions occurs when he is rescued by the crew of the Dark Horse, and visits most of the solar system before the space pirates catch up with him again. Why is Jake so important, and what does the future hold for him? He still wants to find his father; maybe the next episode of the story will lead Jake closer to his family, and explain the mystery. Whilst the cover of the book is garish, the story is really good reading—not difficult– for boys of 9-13 years.

**Disappearing Act, by James Mooney. PB from Harper Collins. RRP $14.99

Matt Cooper wants to be a magician, and his efforts to learn are boosted when he finds an old notebook of tricks in a box of old junk in the garage. When he meets a strange old man in the centre of Sydney, and is able to complete a message in chalk on the footpath in a strange language, the stranger is obviously delighted, but Matt cannot stay at that time, but goes back another day to meet the man. He discovers that there is a link between himself and the old man, and begins to learn magic in earnest. There are flashbacks to another time in a small principality in Europe, and gradually we learn Matt’s connection to this time and place. A pleasant, interesting mystery for children of 8-13 years

**Weirdo2. Even Weirder, by Anh Do. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

Weir is back—and so is his life in Australia as an Asian migrant—with weird name, weird food and weird pets. We learn about his contentment with himself, and the ways in which he assimilates into school and with friends, including when he is invited to birthday parties. This is a delightful story, which should be read by all Australian kids– especially those who live in country areas where there are still very few migrants from countries where foods and living conditions are vastly different from what we are used to. This is a delightful, funny and yet whimsical book, and great for
Aussie kids who come from everywhere, of 6-9 years.

1914 by Sophie Masson. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Louis and his family lived in Australia until they returned to Europe for the summer of 1914. Louis’ mother was Australian, and his father was a diplomat and had a new post in Europe. Louis’s older brother Thomas was studying in Paris and he and Louis were in the crowd in Sarajevo when the Archduke Ferdinand was shot and Louis was able to take photos with his new camera. Louis was deafened in one ear as a result of damage from the explosion in Sarajevo.   When war broke out Thomas enlisted, and soon after Louis became a war correspondent for a couple of French papers. We read of his exploits near the battles, and of the progression of the war, including the dreadful conditions at the European fronts. It is a realistic story or the war, well told, and good reading for 10- years and older.

Teenage reading

*****Rock War, by Robert Muchamore. HB from Hachette. RRP $24.99

Sometimes it takes a while for new books to be sent for review—I think this has been in the shops since February, but I only received it two weeks ago. Muchamore has branched away from the Cherubs series here to present a story about teenagers and their music. As with the Cherubs, most of the members of the three bands which are introduced here are from impoverished or struggling families in England. Not all—Dylan, who was expelled from a superior boarding school, comes from a wealthy family but his father has been a famous musician. The other dominant characters -Jay, and his multi-blended family, and Summer, who lives alone in an eighth storey apartment with her severely asthmatic grandmother- are not used to privilege and see music as a way both to have a lot of fun, and as a passport to a better life if they become successful. There is a lot of very rough behaviour in this story, and some illegal activities too, particularly involving Theo, Jay’s older half brother, but the story rolls out really well, and I couldn’t put the book down till I finished it! Outstanding, gripping reading for 12 years and older, but in particular for boys who hate reading, but who want to learn more about life and action…..they have loved the Cherub books, and this will be similarly popular.

*Poppy, by Mary Hooper. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

Another historically based novel by this astute and talented author. Poppy has no chance to advance her education, even though she is really intelligent. Instead she is sent to work in the local English manor, and expected to be content with her lot. However at the outbreak of World War 1, Poppy is encouraged by a former teacher to train to become a nurse. She is successful, and works in England in a convalescent home, but as the war proceeds, and Poppy learns that the love of her life, a son of the wealthy family she worked for will obey the dictates of his family and marry wealth, not Poppy, she applies to go to work in the field hospitals in Europe. A well-written plausible story, with some solid history as a backing. For girls of 12-15 years.

