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

Sunday, 21 October 2018

His Name was Walter

His Name was Walter by Emily Rodda (Angus and Robertson/Harper Collins) PB RRP $22.99 ISBN 978146071203

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This middle grade fiction book is about a group of kids in a haunted house — what could be better? The reader is led from a story into another story, which at first seems like a fairy tale, but as it goes on, seems more and more real. Emily Rodda, writer of more than fifty books, expertly crafts a tale that moves between the past and the future, and fantasy and reality. His Name was Walter is an adventure, a mystery and a coming of age story, all in one.

The story is from the point of view of Colin, who is new at his school and on an excursion. The bus breaks down in bad weather and four students (and their teacher Mrs Fiori) take shelter in an old mansion nearby. There are creepy stories about the house, but there's nowhere else to go. Colin discovers a book called His Name was Walter and Mrs Fiori encourages the children to read it.
The story of Walter describes an orphan boy who grows up in a beehive and his journey to a town far away where he meets a girl called Sparrow. Colin and the quiet Tara, who is aware of unseen things, are completely drawn in. Grace, a pretty, impatient girl, feels scared for unexplained reasons in certain rooms in the house. Cynical Lucas seems oblivious to it all. But as Walter's tale goes on, the spirits in the house seem to be trying to prevent it from being told.

There are moments of genuine scariness in this story. The power goes off. There's a mysterious locked room. But the scariest is the idea of a 'story' being real. The children realise there was a real town, a real mansion, and that is where they are this night. They must draw on the courage and work together to get through the story, right to the end.

This book is structured so well. I was initially confused as to why Walter would be surrounded by animals who act like people, but this is explained. The characters of the school children are believable without stereotypes and all develop in their own way.

My Name is Walter is a fast-paced and entertaining read for upper primary children.

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.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Curly Tales: Short Stories with a Twist

Curly Tales: Short Stories with a Twist by Bill Condon, illustrated by Dave Atze (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $12.99 ISBN 9781925520590

Reviewed by Sandy Fussell

A wonderful array of crazy, oddball characters fill the pages of this book. Meet Professor Julius Brigg, a brilliant pig with ‘a mind like a steel trap wrapped in bacon’.  Meet Big Charley, a mangy cat, so mean he doesn’t use kitty litter. And Doddie Q Moo, a cow who likes two read signs. “Go back, you are going the wrong way” makes her heart flutter.

Each of the thirteen stories is based on a proverb with a twist such as ‘curiosity chilled/killed the cat’ (poor Big Charley) and ‘every Doddie/everybody makes mistakes’ (you can’t force your family to join a sign reading club). Short explanations of the proverbs are included at the back of the book. The illustrations are as humorous as the text. Imagine an anaconda trying to squeeze an armour-plated armadillo (you can’t squeeze/please everyone) or a father and daughter flea fun day out (the best things in life are flea/free). 

The generous illustrations, large print and use of different fonts will appeal to young, independent readers. This book is humorous and clever, for those who like short stories, a good laugh and lashings of quirky wordplay. It will suit readers aged 6 to 11 years. 

Friday, 22 September 2017


Emelin by Jackie Randall (Schillings), PB RRP US $7.75  
ISBN 9780995379718     
Note: 'Emelin' is sold at The Children's Bookshop, Beecroft NSW. Also as an ebook and paperback and at Australian pricing starts at $14.50.
Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

The time is 1398. Emelin is an eleven year old orphan girl with an incredible gift for creating illuminated manuscripts. She lives with her Uncle, Calibor, who taught her the craft. Life’s a struggle and money is scarce. Then Calibor receives a wonderful commission: Geoffrey Chaucer asks him to illustrate The Canterbury Tales. Other illustrators, jealous of his luck, attack Calibor and leave him to die. Emelin has the manuscript, her uncle’s tools, his precious pigments and an advance from Chaucer to complete the task in three months.

She knows she cannot stay safely at home so she sets out, in the bleak winter weather, to find somewhere to work. She joins forces with a boy named Wolf and they journey together to Reading Abbey.

