Showing posts with label book series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book series. Show all posts

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables: On the Lookout

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables: On the Lookout by Tim Harris, illustrated by James Hart (PenguinRandom House) PP RRP $14.99 ISBN9780143793144

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is the fourth book in Australia Harris’ book series about Australia’s favourite literary teacher, Mr Bambuckle who oversees students of room 12 B. The book begins with a roll call of those 14 students, which includes their names, pictures of them and their likes and dislikes. One of the students is Vex Vron who likes cars and dislikes almost everything apart from cars.

The story begins at camp which has Mr Bambuckle and the stern assistant principal Miss Frost, both very different. Mr Bambuckle values learning, individuality and fun while Miss Frost is far more concerned with discipline, procedures and efficiency. Student Vex has left a note to indicate he is running away so the hunt is on to find him before his parents and school realise he is missing. This involves everyone, including new twin sisters, Grace and Gabby Wu.

As in the previous books in this series, Harris makes use of visual page ‘tricks’ such as phone calls, conversations (with cranky canteen Carol), notes (passed from students to one another) and ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. The book, also like the others, is full of witty asides, jokes and sparkling dialogue. Sentences are generally short and there are snappy, fast-paced actions that lead to a happy conclusion. All of these devices make this book another to be enjoyed by readers aged 9 to 12 years.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Max Booth Future Sleuth: Stamp Safari

Max Booth Future Sleuth: Stamp Safari by Cameron Macintosh, illustrated by Dave Atze (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $12.99 ISBN 9781925675368

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Max Booth and his trusty robo-dog Oscar are back for another sleuthing adventure. Stamp Safari is the third book in this futuristic series for young readers.

The year is 2424 and the world is a very different place. There are floating skyburbs as well as the usual ground level suburbs and zoom tubes with aircells that transport people back and forth. Zip coasters move people around the city by looping over buildings and underneath bridges. Max Booth lives on Skyburb 6. Since his escape from the Home for Unclaimed Urchins, he secretly lives in the storeroom of the Bluggsville Museum. Max helps his friend Jessie to identify ancient objects for display in the museum, to earn a little cash.

Max and Jessie become intrigued by a tiny rectangular piece of paper that has a pattern cut into its edges. It has a picture on one side and is sticky on the other.   Unfortunately, the Great Solar Flare of 2037 destroyed the old Internet and its contents, and this patch of paper is too old to easily identify. So, Max sets off with his resourceful beagle-bot Oscar in search of clues to find the origin of this rare and fragile piece of paper.

It isn’t long before Max and Oscar get themselves into trouble and hopes fade for identifying the piece of paper. Max gets captured by Captain Selby (the leader of the Unclaimed Urchins Recapture Squad) and is separated from his beloved Oscar. Max needs to try every trick in the book if he is to safely return to the museum with his dog and the patch of paper.

This humorous book would appeal to children 7+ years old who are beginning their chapter book journey. Atze’s monochrome cartoon vignettes are scattered throughout the book to help young minds visualise the futuristic world that Macintosh has created. If you’re keen for more sleuthing fun after you’ve read this book, make sure you check out the other two books in this series: Tape Escape and Selfie Search.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

The Royal Ranger - The Red Fox Clan

The Royal Ranger - The Red Fox Clan by John Flanagan (Random House Australia) PB RRP $18.99 ISBN: 9780143785903

Reviewed by Jeffery E Doherty

Maddie is a secret Ranger's Apprentice under the guidance of the legendary Will Treaty. However, for one month each year she must return home and resume her identity as Princess Madelyn. At the best of times Maddie finds castle life dull but to make matters worse, she will be stuck there while her father, Horace, and Gilan, the Commandant of the Ranger Corps, are taking half the garrison of Castle Araluen to put a stop to a group called the Red Fox Clan, which wants to restore the old law of male rulers for the kingdom.

This year's visit to the castle is anything but dull. Maddie uncovers long-kept secrets and a devastating plot against the crown. She must discover the identity of the man in the red fox mask or the peace her family have worked for could be in terrible danger.

Having read John Flanagan's original Ranger's Apprentice books some years ago, I found returning to the world of Araluen comfortable and familiar. It is good to see a new generation of Rangers’ books appearing to entertain a new generation of readers.

