Children and Teenage new books for October-November 2015: reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the read!

Under the Flame Tree, by Karen Wood. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP about $20

Kirra has just left school, and is starting a job with horses on the property where her father is the manager. There is the promise that her fees at college to learn more about horses will be paid if she is successful with this placement. There are two boys involved– Kirra’s friend Jamie, and a new ringer, Daniel, whom Kara finds surly and hard to get along with. Moreover Daniel has served time in a juvenile centre, and everyone warns Kirra not to get involved. The plot is predictable because of course Daniel becomes irresistible, but in the process Kirra learns more about his family, why he was falsely convicted, and eventually is helpful in exposing the actual culprit. Light reading, probably more for older teenage girls than adults.

***Newt’s Emerald, by Garth Nix. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $18.99

What a delightful novel– it is part fantasy and magic, but there is also acknowledgement of the regency novels of Georgette Heyer, and a few flicks to Jane Austen as well. Lady Truthful Newington inherits the magical Emerald on her eighteenth birthday, but in the midst of the celebrations, there is a massive storm, and the emerald disappears. Lady Truthful then goes to London to see if she can discover who has stolen the jewel. Her elderly but totally progressive thinker of a great aunt suggests that Truthful should dress as a man, and so Truthful become the young Chevalier de Viennes, because a man can move around London alone, whereas a well brought up young lady– never! Of course there is magic involved, and it doesn’t take long before Truthful and her few trusty old friends, and a couple of new friends-one of whom is rather handsome– are seriously looking for the crook. The story romps along, with any possible romance denied of course by Truthful. This story is a great way to introduce teenagers– and girls in particular -both to other stories by Garth Nix, but also to the delights of the regency novels. A wonderful, fun read.

****Concentr8, by William Sutcliffe. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $24.99

Wow– what a contrast from Newt’s Emerald! This is a novel, set in London, possibly not too far in the future. It tells of five teenagers, all of whom were classed as having ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. All of these kids had been fed Concentr8–a made up pseudonym for Ritalin–by authorities, for as long as they could remember. Life changed when the local mayor ordered that supply of the drug be stopped—riots and protests broke out across the city. ADHD kids can be prone to impulsive decisions and actions, and these five, on the spur of the moment, take an innocent council worker as hostage, and keep him locked up in a deserted warehouse for five days. There is a journalist who is searching for answers about both the drug Concentr8, how it has been used, and manipulated, and who has benefited from dosing all these kids for so many years. At the top of each chapter is an extract from recent literature about ADHD, the medication Ritalin, and what has been discovered about its effects on those who take it. Essentially the story is about how we label children, and why. The effects of our education policies on children who think outside the square cannot be underestimated, but the long-term effects, as portrayed by this story, can be unpredictable and certainly repressive. I found this an engrossing story– I have worked with so-called ADHD children for over thirty years. I know that if such children are taught to read, and to have confidence in themselves, they can achieve as well or better than other children at school, but too often they are not taught in a manner appropriate to their individual needs. Often too, the term dyslexic would be a closer description of the thinking profile of these children, and dyslexia is now better understood, with the use of brain scansto understand processing of particular tasks. An excellent, thought provoking read for teenagers and interested adults.

**The Cat at the Wall, by Deborah Ellis. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $16.99

Set in the West Bank area of Israel, this tells of two Israeli soldiers, whose task it is to stake out, then raid, and use as a hideout, an apparently empty house. The goal is to see if there is any terrorist activity in the neighbourhoood. What the two soldiers find, is a cat which is the reincarnation of a girl named Clare, who died about a year earlier, after a traffic accident for which she blamed her teacher, who picked on her–at least in Clare’s eyes. As we read the story of Clare’s demise, we do not find her attractive, but it appears that as a cat she is kinder, and more aware of the feelings and thoughts of others, than she had been as a girl. There is a small boy, Omar, perhaps autistic, in the house. When his teacher comes knocking to find out why he is not at school, the soldiers realize that thy have been discovered. Fine, but then some of the local people are angry at their presence, and finally there are rocks thrown, and the boy’s life is in danger. It is up to the Cat to work out how to rescue him. This is a poignant multifaceted story– of Clare– of the boy Omar–and also of the two young Israeli soldiers and their lives, duty and attittudes.            War benefits nobody. Another challenging but excellent story from this author, for readers of 12-15 years.