Emelin’s abiding fear is that she will end up on the dead cart, and be buried in a pauper’s grave, unmourned, unnamed, unknown. This doesn’t happen. Feisty Emelin faces many trials and tribulations and eventually triumphs. Geoffrey Chaucer is so delighted with her illustrations that he offers her permanent employment.

At the book’s end, the murderer of Wolf’s father is still at large and there’s a hinted mystery about Emelin’s precious brooch. Hopefully this means there will be more books to come.

Jackie Randall’s research is meticulous. The book is full of careful detail. Readers are almost able to SMELL what it must have been like to live in medieval times. There is also fascinating information on how illuminated manuscripts were made. Emelin is an interesting, attractive character, precociously talented for someone her age. In the past girls did grow up more quickly than they do today.
Overall, the book is easy to read with plenty of action, although some sections have a potential for suspense that isn’t fully realised. A way to add value might have been to include a section of Teacher’s Notes or Historical Facts.

Emelin is recommended for readers 10+ years, especially those interested in history and art. 

Sunday, 30 July 2017

To The Moon and Back

To The Moon and Back by Dianne Bates (Big Sky Publishing)
PB RRP 14.99
IBSN 9781925520293

Reviewed by Kate Simpson

To The Moon and Back is a touching, often sad, but ultimately heart-warming book about adjusting to parental separation. Eight year-old Claire is caught unawares when her mother suddenly uproots her from all that she has known and whisks her off to a new house, a new life and, for Claire’s mother, a new boyfriend. Each time Claire feels that she is adapting to her new circumstances, life seems to throw something else in her way.

Although Claire, the protagonist, is 8, the book is more suited to a slightly older readership if it is to be read independently. For readers in the 8 to 9-year-old range, this could make an excellent story for parents and children to read together. Dianne Bates deals sensitively with the difficult subject matter, which includes brief references to domestic violence. Her characters are well drawn and wholly relatable, creating a moving middle-grade novel for readers who enjoy realistic fiction.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

To the Moon and Back

To the Moon and Back by Dianne Bates (Big Sky Publishing) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781925520293
Reviewed by Patricia Bernard

First let me say that I could not put down this gentle, sweet book. I read it in three days, enjoying every minute of it. To begin with, its title To the Moon and Back is perfect. It reminded me of how I also said the same thing when my children asked me how much I loved them.

This story is as much about Claire’s mother’s breaking-up marriage and the beginning of her new love affair as it is about Claire who is watching, although not always understanding the change in her mother. Claire loves her father and cannot understand why they now live apart from him. She isn’t keen on sharing her father with his new girlfriend and she isn’t keen on sharing her mother with this new man called Mac, who she will never call father. Claire feels bit lost, especially after her father disappears from her life. How does she fit into these new relationships? What is her place? Why don’t her parents love her the way they used to when she was smaller?

The character of Claire is so well written that the reader begins to identify and care for Claire from the book’s first page. As a reader I worried over how the story would end and what would happen to Claire as she moves from school to school, from best friend to best friend and from house to house. I need not have worried:  the author, Dianne Bates, knew exactly what she was writing about.

This book is unique in its treatment of an all too familiar situation for many children. It certainly is an appealing read for both adults and children, especially those between 8 and 12 years. It offers hope and adventure and I love the ending. This is an ideal book for school libraries. There are many children like Claire and To the Moon and Back offers a soothing, gentle way of them easing into the awkward situation of feeling left out.   

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake

Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake by Rob Lloyd Jones (Walker Books) PB RRP: $14.99   ISBN: 9781406361445

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok     

Join Jake Atlas and his twin sister, Pan, on a thrilling journey through the Egyptian desert as they search for their missing parents, and try to save them from being turned into mummies by an evil dead.

One day Jake is a simple schoolboy with terrible grades and a bad attitude. The next day, he is a member of a super high-tech treasure hunting team, working with shady tomb robbers to locate his parents.

On the surface, the Atlas family appear to be quite normal. But Jake is hiding an addiction to stealing, Pan is concealing her genius for fear of being bullied, and the siblings can't stop fighting – with each other or with their parents, stuffy professors of Ancient History.

