January 2016, recent new books for children and teenagers, reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars, the better the read!

For young readers

Picture books

**Open Very carefully, by Nick Bromley and Nicola O’Byrne. Board book from Nosy Crow and Allen and Unwin. RRP $12.99

From a book which starts with a lovely peaceful picture of ducks on a pond, this turns into a search for a monster, which turns out to be a crocodile which eats letters. When the crocodile is decorated with crayons, he is uncomfortable, and tries to get away. There are a couple of techniques used, like ‘rock the book’ to increase participation by the child in the attempt to get rid of the crocodiles. The finale is fun, and the book offers lots of chances for adult and child to interact with each other and the book to enjoy the read. An excellent concept and suitable for 2- 4 year olds.

****Two more board books –Listen to the Farm and Listen to the Music. Both are by Marion Billet, and again, published by Nosy Crow and Allen and Unwin. RRP $15.99 each.

Both of these books include a sound module, with a tiny switch which has to be activated toallow the child to push a button to hear the noises appropriate to each double page. Whilst toddlers of 1- 3 years will be able to press the buttons on each page, the sound module is tiny, and it would be very difficult for them to activate, or to extract a battery. This aspect of the book, as well as the questions, answers, pictures and associated sounds have been very well thought out, and the result is two delightful durable books. Top quality!

Please, Open this Book!, by Adam Lehrhaupt. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $27.99

To open this book is the only way to save the family of monkeys and other animals which are between its pages. As the story proceeds, the animals become scared that the reader will reach the end, and close the book…..so the cycle begins again. Because it is dark inside the book when it is closed, there is a lot of black. It is probably the first book for kids where I have felt the black to be appropriate, because it helps the reader imagine what the animals are saying, and what it would be like to be stuck inside a book….it’s an interesting, clever presentation, and good reading and thinking for 3-6 year olds.

My First Day at School, by Rosie Smith and Bruce Whately. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

This is a clever book. The author and illustrator have used various animals, and very simple text to outline for small children what they can expect for their first day at school, from waking, dressing, and having breakfast, to the end of the day after a story, and the return home. Well designed and set out, there is lots of look at and talk about, and it is very appealing for children of 3-5 years.

I Need a hug, by Aaron Blabey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

The very prickly beast in this story, which sort of resembles an echidna, wants a hug, but because he is prickly, he can’t get one! It is only when he meets another animal, who wants a kiss, that the two manage an embrace….lots to talk about again, and another well set out book for kids of 2-5 years to enjoy. Pages with little on them are very attractive to young children, and make them keen to turn the page to the next bit….

***Nellie Belle, by Mem Fox and illustrated by Mike Austin.   HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

A new release from the best-known Australian advocate of reading for children is always a delight, and this book certainly is that! Bright stylised pictures, simple but effective rhyming verse and the story of Nellie Belle the dog who loves to experience lots of new places. For 1-4 years, and I bet most of the kids will learn the text after frequent repetition of the story by an adult or older child!

***This and That, by Mem Fox and illustrations by Judy Horacek. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

Another delight from Mem! Any child whose library contains books like these is indeed fortunate. More rhyming verse, and examples of polished awareness of English grammar and verbal imagery are woven into the story as the reader learns that there will be a story about ‘cavernous caves’, and ‘kings and queens who loved to have a chat’. Each alternate double page presents a picture of   a ‘this’ or a that’   about which a story is presented in pictures, and can be discussed. Excellent reading again for 2-5 year olds.

*The Adventures of Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat. PB from Lothian and Hachette. RRP about $16

This book won the Caldecott Medal for 2015. This award is given annually by a division of the American Library Association for the best picture book of the year for children. Here we have a story about an imaginary friend who, after he is born, has to wait for a real child to choose him to be their friend. It is only when Beekle makes his away to the city that he meets Alice who has been pretty lonely to this point, but now, with Beelkle as her unimaginary friend the pair feel they can conquer the world.   For young readers of 3-6 years.

