2015, May-June: New books for children and teenagers reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the reading!

Picture Books.

Although some of these books have historical backgrounds, I have not categorised any as non-fiction or fiction.

*My Name is Lizzie Flynn, by Claire Saxby and Lizzy Newcomb. HB from Black Dog and Walker Books. RRP about $24

This is the story of the women who came to Van Dieman’s Land from England, as convicts in 1841. The story line is simple and much of the content is told through the pictures. It was decided to have the women sew an unbacked quilt, while on the ship—both to learn new skills, and to keep idle minds occupied. Eventually the ship arrived, the quilt was completed, then lost for many years, but is now in the National Gallery in Canberra. An interesting book, and plausible story about the life on a convict ship. For 3-8 years.

Meet Banjo Paterson, by Kristen Weidenbach, and illustrated by Gulliver Hancock. HB from Random House.   RRP $24.99

This is a very simple biography of the life of Banjo Paterson. Two of his best-loved poems, the Man from Snowy River, and Waltzing Matilda are mentioned, with some details about their background. It’s good reading, and would be a good introduction for children of 4-8 years, to the rest of Paterson’s poetry.

I don’t like Koala, by Sean Ferrell and illustrated by Charles Santoso. HB from Koala and Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Adam does not like Koala at bedtime, because he is scared of Koala’s dreadful, scary eyes, which keep staring at him. Adam tries to lose Koala, but then—Adam gets a fright and decides that maybe Koala is not so scary after all. For young readers of 2-4 years.

Dear Mum, I love you, by Ed Allen and Simon Williams. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

This is a delightful book, with bright, large pictures, and with each double spread is included a letter, in an envelope from the animal babies shown, to their mothers, about the love of the child for the mum. It’s a sweet story, and I think will be popular with kids of 3-8 years, and encourage talking, with adults about the now- almost- lost -art of letter writing.

Teacup, by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

This is a more serious picture book. It tells of how a young boy has to leave his home, and flee from strife. He carried nothing to his small boat but a book, a bottle, a blanket and a teacup, which contained some earth from his home. He travels over calm seas, and through storms. At one point he realises that his teacup dirt has sprouted a small plant, and he tends this lovingly. The story end on a positive note, and we are hopeful that he finds somewhere to call home as he grows up. If I have a gripe about this book, it is that the font used is fine, and pale, and sometimes hard to read over the pictures. Suitable especially as a discussion book for readers of 4-8 years.

Action Kid Movie, by Daniel Hashimoto, and Mandy Richardville. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $19.99

This story is inspired by James, the son of Daniel. The book originated in some of James’ heroic exploits, made using animation and digital manipulation and uploaded on You Tube. I have not looked at these, but many have received more than a million hits. The book is nothing special, but may appeal to young You Tube viewers of the clips. Suitable for 3-5 year olds.

Junior Fiction titles.

I have lots of simple paperback chapter books here this month, suitable for 5-8 year olds. In brief:

Flying High, by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina. From Scholastic. RRP $9.99

Written with indigenous children in mind, it tells how a young child takes a flight, and then learns to shape animals out of wire, with her grandmother.

Frankie Fox, Operation Boy Band, by Yvette Poshlogian. From Hachette. RRP $12.99

Young Griffin agent Frankie Fox discovers, in Scotland, that a really popular boy band is actually working with the dreaded Alliance to brainwash kids. Frankie has to do her job, but hopes it will not cause her friends too much pain.

In the Samurai vs Ninja series from Nick Falk and Tony Flowers, two titles from Penguin and Random house (The Race for the Shogun’s Treasure, and the Battle for the Golden Egg) at about $10 each.  

I found the illustrations the best part of these books—they make sense of the stories and I was not distracted by all the Japanese names!

Ella and Olivia, Spelling Superstar, by Yvette Poshlogian. From Scholastic. RRP $7.99

My suggestion is that books about spelling competitions should only be read by good spellers. Anyone else will feel inadequate.