Everything changes the day Jake and Pan discover the truth about their parents. They are suddenly thrown into an unknown world, full of mystery and intrigue.

Jake's quick thinking in tricky situations comes in handy as it helps them get out of tight spots, while Pan's intelligence and photographic memory enables the pair to solve the clues along the way. Jake and Pan end up working together, and eventually come to understand one another.

Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake is a riveting page-turning adventure by award-winning author Rob Lloyd Jones. It is action packed and will keep readers intrigued from the moment they open the book.

It is recommended for readers aged 9 and over, and is highly recommended.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Sister Heart

Sister Heart by Sally Morgan (Fremantle Press) HB RRP $19.99 ISBN 978-1-92516-313-1

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Annie is taken away from everything and everyone she knows. Forcibly removed from her mother, stripped of her home, her culture, and even her name, Annie must make a new life for herself in a strange and cruel place without somehow losing hope that she will be reunited with her family one day.

This is a heart wrenching, poignant story about the stolen generation told from the perspective of a young girl removed from her family simply because she is of mixed race. It is told through verse, making the story so much more immediate, yet somehow lightening an emotionally heavy and hard subject. It is easy to connect to the young aboriginal girl as we are privy to only her intimate thoughts, her perspective and life through her eyes.

I want to go home

I want to smell warm rock
Run along a sandy creek
with my cousins
Watch flowers grow
after rain comes
Hug little sister

Understanding history is an important part of understanding our culture and ourselves. It helps us to be empathetic towards other people, accepting of different cultures and other lifestyles. The challenge is to engage children early and children are engaged by good stories. Sister Heart is a really good story, told well, with a fascinating main character and captivating plot.

Some middle grade readers may find it hard to get into because of its verse novel form which may be new to them, but persistence will reward them greatly. And the language is so evocative. One of the beauties of verse novel is that so much is said in so few words.
Everyone scatters
except the sun-bright girl

Sister Heart captures so much of what it is to be in the Australian landscape, the power of friendship, and the differences between the two cultures Annie has to contend with – her own and the one being forced on her.

I really loved this story. It is probably for the more mature middle grade reader, but the verse novel lends itself to less text which may appeal to others as well. I would encourage anyone with a love of history, Australian stories and beautiful poetic language to read this book.

Sister Heart was shortlisted in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, the Victorian Minister’s Literary Awards, the Inky Awards, and was an Honour book in the CBCA Awards.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Hungry Isle: Star of Deltora Book 4

The Hungry Isle: Star of Deltora Book 4 by Emily Rodda (Omnibus Books) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 978-1-74299-133-7

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

All trades are completed, the contestants have done as much as they can, and it is now time to turn the Star of Deltora towards home. But the magic Staff of Tier has sensed Britta and her companions and is drawing them all towards the Hungry Isle. The shadowy wraiths who dance around Britta are growing in their excitement, becoming more visible, and increasing the tension between the ship’s crew and Trader Mab and her would-be Trader Rosalyn apprentices. What should Britta fear more, mutiny or the King of Tier? Is there any escape from the Hungry Isle?

The Hungry Isle is the fourth book in the wonderful Star of Deltora fantasy series, by popular Australian author Emily Rodda whose writing is varied and prolific. The Hungry Isle is a thrilling action-packed adventure, but it is also evocative and richly richly written.

The wraiths swooped around him, wild in their mourning, bright as exotic birds in the rainbow light. Their grief had made them daring. The king knew     he had to quell them.

Britta and her companions continue to grow throughout the series. As secrets are uncovered, intricate webs of untruths are picked apart.

Britta, Jewel and Sky were all characters I wanted to keep reading about when the story ended. In fact, I wanted to follow their lives beyond the pages of this book, even though the ending was totally satisfying with a wonderful twist I did not see coming.

