Children’s and Teenage new books–November-December 2014 Reviewer; Janet Croft

The more stars, the better!

Picture Books

***The Ugly Duckling, performed by Justine Clarke. HB from Scholastic, with CD. RRP $24.99

The song of the story of the ugly duckling who grew to be a beautiful swan was written by Frank Loesser, and first performed by Danny Kaye in the film about the original author of the story, Hans Christian Anderson in 1952. The performer on this CD is Justine Clarke, well known to viewers of Playschool, on the ABC, and here she is backed by a trumpet, a tuba and a marimba to produce a rhythmic, easy to listen to and lovely word for word performance of the story in the book—this book, and the CD will be a delightful read and listen again and again gift for children of 1-4 years.

A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy named Jack, by William Joyce, illustrated by Kenny Callicutt. PB from Simon and Schuster. PPR $14.99

This is a laconic “with it” variation on can -you -guess -which -fairy story? There is a major drought in the kingdom, and the only way the king and his family can have a bath is when the people of the kingdom cry enough tears—Princess Blah-Blah goes to the wizard, and the solution is Jack and the bean he plants with just one drop of water to help it grow. Hey presto—the bean grows; Jack is able to ensure the king’s son Don has a good bath, and somehow the story turns into Jack and Jill! Magical of course, but with rollicking verse, invented words, such as ‘sorta’ and ‘whatta’ and just the right touches of magic and fun to amuse readers of 3-5 years.

*****We’re going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. HB from Walker Books. RRP $19.95

It is 25 years since this book was first released, and it is definitely a timeless classic. The refrain– We’re going on a Bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one– will be recognised by lots of young parents now, and by heaps of grandparents!   This version has an attractive push the button panel on the side—when the child sees or hears the verse for a particular page, and pushes the button, he will hear the noise that is being made as the action occurs—I love the squelch squerch sound, and the hooo wooo of the owl! Helen Oxenbury’s water colour illustrations are just as delightful now as they were when my kids first read the book—what a gem of a book for families with children of 1-5 years. Highly recommended and at a most reasonable price.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95

A fantasy about two guys who love animal shaped biscuits and chocolate   milk, and what happens when they start to dig a hole to find something spectacular. The illustrations are stylized, but show what happens when they dig separately, and in different directions, until finally—they are tired, and fall asleep—-and then the spectacular fall…..what has happened? This last page provides a puzzle to talk about at the end. For readers of 2-5 years.

Once a Shepherd, by Glenda Millard and Phil Lesnie. HB from Walker Books RRP $27.95

Tom was a shepherd, who loved his sheep, his work and his wife. From a life of peace in the hills and on his farm, Tom had to leave and go to the First World War; his loving young wife had made his a really warm coat to take with him. At the war front, Tom’s life was anything but pleasant. While he is away, his wife has a baby boy, and longs to have her husband home. However it is war, and although Tom saves the life of another soldier, he loses his own, so after the war it was this friend who wore the coat and took it back to the farm for the widow to make a woollen toy for her son. This is a sombre story which reveals some of the pain of war. It is suitable for older children of maybe 4-7 years to read, preferably in company with an adult.

***Construction, by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock. HB from Walker Books. RRP $27.95

This story is designed for pre school age children, and shows pictures and tells the story of some of the activities of the building industry, with large bright pictures, and rhyming verse which emphasises some of the sounds which are made by the various machines. The language choice is excellent, with “Shove the piles in one by one’ and “Slip, Slap, thud! as examples. At the end is a facts page which describes in more formal language the functions of the machines. It is a clever book, and I applaud the author’s choice of words—lots of alliteration and onomatopoeia to feed into young minds. An attractive and appealing book for children of 4-6 years.

*****Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $14.99

Another timeless classic, this one from 40 years ago. Although the story is American, all children with whom I have read this story have appreciated the misery of the day as Alexander experiences chewing gum in his hair, has to sit in the middle of the back seat of the car, misses out on dessert at lunch and has to wear the pyjamas that he hates to bed….what an awful day. The black and white illustrations seem to increase the misery, although in this edition there are a few colour pages. What kids often pick out first on each page, is the expression on Alexander’s face as he tells of the latest misery. This is a gem of a book, and should be read by all children—not once, but many times– it is a fun read, but with a lesson that not every day is a good day—but fortunately, for most, there are few of these really Terrible Horrible No good, Very Bad Days either! For kids of 4-7 years—and evidently soon to be made into a film….

***Noni the Pony goes to the Beach, by Allison Lester. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99

This is a delightful rhyming story for very young children, about a pony and her friends, the dog and the cat, and what they do at the beach one day. Alison Lester has been a popular author and illustrator for many years, and there have been several other Noni the Pony books. Children of 2-5 years love the simplified illustrations, with the use of limited, but effective colours and shapes, and the story flows well and has a satisfying variety and roundness to it that appeals.