Pip and Pim, by Aunty Ruth Hegarty and illustrated by Sandi Harrold. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

Most of the stories from this esteemed Aboriginal elder are based in the bush, and designed to be told, or read to young children to teach them about life, both in the bush and in the wider community. Each story has a moral, and here the lesson is to obey your elders, and not wander too far away from the group, especially at night when you could get lost, or at the least, frightened. The illustrations are attractive. For young readers of 3-6 years.

Clementine’s Bath, by Annie White. HB from Scholastic. RR $24.99

A story told in rhyming verse about the ways that Clementine the dog tries to avoid a bath. The verse and vocabulary are designed to promote the child’s learning, the pictures are fun, and predictable, and the book will be appreciated by children from 3-7 years.

Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding, by Alex Field, and illustrated by Peter Carnavas. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Even though Christmas has passed for 2015, I decided to review this book, because it is a story which can be read happily at any time of the year. For adults who are reading the story, there are quirky reminders of Pride and Prejudice, with Mr Darcy as the hero, and Mr Collins the unwelcome interloper. The kids will probably just enjoy seeing how the family cope with an unpleasant visitor. For readers of 3-6 years.

A You’re Adorable, by Justine Clarke. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

This is an alphabet book, based on the song, for which the CD is included with the book. The author is an entertainer; she enjoys singing songs for children, and will continue to travel around Australia. The song uses the names of some of the letters, and dwells mostly on the fact that the listener is exciting, adorable or a cutie. The presentation of the letters or the alphabet are stylized, of ten using shapes which resemble letters, in upper case.   OK for any age if either the book or the CD appeal.

Mr Chicken Lands on London, by Leigh Hobbs. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $9.99

This is a delightful mix of travel book for the young and storybook with Mr Chicken of course as the hero. We learn to find our way around London, and to see all the most significant sites. This is a book which will appeal to families with young children who have visited London, or are about to do so—as well as general interest for less fortunate families of course. Good for 3-8 years.

**Green Lizards vs. Red Rectangles, by Steve Antony. HB from Hachette, RRP $24.99

The intention behind this book was probably to encourage the realisation in its readers that war is futile. The green lizards are at war– we see the numbers of creatures and shapes involved, how they fight and fight, all to no avail until finally one green lizard asks, “What are we fighting for?” The illustrations are direct and stunning;. the message unequivocal, and the book an excellent way to introduce talk about war or peace with children of 4-9 years.

****At the Beach, by Roland Harvey. PB, and accompanying jigsaw puzzle, from Allen and Unwin. RRP $19.99

I can’t decide whether this book and puzzle will be enjoyed more by the children who receive the set as a gift, or by the adults who give the gift, and share both book and puzzle with young kids of 4-10 years! There is so much to look at, talk about, and enjoy in the pictures, and the story of days at the beach in summer in Australia, and to do the puzzle—well, what better way for an adult and child to share a fun yet learning experience? This will also be an excellent activity for junior primary school classes, either in class, or in the school library. Well done Roland….highly recommended!

Large books and non-fiction

Asterix and the Missing Scroll, by Jean-Yves Ferri and illustrated by Didier Conrad. HB from Orion, and released by Hachette. RRP $24.99

This is the second Asterix story to be written by the combination of this author and illustrator. It is now 56 years since the first Asterix book was released….wow. Now there is a new character in this book—Libellus Blockbustus, who is publisher and advisor to Caesar, plus others as well, such as Totrum, and Confoundtheirpolitix, and Archaeopterix, as the search is on for the missing scroll, which tells of the defeat of Caesar by the Gauls of Armorica. Fun reading for Asterix fans of any age—and I suspect that most of them will be mature adults….

