Showing posts with label Random House Australia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Random House Australia. Show all posts

Monday, 4 February 2019

Kensy and Max Undercover

Kensy and Max Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey (Random House Australia) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 978014379104

Reviewed by Max Emmerson

This is the third book in a series about twins, Max Grey and his sister Kensington who are undercover agents-in-training at Pharos, a covert international spy network. In the first book, the twins’ lives are turned upside down when they are whisked off to London and discover their parents (both agents) are missing. In attempting to uncover the truth, strange things happen as they enter a weird new school, come across bizarre grannies on their street, and keep finding coded messages and adults who keep secrets. Who can they trust?

In the latest book of the twins’ adventures, the prolific Australian author Harvey helps any reader new to the series with clues at the front of the book: two maps, one of Sydney, the other of Cherry Tree Farm. As well, there are three comprehensive pages of the cast of characters (so many!), and then over seven pages of ‘Case Note 17’ which fills the reader in on what has preceded the current book. Again, these notes are comprehensive and filled with characters and places, recounting fieldwork undertaken by the twins, their skills, strengths and vulnerabilities, their training and more.

This is a lot to take in before moving on to the current state of play. The Undercover book starts with Kensy and her science partner in class almost burning down the lab and causing the evacuation of students. The next chapter switches to (Granny) Cordelia Spencer, who, the earlier notes tell us, is a Dame and Head of Pharos. More characters appear…There’s so much to take in. Next Granny ships the twins off from England to Australia on an undercover mission. There the two are enrolled in a posh Sydney school where their spying skills are used to infiltrate and befriend students.

Every chapter of the book begins with an incomprehensible row of letters: if the reader wants to decipher them, there’s a code-breaker at the back of the book.

Many characters, twists and turns, mysteries and fast-paced action: these abound in this book which no doubt will be followed by yet another in the series. Suitable for ages 9+ years.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Dr Boogoloo and the Girl who lost her Laughter

Dr Boogoloo and the Girl who lost her Laughter by Lisa Nicol (Random House Australia) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN 978014 3782599

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Blue is a girl whose name keeps changing depending on the moods and interests of her largely absent mother. Blue's father is absent, too, and only occasionally available via Skype. Blue is ‘blue’ as she’s often alone; this is no doubt due to her lonely life and is responsible for her losing her laughter – a condition that’s persisted for 712 days. 

Mr Boogaloo, on the other hand, whose clinic is called Boogaloo Family Clinic of Musical Cures, is a jovial chap whose aim in life is to help others. His patients include Charlie whose head is ‘filled with mean, nasty thoughts’ and Dan Mutter who has the delicate problem of always forgetting to wear underpants to school. Boogaloo’s usual remedy is to play music – such as calypso tune played on bagpipes or music from a flumpet, flugelhorn and fujara. Any problem can be solved with music rather than pills according to Boogaloo!

Blue’s case is exceptional, so, after her mother takes her to the esteemed doctor hoping for a cure, Boogladoo’s indispensable wife Bessie who has ‘a fairy-floss cloud of mandarin-orange hair’ and whose skirts house a small family of pygmy possums, is Blue’s first port of call. She takes the small girl on her magical bicycle which looks as if an entire orchestra of instruments have collapsed on top, to the Snorkel Porkel Crumpety Worpel Laughter Clinic where Blue’s therapy begins. Because Blue’s condition is ultra-serious, a cure must be worked at. Hence there’s much effort expended by many laughter performers and much more.

This is a book which is filled with colourful and often invented language (as well as musical instruments). Every moment offers imaginative actions as well as characters which are unusual, awe-inspiring (such as the enormous blues-singing whale, Leonard) and downright amusing. Any child from 8 to 11 years, who likes to be entertained and have their imagination stretched, is sure to enjoy this charming, often humorous and fast-paced, quirky tale.

Rights have been sold to a musical based on this middle-grade novel by writer/filmmaker, Lisa Nicol which should be interesting as there are lots of weird musical instruments and personalities featured.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Books 2 & 3

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Fight Back by Tim Harris (Random House Australia) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780143785873

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Go Wild by Tim Harris (Random House Australia) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN9780143789024

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Such was the popularity of Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables, Random House Australia took the decision to continue publishing the series of an extraordinary teacher, Mr Bambuckle and his adventures with students of 12B. At the end of book one in the series, Mr Bambuckle (who rides a unicycle, performs magic and reads minds) has been booted out of Blue Valley School because his teaching methods are too unconventional for principal Mr Sternblast.

At the beginning of the Fight Back book, 12B’s new teacher is Miss Frost whose rules (such as ‘no speaking’ and ‘don’t be lazy’) are written on the board as the students enter the class room. ‘Discipline is the new order’ is her mantra. Contrast her with Mr Bambuckle who had ‘charmed the students with his surprising tricks and fantastical lessons.’ No wonder the students decide to revolt especially after Carrot Grigson gets a detention for complimenting Miss Frost on her bobby pin and the new teacher tears up Victoria Goldenhorn’s immaculate handwriting (to take her down a peg or two).

