July 2015 —New books for children and teenagers- Reviewer: Janet Croft
The more stars, the better!
Rory the Dinosaur, Me and My Dad, by Liz Climo. PB from Hachette Children’s’ Books. RRP $12.99
This is quite an amusing story, as Rory is determined to go for a walk by himself without his father. Rory finds some unusual places to go, a river to cross by himself, and shelter to find when it rains. Young readers of 3-5 years will enjoy discovering where Rory’s dad is hiding, and in fact is helping Rory, while all the time Rory thinks he is managing so well by himself.
Something’s Amiss at the Zoo, by Jen Breach and Douglas Holgate. PB from Lothian Children’s books and Hachette. RRP $14.99
There are two zookeepers in this story, who appear to have been very badly trained for their job, as they mix up animals, and do not recognize other species. It takes just one bright kid, whose name we do not learn, to put things right. It is a cartoon style layout, and a novel approach to what probably should be classified as non-fiction. For readers of 4-7 years.
Pig the Fibber, by Aaron Blabey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
Pig is actually a pug dog but he has one unpleasant habit—he always lies to blame others for mischief he himself has created and in particular, Trevor the dachshund. Pig is punished when he thinks up one particularly unpleasant prank, but he does learn his lesson. A tale with a moral for readers of 3-5 years.
Messy Jellyfish, by Ruth Galloway. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
This is a story with a message about learning to consider others, and to compromise to keep everyone happy. Seahorse is unhappy when there is a noisy party, and he swims away to be by himself. Jellyfish realises that she has been unkind and inconsiderate, and the friends resolve their differences. For readers of 2-5 years, possibly best for those with younger siblings!
I wanna be a great big Dinosaur, by Heath McKenzie. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
When the small boy wants to be a large dinosaur, the dinosaur obligingly shows him how to stomp, roar and eat large quantities of meat, but the boy begins to realise that there are other good things in life, like reading, variety with meals, and videos. The dinosaur learns about these things too, and the pair agree that maybe ‘tis a good idea to be both boy and dinosaur. For 2-5 year olds, and a bit to think about in the story.
***Ten Little Dinosaurs, by Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty. HB from Orchard Books and Hachette. RRP about $16
This is a bright and enjoyable story about how each of the ten little dinosaurs who go for a walk while their mum is asleep, in turn meets his doom when another larger dinosaur appears and proves to have an unpleasant skill. The verse is fun, the content fun and the colourful pictures will keep children of 2-6 years amused and interested in the various kinds of dinosaurs. Good value.
*Snow Day, by Sam Usher. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
Sam is keen to enjoy the snow from the moment he wakes. Grandad is a bit slow off the mark, and it takes a while for them to reach the park. Grandad sees that Sam was correct and that they are the last to arrive—but they still manage to have a lot of fun in the snow. The illustrations are delightful, especially the blank areas of snow, where no one has yet trodden! I could understand Sam’s impatience, and I am sure that kids of 3-6 years will all enjoy and connect with this story, and Sam’s impatience. It is a delightful story.
Silly Squid, by Janeen Brian and Cheryll Johns. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
This book is a collection of verse about various creatures which live along the seashore. We learn facts about each creature as well as about the environments in which each lives. The verses have been carefully planned, and flow well. For readers of 3-6 years.
**The Cow Tripped over the Moon by Tony Wilson and Laura Wood. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99
I enjoyed this story. Cow is large, and the moon is a long way away. How many attempts will it take before cow is able actually to jump over the moon? She keeps falling over something at each attempt. The verse is delightful—light, but flows well, and I think that this book will be a favourite of children from 3-6 years. They will also learn some interesting words, and what each means as the story is read to them time and again. Excellent book.
Possum Magic. Actions. By Mem Fox with Julie Vivas. A Board book from Scholastic. RRP $9.99
A sturdy book of large simple pictures of animals with present participles—jumping, climbing, running, hiding, and swimming– used to describe the action of each page. To read with very young children of less than a year old to 2 or 3.
Junior Books—mostly fiction.
