2015 April: New books for children and teenagers reviewed by Janet Croft.
The more stars, the better the reading!
**Alice’s Food A-Z. Edible Adventures, by Alice Zaslavsky. PB from Walker Books. RRP $20
The author of this book, and sometime contestant of Masterchef, and the host of TV quiz Kitchen Whiz presents a delightful book for children of about 8 years and over, about foods, facts and cooking tips, and lots of delightful trivia, such as why does eating beetroot turn your wee red, why egg plants are so –called, and why people like sour foods. There are lots of recipes for kids and adults to make; the author uses less well-known ingredients to ‘get you out of your comfort zone’ to try something new. I have just tried the celery and peanut butter mix, using some local macadamia nut spread—Alice is correct—it makes a delicious snack!
I have lots of new releases from Scholastic.
The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles. PB from Scholastic. RRP $19.50
Last month’s reviews began with a non-fiction book about a small dog who accompanied the diggers to WW1. This time we have a fictional story based around the reality of a harlequin Great Dane named Freda who became the mascot of the NZ Rifle Brigade. In this story Sam goes to war, leaving his new young wife at home in New Zealand. We share some of the realities of war with Sam, who fortunately survives, and is even able to take Freda the dog back home with him. It is OK reading for 5-8 year olds.
Those Pesky Rabbits, by Ciara Flood. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
Mr Bear is a grumpy old fellow, and can’t be bothered, and in fact does not like other people, especially if they try to befriend him, or borrow from him. When a family of pesky rabbits come to live next door, it takes time for Mr Bear to realise that having neighbours and friends can add pleasure to your life. Pleasant reading for 3-7 years.
*Alfie’s Lost Sharkie, by Anna Walker. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99
Alfie is some sort of young animal—he vaguely resembles a goanna, or alligator. When he cannot find his favourite toy, and wants to avoid a bath, Alfie decides that he just must find Sharkie. Pleasant again for young readers of 3-5 years.
*Me and Moo by P Crumble. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
An imaginary tale of what happens when a soft toy, Moo, grows much bigger than Me, and eventually gets into a heap of trouble because he is now big and clumsy and does things, such as eat the flowers in the garden, when he shouldn’t. For ages 2-5 years.
***Alice in Wonderland, Down the Rabbit Hole. A modern retelling by Joe Rhatigan and Charles Nurnberg. HB from Koala Books and Scholastic. RRP $24.99
Alice in Wonderland, in the original version is for older children, say ten plus, and even adults, because of the advanced vocabulary, allusions and peculiar behaviours of all the participants. Here we have a simplified version of the first part of the story, when Alice shrinks, and descends into the rabbit hole. The story is cleverly and attractively done and some of the best known expressions such as “curiouser and curiouser’ and “Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting” are fun to introduce to small children. I do hope that there will be a follow up volume to this one, to continue the story in a form that small children can enjoy in words and pictures. Highly recommended.
Ride, Ricardo, Ride, by Phil Cummings and Shane Devries. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
This is a simple story for readers of about 5-8 years, about how life changes when your home and village come under fire in a war. Ricardo loves to work and ride with his father, who taught Ricardo how to look after his new bike. When war came, there was shelling, and much of the village was destroyed, and people killed, including Ricardo’s father. After the war we see the resilience of youth as Ricardo learns how to rebuild his bike, and to ride in the now peaceful countryside once more. Evocative illustrations reinforce the message of the differences between war and peace, happiness and sorrow.
Our Love Grows, by Anna Pignatoro. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
It is good to see some variation in the them from this author, with the introduction of new animals, in this case pandas as the story about how love grows and children grow, is tied in with the environment, plants and animals around us. For readers of 2-4 years.
Little Barry Bilby has a fly upon his nose, by Roland Harvey. HB from Scholastic, with CD. RRP $19.99
The music and rhythms derive of course from the classic “Little Peter Rabbit had a Fly upon his nose.” Here Colin Buchanan sings Harvey’s’ new words, based on Australian animals, there is the joy of Harvey’s illustrations to look at, and to follow the words as desired. For youngsters of 3-6 years.