Game On, 2016, from Scholastic, in PB RRP $19.99

This book has been prepared by a team of writers and gamers, to outline the features and facts about the best videogames available at present. This compendium includes games such as Civilization, which h first entered the market in 1991, but continues to release new versions or modifications. There is info about Mario, (maybe the best game ever for kids)—but most of these games I have never heard of. The categories include: weirdest games, football games, horror games, war craft, including minecraft.   There are details about content, some hints for smart play, and some interviews from game designers and Youtube.     I am amused to read that my favourite when I bought our first computer, Lemmings, has now been superseded by Flockers—which are sheep but the same basic idea. This book is suitable for parents, or kids, and gamers everywhere. In tiny, tiny print, very hard to read without a magnifying glass, at the bottom of the front page, is a series of warnings about careful gaming and gaming addiction. It is a shame the editor and compilers of this volume did not see fit to print these warnings larger print!

**Wordburger, by David Astle. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $$14.99

I am delighted with this small chunky volume about word puzzles for kids—mainly because I hope that it will help me become a more competent puzzler! There are hints here about how to solve 20 different types of word puzzles, from tongue twisters and brainteasers, palindromes, homophones to cryptic crosswords. All designed with young people in mind but what a joy for adults who have never learned how to manage cryptics! This book is highly recommended for all children who love words and language, and for adults who feel the need to improve their word skills…

*Why does Asparagus make your wee smell?, by Andy Brunning. HB from Hachette. RRP $29.99

This is a book of 58 examples of everyday foods, and how to understand the chemistry involved in their flavours, tastes, and smell. The book begins with a very brief outline of organic chemistry, and there are supplementary references at the end of the book as well. I have found browsing the various sections—flavours, aromas, colours, poison, mind, sensation, health and transformation- to be a very interesting and relaxed activity. From “why does bacon smell so good’ to “what causes the bitterness of coffee?” And why can clove oil be used as an antiseptic—‘the range of questions is huge, but the answers are explained clearly and for the most part I have understood them. This is a good book for schools and for families where the children ask these sorts of questions–good value

***Australia A to Z, by Armin Greder. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

Whilst this could be described as an alphabet book, it is far more perceptive and critical than that, as the author, a graphic designer and illustrator- shows us symbols of our Australian lifestyle through his eyes and with perceptive emphases for particular features. I love the portrait of “Rupert’, the bodies on the beach for ‘Gold Coast’ and a near miss on the road at night for ‘Kangaroo’, plus, the ironical presentation of Advance Australia Fair as a finale, with the second verse printed, but the sign on the jetty saying “We’re full’ as the boat of refugees heads away….it is a thought provoking book, and great for secondary art classes and other interested Australians.

Fiction for primary -aged readers

**The Cleo Stories, A Friend and a Pet, by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $16.99

Cleo is at home on a wet day, and she is thinking. She continues to think, and her parents note that she is not her usual cheerful self. Finally Cleo starts to ask questions about pets, and says that she wants-or needs- a pet. Her parents find all sorts of excuses, and reasons why a pet is not a good idea, until finally, when her parents finally give in and say OK to a pet, Cleo, very pleased is able to say that she has already found five pets to look after, and that she is now happy. For the surprise, read the book. It is a realistic, plausible story and one which will resonate with many families. It is a beautifully presented story, with most appealing illustrations, for readers of 5-8 years.

Uno’s Garden, by Graeme Base. PB from Penguin. RRP about $10

This is a delightful small book with typical Graeme Base-styled drawing on every page. There is also a story, written in quite small font, about what Uno finds when he arrives in the forest one fine day. When Uno decides to live in the forest, at first he is alone, but then the area becomes more heavily populated until one day Uno realises…..this is a part puzzle, part environmental awareness story. Good for kids of 5-8 to tackle by themselves.


There are several series of books which have proved popular with younger readers. Some are distinctly ‘girly’, and others more suited to boys. Over the past couple of months since my last reviews, there have been multiple releases in seven such series!  

*In the Silver Shoes series, we have Lights, Camera, Dance, and Broadway Baby. The books are written by Samantha-Ellen Bound, are in PB and released by Random House. RRP is $14.99 each.

