Showing posts with label middle grade. Show all posts
Showing posts with label middle grade. Show all posts

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Lucy Newton, Little Witch

Lucy Newton, Little Witch by Phoebe McArthur (Christmas Press) PB RRP $13.99 ISBN: 9780648194507

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

What’s a young witch to do, with her mother out of the house (again) and her favourite doll in danger of losing an arm? Despite a ban on using magic (established due to Lucy’s apparent penchant for dangerous escapades), Lucy Newton can’t stop herself. She breaks into her mother’s study to find her spell book, looking for a simple spell to reattach her beloved doll’s appendage.

Predictably, things go south quickly and in increasingly outrageous ways, as Lucy soon finds herself facing a rapidly-growing slime-drooling slug – with no idea what to do next. Enter two wonderfully crafted secondary characters, the sentient spell book – which suddenly starts offering advice – and the neighbour’s sassy black cat. While the protagonist Lucy does little more than bounce from bungling to helpless to panic-stricken and back again, the book and cat give humour, spark and attitude to the story.

McArthur builds suspense effectively. The story kept my 4-year-old assistant book-reviewer on the edge of her bed, terrified for poor Lucy facing the revolting slug. The plot is fast-moving and fun, and will entertain the target audience of 6 to 9 year olds. While elements of the story orient towards girls, with a female protagonist and a dismembered doll creating the initial crisis, boys should get right into the chaos, slime and destruction as well.

Newly independent readers will enjoy the numerous black-and-white illustrations, line drawn by McArthur. The pictures pick up the significant elements in the story in charming vignettes. While there is a detailed and expressive illustration of the cranky old witch-next-door, some of the illustrations of Lucy lack a strong sense of character.

This is a fast-paced fantasy from first-time author McArthur, which will appeal to young readers who enjoy a little magic or a lot of mess.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Olivia Stone and the Dread of the Dreamers (Book 2)

The Guardians of St. Giles: Olivia Stone and the Dread of the Dreamers (Book 2) by Jeffery E. Doherty (IFWG Publishing) PB RRP $24.95
ISBN 9781925759136

Reviewed by Kylie Buckley

Olivia is a twelve-year-old girl who was left with a limp and an ineffective arm after a giant grotesque statue fell from the roof of her school, St. Giles. However, all is not what it seems. The accident did leave Olivia with some disabilities, but it also left her with a lot more…a secret identity! The grotesques on the school roof were magical protectors of the city and Olivia inherited some special powers from the fallen grotesque. After the accident, all the grotesques were taken down from the roof and it’s now up to Olivia and Yip, the tiny grotesque she rescued, to rid the city of any evil.

Yip senses that something strange is happening in the city and he needs Olivia’s help to sort out what’s causing it. After much speculation, they discover that dreamweavers are infiltrating the town. Dreamweavers are supernatural spiders whose venom forces victims into having ‘mind destroying nightmares’. Olivia learns that a friend of hers is in trouble and they must do everything they can to save him. The only complications are… Olivia’s fear of spiders, the ignorance of the town’s doctors and the overwhelming number of dreamweavers!

Olivia Stone and the Dread of the Dreamers is a middle grade fiction book suitable for children aged 10+ years. The dark and gloomy book cover sets the tone for this dark adventure. It is not for the faint-hearted or those prone to nightmares. This novel, written in the third person, would appeal to those who enjoy magic and fantasy as well as hero vs villain action stories. While it’s not a necessity, I would recommend you read Book 1: Olivia Stone and the Trouble with Trixies prior to reading Book 2, as there are references to it throughout.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Escape to the Moon Islands

Escape to the Moon Islands by Mardi McConnochie (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $14.99  ISBN 9781760290917

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

I’m grateful nobody took a photo of me reading this novel for I must have looked a funny sight … eyes wide open, face alarmed (though I wouldn’t have noticed if they had because I could barely look away from the page!) This fast-paced novel, the first in a new adventure series titled Quest of the Sunfish, is delightfully intense.