**The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, by John Boyne. PB from Penguin/ Random House. RRP $19.95

Everyone who has read and been challenged by, but remembers The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, will read this book. Again the author returns to the World War 2 theme, this time through the life of Pierrot, a young French boy who is left an orphan, and ultimately finds his way to his paternal aunt, who lives in the mountains of Austria, and is housekeeper at the Berghof, holiday house of Adolf Hitler. Because of the sensitivities of Hitler, Pierrot becomes Pieter, has to dress in noticeably German clothes, and to avoid receiving letters from his former best friend in Paris, who was Jewish. Over the next seven or eight years the reader sees the transformation of Pieter into a dutiful, arrogant supporter of Hitler. It is a plausible story, and one, which again highlights the negative effects on people of prejudice and hatred. Excellent reading for those of about 10 and over.

****Boot Camp, by Robert Muchamore. PB from Hachette. RRP about $24

Forty eight young rock musicians, members of twelve bands, have been chosen to experience six weeks of boot camp with musical training, lessons in how to handle an interview, and presence in front of TV cameras, plus a competition. All the battles, both musical and physical, are filmed, and the results are turned into a reality TV show. The central characters of the story are Jay, his unpleasant brother Theo, his cousin Tristan, and would-be girlfriend Summer. There is coarse language, and a bit of blood, but the story has a strong authentic feel to it, as the musicians bunker down in a converted gracious manor house not far from London. The drama escalates suddenly right at the end when a serious accident occurs, and we are left hanging, waiting for the next episode –the book will be called Battle Zone. Superb reading for music buffs, and fans of Muchamore’s Cherubs series–preferably about 14 and over.

Asking for it, by Louise O’Neill. PB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

I am including this book in the adult section, because it may serve as a cautionary tale for some parents. The publisher lists it as a children’s book, but with the caution on the back that it is “Not suitable for younger readers. Contains strong language and explicit scenes” It is the story of a young Irish girl, Emma, who is eighteen and a happy, attractive young woman. One night at a party, Emma gets drunk, and is raped—not just by one boy. When she wakes the next morning on the porch of her own home, she is in extreme pain, and doesn’t know why, or what happened. It is a devastating story, but one sadly, which will resonate with some teenagers and women. Such stories and events are an indictment on western society, and the social taboos and constraints of life in small towns. For mature readers only.

For the very young….Picture Books.

**This Little Piggy went Dancing, by Margaret Wild and Deborah Niland. Board Book from Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99

Each repetition of the rhyme “This leittle piggy went to market” has a double page spread, and a different food or activity is the theme, such as pasta, or dancing. It is a delightful book with white pages, and lots of space, as well as each little pig to talk about. A gem of a book for infants of 6 months to toddlers of about two years of age—and a tough little book too, so it will withstand lots of love and handling.

**Pip and Posy, the Scary monster, by Axel Scheffler.   Board Book from Nosy Crow and Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

This book is excellent value—the story, about Posy, what she does on a rainy day and how she is frightened when Pip turns up dressed as a blue monster—is fun, and will help to allay a young’s child’s fear of the unknown as Posy learns to have fun with the monster costume rather than feel afraid. All the Pip and Posy books have a learning slant to them, and they have all been delightful for adults to read too—and that is important when you are reading and then rereading many times to a young child! This one is suitable for toddlers of 1-4 years.

***Be Brave Pink Piglet, by Phil Cummings and Sarah Davis. PB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP $14.99 (also in HB and eBook)

As Pink Piglet explores his world, he sees and is temporarily scared by some of the large or different animals he meets. Always he is able to return to his mum—and she is not scared of such things, and is both able to comfort and support him, and to be proud of him. The illustrations are delightful, and will offer much for discussion when the book is read with a child of 1-4 years.

***The Big Book of Animals of the World, by Ole Konnecke. Board book from Gecko. RRP $25

In this mixture of a world tour, and a trip to the zoo we have a good look at the animals of the world, and their particular environments. It is a large book, almost A3 size, and there is considerable detail in the drawings so that they are accurate and true to life. I love the way in which there are extra picture stories on each double page spread, such as that of the two small animals who are climbing a lookout to e able to see all that is in the surrounding landscape- the guy with the chainsaw, and the fisherman on the lake- all of this looks very Canadian, and it offers a lot to talk about. The book is suitable for ages 2 to about 7, and I find it delightful.

 This little Roo went to Market, by Mandy Foot. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99

This is another version of “This little {Piggy went to market” based on Australian animals, fruits and vegetables.   The story is pleasant, and the pictures are attractive. It is fine for children of 2-4 years, probably best in company with an adult.

A Very Wombat Christmas, by Lachlan Creagh. HB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP $24.99

A Christmas story with Australian animals, about gifts, and how carefully Wombat searches for the ideal present for Emu. It is a bright book, and suitable for 2-4 year olds.