The Star of Deltora is an absorbing and spellbinding series for middle grade readers. Its occasional links with other series by Rodda are subtle but add a depth to the stories and will delight Rodda fans when they come across them.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines by Prue and Kelly Mason, illustrations by Tom Jellett (Walker Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781922244635

Reviewed by Ashling Kwok

Can you imagine what the world was like before we had aeroplanes? Imagine how long it took to get anywhere and how isolated we were from the rest of the world.

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines shares the stories of 10 brave Australians who took to the skies and changed aviation forever. These Australians had vision and courage, and it is thanks to them that we can travel through the air.

The authors were inspired to write this book after they bought a vintage plane in 2000. Both licensed pilots, they started researching the history of their purchase and were intrigued by what they uncovered.

This book is overflowing with interesting facts about aeroplanes and aviation, and is not only interesting to read but also highly informative.

Did you know that women weren’t allowed to fly until 1927, even though men were permitted to fly 15 years earlier? Well, after reading this book you will have lots of impressive facts to wow your friends and family with.

Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines is one of the most visually appealing books on the market. It is beautifully designed with fun illustrations from Tom Jellett and archival photography of each of the Australians featured.

It is a wonderful educational tool for children and is great for classroom discussions. It features "Did You Know" sidebars, three amazing facts about each of the people featured and friendly, informative text that is enjoyable and entertaining to read.

This book is perfect for readers aged 9 years and over, and is a brilliant gift for young readers interested in aviation and Australian history.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Secret Cooking Club

Secret Cooking Club by Laurel Remington (Chicken House) PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-910655-24-5

Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Scarlett is sick of being the butt of everyone’s jokes at school. One of the stars of a mummy-blog that her mother writes every week, Scarlett can’t tell her mother how she feels about her personal life being broadcast for all. Rather than being anonymous (as her mother believes this blog to be), everyone knows Scarlett is the blog’s star. Feeling more like a victim than a star, Scarlett retreats into her loneliness until one evening she discovers the neighbour’s deserted kitchen, with ingredients left out just waiting for someone to cook.

Scarlett then begins a magical journey of discovery. Cooking, friendship and family bonds are all explored along the way and Scarlett discovers that some things are worth fighting for, worth the hard work.

This is an absorbing novel for middle grade readers. Cooking, a popular subject currently, takes centre stage as Scarlett learns to create and have confidence in the kitchen. She is an enjoyable character to spend time with, and one who grows and changes throughout the story.

I liked how friendship was portrayed in this story, not just between friends Scarlett and Violet, but also between the old lady and the girls, and between the family members. I particularly enjoyed the different view presented on the ‘mean girls’ clique. It was refreshing to see such a perspective on social interactions without resorting to stereotypes and laying blame.

Scarlett is a girl with inner strength and a heart in the right place. She knows the difference between right and wrong but is not always sure how to go about achieving it.

Although there is a boy in the Secret Cooking Club, this is really a book that girls will enjoy, especially those who love their cooking with a splash of mystery and a dash of romance.

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, 1 May 2017

What not to do if you turn Invisible

What not to do if you turn Invisible by Ross Welford (Harper Collins Children’s Books) PB RRP $14.99   ISBN 9780008156350

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

From the author of Time Travelling with a Hamster comes another creative and entertaining read. It’s every child’s dream to be invisible and I suspect even some adults.  This book would suit from 9 years old onwards.

The text is cleverly crafted to grab the reader’s attention and ensure they keep on reading.
‘On the way to the kitchen I catch a glimpse of myself in the long hallway mirror. Well, I say ‘myself’. What I really see is a pair of jeans and my favourite red T-shirt walking by themselves.’

The story is deceptively simple to read and surprisingly very different.  The book uses humour to explore that terrifying topic of trying to find yourself and where you fit in this world. This includes within your own family, with your friends and at school. 

There are bullies and loud mouths that make Ethel feel isolated. Thirteen-year-old Ethel has a very painful problem, a bad case of spots.  Just like anyone else with a very painful problem Ethel tries to find a solution. With the help of her mate Boydy Ethel hides her invisibility and along the way they solve a mysterious mystery.

Without giving away too many secrets Ethel finds her identity and inner strength and as well as a happy fit with her place in the world.