*Slug needs a Hug, by Jeanne Willis, and Tony Ross. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
Slug worries that his mum will not hug him—he feels that maybe he needs to look different so that she will love him and give him a hug, so Slug goes away. He meets lots of animals with suggestions on how to make himself more loveable, but when eventually he returns home, his mother is so pleased….and explains to slug that she cannot hug him, because she has no arms…. So a kiss is the alternative….for readers of 2-4 years.
*Bums and Tums, by Mandy Foot. PB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP $14.99
This lift the flap book poses questions about animals, and then the flap needs to be turned to reveal the answer. The pictures are very large, the colours are bright, and the animals quite distinctive, so the result is a great book for very young children to read with an adult….maybe 1-4 years? A bit of care will be need to protect the flaps from rough handling.
***Mum Goes to Work by Libby Gleeson and Leila Rudge. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95
This is a story in words and pictures about a day at a child care centre while the various mums go to work. We learn what work the mothers do, as well as about the range of activities for the children during the day. It is a clever and informative book and fun to read as well. Suitable for 3-6 year olds and good value.
**Yak and Gnu, by Juliette MacIver. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95
“Yak has a kayak,Gnu a canoe-Yak’s is black,Gnus’ is blue” …and so starts this rollicking rhyming story about the two friends who head down river together, and, to their surprise, meet lots of other animals along the way. The list of animals on the river grows longer and longer. It is a memory verse as well, but of course at the end Yak and Gnu are still friends. An appealing story to read and reread with youngsters of 2-5 years. A lot of time will be spent talking about the illustrations as well.
**Could a Penguin ride a bike and other questions, by Camilla Bedoyere, and Aleksei Bitskoff. PB from Quarto Group (UK) and Allen and Unwin. RRP $8.99
This is a very reasonably priced book of interesting questions which serve to introduce a lot of facts about penguins. The accompanying illustrations are excellent and I think this book will delight children of 4 to about 8 years. I probably should include it in the non-fiction section, but it will be a fun read as well as a learning tool.
Thunderstorm Dancing, by Katrina Germein and Judy Watson. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99
Some children love storms, and others become scared. This story, told in rhyme will suit both groups of kids. The goal is to jump, dance and sing in harmony with the storm, until it passes and life returns to normal. The illustrations are strongly evocative of stormy weather, and the verse moves along easily and well. For readers and dancers of 4 years and over—in a real or imagined storm.
Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby, by Martha Mumford and Ada Grey. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99
OK, so Prince George is to have a new brother or sister—the benefits of this story about how George might act and feel when he has a sibling are to prepare other young children for the arrival of siblings. Doesn’t matter if home is a house or a palace, the feelings and experiences of the older child will be similar. For children of 1-4 years.
**Hanna, my Holocaust Story, by Goldie Alexander. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
Hanna was a Polish Jew, whose wealthy family had been forced out of hiding in the countryside by the Germans, and taken back to the ghetto in Warsaw where her father was forced to work as a translator. Now deprived of all luxuries of life as with all the Jews in the ghetto, Hanna has to learn to trust some of the kids around her, including a group of boys who are providing flour for some orphans in the ghetto. When Hanna’s father is killed, her mother is so distraught that she too succumbs to illness and dies. There are historical notes about the holocaust at the back of the book. It is an interesting story, with much sadness of course, but at the end we are given hope that Hanna will escape and survive. For readers of 9-14 years.
**Big Game, by Dan Smith. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99
Set in Finland, this story stars thirteen year old Oskari, as he attempts to pass the ritual trials for manhood—to kill a wild animal, with only a bow and arrow. Oskari is not a strong boy, and has never shown many physical skills, so he doubts himself, as others doubt him. The story develops when by himself in the wilds, he stumbles upon an escape pod from a burning aircraft. The aircraft is that of the President of America, and it emerges that terrorists have shot down the plane and are now looking for the President. Oskari shows that he is both brave and resourceful as he protects the President, and later leads him to safety. This is maybe a fanciful story, but it is a jolly good read-probably mainly for boys of 9-13 years.