Even while Mr Bambuckle is absent, his magic continues with one student being able to control the weather (and Miss Frost who mysteriously disappears to Ecuador). It’s then that Mr Bambuckle re-enters as 12B’s teacher and the excitement he generated in book one continues.

As with all the books in the series, children in the class often relate stories and there is ample scope given over to interesting internal book design. Once again, for instance, Mr Bambuckle has a dialogue with nasty Canteen Carol (using speech balloons), and notes are passed in class, printed in children’s handwriting. James Hart illustrates numerous pages with black and white and grey wash cartoonish pictures.
In the last chapter of the book, Principal Sternblast makes an unexpected announcement when he introduces the new deputy principal, a familiar foe. Let the adventures begin in the next book about the remarkable Mr Bambuckle and his remarkable students!

In book three of the series, Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables Go Wild, the action of the book takes part in the outdoors as the charismatic teacher has taken his students on a camp. Unfortunately, they are joined by Miss Frost, now the deputy-principal of Blue Valley School, who is determined to find enough ammunition to lead once again to Mr Bambuckle’s dismissal.

As with the other two books in the series, there are short stories within, narrated by students, as well as dialogue (again with Canteen Carol and Mr Bambuckle), hand-written notes and illustrations. The final chapter is left so that the reader can expect another book in the series, but the ending is not a cliff-hanger as in the previous books.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables by Tim Harris (Random House Australia) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780143785859

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Author Tim Harris first came to attention some years ago when he published two collections of humorous short stories which exploded onto the Australian scene and proved very popular. Now he’s being acclaimed for his latest very funny book series about a fantastical teacher who can read minds, make magic and totally draw class 12 B into his thrall. The reviewer of Sunday Telegraph wrote, ‘Mr Bambuckle is an extraordinary teacher, and this is an extraordinary book.’ Certainly, this first in a series of three books (so far) is fast-paced, full of fun and likely to become popular reading.

Bambuckle arrives at Blue Valley School, on his first lesson balancing on a unicycle on top of his desk, singing a rare Mongolian welcome song. His 15 students have never experienced an adult quite like him, and they are soon drawn into his stories and lessons. Which child wouldn’t want to design stamps for the teacher, or invent a drone or create an app? The new, fascinating teacher has the gift of making even the most nervous student feel proud of herself, as he does when he gets Evie Nightingale relates a story to the class about a washing machine from hell which proves the girl is indeed very brave.

In between episodes where Mr Bambuckle is interacting with his class, there are short stories narrated by students, black and white illustrations, pages of projects, streams of dialogue (between nasty Canteen Carol and Bambuckle who charms the woman everyone fears), and notes passed from student to student when the principal, Mr Sternblast, appears. Appalled by the new teacher’s teaching methods, it becomes the principal’s aim to rid the school of him.

This book is sure to create addictive readers who like to laugh aloud, who cheer for teachers who are extraordinary, and who hiss villains. Highly recommended for children aged 8 to 12 years.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018


Found by Fleur Ferris (Random House Australia) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9780143784326

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Elizabeth Miller (Beth) is a seventeen-year-old school girl who lives in a small rural town in New South Wales. She has been brought up in a safe and loving environment by her parents, is well-liked and has lots of friends. She has recently got a boyfriend, Jonah, whom she goes to school and has fallen in love with. Beth has a great relationship with her parents; however, they are somewhat strict and a little overprotective, especially her father. So, for the past six weeks she’s put off telling them about her relationship with Jonah.

Beth is anxious about telling her father her secret, yet she is looking forward to the relief it will bring when it’s finally out in the open. Little does she know that her secret will pale in comparison to the one that is about to be revealed. On the afternoon that Beth finally works up the courage to tell her father about Jonah, her safe little world comes crashing down. Unfortunately for Beth, a seventeen-year-old family secret is exposed, and the fallout is enormous.

Found is a fiction novel suitable for young adults. It is a captivating story from start to finish and is highly recommended for those who enjoy drama, mystery and suspense. The book is written from two points of view – both Beth’s and Jonah’s in alternating chapters. Interestingly, Beth’s point of view is written in first person and Jonah’s point of view is told in the third person. This is the fourth young adult book by Fleur Ferris. If you like this novel, you may also enjoy her previous books - Risk, Black and Wreck.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Story of Australia

The Story of Australia by Robert Lewis in association with the National Museum of Australia (Random House Australia) PB RRP ISBN 9780857983145

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a beaut book to gift to anyone interested in Australia’s history from its earliest and first Australians to post World War II Australia. At 410 pages, it covers white discovery and colonisation, the changes brought about by population expansion and gold discovery, the creation of the nation, Australia and the First World War, the roaring twenties and the Second World War The stories are told under coloured sub-headings and in frequent break-out boxes with full-colour and black and white photography, maps and diagrams.