***The Year of the Rat, by Clare Furness, PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $19.99

Pearl is in deep shock, and grieving for her mother, who has died giving birth to Pearl’s sister Rose. What’s more Pearl’s Dad—well, step father really, is smitten with Rose, and cannot understand Pearls antagonism and aversion towards Rose. This is a serious story—Pearl has to work through the grieving process before she can accept and learn to love Rose, whom Pearl calls the Rat. The other important characters in the story, who calmly, and in the background help Pearl work out her future, are neighbours, frail and old Dulcie, and her grandson Finn. Pearl has lots of imaginary conversations with her late mother, until finally through these conversations Pearl comes to terms with her grief and learns to love Rose for what she has given Pearl to keep of her mother—Rose herself. For older readers of 13-16 years. There is an interesting discussion at the end of the book about the issues raised when grief needs to be understood and managed.

Crystal Bay Girls, Romy Bright, by Jen Storer. PB from Puffin. RRP 16.99

Romy has been really happy with her life in Crystal Bay, and with her friends, school and their activities and music and her best friend and fellow music maker James—that is until Matt arrives in town. Matt is older, has a flash car, and Romy has a desperate crush on him. Meanwhile her mother is fighting at home with Cam, and Romy doesn’t know which way to turn, or what is happening. Involved, teenage affairs and emotionalism… lots of it, for girls of 13-15 years.

The Last Thirteen, Are you one of them? Book nine. 5 By James Phelan.  PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Sam is gradually travelling to all parts of the globe as he searches for the last teenagers with special talents to help in the fight against the evil of Solaris. He has been to Cuba, the Grand Canyon, Siberia and now Tokyo. His nightmares have become more severe and unpredictable, as the others of his group, among them Eva and Lora, Alex and Shiva are in danger, and it has been impossible to lose the enemies. However in Tokyo Sam meets the ninth dreamer, international gaming whizz, Issey. What will his role be, and who will be the last four dreamers?   This is a continuing saga, for readers of 11-14 years.

Writing Clementine, by Kate Gordon PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

What an interesting story! It is set in the year when Clementine is in Year nine, and her teacher Mrs Hiller is the recipient of most of Clementine’s letters as she puts pen to paper to document her year and try to make sense of her existence. Clementine is a very capable student and there are lots of comments about what she reads, as well as the questions she ponders, about her family, her interests, but most of, about the mystery of life and what Clementine hopes to achieve- once she makes sense of existence that is. A really interesting read for thoughtful girls of 13-16 years.

**The Bow, by Catherine Mayo. PB from Walker Books. RRP $17.95

This is a loose sequel to Murder at Mykenai, but is a separate story. Odysseus is facing more adventures and challenges. He really wants to find the gold which his grandfather is believed to have hidden, but there are a few problems and others want to find the gold too. What I like about the story is that there is so much history of ancient Greece, in particular descriptions of various places, and daily activities including archery, which are blended in with the story. The puzzle about how to shoot the great bow through twelve axes is a mystery which first is described in Homer. I have enjoyed this story, and it will be excellent reading for 12-14 year olds.

****Red Shadow, by Paul Dowdell. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

This is another story with background set in history—this time, the Russia of Stalin’s time and World War 2. Stalin was a brutal and callous dictator; his regime was also exceedingly corrupt, and because of that it was cutthroat—one mistake and you were out. Misha’s life becomes one of privilege when his father accepts a job in Stalin’s inner circle but soon however Misha realises that everything is not as honest as it should be, and that the Secret Police has lots of power to arrest and punish any one suspected of opposing the regime in word or deed. When Misha’s mother is taken by the NKVD, Misha realises that there are problems ahead. When Misha’s father Yegor admits to his son that he had bribed officials to save Misha’s mother ‘s life. Eventually Misha and his friend Valya are arrested, but are lucky enough to escape, and they begin the trip to the east to search for Misha’s mother. Some things do not change, and modern Russia under Putin does not seem much different! This is an excellent book and will be excellent reading for students of modern history, as well as other readers of 12-15 years.