Teachers will enjoy reading this book to their class just for fun or for discussion about bullying and friendship. 

Friday, 28 April 2017

See You in the Cosmos

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

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

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

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

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

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, 21 April 2017

Mabel Jones and the Doomsday Book

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

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 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.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Marge and the Pirate Baby

Marge and the Pirate Baby by Isla Fisher (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781848125933

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘Did I tell you that our babysitter is only the size of about seven biscuit packets stacked on top of each other?’

Sweet little Marge, whose rainbow-coloured hair and flamboyant behaviour burst from the pages of Isla Fisher’s debut novel (Marge in Charge), is back for a new trio of babysitting adventures. The stories once again star Jemima Button and her little brother Jakeypants, but this time they include their troublesome baby cousin, Zara. (Marge dubs her the ‘pirate baby’ for her love of shiny things, for the way she takes people’s things without asking and because she drinks from bottles all day!)

Each story is narrated from the first-person perspective of Jemima. The first is about Zara’s antics around the house, the second takes place at the local swimming pool, and the third focuses on a family wedding. The stories feature a list of rules from Jemima and Jake’s parents … followed by a funny interpretation from Marge. For example, ‘No rude words’ becomes ‘No rude words, unless we are in battle at sea, or your parrot poops on your shoulder.’ Marge uses her quirky style to get the kids to do exactly what she wants … like tackle a ‘code brown’ nappy situation, or face their fears at the pool. She even naps on the job while the kids madly put the house back together before their parents come home. The children are happy to do whatever it takes to keep Marge’s antics a secret … or else their parents might never call her back. (‘We both love having Marge look after us, even if it means we have to look after her a bit sometimes, too.’)

The three stories average around 55 pages each and are illustrated with Eglantine Ceulemans’ complementary black and white caricatures. The font style throughout the book is playful and varied, featuring lots of breakout lists of ‘handwritten’ rules, song lyrics or thoughts.  The presentation, combined with the story itself, make the book well suited to the target age group of 7 to 9 year-olds.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack

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

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Exploding Endings

Exploding Endings - Books 1(Painted Dogs and Doom Cakes), 2 (Cursed Pants & Cranky Cops) and 3(Dingbats &Lollypop Arms) by Tim Harris, illustrated by Ryan Perno (Harbour Publishing House)
PB RRP $14.99
Book 1 ISBN 978-1-922134-57-8
Book 2 ISBN 978-1-922134-69-1
Book 3 ISBN 978-1-922134-70-7

Reviewed by Joanne Pummer

Short Stories With Big Twists - that's how author Tim Harris describes his trilogy of short stories called 'Exploding Endings'. Each story is told by a child narrator in the first person about contemporary family life in suburban Australia. All are extremely whacky and sure to illicit laughs and groans in equal measure from Primary School children.
Book 1 begins with a list of the top 79 excuses for being late. Book 2 begins with a list of the top 79 excuses for talking in class and the third book begins with the top 79 excuses for not doing your homework - just the kind of subversive humour that children relish. Jokes, riddles and 'knock knocks' appear between stories, recipes and 'Page Wars' - the ongoing war between the right hand page and the left hand page, named (appropriately), 'lefty' and 'righty'.
A recipe for Murphy's Chocolate Cake has 43 steps and a Prep time of 204 days 2 hours and 17 minutes. Step 42 is 'Forget about it and go to the beach instead'. Step 43 is 'Get eaten by a shark'. Ryan Perno's black and white illustrations, which are little more than zany emojis in Book 1, become more sophisticated in the books that follow.

The final story in Book One (‘Psycho, Sweet Tooth Seagull’) ends after two chapters with 'to be continued'. This is a hook, bound to induce readers to buy the next book. Cleverly, Tim Harris repeats the first two chapters of 'Psycho Sweet Tooth Seagull' in the second book so each book works as a stand-alone story book as well as part of a series.

The large type face, easy reading and accessible stories make these books suitable for all children from newly independent readers (7 years and up ) tackling their first chapter books to eleven year olds, reluctant readers included.