September-October 2015: New books for children and teenagers reviewed by Janet Croft.

September-October 2015: New books for children and teenagers reviewed by Janet Croft.

The more stars the better.


*The Possum Magic Cookbook, compiled by Gina Inverarity and Celia Jellett, and illustrated by Julie Vivas. HB from Omnibus and Scholastic. RRP $16.99

From Cheese straws and double decker sandwiches to Anzac biscuits, lamingtons and pavlova, the recipes in this book will make lots of Australian favourites—and favourites not just for the kids.   It is however a book where adult help will be crucial—mainly because of the complexity of some of the directions. It will be a good exercise too to measure the ingredients, but again, with adult help. The book is suitable for children over three, but by themselves, young cooks will need to be experienced, and over about 7. It will make an excellent birthday or Christmas gift.

Platypus, by Sue Whiting and Mark Jackson. HB from Walker Books. RRP $27.95

The life story of the platypus is an exciting one—mainly because it is a monotreme, or egg-laying mammal. The content of the story here is in two parts, one as a story of daily life, and how the platypus behaves, the other the scientific details of why this behaviour is as it is. Perhaps it is because the platypus is largely nocturnal, but the watercolour drawings are quite dark, and lack detail. The verbals- both the descriptive story, and the technical detail are excellent as is the synopsis at the end, and the index. I feel this book is suitable for primary aged students of 6-11 years—the young ones, in company with an adult.

**Ugly, by Robert Hoge.   Young Reader’s Edition PB from Hachette. RRP $16.99

This is not a simple story. It tells how Robert, who was born with a tumour in the middle of his face, and ill-formed legs, survived many operations and learned to live with his ugliness until as an adult he is content that he is as good as he can be. The book tells of the many operations, of the problems his family had when it was time for him to start school, and how Robert’s greatest wish was to be part of a sporting team of normal people. How he achieved his goal, and his remarkable fortitude makes for uplifting reading. Suitable for upper primary readers of 9-12 years.

****The White Mouse, by David Gouldthorpe. HB from Scholastic. RRP $26.99

This is a serious look at the life and career of Nancy Wake- nicknamed “the White Mouse’- the Australian woman who became a heroine for her work with the French Resistance and British secret Service in France during WW2. There are short, but succinct and interesting outlines about episodes in her work, and the illustrations show graphically some of the events which occurred, and the places where Nancy lived and worked. This is an outstanding book. It is suitable for young readers of 8-13 years.

Ripley’s Believe it or not 2016. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

Another edition of modern wonders and extremes. The book is full of photos, mainly of people, but with some animals, in exotic locations, or with some peculiarity which marks them out as different from most people. The snippets of information about each entry explain the photos. Kids, and especially boys of 9-12 years, love these books, because there is not much reading, but mainly because the items presented are so fascinating. One guy owns 1500 pairs of Converse shoes. A town on the Mediterranean coast of France celebrates the end of winter with a lemon festival every year, and has been doing so for more than a hundred years. Each year there is a different model, made from about 160 tons of oranges and lemons. A fun read……

Fiction picture stories

**I’m a Girl, by Yasmeen Ismail. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $15.99

How refreshing to find a book about girls where the girl loves to be spontaneous, fast and strong, and prefers shorts and t-shirts to prissy dresses, and super short and sexy tops. Like the author, I detest the gender stereotyping which portrays small girls in skimpy clothes and lots of pink. The humour in this book comes because the reverse stereotyping is also present when the girl meets a boy who likes to dress up as a princess and to play with dolls. The two both share lots of interests and are each happy with how they are because after all, as it says on the front cover, ‘be yourself, there is no one better’.   A fun, gender-neutral read for 3 years and over.

Remarkably Rexy, by Craig Smith. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $25

A story about a distinctive and personable cat, named of course Rexy. We read and see how Rexy grooms himself, and how he shows off, plays to an audience, and is jealous of the showy Pamela, as well as being scared of Towser the dog. A fun read for kids of 2-5 years, and available on line to listen to, via a laser code bar at the front of the book.