***Funny Homes, by Dr Mark Norman. PB from Black Dog and Walker Books, RRP $16.95

This non-fiction book is by the author who produced Funny Bums and Funny Faces—these books all use photographs of animals with singular and interesting characteristics. Here we see varieties of houses, from that of the Weddell Seal, to the cactus wren and the dung beetle—not all of the homes are shown, because some of these creatures live in a particular environment, rather than a home. The facts in the story, and at the back of the book are always interesting, and the book has distinct appeal to children of 4-8 years—mostly because of the details and interest in the photographs—and the font is large so that younger kids like to read the books for themselves.

Mix it Up, by Herve Tullet. Board book from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

A couple of years ago, Tullet’s first release, Press Here was a magical interactive book which really grabbed the imagination of young readers and adults alike. In this book Tullet show how colours can be mixed, with surprising and wonderful results. Again, there are gestures to be made with the book—shake, rub and smudge—and these will help the idea of the mixing. It’s another pleasant book—without perhaps the magic of Press Here, but a great way to introduce colour to young children of 2-5 years.

Oh Dear, what can the Matter Be, by P Crumble and Louise Shea. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99, with CD

A variety of animals star in this re-make of another traditional song. From ‘four black cats climbing a willow tree’ to ‘one big elephant squashed in a limousine’ most of the animals are in inaccessible and unusual places. The content is quite amusing, the illustrations are bright and some are quite complex. For the CD, the verse has been stretched and accented so that it fits the rhythms of the original song so overall it is of an acceptable quality.   For readers of 3-5 years.

*Grug, the Superhero, by Ted Prior. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $4.99

Wow-it is fun to see a Grug book in print again! The original Grug books were favourites of my children when they were little. Simon and Schuster republished the original 24 titles from 2009, and now this one, in which Grug decides to become a superhero, dons a cloak and with a sword made of sticks, zooms off to save someone. It’s a humorous short tale, with appeal to very young children because it will seem as if they are Grug, or Cara, and they will enjoy pretending to be part of the story. Great to see this book, and at only $4.99, it should be very popular.

****Tim and Ed, by Ursula Duborsarsky and Andrew Jayner. HB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $24.99

Tim and Ed are twins who have always done things the same way—they are puzzled however that they only have one dad, when there are two of them. The story reveals how gradually they learn that they are two people, not one, and that they can still have much in common whilst being individuals. A fine story, and delightful illustrations. The eyes of the two koalas are wonderful at revealing emotions! Excellent for readers of 2-6 years.

**Vanilla Ice Cream, by Bob Graham. HB from Walker Books. RRP $ 27.95

This story is allegorical—I think deliberately. It presents a small sparrow, somewhere on the subcontinent (somewhat rare that a bird has survived in some places there!). The sparrow is free, can go where he likes and eat what he finds. One day however, the sparrow is trapped in a bag of rice, and is taken first in a truck then in a large ship, only to find himself still alive, but in another country. In a large city he finds himself watching toddler Edie and her grandparents as they eat at a café—the sparrow is given a few crumbs, but the dog leaps at the sparrow, and in the resulting confusion, Edie catches her grandfather’s ice cream cone—and finds that she loves the taste! She seems, in the illustration, to thank the sparrow as they move away. Amnesty International has endorsed this book and the story about freedom and safety. An appealing story to read and talk about for children of 2-5 years.

 

A Christmas theme….

I have a lot of titles with a Christmas theme here at the moment—some picture books, some stories-it’s not surprising, given the time of year….some are better value than others and will be read over more than Christmas season.

*The Twelve Days of Christmas, by Alison Jay. HB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

It is good to see a traditional Christmas song presented accurately, and with illustrations which match the era in which it was originally written and in which the family and peaceful aspect of the Christmas season is emphasised. The only addition which would improve this book, would have been to have a CD of the song included. Good for families, and children of 5-9 years.

Hey Baby, it’s Christmas. By Corinne Fenton, and in HB from Walker Books, RRP $18.95

There are similarities in the style of this book with that of Funny Homes, reviewed above. The author has used large photographs for certain animals to illustrated the actions and simple theme of the verse. . I particularly admire the use of the picture of the tortoise to illustrate ‘tiptoe through days’ and the penguin to ‘shout out loud’.   This is a clever book, and one which will delight very young children of 1-4 years.