In the section called ‘Creating a Nation’, there is a section on Australia before Federation, with separate stories about Henry and Louisa Lawson, the introduction of time zones in Australia (1895), opposition to Federation, political differences, how Federation was achieved, the Australian Constitution and much more. At the end of the chapter is a double-page spread table comparing Australia’s constitution to that of America and Great Britain. Break-out boxes include information and photographs of Alfred Deakin, Charles Kingston, Catherine Helen Spence and Andrew Inglis Clark. Every section is like this – crammed with vital and often entertaining stories.

Throughout the book there is much valuable and comprehensive information, but sometimes it makes for dry reading, especially for young people who are targeted in the book’s introduction which tells how ‘The Story of Australia has been written with a close eye on the Australian Curriculum.’

The book draws on the National Museum’s rich collection of 200,000 objects, images and artefacts – some of which are displayed, for example Phar Lap’s heart, political handbills, an instruction booklet that shows how to draw caricatures of political leaders of the second World War, a 1885 British Doulton porcelain kangaroo umbrella stand and much more.

The story of our country finishes with ‘Australia in the Future’, informing the reader that on 15 September 2000, an estimated 3.5 billion people watched Australia present itself to the world during the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Sydney. The page is illustrated by a painting titled ‘Land Rights’ by Eunice Yunurupa Porter, 2011.

At the end of the book there is a three-page selected bibliography, a comprehensive index and four pages of image credits. This book is likely to be an essential history resource for homes and libraries.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Big Bash League

 Big Bash League by Michael Panckridge (Random House Australia) PB RRP $14.99
Switch-Hit Showdown ISBN 9780143782230
Double Delivery ISBN 9780143782193
Captains’ Clash ISBN 9780143782216
Bowling Blitz ISBN 9780143782254

What is Big Bash League you might wonder? Chances are that you are not a huge fan of cricket, for BBL has many followers (see Australian author Panckridge who has already produced some child-friendly sporting books, has his finger on the pulse with a new series of novels suitable for readers 8 to 12 years which tells stories of cricket-loving kids. In the first, Double Delivery, both boys are featured in games that take place in a Queensland oval with cricket-mad twins Millie and Maggie wanting to join in. But of course there’s reluctance with a ‘boys-only’ mentality. Meanwhile, in the caravan park where the twins are staying, things are disappearing, so this book based on cricket games, also serves as a mystery tale.

Switch-Hit Showdown is set in Melbourne with a Renegades fan, Barney, meeting his match in a game against a team, headed by Fifi, which blitzes his. Before the grand final, however, it seems a spy mission is in order.

In Bowling Blitz, talented fast-bowler, Jimmy and his sister Izzy, having just moved from Perth to Adelaide, are huge BBL fans. But Jimmy’s not so fussed about being an Adelaide Strikers supporter. As in the other Big Bash League titles, there is more than just cricket happening: Jimmy has a problem with a kid and his dad from a neighbouring cricket club who are trying to poach him.

The last of these four titles, Captains’ Clash, is set in Sydney, where Fletcher, Jana and their mates are counting down to a full T20 match --their greatest cricket game ever. But brother and sister and their mates first need to settle a score with another team.With decent-sized typeface, chapter headings and illustrations, these stories are easy-to-read and fast-paced, and offer good reading especially to reluctant readers, both boys and girls. For cricket fans the publisher has included notes at the back of each book which offer all-round tips (such as getting fit, good techniques and practice) and bowling tips (grip, run-up (follow-through and so on). There is also in each of the books, depending where the story is set, there are statistics about local clubs: the Perth Scorcher fans, for instance, can read about results, records, team players, strike rates and more.

It’s great to see books – and a sport – which includes both males and females participating. The series ought to do well this summer!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela (Random House Australia) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781025324822

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

With the recent advent of children’s spelling competitions on national television, this book by Australian Deborah Abela is likely to have added appeal to readers aged 8 to 11 years.

India Wimple is a national spelling champ in the making. She and her family religiously watch the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Been on TV every Friday night. India invariably knows the correct spelling of words presented to competitors. She would go public with her talent but nerves get the better of her – ‘she was terribly, horribly shy and whenever she found herself the centre of attention, her cleverness seemed to disappear.’ Despite this, and encouraged by her loving family, India faces her fears.

