Showing posts with label Puffin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Puffin. Show all posts

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Charlie Changes into a Chicken

Charlie Changes into a Chicken by Sam Copeland, illustrated by Sarah Horne (Puffin) PB RRP $7.99 ISBN 9780241346211

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Charlie McGuffin is introduced to readers aged 8+ years by an avuncular narrator who is indeed jolly and obviously used to talking in such a jocular way as to immediately capture – and hold -- the attention of children. By the second page we learn that Charlie is ‘just like you. Except that he has a you-know-what, and I’m guessing many you reading this don’t have a you-know-what.’ So of course, Charles is like some of the readers, not all of them.

The most unusual and ‘majorly huge massive difference’ is that Charlie can change into animals. After visiting his older brother (SmoothMove) who is at hospital for the millionth time as he is quite ill, Charlie turns into a spider. One that has a heart-grasping escape from the family’s cat before reverting to his usual self and landing with a huge thump in bed which upsets his mum.

From then on, whenever he is stressed (and he has more stresses than the average child), Charlie turns into an animal – like a flea, a pigeon, even a rhino. So it is that he needs help from his three best friends, Mohsen (who has a PS4 AND an X-box, but five sisters ‘so that balanced out’), Wogan and Flora to understand and work out how to deal with his new power. Flora, for instance, suggest breaking into the principal's office and shaving her monkey...

This book is fast-paced, full of action, abounding in jokes and fun which is sure to engage young readers’ attention. It also has quite a few footnotes which explain – always in a semi-serious but mostly jocular manner – things which children might not know (who knew about spiders’ bums?) and gives explanations to what has happened (not always accurate).

The book is amply illustrated with black and white sketches which complement the tone of the book and add to its joyousness.

Friday, 28 April 2017

See You in the Cosmos

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng (Puffin) PB RRP $16.99  ISBN 9780141365602

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a middle-grade debut novel about a space-obsessed boy's quests in life. All eleven-year old Alex wants is to launch his iPod into space. With a series of audio recordings, he will show other life forms out in the cosmos what life on Earth, his Earth, is really like. Thus the book, instead of being written in chapters, is presented as a series of five to six minute recordings with Alex’s spirited, optimistic and largely innocent voice telling the aliens ‘out there’ about all aspects of his life which is largely complicated by his depressed and unavailable mother, his long-dead father and his absent older brother.

Eleven year old Alex struggles with the big questions. Where do I come from? Who's out there? And, above all, what can I achieve? Determined to find the answers, Alex sets out with his dog Carl Sagan on a remarkable road trip that will turn his whole world upside down. First stop is the south-west high altitude rocket festival (SHARF) where he plans to launch his rocket. From there he travels further, all the time full of joy and optimism and determination. He doesn’t always get what he seeks but he is constantly brimming with a love of life and its possibilities.

Alex is a wonderful, memorable character which is reflected in the voice of this novel. There are many funny and poignant moments, and lots of wisdom from a small boy. Any reader aged 10 years and up is sure to be captivated by Alex and his quest.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book by Will Mabbitt illustrated by Ross Collins (Penguin Books/Puffin)  PB RRP $16.99 ISBN9780141362939

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

I couldn’t wait to review this, the next children’s novel in the Mabel Jones series as I absolutely loved the last one, Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City. (There’s also the first book, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones). Generally I don’t much care for fantasy books, but Will Mabbitt is such a good writer that genre doesn’t matter – story does and so do his characters.

For a start, there are 31 short and quirky chapters, also a map at the front of the book (kids – and I – love maps in novels!) and then Chapter One title The End, followed by the words ‘Not long after you’ve finished reading this sentence, the whole hooman race will become extinct.’ But (of course), not Mabel Jones ‘who skipped the fate the rest of you will suffer, by virtue of being snatched from the present and pulled deep into the footure: a footure without hoomans.’ But maybe – just maybe – Mabel can stop it happening…

Breath-taking, isn’t it? And it's very funny, laugh-aloud and very witty. By now (and we’re not even on to Chapter two), I’ve been snatched by the story, engrossed and sucked in. I’m sure, too, that readers aged 8 + years will be, too.