Counting by 7s, by Holly Goldberg Sloan. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Willow is strange- she says she is strange, and her behaviour is strange—she is extraordinarily intelligent but not emotionally, and she lacks the ability to form meaningful relationships with other people. Willow is probably on the autistic spectrum, and maybe an Aspy. Willow was adopted by Mai when her parents were killed in a car accident. Willow is fascinated by the number 7 and everything to do with 7, and when stressed thinking about the 7s helps her relax.

The story has lots of chapters which seem unrelated at the time, but by the end of the story we see that Willow has learned how to get along better with people. A strange book for 12 years and older, and probably those who have anything to do with autistic kids will find it both interesting and informative.

**The Eagle Trail, by Robert Rigby. PB from Walker Books. RRP $16.95

This story is set in German occupied Europe in World War 2. Sixteen-year-old Paul Hansen has had a harrowing time; he saw his father killed and his mother was also arrested by the Gestapo. Paul’s father had in fact been working for the Resistance and as a spy for the British before he was killed, and now, helped by a friend of his father Paul finds himself in the hands of the Resistance to help him escape and return to England. This is an exciting story as Paul is moved from one place to another. There are suspicions that there is a German agent in the Antwerp resistance group as Paul is moved through Belgium and France towards Spain where he is told to take the Eagle Trail to escape, together with a sick man Jean-Pierre. Fortunately it is discovered– by the family who last helped him– that there was a plot, and that Paul and Jean Pierre were to be the next victims of a group of bandits who posed as guides for the trail. A gripping story for 12-14 year olds, probably mainly boys.

Warp, The Hangman’s’ Revolution, by Eoin golfer. PB from Puffin, RRP $19.99

This is a rollicking happy go lucky and fanciful time warp yarn about a young FBI agent Chevie Savano, and her best friend, Riley, who is a magician from nineteenth century London, and their efforts not only to escape death, but to cause death and confusion to the villains who have brought military technology from the future back to the nineteenth Century to weak havoc on London and everyone who lives there. For readers of 13 years and older if it appeals.

**The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $16.99

I would have to say that I am ambivalent about this book. If I were able to read it, never having read Pride and Prejudice, I would probably enjoy the story of how Lizzie, helped by her academic advisor, documents her life, and makes videos for You tube, and Twitter for her family and friends to follow her life. I love the way the names from the nineteenth century have been transformed to the present—Char, and Bing Lee in particular, and how Lizzie’s family so closely resemble Austen’s in characteristics of behaviour, albeit with modern style. And I love the slightly anachronistic turns of phrase which pop out every now and then from the pages. But—I still love the original Pride and Prejudice, and feel that when I reread it now, my pleasure will be tainted by modern living lifestyles and the ingenuity of these authors to transform the story as they have. For readers of 13 years and older,

****Alexander Altmann, A10567 by Suzy Zail. PB from Walker Books. RRP $18.95

When Jewish Alexander Altmann, aged fourteen, is separated from his sister and mother, and sent to Auschwitz, he is then known only by the number tattooed on his arm—A10567. Life in Auschwitz is deadly—not only from the gas, but from the abominable living conditions. Alexander has always worked with, and loved horses though, and when the inmates are asked if anyone has worked with horses, A10567 raises his hand, and is accepted to become part of the Horse Platoon. To start with, 10567 has to look after a pony, which is then ridden by the children of the German officers, but then he is given the task of looking after the camp commandant’s stallion. In the process Alexander meets Isador, a boy who knows nothing about horses, but is very clever in scrounging and bartering items for happier camp living. Alexander helps Isador learn about horses, and Isador helps Alexander pay for items which help them both stay alive. When Alexander gets a new, and very frightened stallion to care for, he knows he must earn its trust if they are both to live and he possesses a fierce determination to stay alive. This is a sad book in many ways, but Alex’s determination, and love of the horses are both positive, and yes, he makes it to the end of the war. In the process the reader learns heaps about the cruelty of the Nazis in Auschwitz, and how much harder it was to stay alive than to die. For readers of 13 years and older.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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