March 2016 New children’s and teenager reading reviewed by Janet Croft

The more stars the better!

Picture Books

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, written by Jane Taylor and illustrated by Mandy Foot, is in PB from Hachette. RRP HB $24.99 PB and Ebook $21.99

 This bedtime story for very small children features a tiny pygmy possum, lost in the Australian bush at night, but then guided home by a special star. Along the way he meets many other native animals. The words are an adaptation of the traditional nursery song. The rhymes and rhythms are appealing, and children will learn quite easily to sing the verse to these new words. An attractive book for 2-4 year olds.

**The Pocket Dogs and the Lost kitten, by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Stephen Michael King. HB from Scholastic, $24.99

 Any new book from this pair of author-illustrator is to be welcomed. The stories are always gentle, but with a fairly clear message, which in this case deals with the need to share when circumstances at home change. Biff and Buff have always enjoyed traveling about in Mr Pocket’s very large pockets, but when a small kitten finds favour with Mr Pocket, Biff and Buff are aggrieved, and drive the kitten away. When all are reconciled the kitten is named Molly, and accepted as a member of the family. For 2-6 year olds, and a delightful story and visual treat.

Hattie Helps Out, by Jane Godwin and Davina Bell and illustrated by Freya Blackwood. HB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $24.99

An amusing story about what happens when Hattie seeks to help prepare for Dad’s birthday party while mum is asleep. Her earnest efforts are not quite what everyone expected, but all is well, and Hattie’s efforts are accepted and applauded by all. For readers of 2-5 years.

The Dreaming Tree, by Jo Oliver. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

 This is a collection of free verse poetry, with illustrations. The content is centred around features of the Australian landscape as viewed through the eyes of children. These poems can be read by a child alone, or in a group, and there will be lots to discuss. I find the poem about the gum tree particularly attractive. “It’s very hard to say if it’s bluey-green or greeny grey”. There are aspects of these poems and others which will appeal to older readers, but in the main this will be a book for primary aged children and a fine introduction to poetry about aspects of life with which we are all familiar.

Echidna Jim went for a Swim, by Phil Cummings and Laura Wood. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

In this amusing and brightly illustrated story about Australian animals who go for a day at the beach. All goes swimmingly until Echidna Jim enters the water and everyone’s floaties are popped! For young readers of 2-5 years

**Cyclone, by Jackie French and Bruce Whately. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

 Particular events in Australian history need to be presented anew for each generation, and here we have the story of Cyclone Tracy, when it hit Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974, retold for our young children of 3-7 years, with the message of the story accentuated by the colours used in the watercolour illustrations. Particularly effective is the grey- green on all pages, which evokes the images of just so much rain and wind! This is another very effective teaching tool-about the past, but also about what has just happened in Fiji with Cyclone Winston—so a book about weather events at any time as well.

Space Alien at Planet Dad, by Lucinda Gifford. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

Jake loves his dad, and enjoys playing with him. Jake is upset when a Space Alien invades, and seems to supplant Dad. The illustrations are bright and appealing, but the message of this book escaped me. Is it all about Jake’s imagination?   Perhaps kids of 3-5 years will find it easier to follow than I did.

*Peddles, by Elizabeth Rose Stanton. HB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $24.99

Peddles is an unusual pig. He is not content to wallow, and eat, and sleep, oink and root as the other pigs do. Peddles had a vivid imagination which made him want to fly, go into space, and most of all, to dance, wearing long boot-scooting red boots. The effect of his boots on the other pigs? You’ll have to read the book to find out—it is a delight, and children of 3 -6 years will enjoy the story, the illustrations and talking about the incongruities of a pig with human hobbies.

A Soldier, A Dog and a Boy, by Libby Hathorn. HB from Hachette. RRP $24.99

 This is a story of the Battle of the Somme, in Northern France in WW1. In dialogues and illustrations it shows the horrors of the conditions for the soldiers, and the desolation for the local people. A young Aussie soldier meets Jacques, a young French orphan, and realizes that he needs a human friend, as well as a dog. It is a moving story, simply but strongly revealed in words and pictures. This book is suitable for children of 7 years and older, preferably in the company of a school librarian, or another sympathetic adult.

****How to be Famous, by Michael Shalev. PB from Gecko. RRP $16.99

 This is an amusing look at a pigeon who knows that his ancestry is distinguished, and that he too is famous. Everyone is always pleased to see him, and to acknowledge his greatness. He is always pleased to leave an autograph for all of them. The story is simple, the illustrations are amazing, and  this is a book which I could readily read and reread with young children of 3-7 years. There is considerable humour in it all, and the ending is definitely one to talk about. One of my best books for this month.!