Christmas in Australia, by John Williamson, illustrated by Mitch Vane. HB from Viking and Penguin. RRP $19.99

This ballad about family life, and the traditional Christmas family photo has been tastefully and humorously illustrated by Mitch Vane. Always, when the time for a photo is near, someone is missing. I found the illustrations more appealing than the verse, because the atmosphere of the traditional summer lunch, and recreational pastimes, is so clear. For readers of 4-8 years.

There was an old Bloke who Swallowed a Present, by P Crumble, with Louis Shea. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

This is an Aussie variation on the folk song “ I know an old lady who swallowed a fly”. These variations   do not appeal to me in themselves, unless the original version of the song has been learned first—mainly because some of the rhymes and rhythms are forced, so they do not flow well. The illustrations are bright and amusing and there are extra gimmicks to look for on each double page spread, but overall, it is not a book I would buy. Suitable for children of 4-7 years, if it appeals.

Deck the shed with Bits of Wattle, by Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion with Glen Singleton. HB from Scholastic, RRP $19.99

This book is better value, because it has a CD with it, and the singing is bright, and rhythmical so that even if a child is not familiar with the original “Deck the Hall with Boughs of Holly’ this song can be learned and read with the CD. In the process the child will become familiar with quite a few Australian slang expressions too! I like the way in which the ‘Fa la la la la’ refrain is written in full on each page—very helpful and easy for young children to learn to read and follow.

My Little Star, by Mark Sperring and Nicola O’Byrne. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

This is a simple story about mothers and babies, and how they snuggle up together at night. The verse is simple, but flows well, with a clear message about how both stars in the sky and babies are important. The watercolour illustrations are pleasant without being outstanding. Suitable for babies to about 4 years of age.

Santa’s Busy Reindeer, by Nathaniel Eckstrom. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

This is another story where the rhythm of the verses are supposed to follow that of an earlier traditional counting song—in this case ‘Ten Green Bottles” Whilst that song was not related to Christmas, this story is, but the rhythm of the verse does not fit the words of the original song, so this should be read in its own right as a counting backwards story about Santa’s reindeer. Suitable for 3-5 year olds.

EJ Spy School, by Susannah McFarlane. PB from Scholastic. RRP $7.99

The young spies are taken to the Giving tree in Christmas town, as the year draws to a close. But what is happening to the gifts—who is interfering with them? And is the elf a member of the nasty Shine organization? A really simple story, with a few clues for EJ to follow and the young girls of 5-7 years for whom this story is designed.

Ella and Olivia, Christmas Wonderland, by Yvette Poshlogian. PB from Scholastic. RRP $7.99

A simple story about the two girls, and the events in their suburban street as the time for house decorations and the Christmas fair draws near. Large font, simple words, and a familiar theme for town children. For girls of 5-7 years.

*Christmas Stories, by Enid Blyton. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99

This is a blast from the past as Hachette releases this collection of mostly short stories about Christmas themes. There is one longer story, presented as chapters interspersed with shorter stories about the family with four children, two of whom are normally at boarding school, and the events and traditions that mark Christmas for the family. There are explanations about what mistletoe is, and how it plays a role at Christmas, plus the Christmas tree, and Christmas stockings just to mention a few. It was quite delightful to read the easy prose, and the beguiling stories from this author, who was my introduction to reading, and long time favourite author when I was a kid. Still good reading for 7-10 year olds.

****The Nights Before Christmas, a compilation illustrated by Tony Ross. HB from Koala books and Scholastic. RRP $29.99

This is probably the best compilation I have seen of classic stories about Christmas, collected by this most skilled of illustrators, and put together for a memorable collection that will stand the test of time. There are stories from Hans Christian Anderson—in particular for me, the little Match seller is one I was read when very young, the nativity as in the King James Bible, and the books of Luke and Matthew, the story of Good King Wenceslas, an extract from Dickens ” the Christmas Carol,” the “Letter to his daughter Susy” by Mark Twain, in which he answers her question as to whether Santa Claus is real, and so on. There are 24 stories, and each of them has something loving and honourable to say about the traditions we observe, and the emotions we feel at Christmas. And, with all the stories, there is the delight at Tony Ross’ illustrations—and these will provoke questions, and comments from the young readers too. For all ages, and families. A gem of a book.

***One Night, by Penny Matthews, and Stephen Michael King. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

This combination of author and illustrator is one of my favourites! Here they retell the Christmas story from the point of view of the animals, which, in many countries are traditionally said to be able to speak on Christmas Eve as they await the birth of Jesus. So we learn that the donkey carried the mother to the stable, which was given by the horse for the birth, the cow gave milk to feed the parents, the cock crows at sunrise to broadcast the news of the birth, and so on. It is a pleasing story, told with reverence, and with illustrations which are whimsical yet attractive. This is a delightful book, and will be an excellent one for Christmas reading with children of 1-5 years.

