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

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The Tales of Mr Walker

The Tales of Mr Walker by Jess Black, illustrated by Sara Acton (Puffin Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9780143793076

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Sub-titled ‘a hotel dog with a nose for adventure’, this is a beautifully designed and presented book which would suit children aged 8 to 11 years who enjoy chapter books. There are four mini books between the covers: Mr Walker at the Park, Mr Walker and the Mystery Guest, Mr Walker and the Garden Surprise and Mr Walker Finds a Home.

At the start of the first story, Mr Walker, a golden Labrador dog, is being driven by Tracy to the Park Hyatt Hotel where he is to take up the position of Guide Dog ambassador of a park. The dog has no idea what an ambassador is, but he is welcomed to the hotel first by Thomas then by Henry Reeves whose family lives in a hotel apartment and who befriend him.

All four books are told from Mr Walker’s point of view as he gets to know guests – all wealthy and privileged, some famous -- and embarks upon adventures within the hotel whose employees include Chef Remy, housekeeper Meraj and Omid on the front desk. Always eager to help, Mr Walker always identifies people by their smells, including a mysterious man who is discriminated against but who turns out to be quite different from what he first appears.

This is a gently-told story with much charm and no real dramas which is likely to appeal to readers who prefer a ‘quiet’ story. Mr Walker is lovable even though he acts in typical dog fashion at times which gets him into scrapes.

The watercolour illustrations fit the mood of the story while the text is in large font which makes for easy reading. Royalties from sales of this book go to Guide Dogs Victoria.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Ho! Ho! Ho! There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Christmas Cake

Ho! Ho! Ho! There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Christmas Cake by Hazel Edwards, illustrated by Deborah Niland (Puffin Books) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN 978 0143790679
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Australian author Hazel Edwards had a best-seller, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, in 2005 and since then she has produced various incantations of the book which is targeted at pre-schoolers. Now here’s the latest with the oversized pink hippo complete with a Santa hat getting ready for Christmas.

A curly blonde-haired boy is told by his father that there’s a man fixing roof tiles, but the boy knows the truth – there’s a hippopotamus up there getting ready – as is he – for Christmas. The hippo is making a cake and icing it, then he’s making a list for Santa (just like the boy). Before long the hippo is dancing a cake dance. 

At the same time that the boy and his family are decorating their Christmas tree, the hippo on the roof has a disaster – he accidentally sits on his Christmas tree ‘with his big wobbly bottom'! However, hippo is clever, and fixes it so it looks as good as new. Niland’s full-page, colourful illustration on this page shows a tree resplendent with goodies such as carrots, apples, cherries and cakes (donuts and lamingtons, of course!)

The rest of the book has the boy and the hippo on the roof preparing for the big day (gingerbread, card-making, wrapping gifts, stringing fairy lights) until finally the boy’s family all dress in Santa suits (as does the hippo). On Christmas eve there’s Carols by Candlelight, and of course stockings and food for Santa and his reindeer. When Christmas Day arrives, there is happiness and discovery for everyone.

This is a joyous, even scrumptious book with page after page of bright illustrations that reward the reader with multiple readings. It will especially appeal to any child who is super-excited as he or she anticipates all that Christmas Day will bring, and who is involved with family in preparing for the big day. The text is easy to read with large font and simple sentences. Certainly this is a great book for a small child’s Christmas stocking!

Monday, 8 October 2018

Elbow Grease

Elbow Grease by John Cena, illustrated by Howard McWilliam (Puffin Books) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9780143794400

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This picture book is ideal for machine-obsessed boys aged 4 to 8 years as its pages are filled with illustrations of highly modified cars and trucks that take part in a demolition derby. Smallest of these vehicles is Elbow Grease who is undeterred by his size and wants to take on his brothers Tank, Flash, Pinball and Crash who are tougher, faster, smarter and braver. What Elbow has in spades is gumption and pure determination. His aim in life is to have his picture displayed on a garage poster as champion in a monster truck grand prix.