Pig the Winner, by Aaron Blabey. HB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

 There is no subtlety in the message from this book—it shows that Pig always wants to be a winner, is a very sore loser, and is also a cheat! The pictures emphasize the messages as well, but for young kids, the exaggeration of both the message and the pictures will appeal, and be easy to talk about. Pig really is a very unpleasant character—until he learns his lesson of course. For readers of 3-6 years.

Happily Ever After, The Ugly Duckling, illustrated by Annie White. HB from Scholastic, RRP $24.99

A retelling of the traditional story of the ugly duckling who grows into a beautiful swan, with evocative and easy to follow illustrations which will help very young children of 3-5 years follow and remember the story. An attractive presentation.

Forward March, by Christobel Mattingley and illustrated by David Kennett. HB from Scholastic RRP $24.99

This is a book for reflection about war: it shows many of the ways in which we commemorate each year on Anzac Day the experiences, and the sacrifices of all those who have served Australia in wars overseas. The narrative is a very simple summary of events, places and participants but the illustrations are magnificent, and carry the message very forcibly to all readers. This will be a fantastic book for school libraries as we approach Anzac Day 2016 and also for art students at any time of year, because the variety of images and styles of presentation of the material are highly evocative and atmospheric.

Junior Fiction

What Dog Knows, by Sylvia Vanden Heede, illustrated by Marije Tolman. PB from Gecko Press, RRP $16.99

This book is a bit of mixture of fiction and facts. Wolf and Dog are friends, with Dog supposedly the more intelligent. As the two friends play and talk together, they question lots of things, from mummies to robots, to skeletons, knights and pirates, fossils, dragons and medicines There are quizzes and sections of information mixed in with the stories so the result is a mixture, but quite entertaining and very interesting. The approach is novel and effective and the book is suitable for young readers of about 7-10 years.

The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. HB from Walker Books. RRP $19.99

 The amazing Princess Magnolia becomes involved in another mystery! Her glitter-stone ring rings, and the princess becomes the Princess in Black, and with her unicorn Frimplempants is off to sort out what is happening. The apparently adorable bunnies in the paddock were nastier than they looked, and ate whatever they could! It is Frimplepants who is the hero of this story as he persuades the bunnies to return to Monster Land. The illustrations are particularly effective in this book, and appeal mightily to girls of 5-7 years—these are also the most likely readers of the story.

Tiny Timmy makes the Grade, by Tim Cahill. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

 Books by various Australian sporting stars have proved very popular with young readers although most of these stories are actually written by ghost writers, but with  the sports star’s  name on the title page.  This increases the appeal for young readers with the story apparently about an event in the life of Tim Cahill when a boy. The issues presented include friends, the need to practice and persist if you want to become a sports star, and how to react to adversity. This is an easy to read book, with font variations and cartoon style illustrations. It will appeal to boys of about 6-8 years, and hopefully for some reluctant readers who are good at sport.

Matty’s Comeback, by Anita Heiss. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

 This is another story which is sports based for young boys—rugby league here- part of the appeal will be to young indigenous players because Matty plays for the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Again there are lessons to be learned from the story, and here it is what happens when Matty has an accident. How will the team cope without him? For boys of 7-9 years.

Keeper of the Crystals Book 4, Eve and the Last Dragon, by Jess Black. PB from Scholastic. RRP $14.99

Eve is on the train to go to stay with her gran, Sylvie. On arrival, she meets up with her local mate Oscar, and together they look for Sylvie, but then go up to the attic and open the hitherto banned wooden box. They are immediately transported into a magical world where they need to save some magical animals, including the last dragon. Eve is still puzzled as to why she is the one with magical powers as the Keeper of the Crystals. There is quite a bit of reading in these books, with probable appeal for girls of 6-9 years.

Trouble at Home, by Cate Whittle and illustrated by Kim Gamble. PB from Scholastic. RRP $9.99

 When Georgia’s baby brother Godfrey is abducted by a green dragon, no one believes Georgia’s story of what happened, because she was the only witness to his disappearance. The dragon actually stole the whole house says Georgia, but no one believes her at all. Then after a couple of weeks, and with the help of some potato chips and a sweet drink of Sarsparilla, Georgia is able to make contact with the dragon and persuade him to return Godfrey. It turns out that the dragons’ name is Trouble….will he continue to live with Georgia and her family? For readers of 7-9 years, mainly girls I suspect.

