The more stars, the better the read….
**Henry Lawson Treasury, illustrated by Oslo Davis. Soft Cover from Random House. RRP $19.99
This beautifully presented small volume will attract readers of 10 years to adult. I expect that an adult will read many of the stories and poems to a child, and I also expect that the reading will bring pleasure to both parties. There are poems, including “Andy’s gone with Cattle”, “The Teams”, and “Andy’s Sweetheart”, but I predict that it will be the stories, such as The Loaded Dog, and The Drover’s Wife which will resonate most with younger readers. The illustrations by Oslo Davis are in black and white, but they lift the page, and provide a focus for the imagination as the poems and stories unfold. The page set out is spacious and clear, and the result is a most attractive volume of memorable Australian writing.
***Animal Heroes, by Ben Holt. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99
This is the third book I have read recently about the bravery of animals, and how they have assisted man—and sometimes other animals– in dangerous situations. This book contains the most examples of animal bravery that I have seen—the extracts are all short, and the book is intended for young readers. So we read of Dotty the donkey and how she saved Stanley the sheep from a marauding dog; Jacob the goose, who was saved from a fox by a British guardsman one night as the British were fighting to suppress French rebels in Quebec. Later that year, the goose refused to return to its farm at night, but seemed stressed around the soldiers. When rebels emerged suddenly on the snow-covered ground, the goose raced at them, honking loudly. The diversion was enough to rouse the British troops, and the rebels were repulsed. The golden collar awarded to the goose and worn by him till he died is now in a museum in London. The stories will appeal mightily to children of 6 years and older, with capable readers able to cope for themselves from about 8 years and older. There is also an information section at the end of the book about animal charities.
***Hope in a Ballet Shoe, by Michaela and Elaine DePrince. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99
This book will make you feel uplifted by the generosity of some people– in this case, Elaine DePrince and her husband, who adopted Michaela from an orphanage in Sierra Leone in the mid 1990s and raised her with their own surviving sons, together with five other orphaned girls from West Africa. Michaela, as the only child of a far- sighted farmer, was taught to read, and this together with the fact that she had the skin condition vitiligo, meant that she was mistreated after her father was killed by rebels and her mother died of starvation, because she looked unusual. At the age of four Michaela was sent to an orphanage. One day, when the seasonal wind, the Harmattan blew a magazine through the gates of the orphanage, Michaela saw a beautiful picture of a woman dancing; this photo then became her focus, as she planned to become such a dancer, and to be happy. This is a heart-breaking story to begin with. No child should have to suffer so much and in so many ways. Maintained however by her incredible passion for dance, plus her will to succeed, and supported by her wonderful foster parents in America, Michaela worked through the issues she faced as a black ballerina, and the prejudice this engendered, until now she is established as a successful ballerina with the Dutch Ballet. It is an inspiring story and great read for 10 years and older—mostly girls I would expect although the story also has appeal for adults.
365 Days of wonder, by R.J Palacio. PB from Random House. RRP $19.99
This book has actually been prepared as a companion volume to the novel Wonder, by the same author—but I haven’t read that book! As a stand-alone however, 365 Days of Wonder is a collection of quotes and wise sayings for every day of the year—many with the adage of ‘be kind’, but others with an optimistic message. Thus we have, from John Donne, “ No man is an island, entire of itself”, and “Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see”, from Mark Twain. The print is large, and the messages are timeless. An excellent gift for a thoughtful child, and one which will not date.
***Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek. Board Book and jigsaw puzzle set from Penguin. RRP $24.99
It is now 10 years since this short story was first published. Now we an anniversary edition, together with a set of 12 cubes, and six jigsaw puzzles to make, each with a different page illustration to match with that of the book. It is a fun story for toddlers as the green sheep does not appear, although the bed sheep, and the rain sheep are there, and so is the wind sheep and the rain sheep. But where is the green sheep? Excellent concept development words are a bonus and children of 2 -4 years will relish the book, and love it to death—well, almost, because it is a strong board book, and will stand a lot of handling. The cubes might need to be treated with more respect, as they are not as sturdy. Excellent value.