The full-page illustrations seem to be computer-generated, making the vehicles and scenery seem life-like with gleaming duco, city lights, and a racing circuit which is quite spectacular as it shows a race in progress. Elbow Grease is taking part in the Grand Prix, but despite being ‘bashed and smashed and eve caught on fire a little bit’, he keeps on trucking. A storm arrives mid-race and poor Elbow is terrified of lightning; he’s cold and tired, too. At the end of the race (and the book), he says (in speech balloons), ‘What do you mean “The End”? … Never Give up! Never quit!... Never say “The End”.’

Lots of fun and action and bright, captivating illustrations, this book is sure to be carried everywhere by small boys wanting their parents to read it again and again.

Friday, 5 October 2018

The Puffin Book of Summer Stories

The Puffin Book of Summer Stories (Puffin Books) HB RRP $29.99 ISBN 9780143793540

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Featuring eight favourite picture book stories by well-loved Australian authors, this beautifully presented, heavy (and thick) collection makes an ideal gift, especially with Christmas coming up.

The classic books included are: Summer by June Factor and Alison Lester; Max by Marc Martin; Grandpa and Thomas by Pamela Allen; Castles by Allan Baillie and Caroline Magerl; My Hippopotamus is on our Caravan Roof Getting Sunburnt by Hazel Edwards and Deborah Niland; Seadog by Claire Saxby and Tom Jellett; There’s a Sea in My Bedroom by Margaret Wild and Jane Tanner, and Eve and Elly by Mike Dumbleton and Laura Wood.

All the stories feature the outdoors, mostly by the sea, and all are set out so that the reader can appreciate the wide variety of story-telling and illustrations. What a wonderful diversity of artwork there is, from Alison Lester’s detailed wash and pen pictures of an Australian family indoors and out on Christmas Day to Pamela Allen’s watercolour pictures with lots of white space with a grandfather and boy enjoying the seaside. After Allen’s pages come full-page very colourful pictures of a huge hippopotamus, so familiar to young readers, eating cake, this time while on family holiday. This contrasts with the more delicate colours with wash and line of Caroline Magerl’s rendering of a fanciful and imaginative story of a girl and boy creating a magical story on the beach and in the sea. Then there’s the realistic, beautifully realised beach illustrations by the equally talented Jane Tanner in Margaret Wild’s story where a boy imagines a sea in his bedroom.

There are so many excellent illustrations in this multi-story book which is sure to become a family favourite to be read and re-read by children aged 6 to 11 years, who will, no doubt, hand the book onto their children in the future.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Total Quack Up!

Total Quack Up! Edited by Sally Rippin & Adrian Beck, illustrated by James Foley (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780143794905

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

‘Funny stories to make you feel good about some of your favourite authors!’ is printed on the cover of this book published in Australia. The authors are Matt Stanton, Deborah Abela, Tristan Bancks, Paul Jennings, Alex Miles, RA Spratt, Jacqueline Harvey and Oliver Phommavanh, as well as the two editors.

Superheroes, footy-obsessed pigs, birthday parties that go terribly wrong, criminal cats and hippos which prefer the beach rather than rivers are the subjects of some of these short stories.

In ‘Ratbagg’, Rory Albert Thomas Bragg has a mild superpower, which enables him to control rats with his mind. Of course, he owns pet rats, but when he discovers his school principal Mr Blart has a rat phobia, anything can happen! In Tristan Banck’s story, ‘The Pigs’, soccer team, the Kings Bay Pigs is down three to nil a few minutes from half-time: if they lose, they’ll hold the record for the Most Consecutive Losses by a Football Team in the World. In ‘How to Be A Super-hero’, Ann Small renames herself Arabella von Champion, and then attempts to reach up to the status. The title of Matt Stanton’s story, ‘What Hippopotamuses and Sharks have in Common’ signals what the story is likely to be about.

All ten stories are printed in large, easy-to-read font and black and white illustrations are scattered throughout. Not all of the stories are hilarious but there is enough humour in the book to keep a reader aged 8 to 12 years engaged for many hours.

Sunday, 2 September 2018


Limelight by Solli Raphael (Puffin) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780143793762

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

At 12, Solli Raphael is the youngest winner of the Australian Poetry Slam held annually at the Sydney Opera House. A budding humanitarian, he aims to become an inspirational leader among his peers. Now, at 13 and with this book published, he is using the platforms of performing and writing to tackle social issues.