Non-fiction

Australian Writers of influence, by Bernadette Kelly, is in PB from Black Dog and Walker Books RRP $17.95

This short book, which is produced in A4 size, contains vignettes about the writers who have been the most prominent and possibly most influential in the 200 plus years since the European settlement of Australia. Some of the most prominent of the colonial writers listed are Charles Tompson, and Adam Lindsay Gordon, but then later come Miles Franklin, Marcus Clarke, Louisa Lawson, Henry Lawson, Mary Gilmore, May Gibbs and so on. There are also extracts about journals and papers such as the Age and The Argus in Melbourne, and the Bulletin in Sydney, and the role these papers played in the spread of ideas and knowledge about literary works. It is an interesting book, and there is a glossary and list of resources at the end of it. This will make a useful resource for upper primary students in particular. A quality production.

***Before After, by Anne Margot Ramstein and Matthias Aregui. HB from Walker Books. RRP $27.95

It is a bit difficult to categorise this book. Should it be a picture book? There is no written text. Should it be non-fiction? Most of the comparisons are based in natural events. Age appropriate? From about the age of 3 on, children will enjoy discovering the befores and afters—most are shown on a double page, with the before on the left and the after on the right, but there are some which require two double pages, and it is these which children will find most appealing because they will have to visualize what will be over the page. There will be discussions about the differences between northern and southern hemisphere before and afters in winter in particular. It is quite a large and heavy book and there are no page numbers, so it will always need to be browsed to find a particular set. I think my favourite will remain the two double pages with the small spider on the first page, and..on the second. A lovely thought and wonder provoking book and suitable for all kids, from the age of about 3 to 12 years.

*Bugged. How Insects changed history, by Sarah Albee. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $21.99

This book contains many facts about insects—there are more in the world than can be counted—that is unless you know how many ten quintillion is! Their jobs range from the helpful and harmless to humans, to those which kill and those with disgusting habits.   It’s a fascinating book for young and older readers, with so many facts and stories that it is hard to do more than absorb a few at a time. Attention to given stories is made easier by boxes of info, engaging headlines and lots of illustrations, and by limiting the colours in the book to just three, each with a set purpose. An excellent book for all ages, but especially perhaps for upper primary and junior secondary readers.

***Cars, a complete History, from Walker Books. In strong card, RRP $24.95

I think this is a most reasonably priced book! It is described as a model-making and collectors book in one.   If the top section of the book is cut off from the rest, it can be kept as an historical account of models and years of manufacture of cars together with vital statistics about horsepower and engine facts. The bottom section is for model making, with sturdy cut outs of 50 vehicles to be assembled in 3D. The plans are detailed, and numbered. It will create hours of interest, entertainment and productive actions as the models are put together. It is a gem of a book for a gift for any boy—and I suspect many men will enjoy the task as well!

***Also from Walker Books is a boxed kit called Build a Robot. The accompanying guide has been written by Steve Parker and illustrated by Owen Davey. It all comes as a kit which looks like a sturdy board game in a box. RRP $24.95

In the introduction booklet to the kit, there is a very brief introduction to the nature of robots and the variety of skills they currently offer to help men in various activities; then follow the detailed instructions for the construction of three model wind up robots. The very sturdy board pieces, plus a wired plastic part are contained in the box. It is a very economically priced kit, and I am sure that it will bring hours of fun and interest to budding engineers as they build the models. A superb gift idea for interested people of any age but especially for 9-14 years.

Unbored Games, Serious fun for everyone, by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Larsen.   A sturdy PB from Bloomsbury RRP $19.99

This is an interesting book. There are more than 70 games presented and discussed, from traditional outdoor games like croquet and baseball, frisbees and, tug of war, but also lots of indoor games with cards, board games and word games, plus suggestions for quality apps and video games. I found it really interesting to read about some of the ways in which most of these games can be hacked—meaning altered—if you wish to do so to introduce variations into a given game. There are also suggestions on how to create your own game-this activity is sometimes given as a school project, and some of the suggestions here would be very useful for would be game creators Lots of appeal here for the whole family.

**Bumper Book of the Universe, by Terry Denton. PB from Penguin. RRP $26.99

This large A4 sized activity book will provide hours of entertainment, and a bit of knowledge along with it for children of 7-11 years. There are mazes, puzzles, codes to crack, lots to draw, and cartoons. Most of the activities have some educational merit, but will not appear tedious in any way—the page about matching the homes with their owners, or that about drawing a matching picture are just two samples of what could be serious or fun learning. With 300 pages, there is a lot of fun to be had, and tremendous variety in what is offered. Excellent value.