Maddie is confident, yet still has moments of vulnerability and self-doubt that make her character more likable. The book is full of adventure, treachery and action. It has a wonderful cast of interesting characters and the pace of the action and easy flow of the writing keep the reader turning the pages. I did find some parts of the book a little predictable. It may have been a lucky guess, but I picked the leader of the Red Fox Clan as soon as he was introduced into the story. The book was a thoroughly enjoyably read with a satisfying ending and leaves the way open for book three in the series which is coming later in 2018.

The Royal Ranger - The Red Fox Clan is the second book in the Royal Ranger series of middle grade fiction. It would suit readers 8-12 years old or readers who enjoy stories of fantasy and adventure with a confident young female hero. If you haven't already, readers are encouraged to read The Royal Ranger (Book 1) although this book can be read as a stand-alone story.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

When I’m Shining with Peace by Wendy Mason and Lisa Maravelis, illustrated by Kayleen West (Kids Light Up) PB   RRP $12.99   ISBN 780648206514

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Both Australian authors are founders of the Kids Light Up© project, a forum for educational information, which teaches resilience as its foundation. Their picture book series, When I’m Shining with Light, of which this book is a part, emphasises positive values and qualities to help children (aged three plus years) to thrive. Mason is Director of early learning at an independent school in Melbourne and Maravelis is a youth worker and counsellor. Both women are passionate about empowering children to be the best they can be.

When I’m Shining with Peace features an (unnamed) cuddly, clothed girl bear who talks about the role of peace in her life and how it affects her and her relationships with others. The book starts by referring to a ‘PEACE light’ which ‘we all have’, which, when switched on, has positive effects. It’s not stated how to ‘switch on’ the PEACE light but, the story continues, ‘When I’m shining with PEACE/ I’m still and steady.’
The story is related in rhyming text and continues to show readers ways in which inner peace is rewarding, such as having clear thinking, readiness to learn, calm breathing and so on. This allows the small reader to come to an understanding of what peace is. The book also shows the negative: when the ‘PEACE light goes out’, it makes the bear ‘scream and shout’ and want her own way.

One would assume that the child’s carer (parent or teacher, for example) would explain to the child how to create inner peace as sadly the book doesn’t do this.

While the book’s main benefit is in extolling the virtues of having peace so that one can live harmoniously, one of the stanzas is problematic. It reads: ‘When I’m shining with PEACE/ I choose to obey/Whatever you say/ I’ll do right away.’ Who is the ‘you’ to whom this stanza is addressed? One would assume the ‘you’ referred to is a parent, but it could be anyone, including a stranger. Despite this misgiving, one must admire the authors for investing their time and money into a project designed to help youngsters.

The illustrations are clear and attractive with lots of white space allowing focus on the bear character. And, too, the book is typeset in OpenDyslexic font, created to increase readability for readers with dyslexia. The font includes regular, bold, italic and bold italic styles, but it can easily be read by anyone who doesn’t have dyslexia.

There will be 10 books in the series, each of them covering a range of skills, qualities and values important for all children (and adults). The first four books dealing with Joy, Peace, Love and Kindness, were released in March 2018. All books are available through Denis Jones  and There are teachers notes and parents’ tips and notes available through the kidslightup site.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Little Witch: Hauntings & Hexes

Little Witch: Hauntings & Hexes by Aleesah Darlison (Big Sky Publishing)
PB RRP $14.99  IBSN 9781925520576

Reviewed by Kate Simpson

Hauntings & Hexes is the second book in Aleesah Darlison’s Little Witch series, following on from Secrets & Spells. While some children may prefer to read the books in order, Hauntings and Hexes also sits well as a stand-alone novel.

Courtney is a novice witch, learning magic in her attic with the help of her late grandmother’s spell book, a talking cat and the occasional whispered message from the spirit world. When she starts high school as the new kid in town, she’s trying to fly under the radar, but the temptation to do just a little bit of magic is too strong to resist. Of course, it doesn’t help when your magic isn’t always completely reliable.

To make matters worse, Courtney’s deceased grandmother had a (well-deserved) reputation in town as a witch, and not everybody was happy about it. Will Courtney have enemies from the outset?

Growing up is all about making mistakes, but when you’re a witch in training, your mistakes can have some pretty serious consequences and Courtney has accidentally unleashed a mischievous spirit on her village. Will she be able to save her new home or could the consequences be more serious?