There are two parts to this book: the first introduces Raphael’s ideas about poetry, writing and performing and what slam poetry is; part two is a collection of his poems. Raphael says he was nine when he learnt his first technical style of poetry, the haiku (some of which are in the book). As a high schooler, he is home-schooled, learning about rapping and slam poetry through YouTube clips. Taking part in his first slam poetry competition at Coffs Harbour (competing against his mother), he won, followed by second place in a state final – by one-tenth of a point (a fact he is keen to point out). At the national finals he won. So here we have a clever and accomplished child who now performs in front of thousands – and tells readers how to write and perform poetry!

No doubt the sight of a small boy in the spotlight in front of thousands impresses audiences. The first poem of Raphael’s in this book, read at the closing ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, shows a strong sense of rhythm and internal rhyme, and a genuine connection with athletes. Part of this verse reads, ‘I’m here because of you, I’m here because of me, but together we are greater than/what we could ever individually be.’ Overall, ‘To Unite, Like Uniting is a Sport’ is appropriate for the occasion and no doubt impressed the Games’ athletes and spectators.

There are over 30 original poems here in different forms, with the book featuring the viral video sensation 'Australian Air', which has been viewed 3.5 million times via Facebook. Raphael's work often tackles current social concerns for his generation, such as sustainability and social equality, all the while amplifying his message of hope. Other poems have titles such as ‘The Candle Flame’, ‘Drips and Drops’ and ‘On the Rainbow.’ Most of the poems rhyme and some are mere verse with cliched lines like ‘Life is for living’, ‘spread your wings’ and ‘get with the times’. The poems which work best and show Raphael at his best are those with strong beats and regular rhythms.

It’s wonderful to read of a young person who takes messages around the world which are meant to inspire, but it’s difficult to decide if the poems in Limelight would have been published if they were by an adult poet, or indeed a teenager who didn’t have the spotlight on him. Doubtless many of the messages will excite young readers with words such as ‘The future needs you and me to create equality across all levels of humanity.’ Typical of his ‘rap’ poetry are these lines: ‘I am a gamechanger. / I am a gamechange, a change game, low age, no rage, onstage arranger.’ 

It will be interesting to follow the boy’s career path.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile (Book 1) by Jo Sandhu (Puffin Books) PB RRP $16.99  ISBN 9780143309376

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Jo Sandhu has triumphed with her debut book, Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile, the first novel in an upcoming series. Set during the Stone Age, this is a gripping fictional tale of adventure.

We are introduced to the main character Tarin in the prologue, where he declares his desire to hunt mammoth, bison and reindeer, just like those he admires. He longs to tell stories of hunting and bravery, but instead he describes his lack of strength, his leg that twists when he runs and the disheartening names he is called by his Mammoth Clan.

When an unfortunate accident sees a hunt go wrong, and Tarin’s clan facing starvation during the long dark winter, he is outcast by those he loves. ‘I ruined the mammoth hunt. I have brought shame to my family, and that will never leave me...’ With a heavy heart and little sense of belonging, Tarin decides to escape the pity and contempt from others and sets out alone on a quest to save the Mammoth Clan.

Tarin has overcome many obstacles in his life just to be alive, but this mission is by far his greatest challenge. He faces a long and treacherous journey ‘across the frozen tundar, across many rivers, through forests and over mountains…’ Now, more than ever, he must believe in himself and ignore the naysayers, as there are plenty more moments to test him! During his trek Tarin meets Kaija and Luuka who have also fled their home and face an uncertain journey of their own. But does this potential friendship help or hinder Tarin’s quest?

This is an engaging story, told in the third person, with themes of family, friendship, strength, persistence, resilience and belief. This middle fiction novel would suit children aged 10+ and is sure to appeal to those with a sense of adventure. No doubt they’ll soon be looking forward to the release of Book 2!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Jinny and Cooper: Revenge of the Stone Witch

Jinny and Cooper: Revenge of the Stone Witch by Tania Ingram (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780143308997

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is the fourth in a series of chapter books suitable for readers 7 to 10 years. The narrator of this book is Jinny (short for Jinnifer) while Cooper is her scruffy, teleporting and talking guinea pig – a very greedy one at that with a preference for junk food.