This is a fast-paced and engaging book. Abela wonderfully captures the caring spirit of family and community. She presents an accurate view of a spelling bee with its wide variety of competitors, including a spoilt rich girl who is determined to win at all costs. A special feature of the book is the way in which each chapter is introduced. A word is highlighted, as well as its part of speech, its definition, and its use in a sentence. Each time, the chapter opening clearly hints at what is to come. For instance, there is ‘Skulduggery (noun): Trickery, underhandedness, funny business. It seemed there was a lot of skulduggery about.’ Other chapters are prefaced with words such as ‘Tremulous’, ‘Valorous’, ‘Trepidation’, ‘Calamitous’.

This is a spirited, exciting and heart-warming story that is sure to be enjoyed by young readers. And, too, it will be of special interest to anyone who is keen to improve their vocabulary and spelling abilities. 

Friday, 22 July 2016

Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens

Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens by RA Spratt (Random House Australia) PB RRP $15.99         ISBN 9780857988832

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Australian author RA Spratt made her name for her bestselling Nanny Piggins series: she has since gone on to present a new series about a girl detective Friday Barnes, who, having solved a bank robbery, uses the reward money to send herself to the most exclusive boarding school in the country, Highcrest Academy.

To read this latest book, it is presumed you have read the previous one for The Plot Thickens is a continuation. The story begins with four pages of ‘Previously in Friday Barnes.’ It introduces Ian whose life Friday has saved, and his father Mr Wainscott who Friday has proven was guilty of bank robbery and insurance fraud. Wainscott was sentenced to gaol but his conviction was over-turned on appeal due to a legal issue. Now he’s at Highcrest to take custody of Ian. There’s a lot to take in before this latest book gets underway.

Before long the reader learns that Friday Barnes is a precocious mini-version of Sherlock Holmes, erudite in the extreme, able to make deductions quickly and accurately based on evidence. Soon she becomes embroiled in the mystery of a missing canvas by the new art teacher, Lysander Brecht, a world famous and very wealthy artist.

There are many incidents such as this which involve Friday, all of which serve to imbue the story with a sense of melodrama. A boy is locked in a storeroom where he eats cheese and looks at nudes in art books. Friday is almost drowned and later assaulted by a whirring ceiling fan. A boy uses a crow to steal golf balls. There are more -- and more --  incidents such as this.

All through the book one finds argumentative and precocious students, and argumentative teachers. Students question their teachers and none of the teachers come across at all favourably. Friday and her best friend, the lazy Melinda, are not endearing characters. They are constantly disrespectful to and challenging of their elders. Friday, for instance, refuses to take instructions from her PE teacher, though she does suffer a punishment as a consequence. She stands up to police officers, too, though they turn out to be imposters.

The Plot Thickens is an incident-packed novel that doesn’t appear to have an over-riding plot. That this is the fifth in the Friday Barnes series indicates that it must have some fans. Suitable for readers 8 to 11 years.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Pause

The Pause by John Larkin (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9780857981707
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857981714

Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Youth suicide -- a hush … hush topic, a brave topic to write about, a necessary topic to write about.

How many of us have been personally touched by suicide? I have, twice, so it was with hesitation that I began to read.

This YA story is Declan’s story. He is 17 and in Year 11 at a selective high school. He is witty, sensitive, a literature wiz and head over heels in love with Lisa. One problem is that Lisa has a Tiger Mother, who Declan nicknames The Kraken. A kraken who beats her daughter when she strays from her mother’s warped ways. A kraken who confiscates her daughter’s phone and sends her away from Declan to live in Hong Kong with her aunt.

Although there is a parallel plot of Declan and Lisa (a bit like Romeo and Juliet), it is primarily Declan’s story as he wonders if his ‘brief flicker of existence might have meant something.’

Something dark happened when Declan was 6, something that has been buried so deep in his psyche that when he needed inner strength, it was too fragile to cope.

The narrative moves back and forth, like a mind in chaos, until we as the reader are standing with Declan, wracked with emotional pain, on the platform as the train approaches. He intends to end the pain.

Graphic descriptions? Yes. But they are in Declan’s mind in those nanoseconds of decision -- the nanosecond of The Pause. That short-long time to decide to live or to die, ‘… crying because I don’t think I’m worth anything …’

With time out in a psychiatric hospital, Declan starts to think about life.  He thinks of the ‘wreckage’ he would have left behind ‘in that moment of pure insanity …’ It is through the kindness and understanding of strangers in his ward, in their own dire personal situations, that Declan begins to heal.

Through Declan’s breakdown, ‘I went nuts. It happens. It happened to me. It can happen to anyone …’ his friends are given quiet permission to be open and frank about themselves.

The positive message is how this experience empowers Declan to own who he is; that he has choices to make and responsibilities to others, but mostly to himself. He learns that life is bittersweet, but you can cope, and that once you open yourself to others and their lives you realise that people are not worth dying for, they’re worth living for.