*****Run, Pip, Run, by J.C Jones. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99
Set in Sydney, this is the best book for younger readers of 7-10 years that I have read so far this year. Pip’s 10 th birthday was a disaster, because her beloved Sully, whom Pip has always considered to be her grandfather, had a stroke, and was taken to hospital. Pip has no other relatives, no money, and welfare, in the form of Senior Constable Molly Dunlop is looking for her. Mr Blair, Pip’s teacher, tries to help, but then is investigated by the police as a possible threat to Pip, so Pip goes underground. When she is eventually caught and taken to a temporary shelter, the older girl there is very unpleasant so Pip just runs away. She finds an empty house in which to shelter, along with Houdini, a dog who also seems talented at escaping, and the two of them managed to elude capture. Pip, who used to help Sully place his bets on the horses, is able to make money at the races, but of course, when Sully dies, she is forced to accept help from others. This is a story of courage, determination (or stubbornness!) intelligence and a thoroughly good read. Throughout the book we hope that things will turn out well for Pip, because we feel she deserves it……excellent reading.
**Nightbird, by Anne Hoffman. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $16.99
This is another good read. Twig and her mother apparently live by themselves in an isolated farmhouse somewhere in America. They make money because Twig’s mother is a really good cook, and people love her cakes, pies and preserves. As the story unfolds, we learn that that Twig has an older brother, but he has to be a hermit, and stay away from people because at night he flies. James has inherited a curse from a neighbouring girl, through several generations, and when a family which is related to that same long ago family comes to live next door, Twig is forbidden to make friends. Hmm—things change, and Twig does make friends, and the children determine to try to reverse the curse on James. Good reading for 10-154 year olds, probably mainly girls I suspect.
****The Mapmaker Chronicles, Part Two, Prisoner of the Black Hawk, by A.L Tait. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99
I enjoyed the first of this series last year, and this sequel is just as interesting and exciting, as Quinn, the mapmaker with the wonderful memory for facts and ability to learn languages is betrayed by the kid on his boat that they had befriended, and given to the Black Hawk pirates. His best friend on board ship, Ash, is also trapped, but manages to escape. And so the story will continue with the quest to complete the map of the world, and also after this volume, to return the long-lost jewels to Verdania. The story is plausible, and the characters are varied, and lifelike, so it makes for a really good read for both boys and girls of 9-14 years.
The Memory Shed, by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99
When Annie is asked to help Grandma clean out the old shed, it seems that the shed has other ideas, as it tries to protect items which the shed realises are still needed in the world by somebody somewhere. A fun, simple story about keeping what is valuable to someone. For young readers of 6-8 years.
Pup Patrol, Farm Rescue, by Darrel and Sally Odgers. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99
James and his border collie Stamp are on holidays and visiting some old friends. Stamp is a really good sheep dog, and he meets Rusty, who is also a collie, but very old. Rusty wants to have an apprentice sheep dog that he can train. The river comes up, and some of the sheep are stranded. After the flood, when Rusty has saved the sheep, but is believed drowned, it is Stamp who locates and saves Rusty. James finds a dog at the local vet which might be suitable to help Rusty after James and Stamp leave-they have also found another dog at the vets which needs a home—a bitser named Ace. A simple story set on an Australian sheep farm. In the same series Pup Patrol is and other title from the same authors. Bush Rescue (also ($9.99) tells of how Stamp and Ace play a role in saving some of the pets in town when a bush fire threatens the town.
Both of these are pleasant stories, easy reading and suitable for readers of 6-9 years.