*Jet the Rescue dog and other extraordinary stories of Animals in Wartime, by David Long. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

This is a very engaging small book of short stories about 33 animals; dogs, cats, horses, and birds, and even a bear, all of whom contributed to the welfare of people in times of war. There are several stories from the Second World War including the ‘Jet’ of the title of the book and the bear Voytek who carried shells to the guns for the Polish soldiers who were fighting in Italy, the four legged ambulance at Gallipoli in World War 1, Apollo, the dog who helped at Ground Zero in New York in 2001, just to mention a few. All the extracts are short, but they are all true, and it makes fascinating reading. I feel this will be really popular reading for young boys of 8-11 years, both because the stories are true, and because it provides so much insight into how clever and useful animals can be.

 

Fiction

Forest of Bones, by David Kennett. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Again it is difficult to know whether to categorise this story as non-fiction, because it is based on an actual battle which occurred in northern Europe in about 9 AD. The Roman Army has invaded but is defeated in the Teutoberg Forest by the wild warriors of the Cherusci people. These people are known to hang the bones of the bears that they kill, in the trees. Two boys, one, a Roman slave, and Ursus, who is of the Cherusci, become friends and experience many horrors as the battles drag on the story is quite gruesome in places, and there are lots of characters with unusual names. The black and white stylized illustrations add to the story, but it is a gloomy and at times gruesome tale. For readers of ten years and older who are interested in a realistic portrayal of an ancient long drawn out series of battles.

***Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret by D.D. Everest. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $16.99

When Archie Green receives a mysterious book on his 12th birthday, it is as if he began a new life. He learns of relatives hitherto unknown to him, and a new life with them in the city of Oxford, with its university, famous library, and air of mystery about the bookshop named the Aisle of White. For Archie it is amazing indeed to learn that he is now apprenticed to the bookbinder Old Zeb, and that he is living with his newly found cousins Thistle and Bramble, and working with them. The evil Greaders who want to steal the magic from the Museum of Secrets are a problem and as Archie learns that he is indeed a book Whisperer, he becomes central to the survival of the museum. I found this story amusing, imaginative, and plausible in a magical way, and really good reading for 9-13 year olds.

Forest of Bones, by David Kennett. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Again it is difficult to know whether to categorise this story as non-fiction, because it is based on an actual battle which occurred in northern Europe in about 9 AD. The Roman Army has invaded but is defeated in the Teutoberg Forest by the wild warriors of the Cherusci people. These people are known to hang the bones of the bears that they kill, in the trees. Two boys, one, a Roman slave, and Ursus, who is of the Cherusci, become friends and experience many horrors as the battles drag on the story is quite gruesome in places, and there are lots of characters with unusual names. The black and white stylized illustrations add to the story, but it is a gloomy and at times gruesome tale. For readers of ten years and older who are interested in a realistic portrayal of an ancient long drawn out series of battles.

Class Six and the Nits of Doom, by Sally Prue. PB from Bloomsbury . RRP $12.99

It is openly recognised that the Year six teacher is a witch, and that life in year six will be unpredictable, and maybe a bit alarming. Rodney is not the brightest student in the class, but when he catches the most horrible nits imaginable, it isn’t long before the rest of the class is infected too. If the nits were not bad enough, the later symptoms are even worse…..will life ever return to normal for year 6? A fun story, simple to read, and quite amusing for 8-11 year olds.

The Talkative Tombstone, by Ursula Duborsarsky. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

This is the new title in the series of The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno. The story line is simple, but appeals to readers of about 8-11 years—here there is a mystery about the tomb of the former well known tango singer, in Brazil, and coco and his redoubtable cousin Alberta have to investigate. The greatest appeal of the book however are the puzzles—and a couple of my readers have wishes there were more of them to solve as the story unfolds. Terry Denton’s puzzling drawings, plus the puzzle about the subway tickets—maths based—are excellent and really have the readers thinking and feeling part of the story. The Spanish glossary at the end is fun too.

**Tashi and the Wicked Magician, and other stories, by Anna Fienberg and Barbara Feinberg HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

Tashi is a storyteller. He is an elf like creature with the most amazing imagination. Together he and his mate Jack have many adventures, and the ever bigger whoppers told by Tashi are enjoyed by many young readers who have doubtless told a few whoppers themselves. These stories grow the imaginations of children, and encourage them to experiment with their own stories—all the while wishing that the stories Tashi tells were their own! This is a superior volume- tasteful set out, with borders on all the pages, and some delightful colour illustrations to help the imagination along as the stories are read. At the end of the book are the covers of all the previous Tashi books, over the past 20 years….. Excellent bedtime reading for 4-8 year olds.