***How the Sun got to Coco’s House, by Bob Graham. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95

The story is told mostly through clear and evocative drawings, about how the sun rises in the east, and then over the day gradually makes its way around the world so that every one can be touched by its beauty and benefits. It seems as if the last place on earth it visits is Coco’s house, where she and her family and friends are enjoying the snow on a sunny, but cold winter’s day. A delightful trip to enjoy for kids of 3 and over, preferably in company with an adult who can give more detail about the different places shown in the drawings.

**Newspaper Hats, by Phil Cummings, and illustrated by Owen Swan. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

There are two themes to this story—firstly Grandpa is growing old and seems to forget who Georgie is. Secondly however, Grandpa is still very skilled at making paper hats out of newspapers, and it is via this medium that Georgie is able to help him remember some past events which have been in the papers, as well as have a lot of fun with the hats. For readers of 3-6 years.

The Very Noisy Bear, by Nick Bland. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

This is Nick Bland’s fifth bear book—and it is possibly the most appealing yet as Bear’s friends help him try out lots of musical instruments to work out which is best for Bear. What was received most enthusiastically was his ability to sing—well, roar actually! Finally, when the night was still, Bear tried the violin. A fun read, and the chance to talk with kids of 2-6 years about music, and various instruments as well.

The little Possum, by P Crumble and Wendy Binks. HB from Scholastic. RRP, with CD included, from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

A brightly coloured book, with CD to listen to, about a lullaby for Possum, and presumably other kids as well. The pictures are great, but the words of the lullaby did not appeal much to me. OK for kids of 1-4 years.

***Duck, Duck Goose!, illustrated by Michaela Blassnig. PB from Hachette. RRP $24.99

A visually pleasing rhyming story about two ducks, and the other animals and items which appear from the water. The pictures are very full of detail, and will provide lots of opportunities for talking about each double page spread. A fun story to read and reread for kids of 2-4 years.

*Frankie and Finn, by Klay and Mark Lamprell and Lucinda Gifford. PB from Hachette. RRP $26.99

When Frankie and his family move house, Frankie is scared because the new house looks dark and scary. When he and his siblings start to explore however they find a really interesting pool in the garden. In the pool Finn the fish starts to feel scared because a five-headed monster with no eyes suddenly appears in his pool. The story is about how events and things seem from differing perspectives, and it is a story to read and talk about. Great pictures too. For readers of 3-6 years.

**Bob the Railway Dog, by Corinne Fenton, and illustrated by Andrew McLean. HB from Black Dog and Walker Books. RRP $24.95

This delightful story is based on the life of Bob, who was a small dog who lived and travelled on the trains as they spread through southern Australia in the late 19th century. The rumour persists that he also travelled to Queensland. There is a photo of Bob behind a framed glass window in Adelaide station. The illustrations reveal what the trains were like, and something of the olden-day stations. It is an interesting story, and pleasant book to read, reread and talk about. For readers of 3-7 years.

As big as you, by Sara Acton. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

The pages of this book open from bottom to top, which is an effective novelty. Claude and Finlay are elephants. Claude is huge and Finlay is tiny, but desperately wants to be as large as Claude. The story shows many ways in which size is important, but the lesson for Finlay is to wait- with time he will become larger, and in the meantime he should enjoy the delights which come with being small. For readers of 2-4 years.

The Crocodolly, by Martin McKenna. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Adelaide was good at making things, but one day while cooking she made something different—a crocodolly. Adelaide loves her new pet, but she was not allowed to have pets, so Ozzy had to be a doll. As he grew it became harder to disguise Ozzy, until, finally Ozzy was a pest for everyone in town—he broke things or frightened people. What is Adelaide to do? She has to find a suitable place for Ozzy to live. There is one excellent double page spread in this book, where the people protest, and there are some delightfully expressive verbs used….for readers of 3-6 years, preferably with an adult for the vocab.

***Piranhas don’t eat Bananas, by Aaron Blabey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

This is a delightful story, in rhyme, about piranhas, and the fact that they love meat, but will not eat fruit. The illustrations and story, plus the facts about piranhas and bananas are all excellent. For readers of 2-5 years—and I think this will be a favourite for kindergarten classes at school…

Blue Whale Blues, by Peter Carnavas. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Blue Whale is miserable because it seems as if he always needs help or things to work properly. He has a bike, but one day, he realises that what he thought was a bike, was not and that you need legs to ride a bike—at last he is able to see a bit of humour in things! It is an OK story, for 2-5 year olds, but not a story which took my fancy.