My Dead Bunny, by Sigi Cohen and illustrated by James Foley. HB from Walker Books. RRP $19.95

This is a difficult book to categorise. It tells in verse the story of Brad the dead bunny- how he died, and how he now comes to haunt the narrator when he is in bed. The illustrations are mostly in black and white, with a bit of sickly green, all of which match the story, but will make the book scary for very young children. The verse is suitable for kids of maybe 7-9 years, and I would be hesitant to give the book to anyone younger. The intention is to match the style of some horror movies, and in this I think the author and illustrator have succeeded well.

*Snow Bear, by Tony Mitton and Alison Brown. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

A touching story—possibly more oriented to life in the northern hemisphere, where there is much more snow, and people are familiar with the cold and loneliness that can be felt with lots of snow. Small Snow Bear is looking for a home, and for love and comfort. Eventually, after trudging through lots of snow, he finds a small girl who is also in need of a friend. It is a cheering story, suitable for readers of 2-5 years.

***I want Spaghetti, by Stephanie Blake. PB from Gecko. RRP $16

Simon the rabbit is a fussy eater, and makes life tough for his parents. He is also quite naughty, and capable of serious temper tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. How the parents outwit Simon and are able to attract him to other foods is a fun read, with, lifelike and amusing illustrations, which kids will love to talk about. This would be an excellent book in the ‘social learning’ field, for autistic children who often have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, and will also be great for kids of 2-5 years. It is a funny,visually appealing book!

***Sad the Dog, by Sandy Fussell. HB from Walker Books. RRP $24.95

This is a cautionary story about a small dog, whose original owners did not want him, or help him enjoy life. They did not even give him a name, or play with him but shouted so that he felt miserable. When they moved house, they left him behind. The dog named himself Sad, because that is how he felt. Then, wonder of wonders, a family arrived to live in the house, and for the children, the best thing about the new house was that it came with a dog for them to love and play with! So –Sad is able to rename himself—Lucky. It is a happy read, but it also contains a lesson about the responsibilities which come with a pet—to look after, and to cherish, so that the pet as well as the owner feels good. This is a gem of a book for children of 3-8 years.

*One Thing, featuring Charlie and Lola, by Lauren Child. HB from Hachette. RRP about $24.95

This is a book about numbers, and counting. New parents often do not realize that the basics of mathematics need to be taught at home, and here we learn about what Charlie and Lola learn about numbers as they clean their teeth, go to the shops, count their steps along the footpath and so on. It will make a great present for young children who are about to start school—or for their parents! It is suitable for kids of 4-6 years.

Books for Primary ages

 Non-Fiction.

Meet- Sidney Nolan, by Yvonne Mes, and illustrated by Sandra Eterovic. HB from Random House. RRP $24.99

This picture book provides an outline of Nolan’s life, and tells of significant events which helped shape his art—from stowing away in an attempt to get to England, when he had no money, and of significant and helpful friendships in his life. What the book does not give are reproductions of his artwork. There is a timeline at the end of the book. It will be a helpful book to children who are interested to know of Nolan’s life, perhaps as an introduction to his art.

***The Drum: Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change, by Carole Wilkinson. PB from Black Dog and Walker Books. RRP $18.95

This is the history of evidence about climate change, and an up to date summary of recent research. The book is segmented into topics for easy reference, and is written at a level suitable for upper primary school children. At the end of the book there is a time line, plus a glossary, a list of references used, useful web sites for those doing research for assignments, and an index. This is the clearest and easiest to understand book that I have read about climate change—either for adults or children. Highly recommended for everybody, including climate change skeptics!

**Making Bombs for Hitler, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This book is about aspects of World War 2 of which I was oblivious. It tells about young Ukrainians who were forced to work for the Nazis, making bombs, but then after liberation, were not allowed to return to Ukraine because the Soviets believed that they had been indoctrinated by the Germans. The story is about two sisters who are first separated by the Nazis. The older sister, Lida was then forced to make bombs for the Nazis, and worked and lived in a slave labour camp and dreadful conditions. The story includes factual information about how the young workers tried to sabotage some of the bombs so they would misfire, but Lida’s prime concern is to work out how she is to find her sister Larissa again. It is also the story of a boy, Luka who has been and remains a friend of Lida’s and shares some of her experiences. It is a grim, but touching story, with at least a happy ending. For readers of 10-12 years, both boys and girls.

Fiction for Primary kids

Meet—Freddy Tangles. Legend or Loser, and Champ or Chicken. Two titles by Jack Brand and illustrated by Tom Jellett. PBs from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99 each.