More than 4 million Australian children have had dance lessons. Most don’t make the professional levels, but the activity and training is always valuable. Here we read of two young girls, each of whom want to succeed in a particular style of dance. I like the fact that in these books, the life of a professional dancer is shown as a job which like all others which are worth doing, requires practice, skills and patience, plus the need to get along with other people, even though they will not all be pleasant. With a glossary for the terms used in each book, and a bit about the different styles of dance, these books are good value for young dancers of about 7-10 years.

Ella Diaries, Christmas Chaos, and Pony School Showdown. By Meredith Costain, with Danielle McDonald as illustrator. PBs from Scholastic. RRP $12.99 each.

Life is viewed from Ella’s point of view, and as shown in her diaries in both these books. The content is in print with decorations, and alterations as if Ella has actually handwritten the content. This presentation provides a strong connection with the text for the readers, as we learn of Ella’s actions, and the events in which she participates. It is as if the reader were there too. Girls of 6-8 years have really enjoyed these stories.

Pine Valley Ponies, the Runaway Foal, and The Forbidden Trail, are both by Kate Welshman, and in PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99 each.

This is a new series, designed for young horse lovers. The books are really simple reading, and are suitable for kids of about six, or who are just starting o read books for themselves. Again from the colour of the covers, and from the content, the appeal will be more to girls than boys. There are not many illustrations, but those that there are remind me a bit of the style of the English horsey stories by Thelwell. A positive feature of these books is that topic specific vocabulary, and difficult words are written in a different font. This means that the readers understand that these words might be harder to read, so they can either work them out, skip them or ask for help from an older person. The titles of these books offer a very succinct summary of the main plot of each book. For readers of 6 -8, if you are enthusiastic about horses and riding.

*Netball Gems: Pivot and Win, and Defend to the End, are written by B. Hellard and L Gibbs. They are in PB from Penguin/Random House, and are $12.99 each. These are books 3 and 4 of a series.

This is a series which seeks to build interest in netball after the success of the Aussie Diamonds in the 2015 World Cup. The authors are well qualified to write books which include quite a lot of sports technique as well as a story. Both have played, coached and umpired at A grade level, and Bernadette is a primary school teacher who specialises in literacy and physical education. Lily is the Star in Pivot and Win: her main worry is whether she is tall enough to play high-level netball. For Maia in Defend to the End the story tells of her family’s move from New Zealand, and Maia’s realisation that she is going to have to learn new techniques for a different emphasis to the game in Australia.   As well as the background stories about issues for each family, there are details about games, and playing techniques. These books have quite a deal of solid content, and are reading and interest level appropriate for girls of say 9-12 years.

**The Kaboom Kid, Home and Away, and The Big Time, by David Warner, with J.V McGee, and illustrated by Jules Faber. PBs from Simon and Schuster. RRP $14.99 each.

These are books 5 and 6 in this series about young cricketers and little Davey Warner of course, before he became the household name he is today. Boys and girls have both become much more interested in cricket since the Big Bash League has gained so many fans, and both boys and girls can see that there is a career path in cricket, if you are dedicated and keen enough. These books have been a great success- especially, in my experience with boys of about 8-11 years. The publisher’s blurb tells me that the books have sold more than 100,000 copies since the first volume was printed about a year ago. The Sandhill Sluggers are doing OK, and enjoy their game, as well as all the other fun the team members have together. It is wholesome fun reading about an outdoor sport, and the fun which kids can have together when they play a team sport, and play together at other times. Excellent value.

Tiny Timmy, Soccer superstar, by Tim Cahill. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

Another first with this book. Now we have Socceroos player and star Tim Cahill, writing a book about soccer. Tiny Tim plays well, but is always knocked about on the field because he is so small. He desperately wants to make it into the school soccer team, but it is only after lots of set backs that he discovers that he has one real ability—to jump high to head the ball. The text has lots of variation in font size, definitions of some soccer terms, and exaggerated illustrations and skills. For those who are keen on soccer of about 7-10 years.