The Little Witch series, with its themes of magic, friendship and adventure is sure to appeal to the tween crowd, and independent readers aged 8 to 11 will likely make short work of this easy-to-read, 144-page novel. Hopefully Aleesah Darlison will magic up a few more installments in this fun new series. 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Diary of an AFL Legend

Diary of an AFL Legend written by Shamini Flint and illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN 9781760295141

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Nine-year-old maths extraordinaire, Marcus Atkinson, is (shall we say) a good sport. (Not to be confused with the phrase ‘good at sport’.) He has so far bitterly sucked at cricket, track and field, basketball, tennis, soccer, swimming, taekwondo, golf and rugby. Yet there he is, at the opening of the tenth novel in this popular series, buried ‘under an AFL pack’. Oh Marcus. 

Let’s blame his perfect cousin (Spencer) who should really know better by now, right? Marcus progressively messes up the rules of the game in his special, flawlessly uncoordinated way. Despite his father (the self-help book novelist) having a philosophical conversation with him about the pursuit of happiness, he stubbornly refuses to give up. There’s no way he’s going to let Spencer down. When Spencer and his father secretly come up with a way to help Marcus miss an important game, believing they are doing him a favour, Marcus finds a way to turn up anyway … and puts on quite a show.

This latest installment in the (non) sporting series for 7–11-year-olds is chock full of hilarious, face palm moments that we’ve come to love and appreciate from Shamini Flint. The format of the book matches the others. The story is told via diary entries, each highly illustrated with the amusing black and white cartoons of Sally Heinrich. (The majority of the text actually appears in speech bubbles within the illustrations.) The narrative in the diary entries connects to the text in the speech bubbles, so there is perfect flow between the two. For example, Marcus writes ‘I asked Dad …’ and then we see a cartoon of Marcus and his father with the question in the speech bubbles. The diary entries also feature the odd ‘post-it note’ from his sister, supposedly reading and annotating without his permission.

The ending was great – very credible and totally in line with Marcus’ character and, er, his sporting prowess. Shamini Flint has once again provided an entertaining read with a clever way of inadvertently teaching her readers the rules of a sport.

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!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Henrietta and the Perfect Night

Henrietta and the Perfect Night by Martine Murray (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $16.99   ISBN 9781760290245

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Fans of Henrietta the Great Go-Getter will be pleased to discover this hardcover book by Martine Murray, featuring five new Henrietta stories.

Henrietta is just as spirited and adventurous as ever: ‘I’m an explorer of life, and that includes trees, bugs, animals and all mysteries.’ In this collection, she practices how to be patient and be a good big sister (‘The Waiting Game’), how to rescue somebody and make a friend at school (‘The First Day’), how to survive a sleepover with the pesky older brother of her best friend (‘The Sleepover’), how to save the school play when the lead gets stage fright (‘The School Play’) and how to adjust to life with a new baby brother (‘The Arrival’). The stories need to be read in sequence to be properly enjoyed, with the title alluding to the final story’s conclusion.

The book is illustrated in full colour by Martine Murray, award-winning author of How to Make a Bird and Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars. Each double page features an illustration to break up the text, making this a great novel for readers aged 5 years and older who are starting to read chapter books. The design is likely to appeal to the age group too, with key phrases appearing in an alternate font of different size or colour.

Henrietta is ‘a Big Thinker’ and her thoughts and observations are highly amusing! The stories are told in first-person perspective, allowing the author to offer fantastic examples of friendship, courage and kindness without seeming to preach these values to her readers. (‘You only need one friend in a room full of strangers to feel perfectly happy.’) Henrietta is, at times, bold and sassy, at other times quiet and afraid, but the range of emotions she feels gives scope to her situations and makes her very real and lovable.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie

Little People, Big Dreams: Marie Curie written by Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Frau Isa (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99   ISBN 9781847809612

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘When Marie was a little girl, she made a vow to herself … she was going to be a scientist, not a princess.’

The ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series showcases high-achieving women in history, all of whom acted on their childhood dreams. They are beautifully presented, hardcover, biographical picture books that target readers aged 5 – 8 years.

This title, about the gifted Marie Curie, explains how she was not allowed to study at university in her home country of Poland because she was a woman. Fortunately for the rest of the world (who would one day benefit from her scientific discoveries) she packed her bags and moved to France where she ‘soon became the best maths and science student in Paris’.