Two Birds on a Wire, by Coral Vass and Heidi Cooper Smith. PB from Koala and Scholastic. RRP $14.99

A sweet story about two birds who feel they should compete with each other, until they realise it is easier and more pleasant to cooperate. A simple story, with good language, and evocative pictures.   Fun for kids of 2-4 years.

The Creatures of Dryden Gully, by Aunty Ruth Hegarty, illustrated by Sandi Harrold. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

The author is a respected elder of the Gunggari tribe. As a child she was taken from her family and lived in institutions for 22 years. In that time she became a storyteller, and here we have her story about Joey and the stranger Royal deer who intrudes on the land of the Natives and how everyone needs to be appreciated and accepted for their individuality. For 2-5 year olds.

***Stick and Stone, by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This is a clever, and delightful story, told in verse about Stick, and Stone, how they start off alone, but then become mates. When Stick is stuck in the mud, Stone has to rescue him and they remain friends forever. An excellent story for 2-5 year olds. I am sure lots of children will learn the words of this story by heart, and love to reread the book.

Underneath a Cow, by Carol Ann Martin and Ben Wood. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

Quite a pleasant story about how a variety of animals, many of whom would normally not get along well together, find shelter during a storm, under a very large and comforting cow. For readers of 2-4 years.

*The Witches Britches, by P Crumble and Lucinda Gifford. PB from Scholastic. RRP $$14.99

This is a humorous tale about the fancy britches, which Ethel receives on her first day at witch school;   how she looks after them, to retain their magic, and what happens to people in the community when the britches escape. Fun reading for kids of 3-6 years

**My Dad is a Giraffe, by Stephen Michael King. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Books with evocative illustrations are worth heaps when you are reading with young children. Here we have a giraffe father, but the child is human. We see how this switch has occurred, very cleverly on the last page of the book, where shadows are involved. It is a wonderful, simple story—who needs lots of words when the pictures are do delightful? Excellent reading and fun for children of 1-4 years, preferably in company with an adult.

River Riddle, by Jim Dewar and Anil Tortop. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This is a retelling of the puzzle where three people cannot all fit in the boat to cross the river in one trip. If any two are left behind together, on either side, there will be a   massacre of some type….how Jack sorts out how to get the sheep, the fox and the bag of hay all to the other side without either the sheep or the hay being eaten…..that is the puzzle! Fun reading and thinking again for kids of 2-5 years.

Bamboozled, by David Legge. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

This is a special commemorative edition of this story, which was first published twenty-0ne years ago. There are lots of peculiar creatures and occurrences when the boy goes to visit his granddad. However the boy does not seem to see all the oddities, until right at the end, when he notices that granddad is wearing odd socks. The author then outlines how he thought up the idea for the story—and shows some of his sketches. This is a book which is fun for young kids of 2-5 year, but which also has merit for older children who are interested in how the ideas were generated, and brought to life.

Dear Dad, I want to be just like you, by Ed Allen and Simon Williams. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Lots of double page spreads of a parent with a child, and short letters from each child to the father—with a few jokes, but mostly the message about wanting to be like the dad. My only objection to the notes is that they are of paper, hard to remove from the envelope slits, and will be very fragile. The notes which are actually written on the pages of the book will be OK. Suitable for kids of 2-6 years.

Junior Fiction

Tashi and the Magic Carpet, PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

This is a novelisation, together with a group of word games, activities and puzzles at the end of the story; it has been released in conjunction with the TV series about Tashi. The story has been put together by someone other than the author of the Tashi books. I am a strong fan of Tashi, in his original form, (because he had a fantastic imagination!)–and there is nothing wrong with this book—the word puzzles and activities are varied, and will appeal to kids of about 6-8 years.