These two stories are good value for boys of 7-9 years. They are stories about Freddy—in Legend or Loser, Freddy is scared of the local bully, and the story tells how he learns to cope, and how Sid Malone is defeated. In Champ or Chicken Freddy learns to become more confident in social settings, and in particular, with a girl. Wholesome reading, and quite entertaining—if you are a boy of 7-9 years that is!

*The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party, by Shannon and Dale Hale, and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. HB from Walker Books. RRP $117.95

This is a simple fantasy for girls of 6-8 years, about the Princess Black, and what happens to disrupt her birthday party, when the princess is called to act to defeat the monster before her party begins and then more trouble follows. The story is highly fanciful, but it is a high quality production, with large clear font, age appropriate vocabulary, and lots of attractive pictures. Lots of appeal in this book for young girls.

The River and the Book, by Alison Croggon. PB from Walker Books. RRP $16.95

This is a serious story about a village in Africa. Simbala is a Keeper. Although she is young, since the death of her mother she has become the reader who will use the Book to find the answers to questions about aspects of life and the future for other villagers. Western companies have come to the area of the River, and have begun to mine the area. In the process, they are killing the river, and river flow has been disrupted, so the crops are poor, if they survive. A foreign woman visits the village, and seems to want to help the villagers against the developers, but when the foreigner leaves, she has stolen the Book. When Simbala hunts the woman down, it is to find that the magic of the book has been destroyed. This is almost a fable about how western developments in Africa can affect adversely the lives of the locals. For mature readers of 10 years and over.

*Heartsong, by Kevin Crossley-Holland. HB from Orchard Books and Hachette. . RRP about $20

I loved this story. It tells of Laura, a young mute orphan who is taken in at the orphanage in Venice, and raised there. It is discovered that Laura is very musical, and she is then taught music by a young monk , so much of the story is   about that young monk, Antonio Vivaldi.   It is easy to read, and a pleasant story about how music can help make people feel happy as well as some detail about life in Venice a couple of hundred years ago. For girls of 8-12 years.

Timmy Failure 4—Sanitized for your Protection, by Stephen Pastis. HB from Walker Books. RRP $17.95
Timmy Failure is a detective. The fact that he is only a boy of about 9 or 10 does not matter and the fact that this is the fourth story about Timmy’s successes and occasional failures as a detective supports the fact that he is generally successful. Most of his adventures contain much humour—especially for boys who like The Wimpy Kid, or similar stories. Here Timmy has to travel halfway across the country to help his mother’s new boyfriend settle into a new job but this is just part of the issue, because Timmy realizes that he is also traveling with a well known criminal. Great layout—lots of illustrations and an easy, fun read for boys of 8-1 0 years.

The Luna Laboratorium, by N.J Gemmell. PB from Random House. RRP $16.99

This is the third, and final volume about the Caddy children and their adventures in London and now back in Australia, as they attempt, with the help of their eccentric uncle Basti, to find their mother, whom they had believed to be dead, but now know to be alive, having been kidnapped by some who did not like the scientific work she was doing, and wanted her to work on some illegal activities. The four children their friend Bone, and Basti, return to Australia, and most of the action in this story takes place in Sydney, starting at Luna Park, where dastardly deeds have been committed in hiding. Finally—yes, all is resolved happily. It is a fanciful story, but after the two earlier volumes, it was apparent that the entire family would be reunited, and both mother and father returning home in good health. A good read, especially or those who have read the two earlier books in the series for 9-12 year olds.

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief, by Catherine Jinks. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

This is the fist volume, with another to follow of the adventures of Philo and the other linkboys—boys who work in the dark nineteenth century London streets, to light people to their homes at night. Philo meets a sympathetic doctor, Mr. Paxton, and starts to work for him regularly. Philo and Mr Paxton become aware that there are criminals trying to blackmail people using a particular drug, but pretending that the illness is caused by a demon. The next volume of the story will appeal in April next year. It is an OK read, but I became confused because there are so many characters in the story, and it was a bit difficult to keep track. OK for boys of 12- years and over if it appeals.

****The Mapmaker Chronicles, Breath of the Dragon by A.L Tait. PB from Hachette. RRP $14.99

This has been the best fantasy story sequence I have read in the past twelve months or so, and here it comes to a highly satisfactory conclusion. Quinn, Ash, Zain, and the crew of the Libertas do not arrive back to their home port as the first crew to return, but as it turns out, they are the victors of the King’s quest to complete the map of the world, and bring home the treasure. Similarities between the appeal of this series and that of John Flanagan’s Rangers’ Apprentice series have been made—and I can understand why. Both series make excellent reading for capable readers – both boys and girls of 10-14 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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