The book goes on to talk about her husband, Pierre, and their Nobel Prize winning discovery of radium and polonium. It also applauds her strength after Pierre’s sudden death, and the hard work that lead her to her second Nobel Prize. The text ends on an uplifting note, showing the many other girls whom she inspired, queuing up to study at the Radium Institute at the University of Paris.

Marie Curie’s story is conveyed in simple text, with only 1–3 sentences featuring across each double page. There is a longer biography included at the end of the book, featuring four black and white photographs.

Frau Isa’s illustrations are lightly textured, in a gentle watercolour palette. They offer deeper meaning to the text, both informatively and emotionally. For example, the text never mentions Marie’s connection to the development of x-rays, but the pictures show an injured soldier being x-rayed.  And when Marie accepts her second Nobel Prize award, the illustrations reflect her grief in both her facial expression and in a silhouetted empty chair in the first row.

The final picture, showing a full-colour Marie Curie sitting on a pile of books amongst a row of bemused (rather drab-looking) gentlemen, is a definite feminist celebration of Marie’s achievements in a male-dominated field.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie

Little People, Big Dreams: Agatha Christie written by Maria Isabella Sanchez Vegara and illustrated by Elisa Munsó (Quarto Group UK)
HB RRP $18.99  ISBN 9781847809599

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

When Agatha Christie was a young girl, she would read lots of books with her mum … and she always offered ‘a better idea for how the story should end’! It seems she was always destined to be a writer, as showcased in this title in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series that highlights successes of high-achieving women in history.

Agatha’s wartime nursing experience taught her much about poisonous concoctions, and her imagination ‘wouldn’t stay quiet’. After the war, she began to write her own stories – great, murderous thrillers that hooked her readers immediately. She invented the great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and many of her books became stage productions.

This hardcover picture book conveys Agatha’s story in simple text targeting readers aged 5–8 years. Each double-page spread features no more than 1–3 sentences. A longer biography appears at the back of the book, featuring four black and white photographs. It mentions the success of And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, detailing how her particular writing style made her ‘the queen of mystery’. It also mentions her baffling disappearance in 1925 – a personal mystery that sparked a nationwide search!

The illustrations by Elisa Munsó are black and white, with selected splashes of red – especially striking and appropriate for a writer of murder mysteries! (I particularly loved the page showing a black and white cemetery, featuring the headstones of some of her murder victims, with an elderly Agatha looking on in her bright red coat.)

Other women featured in the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series include Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel Maya Angelou and Marie Curie. This terrific series of books is definitely aiming to empower children (particularly girls) to follow their childhood dreams and make a difference in the world.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 7: Scavengers

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 7: Scavengers by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $12.99   ISBN 9781760295615

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘“We will destroy you for rejecting our invitation, but not with bruises or black eyes …”
“It’s your legacy we’re after,” the boy said.’

Chase doesn’t think his enemies can get much worse than pirates, red ninjas and wolf packs. Then he meets a new breed of kids operating behind the scenes at Buchanan School: the ‘Scavengers’.

Sebastian lost his title of President at the end of the sixth book so … guess what? It’s election week! Chase is super proud of his cousin, Zoe, and best friend, Brayden, for running in the campaign. Then he gets ordered by the elusive Scavengers to join their clan as well as run in the election himself. They want to assert their control over the school by ensuring a Scavenger wins the presidency, and they plan to help him win. Chase is annoyed. Who do they think they are? When he angrily tells them he would never run against his cousin, nor join their ‘creepy little gang of rubbish pickers’, they furiously tell him to prepare for ‘a whirlwind of disaster’. And they’re not wrong.

To get revenge, they enter Chase into the presidency campaign themselves. They then create a stealthy, ‘smear’ campaign that first angers Zoe and Brayden, then the whole school. Chase has never felt so hated, but the Scavengers have threatened to turn on his friends if he tells people who is behind the campaign. In true ninja style, there’s no way Chase is going to let them threaten his honour: ‘Things have got better, and I’ve changed. I didn’t want to get lost in the crowd anymore.’