Spirit Animals Book 5. Against the Tide, by Tui Sutherland. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

This is another multiplatform story in a series when four children each have special skills which derive from their alliance with a particular animal. Readers can go on line, using a key found in each copy of the book, and discover their own spirit animal, and then share in the action role-playing on line. The written story is quite easy to read, but there is now, after four earlier stories, sameness about each episode. The fate of the earth in this strange place called Erdas relies on the interactions and skills of the young participants. For readers and gamers of 10 and over.

*Once upon a Dork, by Rachel Renee Russell. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $16.99

I found this book to be amusing, and very clever—a good combination, because after Nikki receives a big bump on her head, she has a wild dream in which her best friends –including Brandon of course- plus the unpleasant Mackenzie, all end up in a sequential, and conveniently connected retelling of some of our best known fairy stories, including Goldilocks, the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Red Riding Hood. And at the end, Nikki has to admit that little sister Brianna does make a great sandwich, as Nikki returns to her normal self. These books are hugely popular with girls of 8 to 12 years, and this is a fun read.

To this Day, by Shane Koyczan. HB from Walker Books. RRP $19.95

The title is that of a poem, by Shane, about his memories of being bulled when a child. Shane was raised by his grandparents, and his grandmother encouraged him to write about his feelings, and things that bothered him because that way he was able to be his own best friend, because he did not have many friends at school or elsewhere. Eventually, when the poem was so successful in his face-to-face performances, his band put it to music, and then it went viral on the web, with contributions from 86 animators and motion artists. This book is a continuation of the web project—from around the world 30 artists have contributed, each in their own style, an illustration to a part of the poem. There are two facts presented in the introduction which are powerful—one in seven kids has either been a victim of a bully, or a bully, and bullying will usually stop within 10 seconds if someone steps into help the victim. Because of the variety of artists, each page, both verse, and illustration need to be pondered –it is an emotional and powerful ride, and everyone who has ever been bullied will feel that a little of them is in this book. For readers from about 8 years to adult.

The Bloodhound Boys, the Monster Truck Tremor Dilemma. By Andrew Cranna. PB from Walker Books. RRP $19.95

The story, presented in classic comic style is about the two underworld characters, Rocky Werewolf and Vince Vampire, and their adventures on the road and in races after they complete the construction of their monster truck. It is all action, speed and prangs as the bloodhound boys battle Team Dwayne. For young male readers of 7-10 years.

Nightrise, by Tony Lee and Nigel Dobbyn, Graphic novel in PB from Walker Books RRP $19.95

This magna style graphic novel tells the story of the third volume in the Power of Five series by Anthony Horowitz. When the twins Jamie and Scott Tyler are kidnapped and then separated by thousands of years in a time warp as the boys learn that they are two of the five supposed Gatekeepers who will protect the world from the evil of the so called Old Ones. I do not like the huge amount of black ink in this volume—it is just too dark and overpowering. I have read the book, and prefer to stick to the written version. However, for those young teenagers, either because they are weak readers, or prefer the visual style, the story is exciting and dramatic.

Crash:Twinmaker 2, by Sean Williams. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $28.99

I admit to feeling disappointed with this book—I loved the first in the series (Jump) but found it very difficult to follow the intricate manoeuvres in this story. Is Clair really Clair, or is she a dupe, or clone? And whom can she trust among those who seek to be her allies as she continues to search for Q, the woman—or yet another type of clone—who saved Clair’s life? Acronyms abound, and so do the number of dupes—it was just too confusing, and perhaps because there are so many characters—live or otherwise—the characterisation is shallow, and everything is action. For 12-14 year olds.

*The Icicle Illuminarium, by N.J.Gemmell. PB from Random House. RRP $$16.99

This is a sequel to the Kensington Reptilarium, which I read and reviewed last year, but it is a very loose sequel, and is just as interesting even if you have not red the previous book. The Caddy children, originally from outback Australia, where they enjoyed an enviably free and easy upbringing, have been reunited with their father, in London, where he is to recuperate after the war. Their weird uncle Basti, is still grumpy but has found to his surprise that the children have made his life more interesting than previously. Now, carelessly perhaps, the butler lets drop a hint to the children that maybe, just maybe, their mother, for whom they have grieved for a long time since she disappeared so suddenly, may also be alive! The children plan to find her, but when they are able to escape, they are kidnapped and taken to an old rundown mansion—the Icicle Illumination—and need to make friends with the daughter of the crazy and dangerous Lady Adora, before , wonder of wonders, they are rescued, thanks largely to the work of Bucket the dog, and Uncle Basti. There were so many strange but plausible events that I just kept reading because I couldn’t work out how it would end! But it does, and it is good fun.   Suitable for readers of 9-12 years.