The story, for 9–12 year-olds, is set in a dystopian future where a terrible Flood (caused by rising sea levels) has altered the world. Will and Annalie, twin siblings, set off on a dangerous sea adventure in a quest to find their missing father, Spinner. Annalie’s friend from school, Essie, accompanies them, along with Graham (their talking parrot). They also pick up another crew member along the way – the mysterious Pod.

The world is under the control of the Admiralty, a powerful navy that governs and patrols the oceans. The children discover their father has allegedly stolen something from the Admiralty, and is hiding from them. As a result, they themselves are at threat, and they learn that the Admiralty is not as trustworthy as it seems. While trying to find Spinner, the children seek clues and crack codes to work out what it is that he has stolen and why.

The short chapters are full of action and suspense as they escape from pirates, cannibals and navigate stormy seas, all the while trying to keep out of sight of the Admiralty. Each character is very different, providing much tension in the novel. Their friendships and loyalties are challenged.

Mardi McConnochie, well-known scriptwriter and author of several books (including Melissa, Queen of Evil, a winner of an Aurealis award) has delivered a gripping new adventure story. A second novel in the series will be published in April 2017.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Forbidden Trail: Pine Valley Ponies

The Forbidden Trail: Pine Valley Ponies by Kate Welshman, Illustrated by Heath McKenzie (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $9.99
ISBN 978-1-74362-430-2

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Maddy is super excited. Today is the day she gets to start riding lessons at Pine Valley Ranch on her pony Snowy. But she is also a little nervous. Is she really good enough to be in the intermediate class? Will she ever be as good a rider as her mother was? And what is down the shortcut trail which makes it the Forbidden Trail.

This is the first book in a new series. From its eye-catching foil cover, to the charming and fun illustrations, to the story line loaded with horse riding fun, danger, bravery and rescue, the appeal for young girls who loves horses and all that world entails, is endless.

Maddy is a likeable heroine, as is her new friend Iris. I like that Maddy is following Mum’s footsteps but in her own independent way. The involvement of parents is realistic and there is a good amount of information about horses and their care without feeling that it’s being ‘dumped’ into the story line.

There is the clich├ęd mean rich girl, and sometimes it feels as though the story is following a formula – albeit one which engages and entertains children and there is a good balance between breezy fun and more serious moments. 

Heath McKenzies’ illustrations are my favourite part of this book. He captures people and animals in a wonderfully light-hearted warm way but also portrays a feeling and personality which adds so much to the story.
Short chapters, illustrations, easy reading text, a great map of the area around Pine Valley Ranch, and profiles of the ponies and horses, make this a sweet beginner-reader chapter book for horse-mad girls.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Last Kids on Earth

The Last Kids on Earth written by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Holgate (Egmont UK)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781405281638

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Last Kids on Earth is an action-packed middle grade adventure novel described by its publisher as The Simpsons meets The Walking Dead. It does indeed meld humour with a heavy dose of monster and zombie slaying. At 13, protagonist Jack Sullivan is at the upper end of the intended eight plus readership. He not only has to survive a zombie apocalypse, but wishes to impress girls along the way. Enter June del Toro – a smart, sneaker-wearing, student newspaper editor (own spin-off series please!).

Jack teams up with science-loving best friend Quint, reformed bully Dirk and pet monster Rover to battle the zombies and monsters who menace the town, and to try and save June (who clearly doesn’t need saving, as she points out). Despite being 13 years old, the characters drive a vehicle called Big Mama and also have a tree-house dwelling, sure to appeal to readers’ own wishes for greater independence.

References to things like Cherry Pepsi, Oreos and middle school, mark this book as undeniably American, yet the good versus evil battles, humour and friendships hold universal appeal. US-based author Max Brallier has been paired with Melbourne illustrator and freelance comic book artist Douglas Holgate, whose dynamic drawings complete with comic-style speech bubbles work wonderfully to enhance an already very lively story.

This would be a great book to entice mid to late primary school-aged reluctant readers who still prefer a graphics-laden narrative, or for those who have ploughed through Andy Griffiths’ Treehouse series and are ready for something new.