Fans of the series will love this latest installment, which definitely shows some character growth and maturity. The story is action-packed and fast-paced. There are new characters to meet – Naomi, one of Chase’s ninja sidekicks, and Melvin, the school reporter. There are plot twists and betrayals, and there are discoveries … for not only will readers learn who the leader of the Scavengers is, but they’ll also find out who the mysterious white ninja is!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 6: Buchanan Bandits

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 6: Buchanan Bandits by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $12.99  ISBN 9781760295608

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Forget the pirate slang from the second book in this series.  Chase Cooper is about to become annoyed with an entirely new sound: chewing. Well, the chewing of gum to be exact. Someone is running around stealing everybody’s chewing gum. It’s all a bit strange to Chase, and, true to style, he’s not particularly sure he cares. Then Wyatt approaches him and suggests they team up to find the mysterious gum-stealing bandit. Wyatt? His enemy?

Zoe once again takes on the voice of reason: ‘“It’s easier to get dragged down by someone than it is to pull them up.”’ Chase is suspicious about Wyatt’s motivations, but his curiosity wins out and he agrees to help. So begins another crazy week at Buchanan School, where Chase has to figure out who the bandit is. Is it Jake, leader of the ‘wolf pack’? Sebastian? The white ninja? Wyatt? Or the so-called ‘scavengers’ his new friend, Naomi, tells him about? Chase is also trying to deal with ‘Career Week’ at school, and an embarrassing mentor. And why on earth is everybody going nuts over the erasers Sebastian has started selling? It’s all a bit much, but Chase manages to put the pieces together in a hilarious dream featuring James Buchanan himself. (Plus a kitten howling at the moon.)

Fans of this series will again appreciate the whimsical characters and storylines, along with social issues concerning this age group (7–12):
‘As a sixth grader, I feel like my entire life is sometimes controlled by what’s cool and what’s not.’
Chase learns a serious lesson about what he thinks is cool, and what is actually cool, from none other than a clown. Themes of bullying are once again addressed in a hilarious scene where Chase learns that clowns can do more than make people laugh – they can also scare your enemies senseless!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 5: Terror at the Talent Show

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 5: Terror at the Talent Show by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781760295592

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It’s another crazy week at Buchanan School in this, the fifth installment in the bestselling Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series. Chase Cooper’s multi-talented cousin, Zoe, is busy organising a school talent show. She is stressed about her to-do list, and asks Chase for some weekend help to set up the school cafeteria for rehearsals. His response? ‘Yeeeeeah, that’s actually right in the middle of my nap, so I’m gonna have to say no.’

Uh oh. As per previous novels, Chase has once again let Zoe down, breaking an unspoken ninja code to do ‘the honourable thing … to help family’. When a strange kid in a hockey mask ruins the rehearsal by setting a penguin loose in the school and destroying part of the unfinished stage, Zoe thinks Chase is partly to blame. If he had’ve helped, the stage would have been properly attached. It’s up to Chase to make it up to Zoe by using his ninja skills to find the culprit, find that penguin and save the talent show.

In each novel, Emerson cleverly builds on the growing list of Chase’s enemies to make it difficult to identify the culprit. In this novel, Jake (a popular, quarterback football player) is less than impressed with Chase’s decision to change the mascot to a moose. Jake joins Wyatt, Carlisle, Olivia and Sebastian as possible suspects in the talent show disaster.

There are some loose ends in the novel that will no doubt leave fans wanting to read the rest of the series. There’s a mysterious ‘white ninja’ character, a noticeable shift in numbers between Chase and Wyatt’s ninja clans, and a foreboding promotion for Wyatt to ‘Vice President of Buchanan School’.

The novel follows the same style as the others, featuring plenty of realistic banter between the students as well as over-the-top humour. The stories require a slight suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part, which won’t be a problem for the target age group of 7–12. In addition to the missing penguin, there is also a delightful group of ‘library zombies’ in this one – a tongue-in-cheek observation by the author on the
growing (over)use of smartphones! (‘Waaaaaaatch this cuuuuuute videeeeeeoooooo’!)

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.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 4: A Game of Chase

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 4: A Game of Chase by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9781760295585

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

It’s another crazy week for Chase Cooper at Buchanan School, and it all starts off with the chess piece and anonymous note he finds in his locker. Somebody, who goes by the name ‘Jovial Noise’, threatens to expose his ninja identity if he doesn’t play along with their game. Er … what game? Chase is getting tired of the crazy behind-the-scenes activities at his school. (At one stage, he humorously dwells on how many years of therapy he’s going to need after he completes just one year at the school! He also blames James Buchanan, the school’s namesake and one of America’s most controversial presidents, for the madness.)