*Ten, by Shamini Flint. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99

This is not a superficial story, because it raises the issues of gender expectations for girls, and in an Asian environment, it raises issues of dysfunctional family life, and of cultural differences for children who are not fully one race or another. Maya is ten, and lives to play soccer. She has to battle to get to play soccer at all,but when she wins a trip to Wembley in England, her plans to reconcile her parents do not go to plan. For more capable readers of 8-10 years, probably mainly girls.

Clementine Rose and the Movie Magic, by Jacqueline Harvey. PB from Random House. RRP about $13.

This is a fun read, about a movie shoot which goes terribly wrong when two strangers turn up and seem to want to wreck the promotional video that is being shot about Clementine Rose’s house, and family B and B enterprise, Penberthy House. Suitable for 8-11 year olds.

Anyone but Ivy Pocket, by Caleb Crisp. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99

Once again a fanciful story, but fun to read. Ivy Pocket is penniless, knows nothing about her family, and has just been dumped in Paris by her former employer. When Ivy is summoned to the bedside of an old and sick duchess, and asked to take the Clock Diamond to England, and present it to Matilda Butterworth on her twelfth birthday, because Matilda is to inherit the diamond. Ivy takes the diamond, but soon comes to wonder why she was chosen, why she has so much trouble as she tries to carry out her task, and most of all to wonder who she herself really is. For girls of 8-12 years.

In the Silver Shoes series, by Samantha-Ellen Bound, there are two new titles. Dance Till You Drop and Breaking Pointe. PBs from Random House. RRP $14.99 each

These stories show the highlights of the life of a young dancer, but they also show the problems and heartbreak which can occur, and the dilemmas which have to be resolved. I like the way in which it is shown that there has to be a happy medium with regard to any sport or passion. Paige has to decide what she really wants to achieve from her dancing—in Breaking Pointe it is Riley who has to choose with which of her three favourite activities she will persist. There are also some very interesting technical pages at the back of these books- details about steps and positions, which any young dancer will find interesting and helpful. For dancers of 8-12 years.

Middle School, Rafe’s Aussie Adventure, by James Patterson and Martin Chatterton. PB from Random House. RRP $15.99

Rafe Khatchadorian arrives in Australia from the US after he wins an art competition. He starts school on the east coast, but is terrified of snakes, sharks and drop bears. He and his dad are staying with the local mayor, but this makes life difficult for Rafe because the two boys in the family are bullies and give Rafe a really hard time. He starts to spend time with the Outsiders to get away from the twins, and in the process begins to learn a fair bit about film making. It is an OK read—a reliable reviewer—other than me!—says this is the series to be seen reading…..fine if you are a boy of 9-12 years! The author began to write books for kids when he discovered that his own son was in fact a very reluctant reader…..and as always, any book which encourages a child to read and enjoy reading is excellent.

The Case of the Exploding Brains, by Rachel Hamilton. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $9.99

Noelle Hawkins cannot escape mysteries—they just follow her around. I found the story too complicated, and with two many false leads to try to use the clues to beat Noelle to the solution. Not a happy one for her family, as her father ends up in gaol, and she is not sure whether her mother wants to stay married to him because of all the strife he has been in. For readers of 9-12 years, if it appeals.

**A King in Hiding, by Fahim, with Sophie le Galliennec and Xavier Permentier. Translated from the French by Barbara Mellor. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

Over the past few years I have read several stories about children who have been forced to leave their land of birth, and travel as refugees to try to settle in a new country. Most of these stories remain imprinted in my brain, and this one is no exception as Fahim, aged eight, and who was now a superb young chess player in his homeland of Bangla Desh, was forced to flee to Europe, with his father, after it became clear that Fahim had become a kidnapping target because of his prowess in Bangla Desh, and in India with chess. Fahim’s father had been a fireman, but in Europe, they found it impossible to obtain residency or a visa so that Mr Nura could work in Hungary, so they moved to France. Most of the story is about the time in France, and how Fahim’s skill with his game increased or declined depending on his mental state when he and his father were refused asylum, several times, and a visa. This is a superb, easy to read story, and would be an excellent related text for the themes of change and discovery for senior school students. It is also suitable for readers of 12-15 years, although parts of the story are desperately sad. Once more, as Robert Burns said three hundred years ago, ‘Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.”