John Larkin is a brave writer. The Pause is personal. It’s as much Larkin’s story as it is Declan’s story. As you read, you come to understand that the heart and soul of John Larkin becomes the heart and soul of Declan. It is a story of hope and the beauty of relationships … because of one essential concept … pause.

Larkin’s previous novel, The Shadow Girl, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adults.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Glenn Maxwell Lucky Break

Glenn Maxwell Lucky Break by Patrick Loughlin (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978-0-85798-607-8
Reviewed by: Jaquelyn Muller

It’s time to slap on the zinc and get a shine on the new ball as the covers come off for another big summer of cricket. Random House has timed its new sports fiction series rather nicely with the Cricket World Cup headed for Australia next year and a huge program of tests, T20 matches and One Day Internationals starting. They have partnered with one of Australia’s best T20 players Glenn Maxwell; to create a cricket fiction series for boys (and cricket mad girls) aged between seven and twelve! 

The books are written by high school English teacher and writer, Patrick Loughlin who also authored the Billy Slater Rugby League series of books. In the first book of the series Lucky Break, Loughlin propels readers straight into the thick of the action by introducing the central character, Will Albright as he faces a tense second innings captain’s knock in an inter-club cricket grand final. If you have no idea what that means then you probably won’t understand the rest of the book but it is why the target audience will love this series. There is more cricket terminology and iconography than you can poke a stump at and for any cricket loving tween it’s what will keep the pages turning.

We travel along with Will as he rides waves of self-doubt, navigates tricky relationships and is pushed to his limits in his quest to be picked for the Victorian T20 Youth Academy. Will must drive his abilities to the edge to get noticed by the selecting coaches including his hero, Glenn Maxwell. In parallel to the story there are opportunities to enjoy the sports action with a commentary similar to that of a cricket telecast. The story moves quickly and the tone emits a school yard vernacular which gives plenty of opportunity for laughs along the way.

For any sports loving younger reader there is much for them to identify with in the scenarios presented from the overnight cricket camp setting to team rivalries, and Glenn Maxwell’s cricket tips and glossary at the end of the book make this informative as well as entertaining.

The second book in the series, Academy All-Stars is being released simultaneously on December 1st and will no doubt be a welcome distraction during any rain affected play delays over the summer.

Jaquelyn Muller is an author and publisher of children’s picture books. Jaquelyn is an author champion for the Let’s Read early childhood literacy program. She conducts literacy and publishing workshops for children from kinder to upper primary.  Jaquelyn was opening bat for her girls’ high school cricket team and is now bringing up two cricket mad daughters of her own.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Billy Slater: Banana Kick

Billy Slater: Banana Kick by Patrick Loughlin, illustrated by Nahum Ziersch (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780857982667
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857982674
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

What a great concept for a series for young boys who love their sport. You don’t have to be a footy player to engage with the Under 11s Ravens. Each book follows the story of one of the team members. In this 2nd book of this new series, it’s Junior Taafuli’s turn. ‘At ten years of age, Junior was already five foot five. His hefty Samoan build had earned him the nickname Mount Taafuli.’

Despite his size, Junior is a quiet kid. Author, Patrick Loughlin, describes Junior’s running abilities in vivid phrasing – he came ‘steaming in through the middle of the forward pack like a Spanish bull let loose on a crowd of tourists.’

As the Ravens play more games, the opposition’s parents constantly sledge Junior because of his size. He is so dejected he thinks himself a freak. Even his teammates join in by making mean comments, ‘he’s on a seafood diet: see food and eat it.’

Billy Slater, the famous Australian fullback, is once again centre field when it comes to the kids’ training and wellbeing. In a preface to the book he reveals that when he started out in football, he ‘didn’t have the natural strength or size the other players had,’ so he had to find other skills. With boys reading this they will understand that like Junior, they each have their positive areas.

There is a lovely interlude throughout the book where the reader gains insight into Junior’s supportive and strong family. His father works at the fruit markets and his mother is a nurse and a wonderful, traditional cook. When Billy Slater organises for the boys to swap junk food for healthy food to give them energy, despite his size, it’s Junior who comes up trumps.

But there’s more to Junior than his physicality. During a confrontation with the team bully, Junior is at tipping point. Surrounded by the team who are chanting ‘Fight! Fight!’ he could have pummelled the bully into the ground, but he surprises everyone by rapping about being who he is.

With its punchy use of language that rushes the plot through each chapter, there’s always something of interest. The enticingly colourful cover and the black and white illustrations scattered throughout give just enough of everything. At the end of the book Billy Slater gives his tips on healthy eating and on how to perfect the game-saving Banana Kick.

As the whole team is profiled, who will be the next player in the spotlight in Book 3?