Zoe’s Rescue Zoo, The Cuddly Koala, by Amelia Cobb, and illustrated by Sophie Williams. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

An animal zoo story with a tiny bit of magic, because Zoe can actually talk to and understand the animals in her uncles rescue zoo! This skill means that Zoe can be very useful as a helper in the zoo, and this is the case here where she devises a means of carrying the baby koala around so that he feels safe and comfortable. Fun reading, probably mostly for girls of 6-8 years.

The Secret Rescuers, the Storm Dragon, by Paula Harrison. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

There is also a touch of magic about this story, and a similar theme where the child rescues and protects a small animal—albeit an imaginary dragon. Here Sophie is the rescuer, and the story again, is easy to read. For girls again, of 6-8 years.

**Pup Patrol, Outback Rescue, by Darrel and Sally Odgers. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

I like these books. There is always a touch of reality, mixed with some good common sense advice included with each story. There are also often tips about dog breeds- here it is about breeds such as Stamp and their ability to herd animals when trained. James, together with Stamp and Ace the two dogs, is on a trip to the bush. When they find a deserted car, they realise that the owners have left to try to save themselves, or get help—will the dogs be able to track them before they die? The common sense message here of course is that a car should never be deserted if it breaks down—it is easier to find a car on a bush road, than people on foot. Good reading for kids of 7-9 years.

Ada and Angus, Showtime, by Wendy Harmer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

Ava is on a trip around Australia with her parents and dog Angus. In this latest adventure they visit the Doolimba Show, where Ava makes some new friends. These new friends, Donna and Danny are rather naughty however, and a disaster with the competition animals, is only narrowly avoided. In the process Donna and Danny learn to apologise to Ava, and the rest of the show people. OK reading for 6-9 years—probably mainly girls, if the cover is any guide.

***Little Lunch, The Off-limits fence, by Danny Karr. PB from Black Dog and Walker Books. RRP $9.95

Yet another low priced novel for young readers. This easy to read book contains three short stories about some kids and what they get up to during little lunch at school, from a game of Chinese whispers to the insect hospital and what happens when the footy is kicked over the fence. The stories are fun, and the length and vocab just right for emerging readers of 6-8 years—both boys and girls. Good value.

Ella Diaries, Dreams come true, by Meredith Costain and Danielle McDonald. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

There are some interesting aspects to this book—the story is trendy, when Ella has dreams of meeting pop star Cassi Valentine—Ella’s enemy Peach Parker has a similar wish, and when the school enters a competition to win a visit from Cassi, Ella and Peach need to cooperate! Can they do it? The most interesting features of the book for me is the lay out—with lower case print, examples of charts and diagrams when Ella is trying to work out what to do, and ideas for the class meeting and the colour and emphasis given to difficult or significant words. A good planning exercise for children to learn to copy.   It is fun reading for girls of 7-9 years.

*Lily the Elf, by Anna Bradford. PBs from Walker books. RRP $7.95 each

I have two titles here, The Wishing Seed and The Elf Flute. Both stories are about Lily the Elf, and the stories are short, in large font, and with lots of simple illustrations. The vocabulary is not difficult, and the books will be great for young girls of 5-7 years, who are just learning to read. I like the fact that the illustrations do not replace the written word, so the kids need to be able to read the words, and not just guess the content from the pictures.

*Clementine Rose and the Birthday emergency, by Jacqueline Harvey. PB from Random House. RRP $12.99

I have enjoyed every single one of the Clementine Rose books. There is a feeling of reality about all of them, with just a hint of the unexpected and a few eccentric relatives about to spice up the action. Here Clementine Rose is really looking forward to her birthday, but doesn’t understand why she feels a bit peculiar in the tummy. Her party turns out rather differently from how she had planned it! For girls of 6-9 years and wholesome, interesting reading.

Pip Bartlett’s guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Steamer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Pip can talk to magical creatures, and she can also work with them, because her aunt, who is a vet, treats such creatures when they are not well. There is a potential crisis in their town when the fuzzles invade, because they can burst into flame unexpectedly. It is up to Pip and her mate Tomas to save the town and the fuzzles. I enjoyed this story more than I thought I would when I started! There is a lot more reading in it than I expected and very few illustrations. An exciting fantasy for kids of about 9-11 years.