**The Unexpected Crocodile, by Kim Kane and Sara Acton. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $14.99
This story was first released a couple of years ago, and kids loved the unexpectedness and irony of the story as the crocodile invites himself to dinner with the family one very wet night. Unpleasant neighbours who had also been invited to a meal with the family arrive, and these boys are rude about the food on offer— and only want to eat the fancy cake—the croquembouche—“and make it snappy” says one. This tongue in cheek play on words will need to be explained to young children, as the crocodile eats Mrs Dawson, then Mr Dawson, then the two rude boys. The host family are not at all fazed by the crocodile—but think the croc may have liked their blue gumboots. A fun story for 3-6 year olds.
Shh! We have a Plan, by Chris Haughton. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95
A very simple story, with illustrations predominantly shades of blue, white and black, apart from the red bird which is the prey of the four hunters as they stalk the bird through the forest. The ploys of the hunters all fail, and at the end—wow—roles are reversed, and there is a rush of red as many birds overwhelm the hunters, and scare them away. Another fun story to read, reread and talk about for readers of 3-5 years.
**The Pigeon needs a bath, by Mo Willems. PB from Walker Books. RRP $16.95
Two of my young students, Jacob and Nathan enjoyed this story—the protests from the pigeon, the obvious need of a bath because of all his dirt and smell, then the humour of the cartoon pages as firstly the pigeon continues to protest, then discovers that in fact a bath is fun. The boys have suggested that kids of 2-4 years will enjoy and appreciate this story and that maybe some 5 year olds will enjoy reading the simple text for themselves.
Mouse Mansion. Sam and Julia at the Circus, by Karina Schaapman. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
This story is built around a model of a house-or rather a mansion- which the author has constructed from cardboard boxes and papier-mache. The house has over a hundred rooms, passages and outdoor spaces. The author has decorated the interior with vintage materials from the middle of the 20th century, and has made the mice herself. She comments that a lot of the ideas came from her own background, and the childhood of her own children. The story of Sam and Julia at the circus has been written around this incredible building, and the photographs in this book. It is almost like a Where’s Wally, or Graeme Base book—there is so much to look at in the photos. One summer holiday Julia and her mother join the circus. Julia writes back to Sam at Mouse mansion about their activities, and Sam replies with all his news from the house. An intriguing, and pleasant story to read at leisure. For readers of 4-7 years, preferably in company with an adult, although the kids will love pondering over the pictures.
The Royal Babysitters, by Clementine Beauvais, and illustrated by Becka Moor. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $12.99
This fanciful story is for kids of 7-9 years, or younger, with an adult. Two girls, Anna and Holly want to take a holiday, but need to earn some money, so they accept the job of babysitter, to what they think is one child of the king and queen. Horrors, there are six toddlers to look after, plus the older Prince Pepino, and there are some unexpected visitors who pose a real problem to the two girls as they need to keep their unruly charges safe. It’s OK, but some of the vocabulary may be difficult for the younger readers.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, by Jeff Kinney. PB from Penguin. RRP $14.99
Wow—this will be a popular choice for a gift for boys of 7-9 years. This series of books has sold over 4 million copies in Australia and this episode will be a hit too. The Heffley family is going on a road trip, and with them will be Dad’s boat, which Mum really hates. Most kids will be able to identify with elements of this story—taking a wrong turn, breakdowns, and too much gear, a lost locker key at the swimming pool complex- which caused havoc for a day- plus Dad still has work to do along the way. Very easy to read, and fun illustrations as well.
Dragons at Crumbling Castle, by Terry Pratchett. HB from Random House. RRP $35
This collection of stories from this prominent and well loved British author reminds me of the Twits, by Roald Dahl—maybe it is the illustrations—but maybe too there was a bit of influence from Dahl, because some of these stories were among the first written by Pratchett when he was still a teenager! In the title of the book story, Ralph, Fortnight and Fossfiddle make their way, amid sundry adventures to Crumbling Castle, where they are able successfully to persuade the resident dragons to take up other accommodation…there are more than a dozen short stories, all fanciful but amusing, in this book and I am looking forward to reading some of them with some of my 8-10 year old boys. It is a large book but beautifully set out with large font and yes— most appealing illustrations.