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Billy Slater: Try Time

Billy Slater: Try Time by Patrick Loughlin, illustrated by Nahum Ziersch (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780857982469
Also available as an ebook ISBN 9780857982476
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

This is the first book in a new series for boys 7+ who not only love footy but who play any team sport. At the core of each book is the guidance of legendary Billy Slater, fullback for the Melbourne Storm, Queensland Maroons and Australian Kangaroos.

Each short-chapter book tells the story of one of the players of the Under 11s team, the Ravens. This time it’s Josh’s story. His dad’s away, his mum is busy with the new baby and his greatest supporter, his grandad, is embarrassingly over-the-top when it comes to cheering from the sideline.

Josh is so nervous about his first footy game that he dreams he’s forgotten to wear his uniform. He’s running for the line with the ball in his Superman undies.

Every boy who has ever had to get ready for footy will be excited by the descriptions of the pre-game preparations: footy boots, shoulder pads, mouthguard – check! And they will recognise the ‘herd of elephant-sized butterflies’ stampeding in their stomachs.

Josh is on the small side and he’s constantly worried that he will let the team down. In the first game of the season he ‘felt the hard yellow hide slide into his grasp as he dived for the line.’ He lost the ball. ‘Then came the sound that would haunt him for days: a single loud, long BOOOOOOO!’

Enter Billy Slater, friend of Coach Steve and footy hero to the boys. At their footy practices Billy homes in on what each boy needs. He takes Josh aside and says, ‘the yips are when you worry so much about not being able to do something that your body forgets how to do it.’ This is not a didactic series but blends the reality of playing football with the wisdom of those who have done it all before.

With its plethora of footy action, quick pace and short-burst sentences, the climax is exciting indeed. The black and white drawings create a visual connection for the reader. There is added value in the players’ profiles at the back of the book as well as handy footy tips on tackling and catching a pass.

Try Time is about having fun, working as a team and self-belief regardless of ability or background. It’s the whole footy package. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

You Choose: Mayhem at Magic School

You Choose: Mayhem at Magic School by George Ivanoff, illustrated by James Hart (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780857983848
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857985460
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Whereas Book 1 in this You Choose … series fired readers’ imaginations by plunging them into the world of pirates and buried treasure, Book 2, Mayhem at Magic School, takes readers on a rollercoaster of all things magic.

Prolific, inventive author George Ivanoff, continues to use his fast-paced, humorous and interactive style to entice readers seven years and older to dive into the magical adventure and decide their fate. Ivanoff knows what kids want and writes as if he’s one step ahead of them, teasing them this way and that.

From the opening sentence where a ball freezes in mid-air as you stare at it, you are the protagonist. You are in control of the situation and you have discovered that you have magical powers.

It’s an exciting scenario for any young reader. Suddenly, in class, a bunch of white rabbits appear. Did you make that happen? The other kids think so and call you a ‘freak!’

Along this 16-storyline path to magical adventure Ivanoff uses short, action-packed scenarios smattered with graphic novel style illustrations featuring you.

There are lots of questions at each story intersection. ‘Where will you go?’ ‘Where will you sleep?’ ‘How will you get food?’ And the biggie … ‘Who will you meet in the magical mansion?’ None other than Chang Lee, the great Master of Illusion who offers you the chance to be his apprentice and learn everything he knows …


Choose the other path where you find out you belong to a long line of enchanters, which means, you’re off to Magic School.

With an enchanted scroll ‘equivalent to an iPad’ and a red ancestral jewel that creates magic even if you don’t want it to, there are heaps of hazards in store. It’s time for you to get lost … in the magic of the adventure.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove

You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove by George Ivanoff, illustrated by James Hart (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780857983831
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857985453
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness
With its manga-inspired cover The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove is the first book in this new series called YOU CHOOSE … aimed at boys seven years and up.

In the vein of the Choose Your Own Adventure stories of the 80s (devoured by my chapter-book-shy sons), George Ivanoff is on to a winner with this latest addition to his 70+ children’s books.

The scenario is fast and furious. You are on a beach holiday. You find an old map … aye me hearties, a Pirate Map! While your parents read on the beach you wander over the cliffs and find a tunnel leading to …

No. You’re going to have to go down that path yourself; I’m heading back to choose another scenario.

The opening pages are full of promise: treasure, pirates, Dead Man’s Cove and One-Eyed William who had a ‘huge ruby in his deformed empty eye socket.’

Ivanoff has speckled the stories with interesting characters. Who could resist Professor Wagner with his ‘mismatched eyes – one small and squinty, the other wide and staring.’ In the museum there’s the ‘tall woman with spiky blonde hair’ who ‘looks as if she’s been sucking a lemon,’ and what’s a pirate story without a macaw named Mr Fibuli and a town mayor who speaks pirate-talk.

Fun puns run amok in the town: Toys Argh Us, Long John’s Silverware and Shiver Me Timbers Hardware.