**Truly Tan: Freaked, by Jen Storer. PB from Harper Collins. RRP $16.99

Tan and her family have moved to the country, and it is taking Tan a while to become accustomed to a small country school, and to the fact that her best friend Molly still lives in the city. The family now has a chicken coop, and Tan enjoys the characters of the three hens. There is a sort of mystery about the old machinery shed, and Tan doesn’t know whether she likes going into it, because there is a heap of gear stored there—some good, some junk. When Great Aunt Aggy, with her caravan, comes to stay, they learn more about the shed and its contents, and about Great Aunt Aggy’s past—and solve her mystery for her. Simple, but quality fun reading for 8-11 year old girls, with a few extra quizzes at the end.

Sunker’s Deep, by Lian Tanner. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $18.99

This is the second in the Ice Breaker series, but although I read, remembered and enjoyed the first volume, it took a while for the background of this book to sort itself out in my mind, as there are a couple of new factors involved because the members of the crew of the Oyster, and Sharkey and everyone on the giant submersible Rampart, have to learn to get along together if they are to defeat the Devouts and bring knowledge back to the world. Once I had the groups sorted, and the action began, it developed into an exciting fantasy read—large font, interesting characters, and suitable for both boys and girls of 10-13 years. I look forward to the final volume in the trilogy.

Canterwood Crest Stable of Stories, by Jessica Burkhart. PB from Simon and Schuster, RRP $32.99

This is a boxed set of four books for horse –mad girls. Take the Reins, Chasing Blue, Behind the Bit, and Triple Fault. Sasha Silver lives in the USA; Sasha is a talented and much experienced rider, and her parents decide to send her to an expensive boarding school where horses, their care, and lots of competitive riding are considered important. As you might expect, Sasha does not find settling into a new school where most of the kids know each other already, easy, but with persistence, lots of hard work, and some new friends, she learns that yes, she is up to standard, and life with her horse Charm, is good. The author of these stories is only 22 years old, but knows her material really well and clearly remembers some of her experiences when the age of her target audience! Any girl who thinks looking after a horse is fun, not hard work should read these stories. There is a distinctly American flavour to the life and style, but if you are into horses, and between about 9 and 13 years of age, then the stories may well appeal.

**Caro was here, by Elizabeth Farrelly. PB from Walker Books. RRP $16.95

Set around Sydney Harbour, and on Goat Island (with a few liberties taken) this adventure begins when Caro is annoyed that she was not elected winter Captain at school, so decides to skip school and have a day out. Her group of fellow truants grows from just Caro and her little brother Ned, to Caro’s friend Tattie, the new girl Ellen Aurelia Dufresne –who was elected the Winter Captain-and the geek from the bus, Nigel Numbnuts, (as he is often called by the other kids). The group leaves all their gear in a locker at Circular Quay, and then take a ferry to Goat Island. They realise very soon that they are ill prepared for the excursion and disaster strikes when they miss the last ferry back, and face the prospect of the night on the island. Nigel has read about an escaped prisoner named Jamie Savage who is at large around Sydney, and the group is fearful that he is on the island. There are a few other creeps around too, so the atmosphere is a bit tense, especially when they look inside a large boat and find a heap of money hidden there, plus what looks like a drug laboratory in a shed on the island. There is lots of night-time activity after the kids are caught, and imprisoned before Caro is able to escape. The characters are well drawn and it is interesting to see how much Nigel contributes to the group, and how he grows in confidence as the story proceeds. Really good reading for children of 9-13 years.

Knightley and Son, K-9, by Rohan Gavin. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

Darkus Knightley is not your usual 13 year old. His choice of clothes for a start mark him as eccentric, and he has unusual talents as well, especially when it comes to sussing out details of a crime, and noticing facts that have escaped other peoples notice. Here Darkus befriends a traumatised but loyal and loving ex police tracker dog, Wilbur and the two are the key investigators, plus Darkus’ dad, who is subject to periods of narcolepsy, and Darkus’s half sister Tilly. It appears to be a plot to kill people and animals and involves werewolves and Hampstead Heath at full moon. The action is full on, and brutal at times. And the solution is reminiscent of the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but it is a thoroughly engaging story for keen readers of 10 to about 15 years.