During the school holidays too-polite Katie comes to stay next door to Jinny which is nice at first but soon Jinny is feeling jealous. Even brother Tyrone (who calls himself Super Booger) thinks Katie is ‘super awesome’. More trouble arrives when Miss Morgan moves into the nearby house last occupied by a witch: is the new neighbour a witch, too? (In the previous book, there is an adventure about a teacher who is a witch living in this house.)

Suspicions are aroused when a cloaked woman is seen digging in Jinny’s front garden at night. Who is the woman? Jinny and Tyrone discover a series of knotted strings where the woman dug. This is a clue which they follow – only to find that Miss Morgan was the culprit. She reveals much information to the children about a coven of witches and lets it be known that there is mischief afoot. Who is the real witch?

With Cooper’s help, the children find themselves in the home of elderly Mrs Goodfellow, Katie’s grand-mother. Females are turned to stone! Can the salt and potatoes – said to ward off witches – help save the day? And how does Cooper work to prevent more trouble?

There are lots of possibilities in this story which are sure to have young readers guessing, and too there is a lot of humour. The action moves quickly and the characters, especially Cooper, are idiosyncratic and engaging. 

Friday, 14 April 2017

Jinny and Cooper: My Teacher’s Big Bad Secret

Jinny and Cooper: My Teacher’s Big Bad Secret by Tania Ingram (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780143308751

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Readers aged 7 to 10 years who’ve discovered the Jinny and Cooper book series, no doubt will have eagerly been awaiting this latest book of the adventures of Jinny, a girl, and her guinea pig, Cooper. This story starts when, after years of begging for a pet guinea pig, Jinny goes with her mum and brother Tyrone to a pet shop. There are plenty of beautiful, shiny guinea pigs for sale, but the shop-keeper has a dirty, scruffy pig under the counter which he’s keen to let go. (Wonder why? Mmm…) Mum is in charge so when she’s offered freebies to go with the guinea pig, a bargain is grabbed and Jinny is forced to take on this particular one.

At first Jinny names the guinea pig ‘Frizzy’, but a few days later, to her and Tyrone’s astonishment, said pig starts talking, telling them that his name is Cooper. This is no ordinary guinea pig, folks! Not only does he refuse typical guinea pig food – carrots, lettuce and the like – but he’s a glutton for anything sweet or any junk food. And there’s more: Cooper is able to make himself invisible. He can teleport, too! All of this leads to misadventures throughout this book and the book that follows.

Child readers will love the fact that Cooper is so determined to go to Jinny’s school that he makes use of his magical powers. But once there, Cooper becomes convinced that Jinny’s kind, elderly teacher, Miss Bunney, is a witch. Sorry, there is no spoiler alert in this review; suffice to say that Cooper turns out, through misadventure, to be the hero of the tale.

A teacher as a witch? Seems politically incorrect at a time when society is trying to show women in a good light. But kids don’t care – many fantasise about their teachers’ private lives. Some schools might not want a chapter book about witches in their library (but Roald Dahl’s The Witches was immensely popular). Each to her own…

My Teacher’s Big Bad Secret is a fast-paced, easy to read book with feisty child (and animal) characters (but not so nice adults). Having a talking pet is a dream of many children and thus this book is likely to find a happy and wide readership.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack by Mark Greenwood (Puffin Books) PB RRP $12.99 ISBN 9780143309260

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is one of a series of books for children which investigate Australia’s extraordinary past with history mysteries. Other books in the series include The Last Tiger, Lasseter’s Gold and The Lost Explorer, all written by Greenwood who describes himself as ‘a history hunter.’

This book, Diamond Jack, began when Greenwood saw a wartime photo of five men and a bullet-riddled aircraft. One of the men, wearing a stained singlet, was known as ‘Diamond Jack’ – actual name Jack Palmer. Investigating, Greenwood discovered that the men had been sent on a mission to locate a mysterious parcel.

However, Diamond Jack’s story in this book begins in 1942 in Broome, evacuated after the Japanese attack. Jack, master of an old pearling lugger, was a beachcomber along the Kimberley coast. Setting off with two Aborigines in his boat, he came across a plane which had been shot down at Carnot Bay. There was no sign of any survivors but inside the plane, the beachcomber found a wallet stuffed with thousands of diamonds.