*Cyclone Fever, by Sally Morgan and Beth Norling. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99
The books in Scholastic’s Mates, Great Australian Yarns series have been popular with young readers, even those of 8-10 years who have found reading more difficult than some others. Sally Morgan is very aware of the needs of young indigenous readers as well, and both the story and illustrations reflect this. I do like it when uncommon words are presented in a different font, so they can either be read easily, or talked about. The story here is about Danny, who needs to help his grandmother prepare for a cyclone. Danny wonders about the fuss, but his gran knows what to do, and her care and preparation pay off.
Keeper of the Crystals, Eve and the Unicorn, by Jess Black. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
When Eve goes to stay with her grandmother, she and the boy next door, Oscar sneak into the attic to play. When they find a small crystal, they are transported into another world, where all is not well with the animals, or the environment. Quite an interesting fantasy, and with large, clear font. Mainly for girls of 7-9 years.
Storm Rescue, by Darrel and Sally Odgers. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99
This is another in the Pup Patrol series. I have found that all kids of 7-9 years enjoy the realistic flavour stories; here, in north Queensland, there is a cyclone on the horizon, and Stamp the wonder dog and his friends James and Ace are together for a local festival. When Ace and her young friend Imogen go missing as the cyclone approaches, it is up to Stamp of course, to track the missing pair. A good read.
Lights out, EJ Spy School by Susannah McFarlane. PB from Scholastic. RRP $7.99
Another very simple story about the trainee young spy, EJ12. Here, Emma has to learn not to be afraid of the dark. OK for very young girls of 6-8 years.
Jurassic Farts, a Spotters Guide, Board book, with noises, from Scholastic RRP $19.99
It is difficult to categorise this book. The format is that for the very young, with sturdy board pages, and a battery-powered cluster of noises—yes, supposed farts– to associate with each dinosaur in the book. There is also some information about each prehistoric monster. Most of this information is presented in tiny font. I find it difficult to believe that the sound effects are authentic, but the sounds will certainly appeal to boys of 8-10 years.
**Weirdo 4, Super Weird. By Anh Do. PB from Scholastic, RRP $14.99
I am a strong fan of these books for young readers of 6-9 years. The action is based on the supposed life and family of Weir Do and his dog FiDo. Weir has to prepare for Pet day at School and needs Grandad and others to help. The illustrations are great, and the story flows beautifully. It is a gentle, yet amusing story and highly recommended for emerging readers.
The Royal Wedding Crashers, by Clementine Beauvais with Becka Moor. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $12.99
Anna and Holly want to take an outer space holiday so together with their mate Prince Pepino, they decide to earn some money. When they take a job with a strange woman called Mademoiselle Malypense, they soon are aware that the proposed wedding may not eventuate in its supposed form. (French speakers, note the delightful play on words in the name Malypense). It is an OK story, with plenty of illustrations and probably with most appeal to girls of 7-9 years.
*****The Silly Book of Weird and Wacky words, by Andy Seed. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99
This should be categorised as non-fiction. It is a delightful miscellany of lots of the weird and wonderful words, and phrases we have in the English language. There are limericks, tongue twisters, puns, some famous quotes, samples of pig Latin and amusing epitaphs, spoonerisms and some poems. This is a great book for kids who are interested in language, but also a delight for interested adults. I’ll probably publish this review, with a few examples in my adult reviews post as well.
Scream 1, The Human Flytrap by Jack Heath. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99
Josh has just moved to Axe Falls. Their new house is a dilapidated ruin, and weird events soon start to spook Josh, and make him wonder what life holds for him. He meets Lily and Yvette, and together they try to work out why Dale’s Venus flytrap experiment goes so wrong. There is a battery-operated scream built into the cover of this book. What a delightful thing to experiment with in a quiet school library! For readers of 8-12 years, both boys and girls.