**The last of the new releases from series that I have here to start the New Year is another in the adventures of Tom Gates. Top of the Class is by Liz Pichon, and in PB   from Scholastic. RRP about $14. In this adventure, Tom, as in previous cases, recounts events from school. Tom dreams that he is top of the class, only to be rudely awoken by his teacher. I think that a major reason why boys enjoy these books so much is that the events which occur, from fooling the teacher, to the teacher being smarter than the kids, echoes the actual behaviour in many classes around the country. As well, the boys like the variety on each page, on their ability to identify with Tom, and outwit at least some of the people some of the time. There are directions in this book about how to make a paper plane that works—great fun. For boys from 7-12 years.

Harry’s Secret, by Anita Heiss. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

Harry’s secret is that that, unlike his skate-boarding playmates, he likes to draw, and to visit art galleries because he enjoys art. He tries to avoid flak from his mates, and sketches in secret until his portrait of the local mayor wins the local art prize, and his passion can be hidden no longer. The win meets with the approval of his friends because it is obvious that not only does he like drawing, but also he is good at it. A story about learning to live with yourself and your talents, for children of about 7-10 years.

The Bad Guys, Mission Unpluckable, by Aaron Blabey. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

This is another book for very young readers, mostly boys in this case I feel.   A lot of evil looking supposedly bad guys—with no real resemblance to people, but with speech and faces– take on the job of releasing 10,000 chickens from their cages. The story is told with in large drawings, with minimal easy to read text. This is the second on the Bad Guys series, and should be enjoyed by boys of 6-8 years.

****Weirdo 5, totally Weird, by Anh Do. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

This book is supposedly for the age group 6-8 years, but I have 10 and 11 year old boys who find the stories and the humour of this series, very attractive and enjoyable. This looks as if will be just as popular, when Weir Do meets the new boy at school Hans Some, who together with Weir’s friend Bella is on the opposite team in the camp Challenge. The visual appeal of the story is considerable, as there are lots of expressive doodles, as well as the simple text.

Jet the Rescue Dog, by David Long and Peter Bailey. From Allen and Unwin in PB. RRP $14.99

The rest of the title of this book is ‘ and other extraordinary stories of animals in wartime. This is a reissue in PB of the book about animals –not just dogs, but also cats, bird horses and even a bear-which have helped man in war time. I reviewed the book in HB in 2014, and my review is still on my blog for those who are interested. It is an excellent book for young readers of 9-12 years.

*****Lafcadio, The Lion who shot back, by Shel Silverstein. HB from Faber Factory plus Fip, and Allen and Unwin. RRP $22.99

This is a reprint of the late author’s fist book, originally published in 1963. It is described as Uncle Shelby’s story, and is regarded as a modern fable and classic. Lafcadio is a lion who doesn’t want to be shot by hunters, but, when he works out how to hold a gun, he realises that he doesn’t want to shoot hunters either—in fact he doesn’t like shooting at all, and he doesn’t like eating hunters either. All he really likes to eat are marshmallows. This is whimsical story for all ages, and it speaks to us of the futility of shooting anything, and of seeking retribution. It is published as a book for children, and –in words and illustrations- is certainly appropriate for thoughtful kids, of from perhaps 5 to adult.

*****The Adventures of Miss Petitfour, by Anne Michaels. HB from Bloomsbury. RRP $19.99

Miss Petitfour lives with a number of cats. Miss Petitfour is able to fly, and takes the cats with her when she travels, using one of her beautiful tablecloths as a type of magical flying umbrella. Together with her cats, she has lots of small adventures, such as when she realises she has no marmalade left, and tries to fly, against the wind, to buy more. Here she is helped in her quest by Sizzles, one of her cats, who uses his tail to prevent the flight continuing in the wrong direction—Sizzles did not like flying the wrong way to reach a certain place. There are other small adventures in this book, but the most delightful aspect of the stories for me is the excellent verbal imagery—the use of similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia and carefully chosen vocabulary to express Miss Petitfour’s liking for all that is precise and petite. We also meet some of the significant people in Miss Petitfour’s life—Mrs Collarwaller, who owns the bookshop, and Mr Coneybeare, who is a gentle, shy man, very much an admirer of Miss Petitfour. Via Miss Petitfours’ thoughts, and those of the narrator, we explore the meaning and use of interesting words like ‘festoon’ and ‘digression’. This will be a wonderful book for teachers to read aloud to a class, for a quiet, thoughtful time…or for innocent children to peruse at leisure, able to enjoy the whimsical nature of the meandering thoughts of the author, and Miss Petitfour. For children of 6 to adult.