There are numerous pathways for the reader to explore. Each path choice is about a page in length, which makes for quick, fun reading. The stories are totally plot driven and each page number is superimposed with skull and crossbones for added effect.

With 19 endings, there are plenty of scenarios to follow. Will you discovery the secret stone, that when pressed, opens into a cavernous pirate graveyard filled with Indiana Jones-like booby traps? Can you escape fast enough not to be skewered by a spear?

Black and white etchings of coins, treasure chests and maps smatter the pages as ‘you’ the reader make the decisions and take control of the storyline. The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove is a swashbuckling start to the series.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Alice-Miranda 2014 Diary

Alice-Miranda 2014 Diary by Jacqueline Harvey (Random House Australia)
HB RRP $17.95
ISBN 9780857980526
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Seeing this gloriously pink 2014 diary sent me searching for my own diary secreted away from prying eyes all those years ago. Mine wasn’t fancy; it was purely for personal, secret thoughts of my life as an eight-year-old. Fans of Alice-Miranda will delight in this hard-back, pink-spotted, gorgeously illustrated A5 diary. Perfect for a Christmas present or for a new start to the school year.

It has a week-by-week calendar for all the special occasions in the year including Australian holiday dates. It is filled with plenty of space for personal details, the reader’s family tree and favourite activities. There are quotes from the Alice-Miranda series, quizzes, drawing instructions and even an “Application for Enrolment” to fill in for Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies. Young diary-keepers can also try their hand at the assortment of recipes, like “Nana Jones’s Marble Cake” and “Easy Spaghetti Bolognaise.”

This beautifully detailed, pink-ribbon-bookmarked diary is just waiting to have a name printed in ‘This Diary Belongs To …”

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Alice-Miranda Shines Bright

Alice-Miranda Shines Bright by Jacqueline Harvey (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $15.95
ISBN 9781742752907
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742752914
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

For a seven-year-old, Alice-Miranda is certainly savvy. This is Jacqueline Harvey’s eighth book in the popular and award-winning series. It doesn’t matter what order you read these books in. They’re quite “stand-alone” and handily accompanied by a “cast of characters” just in case the reader needs a little reminder.

Alice-Miranda Shines Bright is set back at school. It’s nearly the end of the school year and Alice-Miranda is puzzled as to why her friend Jacinta’s moods have become “darker than a thundercloud.” For the first time ever, the chirpy Alice-Miranda has “absolutely no idea of what to do next.”

With the plot of pre-teenage angst threading along in Jacinta’s story, there are other mysteries to solve. One of their neighbours, Reginald Parker (who has been in a coma for three years) has gone missing. Alice-Miranda and her friend, Millie, soon get onto the case. They ride their ponies, Bonaparte and Chops across the hills and through the woodlands while they communicate on walkie-talkies.

As they follow the clues to solve one mystery, another is evolving. The girls have found a teeny entry into a cave in the hills and have discovered gold. The trouble is, there are a few other interested and greedy people after it as well.

What has happened to Reginald Parker and why is Jacinta so moody? With her usual bright and bubbly demeanour, Alice-Miranda goes headlong into adventure and takes her readers with her.

Jacqueline Harvey’s Alice-Miranda series is hitting the high time overseas, and so it should. There’s innocence mixed with adventure and a rollicking good time for the reader, 8+.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Saurus Street

Saurus Street by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $12.95
Saurus Street 5: A Plesiosaur Broke My Bathtub
ISBN 9780857981820
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857980540

Saurus Street 6: A Diplodocus Trampled My Teepee
ISBN 9780857981844
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857981851
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

After reviewing the first two Saurus Street books a short while ago, what fun it is to read the next set of adventures.

With a great opening sentence ‘There are three reasons I’m scared of Granny and Grandad’s outdoor loo …’, I was hooked. Suddenly, visions of dark nights, scary sounds and creepy crawlies brought back childhood memories. Some things never change.

In Book 5, A Plesiosaur Broke My Bathtub, we’re creeping around with 9 year-old Thomas as he gathers the courage to go to the outside loo in the middle of the night. Granny and Grandad’s ‘creaky old cabin’ is built over a sinkhole in a swamp that’s connected to Saurus Lake, so a bottomless outdoor toilet is a spooky place to go.

Thomas has a powerful imagination. One dismal, windy night he falls down the toilet into its ‘murky darkness below.’ The only thing Thomas can do is swim through the yuck, through a tunnel and into Lake Saurus. His rollicking adventure begins when he is hooked on a fishing line by a red-haired girl called Molly. She thinks he is ‘as mad as a box of frogs.’

Molly is fishing for squid to feed Ellie, the Loch Saurus Monster (a plesiosaur).

As readers of Nick Falk’s Saurus Street books handle a single plot, Falk weaves in a riotous sub-plot. The Reverend Parsnip and his wife, Priscilla, are planning on taking over the lake and building a hideous fishing lodge.