It seems Jovial Noise is out to sabotage the school science fair … by destroying people’s projects. The game of chess certainly becomes ‘a game of chase’ when Chase has to connect the chess pieces and clues together in order to save people’s science projects. Then Chase himself is framed for Faith’s ruined project and he knows he needs to find the real culprit, fast, before more projects (and friendships) are destroyed. Is it Carlyle? Wyatt? One of the red ninjas? Or that new hall monitor, Sebastian?

This is another fast-paced, entertaining read in the bestselling Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series by Marcus Emerson. There are lots of laugh-out-loud scenes, including a very funny conversation about ‘meese’ (the supposed plural of ‘moose’)! I particularly love how this series overturns the idea of a fist-fighting ninja and replaces it with a ninja who instead focuses on empathy, bravery and (above all) doing the right thing.

‘If you know me then you’d know I don’t fight no matter what,’ I said.
‘You don’t fight with your fists’ … ‘you’re a very strange ninja.’

This amusing series of books for 7–12 year-olds is definitely out to empower kids who want to deal with bullies … without getting physical. 

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 2: Pirate Invasion

Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 2: Pirate Invasion by Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 9781760295561

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

“It’s not that anyone is against me … It’s just that nobody is exactly with me.”

So says Chase in this, the second book in the popular Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series, which begins with ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’. New kid, Carlyle, has Chase’s guard up. Why does he still talk like a pirate when it’s no longer funny? Chase’s ninjas are bored and restless. Now that Wyatt isn’t leading them, there’s no more stealing, no more action. Chase has them all learning ninja moves … but nobody really knows what they’re training for (including Chase). Carlyle seems to be wooing everybody with his funny pirate talk … including Zoe. It turns out Carlyle is the leader of a secret band of pirates, and is secretly recruiting Chase’s ninjas. He is also seeking to avenge his cousin’s expulsion from the school.

The fast-paced story builds up action in the lead-up to the school ‘Dance Til You Drop’ event. The student who raises the most sponsorship money gets to choose a new school mascot, and Carlyle has convinced his growing legion of pirate fans to hand their sponsorship money to him. Once crowned winner, Carlyle is going to change the school mascot to a buccaneer.

Can pirates really trump ninjas? Does Chase even have the willpower to stop them? Poor Chase. It seems the more he tries to disappear, the more he stands out. After a talk with his dad, Chase decides to revolt against the crowd and stand up for what he thinks is right … in an absurdly funny obstacle course showdown.

This book is laugh-out-loud funny from the very first page, where Chase draws his self-portrait (‘Ladies, please remain calm’). I’m never quite sure where Emerson is going to take the story next, but I can be assured it will be an entertaining journey! The dialogue in this book is hugely appealing to the age group (7–12), with lots of kid slang. (For example, Zoe’s cry of ‘Oh em gee!’)

The novel concludes with Chase learning another lesson in leadership, Zoe demonstrating her family loyalty, and Carlyle planting a rumour that good old Wyatt is set to return.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Great Barbie Disaster

The Great Barbie Disaster by Tania Ingram, illustrated by Christina Miesen (Omnibus Books) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 978-1-74299-124-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Dad wants to make a barbeque. He comes from a long line of barbie builders and thinks shop bought barbies are for wimps. The trouble is Dad’s not very good at building things. The Great Barbie Disaster is a very funny story about all of his attempts to construct the perfect backyard barbie and what goes wrong – very wrong – each time.

There’s nothing more Aussie than a backyard barbie in the summer and this story captures the essence of summer and family. I related strongly as my father was a backyard builder and I suspect there are lots of kids out there who have watched or helped as Dad constructed a chicken coop, barbeque, cubby or outdoor furniture with varying degrees of success who will relate to this tale as well.

Part of the Mates series, this title is filled with the humour, Australian culture and entertaining storylines these Great Aussie Yarns are known for. Written for the eight year old age range, short chapters, large varied font and illustrations - which break up the text, filling the pages with colour and appeal - make this a perfect tale for beginner and young readers. The text is clear and uncomplicated and explains concepts such as the waste station within the story.

The voice of the girl who narrates the story is engaging. She is laid-back with just a tinge of sarcasm, but clearly loves and admires her Dad.