Earlier that month a Dakota aircraft, piloted by a Dutchman, Captain Smirnoff, had left the Indonesian Bandung airport, heading for Broome on a desperate midnight escape, taking refuges to safety. With Broome emptied of people, Smirnoff flew away but was soon attacked by a Japanese fighter jet. His plane finished up descending and landing on the beach. Some of its occupants died, some went for help.

The mystery surrounding the crash was the missing diamonds worth, in today’s figures, over 25 million dollars. Jack Palmer eventually handed them in to the authorities, but not all of them: thousands were unaccounted for. It would appear Jack gave many of them away and might even have kept some for himself (in his old age he was mysteriously wealthy.) In a court case, outlined in this book, Diamond Jack was found not guilty of theft. What happened to the rest of the diamonds is not known to this day.

Of particular appeal in this book is a series of (mostly) fuzzy photographs of real-life people, such as Palmer loading supplies on the wharf at Broome, the army investigation team at the crash site in April 1942 and Captain Smirnoff. The story is simply written with facts intermingled with fiction to give an engrossing tale. At the end of the book is a timeline of events for the history buff, ending in Diamond Jack’s death in 1958. The author has also provided a list of websites, online newspaper articles and book references.

It’s a shame that the publisher did not print the book on better quality paper. But young readers aged 8 to 12 years are not likely to be too fussed about this.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Diary of a Wimpy Kids: Double Down

Diary of a Wimpy Kids: Double Down by Jeff Kinney (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780143309338

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Introducing book 11 in this phenomenally successful series which kids from the ages of 8 to 12 can’t seem to get enough of, especially boys who love humour! In fact the series is so popular it’s one of the most successful of children’s series ever published in world history, having won handfuls of children’s choice book awards. As millions of children will tell you, the Wimpy Kids books are animated diaries of Greg, an ordinary school boy. Of course they are formulaic but it’s testament to the American author that he has his pulse on how children think and the kinds of experiences they have in their lives.

In Double Down, Greg’s mum thinks that video games are ruining Greg’s mind: she wants him to stop playing them and to explore his ‘creative side’ instead. While practicing with his school band on his French horn, Greg, with a rip in his pants, is being helped by Rowley to disguise the hole when Dad comes in. Dad says that Greg and Rowley were ‘goofing off’ instead of performing with the band, and bans television and video games for two weeks. Greg subsequently discovers a bag of gummy worms which inspire him to get his mum off his back by making a movie. Perhaps he’ll become rich and famous as a result!

Typically, the story is told throughout from Greg’s point of view, with any speech, thoughts, or sound effects shown in balloons. There are frequent uses of font sizes and shapes to add interest to the reading experience. Here is a poem in an anthology which includes Greg’s poem: ‘My turtle Fred/He is not dead/He sleeps in his shell/And when he dies/I guess he will smell. 

The text is always written on ruled lines such as one would see in a child’s school exercise book, and there are black and white cartoon illustrations on most pages which break up the text and make it look more readable for a reluctant reader.

Kinney has explored many aspects of childhood in his Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and doubtless he will find more to continue this world-popular series. Who knows how many titles he can come up with? The latest statistics are that the series has sold over 165 million books globally and in 54 editions in 49 languages.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Snot Chocolate

Snot Chocolate by Morris Gleitzman (Puffin Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780143309222

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

‘Funny stories from one of Australia’s favourite authors,’ reads the title page of this collection of nine stories that follow earlier titles Give Peas a Chance and Pizza Cake. Yes, there is certainly humour in the stories, but sometimes, too, the author sneaks in political statements: ‘Trump our dog sits on the floor next to me liking his bottom, which is his hobby.’

The first story, ‘King Ned’, set in the thirteenth century, features a boy who, with his Uncle Vern, always gets up at dawn in a hovel ‘in case the pigs needed a lie down.’ Overnight events have changed in England so that suddenly, to his immense surprise, Ned is proclaimed King. His Lord Chamberlain is a ruthless man: ‘before Ned could say anything else, the Lord Chamberlain’s sword flashed and the heads of two courtiers plopped onto the ground, followed by the thud of their bodies.’ Despite the goriness of numerous beheadings, there is a lot of humour in the story.