Kerenza, by R Hawke. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

This story is of a family which emigrates form England to Australia in the early days of settlement. There is just so much which is different from Cornwall, and it seems as if Kerenza and her mother are the two who find everything really difficult. I found it an OK read, but the 12 year old to whom I lent the book found it tedious. Just because a book is based on fact does not make it an appealing read.

The Palamino Pony Runs Free, by Olivia Tuffin. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

This is a really enjoyable read about horses, and the joys of riding for girls of about 8-12 years. Georgia and her pony Lily, meet Will and his horse, and have a rather difficult getting to know you stage before they all settle down and work to take part in the horse of the year competition. The story flows well, even if it is rather predictable perhaps, but it is easy to read and horse-mad girls will enjoy it.

*Phyllis Wong and the Waking of the Wizard, by Geoffrey McSkimming. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

This is the third in a series about Phyllis Wong, but it is the first that I have read. It took me a while to get into the story, and I almost did not continue the book, because it seemed so wacky at the start. The search is to find the timeless, and greatest wizard of all, Merlin, or as he is called in this story, Myrddin and Phyllis and her great-grandfather, WW (or Wallace Wong) team up to travel through time, find Myrddin and manage to escape the clutches, and in fact capture the unpleasant Sturdy. It will take readers who are enthusiastic about a long and fanciful story to complete this book, but it does have a satisfactory conclusion….for capable readers of 10-12 years.


***One True Thing, by Nicole Hayes. PB from Random House. RRP $19.99

Frankie is 16, and her mother- Rowena- became premier of Victoria almost a year ago. Now it is election time, and Rowena is hoping to become Victoria’s first elected female premier. There is family life to consider, in particular Frankie’s band, and also the health and well being of her younger, and seriously asthmatic brother Luke, as the family juggles family times, and electioneering— which is made unpleasant by the dirt digging, and nastiness from at least one shock jock, Seamus Hale. This is an engrossing, real life read about a lifestyle which has little to recommend it – i.e. politics, and the nasty ways in which elements of the media try to drag out dirt about everyone, but in particular about female politicians rather than males.   The story flows well, it is graphic and intense at times, but the secret which Rowena has not wanted to tell her children is revealed, and every one survives. And the election goes well, and there is optimism about how Colin Leith will fit into the family in the future. For readers of 13 and older.

*The Pause, by John Larkin. PB from Random House. RRP $19.99

This is a powerful novel which arose from the author’s experience of severe depression, and the emotional weight on him which he felt would never leave him. I am going to quote Larkin here: “ My reason for writing this book was to try to get it into the hands of anyone who might be vulnerable. To show them that life does get better. That we need to pause. I wanted this to be a book about hope and the beauty of relationships.” Thus we read about the experiences of Declan as he is depressed, and ponders suicide under the wheels of a train. There are dual scenarios presented in the book— all relate to moments preceding the arrival of the train —and these times vary from 11 years previously to nine years after. There are also bits of non-space….. It is a very serious story, and memorable in its starkness, and of the need by Declan to feel needed and wanted in order to want to pause, and survive. For mature readers of 15 to adult.

*I’ll give you the Sun, by Jandy Nelson. PB from Walker Books. RRP $17.95

This is a dramatic, and compelling sharing of the lives of twins, Jude and Noah—of the three years or so of their lives from the ages of 13 to 16, and of all the events they shared together, and those separate, particularly after the death of their mother, and the difficult times after they split. Both twins love boys, and the story is not only about their family life, and their closeness when young, but also of their growing up, and the different strands to their love lives. It really is a roller coaster, and al of us who remember our teenage years, and the extremes of emotions which we experienced and grew through, will identify with these twins. If I have a gripe about the book it is that the print is so small. Superb teenage reading, and of course it comes from Walker Books whose books are almost always top reading.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

I cannot pretend to enjoy paranormal teenage novels, with stereotyped male and female characters. One of my students who had read books 1 and 2 of this the Raven Boys series has read this book for me, and says there are a few too many deaths, and it becomes a bit gruesome in places, but that the story hangs together well, and that she admired Blue Sargent as a character. She also has enjoyed the authors’ previous books. For girls of 14 years and older as it appeals.