Using soft colours, the illustrator has created pictures which echo the humour of the words, enhancing the story and adding the enjoyment of the reading experience. These pictures, large and small, fill the pages and bring the characters to life.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy - Shoot-out at the Rock

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy - Shoot-out at the Rock by Jane Smith, illustrated by Pat Kan (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 978-1-925275-94-0

Reviewed by Anita Howard

This is an enjoyable story about the history of Australian bushrangers that will spark the interest of children aged 7 years and up.

The story begins with a disengaged Tommy who has failed his history test; he is kept in over lunch to read a boring history book, and misses his chance to buy a special donut. When Tommy notices a boy eating his desired donut, he kicks him and steals the donut, then he runs away from school. His distressed parents announce he will spend the whole of his upcoming school holidays working on his grandparents’ farm. This is not how Tommy had planned on spending his holidays.

Farm life is not as tough as he expects and he is provided with Combo, a horse, for the duration of his stay. The discovery of a cave and an old bushranger’s hat during one of his rides is the pivotal event that sends Tommy from the contemporary farm life into the life and times of Captain Thunderbolt, an Australian bushranger.

This section is fast-paced, as Tommy appears at moments such as a shooting between police and the bushrangers.Tommy’s first-hand experiences in Captain Thunderbolt’s world soon changes his attitude to stealing, violence; and history.

This is the first of a series of books, where Tommy, with the help of the old hat, travels back to the world of the Australian bushrangers.

Sprinkled with bold illustrations, and concluded with historic notes about Captain Thunderbolt, the story is followed by a fictional interview with Captain Thunderbolt.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

I Broke my Trunk

I Broke my Trunk by Mo Willems (Walker Books)  PB RRP $11.99 ISBN 9781406373592

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Laugh out loud with this hilarious book from Mo Willems. I Broke My Trunk is another installment in the incredibly popular Gerald and Piggie series, which first appeared almost 20 years ago.

The book begins with Gerald the elephant wearing a bandage on his trunk. Piggie asks his friend how he hurt his trunk so Gerald tells Piggie the long, crazy story about how the accident occurred.

By the time Gerald gets to the end of the story, Piggie is so excited that he runs off to share Gerald’s story with his other friends but as expected, things don’t go to plan.

Gerald and Piggie books are written in conversational style with Piggie's words in pink letter bubbles and Gerald's in grey bubbles, which makes the books enjoyable and easy to read.

The series is perfect for young readers aged 3-8, as each story has an entertaining theme and fabulous illustrations that children will love. The rhythm of the story is well paced and will encourage children to read along.

I Broke my Trunk was created by the incredibly talented writer and illustrator Mo Willems, a three-time Caldecott Honor winner. His celebrated Elephant & Piggie series has been awarded the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal on two occasions as well as three Honors.

I Broke my Trunk is an incredibly funny book that will have readers in fits of laughter. It is a fun story to share at bedtime and will become a bedtime favourite.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Squishy Taylor in Zero Gravity

Squishy Taylor in Zero Gravity written by Ailsa Wild, illustrated by Ben Wood (Hardie Grant Egmont) PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781760127725

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The fifth Squishy Taylor book opens with Squishy playing space-stations with her half-sisters Jessie and Vee (whom she refers to as her ‘Bonus Sisters’ throughout the series). This sets the scene for the book’s space-themed antics. While peering through their telescope to view a meteor shower, the girls notice something else intriguing. Someone resembling an astronaut is on a nearby rooftop, with what looks to be a rocket with visible sparks flying out.

The plot centres on Squishy’s determination to get to the bottom of the mystery, even if it means doing the wrong thing. Squishy, along with Jessie and Vee, hatch plans to sneak into the apartment building and make their way to the rooftop, deceiving their parents in the process and lying to the pyjama-clad man they find once they reach their destination.

Throughout, Squishy’s relationship with her stepmother Alice deteriorates. Squishy’s feelings towards Alice appear more hostile than in the previous Squishy Taylor books I’ve read (books one and four), and she yearns for her Geneva-dwelling birth mother for comfort more than ever.

The story’s conclusion sees a physically painful consequence for Squishy, yet her stepmother Alice’s reaction to the mayhem is inexplicably calm. While the Squishy Taylor books cleverly infuse action, mystery, fun and a touch of daredevil with real-life family issues, it felt as though this ending was a little too ‘nice’, considering Alice’s earlier impatience with Squishy. Regardless, the book’s page-turning hooks will keep young readers engaged, eager to discover who or what the strange astronaut and rocket may be.