****The Parent Trap, by Erich Kastner. PB from Faber Factory Plus, and released by Allen and Unwin. RRP $16.99
Lottie and Luise each believe they are only children—Lottie has a father, and Luise has a mother. The two meet at summer camp, and realise almost immediately that they are identical twins, and that there must be some mystery about why they have been separated. When it is time for camp to end, the two arrange to swap identities. This is a great story—it was first published in 1949 (the author also wrote the stories of Emil and the Detectives) but it is still so fresh a story—and so delightfully told! It is an excellent story for girls of 5-9 years—maybe in company with an adult, (many of whom will also enjoy the story!)
EJ12, Girl Hero, False Note, by Susannah McFarlane. PB from Scholastic. RRP$12.99
Emma Jacks is preparing an assignment on a topic she really likes, and she is writing a song to perform with her friends at school. Somehow the song just will not come together as Emma wishes, so she is quite happy to become involved in the solving of yet another case—this time one with a valuable violin in it. The violin has been stolen from the local conservatorium. Ho did the thief manage the theft? These stories remain popular, and are much sought after by girls of 7-10 years. There have now been nineteen books about EJ…..
*Prince of Afghanistan, by Louis Nowra. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $$16.99
Mark is an Aussie soldier on duty in Afghanistan. He and his unit, including Casey and his mission dog Prince are parachuted into dangerous terrain, and soon come under Taliban attack. When Casey and the Americans who are also part of the group are killed in a massive explosion, it is up to Mark to try to find his way back to the unit HQ, together with Prince. As we read of their journey, the people they meet and the hazards they face, we also learn of Mark’s youth, and how and why he became a soldier. Both Prince and Mark are injured, and their hearing affected so they are in the end repatriated back to Australia. It is a positive ending. This is good reading about the realities of modern, terrorist based warfare for boys of 9-13 years.
Circus of Thieves , On the Rampage, by William Sutcliffe. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $14.99
Shank’s Circus is an assortment of unusual acts, including Queenie Bombazine, the trapeze artist, who loved to have a spa in the open air. She often ran out of money, and had to think of new ways to earn more. The children who were members of the circus, particularly Billy and Hannah had many adventures, but the issue which concerned Hannah the most was to identify her real father. I find most of the adventures in the book extremely farcical. I hope the same is not the case for the capable readers of 8-10 years who have more quirky senses of humour than I have, and can follow the story with pleasure.
The Dream Snatcher, by Abi Elphinstone. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $14.99
Moll feels that she does not belong with the gypsies, even though Oak and the elders, and rest of the group are always kind to her. She knows that they talk about her when she is not present. Every night she has a similar nightmare, and finally feels compelled to leave the camp and cross the river—always forbidden to her—to see what attracts her in such an ominous way. She finds Skull, and realises that he is intensely evil—and so the living nightmare begins. Siddy is a faithful friend, and of course Moll has Gryff, the wildcat, to whom Moll is really attached—Moll is sure that he is almost a person. As the story unfolds, it is obvious that Moll is the Chosen One, who will defeat the evil Shadowmasks and Soul Splinters. I persisted with this book, and read it all, but it gave me the horrors . In spite of Moll’s courage, Siddy’s faithfulness, and Alfie’s tenacity, I found it a very, very dark story, and one which I will not recommend to anyone. It is intended for readers of 8-10 years.
**History’s Greatest Discoveries and The People who made them, by Joel Levy. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99
I am not sure whether to categorise this book in the adult or teenage section. I felt however that the lack of depth of information about each discovery means that it will be more suited to secondary school students who are prepared to take the time to use a book to discover information, rather than just the Internet. This book organises the author’s choice of discoveries in to various scientific categories—Astronomy to technology, with mathematics and medicine, as well as biology, physics exploration and chemistry. Also the book is organised according to a date line, and provides the circumstances surrounding each entry, as well as a statement and exploration of the consequences of each discovery. All of this means that the interested reader is not reading about a single discovery, but there is the attempt to place each in history, and relate it to other discoveries. I was fascinated to read about John Napier and the discovery of logarithms for example—logs were an aspect of maths which I was able to use, but never understood—maybe I am still capable of more advanced mathematics than appeared when I was sixteen! The last entry in the book is about the Higgs Boson, the elusive particle hitherto believed to occur in nature but never previously identified. With the work of the Large Hadron Collider, in 2012, results were obtained which confirm the standard model of physics. It is very satisfying to have a book which can be browsed at will, and from which one can learn so much. I believe that all school libraries should provide books like this so that kids can read and discuss such items.