Little Lunch: Triple the Treats, by Danny Katz, and illustrated by Mitch Varne. PB from Walker Books. RRP $12.99

This is a tie–in edition of three short stories based on the ABC TV series called “Little Lunch”. There are three out- of -the -ordinary events in the book—Rory forgot his play lunch, and, quite desperate for something to eat, broke an important school rule! Battie and Melanie also had a little lunch with a difference. These stories are designed to appeal to young readers of 7-9 years.

Apocalypse Miaow Miaow, by James Proimos 111 and James Proimos Jnr. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

This graphic novel tells how a bunch of desperate dogs—the only creatures left alive after the Apocalypse- try to break into a factory to find some more food. They have already raided the supermarket, but wow- what a cat is on guard at the factory! And what a battle ensues… The illustrations are quite amusing, and doubtless will appeal more to kids of age 5-7 than they do to me! It is an interesting way to have very young kids read a ‘book’ with so many pages!

*Detective Gordon: A Complicated Case, by Ulf Nilsson, and illustrated by Gitte Spee. PB from Gecko Press. RRP $15.99

Detective Gordon likes to spend a lot of time in bed. It is a good thing he has a more active assistant, Buffy, who does most of the work. The problem is that some one in the forest is saying mean things about other animals. Rumours are spreading. Who is to blame? It appears that several of the creatures need to be fined for teasing….this is a story with a message. The story is suitable for 7-9 year olds, and will be a good book for those who are beginning to read chapter books by themselves. And Buffy earns the right to call herself a detective!

The Incredible Powers of Montague Towers. PB from Scholastic. RRP $15.99

Montague Towers is just an ordinary boy, but when he comes up against the evil mastermind of the century he realizes that he has to act to protect the good of the world. With the help of the Cape of Justice, Montague is able to acquire six superpowers in six days, and solve the mystery. Fun, lighthearted reading for kids, mostly boys I suspect of about 9 years old.

**The Marsh Road Mysteries: Spooks and Scooters, by Elen Caldecott. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

 When their dad suddenly and inexplicably cancels a long planned holiday with his girl friend and twin daughter Flora and Sylvie, the girls realize that something is drastically wrong at their dad’s factory where he makes innovative scooters. The girls enlist the help of their friends Piotr and Minnie and Andrew, and together the team discover the problem—it is one of industrial espionage; the next task is to work out which of dad’s partners at the factory have leaked the plans for the Breeze 5000. The detection work is a bit glib, but the story reads well and will appeal to young readers of 8-10 years, both boys and girls.

Johnny Danger, Live another Day by Peter Millett. PB from Penguin/Random House. RRP $14.99

This tongue in cheek thriller for boys of about 10-13 years involves Johnny Dangerfield, alias Johnny Danger, his brother Ian, and Johnny’s friend Tim, who wants to join their rogue catching ring.   With a super large dose of the toilet humour which appeals to young boys and some imaginative weapons, school, home, the jungle and the Shady Tree Retirement Home are all full of action as Johnny, with the support of his family seeks to beat Dr Disastrous and his cronies.

***Mango and Bambang, Tapir all at Sea, by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy. HB from Walker Books. RRP $17.99

 Mango Allsorts is a young girl who has befriended Bambang, a tapir. Bambang is still very shy, and scared by the busy city in which he finds himself. The pair becomes involved in four escapades in this second book of adventures. Bambang learns to dance the flamenco, they have an adventure in the local park, visit the museum, and finally Mango signs Bambang up for a cruise. This is fun reading, with delightful red white and black drawings. Fun at bedtime for children of 4-8 years.

*Magrit by Lee Battersby. HB from Walker Books. FFP $19.99

 This is beautifully written story about a ghost girl, Magrit, a skeleton man Mr. Puppet, whom Magrit had built and who gave Magrit lots of good advice about ‘life’, and Bugrat, a real life child, who is dropped into the cemetery by a stork and then raised for several years by Magrit, before being  taken away to live with real live people leaving Magrit to ponder the truths about life, death, and being a ghost. The story raises many questions for Magrit, and for the reader, who will ponder questions of life, death and the dead. It is suitable reading for capable young people of about 10 years and older.

**Teresa, a New Australian by Deborah Abela. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

I have enjoyed most of this series, which presents stories about fictional characters who emigrated to Australia from other countries. There is always a fair amount of historical detail in the backgrounds of these stories. Here Teresa and her family have lived through the worst of WW2, and the bombing which Malta endured, before Teresa’s father decided that they should seek a life in a new land. So because they were light skinned, they were accepted as migrants to Australia. We learn of their early life in Sydney, and then of Teresa’s experiences at boarding school with the nuns before the family is reunited. It is a good read for girls of 10 years and over.