***The Girl at Midnight, by Melissa Grey. PB from Hachette. RRP about $20

I was a bit sceptical about tackling this book because it seemed a tad too paranormal, but I was mistaken, and it is a really good read. Echo is a runaway pickpocket, who was semi-adopted by The Ala and her Avicen brethren many years ago. The Avicen live under the streets of New York City, and at times Echo makes the transit underground from her comfortable home in a magically hidden room at the metropolitan public library. Echo crosses between the two worlds, and makes a living by pickpocketing, and selling on the black markets. Now, war threatens the Avicen, war against the Drakharen, that has been anticipated for centuries. Echo finds herself torn between the two, with boyfriends in both camps, but her allegiance is firmly with the Avicen, until she realises how much she enjoys the company of Caius. What is this Firebird that she is told to seek, and for which everyone else seems to be looking as well? There is other plots too- in particular that of the complex relationship between Caius and his twin Tanith. What is Echo’s connection, and why is it that she is to be the seeker? Why is she called Echo?   This has been the most intriguing and easy to read teenage novel this month. For readers of 13-15 years, most probably girls.

***Stay with Me, by Maureen McCarthy. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $22.99

Maureen McCarthy is an Australian author, mostly, to date of teenage fiction. She has a large and appreciative audience for her novels—often with a social theme. Here, Tess was not a studious and ambitious student like her sister. When Tess was invited to Byron Bay for a holiday, she stayed, found a job, then entered a violent and abusive relationship, and had a baby.   She abandoned contact with her family but then tried to plan how to escape from Jed, particularly since he has been cruel to Nellie, their daughter. Jed is on drugs and has threatened to kill Tess. A chance meeting in the library with a young couple allows her to succeed with her escape. I suspect that this story will stay in my mind as long as McCarthy’s earlier book The Convent has!   Whilst it is a gripping novel, it is also a sobering story about abusive relationships, how often they occur in our society, and how difficult it can be to escape them. The book is suitable for both older teenagers, say 16 and over, and adults. (I will publish this review in the adult section as well).

**Theodore Boone, by John Grisham. PB from Hodder and Stoughton, and Hachette. RRP $29.99

Theo is a fourteen-year-old boy, son of very busy small city lawyers. He has a better relationship with his paternal uncle Ike, than with his parents. On a school trip to Washington, Theo recognises one of America’s ten most wanted criminals. Theo talks to Ike, and they report the sighting to the FBI. There is a one hundred thousand dollar reward for the capture of this crim. The story involves Theo, with Ike helping to identify, and to find a reluctant witness so the crim can be convicted. John Grisham has written some 27 novels—this is for a new generation of readers, possibly mid-late teenagers.

****Finding Audrey, by Sophie Kinsella. PB from Random House. RRP $29.99

I have just finished reading this book in one sitting. … is was a pity about other jobs! This is a superb, lifelike, imaginative and gripping story. Audrey is a teenager who is recovering from a social anxiety disorder, following some seriously negative experiences at her last school. Now she is at home, in a dark den, wearing sunglasses, and having no direct contact with anyone other than her family, and therapist. And the family is seriously inept in handling each other. Mother has stopped work to help Audrey, but now is hung up over Frank and his compulsion to play a serious computer game, in the hope that he might win six million dollars. Dad is well meaning, but under Mum’s thumb, and young Felix is Felix, and ignorant of all the dramas around him. Once Audrey brings herself to interact via texts, with Franks’ friend Linus though, life starts to improve, until finally Audrey is well on her way back to the real world. This is an easy story to read; in spite of all the trauma, the dramas are tastefully handled, and the reader is aware that Audrey is coming out of her dark shell. At times it seemed as if Linus was the therapist! Excellent reading for 13-16 year olds








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