Other stories in the book are set in modern times and include the secret diary of a dog, the story of how one slice of bread can make you the most popular person in school, and how to defeat a bully using a demolition ball. One story focuses on pig-nostril gruel, another on a child who lives in a house 'that gets wiped clean more often than a bottom'; the FDC title of one story refers to a Fairy Demolition Contractor who grants a boy wishes to demolish whatever three structures he chooses. The final, title story is told from the point of view of a boy whose chocolate-addicted mother is in court defending her clients accused of hijacking over five thousand Easter bunnies. There she is, ‘a top lawyer picking her nose and eating it.’

As in many of his books, Gleitzman’s stories display a wild and clever imagination. Also, too, he appeals to kids’ basic instincts with numerous references to peeing and pooing: ‘Sometimes life does a poo on your head and you just have to wear it.’ And too, he tells his tales in simple, easy-to-read sentences. There's no doubt young readers with a penchant for gross – and more subtle -- humour will enjoy this book.   

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions

Clever Trevor’s Stupendous Inventions by Andrew Weldon (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9780143309154

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Weldon has both written and illustrated this highly imaginative book which is sure to amuse and thoroughly engage readers from 7+ years, especially children who are usually reluctant readers. There is not much written text on each page, but always there are black and white line illustrations in a cartoon style.

Clever Trevor, the story goes, ‘may even have been the most smartest kid in the whole    WORLD.’ Trevor (real name Stuart but he’s called Trevor because it rhymes with clever) is always inventing things, such as inflatable bathers, ceiling fan fun rides and (invented when he was only four), a bicky picker-upper. Despite these strokes of genius, the boy fails at school. His teacher, Mr Shmedic is not a happy man...and Trevor is always on his wrong side. Problems start when the teacher starts confiscating – and selling – Trevor’s brilliant inventions.

Of course this is where the real fun of the book kicks in – Trevor and his friends are determined to thwart Schmedic. They do this (eventually) with the help of a Stinkometer (which, as one child says ‘smells worse than grandpa.’) No doubt Trevor is super clever!

This is a fun book which will have children laughing and re-reading the written and pictorial text over and over.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Kid with the Amazing Head

The Kid with the Amazing Head by Andrew Weldon (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9780143309161

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Andrew Weldon is a clever and highly imaginative writer and illustrator, that’s for sure. One wonders how his brain works! Very strangely, it seems, in this quirky and engaging book for children aged 7+ years.

The kid with the amazing head is Steven who awakes one day to find his head can do whatever he wants! He can make parts of it expand (such as the ears and cheeks), turn it into something else (a hand, a balloon, a sunflower) and he can make it look like anyone else, even famous people. Getting ready for school, he can create dozens of hair styles (with the head on his head, and also with beards and moustaches) as shown in one full page of hair style illustrations.

Most people are unimpressed at these tricks, but Clever Trevor (a character in another of Weldon’s Puffin books) and his friend naughty Paul work out ways in which Steven can use his unnatural talent – such as robbing a bank. (With Steven able to disguise himself, this lends itself to all kinds of possibilities!) Another idea is to find the missing heiress Claire Blairey.

No more spoilers – this is a book that needs lots of attention, not because it is full of fun and energy, but because the illustrations demand lots of pouring over. Buy it for a child you care about, and especially buy it for the kid you know who normally wouldn’t want to read. Chances are he will love this book!

Friday, 8 April 2016

Starlight Stables: Gymkhana Hijinks

Starlight Stables: Gymkhana Hijinks by Soraya Nichols (Puffin Books) PB RRP$12.99 ISBN 9780143308638

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

The fourth book in an Australian series, this is another book about the friendship and adventures of three horse-crazy girls, Poppy, Milly and Katie. The girls are more than happy to have returned to Starlight Stables to spend time with their new ponies. Preparing for their first big Pony Club competition, they spend their days riding, training and having fun.

Naturally a novel needs drama and this comes in the form of a rival competitor, Jessica who arrives at the stables to train with the trio. Immediately the girls don’t like the new girl, but they are forced to work with her. Certainly the title reflects what happens over the days ahead – plenty of hijinks – as the three friends battle what they believe is sabotage and try to save their chances at the forthcoming gymkhana.