Countdown to Danger: Bullet Train Disaster, by Jack Heath. PB from Scholastic. RRP $12.99

This is in the style of the earlier ‘Choose your own adventure’ books. Here, the narrator, fist person, is strapped into a seat in a bullet train, when another passenger slips out of his seat and starts to slip to the back of the train. There are thirty possible paths to follow, and the suggestion is that you have 30 minutes to work out your route to death or survival. The chapters are short, it is all action, and you need to think through each step if you are to make choices which lead to survival. An exciting adrenalin -filled read for boys of 9-12 years.

****Beetle Boy, by M.G.Leonard. PB from Chicken House Books, released by Scholastic. RRP about $15.

 When I read the blurb which accompanied this book I was not enthused, because the story was described as “darkly hilarious”. However, when I realized that the boy’s name was Darkus, I decided to read on….and I am delighted to have read such a hilarious and engrossing story. When Darkus’s dad disappears, the police give up the hunt, but Darkus is convinced that his dad is still alive and sets out, with the aid in the first place of his uncle, and then later with a couple of ingenious friends from school, to find him. Also important to the story is Baxter, an enormous beetle, with more than human skills, plus thousands of other beetles. There is a horrible villain, and the two men who live next to Darkus and his uncle are both weird and horribly unpleasant. the story has all the ingredients for a fascinating well written story, and from the end of the story ( and the publisher’s blurb) there are two more books to come! Wow! The best kids’ book of the month, with considerable appeal to both boys and girls of 9-13 years.

Teenage non-fiction

* One Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe. PB from Scholastic. RRP $16.99

 The story begins in Agabande, Rwanda in April 1994. Life was simple but good for Pascal, his older brother and his parents. His parents were from different tribes- one was Hutu, the other Tutsi, and when civil war broke out after the Rwandan President was killed in a plane crash, 800,000 Rwandans, mainly Hutu, were killed in about three months. This is a serious, sombre story, which will make you weep for humanity. The story is easy to read, and gently told, but it remains as it must, a brutal story about how cruel and intolerant man can be  For mature teenagers and adults.

Teenage fiction

***Thanks for the Trouble, by Tommy Wallach. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $17.99

Parker Sante has not spoken since his dad died six years before this story begins. He communicates by writing notes.   He hasn’t been to school for the past six months either after he was involved in an unpleasant incident with another student but now, he hangs around hotels, steals from the wealthy when he can, and wonders about life, and the raw deal it has given him—until he meets a silver-haired girl who looks to be just a bit older than him in a hotel lobby. He steals a large wad of money form her bag, and runs from the hotel, only to return, almost immediately with the money when he realizes that he is fascinated about the his girl a and wants to get to know her better. And so begins Parker’s time with Zelda, the 200 year old girl who never ages, but who is now weary of life and wants to kill herself. This is a wonderful, satisfying story which doesn’t all end happily, but both Parker and Zelda are still with me more than three weeks after I finished the story; this is excellent reading for older teenagers of about 14 plus.

See how they Run, an Embassy Row Novel by Ally Carter. HB from Scholastic. RRP $19.99

 Grace lives with her grandfather in a diplomatic Corps compound in a fictional city somewhere in the Middle East. Grace always wondered about how her mother died, until, in the first book of this series, she learned the answer. Now she needs to learn what was special about her mother, and what is so special about her that she seems to find trouble without seeking it. This is a complicated story. There is a bit of teenage boy-girl romance, and some puzzling mysteries, but overall I did not enjoy the story because I tired of the first person narrative; Grace comes across as spoilt and almost petulant when she does not get her own way. For girls of 14 -16 years if it appeals.

****Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den, by Aimee Carter. PB from Bloomsbury. RRP $14.99

 Simon feels he is an ordinary boy, except that he knows that he can talk to animals, and understand when animals talk to him. He lives with his uncle, and is bullied at school, because he seems a bit odd. Simon always regrets that he sees so little of his mother and cannot understand why she doesn’t visit him more often. When a large one-eyed eagle tells Simon one morning that he, Simon is in danger and should go with the eagle Simon ignores the advice, only to learn later in the day that his mother has arrived back, but that their world is about to implode because there is a huge army of rats after Simon his uncle and his mother. All of this becomes the catalyst for  Simon to  learn about his talent as an animalgam, and that he has another life to life in the Academy under Central Park Zoo in New York, together with an extended family and the mystery of his father’s death to be learned and accepted too. Also, it appears that Simon will become a significant leader to work for the unity of the five sections of the Animal Kingdom. There will be other volumes in a series to follow this story, and if they are as exciting as this book, then they will be popular with readers of 13 years and older.