Scream 2, Spider Army, by Jack Heath. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99
This is a loose sequel to the first book in the series. Axe Falls is a strange place, and the local school doesn’t seem too healthy at the moment. There has been an infestation of spider bites, and Yvette is puzzled as to the origin of the spiders, and the intent of those who have imported them. Are the spiders real? Is Yvette deluded? Don’t read this story if you are afraid of spiders! The story is fanciful, but quite good fun as Yvette and Josh try to work out what is happening. For readers of 9-12 years.
Ella Diaries, I love ( Heart) Pets. By Meredith Costain. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99
Ella is inspired by a careers day at school to set up a pet walking business with her friend Zoe. What happens is a bit out of the ordinary, especially when their only pet to mind is a lizard. But there is plenty of other action in the neighbourhood. Fun reading for girls of 7-9 years.
*Tom Gates #8. Yes! No ( Maybe), by L Pichon. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
These stories about daily life for Tom Gates are very simple to read. There is huge variation in the fonts and size of print used, and each page is interspersed with drawings and comments. The effect is to make each double page much more than just a reading experience. The reader becomes part of Tom’s life, and experiences all the action through his eyes. . The content is positive and natural, and the complexity of the total experience appeals hugely to boys of 7-9 years, especially those who do not like to read a dense story.
Daisy the Festival Fairy, by Daisy Meadows. PB from Hachette. RRP about $14.99
Rachel and her friend Kristy are the only humans who know that Jack Frost has a band of rogues working with him to ruin the local Rainbow Days Festival. When the two girls meet Daisy the Festival Fairy she helps them find several magical tools, including the Good times Glowstick, and between them all, they are able to thwart Jack Frost and the goblins. Fanciful, but pleasant and easy to read for girls of 6-8 years.
Uncle Gobb and The Dread Shed, by Michael Rosen. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $21.99
Uncle Gobb comes to stay—no one likes him, but it quickly becomes apparent that where Uncle Gobb is, weird events also occur. Uncle Gobb points out that he is a very important personage, and that if anyone does not do as he instructs, he will put them in the Dread shed. The Dread Shed was an ancient invention and threat, and such sheds as a form of punishment for disrespectful children. This is a very British book- and the humour is British. Malcolm, Cracker Snapper and the family soon realise that the threat of the Dread Shed from Uncle Gobb should be an empty threat as they become used to living with him in the house. I like the comment from the author at the end that ‘there is nothing sensible in this book!” In fact, I did like the way in which a bit of old English, with extra ‘e’ at the end of words, and the use of ‘thou’ is introduced. Fun reading for kids, probably mostly boys of 8-11 years if it appeals.
Verity Sparks and the Scarlet Hand by Susan Green. PB from Walker Books. RRP about $20
This story begins in Melbourne, but most of the action occurs in and around Castlemaine, Victoria in 1880. Verity goes on holiday there with her father and her friends, mainly with the intention of allowing Papa to meet up with some of his old friends, whom he has not seen for many years. Once in Castlemaine strange events begin to occur and Helen and Drusilla are kidnapped. It is up to Verity to work out if the Red Gauntlet is real, and how to find and rescue the two ladies. A fanciful story, good for capable readers—mostly girls of 8-12 years if it appeals.
Tombquest, 2 Amulet Keepers, by Michael Northrop. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
This is quite an involved story, and suitable for capable readers, both boys and girls of say 9-12 years. Alex and Ren need to find and stop the Death Walker before he becomes too powerful. The story began in Egypt, in the ancient tombs, but now has spread to London. Because this is going to be a continuing saga, there are many threads to the story, and each progresses the story a tad, but at the end, we know that there will be more to come. Such sagas do not appeal to me, but they do have merit it if a young reader finds the story to their liking.
The Impossible Quest, The Drowned Kingdom, by Kate Forsyth. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99
This is the second last in the series where Quinn, Sebastian, Elanor and Tom continue on their quest to solve all the puzzles of Blackmoor Bog, and the evil creatures they find along the route they must follow at this stage, I am keen to know what the truth is that will be revealed, after the foursome has ticked all the boxes for the quest. For readers of 9-12 years, but you must start the series at Book 1, otherwise it will not make much sense.