Samurai VS Ninja, Day of the Dreadful Undead, by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers, PB from Random House. RRP $9.99

The ghosts of the ancestors have returned so they must be eliminated. Another battle between the samurai and ninja juniors. These stories do not appeal to me– but boys of 7-9 years must like them, or they would not sell.

Space Jackers, the Lost Sword by Huw Powell. PB from Bloomsbury RRP $15.99

Jake is only thirteen, but is the ruler of the secret planet Altus. He has a problem; to keep the interstellar Navy from finding his planet, because it has three valuable crystal moons. Not only is Jake’s father missing, but also Jake needs to find a way for all the independent colonies to work together to defeat this threatening navy. Although Nanoo is injured Jake and Kella and Nanoo realise that they can win the battle. It is easy reading, and a good story for boys of 9-11 years.

**The Cat with the Coloured Tale, by Gillian Mears. HB from Walker Books. RRP about $20

This is a wonderful fable about how a cat whose tail changes colour when someone needs help, guides the ice cream van and its driver Mr Hooper, where it is needed. It is a gentle story, but easy to read, with pleasant short rhymes to help the story along. The illustrations too, in muted watercolours, are gentle and agreeable. The book will make a                   great birthday or Christmas gift. Mainly for girls I suspect, and of 6-9 years.

Wesley Booth, Super Sleuth, by Adam Cece, with pictures by Michael Streich. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

An appealing story, based in a school, about a boy, Wesley who believes he is the worlds greatest sleuth, and the girl, Cassidy Strong who seems to try to thwart Wesley at every opportunity. Strange then that at the end of the book they seem to be reconciled to each other! There is a lot of reading in the book—it is suitable for upper primary aged readers (say about 9-12 years)

*****Fuzzy Mud, by Louis Sachar. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99

Wow—what a story. I think I have read all of Sachar’s books—and I have found them all to be remarkable, and memorable. Here we meet Tamaya, who walks to and from school with a seventh grade boy—Marshall—every day, because she is too young to walk by herself. When Marshall is bullied by Chad, Marshall does not want Tamaya around, so one afternoon Tamaya is forced to walk through the wood by herself. The story develops into a thriller when the fuzzy mud which Tamaya notices on her way home, threatens to wreak havoc on the school, and on all the townspeople. And as Marshall and Tamaya learn to trust each other, they also determine to try to help Chad survive the dreadful fuzzy mud epidemic. Excellent reading for both boys and girls of 9-14 years.

**Helix and the Arrival, by Dean Posner. PB from Random House. RRP $15.99

This is another good read—maybe I was a bit surprised by this because the title, and cover, book looking as if they came from the Flintstone era, did not appeal, nor the comment “ it’s not easy being a caveboy.” However, ignore both the title, and the name—this is an excellent story about how Helix and his mate Ug learn to look outside the square, and supposed safety as they search for a remedy to help cure Ug’s father from a serious infection. In the process the boys discover that much of what the tribe has been told by the supposed medicine man, is rubbish, and that Speel was only interested in power. Interesting, easy to read, and as I say, surprisingly good reading for boys probably of 9-12 years.

The Big Wish, by Brandon Robshaw. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

Sam is granted one million wishes: what he does with them, and how he learns what consequences follow when you do not think through issues, is interesting reading. The story is fantasy of course, but the lessons Sam and Evan learn as the wishes are used up—are considerable. For readers of 9-12 years.

EJ12—Girl Hero, True Light, by Susannah McFarlane. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

Not much need to write about this book—as soon as fans of the series see that another title is out; they will rush to buy it! This is undoubtedly the most popular series of stories for girls of 7-9 years. There is often an issue of current world concern at the heart of each plot of these books, and here it is a laboratory in the Arctic Circle which is manufacturing counterfeit notes for every world currency. Emma has to remember what happened on her first trip to the Arctic if she is to solve the mystery.

Derek Danger Dale, The Case of the Really, Really Magnetic Magnet by Michael Gerard Bauer. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

This book is designed for readers slightly younger than those for whom the Eric Vale stories have been so much fun. Here Derek tries to fool the evil doctor Macevilness by applying to become one of the doctors’ helpers. The comic style illustrations are OK, but I do not like the font in which story is printed—it can be a bit confusing with some letters—e.g. ‘s’ written almost as if it is a capital letter at all times. The story is OK—and the book is suited to boys of 8-10 years.