At the back of the book, as well as a section about the author (who lives in New Zealand with a herd of horses), there is also a double-page spread about horses’ feeds and needs.

This is a book – and a series – which is sure to have much appeal especially to girls who are horse-mad and aged from 9 to 14 years.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Johnny Danger: Lie another Day

Johnny Danger: Lie another Day by Peter Millet (Puffin Books) PB RRP $14.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Wow, this is a busy book with so much happening that at times I must confess I wasn’t really sure what was happening. The action is certainly fast-paced with the ultimate goal of the protagonist and friends saving the planet from Weapons of Gas Destruction (there is a major farting antagonist, The Blank Space). The book abounds with slapstick humour and features some wacky secondary character such as Major Pain, Dr Disastrous and Agent Pounds.

Jonathan Dangerfield, boy wonder, aka Johnny Danger, is joined by his spy team, Tim Lee and Penelope Pounds as they head off to a remote Amazonian jungle village to confront old foes. Using crazy gadgets and with numerous references to computers and social media, they also employ bungee bogies in their quest.

This a book for readers (probably boys) aged 9+ years who enjoy adventure and lots of nonsense with battles between secret spies, eccentric and mad villains, and double agents. Oh, and there is also an annoying brother, school scenes and numerous codes to be broken. There is plenty here to engage readers.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City by Will Mabbitt, illustrated by Ross Collins (Puffin Books) PB RRP $16.99

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This book for readers 8+ years is unique, highly original and very exciting for this adult reader who has been reviewing children’s books for decades as it is so different! One reason is that there are two narrative voices controlling the story. There’s a first person omniscient (eccentric) narrator who takes the reader on a guided tour through the story from place to place, often setting the scene and atmosphere. Here’s the start of chapter five: ‘Oh, it is too much! Avert your eyes from the gruesome spectacle. Close this grisly book you read. Close it at once, I say. AT ONCE! Hand it to a responsible adult to throw upon a bonfire.’)

This narrator is intercepted at times by a third person narrator relating the adventures of the tale’s protagonist, Mabel Jones, whose baby sister Maggie is abducted by magic vines. Sometimes the first voice seamlessly merges into the second voice as the reader is catapulted into a series of awesome adventures that involves creatures such as buzzards and llamas, and places such Offal Stop and the Great Murky River.

Early in the book, as she searches for her stolen sister, Mabel is led into the filthy Hotel Paradiso, a place in the future in the City of Dreams in the Noo World populated with talking animals, all of which are quirky and eccentric and dressed outrageously. Mr Habib, a monkey who runs the Sacred Museum of Beaks, tells Mabel she is in great danger and that ‘only the pure of heart can defeat the dark magic.’

Not only is there rich and quirkily (and often exaggerated) descriptive language and non-stop action in this so-very-different novel, but the book is designed to look incredibly tempting for its young readers with words frequently presented in outstanding font and typeface. The frequent black and white illustrations are as creative as the text; in one section, the reader is even invited to examine an illustration to ‘see’ the book’s outlandish characters.

According to The Times, this innovative book (the second in a series) has ‘a dash of Lemony Snicket’ but in no way is it derivative. I can see it winning awards and young readers telling friends to beg, borrow or steal it. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s New Wings

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s New Wings by Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, illustrated by Kerry Millard (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN 9780143307471

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

In Daisy’s Quest, the first exciting, event-filled book in this series of chapter books for readers 7 to 9 years, Daisy gained her feathery new wings. Daisy finally feels like a true fairy but she will need all the strength, bravery, resourcefulness and persistence she showed in that quest in order to learn how to fly.  First, though, Daisy needs bigger dresses in order to accommodate her wings, so Mum’s sister, Aunt Acacia, a seamstress, gets to work. First she takes her niece into the forest to point out potential dangers for a flying fairy – webs, thorny bushes, snakes and currawongs. 