***Plenty, by Ananda Braxton-Smith. PB from Black Dog and Walker Books. RRP $14.95

Wow—this is an excellent book. It begins with Maddy Frank’s displeasure and anti-social behaviour when she is told that she and her parents are to leave their comfortable house in the suburbs of Melbourne and move out to Plenty, near Whittlesea, where Maddy’s grandmother lives. Maddy has only been to Plenty once and is sure that she will hate living there. She feels that she has lost her ability to comfort herself with thoughts of fairies.   Plus—her grandmother is in the early stages of dementia and Maddy is uncertain what this means, or how it will affect her. She is very self-centred. At her small new school everything is different too- but there is a girl there—tall, thin with ultra long fingers, very very beautiful, and very, very black whose name is Grace Wek. From the start Maddy is attracted to her because of her grin, she is friendly, and nothing seems to faze her. As Maddy learns Grace’s story, she realises why Grace is happy in Plenty. Maddy also learns about her grandmother’s and mother’s history, and realises that she has much to appreciate about her identity, and her background. It’s is a gentle, but powerful story about learning to love who you are, and your family, and that everyone has the right to be free, settled and safe. For readers of 12-15 years and highly recommended.

For older teenage readers

****The Jewel, by Amy Ewing. PB from Walker Books RRP $17.95

Wow—this book had me reading late into the night! Violet comes from a poor family, where, when they are twelve years old, the girls are all tested to see if they have the gene for the auguries—the ability to see green, the ability to visualize, and the third, the most powerful, to make something grow– special skills which give them superhuman powers—powers which the women of the ruling junta no longer carry, so they are forced to use surrogates to breed their children. When Violet is taken to the auction, she brings a very high price, from the Duchess of the Lake, because of her extra high score on the psychic ability to make things grow. Violet is now known only as No 197—she is no longer considered to be a person, just a surrogate, who will be prepared to grow a child for the Duchess, using artificial insemination. Violet is intelligent, and is affronted and repulsed by all of this. She has met Lucien, an employee of the duchess, and while she is in the house, meets another boy Ash- a companion to a well bred young lady who has not so far had an offer of marriage. It is a complex, but gripping story. It is not for younger readers because although it is delicately done, surgical procedures do occur, and they are not pleasant, or, in my opinion, suitable for readers of under about 15 years. I think the book will appeal mostly to older teenage girls. It is a memorable novel.

Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire. HB from Candlewick Press and Walker Books. RRP $24.95

It is difficult to categorise this book. It is a long story, and takes a while to warm up. Sometime in the late nineteenth century, Elena Rudina is a peasant girl who lives with her ailing mother in the Russian countryside. The narrator is an all-seeing monk; the firebird is a puzzle, whose life intrudes on the story periodically. Dr Peter Petrovich used to treat animals, but now is the only people doctor in the village. There is no food, until after a train passes through the village when Elena meets Ekaterina, daughter of a wealthy family who are on their way to St Petersburg to visit the Tsar of all Russia. The imaginative story which then unfolds is easy to read, maybe a bit hard to follow for Australian children in some places, especially when the wise witch Baba Yaga is involved as a rather weird governess who loves telling stories. Elena travels to St Petersburg, and meets the Tsar before returning to her life in the village. It is a very long book, and my interest waned. Suitable for keen readers, mostly girls I suspect of 11-15 years.

Monstrous Affections, an anthology edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J Grant. HB from Candlewick Press and Walker Books. RRP $24.95

The subtitle of this large volume is “An Anthology of Beastly Tales”; the book would have us assume that monsters are real—that all families and individuals have secrets as well as hidden talents. The existence of monsters, in mind or being, is an acknowledgement that there is nastiness and evil in the world. There are fifteen stories here, and many cross the line between reality and fantasy. Whilst the collection was prepared in America, some of the authors are well known to Australian audiences—M.T Anderson, Patrick Ness and Cassandra Clare for example. One story, by Kathleen Jennings, is in comic form.   I found most of the stories scary, or unpleasant, maybe because of the evil they suggest or reveal. There are mature themes to several of the stories, and some of the language is crude. Suitable for older than 15.

Evil Librarian, by Michelle Knudsen. HB from Candlewick Press and Walker Books. RRP $19.95

Cynthia’s best friend Annie falls head over heels in love with the new librarian at school. Mr Gabriel thinks Annie would make an excellent book monitor. Cynthia however realises very quickly that there is something weird and yes, evil about Mr Gabriel. Somehow, with touch, he has mesmerised Annie, and tried to do so with Cynthia and others. Cynthia, for some strange reason is impervious to his touch—not totally but enough to want to steer clear of him, and to rescue Annie.   It seems as if Mr Gabriel is like a leech, or demon, and is sucking the life out of the entire student body. It seems to be Ryan, for whom Cynthia has a strong crush, and Cynthia who must defeat the evil which has infected the school. A reasonable story, although predictable. For readers of 14 years and older.

 

 

 

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