My Brother is a Superhero, by David Solomons. PB from Nosy Crow and Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99
Luke and Zac are brothers, and are very close to each other. One day, while in their tree house, Zack tells Luke that he thinks he has suddenly developed superpowers. Luke thinks this is all to do with puberty, but then realises that the superpowers arrived while he, Luke went for a wee…..and so follow their adventures to save not one, but several worlds. An innocent and wholesome story, with appeal to boys of 8-11 years.
*88 Lime Street, The Way In, by Denise Kirby. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
When the family arrive at their new home, they discover that there is part of the house which they cannot enter. As well, Ellen witnesses some weird events in the garden, as well as in the house. With her brother Ben and older Sister Biinnie, Ellen resolves to work out what is going on. The children find themselves in an extraordinary time warp adventures, with other children who have also lived in the house at various times. This is book 1 of what is to be a series. It is interesting and at times amusing reading for 9-13 year olds.
***The Almost King, by Lucy Saxon. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
This has been one of the more enjoyable books for teenagers this month. Ileks, who is then referred to as Aleks in the story, is the youngest of four boys. He realises that he needs to get away from his family, so decides to ride his horse, Quicksilver to the capital and enrol in the military. He is taken for a sucker, deprived of his money and tortured. After only four days he seizes an opportunity to escape, and in the effort, raids the office of his chief tormentor to try to take his own records with him. Instead he finds a journal which contains material from the Captain Hunter, (see the first book of this series, Take back the Skies), a journal which the unpleasant Shulga should not have had. Aleks is lucky in the north, finds an interesting job, and the challenge to learn to fly a skyship. He also falls in love. This is really good reading for both boys and girls of 13-15 years and I think there will be a sequel.
*****Freedom Ride, by Sue Lawson. PB from Walker Books. RRP $17.95
This is the other really excellent teenage read for this month. It is the fictionalisation of a journey to broadcast the many injustices meted out to aborigines in Australia, and particularly in rural areas in the mid 1960s. Robbie lives in Walgaree, (which seems to me to be a deliberate melding of the names of Walgett and Moree) when Robbie finds a part time job at the local caravan park, and then finds himself working beside Mickey who is a thoroughly decent kid—just black-skinned—Robbie becomes aware of the evils and injustices in his town, and family but learns to think for himself. At times some of the action is brutal, but I found it a brilliant, evocative and gripping novel.
Poppy in the Field, by Mary Hooper. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
This is the sequel to Poppy, which I reviewed last year. Poppy was a housemaid in the country house of a wealthy British family at the outbreak of WW1. She became a nursing aide, and looked after convalescent injured soldiers. In this book she learns of the marriage of the young man of the family, whom she had thought to be in love with her, and decides that it is time for a change, so she applies, and is accepted for nursing duties in France. She continues to enjoy her work, and also enjoys the change of scene, plus the new people including American nurses and a young British doctor whom she meets. A thoroughly readable book, probably for girls of 13-15 years.
*Bomber, by Paul Dowswell. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
This author has written numerous stories about aspects of life in WW2, from a British point of view. Here Harry, a young American has signed up as a gunner to fly with a US group of airman, who, with their plane, are attached to a British squadron. Harry soon learns that war is no fun and when he and his crew are eventually shot down, Harry has to learn to follow instructions to the letter as he makes his way through occupied France to Spain, and back to Britain. It is an interesting story, well told, and easy to read. For boys of 12-15 years.
Thirst, by Lizzie Wilcock. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99
Karanda Hooke has been rejected by five foster homes. On her way to the sixth, as she, a young boy named Solomon, and a driver Paul, make their way down through central Australia, Karanda riles Paul about his choice of music for the car, behaves really badly and irresponsibly and there is a crash. Karanda thinks she is OK, and that she can take the opportunity to lose her identity and start a new life. The only problem is the eight-year-old Solomon, who clings like a limpet to her, and in the process saves her life. How the two get along, and survive makes for interesting reading—a bit drawn out at times, but given the terrain, and the task to save themselves, it all hangs together well. In the process both Karanda and Solomon learn lots about themselves and each other. For mature readers of 12-15 years—it reminded me a little of Lilith Norma’s book “Climb a Lonely Hill.