The Tapper Twins go to War (with each other) by Geoff Rodkey. PB from Orion and Hachette. RRP about $15

I am not sure how to take this book. Ostensibly it tells of the emotional trauma to the twins Reese and Claudia when a disagreement between them erupted into a so-called war—mainly of words—with the consequences of punishment from parents, the taking of sides by friends, and the disruption to the peace of the Tapper household for several weeks.   There is much tweeting and messaging between the twins, and to others about each other, and a lot of senseless stuff (to me) but that young teens may see as fun or important. There is a lot of print in this book—small font, and dense on the page as well–the story goes on and on, but unless you are a tweenager of 9-12 years, I think it probable that the story and book are eminently forgettable.

***Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Old School, by Jeff Kinney. PB from Puffin and Penguin. RRP $14.99

I think this is the best Wimpy kid book yet (it is number 10!) Greg Heffley, (alias the Wimpy Kid) is protesting vehemently about all sorts of issues at home and at school, because everyone seems to be telling him that life was better in the old days, while Greg enjoys all the conveniences of technology, electricity and luxuries, like hot water, and good quality toilet paper…yet, there are aspects of modern life which are not always so much fun; when Dad said that kids used to play outside all the time, Greg comments that he went to an all day film festival, only to realise that the closed-in venue was used as a baby minding session by many families, and Greg couldn’t watch the films because every one else was fooling about!   Greg becomes a buddy at school to Frew, but Frew ends up doing all of Greg’s homework, and as a consequence Greg’s classes are changed, because his marks are so much better.-is there a moral here about cheating?   Comments on home life are interesting because the family now has a pet pig, who eats with the family and lives in the house…sometimes this is quite gross….Grandpa comes to stay, and again says that life was better in the olden days. And Mum succeeds in her efforts to unplug the town for a week or more….Jeff Kinney has been tongue in cheek with this book again, and enables fun reading for a kid about life for a kid now, but with lots of gentle reminders that if the past was not perfect, now is not perfect either. Excellent reading for kids of 8-12 years.

The League of Unexceptional Children, by Gitty Daneshvare. PB from Little Brown, a division of Hachette. RRP about $15

This is a story about two children, who up until now have been totally average and unexceptional in every way. They are the children who can be present in a class without anyone noticing them or speaking to them. They do not feel worthwhile in any way. Until the vice president of the US is kidnapped and unusual means are needed to find and rescue him. So Jonathan Murray and Shelley Brown are chosen by a little known league to become spies and help find and rescue the vice president. In so doing the children are actually important for a small time, but realise that they do not want to be significant or well recognised, but that they can be quite happy in themselves knowing and accepting that they are insignificant in the great scheme of things. The story reads OK and it is quite fun to see how many basic errors the two kids make because they are not used to being noticed or considered or thinking about what they should be doing.. It’s an OK read for 9-12 year olds.

**The Secret Forest, by Enid Blyton, PB from Hodder and Hachette, RRP about $14.

This book was first published in England in 1943—before I was born! I have read Enid Blyton books   since I was about 8 years old, but this was one which I had missed, although I had read the first of the Secret Stories. Here, the Arnold children are to spend their summer holidays in Baronia with their young friend Prince Paul’s’ family. It is a book of its times—air travel was a novelty, there were few radios or telephones, and life was simple—especially in the forest of Baronia where the children find themselves embroiled in a hunt for a group of robbers who live in a very isolated forest and have been pillaging the neighbourhood. There is still much to be said for stories where the language and vocabulary flow easily for an enjoyable story. As always, the children become involved, and the reader feels transported into another time and place. Still excellent- simple but wholesome reading for children of 7-10 years and I am delighted that Blyton books are being reissued.