The Bad Guys, Episode 1, by Aaron Blabey. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

This is almost a picture book for slightly older kids—there is very little written story—all the action is told in pictures. I’m not sure if the hero, Mr Wolf, is a wolf or an ugly dog, but the plan for Mr Wolf, Mr Piranha Mr Snake and Mr Shark, is to help break 200 dogs out of the City dog pound. How this is achieved- well, look at the book. Fun reading and looking for boys of 6-8 years.

Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-lot, by Dav Pilkey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This is the twelfth book in the Captain underpants series. When the first of the series were published, they were greeted with delight by boys of 8-11 years, who loved the suggestion of toilet humour and the simple, yet engaging stories. And this book has similar appeal. The centrepiece of this story is the unpleasant PF teacher Mr Meaner, and his invention, which is to squirt all the kids at school so they all then were super attentive, because they caught Attention Superfluous Lethargy Syndrome—which is a satire on ADHD (which is defined elsewhere in the book because the heroes, Harold and George- from twenty years in the future- and Yesterday Harold and Yesterday George– all have ADHD. The time warp takes a bit to follow, but it works, and between the two sets of twins, finally the Mr Meaner is thwarted and life returns to its usual chaos. Fun reading for boys of 8-11 years.

*Scream, The Squid Slayer, And Scream, The Haunted Book, both by Jack Heath. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99 each

These are two more titles in the series of short, thrilling and chilling stories for pre-teens about monsters who seem to appear from nowhere, and in some way terrorise individuals or, in the case of the Squid Slayer, the entire community of Axe Falls where Sarah and her mother live on the river in an old boat, which is eventually crawling all over with squid- like monsters who chase Sarah away from the boat and up to a series of caves where Sarah knows there are explosives which blow up all the monsters.   In the Haunted book Dale, who also lives in Axe Falls, is on a trip with his family when he finds an old handwritten book which begins; “Do not stop reading; my life depends on it”. For Dale it becomes life threatening when the mystery man manages to substitute himself into Dales body. How is Dale to survive, and then to recover? These are short books with plenty of thrills, and will make interesting and easy reading for reluctant readers of 9-12 years.

The Impossible Quest, Battle of the Heroes, by Kate Forsyth. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

At last, the fifth and final episode in this quest to as our indomitable quartet of Quinn, Sebastian, Elanor and Tom are able to collect the final piece of the prophecy, the sea serpent’s scale, and then return to rescue the prisoners in the crypt at Wolfhaven castle—hopefully they are still alive! This has been a long, and coherent story—predictable and repetitive on some parts, but over all a well written sage, which will be best read now in sequence, without gaps in between…for readers of 9-12 years.

*Sian, A New Australian, by D Luckett. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

In this story we read of Sian, who is the unloved and mistreated thirteenth child of a widower. When her older sister marries, Sian goes to live with them, only to discover, very soon that the couple has booked a passage on a boat to Australia and Sian is to go with them. The time is the start of the twentieth century. Soon after their arrival in Sydney, Ellis goes to Darwin after work, and when Olive dies in childbirth, Sian is sent to Darwin to be with him. We read of Sian’s life in the new town of Darwin, her friendship with Mae, the Chinese Australian and of life at school. This is an easy to read, informative, but interesting novel about life in Darwin in the early days of its settlement. For readers, probably mainly girls of 9-12 years.

Three hundred minutes of Danger, by Jack Heath. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

This is a book of short stories, all of which involve danger in some form—from that of a driverless runaway train, to a killer virus, to a terrifying flight in a small plane which crashes in Russia—lots of drama, short stories, and heaps of action. The stories are excellent reading, and will appeal to boys and girls of 10-13 years.