*Me Being Me is exactly the same as you being you, by Todd Hasak-Lowy. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP about $20
The ingenuity of authors is often amazing. Here we have a novel about Darren a teenage boy who learns that his father is gay. Finding it hard to believe, Darren then ups and off to find his older brother Nate who is at college in another state. When I began to read this book, I found it easy to put it down to do something else, because the entire story is told in the form of lists. But—I kept picking up the book to read a few more lists! It is a bulky book but often not much content on each page, and the further I went, the more I became hooked in the story, and needed to know how Darren made out. Interesting reading for boys of about 14 and older.
A Song for Ella Grey, by David Almond. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99
This story mirrors the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice for contemporary readers. Ella is immediately bewitched by the beautiful Orpheus when he arrives on the scene via a whirlwind. Clare is forced to be a spectator only as she sees her friend totally besotted by Orpheus, unable to function at school, or in normal life, and totally confident that Orpheus will take her to be with him forever, which he does, leaving Clare bereft but knowing that there was nothing she could do to change history. For girls of 13-15 years, if it appeals.
The Potion diaries, by Amy Alward. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP about $16
This is Book 1 of what is to be a series about Samantha and her talent to mix potions, which she is set to use as she becomes a competitor in the Wilde Hunt—a quest to find and save the princess of the kingdom, who has been poisoned by her own love potion. A story with appeal to girls of about 12-15 years who like fantasy love stories.
Zarkora: the Fyrelit Tragedy, by Nicolas and Alison Lochel. PB from Hachette. RRP $16.99
This is the first volume of a four part series about the adventures of two young brothers, Neleik and Ervine Fyrelti, who, having witnessed the kidnapping of their young sister Skye five years after the death of their parents, set out to discover what has happened to Skye and where she is. This is a very dense story, with small font, and lots on each page. The idea behind the story is reminiscent of other fantasies, such as the Mapmaker’s Apprentice and the Eragon series— but the setting is fully developed and the characters are engaging. It is totally readable, and yes, the second in the series will be released in November.
Thirteen Days of Midnight, by Leo Hunt. PB from Hachette. RRP $15.99
Phew, this is an action packed paranormal thriller! Luke is sixteen years old, and has just inherited a lot of money from his weird and estranged father. But- the legacy comes with a catch—the father was a necromancer, who lived and worked with ghosts, and there are now eight ghosts who, following the death of Dr Horatio Manchett, are now no longer enslaved, but who want to make Luke, who is now in theory their master, suffer for the deeds of his late father. Luke is protective of his mother, who is also a tad weird, but Ham, his dog proves a comfort and aid as Luke seeks to combat all the evils that the ghosts throw at him over the thirteen days- or rather nights, after he learns of his inheritance and has to rid the world of the Ghosts. It is exciting and tense reading and, given the nature of the theme, doesn’t have to be realistic! It does say on the cover that the book should appeal to fans of Skulduggery Pleasant, and I agree. For boys mostly, and of 13-16 years.
Fearless, by Marianne Curley. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99
The subtitle of this is ‘Love will conquer all Evil,’ and it is the third and final novel in the Avena Trilogy. The trilogy is the story of Ebony, and Nathaneal. Ebony had been kept hidden on Earth for sixteen years, and was totally unaware that she was an angel, and beloved of Nathaneal. I have read all the books, and it is a story which has stayed with me, mostly because of the way in which the author has created such a plausible and complete world and developed the character so that it seems as if they are alive in our world! The multiple narrative, with voices form Ebony, Nathaneal and Jordan develops the tension of the story well, as they all seek to defeat the evil of Luca. And Ebony, or Ebrielle as she really is still only sixteen. How can she and Nathaneal possibly restrain their passion till she is eighteen? For fans of the previous two books, mainly girls of 13-16 I suspect.