Then Daisy – with the help of her best friend, the beetle Vu, needs to build up her shoulder muscles, which requires lots of exercise practice.
Like other young children learning a new skill, Daisy needs to learn patience and how to deal with disappointment and frustration. Her first attempt to fly, encouraged by her fairy friend Pea, results in a fall from a tree branch. Luckily, Dad, who is a healer, is able to help Daisy to recover. Kerry Millard, the illustrator, who faithfully captures the spirit of the Wilderness Fairy’s stories, has beautifully captured, in simple lines and wash, many tender moments in the books, including one of a tearful Daisy being consoled – and encouraged – by her aunt after this first failure.

Learning ways of moving – from hovering to gentle fluttering to powerful flapping – Daisy gains concentration and focus. Her first solo flight is wild and unpredictable but ultimately successful. The next book in this wonderful series will surely be about Daisy’s attempt to find her ‘Calling’.

In this – and the previous book – the author Jodie Wells-Slowgrove – has created a whole new world which is fantastical and yet utterly believable. She has captured the atmosphere of forests which are so familiar to Australians. Even within Daisy’s life her close-knitted family seems real as they gather together to dine on lilli pilli cake, roasted seeds, native cherries and wattle seed damper. 

The books give readers insight into the lives of native animals and their habitat. At the end of this book there are notes purportedly from Daisy about how to make bush music, about Sydney Green Wattle and Nelli, a ladybird which are featured in the story.

This series is sure to find a strong following with children who appreciate page-turning adventures and characters which one can care about.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s Takes Charge

 The Wilderness Fairies: Daisy’s Takes Charge by Jodie Wells-Slowgrove, illustrated by Kerry Millard (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN9780143307471

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Here is the third in the series set in an Australian wilderness forest that focuses on the adventures of Daisy, a finger-sized fairy who has recently earned her wings. 

In another gentle and charming story, the reader learns how Daisy helps her musically talented older sister, Maggie, get ready for a concert. Maggie is to go into a Songbird Duet with the magpie Melody, so Daisy, trying to surprise her, decides to embellish a beautiful black dress made by Aunt Acacia with corella feathers. Unfortunately, this proves to be a disaster – but aunt steps happily steps in to remedy the problem.

Just before a performance, Daisy’s friend Pea – a recurring fairy character in the series – introduces her to musicians including Boronia, Grebe, Lark and Ash who are all to perform as well. As events progress, Daisy is forced to use her wand to smooth events which threaten to spoil the rehearsal. Then, when Grevillia -- Boronia’s overzealous mother -- threatens to sabotage Maggie's duet with Melody the Magpie, Daisy has the chance to save the day and redeem herself.

Once again, the Australian bush setting brings a unique aspect to the story and the characters are real and lovable, and unlike many book series for children – they are memorable. 

For a reader aged 6 to 9 years, especially a girl, this book is a page-turner with lots of action and adventure. The whimsical ink sketches by one of Australia’s leading illustrators capture the delightful tone of the book. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Kizmet and the Case of the Tassie Tiger

Kizmet and the Case of the Tassie Tiger by Frank Woodley (Puffin Books) PB RRP $9.99  ISBN 9780143308546                                                            Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Most will know author Frank Woodley as a comedian, storyteller and artist; now he has branched into writing for children with this book series about a child, a currawong and a detective.

This story begins with a prologue set on a dark page with a partly hidden moon; it tells of a creature, its breath ‘wet and crackly as it crept through the dark’ intending to attack a goat. Then the story segues into a first person tale which begins, ‘we had arrived home from Scotland after solving the riddle of the golden badger’s bum hole.’ The narrator here, and for the rest of the book, is Gretchen, the cheeky bird who enjoys a diet of blowflies. She and her partner, Kizmet Papanicillo, an inquisitive young girl, have solved a string of crimes and are about to embark on yet another case.

This chapter book, aimed at children aged 7 to 10 years, is fast-paced and abounds with episodes where adults have slapstick misadventures where they come out looking foolish. The author obviously feels children will laugh at; perhaps they will, though the episodes come across as ham-fisted to this adult reader. Action, however, is non-stop and Kizmet and Gretchen work together happily as a team.

One aspect of the book some young readers might find troublesome is reading speech by one of the main characters who suffers from a lisp. Neverthless, for readers who enjoy mysteries, especially when they can, like Kizmet, work out clues to reveal the culprit, this is sure to be a good read. 

Woodley is a talented illustrator and his line-and-wash, well-placed pictures help to make this book appealing.