***Star of Deltora, Book 1, Shadows of the Master, and Book 2, Two Moons, by Emily Rodda. PBs from Scholastic. RRP $16.99 each.

A new series by master storyteller, and inventor of the magical and mysterious Deltora, is always welcome, and here as always we have a new hero—in this case, heroine. Britta ‘s father had been a successful sea-faring trader, until his search for the Staff of Tier ended in disaster, and his ship now belongs to the powerful Rosalyn fleet. The captain of that fleet, Mab is looking for an apprentice, and Britta is chosen as one of the four contenders for the position. Mab does not know Britta’s identity, as she is living incognito. Britta has friends on board and on land, but she also has enemies to contend with, in particular one of the other contestants Vashti, and the old witch Zoolah. The second volume continues the voyage, but the major event for Britta of this stage of the voyage is being kidnapped and the horrifying time she then spends in the Swamplands, with lots of monsters and plenty of hidden secrets. When she escapes, it is with the acceptance by her of the services of a goozli, to help her sith the next stage of her quest to become the chosen apprentice. These books are exciting reading, and will be enjoyed by all fans of Emily Rodda and Deltora.

Sing a Rebel Song, by Pamela Rushby. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

Maggie McAllister grew up in Barcaldine, Queensland in the 1880s and writes a diary which starts in 1890, when the shearers’ strike was affecting property owners, shearers, and the people in the local towns. The shearers were desperate to have the conditions for their work, and the pay they received, improved. Maggie is n excellent student at school, and loves to write. Her ambition is to be a journalist but it seems as if the only way she can continue her education is to become a pupil-teacher—the means by which most young teachers were trained at the time. Maggie’s father is part of the shearers’ rebellion against their working conditions, and one of the leaders of the strike of 1891. The book actually begins when Maggie and her family are part of the group of protesters who left Australia in 1893, and sailed to Paraguay, in search of better conditions and life than what was on offer in Queensland. There is a lot of history in this book—at times I felt it led the story, rather than be incidental to it. When the shearing strike failed, the shearers realised that they needed more political clout—the results was the beginning of the union movement in Australia and also, the origins of the Labour Party. This is quite a serious story, probably suited to those in junior secondary school.

Teenage books

Friday Barnes, No Rules, by R.A Spratt. PB from Random House, RRP $16.99

At the start of the story, Friday has been deported from the USA, because evidently her parents never registered her as a citizen and she had been born in Switzerland. After three weeks in the Zurich Transit Lounge she solves a mystery for the local police, and then is registered as a Swiss citizen before returning to the USA, where her school is now in chaos because all the teachers have been fired. This is now the fourth book about Friday. Her role now is to work out why all the teachers were fired, and to return Highcrest Academy to a semblance of normality, and in the process clear Ian Wainscot, for whom Friday has rather more than a soft spot, of blame for all the problems. I felt that the start of the book when Friday was in Switzerland, did not link to the rest of the story. OK reading for girls of about 12-14 if it appeals.

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. PB from Penguin/Random House. RRP $22.99

Wow—a new series from this prolific and popular author of paranormal novels for teenagers. This is the first of what is to be a series which feature the gods of Norse mythology. Magnus has lived on the streets siince his mother died in strange circumstances. Now an uncle whom he has never met finds him and tells him that he is the son of a Norse god. This is a long book, and there are lots of threads opened which will be worked through in later books. I found this book a little like some of the adult Scandanavian fiction books which have been translated into English—there are too many hard to remember names! I have no doubt that Rick’s many fans will enjoy this series as much as his others, but it was too much for me to persevere to the end.