Before long Mabel Jones is on her way to the city of Otom in search of the legendary Doomsday Book, an ancient document that might save you and me, the book's readers. But! Otomo is a dangerous place, packed with soldiers, spies and stinking rebels which Mabel has to overcome – that and the dreaded Grand Zhoul.

If Mabbitt could illustrate, his pictures would be exactly like those Ross Collins produces – attention-grabbing, idiosyncratic and very funny. There are plenty of Collins’ black and white line illustrations scattered throughout the book along with lots of typography – words and phrases of all sizes which again jump out to engross the reader.

Full of vigour, surprises, humour that is sometimes laugh aloud, other times simply witty, this is a book I’d give to any child, but especially to a reluctant reader because once they started reading, I could pretty much guarantee they’d be reluctant no longer. Highly recommended.

Friday, 29 January 2016

The Blackthorn Key

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands (Puffin) PB RRP$16.99 ISBN 9780141360645

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This novel will be most enjoyed by the teenager who enjoys the challenge of solving codes and reading a convoluted plot with a host of characters. Set in London in 1665 during the reign of King Charles II, it covers a mystery that involves murders and numerous searches by an apprentice apothecary Christopher Rowe and his close friend Tom Bailey. 

Set over the months of May and June which stretches from Ascension Day to Spring’s End, the fast-paced story starts with the release of Christopher from an orphanage into his master apothecary’s care. Master Benedict Blackthorn is different from most masters insofar as he does not beat his apprentice but teaches him patiently and carefully how to mix potions, minerals and leaves to heal or for other reasons such as to melt iron and create keys.

However, Blackthorn, like ten other master apothecaries, is murdered. Then his workplace and home is ransacked with Christopher becoming homeless and learning that a man named Nathaniel Stubb and his apprentice Wic plan to torture him to learn a secret. Christopher has no idea what this secret is but his former master has gifted him a silver puzzle box and a set of clues in his ledger. 

With Tom’s help and that of his sisters and a pet pigeon, Christopher attempts to find what it is that his master had treasured and why so many other masters have been assassinated to protect this treasure.

This is not an easy book to follow as there are many twists and turns and many mysteries that require knowledge of Latin and of the Bible (which Christopher has), and an ability to follow the cracking of the a set of complex codes. Nevertheless, the plot unfolds with writing that is clear and interesting, and plenty of tension along the way as it seems Christopher is meant to be the next murder victim unless he can escape numerous close calls. 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney (Puffin) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN9780143309000

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

What more can you say about the tenth book in a series which will make history by being published simultaneously in more than 90 countries around the world than it’s going to be another best-seller. The series by American Kinney has sold close to five million copies in Australia alone so hip hip hooray to an author who has got middle-grade (and older) children reading.

Like all of the books in the series, the first book of which, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, was published in 2007, the story is about Greg Heffley, an ordinary boy who has a real talent for mischief and misadventure. The lined pages with hand-written text and frequent cartoons give the illusion that Greg is its author, especially as they are written in diary form. The only speech is depicted in speech balloons in the cartoons; the rest of the story is related in first person present tense which give immediacy to the story-telling.

In this latest book, Greg tells how his town (‘let’s unplug to reconnect") has voluntarily unplugged and gone electronics free. Is Greg cut out for an old-fashioned world, is the question. After all, it’s only for one weekend. Greg gets involved in community work and discovers how difficult life ‘in the good old days’ can be.

Written in a child-friendly style with black and white illustrations which are all humorous, this book is yet another world-wide winner. As Time magazine once said, ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid is bent on world domination.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney (Puffin Books)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 9780143308591
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

You know the book is going to be a good read before you read the first page. The author has created one of the most successful children’s book series ever published; even Time magazine says that ‘Wimpy Kid is bent on world domination’, its author-illustrator named as that magazine’s choice for one of the world’s most influential people. So what makes the series, and this particular book, so phenomenal and best-selling?