*George, by Alex Gino. HB from Scholastic. RRP $24.99

 George used to dress up in her mother’s clothes, and try her makeup, and now she has a few girly magazines, which she looks at when no one else is around, because George, to her family and at school, is a boy. George has never thought of herself as a boy, and when her class is about to perform Charlotte’s Web, she desperately wants to play the part of Charlotte. How this comes about, with the aid of George’s friend Kelly, and the consequences for George, with acceptance for her as transgender by her family and the school principal, makes for sobering, but engrossing reading. It is a gentle unfolding of life as George wants  and needs it to be. For many people it may be a confronting topic, but transgender people are in our communities, and cannot and ought not be denied. An excellent story and suitable for older teenagers and adults.

Until Friday Night, by Abbi Glines. PB from Simon and Schuster. RRP $17.99

 There is a sweet innocence about the style of this novel. It has all the dramatic ‘He said’, ‘She said’ waffle which I tried to avoid as overly trivial when a teenager, yet now see it as an effective technique in this novel! Since she witnessed her father shoot her mother, Maggie has moved in with her Aunt Coralee and Uncle Boone while she grows through the trauma. She has remained mute since the event so all dialogue is based around her thoughts, not her words. When at school it is evident that she is the next ‘hot’ thing to appear for the football jocks, and so predictably she is pursued by several of them. It is only when she develops a platonic relationship with the cutest guy in the school that she comes to learn about his trauma at the recent loss of his father to cancer. A positive aspect of the story is that the reader learns that there is much to be gained in a youthful relationship which is not all sex and lust. For older teenagers—maybe 14 plus?

How not to Disappear, by Clare Furniss. PB from Simon and Schuster RRP $16.99

I am confused about this story—I can’t decide whether it is for teenagers, or adults. It is suitable for both—the story is about Hattie’s life: her mother is about to remarry, her best friends have gone to Europe, and she has just discovered that she is pregnant with Reuben’s baby. And she is too young to have a baby and hopes the pregnancy will go away. The story is about Hattie’s life, and those around her as she decides to have, and keep her baby. It is set in Britain, and is an OK read—perhaps ir can be considered as a cautionary tale for teenage girls about what NOT to do.

The Family with Two Front Doors, by Anna Ciddor. PB from Allen and Unwin. RRP $14.99

 This book is also suitable for pre-teens, but I doubt whether many would have the stamina to persist with the detailed story of family life in a conservative Polish Jewish family in the 1920’s. The story is based on the life of the author’s grandmother, and there is a huge amount of Jewish tradition and religious conventions described and explained as the story unfolds. The title of the book derives from the fact that with nine children in the Rabinovitch family they had to rent two apartments to fit them all in. The father is a rabbi and so their lives were lived in very orthodox fashion, although family life was also very happy. The central event of the story is the approaching marriage of Adina, aged 15, who is to be married, sight unseen to Mordechai, as the result of a matchmaking deal by Adina’s and Mordechai’s fathers. For anyone interested enough in other cultures to persevere with this story, it is rich in cultural and social experiences by which our own lives can be compared—not always favorably!

Sidekicks, by Will Kostakis PB from Penguin/Random House. RRP $19.99

Isaac was a leader, and had three sidkicks who worked for him, and enjoyed his company. Ryan Harley and <iles however had little in common with each other, and after Isaac was killed, it became problematic as to whether the other three would remain in contact with each other. There are three narratives in this book, the Swimmer, the Reble an the Nerd. The story did not appeal to me. there is a lot of teenage inaction, and action, bad language, and lots of intricate messaging and emails. And—it is told in the present tense, which does not appeal. I feel that the story may well have greater appeal to boys of 14-17 years than it had for me.

Book of Lies, by Teri Terry. PB from Hachette. RRP $16.99

This fantasy involves twins, Quinn and Piper. They have never met until a tragic event brings them together, and they realize that have complementary magical skills, but that one has control of the night, the other of day. Both are involved with Zak, and their gran too, is a witch, with lots of powers and the ability to see into the future.   It is a convoluted complex story, with dual narratives, both in the present tense, and heavily intertwined. I became confused about who was who, and did not finish the story.   For girls of 14 years and older if it appeals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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