Teenage reading

My Australian Story, Vietnam, by Deborah Challinor. PB from Scholastic. RRP $$16.99

This story about the war in Vietnam in the late 1960s and 1970s is told through the eyes of two Newcastle boys, Davey, and his older brother Tom. Tom is called up in the conscription ballot, and is sent to Vietnam. He writes letters home, while Davey competes in surfing competitions in Newcastle. The story is also about Pete, Davey’s mate, who is knocked off his bike, and doesn’t survive the infection he picks up in hospital. When Tom is injured in Vietnam and repatriated, Davey surfs, and wins, for Tom’s sake. It is quite a good story, and the details about the war are faithfully and carefully outlined. For readers of 12 and over

The Truth about Peacock Blue, by Rosanne Hawke. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

This is quite a complicated story, and raises many of the issues which face girls in Pakistan. The best example of course is Malala, and there are shades of her story in this book, although here it is more the issue that Aster has been raised a Christian, and the problems she faces are those caused by conservative or tribal so-called Muslims, who accuse Aster of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed. There are women in Pakistan who are in jail for this crime and still face the death penalty. This is a serious book, based on an actual case. The book is not pleasant reading, but it is an important topic, and I recommend the book to readers of 14 and over.

*****The Boy with Two lives, by Abbas Kazerooni. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99

This book, and its predecessor On Two Feet and Wings, are, with the story of Parvana, the most touching and powerful books about children who are abused in some way, or forced to become refugees that I have read. In this book, we read of Abbas’s life once he makes it to England. His supposed guardian, Mehdi, is a cruel and changeable man. He does not want to be bothered with Abbas, so sends him to a boarding school, but then requires Abbas to work like a slave during the school holidays to repay Mehdi. Abbas is an honest, hard working and intelligent boy, who makes some really good friends. Because he works so hard at school, he is successful. When he earns a scholarship a prestigious secondary school his home life takes a big step backwards, and he ends up homeless. I found this part of the story very sad as Abbas, determined to keep faith with his now dead mother, continues to battle to remain successful and independent. Finally, at the end of the book, he asks for help from another family relative, and this is a really positive move for him. This is a brilliant read for 12- years and over. I guarantee the story will haunt all readers for some time. Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn….still.. (Quote is from Robbie Burns….).

*Five Kingdoms, Crystals Keepers, by Brandon Mull. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $14.99

Cole is still trapped in the world where he found himself by chance in the first book of this series when he followed his friends across the barriers.   Now we are in book 3, and Cole persists in his search for his friends in the Outskirts. These books have been written to stand alone each from the others, but I still feel that I like to read them as they come. There are two more books planned for the series, and I expect that all will turn out well, as Cole has to survive two more kingdoms. In this one, all the magic has gone awry, and is unpredictable, so there are serious problems for Cole to stay on top of events as they unfold. Good reading for 13 and over.

*Stray, by Rachael Craw. PB from Walker Books. RRP $19.95

This is another story where the preceding volume has stayed with me, because it was such an innovative and well planned fantasy. It is a tight, beautifully constructed story from a skilled and imaginative author.   Because Evie is a shield, she is at risk from the Affinity Project, who hunt her because they want to remove her individuality and take control of her body and mind because her DNA is so different from every body else. Evie decides to flee, and does. It is not a happy story, because Aiden, her brother dies, and eventually Affinity catches up with Evie, but….with help from Jamie and Kitty, who have followed her, Evie escapes, so now we wait for the next instalment, which I am told will be called Shield. For readers of 14 and over.

All my secrets, by Sophie McKenzie. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $17.99

Evie Brown was happy with herself and her family until she learned that she is to be the recipient of a massive inheritance, on her eighteenth birthday, from her natural mother—a mother about whom Evie knew nothing, and a fact her family had always hidden from her. Evie is devastated, and immediately repudiates her adoptive mother, rejects her father’s clumsy efforts to make amends and begins to search for information about her natural mother. She meets her uncle Gavin, and feels that he cares for her, but becomes so obsessed by the search for info about her mother that Gavin, and her parents feel that she should attend a special course for children with difficult issues to resolve at a school called Lightsea. What happens at the school is all Evie centred, and Evie is traumatised further before events are resolved and the dastardly plot to kill her is uncovered. Whom should she trust? And which boy should she love? I found the story too Evie centred, and the fuss and time spent on whether she should fall in love with Kit or Josh, far too overdone. The interest palled as the story continued with little variation to the plot. For readers of 13-15 years.





















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