*Three Children and It, by E. Nesbit. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $13.99
This is a reissue of a classic from over a hundred years ago—about five children, the sand fairy they find at the bottom of their garden, and the wishes they are granted—at one a day. The wish only lasts until night time, and that is just as well, because the children make wishes which have unpleasant or unexpected consequences before they learn to think carefully before they request their wish of the day. It is a moral tale—think before you ask! The book, written before World War 1, is still good reading, probably because of the ways in which it teaches kids to think about what they are reading. For children of 7-10 years.
**Five children on the Western Front, by Kate Saunders. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99
For those who have not read Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit (see above!) it would be a good idea before beginning this story by Kate Saunders, which has been written as a sequel to the classic (which was first published as part of a series with the sand fairy as the hero) at the start of the 20th century). Here, in an inspired novel, Saunders has continued the story of the five children into the years of WW1, when Cyril, Robert and Anthea are young adults, the Lamb is now 11, and Edith is the youngest. The Sand fairy, the Psammead, reappears at the bottom of the garden, after an absence of ten years and we then follow the children and young adults in all their activities during the war years, but with the added benefit of the Psammead to foretell events. The ending involves the inevitable consequences of war before the Psammead dissolves back into the sand. It’s a gripping story, well written, and recommended for readers of 9-13 years.
****The Essential Kate DiCamillo Collection. Five paperbacks in a jacket set from Walker Books. RRP $39.95
Kate DiCamillo is an American author, and this was the first I had seen of her books. I have loved all five, and can hardly wait to introduce them to my students. All of the stories show children in difficult situations, and in the Tiger Rising and Because of Winn-Dixie, these children learn to become more confident and to work through grief. In The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, we learn of the unhappiness caused to both child and toy when a beloved rabbit is lost, for a generation, only to reappear at the end of the story after multiple adventures. In the Tale of Despereaux, we explore the adventures of an unusually small and malformed mouse, the Princess Pea, and a rat called Roscuro, and a girl called Miggery Sow, and her misfortunes and learn how no matter how small someone is, persistence and love will always win. With The Tiger Rising, and the last book in the series, The Magician’s Elephant, there are sets of discussion questions at the end, and I feel that these will mean that to read these books with a class, and then talk about the questions would be an excellent exercise. In The Magician’s Elephant, Peter believes that his sister Gloria is still alive. Because of his faith, willingness to trust, and hope, he does find her—and in the process learns much about the wonderful elephant. These are wonderful stories, and will delight thoughtful readers of 8-13 years. I am so pleased to have read them!
Two books from Aussie cricketer David Warner, written with J.V. McGee. In paperbacks from Simon and Schuster we have The Kaboom Kid, The Big Switch, and the Kaboom Kid, Playing Up. They are RRP $14.99 each.
These books focus on cricket as an excellent team sport for young Australians, both boys and girls. In The Big Switch, Davey and his mates are in serious practice mode as they prepare for the match against their most serious rivals. But they all seem to be in strife with their teacher, who doesn’t like cricket, and are always in detention. How are they to get enough practice? In Playing Up Mr Mudge confiscates Davey’s favourite bat, which Davey feels is his lucky bat. These books are very easy reading, with well set out pages, short paragraphs and plenty of action. Having the main character named Davey links the stories with Warner, and the character too, because Davey in the stories is just as much a larrikin as Davey the cricketer. Fun reading for young cricket fans of 5-12 years—the youngest in company with an adult of course.
The 100 Society, by Carla Spradbery. PB from Hachette. RRP $15.99
Grace Becker is an art student. She persuades five of her friends to accept a challenge to spray graffiti on 100 sites around the city where they are boarders at an art academy. From when they tag the 96th site, problems emerge, and life at the academy becomes fraught with danger as they realise, from the ways their web sites are compromised, that they are in danger, and that someone does not want them to survive. When one of the group is killed, Grace realises that she has to work out which one of the group is the killer before all the rest of them are killed too. It is a gripping novel, well written, but yes, as the author hoped, scary! Suitable for teenagers of 14 years and older.