***The Story of Antigone, by Ali Smith. PB from Pushkin children’s, and released by Allen and Unwin. RRP about $16

This is a rewriting of the story which originated with Sophocles; it has been rewritten many times and the subject of plays and music, but now we have this version for children, with the aid of the crow as narrator. Antigone was the younger daughter of the blind Oedipus. When her two brothers fought to the death over the crown, one- Eteoles- was said to be the hero; Polynices was said to be a traitor, and was condemned to lay without burial rites in the field where he had died. Antigone goes against the decrees of her uncle Creon, now the king, and determines to bury her brother with all due rites. How Antigone is then condemned to death, and how she in fact kills herself, and the other deaths which follow is a morbid, but traditional story, which shows the irony of ill thought out decisions, and the futility of war-and these points are emphasised by the words of the narrator, the crow.   This is an easy to read story, which is suitable for children of 12 and over, and which, once read, will be remembered.

**The Secrets of the Wild Wood, by Tonke Dragt. HB from Pushkin Children’s and Allen and Unwin. RRP $29.99

This story was originally published in Dutch in 1965, and only recently translated into English. It is a sequel to The Letter for the King, but it was fine to read it as a stand-alone book. I did not expect to enjoy the story, because it seemed quite complicated at the start but I persisted, and soon I was hooked as Sir Tiuri and his page Piak set out, with determination to find the knight Ristridin. It is a tale of green men, knights, mysterious ladies, double crossing knights, and a most mysterious and dangerous forest, from which most people never return, and where most people are lost forever. It is also a story where morality, and fidelity to those whom one admires are emphasised. A good read for capable readers of 12 and over.

***Curiosity House 01,the Shrunken Head, by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester. PB from Hachette. RRP $19.99

A group of children whom most would regard as freaks, have all lived together happily under the care of Mr Dumfrey, the owner of the oddities museum. Each of the children has in fact a special talent, but when Max, a knife thrower joins the group a series of disastrous events begins to unfold. The museum’s ‘piece de resistance’—an Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, and the museum is threatened with closure. Someone, for some reason, wants the children taken away from the museum, apparently to be used for someone else’s benefit. Fortunately the children decide that they want to stick together, and manage to solve the mystery, and work everything out to their advantage. After a couple of chapters, I found it hard to put the book down until I had finished it! Good reading for 12 and over.

***The Next Together, by Lauren James. PB from Walker Books. RRP $16.95

This is the love story of Matthew and Katherine. The only issue is that the love story is spread over a couple of centuries as the pair are born, meet and fall in love, then are fated to die, only to be reborn in another time and place. The nominal setting is Scotland in the eighteenth century but the time warps vary for each reunion. Each time the pair come together, they make some sort of scientific discovery which improves the world in some way, but they seem fated not to see the results of their work. Finally, about twenty years in the future from now, Kate realises that the cycle has been broken after she has a baby. Matt is now in prison; she helps him escape, but then it seems that they have vanished off the earth, with their daughter left to trace their history and significance. It is a gripping story for mature and capable readers.

**The Hidden Series 3, Fetcher’s Song. By Lian Tanner. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $18.99

This is the concluding volume in the Hidden Series, from the world of the anti-machinists. People who remained alive on land have been mercilessly downtrodden under the brutal rule of the Devouts. These people are now brought together via the work of the Fetcher family, and the crew of the Oyster, who are now on land and looking for Fin’s mother, and the mechanical Captain, in order to defeat the Devouts and the evil Poosk. This generation of Fetchers, Gwin, her blind brother Nat, and their father inherited a code which will save the world, but they don’t recognise what it is or how to activate it. Gwin is the Singer, and the Devouts want to capture her father and Gwin, so their wish to restore the old ways can be defeated forever. This is an exciting finale to the complex, but fascinating series from this talented author.   This is not a stand alone book—it will be important to read the preceding volumes Ice Breaker and Sunkers Deep, if this book is appear coherent and satisfying. For capable readers of 12 and over.



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