For a start, the visual look of each of this book’s 217 pages is appealing, not just for the comic black and white illustrations, but because of the text which appears to be hand-written. There are never more than two sentences in any one section. After each block of text, there is either an illustration or a line space. Each page appears to be written in an exercise book because of the lines. The design lay-out therefore makes every single page look appealing, especially to the remedial reader. Yes, it makes for a longer book, but there’s another reason for it to appeal to a kid reader – he (and it will mostly be a boy) can say, when he finishes reading the book, that he’s read ‘a thick book’.

Surprisingly, there are no chapters in any Wimpy Kid book; the text is one continuous story narrated in first person by the protagonist, Greg Heffley, who writes about his life, his family and his friends, in an easy style that the average reader can relate to. All sentences are relatively short with no vocabulary beyond the readership of most eight year olds.

In The Long Haul, Greg and his family – mum, dad, older brother Rodrick, and toddler brother Manny – head off in the car on a holiday. Straight away there’s a problem when all the family’s belongings (including Rodrick’s drum set) doesn’t fit into the car. There is lots of humour along the way, for instance when Rodrick buys food for dinner from a grocery shop which includes frozen cinnamon rolls and a pizza. When they get to a motel, Rodrick solves the frozen problem by putting the food in a microwave. But – der -- it’s not a microwave, it’s a safe. And of course, Rodrick has locked the safe and nobody can open it. The family finishes up eating dinner from the motel’s vending machine – breath mints and sugar wafers! (Of course Mum is a food Nazi and this is totally not on her radar).

All the minor crises that occur when a family is crammed with their goods into a car on a long trip are here, and every reader can relate. This is the appeal of the story, its ability to have readers nodding with self-recognition and laughing. Kinney makes it all seem so page-turningly easy. The noisy kids (‘little punks’) from another room in the motel follow the family car next day, and of course there is an exchange of obnoxious faces from one car to another. At the next destination – a fair – Greg and his big brother enter the Foulest Footwear Competition; of course Rodrick wins first prize. But Greg gets 10% of the prize (‘deep-fried butter on a stick’) for being Rodrick’s agent. Meanwhile, Manny wins a baby pig. (What do you do with a pig on a family holiday?) And – what do you know – the noisy motel family seems to be following the Heffleys around.

So the trip continues, as does the stream of funny incidents and Greg’s amusing observations along the way. The whole book made me think of the Simpson family but in print. It’s no wonder that kids are still enjoying the ninth book in the Wimpy Kid series. And no doubt they’ll be waiting impatiently for the tenth – which is sure to come! The books deserve all of the accolades, especially for the fact they are getting kids away from their computers and instead diving into wonderful (thick) books that tick all of the right boxes. Ideal for readers aged 8 to 11 years.



Monday, 30 August 2010


Thai-riffic! by Oliver Phommavanh (Puffin)

PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9780143304852
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

Thai-riffic! is an impressive debut novel from Oliver Phommavanh. Oliver’s other lives as a primary school teacher and stand-up comedian shine through in this work with his knack for writing humour and revealing the intricacies of school life and what makes kids tick.

Albert (Lengy) Lengviriyakul is a teenager living in Sydney who feels out of place. While Lengy’s parents and brother enjoy their Thai traditions and the Australian way of life, Lengy has more difficulties. He is embarrassed about his parent’s Thai restaurant, the length of his surname and everything else about himself which he believes makes him stand out as not Australian.

Oliver’s use of first person to explore Lengy’s feelings works perfectly. In a series of hilarious incidents, in which Lengy works to embarrass his parents and deny his heritage, more and more people are drawn to him and Lengy comes to realise that he is as Australian as the next person and that Australia is all the richer for its multicultural flavour.

Secondary characters are well-rounded, in particular, Lengy’s parents and the inspirational teacher Mr Winfree who should be used as a template for anyone with aspirations to educate our children. Black and white comic strip illustrations are sprinkled throughout the text, adding even more humour and an extra dimension to the text. I particularly like the table of contents being formatted as a menu!

I look forward to Oliver’s next book. I’m sure that, like this one, it will be a ripper.