This Shattered World, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $18.95
This is the second in the series called The Starbound Trilogy. Here Jubilee Chase meets Flynn under compromising conditions when they are on opposite sides of the battle to crush the rebels fighting to capture Avon. After Flynn captures Jubilee he realises that he is faced with an unexpected dilemma because Jubilee will now be killed. It’s a long, tense and dense story—dense literally, because the font is very small. The romantic element comes to the fore, but we will have to wait for the final volume… for teenagers of 15 and over.
***Pathfinder, by Angie Sage. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99
Another engrossing novel. Tod Hunter Moon has a Pathfinder father, but comes to realise that there is more of her mother in her makeup, when she is forced away from her village after the disappearance of her father. She ends up in the Wizard Tower, learns about her mother’s background, and as an apprentice in the world of the Magykals, makes new friends, begins to learn to control her powers, and has to fight the evil sorcerer Oraton-Marr! This book is a cliffhanger, because the Orm egg has been taken, so there will be a follow up story. For readers of 11-14 years.
Waistcoats and Weaponry, by Gail Carriger. PB from Hachette. RRP $16.99
This is the third title in the finishing School Parasol Protectorate Series. Sophronia continues finishing school, always with a weapon or two hidden in her clothing. Sophronia and her two friends hijack a train to return another friend, the werewolf Sidheag to Scotland and her pack. I found this to be a complex, convoluted plot, with too much of the fanciful in it, and I didn’t finish the story. Suitable for 14-16 year old girls.
Here are the young Men, by Rob Doyle. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99
This story makes Schoolies week on the Qld Gold Coast look like kindergarten. Four young men, Matthew, Rez, Cocker and Kearney finish school and , as a protest against the reality of life in economically depressed Dublin, undertake the long summer in an extended binge of drinking, smoking and delinquent behaviour which ends when one of the four dies. I found the story really sad, and unpleasant to read. The language and behaviour described could have been left unwritten. It’s not a book I would recommend for teenage boys of 15 and over, except as a cautionary tale about how not to behave.
***Spark, by Rachel Craw. PB from Walker Books. RRP $19.95
Still grieving the death of her mother, Evie goes to live with her aunt Miriam, who was her mother’s twin. Evie begins to realise that physically something is different with her body, and she feels a compulsion to be with her best friend of years ago, Kitty. When Evie is finally told, by Miriam and Kitt’s brother Jamie, that she, Evie is in fact a mutant—a Shield, designed to protect Kitty at all costs, it is almost a relief, particularly when the relationship with Jamie begins to flower. This is a taut, tightly constructed story– -plausible, and well written. The reader will realise that of course Evie will succeed in her task to protect Kitty, but along the way, there is a lot of tension as the action unfolds. Explosive reading for mature teenagers of 15 and over.
****The Walled City, by Ryan Graudin. PB from Hachette.. RRP $19.99
It is seldom that a book is so exciting and scary that I have to take a break every now and then to catch my breath! This is one of those stories. Dai seems out of place in the walled city somewhere in Asia, where he runs drugs for a mysterious dealer. Dai recruits Jing to do the runs, while Dai is hostage in the brothel of the cartel leadership. Also in the brothel is Mei Yee, a young prostitute, who is prohibited from leaving her room because she has only one client, and needs to remain isolated. While the content is not always pleasant it is handled skilfully and with discretion. How the three young people find each other, and then work out how to doublecross the leader of the cartel to resolve the unpleasant situation in which Dai finds himself, both physically and mentally is a wonderful, gripping and powerful read. For mature teenagers of 14 and older.
*Scorpion Mountain –Brotherband 5, by John Flanagan. PB from Random House. RRP $17.99
This series is centred in or around Skandia, which is a fantasy society, a bit like what Viking society might have resembled. I haven’t read all of the series, but I very much enjoyed the first two books, and this one was enjoyable even though I had missed a couple of the episodes. The king’s daughter Cassandra’s life is in danger from the Scorpion cult, and Hal and the Heron Brotherhood need to track down the cult and destroy them, as well as fight another battle on the seafront to help their allies from Araluen. The font is clear and quite large, and Flanagan has the ability to bring his characters and their adventures to life, so this is excellent reading for all teenagers of about 13-15 years.