***Urban Outlaws, Blackout, by Peter Jay Black. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99
This is the second in a series about the five children, aged between 10 and 15, who came together more or less by chance but have become involved with the desperate hunt to trace and nullify the most destructive computer virus known to date. Here they meet up with Hector, who seems to be a super expert hacker, just like the other five. It seems as if he is straight, but then he deceives the team, and the problems escalate again because now that Hector has cloned the virus, it will be ever more difficult to erase it forever. I look forward to the next book- these stories are active, interesting and exciting reads, with clear font and spacious layout of the pages. They appeal to boys and girls of 9-14 years.
There will be Lies, and then there will be the Truth, by Nick Lake. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99
This is a book for older teenagers. It is about Shelby Jane Cooper, aged seventeen. Shelby’s mum has been heavily overprotective for ever, it seems. Shelby is homeschooled, only goes to the library, down the street for a meal, and to the bowling alley once a week, with her mum. Shelby is a mean ten-pin bowler. When Shelby is hit by an SUV and has to be in hospital, her world changes—she has dramatic lifelike dreams, a coyote becomes her friend, and she becomes convinced that she is going to be killed. Shelby’s mum has always done cross-stitch sewing, but always of scenes in the mountains of Scotland, and with horned stags. When Shelby is able to leave hospital, her mother collects her and they set off in the old car across America. More dreams, scary episodes with strangers, and Shelby is not sure if she is alive or dead, awake or dreaming. She also has lost the ability to discern truth from lies. What is real, and what is not? I did not like the disjointed nature of the story….a pity because I have enjoyed Lake’s earlier books.
Black Horizons, Gerry Anderson’s Gemini Force, by M.G Harris. PB from Hachette. RRP $15.99
The outline for this story had been mapped out prior to the death of Gerry Anderson, who was the author of the Thunderbirds series. M.G Harris has fleshed out this story, in which Ben Carrington’s mother teams up with a really wealthy entrepreneur to form a super top-secret rescue force, called Gemini Force. Ben is supposed to complete his schooling in England, but desperately wants to prove that he has what it takes to become a permanent member of Gemini Force. A young American pilot Addison is now part of Gemini, and Ben finds her very attractive. This book is set post 9/11, and Al-Qaeda is one of the threats facing Gemini. When Ben’s mother Caroline is killed, Ben is gutted and blames Truby, but shows considerable maturity to continue to work with Addi and to fly the helicopter while Addi manipulates the drone-style Aquarius. All is resolved by the end, Truby and Ben are reconciled, and committed to continue to work together. It is a very complex story, and at times everything seems just to work out too well, but it is interesting contemporary writing, and with appeal to readers, probably mostly boys of 14 years and older.
*The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and his Ex, by Gabrielle Williams. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $17.99
I was surprised, when I read the publisher’s blurb after I finished this story, to find that it was categorised as “ young adult”. It had seemed to me to be a light-hearted easy to read adult novel. It is light-hearted, but OK,. It is the story of four young adults—Guy, a seventeen year old who faked his school reports so that his parents would not freak out, and would keep off his back. Rafi is a serious student because she knows she has to succeed at school to make life easier for her self and her mad mother, who has never recovered form the drowning, many years ago, of Rafi’s brother Tonio. Luke was an up and coming young artist, whose paintings sold well. The problem for Luke was that his ex girl friend Penny was having his baby. Luke was a bit of an anarchist, so was willing to steal the Picasso from the Art Gallery of Victoria. How the consequences of such an impetuous action snowballed, and how the four youngsters became involved each with the others, plus Rafi’s mum is an amusing, plausible story. The moral probably is don’t steal! (The first page of the book suggests that such a robbery did occur, in 1986) A good read.