Thomas and Molly join forces and imaginations. They devise a plan to ‘pull the plug’ to save not only the lake, but also its shy inhabitant, Ellie the Plesiosaur.

Nick Falk is a whizz with words. He uses lots of vibrant verbs: twist, warble, squiggle, spike and each takes the font shape of its sound, which not only reads well, but adds a visual dimension and extra context to the sentences.

Chapter headings are fun as well. Who wouldn’t want to read Meet the Parsnips or Something Alive Down There …

There’s plenty of white space on each page and Tony Flowers’ hilarious illustrations reinforce key elements as you read. The facial expressions and body language connect you directly to the story.

And we’re left with the question, how do Granny’s VOLCANIC ginger snap biscuits save the day?

Book 6, A Diplodocus Trampled My Teepee, continues the high jinks in Saurus Street. This time, Toby and Jack are camping at Camp Saurus. They play ‘Imagineering’ and make up outrageous stories about the things they find.

They find a marble that is really the magic eyeball of Captain Saurus, a legendary pirate whose ship was made from dinosaur bones. The eyeball unleashes a curse that brings dinosaurs back to life.

While there’s curious scratching noises from their teepee a huge head rises over the treetops. It’s a diplodocus and pandemonium breaks out. The boys have to find a way to reverse the curse. Jack’s ‘scary sister’ Saffi joins them. The boys don’t know which is more fearsome, the dinosaurs or Saffi.

Toby places the magic eyeball over his own eye, like a pirate patch. Amazingly, he sees like a pirate. There’s a map tucked away in the eyeball. To reverse the curse, they have to find where X marks the spot!

There are dinosaurs on the loose everywhere. Jack, Toby and Saffi end up riding a dinosaur, rodeo-style, to escape the stampede. They fall through a crack in the earth and end up at the bottom of a canyon guarded by ‘one-eyed Rex’, the most terrifying of Captain Saurus’ dinosaur crew.

They find where X marks the spot and have to work out how to reverse the dinosaur curse. There’s lots of frantic, clever puzzle solving done just in the nick of time as they’re about to become snacks for a raging tyrannosaurus rex.

These Saurus Street books are an imagination starter. That’s what I love about them. Not only are you romping around in such a creative stories, you’re using your imagination as you go. With the winning partnership of Falk and Flowers, readers 6+ will devour these books with dinosaur appetites.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Caesar the war dog – operation blue dragon

Caesar the war dog – operation blue dragon by Stephen Dando-Collins (Random House Australia)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9780857980533
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9780857980540
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Stephen Dando-Collins. Take a bow. For the past nights I have been living your story. You had me hooked from the opening paragraph – the setting, Sydney Harbour, a black hawk helicopter; Sergeant Ben Fulton in full camouflage gear, an ‘automatic pistol was strapped low on his right thigh, and a rappelling harness covered his torso.’ And at the end of the paragraph,  ‘two small pouches … the smaller one containing dog biscuits.’

Caesar is an EDD, an explosive detection dog. He follows a long line of war dogs, the first serving with the Anzac troops during the First World War. The Caesar of Dando-Collins’ first book was based on the true story of an explosives dog that went missing in Afghanistan. Book 2 – operation blue dragon, fictionally continues Caesar’s extraordinary career. He’s found after missing in action in a gruelling firefight with the Taliban. Just as he is reunited with his handler and best friend, Sergeant Ben Fulton, Dr Park, the Secretary-General of the UN’s helicopter is ambushed. Dr Park is kidnapped by the Taliban and held in a secret cave location, code-named blue dragon. All stops are pulled out to find and rescue him.

There are several stories at play. On another tangent is Charlie’s story; he’s a crack member of the SAS. His legs have been blown off by an IED. He has to prove himself all over again when he is fitted with zoomers (similar to the blades that paraolympians wear).

Sergeant Fulton’s son, Josh, holds the 3rd tier in the storyline. Targeted by the school bully, Josh is taunted with ‘Dog Boy’ and has his possessions stolen.

This is boys-own adventure writing. It is fast-paced, gritty, filled with intrigue and derring-do. The fact that it is set in an area of current confrontation makes it all that more real for the reader. There are drones, frags, Green Berets and the CIA. And if you don’t know the lingo that Dando-Collins uses, there’s an extensive glossary at the back that gives great explanations of military terms.

A book for boys? Definitely. I can imagine boys 10+ glued to this book (and their fathers). Not only is it an education about what happens in these treacherous war zones, it’s adrenalin-pumping and filled with high adventure.

Dando-Collins has more than 30 books to his moniker. Many have military themes. He has won several prestigious prizes for his writing. No wonder the reviewer at the Herald Sun tagged ‘Caesar the war dog – operation blue dragon’ as ‘One of the best war stories I have read’.