*All Fall down, by Ally Carter. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99
There is a real twist in the tale for this story, and it makes it a really good read. Grace Blakely is now to live with her grandfather, the American Ambassador in a significant Middle Eastern country. Grace has been considered mentally unstable since the death of her mother about three years ago. Grace is certain that her mother was murdered, that she is not crazy, and that she is going to track the killer, because she saw him at the scene of the crime. While Grace is almost single-minded about her quest, she and some of her friends also uncover a spy conspiracy with the potential to do immense harm. A thoroughly good read for 14 years and over.
**Arkarnae, by Lynette Noni. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $19.99
This is the first of what is to be called the Medoran Chronicles. It starts well; with this volume in which Alex believes she is to be enrolled at an International Academy while her archaeologist parents are in the back on Russia on an extended dig. To Alex’s amazement she enters the school only to walk down a passage, through another door, and she is in what turns out to be a parallel universe called Medoran and she is now at the Arkanae Academy for people with special talents. To her relief the kids here seem much friendlier than those she saw briefly at the academy, and to her further astonishment, she learns that she is in Medoran because she is gifted, and will have a special role to perform. She also discovers that she is of the Chosen, and has access to all the secrets of the amazing library. This is fantasy of course, but enjoyable and plausible fantasy as Alex learns to relax with the other students, enjoy their company and help them as they help her. In fact the year could not have turned out more differently than she expected, even if she had imagined it. It promises to be an excellent series for 13 years and older.
The Last Dance, by Michael Adams. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99
This is the third and final volume of the Last trilogy, which stars sixteen-year-old Danby. The author is Australian, and the setting is on the east coast of NSW. I have not read the two previous books, The Last Girl and The Last Shot, so I felt out of it when I began to read this novel. Danby has obviously had a difficult task to fight Jack who is trying to control the entire world and in this book she is trying to rescue her young brother Evan, and to save what other people are still alive. She succeeds, and Evan is OK, but has not retained memories of his experiences. For anyone who is interested (13-15 years) this book is written in the present tense, there is plenty of action and a fine heroine, but I wish I had read the other two books first!
Mind Games, by Teri Terry. PB from Hachette. RRP $16.99
I really enjoyed the start of this story. Luna is a Refuser—that means that she has refused to have an implant in her brain so that she can see the world in 3D, while she is plugged in so that she then lives in the virtual world rather than the real world. She can bee asleep plugged in, yet still have a so-called presence in the real-cum-virtual world. Those people with implants are controlled by Pareco, and it seems to Luna and a few other Refusers, or Hackers with special skills that the virtual world has dehumanised everybody. Luna however is special, because she has silver flashes around her eyes, and only very few people have the special powers which these silver tattoos indicate. Therefore Luna must be controlled, or silenced, and PareCo puts a lot of energy into the subjugation of Luna to their will. It doesn’t work, and eventually PareCo is defeated. It is a great story up until the final battle, when I found the swirls of silver, and the mass of activity in the Void, bewildering. It is obvious that Luna is going to win, but it has to happen in a very complicated way. Teenage reading for both boys and girls.
The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $15.99
This story raises the issues of what happens when the rotation of the earth begins to slow down, and days and night both begin to extend for longer, so there are effectively fewer days and nights. Julia and her family and friends all have to learn how to live in this new era, and it is bewildering, unpleasant, and there is nowhere else to go, although a lot of people seems to leave where they are living and return to the towns they know best, but things are no better there either. Interesting philosophical questions, but not a happy ;story, and I found the many short chapters too disjointed and the story too negative to enjoy.